The thing that frustrated Adam the most about Ronan (at that moment, anyway) was that he wouldn't do anything about it. He brought Adam to the Barns. He found flimsier and flimsier excuses to stay the night on Adam's floor— if he bothered to offer an excuse at all. Adam caught Ronan looking at him so often that Ronan couldn't deny it even if he wanted to. But he never did anything.
Adam was the type of person that did. Usually. If there was something he wanted, and he had the means to go after it, he would. He went after Aglionby even when he knew it would cause problems at home, when he knew he might try his best and still fail. He went after Blue, even though he had no idea what he was doing or why she'd want him. He made the sacrifice with Cabeswater, even when he wasn't really sure what that meant, when he had no idea what it might cost him.
Ronan was usually the type of person that did, too, which made the entire situation even more frustrating. It wasn't like Ronan was known for being cautious or making careful decisions. Ronan threw himself into things, consequences be damned, but whatever this— this thing between them was, Ronan wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole. He skated around it instead. Dipped his toes into the water but refused to get in. He dreamt Adam lotion for his hands and took Adam with him to the places he was most vulnerable, but every time they got too close, every time those unspoken words screamed in the silence around them, Ronan backed off.
And the problem, when it came down to it, was that the longer he waited for Ronan to actually do something, the more Adam wanted him to. And he wasn't sure what to do with that realization.
As they walked, Ronan's hand brushed Adam's and a shiver of something went up his arm, like touching an exposed wire. In a good way. Ahead of them, Gansey was telling Blue a story of one of his trips, something Ronan and Adam had already heard a dozen times, and they were both too wrapped up in each other to notice the way Adam awkwardly dangled his hand closer to Ronan's, trying to find contact again.
He did, and this time it wasn't a shiver, just a warmth where Ronan's knuckles knocked against his, too firm and consistent to be coincidental. Around them, the forest sounded so alive, thrumming and humming and calling out to them. All it would take, Adam thought, was the slightest turn of Ronan's hand, and then he could link their fingers together. If this was something Ronan wanted, something he truly wanted, he'd go for it, right?
And then Ronan. Ronan jerked away effortlessly, picking his way over a fallen log without looking at it or Adam. Adam made a frustrated sound and curled his hands into fists.
"Where the hell are the cars?" Ronan demanded, looking around as if they would appear out of nowhere, summoned by his wanting and nothing more. Adam wouldn't be that surprised if they did. "I'm fucking starving."
Gansey pointed at him, eyes lighting up. "Sandwiches."
"Sandwiches?" Blue repeated.
"We should bring sandwiches next time," Gansey said. "And water. Why have we never thought to bring water? Staying hydrated is very important."
"Oh, very important," Blue echoed.
"I can make peanut butter sandwiches," Noah added, appearing at Blue's side as if he'd been there the entire time. It was a testament to how weird their lives were, that no one even batted an eyelash.
"That helps me now… how?" Ronan wondered.
Adam snorted at him. "You could've packed a lunch, you know."
"I didn't realize this was a picnic."
Gansey said, before they could start arguing, "We'll stop and get something to eat on the way home. Pizza or burgers? Or Chinese, maybe."
"Do any of you know what an actual vegetable looks like?" Blue asked.
Ronan smirked. "I know that cucumbers look like my—"
"Pizza, I think," Gansey decided, quite loudly.
"You might want to go to the doctor, if it's green," Blue advised Ronan with a tilt to her chin.
Adam laughed so hard he tripped, stepping on the end of one of his laces. Like time slowed down, Adam had an entire second and a half to think oh, crap, that is going to hurt as the ground surged up toward his face, and then there was a hand on his chest and one on his arm, steadying him and keeping him on his feet.
"Jesus Christ," Adam said, heart pounding. Ronan's hand was still around his arm, his grip just this side of too tight, and he was so close. The proximity or the adrenaline from the almost-fall had his heart pounding in his chest. One step, and the space between them would be gone. One step and they could find out if Ronan really meant any of this.
So, obviously, Ronan ducked his head, let go, and snapped, "Learn to fucking walk, Parrish."
"I didn't ask for your help," Adam snapped back, his heart pounding for entirely different reasons now.
Ronan ignored him, stomping his way violently through the woods, past Blue and Gansey without a word. Adam watched him go, frustrated and angry and disappointed, and then he shook himself off and hurried after them.
"Meet you at Nino's?" Gansey said to Ronan through the rolled-down window of the BMW. He was, unsurprisingly, the first to the cars, and had already gotten into and started his own before they'd caught up with him.
"Can you drop me off at home first?" Blue asked, her eyes on her watch. "I told Calla I'd help her bring up some things from the basement."
"Of course," Gansey said. He wasn't looking at Ronan anymore. Blue had his full attention, as she usually did, and Adam suddenly realized that if he was going to ride home with them, it would be accompanied by the suffocating knowledge that he was the third wheel. They would never say it, not to him and maybe not even to each other, but they would all know it.
