Chapter 1: Looking Up
It wasn’t a lie to say things had been looking up for Adam Parrish recently. Which was odd, to say the least, because usually when asked even the simplest question of how are you, his reply was nearly invariably a lie.
Something about finally hitting his growth spurt, something about his skills in mechanics and heavy lifting improving, something meant that his father had been less disapproving recently - which in turn meant that he hit Adam less. This was a watershed event really, because not being hurt up and scared all the time meant Adam finished his chores and his homework faster, meant he was better at his jobs, meant he didn’t earn his father’s wrath in the evening by looking utterly worn out, by flinching at every loud noise.
It was such a change that even Robert had commented on it. He’d said something like; who’d’a thought I actually had a son under there, huh? Who knows - maybe one day you’ll even make me proud.
Making Robert proud wasn’t actually on Adam’s list of life goals, but he wouldn’t deny that hearing this not compliment still filled him with warmth and a stupid amount of hope.
Anyway. Things were looking up the most because of an opportunity his science teacher - Mrs Grayson - had suggested to him, asking him to stay after class to tell him about it.
Aglionby academy. The closest thing to a bright future in Henrietta. A sure fire get into University application piece. Scholarship slots opening for the following year.
You’ll breeze through their tests, I’m sure Mrs Grayson had told him. They’d be stupid not to accept you.
It was only a partial scholarship offered, but with the majority of the hefty bill covered, it was a plausible opportunity. If he saved up, budgeted very carefully, he could pay the rest of the way himself.
Robert had given him permission to apply, had even clapped Adam’s shoulder.
Adam had gotten in. He had been enrolled for the following year. He had bought a second hand uniform, had found all the books he’d need, had shared the good news with Mrs Grayson.
His mother’s pregnancy started to really show just a month later.
It was somewhat ridiculous that this new living creature had stayed hidden for so long on their mother’s slight frame.
The baby was already six months along, had slotted itself down low, blessed with the Parrish sense to stay scarce to avoid punishment.
Should have tried to stay smaller.
Robert accused Alice of cheating. Robert put his fists through the thin wall between the main area of the double wide and the small master bedroom. Told Alice she was next.
Adam had never considered himself particularly brave or selfless. Still put his aching body in between his father and his pregnant mother.
It was his duty really, wasn’t it? If he was going to be a big brother, it was his job to protect the baby. He wished he was doing it for his mother as well - wished he was actually brave, wished he could look past his sense of betrayal he felt whenever he looked at his mother - at least enough that he was as willing to put himself in bodily harm for her as he was for a bit even born sibling. Especially because he had never wanted a sibling. Put another child in this shit show? No thank you.
Either way, this move meant that Robert turned his anger on Adam - Adam in the way again, Adam fucking up again, Adam being weak again.
The result of this?
A week of school missed. Three days of work missed. A horrible buzzing in his left ear, that when it finally stopped, left him deaf on that side.
You shouldn’t have done that, Alice had chided him, the third day he had had to stay home because trying to walk ended in vomiting. We need you working. Especially now I’m stuck with this baby. Y’know if he’d hit me hard enough I might’ve miscarried and we’d be free from it.
She had said this harshly, brash and dispassionate. Adam couldn’t tell how much she meant it. Did a part of her want the baby? Had she ever wanted Adam? When she was pregnant with him had she hoped for him? Daydreamed about him? Or had she told someone else that she wished she’d miscarried him. That she regretted him as much as Robert did - squirted him into you - god.
It didn’t seem to matter what she wanted. Not really. After the initial blow up, Robert had drunk a six pack, one after the other, crunching the cans flat between his palm and the arm of his chair. He had laughed, pulled Alice onto his lap. Maybe this one will be worth it, eh?
Peace never persisted long in the Parrish household.
Gone was the peace that Adam’s growth spurt had brought, and just over a month later, gone also the peace of the idea of a child better than Adam.
Adam had no idea what the argument had been about. He’d been at work. He’d gotten home to an empty house.
His father returned the next morning, before school started, and turfed Adam angrily out of bed.
“Where the fuck were you, huh?” He snarled down at Adam blinking up at him. “Your kid brother was born, your mum bleeding out, and you’re fucking sleeping? Useless -” he paused to kick Adam’s ribs, “-piece-” another kick, “-of shit.”
Blocking his ribs with his arms meant he risked breaking a finger, but it was far better than breaking a rib again. He gasped out an apology, stayed very still, because rolling away only caused more anger, and struggling to his feet would mean being knocked down again.
“I’ve got work,” Robert grunted, stepping back, “so you’re headin’ to the hospital t’be there for your mum. Got it?”
Adam nodded, shifted carefully first onto his knees and then to his feet, moving slowly so he could keep an eye on his father’s ire.
Robert turned to leave, probably to go get changed for work, and Adam risked a question. “The baby?”
This didn’t even earn a glance over Robert’s shoulder. “Alive, s’far as I know. Weak thing. Tiny.”
There went all hope for a better son than Adam, apparently.
The nurse who took him into his mum’s room was a talker. “So upsetting,” she said, in what she obviously thought was a consoling tone. “Falling down the stairs and starting to bleed! It must have been such a fright for y’all. You’re such a good kid, coming in, y’know.”
Alice was pale, her wary face warier, her eyes dimmer. She didn’t smile when Adam came in.
“I don’t want you here,” she said, voice scratchy. “S’bad enough being here as it is.”
Adam hadn’t been expecting his mother to be overjoyed to see him, or even outwardly grateful, but her rejection still managed to sting. He nodded, began to turn to leave. He would go seek out his new born brother. He didn’t even know if the baby was still alive.
“Ugh,” Alice forestalled him leaving, and he turned back to see her scrabbling at a stack of papers on the nightstand. “Fill these out. I don’t care what you put, but it needs to be done by tonight. Now get.”
Another nurse gave him directions to the NICU, and he swallowed down every ounce of his anxiety, asked at the desk for baby Parrish.
“I’m his brother,” he explained to the woman behind the desk. “My mum’s on bed rest and asked me to come see him. Can I?”
He had been expecting it to be harder to get in, harder to find this unnamed infant, but apparently everyone in the room knew who he was talking about.
“Oh he’s such a fighter,” a woman in pale green scrubs told him. “He wasn’t in good shape last night, but now he’s doing so well! His lungs aren’t fully formed yet, so he’s got lots of tubes, but don’t let that worry you, okay sweetheart? He just needs a little extra help.”
He was given a chair beside the crib(/baby hospital bed/incubator??), and encouraged to touch the tiny pink being held inside.
It felt wrong to touch this baby. It was clean, and fresh, and so delicate, and Adam? Adam was rough and dirty and ruined. What if by touching this baby he’d somehow pass onto it all of his bad luck, all of their father’s bad will.
“Babies need to be touched,” the mint scrub nurse said, her voice gentle even as she spoke from across the room, tending to another baby. “It helps them heal and grow. You won’t hurt him.”
As far as Adam had experienced, Parrish men did nothing but hand out hurt.
He brushed the tip of his pointer finger, careful, careful, against the baby’s cheek. The reaction was immediate, his brother turning his head, pressing against the contact, eyes fluttering open.
An emotion, odd and all encompassing filled Adam, beginning in his chest and spreading out. He swallowed, moved his hand down to his brother’s chest, bare but for the tubes, slowly pressed his finger against the tiniest palm he’d ever seen. The baby held on, fingers so tiny and pink they were almost translucent, tiny nails, more strength in the grip than he had expected.
It was hard to believe anything so strong could come from his mother. Adam’s entire life, Alice had stood to the side as Robert would hit and berate him, and the most worked up he’d ever actually seen her get was about an expired coupon at the supermarket. But. Here was this baby, holding tightly to Adam’s finger, blinking up at him, breathing through tubes but breathing .
His face was wet, and he only realised he was crying when a tear dripped onto his hand.
He swore under his breath, moved carefully to put the papers on his lap so he could wipe his face without letting go of his brother, without jostling him. He hadn’t thought it would be this easy to feel so protective, to feel so attached. He had been resolving himself to look after this baby when it arrived, no matter what, but hadn’t expected any sort of… affection for it. It was just going to be someone else in the same firing zone as him, who he had a duty to protect.
Why weren’t his parents here? How had they both seen this baby and just left it alone in the hospital NICU. Had it been the same with Adam as a baby? They had seen him, defenseless and small, needing them, and decided he wasn’t worth their time? Or had that indifference come later?
Mint scrubs handed him a box of tissues.
After that came the job of naming his brother. He teetered for a while over the idea of naming him after some myth, a strong character, a character that beats the odds - considered calling him David from the story of David and Goliath, thought it might be fitting to keep the biblical theme going. But they had an uncle David, and the last time Adam had seen him had been at his father’s birthday where they both got drunk and Adam ended up with cigarette burns on his hand.
So. The nurses in the NICU provided him with a baby name book, and he flipped through it while sitting next to his brother, trying to keep his touch constant, trying to provide him with a reassurance of familial love.
He would have liked to have had more time to weigh the pros and cons of each name, but Alice had requested he hand the paperwork in that evening, so. He settled on the name Ethan , meaning strong, and smart . Plus, it was also a biblical name, and though Adam didn’t put much stock in the actual bible, he liked the fact that their names were connected.
The next few weeks were difficult. He split his time as well as he could between school, work, and Ethan. His mother got out of the hospital a few days after Ethan had been born, and she returned back to work almost immediately.
“I’m too busy to spend my time trekking back and forth between here and the hospital,” she snapped when Adam asked if she was going to go to the NICU anytime soon. “Besides, y’re going aren’t you? We don’t wanna crowd the place up.”
So. Adam spoke to his teachers and got to leave some classes early, spoke to his bosses and shifted his work shifts to fit into the early hours of the day rather than after school. He woke early, worked hard, went to school, left early, and spent the rest of his day until curfew by Ethan’s side. He’d do his homework, and tell Ethan stories.
He got to know the nurses quite well, mint scrubs was Elena, and she helped him with his english homework, then there was Kareem, who helped him with holding Ethan in his arms without crushing his tiny limbs, Ruby, who quizzed him for his science test, Raf, who showed him how to hold the bottle just right so as not to drown a baby who had only just started breathing with his own lungs.
It took Ethan nearly two months before he was considered stable and whole enough to leave the NICU. Adam had expected - or hoped - that his parents might pull themselves away from their oh so exciting lives to come see their new born son - to bring him home, to hold him.
Adam caught the bus from the hospital with Ethan in his arms, wrapped tightly in blankets, terrified he’d drop him, would squish him, that Ethan would stop breathing, that Ethan would cry, that Ethan would -
They got home without incident. Alice was out at work. Robert at the pub.
just reiterating that this is an AU of FLYWM, so many aspects wills be the same or similar, but there will be differences, particularly in timeline xxx
Thank you all so much for the amazing responses so far too! I'm blown away by how much y'all love ethan <3
The months between Ethan’s birth and Adam’s starting date at Aglionby were a miracle of risks taken, knowledge learned, and too many moving parts.
While Ethan had still been at NICU, Adam had done his level best to learn as much about parenting as possible. He’d studied up on making up baby formula, on the proper latch the baby needed to get the best feeding experience, on the benefits of skin to skin touch. He’d brought book after book into the hospital with him, all about the different stages, and expectations, and growth. He’d scared himself sick learning all the ways you could accidentally harm a baby, made himself miserable wondering how many things his parents had fucked up already with him.
He’d visited a Chinese family in he trailer park - he worked at Boyd’s with the father, David- and come away with their old Mei-Tie to carry Ethan in, to keep him close and warm, and out of their father’s way.
Jules, another work acquaintance, this time from the factory, had heard that Adam was looking for childcare, and had told him that his wife, Dana, had had twins a few months before Ethan had been born, and that in return for some weekly garden work, she could mind Ethan as well. Adam could barely believe anyone could handle three babies at once. It seemed impossible.
The hardest part of it all though, harder than learning how to change nappies, and bathe a newborn, and to survive through a day after waking every half hour to check on Ethan -
The hardest part of it all was keeping things calm at home. Robert didn’t care that Ethan was only crying because he was a baby and that was what babies did. He didn’t care that Adam was doing his best to soothe him. He didn’t care that Adam was only fourteen, and scared, and worked to the bone. He wanted Ethan to be quiet, and he wanted Adam to do his chores, and he wanted no backtalk.
It was painful. Not just physically, but emotionally, because all of this meant that the first thing he had to teach Ethan was to be quiet. Not how to communicate, not how much he was loved, not anything other babies were learning, like motor control, and eye tracking. How to be quiet at home.
Thankfully - or, perhaps horrifyingly - Adam didn’t have to do much of the teaching, because the lesson really came in Robert screaming at the two of them to shut up. Came from Robert slamming the doors. Came from Alice snapping at Adam that Robert was sleeping, so keep the noise down.
Came from Adam keeping quiet as well. That was how he taught Ethan, do as I do, say as I say. Please, please, please don’t cry aloud, it’ll break my heart if he hits you.
By the time the school year was about to start up again, Ethan was six months old, though only technically. Adam was really counting his age from when he’d left the NICU, deemed fully formed enough to leave, so, un-technically, Ethan was four months, two weeks. Until Ethan had been born, Adam had thought he knew what it was to work your fingers to the bone. Now, well, he was sure he would find he could still work even harder than he had in the last six months. Not only had he been caring for Ethan, carrying him everywhere he could, not sleeping through the night, but he’d also been working more throughout the summer holiday so he could scrimp and save enough to buy a new bag for starting Aglionby, so he could buy a new pair of shoes that had a sole firmly in place. So he could have money put aside to pay for his school fees, a few months ahead of schedule in case something happened and he couldn’t make money.
He’d scrimped and saved for favours as well. Favours from Jules, favours from Boyd, favours from Mary at the dairy, from Clarice at the public library, from Don at the doctors. He ran errands, he painted fences, he fixed cars, mostly with Ethan tight to his chest. Money only got you so far - especially when he didn’t have much - what he really needed to make it through the next year were people he could trust to look after Ethan, because, he couldn’t take Ethan with him to Aglionby.
He had been able to take Ethan with him to his classes at Mountain View, but that was because most of his teachers liked him, and the ones who didn’t seem to like him, most likely pitied him.
The first day he’d brought Ethan in to class, he’d promised his maths teacher that Ethan would keep quiet, and she had laughed in his face.
Babies don’t do quiet , she’d told him. You can’t promise that .
Ethan had stayed quiet, Adam had ignored the sneers and whispers around him, had excused himself five minutes before class ended to go change Ethan’s nappy.
After the first week of this, he had been called to the principle’s office, had gone with a dread filled heart, ready to make excuse after excuse as to why he was the one looking after his brother, why he had to bring him to class, why he couldn’t get a babysitter -
The principle had looked him over when he’d come in, Ethan asleep, his head resting on Adam’s chest, the beginnings of fluffy hair poking out of the carrier. She had offered Adam use of the staff lounge to heat Ethan’s bottles, to change Ethan in. Had suggested he could talk to Miriam in the nurse’s office about holding Ethan during P.E or Chemistry. Had given Adam a look he knew very well before asking if everything was alright at home.
He had favours enough now that he had babysitters for Ethan while he stayed at school, favours enough to be sure that if one babysitter fell through, he could find another. For after school, Boyd had agreed that Adam could bring Ethan, so long as Ethan was never around any dangerous equipment. The factory had said absolutely no, but Nino’s, a job he had gotten over summer break through the help of a girl from his school who also worked there, were fine with him bringing Ethan, so long as Ethan didn’t scare the customers away with his crying. Seeing as Ethan barely cried, Adam thought this would work great.
In fact, he had already taken Ethan to work at Nino’s quite often, as he tended to work nights, and he would wear Ethan on his back while he served, or while he washed dishes, would switch him to his front while he worked at the counter. The customers that weren’t teenage boys seemed to adore the sight of it, and it more than tripled the tips, according to his school mate and co-worker, Blue.
He knew things would get more difficult when Ethan started to walk, started to be able to verbalise, started to not want to be carried close to Adam twenty four, seven. But for now it worked.
The day before his first day at Aglionby, Robert broke Adam’s left wrist. He was unsure if it had been an accident, just an unfortunate result of anger, or if it was a starting school gift. Either way, it was embarrassing. He was going to start at the best school within the closest twelve towns, and he was going to have to go for his first day wearing a home-made brace, handicapped. It was bad enough that he was going to be the scholarship kid in second hand clothes, that he might be recognised from his various places of work.
Ethan had cried that night, because it was difficult to change a baby’s nappy and outfit with just the one hand. Adam didn’t blame him for crying, it probably pinched, and felt weird. Adam himself, waited until after Robert had come in to smack him around the head, waited until after he’d put Ethan to sleep, waited until after the trailer park was dark all around, and then he cried. Silently, because he’d had years and years to practice.
For the first part of the early morning of Adam’s first day at Aglionby, he was too busy worrying about Ethan to worry about the fact that he was starting a whole new part of his life. He was worried that Ethan would get upset being left at Dana’s for longer than usual, worried that he’d misjudged Dana and she might be the type to ignore or harm babies, worried that he’d somehow screwed Ethan up already and when he went to pick him up there would be police and social workers, and he’d been arrested, and Ethan would be taken away, and -
It took him right up until he was cycling through Aglionby’s front gates to remember that he was also worrying about Aglionby. He’d strapped his wrist tightly to make it through the bike ride here, but he was going to need to restrap it looser to make it through the school day without his hand falling off. He desperately did not want to meet any of his new classmates for the first time while restrapping his wrist with a shoddy brace.
His bike was also the only bike at the bike rack, which was somehow humiliating. It would have been almost better if the bike rack was full with expensive racing bikes, then at least it wouldn’t be obvious just how far below everyone else here he was. No one here bothered with bikes, because why would they when they could have a car.
He found an empty bathroom, restrapped his wrist, went to admin to get his timetable and any snarky remarks they might have about being on scholarship. Went to his first class, the very epitome of pretentious schooling. Latin.
It began just about how Adam had expected. He arrived at class a little early, chose a desk, hoped he hadn’t chosen someone’s favourite desk. Or that if he had, they weren’t the sort of person to make a scene about it. The teacher came in - Whelk . Terrible, terrible name, rich people had the worst names. The other students arrived. Most of them just ignored him, sitting down at other desks, talking to their friends. The ones that didn’t ignore him mostly just sent him vaguely scathing looks.
Class began, Whelk speaking in a droning voice that perfectly matched his tone. He looked bored, utterly uninterested in the subject he was teaching. The only thing he seemed interested in was calling Adam out, asking him to translate a sentence he had just scrawled on the board, and then telling him off for not knowing the answer, seeing as this was Adam’s first ever day learning Latin. A few of the students laughed with Whelk.
Adam stared at his workbook. He had skimmed it a few times, familiarising himself with the grammar, the declensions, a few very basic words. Puella, puer, agricola, terra, silva - none of which appeared in the sentence Whelk wanted translated.
Adam blamed the deafness in his left ear - facing the door - on not noticing that two other students had stepped inside, but he ought to have noticed Whelk’s eyes darting towards the door even while he laughed at Adam.
“He knows nothing,” said a smug sounding voice. “qui nihil scit. Real nice, welk.”
Despite the fact that said aloud, Whelk and welk sounded the same, it was obvious in this new student’s tone that he meant the latter.
“Mr Lynch,” Whelk said, sounding entirely unimpressed. “And Mr Gansey. Late.”
“I am sorry, sir,” the student on the left said, his voice much more suited to speaking to teachers. “The Pig broke down on our way here. We’ve already signed in late with the office.” He held up two pink slips as evidence that their tardiness had already been noticed and accepted.
For a moment, Whelk’s face struggled, as if he were attempting a superior look of disdain, but only managing to land somewhere around smarmy.
“Whatever,” he snapped. “Sit. The both of you. And you, Lynch, maybe next time you arrive on time and know that that question wasn’t a free for all.”
“Whatever,” Lynch mocked back.
The polite one - Gansey - headed directly towards Adam, hesitating just slightly as he came even with Adam’s desk.
“Richard Gansey,” Gansey said, holding his hand out for an honest to god handshake. “Nice to see a new face.”
“Adam Parrish,” Adam said, uncertain if this was supposed to be some sort of prank. If he tried to take Gansey’s hand to shake it, would Gansey pull away? He lifted his hand just slightly and Gansey took hold of it, shook it firmly.
“You’re in my seat,” Lynch said, standing behind Gansey, looming, somewhat.
“Don’t be rude, Ronan,” Gansey said not turning around. He let go of Adam’s hand and smiled brightly. “We’ll be sitting next to each other, us three. Ronan,” he added, now glancing over his shoulder. “You sit on the left.”
Ronan Lynch grumbled slightly, but did as directed.
Adam kind of thought that Gansey was the sort of boy whose directions were followed out. He looked it. He was very tan - though not the sort of tan that came with tank top lines, too much time working out in the sun. His hair was a nearly golden looking brown - Adam hadn’t realised that was a shade that brown came in - and was styled perfectly. His uniform was perfectly fitted, perfectly clean, and somehow perfectly accentuated his obviously muscled body in a way that Adam’s uniform very flatly did not.
Ronan, on the other hand, looked almost the complete opposite of Ganey’s apparent perfection. His uniform was ruffled, buttons already undone, tie askew. He had the sort of tan that looked more like he’d gotten burnt and then it had faded into a mild and vaguely speckly tan. His hair was wild, dark curls falling over his eyes, sticking in the air, defying gravity and probably also the dress code. The things that these two boys had in common, however, was something Adam had no hope of properly emulating. These two were both obviously rich, healthy, and, if appearances were to be believed, happy.
“If you three have quite finished your little chit chat,” Whelk said sourly from the front of the class, “might I resume my class?”
“Awfully sorry,” Gansey called, sitting down on Adam’s right.
Whelk turned to write more on the board. Adam considered the fact that he had two obvious friends sitting on either side of him, and he was probably about to be talked over and around for the entire class if he didn’t do anything.
“I can move, if you want,” he whispered to Gansey. “So you can sit next to Lynch.”
“Oh, no, no,” Gansey said, smiling far too cheerfully, “I wouldn’t want to put you through the hassle.”
“It’d be no hassle,” Adam began, and was then promptly interrupted by Whelk.
“Parrish,” Whelk snapped. “I’m sure you’re used to a rather less structured class room, but here at Aglionby , we don’t whisper secrets between desks. You do know, don’t you, that if you cause too much trouble, that your scholarship gets revoked?”
Adam did know that. He closed his mouth, drew himself closer in on himself nodded tightly.
“Yes sir,” Adam said, as clearly as he could so he wouldn’t be further reprimanded for mumbling. “Sorry sir.”
That should have been the end of it. Except.
“Uh,” Ronan said, loud enough that Adam winced, even though Ronan was sitting on his deaf side. “Sir? You do realise that Carruthers and Thomas in the back have been talking this whole time, right? You’re not just telling Parrish here off because he’s the new kid, are you?”
The room sat in silence for a half beat.
Lynch got detention, Adam got glared at, Gansey got very apologetic.
The rest of his first day went much better than his first class. Yes, the majority of his classmates snickered at him from behind their hands, and his teachers looked down their noses at him, and his back ached, and his wrist ached, and he was legitimately terrified that Dana was going to call the school to say that there had been an emergency with Ethan -
But. He shared a few more classes with Gansey and Lynch. In fact, according to his time table, which Gansey had asked to see, right after Latin class had ended, he shared all his classes with at least one of them, except for his advanced physics class, and his weights class.
He walked to their next class together - history - and Gansey talked about how neither he or Lynch were in the weights class because Gansey was captain of the rowing team, and because Lynch had tennis, singles, doubles, matches, a lot of different words being said as if Adam was well versed in sporting language. He knew football, because that was what his father liked, and that was about it.
The three of them ate lunch together, other students joining them briefly - almost always to talk to Gansey. Gansey seemed to be a beacon of popularity, which, well, Adam got. He was handsome, and clever, and rich, and friendly, it made sense. What made less sense, was that it appeared that Gansey’s best friend was in fact not the other outgoing, golden, smiling students flitting around him, but Ronan Lynch, who -
Well. Ronan Lynch was obviously also wealthy, and handsome, and clever, but - it wasn’t so much that he came off as scary, more like he came off as selective, maybe? Certainly not as friendly as Gansey, certainly not as willing to talk to every teacher and student they passed by. Certainly not as happy as Gansey was to welcome someone new into their fold. Not that it mattered. Adam didn’t need to be part of any fold. He was happy enough that Gansey would deign to ask him to join them for lunch, didn’t need to be friends more than that.
