Gansey would really like his life to be simple. There’s no reason it shouldn’t be. All he has to do is graduate from Aglionby, find a dead Welsh king, and figure out a way to be with Blue Sargent that doesn’t end with him dead, or Adam hating him. Or both. Adam is entirely capable of holding a grudge in the afterlife. It could all be very simple if everyone just did what they were supposed to do and nobody stole his car, or beat anyone up, or went off and awakened ley lines without telling anyone or jumped through walls on mythical creatures or – and he feels like he really can't emphasize this enough – stole his car.
Sometimes it's very tiring being Gansey.
But sometimes it's Saturday and no one has to work, and his best friends are all gathered in Monmouth Manufacturing, poring over maps and trying to figure out how to find the artifact Adam needs. Then it's definitely worth being Gansey.
"Parrish, these coordinates make no fucking sense," Ronan grumbles.
"Yes they do," Blue says. "Someone wasn't a Boy Scout."
“He was, actually,” Gansey says from the other side of the table, carefully tracing a line along the map of Cabeswater they’ve overlaid on a topographic map. “I’ve seen pictures. There was a uniform.”
“Oh my god,” Blue says. “I bet you had so many badges.”
"But you failed land navigation," Adam adds, looking over at Ronan's messy corner of the map. "What are you even doing?"
“Drawing a picture of all of you shutting the fuck up,” Ronan says, but his voice lacks most of the snap it would have had even three months ago.
Blue reaches across Gansey for another slice of pizza and the perfect line he’s been drawing suddenly jerks a little to the east. He erases it gently, trying not to take any of the overlay with it, and she retreats back to her side of the map, sweeping away crumbs. Noah, sitting in between Ronan and Blue, is the only one who notices, but he only stares at Gansey and says nothing.
“All right,” Adam says three slices of pizza later, standing up and surveying the map. “I think this is as close as we’re going to get.”
“Yeah?” Gansey says. He has no idea if Adam is right, but they’ve made a rough path that should take them to the coordinates Cabeswater gave to Adam the night before. Mapping a dream isn’t an exact science, and he really likes exact sciences.
Adam, who still isn’t even certain what Cabeswater wants him to find, says they’ll need a lot of digging equipment, so they haul Gansey’s dirty, well-used collection out to the Pig. He and Ronan spent most of the morning tracking down all the tools, which were scattered everywhere due to someone’s habit of setting things down and forgetting about them, and someone else’s habit of using whatever is closest to him in various indoor sporting events. It’s all loaded and Blue and Noah are waiting in the Pig when Gansey realizes his bag, with his journal in it, is still inside along with Ronan and Adam, who are taking their sweet time.
He’s all the way up the stairs and has a hand on the strap of his bag when he hears Ronan murmur, “Stop feeling me up, Parrish. I don’t get off on public sex like you do.”
Surely, Gansey thinks, he’s misheard something. Or he’s missed an inside joke. That’s been happening a lot recently, the two of them giving each other thin, exclusionary smiles. He’s minded a little but it means they’re getting along, and he likes it when they get along. He leans forward to look around the corner. Adam is standing, gathering papers, and Ronan is still sprawled in the chair beside him, arms crossed over his chest and not doing a damn thing. Adam and Ronan, same as always.
“Oh yeah? Whose hand has been between my legs for the last hour, Noah’s?” Adam asks, and the tone is as slyly sarcastic as Gansey expects but the words are very much outside his Adam Parrish lexicon.
“I don’t know, do you have freezer burn on your dick?” Ronan asks, and before Gansey’s astonished eyes, he untucks his arms from his chest, turns in his chair, and runs a hand up the inside of Adam’s leg. It’s a familiar, possessive touch, not sexual but undeniably the gesture of someone allowed frequent access to this body.
Until fifteen seconds ago if anyone had asked Gansey what would happen if they touched the inside of Adam Parrish’s thigh, he’d have directed them to the nearest emergency room. But Adam faces Ronan, relaxing against him in a way that’s obvious only if you know, as Gansey knows, how self-contained Adam is. His voice is low and thick, accent heavy. “We could take your car, tell everyone we have to stop and get gas. Catch up to them later.”
Ronan’s hand tightens on Adam’s leg and Adam leans into him a little more. “Hmm,” he says. Gansey doesn’t know how he’s not agreeing instantly when Adam looks like – god, Gansey thinks, he looks like he’s going to kneel down and eat Ronan alive. “Not now,” Ronan says. “I have plans for you tonight.”
