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this is what i live for

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“You remember the safeword, right,” Adam says. He’s fidgety, fingers twitching, hands hovering around the level of Gansey’s shoulders. Adam is a mess of nerves, every muscle of his body held tense. He’s so hungry he’s dizzy. That’s why they’re here: Gansey noticed him putting a hand on the wall to steady himself as they walked to class and insisted on coming back to St. Agnes’s with him.

“Yes, of course,” Gansey says. His tone is annoyed, like Adam’s being ridiculous. As if Adam couldn’t literally kill him. “Although the idea is that you have to stop yourself, isn’t it? If I safeword and you’re too far into the bloodlust to stop, how is that going to help?”

“It’ll help,” Adam says. He drums his fingers on his upper thigh, restless. “It’ll help bring me back if I forget myself.”

“You won’t,” Gansey says confidently. “Plus, I’ll be fine. I give blood every year at my mom’s charity blood drive. I have plenty to spare.”

Adam almost groans. He doesn’t need to hear Gansey talk about his blood. He can smell it, beating through the artery in Gansey’s neck. Usually he’s not smelling blood from several feet away, but he’s really, really hungry. He can’t remember how long it’s been since the last time he ate, taking some begrudging sips from Ronan’s wrist while Ronan watched TV. It must have been at least two weeks ago. The only reason he’d broken down then was because Ronan had promised to punch him if he took too much, and Adam had believed it.

“You should call Ronan or Noah,” Adam says. “I don’t want to do this when it’s just the two of us.”

“Adam,” Gansey says, his voice patient. “I have total faith in you. Okay? Now for heaven’s sake, drink from me already. You look absolutely terrible.”

He feels terrible. The hunger aches all through him, not just in his stomach like when he was human, but in every part of his wrung-out body. He can feel it in his wristbones and the arches of his feet. His throat hurts with the need to feel warm blood pouring down it. He swallows, his mouth suddenly dry.

“Come on,” Gansey says—bossy, which irritates Adam. He grabs Adam’s wrist and pulls him forward, narrowing the gap between them. He tilts his head to the side and pulls the neck of his polo shirt down down to his collarbone. Adam’s mouth falls open involuntarily. He can almost taste it on his tongue.

“I can’t do this,” he whispers. His shoulderblades and stomach muscles are all locked up with fear. He’s going to hurt Gansey, and he wants it so badly that he’s not even sure he could take a step back right now.

Gansey grabs one of Adam’s hands, which is the first time Adam notices that they’re shaking. He smoothly guides Adam’s hand up to his neck, and presses Adam’s fingers right against his pulse. Adam sucks in a sharp breath and jerks his hand back, horrified. He can feel his fangs lengthening, and he closes his eyes, trying to manage the intense urge rising in him, screaming for blood through every cell of his body.

“I’m asking you to,” Gansey says. “Please.” He inches closer and tugs on Adam’s T-shirt, trying to bring Adam’s face down to his neck.

Adam lets Gansey pull him down, unable to hold back against this kind of assault. He hides his face in the warm, soft skin of Gansey’s throat, and a shudder wracks his body.

“I’m hungry,” he says, the words tearing out of him unplanned. Oh god, he can smell the blood, millimeters aware from his mouth. He lets one of his fangs drag against Gansey’s skin, not breaking it, just testing. It’s unbearable.

“I know,” Gansey says. Adam feels Gansey’s arms wrap around his shoulders, smoothing over his back. “It’s okay.”

With a quiet, pained noise, Adam sinks his teeth into Gansey’s throat.

The shock of pain startles a little oh out of Gansey, and Adam feels his skin twitch under Adam’s mouth as he suppresses his natural urge to flinch away. It’s too late: Adam’s hands are on his hips and he’s holding Gansey close with iron-strong vampire strength. Blood spills over his tongue, but Adam’s too hungry to savor it. He just sucks it down, gulping at Gansey’s neck. The blood rushes through him, filling him with the warmth of the living. He knows he should go slowly, but he can’t stop; it’s too good, too satisfying after so long. He bites again, harder, opening the wound deeper, and Gansey makes a pained noise. It startles Adam, and he tears himself away, smearing the back of his hand across his mouth to catch the blood dripping from his lips. He has a feeling it doesn’t help how he looks.

Adam is breathing heavily, taking in air in convulsive swallows as he fights back the urge for more blood. He dares to look at Gansey. Gansey’s head is still tipped to the side, his face blank and pale next to the blood running into the hollow of his throat and disappearing under his shirt collar. His pupils are so dilated his eyes are almost black. His breath comes out of him in little shocked bursts.

The blood goes cold in Adam’s veins, and the guilt starts to close in on him, a dark presence. He’s a monster. A nightmare.

“Why’d you stop?” Gansey says. He’s still panting a little around the words.

“I—” Adam shuts his eyes to block out the sight of a bloodstain starting to bloom at the front of Gansey’s robin’s egg blue polo. “I wanted to make sure I—could. Does it hurt?”

“It’s fine,” Gansey says. He’s trying for no-nonsense, Adam can tell—that note of finality that means he’s not taking questions—but he’s still a little out of breath, and his voice trembles. “You can take more.”

Adam presses his lips together and shakes his head, opening his eyes. “No way. I’m good now.”

“You’re not.” Gansey’s voice is gaining strength. “You have actual bags under your eyes. You took a teaspoon. I barely felt it. Take more.”

Adam’s mouth twists, and he hunches defensively, wrapping his arms around his empty stomach. “Gansey,” he bites out. “This isn’t a game. It’s not something where your position and power will protect you. You could die, okay?”

“But I trust you,” Gansey insists. He wipes his fingers over his throat, staining them with blood, and holds his hand up in front of Adam’s face. Adam flinches back instinctively. “Look. You need this more than I do. Please take some more.”

Adam stares at Gansey’s fingers. The blood is impossibly bright. The smell fills Adam’s entire world, black spots swimming over his vision. He takes in a shaky breath.

It’s an equation of survival. He’ll never be satisfied, because that would mean enough blood to drain one of his friends. So it’s about getting just enough to survive without hurting anyone else. It’s about balancing his needs with his wants. It’s about taking just enough blood to leave both of them alive.

Well, alive and undead, respectively.

“If something happens,” Adam says, wretched. “I’ll never forgive myself.” Gansey is more likely to be cautious if he’s thinking about Adam’s wellbeing and not his own.

“Adam.” Gansey gazes at him, his expression soft and grave. Often, when Gansey gets serious, he goes distant and Aglionby; he deals with unpleasantness by retreating into a state of rich kid repression. Stiff upper lip. But now he’s vulnerable, and not just because his hand is pressed to the wound in his neck. Blood leaks out around his fingers, catching on the ridge of his collarbone..

“It’s not your idea,” Gansey says. “I’m asking you. You don’t have to take on the responsibility. It’s my choice. So if anything goes wrong, it’s my fault. I’m the one being an idiot. And I’m not going to leave until you drink more, and I’m not going to bandage this up. I’ll bleed out or get an infection if you don’t drink my damn blood.”

Gansey’s doing the same thing Adam did, appealing to Adam’s concern for him over self-preservation. Southern manners, Adam thinks bleakly. They’re like two people trying to hold a door open for the other. A wave of hunger so strong it’s almost nausea ripples through him, and he presses his hand to his mouth, his eyes squeezing shut.

“Gansey,” he says, and he’s not proud of how it comes out: a whisper tilting upward into a sob. He’s not in control of his body. His chest halts and hitches with aborted breaths, and his legs are weak. The room wavers around him.

“Oh god,” Gansey says. “Please, I hate this. Please, Adam.” He steps forward and grabs Adam’s shoulder. It’s rough, not affectionate, and Adam is grateful. It’s not his fault for giving in. Gansey’s handling it, pulling him forward to collide with his warm chest, steadying him with a palm flat on his back between his shoulderblades. Nuzzling Adam’s face into the crook of his neck, where the bright metallic smell of Gansey’s blood is waiting for him. Adam groans—involuntary—and sinks his teeth in.

