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The Right Way

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After Ronan kissed Adam in his bedroom, Adam kissed Ronan back on the front porch. They never spoke of it to Gansey again. Because Gansey was Gansey, he had a lot of thoughts about this development. His thoughts spawned a number of questions, and the longer his questions went unanswered, the more questions he had. Of course, he also had a lot of thoughts about the mound of unanswered questions he sat on, like the reigning champion of king-of-the-hill.

Adam wished Gansey would butt out.

All of his questions had answers, but it would do him good to learn that there were answers in this world that he wasn’t entitled to. There were two kinds of mysteries, Adam decided, back in his quest to decipher the morality of their search for Glendower. There were mysteries that belonged to no one and could therefore belong to anyone, like what happened to the sleeping king in the foothills of the Blue Ridge. The other kind of mystery belonged to someone, twisted around their spine like a vine, and those kinds couldn’t belong to anyone else. Secrets, according to pessimists. Sanctuaries, according to Adam.

Adam spent a lot of time considering principles of morality. Adam spent a lot of time considering principles of morality. He and Ronan both drew firm moral lines, which sometimes overlapped and sometimes didn’t. The primary difference between them was that Adam considered his morals and Ronan did not. He was born with steel fences around the things he would not allow, and he never bothered inspecting them. For a man whose life strategy seemed to be fuck-around-and-find-out, there were certain things he very much did not fuck around with. Adam’s feelings, for one. He fucked around with Adam in other ways. He poked fun at his hair and his clothes and his money, or lack thereof. But he also fucked around with Adam in the most literal sense, and that didn’t feel much like figurative fucking around at all, and he certainly did not fuck around with his feelings.

What happened after Ronan kissed Adam and Adam kissed Ronan was the second kind of mystery, the kind that was theirs alone.

The problem was that it was a mystery they hadn’t yet plucked apart and solved. They grazed its curious edges with cautious fingers and watched it from afar, but they both worried that opening it might damage it irreparably, like a puzzle that can only be solved once. Gansey was better at solving mysteries than they were. Adam supposed he was nervous if Gansey sorted it out quicker than they could, he might stumble upon something they would rather not know. Maybe Gansey would pick them apart and decide this wouldn’t work at all.

Ronan didn’t say he was scared because Ronan never said he was scared, but he undoubtedly was. Sometimes when Adam looked at him too long, his hands started to shake. He folded them together and shook them out, but Adam always noticed. When he came to the Barns in the afternoons after work and the hour hand on the grandfather clock in the kitchen crested the 12, Ronan’s knee began to jitter, even as he asked Adam not to go just yet.

They went slow.

The night Ronan kissed Adam and Adam kissed Ronan, Adam draped across him on the couch and traced the lines of his tattoo. He touched the parts of him that he already knew until he was tempted to touch the parts of him that he didn’t know—that he had never seen—and then he went home. That night, he dreamt of things he didn’t know. He dreamt of the pale sliver of skin just under the low-slung waist of Ronan’s dark jeans and the soft insides of his thighs. He dreamt of the pink behind his teeth.

Adam began another night, just weeks later, kissing Ronan sweetly and ended it panting against his mouth, fingers pressing into the canyons between his ribs. Ronan didn’t ask for more. He never asked for more, but sometimes he twisted his fingers into Adam’s clothes and took a long, aching moment to let go of him.

Once, Adam slipped over Ronan’s hips in the BMW to kiss him the right way, and Ronan exhaled like he was just learning how to breathe.

Adam wondered, late that same night, how long the longest was that he ever went without touch. He suspected that period of time—however many months it was—must have been bracketed on either end by a backhand to his cheek and his arm twisted too hard, punishments for unknown offenses. His father’s abuses were distributed both cruelly and arbitrarily, and his mother never soothed a purpling bruise with so much as a kind word. Never had he ever been touched so kindly as Ronan touched him.

He was wrong to think of Ronan as a knife’s edge. It was a starkly human thing, to touch an unbreakable man like he could shatter.

Adam wanted Ronan all the time.