"I'm going to ride with Ronan," Adam said abruptly, reaching for the door before he could change his mind.
Gansey's face was a carefully crafted mask. "Oh," he said, not at all happily, not at all disappointedly. "See you at Nino's, then?"
"You mean, in an hour?" Ronan snorted. "You mean, after you take out the psychics' trash for them?" Before Blue could make an angry retort, he added, "No way. I'll see you at home."
Adam slid into the passenger seat and shut the door behind himself, and Ronan sped off before Gansey could fully utter, "See you at home, then!" It trailed after them like the dust behind the BMW.
What Adam hadn't considered, when he'd decided to drive with Ronan instead, was that it would be accompanied by the suffocating knowledge that one person in the car definitely (possibly) had feelings for the other, and that those feelings were possibly (definitely) reciprocated. That knowledge seemed to fill all the spare space around them, and Adam had to roll down his window to let some of it escape and ease the tension. Ronan's hand gripped the gearshift tightly; his knuckles were white.
"It's too damn quiet," Ronan complained.
For him, maybe. Adam's thoughts were so loud that he could hardly hear Ronan over them, and he had to tear his gaze away from the flush creeping up the back of Ronan's neck in order to meet his eyes. "What?"
Ronan muttered something under his breath that Adam didn't catch, and turned on the stereo. Instantly, Adam felt the thumping of bass vibrating in his bones as something that wasn't in English and wasn't in any other language Adam knew clawed its way out of the speakers.
"God, Ronan," Adam shouted. "I'd like to retain hearing in one of my ears."
Ronan turned the knob on the stereo. The music got louder. "What? I can't hear you."
"I wonder why!"
"I said I wo—!"
"I can't hear you!"
Ronan's grin was wilder than the music. Adam didn't have it in him to reach for the stereo and shut it off. He settled into the seat instead, closing his eyes with a put out huff, and tried to figure out what it was about teeth-rattling music that Ronan liked. And then wondered what it was about Adam that Ronan liked. And then wondered if Adam was just another thing Ronan liked simply because he knew other people didn't and he liked to make them uncomfortable.
Something landed in Adam's lap, hard enough that he winced and startled, sitting up fast. "Text Matthew," Ronan said without looking away from the windshield. "Tell him we're in the parking lot."
When Adam's gaze focused, he realized they were at Aglionby. And then Ronan's words settled and he sighed, picking up the phone he'd just been assaulted with. "Throw your phone at me again and I'll throw it out the window. And it wouldn't kill you to text him yourself, you know."
"It might." But he was still grinning, and jiggling his leg like he couldn't sit still. He darted a look at Adam, quick and then gone, then did it again. With one arm draped out the window and his other hand resting lazily on the steering wheel, his legs spread and his body lax, Ronan looked every bit like a rich douchebag, or a model from a magazine. Adam was as irritated by it as he was attracted to it. He looked away before Ronan could catch his eye again.
Through the windshield, Adam could see Matthew coming, a smile infinitely brighter than Ronan's on his face. He went for Adam's door, pulling it open and stumbling to a surprised halt when he realized Adam was already in the passenger seat. "Oh," he said, and then grinned again. "Hey, Adam." He waited patiently for Adam to get out and then climbed into the backseat. "What's up?"
"Hungry?" Ronan asked, pulling away from the school before Matthew could answer.
"Starving," Matthew said enthusiastically. "Where're we going?"
Ronan looked to Adam, his eyebrows asking the same question. "I don't care," Adam said with a shrug. Somewhere cheap went unsaid.
Ronan brought them to McDonalds. He ordered enough food for ten teenage boys, not three, and only put up a half-assed fight when Adam pitched in to pay for it, and then parked in the lot when their food was done.
"We should do this more often," Matthew said as he ate, food spread out on the backseat beside him. "This is nice. Right? This is nice?"
"It's nice," Adam agreed as he dragged a fry through ketchup.
It was. The thing about the youngest Lynch brother was that he filled all awkward or tense silences. Matthew, unlike Ronan or Declan, was enjoyable to spend more than five minutes with. As they ate, he chattered endlessly about someone else in the dorms, and something about a pet snake escaping, and how he'd lost all his History notes but Alexander Scotti had lent him his— all said in the same upbeat, cheerful way.
Just like bringing Adam to the Barns, this was Ronan exposing himself yet again. Here, with Matthew, he was as comfortable as he could get. His smile was genuine if a little sharp, and he barked a laugh that shook the whole car when Matthew mentioned Declan tripping out of bed one morning. This Ronan only existed in rare moments, and it was a gift, Ronan letting him see it.
This time, Ronan didn't look away the moment Adam caught him staring. His gaze was on Adam's mouth, his eyebrows drawn tightly together. No way would Ronan kiss him here, with Matthew in the backseat, but the thought still went through his mind anyway. Ronan's hand twitched toward him, close enough for Adam to see the grease from his burger on his fingers, and Adam held his breath. Anticipation made everything but Ronan fade out of consciousness. And then, like in the forest, Ronan jerked back and this time muttered, "You have shit on your face."
