This haunting is architectural. It is not about you. It is about where you are. There are bones in the foundation. This house is a graveyard. This house is a corpse. You are inside the corpse. That makes you the maggot. - “WHY ARE YOU HAUNTED? A survey.” , Joan Tierney
The haunting started three months ago. Banging, from his mother’s room, at first. But the house at the Barns was old - old old - so Ronan had ignored it, while it had been ignorable. There had always been creaking, cracking, a door slamming here and there. The house was old, and he loved it, and he lived there alone. So he’d needed to get used to weird noises.
But then it spread to Declan’s room. Ronan might not have noticed any change, because he rarely went in there, anyway - he’d just spotted it, from the hallway. The gun, usually hidden safely in Declan’s chest of drawers, sitting out in the middle of the bed. Ronan, prone to paranoia as it was, took it as a threat. His father had been murdered on this land, of course, and the murderer never caught. He hadn’t slept more than a few hours at a time for weeks afterward, carrying the gun everywhere like a talisman. Even once he figured out it hadn’t been an intruder at all - at least, not one that could be stopped with a bullet - he slept with it under his pillow.
It progressed slowly but surely from there. The feeling of a hand on his face - he’d always had sleep paralysis, so this was easily explained away. Waking up with scratches on his wrists - he was just itching at the scars there in his sleep, that’s all. The words COME HOME scrawled on the bathroom mirror in his mother’s lipstick - ah. Less explainable.
That’d been when he’d called Gansey, because Gansey knew about shit like this. He’d brought his little EVP reader around and tried to talk to it, to no avail, and after he’d left Ronan’s phone had flung itself at the wall, cracked beyond repair, the battery totally drained. It was like trying to communicate made it mad.
After that, it broke things. Only ever things he cared about. It smashed his father’s favourite coffee mug. Tore up the picture of the family taped to the fridge. Ripped the head off of the orange beanie baby that had sat diligently for years on Matthew’s bed. That, in turn, had made him very mad. This was his house, he’d thought, he was the one who loved it, who cleaned mould from the sinks, who repainted the walls when the paint started to crack. What right did some ghost have to it?
He’d asked the priest at St. Agnes’ to come and do something, but he’d just stumbled through some prayers before he’d left, shaking. He’d blessed Ronan in the doorway and said God be with you, boy, which Ronan took as a bad sign.
Then Gansey had brought the fucking psychics around. Ronan couldn’t even guess where he’d found them. There’d never been so many women in the house at once. They walked around the whole house, whispering, taking notes; once they stepped into his mother’s room they’d looked at each other, shaking their heads. “There are spirits here that we could get rid of,” one of them had said, the one wearing purple lipstick. “But… you’d need to think long and hard about whether you’d want us to. They’re the ones keeping you safe, we think.”
“The one causing trouble is too much for us. And any cleansing we tried to do would clear out the other ones, who… like Calla said. They’re stopping the big one from doing what it wants to do.” This was the woman patient, businesslike woman the others had called Maura. She looked worried for him.
“Which is?” he’d asked.
“It wants the house,” the youngest woman had said, eyes wide. “It wants the land. It hates you.”
“Enough, Orla. Don’t scare him. He has to keep living here.” Then Maura had taken a pen from somewhere on her person and written a phone number on the back of his hand. “Call him. Adam Parrish. He’ll know what to do, I’m certain.”
Ronan had sworn he wouldn’t call. He couldn’t stand the thought of more witchy crap. But he’d woken up in the middle of the night to something scratching at his door. Not like a dog, like - talons. A bird. A huge bird. It’d scared him so much he’d picked up his phone, heart pounding, and typed the number in the pitch dark. The man had picked up, even though it had been late, listened silently to Ronan’s story, and said he’d be in Virginia by morning.
Adam had sworn when he’d left Henrietta that he’d never return to it. Like always, his need for money won out over his pride. He avoided the town as long as he could, taking the long, scenic roads through the mountains to Singer’s Falls. It took him a long time to find the house - the voice on the phone had given him a zip code, no house number, no street name. There’s a blue mailbox at the end of the drive, he’d said, You’ll miss it if you go too far. Adam doesn’t miss it.
The man had been trying to cover his fear when he’d called, but Adam had detected the shake in his voice. It was a good voice, Adam thinks, a strong voice. Accent not quite Henrietta, not quite Virginia, a lilt of somewhere else that Adam can’t place.
Most of the jobs he takes are bullshit, he’ll admit that. There aren’t a lot of ghosts in Boston, apparently, and even less in Cambridge. For anything real, he needs to travel an hour or more; less than that, he steals himself for smoke and mirrors. He doesn’t feel too bad about cheating people out of money. Anyone who can afford to pay his rates has enough to spare. This job, though, had been recommended by Maura, which is enough to promise its legitimacy. And he couldn’t stop himself from poking at the old Henrietta-wound, at wanting to see how much it would hurt to return. Very little, he finds. Like feeling pain through plastic.
The house doesn’t look haunted, though Adam has long stopped relying on appearances for that sort of thing. In the driveway is a shiny, shark-nosed BMW, parked haphazardly on a slide, and the most beautiful, well-kept Camaro Adam has ever seen. He’s proud of his little motorbike, proud of the long months it took to save up for it, but it looks downright shabby in comparison. He doesn’t need to knock on the front door; it opens while he’s still taking his helmet off, and two men as handsome as their cars pour out of it. One looks distinctly old money, something Adam has gotten very good at spotting since starting Harvard; the other looks like he’d mug Adam for petty cash. He’s attractive in a way that stings like roadburn. He has lips begging to be bitten.
Adam shakes the thought away - professional, he reminds himself, composed. People only ever called him when they were scared of something, and he needed to give them the impression from the offset he was scared of nothing, that he’d seen everything there is to see.
“Ronan Lynch?” he says, to neither of the boys in particular. Old Money points at Hot Mugger, who grunts in acknowledgment. He approaches the porch. “Adam Parrish. Maura told you to call?” He slips one of his driving gloves off and holds his hand out to be shaken. Ronan takes it, after a moment, saying nothing.
“I’m Richard Gansey. Call me Gansey,” the other man says, holding his own hand out. “I don’t live here. I’m just hoping to see a ghost today.” He has an easy smile and perfect teeth. Adam shakes his hand and smiles back.
“Full-bodied apparitions are very rare,” he says. “But I’m sure we’ll see something. There seems to be a lot of activity here, if everything Mr. Lynch told me was true.”
Ronan sneers. “The fuck would I get out of lying about this?”
“Notoriety,” Adam answers, immediately. “Attention.”
“I get plenty of that by being honest,” Ronan says, holding his gaze. Gansey laughs.
“I’m sure,” Adam says, and he means it. Everything about this man is designed to catch the eye, but also to warn away. Look, but don’t touch. Adam likes it more than he should.
“You don’t have any equipment or anything?” Gansey asks, eyeing his bike. Adam shakes his head. He has his tarot cards and two days’ worth of clothes packed into his messenger bag; he plans to be back in Cambridge by Monday. Has to be, in fact, for a midterm. It was a gamble, driving all the way down here. It could’ve - should’ve - waited until Thanksgiving break. But Ronan had sounded so afraid on the phone, and Adam had felt something, even down the line, nine hours away. Something strong and foreboding.
“I don’t need it. Are you going to show me inside?” The last part he levels at Ronan, who nods to the door. “Any medium using that crap is playing you, by the way,” he says, to Gansey. Gansey looks just a little offended. Ronan snorts a laugh.
Inside the house, he feels even more like it isn’t the sort of place that should be haunted. It feels… warm, loving. That meant nothing, however. Adam knew from experience that plenty of places felt like they should be haunted, even if they weren’t. One of them was less than an hour away, tucked inside a dusty trailer park Adam still dreamt about, sometimes.
“It’s always better during the day,” Ronan says. “And it almost never does anything with other people around.” He shoots a look at Gansey, who just grins at him.
“That won’t be a problem,” Adam says. There are lots of pictures on the walls of the foyer, but he turns his eyes from them. He tries to avoid bias as much as possible; pictures and names always threw him. Ronan leads them into the kitchen, where he drops his bag on the table. “I took notes last night, but I’d appreciate it if we could go through things again.” He slides his journal out of his bag - it’s a cheap, cotton-bound thing, already fraying at the edges. He both adores and loathes the performance necessary in this job. No one would take him seriously if he pulled out a spiral notebook, or if he carried his things in his much more practical duffel bag. It’s a charade, but a pleasurable one.