It was an urge he had never known before, neither in frequency nor in magnitude. He couldn’t quite articulate it. He ached for Ronan’s touch, in all its forms. When Adam and Gansey had dinner at the Barns, Ronan stood behind Adam where he sat at the kitchen table and rested his hands casually on his shoulders while he spoke to Gansey, squeezing them to emphasize a point. His thumb and forefinger joined and released like a spring to flick him between the eyes when he wasn’t paying attention. His broad hands spread over his thighs. Adam daydreamed of Ronan’s mouth, and all the places it thought to travel. Sometimes he ached for Ronan’s touch so much that he wished he would just lay on top of him until he couldn’t breathe, and sometimes not even that was enough. Sometimes he wanted to touch Ronan so badly that he wished he could crawl inside his body and touch him on every axis, to tangle into him until they were one body rather than two. It was both an impossible ache and the most human one he had ever felt.

Ronan’s fuck-around-and-find-out philosophy had no place here, because when Adam wanted him so bad he could feel it in his thoracic cavity, Ronan only opened his arms wider.

Ronan touched him all the time. He let Adam hesitate. He wasn’t angry for what he didn’t do but was happy for what he did. He let Adam set the pace. He hesitated too, sometimes.

Once, on a Saturday Adam had off from work, he slept at the Barns and spent the following morning following Ronan through the fields while he did the barn chores. In Virginia, winters were very cold and summers were very hot, but sometimes in the early and late weeks of winter, the odd warm day slipped through, and between snowfalls, they dug their shorts out of summer storage and remarked all day long, Can you believe this weather? That was one of those days. It was warm enough that Ronan had stripped his shirt off and slung it over a fencepost. Adam stopped at the far end of the barn to watch. That morning, he pulled Ronan after him into the haystacks, fumbled open the fly of his pants, and blew him there in the barn.

That was the farthest they had dared venture, and that was three weeks ago. He couldn’t stop thinking about it. He scored a 92 on an exam in biology, the lowest he had made all year, and he knew it was the memory of Ronan’s almost-silent gasps to blame.

They both knew the time had come, one Sunday late morning. Adam slept in Ronan’s arms that night, as he did more often than before, their knees knocking together and Ronan’s warm hand over his heart. He felt like a thief, sprinting out of the supermarket with something he hadn’t paid for, his blood rushing and his mind racing because he had it all, but he wasn’t certain that he was allowed at all. Were they allowed to do this? Were they allowed to be this? But this was Ronan’s home. There was no one in the world who could come to the door, not in this weather. The downpour of unforecasted rain pounded against the windows and kept Ronan from mass. This was Ronan’s home, and Ronan was Adam’s.

There were barn chores to be done and textbooks to mind, but they inevitably returned to each other when the rain came down harder and forced Ronan back inside. Adam kissed his throat, then his sternum. Ronan’s fingers closed over the back of his neck. He breathed unsteadily. For all his cursing and breaking and setting-on-fire, Ronan was an entity closer to a virgin martyr in white than a sinner, and something about kissing him like this felt rather like corrupting him.

Adam wasn’t scared of being cut by Ronan’s sharp edges; he had thicker skin than that. He also wasn’t afraid of being mocked by him; his sense of self was stronger than that. What broke him down were Ronan’s kind words and his soft touches. That was the part he didn’t know how to anticipate.

When he touched him, Ronan swore low in a way that made him a little dizzy. He has spent his whole life wanting things, and that particular ache came to a climax when Ronan pressed the heels of his hands into Adam’s chest. Adam tried to undo Ronan’s belt with an urgency he had never known before, his hands shaking like they did. He didn’t like people to know how he worried, but he didn’t mind if Ronan saw. Ronan pushed his hands kindly out of the way and undid his belt, then Adam’s too.

It was awkward in that way a first time had to be. Adam supposed that, if it wasn’t awkward, it would mean less. Perhaps in this way, they could be something other than an orphan and a CPS case, something other than a dreamer and a psychic, something other than Gansey’s guard dog and his mechanic, something other than horror movie twins.

They were nothing but what they were to each other.

By instinct, Adam didn’t look at Ronan’s body when he stripped his clothes away. It occured only a half of a moment later that he was allowed, upon which time he looked him over, his own skin burning at the sight. Ronan was beautiful. He was too beautiful to be touched by someone like Adam. He thought of Aladdin’s dirty hands on Jasmine’s beautiful figure; but then, children considered Aladdin a hero.