Adam wiped furiously at his face with a napkin and only just resisted the urge to throw it at Ronan afterward.
"Well, that was interesting," Gansey said after Latin class three days later.
"He seemed okay, at least," Adam pointed out. Their new teacher was old, and frail, and it was hard to understand what he was saying half the time as his words blended together, but he didn't seem to have any sort of homicidal tendencies, so. An improvement, at least. "Lynch?"
"He was old as fuck," Ronan said, which wasn't really an opinion, and yet it was.
Good-naturedly, Gansey and Adam exchanged an eye roll. "I have to go to the office," Gansey added, already starting in that direction. "I'll see you after class. Make sure he actually goes."
"I'll try," Ronan said, "but I'm not his babysitter."
"People would pay you to stay away from their kids," Adam countered, "not watch them."
"I'm great with kids. I taught Noah ever swear word he knows."
"Like it takes talent to combine an inanimate object with the word shit, fuck, or dick."
"Sure it does, shitstick."
Adam swallowed an involuntary laugh and said, straight faced, "You're not even making an effort."
Ronan paused, carefully thinking over his next words, and then said, "Bagel fucker."
"I wouldn't put that on my resume, if I were you."
Ronan opened his mouth, another no doubt inventive swear on the tip of his tongue, until they both noticed that they were alone and Gansey had already left. The bell rang shrilly. "Come on," Adam said, nodding toward the door. Ronan dutifully followed him into class.
Adam didn't mean to fall asleep in class. He couldn't help it sometimes, falling asleep in random places, in stolen moments, but he had two rules: never at school, and never at work. Any other time in between was free game. Once, on a particularly bad day, he'd even pulled over on the side of the road and passed out with his head on the steering wheel because he couldn't keep his eyes open, but he couldn't afford to sleep at school.
The shuffling of books and the scraping of chairs against the floor woke him, and he sat up slowly, wiping the drool tiredly from his chin. In his sleep haze it took him a moment to realize where he was, and when he did, his pulse hammered loudly in his ears.
"Why didn't you wake me?" he snapped at Ronan, going from half-asleep to furious in a split second.
Ronan, in the seat next to him, look unfazed. "Not your babysitter," he repeated.
An entire class wasted. A no doubt pointless class, covering something from the text book he'd already read cover-to-cover. Twice. But still. He pressed his palms to his eyes, trying to sooth the burning anger, but it didn't work. "You're such an asshole sometimes," he snapped before he could help himself. His chair screeched as he pushed away from his desk. "God."
"Chill," Ronan scoffed. He ripped a handful of pages from his notebook, and the sound of it, the tearing, grated at Adam's already frazzled nerves.
"Seriously?" Adam demanded, louder than he should've in public. "You might not get this, but some people actually give a shit about—"
Ronan shoved him. Only— no. His hand collided softly with Adam's chest, that handful of papers attached to it, and Adam had the sense to grab them before Ronan brushed past him and walked away without looking back.
Adam stood there for a moment, useless anger surging through him without an outlet, now that Ronan had walked away. Breathe, he told himself, and counted to ten. And then ten again. And then once more until he could think past the annoyance. When he looked down, he realized the pages had been written on in Ronan's sharp handwriting. It took him a moment longer to realize they were notes. Notes for class. Ronan— Ronan Lynch— had actually taken notes.
Because it was Ronan, there were doodles in the margins and scathing comments abound (Why the fucking wigs? was written beside a particularly hilarious sketch of Gansey in a powdered wig) but the notes themselves were clear and concise, almost as if Adam had made them himself, and that wasn't the worst part of it.
Ronan took notes for Adam.
Ronan didn't take notes. Ever. For anything. On the off chance that he did bother to study, he'd borrow Adam's or Gansey's. It wasn't like he'd taken them for himself and had given them to Adam because he asked. He took them specifically for Adam, so Adam could sleep and not have to panic about missing an entire class.
Adam stuffed the notes in his bag and ducked out the door, trying to see past the herd of students, looking for Ronan's shaved head standing out above everyone else's. He couldn't find it.
"Where's Ronan?" Gansey asked, easily catching up with him. "Did he skip?"
"No," Adam said quietly. He pushed a hand through his hair. "No, he didn't. I have to—" He didn't know how to finish that sentence. "Crap."
Gansey looked alarmed. He steered Adam out of the way of the sea of students, into an alcove where their frantic energy and mindless chatter couldn't reach. "What happened?"
Adam didn't answer.
"Please tell me he didn't punch someone while in class this time. Please." Gansey hesitated. "If it was a teacher, just carry me into traffic instead."
"No, he didn't." Adam swallowed, anger directed inwards now. We always expect the worst from him, don't we? "It wasn't him." Except, no, it kind of was. Partially. Ronan was a dick for not waking Adam up; Adam was a dick for assuming that Ronan could never do anything nice. "It was us. Both of us."