The rush of blood is hot and intoxicating. Adam sucks wolfishly, his hands tightening around the sides of Gansey’s ribcage. Gansey tilts his head back, inviting him to bite deeper.

Adam doesn’t know if it's that Gansey’s blood tastes particularly good, or if it’s the extraneous details that are overwhelming him: the jerk of Gansey’s chest against his, the smell of Gansey’s skin, the double-time spurts of blood through Gansey’s jugular as his heart races. Gansey’s breath is hot and damp on Adam’s ear. The warmth of feeding spreads through him, satisfying him in such a vicious, bestial way that Adam wants to hate it.

He can’t stop. He has to stop. He screws his eyes shut and digs his fingers into Gansey’s sides. Gansey makes a quiet, hurt sound and that jolts Adam awake. He wrenches his fangs out of Gansey’s neck, but he can’t stop himself from licking around the wound, cleaning up the blood with his tongue. Gansey makes another noise, softer, and Adam jerks back, his face flooding with shame, slowly regaining awareness of the cool, still room around them.

He takes a deliberate step back, putting more space between them, not daring to look at Gansey. His fingertips are shaking with adrenaline, and his whole body is pulsing with warmth and life. The thought hits him that he’s never been so close to Gansey before. They don’t hug, under normal circumstances; they bump fists or swat each other’s shoulders with the backs of their hands or maybe give a sympathetic pat if it’s necessary. That kind of intimacy, with bodies pressed together and warm skin lingering against skin, feeling each other’s breath and the asynchronicity of their heartbeats—Adam’s never felt it before. And now it’s all mixed up with blood and dread, and the cloying shame of needing something from Gansey.

He has to check in with Gansey. To make sure he’s okay. It’s the responsible thing to do. Adam looks up.

Gansey’s face is white, which makes the blood streaming down his neck an even starker red. He looks shell-shocked, his eyes wide and glassy, and Adam can see his chest heave as he struggles to regulate his breath. It sinks into Adam’s stomach like a bar of lead. He’s hurt Gansey. The rush of adrenaline and euphoria and guilt twist themselves up inside him, and for a precarious moment his eyes fill with hot tears. He looks up to the ceiling and blinks until they go away.

“Well,” Gansey says. His voice is thin. He clears his throat and tries again: “Well.” This time it comes out more like Richard Campbell Gansey III, more like he’s closing a business deal over the eighteenth hole. “That’s done with.”

Adam glances at him. His features have been haphazardly rearranged into the Gansey family mask, cool and composed, except for the blood soaking into his clothing. Gansey turns on his heel, and there’s only a slight tremor in his stride as he makes his way to the bathroom to clean up.

Adam closes his eyes, relieved to have a break from Gansey studying him. The air feels cooler around him without Gansey’s presence. He listens to Gansey run the tap, and then Gansey calls out, “Band-aids?”

“Second drawer,” Adam says.

After a moment, Gansey returns, a patch of gauze taped over his throat. The sight of it reminds Adam of hospitals, and makes the whole situation somehow sterile. Less charged. Gansey is good at redirecting awkwardness.

The gulf of empty air between them is a mile deep. Adam can almost feel how carefully Gansey’s holding himself, how deliberate he is to close himself off from the intensity of the touch and heat that was between them.

He doesn’t want to say anything stupid like I’m a monster, because Gansey will make it his personal challenge to convince Adam that he isn’t. But the impulse isn’t melodrama. It’s the definition of a parasite: an organism that takes from the host and gives nothing in return. And that’s what Adam is now, by nature, thanks to a vampire bite and an untimely death. And no matter how principled and careful he is, he can’t be anything else.

Adam hates the flush of vitality and strength that’s warming his cheeks and hands, as if the blood he’s just taken in is a mug of hot cocoa. He hates feeling good after hurting his best friend, and he hates how much he liked it. He hates how much he wants to drink from Gansey again, right now.

“You’re looking better already,” Gansey says, pleased. Adam only feels worse, his gut twisting miserably. “Listen, I don’t want it to get that bad again, alright? There’s no reason why we have to be so dramatic and impractical about this. You should be feeding at least twice a week.”

Adam shakes his head slowly. “I don’t need it that often,” he says.

“Adam.” Gansey has his lecturing voice on, and it raises Adam’s hackles. It’s a voice that Adam very rarely feels is necessary. “You’re the one who’s convinced that you’re going to lose control and murder one of us. Surely the more often you feed, the easier it will be to stay in control, because you won’t be starving. Don’t be an idiot. This is best for everyone.”

Adam wonders how long it took for Gansey to think of a way to frame this so Adam would accept. Gansey is skilled at manipulating him, and it would really irritate Adam if it wasn’t so obvious whenever it was happening.

“Fine,” he says, his tone carefully measured. “But—it can’t be you every time, okay? You and Ronan have to take turns. And I’m looking up how much blood is safe to draw at once so we can be careful. And we have to do it at Monmouth. With other people around. Just in case.” He steels himself before continuing, ready to argue this last point if necessary. “And I’m going to pay you.”

No,” Gansey says immediately. “Don’t be stupid.”

“It’s not stupid,” Adam says. Gansey already makes him feel stupid, with his blithe historical references and his Oxford English Dictionary vocabulary and his wide-eyed ignorance of everyday expenses. Adam resents being told that he’s being stupid for something that matters. “It’s your blood. It’s keeping you alive. Let me compensate you. A blood bank would. For plasma or whatever.”

Gansey waves a hand. “Pay me some other way. Do the dishes or something if you want. God knows Noah’s always saying he’s sick of it.”

“Well, maybe I will do the dishes.”

“Well, maybe you should.”

Adam holds Gansey’s gaze, and then lets his shoulders relax just a fraction. “Okay,” he says.

“Okay,” Gansey says. A bright smile breaks through the Richard Gansey flatness, like the sun bursting through the clouds. It hurts Adam to look at him, a sharp twinge right below the base of his throat. Then, just for an instant, something goes wrong: the smile slips, and Gansey sways to the side minutely before catching himself. He takes in a startled breath, too measured to be a gasp.

“Oh,” he says dully. “I’m. I’m going to sit down for a minute or two before leaving. If that’s okay.”

Adam sets his mouth in a line, knowing that Gansey would have taken feeling woozy to his grave if it wasn’t bad, and also knowing that if he gets annoyed or upset they’ll just fight again. “Yeah,” he says, his voice quiet. “I’ll get you some water.”

He doesn’t actually have any glasses, but he has a plastic water bottle he refills. He goes into the bathroom and runs it under the tap, and then digs some Saltines out from a box in the corner on the floor of his bedroom.

“Oh, that’s not necessary,” Gansey says when he sees the box of crackers in Adam’s hand, but he takes it along with the water, so Adam knows it must be really bad.

“Light-headed?” Adam says.

“I always get dizzy after donating blood,” Gansey says, his voice tinged with defensiveness. He nibbles on a Saltine.

“Just don’t push it,” Adam says.

“I’m sitting down, aren’t I?”

Why does this feel so much like a stand-off? What is wrong with them? It’s like they’re competing for who’s more okay with doing things for the other person. Adam’s tired of it, but with a tiny spot of blood starting to soak through the bandage on Gansey’s throat, he’s not in a position to call off the game. Not when he’s so far behind.

“Just take however much time you need,” he says. “I’m going to start my homework before work tonight.”

He turns his back to give Gansey some space to be weak if he needs it, and gets his chemistry books out of his school bag. With Gansey on his bed, Adam sits on the floor, still with his back to Gansey, and spreads his work out in front of him. He stares at the text, too heavy with guilt and hyperaware of Gansey’s presence to actually read anything.

After a few minutes, Gansey says, “Did you understand the bit about stoichiometry? I tried to do the problem set earlier but I didn’t get it at all.”