Adam pushes at his shoulder, not with any real intent, and runs his fingertips over Ronan’s hair. “Fine, shitbag,” he says. “Don’t make Gansey wait, then. He’s gonna give you Ganseyface.”
Gansey can’t see exactly what Ronan does to him, but he can see how it makes Adam react: pleasure and surprise in the startled jerk of his breath, mouth parting, his hands flying up to clutch Ronan’s broad shoulders stiffly before his fingers curl into Ronan’s shirt like a cat stretching. Gansey has never seen him happy, he realizes. It’s not really something Adam seems to be striving for. None of them are – happiness isn’t anywhere on Gansey’s list of goals. And in any case, he wouldn’t say Adam looks ecstatic, but at the moment he looks pleased, both with himself and with Ronan. He almost looked like that sometimes when he held hands with Blue, which Gansey can understand, but Ronan – no, he loves Ronan but he can’t understand feeling like that about him. Not Ronan, who's put more effort into being miserable this last year than he will ever put into a job, and whose idea of a good time is making things break loudly.
And yet here he is making Adam Parrish smile down at him with the languid arrogance of someone who feels good and knows he’s going to feel even better at some point in the near future. Ronan grabs one of Adam’s hands and kisses the knuckles, then bites them, not very gently judging by the way Adam hisses in pain even as he stares down at Ronan’s mouth with what Gansey can only call dumb lust.
“I’m not going out there like this,” Adam says, sounding amused but breathless. “You can pick everything up and take it out to the car.”
“They’ve all seen boners before,” Ronan says, but he gets up and gathers the maps and books anyway, placing them with uncharacteristic gentleness into the box. Adam, his back to Ronan and almost fully facing Gansey now, grimaces a little while he adjusts himself. Ronan begins to whistle the Murder Squash song jauntily and Adam raises his eyes to the ceiling of Monmouth Manufacturing, smiling with a startling amount of affection. Is this what’s underneath Adam’s still, quiet face? Not for the first time, Gansey wonders why he ever thinks he knows these people.
“Instant boner-killer, Lynch,” Adam says.
“See? I’m helpful as shit,” Ronan says, and Gansey realizes both of them are about to start moving toward him and panics a little, backing up and almost tripping over a pile of books he left by the stairs. His arms pinwheel for a second before he rights himself and then stomps around noisily, pulling his bag over his shoulder and pretending he’s just come in when they round the corner.
“What’s taking so long?” he asks, frowning.
“Ganseyface,” Ronan says instantly.
“It’s not a drinking game,” Adam says.
“Should be.” Ronan shoulders past him.
“I don’t nickname your weird habits,” Gansey grumbles, trying to regain his footing in this new and strange world he’s been thrown into. He wants to sit and think this over, analyze what it means to the two of them and what it means to himself, but they have work to do, and without even intending to he does what he always does and shoves the entire thing into its own part of his mind to deal with later when he’s supposed to be sleeping.
“My weird habits aren’t as nerdy as yours,” Ronan says as they file outside.
“Oh, really? Let me count the ways,” Blue says, and they spend the first twenty minutes of their drive listing Ronan’s habits, nerdy and otherwise.
How could he ever have thought he was over finding artifacts?
"We did something right," Adam says when they’ve laid it out on the table in Monmouth Manufacturing. "You heard Cabeswater – we almost got there."
The sword, which they found in three pieces exactly where Adam said they would find it, is blunt and utilitarian, and yet elegant in a way that keeps catching him by surprise, as if there’s something else surrounding it that he can only see out of the corner of his eye. There are grooves in the hilt meant for fingers, and none of them were particularly surprised to discover it fit Gansey’s hand perfectly. They all tried it anyway, but when Gansey picked it up at last, for a long moment the three broken pieces seemed to fuse together into one brilliant shining weapon, as sharp and hot as if it had just been hammered into shape. It fell apart again almost immediately and nothing they did could put it back together, no matter how long Ronan argued with Cabeswater.
“Back to the books,” Gansey sighs.
“Nope,” Ronan says. His version of research is having Gansey read aloud to him at three in the morning and telling him which things seem stupid and which don’t. But when Gansey pulls out a few books about weaponry and hands them to Adam, Ronan joins him on the couch.