All he needed, was to get through Aglionby, and then get out of Henrietta, Ethan in hand. So, Ronan could stop giving him odd looks over the top of Gansey’s head, it wasn’t like Adam was planning on stealing his best friend spot, or even to hang around after school.
His whole first week managed to go well, actually. Ethan was happy enough with Dana, Dana was happy enough with Ethan, he was getting to his shifts in enough time, was doing his homework in time, was finishing his chores, was keeping Ethan happy and entertained, and warm, and fed, and, and, and he was exhausted, but doing it .
He sat with Gansey in all the classes they shared together, sat opposite Ronan in the two classes that just the two of them shared. He didn’t always sit with them at lunch. Didn’t want to make it look like he was just… limpeting onto them, and their wealth. Their status. Sometimes he went to the library, sometimes the field. Mostly the library, though, because they had computers, and it was much easier to just sit in there and do his homework over lunch break than try and do it when he got home, writing everything out by hand, juggling a baby on one knee.
Even his wrist was doing better. He could go without the brace now, even if it did still twinge slightly on his bike ride.
He supposed this was sort of like the kernel of hope he’d had before Ethan was born. The hope that life would go smoothly, that he’d escape punishment and devastation. That he could move forwards without any sort of retribution.
On Sunday evening, Ethan got a bee sting while sitting outside in the yard with Adam. Adam had been doing his chores, doing as many as he could outdoors, because the sun was still out, the air still warm, and he’d read that it was vital for children to spend a lot of time outdoors. Something about vitamins, and immunity, and mental health.
So. he’d put the blanket from his bed out on the thin grass, put Ethan down on it, alongside some toys that Adam had bought from thrift shops, or had been gifted by workmates whose children had outgrown them. Ethan was at the stage where he was perfectly happy having tummy time, propping himself up on tiny chubby elbows, grabbing at his toys, making little devious baby plans to get spit on every single spot of the blanket without even turning around.
It ought to have been okay to turn his back, just for a moment, it wasn’t like he’d even left the yard. He’d just ducked his head down into the toolbox, looking for a screwdriver fitting that had dropped down into one of the crevices between sections.
He hit his head, hard , on the top of the box when Ethan cried out. Spilled tools everywhere as he stood up and dashed over to the blanket, to Ethan. He couldn’t see what was wrong at first, just that Ethan was crying like the world was ending, and Adam had fucked up, and Ethan’s face was all screwed up and wet, and Adam had fucked up .
The bee was still moving, feebly, when Adam scooped Ethan up into his lap. It was dangling from Ethan’s chubby hand even as Ethan flailed his limbs around in a blind effort to stop the pain.
If Adam weren’t so keenly aware that anyone in the trailers around them could be peering through their windows at him right now, that anyone of his neighbours would be more than happy to tell tales about him to his parents, he might have cried as well as he held Ethan’s hand still so he could pinch the stinger out.
There was baking soda in the cupboard, so he made a paste with it and water, tried to smear it over the red mark on Ethan’s palm. Difficult to do, seeing as babies seemed to like to keep their hands screwed up into fists, particularly when they were upset. Difficult to do, seeing as Adam’s mother was yelling at him to keep the noise down because she had a headache.
Everything was difficult to do while holding a crying baby. He needed to finish up his chores, or at the very least, get the engine he was working on back into the garage before his father got home, the tools put away. He needed to do his homework, needed to be able to focus. Needed to not annoy his parents. Needed Ethan to get a good nights sleep. Needed -
He made up a bottle for Ethan. Stuck him in the mei-tie for comfort while the milk heated. Wedged the bottle in between the straps so he could use both hands to finish off his chores. He didn’t do a great job, but it was definitely passable. Ethan fell asleep, cheeks sticky with tears and snot and milk. Adam cleared the yard up. Went back inside.
“The least you could do is clean up after yourself,” his mother hissed at him when he came in. She pointed at the baking soda still on the bench, at the cup with the leftover paste still in the sink. “You expect me to do everything around here. I work, y’know? You don’t get a special exemption just because you like babysitting. You’ve got to pull your weight around here. You wouldn’t want me to tell your dad you’re slacking.”
“Sorry,” Adam said. “I forgot about it.”
“Oh?” Alice sneered. She stood up, though standing didn’t really add much to her height. “You forgot about it? Is that fancy little school giving you airs and graces, then? You have the luxury to forget about messes you made? Do you think a main is going to come clean up after you? You think I’m your maid?”
“No,” Adam said, kept his voice as deferential as possible, because even though his mother wasn’t really physically a threat, the things she could do verbally were nearly as painful as his father’s fists. “I’m sorry, mum. I’ll clean it up right now.”
His father’s arrival home was announced first by the slamming of the trailer door, secondly by his father calling for a beer, and thirdly by Ethan startling awake from the noise, fisting his hand on reflex, and rediscovering his bee made injury.
Adam had kept him in the mei-tie, thank god, because it made him easy to keep asleep, soothed chest to chest, and now made it easier to hold him tight and close in an initial attempt at soothing Ethan, and quietening him before their father lost his temper in the other room.
No avail. Ethan was, thank god , unaccustomed to hurt, and it was bewildering for him to still be in pain, for it to not go away even with Adam right there holding him, and he cried without fear of consequence, because, well, this was a whole new situation for him.
Robert didn’t bother knocking on the small door of Adam and Ethan’s cramped room. He opened it and stood there, as effective as blocking out light as the door itself.
“What the fuck is going on?” He asked, somewhere near the top end of nasty. “I get home from a long day at work and you can’t even be fucked keeping the kid down?”
“Sorry,” Adam said, closed his workbook quickly. “He got a bee sting, and -”
“Bee stings don’t fucking hurt,” Robert snapped. “What, he allergic or something?”
“No,” Adam said, fought to keep his voice even. “But it’s sore for him, and -”
He wished he was in a situation that did not involve explaining pain to grown adults.
“Get him quiet,” Robert said, “or I’ll make you sore, too.”
It wasn’t the most clever of threats, Robert was often quite good at wordplay while threatening Adam, but, it was still effective. “Sir,” Adam said with a nod. “I’ll - I’ll take him for a walk. Calm him down.”
“It’s dinner time,” Robert sneered, already turning out of the room. “You’ll miss it.”
This was not a suggestion that Adam did not go for a walk, rather, the unsaid promise that they would not save him food.
Ethan did not settle on the walk. He wailed all the way to the end of the trailer park, cried all the way to the tiny convenience store, wailed again as Adam bought some muesli bars and a squeezy pouch of baby food. Pear and apple puree. Ethan stopped crying just long enough to finish the pouch, for Adam to arrive back at the trailer. Stopped crying again when Robert threw the front door open and yelled out of it that Adam was obviously wasting his goddamn time at that stupid gay boys school if he was so stupid he couldn’t even stop a baby from crying.
“Go put him down,” Robert snapped, still holding the door open, “and then you and me’ll have a talk.”
They had to squeeze past Robert in the doorway to get inside. Ethan was whimpering now, still clinging to his pouch, unwilling to be unwound from Adam’s front. His shoulders ached from where the cloth had dug into them, his back sore from carrying Ethan around for the last few hours. More painful to put Ethan down on the floor though. Lying him down on the blanket from outside, still with his toys on it. Safer than leaving him alone on a bed, much safer than taking him back out into the main room.
He closed his bedroom door. The conversation with his father was non-verbal. He cleaned up in the bathroom, and then went back to Ethan.
He hated leaving Ethan to cry, knew it was terrible for development. He’d read too many articles about how it stopped healthy brain development, and created difficulties down the line with attachment, and intimacy, and trust, and he believed all of it, because, well. He was a perfect model of it, really.
“Sorry, sorry,” he murmured as he picked Ethan up, as he sat them both down on the bed. “Hey, buddy, sweetheart, I’m sorry. I’m here now, I’m here.”
He avoided the two headed best that was Gansey and Lynch on Monday. Sat in the back of the class, kept his head down. Dashed out of the classroom before they could catch up to him. Ate in the library, ignored Ronan trying to catch his eye in Science class.
He’d been too relaxed the last week, even while wound up tight and terrified, he had been too relaxed. He’d let himself think that he had the time and energy to have people who could maybe eventually be friends. He had let himself think that he wouldn’t get bruised up, wouldn’t have to explain away his injuries.
It would be safer, and easier, to just get through Aglionby with his head down, without letting anyone close. Eventually no one would try, after all, the only people who had even attempted a friendship with him had been Gansey and various Gansey followers on. Once Gansey gave up, which Adam was sure he would relatively quickly, no one else would bother. This would make life easier for everybody.
He knew it wasn’t exactly logical - and logic was a large part of how he tried to live his life - but his mind was a mess of if I hadn’t done this, then that wouldn’t’ve happened ’s, and currently the biggest if this than that , had been the incredibly illogical; if I’d kept my head down at school, fate wouldn’t’ve been tempted, Ethan wouldn’t’ve been stung, I wouldn’t’ve been hit- .
It didn’t make sense, but it didn’t have to make sense. Adam was well aware that despite wishing to be a creature of logic and wisdom, really all he was was a mess of fear, and instinct, and the need to run, and if sitting in the back of all his classes, and avoiding the only people in Aglionby who seemed to actually be interested in his opinion, was what helped soothe his fear down enough to fake enough logic, then he’d take it.
One issue though. Or, well, truthfully? Several issues. Millions of issues. Mostly ignored. Unignorably? Ronan Lynch waiting outside his weights class, in his tennis white and a frown. Adam tried to slip past. Had been slipping past both him and Gansey since Monday, Thursday ought to be no different. Except Ronan grabbed his arm, pulled him out of the stream of students, into the storage room, which was cramped, and smelled of sweat and rubber.
“What?” Adam hissed, pulling his arm free the moment Ronan lessened his grip. He refused to pull when he knew he wasn’t getting free, wasn’t going to waste his energy on that.
Right now, Ronan stood between him and the door, so he would wait to hear what Ronan wanted, wait for Ronan to move, then leave. Wouldn’t try to escape just to be stopped.
“Jesus,” Ronan hissed back, folding his arms across his chest, eyebrows raised at Adam so high that they got slightly lost behind his thick dark curls. “What the hell happened to you, man?”
Adam didn’t reply.
“Is someone here giving you shit for hanging out with us?”
Ronan’s shoulders were broad, seemed broader under the white t-shirt he was wearing. Adam kept his gaze focused on the top of his left shoulder, still didn’t reply.
Ronan swore again, though he didn’t sound angry. “Gansey’s too polite to corner you and ask, but he thinks he offended you.”
“He didn’t,” Adam said, because he did like Gansey, despite Gansey’s overly polite exterior, and his overly excitable interior. “I’m just busy.”
“Busy,” Ronan said, snorted. “We’re in the same classes, Parrish, what’re you busy with? We’ve barely been set any homework. You could at least sit next to Gansey.”
“I can’t,” Adam said, stiff. He wished his bruises had faded quicker. He wished they had faded lighter. He wished they weren’t a lurid green curling around his jaw. “I just told you that I’m busy.”
“Busy getting beat up?” Ronan snapped, “Are you avoiding us because you’re embarrassed you’re being picked on? Gansey can get that to stop. Hell, I could if you want -”
“Shut up ,” Adam snapped back. Couldn’t stand it anymore. He was standing in the middle of this horrifying see-saw of emotions. On one end was this dreadful yearning for the friendship that was being so casually offered to him. Friends who would stand up for him. Friends who noticed he was hurt. Friends who wanted his company. On the other end was his constant, stomach churning, roiling anger. Angry that his was so scared all the time, angry that he was hurt up, angry that he had a whole other human being to care for when he could barely look after himself, angry that people like Ronan were so blasé about offering help. Angry that he needed help. “I don’t need your help, Lynch. I’m fine. Just leave me alone.”
He wasn’t really sure what he expected. For Ronan to get angrier, for Ronan to push back, for Ronan to try and argue his case? Not for Ronan to stare at him for a long moment, impassive, then shrug and leave.
Adam waited for a count of ten before pushing the door open and leaving as well. He felt sick to the stomach. He felt lonely. He felt relieved.
Weights had been his last class of the day. If he didn’t hurry, he was going to be late to Boyd’s.
sorry if you started reading this before I edited it and added back in the first line of the chapter lol.
Seven months old! Here’s what to expect; things are going to get busier! Your little bundle of joy is beginning to sit up steadily, grabbing for what they want (their toys, your coffee!), maybe starting to crawl even (watch out!). Your seven month old will start communicating! Responding to emotions, and familiar faces and words. Expect a lot of ‘talking’!
It was always a gamble using the school computers to do little more than type up essays, because there were always idiots hanging around the computers with their loud friends, but Adam was far too busy to take time to go to the public library.
The problem was, was that according to Adam’s research, Ethan ought to have begun - not talking by any means - but babbling. Starting to experiment with vowels, and noises, and responses. Ethan was doing very well according to all the other checklists - he was a little on the small size, but he seemed healthy, and curious. Just. Silently. Aside from the crying, and the occasional snoring, Ethan just didn’t talk.
This was upsetting for a few differents reasons. Reason one was because Adam was reasonably certain that Ethan wasn’t ‘talking’ because he’d already learned that talking got you hut. Reason two was that Adam had almost certainly fucked up.
He’d talked about it - very briefly - with Dana, just that morning. Her twins were already talking to each other, albeit in a language only they seemed to understand. She suggested it could just be because he was pre-term, or maybe he was just one of those babies who wanted to wait until they could speak in full sentences. A little genius baby, she’d said with a smile and a wink. She’d patted Adam’s back, sent him off to school.
It was just. Well. Ethan may very well be a genius baby, but even genius babies needed to be properly cared for so as not to hinder their development, and Adam was certain he was hindering Ethan’s development. He was obviously doing something wrong, wasn’t doing something enough. He should be talking to Ethan more, nevermind that his parents didn’t like him talking aimlessly. He should expose Ethan to more conversation.
The computer room was always quieter during lunchtime, very few students opted to skip out on eating just to use a dusty old computer, not when they had their own laptops, cellphones, whatever. It still wasn’t entirely empty, though.
While Adam had been looking up baby milestones, trying to adjust them for premature babies, trying to figure out at what age you could stop adjusting for prems, wondering if he should just think of Ethan’s NICU leaving date as his birthdate just to make things easier -
While he was doing all of that, a group of students were huddled around just the one computer at the back of the room. He had been ignoring them, because as far as he could tell, all of them were troublemakers, bullies, generally unpleasant to be around. Still, when they all erupted into cheers, it was difficult to pretend they weren’t in the room with him.
“Hey!” One of them yelled across the room. “Poverty boy!”
Adam didn’t look up.
Adam continued with his research.
“We hacked the school firewall, you can look up porn now!”
“Bet you’ve never even seen tits before, huh?”
“Nah I bet he’s seen his mum’s saggy tits!”
Adam exhaled slowly, kept his eyes down. He needed to finish up here, and leave as soon as possible, before any teachers heard the ruckus and sunk the whole room in detention together.
One of the boys, Adam was vaguely aware of him in a few of his classes - a background malevolent presence - appeared behind him, as if by magic, rather than sheer grease. Adam wasn’t entirely sure of his name, just that his friends were calling him The Joker currently, because his initials spelled jk. Truly inspiring stuff.
“The fuck is this,” the boy snorted. He had his hand on the back of Adam’s chair, swiveled in to the side. “Oh, sorry trailer trash, I didn’t know you were a premature baby. Bet that’s held you back a lot, huh?”
Adam swiveled his chair back, using his legs to keep the chair still while The Joker attempted to swivel him away again. Exited out of his web pages, and logged out of his school account.
“Aw, you premature with other things too?” Another boy had joined the first. This one was slightly shorter, but more filled out, less crap in class. Prokopenko. “You squirt just seeing your mum’s saggy tits?”
If Adam was less adept at stifling his rage, and pushing it back down his throat and into his gut to give him indigestion later, he might have stood up and punched Prokopenko at this. Not at the insult to his mother, just for the truly disgusting combination of words, the rush of bile they caused at the back of his throat.
He stood up, picking up his book bag as he did. Moved to leave.
Maybe he should have been expecting to be hit. He was always expecting to be hit at the trailer. Around his father.
He always told himself that if someone else hit him, he’d fight back. He was so full of rage and suppressed energy. The problem was, though, was that the reason he didn’t fight back when his father hit him was because he knew the repercussions. If he hit back, his father would hit back harder. His father had a gun. His father might hurt Ethan. His father might hurt Alice. His father might kill him.
If this was a kid at the trailer park, picking a fight with him, or some random guy, maybe Adam could fight back. But these were Aglionby students, here because their parents were rich, powerful. If Adam hit back, who was anybody going to believe? He could be expelled. He could be reported to the police. He could get sued.
He didn’t hit back. He shifted his body to try and accommodate the hits, to have them land as easily as possible. He didn’t cry out, he didn’t let any tears fall. He wouldn’t give them that.
They got bored reasonably quickly, leaving him so they could go back to their mission to fill all the computers in school with porn borne viruses.
Adam took himself to the nearest bathroom.
The damage wasn’t too bad. His nose was bleeding, but it wasn’t broken. The damage could be cleaned up with just a bit of wet toilet paper, with pulling his school jumper on, rolling the sleeves down. He jumped when a voice spoke from behind him.
“I could never hit back either,” the voice said.
Adam didn’t turn around, could see in the mirror, now he knew to look, a boy sitting on a closed toilet in one of the open cubicles. He was shadowed, but he looked a little older than Adam, a dark shape like a bruise over one eye.
“I chose not to hit back,” Adam said, was so sick of seeing his own reflection. He turned away from the mirror, hefting his bag back onto his shoulder.
“I think,” the boy said, his voice somehow quieter now Adam wasn’t looking at him, “sometimes, that there isn’t really a choice.”
Adam left the bathroom. Maybe if he were a better person, a more whole person, a less bruised person, maybe he would have stayed and talked to the boy in the cubicle who was obviously struggling as well. But Adam just didn’t have the emotional energy, or really, any energy. If he wanted to even get through the rest of the day, he couldn’t afford to give away anything more to anyone.
He really, really wanted Ethan to speak.
A late Saturday night, and Adam was working at Nino’s. Ethan was asleep against his chest, and Adam would really like to switch him around onto his back to make serving easier, but he’d started teething the week before and hadn’t been sleeping well, so he was loathe to move him in case he woke up.
He was used to Aglionby boys coming into Nino’s. Most of them didn’t recognise him at all, just treated him like any other townie (badly), but there were always a few students who did know who he was, who sniggered behind their hands and pointed. Who called Adam ‘Nino’ in class the day after seeing him.
Today it was the group of boys from the computer room. Adam had paid more attention the past week, learned that The Joker was actually Joseph Kavinsky. That he was right to not have hit back, because rumour had it that Joseph was the son of a Bulgarian mob leader. That he had the power to just kill people. Adam wasn’t sure he believed that, not all the way, but he wasn’t about to risk it.
He’d taken their table, because the only other sever on was Blue, and one of the group had already tried to grab her ass while she was seating them.
“Aw,” Joseph cooed, once Adam approached their table with his notebook, a carefully plastered on smile, and the sleeping baby. “You’re so poor you have to work two jobs at once? Wow.”
“What can I get y’all?” Adam asked, kept his voice bland.
“We could just throw their food at them from behind the counter,” Blue suggested. Joseph and his group were the only customers in the diner at that moment, and so Adam and Blue were taking their chance at hiding behind the counter while they had it. “I don’t want you going back out there.”
“They’re not going to grab my butt,” Adam mumbled, had his hand on Ethan’s head, running his thumb over Ethan’s forehead. “I’ll be fine.”
“Adam,” Blue grunted, “you literally told me that these - these goons beat you up last week.”
Adam regretted telling her that. It had seemed like a sensible idea at the time, four days ago, getting to really complain about Aglionby, having a sympathetic listener, being able to freely talk about his bruises because they weren’t caused by his father.
“So it’s out of their system now,” Adam said.
Blue made a face at him, very clear that she did not agree, and also that she thought Adam was a fucking idiot. “What about Ethan?” she said, pulling out the big guns. “What if it’s not out of their system, and they hit you and hurt Ethan?”
“Don’t say shit like that,” Adam hissed. “Jesus. Fine. You hold Ethan then.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Blue protested, but then sighed, shrugged. “Okay,” she said. “But if he wakes up, I’m taking the table, and you’re taking him back.”
“Deal,” Adam agreed.
It was a little fiddly, untying the mei-tie without disturbing Ethan, then switching Ethan from Adam’s chest to Blue’s (after removing about thirteen badges from the front of her shirt), and then retying the mei-tie. Ethan snuffled a little throughout the process, but didn’t wake.
Adam served Joseph and the shit heads, Blue kept Ethan on her so Adam could continue to be on call. The bell over the front door jingled as more customers came in.
Adam had his back turned, was sweeping out a booth, but he still recognised Gansey’s voice, Ronan’s corresponding laugh.
When he turned around, Blue was seating the three of them. The third was the bruised boy from the bathroom a week ago, still somehow looking as if he were sitting in shadow.
“It’s very nice that the management lets you bring your baby to work,” Gansey was saying to Blue.
“Part of our uniform,” Blue said briskly, handing over three menus. “We borrow the babies.”
Gansey looked politely incredulous, Ronan laughed, and the other boy smiled, as if he were in on the joke.
“Oh,” Gansey said. “I - if I offended you, let me assure you that I didn’t mean to, ms, uh -” Gansey paused here to squint at Blue’s name tag, which she’d repinned to the front of the mei-tie. “Veronica?”
“That’s the baby’s name,” Blue snapped, sounding very amused underneath her customer service anger. “And keep your voice down, he’s sleeping.”
“His name is Veronica?” Ronan asked, sardonic, eyebrows raised.
Adam had no idea what he ought to be doing currently. He didn’t really want to draw attention to himself, not with two sets of Aglionby students he didn’t want to deal with, right here. He also didn’t want Ethan to wake up. He also wanted to go over there and introduce Ethan to Gansey and Ronan. He also, quite embarrassingly, wanted to go over there and ask if it was Gansey and Ronan’s schtick to pick up a new charity case every couple of weeks, and if he hadn’t dropped them, would they have dropped him?
He didn’t do any of that. He finished sweeping out the booth. Kept his head down. Got Joseph’s table another round of shakes and fries. Kept his head down. Pretended he wasn’t listening in to Gansey and Ronan and bathroom boy’s conversation. Pretended he wasn’t jealous. Took Ethan back after Joseph’s group left. His in the back room with Ethan while Gansey paid and left.
They locked up after that.
“God those Aglionby brats are going to kill me,” Blue muttered, her tone quite furious as she wiped down the recently vacated table. “With all there condescension. Did you know, that the - the stupidly posh looking one, he gave me a three hundred percent tip? Because I’m a working mother? Jesus, all the - the pity in his eyes, like he thought it was a bad thing!”
“Three hundred percent?” Adam asked, was wiping down the cash register. “What the - I mean, you surely can’t be complaining about the money, right?”
“Not the money, just the condescension,” Blue snapped. “Anyway, the money is yours.”
As she spoke, she pulled a number of notes out of her front pocket, thrust them in Adam’s direction.
“No,” Adam shook his head, “no. He gave it to you. You were his server.”
“He didn’t give it to me for serving,” Blue said, “he gave it to me because he thought I was Ethan’s mother . So it’s yours.”
“I’m not Ethan’s mother,” Adam protested. “I’m just his brother. So -”
“Take the money,” Blue snapped, “or so help me, I will squirt ketchup into your shoes.”
Very early Wednesday morning, while Adam was juggling Ethan’s breakfast (A bottle and a small pouch of puree), eating his own breakfast (a piece of bread stale enough he was pretending it was toast), and gathering his stuff for school and for dropping Ethan of with Dana, he knocked his head against the sharp corner of the bottom of the kitchen cupboard when he straightened up from filling Ethan’s bottle.
“Ow,” he hissed, didn’t have hands free to rub at it, squinted through the pain. “Milk, bud?”
“Ow,” Ethan replied squinted back at him.