“What did you mean?” Gansey asks, from where he’s leaning in the doorway. “‘That won’t be a problem’?”
“Oh,” Adam says. He consciously stops himself from fingering the fraying edges of his journal. “Just… they don’t have a choice, with me. They can’t hide.” Gansey nods like it makes sense. Adam doesn’t add that he tends to attract negative attention from ghosts, rather than the neutral kind Maura and Calla and the others do. It’s all your energy, Persephone had said, once. It’s screaming at them.
He opens to his notes from the night before - they’re almost illegible, written in the dark. “Why don’t you start at the beginning?”
Ronan rolls his eyes. “I told you this last night, man.”
“Tell me again.”
Ronan sighs, but he does. Noises, from his mother’s room. Then a gun moved out of hiding. Intentionally threatening, Adam writes. Physical contact while the haunted party sleeps. “Any strange dreams?” he asks, and Ronan’s mouth moves, no sound coming out.
“I always have strange dreams,” he says, eventually.
“Anything stranger than that? Out of the ordinary?”
Ronan casts a look at Gansey, then down to his hands, plucking at the leather bands he wears on his wrist. “I… the other night I dreamt a picture of my parents had been moved. Into the living room, above the fireplace. And when I woke up and came downstairs, it had been. It was… out of the frame, just the picture. Like it...” he swallows. “Like it wanted to burn it.”
“You didn’t tell me that,” Gansey says, carefully. Ronan grits his teeth.
“Because it’s fucking weird.”
“Where is it normally? The picture?” Adam asks.
“Their room. My mom’s room.”
“And that’s where the noises started?” Ronan nods. “Take me there.” He snaps his notebook shut. Ronan stands, clearly glad the talking is over for now, and leads him upstairs.
The first thing he notices about Adam Parrish is his hands.
Well - the first thing he notices is the motorbike. It’s loud and little, shiny as an oil slick. It doesn’t quite fit the man riding it, he thinks, but then he takes another look and decides that it does, actually, and another -
He’s a little incongruous, this exorcist. Clean, cream sweater, long wool coat, professional-looking cords - well-worn red Chucks, a decision made out of necessity rather than for fashion’s sake. And then he slips one of his gloves off - one of his leather gloves, which are enough to spike Ronan’s heart rate as it is - and holds his hand out for Ronan to take. It feels lovely in Ronan’s own hand, delicate and rough at once. Incongruous.
He wants to say something charming. He wants to flirt. It’s been so long since he’s wanted anyone like that, he forgets how to speak.
Adam doesn’t take notes while he walks around, and he doesn’t pass the threshold of any room other than Ronan’s parents’. He stops to look at nothing, just follows Ronan upstairs. When a floorboard creaks in the hall, he steps back onto it for seemingly no reason other than the pleasure of hearing the sound.
Ronan gestures to the room when they reach it, and Adam approaches the door. He twists the handle, jiggles it. “It’s locked,” he says. Ronan sighs and shakes his head.
“It’s not. Or, it wasn’t.” Adam just shrugs at him. “Gimme a fucking second,” he mutters, and goes to scrounge in the kitchen drawer for keys. Gansey follows him, hands in his pockets.
“He’s good, no?”
“He hasn’t fucking done anything yet,” Ronan grumbles.
“Seems very capable. And that bike --” he whistles, leaning back against the doorway. Ronan sighs again. He wishes a little that Gansey wasn’t here, and then feels badly for thinking it. Gansey can be trusted to make conversation, at least. Ronan is stony silent at the best of times.
He finds the key, finally, and turns to leave. Gansey puts a hand on his shoulder to stop him. “Try to make friends, hm?” he says. Ronan rolls his eyes. Anyone other than Gansey would earn a bloodied nose, using that tone. As it is, Gansey has been trying to get Ronan to make friends since high school.
When they get back upstairs, Adam is kneeling on the floor. He’s facing the door to Aurora’s room, palm pressed flat into the floorboards. When he hears them, he turns over his shoulder and murmurs, “There are others, here.”
Ronan brushes past him, pushes the key into the lock. “Your friends said that.”
“They said they were protecting you,” Adam says. “That’s not exactly right. They’re not protecting you on purpose - they couldn’t, I don’t think. But the power they need to stay is enough to stop the other from manifesting fully.”
The door sticks a little, but it opens. Adam climbs off the floor stiffly, knees clicking; his elbow just brushes Ronan’s as he moves to stand next to him. “Do you get a bad feeling?” he asks, lowly. “Coming into this room?”
“I don’t come in here,” Ronan replies. “Not anymore.”
“Because you get a bad feeling?”
“Because there’s a fucking ghost in there.” Adam huffs a gruff laugh. He’s missed a patch of stubble, just under his chin. The light in the house, or the lack of it, makes him look washed out and ill; Ronan wants him outside, in the sun, where the blonde in his beard would surely shine.
Adam puts a hand on the doorframe, like he’s appreciating the carpentry, and then steps inside. “I’m not really looking to talk to anything,” he says, turning back. “Just to get a feel for the place. It’s...” he waves his hand, infuriatingly vague. “Loud.”
He brushes his hand against the dresser, thumbs the wick of a partially used candle sitting atop it. Ronan feels the strange thrill of possessiveness run through him. No one has come in this room but him since his parents died. Adam didn’t know them, doesn’t know that candle was chosen by Niall, that Aurora hated the cloying, sweet smell of it. He doesn’t know that the aggressively cheesy wooden initials stuck up on the wall - A & N - weren’t a spontaneous purchase from a home goods store, that they were made by Niall’s own hands. Five years Niall has been dead, Aurora three, and the grief hits as fresh as it always has, sometimes.
Adam comes to a sudden, unexpected stop, not quite in the middle of the room. Ronan only hears the hitch in his breath because he’s standing in the doorway; Gansey, on the other side of the hall, clearly does not. Ronan can tell immediately this isn’t performance; Adam wouldn’t choose to be trapped so completely between the dresser and the ottoman at the end of the bed like that. It’s not a position that allows for theatrics.
In just a moment, Adam has flipped from easy professionalism to trying to cover his fear, unsuccessfully. He flinches like he’s been slapped, though his feet stay planted. “No. No,” he says, somewhat uncertainly. “This place isn’t yours. That’s why you’re hiding up here.”
He lets out a pained hiss, his hand tensing in subconscious pain. Ronan sees blood begin to speckle the arm of Adam’s cream sweater; he steps forward, over the threshold, and is immediately hit with the awful feeling Adam had been talking about earlier. It’s indescribable. Every bad feeling Ronan has ever felt, rolled into one.
Adam almost doubles over in pain as Ronan approaches, and he holds his arm out to stop him. “No,” he says. “You wait outside. Outside .”
“You’re not fucking staying in here,” Ronan says, going to put his hand on Adam’s shoulder to lead him out of the room. Adam ducks out of his grip neatly, angrily.
“Don’t fucking touch me. Outside.” His voice is pained but harsh, his teeth almost bared in a snarl. Ronan very nearly snarls back, but Adam’s sleeve is soaked wetly with blood; he steps back toward the door.
“I’ll go if you do. Come on.” Adam lets out a shaky sigh - not annoyed. Faint, almost. He puts a hand to the blood on his arm and follows Ronan, but only once Ronan is past the threshold.
In the hall, Gansey gapes at Adam’s arm. Adam shivers like he’s freezing, teeth gritted. “I know I said I wanted to see something,” Gansey begins, flicking a look at Ronan. “But that was - does it usually get so intense?”
Adam shakes his head. “No,” he says. “It does not.”
Ronan slams the door, and locks it again. Not that he imagines it’ll do much good against whatever is in there. The chill of that bad feeling is in his bones. “Bathroom,” he says, then clears his throat. Adam and Gansey look at him like he’s speaking in tongues. “Bathroom. Now. Come on.” Adam follows him down the hall, hand still pressed over his arm.
“I don’t,” he says, a little woozily, once he’s standing by the sink. “I don’t do very well with blood.”
“That why you chose to work with the dead, rather than the dying?” Ronan asks, trying for a joke. It doesn’t land. Adam stares vacantly at the wall across from him. “I’m gonna turn your sleeve up,” he says, because Adam seems liable to bolt at any sudden movement. Skittishness was a good quality in an exorcist, he’d heard.