Adam breathes: not a sigh, either of relief or irritation, just a soft breath to give himself a moment to adjust. “Yeah,” he says. “I’ll explain it to you.”

Gansey slides down to the floor next to Adam and leans in, eager. Gansey hates schoolwork, so Adam knows this excitement is for him. Gansey loves listening to Adam talk. He’s always quizzing Adam on ley line trivia—ostensibly to keep him sharp, but really, Adam suspects, because he likes hearing Adam’s voice shape the words of his, Gansey’s, obsession. A stab of affection momentarily paralyzes him—it makes him want to shove Gansey away, or kiss him, or drink from him again, or maybe shut himself up so he doesn’t have to feel it. He forces himself to focus on chemistry.

-

They agree on Tuesdays and Fridays. Fridays, when Adam feeds on Gansey, quickly become the worst part of his week.

It’s never this weird with Ronan, although there’s the same unfamiliar intimacy. There's something that exists between Adam and Ronan, something cultivated in the hours they spent together planning to frame Greenmantle. So far it’s nothing more than an awareness—Ronan’s attention to Adam, Adam’s consciousness of that attention, and Ronan noticing that Adam's noticed. They don’t have to talk about it for both of them to know it’s significant when Ronan comes to sit next to Adam in Latin rather than sitting next to Gansey, or lets Adam come hang out in his room on a pile of dream things to study.

But Ronan, for all his innate hostility, can read Adam well enough to understand that this, the blood-drinking, is sensitive. So Ronan treats it like they're going out for pizza. He offers Adam his wrist or his neck, complains loudly about Adam biting too hard or smelling weird or always needing blood at inconvenient times, and pushes Adam off when he's had enough. If Ronan can make traipsing around followed by enormous taloned bird creatures he's brought back from nightmares seem casual, he can make giving his blood up to Adam seem casual. Ronan's sheer stubborn Ronan-ness is stronger than any weirdness they've yet encountered.

Gansey, in contrast, can make even going to the grocery store weird—fumbling over what prices he thinks would seem normal to Adam, agonizing over whether it's more appropriate to be honest about what he can afford or be modest so Adam won't feel bad, forgetting half of what he came for—so doing this with him is torturous.

Gansey is all raw, all nerve endings and uncertain breath and warm throbbing pulse. He gives himself over to Adam, going limp against him and forcing Adam to set the limits, even though Adam's explained over and over again that Gansey can stop him if it seems like too much. It's almost embarrassing, the way Gansey lets Adam drink from him—it gives Adam a knot of hot shame in the pit of his stomach, the feeling that he would be embarrassed if he let himself be taken from so easily.

And when they're finished, Gansey goes all Boy Scout troop leader on him and cleans himself up brightly and professionally, telling Adam how good it is they were able to get this dealt with, how efficient and functional this new system is. It's the only time Adam's found himself wishing Gansey was better at masking his feelings. When Adam himself is painfully vulnerable, hungry, his fangs bared against his best friend's throat, he could use some of Gansey's breezy Aglionby attitude. Instead he gets the worst of both worlds: Gansey undone, shuddering below him, and then Gansey remote and unreachable when it's over. Starving to death might be preferable.

He shows up to Monmouth Manufacturing on a Tuesday night after a shift at the garage, swinging his car into the space in the lot between the Camaro and the BMW. The engine makes the rough, grumbling noise of ancient gears, protesting being parked among such ostentatious company. I know how you feel, Adam thinks darkly, giving it a pat on the steering wheel.

Inside Monmouth is the usual benevolent chaos. Noah is standing against the wall of windows, a history textbook balanced on his head; Ronan appears to be trying to hit it with a barrage of small paper airplanes. Blue is here, Adam notes, pleased, sitting on a pillow with her back against a precarious stack of books, painting her toenails and shouting whenever one of Ronan's planes veers to the side and crushes its paper nose against the dark glass. Gansey is sitting at his desk, one earbud in, mouth slightly open as he runs his finger down a paragraph of text. The book he's reading, the cover dark purple and covered in twisted golden sigils, does not look like homework.

It's so much easier for Adam to love this place now that he knows it doesn't have to be his home.

"Hey," he says, just as Ronan launches another paper airplane. Ronan's shoulder slips as he turns his head to the door and the plane flies wildly off to the side, the nose tilting down and burying itself in a tuft of Blue's hair.

"Ronan," Blue says, swatting it away. "Please try to keep yourself and all bits of you contained to one location."

"Hi Adam," Noah says. His smile is small but significant. He's at his most cheerful, Adam can see—his Blue mood.

Gansey waves a hand in the direction of the door, not looking up. Adam's learned long ago not to take offense at being ignored for Glendower.

"Here for a midnight snack, Dracula?" Ronan says. He traipses over to the worn armchair that Blue insisted Gansey acquire ("There is nowhere to sit in your apartment except your bed, Gansey") and flops into it, one leg over the armrest, his body instantly assimilating into the caved-in cusion. Ronan seems to have fewer bones than other people, or maybe just looser joints. He could recline on a pile of gravel.

"Yeah," Adam says. "And if you're gonna go there, you could at least go with Batman."

"Angel," Ronan counters. "Edward Cullen. Lestat."

"Now you're just reciting Gansey's reading list," Noah pipes up. Ronan snorts loudly, and Blue makes a face. Gansey looks up, startled.

"What did I miss?" he says.

"Everything," Ronan says. "You missed everything. Noah's alive again. Parrish and I just made out."

"Well, carry on then," Gansey says, burying his face in the book again. Adam longs for that level of immunity to Ronan.

Blue finishes dotting glitter onto her pinky toe and caps the brush back on the little bottle of nail polish. "I can do it, if you want," she says. "I feel bad being the only one not regularly donating to the Adam Parrish blood drive."

"You're not the only one," Noah points out. The game over, he tilts his head to the side and lets the textbook fall to the floor with a crash. It lands open, crushing several pages into awkward folds.

"The only one with blood," Blue amends kindly.

"I could try." Noah sounds forlorn, looking down at his thin wrists, exposed in his rolled-up Aglionby sweater. "We could pretend."

"I'm doing their dishes," Adam says to Blue. "And their laundry." He knows they're past this kind of pettiness, but an old resentment rankles at the word donating.

"Do my math homework," Blue says. "I've seen your grades." She blows on her pinky toe, touching it gingerly with a finger to check if it's dried.

Adam glances at Ronan. Despite the fact that this thing—Adam awkwardly taking Ronan's blood to stave off the hunger pangs for another few days—is not exactly romantic, he's conscious that Ronan sometimes attaches strange importance to things, especially involving Adam. But Ronan shrugs, running his thumb over the tiny scabbed-over marks on his neck where Adam took blood last time.

"Okay," Adam says. He heads over to Blue's side of the room and kneels by her, feeling more awkward than ever.

Any feelings Adam had for Blue have been locked away, clamped down like his jealousy of Gansey or his occasional homesickness. He doesn't feel sad about the fact that getting to be with Blue is more and more obviously an impossibility these days; he doesn't feel anything about it. But her neck is lovely, especially the patch of skin exposed by the slashed-open collar of her fitted T-shirt, dusky brown and soft-looking in the warm light of the floor lamp near Gansey's bed. Adam doesn't trust himself with it. He's glad for the purchase he made a few days ago, discounted on eBay.

He reaches into his messenger bag now and pulls out a small cloth pouch. He removes each piece and sets it on the floorboards: a capped syringe, plastic tubing wrapped in a figure eight and tied with a twist tie, an antiseptic wipe in a little foil packet, gauze, five small glass vials.

"Wow," Blue says, impressed. "Look at you. Nurse practitioner."

"What's that?" Gansey is paying attention now, shoulders hunched over his book still, but head up and staring at Adam and Blue.

"Stuff to draw blood," Adam says. "So it's safe."

"Shit," Ronan says. "Figures you break out the fancy gear for Holly Hobbie here. And you've just been treating my neck like your personal Slurpee machine all this time?"