Awesome. Adam had managed to have Ethan’s first word be pain related. That was definitely not foreboding.
“Seriously, Blue,” he snapped, more than twelve hours later in the same day, as he adjusted his apron around the straps of the mei-tie. “I genuinely hit my head on the cupboard. Ask Ethan, he was there.”
Blue shot him a very peeved sort of look. “I don’t know how you really expect me to believe that, when your every other excuse is that you hit yourself on a cupboard. I know you’re not that clumsy, Adam Parrish, I work with you. I’ve watched you juggle that crying baby - who cannot vouch for you by the way as he does not talk - and an entire tray of drinks. You have like, superhuman grace.”
“So I’m clumsy on unpaid time,” Adam grumbled. “And. Ethan did say his first word today.”
Blue’s cloudy expression cleared away swiftly, her eyes widening. She shifted the fabric of the mei-tei and the apron so she could peer in at Ethan, who was resting his head on Adam’s chest while gnawing at a teething ring Adam had been gifted by Dana (she’s pre-emptively smeared it with teething gel, and he’d thanked her so effusively that she’d snorted with laughter). “Is that so, buddy boy?” She asked him, “What did you say? Did you tell your big brother that he’s a nerd?”
Adam rolled his eyes, though all he felt was faint fondness. “Nah,” he said. “He said ow .”
“Oh.” Blue straightened up - not that that changed her height much. “Ow?”
“I hit my head,” Adam said, “on the cupboard, and said ow, and he repeated it.”
“Huh,” Blue cocked her head to one side. “Okay. I believe your story today, nerd boy.”
Adam rolled his eyes again, but was saved from having to think up an answer by their manager appearing in their door way and telling them - quite grumpily - that their break was up, and they needed to get back out there.
Adam was incredibly grateful for management at Nino’s - they could easily have said no to bringing Ethan with him to work, it wasn’t like they would get in trouble for it, and so he worked incredibly hard to stay in their good books. Always on time, always tidy, always polite. It did help that Ethan was quiet, even if it did bring Adam a lot of stress.
The evening had quieted down somewhat, family groups clearing out. Adam was glad for it, not only because he was tired - his usual exhaustion always at his heels, coupled up with the extra exhaustion of students all day pointing at his bruised forehead - but because it meant he could actually properly talk to Blue now that they weren’t on a million tables each.
“So,” Blue said, the two of them meeting at the water table, filling jugs from the tank. “Those stupid raven boys keep coming back. Y’know, the group of them?”
Adam’s stomach roiled. “Kavinsky?” he asked. “Uh, the group that all just reeked of smoke and booze? Tried to grab you?”
“No,” Blue shook her head, shifted her full jug, and grabbed another empty one to fill. “The - the overbearing women’s right activist. The one who tipped me all that spare change because he thought I was a single mother. Which - honestly, why would he assume I was single?”
Adam’s stomach roiled in the opposite direction. He swallowed down on the roiling, and aimed for levity. “Isn’t it a good thing? The massive tipping, and the fact that he’s a feminist?”
“No,” Blue hissed, “don’t you see? He’s not really a feminist, he just wants women to think that so he can go right on ahead talking down to them, flashing his money -”
Adam had only spent a week, really, with Gansey, but he already knew this was wrong. It wasn’t that he liked contradicting Blue, especially over something like feminism which she had single handedly lectured him into knowledge about, but -
“I actually know Gansey,” Adam mumbled. “The uh - the tall, brown haired boy? Who tipped you. He’s really - he’s just like that. He likes to help.”
Blue stared at him, both her eyebrows raised high, the exaggerated movement causing a sudden rain of glitter from her thick brows onto her eyelashes. “You’re friends with president cellphone?”
Adam snorted, amused at the nickname despite himself. It was apt, and even though Blue was obviously attempting to say it with distaste, he could still hear her own vague… affection in it.
“No,” he said. “I - well. We were, I guess, but -”
“He raven zoned you?” Blue interrupted. “So he’s nice , and likes to help, but still -”
“I have no idea what raven zoned is meant to mean,” Adam said, “but no. I - like I said. He likes to help, and I guess I was worried that eventually his desire to help would - would -”
Understanding dawned on Blue’s face. “Would butt heads with your stubborn ass,” she finished for him. “Because you don’t like being helped.”
Adam shrugged. Ethan reached his hand out one side of the mei-tei and dropped the teething ring.
After Adam had gone into the kitchen and the kitchen hand had sterilised the teething ring, Adam took advantage of the more quiet, later night, to attempt to put Ethan to sleep. Their manager agreed to switch the radio from pop to classical, the lights were always a bit dimmer at this time of night, and Ethan for some reason, almost always fell asleep if Adam swept the floor for long enough.
He’d just started to hear Ethan’s breathy little sleep snuffles, when the door chimed lightly, and three boys came in, chatting to each other loudly, their voices overlapping. Ethan twitched awake.
Blue, who had taken over most of the tables at this point so that Adam could focus on cleaning, and therefore putting Ethan to sleep, shot Adam a look, eyebrows high again, because of course this group of boys was Gansey and co.
Ever since Saturday, Adam had continued to see the third boy with Gansey and Ronan. He still didn’t actually know who the boy was, he didn’t share any classes with him, but he was sitting with Gansey and Ronan at lunch now, was with them in the hallways. The three of them, striding shoulder to shoulder down the hallways that were far too narrow for that. Adam, noticing them and slipping away so as not to be spotted.
He didn’t know whether or not to be hurt of relieved that his tentative spot had been taken so quickly. Gansey was obviously someone who liked having people at his side. He looked more cheerful when he was flanked by friends. Adam couldn’t begrudge him for that.
What he could begrudge him for, though, was the fact that it was Gansey and his two friends who’d woken Ethan up, who were the reason that Ethan was whimpering softly against Adam’s chest, was fisting his hands tight, kicking his legs.
Jesus. He really needed to buy some of that teething gel. If he skipped out on buying lunch for school the following week, he could afford to buy a a tube of bonjela, the gel that Dana swore by.
Currently he was standing off in the corner to the left of the door, and Blue was seating them half way up the room. There was no way Adam could sneak past them, so, if he wanted to stay unseen, he just had to stay out of sight, and calm Ethan down.
He snuck his hand under the apron, into the mei-tei, so he could rub his hand against Ethan’s back.
“I know,” he said, voice low, as soothing as he could manage through the tired ache flooding his body. “I know it hurts, buddy. It’s gonna be okay - it’ll feel better soon.”
Ethan didn’t settle exactly, but he calmed down enough for Adam to pick the broom back up and continue with his sweeping, hoping the movement would fully settle Ethan. While he swept, he heard Gansey talk.
“No Veronica again, today?”
“I did tell you his name wasn’t actually Veronica,” Blue said, her words followed by a clunking sort of noise that could only be her tossing the heavy menus onto the table rather than placing them down gently.
“Well,” Gansey hedged, his tone very familiar - very similar to the sort of tone he had used on Adam as well. Adam thought of it as his let’s be friends voice. “You didn’t tell us what his name was, Jane, I thought it’d be easier to -”
“And my name’s not Jane,” Blue snapped, her voice rising slightly, this time followed by a lot jangle that Adam - through experience - associated with her putting her hands angrily to her hips, her various bracelets loudly expressing her annoyance. “I did tell you my real name, so use it.”
“I’m sorry,” Gansey said immediately. “That was truly an honest mistake - your name is Blue, I know that, I am sorry -”
Ronan and the other Aglionby boy were sniggering, shaking their heads. Adam wondered how much of Blue’s annoyance was real, and how much was an act for her own enjoyment. It really was something to meet a raven boy who was as kind, and as willing to apologise for his mistakes at Gansey was.
Adam muffled his own snigger at the situation, and then regretted the snigger itself entirely, because something about it appeared to trigger Ethan’s fully awake and unhappy mode. He let out a mournful cry, one that sounded very much like it was the type to be followed up by several more. Possible wailing.
Adam turned, apologised quickly to the couple sitting at the table opposite the table Adam had been sweeping under, and then simply sat down at the table, next to his broom.
“Sweetheart,” he murmured, giving in to what was certainly the inevitable, and untying his apron. “Hey, hey, it’s okay. I’m here -”
Over his own attempts at soothing, and Ethan’s crying, he could hear Ronan speak up.
“Hey, if you need to go to your kid, we can wait, y’know.”
And then Gansey; “Please, we don’t want to keep you from him.”
Apron off, Adam loosened the straps of the mei-tie carefully. He should have put the teething ring in the freezer while he’d had the chance, that would have helped a little. “You hungry?” he tried instead. “Sore?”
With the straps loosened, he could run his hand fully down Ethan’s body.
“Ah,” he said. “You need a change. Of course. Sorry, buddy, I didn’t notice, huh?”
A shadow fell over him, and he looked up to see Blue, her expression somewhere between exasperated and concerned.
“Do you want me to take him?” She asked. “So they don’t think he’s yours?”
That might have been easier. Almost certainly would have. But it involved lying about how much Ethan meant to him, and last time had been an accident. Someone else’s assumption. This time would feel like Adam was making a choice. Also, it would involve Ethan being pried away from Adam, and Blue having to change his nappy.
“No,” he said. “It’s okay. I have to change his nappy, though, d’you mind being out here without me?”
Blue rolled her eyes. “I’m fine,” she said. “You know I’m often on solo shift anyway. Plus Mika’s just over there, so even if president cellphone does get - I don’t know - raucous , I’ll be fine.
“Okay,” Adam shuffled his way out from behind the table, accepting Blue’s hand to assist in standing up. She took his apron from the table for him. “Thanks.”
“All good,” she said. “I suppose I’ll go break the news that I’ve been reaping the benefits of being a solo mother without the truth of being a solo mother.”
“Good luck,” Adam mumbled.
He kept his head down as he walked alongside Blue back up the room, ducked it lower still sa they drew even with Gansey’s table.
“Parrish?” Gansey said.
Out of his periphery, he could see Ronan snap to attention, the third boy looking up. Adam carried on.
The bathroom, thankfully, was unisex, so it had a baby changing table. He still tried not to need to change Ethan at work too often, it was just one of those things that was a little too much while he was trying to tiptoe the line in keeping management happy with him bringing Ethan in.
He changed Ethan swiftly, then ducked quickly into the very small break room so he could grab the yogurt pouch he’d brought for Ethan just in case he got hungry. Ethan was thoroughly awake now, resistant to being wrapped back up in the mei-tie, wanted to be held upright on Adam’s hip.
There weren’t many customers. It’d be fine. Mika was in charge tonight, and they were easy going enough that Adam could probably get away with it. It would be fine.
He came back into the main room to something of a ruckus.
“I literally told you he wasn’t my kid!” Blue was saying angrily. “It’s not my fault you didn’t believe me!”
“I’m not refuting that,” Gansey said, his tone urgent, “I’m just - I suppose I’m confused -”
“About what?” Blue snapped back. “About what words mean when a woman says them? Or is it that I’m working at a diner? You think you can just ignore what I say? You think I’m a liar?”
It wasn’t a loud argument, exactly, but it was certainly disruptive, and had possibly been going on - in this sort of circular way - since Adam had gone to the bathroom with Ethan.
Seeing as Ethan was no longer crying, was awake and staring over at Blue, pointing in her direction, Adam headed over to them. This was at least partially his fault, and he owed it to Blue to help put out some of the fire at least.
“Ow,” Ethan said confidently, still pointing in Blue’s general direction.
“Yeah,” Adam said, “ow, indeed. You’re gettin’ good at pointin’, bud.”
The table had quietened down at Adam and Ethan’s approach, all four there watching Adam intently enough that Adam’s cheeks heated up and he wished he could divert his path, pretend he didn’t even see them.
“Parrish,” Gansey said again, once Adam drew even with the table. “It’s a - a pleasure to see you.”
If this was any other raven boy, Adam would consider this to be sarcasm, somewhere on the edge of cruel, even. But this was Gansey.
“I work here,” he said, not quite as nice a greeting as Gansey’s.
“Does the baby work here too?” Ronan asked. He was slumped back against his seat, brows furrowed, arms crossed. “Or was shorty here telling the truth when she said babies were part of the uniform?”
Blue made an abortive gesture at Ronan, only holding back, Adam was sure, because Ethan was right at her shoulder.
“I bring him to work, sometimes,” Adam said, kept his voice as steady as possible. He could feel Ronan’s eyes on his forehead, on the dark bruise sprawling there. “He’s usually pretty quiet. But he’s - he’s teething.”
Maybe if he just said every all matter of fact, it wouldn’t feel so embarrassing. It wouldn’t be a big deal. Gansey and Ronan and their new friend wouldn’t go and spread it all around school.
“Oh,” Gansey’s eyes were very wide. “He’s - you didn’t tell me you had a son, Adam, when you told me us you were too busy to spend time with us, I thought you were politely telling me that you didn’t enjoy our company, but you have a - a son!”
Ethan tugged at a large, cherry shaped clip in Blue’s hair, and she bent her neck so he could continue tugging at it without actually pulling her hair.
“He’s not my son,” Adam said, spoke to the chipped table top rather than look anyone in the eye. “He’s my baby brother.”
Blue unclipped the cherry, releasing it to Ethan’s curious fingers.
Ronan was the one who spoke first.
“Why are you on babysitting duty when you’re at work?” he asked. “Surely your parents don’t -”
“It’s none of your business,” Adam interrupted. “Look, Gansey. I didn’t mean to - to make you think I didn’t like you. I am busy. You know I’m at school on a scholarship. I have to work as well. Doesn’t leave much time for socialising.”
Gansey was frowning, he nodded along with Adam’s explanation, but didn’t look happy. “You could have told me this,” he said. “I would have understood. I - I could have helped -”
“Aw jeez,” Blue cut in. “Damn, Adam, sometimes you are spot on.”
“Blue,” Adam said.
Gansey looked befuddled, somewhat peevish, but mostly quite hurt.
“We should go,” Ronan said. He was sitting next to Gansey, but had shunted closer, had put his hand on Gansey’s wrist. “C’mon, man. Let’s go back to yours, order pizza in. Yeah?”
Gansey dropped his gaze from Adam and Ethan and Blue. He looked first at the table, and then at Ronan’s hand on him, and then at Ronan’s face. Ronan smiled at him, something a lot softer than Adam had ever seen on Ronan’s face before, and that was what did it.
Something hot and cold, ugly and precious, uncomfortable and needed, surged in his blood. He didn’t want them to go. He didn’t want to stay here thinking about how Gansey was able to be hurt, or how Ronan was able to be soft.
“Shit,” he mumbled, sidestepped around Blue, and sat down opposite Gansey and Ronan, next to the somewhat smudgy other boy (he also didn’t want to think about how he could be overlooked, how Adam, so used to being overlooked, was overlooking him).
“I’m Noah,” said the boy. “We met last week, I think?”
“Yeah,” Adam said. “Hi. Sorry I didn’t get your name then.”
“No,” Noah shook his head, the lighting suddenly flickering oddly. “You were hurt. It’s fine. I understand.”
“Ow,” Ethan said, examining the cherry clip with his mouth.
“Ow,” Noah repeated, solemn.
“Gansey,” Adam said. Still couldn’t look at faces. He tugged one of Blue’s hairs from the clip before it could be swallowed and possibly gagged on by Ethan. “I didn’t tell you because I was ashamed. Not because it was you.”
There was silence for a long moment from across the table.
“I hope,” Gansey said, slow, careful, as if he realised this entire interaction was somehow on a knife edge, one wrong move and anyone here could get cut. “I hope I didn’t do anything which made you feel like you should be ashamed.”
Adam cleared his throat. He was so bone tired. He hadn’t cleared any emotional energy to have a difficult conversation tonight. He wasn’t even sure how he was still functioning.
“You didn’t,” he said. “The rest of the school, on the other hand? I didn’t want any of this being common knowledge.”
More silence. This time Ronan broke it.
“We’re not gonna tell anyone,” he said, his voice just a tone nicer than caustic.
Adam cleared his throat again. Ethan pressed the spit slippery clip against his cheek.
“I don’t want,” he said, slow, “to be pitied.”
“Jesus,” Ronan again. “We’re not gonna fu--- uh - pity you, Parrish. Gansey wanted to be your friend, not your social work or some sh--ugar.”
Noah breathed out a laugh at Ronan’s aborted speech. Adam wiped his cheek, clipped the clip to the front of his shirt for Ethan to tug off again, and looked up.
“Still?” he asked.
Gansey no longer looked befuddled, peeved, or hurt. He wasn’t looking at Adam with pity or condescension. He looked somewhere closer to curious. He looked truthful. “Yes,” he said. “Adam Parrish, if you’ll still be our friend, despite our lack of manners to your lovely friend Blue, here, I would like that very much.”
Adam exhaled loudly. “Well,” he said. “So would I.”
It was a little insane actually, how easy it was to slip back into the tentative friendship he and Gansey had started at the beginning of term. Adam was still busy all the time, needing to be at work, or at school, or looking after Ethan, but he sat with Gansey and Ronan and Noah at school, in classes, during lunch. He didn’t volunteer much information, but neither did they really push him for it. They talked about school work, and books, and Ronan’s tennis, Gansey’s rowing, Noah’s love of skateboarding.
Adam was still aware that the four of them were still...cautious around each other. Gansey wasn’t quite as effusive, Ronan seemed more closed off, Noah seemed to have a habit of drifting, and Adam? Adam was always an introverted mess of a person. Still. He was trying.
He wasn’t sure exactly what had changed, what had made him convinced that having friends was worth the horrible concept of being known, seen, accountable. It wasn’t just that he didn’t want Gansey to be hurt, or that he wanted to see Ronan be soft again, or even that he felt this odd sort of kinship made from pain with Noah. It wasn’t even that he genuinely enjoyed their company, that he and Gansey could talk non-stop for what felt like forever, or that Ronan was actually very funny and clever. It wasn’t even just that Adam was giving in to the utter loneliness he felt near constantly, barely lifting even when he got to spend time with Blue.
It felt like something… something more , tugging him closer to the group of friends, like a rope tied behind his navel, pulling him inch by inch closer.
It felt right , and quite honestly, Adam didn’t know how to deal with that.
It took two more weeks before the line between Adam and Ethan and Adam and the raven boys was actually crossed.
After that night at Nino’s, with friendship offered and accepted, Ethan had stayed firmly in Adam’s lap, and then Adam had to get back to actually working, and soon after that, Blue had served the pizza to Gansey and Ronan and Noah, and the three of them had left.
It wasn’t quite that Adam had been kicking Ethan and his new friends apart, because he wasn’t. He was just busy, and parts of his life just didn’t cross over as often.
Which meant that when Adam stepped out of the grocery store, balancing his work bag, his school bag, his shopping, Ethan, and his exhaustion, he really wasn’t expecting to walk almost smack bang into Ronan.
As a kid he’d had the idea that most younger children had, that teachers just lived at school all the time, and it was oddly similar with Ronan and Gansey and Noah. He saw them at Aglionby, and occasionally at Nino’s, and that was it. Seeing Ronan here , just at the shops in the early evening was a shock.
“Parrish,” Ronan said, his eyebrows raised high, and well, Adam couldn’t blame him for looking unimpressed, really. .
The mei-tie had finally given up just a few days ago. It had already been second hand when it came to Adam, and he’d worn it nearly every single day, and Ethan might not be what you’d call a big baby, but he was still reasonably big, and the fabric of the straps had finally worn too thin for it to be safe to carry Ethan in anymore. Which meant, of course, that Ethan wasn’t strapped to his chest leaving his hands free for everything else, but instead clutched against Adam’s side, grizzling slightly about the fact that he had to share Adam’s arms with many, many bags.
“Lynch,” Adam said, sighed, because it was one thing for his friends to know he did most of the child care for Ethan, and another for Ronan to be here, seeing it. “What’re you doin’ in town? I thought you’d be back at home.”
“Gans isn’t feeling great,” Ronan said, his eyes fixed on Adam’s hand, white knuckled with the pressure of the bags digging into his bloodstream. “I’m staying over. Just picking up some orange juice for him.”
“Oh,” Adam said, because Gansey had seemed perfectly fine at school today, the beacon of health, quite honestly. “That sucks for him.”
Ronan ignored this. “You taking those to a car?” He asked, glanced over his shoulder at the car lot around them, as if expecting to see a car that just said PARRISH on it. “‘Cos it doesn’t look like you’ve got enough arms for that.”
Adam was too tired to bristle, so he just rolled his eyes instead, hefted Ethan up a little higher on his hip, ignoring the way his lower back tightened and tugged painfully with the movement. “No,” he said. “I’m walkin’.”
Ronan looked back at him, his face all in a scowl as his eyes darted from Ethan, to the bags, to the other bags, to Adam’s face. “Sure you are,” he said. “By yourself, huh?”
“I’ve got Ethan,” Adam said, as if him being lonely on the walk home was the issue Ronan was pointing out here.
“Yeah,” Ronan said, his voice near a snap. He groaned, ran a hand through his loose curls. “Look,” he said. “Lemme just call Gansey, and then I’ll - I’ll walk you home.”
“I’m fine to walk home myself,” Adam said, something stinging the back of his throat. A traitorous part of the back of his mind pinched at him, whispering about how he should just say yes . “But thanks.”
“Nah,” Ronan said. He’d pulled a phone out of his jeans pocket and quickly dialed. Adam had actually never seen him use it as a phone before, only a music making device. “Gans.--- Yeah. --- No.--- Gans ---- jeeeeeze - shut up a moment, okay? Look. Bumped into Parrish at the store. Gonna give him a hand with his bags and stuff, so I’m gonna be a bit longer, but I’ll be back with your juice soon. Okay? Yeah. --- Bye, man.”
He stuffed his phone back into his pocket, and then held his hand out expectantly to Adam. Adam just looked at it.
“What can I carry?” Ronan asked. “‘Cos if you don’t hand something over, I’m gonna just start taking them off you.”
Most of Adam wants to protest here, to point out that he didn’t ask for help. The rest of him, however, shifted his weight, and shrugged his heavy book bag off of his shoulder.
Ronan took it easily, swinging it over his own shoulder before holding his hand out again, and Adam passed over the bag that was mostly tins, and then another shopping bag, and then, when Ronan still held his hand out, a third. Then he repositioned his work bag carefully, swapped Ethan over onto his other side, flexed his fingers were all the blood had pooled.
“Okay,” Ronan said, evidently satisfied. “Lead the way, Parrish.”
The last time Adam had been alone with Ronan had been in the gym storage room, Ronan’s words pressing a bit too close to Adam’s secrets. Of course, they weren’t alone right now, because Ethan, but still. He wasn’t entirely sure how to talk to Ronan without the buffer of Gansey and Noah.
“How old is he?” Ronan asked, after they’d walked in silence for the length of one block.
Adam cleared his throat, glanced down at Ethan who was drooping sleepily against his shoulder.
“Nearly nine months,” he said, keeping his voice low in an attempt to not disturb Ethan. “But,” he added quickly, suddenly caught up in the fear that Ronan would point out just how small Ethan was. “He was nearly two months premature, so he’s - so he’s about the size of a seven month old.”
Ronan nodded. “Not too heavy, then,” he said. “I forgot that most babies aren’t the size of Lynch babies. I remember holding Matthew when he was about that age - though I was just a kid too, like, four years old, so it’d different - but he was so freaking heavy.”
Adam snorted slightly, shifting his arms just slightly under Ethan’s weight, because Ethan may not be the heaviest of babies, but carrying a baby all day still took its toll. “Yeah I believe it,” he said. “The size of your head, alone.”
Ronan laughed then, a sudden bite of surprise, and then actual amusement. He bent down just slightly so he could bump his shoulder against Adam’s, making Adam stumble just slightly. “Rude,” he said. “My head’s perfectly normal sized.”
“Uh-huh,” Adam said, rolled his eyes in Ronan’s direction. “And that’s why you declared that you were the king of Latin in our last class?”
Ronan laughed again. “Well,” he said. “That’s not big headed, I was just stating a fact. S’not my fault that none of you plebs can keep up with my massive intellect.”
“Massive head ,” Adam corrected.
Ronan grinned at him, all teeth and flushed cheeks.
“I don’t really have much experience with kids,” Ronan said then, much chattier than Adam had been expecting. “But I’ve bottle fed and looked after heaps of like, lambs, and kids - goat kids, not human kids - and some calves. So like, obviously it’s different, but I’m just saying that if you - I could probably - I’m good at holding small, delicate creatures.”