Blue and Noah sit back-to-back, cross-legged, on Gansey’s bed, and he sprawls out on his stomach beside them as unselfconsciously as he can. Noah, like Ronan, has a limited capacity for research and most of the time sits staring off into space before abruptly telling Gansey which book he should look in. He kicks Gansey's leg companionably to the beat of what is probably the Murder Squash song. Monmouth Manufacturing is quiet for a while save the sound of pages turning, Adam murmuring, and Ronan’s occasional, “That’s from the sixteenth century, Parrish. Move on.”
“Huh!” Blue gasps after nearly half an hour has gone by. Noah has disappeared, leaving her flailing for a second before she uses Gansey’s back as ballast to push herself upright again. And with that, they’re alone.
On the bed.
It’s not exactly a seductive environment, he thinks. Adam and Ronan are not even twenty feet away, and there are few things less erotic than a messy bed in the middle of an old warehouse. And yet.
Blue's bare toes brush the side of his arm and his breath catches at the rush of goose bumps that rise on his arms and legs. His hair feels like it’s standing on end. And yet, indeed.
With great care, he reaches over and slowly slides one finger down the top of her foot and strokes her second toe. Not that ticklish, he notes, or she’d probably have kicked him in the face. It feels more than dangerous, doing this. It’s just her foot, but he knows two things: first, it’s not just her foot, and second, what he’s doing feels good. She doesn’t move, but her breath speeds up. It’s all he can hear suddenly, like he’s wearing headphones and they’re plugged directly into her. The rest – the building, the books, Ronan and Adam – has receded into another world. He’s getting hard – no, he’s already hard, and feels exasperated with himself and this entire Victorian situation. The fine, small bones of Blue’s ankle make him want to put his mouth right there and no amount of exasperation in the world could stop him from shivering. He has to lift his hips up a little to adjust and hopes Blue doesn’t notice, and then when he settles back against the bed it feels…exasperating.
He doesn’t let himself think about this very often. No, that’s a lie. He thinks about it all the time but keeps it strictly in the part of his brain allotted to things he can’t have. Someday, of course, when he’s reached the end of this road, he’ll give himself over to everything he really wants, but until then he simply can’t afford to dwell.
Except when he does. Sex – romance in general but particularly sex – is, like happiness, not high on Gansey’s hierarchy of needs. Whatever you want to call his interest in Glendower (he likes to call it a passion; his mother prefers to think of it as a charming hobby and Helen prefers to tell him he needs therapy), it isn’t something that leaves a lot of room for anything else. He’s so close to getting what he wants that it’s a constant ache in his fingertips. He’s suddenly started dreaming about finding Glendower the way he used to dream about getting a toy he wanted when he was little: the bright joy of finding the exact thing he was so desperately focused on before the realization that it wasn’t quite right, or that he couldn’t play with it, or that it kept being taken away from him. In all this time, nothing has diverted him from his goal, but Blue could do it without even trying.
The problem is his innate contrariness. People rarely believe he’s as contrary as he is. Ronan knows and tries to use it against him all the time, but Ronan is so terrible at manipulation that it’s long since become a joke between them rather than an actual bargaining tool. The contrariness isn’t responsible for his Blue-related feelings – he’s not that childish – but he thinks he could probably be content to wait to untangle them until this Glendower business is finished if not for Blue’s inability to touch his mouth.
“This could be interesting,” Blue says, and he leans closer and looks at the book spread out in her lap. His head rests against her arm and he strokes the top of her foot a little more daringly. She smells like everything fresh and sweet, everything he wants. The page she’s opened to has a list of rituals to forge broken magical items.
“Oh,” he says. “I shouldn’t have given you that book. I think most of those have been roundly disproved.”
“Hm,” she says, not sounding particularly put out. She reaches across him for another book, pushing her foot a little closer to him in the process. It could be accidental, but he knows it’s not, the way he knows his own heartbeat.