"I just got it," Adam says.

"Adam." Gansey is awkwardly far away across the huge space of Monmouth Manufacturing; he cranes his neck, trying to see what's happening. "I don't know that that's a good idea. Didn't you say you had to drink straight from the vein?"

"It is straight from the vein," Adam says. "It's just going into these tubes first so we can measure it. So I don't have to worry about taking too much."

"But have you ever even taken blood before?"

Adam shrugs a shoulder. He's done a lot of research. "I could try it on myself first," he says. "If it makes you feel better." This is directed at Blue, who Adam feels has much more of a case for not wanting Adam to try out sticking medical equipment in her arm.

Blue eyes the needle. “N-ooo,” she says slowly. “That’s okay. I think. I mean, either way you’re going to stick something pointy in me, right? I think I’d prefer the one that doesn’t carry a risk of you going nuts with bloodlust and draining my body of vital fluids.”

Regardless of any history between them, Adam could kiss her for saying it in front of Gansey.

He takes her wrist and walks through the steps he’s learned from Google and YouTube videos: restrict bloodflow, find a vein, sanitize. There’s a different type of intimacy to this, a softness to how Blue watches him turn her arm over and trail fingertips down her forearm; in some ways it feels even more dangerous than using his teeth.

“You better not stick a muscle or something,” she says, as Adam swabs alcohol over her skin.

“Well,” he says. “I did say I’d do your math homework, so.”

Blue tenses for a second, her veins bulging, until she realizes Adam’s joking. He gives her a cautious smile and raises the syringe. “Ready?”

“This is gross,” Ronan announces. Noah nods vigorously, then slaps a hand over his eyes and peers through his fingers.

“Scared of needles?” Blue counters.

“I prefer it the other way,” Ronan says. He’s watching them through his knees, both legs hung over the armrest of the chair now. “The bloody violent way.”

“Shocker,” Blue says. She catches Adam’s eye and shakes her head a little. It reminds him of the old days, when Blue first latched onto him as her ally in the sea of rich boys they’re both marooned in. It takes a little of the predatory feeling out of hovering over her with a needle, and he breathes a little easier. Less like a monster this way, maybe.

He glances in Gansey’s direction. Gansey’s watching intently, the book totally forgotten. His face is stormy, expressions warring with each other, flattened out into a placid mask as soon as he notices Adam looking.

The procedure itself is oddly benign. Blue winces a little as Adam sticks the needle in, but other than that it goes about as smoothly as the YouTube videos. Adam remembers a time when it used to make him queasy to watch his own blood leave his veins. Now it’s a heady, anticipatory sensation to watch Blue’s wind through the plastic tubing into the vials. His body is tense with bloodlust, the feeling rising up in him as quick as rage, and twice as terrifying.

He takes three tubes, and then a surge of panic makes him stop and jerk the needle out, pressing a square of gauze to Blue’s arm with his thumb as she yelps at the sting. Adam’s fingers tremble on her arm, uncertain as to the source of the emotion.

“Well, that was weirdly like going to the doctor’s,” Blue says, eyeing Adam.

“Dr. Acula,” Noah says quietly. There’s silence for a moment, and then Ronan lets out a bark of laughter and holds up a fist. Noah crosses the room to bump it, looking pleased. Gansey still looks troubled, his thumb pressed to his bottom lip, his eyebrows drawn down.

Adam breathes slowly until the tremors quiet. He takes his time putting away the equipment, the methodical process calming him. The room is still oddly quiet and charged; it feels like everyone is waiting for something.

“Biohazard,” Gansey says. Adam glances at him. “You’re supposed to dispose of needles in a specific way,” Gansey clarifies. “It’s a biohazard.”

“I’ll lick it clean,” Adam says. It’s a joke, but Gansey doesn’t take it as one. Instead, he blanches, his face going completely flat. Adam doesn’t understand the reaction, so he brushes it off, picking up one of the vials. He unscrews the top and tips it into his mouth.

It’s wrong. The taste is sour, the blood heavy on his tongue. It’s wrong. Adam convulses, his throat closing up, his body rejecting the liquid. He claps a hand over his mouth and scrambles to his feet, dashing to spit the blood out in the trash can.

He hangs there, hands gripping the sides of the can, the shaking of his arms matching the erratic throb of his pulse in his throat. He closes his eyes, breath coming in tiny gulps, his chest squeezing tight. I’m panicking, he thinks, the thought oddly removed from the reality: the muscles in his stomach tense over and over, his throat swallowing around the bitter taste. He feels his eyes water, an autonomic response rather than an emotional one—his body is sending up all its alarms, flashing sirens in the form of a dull weakness in his limbs, spots dancing before his eyes.

The smell of blood overtakes him like a gust of warm air. It takes him a moment to source it. Gansey’s there, suddenly, one hand on the small of Adam’s back and the other on his arm. The scent of his blood is overwhelming; for a moment, Adam’s not sure he can continue standing. He puts more weight on his arms, breathing carefully through this nose.

“It’s okay,” Gansey’s voice is saying, “you’re okay. Drink from me, Adam, it’s okay.”

He’s too strung out to fight as Gansey turns him around and cups his head to his throat, his other hand still resting in the dip of Adam’s spine, guiding him. Adam can’t think past the scarlet roar of Gansey’s blood in his veins, millimeters away.

“I,” he tries, mumbling against Gansey’s taut skin. Gansey’s ticklish, and his fingers flex briefly on Adam’s spine. “I don’t understand.”

“It’s okay,” Gansey says again. His fingers stroke tiny circles into Adam’s shirt. Adam blinks, his eyelashes brushing Gansey’s throat, and then closes his eyes. He gives in.

Gansey holds him while he drinks. Gansey’s blood is hot and alive in his mouth, only a fraction hotter than Gansey’s body pressed against his. Adam can feel his system righting itself. He isn’t sure if he’s responding more positively to the nourishment or the touch, and he doesn’t want to analyze it. It feels right—his body warming itself against Gansey’s, Gansey’s blood pouring down his throat.

He doesn't want to stop. He wants to drink until Gansey's body is a dry husk and Gansey's blood pours through his own veins. He wants to hold Gansey to him and feel Gansey die.

Adam manages to tear his fangs out, gasping, but can’t quite make himself step back. He keeps his eyes closed, face buried in Gansey’s neck, waiting for his breathing to regulate itself. He can still smell copper. Gansey’s fingers tangle themselves in his hair.

“Is that the kind you prefer, Ronan?” Noah’s pleasant voice cuts through the warmth, and Adam startles, disentangling himself from Gansey.

“Yeah,” Ronan says. From the tone of gleeful satisfaction in his voice, Adam’s afraid to look at him. “That is exactly the kind of blood-drinking method I prefer.”

“Holy hell, Adam.” Adam turns to see Blue, still frozen on the floor, holding the gauze to her arm. “What was that?”

“I don’t know,” Adam admits. His mouth feels clumsy pronouncing the words. He’s flushed all over; it’s like the champagne he had at that party in DC.

“You said you could only drink blood from the vein,” Gansey points out. He sounds pissy and pedantic, not at all like he just experienced the same thing Adam experienced.

“Yeah, but—” Adam hesitates. The research he did after he’d turned suggested that, for example, stealing blood from a blood bank would be futile. The blood, according to vampire lore—and why wouldn't he have to take something like vampire lore seriously after everything that's happened—is no good after it stagnates and cools. It loses its life force, whatever that means. Being a vampire is frustratingly nonspecific. "But it was just like a second after leaving the vein. I thought it would work."

"It's a little difficult for me not to feel insulted," Blue says.

Adam's still too fuzzy to move on. A darkness steals over him, pressing down on his shoulders. After a moment, he recognizes it: guilt. Black and dense, draining the enjoyment out of the gentle waves of banter that slosh around him.

"I guess you don't have strawberry syrup blood like Gansey," Ronan says.