Adam took a moment to process this fully. His arms were aching , and his back felt like it was never going to unknot. It always ached when he carried Ethan for ages, but usually he at least got to settle Ethan’s weight on his back or his chest, over his shoulders and around his waist with the mei-tie, and carrying him around in his arms was a whole different type of strain.
“Lynch,” Adam said slowly, keeping his eyes on the pavement in front of them because this stretch of it was rugged, and he didn’t want to trip. “Is this your unsubtle attempt at asking to hold Ethan?”
He glanced at Ronan in time to see him shrugging.
“I’m just saying,” Ronan said. “If you needed a break at any point.”
“You’re already carrying most of the bags,” Adam pointed out.
“Yeah,” Ronan said. “But I’m not - I’m not just talking about right now, Parrish.”
Ronan swore very softly under his breath, as if worried that even asleep Ethan might pick up on it. “I’m saying,” he said, “that like. While you’re at Nino’s, or whatever, I mean, we hang out there heaps anyway, so if you wanted someone else to hold him while you’re working it wouldn’t be a problem.”
They walked in silence for another minute or so. The dark was settling in around them, and they crossed from shadows into pale puddles of light from the street lamps.
“Maybe,” he said eventually, once the silence had stretched on for long enough that he was worried it might just snap. “I - he’s not always… great with new people. With being held by other people. He doesn’t even like Blue holding him most of the time, honestly. So.”
“Okay,” Ronan said. “It’s just a suggestion. S’all.”
Despite the fact that it was Ronan who was offering Adam a favour, Adam felt oddly like he was the one refusing to do Ronan a favour. Confusing.
“I mean,” Adam said, slowed so he could carefully shift Ethan across his body and onto his other shoulder. “We can try it.”
“You’ve got a shift at Nino’s tomorrow night, yeah?” Ronan asked, which, well - Adam hadn’t realised he’d known Adam’s work schedule. “I could come ‘round then and we could give it a go.”
“Won’t you be going home?” Adam asked, vaguely confused, both about how Ronan knew his schedule, and the fact that Ronan - who had a home to go back to - would even want to stay in town to do Adam a favour that he hadn’t even asked for.
“I’ll just head home later,” Ronan said with a casual shrug. “Gansey and I’ll just drive out together.”
“Oh,” Adam said.
“Mum won’t mind,” Ronan continued. “Dad’s away on a work trip, and Declan’s on a school trip for the week, so we’re not really doing sit down dinners or whatever, and she doesn’t mind me staying out a bit late.”
The way Ronan talked about this - like it was just a normal thing for families to have sit down dinners together, for families to want everyone together, to have permission to just -
“Okay,” he said. “We can try it out tomorrow. Just don’t get all offended if Ethan decides you smell weird, or whatever.”
Ronan snorted. Adam stopped walking. They were coming up to the long drive into the trailer park. Ronan took a few more steps, and then paused, turned.
“I can take the bags from here,” Adam said. “I - we’re just a few minutes away from mine, so.”
“I don’t mind,” Ronan said, looking entirely confused as to why they had stopped so close to their destination.
Maybe it would be fine. Ronan wasn’t Gansey - he didn’t look posh, or polished. Sure, in his Aglionby uniform he always looked rich, but right now in his hoodie and his ripped jeans, he could almost pass as just another kid from Mountain View high. The problem was, though, was that letting Ronan come to the trailer park, risking Ronan meeting his parents - or his parents meeting Ronan really - it all just felt like a tipping point.
There was a reason he wasn’t all open about his life, a reason why he’d pulled away from his friends in the first place. He didn’t want to risk it.
“Nah,” Adam said, cleared his throat, hoped he came off as casual. “Sling the bags on me, will you?”
He tried to keep his tone friendly, but firm enough that it didn’t allow for argument, and after a moment, Ronan huffed, and gave the bags back.
“Say hi to Gansey for me,” Adam said. “I’ll see you both tomorrow.”
“Right,” Ronan said.
Gansey looked fine the next day, so whatever he had been down with the previous night must have just been a quick ailment. He sat next to Adam in History class and chattered on about the Byzantium empire - which was not what they were studying - until Mr Elgort suggested that they could focus on the subject at hand. He hadn’t said it cruelly, because none of the teachers here seemed to have any capacity for being anything less than adoring of Gansey, but Adam had still noticed the way Gansey’s shoulders had slumped minutely before he flashed a bright smile in Mr Elgort’s direction.
During lunch, the four of them sat out under a large tree on the edge of the field, Ronan sprawling out across the sunlit grass, Noah sitting rumpled against the trunk, Adam leaning against his book bag, glancing over a reading, and Gansey sitting cross legged in the middle of them all as if holding court.
Despite his prominent position, Gansey had been quite quiet, eating his lunch listlessly, and paging through a thick book on his lap. No one else seemed really willing to interrupt Gansey’s vaguely mournful mood, and so the rest of them sat there in silence as well.
Eventually, Ronan rolled over onto his stomach, flopped his hand over lazily to knock his wrist against Gansey’s ankle where it was crossed over his shin.
“Tell Parrish about Glendower,” Ronan said, his voice as soft and warm as the sun glancing over the field. “I bet his nerd brain will help out.”
Adam looked up from his reading, Noah tossed aside the leaf he had been shredding. Gansey closed his book. He glanced down at Ronan’s hand still on his ankle, and then at Ronan’s face, and then, finally, to Adam. He smiled at Adam, something sort of rueful, as if he felt like he’d been caught doing something and was vaguely embarrassed about it.
“Parrish,” Gansey said, his voice low. “What do you know about Welsh kings?”
Ronan turned up to Nino’s about ten minutes into Adam’s shift. He turned up alone, which was a surprise, but also - well. It wasn’t like he preferred Ronan’s company over his other new friends, it was just that sometimes Ronan was easier . He didn’t ask so many questions, didn’t let his eyes linger on Adam’s bruises with too much pity, hadn’t offended Blue (yet).
Because of the mei-tie’s demise, Adam had gone for a rather impractical solution, had nicked another apron from the kitchen, and used both that and his own to function as a shoddy DIY version. It as not comfortable, and Ethan had already started grumbling in complaint, and the ties were digging into Adam’s shoulders. God, he hoped Ethan would let Ronan hold him, hoped that Ronan could actually hold him. Adam didn’t have a huge wealth of experience with animals outside of the dogs and stray cats around the trailer park, but he was pretty sure that knowing how to look after a lamb did not transfer perfectly into knowing how to look after a baby.
“Hey,” Adam greeted, waved at Cialina to let her know that he’d be taking Ronan. “Table for one?”
“Table for two,” Ronan replied, scratched the back of his head.
“Oh,” Adam said, his eyes flicking over Ronan’s shoulder, searching for the bright orange camaro that Gansey drove.
“No,” Ronan said, “I meant. Y’know. Me and Ethan. That’s two.”
“Right,” Adam said. This was so stupidly awkward, and for what? “Okay, cool. Follow me then.”
He lead Ronan over to a half booth right up near the front counter, glancing around as he did to make sure that no one was in immediate need of assistance. Once Ronan was sitting down, Adam nudged his shoulder, and then shuffled in to sit beside him.
“Okay,” Adam said, feeling an odd mix of anxiety and - he wasn’t sure. “Ethan, hey buddy, let’s get you out of this, huh?”
He pulled his main apron off, and then managed to loosen the knots in the apron he was using to hold Ethan up in enough to scrape it over his head as well. Ethan grumbled through the whole thing, because he was tired, and wanted a nap, and how rude of Adam, really, to be jostling him like this.
“Do I just -” Ronan began, his voice very quiet. “Um. You’ll put him in my arms, yeah?”
“Yeah,” Adam said, gathering Ethan up properly in his own arms, and then just bundling him close against his chest for a moment. He pressed his lips to Ethan’s forehead, eyed Ronan up over the top of Ethan’s head. “Um. So, he’s not - he can hold his head up now, but you should still support it, and, uh, you gotta be careful to not - not squish him, ‘cos sometimes his hands get like, under your arms, or whatever, and he’s little , so. Um. You can jiggle him, or like, rock him, but gently ‘specially ‘cos he’s real sleepy, and he’s probably gonna go to sleep so long as he doesn’t get upset when I hand him over, and -”
He paused to take a sharp breath. He was being ridiculous. He left Ethan with Dana all the time, he had never been this nervous about that. Blue looked after Ethan at work sometimes too. Maybe it was because he knew Dana could look after children, because Dana was an actual adult, because he knew Dana wouldn’t look down on him. Blue had plenty of experience with her young cousins, with wrangling children, with poverty.
“It’s okay,” Ronan said, much softer than Adam was used to, even after hearing Ronan talking to Gansey in class - his head on Gansey’s shoulder. “I’m not gonna - I’ll be so careful, I promise.”
Adam nodded jerkily, kissed Ethan again, and then adjusted him in his arms so he could place him very carefully in Ronan’s. He positioned Ronan’s arms around Ethan, shifting his arm up minutely to be better support. Ronan was wearing a thick looking hoodie, was all but radiating heat. He was… for lack of a better word, solidly built. Like he would be comfortable to lie on. For a baby to lie on.
“Sweetheart,” Adam said, stayed hovering in Ronan’s space, one hand on Ethan’s cheek, the other on Ronan’s arm. “This is Ronan, he’s gonna - he’s gonna look after you while I work, yeah? And I’ll be right here still.”
“Hey bud,” Ronan murmured, “Ethan. I’m - it’s nice to get to properly meet you. Uh, we’ve met before, but not - never been introduced.”
Adam giggled slightly - something he wasn’t sure he’d ever done before -, taken aback by Ronan’s formal, yet endearing greeting. Ethan’s eyes darted from Ronan’s face, to Adam’s, and then he giggled as well.
Ronan also giggled. The entire scene was as endearing as it was odd, quite honestly.
“Okay,” Adam said, cleared his throat, brushed his thumb against Ethan’s cheek again. “Wave me over if you need anything, yeah? Um, he ought to go to sleep if you just keep rocking him.”
“Okay,” Ronan said, didn’t look up from Ethan. “Yeah, I’ve got this. I think. We’ve got this, yeah Ethan? I gotchu?”
Adam wriggled his way back out of the booth, needing to get up and back to work now before he needed to just stay and watch Ronan holding Ethan forever. Which - it wasn’t like it was a fascinating scene, it was just that… he didn’t know. He wanted to be with Ethan.
He busied himself with working, seating a couple that had just come in, getting them menus, taking a drink order from someone else on the other side. After about ten minutes of this, he realised he’d actually never given Ronan a menu, or a chance to order something, so he returned back to Ronan’s booth.
Ethan was entirely conked out, his face slightly mushed against Ronan’s chest, one little hand gripping tightly to Ronan’s thumb where it rested lightly on Ethan’s shoulder. Ronan was staring down at the sleeping baby as if he’d never seen anything more fascinating. Adam could relate.
“Hey,” he said, voice low, “I just realised I never gave you a chance to order anything. Are you hungry?”
Ronan glanced up at him, then back to Ethan, then back up at Adam. “Uh,” he said, barely more than a whisper. “Yeah? A bowl of fries, and - uh - a coke?”
“Cool,” Adam said, offered Ronan a careful smile. “Good job.”
Ronan, inexplicably, blushed a bright red, his eyes ducking back down to Ethan’s face, even as he grinned. “Thanks,” he whispered.
The rest of Adam’s shift went surprisingly quickly. He got Ronan his food and drink, then half an hour later took his break by slipping into the booth next to Ronan and Ethan and stealing some of the fries Ronan hadn’t eaten yet. They didn’t really talk much during the break, not wanting to wake Ethan, and also because Adam was just exhausted.
“How’s Gansey?” Adam whispered, risking breaking the easy silence between them only because Gansey’s odd mood had been on his mind.
Ronan took a long moment to answer. He dragged his forefinger through the ring of condensation on the table from where he’d just moved his glass from. His movements were all slow and deliberate like they were important ctions, not just because he was trying to not jostle Ethan.
“He’s doing a bit better,” Ronan said lowly. “He’s uh - not been sleeping well.”
Adam knew what that was like. He nodded. “You guys are still going back to yours after this?”
“Mm,” Ronan nodded. “He’ll come pick me up at the end of your shift. We’re gonna camp up in one of the Barns’ haylofts.”
“Sounds itchy,” Adam said. “But fun.”
“Yeah,” Ronan snorted under his breath. “I think he’s got this like… picture book or mythical idea that sleeping in stacks of hay is perfect. Hopefully we’ll get through the night without trying to sleep on a mouse nest or something.”
Adam breathed out a short laugh as well. His break was up in less than thirty seconds.
“Y’know,” he said, soft. “I know I said t’be careful with him, but you can still move. He sleeps through me literally fixing a car while he’s strapped to my chest, I think you’ll be fine with shifting your weight.”
At the end of Adam’s shift, he slid back into the booth with Ronan after he’d stripped off his apron and washed up. He lifted Ethan carefully up out of Ronan’s arms, mumbling soft words as Ethan woke briefly for the transfer. He was asleep again by the time Adam had him pressed up against his shoulder, his hand cupping the back of Ethan’s head.
“You’re so…” Ronan started, his eyebrows furrowed, like he couldn’t quite figure out what he wanted to say.
Adam raised his eyebrows back at Ronan. He’d brought his jacket from the backroom to the booth with him, and slowly began putting it on.
Ronan helped out as if on automatic, tugging the jacket around behind Adam’s body, holding the sleeve out. “You’re so good with him,” Ronan said, his thought finally given an end. “It seems so natural when you hold him. I was terrified the whole time that I was somehow going to drop him, or jerk him, wake him up, and now you’re just - you’re a really good multi-tasker.”
Adam shrugged, then pinched the two parts of his zipper together at the bottom of his jacket. It was an old cast off from his father, so it wasn’t very stylish by any means, and it had its fair share of rips and stains, but it was still strong fabric, good zip, and, big enough that Adam could zip it up with both him and Ethan inside it. Not as good as a mei-tie, but as good as it was going to get until Adam could get his hands on something else.
Ronan, again without seeming to even think about it, reached out to hold the bottom of the zip for Adam, making it easier for him to zip it up over Ethan.
“I’ve had a lot of practice,” Adam said. “It’s nothing special. Parents do it all the time.”
For a moment Ronan’s face twisted, like he was considering pointing out that Adam was actually not a parent. Then he shrugged.
“Gansey’s gonna be waiting,” he said. “Walk out with me?”
They left Nino’s, Adam shuddering a little as the cool evening air hit his face. Gansey’s beloved car was parked at the far end of the parking lot, and Adam followed Ronan over to it so he could say hello to Gansey.
“Adam,” Gansey said, the moment they reached the car. The windows were all rolled down despite the vague chill, and Gansey’s cheeks were oddly flushed. “It’s so nice to see you!”
“You too,” Adam said, maybe a little awkward. “Uh, just thought I’d say hi before I head home.”
“I’m glad you did,” Gansey said, altogether far too earnest. “Did Ronan do a good job with the babysitting?”
Ronan ducked his head down as if he was annoyed by the question, but Adam could see the small smile on his face.
“Yeah,” Adam said. “He got Ethan to sleep real quick. He’s good with babies.”
Noah - who Adam had somehow managed to entirely overlook in the backseat - popped his head forwards in between the two front seats and grinned out at them. “That’s because he’s a baby too.”
“Shaddup, Czerny,” Ronan grumbled, his smile not abating. “Okay, we should head off, else mum’ll worry.”
“Yes, yes,” Gansey nodded. “Adam, would you like a lift?”
Adam shook his head. “Nah,” he said. “I’m good.”
While Ronan opened the car door and climbed into the passenger seat, Gansey craned his head around so he could keep looking at Adam, his expression somewhat perturbed. “Are you sure?” He asked. “It would be no trouble at all. It’s quite late, I wouldn’t want -”
“You don’t have a car seat for Ethan,” Adam interrupted, tried not to sound as frustrated as he suddenly felt. “And I’m fine walking. I’ll see y’all Monday, yeah?”
“Yeah,” Ronan said, buckling himself in. “Get home safe, Parrishes.”
A little pic I did of Adam and Ethan for y'all! It's on my art tumblr here - https://ardenetoile.tumblr.com/post/662525707194433536/summer-boys
On Monday Ronan looked suspiciously bashful. He slid into the seat beside Adam in class - which Gansey usually sat in - and then just sat there with his bag in his lap and his shoulders hunched.
Adam spared him a quick glance, returned to the vocab sheet he was running over. Why he’d had to pick Latin instead of something he could already speak - like Spanish. At least there was enough shared between the two languages that it wasn’t the hardest thing to pick up, but it still wasn’t easy. It felt clunky in his mouth and his brain, and he’d never been good at things like grammar anyway - had always had to work so hard to make it sit right.
He would have even been somewhat happier with taking German, but Latin was the only language class that didn’t clash with at least one of his other classes that he was set on taking, and he needed a language to help his application to university eventually, and so -
Latin. At least he shared the class with Ronan and Gansey. Gansey wasn’t the language’s biggest fan - he could scrape through it easily, but it never seemed to catch his interest like other things did. Ronan, on the other hand, though Adam knew better than to think Ronan was fluent in it, seemed to understand it with an ease that escaped everyone else in the classroom. Except, probably, the teacher.
“Stop studying,” Ronan grumbled, after he’d sat there beside Adam for almost a full five minutes without Adam saying anything.
“Why?” Adam mumbled, not looking up. “Quare?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Ronan said, knocked his knuckles on the pockmarked wood of Adam’s desk. “Show off.”
“I’m not the show off in this class, Lynch,” Adam said, fought to keep his mouth from lifting up into a smile.
“Tace,” Ronan shot back. A quick glance at him showed that he wasn’t bothering to hide his own grin.
“Fine,” Adam said, rolled his eyes. He didn’t close his book, but he lifted his head a little, raised an eyebrow at Ronan. “What’s got you acting weird?”
“Right,” Ronan said, his face suddenly back to... off . “Look, I was - I was telling my mum about how I got to hold Ethan the other night, and, she was asking about him, and about you, and I might have mentioned that your, uh - your baby carrier thing broke?”
Adam blinked. He wasn’t sure whether he ought to be focusing on the fact that Ronan was saying this like Ronan looking after Ethan for Adam was a favour for Ronan , or whether he ought to be getting pissed off about the fact that now someone Adam didn’t even know knew he couldn’t even provide for his little brother.
“And,” Ronan continued, words slipping out quickly one after the other as if he knew what Adam’s thought process was and wanted to get everything out before Adam landed on pissed off . “She said that she still has all our baby stuff, and she’s been meaning to like, donate it, and stuff for ages and just keeps forgetting. So it’s - uh - it’s a bit old but it still works really well, and it’s sturdy, and adjustable, she said you can use it up until like… toddler age I think? And, um. She sent it with me today.”
He was unzipping his bag as he spoke, revealing the wide straps of a baby carrier. It took up almost the entirety of Ronan’s bag.
“Jesus,” Adam said, uncharacteristically just letting spill the first words that came to mind. “Did you even bring any of your school shit with you?”
“Nah,” Ronan snorted, yanked the carrier out of the bag, revealing it in its entirety to Adam, and also the entire class including the teacher who had just walked in.
“Lynch,” Whelk said, his tone wavering somewhere between indifference and distaste. “Put your harness away, this is a class room, not a jungle gym.”
Ronan shot a glare in the direction of the front of the class room, seemed to ignore the vague titters of the rest of the class, and then shoved the carrier back into his bag, dropped the bag under his desk, and crossed his arms.
“No explanation, please,” Whelk said, shuffling a stack of papers - probably worksheets, or a pop quiz - “I’d prefer to know nothing about your life.”
If Ronan were more easily offended, or more selfish, or less good at keeping secrets, Adam thought, this would be when he’d offer up Adam as the fault here. Would spill out that Adam needed help, needed the carrier, that Adam had Ethan -
Ronan just rolled his eyes, unruffled. Gansey - sitting in the chair behind Ronan in what was usually Ronan’s chair - patted Ronan’s shoulder. Whether just in general affirmation, or in commendation for not swearing at Whelk, Adam didn’t know.
What he did know, was that despite the fact that Ronan hadn’t bit back at Whelk, he wasn’t as unaffected as he seemed. He didn’t speak to Adam for the rest of the class, and when the bell rang, he fell into step beside Gansey without a word.
Neither Gansey or Ronan shared Adam’s next class, so he walked off there alone except for the confusion.
He didn’t know if he felt pleased that Ronan had brought the baby carrier for him, or if he felt the familiar mix of nauseous discomfort and fear at being seen, about someone trying to help.
Maybe taking Ronan up on his offer of babysitting Ethan had been a bad idea - like opening the door for a drop of rain and then getting an entire flood. He couldn’t risk getting too wet with it - because his parents would find out, and that could only lead to worse things.
During lunch in their usual spot, Ronan dropped down with a huff next to Adam, his eyebrows drawn down low, his profile hawkish and brooding. Adam didn’t press.
Gansey hadn’t joined them yet - he’d been waylaid on his way over by a group of rowing students. Adam didn’t know where Noah was, but he wasn’t in view.
“Shouldn’t’ve just pulled it out in class,” Ronan gritted out suddenly, not looking at Adam when he spoke. “I know it’s not something you want attention on.”
Adam swallowed. He’d been revising the formulas he’d written down neatly in his work book, but he closed the book now, rested his hand against the front cover. It was a nice work book - big, hard cover, enough space to fit several subjects worth of notes. It was second hand - he’d found it in a charity shop, had carefully torn out the first ten pages that had already been written on. A guest book, or something like that.
“It’s fine,” he said. Because. Well. It was . He hadn’t been the one Whelk had been leveling sharp words at, hadn’t been the one their classmates had laughed at. “It’s - thanks.”
“Whatever,” Ronan grumbled. “It’s from my mum, not me. I’ll - I’ll give it to you after school. So you don’t have to carry it around all day.”
The new baby carrier took off a lot of strain that Adam hadn’t even realised he’d been struggling to hold. It was better even than the mei-tie, because he didn’t have to tie it on, didn’t have to worry about twisting the fabric by mistake and making it awfully uncomfortable. He could wear it on his back, or his front, could put up a little hood over it when it rained. It had pockets that he could shove wipes in, sippy cups, his keys. It also just… smelled good. Like it had been kept in storage in a bag of lavender. He had no idea how he was going to make it up to Aurora, she hadn’t even met him and she had still managed to improve his life so much.
He considered it carefully for a week - what he had to offer, what time he had, what resources he had. How much of his hand he wanted to play. Then he ran it by Gansey before bringing it up with Ronan.
“I want to thank Ronan’s mother,” he said during History class while he and Gansey worked together to write up a timeline. Adam was doing it because Gansey insisted that Adam’s hand writing was nicer than Gansey’s. Adam didn’t agree, but he didn’t mind writing.
“Oh yes?” Gansey asked, not sounding like he thought this was at all a big deal.
“And I - uh - I was thinking that I could suggest that I could - could offer to check her car up? Ronan mentioned a few days ago that it was making a weird noise, and I - if I took a look at it I might be able to figure out what’s wrong with it, save her from taking a trip to the mechanics.”
Gansey paused for a long moment in which Adam regretted even opening his mouth, but then he smiled. “I think Aurora would really appreciate that,” he said. “That’s very thoughtful of you.”
It was all Adam really had to offer. He knew the Lynch’s were rich - not as rich as the Gansey’s he’d heard - but everyone liked free labour. Possibly especially rich people.
He suggested it to Ronan at the end of school, watched as Ronan’s face went through several odd and indecipherable expressions before he finally shrugged, said; “I’ll ask her.”
Ronan dropped by Boyd’s on Saturday morning, wearing stained jeans and a black muscle t, scuffed docs. Adam had been in the backroom, but came up to the front counter when Lloyd ducked his head around to tell him he’d been asked for.
“Lynch,” he said, surprised, and more than a little uncomfortable with being seen covered in motor oil and grease in his ratty coveralls. “What’re you doin’ here?”
“You could look more pleased to see me,” Ronan retorted, not cruelly. “What’re you doing when you get off this shift?”
