"Why is kissing so complicated?" Adam asks, like it's a logical continuation of their current conversation.
Gansey looks up from his spot on the floor, frowning. The subject of their conversation, up until then, had ostensibly been Calculus homework (of course liberally punctuated by Glendower musing, because all conversations with Gansey are, more often than not).
"Are you high?" he asks. It sounds like a very Ronan sort of thing to say and he wonders how the phrase managed to sneak into his lexicon seemingly of its own accord.
"No," Adam says, like it's an everyday expression coming from him. He's obviously distracted. "It's just — there are so many variables. Bad breath. Noses getting in the way. Teeth getting in the way. How do you even know how much — pressure to exert? And then there's the whole matter of tongues."
"Tongues," Gansey repeats, like the word is an alien concept to him. But coming out of Adam's mouth, in that particular tone, it definitely feels like he's never heard it before.
"Yeah, how much is too much for a first date, really?"
"Oh," he says, finally putting this odd line of thought together with the day of the week and something Adam had mentioned to him a few days ago. "This is about your date tomorrow night?"
Adam flushes a shade of pink that might have been more appropriate a minute ago when he was almost clinically discussing putting his tongue in other people's mouths. "Yes."
"Are you — are you worried?" he asks, narrowing his eyes at him. Adam's never been worried about a date before or he's never talked about it with him, at least. He doesn't think he'd have much advice to lend even if he did; most of the dates he's gone on were highly contrived, stuffy, awkward affairs.
"I think — I think I'm a bad kisser," he admits, ducking his head, fiddling with the cover of the notebook that's in his lap.
Gansey laughs softly, almost out of relief, because it feels like the most ordinary problem they've ever encountered in the entirety of their friendship.
He shuts his book and rests it on the top of an already precarious stack before getting to his feet and going over to sit next to Adam on his bed.
"I'm sure you're not," he says, in his most reassuring tone.
"How would you know?" Adam accuses hotly, eyes shooting back up to his face.
"Okay, fine, I don't," he concedes. "But have you — um, have you had any complaints?"
Adam bursts out laughing then and the mood palpably lightens. He sighs. "I just — I feel like I have no idea what I'm doing. Like I'm trying to eat their faces."
Gansey nods; he's actually all too familiar with this particular sensation. Only it's been the opposite for him the few times he's kissed anyone: it was like he was the one being devoured. It's almost too easy to just forget it's even happening, though. He's never kissed anyone that made him want to stay entirely in the moment, to feel every bit of it. But he thinks about it sometimes, late at night, when the hornets feel farther away than usual, when time feels large and burgeoning, and not like it's closing in on him.
"I think it's about listening."
"I mean, it's — it's like a conversation, right? It doesn't just go one way. You have to be receptive to their needs and respond appropriately."
"Well, I'm not good at talking either, so that doesn't really help," Adam says, dryly.
"I want to help you," Gansey says, earnestly. "I wish I —" He wishes he knew the right thing to say, just this once, even if it's something small and insignificant in the grander scheme of their fraught, fragile relationship.
"Are you — are you offering?" Adam asks, eyes wide, with shock or something else. Something almost like intrigue.
"What? Oh — I — That's —" It's his turn to go a spectacular shade of pink.
Adam laughs again, but it's quieter and slightly strained now. "I wasn't — I was joking. I mean, you don't have to —"
"But I want to," he says, the conviction in his own voice surprising him.
Adam just stares at him.
"I mean," he amends, idiotically. "If you want to."
Adam just looks at him for a long time, as if he's wondering whether this is an elaborate prank or not. Gansey sees the exact moment when he makes his decision, mouth tightening, eyes determined.
He swallows before he nods. "Okay."
"Okay," Gansey agrees.
He turns to face him on the bed, one leg tucked under him, the other dangling off of it. He takes a deep breath and shuts his eyes dramatically.
He hears Adam laugh. "Hey," he scolds playfully. "Take this seriously. It's all in the name of your romantic education."
He feels Adam shift closer to him on the bed, and then he feels as he reaches up and carefully slides his glasses off his nose. The slight touch of his fingertips on his face sends a shiver down his spine. God, they're really doing this.
He hears him rest his glasses on the nightstand and then he's right in his space again, smelling like detergent and engine oil and fruity shampoo and Adam, Adam, Adam.
Their foreheads actually do bump painfully on the first try. "Ow," he says, rubbing it. Adam laughs again. He wants to taste that exact sound out of his mouth. His heart skips a beat.
Adam tries again, slower, more deliberate; he grasps his chin between his thumb and forefinger and tilts his face to the side, aligning them perfectly, like he's done the math, calculated the precise angle for them to work — and then their mouths slot together — and oh.
He feels every second of it. He's never been more present. Adam puts his hands in his hair to tug them closer together, and he's practically sitting in his lap, one of Adam's knees braced against his, Adam's other leg crossed over his where they're hanging off the mattress, and Jesus, Jesus — that's Adam's tongue pressing gently against his bottom lip as if asking for permission, he realises with a helpless, embarrassing gasp, before he eagerly opens his mouth, and then — Adam's tasting all of him and he's letting him taste him and their tongues are moving together like a waltz and their breathing is in tandem like they're halves of the same living creature — and this is what kissing is supposed to be like: like uncovering precious artefacts, like a story without words, like a feeling without a name. Like living inside someone else even after you're gone.