Gansey sputters. "It's not—I'm sure my blood is just as—"

"Settle down," Ronan says. "It's okay if your blood smells like freshly baked cookies to Parrish."

"That's very Twilight too," Noah muses. "I wonder if Adam could survive on deer blood."

"Hang on, I'm sure Adam doesn't have a preference for my—" Gansey tries, but no one's listening.

"My blood has to be better than deer blood," Blue protests. "There is nothing wrong with my blood. I want a do-over."

"You're already weak and fragile from getting blood drawn," Ronan says. "Saint Vampire Parrish is not going to drink from you now."

"I am not weak and fragile! I've lost more blood than this just cutting myself while shaving."

"Maybe Adam's really good at baseball," Noah continues. "Can he run extra fast now?"

Adam's barely listening. He bought the stuff, spending precious paycheck money, because it was a way out. A way to take back control. A way to fight the inevitability that someday, somehow, he is going to hurt one of his friends. A way to transform himself from a weapon back to a boy. But it's useless.

"Gansey," he says. His voice comes out unnaturally dark, striking far too serious a note in the atmosphere of the room. "I can't believe you did that."

"Oh—" Gansey's too caught off guard to fabricate a smooth response. He's awkward, his arms hanging like he's not sure what to do with them. "It's no problem."

"No," Adam says. "You had no idea what would happen. I was—feeling off. What if I hadn't been able to regain control? What if I'd hurt you?"

"It was fine," Gansey says, bewildered.

"But you didn't know!" Adam can hear his voice rising, but he can't stop it. This has nothing to do with being a vampire, and everything to do with how impossible it is sometimes to be Adam Parrish. The adrenaline, the fear, the anger—it all backs up in his throat and chokes him, poisoning his words. "Do you understand how easy it would be for me to kill you? Do you realize I could just pin you down and drink you dry?"

Everyone is silent now. Adam can feel four pairs of eyes on him. The anger burns through him, wild and tangible. It throttles his chest and sings through his fingers.

"Everyone thinks it's a joke," Adam says, "because you don't get it. You think I'm this tame magical pet, but I'm not. You don't know how hard it is. Every time. To stop. To not hurt anyone. I'm—" He trips over his breath. "I'm not human."

There's quiet. Adam can sense that no one wants to set him off, and it stokes the fire in his stomach. He's not his dad. His friends shouldn't have to be afraid of his anger. Human Adam was broken, and vampire Adam is even worse: an emotional wreck, a volatile mess, a dangerous, bloodthirsty thing.

"We know that," Blue says. "We know you're not, Adam."

"Well it doesn't feel like it," Adam mumbles. The air in the room is stifling. He grabs his bag off the floor and charges towards the door, not daring to look up. The slam of it echoes all down the stairs.

It takes the entire drive home for his pulse to settle.

Thursday night, Ronan calls Adam to invite him for a drive.

Ronan touching a phone on purpose is pretty major, so Adam agrees. When he climbs into the passenger seat of the BMW, purring intimately on his street corner, he's on guard, suspicious that Gansey's put Ronan on Adam Watch. But seeing Ronan's posture (tense) and his choice of music (loud), it becomes clear that Ronan is putting Adam on Ronan Watch.

Ronan’s formless anger has cooled a little since the Kavinsky days, but there are still plenty of outings with Gansey and Noah that Adam knows are just excuses to give Ronan something to do. Gansey thinks if he drags Ronan to Nino’s, or to the movies, or to the gas station for Cheetos and slushies, it’ll keep him from spinning out of control. Ronan puts up with it with more grace than Adam’s used to. Probably because whenever Ronan’s on edge, the ghost of the Camaro is there to remind him that it's possible to go too far.

So that’s likely why Ronan’s here. Adam’s not Gansey, so he won’t stop Ronan from self-destructing, but he will stop Ronan from hurting anyone else, and that’s the boundary Ronan cares about.

“Where are we going?” Adam says.

Ronan shrugs a shoulder. Chainsaw scoots a few steps up Ronan’s wrist, her talons clutching at him where his skin pokes out of his jacket sleeve. It looks like it hurts. Chainsaw rubs her head against the steering wheel, making a guttural noise.

“That can’t be safe,” Adam says.

“Yeah, well, they haven’t gotten around to making bird car seats yet,” Ronan says, distracted.

“I didn’t mean for the bird,” Adam says, eyeing the way Ronan’s holding the steering wheel with his fingertips, his hands leaving a space for Chainsaw’s head.

Ronan doesn’t answer, unless the way he guns the engine is a response.

“Speed limit’s forty-five,” Adam points out.

“I know what the speed limit is.”

Adam quiets, and looks out the window. He can hear Ronan tapping his fingers frenetically on the gear shift, not quite in time with the thumping bass beat of his music.

Henrietta is too spread out to be well-lit by city lights, so the night is inky black behind the glass. Adam presses his forehead against the damp window, staring into the space where his eyes would be if he still had a reflection. His breath fogs the glass. In the dark he can just see the branches of evergreens, moving in the night wind like living things.

Ronan takes him to a park a few miles outside the town limits. It's closed, but Ronan ducks under the barrier, boots crunching on gravel, and Adam follows wordlessly. Ronan stops where the grass slopes down into a valley, sitting down on the lip of the hill and resting his wrists on his folded-up knees.

Adam takes off his shoes before sitting next to him; it always makes him feel better to feel the ground, even though the park isn't on the ley line.

He feels Ronan shift beside him and half expects him to pull out a bottle—or a bomb—but instead Ronan takes Chainsaw out of his jacket and cups her in his hands, petting the soft down on the back of her neck with the pad of his thumb. This side of Ronan, so surprising to Adam at first, is becoming more familiar. But there's a reason Ronan only gets this way with animals. Creatures that can’t read any meaning or expectations into it.

"You want to pet her?" Ronan says, proffering the small bird.

"I'm good," Adam says.

Ronan shrugs again and withdraws his hands. Chainsaw nibbles on the tip of his pinky affectionately.

Silence blankets them, cool and soothing. After a minute, Adam thinks maybe this is all Ronan wants, to sit there, but then Ronan says: "Feeding time tomorrow, huh? At the Adam Parrish enclosure."

Adam groans and buries his face in his hands. "Yeah, I guess," he says.

"You know." Adam can tell from Ronan's voice that he's turned toward him, but he doesn't raise his head. "Gansey seriously doesn't mind. He'd be happy to feed you every day."

"I know," Adam says. The words disappear into the warm darkness of his hands. It makes it easier to go on. "Sometimes I wonder if he's actually... I don't know. Enjoying it." It sounds weak and implausible out loud, and his face burns, remembering the glassy look on Gansey's face the first time Adam fed from him. The way he swayed.

"Are you kidding me?" Ronan says, his tone rough. "If Gansey had his way, his veins would be hooked up to a button you could press any time to get more. Like a morphine pump."

Adam laughs, but there's a thorn of uneasiness in his chest—the suspicion that he doesn't quite get the joke, or that the joke might be something he doesn't really think is funny.

"Look," Ronan says. "It makes you uncomfortable, right?"

"Yeah," Adam admits. The thought of feeding on Gansey tomorrow—navigating between the primal instinct to tear humans apart and the sense memory of Gansey gently cupping his skull—is a writhing black mass inside him. It never stops feeling dangerous to get close to Gansey.

Ronan holds out his wrist. "Just take some blood now," he says. "It's no big deal. Then you don't have to do it tomorrow. And you skipped me Tuesday, anyway."

Adam hesitates. Something tells him Gansey won't like it, but logically there's no reason why Gansey should have a say in it at all.

All in a rush, he recognizes the sick feeling he gets thinking about taking more of Gansey's blood: it's the warning bell that used to ring in his head when Gansey offered him money or a place to stay. It's too easy for Gansey to give, compared to how hard it is for Adam to take.

