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creeping in the streetlight

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“Oh, so you’re alive.”

It takes a moment for the words to filter, for them to gain significance, but Ronan knows immediately that it’s Adam who speaks them. Adam’s Henrietta honey voice, twisted into the clipped and contemptuous tone he uses so often when speaking to Ronan. 

“What the hell, Lynch,” he says. “Answer your damn phone, for once.” 

Ronan manages to crack his eyes open but everything is distorted, blurry at the edges. He blinks, and blinks, and lifts up his arm, heavy like led, to swipe at them. He can’t feel his face. He croaks, “Adam?” 

“Man, you must be drunk.” He sighs. “You never call me that.” 

Humiliation and nausea churn in Ronan’s gut. Gansey, at least, has found him like this before. Never Adam. He never wanted it to be Adam. 

He’s faded and hollow-cheeked in the room’s overhead light—dark circles like bruises under each eye. He crouches in front of Ronan, eying him with cold, disdainful judgment. 

Ronan pushes his cheek into the cool porcelain of the bathtub and then heaves himself slightly more upright, his arm getting tangled in the shower curtain. He tries to give his voice some bite, but he can’t quite manage it. The words come out lazy and slurred. “What’re you doing here?” 

Adam grabs the whiskey bottle from the floor between his thighs in a light, two-fingered grip and holds it away from himself like it’s diseased. He stands up fluidly, and sets the bottle on the counter. He says, “Gansey called me.”

Gansey, who is in D.C., too many hours away to scold Ronan himself. Ronan rolls his eyes and it makes the room tip to the side. “To check up on me?”

Adam’s lip curls. With some force, he says, “To make sure you weren’t dead.”

“Well, unfortunately I’m not fucking dead, so you can tell Gansey that and get out.” 

Something inside of Ronan recognizes that he would, in some other situation, some other time, be willing to do anything to provoke this kind of intensity in Adam Parrish. To break that cold ice and pull out the fire Ronan knows is blazing inside of it all. He had never cared if it burned him, just that he could feel its heat. 

Now, Ronan can only watch, as if from the outside, with a kind of detached appreciation for what it might have made him feel, if he could feel fucking anything at all. 

Adam spits out, “You know, I don’t have to be here. I don’t want to be here. Would it kill you to be—human—for once?”

“It might.” Most days Ronan isn’t certain he’s human at all. 

Adam takes a deep breath and shuts his eyes. When he opens them, he’s got a paper-thin layer of icy control covering him. He walks over to Ronan and grabs his arm. “Get up, I don’t have time for this tonight, Lynch.”

Ronan doesn’t know why he obeys. Something about the touch, maybe—the surprising gentleness of it, the heat and the scratchiness of his dry skin. He wants to question it—why does he have to get up? What’s the point? But he plants his feet and tries to push himself off the floor anyway. 

He can’t do it. His body is sluggish and clumsy, operating on a delay. Even with Adam’s help, it takes him a long time to stand on wobbly legs. 

Time blinks away. He’s in his room with no memory of getting there. It’s dark, but streetlight spills through the windows enough to see by. He staggers to his bed and collapses onto it. The room spins. For a moment, he puts his head between his knees. 

When he looks back up, Adam is still just standing there. There’s something in his face that Ronan doesn’t understand.

Ronan says, “I said you can go.” 

Adam leans against Ronan’s dresser, his ass pushing clutter out of the way “I don’t think Gansey would be very happy with me if I left you here to choke on your own puke.”

“Is that the only reason you’re here?”

“No.”

“Why then?”

Adam just stares, his face pinched. He only looks away when Chainsaw flaps noisily into the room and he startles at the sudden movement. Ronan can’t even bring himself to laugh at him. 

Chainsaw lands on Ronan’s knee. He reaches a finger out to see whether she’s feeling bitey or in the mood to be petted. She lets him give her scritches her under her beak. 

Adam says, “I should call him. Where’s your phone?”

“Fuck if I know.”

Adam clicks his tongue. “Of course.” 

He flips on the light and Ronan has to shield his eyes until he gets used to it. Adam searches Ronan’s room. Normally, this would bother him, but right now he doesn’t know why. He doesn’t have anything to hide from Adam anymore. Not any of them. But it’s still strange, watching Adam rifle through his belongings. 