They kiss and kiss and kiss and Gansey wants even more, wants to make a home for himself in the cage of his ribs.
He slides his hand up under Adam's shirt and he recoils like he's been burned and then he's muttering hasty apologies about needing to get home and grabbing his books and shoving them into his bag and then he's fleeing from the warehouse.
He can still feel the ghost of his lips and skin everywhere they were touching.
They don't talk about the date afterwards and they don't talk about kissing again until Blue.
He thinks about walking away, he's about to walk away — but he doesn't. Instead, he shoves Adam up against the side of the table that was previously occupied by his mother's figurines, now smashed into pieces that are littering the floor, and crushes their mouths together.
It almost feels like they're breaking something else: a silent agreement to never talk about it just like they'd never talk about him stealing his car (and that's something else that's been shattered, trampled underfoot), the grotesque facade of them both in their expensive suits, everything he hates and loves about this place, his own resolve to not want this, to not want him. It feels like being so desperate to put something back together again that you destroy it irreparably with clumsy, heavy hands.
There's nothing gentle about it. He fists his hands in Adam's hair and pulls him down, pushes a knee between his thighs to keep him in place. He doesn't seem to want to go anywhere though; his fingers are pressed into his hips, almost bruising, and he bites down on his lip, hard, as Gansey lets out a hiss of pain. And then Adam's tongue is inside his mouth, hot and insistent, and he just lets him in, lets him — lets him take what he wants, take everything he can't begin to offer him. He doesn't know if this is better than talking or if he's fucking it all up in one single, reckless moment — the kind he isn't allowed to have.
And then Adam's letting go of his hips, sliding his tongue out of his mouth, but he stays right there, eyes still closed — and it's just breath and slick lips and fingers skimming over skin and through hair, making fleeting contact without ever getting a proper grasp on him; he's a wave, insubstantial and ephemeral, washing over Adam like he would over solid rock. The front of his silky jacket slips through Adam's hands as he scrabbles for purchase, and he can't seem to make them work this time either. He thinks one or both of them might disappear if they stop trying, though.
It almost feels like it's happening to someone else — it feels like he's just a spectator to the reality around him the way he has been for the last seven years; like he's been apart, outside of his own life, a ghost to only look and not touch. It feels like he's slipping through Adam's fingers. Or maybe Adam's slipping through his.
God, he's never wanted to hold on to something this much.
He thinks about Blue for half a second and then, She can't kiss him, not like this, not at all, with a kind of fierce, shameful joy. He just wants him to be okay, wants them to be okay; he just wants him to look like he did back in the car, laughing over goddamned pigmy pouters.
He rests his forehead against Adam's, breathing heavily, and he doesn't disappear, amazingly.
The rapid pound of his pulse is a desperate plea in his own ears: Stay, stay, stay.
"Just — can we not talk — not right now."
He expects him to argue but he just nods, dazedly.
He takes him upstairs to his old bedroom and he takes his expensive suit off carefully and takes him in his hand as Adam bites back a whimper (he kind of wants to tell him, No, no, I want everyone to hear, I want to leave proof that this happened), takes him in his mouth as Adam turns his face away, stifles his moans into a feather pillow, hands tightly fisted in the Egyptian cotton sheets.
He almost swears he says Gansey's name when he comes, though.
He leaves sometime during the night while Gansey's asleep. He doesn't hear a thing.
They don't talk about it after. Not when they get back to Henrietta. Not at all.
"Hey, you're okay — you're okay," a voice says, hushed and tender.
Adam's looking down at him, eyes wide and concerned. His hand's around his elbow, grip firm, like he's afraid he's going to dissipate if he lets go of him. He thinks he's been trying to shake him awake for the last few minutes.
"Jesus," he says, blinking away the blurriness, sitting up in Adam's small, shadowy room. "What happened?"
"You were dreaming — and then you were shouting —"
"God, did I wake you up?"
Adam frowns at him. "You're shaking. And you're as cold as death."
"Maybe I should go," he says. He starts looking around for his glasses. He's pretty sure he fell asleep still wearing them; Adam had to have taken them off.
"Don't be an idiot."
Adam's hand is still on his arm; he strokes his fingers over his elbow, lightly, a few times, as if reminding him that he's awake and okay. Or reminding himself.
Gansey nods at him, but his heart's still racing. "Okay."
"Just lie down," Adam says in a soft, soothing voice, forgoing any attempt at concealing his accent. Maybe it's the time of night or maybe it's seeing Gansey as he just did, vulnerable and haunted and so far from the boy he first met. The boy he thought he knew. The boy who never existed in the first place.
Gansey does as he's told, slowly shifts onto his side, taking deep, deliberate breaths.
Adam moves over until he's lying on his side too, facing him. His hand's still loosely wrapped around his wrist, though, thumb brushing over his pulse point.
His body's almost entirely in shadow; he can just barely make out the outline of his face. He doesn't stop looking, though. He knows Adam's looking back at him.