It’s not that he doesn’t think about being inside her, because he does. He thinks about that when he’s trying to sleep, and about her hands and her lips on him, taking him apart. It wouldn’t be difficult, and Blue is clever; she’d have him figured out before he was all the way undressed. But what he wants is his mouth between her legs – he’s thought about it a thousand times. He can’t touch her with his lips at all and it’s become a taut ache so fierce that every time he thinks about kissing her he bites his finger as some kind of painful displacement. He doesn’t know a lot about women’s bodies, but he knows they get…they get wet, and he wants to lick it up, press his lips and his nose into her and just dissolve there, come away soaked in her. He’d be good at it. The thought makes him blush and then he realizes he’s rocking his hips in the smallest, barely noticeable increments, just enough to slide the head of his cock right against the rough seam of his shorts through his underwear. He gasps and moves and gasps again, hard shuddery breaths that Blue notices, of course.
“What are you doing?” she asks in a very small voice.
He grits his teeth, eyes shut tight. “I’m going crazy,” he says, voice cracking.
She shifts around a little and he knows she’s going to get up and move, probably to sit at the table and read, and that would be the most sensible thing. Blue is nothing if not sensible and he is nothing if not restrained. But she doesn’t leave, and he jumps when her hand rests on his back. It’s warm through his thin shirt, one nail idly scratching over the fabric. He’s covered in goose bumps again and drops his head, resting it against the book under him. His face is so hot; he’s so hot everywhere. He wants – he can’t believe he’s thinking about this with her right next to him, but he can’t stop it – he wants to kiss her bare knee. It’s right next to his shoulder and he could turn his head and press his lips there, run his tongue over her thigh and leave sucking kisses until he’s between her legs –
Stop, he tells himself with rising desperation. Stop this right now. But no matter how he tries to still his hips, his muscles keep flexing minutely, pressing him down, down, down, right against the slick spot spreading on his underwear. He’s breathing through his nose in short, hard, hitching pants, fingers tracing mindless figures on Blue’s foot the way they could be drawing lines of pleasure on her thighs –
Yes, on her thighs and under the elastic edge of her underwear, moving them out of the way so he could trace his warm tongue all along outer lips and then inner lips – her hands would be in his hair; Blue would definitely pull if it felt good, if he made her even wetter on his tongue – if he got her right up to the edge and then teased her there and she pushed her hips up and pressed his face into her, if she rubbed herself right against his mouth –
He’s going to come. God, he’s going to come right there against the bed and he can’t stop.
“Are you – ?” Blue asks. He nods jerkily and the heel of her palm presses down rhythmically against his lower back like she’s directing him and god, he’s gone. His breath spills out faster and harder, panicky. He sucks on the tip of his thumb and bites on it hard and comes in the slowest, most excruciatingly drawn-out fashion, unable to thrust his hips or moan out loud and reduced to silent writhing as his cock pulses again and again and again, absolutely wracked with pleasure until he feels like it’s never going to stop. It just keeps rolling down his spine, spilling over his skin like rain and making him shiver helplessly, spreading between his legs again and again until there’s something delicious and painful about it.
When it finally lets him go he’s grateful for Blue’s hand, which has moved from the small of his back to gently guide his head until he’s resting it on her knee. He can’t stop shaking and breathing too hard like he’s having a panic attack, and has no idea what’s going on outside the feel of her skin against his hot face. Adam could be standing right in front of him and he wouldn’t be able to say a thing. He trusts Blue to let him know if something happens – he, Richard Campbell Gansey III, who doesn’t trust anyone else to order pizza, trusts her to take care of him. And what an appalling mess he is. It feels like everything below his belt is sticky and wet, his hair is damp against his forehead, and when Blue swipes a finger under his eyes he realizes his face is wet too.
He doesn’t know how long it takes to wrest himself under control again. Long enough that Blue’s almost all the way through her book, even though he knows she’s not reading it and is just occasionally turning pages.
“Very sorry about that, Jane,” he says. His voice shakes terribly and it sounds like he’s been crying, which, if Adam or Ronan ask, he definitely has not. He won’t be able to lie to Noah. He can’t meet her eyes and wonders how long it will take him to be able to, for lack of a less Ronan term, just Gansey his way through it. He almost never allows himself to feel embarrassment to begin with – it’s one of those things that go into a pocket in his mind to agonize over at night.
“Don’t apologize,” she says fiercely, which turns his head fast, all thoughts of embarrassment disappearing. She’s looking down at him like – well, rather like Adam was looking at Ronan earlier. Like she’d like to push him onto his back and crawl on top of him. Her face is rosily flushed and she’s almost as sweaty around the edges as he is.
“You liked that,” he says.
“I’ll be thinking about it all – all night, probably,” she says in a thin, strained voice. “Repeatedly.”