It’s never been like that with Ronan. Ronan doesn't care about protecting Adam's feelings or patronizing his sense of pride. This offer, Adam knows, is straightforward. If Adam takes him up on it, Ronan will give. If he doesn't, Ronan won't care. It's genuinely Adam's choice, in the way accepting beneficence from Gansey never feels like it is.

"Sure," he says. He circles Ronan's wrist between his fingers. Ronan’s skin is warm against Adam's chill.

Ronan is watching him, his eyes black and intense in the moonlight. His eyelashes cast stark, spidery shadows on his sculpted cheeks.

Adam lets himself verbalize what he's known for a while: I could kiss Ronan. It's what Ronan wants. He keeps the knowledge inside, a warm little ball right in the center of himself, unwilling to trade in this certainty for the mystery of what might happen after. He wishes he could be as sure about anything involving Gansey.

"Thanks," he tells Ronan, and sinks his teeth in.

-

 

Adam's at home after school the next day, lying on his bed studying for a statistics test, when there's a loud knock on the door.

He opens it to the sight of Gansey, flustered, his hair askew like he's been running his hands through it. He's still wearing his school uniform. Adam tries not to look at where the sweater collar reveals the hollow of his throat. Gansey steps inside and closes the door behind him, conscious of the nuns working below.

"You didn't come over," he says, his eyes wild. "It's Friday. I was worried something happened to you."

"Oh." Adam's dead heart is pounding too fast, shuttling borrowed blood around his cold body. "Ronan didn't tell you?"

"Tell me what?"

Improbably, it feels like a confession. "I fed off him last night," Adam says. "So I’m fine.”

Adam doesn’t realize that he’s expecting the Richard Gansey mask until it fails to coalesce. Gansey looks lost and bewildered, stumbling over this unexpected snag. “Oh,” he says. His voice is oddly subdued, and he lingers by the door, his eyes darting back and forth from Adam’s face to the interior of his room.

Adam is so tired of trying to interpret signals. “Is that a problem?” he says, his voice hard. Tell me, he urges silently. Say it.

But Gansey looks down, his gaze settling on the floorboards. “Of course not.”

Anger rises up in Adam, liquid and fierce. There is something happening. Feeding on Gansey isn’t the same as feeding on anyone else—it’s charged and fraught, and Gansey is still pretending it’s nothing.

He grabs Gansey’s wrist, wanting him to look up into his face, and has to suppress a gasp. Gansey’s skin is a live wire, filling him with heady need. The movement of Gansey’s blood through the veins of his wrist is tangible. Adam is more aware than ever that he is not a creature who is supposed to survive on two anemic feedings per week. It’s enough to live on, but it still leaves him staring at the ceiling in the middle of the night, dreaming about ripping flesh. He’s a creature meant to devour.

Adam drops Gansey, horrified, and now Gansey does look up. Adam can’t meet his gaze; he’s not sure if it’s from shame or the fear that he’ll lose control.

“I don’t want to feed on you anymore,” Adam says. His voice is locked up like his body is, every part of him tense with restraint. “I’ll manage with Ronan and Blue. Or we can just cut back on feedings.”

There’s a beat, and then Gansey says, “What the hell is so great about Ronan’s blood?”

His tone is hurt, but mostly angry. This is the diametric opposite of the Richard Campbell Gansey III facade: the worst version of Gansey, the one that comes out when Adam’s pushed him too far. No. When Gansey’s pushed himself too far trying to deal with Adam. The Gansey that speaks without thinking, and says the things that lurk between them, safely buried. The Gansey Ronan’s always trying to provoke.

“It’s not about Ronan’s blood,” Adam says. “I just can’t feed on you, okay?”

“Why the fuck not?”

Adam focuses on a stain on his floorboard. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“No,” Gansey says. “That’s not fair. What’s so awful about feeding on me that you can’t even look at me when you say that to me? Am I not tasty enough for you? What exactly is so detestable about my blood?”

“It’s not detestable,” Adam snarls, and he hears the monstrous tones in his own voice, the bestial hiss. “When I feed on you, it’s too hard to stop.”

The air between them is full of electricity. Gansey inhales to speak, and for a sick, sideways moment Adam imagines he can feel the disturbance in the air in the space between them.

“Maybe,” Gansey says, his voice so low it competes with the hum of Adam’s space heater, “I don’t want you to stop.”

Adam’s gaze snaps to Gansey’s face, the wind knocked out of him like he’s been punched in the stomach. “Gansey.”

Gansey is already shaking his head before Adam can say anything more, his cheeks pink. “I don’t mean—I don’t have a death wish. I don’t want you to kill me. But I don’t want you to stop. I want you to drink from me.”

"Gansey, stop it," Adam says, more harshly than he meant to. There's a rushing in his head that reminds him of the worst days of disorientation, after the sacrifice to Cabeswater.

"I'm being honest!" Gansey says. His eyes are narrowed, intense, like Adam's seen when he thinks they're close to Glendower. "I'm just telling you what I think! You always want that, right? You get mad when you think I'm holding things back from you or trying to protect you, so I'm not. I'm telling you what I want. I want your mouth against my throat and your hands on my body and I want you, Adam. Okay? Is that real enough?”

Adam wishes he was the one by the door, so he could put out a hand to steady himself. Despite having fed the night before, he can smell the way Gansey's blood pulses faster through his veins in his agitation.

“I can’t,” Adam says. He hears it again, the tone that makes his own voice ring in his ears until it hurts. Inhuman.

Gansey grabs Adam's chin in his hand and angles his head to the side. Adam doesn't have the strength to resist anymore, so he lets Gansey pull him in, his fangs already lengthening in anticipation of being pressed against Gansey's jugular. But instead Gansey jerks Adam's face to the side and kisses him, hard and uncompromising.

Adam's too stunned to retract his fangs, and Gansey slams their mouths together so hard he cuts his bottom lip. The bright metallic taste against Adam's tongue jolts him awake, and he fits his mouth more comfortably to Gansey's, closing his eyes. Gansey’s fingers grip hard on Adam’s face, his touch a contact burn, his mouth hot and dizzying, the fingertips of his other hand insistent against Adam's collarbone. He pulls Adam against him, lets Adam press him back against the door with his hips.

"Oh god," Gansey gasps against Adam's mouth, his voice distractingly broken. “Adam. Fuck.”

“You’ve been around Ronan too much,” Adam murmurs. His mouth brushes against Gansey’s with every word.

“No,” Gansey says. “I’m just—I just can’t—this situation deserves it.”

Adam lets his eyes flutter open. It’s impossible to look at Gansey all at once. Adam has to take him in parts: wide eyes, wet mouth, his expression completely open, his face written over with naked awe.

“Why did you do that?” he says. Gansey’s distracted by the work of sliding his hands down to Adam’s hips to fit their bodies more closely together. Adam lets him, savoring the heat of Gansey’s human homeostasis, the promise of friction.

“I wanted to,” Gansey says. He leans forward and nips at the skin of Adam’s throat, just under his jaw. Adam shudders.

Something shifts: Gansey shrinks back a little, somehow, and his hands on Adam falter. His features start to rearrange themself into a less dangerous version of Gansey—a more familiar one—a question creasing his forehead and pulling his eyebrows down. “Didn’t you—did you... not want it?”

In response, Adam surges forward and kisses him again. The hunger that wells up in him is almost identical to bloodlust, and it flips the same switch inside him—suddenly he can’t stop. He puts his hands over Gansey’s on his hips and presses their bodies together. Gansey melts against the door, boneless, his breath damp and erratic against Adam’s mouth. It’s so easy to kiss Gansey—the awkwardness that Adam carries in his joints, the uncertainty in the center of his heart, it’s all slipping away, burned out by immediate physical sensations: touch, pressure, heartbeat.

Gansey breaks away to kiss Adam’s neck again, sloppy and uncoordinated. “Adam,” he murmurs, his breath cool against Adam’s skin where it’s slick from his mouth. “Do it. Drink from me.”