He touched Ronan like there would be no consequences for his actions. He wasn’t yet sure of that fact, but he held him like he was. Ronan deserved to be touched by someone who seemed sure.

It was a gift, Adam realized just then, for his first time to be someone who loved him like that. Ronan looked at him like a kid looked at him like a skyful of stars—like he was limitless—like he could do this all wrong and still get another chance, and Ronan wouldn’t think less of him for it. Adam didn’t receive gifts like that. Other people did, but not Adam Parrish.

Adam stroked the inside of his wrist with his thumb. Ronan’s breath snagged, and they both pretended it didn’t. In answer to a question asked silently, Adam took both of his wrists in his hands and slipped overtop of him on the cool summer linen, dried just hours ago out on a line.

Ronan’s hands traced his lines, learning to follow the dip of his waist, the ridge of his hip, and his awkward, bony knees like he learned to follow the twisting roads from Nino’s to the Barns, putting his foot to the floor on the straightaways and bringing the car back under control just as quickly, gliding around hairpin turns, hand resting on the clutch.

They were familiar with one another in that way that only young lovers could be. They knew one another beyond just their bodies; they had taken the time for the foundations. Adam trusted Ronan without exception.

Adam leaned back on his heels, over Ronan’s bare thighs.

He was heavy and soft in his hand. He suspected Ronan did this part slowly. Ronan did most things quickly, but probably not this. Ronan had a strong hedonistic streak, and the hedonist would make this last as long as possible. Adam imagined Ronan touching himself in the dead of night, slowly, basking in the white-hot pleasure of his own touch. Adam always took care of himself quickly and efficiently. It was nothing but a need addressed, the same as eating when he was hungry. He didn’t think of anything when he did it except making the need go away. Ronan liked when he went slow. His hand closed around Adam’s, teaching him how he liked it, then falling away and leaving him to it.

“This isn’t fair,” Ronan mumbled.

Adam startled. “Huh?”

He snorted. “Why’re you wearing clothes, Parrish?”

He undressed, intimately aware of the light flooding in through the windows, even in the rain. This wasn’t a hushed, covert undressing in the shadows behind the barn, shedding away only the layers immediately necessary to soothe the slow-burning flame that burned under their skin had, in recent weeks, become something more akin to a wildfire.

Ronan stilled underneath him. He didn’t say anything, but the teasing glint disappeared from his eye—an ever-present quality Adam didn’t realize was always there until it was gone. This was the most serious Adam had ever seen him. Ronan’s grip tightened, his thumbs digging spectacularly into his hipbones.

Adam steepled his fingers against his stomach.

“I’ve um—” Ronan blushed. Adam had never seen anything like it. “You know I’ve never—”

“Yeah, I know.”

Adam wondered afterward, lightheaded and loose-limbed, if it meant anything that Ronan took his virginity. He didn’t think about his virginity often—he didn’t have time for things so abstract as that—but Ronan was Catholic, and the Catholics practically invented virginity.

He thought passingly that he wished he had slept with a girl before he met Ronan so he could classify himself as a practicing bisexual rather than only a theoretical one. He knew from Blue’s lectures about sexual identity that there was no difference between the two, but it might have been nice to check it off the bucketlist, since he wouldn’t be doing that now.

He laughed at the thought, then stopped laughing when he realized its magnitude.

He wouldn’t be doing that now because now that he had Ronan, he didn’t want anyone else. Adam, who was so cautious not to commit to anything or promise himself to anyone, hadn’t made that particular promise aloud to Ronan but rather silently to himself. He was uncertain about many things but certain about himself. And, as it turned out, he was certain about Ronan too. He knew all the way down to his bones that Ronan was twisted around him in some irreversible way.

The thought that he would never sleep with a girl was the simplest concession to make. He couldn’t imagine anyone—no man or woman—would ever be enough after Ronan. He wondered what it said about him that the only person on earth who was enough for him was half a dream.