Adam nods sharply. While he moves to do so, Ronan turns to Gansey - who also goes a little green at the sight of blood - and says, “Go get him a new shirt.” Gansey nods and moves to go.
“No!” Adam says, suddenly, like it’d taken him a few seconds to interpret what Ronan had said. “Get me one of mine. From my bag. In fact, just bring it up here. Don’t touch anything.”
Gansey shoots Ronan a look that says: is this guy a fruitcake, or what? Except nicer than that, because he’s Gansey.
“It’s --” Adam says, once Gansey has gone. “There’s - a lot of energy in this house. That thing lives off energy. I don’t need you two messing with mine.”
That sounds like bullshit to Ronan, but he stays silent, dabbing at the wound on Adam’s arm as gently as he can manage. Then it becomes clear, after most of the blood is gone - not just scratches, as Ronan had expected. They’re words.
“Parrish,” he says, and Adam nods.
“I know,” Adam says, still not looking. “I know what it says.”
His mother had left the voicemail two months ago. He hadn’t picked up because he’d been at work - not ghost-hunting work, car-fixing work - though he honestly doesn’t know that he would’ve answered even if he’d been available to do so. Adam. It’s Mom. Come home.
Four years, he’s been gone, and the fear takes him as it always did. Home. The word shouldn’t shoot such anxiety into him, should it? Four years, and the trailer park is still home. Not Fox Way, which had been so kindly opened to him, or his well-lit apartment in Cambridge, shared with three other people he barely knows.
Ronan wraps his arm very carefully, not too tightly, with the efficiency of someone who has needed to do it before. Adam’s hand pulses in time with his heart. He’s never been hurt so badly on a job before. Usually, it’s coincidental - a mirror broken here, a plant pot thrown there. No one has taken his body and tried deliberately to harm it since he’d left his father’s house. Come home.
His mother had called two months ago. If Robert Parrish had been dying, he would surely be dead by now.
Gansey returns with his bag quickly. Adam doesn’t ask the other boys to leave as he strips his shirt off - what’s there to see? If they’re all going to get cut up by ghosts, they might as well get comfortable around one another. He replaces his sweater with a much less professional-looking hoodie he’d planned to sleep in, if he ever gets to sleep.
“So,” Gansey begins. “What now?”
Adam sighs, runs a hand through his hair. He’s always played with the idea of asking people to leave him alone for the night, making up something about needing to balance the energy in the house or something. Truly, it would be so he wouldn’t need to field questions on top of everything else. Sometimes he wonders if other people were born with a patience bone he was missing. “For a start, no one goes in that room again.” Ronan scoffs, as if to say obviously. “And…” he shakes his head. “I need to scry,” he says, casting a look at Ronan, and then back down to the floor. “It’s a way of - communicating. It’ll help me figure all this out.”
“You need to drink some juice,” Ronan says, gruffly. “And sit down, before you pass out.” Adam almost rolls his eyes, only stops himself because of the headache banging at his temples. Still, he lets Gansey guide him gently downstairs, and drinks the glass of very sugary orange juice Ronan slams in front of him. He writes Violent, likely malevolent in his notes. Gansey declares that it’s lunchtime, anyway, and together he and Ronan scrounge together a meal - leftover soup from the freezer and sandwiches - which Adam eats quickly and gratefully.
This place fits the word home, he thinks, even though it isn’t his. It’s the ease at which Gansey finds the cutlery in a kitchen that doesn’t belong to him, the way Ronan mutters oh, this fucking thing when the breadbox won’t open. Adam wonders how such a young man came to be living alone, in the middle of nowhere.
“How’d you come to know the Fox Way ladies, then?” Gansey asks, once Adam has not-so-politely shoveled all his food into his mouth. “That’s not a Henrietta accent I hear, is it?”
Not anymore, Adam thinks. He fiddles with his spoon. “I dated Maura’s daughter for a while.”
Gansey barks a laugh. “The elusive missing daughter. I’ve been going to them for readings since March, and I’ve never even seen her.”
“And you? You’re still in Henrietta?”
Adam almost laughs, but he turns it into a cough. “Boston. Cambridge.”
“Harvard?” He nods. “I thought about Harvard. Far too far from everyone I know, for my tastes.” Thought about. That’s almost enough to make Adam hate him. He stands up, slinging his bag over his shoulder.
“I’m going to scry. I’ll need one of you to sit in with me.”
“We won’t mess with all your special energy?” Ronan asks, mocking.
Adam tries not to let his annoyance show. “You might. But I need someone to… spot me. Make sure I’m not under too long.”
“‘Under’?” Gansey says, frowning. “What exactly does this entail?”
“It’ll be easier just to show you.” Gansey nods, assenting, brow still creased. Adam finds the living room, with no help from Ronan, and sets up his cards and his candle on the coffee table. “Drapes closed, please.” Ronan closes the drapes with more attitude than the action should allow. Adam shuffles his deck once, pulls the first card. Ace of Pentacles - generally a good card, signaling the beginning of a successful endeavour, which settles his nerves a little.
“This is going to look a little scary,” he says. “But it’ll be fine. If I don’t move or respond after fifteen minutes, blow the candle out. If I stop breathing --” he casts a look at Ronan. “Drawing blood usually does it.” Ronan frowns, but nods, a little gingerly.
“Excuse me,” Gansey says. “If you stop breathing?”
“It’ll be fine, like I said.” He pulls his lighter out of his pocket and lights the candle - it’s new, tall and black. Truth be told, the colour doesn’t seem to affect the scrying at all, but black is most atmospheric. Gansey starts to say something; Adam interrupts him with, “Quiet, please,” and his mouth snaps shut. The last sound he hears as he blinks, blinks, blinks at the light is Ronan’s little laugh, directed at Gansey, and he’s still hearing it when his mind slips away.
Ronan considers himself pretty familiar with the strange, at this point in his life, but this has got to be one of the strangest things he’s ever seen.
Adam goes unnaturally still - not quite like the dead, but not quite like the living, either. It’s like everything making him a person has tripped out of him. The candle flickers, and it makes Adam’s wide, unblinking eyes darker than they should be.
“How long did he say?” Gansey asks, hushed. “Fifteen minutes?”
Ronan nods, moving to crouch on the other side of the coffee table, peering at Adam’s face. It’s a good face, he can’t stop himself from thinking, fine-boned and elegant, with a strong, straight nose that has never been broken. He clicks his fingers right in front of Adam’s eyes and Gansey hisses Ronan at him from the other side of the room; Adam doesn’t even blink. He’s trying to figure out if Adam’s faking, though he doesn’t know that this is a thing that could be faked. Even when Aurora had been on life support, she hadn’t been this still. The machines had made sure she took full, perfect breaths. Adam breathes shallowly, incompletely, like a dying animal.
They’re like that, still and quiet, for several long minutes. The Barns is loud even without anyone in it, but Adam has sucked all the noise out of the room. That’s why he and Gansey hear so clearly the sound from upstairs; Ronan can’t place it, at first, and then he recognises all at once the familiar squeak of his parents’ doorknob turning. It turns again, again, slowly; then there’s a bang. Whatever’s up there is trying to get out.
“How long has it been?” he asks Gansey, standing to move towards the stairs.
“Seven minutes,” Gansey says, putting a hand out to stop him. “Adam said that we shouldn’t go in there again.”
Ronan scoffs. The door upstairs has started to rattle; the walls downstairs shake. Ronan begins to say it’s my fucking house, Gansey, but is interrupted. By Adam. He has to check twice to make sure it’s definitely him - Ronan knows immediately that the sound will come back to him in his dreams. It’s an unconscious, pained noise of terror, the noise Ronan hears himself making a few moments before his own night terrors startle him awake. He sees Gansey flinch away from it. “Ten minutes,” he says, looking down at his watch.
“Fuck this,” Ronan says. Upstairs, wood begins to splinter. Though Gansey hisses No, Ronan, he walks back around the couch and blows the candle out, the smoke immediately dark and acrid in the air. He expects - well, he doesn’t know what he expects. For Adam to return immediately, to snap out of whatever trance he’s in; he does stop screaming, but he also stops breathing. Ronan knows, then, that Adam had not been perfectly still before. He’s cold as glass when Ronan reaches out to touch him.
“Fuck,” he says, again, moving to perch on the edge of the couch next to him. The movement jostles Adam, and his tips to the side; Ronan catches his head before it can smack on the edge of the coffee table.