Adam groans. He is burning from the outside in, every point of contact sending fire deep inside him. It’s already too intense without feeding. But as soon as Gansey says it Adam wants it, with a ferocity that scares him. Adam Parrish has been trained from birth as a machine for want; he doesn’t know if it’s his monster or human nature that makes him tremble against Gansey, already terrified he won’t be able to come back this time.

“Don’t ask me,” he says. He turns his face against the side of Gansey’s head, closing his eyes and burying his nose in Gansey’s hair. He breathes against Gansey’s ear, and Gansey bites down on his neck.

“It’s what I want,” Gansey says. “Please.”

Adam pushes back, frustrated, a hand on Gansey’s chest. His body screams with the loss of contact.

“You really do have a vampire thing, don’t you?” he says. “Noah was right.”

Gansey looks flustered, and a little hunted. “I’m—a scholar of the supernatural,” he says. “It has required research into a lot of unusual phenomena over the years—some of it pretty... well! A lot of paranormal scholars don’t get out much, and their writings are a little, um, self-indulgent?”

“Jesus,” Adam says. His heart squeezes at the thought of Gansey hunched over someone’s erotic vampire treatise, pushing his glasses up furtively. The pressure only tightens when he considers the Gansey in front of him now, the look on his face embarrassed and pleading.

“You have to safeword if I go too far,” Adam says.

Gansey nods enthusiastically. The eagerness somewhat undermines the message.

“I’m serious,” Adam says. “When I feed, I’m not me. You can’t be worried about offending me or hurting me if you need to push me off. And you can’t just let me hurt you to satisfy some weird kink. Safeword if I’m going too far, and if it doesn’t work, push me off of you. Elbow me in the face or something. Promise me.”

“I promise,” Gansey says.

Adam studies his face. His hand is still braced against Gansey’s chest, and it’s taking everything in him to hold himself still.

“Okay,” he whispers, and surges forward. He slams Gansey back against the door, and Gansey lets out a shocked noise. Adam bites down on his throat, vicious, although he meant to be slow; Gansey’s blood fills his mouth, metallic and overpowering. Adam pins him back, one hand on his breastbone and one sliding to grip his wrist. He presses two fingers to the underside of Gansey’s wrist, feels the pulse push blood through his body as he tastes it hitting his throat. It takes a moment for him to listen past the roaring in his head to notice that Gansey is making noises, soft, helpless little pants, his breath catching with the rhythm of Adam’s swallows. It urges him on, and he closes his eyes, letting himself fall into darkness and blood and the yawning need.

The noises Gansey’s making in his throat climb in pitch, coming more and more often until it stops sounding like pleasure and starts sounding like sobbing. Adam tries to pull back, but the taste is on his tongue and he needs it—he dives back in, nipping around the first bite, drawing blood in pinpricks and lapping it up, hungry for something inexplicable, some Ganseyness that’s so fundamental that Adam can almost taste it. He wants it. He hears Gansey take in a shallow breath and open his mouth to speak and cringes, expecting the safeword, expecting the wave of guilt at having lost himself, but then he hears Gansey say, “Please, Adam, please.”

Adam’s disbelief snaps him out of it. He pulls away, stumbling backwards, almost tripping in his urgency, wiping blood off his mouth.

“You didn’t stop me,” he says, his voice ragged.

Gansey stares at him, his chest heaving, blood streaming from his torn-up neck. “No,” he says, “I didn’t.”

Adam recognizes the look on his face—not from looking at Gansey, but from looking at himself. All at once, he gets it. It wasn’t enough for Gansey. It would never have been enough. Adam is not the only one who needs to put limits on his wants.

“Gansey,” he breathes. “You look...”

He stops, startled silent by the way Gansey takes a step forward and drops to his knees. It’s such a simple, easy action, a quiet fold of his limbs, as natural as blinking.

“I...” Adam says, as Gansey reaches for his waistband. He’s gotten the button of Adam’s khaki uniform pants undone and the zipper pulled down before Adam gathers the coherence to speak further. “Wait,” he says. “I need to...”

He pushes Gansey’s hands away and steps past him, turning so that he has his back against the wall. He’s not sure he could handle this without something to lean against. He lets himself fall back, his limbs weak with aftershocks of the adrenaline high, willing the jumping in his heart to calm.

“Okay,” he says. He swallows.

Gansey grins. It looks ghoulish coming from a boy with a red stain spreading across the front of his mint-green shirt. Adam distantly thinks of antiseptics, hydrogen peroxide, liquid bandages, anything to make Gansey clean and safe again, but they’re locked into something and he can’t bring himself to tell Gansey to stop.

Gansey reaches for Adam again and eases his pants down his hips. He leans forward, and Adam’s entire chest seizes up with something so intense he can only feel it as pain.

But instead of putting his mouth on him, Gansey turns his cheek and presses his face against the bulge at the front of Adam’s boxers. He lets out a little sigh and closes his eyes.

“Um,” Adam says, his voice strangled. “Are you nuzzling me?” The pressure is too light to be satisfying, and Adam struggles not to move his hips.

“I just,” Gansey says. “Adam. You’re incredible. You know?”

“Okay,” Adam says. He wonders briefly if this is a side effect of blood loss, but a sudden wetness on his stomach stops his thoughts. Gansey is kissing the area just above his waistband, open-mouthed and eager.

“Oh,” Adam says. He braces his hands flat on the wall behind him, curling forward. Gansey’s fingers explore his inner thigh, sliding up to brush the sensitive skin right below where Adam wants him. Adam clenches his jaw, too self-conscious to do anything but hold his breath as Gansey pulls apart his defenses. Gansey lightly scrapes his teeth against Adam’s stomach, and Adam’s throat closes around a sound he swallows down.

In an instant, far too fast for Adam to prepare himself, Gansey pulls down Adam’s boxers and puts his mouth on Adam. Adam gasps sharply, and so does Gansey, flinching back.

“You’re cold,” he says.

Adam closes his eyes. His voice, when he speaks, is thin. “I’m a vampire.”

“I know,” Gansey says. “Sorry. Let me—”

Adam keeps his eyes closed. Gansey’s mouth closes around him again, and his hips jerk involuntarily. He releases his breath; it comes out unsteady.

Gansey goes slowly, so slowly it’s almost torturous. Adam concentrates on keeping his hips still, keeping himself quiet, assaulted by waves of sensation wracking his body. His mind can’t keep up with the reality that this is Gansey—he can’t keep that fact in his mind at the same time as he’s being taken apart by wet heat, a cautious tongue. Gansey slides down and then pulls up again, dragging a jagged inhale from Adam. He doesn’t know how long he can take this without falling apart.

Gansey pulls back, giving Adam a momentary break, and then Adam hears his voice, low and urgent: “Adam. Look at me. Stay here.”

Adam presses his lips together, scared to invite more sensation in, but he opens his eyes.

Gansey is looking up at him. His beautiful best friend, the bronzed god who Adam could barely look at when he’d first arrived at Aglionby because it made him hate himself too much to see the difference between them. Gansey, who would clean out his bank account and slit his own throat to make Adam happy. Gansey, whose mouth is wet and pink, whose hair is a wispy mess, whose throat is stained with blood spilled for Adam, and who is looking at Adam the way he looks at his car. Like it’s the breakdowns he loves the most.

Satisfied with whatever he sees in Adam’s face, Gansey leans forward again. Adam can tell immediately he’s not going to last—his whole body is already tightening, tensing itself for the inevitable release. His body spasms every time Gansey pulls up, his hands alternately clenching and relaxing. He gasps for air, riding the highs and lows as Gansey sucks in a slow rhythm.

He can’t stop himself from moving his hips, little disjointed movements that startle soft noises out of Gansey. He’s so close, the burn wiping his mind blank of everything except yes, yes, yes. Then a low, breathy noise—for a moment Adam thinks it came from him, but then he looks down and sees that Gansey has the heel of his hand pressed to the front of his own pants, touching himself as he lavishes attention on Adam.