“Uh,” Adam tried to wipe his hands surreptitiously on the seat of his pants. “Goin’ to pick Ethan up. Then, uh, was plannin’ on takin’ him to the park and doin’ some homework.”
Ronan nodded. “Cool,” he said. “Cool. So you’re free to come over to mine, then?”
That was not what Adam had said. He frowned.
“I mean,” Ronan said, shrugged just the one shoulder. “You can bring Ethan, and, uh - my place is pretty much like a park anyway. I asked mum about her car and she said she’d love you to take a look.”
Oh right. Of course.
“Sure,” Adam said, nodded quickly. “Yeah. I - um. D’you know what the bus times are for getting to yours?”
“Oh, nah,” Ronan said. “Gansey’ll drive us.”
Adam shook his head, familiar irritation grasping at his innards. “Ethan needs a car seat,” he said.
“Yeah,” Ronan nodded. “I know. Gansey got a car seat.”
“Why did he do that?”
“Uh,” Ronan said, making a perturbed face in reply to Adam’s obvious bewilderment. “So you and Ethan can ride with us?”
“I didn’t ask for that -” Adam began, his words louder and harder than he meant, but Ronan cut in.
“S’not just about you, Parrish,” he said sharply. “You know how often Gansey complains that he can’t drive you around? You’re doing him a goddamn favour, and me too, so I don’t have to listen to him whine anymore about how he wants to have you in his car. He’s like a lovelorn idiot, honestly. Can’t wait to show off the Pig properly to you.”
This was --- a lot. Adam didn’t know how he was supposed to respond.
Connie, behind the counter, was studiously ignoring both of them.
“Okay,” Adam said eventually. “But we’ve gotta be home before six.”
“Sure,” Ronan said, easy. “Be back her in an hour to pick you up, then?”
Gansey’s car - somehow affectionately called
- was idling outside Boyd’s when Adam got off his shift. He hesitated a moment by the sliding door he’d ducked out under, suddenly gripped with uncertainty. Were they really actually here to pick him up? Did Ronan actually want Adam to come to his house? Was this a - a prolonged prank? Would Ethan be safe?
He wanted - so, so, so much - to just walk over to the Camaro without a goddamn care, and just hop in to the backseat.
The driver’s side window rolled down then, and Gansey stuck almost his entire torso out of it to wave in Adam’s direction. “Over here, Parrish!” He called, as if Adam had somehow missed seeing the orange eyesore in the mostly empty car park.
Adam hoisted his bag and his courage a little higher over his shoulder, and walked over.
Ronan opened the passenger side door as he approached, then slide his own seat forward. Adam refused to think about how thoughtful this was, because it wasn’t, it was just what you had to do while driving around in a two door car. Just --- practicality.
He tapped Ronan’s shoulder anyway, in a show of nonverbal thanks, and slid himself into the backseat next to a literally shining new car seat.
It was already installed - facing the rear window - buckled carefully. A brightly coloured mirror hung from the headrest, and a small teddy on a cord was attached to the side of the car seat itself.
“What the hell,” he mumbled under his breath, as Ronan shut the door and slid his seat back just a little bit. A little louder he said; “This looks kind of expensive, Gansey.”
Gansey turned in his seat to look back at Adam, his expression set in what looked like attempted nonchalance. “Well,” he said. “I - I did some research, because I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t be putting him in any danger. You’d never forgive me if I got him a faulty seat.”
There was a huge gap between buying a faulty car seat and buying the absolute most expensive car seat money could buy, and then accesories . Adam bit his tongue.
“You’re right,” he said, reached for the seat belt. “I’ll give you directions to Dana’s?”
Ethan had just woken up from a nap when Adam knocked on Dana’s door, and was still sleepy and pliable as she handed him over to Adam.
“Was he okay?” Adam asked, rubbed his thumb gently under Ethan’s eye to dislodge some sleep gunk.
“Course he was,” Dana said, smiled at Adam even as she turned around to pick up one of her twins - Adam hadn’t learned how to tell them apart yet, and he felt ridiculously guilty about that - and swung her onto her hip. “He always is. I don’t know how you do it, Adam, he’s so well behaved.”
Adam forced his lips into a smile, pressed a kiss to Ethan’s head. “He’s a good kid,” he mumbled, even though all he really wanted to point out was that Ethan was so good at being quiet because of the consequences of not being quiet.
Ronan got entirely out of the car this time, to let Adam - holding Ethan - into the back seat. He stayed out, leaning against the roof of the Pig, as Adam knelt on the seat and put Ethan into the brand spanking new baby seat, so Adam could have enough room to adjust things.
After Ethan was settled, Ronan got back in, seat back, door shut, and grinned over his shoulder at Ethan.
“Hey bud,” he said. “Good to see you again!”
Ethan stared at the mirror into which Ronan was talking at, blinked several times.
“He just woke up,” Adam said, keeping his hand light on Ethan’s tummy even as he did his own seat belt up. “A bit dazed, I think.”
“We won’t put any crazy music on, then,” Ronan said, winked at Ethan through the mirror.
“We weren’t going to do that anyway,” Gansey said, a little pointedly. “I’ve banned you from using the aux, don’t you remember?”
“Parrish,” Ronan sighed, as Gansey pulled off a careful U-turn to get them back on the right direction. “Gansey has absolutely no taste in music. He’s terrible.”
Gansey sputtered for a moment, shaking his head. “I could handle a little of your rocky music, Lynch,” he said hotly, “if you didn’t insist on - on springing it on me in between irish love sonnets!”
Ronan shrugged, his wicked grin visible even from the back seat.
“I like to keep you on your toes,” Ronan said. “Plus I don’t want you to think I only lille love sonnets.”
“Any particular sonnet?” Adam asked, keeping most of his attention on Ethan - still taking in his odd new situation - “Or just sonnets in general?”
“In general,” Gansey answered in lieu of Ronan. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard the same one twice. He just has endless sonnets!”
“It’s just the one album,” Ronan said wryly, raising his eyebrows at Adam in the rearview mirror. “Gansey’s just shite at understanding it.”
Gansey sputtered again, but it was a good natured sort of sputtering. Easy teasing, nothing… dark or vehement about it. If this was - if this was in Adam’s dad’s truck, Robert and Alice up front, Adam and Ethan in the back. If this was Robert and Alice disagreeing, even over something so simple as remembering a song - it wouldn’t have ended with fond eyerollings, with anyone poking their tongue out at Ethan in the mirror.
He knew it wasn’t healthy. To compare. Not that -
It wasn’t healthy to compare other people to what he knew , because as intimately as he knew how fucked up his family was, he also knew that it wasn’t the same for most other people. That if someone disagreed with something in their presence, their first thoughts were not going to be about violence, about staying small and tiny, about how to protect Ethan. It wasn’t healthy because it put all of his shit on other people, and if he did that too much, eventually they’d notice, and if they noticed than they’d ask questions, and if -
He tore his eyes away from the rearview mirror, feeling Ronan’s eyes meeting his in the glass for just a moment, like he knew something about the stupidity running through Adam’s mind.
“Hey sweetheart,” Adam murmured, leaning over more into Ethan’s space, lifting his hand a little so Ethan could grip onto his fingers easier. “We’re goin’ on a little trip, yeah? Did you have a nice nap?”
A quick little Ronan POV chapter for y'all xx
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Ronan would be completely lying if he tried to say that he wasn’t nervous about inviting Adam and Ethan to the Barns. It wasn’t that he didn’t want them to come, or that he regretted it, nothing like that.
It was just -
Well. He’d grown up with secrets, knew how to keep them in his pocket, casual and unassuming enough that barely anyone could tell he even had secrets. The problem was that his mother was the one who did the laundry, and she always emptied out his pockets, and she could always see right through him. He’d never even tried to keep a secret from her before, there hadn’t been any point.
So, he was quite worried that they were going to go inside, him, Gansey, Adam, and Ethan, and his mother was going to look at them all and know that Ronan was already more than half way head over heels for Adam, which was stupid because they’d only been friends for a short while, and Adam was way too sensible, and there was almost no way Adam would even be into guys, or interested in dating while he was basically a goddamn single father trying to put himself through school, and -
He was just kinda worried, was all.
Adam handed Ethan to Ronan when they were getting out of the car. Ronan had climbed out of the car almost before Gansey had even fully parked, pushed his seat forward so Adam would have plenty of space to climb out with Ethan. Adam had, instead, unbuckled Ethan, and then just handed him through the gap to Ronan like this was a normal thing, before grabbing Ethan’s bag and climbing out himself.
“Welcome to the Barns,” Gansey said, coming around the Pig to stand beside the three of them. He waved one hand expansively, the other hand coming to rest of Adam’s shoulder. “I think this is my favourite place in Henrietta.”
Ronan snorted slightly, not at all put off by Gansey introducing Adam to the land as if Gansey belonged there (because he did belong), shifted Ethan carefully in his arms. “This is Singer’s Falls,” he pointed out. “Hey Ethan, d’you like cats?”
Ethan made a noise that was quite possibly a bark, and Adam snorted. “Pretty sure his schemas haven’t quite sorted out that cats and dogs are different yet,” he said, as if this was a normal sentence to say. “There are lots of dogs at the trailer park.”
“Schema?” Gansey asked. “Like, a… cognitive framework?”
“Let’s go inside,” Ronan said. “Mum’s gonna wanna meet the Parrish’s.”
They headed towards the house, Ethan seemingly content to stay in Ronan’s arms, occasionally barking. Adam and Gansey just a step behind them, Adam mumbling a quick explanation on how schemas were how the brain organised and recognised information, and how babies schemas were very unorganised.
Not for the first time, Ronan was struck by just how much Adam had obviously studied babies . He’d already seen Adam study for class, for tests, had already been somewhat blown away by the way Adam seemed to absorb information and then just keep it rather than letting it leak out after the relevant test or whatever. He must have done the same thing for Ethan, reading everything he could get his hands on to fully understand human development, and child rearing, and -
Quite honestly it made his head hurt , because why was a fucking teenager working himself ragged to be the best parent to his younger brother? And who decided it was even fair to expose Ronan to this level of dedication in yet another human?
When he’d met Gansey - barely a full year ago now, even though it felt life times longer - he’d been bowled over then by Gansey’s tenacity as well. He’d never met anyone outside of his own family that had so immediately felt right . Like, being friends with Gansey was a - a fixed point in time. It was an inevitability. Gansey was focused, and determined, and he went about his determined path with such an overwhelming amount of pure affection for everything he found that it was nearly too much. And when he’d folded Ronan into his life, he’d covered Ronan in the same amount of determined affection as he spent on his Glendower hunt.
So. Ronan had thought that this was it, really. He’d already met the one other person in the world who felt like a literal piece of Ronan’s soul, sliced out and poured into the body of a copper statue.
Then he’d seen Adam and his entire body had surged with some unconscious plea. For what? Ronan had no idea. He’d just seen Adam and everything in him had shouted please .
He’d thought, at first, that it was just because he’d recently become almost uncomfortably aware of the fact that he found his eyes lingering on the guys in the changing room after gym, or on their broad shoulders in front of him in class, or on the idea of a stubbled cheek brushing against his own -
He had thought it was attraction, plain and simple. Adam was tall and lean, he was muscled and tan, freckled and fine boned, and his eyes were a whisper away from being entirely striking, and his hands -
It wasn’t just attraction. He knew that now. Like how it had been with Gansey, he could feel an almost unignorable tug in the very centre of his being, like a magnet to a lodestone. Adam’s determination felt different to Gansey’s. Gansey always seemed to hold a sort of overlying authority - like he knew he was going to find Glendower, knew all his questions would have answers, knew that things had their place.
Adam, though, his was nearly a desperate determination. Like he didn’t believe he was ever going to make it, but he was going to keep going or die trying, his fingers worn down to the bone. While he also wanted answers, he didn’t seem convinced that there always was an answer, was far more willing to work around until he had a new question that could be answered.
“Oh I have never seen such a beautiful baby!” Aurora cooed, the moment the four of them stepped into the house.
She was standing in the hallway, wiping floury hands on an already floury apron, a wide smile on her face.
“Rude,” Ronan snorted, adjusted Ethan again.
“Psh,” Aurora said her smile unfaltering. “Every baby is the most beautiful baby, it’s Ethan’s turn right now, lovie. And you must be Adam!”
Adam seemed to simultaneously wilt and glow under the brightness of Aurora’s smile as she turned it on him. “Yes, ma’am,” he said. “Nice to meet you.”
“I’ve heard so many lovely things about you,” she said, sweeping forwards to them. She pressed a kiss to Ronan’s temple, and then to Gansey’s, and then held her arms open to Adam. “I’m Aurora, Ronan’s mum.”
Adam hesitated for a moment, and then allowed himself to be gathered into a hug.
When Ronan’s mother pulled back from the hug, she cupped Adam’s face in her hands and looked him over carefully. “You boys hungry?” She asked, not looking away from Adam’s face. “I just made cheesy rolls.”
In the kitchen, sitting at the large table with cheesy rolls slathered in butter and layered with thick slices of ham, Ethan allowed himself to be plucked out of Ronan’s arms by Aurora without a single peep.
She sat down with him, next to Adam. “He’s about nine months?” She asked him, balancing Ethan on her knee with practiced ease.
“Yes, ma’am,” Adam said, had already wolfed down an entire roll and looked slightly embarrassed about the fact that he had another one in his hands. “He - nine months tomorrow.”
“You’ve done so well with him,” Aurora continued, smiling down at Ethan as he reached for a loose lock of her hair. “I can tell he’s going to be a very happy child.”
For a moment Ronan could have sworn Adam was about to just… burst into tears, but then instead he smiled at Ronan’s mother, mumbled a quiet - I hope so , and then asked about her car.
They finished with the rolls, and Adam said he’d go take a look at the car. Aurora volunteered herself to stay inside with Ethan, Ronan to go with Adam, and Gansey to go look at that book on folklore she’d dug out for him.
Gansey left the kitchen almost immediately, leaving with a hurried thanks tossed over his shoulder.
Adam hesitated a moment before leaving with Ronan. Though he’d seemed content to let Aurora hold Ethan while they were all together in the kitchen, he looked almost twitchy now.
“Um,” Adam said, caught half way between the table and the door. “I should - I - I’ll just - before I go look at your car, ma’am, I’ll just - Ethan’s gonna need a nappy change.”
Ronan watched his mother begin to open her mouth to say that she would do it, and then as she came to the same realisation that Ronan had, and she handed Ethan over.
For a moment, Adam just held Ethan tight to him as if reacquainting himself, and then he’d shot a polite smile at Aurora. “Could I have directions to the bathroom?”
Once Adam and Ethan had left, Aurora turned to look at Ronan, her eyebrows raised.
Ronan looked away quickly, as if he had ever had any hopes of his mother not knowing everything .
“He’s a very special young man, isn’t he?” She said softly. “He’s not used to getting the love that he gives so fiercely.”
Ronan swallowed, because who had said anything about love? No one, that’s who. He cleared his throat.
“Baby,” his mother was almost certainly fixing him with a look even if he had his eyes averted. “Why are you hiding from me?”
Ronan would like to point out that he was in fact standing less than a metre away from her, in the middle of the room, and was most certainly not hiding. Instead, he shrugged.
“It’s okay,” she said, and out of the corner of his eye he could see her hand extended towards him. “Have I ever given you a reason to think it isn’t?”
She hadn’t. She never had. That didn’t mean Ronan didn’t have every reason to think that the way he knew he was - right down at the core of everything - was just… wrong.
He let himself reach back to her, let her reel him into her arms until her lips pressed against his forehead again.
“I think it has to be a secret,” Ronan whispered, screwed his eyes shut, breathed in slowly, the familiar smell of her floral perfume, a hint of cinnamon caught in her hair. “Like everything else.”
She made a noise against him that sounded almost wounded, but held tight to him when he moved to pull back. “It has to be handled carefully,” she agreed. “But I don’t think this needs to be a secret, mo álainn.”
Ronan sniffed slightly, then pulled back quickly before he could be lulled into letting all of his stupid emotions fully out. He trusted his mother - with everything - but he didn’t even know what this was exactly, just that it was about Adam, and about Ethan, and about secrets, and he didn’t want any secrets spilled with Adam so close.
His mother was still watching him carefully, one of her hands on his cheek even as he stepped backs lightly.
“I don’t want to be a cliché,” he said eventually. “And I don’t want to make him feel uncomfortable.”
“You could never be a cliché,” Aurora said, firm, “and you are very good at being careful. That’s all you need to do, isn’t it? You’re so good with the premature lambs, so careful with them.”
“Adam’s not a - he’s not delicate , ma,” Ronan mumbled. “He doesn’t want to be - to be coddled.”
“No,” Aurora nodded. “I know. I’m just saying, sometimes people need gentle hands and warmth before they can handle the rain.”
It didn’t make a huge amount of sense, but Ronan nodded anyway.
mo álainn - my beautiful
Ronan led the way to his mother’s car, Adam at his side doing his best not to appear twitchy bout leaving Ethan inside. He knew he had no reason to worry - Aurora was obviously a lovely person, and Gansey and Ronan trusted her, and Ethan seemed happy in her arms, and it wasn’t like Adam was even leaving the property, it was just -
He was filled with a horrible mixture of - of jealousy, and yearning, and terror, and - and anxiety. This house - this piece of land - the family within. It was so much of what Adam had missed out on. Love and warmth was sitting in every place he looked, the furniture was well worn in the way only expensively sturdy furniture could be. The house was a little messy, a little shabby even in parts, but only through use, and affection, and time played out in the shape of three boys growing up without fear. And Aurora. God. A mother who handed out physical and verbal affection with such ease - hugging him, Adam, an interloper, as if it was natural and normal and fine and -
And she’d fed them all, and talked to them, and remembered Gansey’s interests, and held Ethan as if she knew exactly how precious he was, and volunteered her time without a blink of an eye, and -
And he felt so guilty because she wouldn’t be so kind to him if she could see him the way his parents did, if she knew how just… absolutely dirty he was. Ethan deserved her arms warm around him, but Adam didn’t.
On top of all of this uncomfortable stew of emotions, he also felt nearly painfully on edge. The hairs on the back of his neck sticking up and pricking his skin. Not all the time, but enough that he kept feeling the need to glance over his shoulder, trying to find the source of his discomfort. It was almost like going swimming in sun warmed water and then passing through an icy cold patch of water.
“Do you want me to go grab Ethan?” Ronan asked.
They were standing in front of a small sea foam coloured car now, and Adam had to give himself a quick shake to bring his mind back to reality. He frowned at Ronan. “What?”
“I mean,” Ronan looked uncomfortable. Shoved his hands into his jeans pockets. “Obviously he’s fine with ma, she’ll - she’s happy looking after him, and he seemed happy too, but you don’t seem -”
“It’s fine,” Adam said, quick. Didn’t want to come off as ungrateful. “Um. So, tell me about the car, then?”
They headed back inside almost an hour later, Aurora’s car entirely fixed up - the fault had been in loose bolts, and also in a half built and obviously abandoned birds nest. He’d managed to shake off most of his anxiety, had let himself relax into Ronan’s sarcastic humour and brightly biting smile. They scuffled a little at the front door, Ronan shouldering in against him to get them caught in the doorway too narrow for two broad shouldered teenagers to go through.
They found Gansey, Aurora, and Ethan in the lounge - a well lit room, full of soft seats and strange trinkets.
Gansey was curled up on a couch, book in hand, nose in book. Aurora was sitting on the carpeted floor, Ethan in between her legs, a collection of beautiful wooden toys in front o them.
Ethan looked up as soon as they walked in, Ronan still laughing, Adam still wearing a smile he was trying not to let get too big.
“Ah!” Ethan said, immediately dropped the toy he was holding, and held his arms out towards Adam instead. “Ah!”
Aurora laughed. “That’s right,” she said, her hands scooping Ethan up easily and holding him up. “That’s your Ah-dam, huh?”
Adam was well aware that he often had tunnel vision when it came to Ethan. At this particular moment, Gansey could be performing ballet and Adam would not have noticed so focused was he on stepping towards Ethan and sweeping him up into his arms so he could kiss Ethan’s cheek where his large smile squished it.
“Did you have a nice time?” He mumbled against Ethan’s cheek, grinned as Ethan laughed in response. “Good. Hi sweetheart.”
His vision removed the Ethan only filter, and he saw Aurora standing up, a smile on her face as well. “Thank you,” he said to her.
“Oh it was my pleasure. He was delightful.”
“Gansey, man,” Ronan said, still right beside Adam. “Is that book velcroed to your face?”
Gansey laughed, lowered the book.
There was a very distinct noise of crunching gravel outside, and Adam’s stomach suddenly dropped down to his feet for no discernable reason. Only as his just forgotten anxiety returned did he realise he’d been actually, truly, no lie, happy in that moment.
“Is that dad?” Ronan asked, “You didn’t say he was coming back today!”
Aurora smiled widely at Ronan, which was slightly disconcerting because despite the obvious joy in Ronan’s voice, Adam had still connected the sudden appearance of his father with fear. This was Ronan’s father, no Adam’s, there was no reason to be scared, to feel like he was about to get in trouble. Even Gansey was smiling, had put his book down, was standing up. Adam’s stomach felt like a pit, his jaw had clenched so hard it shot pain up into his temples.
“C’mon,” Ronan said, had his hand on Adam’s elbow. “Come meet my dad!”
The five of them poured out the front door, Ronan leading the charge, Aurora backing it, Adam caught in the flow of it. There was no reason to be anxious about this. He clutched Ethan close to himself.
A sleek BMW had pulled up outside the house, mud flecked around the tires, a dark figure just visible inside.
Ronan and Aurora peeled off from the group, and Adam allowed himself to shrink slightly back against Gansey.
“Don’t worry about intruding,” Gansey said, voice low and cheerful as they watched the car door open, watched Aurora being all but dragged into the front seat. “They’re a very welcoming family. Niall won’t mind you being here, he always likes meeting Ronan’s friends.”
Adam nodded, clutched Ethan somehow tighter against him. He felt like the very air he was breathing was the ice cold patch of water, and he had no idea why. Everyone else seemed fine, Ethan was babbling against Adam’s neck, Gansey was smiling at the family reunion, Ronan was being pulled into a tight hug by a bear of a man while his mother watched on fondly.
Was he really such a jealous creature that he would let his brain freeze out any positive emotion upon seeing someone with an actual father? Had his uncomfortable jealousy over Aurora’s warmth just been the very tip of his selfishness?
He plastered on a smile as Aurora, Niall, and Ronan made their way back to the front door.
“Da,” Ronan said as they reached the steps. “This is my friend Adam, and his brother Ethan. Adam goes to Aglionby with us. Adam, this is my da, Niall.”
For a moment Adam met Niall’s eyes - the exact same shade of chilled blue that Ronan’s were - and the cold patch of water he was in was suddenly cutting straight into his marrow, the hair on his arms pulling at his skin, the back of his throat dry. He wanted to run. Instead, he dropped his gaze from Niall’s eyes, shifted Ethan carefully in his arms, and held his hand out.
Niall shook his hand with a firm warmth, offered him a charming grin - similar to Ronan’s, but much more… theatrical than even Ronan’s on fire grins.
“Good to meet you, Adam,” he said, not letting go of Adam’s hand. “It’s nice to see Ronan’s expanding his friend group a little.”
“Shaddup,” Ronan grumbled, though he didn’t drop his own smile. “C’mon, let’s get something to eat, I wanna hear your new stories.”
Adam could imagine being pulled back inside the beautifully affectionate feeling house, being given more food, sitting on comfortable chairs, listening to someone else’s father talking about something that probably wasn’t going to be just sports and complaints.
Could imagine the warmth of the house dimming, his bones freezing, his anxiety pressed up in his throat.
There was no reason for him to feel like this. He didn’t want to. He wanted to catch Ronan’s eye and grin, wanted to recall that brief moment of happiness he’d felt beat against his chest.
He waited until Niall and Aurora had gone inside, his feet feeling frozen against the wood of the deck.
“Gansey,” he said, voice low and small. “I - I need to head home.”
“Oh,” Gansey said. “Yes, of course. Do we need to leave now?”
Adam didn’t look at Ronan, could already feel the way Ronan was frowning at him. “Yes. If that’s okay?”
“Sure it is,” Gansey said easily. “I’ll just go and give this book back, and then we can head, yeah?”