“Oh, god,” Gansey says, voice shaking. The noise from upstairs has stopped, Ronan notices, though it doesn’t make him feel less afraid. “What do we do? What did he say to - blood, he said. I’ll get - there’s knives in the kitchen.”
“Pain,” Ronan said, picking Adam’s lighter up from the coffee table. “He meant pain.” He flicks the lighter open and takes one of Adam’s hands, holding just his fingertips in the flame.
It takes only a few seconds for Adam to wrench his hand away, his eyes wide and afraid and awake. Ronan lets out a relieved breath. Gansey swears extensively, and crouches on the floor with his head in his hands. Adam’s pupils are tiny, painful to look at; his gaze flits to the door like he’s waiting for something to come through it.
Ronan presses Adam’s closed lighter back into his hand. Adam looks at him, back at the door, at him again, then says, “It’s not your father. They want you to know that.”
When Ronan had found his mother’s body, the first thing he’d felt had been an absolute absence of feeling. The hour before, when he’d discovered she was missing, he’d felt everything he thought it was possible to feel - anger, worry, preemptive grief. But when he’d found her - nothing. When he’d called the police, Declan, Gansey - nothing. The long night he’d spent parked in the hospital parking lot, waiting for the coroner to confirm that yes, it’d been another aneurysm that had killed her - nothing. The grief had come later.
Upon hearing Adam’s words, that’s what Ronan feels, for a long, drawn-out moment. Complete nothingness, perfect silence. And then his ears start to ring, and something like anger runs through him. He thinks he curses - at Adam or generally - but he’s forgetting the words even as he says them. He stands, puts his hands on his hips, then the back of his head. He can feel Adam’s eyes on the back of his neck. “Stop fucking looking at me,” he says, harshly but without any real heat. The railroad tracks of grief were exhausting even as they were being built.
“I’m sorry,” Adam says, tiredly. “I’m just telling you what --”
Ronan picks up the vase sitting on the fireplace and throws it, hard, at the wall. It’s been a long time since he’s allowed himself to break something, and it feels very, very good.
“Jesus, Ronan!” Gansey says. He always pretends to be surprised when Ronan does something awful, even if it’s for the thousandth time. “I’m sorry about him. It’s --”
“Oh, fuck off, Gansey,” Ronan says. “You wanted them here. Your psychics. And I told you it was - seance, Victorian bullshit, and look! Bullshit, like I said.” He snaps his gaze to Adam, who looks back, cold and harsh as a painting. “Anyone in a hundred-fucking-mile radius knows my dad was murdered. Anyone with a goddamned internet connection could know. The performance was very impressive, though. You should go into the fucking theatre.”
The long moment that Adam regards him is excruciating. Ronan is very good at creating uncomfortable silences; Adam is obviously better. After a moment, he hums, collects his tarot cards from the table, and stands, tucking them into the pocket of his hoodie. “I’m going to wait outside,” he says. “One of you can come and get me when you’re ready to talk like adults.”
Ronan can’t quite explain the feeling he has watching Adam walk away, but he knows, absolutely, that it’s better than nothing.
The first thing Adam does when he gets outside is call Maura. He longs for Persephone and her frustrating but reliable advice; he longs, almost as much, for a cup of coffee. He can’t make his hands stop shaking. It always takes him a while to come back from scrying, but this is… something else. He can’t tamp down the panic he felt when -
“You went, then,” Maura says, in greeting. “I didn’t know if you would.”
“When you were here,” he replies, also foregoing a hello. “When you were here, did you - what did it feel like?”
“Big,” Maura says. “Very big. Hateful. But not untouchable.”
“And the others. Do you think it’s --”
“His family. Maybe.”
“Did you know they were dead before you went?”
“No. But there’s a pall of death over that house. Can’t you feel it?”
Adam can’t, even now. It just feels like a house. Home. “I don’t --” I don’t know what to do, he almost says, catching himself. “I tried to scry.” Maura tuts, disapproving. “It - it saw me.”
“It saw you?” Maura asks. “What do you mean?”
“It --” he almost gasps, remembering the feeling of utter, complete terror, unlike any fear he’d ever felt before. “It looked at me. It was looking at me.”
“And?” Maura says. “Are you supposed to be invisible? You can’t go searching for things and expect to find nothing. You knew what you were getting into when you walked into that house.”
He nods, then realises she can’t see him. “I did. But this is…”
“Too much?” Maura says, and he can hear her smirking. Nothing was ever
for Adam Parrish, at least in his own estimation. “Are you scared?”
She’s being genuine now, Adam thinks, not teasing. “No,” he says, anyway. A lie.
“No. You’re not, because you know what you’re doing. So go and do it. And come ‘round for dinner when you’re done. We’ll swap stories.”
“I will,” he says. Another lie. “Thank you.”
He sits on the porch steps once he hangs up, stubbornly waiting for one of the boys to come and get him. He feels a little prickle of anxiety that they’ve forgotten him, and tries to ignore it. Fears like that were a holdover from a childhood spent being literally forgotten, or else outright ignored. Ronan had asked him to come. If he wants Adam’s help, he can damn well ask again.
He looks out across the drive, hemmed in by fruit trees, the ground littered with rotting plums and pears and apples, and then the fields, so green as to be unreal. There’s just so much of it, Adam thinks, so much space, so much empty air. Maybe this is what he wants - not the nice condo in the city with the reserved parking space. Maybe all he wants is some space to breathe in.
The screen door screeches open, startling him out of his reverie. Gansey stands like he never learned how to slouch; Adam allows himself a single moment of disappointment, because he’d wanted it to be Ronan, really. He likes the idea of Ronan apologizing to him - half because he believes he deserves an apology, and half because the thought of driving a man like Ronan to repentance is… appealing. “Do you have the time?” he asks.
“Just past two. Listen, he’s --” Gansey presses his hands together under his chin, almost pleading, mostly frustrated. “You can understand, I hope, that something like that might be a lot to take in.”
“I could understand it,” Adam says. He slips his tarot cards out of his pocket and shuffles them, not intending to do anything with them, really. He turns and spreads them out on the porch. The wind ruffles them slightly. “You go to Maura for readings?”
Gansey nods. “I’ve been…” he sighs, interrupting himself. “Ronan goes to church. It helps. I don’t believe in God, so… I went looking for something else. It’s been… I mean, there’s no cure for being twenty, I suppose.”
Adam huffs a laugh, nods in agreement. He flips a card over. The Seven of Swords; deceit, betrayal, trickery. Then: the King of Pentacles; leadership, wealth, discipline. The Eight of Cups; disappointment, withdrawal, abandonment. Adam sighs, nods again, at nobody in particular. “Did his father die in the house?” he asks, looking up at Gansey.
Gansey bounces on his toes; uncomfortable, perhaps, sharing information he doesn’t feel is his to share. “He died right here, in fact. Just in the driveway.”
Adam sighs again; he draws another card. Death. “He didn’t have a very high opinion of himself,” he says. Gansey frowns. “He doesn’t now, anyway. I don’t think dying is the same thing as abandonment,” he says, to the air.
“Is he really here?” Gansey asks, quietly. He gnaws on his bottom lip. “You’re not… Is he here? Don’t lie to me.”
Adam grits his teeth, fighting down annoyance. “He’s here. He and the others are… quiet. They never would’ve been noticed had it not been for the more powerful one.”
The door swings open again; Ronan still looks angry, but he’s silent, for now, leaning against the door jamb with his arms crossed. He doesn’t like being alone, Adam presumes, enough so that he’s willing to stand in silence with people he doesn’t like. Maybe he just doesn’t want to be alone in his haunted house; maybe Adam reads too much into too little. It’s been known to happen.
He points at Gansey. “Pick a card. Three of them, in fact. No - four.”
Gansey smiles patiently at his fumbling. He considers the cards carefully, flipping them over so they thwap against the deck. Three of Pentacles; Four of Pentacles; Five of Cups; Four of Swords. Adam hums, but says nothing. “I don’t get to know what it means?” Gansey asks. Adam just smiles teasingly.
“No cure for being twenty,” he says, and Gansey laughs. Adam turns his gaze to Ronan, who rolls his eyes.
“Fuck off,” he says.
“I can choose for you, but it’ll be more accurate if you do it.”