As uncomfortable as he is, he’s starting to get hard again. “If you keep talking,” he says hoarsely. It’s more of a plea than a warning.
“I know.” Her hand alights on his back again and her fingernails dig in just the slightest bit, and he closes his eyes and chokes down his whimper until it’s almost silent.
“I have to go change,” he says, pulling away before he can slide right back into the quicksand of pleasure again.
He grabs some clothes from one of the drawers near his bed and heads for the bathroom before he realizes he hasn’t exactly thought this through. He’ll have to pass right by Adam and Ronan, and Ronan at least will have something to say about the dark, wet patch on his shorts. Nothing in Gansey’s life thus far has prepared him for this kind of dissembling. But when he gets closer to the couch he realizes Ronan’s asleep with his head on Adam’s thigh, and Adam doesn’t look up from his notes when he walks awkwardly to the bathroom. His embarrassment calms him down somewhat, but he’s still faintly surprised when the water he cleans with doesn’t turn to steam the second it touches his skin.
When he’s finally presentable and his face isn’t quite so flushed, he sits on the toilet with his head in his hands and gives himself a pep talk. It’s very encouraging and optimistic, and involves taking the inconvenient feelings and visualizing them going from the front of his mind to their proper place far in the back with everything else. He grimly ignores the voice telling him there's no more room there and Blue can’t be contained anyway, and forces himself to leave the bathroom with his shoulders thrown back.
Adam looks up this time when Gansey approaches. His left hand is tucked up against Ronan’s chest, as if Ronan grabbed onto it before he fell asleep. Out of the corner of his eye, Gansey sees Adam casually withdraw from Ronan’s grasp, and all of a sudden his anger – he was angry, he realizes, without even noticing it; how marvelously strange his psyche is – collapses in on itself and he feels guilty and relieved and dizzy with the conflict.
He slowly reaches out to bump fists with Adam, who gives him a small smile and reciprocates.
"It's quite all right, you and Ronan," he says.
Adam’s smile fades and he regards Gansey warily. "It's what now?"
"I mean." He gestures. "If you're romantically...entangled. You don't need to hide it on my account."
"Thanks," Adam says with a little amused quirk to his mouth, and Gansey realizes he must have said something stupid. "But we’re not hiding it from anyone. It’s not a secret.”
“Then what is it?” he asks.
“A gift,” Adam says, and goes bright red, looking startled. It’s the first time since Gansey’s met him that he seems to have spoken without thinking about it. He tilts his head, rolling his eyes sardonically, and amends it to, "A mystery."
But Gansey knows which response is the true one. “Well,” he says, “I can’t say you don’t deserve each other. And I mean that in the best possible way, although I’m officially abdicating responsibility for all unpaid speeding tickets."
“I’m still not cleaning up his messes,” Adam says. “He’s a big boy."
“Can you not talk shit about me when I’m sleeping,” Ronan mumbles. “It’s fucking rude.”
With an irritated sigh, he links his fingers in Adam’s and pulls his hand up against his chest again, like they were engaged in a very important task and Gansey interrupted it.
This is where you have laid your affections, Gansey’s expression says. You alone are responsible for your terrible judgment.
Yeah, well, Adam’s expression replies, but there’s a smile in everything he does including his unimpressed shrug, and Gansey can clearly see his thumb rubbing over Ronan’s heart in slow circles. His stomach does something complicated, something involving jealousy that he doesn’t really understand. Jealousy because they have each other? Maybe. It was always Gansey and Ronan and Gansey and Adam, and even though it hasn’t been like that for a while and he likes Gansey and Ronan and Adam and Noah and Blue much better, a small selfish part of him misses having both of them to himself. Or maybe he’s feeling foolishly nostalgic for a less complicated time, forgetting it was always complicated and that those times were terrible for all of them.
His eyes fall on the bed, where Blue is no longer sitting. She’s moved to the table, and at the sight of her his stomach twists again and he knows what the real source of the jealousy is. He won’t so much as think about touching her again. But when he sits on his bed, perfectly resolute and ready to focus, he smells her light clean scent on the sheets and bites his finger, which is already sore and throbbing. Glendower probably never had to deal with this, he thinks sulkily.
We’re almost done, he tells himself, starting his Glendower fantasy from the beginning one more time. Soon it will be all over.