Adam nodded. “I’ll - uh - I’ll wait in the car.”
He watched as an odd expression flickered across Gansey’s face, watched as Gansey smoothed it over, smiled, and headed inside.
“Um,” Adam said. “You’ll tell your mum I fixed her car?”
“I thought you had until six,” Ronan said.
Adam shrugged, Ethan grumbled slightly, wanting attention. “I - I remembered some more things I needed to get done at home.”
Ronan made a noise that sounded a little like a muffled curse, and then stepped around until he was standing right in front of Adam, and it would be too obvious and weird to keep avoiding looking at him.
“Five minutes ago,” Ronan said, flatly, “you were gonna come in and play video games. What changed?”
“I remembered homework,” Adam said, cleared his throat. “I don’t know what you want me to say, Lynch.”
Ronan frowned at him, then reached out, rubbed his thumb gently against Ethan’s cheek. “I don’t get you, Parrish,” he said. “Do you understand him, Ethan? Huh, bud? Is your big brother as weird to you as he is to me?”
Adam would swat his hand away if it wasn’t for the fact that he wanted Ethan to get every single drop of affection from the world that he could.
“Shut it,” he said. “I’m going to the car.”
“You don’t even have Ethan’s bag,” Ronan pointed out.
Shit. He didn’t. It was in the kitchen. Where Niall and Aurora probably were.
Ronan looked at him for another long moment. A shadow passed over them - a cloud high above blocking the sun for a few seconds.
“I’ll go get it,” he said eventually, turned on heel, and stomped inside.
So. Adam had been pretty sure he’d fuck things up with his new friends sooner, rather than later, but he was annoyed that he was fucking it up without even knowing what was really wrong. He didn’t know why he needed to get the hell out of here. He didn’t know why he wanted to throw up, wanted to cry. Didn’t know. Just. Needed to leave. All the comfort and ease he’d felt here had already rushed out of him, his bloodstream was adrenaline and fear and nothing else.
He headed to the Pig. Climbed into the backseat to buckle Ethan in.
“Sorry, bud,” he muttered, adjusting the straps carefully. “I know you like them, but I dunno if we’ll get to see them again. Ronan’s right, he is, I’m weird, huh? Sorry about that.”
Sorry for such a short chapter - I just broke up with my gf a couple of days ago and have not been in a great headspace.
Thank you guys for all your lovely comments on the last chapter, they meant a lot! xxx
“Yo, Parrish,” Ronan called, halfway across the school parking lot, his voice loud and not at all self-conscious.
Adam paused, a few metres away from the building he had been heading to. He had time before class started, but he always felt better when he got into the classroom early enough to do some pre-class study, to lessen the likelihood of meeting his classmates outside the classroom and needing to deflect.
Plus. He knew this was just his anxiety, but he was vaguely worried that Ronan was gonna be pissed off at him still for leaving his house so suddenly.
“Hey,” Ronan said, once he’d drawn even with Adam, his curls bouncing and his outfit entirely untucked. “Mum wanted me to give you these.”
He was holding out a Tupperware that Adam could see was full of large biscuits.
“Oh,” Adam said, suddenly could not figure out how to function as a human being. Didn’t even know how to make words work.
“She said it was really nice to meet you and Ethan,” Ronan continued, still holding the container out.
Adam still hadn’t figured out how make body work.
“And that you guys are welcome back anytime.”
That wasn’t something that happened .
“And wants to know if you guys want to come for dinner this coming weekend?”
Adam’s language function slammed back in, but not his self preservation centre. “No,” he said, could have kicked himself. Ronan reeled back slightly, his eyes narrowing, his shoulders tightening. He looked like he had been the one kicked.
“Oh,” he said.
Adam rebooted. “No,” he said again, and god, couldn’t he have started out with something else? “I mean - I - I’m working all next weekend. I’ve been put on closing both nights at Nino’s, and I’ve got Boyd’s all afternoon both days as well. I didn’t mean - I really loved meeting your mum, and I - it was - thank her for the biscuits, that’s real nice of her.”
Ronan was still frowning, but he pushed the biscuits closer to Adam again, and Adam managed to direct his hands to take them.
“You’re fucking weird,” Ronan said. “And mum’s gonna be sad you can’t make it, but she’ll understand.”
“Okay,” Adam said, his mouth awfully dry. “I - I am sorry. I would’ve loved to see her again.”
Going back home from The Barns, to his own mother, had been…
He had let himself into the trailer, Ethan in his arms, said hello to his mother on the couch. She had ignored the both of them. He’d taken Ethan to their bedroom, done some chores, some homework, changed Ethan’s nappy, changed their bed sheets, gathered up more laundry in the laundry bag so he could take it to the laundromat early tomorrow morning, made Ethan some milk and some food, put Ethan to bed, and then -
And then Alice had come and opened the bedroom door, letting it bang loudly against the wall, and snapped at Adam for staying out later than she expected, and for leaving the kitchen smelling like formula, and because Ethan had woken up with the bang, she also snapped at him for Ethan’s grumbling.
If Aurora was warm and welcoming, Alice was a sign on a snow covered barbed wire fence that just said Get Out . If the two mothers ever met, the world might implode. They were the opposite ends of a magnet.
After Ethan had gone back to sleep, Adam let himself imagine, just for a moment, that Alice was the type of mother who would give out affection - any affection. A pat on the back. A brush of the hair. A smile . He’d originally learned to keep his tears silent so that his parents wouldn’t hear him, but now it came in handy in making sure he didn’t wake Ethan as well.
Things were fine. Really.
It was just his usual routine, or, new usual, he supposed, seeing as his usual now involved friends (plural), and lifts in Gansey’s car that he could actually accept because there was a car seat for Ethan, and people who Ethan liked to see that weren’t just people Adam needed to drop Ethan with an run, and -
So, a whole new routine, really, but. It still had all the familiar elements; school, school work, work, chores, Ethan, staying alive, staying quiet, staying whole, secreting money away as often as he could to add to his I promise you I’m getting us out of here fund.
The problem was, was that now he had been to Ronan’s place once, Ronan and Gansey kept bugging him to go again. And Adam had liked it there. Loved it. And Ethan had loved it, and loved Aurora. And - what was Adam even supposed to say?
No, I can’t go to your place because there are some parts of your house - and I don’t even know what parts they are - that make me feel like a black hole vomited into my veins, and because something about your father makes me literally fear for my life and for Ethan’s life and for your life and -
It was just a stupid feeling. That was all . There was no reason for him to dislike Ronan’s father - Niall - so goddamn much. In fact, from what he’d heard Ronan and Gansey say about him, Niall sounded like a nice enough guy. A good enough father. A loving husband. And he’d looked nice. Like a grown up version of Ronan - except with something different just behind his expression that Adam couldn’t figure out. Not that he’d had much time to, he’d fucking ran, hadn’t he?
He couldn’t tell Ronan or Gansey that he didn’t want to go to The Barns again because he didn’t trust Niall, because first of all that would sound stupid, and second of all, he was worried that it would somehow end up pointing out the fact that Adam simply distrusted parents on whole, and that in turn would shine light on the simple fact of who Adam’s own parents were.
And he wasn’t dumb , and possibly more importantly, neither were his friends. He knew they knew that his parents were obviously not winning any parent of the year awards - he was basically Ethan’s sole caregiver, after all. But there was a distance between distant parents and physically and emotionally abusive parents.
Coming to Aglionby had given him a chance to be unknown - a little - for once. None of his new classmates had ever even set foot in the trailer yard, none of them had seen him growing up with constant bruises littering his skin, none of them knew as an indisputable fact that his father beat him more often that now, and his mother made him feel less than dirt, and sometimes just even seeing his parents made him feel like he was just going to dissolve into nothingness and -
“I think,” Gansey said, his tone quite careful. “I think Ronan thinks he’s offended you.”
They were sitting on the sunlit floor of Gansey’s ridiculous monstrosity of a home - a beautifully abandoned and vaguely renovated old factory called Monmouth. It was full of piles of books, mis-matching furniture, odd objects, maps pinned to walls, and just… Ganseyness. Gansey shared it with Noah, though Noah seemed to sort of be a ghost in the place, really, out more often than in. Gansey said he thought Noah was probably at the skate park most of the time.
They had been working on an essay, him and Gansey, content to sit in each other’s quiet while they wrote - Adam writing out his formal essay for a science project, and Gansey writing a history essay that was apparently supposed to be on WW1, but that he’d somehow talked round into being about Welsh kings. Glendower, obviously.
Ethan was wrapped in a blanket and laid out on the duvet pulled off of Gansey’s bed onto the floor, just a few feet away from where they were sitting - also on the floor. He’d been asleep for thirty blessedly quiet minutes, and Adam relished the break but also found himself vaguely missing Ethan. Which was stupid, because he was right there.
Ronan was still at Aglionby, he had tennis practice, but he was planning on swinging by Monmouth afterwards to just hang for a bit.
It had been a perfect scenario until Gansey had broken the silence.
“Oh,” Adam said. Intelligently.
“And,” Gansey continued, slowly, “I don’t think he knows how he offended you. He would really like to know.”
Adam wondered how much Ronan had said to Gansey, if he had said anything at all, or if he had communicated this to Gansey solely through their somewhat psychic bond. Telepathy.
“He hasn’t offended me,” Adam said to his essay, squeezed his pencil tightly. “I - he’s done nothing wrong. I mean. Aside from trying to make me slip up on banana peel today.”
Gansey snorted delicately. “Well. I am glad to hear it, because it is so nice having the people I like best also like each other. But, I have to ask, Parrish, because it’s not just Ronan who has been worried. Is there something wrong?”
So many things were wrong. The fact that Gansey pointing out that he liked Adam made Adam’s brain go all sort of fire works explosiony. The fact that he hadn’t had anything but a muesli bar at lunch all day because Robert had spent all of the household’s cash on a bet he’d lost. The fact that Adam had a sprawling purple bruise that looked almost like the shape of texas over his ribs. The fact that Ethan had lost his balance while pulling himself up on the bed in their bedroom and fallen down and knocked his head and given himself a small bruise on his forehead and Adam had had a very small and contained panic attack over it.
“No,” he said, offered Gansey a small smile. “I - you know I’m - I’m always busy, Gansey. That’s all it is.”
“I hate how busy you always are,” Gansey replied, on the verge of mournful sounding. “I wish I could - could give you a holiday. But it’s more than you being busy, we all know it. Adam , we just want to help.”
Adam sighed. Glanced over at Ethan, sleeping peacefully unaware of the turmoil in his older brother’s gut. He would very much like to just go with his usual defense route and just grab Ethan and run, but. Gansey was his friend. And he’d accepted that to be friends with people, he had to actually make at least a little bit of an effort to not be an evasive asshole at every turn.
“It’s stupid,” he said.
“No,” Gansey murmured immediately, “I’m sure it’s -”
“It’s stupid,” Adam repeated firmly. “Look. I just… don’t tell Ronan this. I got a bad vibe from his dad. That’s all. It’s nothing serious, nothing real, I just - it’s inexplicable. I felt weird about it, so I didn’t want to say anything. Okay?”
Gansey paused for a long moment, like he was trying out several sentences in his head and then discarding them.
“Okay,” he said. “But for the record, I don’t think that’s stupid.”
Adam bit his lip, risked a quick glance up at Gansey, and then darted his gaze back to his essay. “I don’t want to go back to Ronan’s while his dad is there,” he said, quiet. “I’m sure Niall is a nice guy and everything, but I - I dunno if you’ve noticed, but I kinda have a hard time trusting people, so -”
Gansey laughed, and Adam looked up at him again, allowed himself a small smile.
“Yeah,” Gansey said. “I’ve noticed. Okay. So, listen. How about instead, this weekend, we go on a hike? All of us. You, me, Ronan, Noah, and Ethan. There’s some interesting spots around here that I’ve been marking out in my research that could be connected to Glendower’s party, and I thought it could be cool to go out and do some actual recon work.”
An easy way to avoid Ronan inviting them back to the Barns for the weekend. An activity in which Gansey invited Ethan.
“Okay,” Adam said. “I - yeah. That sounds fun.”
CW warning for canonical character death, lots of mentions of blood.
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.
Sorry this took so long! Life has been chaotic. My ex has only just moved out of the flat, and I'm busy trying to find people to take over the lease so I'm not stuck with the rent. Lots of packing. Lots of lying on the floor.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The next day Adam wasn’t able to get off to go to the Lynch’s. He’d spent more time than he actually had that morning trying to work out a way he could feasibly budget in another day of no pay, work out exactly what grades he’d need to get to make up for another lost day of school. He had always been good at maths, even better at problem solving, and he couldn’t work out a way to do everything he needed and wanted to do that day. He needed to go to work and school, he needed to be making enough money and earning enough knowledge that he could get Ethan out of their parents trailer sooner rather than later, he needed to be a better friend. He wanted to forget everything else and go to The Barns and offer as much as he could, even though he didn’t know what exactly he was offering. He wanted Aurora to take back her chilling words, because he didn’t know what to do with them, why had she given them to him?
He used the phone at the factory during his morning shift to call Gansey, to let him know that he couldn’t get anymore time off today, to ask him to please let him know if there was anything he could do from afar, to apologise.
Gansey’s voice on the other end of the phone was ragged, like he’d been crying on and off. Adam was pretty sure he was still at The Barns.
“The funeral is going to be tomorrow,” Gansey said, “At Saint Agnes church? At twelve. Will you be able to make it?”
Adam was meant to be at Boyd’s on Saturday from eight in the morning until eight at night. He would talk to Boyd at his shift today after school. Would make the time.
“Yes,” he said, “of course.”
He really needed to get off the phone before someone yelled at him for slacking.
“Adam,” Gansey said, “I - I know you… didn’t exactly like Niall, so I just want to say that - well - thank you, I suppose, for being so… kind.”
Adam knew he wasn’t exactly the poster child for empathy, for selflessness, for comfort. But - it was still a little painful to know that someone he considered a… best friend would think he wouldn’t be able to gather up some compassion when someone’s father died.
“It’s not about me, Gansey,” he said, “it’s not even about Niall. It’s about his sons and wife.”
Gansey made a sort of soft indistinguishable noise, then sighed. “You’re right,” he said.
“I have to go,” Adam replied, “I’m at work.”
When Adam brought up the funeral Boyd gave him the time off immediately, no questions asked.
“Do I look like a slave worker?” He asked, when Adam failed to hide his surprise at the time off given so easily. “C’mon, kid, course you can have the time off. I’m just sorry I can’t afford t’give you paid time off.”
Perhaps after spending so much time with Aurora Adam ought to have been less surprised by other people’s kindness. He wasn’t.
He had an odd dream that night. He’d gotten home late, had picked Ethan up just past eleven and only managed to get them into bed a few minutes before midnight.
In his dream he was --- well, in the way of dreams, he knew he was standing inside Niall Lynch’s head, but if he didn’t just innately know that, there would have been very little clue to it. The inside of Niall’s head looked just like the kitchen at The Barns, all wood and warmth and closed cupboards, and Aurora .
She was sitting at the large table, a sight Adam was now very used to. She didn’t look up at Adam, didn’t seem to notice his presence at all. She was just sitting there, her hands clasped in her lap, a look of distress etched over his face.
She was murmuring something, he realised. Hadn’t noticed before because her words were so low and spoken so smoothly that it had just been a background susurrus.
Stepping closer, he was able to make out the words.
“Not a dream, not a dream, not a dream -”
He was pulling out the chair next to her before he was really cognizant of doing so, sitting down beside her, his hand going to her knee. She looked up at him, but he had no words on his tongue to offer her.
“I thought so,” she said to him, as if she was picking up on a conversation they had been having. “I’m sorry, sweetheart. I wouldn’t be a dream if I could help it.”
He woke up before he could work out a real answer. Startled awake, only just managing to stifle the jerk of adrenaline rushing through his body. Shifted carefully, adjusting Ethan so his foot wasn’t attempting to get up Adam’s nose.
It was just a dream. Except. Except for everything in the back of Adam’s mind screaming at him that it wasn’t just a dream. Except dreams were just dreams, just the unconscious mind sorting through your day, your thoughts, random ideas. Stringing it together to seem coherent and believable in the moment.
Except the feeling of - of belief didn’t fade when he woke up. It hadn’t, had it? He was lying there, a solid being in his shoddy bed at the trailer, Ethan, warm and fast asleep. And at the same time he had been elsewhere.
Maybe he really hadn’t been getting enough sleep. Maybe everything going on had finally been too much stress and he’d really cracked.
Well. He wasn’t allowed to crack, because if he fucking lost it, then what the hell was going to happen to Ethan?
He went back to sleep.
Surprisingly, Saturday morning went off without a single hitch. He did his morning chores at the trailer, escaped any irritation from his parents. Dropped Ethan of with Dana, mowed her lawn before he left. Cycled to Boyd’s. Worked for a few hours. Showered at the mechanics, changed into the most formal clothes he owned (not actually owned. The trousers were lent by Jules via Dana, and the shirt was technically the more formal version of the Aglionby button up - what the students were meant to wear during special assemblies). He picked Ethan up from Dana at the public library where she’d taken the three kids for something called Toddler Time .
He made it to the church at ten to twelve, only slightly sweaty.
He expected to follow everyone else at the church - nodding sympathetically at the Lynch’s, but affording them their space. The Lynch family in the front pew, Gansey tucked in against Ronan’s side. No one else on the pew with them, despite the still available space.
Matthew caught sight of him as he began making his way to an empty pew at the back of the church. He waved at Adam, so Adam waved back before realising that Matthew wasn’t waving at him, rather, waving him over.
Adam hesitated. He had no desire to overstep. And maybe Matthew thought he should join them up there, but his brothers and mother probably wouldn’t agree, and he didn’t want to cause a scene, and -
Aurora turned to look over her shoulder. Her arm was around Matthew’s shoulders, so really there was no way she could have not noticed him gesturing. She locked eyes with Adam.
All the certainty of this is real that had come along with his dream last night smashed straight back into him. He nearly stumbled with the force of it. With the - the sheer weight of the air around Aurora.
She waved him over as well.
He crept up the aisle of the church, slid into the end of the pew next to Declan.
“Wa-wa,” Ethan whispered, far too good at picking up on when he was expected to be quiet. “Wa-wa.”
“Yeah, bud,” Adam replied, keeping his voice low. “There’s Aurora, and Declan, and Ronan, and Gansey, and Matthew.”
Ethan held one chubby hand out in the direction of Aurora. “Wa-wa,” he repeated firmly.
“Ma’d love to hold him,” Declan said quietly, “we can pass him down to her if you want.”
Aurora had leaned forwards slightly, so she could look at the two Parrish’s past her own sons and Gansey. She smiled softly in their direction. Her smile didn’t make her face look less sad, didn’t make the air feel less heavy.
“Okay,” Adam said.
Declan took Ethan, pressed a quick kiss to his forehead, passed him over Gansey to Ronan, who held him tightly in his arms for a moment before assisting him in squiggling across Matthew’s lap into Aurora’s.
He wasn’t sure how to describe it.
He’d spent Ethan’s whole life trying to get their parents to acknowledge just how wonderful Ethan was. To kiss him, to hug him, to love him. To do better with him than they had with Adam. Really, he knew they wouldn’t, that they’d made their minds up already about the both of them. But.
Here was a whole family who, just months ago, had been strangers. And now they were holding and handling Ethan like he was part of their family. Like they knew just how precious he was ,just how much he deserved to be held and cared for.
It twisted painfully at Adam’s heart and lungs, and he had to inhale deeply, had to look away from the way Aurora was pressing soft kisses to Ethan’s cheeks.
He couldn’t fully comprehend all the emotions tugging inside of him. He was… happy, yes, jealous, a little, overwhelmed, most certainly, grieving? Apparently. Something inside of him was whispering about how a dream was a dream and wasn’t a dream and you couldn’t hold onto a dream, not really, not once you’d woken up. The dream gets cut off. Becomes a memory. Only if you know to remember it. Would Ethan remember it?
He had no idea what he was thinking. Was only vaguely aware of the turmoil it was causing outwardly when Declan’s hand landed on his knee.
Oh. Tears down his cheeks. Declan’s hand. Very square, but long fingers. Slender. Like he ought to be a musician, or an artist, or -
“Do you want to swap seats with me?” Declan asked lowly, “The service is about to start, and I have to get up and speak soon.”
Oh. Right. He nodded. They performed a vaguely awkward shuffly maneuver, and then Adam was pressed up against Ronan’s side. Declan had sat back down much closer than Adam had been sitting.
It was hard to remember that Declan was only a year older than Ronan right now. Declan was all hard lines, sitting straight backed, head held high, hair combed. His eyes were red rimed but dry, his face solemn. Ronan, on Adam’s other side, was bent down nearly over his knees, his shoulder blades jutting out, visible even through the thick material of his suit - a real suit probably tailored. He was crying, his face in his hands, his whole body crumpling inwards like he was trying to make himself smaller.
Adam couldn’t figure out which brother he was more sorry for in this moment.
Matthew was faring the best out of the three of the, though Adam doubted most people looking in would be able to tell. He was tucked in against his mother, tears trickling down his face, but his body relaxed, a small smile on his face as he held a whispered gibberish conversation with Ethan.
Gansey met his eyes over Ronan’s back. His eyes were wet as well, and he offered Adam a small smile.
The service started. Everything felt… vague and muddled. The preacher, or priest, or whatever, spoke for a long while about how generous Niall was, about what an upstanding man he’d been, about how he’d been the very picture of a selfless christian. With every word spoken, Declan’s posture grew stiffer and stiffer, until it alost felt as if a Declan sized statue was pressing its shoulder against Adam’s.
His discomfort was so palpable, Adam was surprised no one else had noticed, had offered to… do something? Help?
When it came time for Declan to speak, Adam grabbed his hand without thinking about it. Gave it a quick squeeze.
“You’ve got this,” he said, even though his words were most likely useless in this situation.
Declan swallowed hard enough that his adam’s apple jutted out harshly for a moment, and then he nodded, standing.
While Declan spoke - extolling Niall’s virtues as a father, a husband, an entrepreneur - Ronan dropped his hands from his face, lifting his head enough to see his brother speaking. He reached out without looking, one hand to either side of him, and Adam took his hand while watching Gansey do the same.
Ronan’s palm was slick with tears, his knuckles looked like they’d been split recently, were in the process of scabbing over in a sickly pink sort of way. Adam clung to him tightly.
The rest of the funeral was a blur. Things happened. People spoke. Coffin. Crying. Singing. Then they were outside. Then they were at the graveyard, and the coffin was being lowered into a freshly dug hole, and people were crying, and flowers were thrown, and Aurora was all but collapsing in Declan’s arms. Ethan was back in Adam’s arms, half asleep against his shoulder.
“Are you coming back with us?” Ronan asked, his voice sounded blocked and dead.
“I can’t,” Adam said, his apology loud in his voice. “I have to get back to work. Are you - uh. I can - I can come tomorrow. If you want?”
Ronan nodded just once, face ashen. Adam wanted to step forwards and pull him into a hug, but, his arms were full, and Ronan was holding himself so tightly that it looked like it hurt, and would hurt worse to try and touch him.
Gansey came up and led Ronan away to the car, his hand on Ronan’s back, very lightly. He could also see how many thorns Ronan was pushing out.
“We’ll see you tomorrow?” Gansey asked.
Adam nodded. He hated everything about this. Aurora had had to be all but carried to the car, her knees giving out with every step she took. Matthew was clinging to her in the car, his fear of losing her very loud.
Declan was apparently the one who was going to drive his family home. The one who appeared to be in charge. His jaw was quivering when he stepped up to Adam as Gansey led Ronan away.
“You know?” Declan asked. He didn’t sound… upset, just resigned.
“Know what?” Adam asked.
Declan sighed, he scrubbed at his cheekbones with the heel of his hand. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “You know something. You - you are something.”
Adam was pretty sure he wasn’t ever going to be something until he was well out of Henrietta. “I don’t know what you mean,” he said.
“You’re like them,” Declan said, his voice dull and flat. “In a way. You were wise to stay away from him.”
Adam wasn’t sure what he was supposed to be taking from any of this. He felt wrongfooted. He felt like Declan had taken a torch and shone it on Adam and revealed something Adam hadn’t realised he even had. A mole. A birthmark. A dream that wasn’t a dream.