"Ah." Gansey looked infinitely more uncomfortable, like it was easier to deal with Ronan punching a teacher than whatever has been going on with Adam and Ronan lately. "Well. I mean… I'm sure it couldn't have been that bad."
That was true. Compared to some of their previous arguments, this was nothing, and yet it didn't make Adam feel any better about the situation. He wanted to apologize. He wanted to yell at Ronan more. He wanted Ronan to tell him what, exactly, he was playing at with this thing. But he couldn't do anything of those things because, once again, Ronan removed himself from the situation before they could actually deal with any of this.
The bell rang. Adam had never been more grateful for that sound in his life. "I have class," he said, already backing away from Gansey. "I'll see you after."
Gansey attempted a smile. Which was to say, Gansey's mouth smiled winningly and his eyes did not. "You two will work this out."
Adam wasn't so sure.
Avoiding Ronan was like trying to avoid his own shadow: nearly impossible and usually only accomplished by hiding away in the depths of his apartment— and even that wasn't always foolproof. Not that Adam was avoiding Ronan. Adam just… didn't want to see Ronan at the moment. They were at that terrible crossroad where one of them had to apologize in order for them to move forward, and since Ronan didn't apologize ever and Adam felt he deserved an apology as much as he owed one, it was probably for the best that they stay away from each other for the foreseeable future.
Blue had other plans, apparently.
"We should do something normal today," she said from where she was lounging on Adam's bed, expertly braiding together the torn pieces of her shirt. All of her hairclips today were yellow. She looked pretty. Adam didn't say so. "Something that doesn't involve hanging out at the place I work."
"Like what?" he asked from the floor, where he was sitting with his back against the door. There wasn't much room for him anywhere else in the apartment, not when she was on the bed, and no matter how much progress they were making on fixing their tattered relationship, he didn't think they'd reached a point yet where he was ready to sit next to her on the bed, alone.
"I don't know." She tilted her head and grinned at him. "What do normal teenagers do?"
"I don't think you're asking the right person."
For a moment the room was quiet as they both lost themselves in their thoughts. He'd only made it through half of this weekend's homework before she'd knocked at his door, and the thought of it lying there at his desk, unfinished, was nagging at him. That, and the pile of laundry in the corner that he wished he'd had a chance to hide. A pair of boxers laid on top. He had to ball his hands into fists to keep from getting up to hide them.
Then, just when he was about to give in to that urge, Blue's eyes lit up in a way that reminded him impossibly of Gansey. If she had sat up and snapped her fingers and pointed at him right then, he wouldn't've been at all surprised. "The movies!" she said instead, pushing herself up on her elbows. "Normal people go to the movies."
"The movies," Adam repeated. The movies would cost money, but she looked so delighted by the idea that he didn't bother trying to shoot her down. He could budget it, if he was careful. "Do you even know what's playing?"
Her smile faltered, for a beat, and then came back full force as she dug her phone out of her pocket. "Can you tell me what is playing at the theaters right this very moment?" she said after Gansey— Adam knew without a doubt that it was Gansey— answered. "Yes. Mm. No. No, no way. What's that one about? That sounds— yes. Yes. We'll meet you there. Bye." She hung up but didn't put her phone away. "Gansey and Noah said they'll meet us there in twenty minutes."
"Cool," Adam said. He used the doorknob to pull himself up and dusted off the back of his pants as she turned her phone over and over in her hands. "Having second thoughts already?"
She looked up at him with wary eyes. "Should I invite Ronan?" she asked.
Adam swallowed and tried to look casual, as if hearing Ronan's name had absolutely no effect on him. Because it shouldn't. Because it didn't. "Why are you asking me?"
The look Blue gave him said you know exactly why I'm asking you, Adam Parrish. Blue's mouth said, "Gansey told me you two had a fight."
"He did. Did you?"
"Is that something you want to talk about? And I'm not offering because I'm the only female and therefore I have superior knowledge on relationships. I'm offering because I'm your friend and I'm also kind of Ronan's friend and Gansey hates it when you two fight."
If he said no, he'd be no better than Ronan, running away from this every time they got too close. But if he said yes, then he'd actually have to talk about it, and that wasn't exactly appealing. "There's not much to talk about," he settled for.
"Not much isn't the same as nothing."
Adam ran his hands up and down his arms, fidgeting, and forced himself to look into her eyes instead of away. "It was just a fight."
He could tell she didn't believe him but, thankfully, she didn't push. "All right," she said. "So should I invite him or not?"
"If you want to." Adam didn't care either way. Really, he didn't.
Apparently she did. Adam watched as she typed something out quickly on her phone, something longer than a simple going to the movies, meet us there should've taken, and then slid the phone back into her pocket. Afterward, she said, "He probably won't even come anyway."
They were in line, Adam loitering behind Blue and Gansey as they argued over what to get at the concession stand, Noah off fiddling with some arcade game in the corner, when Ronan sidled up beside him, his elbow bumping into Adam's side. "What the hell is this movie even about?"
Out of pure stubborn determination, Adam managed not to jump. He sounded only slightly off kilter when he replied, "Something about a robot, I think."