“Fuck,” Adam says—it’s knocked out of him like he’s been punched in the stomach—and then everything pulls tight and the sparks roar up into a bonfire and he’s squeezing his eyes shut and coming hard, an involuntary noise tearing from his throat. “Oh,” he says, because he can’t stay quiet, “oh, fuck, oh my god—” A shudder rolls through him and he grabs at the fabric of Gansey’s shirt. Gansey swallows around the aftershocks, the tightening of his throat making Adam jolt and swear. Finally, Gansey gives him a final lick clean and sits back on his heels. He pulls Adam’s boxers and khakis back up and does up his fly, a detail that strikes Adam with its intimacy, even after what’s just happened.

Adam’s legs are too wobbly to hold him. He slides down the wall to the floor and covers his face with his hands, trying to pull himself together. For a precarious second, he feels heat at the back of his eyes that threatens to turn into tears. Then he feels Gansey pulling his hand away, and then Gansey’s leaning in to kiss him.

“That’s gross,” Adam says, turning his face to the side.

Gansey draws back and pouts in a way that forcibly reminds Adam of how rare it is for Gansey to be denied anything. “No, it’s not. It’s sexy.”

“Nope.” With Gansey comes a distracting waft of blood scent. Adam taps him on the shoulder. “Lie back. Let me do you.”

“Oh! Okay!” Gansey scrambles backward and arranges himself on the floor, limbs splayed, blinking at the ceiling.

“Should I—disrobe?” he says.

Adam puts a hand on his ankle, luxuriating in the feel of skin on skin. “No,” he says. “I’ll take care of it.”

He takes his time undoing Gansey’s belt, conscious of the way Gansey flinches every time Adam’s fingertips brush his stomach. He pulls Gansey’s khakis down past his knees, and then reconsiders and eases them off past Gansey’s shoes, so he can settle himself more easily between Gansey’s thighs.

“It’s chilly in here,” Gansey says, and then laughs, a touch nervously. “Not much help warming me up, are you. Oh, god.”

Adam mouths the front of Gansey’s briefs, right below the damp patch that’s already formed. He can see Gansey’s fingers flexing out of the corner of his eye, like Gansey wants to grab hold of him but doesn’t dare. It floods Adam with an odd mixture of affection and annoyance—Gansey’s so considerate of him. It's incredibly frustrating.

Gansey’s also noisy—not spending a lifetime denying himself apparently extends to this, because every movement of Adam’s causes Gansey to huff out a breath, or squeak, or curse. It’s incredibly validating to press his tongue flat against Gansey’s erection and hear Gansey’s answering half-sob, or to bury his nose in the little tuft of hair emerging from Gansey’s waistband and hear yes, Adam, oh my Christ, yes.

He moves down and noses at Gansey’s thighs, to an encouraging choking noise. He licks there, tasting sweat, and for a moment he imagines he can feel the pulse in Gansey’s femoral artery.

There’s no space between the thought hitting Adam and doing it, no gap where he weighs the options and decides whether or not it’s a good idea. He just wants to, so he does: he bites down hard on Gansey’s thigh, drawing blood. Gansey yelps, but the next sound that comes from him is “don’t stop, Parrish,” so Adam latches his teeth on and sucks. Gansey moans, unrestrained, his body shifting above Adam in ways Adam is too preoccupied to care about. He’s heady with the smell and taste of Gansey, drunk on the pleasure of letting himself have this.

His life is marked by wanting Gansey, a constant, low-level pain the way he’s always worried about money, always trying not to think about his parents, the way he’s always been hungry even before he died. He eats and sleeps and breathes and he wants Gansey, all of Gansey, in a way too undefined for him to ever concretely fantasize about. He wants to kiss Gansey, yeah, and have sex with him, yeah, but he wants more than that—he wants all of what Gansey is to belong to him somehow, to be a part of him. And now, with Gansey’s blood on his lips and Gansey warm and vulnerable beneath him, Gansey trusting him and Adam, for once, too giddy to be scared of screwing up, maybe this is finally, finally enough.

Gansey inhales sharply and pushes at Adam’s face, turning his body away. It takes Adam a confused moment to realize what’s happened. Gansey curls up on himself, his shoulders shaking and his face turned as far as he can into the floorboards as he comes in his briefs.

Gansey’s bleeding on Adam’s floor. It’ll stain, he thinks distantly, someone will notice if he doesn’t clean it up right away. His body is hot with Gansey’s blood, his heart beating rapidly with new strength. For several moments, neither of them moves. Gansey’s chest rises and falls as he recovers, and Adam’s taken up with staring at him, his gaze following the mussed tendrils of hair that have fallen into his face.

Then Gansey pushes himself up to a sitting position. He grins at Adam for half a second before he blanches and puts a hand down behind him on the floor, his face going white. “Oh,” he says. He takes in a deep breath and lets it out slowly. “I think I should lie down.”

“Oh my god.” Adam jumps to his feet, the peaceful moment completely shot. Guilt crushes him like a fist. “Shit, shit, I’m so sorry, hang on, let me get—” He stops babbling and runs to the box in the bathroom with his first aid stuff.

A few minutes later—minutes full of alcohol wipes and Gansey cringing and soft white gauze and Adam trying not to panic—Gansey’s all bandaged up, but he still looks decidedly unsteady.

“God,” Adam groans. He puts two fingers to the bloodstain on Gansey’s shirt. “You’re an idiot. I can’t believe you didn’t stop me. You dick.”

“Not funny,” Gansey says weakly.

“Not a joke,” Adam says. “You’re an asshole. You knew I didn't want to hurt you and you let me hurt you.” Every flicker of Gansey’s lashes or movement of his fingers compresses the ball of anger in the pit of Adam’s stomach. The anger is complex, allowing for guilt and shame and worry, different shades inside the prism of his displeasure.

Gansey makes a disapproving noise. “You didn’t hurt me,” he says. “I’m fine.”

“You can’t stand,” Adam says, the frustration bleeding through in his voice.

“I could if I wanted to,” Gansey says, stubborn. “I would just probably pass out a little. That doesn’t mean I can’t. It means I’m making an informed decision to stay on the floor, for the time being, having considered all the alternatives.”

“I swear to—to Glendower,” Adam says, grasping for what will affect Gansey the most. “If you die trying to feed me, I’ll kill you. Don’t think I’ll turn you or something.”

“Then I’ll become a ghost. Like Noah,” Gansey says mildly. “Hey, do it on the ley line! Maybe we can bring Noah back.”

That’s not funny.” Adam clenches a hand into a fist. The anger peaks, so he stands abruptly, needing to do something. He walks across the room and gathers the pillow from his bed and his thin quilt into his arms. He dumps them by the side of Gansey’s head.

“If you’re going to stay on my floor,” he says curtly. “I’ll get you some water, too. And something to eat.”

Gansey, reaching for the pillow, stops and looks at Adam sharply. “Don’t—”

Do not tell me not to spend money on you, Gansey.

Gansey closes his mouth, chastened. He clutches the pillow to his chest.

Irritated, Adam kneels and grabs the pillow. He lifts Gansey’s head and shoves it underneath. “Do you not know how to rest?”

Gansey reaches up and grabs his wrist, stopping him from pulling away. “It was worth it,” he says.

Something in Adam’s chest makes a violent movement. He frowns. “Eight weeks,” he says. “Eight weeks you’re supposed to wait in between blood donations. Okay? Two months.”

Gansey makes a face. “Can’t we find a magic way to work around it?”

“No.” Adam doesn’t move though, letting Gansey clutch his wrist. “Eight full weeks.”

Gansey smiles, but his skin is still way too pale. Adam’s heart convulses looking at him. Guilt, probably, or affection, whatever—it’s all the same, all just the overwhelming effect of his best friend.

“Eight weeks,” Gansey agrees. “Now kiss me.”

He smooths Gansey’s hair back with his palm, running his thumb along Gansey’s hairline. Allows himself a few more seconds of helpless admiration before getting up. “Water first,” he says firmly.