“ Fuck. Off.” Adam sighs again, a little overdramatically. He traces the edge of the Death card. Persephone’s deck is spidery and strange, some of the drawings so unclear he’s needed to retrace them for clarity’s sake, but the Death card is as stark as ever. In most decks, he’s seated on a horse, but in Persephone’s he’s simply standing, scythe in hand. Adam has never thought he looked particularly menacing. Impatient, maybe. Sick of waiting.
“Your father wanted you to leave, after he died,” he says. A muscle in Ronan’s jaw twitches. Adam casts a look around at the fields again. “It’s lovely here. But he wanted you to start afresh. That’s what this means.” He holds the card up so Ronan can see it. Ronan turns his face away, staring hard into the trees. “This one,” he holds up the Eight of Cups. “This one means he feels he abandoned you. Whether he abandoned you in life, I don’t know, but he feels he let you down in dying. Does that sound right, to you?”
Ronan regards him for a moment. Adam can’t tell if he’s still angry, and that puts him on edge. “Any father would think that. Any good father,” Ronan says. Adam sighs.
“These two,” he says, holding up the King of Pentacles and the Seven of Swords. “They mean he was successful, dedicated, disciplined. A good leader - or, at least, one that people believed was good. But he was deceitful. A liar and a thief. Is that enough? Or do you need more?”
Ronan just chews on the inside of his bottom lip, silent. Gansey begins to say Ronan - but Ronan shakes his head and he quiets. Adam sighs again, closes his eyes for a moment. He should get up, collect his things and leave. He doesn’t need the money this badly. He’s made a habit of not grovelling for people’s respect. “Look,” he says, instead. “I don’t care who the ghosts were when they were alive. Your family, strangers, your worst enemy - I don’t give a shit. My job is to get rid of them. But I need your cooperation to do that.”
Ronan’s mouth moves, but he doesn’t speak for a moment. His foot taps on the floor; then he moves to crouch in front of the cards, careful not to step on any of them. He turns them over quickly, unwillingly, like they might burn him. The Eight of Swords; The Hanged Man; The Empress, reversed; the Seven of Wands, reversed. Adam hums, intrigued, but Ronan doesn’t even ask what they mean. “Don’t talk about my fucking family again,” he says, lowly, intensely. “I don’t care if it is them. I don’t want to hear it.”
Adam looks at him for a long moment. He has an astonishingly handsome face, Adam thinks, made more so by the almost perpetual frown that pulls his eyebrows together. His eyes are very big and blue; Adam has always thought that blue eyes made their owners look immature or childlike, but Ronan’s just make him even more startling. There is a collection of heavy hoops crawling up his left ear, a tattoo hooking darkly over his collar. Adam has to force himself to stop looking.
He nods and collects his cards. “Let’s decide what we need to do, then.”
Adam sits, cross-legged, in front of the coffee table. He spreads his cards out and keeps flipping one over every now and then, but doesn’t say what they mean. Many of them make him frown. Sitting with his back to the fire, in his purposefully too-large hoodie, the sight of him makes Ronan’s heart clench for no reason at all.
“Tell me what Maura and the others told you,” Adam says, eventually. He looks at neither of the other men in the room when he says it; Ronan is, quite honestly, glad for the lack of eye contact.
“They said…” he begins, trying to remember. “They said that it wants the house. The land.” After a moment, he adds, “And they said that it hates me.”
Adam nods, slowly. “I told you that the - the others. They’re pulling energy from the one causing trouble, which makes it harder for it to… fully materialize. To do the damage it wants to.”
“They said they could get rid of them,” Gansey says. “The other ghosts, I mean. But they said it would --”
“Getting rid of them,” Adam interrupts, “Would mean the more powerful one has access to more energy, which would be… bad. If I could clear all of them out at once, it’d be better, but…” His mouth purses, his fingers drumming on the table. “The weaker ones, I could wave some sage around and that’d be it. The other will need to be a more… thorough process.”
“But it’s just a ghost, right?” Gansey asks. “Surely there’s a… codified way of dealing with them. It’s too strong for you? Is that what you’re saying?”
Adam is silent for a long moment. “I’m not entirely sure that it is a ghost.”
Ronan scoffs. “If it walks like a ghost and talks like a ghost, what is it?”
“A demon,” Adam says. Ronan feels his blood freeze, but then he laughs.
“A demon? For real?”
“I --” Adam begins, cutting himself off. “I’ve been doing this for a while, and - I’ve never… it’s different. It feels different. It’s not just some poltergeist. It’s capable of doing real harm. It wants to do it.” He’s silent for a second, fiddling with the cards in front of him. “It looked at me,” he says, voice small. “It saw me. And --” he cuts himself off, closing his eyes for a moment. When he opens them again, he looks older. “The two of you should - you should just go about your day. I’ll need until tomorrow, I think.”
“To do what?” Gansey asks. Ronan wonders if he can’t tell how afraid Adam is, or if he’s choosing to ignore it.
Adam shrugs, self conscious. “To prepare. It’s - I can do it. I just need to prepare, first.”
Gansey nods, accepting, and then Adam looks to Ronan, as if he’s expecting him to argue. “Whatever,” he says, standing. “You know where shit is. I’ll be outside.”
He does plan to start working - the fences in the upper fields are in a constant state of disrepair - but, first, he goes and sits in the long barn and closes his eyes and tries not to think about anything too hard.
He’s deliberately tried not to change much about the house, since he moved back into it, but certain adjustments had been necessary. The upstairs bathroom had been half-painted when Niall had died, and so Ronan had finished it, but then he’d also torn up the tile, replacing it with the pink-and-white his mother had loved. His bedroom had changed, too, largely because he’d wanted to stop sleeping in a twin bed. The coffee table in the living room he’d replaced simply because he’d always hated the glass-topped one his parents had chosen. He’d felt guilty about that one. The long barn, though, was a memorial to his father. Niall had used it as an office, and Ronan did not, so he’d mostly left it alone.
The existence of ghosts was not a particular shock to Ronan. He’d always been superstitious. The idea that he’d been living with his parents this whole time and not knowing it made him want to hit something, though. He shouldn’t have taken it out on Adam - who, besides the fact that he was handsome, besides the fact that Ronan was beginning to like him more than he’d planned, was only trying to do his job. And was doing it well, seemingly. Or, bravely, at least.
He works outside until the rain starts; when he comes back in, through the mudroom, he finds Gansey studying in the kitchen, his many books spread out across the table rendering it useless for drinking coffee at. He goes and sits in the dining room, which is… weird. Even when Declan and Matthew visit, they don’t all eat in there. It gives him a good view of Adam, though, across the hall. He’s tapping away on his laptop, still seated on the floor. There’s a desk in the corner of the room he could deposit himself at, if he wished. Ronan supposes it must be strange, working in other people’s houses all the time.
He goes back into the kitchen and pours another cup of coffee for himself, and one for Adam. Gansey calls Remember your head! at him as he heads into the living room, because coffee always makes Ronan’s migraines worse, and Ronan calls back Fuck off!, which catches Adam’s attention, if nothing else.
He puts Adam’s mug down on the coffee table with a small, satisfying thud. Adam looks at it, Ronan, and back at his computer. “You can sit on the couch, you know,” Ronan says, flinging himself onto it. “It won’t eat ya.”
Adam shakes his head, taps some more at his computer. “Harvard, huh?” Ronan says. He sounds like fucking Gansey and he despises himself.
Adam nods, and then he’s quiet for a moment too long before he says, “Are you studying anywhere?”
Ronan snorts. “Do I look like a fucking college student to you, Parrish?”
Adam smirks. “I try not to make appearance-based assumptions.”
Ronan scoffs. He picks at the peeling leather on the couch. “I applied,” he says, though he doesn’t know why. “Gansey made me. I got into William and Mary.”
Adam flicks a look at him; back down at the screen. Ronan wonders what he’d need to do to get him to shut his computer. “That’s a good school.” He makes a note in his journal and says, “I had an offer from there. But I got a full-ride from Harvard, so.”
Ronan almost asks What’s your major? but the thought of more small talk is killing him, so instead, he says, “My brother lives out Boston way.” Adam hums.
“Big or small?”
“Oh. Big. He’s married now. Small is in D.C..”
Adam smirks again. “Why am I not shocked that you’re a middle child?”