Declan shook his head. “Gansey too?” He asked. “Is it everyone but me?”
Now it felt like Declan had turned the torch on himself, was revealing something horribly intimate about himself, but Adam just couldn’t make it out through the glare of the torch.
“I don’t know,” Adam whispered. He didn’t know what he was supposed to do here. He reached out, touched Declan’s arm, near his elbow. “I’m sorry.”
For half a second, Declan’s body seemed to droop. And then he was back to firm lines, confident posture. Solemn and contained.
“We’ll see you tomorrow,” he said.
Adam returned Ethan to the library. Returned himself to work. Picked Ethan up at half past eight. Got him to bed by nine. Did his homework. Ate half a can of tinned tuna on stale bread. Went to bed.
Had a strange dream.
He was in the driveway of The Barns. The pool of blood that he’d seen that first day was there. This time it still contained Niall Lynch’s body and Niall Lynch’s middle son kneeling in the middle of it all.
Ronan was gasping out words that barely sounded english, his hands fluttering over his father’s chest like he was trying to figure out a way to put everything back together, to make it alright again, to put the blood back in, to unsmash Niall’s skull.
This was a dream, so Adam stepped closer, trying to ignore the way that the smell of blood immediately invaded his head. “Ronan,” he said, soft. “Ronan.”
Ronan startled, his knees sliding in the bloody gravel.
Adam caught him by the elbow, and then helped as Ronan struggled to his feet.
“Adam,” Ronan bit out, staring down at his hands near helplessly. “It’s happening again.”
“It’s not,” Adam attempted. “This is just a dream, just a dream.”
“No,” Ronan said, gulped, allowed Adam to pull him in closer, his bloody hands gripping at the front of Adam’s pajama shirt. “It isn’t. It’s not just a dream, Adam, it’s - I’ve - I haven’t had them this bad in so long -”
Adam had no idea what Ronan was talking about, and that was quite rude really, seeing as it was his own dream. So he just pulled Ronan closer still, tucking Ronan’s head down against his shoulder like he did when Ethan was upset, resting his head on Ronan’s, rocking them both slightly even as Ronan sobbed and blood soaked into Adam’s clothing.
Over the muffled noise of Ronan’s crying, Adam suddenly heard the noise of something approaching. Something not someone.
Ronan stiffened in his arms, but didn’t pull away.
“It’s happening again,” he mumbled nonsensically against Adam’s neck. “Dad always said he’d help if I ever brought one back, but he’s gone now and I don’t know what to do-”
“Wake up,” Adam suggested, which was stupid, because this was his dream. If he wanted his dream version of Ronan to wake up, to stop being so upset, all he had to do was wake up himself. The thought of doing so while Ronan was still here clinging to him felt horribly cruel somehow. Like if he woke up it wouldn’t actually end this dream scenario, and Ronan would just be left to deal with a nightmare by himself. “Wake up now, Ronan,” he said. “I’ve got you. I’ll help.”
Ronan made a choked off noise, and then exhaled heavily against Adam’s neck, his breath cold against the damp of his tears on Adam’s skin.
“Wake up,” Adam repeated, feeling foolish. “Wake up, I have you.”
Ronan nodded, just once.
Adam woke up.
Also SO sorry that I've not really been replying to comments! I read them all and LOVE them but then it sometimes get a bit too overwhelming to reply. Just know that in my head I am replying to all your comments with like a milliion heart eye emojis.
Here is a bite sized chapter for y'all. Soon I will write longer chapters again!!!
Sunday morning arrived far too early with the ringing of the phone in the trailer.
Adam was out of bed and answering it before it had managed to ring twice, and he just had to hope that his parents were still deep enough asleep that they hadn’t registered the ringing. He answered quietly.
“Adam,” it took a moment to place the solemn voice. Declan. “I’m aware this is probably going to be difficult, but would you be able to come to The Barns? Without Ethan today. Our - uh -” for a moment, the steady an solid façade that Declan wore even over the phone shattered, and Adam could clearly hear the note of terror tremor in his voice. “Ma - Aurora - she’s… it happened.”
Adam had no idea what had happened, but the cold pit in his stomach seemed to understand well enough. This was not something he ought to take a baby to. Not today. There was only so far the joy a baby brought could last in situations like this.
“I’ll be there as soon as I can,” he whispered into the phone. “Have you called Gansey?”
“Not yet,” Declan replied, dropping his voice down low as well, probably unconsciously mimicking Adam. “I can -”
“No,” Adam shook his head even though Declan couldn’t see him. “I’ll cycle to him. Ask him for a ride. It’s going to take me at least an hour to get to y’all. Is that okay?”
“It has to be,” Declan replied, ominous. “Thank you.”
The call ended. Adam replaced the phone in the cradle carefully, glanced at his parents bedroom. Door still shut.
He had no real idea why Declan was calling him of all people. Adam Parrish, always struggling, always falling behind, always fearful, and lonely, and bogged down with baggage. He was of no use to anybody but Ethan, not really, and he wasn’t even as useful for Ethan as he wanted to be. But Declan seemed to see something in him. Something… something different to what Ronan and Gansey and Noah and even Blue seemed to see.
Not a like calls to like, but, more like Declan saw him and understood something about him because he knew all about it. Like the way Gansey, who had spent so much of his life on the research of ancient artefacts, and Welsh history, and insane phenomena, could see an etching on a wall and immediately relate it to a time period, to a people. Declan was cataloguing Adam, putting him in some category that Adam hadn’t even heard of.
That wasn’t really important right now, his inflated sense of worth could sit back for now. He needed to get a move on.
He didn’t have work today. Usually he would be at Boyd’s all day, but Boyd had decided to close up shop today so he and his wife could go out of town, something about his anniversary. He needed to find a sitter for Ethan. Hopefully Dana would take him even though it was last minute. She had said before that she could take him almost any day, so Adam just had to hope that this was an any day.
He made Ethan’s breakfast before waking him, needed everything to be streamlined. He fed Ethan in between getting himself undressed and then redressed, between choosing Ethan’s outfit for the day, putting his shoes on, packing Ethan’s day bag.
Once Ethan had eaten, Adam changed his nappy, then dressed him, took him to the bathroom so they could both brush their teeth (Ethan had one and a half teeth!), and so he could pee. They both washed their hands, and then Adam put Ethan’s shoes on, strapped him into the pack Aurora had gifted them just a few months ago, and left the house.
By the time he’d cycled all the way down Antiem Lane and was on his way to Gansey’s, it had been nearly fifteen minutes from the time Declan had hung up the phone. Pretty good time, if he did say so himself.
Gansey answered his door in only his wire rimmed glasses and baggy shorts, and for a moment Adam worried that Gansey’s obvious just woken up problem would slow them down, but as soon as Adam had spilled out the situation, Gansey had jumped into gear.
He’d stripped off his shorts and was tugging on jeans before Adam could even really comprehend what was happening - further than the fact that Gansey had just put on underwear with little mustachioed tomatoes on. While Gansey dressed, he talked as well.
“Did Declan say exactly what had happened to Aurora?” He asked as he rifled through his dresser - the drawer he had open seemed to only contain brightly coloured polo shirts. “I’m not sure I entirely understand what’s happening.”
“No,” Adam said, was rocking slightly to keep Ethan happy, was aware it probably made him look extra antsy. “But I - Gansey I know it’s not good. And it’s not… listen. I - I think this isn’t entirely - what’s happening - I’m not sure magical is the right word, but it’s not the wrong word either.”
Gansey paused, his polo shirt halfway on, his glasses knocked sideways on his face. He stared at Adam.
“I don’t know,” Adam mumbled, immediately on the defense. “It’s just some things that Declan said to me, and that Aurora said to me, and that I - that I felt . There’s something else going on here, and it’s gotten to Aurora.”
“You believe in things like that?” Gansey asked, sounding as far from confrontational as possible, though still somehow very eager. “In - in the supernatural - the magical - in the unexplainable?”
“I think everything can be explained,” Adam said, “but perhaps not in the way we’re used to.”
“Okay,” Gansey said, finished pulling his polo on properly, grabbed a jacket from over a chair, and shoved his feet into his boat shoes. “Let’s go.”
It was easy to drop Ethan off with Dana. She’d heard about the murder, and the moment Adam said that he was going to go help out, as he was friends with the sons, she had nodded and taken Ethan, and waved him off.
They didn’t talk about it until Adam, Gansey, and The Pig were out of the town, speeding towards Singer’s Falls, morning mist still burning off the roads.
“Glendower,” Gansey said.
“Mm,” Adam replied.
“I truly believe that he is real, and that he’s still alive, and is, in fact, asleep somewhere around here. This isn’t just an archeological, or - or historical hunt for me. I’m fully planning on finding him and waking him, and receiving a wish.”
Adam had… well. He had figured that Gansey’s attentions to Glendower were not just academic. He’d seen a look in Gansey that he recognised in himself. True, firm belief of something. Adam’s own true firm belief was that he was getting Ethan out of here, no matter how fairy tale that sounded. That Ethan would be okay. That Ethan would grow up loved and warm and happy.
“Okay,” Adam said. “I can get my head around that.”
“What did you feel?” Gansey asked.
Adam cleared his throat. Closed his eyes. He wasn’t sure how to answer this. He didn’t have anything solid to tell Gansey here. Nothing to really reveal. He had had some vague feelings, some odd dreams that were possibly actually somehow reality.
“At The Barns,” he said, eyes still closed. “I felt… cold spots. Around the house. It felt like… like a warning. Or a - don’t laugh - a premonition.”
“I wouldn’t laugh,” Gansey said seriously. “A premonition?”
“It was mostly around things that belonged to Niall,” Adam said quietly, screwed his eyes impossibly tighter closed. “His office, his - his books - his knicknacks. Sometimes - sometimes around Aurora. I - when I met him - it was - I felt like I was drowning in it.”
Gansey was silent for a long moment. Adam didn’t open his eyes. Didn’t want to see what expression Gansey was wearing, what expression he was trying to fit on over his real expression.
“So,” Gansey said eventually. “You’re psychic?”
Adam’s cheeks burned, and he shook his head. “No,” he said. “I don’t know. I’m not sure I’m anything. I think that The Barns themselves are - are somehow magic, and maybe part of that just rubbed off on me a little. Just while I was there. I think The Barns was giving out a warning, I just happened to be the one to receive.”
“So you’re a conductor?” Gansey tried.
Adam shook his head again, cracked his eyes open. “Gans,” he said, glancing sideways at Gansey’s knees, didn’t feel like he could look any higher right now. “Whatever I may or may not be isn’t actually important right now. What’s important is that - is that there is obviously so much of something happening at The Barns, and the Lynch’s need help.”
“You’re right,” Gansey agreed. He pulled The Pig around a corner a little too sharply, swinging both of them slightly sideways.
The driveway of The Barns loomed up ahead.
Aurora Lynch was lying on the couch, and if Adam didn’t know better, he’d say she was simply sleeping. She looked asleep. Her chest was rising and falling with slow breaths, her pulse was steady if a bit slow,
He did know better though. Which was a problem, because knowing that she wasn’t just asleep, didn’t actually help much.
Matthew was crying. He was sitting on the edge of the couch next to his mother, her hand in his.
“Why won’t she wake up?” he cried, tears spilling down his cheeks. He didn’t make a move to wipe them away, just let them fall thick and fast, dripping down onto the collar of his shirt. “She always wakes up for me.”
Declan had been consoling Matthew when they’d arrived, but he had paused in his softs words to explain the brief outline of what had happened, and hadn’t continued with them while Adam looked Aurora over.
Adam was wildly out of his depths. He barely knew enough first aid to get by with his own constant injuries, let alone try to work out if someone else’s body was doing okay . He had no idea if he could consider himself any type of psychic, or supernatural, or anything magical, let alone what vaguely magical thing might have caused this . He’d only just gotten used to having friends, gotten used to knowing a functioning family like the Lynch’s, he had no idea how to handle tragedy when it was paired with real love.
“Gansey,” Declan said, voice hoarse. “Would you mind… would you mind making Matthew a hot chocolate?”
“Oh,” Gansey said, “of course. Of course I can do that.”
“Matty,” Declan continued, stroked Matthew’s golden curls carefully, untangling a vague snarl of hair at the side. “Go to the kitchen with Gansey, yeah? I’ve heard he gives real good hugs, and has lots of nice stories.”
“But ma -” Matty started, not halting his tears.
“She’ll be okay here,” Declan said, voice soft but firm. “And when you’ve got your drink, you guys can come sit back in here and drink it with her. But I have to go talk to Ronan.”
Matthew nodded, allowed Gansey to help him up from the couch. Gansey wrapped his arm around Matthew’s shoulders to hold him tight to his side, and they left the room together, Gansey sending a questioning look back in Adam’s direction.
Declan was standing. “Come with me,” he said to Adam.
“To talk to Ronan?” Adam clarified, moving slowly from his knees back onto his feet.
“Yes,” Declan said. Now Matthew had left the room his voice had dropped the softness reserved specifically for his baby brother, leaving only the firmness, the bare boned exhaustion. Adam recognised the drop of the act intimately. “I’m going to gift you a family secret, Adam Parrish.”
“Um,” Adam frowned, following Declan out the door opposite to the one Gansey and Matthew had exited through. “Thank you?”
“It’s a shitty secret,” Declan said, not looking back as he started up the stairs. “In a chain of shittier secrets. You won’t like this gift, but I still need you to accept it, because ma - before she - wait ‘til we find Ronan. I don’t want to have to go over it so many goddamn times.”
Right. Okay. Adam didn’t say anything in reply, didn’t think anything he could say would be useful.
Ronan wasn’t in his room, or the bathroom. He wasn’t in his parents’ room, or his brothers’ rooms. He wasn’t in the laundry cupboard. Neither was he in the tiny little sewing room.
“God,” Declan sighed. They crossed back down the hall, pausing for a moment in front of his parents’ room again. “You good at keeping your balance, Parrish?”
“Yes,” Adam said, nonplussed.
He followed Declan into the room, over to the window, and then, out of the window and onto the moss covered shingles of the roof. Together they picked their way slowly around the outside corner of the bedroom until the slanted roof began slanting the other way, and Ronan - curled up in the shadow of the house on the shingles - came into view.
“It’s cold out here,” Declan said.
Ronan didn’t reply.
Declan sat down next to him. After a moment’s hesitation, Adam edged his way carefully around Declan and Ronan’s feet, and sat down on Ronan’s other side.
“Mum’s not dead,” Declan said. “She’s not even dying. She is, basically, asleep.”
Ronan made a noise that sounded like an odd meeting of grief and a sarcastic snort.
“I have to tell you some things that you aren’t going to want to hear,” Declan said.
Ronan made the noise again, though this time grief was winning out. He didn’t pull away when Adam reached out to touch his hand.
“When the dreamer dies,” Declan said, his voice suddenly tripled in hardness, “so does the dream. Dad told me that.”
It didn’t make sense to Adam, but Ronan jolted like he’d been prodded with a live wire. “What?”
“He also told me that it’s not really death for the dream. More like… more like a much more literal meaning of eternal sleep. She’s just sleeping. It’s just - without her dreamer - she can’t wake up.”
“She doesn’t have a dreamer,” Ronan spat out, his voice rough and wrecked. “She’s human , Declan.”
“I didn’t say she wasn’t,” Declan retorted, his own voice roughening. “But I am saying that she was dreamed.”
“This isn’t funny!” Ronan yelled. His hand that Adam had been touching ripped away and then back down hard to bang on the shingles. “Shut up!”
“I’m not being fucking funny,” Declan yelled back. “Dad dreamed her, Ronan. He dreamed her to be the goddamn perfect fucking wife and mother, and now that he’s dead, she’s gone too.”
For a long tense moment it felt very much like Ronan was going to start swinging for Declan’s head, his whole body tensing, the air around them darkening and thinning, Declan’s face full of anticipation, and then, instead, Ronan leaned forwards very, very slowly, until his head was on Declan’s shoulder, and started crying.
Declan didn’t hesitate, simply wrapped his arms around Ronan to pull him in closer, tighter, held him.
Adam was… well. First of all, slightly uncomfortable. He never knew what to do when someone who wasn’t a baby or child was crying. It had been okay when it was Matthew, because Matthew was barely not a child, but Ronan? Well. The thing was, was that Adam knew what he wanted to do about Ronan crying - he wanted to lean in as well and hug him, but Declan was already doing that, and he didn’t know if Ronan would even want that, let alone let him do it.
Secondly. Adam was fucking confused. Aurora was a dream. Niall was a dreamer? Whatever the fuck any of that meant. Niall dreamed Aurora. Okay. Okay. What the fuck?
He remembered his dream of Aurora. Of Aurora saying she wouldn’t be a dream if she could help it. He’d thought it was some weird twisty way of her saying sorry for being in his dream, like she could - could - Adam hadn’t figured that out yet. Supposed it wasn’t the right track anyway. But Ronan - the dream he’d had about Ronan last night…
“Is Ronan a dreamer too?” Adam asked, the questioning bursting out of him before he could hold it down.
Ronan kept crying, shoulders shaking. Declan looked at Adam from over Ronan’s curl covered head. “Yes,” he said. Then; “Ronan. Ma knew it was coming - she - right beforehand, she told me to - that we should tell Adam about everything. That he could… could help us. That he’d already seen some of it.”
Ronan choked slightly, like he’d tried to speak mid sob, paused, coughed into Declan’s shoulder, shuddered out a few heaving breaths, and then spoke without turning around. “You were actually in my dream last night,” he said.
“I think so,” Adam admitted, watching as Declan’s eyebrows rose. “I didn’t mean to be.”
“You didn’t know it was real?” Ronan asked haltingly, the words coming out between hitched breaths, muffled against Declan.
“I didn’t,” Adam said. “I - I still don’t understand.”
Declan sighed heavily. “Let me explain,” he said.
Not even ten minutes later, on the Lynch family home’s roof, Declan had laid bare the shadows in the corners of Adam’s dreams, had dusted out any hesitation Adam might have had of magic being real, had let loose a secret that was apparently worth killing over. The two Lynch brothers both watched Adam, Ronan with his cheeks tear stained, Declan with his eyes weighed down with dark bags.
“Okay,” Adam said. Blinked up at the sky. “I think that - I think I have an idea.”
The idea really was only that - an idea. He had no plan yet, nothing real. He needed more information first, more understanding about what dreaming really was, and to do that, he also needed - or possibly just wanted(?) - to see Ronan dream. He had been in Ronan’s dream, but hadn’t been fully aware that that was what he was doing. He had not seen Ronan slip into the dream, nor had he seen Ronan take anything out. He didn’t know where Ronan went when he dreamed - if it was the same every time, or if it changed. He needed to know if there were limits on dreaming, and if dreamers dreams could intercept, and if so, could they work together in a dream? Were there other dreamers? Was it genetic? Was in a mutation? Was Niall the first? What’s the precedent?
The problem was, with needing all these answers, was that the two people (alive and in reach) most equipped to answer these questions were both in shock and mourning, and Adam had been called calculating and cold in the past, but he wasn’t so out of touch with human emotions that he didn’t understand the need for time to grieve.
So. He laid out the base idea first, just that.
Hypothesis - dreams belong in dreams.
Theory - Asleep dreams might be able to be awake dreams within another dream.
What happened next was this.
“So what do we do next?” Ronan asked, his voice creaky and low, his eyes fluttering shut like they were simply too heavy with tears to keep open. He was tucked half under Declan’s arm, and Adam didn’t think he’d ever seen the two brothers quite so close before.
Declan answered before Adam could admit that he actually needed a little bit more information before he was comfortable with suggestion an experiment.
“What happens next,” Declan said, “is that we make well and sure that no one knows that ma isn’t awake.”
“Yeah,” Ronan grunted. “Like we’re gonna go into town and yell about how she’s in a magically induced coma.”
“No,” Declan said, not rising to the almost bait in the edges of Ronan’s voice. “I mean, that if anyone finds out that she isn’t… compos mentis - and by anyone I mean da’s lawyers - they will kick us out of The Barns.”
“What?” Ronan said, his voice too gravelly to really be a snap. He tried to twist out from under Declan’s arm, but Declan held on tight. “What the f-”
“Shut up,” Declan gritted out - also too gravelly to come off as sharp as maybe he would have meant it on another day. “Shut up and listen . Da’s will. It says that if he’s dead and ma isn’t - isn’t all there basically, because he knew this would happen to her - then we’re not allowed on the property until we’re all legal adults. I don’t know why, it seems --- fucked up to me but, whatever. He didn’t tell me this, Ronan, so don’t - don’t go acting like I was his favourite or anything, you know I wasn’t. I found his will and read it after he died. So. Chill.”
Ronan only vaguely chilled. He did, however, still under Declan’s arm, allowed himself to continue to be held against his brother’s side.
“I don’t understand.”
“We’re going to have to pretend mum is awake and fine,” Declan said, “because if we don’t, we’ll have to leave The Barns, and I’m kind of worried that if we do that, you’re going to go completely feral.”
Ronan didn’t bite back about that, apparently it was too much truth to contest.
“So,” Adam said, quiet, so he could be ignored if need be. “We tell people she’s in grieving, that she doesn’t want to see anyone. We say that she’s alright, just upset. We - just until we can figure out how to wake her up again.”
It felt risky, saying we . Saying we like he was truly part of something, like he was going to help someone and they were going to help him too, like they were going to work together. The only other we he usually used was about Ethan, and that was used as if Ethan was simply one of Adam’s own limbs. We’re going to be at Nino’s, we have to leave now, we’re going to be late -
No one called him out on it. Declan nodded. Ronan nodded.
Adam took another risk. Reached forwards to wipe his thumb under Ronan’s eye like he did with Ethan. Brushed the tears away.
“Can we tell Gansey about this? I think he’ll be a lot of help.”
It wasn’t particularly easy , but it also wasn’t as hard as Adam had feared. Money helped. Money always helped, and both the Lynch’s and Gansey had a lot of it.
Money meant that if you suddenly became a recluse, people would simply call you eccentric. Money meant that it was easier for Declan to convince the various lawyers poking around after Niall’s death, that he had been elected by his mother to run the household for a while. Just while she got herself back together.
Money meant that none of them batted an eye at the idea that they would have to be the ones suddenly in charge of the household - buying food, making food, keeping the lights on, keeping the water on, paying bills - everything that Adam worried about daily, not even counting his worries about Ethan, and school, and work, and the future, and this very minor feeling that he might possibly be something like a psychic, and -
“I can’t stay the night,” he told Matthew, speaking soft and quiet because Matthew was wrapped around him like the child he actually was, his head on Adam’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, Matty, I have to go take Ethan home.”
Matthew was almost fourteen. Adam had been basically an adult at that point in his life. Matthew had grown up with a doting mother, a genial father, two older brothers full of love for him. Had grown up with plenty - food, comfort, warmth, love. Adam of fourteen would have felt bitter towards Matthew of thirteen and three quarters. Would have envied the way he was allowed to let his tears drip down his face, was allowed to still be carrying his baby fat, was allowed to just be.
Adam of now was simply surprised that he was the one currently chosen to be the comforter. Declan was still doing various businessy stuff, Ronan was sat across the room with Gansey who looked on the very verge of breaking and asking for more information on the magic of everything. He wasn’t breaking, though, he had his arm around Ronan’s shoulders, and his head on Ronan’s head, and they were discussing the best possible way to keep Aurora comfortable while she slept .
For now, they’d carried her carefully up to her bedroom, laid her out on her bed, covered her up with the knitted throw at the foot of it.
Matthew hadn’t stopped crying since. Had traveled from Declan’s arms, to Ronan’s, to Gansey’s, and now to Adam’s. It made sense that he was the last port of comfort, even though it also didn’t make sense that he was a port of comfort.
“B-bring him here?” Matthew sniffed, wiped his eyes against Adam’s shoulder. “W-we could have a s-s-sleepover?”
Adam would like to do that. He would.
“I’m sorry, bud,” he whispered, pressed the type of tender kiss he would bestow upon Ethan into Matthew’s curly blond hair. “I’ll come back as soon as I can, though, alright? And I’ll bring Ethan.”