"Cartoon robots or real-life robots?"
"What's the difference?"
"Cartoon robots are fluffy bullshit," Ronan said, matter-of-factly. "Real-life robots blow shit up."
It was obvious which Ronan would prefer. Adam rolled his eyes, fingering the change in his pocket, and only remembered at the last moment that, oh, right, he's supposed to be pissed at Ronan. And sorry for being an asshole to Ronan. It was hard to be either of those things when Ronan stood beside him so casually in a dirty sweater that probably had a designer label and hadn't been washed in at least two weeks, judging by the wrinkles and the way it hung off him. He didn't look particularly pissed with Adam, or repentant. Not that Adam was surprised.
"About yesterday," he started, but Ronan's clenched jaw made him pause and, before he knew what he was doing, he said, "Thanks for the notes."
Ronan made a rude sound and tilted his chin defiantly. "Next time you pass out in class, you're on your own."
Normally, this was where Adam said you could've woken me up instead and Ronan would snap something back, and then it would blow up into a full scale argument and Gansey would try to diffuse it before they caused a scene. Adam didn't have it in him to go through the motions again. "Why did you bother this time?"
Ronan blinked, only his parted lips giving away how surprised he was by the question. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"Why did you bother?" Adam pushed. "If it was such a hardship, why did you do it? I didn't ask you to. You didn't have to."
Ronan's glare was a dangerous, furious thing that would've made a lesser man shrivel and run. Adam wasn't having it. Not today.
"You can glare at me all you want, but that doesn't change what you did."
"What I did—"
"Was nice," Adam interrupted. The words felt odd his mouth. Just as Ronan was averse to apologizing, Adam had difficulty thanking someone for something. It wasn't often he let anyone do anything for him, and when he did, the resentment he felt at needing it in the first place tended to overwhelming any gratefulness. "Like I said. Thanks. I appreciate it. They were good notes, and the drawing of Gansey wasn't bad."
Anyone who didn't know Ronan well wouldn't have seen past the threatening, angry way he stood with his shoulders pulled back and his hands balled into fists. Adam, on the other hand, was privy to the flurry of emotions that flicked over his face in quick succession, from confusion to embarrassment to something soft and vulnerable. Adam waited for the anger he always hid behind, something terrible to mask the better parts of himself, but instead Ronan huffed a laugh and said, with the faintest smile, "The wig would be an improvement."
A beat passed, Adam too stunned to reply, and then, too late to be anything other than awkward, he said, "Where do you think we could find one?"
Ronan didn't seem to mind. "The internet, for sure."
"We should look into that."
"And some superglue, maybe."
A chill went up Adam's spine, the only warning before Noah brushed up beside him and added, "And a fake moustache."
"Only way he'll ever know what one feels like," Ronan agreed. "Good thinking."
Gansey frowned at them over his shoulder. "I can hear you, you know."
Ronan's grin widened. "We know."
A handful of popcorn fell into Adam's lap. He tore his gaze away from the screen, eyes narrowed, but Ronan wasn't looking at him. The stupidly big tub of popcorn rested on the seat divider between them, glistening with too much butter, and the smell of it alone made Adam's mouth water. Buying the ticket for the movie itself had been a splurge; he couldn't rationalize spending money on overpriced concession food, too, but the smell made him doubt his decision.
"I'm not gonna eat this thing myself," Ronan said without looking at him. The tub tilted; another forlorn piece of popcorn fell into Adam's lap. "Just take it, for fuck sake, Parrish."
Resentfully, Adam dug his hand into the bucket. "Why would you get a large in the first place, if you can't finish it yourself?"
"Go big or go home."
Adam's snort was caught between derision and reluctant laughter. He shoved the handful of popcorn in his mouth to smother it and decided that, no matter what, next time he was definitely getting his own popcorn.
And a drink, he amended not ten minutes later, when the salt left him parched and aching for something sweet to offset it. The moment the thought crossed his mind, Ronan's equally big, equally stupid drink found its way into the holder of their shared armrest, two straws sticking out it. This time Ronan didn't have to offer. Adam took a sip before he could remind himself of all the reasons he shouldn't.
It wasn't until his greasy fingers were scraping the bottom of the tub, and Ronan was sucking down the last of the Coke, that Adam realized Ronan had done this on purpose. He'd intentionally gotten too much popcorn, too much soda, because he knew Adam would want some and couldn't afford it himself, and he knew that Adam would never take it if he outright offered to buy it for him.
Something settled heavy in Adam's stomach, but it wasn't the popcorn and it wasn't the usual shame, either. He snuck a look at Ronan out of the corner of his eye, but Ronan was transfixed by the movie, his eyes lit up by the screen. Once again, Ronan was trying to do something nice, in that backwards way of his that tried its best not to look like kindness. Once again, Adam wondered what he'd done to earn this from someone who normally kept his affections locked in a hidden vault deep inside himself.