That startles a laugh out of Ronan - it’s been a long time since a stranger made Ronan laugh like that, and the thought makes him laugh again. He thinks he sees Adam blush, but it might just be because he’s sitting too close to the fire. He wants to ask more, listen more, and these are also uncommon feelings. There’s something about this boy that makes him want to talk and talk, until he’s run out of things to say. It’s embarrassing; it’s addictive. “I’m sorry about the vase,” he says. “And for shouting.”
Adam regards him. Another word might be looks or watches; something about Adam’s eyes tell Ronan he is being regarded. He reminds Ronan a little of a hare, of the slightly frightening way their eyes flash in the glare of headlights. “Family is always tricky to bring up,” Adam says, eventually. “Sometimes people are upset, sometimes they're happy. It is what it is.”
“You get vases thrown at you a lot?”
Adam huffs a somewhat mirthless laugh. “Not by the living inhabitants, generally.”
Ronan goes back to picking at the couch. He wants to make Adam laugh for real; a startled, shocked laugh, like the one he’d pulled out of Ronan. “You said you’ve been doing this for a while.”
“Since I was seventeen.”
“And you’ve always been --” he waves his hand around, unfathomably. Adam just nods.
He taps his fingers on his keyboard, not typing anything. “I think I - I always could. But I didn’t, until I - well, I met Maura and the others.” He looks down, tracing the edge of his clunky computer with the pad of his thumb. His hands jut awkwardly and boyishly, a wonderful contrast to the rest of him, which is playing very well at being older. There is a reddened patch on his third knuckle which makes Ronan’s heart jump to his throat for no reason at all.
When Ronan finally looks back to his face, he’s biting at his bottom lip, looking ostensibly at the screen of his laptop and in actuality at nothing. He looks sad, Ronan thinks, but not upset - Ronan is familiar with this particular kind of sadness, the kind that gets pulled out every now and then, only to be unwrapped and felt and then put away again. Adam sighs a deep breath, and goes back to typing. The opportunity for conversation is clearly over, if it were ever really there. “You got any allergies?” Ronan asks, and Adam sends him a confused look. “If I’m making dinner, I need to know how not to kill you. God knows we’ve got enough people haunting this place as it is.”
Adam sends him a smile that’s almost a laugh, shaking his head. “Just latex and penicillin.”
Ronan nods, smirks, tries to remember how to flirt. “I’ll keep those in mind.” Adam ducks his head, still smiling.
It’s been quite a while since Adam has heard the words Adam, food! called from another room. There’s no propriety in this house, it seems, no standing on ceremony. Adam stretches his legs, then his arms, shoulders clicking, before he makes his way into the kitchen. It smells warm and starchy in there; Gansey, rapidly stacking books onto the floor, sends a quick smile his way.
The pasta was clearly thrown together with whatever was in the fridge, but it’s good, and there’s lots of it. Adam assumes a boy needs to be fed second and third portions to get as tall as Ronan is; he says as much, and it makes Gansey laugh. “You didn’t know him in high school,” Gansey says. “He was all elbows and knees. And whacking his head off of door frames.” Ronan rolls his eyes, very nearly embarrassed. He offers Adam a beer but drinks water, himself. The topic of adolescence seems to make him uncomfortable, as if, like Adam, he wishes to put the whole seven-year period behind him as quickly as possible.
Eventually, the conversation turns back to work, and Adam is reminded of the thing upstairs he has yet to deal with. He can’t finish his food, after that, his stomach turning in knots. He had assured Gansey he could handle it, and he is almost certain that he cannot. He is also certain that he can’t leave without trying.
Ronan refuses to let him help wash up, so he leans against the counter while the others do so. “The - uh - the demon,” he begins, and immediately regrets his choice of words. “The door wouldn’t have stopped it. Shouldn’t have, I mean. If it wanted to come down here, it would’ve. If it wanted to hurt us, it would’ve. It’s - just trying to scare us, I think.”
“Or biding its time,” Gansey says. Adam frowns, but nods. He doesn’t say what he’s thinking, which is: and waiting for what?
“I guess I should get a room ready for you,” Ronan says, tossing his dishrag onto the counter. “Hope you like beanie babies. The only free room is my little brother’s,”
“Oh, I - I won’t be sleeping tonight,” he says. “I mean, I have things to do, so. I’ll stay down here, if that’s alright.” Ronan looks like he’s going to argue, though Adam can’t guess why. Maybe he doesn’t like the thought of a stranger being unsupervised around his valuables; maybe he’s worried Adam will run once his back is turned.
Regardless, Ronan keeps his mouth shut, and Adam returns to the living room and pretends to work for another couple hours. Gansey comes and says goodnight, though he adds that he also won’t be doing much sleeping. Ronan, clearly put-out at the thought of being a bad host, returns with a stack of blankets and pillows, which he leaves on one of the armchairs.
“Lights out, kid,” he says, standing in the doorway. He’s changed into a tank top and sweatpants, his feet bare. “I’ll shout you if I get accosted by ghosts in the night. You know how to keep the fire going?”
Adam chuckles and nods, standing. “They have fire in the city, you know.” Ronan smirks, leaning up against the wall, arms crossed. He looks big and warm, comfortable. Adam is usually very good at compartmentalizing things; he’s never had so much trouble ignoring the attractiveness of a client before. Once he’s moved to stand in front of Ronan, he reaches out, for no reason at all, and plucks at the hem of Ronan’s shirt. Ronan moves neither into nor away from his hand. “Listen,” Adam says, trying to sound kind. “I know you said not to talk about your family. But it - if you want to say goodbye, now’s the time to do it.”
Ronan’s face changes; he turns his eyes away, down to the floor. Adam thinks he’s caught sight of the teenager Gansey was talking about earlier, but then he’s gone, Ronan’s face schooled back into neutrality. “I’ve been saying goodbye for years. No point dragging it all up again.” Adam nods; he agrees, he understands. There’s a reason he didn’t want to see his father again, even if he was dying. Even if he was already dead, Adam wouldn’t want to see him again.
“I wouldn’t be able to hear them, anyway,” Ronan continues. He rocks back and forth on his heels. “There’s no point if I can’t hear them. And what would I say? They know it all.”
Adam feels guilty, when he looks up at Ronan’s face, that all he can think about is how handsome he is. Not Ronan’s obvious grief, nor his suffering; just his heavy brow, the scar above his mouth, the dark stubble at his jaw. Adam wants to eat him. “Your father,” he says, clearing his throat. “He wants you to go somewhere else. He wants you to find somewhere else to be happy. And your mother - she wants for you not to be alone anymore.”
Ronan clenches his jaw, swallows, closes his eyes. Adam is worried he’s spoken wrongly, that Ronan is going to be angry again, but then he says, roughly, “I knew that. Of course, I knew that.”
“Your mother is - was - angry at you, for something. I can’t -” he frowns, letting himself really feel it, for a moment. It’s not quite like listening, what he does. It’s more like knowing. “Maybe the drinking? But you don’t drink, do you?”
“I did. Until last year.” Adam nods.
“She was angry at you, for that. But your father, he thought - he says, ‘he’ll figure it out’. You just need time to figure it all out, he says.”
The next breath Ronan takes rattles in his chest; he nods, clears his throat, and turns towards the stairs. Adam allows himself to feel a second of disappointment that the moment is over, but then Ronan turns back, steps close enough to take Adam by the shoulders, and kisses him sweetly on the mouth. Adam hears himself make a shocked sound; Ronan’s hand moves to the side of his face, and Adam melts. He presses Adam back into the doorframe and he gasps into Ronan’s mouth. He has a hand on the back of Ronan’s head, though he doesn’t remember moving it there; he feels Ronan’s tongue touching his own, licking at his bottom lip. Adam can’t remember the last time he was kissed like this; it’s possible that he’s never been kissed like this. It’s possible that he’s never been kissed at all, if this is what kissing is supposed to be like.
Ronan pulls away; Adam can feel how hot his skin is. They kiss again, again - maybe not again, maybe it’s the same kiss. Ronan is so warm against him, but he’s shivering, he can’t help it. Ronan must feel it, because he pulls away, rubs at Adam’s arms like he’s trying to warm him up. The sweetness of it startles a laugh out of him. Ronan smiles down at him, a naked smile, like he can’t help it. But then he pulls back suddenly, so suddenly that Adam almost stumbles.