Matthew sniffed again, but he didn’t argue the point any further. Adam did have to leave, but, his ride was Gansey, and Gansey was still wrapped up with Ronan, and Adam did not want to take that comfort from Ronan. Fuck, he didn’t want to tell Matthew he needed to unravel his arms from around Adam’s waist. He didn’t want to leave, not knowing exactly when he could be back.
He wanted to have figured everything out already. He wanted to be actually, properly worth something. Worth enough that he could fix this now, rather than leaving almost everyone he cared about to wallow in grief and uncertainty.
But he had to go to school. And he had Nino’s tomorrow afternoon and evening. And then he had to go home and do his chores. And his homework. And sleep. Maybe. And chat with Ethan, and play with Ethan, and clean Ethan, and feed Ethan, and make sure Ethan was happy , and -
“Okay,” Gansey was saying across the room. “I’ve placed the order, everything should arrive tomorrow. Alright?”
“Mm,” Ronan said.
“You and your brothers will stay home tomorrow?”
“If you need,” Gansey said, almost tentative, “I could skip for the day.”
“You can’t afford to,” Ronan said, his voice quiet and hoarse, because Gansey had been the only one actually speaking for the last hour or so - Ronan replying with grunts and nods. “I know you’ve already - it’ll be fine.”
It was odd - to say the least - to hear that anyone in this house that wasn’t Adam could not afford something.
“My grades are still fine,” Gansey said. “Nearly as good as yours.”
“They won’t be if you keep skipping for me,” Ronan retorted. “I won’t be able to - to make it if you have to leave.”
This conversation wasn’t making much sense to Adam, so he listened quietly, filing away the issue for another day. He pressed another kiss to the top of Matthew’s head and missed Ethan intensely.
Back home, Ethan asleep and tucked up in bed, homework done, shut up in the garage and working on the engine his father had left for him to tune up, Adam attempted to plan.
It was like this. Adam had been able to - albeit accidentally - dream into Ronan’s dream, and have it be real. They had shared a dream. They had communicated and touched, and been there together. And. Aurora was a dream. So, yes, she was Niall’s dream, but Adam wasn’t anyone’s dream and he still got into Ronan’s dreams, so surely Aurora would be able to too, if they could figure out how to do it, and -
And it went like this - Adam had only just started to believe that things like this could exist, and his head hurt, and his body hurt, and he wanted to fix everything, but all his thoughts were trailing loose ends and sharp shots of grief he didn’t feel like he was allowed to feel.
He had grease on his knuckles. He wanted to try to sleep. Wanted to try and make his way back through whatever it was that got him into Ronan’s subconscious because he had this need to go and stand there with Ronan against whatever his head was about to throw at him.
It was like this.
Ronan had nightmares. Ronan had dreams, and he had nightmares, and knowing Ronan as he did, Adam was certain that both dreams and nightmares of Ronan’s would be nearly overwhelming, and Ronan at this moment was far more fragile than Adam had ever seen.
It was this.
Adam could feel something tugging him - from his marrow, his blood, his atoms -back towards The Barns. Not for the house, or the land, or the wealth, but for the family there. The magic there. The loose ends that needed plaiting, that needed to be connected. He felt like it was a tangle of wires and none of the power - the magic - was running smoothly because everything was suddenly disconnected with Niall gone, with Aurora asleep, and -
And he didn’t know what to do.
Connect the wires? Sure. How?
He couldn’t do this. He was just Adam. Even Declan - formidable, world weary - seemed to feel lost in the mess that his father had left them. Everything was a mess.
He fixed the engine. Because at least he could do that.
He washed up.
He climbed into bed next to Ethan, cried silently, soaking his corner of the pillow with tears that he wasn’t sure he should be allowed to spill. This wasn’t his loss. He was a bystander. He was here to help, to fix, not to - not to feel .
What’s the point in cryin’? His father had asked him as a child, the two of them standing outside the garage, a car with its hood open, guts splayed, in front of them. You don’t fuckin’ cry when you can’t fix it, you learn how to fix it. Now shut up, and get over here. Watch what I’m doin’.
He had watched as his father showed him what to do. These moments were always Adam’s favourite, because his father didn’t yell during this part, just explained things, and directed Adam’s hands, and - it was as close to affection as Adam got, so he cherished it always. So. He learned, because he had someone to show him what to do.
He didn’t have anyone to show him what to do now.
I've been super busy and not in the right mood to sit down and properly write this. I want to get back into writing longer chapters for the updates, and I need a lot more emotional brain space to do that, so I kind of feel like the chapters I'm posting right now are a bit blah.
But. I've moved out of my old flat, currently staying with my mum and little brother while i'm looking for a new place. Rent is ridiculous in Wellington, so possibly I'll be staying in my mum's lounge forever and I'll never get enough space in my brain and you guys will continue to get blah chapters.
hi btw i love every single one of you reading this xxxxx
“How are you doing this?” Ronan asked when Adam opened his eyes to find himself almost nose to nose with Ronan.
Upon further inspection, Adam thought they were both inside a hollowed out tree trunk, their knees tucked up to their chests. The air around them was cool, and smelled like damp earth. Ronan’s eyes were red rimmed, wet, but not currently shedding tears.
“This is your dream?” Adam asked, though he hardly needed clarification. Of course it was.
“I don’t know how I’m doing it,” Adam admitted. “I - I was thinking about you before I went to sleep, maybe that?”
Ronan dragged in a rattling breath, and Adam could basically feel the wood around them creak with the pressure of Ronan’s lungs expanding in the small space they shared.
“Maybe,” Ronan said, his eyes closing, lashes brushing damply, darkly against his cheeks. “Have you ever had this happen with anyone else?”
“I think I would have lead with that if I had,” Adam said. “Besides. I’d never met anyone with your dreaming capabilities before.”
“That you know of,” Ronan remarked, hoarse. “You didn’t know about me the first time.”
That was true.
“Why are we in this tree?”
Ronan scowled a little at the question, glanced around himself as if only know taking in his surroundings. “I wasn’t in the tree before you got here,” he said, cleared his throat. “I was - I was falling. Down a hole in the ground.”
A grave , Adam’s brain supplied, and he had to suppress a shudder. “Okay,” he said. “Should we get out of the tree, or -”
“No,” Ronan cut in, eyes suddenly a little too frantic. “No. If we - I think we’re safe in here, not out there. Not right now.”
Adam would very much like to ask questions about this, but, he’d seen what the tipping point looked like on plenty of people. The way his father’s face twitched just so before he truly lost his temper, the way Ethan began whimpering in a very particular way when he was far too overtired, the way Fara at the factory looked when Adam asked for the fourth time that week to leave early because he needed to get Ethan, and they both knew that if Adam asked a fifth time in a week it would end up with Adam being fired. He’d seen the way it looked on himself, in the mirror, in the shaking of his hands, in the hollowness of his gut.
He wasn’t going to be the one to push Ronan over the edge right now.
Instead, he reached out, a little awkward in the confined space, wrapped one hand around Ronan’s closest knee, squeezed it.
“Do you have a favourite dream?”
Ronan’s eyebrows lifted, and then furrowed, and it took a few long moments before he actually opened his mouth to answer. When he did, he closed his eyes, tipped his head back against the wood, lifted his own hand to cover Adam’s on his knee.
“The favourite dream I’ve had that I’ve brought out with me is - y’know those like, plastic, stick on stars and stuff you can buy to put on your ceiling?” Adam nodded. “Well. I dreamed up my own version, I think I was probably about eight. I woke up and - did I tell you that when I bring something from my dream I - I’m sort of paralysed for a few moments, and like, it’s sort of like an out of body experience, I guess. I’m floating above myself, so. I woke up, and my body was frozen, but I was watching myself from above, and my - my eyes were open and I could see the stars reflected in them. When I unfroze I saw that I’d brought out all of these tiny glowing stars. Not like real ones, obviously, I hadn’t quite been convinced yet that stars were actually just further away versions of the sun, and in my mind they were kind of like marbles. Cold and round and pretty. I’ll show you. Next time you come over.”
Adam was about to say something about how nice that sounded, but they were both interrupted by a loud snarling coming from somewhere outside of the hollow tree.
Ronan swore, hushed, and then surged forward - difficult to do in the cramped space - and pressed his palm across Adam’s mouth.
They waited with bated breath, listening as the snarling sounded again, accompanied by a strange sort of… clicking scraping noise, as if someone was walking across the ground in ill fitting shoes, dragging something along behind them.
Only once the sound had drifted further away did Ronan drop his hand. He dragged his hand back to himself, and looked as if he was doing his best to pull the rest of himself as far away from Adam as possible while staying in the tree. An impossible task, really, their knees stayed pressed painfully together, and Ronan’s shoulders were as far back as he could push them.
“A nightmare,” Adam asked, pushing down the hurt in the pit of his stomach that threatened to rear up ad ruin everything at the sight of Ronan pulling away. “You’ve never brought one back with you before, right?”
Ronan didn’t look at him. “Not one like this,” he whispered.
“Can it actually hurt you? In your dream?”
“Yes,” Ronan said. “But they’re bigger now. I think they could hurt much more.”
“It’s gone,” Adam tried. “It’s gone, and it didn’t hurt you. You should try and wake up now, yeah?”
Ronan still didn’t look at him. “I don’t think I can do it.”
“You can,” Adam said, soft. He wanted to reach his hand back to Ronan, but didn’t want to risk Ronan trying to push himself right through the tree. “You did it before. You just have to wake up. You could - could go climb in with Matty? Might help ward off any more nightmares.”
“No,” Ronan gritted out. Swallowed hard, his adam’s apple jumping painfully in his throat. “I don’t think I can bring mum back. I’m too - I’m not strong enough in my dreaming. I can’t keep it safe. I was trying so hard before - I don’t want them to hurt you - and they still came, and I was too fucking terrified to do anything, and -”
Adam reached out now, because at this rate he thought it would probably be better for Ronan to startle than to continue winding himself so tight. Anyway. He’d seen enough of the Lynch’s - Ronan especially - to know that they thrived on touch. All of the brothers handed it out to each other easily, even Declan, though he gave it more than he seemed to want to receive it.
And Adam was good at comforting with touch. He had to do it every day with Ethan. It was the only form of comfort he was good at. He could rock Ethan back to sleep after a startled wake up in thirty seconds flat. He could fix a bumped head with just his arms holding Ethan tight.
He took both of Ronan’s hands in his, pulled them together as close as he could with their knees in the way.
“That’s why we’re going to plan,” Adam said, tried to sound as reassuring as possible. Like there was a real plan here, and not just a collections of hopes and vague ideas. “That’s why we’re going to take our time, and research, and practice. We’re not going to go into this blind, Ronan. I’m - I’m going to stick with you every step of the way, and - and we’re not going to do it until you can .”
Ronan sniffed. He closed his eyes.
“So wake up now,” Adam whispered. “Wake up, get a drink of water. Go let Matthew get snot on your shoulder. Go back to sleep.”
“Will I see you tomorrow?”
Ronan’s eyes were still shut. He was squeezing Adam’s hands back.
“Yeah,” Adam said. “And Ethan, if you want?”
“Okay, then,” Adam nodded even though Ronan couldn’t see him. “Wake up.”
Ronan woke up.
Ethan rolled over against Adam’s arm as he blinked awake, and it took a moment to reconcile his body with his mind. He was back in his - admittedly not much more comfortable than the tree - bed, Ethan asleep and snoring softly beside him.
Not for the first time Adam wished he had a cellphone. He wanted to text Ronan, just to - just to check in. He checked his watch. Quarter past three. He needed to go back to sleep, get as much rest as possible, but first. He moved carefully, very much not wanting to wake Ethan, and grabbed a notebook from his school bag. He flipped to the back, and wrote everything he could remember from the dream. The sounds, the feeling, the colours. He wasn’t sure if recording it would be useful, but it might be, and he wanted to be prepared.
It took four days before Declan suggested it.
Four days in which Adam and Gansey attended school every day. Matthew and Declan were also now back at school, Ronan appearing just the once on the morning of the second day before disappearing to Monmouth. After school, Gansey would go back to Monmouth as well - having begged off his duties as rowing captain ( Just until the Lynches are a little more settled, Sir, I wouldn’t want to go against the Aglionby code - support your fellows.). Adam would go to work, and then he would be picked up by Declan or Gansey, and together they would go pick up Ethan, and they would all head to The Barns. Then they would work on trying to piece everything together.
It was a very difficult project to work on. Mostly because it wasn’t just a project , of course, it was real people, and real emotions, and Ronan wasn’t just a machine who could turn on a useful dream on command, and Adam didn’t even understand yet how he had managed to appear in Ronan’s dreams, so it wasn’t like he could do that on command either.
It was also difficult because even if the Lynches currently didn’t have any curfew, or higher power to answer to (so long as you ignored Sunday morning), and Gansey could get away with skirting his responsibilities for a short while, Adam had no such luxury. Not that he thought that having dead and gone parents a luxury (he really didn’t, even if sometimes he lay in bed and held Ethan and thought about how life would be easier if maybe his parents just dropped dead, and how he’d never have to worry about leaving Ethan napping inside while he worked outside, and Ethan waking up, and his father hearing him cry, and Adam not being fast enough, and Ethan being hurt, and ---- it wasn’t a luxury). Just. Once they’d gotten to The Barns, they would often eat first because all of them were in various stages of growth spurts and they were all always hungry, and there was also homework to do, and Matthew to pay attention to, and Ethan to keep entertained and happy, and Adam had to be home by curfew, and it was just so difficult to get enough work done in that short amount of time.
He’d been late for curfew three out of four nights so far. He’d managed to avoid retribution the first night of being late - his parents were surprisingly understanding about being there for a friend with a murdered parent. The understanding only lasted until the second late curfew, however.
He’d thought he’d done pretty well in concealing the way he could barely move his left arm. Nothing was broken, just badly bruised and sore, and so long as he kept it tight in against himself it was fine . Sure, he had a blooming bruise spread over his cheekbone, but half of it was hidden under his slightly too long hair, and he could have gotten hurt plenty of ways. Dropped a wrench on his face. Banged into the doorway in the dark. Ethan waved his bottle and hit him real hard. His father grabbed him by his hair and smashed his face against the kitchen counter.
Anyway. Gansey winced, like he did whenever Adam showed up with any sort of injury, but when Adam said it had been a wrench at his early morning mechanic’s shift, he’d dropped it easily enough. Noah had looked at him sadly, but didn’t comment. Ronan wasn’t at school. Carruthers - who sat behind him in Science - poked the back of his shoulder and asked if all trailer park kids fought each other at night like fight club.
Declan sat down with them at lunch time - something he’d done only once before so far - and he didn’t even look at the bruise on Adam’s face.
“I’ve been thinking,” he said, tone firm. “We’ve not been getting much progressed. It’s difficult to do so when our main… research analyst lives so far away.”
Adam’s ears burned, and he bit uncomfortably into his apple. It was grainy, a little mushy, but it was also his entire lunch so he was going to eat it anyway. He wasn’t sure if he was burning up at the idea of such a responsible sounding title being handed to him, or if it was because he felt guilt about not being able to do much with that title. He didn’t say anything.
“So I wanted to ask if you would move in with us for a while. You and Ethan, obviously. It would help us out a lot, and I know that Matthew is happiest when Ethan is around, so it would be useful on many levels.”
Adam swallowed his mouthful of mush, and had absolutely no idea what to say. He glanced from Gansey - who looked entirely surprised by this - back to Declan.
“I don’t think I can -” Adam began.
“We would make it worth your while,” Declan cut in, as if somehow he thought that was the problem. “I - obviously we would provide all your meals, and your transport in and out of town. I’m aware that this could be sort of like an academic residency so I could offer you a stipend -”
“Jesus, Declan,” Adam groaned. He put his apple down, his stomach turning over sickeningly. There was no way he was going to be able to eat anymore of it right now. He felt nauseous all over. “I don’t need you to - to sweeten the pot. That’s not the problem. My parents aren’t just going to let me move out for an unspecified amount of time. I have - I have chores, and responsibilities, and I can’t just take their baby away, that’s - that’s tantamount to kidnapping, and -”
“You’re Ethan’s main caregiver,” Declan said, a little stiffly. “From what I can see, I would go so far as to say you’re his sole caregiver.”
There wasn’t really much of a truthful argument to be had here. It was true. Before he could work out what to say, Declan struck again.
“Besides,” he said, eyes narrowed. “Aren’t you afraid they’ll do to him what they do to you?” Now he looked at Adam’s bruise, let his eyes linger there before dropping meaningfully to Adam’s arm.
Adam was pleased he hadn’t continued eating the apple. He might have thrown up.
“Fuck you,” he said. He hadn’t taken anything but the apple out of his bag, so it as a simple matter of packing back up. He swung his bag back over his shoulder, took the apple with his right hand, pushed himself upright, and strode off.
He dropped the apple into the closest rubbish bin, went and hid in the library.
He knew -
He knew that only a fraction of the anger he suddenly had coursing through his body was actually directed at Declan. The fuck you was something he kept carefully behind his teeth, holding it back whenever his father spat insults at him, or his mother sniped at him, or the neighbours watched him with odd mixes of pity and nonchalance after hearing him being beaten and doing nothing. It wasn’t actually for Declan.
Of course he was afraid. He was terrified. Something he had literal nightmares about it. It haunted him. What if Ethan gets hurt, what if they hurt Ethan, what if Adam’s not fast enough, smart enough, what if Adam’s too hurt, too stupid, too late, what if Ethan turns out like Adam, weak, broken, corrupted -
Gansey had asked Adam to move into Monmouth with him. Several times so far. The first time after he’d managed to wheedle out from Adam that he was indeed being hurt at the trailer park. Adam had said no. The second time was when Adam bemoaned that the hot water wasn’t working at the trailer. Gansey had offered the spare room, the apparently endless hot water that money could buy. Adam had said no.
When Adam came into school with a just recently broken and then reset nose, Gansey begged Adam to move in.
Adam was still living at the trailer.
The thing was, it wasn’t just that his parents wouldn’t let him move out, ad that they wanted him to do the chores, and pay rent, and bills and such. Obviously that was a large part of it, it was just.
Well. So. Firstly, Adam wanted to get out of the trailer, yes, but off his own bat. He wanted to have the resources to get him and Ethan out and keep them out, and he needed to have those resources independent of anyone else. If he let someone house them out of friendship, then what happened when Adam inevitably ruined the friendship? He needed more than a friend’s promise of sanctuary.
And. He knew that this made him a fool. And. And. Weak. Stupid. But the trailer was his home, deep down. And Robert and Alice were his parents. And maybe there wasn’t… love between them, but surely there was still a connection. As dirty and dust covered as it may be, they were a family. They were what he knew. How could he just leave that?
He knew he had to. Eventually. The moment he felt Ethan might truly be in danger, he would leave, immediately.
When Gansey came to pick him up after work at the factory that afternoon - almost evening - Adam shook his head, guilt eating all the way up his spine.
“I can’t. Not tonight,” he said through the swelling nausea. “I can’t afford to miss curfew again this week. I have things I need to get done.”
Gansey looked at him, a million words obvious on his tongue. Adam was willing to bet that all of them were well meaning, and he didn’t want to hear any of them.
“I’ll come tomorrow,” Adam said, couldn’t look Gansey in the eye, focused on his left ear instead.
Gansey hesitated, and then he also looked away from Adam’s face. He spoke quietly. “What Declan said,” he murmured. “It’s not just… not just assholes at the trailer park who hurt you, is it? It’s you parents.”
Adam swallowed down on the anger that always rushed up his throat whenever anyone came too close to knowing things about him. Swallowed again. “They haven’t hurt Ethan,” he said. “I’m not going to let them hurt Ethan.”
“They shouldn’t be hurting you ,” Gansey said.
Adam couldn’t listen to this. Couldn’t bear the pity in Gansey’s voice. The grief emanating off of him. Adam didn’t deserve it. Ronan’s father had been murdered. His mother had been… half murdered. So what if Adam’s parents hit him sometimes? So fucking what? If they hit him he deserved it.
He wasn’t stupid. He knew that - that they shouldn’t hit him. But. They hit him for being late, or for being rude, or for talking back. For wasting time, and money, and time. He was at fault, just as they were.
“I have to go,” Adam said, his voice creaking like a rusty gate. “I need to pick Ethan up. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“I can give you a ride,” Gansey offered. “Please, Parrish.”
Adam had his bike. He unlocked it. Shook his head.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said.
Maybe he ought to have expected to drop straight into Ronan’s dream that night. He hadn’t - not since the dream in the tree. Maybe it was his guilt about not being there today that slid him in so easily, maybe it was just the time for it, maybe there was no rhyme or reason, and it was a thing happening to Adam rather than a thing Adam was doing and hadn’t worked out the kinks to yet.
“Sick of us already, huh, Parrish?” Ronan asked.
He was lying flat on his back in the gravel driveway of The Barns. A few metres away was the sickeningly glistening blood pool and Ronan’s father’s body. Ronan had his eyes shut, squeezed tight as if he was willing the scene around him to change. God. If Adam had actually any psychic, or like, magic powers, he’d fucking change the scene. He’d make it so Ronan didn’t have to see the murder over and over again in his own head.
Adam wanted to lie down as well. As close to Ronan as he could, close his eyes, pretend life wasn’t happening around him. He was a terrible friend.
He stepped closer, then sat down slowly near Ronan’s feet. They were bare. He was in his pajamas, plain green, soft looking shorts and a shirt. Adam was in his pajamas as well, but his pajamas were his boxers and an old t-shirt too ripped up to be worn even to Boyd’s anymore. Ethan liked to stick his hands through the rips.
“I would have thought it’d be the other way ‘round,” he said, shifting uncomfortably in the gravel, feeling tiny bits of it sticking to his thighs. “I’m not sick of you. I’m - I’m just - just sick of. Of.”
Everything he could have said just felt stupid. And selfish. Ronan was literally lying in a nightmare about his father’s goddamn murder, and Adam was just feeling a bit. Overwhelmed. Useless. Sore.
Ronan didn’t open his eyes, but he shifted his foot enough for him to nudge at Adam’s knee. “Sick of what. Of Declan? Of my stupid inability to dream properly?”
“No,” Adam groaned, ran his fingers through his hair for a few seconds before gripping it tightly and pulling it. “No. Of my stupid inabliity to be useful. I said I’d help you guys, and I’ve done literally nothing to actually help.”
Ronan nudged him again, or, well, this time he actually slightly kicked Adam’s knee. He also opened his eyes though.
“Don’t be a fucking idiot.”
Adam rolled his eyes, reached down to grip onto Ronan’s ankle in case he tried to kick him again. “I’m not being an idiot,” he said. “I’m just telling the truth. You don’t like lying, you can’t say that I’ve actually helped.”
Now Ronan actually sat up, his eyes flaming for a moment. Adam held tighter to his ankle to counter balance.
“Are you actually serious? Do you not - fucking hell. You need me to go step by fucking step through all the shit you’re doing for us?”
Yes. But also. Definitely fucking not. He closed his eyes.
Ronan groaned a little. “Fuck. Listen. You’ve been helping Declan with all the house running stuff, you’re keeping Matthew happy, you’re stopping Gansey from going insane, you’re giving us actual fucking hope that mum might be able to be saved, and you’re - you’re fucking here, in my dream, making it better. Every goddamn time.”
Adam shook his head. He didn’t usually allow himself to… wallow quite as much as he was doing right now, but he was so fucking tired, and everything was so fucking much, and Ronan was so close to him that Adam could feel the heat radiating off of him.
“You turned up,” Ronan said, words slow as if speaking to an upset child. “You turned up and I stopped sitting in a fucking crime scene. I couldn’t make my dream do that. You did that. You woke me up from my last couple of nightmares. You think I would have gotten myself out of that? Not without injury.”
Adam sniffed slightly. He still didn’t want to open his eyes, couldn’t, not with Ronan so close and his voice so earnest.
“Will I see you tomorrow?” Ronan asked.
“Yeah,” Adam mumbled. “I’ll - I’ll come after I finish my shift at Nino’s.”
“Declan told me what he asked you,” Ronan said then. Didn’t expand on that.
“I’ll apologise to him tomorrow. For losing my temper,” Adam mumbled. “But I can’t, Ronan. They might take Ethan away from me.”
Ronan didn’t say anything for a long moment, and then he was wrapping his hands around Adam’s wrist, so it was him holding Adam and Adam holding Ronan’s ankle.
“Okay,” he said.