Slowly, not wanting to draw attention from the others, Adam moved the empty bucket of popcorn to the floor at his feet and rested his arm on the armrest, the palm of his hand facing the ceiling. Ronan glanced at it, quickly, and then looked away. Then looked again. Adam's fingers twitched, and Ronan lifted his hand, reaching for them, and then—
Ronan grabbed the empty cup of Coke and shook it, the leftover ice clinking together. "Refill," he muttered as he got out of his seat.
Adam's teeth ground together as he watched Ronan walk away, a dark shadow in the lightless theater. By the time he returned, almost half an hour later, Adam had his hands tucked firmly under his arms, an act of both frustration and embarrassment.
"Long line," Ronan said as he slipped his drink into the holder of their shared armrest. He smelled of fresh air and Adam could see the flush in his cheeks, even in the dim lighting.
"Where? At the 7-Eleven?"
"Shh," someone a few rows ahead of them hissed.
"Ronan," Gansey warned, but Ronan restrained himself to a quiet mutter of bite me instead of throwing his new drink in their direction. Adam was honestly impressed.
Still, just in case, Adam reached for the drink and nearly jumped at the feeling of warm fingers overlapping his own, slightly sweaty. Adam's hands were bigger, with long, bony fingers, but Ronan's were wider, his fingers thicker and less calloused than Adam's own. Adam was surprised by how much softer they were.
Ronan, just as surprised, sucked in a sharp breath, and Adam's fingers jerked of their own accord, and the next thing he knew the cup was crumpling in his hand and cold soda erupted over the both of them.
"Fucking shit," Ronan swore, jumping out of his seat.
Adam was only a beat behind him, ice in his lap, his left leg dripping. "Oh my god." It was so cold. "Oh my god. Crap. Crap."
"Will you shut up?" someone snapped.
Gansey stood up, too, and Blue followed, her eyes wide. Ronan was a bomb, his fuse getting shorter and shorter. Gansey would be so upset if they got kicked out of the theater, and god knew Ronan couldn't afford another confrontation with the police.
"I've got it, finish the movie," Adam told Gansey, and then he hastily grabbed Ronan's wrist before he could blow up and tugged, once, gently. "Come on."
It was surprisingly easy to drag Ronan out of the theater. It wasn't so much dragging, in fact, as it was leading, with Ronan dutifully following him out of the dark theater, and the dim entrance, and into the bright, scalding mid-afternoon light. Adam blinked and shielded his eyes with the hand not still caging Ronan's wrist. His left leg felt sticky already.
"What a shitshow," Ronan muttered, pulling out of Adam's grip to scrub a hand over the back of his head. All of a sudden, looking at the Coke splattered on the both of them, the flush in Ronan's cheeks, the downward tug of his lips, Adam found the situation entirely, abruptly hilarious. "What the hell are you laughing at?"
"Normal," Adam explained, the word rounded with suppressed laughter. "Blue, she said she wanted to do something normal, and we— Christ. That was a mess."
"That wasn't my fault," Ronan said, almost defensive.
"It wasn't," Adam agreed. They hadn't been that loud, honestly, and Adam couldn't blame him for reacting the way he had to a giant cup of freezing cold Coke spilling over his lap. Things happened, sometimes. "I wish we could've caught the end of the movie, though."
Ronan frowned; his mouth opened, then closed, then opened again. "We."
Adam waited, impatiently, but Ronan didn't finish. "We… what?"
Ronan looked up at the sky, his cheekbones sharp as sunlight washed over him, leaving his eyes shadowed and squinted. "We could go another time. To see the end."
Adam wasn't stupid, but still, just to push, he said, "I doubt Gansey and the others are going to want to see it again."
What he wanted Ronan to say back was I know or Good or I meant us, just us. What Ronan actually said was, "Never mind." He plucked at his jeans where they stuck wetly to his thigh. "Fuck this. I'm going home."
When he was younger, Adam went to a birthday party for one of the neighbor's kids. While he couldn't remember the boy's name, or whether he'd even enjoyed himself, he remembered playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey very clearly, and that was how he felt now: like he'd been blindfolded and turned round and round, disorientation churning his stomach. "What?"
"Home, Parrish," Ronan repeated with an eye roll. "You might be used to having shit spilled on you and going about your business, but—"
Frustrated, Adam snapped, "Could you maybe give me a five minute warning before you revert back to being an asshole from now on?"
Ronan grinned, keeping his calm because he knew Adam wasn't. "I thought I was always an asshole."
"I'm sure that's what you'd like everyone to think."
Ronan glared at him. Adam glared back. The air was thick with the smell of popcorn wafting from the theater and the tension that crackled between the two of them. The tension that, judging from the look on his face, Ronan found easier to handle than anything else that might transpire between them. One step forward, two steps back. It was as though every time Ronan did something nice, he had to be a jerk to cover it up so no one would notice. Every time he allowed himself to be vulnerable, he had to hide it immediately. But Adam noticed.