Afterward, Ronan was quiet, both arms wound around him and his head on his chest. Adam was accustomed to Ronan filling silences with insults and rude things. It was a fact of nature. Crickets chirp, cicadas sing, and Ronan Lynch swears. He long ago learned to handle his loudness, but this quiet was an unfamiliar thing.

He scratched the back of Ronan’s head gently. He would need a haircut soon.

“It’s really coming down out there,” he whispered.

Ronan ducked his forehead to Adam’s sternum like a man in prayer. “Do you think it will always be this way?”

Adam had turned on the radio on his way back into the bedroom from the bathroom. The muffled, staticking voices were barely audible over the rain that fell upon Virginia farmland just outside the windows. Rain turned cities gray but mountains green, the drenched oak leaves going deep emerald rather than dusty. Adam tried to imagine growing up this way but couldn’t. He wondered if afternoons like these, lazy and simple, were what forged Ronan’s character of steel. He imagined he might have become a different man if he were raised somewhere like this, in red-clay rather than graveled dirt.

It smelled like Ronan when it rained. The first time he hugged him, the first time he pressed his cheek against the cool cotton of his black sweatshirt, he thought Ronan smelled like rain, but he had been wrong. It was the rain that fell from the sky that imitated Ronan Lynch, not the other way around.

“I suppose it’ll stop raining,” Adam told him.

It wasn’t what Ronan meant, but that was alright.

He couldn’t quite see the sky from the windows. There were too many trees.

Adam still felt uneasy around this version of Ronan. This version of Ronan was perfectly comfortable in his skin. He sprawled across Adam whenever he could reach him and touched him in the same places over and over again. This version of Ronan knew him, and Adam had never known how to be known.

Adam skimmed his fingertips over Ronan’s bicep. His tattoo had grown since he started seeing an artist in DC every few weeks. He wanted a full sleeve down his left arm because he thought it would look cool. Declan didn’t like it. Ronan liked when things made Declan angry, but it also seemed to Adam that Declan was angered by all the things Ronan liked. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Black ink curled away from the tattoo that covered his back and slipped a two-thirds of the way to his elbow. Adam liked it. He liked Ronan with tattoos because he thought tattoos were attractive, but he also liked his tattoos because he found everything about Ronan attractive. Did he like the tattoos because he liked tattoos, or did he like them because Ronan chose them?

“Do you think we’ll argue?”

They hadn’t, yet.

This seemed to perplex Gansey, like it was a piece of the puzzle he hadn’t anticipated.

“Yes. Have you met yourself?” Adam teased. “Give it time.”

Ronan could win an argument with a wooden chair if he found himself so motivated. Ronan Lynch was a spectacular arguer because he was seemingly unconstrained by things so simple as facts and reason. Ronan could make impossible things possible; he could make something out of nothing. Not even death was always a permanent condition to him. He was thus operated with an entirely different set of variables. Sometimes Ronan liked to take bites out of people just for fun.

What Adam hadn’t expected from his answer was the way Ronan looked up at him, chin resting on his chest. His thick, dark eyelashes grazed his eyelids.

“Will you leave when we do?”

“Not unless you give me a good reason,” Adam said.

What he meant was that he knew Ronan. In the months since Ronan kissed Adam and Adam kissed Ronan, he learned all of his edges and corners. He knew his good qualities and he knew his bad ones too, and despite what people thought of Ronan, he suspected Ronan didn’t have the capacity to hurt him intentionally. Adam had been hurt intentionally too many times not to understand the difference. Ronan was a rose with all its thorns, and if you grabbed him with a harsh, bare hand, he would draw blood. But if you held him carefully, with your finger and thumb in between thorns, he was spring in all its harshest beauty. People got hurt by Ronan because they didn’t know how to hold him, not because he wanted to hurt them.

Adam would leave Ronan if he gave him a good reason, but he couldn’t imagine that.

They hadn’t talked about it yet because Adam wasn’t very good at talking about things, but he no longer thought of leaving Henrietta as a permanent situation. For a long time, home for Adam was anywhere but here, but in these recent months, home had begun to feel rather like a blue-eyed boy with calloused hands and dreams that were quite literally larger than life. Now that he knew he could leave, he didn’t want to.

Ronan kissed his temple and tangled his fingers with Adam’s, because he always did know how to hear what Adam couldn’t say.