He takes his time with it, examining everything like he’s going to be pop-quizzed on it later. Chainsaw is attracted by all the rustling, and she joins him in his search until she finds something she likes and flies over to her perch with her newfound treasure. 

Adam finds the phone tucked between the pages of a science textbook that Ronan knows is only printed with one phrase over, and over, and over: nitimur in vetitum. Adam says, “Fuck, is that Ovid?”

Ronan grunts in acknowledgement. Adam flips through the pages. His back is turned to Ronan, so he can’t see his face. He doesn’t know what he’s thinking, but he must know it’s a dreamthing. Or maybe something like that would only be obvious to someone like Ronan. 

Adam gets into his phone easily. It’s not password protected. He puts it to his ear. He says, “Hey. Yeah, he’s fine. Wasted, but fine. Of course. I know. Yeah. Bye, Gansey.” 

He hangs up, sets the phone down face-down on Ronan’s nightstand and then sits on the bed next to him. Ronan’s heart kicks up into his throat. 

Adam says, “Do you wanna sleep?”

Ronan swallows his heart. The last thing he dreamt of was Gansey’s corpse in his driveway, puffy with swollen red lumps, a swarm of bees like a tornado around it. 

Ronan shakes his head. “You?”

Adam closes his eyes and tilts his head back. “Always.” 

“Shit. You must’ve been asleep when Gansey called you.”

“It’s two in the morning, Lynch. Yes, I was asleep.”

Ronan says, “Fuck,” like an apology.

Adam breathes deep, in and out. “Why do you do this?” The words shoot out of him, like he has them queued up, like he’s been wanting to ask this all night.

“Because I’m a fuck up?” It isn’t something he’d ever said out loud before. It’s something Declan has said to him a hundred times. It’s something he’s thought to himself a thousand times. But the real reason is, “It makes things… easier.” 

“What things?” 

The dreaming, for one. His shitty life, for two. His dead father. His comatose mother. A brother who hates him. A mind that hates him more. No home. No family. An inconvenience to Gansey, and now Adam. A threat to everyone he cares about. Inhuman. Broken. 

“Everything.” 

Very softly, Adam asks, “Does it?”

It does. It also doesn’t. He settles on, “Sometimes.” 

He doesn’t realize he’s been rubbing the scars on his wrists until Adam tugs his hand away. He holds Ronan’s forearm upright and feels the pucker of ruined skin with his thumb. Ronan shivers. 

Adam says, “Do you still think about—” He pauses, chewing on the side of his mouth, like he’s trying to choose his words carefully. 

Ronan takes pity on him. “Dying?”

“Yeah.”

Ronan doesn’t tend to think of himself as suicidal, no matter what the doctors say. It feels disingenuous. He hadn’t done it on purpose, not really. He isn’t like other people. He didn’t get to make that choice. But he knows one thing for sure. He does think about dying. 

“All the fucking time.” 

Adam drops his hand. Ronan snatches it back out of reach. He rubs his wrist into the denim on his thighs to wipe away the sense memory of his touch. 

Adam says, “I don’t understand. Why would you want—”

“What’s not to get, Parrish? Pretty self explanatory.”

“No, it’s not.” He lets out a harsh breath. “I spent so much of my life just trying to survive. And to see you try to—I don’t know why you would be willing to give up everything you have instead of just making it better.” 

Some other time, maybe, this might have stoked the rage that is a perpetual burn just under Ronan’s skin, just looking for an excuse to destroy. But the words glance off of him. He’s too tired, too blunted, too empty for a fight. He just wants him to understand, but grief is something that Adam, more than likely, does not understand. He’s never had anything, or anyone, to lose, so how could he? 

Ronan struggles to explain things at the best of times, and this is not the best of times. His brain isn’t working right. His tongue isn’t working right. He says, “Because it doesn’t fucking matter if shit gets better. I’m never going to get it back. I’m never going to get —them— back. So who the fuck cares?” There’s something stricken in Adam’s fine-boned, delicate face. “ You got out. I’m fucking glad you did, but it’s never gonna be like that for me. I can’t get out.” 