And he was done playing this game. Officially, completely done. They needed to deal with this now, but not in public. He spotted the BMW parked down the street and started toward it. After a beat, Ronan's footsteps followed him.
They didn't talk on the ride to Monmouth. When they pulled up to the building, Adam got out before Ronan could get the keys from the ignition, and was already up the stairs and jimmying open the door before he heard Ronan slam the door to the car outside.
It always felt like an intrusion, standing in Monmouth while the others were out. Gansey and Ronan's and even Noah's presences were so strong here, always, that it felt like Gansey's ghost was sitting as his desk, watching Adam pensively, wondering if he was going to touch something he wasn't allowed to.
Ronan bumped into him from behind and shouldered his way to his bedroom, undoing his jeans as he went. Adam felt his face get hot but didn't back down, following just a step behind him.
"You gonna watch me change, you pervert?" Ronan wondered, his back to Adam as he dug around in his room for a change of pants.
"You didn't answer me earlier," Adam said, crossing his arms over his chest and leaning in the doorway.
Ronan stepped out of his jeans and chucked them to the other side of the room, where they caught on a lamp, knocked it over, and dragged it into the cluttered mess that was Ronan's floor. "What question?"
It was hard not to notice the way Ronan's boxers billowed around his pale legs, or the faded, hook-shaped scar on his ankle that stretched toward the back of his calf, but Adam didn't come here to ogle him. "I asked you why you bothered. With the notes. With the lotion for my hands. With the popcorn, with— with any of it. And you didn't answer."
Ronan straightened up slowly, still not turning around. He had a pair of jeans clutched in his hands and the back of his neck was red. "It won't happen again, I can promise you that fucking much."
"God, Ronan," Adam groaned. "I'm not pulling out your teeth, I just want you to— Damn it." Adam pushed away from the doorway and moved around Ronan so he had no choice but to look Adam in the eye or admit he was a coward and shy away. "I already know why. I know."
Ronan bunched up the jeans in his hand and said, "I know you do."
That— was not what Adam was expecting him to say. "What?"
"I know you know," Ronan said, carefully enunciating each word, every part of him screaming defiance. "But if I knew you had such a problem with it, I would've stopped. I'm gonna stop. I'm stopping. Consider it done, all right? Over. Finished. Happy?"
"What? No." This conversation was getting so far away from him. "The only thing I want you to stop is this. This crap, where you keep pulling away every time things get serious."
Now it was Ronan's turn to say, "What."
"You keep doing nice things for me, but every time push comes to shove and we might actually get somewhere, you duck out on me. And I'm sick of it."
"I have no idea," Ronan said, very quietly, "what the fuck you are talking about."
"Yes, you do. You like the idea of liking me, but you don't actually like me, do you? That's why you keep spelling it out for me but you won't actually do anything."
"What else do you want me to do, Adam?" Ronan demanded, raising his voice. "I've made it pretty god damn clear already."
Adam found himself taking a step forward, close enough that Ronan's hands, still fisted in the jeans, brushed his chest, knuckles digging in. "Taking notes for me isn't the same as asking me out," he said. "Dreaming me up hand lotion? Not the same as— as—"
Ronan's gaze fell to his mouth, slowly dragging back up to his eyes. "As what?"
Adam shook his head to clear it. "I can't figure out if you're afraid to do it, or if you're just really not as serious about this as you act like you are."
"I'm not afraid," Ronan scoffed, offended.
Ronan licked his lips and said, firmly, "I'm sure."
Adam didn't give himself time to doubt, or question, or let those voices in his head tell him that Ronan couldn't want him, shouldn't want him, that Adam didn't deserve it even if he did, and said, "So do it, then."
Later, Adam would revel in how easy it was to bait Ronan into doing something, simply by doubting that he would, but at that moment he was too busy shivering at the hand on the back of his neck, drawing him in with a surprising gentleness that made his legs feel unsteady. Even with the crackling tension in the air and the dare hanging over them, Ronan's lips were soft and uncertain on his own, despite the way his fingers pressed into the back of Adam's neck. Adam's eyes closed.
Ronan pulled back before it even really started, just as something was beginning to bloom in Adam's stomach, and it felt like losing a limb, having something vital torn away from him.
"Told you I wasn't scared," Ronan said roughly, his hand still on the back of Adam's neck. But he sounded it.
Adam kissed him again, pushing Ronan's hands, still gripping the jeans, away so he could get closer, so he could feel it every time Ronan took a shuddering breath. He wanted to be gentle and careful, too, wanted to cradle Ronan's face in his hands, but he was desperate with the need to get as much of this as he could, greedy, knowing it wasn't going to last long.
With his hands bunched up in the back of Ronan's shirt, he kissed Ronan with everything he had, fitting their mouths together sloppily. He didn't know what he was doing. He had never done this before. If Ronan noticed, or cared, he didn't show it. He slid a hand into Adam's hair and let Adam kiss him until they were both panting.
When Adam broke the kiss to gasp in some much needed air, Ronan pushed closer, leg between Adam's, backing him up toward the bed. Good idea, Adam thought, and he let his weight fall heavily onto the bed, pulling Ronan down with him without a care in the world.