“You hear that?” Ronan says. He points a finger at the ceiling. Adam strains his ears, and - yes, he does hear it. Scraping and tapping, something trying to get in. “I’ve - it usually only happens when I’m asleep.” He sees Ronan swallow; something about the sound scares him. It’s more fear than Adam has seen from him all day. He calls up the stairs for Gansey; Gansey answers feebly, tiredly, What?, and the noise continues. It’s uncommon to find an apparition so unafraid of humans. It makes Adam feel like they’re the intruders; the house belongs to this thing, it’s just going about it’s night as it always would.
He shakes the thought away; things like this could be thought into reality too easily. He brushes past Ronan and heads for the stairs before his own fear can take him. He only freezes when they get to the landing; he can still hear the sound. He’s afraid of what sight will accompany it. Ronan’s hand is at his elbow, encouraging him on, so he takes another step, then another. His hands are cold; these are always the moments that make him think: What am I doing?
There’s nothing, of course. Full-bodied apparitions are very rare. It’s just the noise, coming from outside Gansey’s closed door, or from the top of the stairs, or from inside Adam’s deaf ear. Ronan’s hand is still on his elbow. He closes his eyes and thinks no no no, as close as he can get in the moment to the methods of rejection Maura had taught him.. The lightbulb over their heads explodes, glass raining down in every direction. From inside his room, Gansey asks, sleepily, Is everything alright? and then the noise is gone, cut off halfway through a refrain.
He hears Ronan let out a breath; his hand moves from Adam’s elbow to the middle of his back, intending to be comforting, but Adam shakes him off. “Stay there,” he says, a little harshly, stepping over the glass. “You’re not wearing anything on your feet.”
The implicit rejection stings, he can tell, but Adam should never have let things go so far in the first place. He’s working, for Christ’s sake. Just because the house is nice and the people are nice and they fed him good food doesn’t mean it isn’t work.
And, secretly, an awful itch has set into him - the idea that Ronan only kissed him because he was sad and afraid, and because Adam was there to be kissed.
He finds a broom and Ronan’s boots downstairs and brings them up to him, and together they clean away the glass. Gansey opens his door and watches for a while, then goes and lays down again. Ronan slices his thumb open on a shard of glass; Adam takes him into the bathroom and bandages the wound as professionally as possible, keeping his hands very much to himself. Ronan watches confusedly, tiredly, and it makes Adam feel awful. He wants to try to explain himself; he wants Ronan to explain, he wants to be allowed not to think for a little while.
He does end up sleeping in the spare bedroom, because the thought of going downstairs on his own is terrifying. He leaves the door open; Ronan’s light never goes off, not all night.
Part of the reason Ronan doesn’t sleep is because of the obvious; ghosts, demons, et cetera. Part of the reason is Adam.
He lies awake, staring at the ceiling, alternating wildly between guilt and confusion and anger. He should never have kissed Adam, it was inappropriate, it was stupid, reckless; Adam kissed him back, had been looking at him all day like Ronan was something sweet and enticing he wanted badly, had laughed a joyful little laugh at Ronan’s affection.
Ronan gets up at the first sign of light; he does not stop to look in on Adam, despite wanting to. He feeds the cows, cleans mud off of their flanks, finishes his work in the upper fields, longs for Adam’s mouth, scribbles down some budget calculations in his notebook. He goes back inside for his first cup of coffee, then back out to feed the chickens and the pig, and that’s where Adam finds him.
It’s still early. Adam is still wearing his clothes from the night before, though they’re now rumpled by sleep. His Chucks are unlaced, hurriedly shoved onto his feet. “Watch it,” Ronan says, gesturing to Gasoline. “He’ll knock you the fuck out. He doesn’t give a shit.”
Adam snorts, but he does sidle further away. “He’s huge. I didn’t know you had actual animals here.”
“It’s a fuckin’ farm, Parrish.” The chickens peck curiously at Adam’s feet for a moment before moving on. He tries not to look at Adam’s mouth, or think about his cold nose pressing into Ronan’s cheek. He busies himself checking the coop for the more elderly birds, who are unlikely to come out in the early morning cold.
“I could use your help with something,” Adam says. He’s being very polite, Ronan thinks, childishly so. Ronan just looks at him until he speaks again. “I need - some rocks. To get rid of your demon.”
“Rocks?” Ronan laughs, mostly fakely. “You wanted to get me alone, Parrish, you could’ve just asked.”
Adam rolls his eyes. “I mean it. I need something to - channel the energy. There’s a ley line right through here, so. There’ll be good magic rocks around.”
“You don’t have any bullshit crystals with you?”
“Why would I bother to spend money on something I could find right outside?”
Ronan sighs. “How many?”
Adam thinks for a moment, lips pursed. “Twelve.” Ronan groans. “Come on. You find six, I’ll find six. It’ll be done in no time.”
“This feels like fucking busywork. I have actual shit to do.” He’s done most of his shit for the day, actually, but Adam doesn’t know that.
Adam just shoots him a look that might’ve been pleading had Adam seemed the sort to plead. Ronan sighs again and leads him out towards the river, where he knows the good rocks will be, and they spend a good fourty-five minutes hunting for the exact ones Adam wants.
When they’re walking back to the house, pockets rattling, Adam clears his throat and says, “I didn’t - last night, I didn’t mean to lead you on, or anything.” Then he’s quiet, but planning on speaking more, clearly. Ronan doesn’t like the way lead you on feels.
“I kissed you, man,” he says, trying for casual. “It’s whatever.”
Adam has the gall to look a little sad, at that. He looks down at his feet and says, “It’s just that - I’m working. I know this might not seem like work to you, but this is my job. One of my jobs. And I don’t like to - mix things up. This is work. I have work, and I have things that aren’t work, and it’s important the two don’t… cross over.” Ronan fiddles with one of the stones in his pocket. He nods. He gets it, he understands. He wishes he and Adam had met under other circumstances; he also knows that if he and Adam had met in a bar or something that Ronan would never have had the confidence to kiss him in the first place. It was something about Adam being in his home that made him feel… capable. Competent. Like a grownup.
“This job,” Adam says, sighing. “It’s all feelings. All of it. That thing upstairs lives on your energy, like I said. Any… big feeling feeds it. It might be how it got here in the first place. There’s a reason they congregate in places of grief.”
“There are ghosts in my house because I’m depressed?” Ronan says, pushing the back door open. “That sounds like bullshit, to me.”
Adam sighs again, frustrated. He leans on his hands against the counter once he reaches it, shoulders tense. “No, it’s… sadness would power it, yes. Loneliness, anger… but happiness, too. Love. Strong attachment.”
Ronan doesn’t look at him while he pours another cup of coffee. He doesn’t understand any of this enough to know if what Adam is saying makes sense, or if it’s total bullshit. Something about the words rings true, nevertheless. He hears Gansey begin to stumble down the stairs. “What I’m saying,” Adam says, voice low, “Is that if you still want to kiss me after we get rid of your demon, you can.”
It’s pathetic, Ronan thinks, how easily those words make his heart kick up. He feels his face get hot. He just passes Adam his coffee, says nothing. Adam sends him a smile halfway between coy and unsure. “Can I shower?” he says, sipping his coffee.
Ronan clears his throat and says, “Across from the living room.”
Gansey shoots him a strange look when he finally makes his way into the kitchen. “Bad dreams?” he says.
Ronan shakes his head, bites the inside of his cheek to stop from smiling. “Not last night, no.”
Adam knows what he’s doing. He does. If he keeps saying it enough, maybe it’ll start to feel true.
He showers. He forgoes professionalism for the sake of comfort, for once, and just throws his hoodie back on afterwards. He also leaves his shoes on, wary of more broken glass. He is very aware of his 11am midterm tomorrow; he is even more aware of the fact he will need to drive through the night to make it back to Cambridge in time. He goes upstairs on his own, and stands in front of the door to Ronan’s parents room and lets himself quake a little before he calls down for Ronan to bring the key.
“Are you fucking for real?” Ronan says, when he reaches the top of the stairs. “You’re telling me you need to go back in there?”
“It’s… It thinks that it owns that room, Ronan. We have to claim it back.” Ronan sighs, fiddling with the key, but then he assents, moving to unlock the door. “I need you in there, this time. Both of you.”
Gansey, from halfway up the stairs, says, “Both of us? But you said --”
“I know what I said,” Adam snaps. He feels bad immediately, and sighs. “I need… the energy has to be balanced, and three is a good number. I can’t make you do it, but… It’d be easier with all of us.”