"You were clawing your hands over your ears. I didn't think you were going to stop," he says, quietly, almost breathless.
Gansey exhales audibly in the silence between them. He can still feel them, almost, the ghost of the dream.
"Does it happen often?" Adam asks, hesitant.
"Sometimes it feels closer than other times."
"Does it help when — when you're not alone?"
He thinks about Blue's steadying voice on the phone, Noah's understanding words of comfort, Ronan's silent, solid presence. He nods slowly.
"I didn't think it was fair to ask you," he admits. It wasn't just that, of course; it was embarrassment, too. How could he claim to want to protect any of them from their very real demons when he can't even protect his own mind from imaginary ones.
"You don't have to," Adam tells him, earnestly.
His grip tightens as he feels rather than sees him move closer on the thin mattress.
He feels his warm breath on his cheek and then Adam presses his lips to his, gentle and chaste. Gansey keeps his eyes open in the dark, leans into his kiss, grazes the backs of his fingers over his smooth, soft cheek — and then he's gone just as quickly, like he only imagined it.
Adam lets go of his hand, turning onto his back and closing his eyes. They sleep with a few inches of space between them that feel like a chasm, but he doesn't have any more nightmares that night. He doesn't dream at all.
They're in the Pig, on the edge of Cabeswater. It's one of those bright, stark days when everything just hurts: the sky, the sun, the smell of trees and earth and water. He wants to keep it, keep all of it, inside of him, pack them all neatly inside his chest. Take them with him. Like this feeling. Like Adam sitting next to him, strange and magical and alive. He looks brighter, too, eyes sharp, skin glowing, utterly present in his body. He almost looks like the person Gansey always knew he'd be someday. His mouth is a tense line, though. Something's still worrying at him.
He thinks he knows what's about to happen, almost as clearly as if it already did.
"Blue's probably going to kill me, but I can't — I can't do this anymore," he says, and there's something dark warring deep inside his eyes now.
"You're on the death list," he says, abruptly, heavily.
"What?" he asks, tonelessly.
"I've known for a while. Since St. Mark's Eve."
"You — what? How could you not tell us that?" he asks, stunned.
Gansey just looks at him impassively.
"Because it wasn't fair to us? What the fuck, Gansey?" he says, slamming a hand into the dashboard in front of him.
"Adam, please —"
"No, god, you don't get to — You don't get to be all Richard fucking Gansey the Third right now. Self-sacrifice isn't fucking noble, or whatever — it's just pointless and selfish. This has been fucking eating me alive. And Blue, Jesus, you don't even know —"
"I know," he cuts him off. "I know."
"God," he says. "Fuck. Aren't you angry?" There are tears of pure rage in his ocean blue eyes. He wants to wipe them away.
He nods. "Yeah, I'm angry." No, I'm terrified. The nightmares have only been getting more frequent, more intense. And waking up is even worse. "But I — I always knew, somehow, that I was living on borrowed time. I haven't felt completely here since I came back."
"You're not —" Adam looks at him, furious and desperate. "You're not just accepting this. If you tell me you're not fighting this, I'm going to kill you myself."
He almost laughs at that. "You sound like Ronan."
"Yeah? What about him? You're going to just leave him here too?"
"He doesn't — You don't need me. None of you do," Gansey says, almost in a whisper.
Adam looks genuinely, frighteningly pissed-off now. He wonders if he's going to punch him in the face for a single, insane moment. "God, just — stop. Just fucking stop."
And then he's leaning over the centre console and grabbing his face and kissing him, fiercely, wildly, unyieldingly. It's totally different from all the times before. It's like he's anchoring him into his body and into the earth with his touch. Like he never wants to let go either.
It's a promise. Every beat of his heart is screaming: Stay with me, Stay with me.
Both of his hands are still resting firmly on the sides of his face when he pulls away and says, eyes locked on his, "I'm saving you. You better fucking deal with it."
Adam's bleeding. Or he's covered in blood. Someone's blood.
"What did you do?" Gansey asks. His body feels weak, his head's spinning, but when he touches his fingers to his ears, there aren't any stings there anymore. He's pretty sure he died, in the rain, in a cloud of hornets so thick he couldn't see, so thick they blocked out the sky. He's pretty sure he remembers seeing Blue's face in a churchyard. She didn't know who he was; she asked for his name.
Adam's here now, though, and he looks like pure light. The sun's shining behind him; it makes a halo around his hair.
He touches a blood-red hand to Gansey's face; it's warm and real and solid.
He raises his own and just gently keeps it there against his skin.
Adam leans down and kisses his forehead. He brushes some of his hair away with his other hand. He smiles at him, small and soft but real.
When he kisses his mouth, he tastes like Cabeswater and the ocean and blood and lightning. It feels like life flowing through him, through both of them, the thrum of the line below them beating within them right next to their own hearts. It feels like he's finally awake in his own skin, like he's living in this moment instead of watching it from afar.
Adam holds his hand and they sit in the grass and it's over, but it's only now starting. They're only now starting.
"I saved you," he says, like he's just regained the ability to speak, awed and disbelieving.
Gansey kisses him again and says, "I knew you would."