Adam will have to carry his own past with him for the rest of his life—the pain and fear he endured for so long. But he has one thing that Ronan doesn’t have: A future. A bright and shining one. Ivy league education, a well-paying, respectable job. Someday, a wife. A family of his own. A picture-perfect life. When Ronan thinks about his own future, everything is blank. It’s easy to imagine that it’s always going to be like this, exactly how it is right now. 

He knows that there is only one real escape. 

Adam’s brow is deeply furrowed. Ronan wants to press his thumb to the space between his eyes, to smooth it out, so he does. The skin under his thumb, if anything, furrows impossibly further, but he doesn’t jerk away. Ronan says, “What’s the face for?”

Adam shakes his head, dislodging Ronan’s hand. “I don’t know what to say.”

Ronan rolls his eyes again, and it makes him dizzy, again. “You don’t have to fucking say anything.”

Adam’s shoulder leans into his, a solid patch of heat soaking deep into his bones. 

Ronan doesn’t know what to say, either. He doesn’t know how to say that he’s sorry. He doesn’t know how to thank him for being here without embarrassing them both. He says, “I know you don’t like it. The drinking.”

“No, I don’t. But it’s fine.”

“Fuck off.”

“I’m not tryna judge you, Ronan.” 

“You should,” Ronan insists. “I deserve it.”

“For what?”

Ronan leans back on his hands so they aren’t touching anymore. “Fucking name it. For being a shitty friend. For making you get up in the middle of the night when you never fucking sleep to begin with. For just being a fucking piece of shit in general. Whatever. I know what you think about me.”

Adam raises one fair eyebrow. “No, you don’t.” 

“You hate me,” Ronan challenges. 

“No, I don’t.” 

“You do.” 

“No.” 

Ronan scoffs. “I don’t believe you. You’re a liar.” 

Adam throws up his hands in exasperation. “If I hated you, would I be here?” 

“Yeah. Because Gansey asked you to.” 

“I don’t like Gansey enough to put up with all your shit just for his sake.” Adam’s mouth quirks up at one side, but it’s half-hearted. Not rooted in amusement so much as trying to make light in a conversation that had gotten too heavy. 

Ronan doesn’t take the bait. It’s a lie, and a bad one. “Yes, you do.” 

“Fine, I do, but I also.” A burst of air falls from Adam’s mouth. He scrubs a hand across his faintly stubbled jaw. He doesn’t say anything else.

Ronan prompts, “What?” 

Adam meets his eyes, his gaze steely and serious. “I don’t hate you, okay? Ronan, you’re my friend. That’s why I’m here. That’s it.” 

Ronan’s lungs are tight and swollen in his chest. His eyes sting. He has to look away, to breathe, to get ahold of himself. He says, “Fucking weird friendship.”

Adam laughs an airy little laugh. His shoulders sag in relief. “Yeah.”

Adam slides off the mattress onto the floor. He pushes his back up against the nightstand. “Lie down,” He says. “Get some sleep.” 

Ronan stares, confused. He realizes Adam means to stay there while Ronan sleeps, which is fucking weird. He says, “What the hell are you doing? Go home.” 

“I told you I can’t leave you like this, Lynch. I’m not that big an asshole.” 

Ronan prickles a little at the idea of being babysat. But it’s different when the babysitter is Adam, for reasons he doesn’t care to look at too closely. He flops back into his messy nest of blankets and pillows and tangled sheets. “At least go sleep in Gansey’s bed or something, fuck.” 

Adam huffs. He gets up off the floor and his back cracks. He says, “Fine. Keep the door open.” 

“No,” Ronan says, but his eyes are already shut. It’s dangerous, he knows, to attempt sleep without a shield between him and everyone else. But right now he knows he won’t need it.

The lights go out. He doesn’t hear the door close, just the soft sound of Adam’s footsteps and the creak of Gansey’s bed when he lies in it, so very close. It’s almost like Gansey is here after all, just a room away. But since it’s Adam, his awareness of his presence is heightened. There’s something about the idea of him being here, watching over him like a guardian angel. He likes it more than he should. 

When Ronan sleeps, he dreams of Adam’s boyish hands, his dusty hair, his furrowed brow—alive, alive, alive.