“I never said I wouldn’t,” Gansey says. He isn’t doing a very good job of covering his fear, but Adam admires his bravery anyway. He turns back to Ronan, looks at him for a long moment, tries to remember the exact feeling of putting his hand on Ronan’s neck, Ronan’s hands on his shoulders. He puts a hand inside the bedroom to turn the light on, and then steps inside.
Adam spreads the rocks they’d found out on the floor in a swirling, spiral pattern. He tucks a tarot card - the Six of Wands - in the middle, the smallest stone set on top of it. He kneels on the floor, presses his hands down into the rug, lights his tall black candle. Ronan is entranced by his ability to change in an instant; one second the funny, clever boy Ronan had kissed last night, the next something almost terrifying.
He asks Ronan and Gansey to sit on the other side of his stones, so they’re in a triangle. He tells Gansey, “Don’t let the candle go out. That’s your job.”
Gansey nods seriously. “What happens if it goes out?”
“Just don’t let it,” he says. Then he turns to Ronan. “Don’t be afraid to hurt me if you have to.” Ronan’s heart stops; he asks What? but Adam is already blinking, blinking into his light, blinking and then gone.
Even if he hadn’t seen the moment it happened, Ronan would have felt it. The room changes around them. Adam breathes shallowly, just as he had before, his hands upturned on his knees, palms vulnerably open. Behind them, the door swings closed. None of them move. Ronan is past the point where something like that could scare him.
Adam makes a noise like he’s choking, and his hand goes to his throat. He retches, shivers, retches again. It’s a strange sight; Adam, gone from his body, his body performing its actions without him.
Adam doubles over, forehead pressed into the floor, and coughs and chokes so badly Ronan thinks he surely must be dying. “Jesus,” he says, almost moving to - to do something, he doesn’t know what. Adam twitches his fingers to stop him, a minor but obvious movement. Ronan stays seated; he watches Adam cough again, and then he watches a crab scuttle out of Adam’s mouth and across the floor.
He moves without thinking, crushing it under his boot when it reaches him. Adam convulses in the way someone does right after they’ve been sick; he spits blood onto the floor. When he sits up, he looks at Ronan and says, “It hates you.” Ronan can’t move, can’t speak; Gansey is still staring at what remains of the crab. “It wants you dead,” Adam says. His pupils are so huge, Ronan could be swallowed by them.
Adam doesn’t even move that fast, when he launches at Ronan, but Ronan is still unable to stop him. His head hits the floor so hard, he sees stars. Above him, Adam says
There’s blood on his teeth. Ronan has never been strangled before; it’s a different, specific kind of pain unlike any other, he thinks. “Hit me,” Adam says. He punctuates his words by slamming Ronan’s head into the floor again. “Hit me - please, something --”
Gansey shoves him, hard, so hard Adam flies into the dresser next to them. Ronan thinks he sees Adam’s head knock into the wood, but he’s so preoccupied with getting air back into his lungs that he doesn’t care. He has never felt so good as the moment he can breathe again.
“Oh, fuck,” Gansey says. “Adam?”
Adam makes a short, pained sound; when Ronan can focus his eyes enough to see, he notices that Adam has blood on his face. He’s clawing at his own eyes, Ronan realises, with no small amount of horror, blood beading at his brow. “His hands,” Ronan says, roughly. “Gansey, tie his hands.” He moves to grab hold of Adam’s wrists; Adam thrashes against him like an animal; the sound he makes is not a human sound.
“Desk drawer,” he says, hoping he’s remembered right - and he has, because Gansey produces a roll of green ribbon. Ronan, as gently as he can, presses his knee into Adam’s chest, holding him still. “This isn’t how I imagined this,” he says, trying to make his tone light. “But I’ll take it, I guess.” Gansey tears the ribbon with his teeth; Ronan wraps Adam’s wrists together, tight as he can.
Adam laughs, very weakly. “You asshole,” he says. “You asshole. Cover my eyes, too.”
Ronan covers his eyes, too, and then Adam is still. Ronan’s throat hurts, his chest hurts, a migraine flashes brightly at his temples. Gansey takes his glasses off. A trickle of blood rolls down the side of Adam’s face, and Ronan wipes it away with his thumb.
Adam says, “Don’t let the candle go out.” And then he’s gone again.
Scrying has never been quite like this before. His eyes are covered, but he can see the room around them in perfect detail. His head hurts, the wound on his arm stings, but the pain is someone else’s. This is what it is like, a voice says, for us.
“You shouldn’t still be here,” Adam says. Possibly out loud, possibly not. Someone in the room shuffles; he doesn’t know who. This is what was meant to happen, the voice says. It was always going to happen like this. Tell him that.
“I’m - what do I do?” he asks. “I don’t know what to do. Tell me.”
You do know, the voice says, kindly but frustratingly. It reminds him of Persephone. Tell him goodbye, for me.
He does know. He just doesn’t know if he can . They’re only here because you let them be here, he’d heard Persephone say, a dozen times. He’s repeated it a hundred times more. They’re only here because you let them be here. But sometimes not letting them is harder than just living with them.
He moves his bound hands until he can feel Ronan’s warm body against them; Ronan covers Adam’s hand with his own, and Adam is suddenly all the way back in the room, head throbbing. “Gansey,” he says, and he feels his own voice vibrate in his chest. “Blow the candle out.”
Gansey hesitates a moment, but once the candle is out the effect is immediate. The air isn’t so heavy. The house is just a house again.
Adam doesn’t ask to be untied; Ronan doesn’t remember doing it, but he must. He’s caught desperately between relief and grief. The room is, stunningly, undisturbed, only an upturned bottle of perfume on the dresser evidence of their scuffle.
Downstairs, he checks his watch, and realises that he could still very well make church, if he wanted to. He doesn’t know if he wants to or not.
They all sit around the kitchen table in various states of exhaustion. Adam does a quick card reading and then puts his head down, half sleeping; Ronan drinks cups of coffee until Gansey forces him to switch to water. Gansey leaves his glasses off, staring up at the ceiling. “I feel,” he says, “Morally inclined to write a book about that experience.”
Adam scoffs into the tabletop. “Some things stay quiet for a reason,” he says. Ronan stands, goes through to the dining room. Everything feels so empty, empty, empty, like an upturned bottle. He is the last dreg clinging to the inside.
Eventually, Adam comes to him and wraps his arms around Ronan’s waist, pressing his face into his spine. It’s an affection that should belong to other people, Ronan thinks, people who have known each other for more than two days and kissed more than once. He likes it, anyway. “I have to go,” Adam says, muffled, into his shirt.
“Don’t,” Ronan says. Selfish, perhaps.
Adam had clearly been expecting it, because he says, “I can stay another three hours.”
Ronan turns around so they’re facing each other. Adam smiles gently up at him. “I’m waiting,” he says, “For you to kiss me.”
“Maybe I don’t want to kiss you,” Ronan says. “Maybe I want you to kiss me.”
Adam smiles again, or else keeps smiling, and then reaches up and does so. They feel so close, Ronan thinks, nonsensically. He feels like every part of them is pressed together. He has never been kissed this sweetly, he thinks. He feels wobbly and unsure; he would let Adam kiss him forever. He would die rather than never kiss him again.
When he draws back, Adam kisses him on the corner of his mouth. “Your father said - I think it was your father. He said goodbye. And he said to tell you --”
Ronan shakes his head, and Adam stops talking. They’re gone now, Ronan thinks, it’s done. It can be done now, finally. He kisses Adam again, again, proof of life, even after everything.
In the driveway, Ronan hugs him, hard. Neither of them speaks. Adam doesn’t think they could if they wanted to. Gansey shakes his hand, insists on putting his number in Adam’s phone just in case he ever needs anything.
He drives five minutes down the road away from Singer’s Falls and Henrietta before he stops, pulls over, and sends his advisor an email. Won’t be able to make the midterm tomorrow due to a family emergency. He gets a reply back almost immediately, despite it being the weekend: Of course. Let me know what else I can do for you.
And then he turns around and drives to the trailer park for the first time in four years. He’s decided that he can’t always be driving away from something.
Ronan lasts a week before he decides to drive out to Boston. It was not as hard a decision as he’d thought it would be; he just packs the car up and leaves. The place can run wild while he’s gone; everything there can take care of itself.
He takes a good long look at the house before he goes, though. He thinks it’ll do the place some good to be totally empty for a while.