It was hard to be self-conscious when Ronan groaned and let Adam lick the taste of buttery popcorn from his lips, first, and then his tongue, sounding just as desperate as Adam felt. Surely kissing wasn't supposed to be this wet and messy, but Adam liked it far too much to complain. Ronan's hand was under his shirt, blunt nails scraping against the skin of his stomach, and Adam was so entranced with the way their tongues curled together that nothing could've dampened that moment for him.
Ronan's naked thighs, it turned out, felt even better than they looked. Adam ran his hands up and down them, feeling the muscles work as Ronan held himself up, careful not to crush Adam beneath his weight. Not that Adam would've minded, right then. Every time his fingers reached the edge of Ronan's boxers, a dangerous thrill went through him.
All of it was— it was so much of a good thing that Adam wouldn't've believed it was real, only the burning inside of him couldn't come from anything in the world but Ronan Lynch himself, pure, undiluted, real.
Just as he thought that, typically, Ronan broke away, rolling off Adam and onto his back, breathing so heavy you'd think he'd been running a marathon.
Adam's mouth tingled; Ronan's was enticingly red and still glistening from kissing. Why they weren't still kissing was beyond him. They should definitely still be kissing. Adam didn't have a lot of free time, between work and school and Glendower, but he would be making room in that tight schedule to kiss Ronan again and again, even if it killed him.
Eventually, long after Adam's heart had slowed back to normal, the silence in the room grew too heavy to bear. Something had to be said, but Ronan wasn't going to say it, so Adam scrambled for words and wound up asking the question that started nagging at him the moment they stopped kissing. "Why didn't you do that before, then? If you weren't scared to do it, why have you been holding back this whole time?"
Ronan turned his head without lifting it, his glare less than effective with half of his face was squished against the bed. "You're supposed to be smarter than this, you know."
Adam bumped Ronan's ankle with his toes, then settled his leg over Ronan's, both because the bed was too small not to and because he was warm. "Don't deflect."
With a huff, Ronan looked back up at the ceiling and said, "I wasn't."
"Uh, no, you were."
"No, I mean I wasn't— I wasn't holding back, for fuck sake." Ronan threw an arm over his face, covering his eyes. "What do you think all of that shit was, Adam? I've been making moves this entire goddamn time. I wanted it to be on your terms, so I didn't push you into something you very fucking clearly didn't want. I might be an asshole, but I'm not that kind of asshole."
Oh. Oh. All this time, Adam had assumed that Ronan was doing nice things for him simply because he liked him, when, in all actuality, Ronan had been… courting him? Because of course. Of course Ronan couldn't just come out and say it, like a normal person. This was Ronan, for god's sake. He expressed himself through curse words and fists, and since this situation couldn't be handled with either, he'd settled for this tentative, subtle way of saying I'm in this, if you want it that even Adam— only outdone by Gansey, in terms of being able to understand Ronan— hadn't been able to decipher.
And the thing was, Adam did. Adam did want this, and he abruptly understood why Ronan couldn't just come out and say things sometimes, why some emotions were too strong to be expressed with words. There were a million things he wanted to say, a million things he could've said, but the only way to properly sum them up, that he could think of, was to roll over and kiss Ronan again.
It was awkward, with Ronan's arm still thrown over his face. Adam had to tilt his head and hold himself precariously on one shaking arm as he dipped down and fit their mouths together.
At first, Adam thought Ronan was going to push him away. He lowered his arm to grip at Adam's, rougher than he'd been before, but just as Adam was waiting to be shoved away and rejected, Ronan leaned up into the kiss, lashes brushing Adam's cheek as his eyes closed.
After a while Ronan did push him away, but not far. He kept a hand in Adam's shirt, keeping him from leaning back all the way, and ducked his head the slightest bit. "This isn't halfway, you get that? I'm not Declan. If this is just fun for you, or a rebound from Blue, then count me out."
"Jesus, Ronan," Adam snorted, and then kissed him once more.
Until Ronan pulled back again. "Seriously."
"I know that." Adam pointedly raised his eyebrows. "I know you. But if you want to go out with me, you're going to have actually ask, at some point."
"I mean, with words."
"I literally just did."
Burying his head in the crook of Ronan's neck, Adam let out a breathy laugh and wondered what he'd been expecting. "I can't believe I'm signing up for more of this."
Ronan stiffened. "No one's forcing you. If you don't want this, just say so."
"I want this," Adam said. He wanted it more than he ever thought he would've. "Now your turn. Say it."
"Bite me." He was grinning.
"Not exactly what I was looking for."
Ronan kissed him, almost sweetly, and this time Adam understood that he was saying it. In his own way. And Adam found, after a moment of consideration, that he liked Ronan's way of communication just fine, actually.
The next time they went to the movies, Adam paid for half of their drinks and popcorn. When Adam left his hand on the armrest, palm-side up, Ronan grabbed it and held on until the end.