Ronan woke panting underneath a blanket of rose vines, the thorns threatening to furrow under his skin and draw blood to rival the red of the blooms. His heart refused to calm. The sharp tips pressed into his biceps, his legs, the sensitive spot on the back of his neck. Green and red had invaded his vision. Ronan experimentally uncurled his hand where it rested on Adam’s cheek, only to earn three neat, parallel scratches for his trouble. Not too deep, but still enough to stand out against his pale skin.
He swore under his breath. Fuck Cabeswater, and fuck his fucking subconscious for turning against him. What was the point of being the Greywaren if he couldn’t even rid his dreams of ghosts he no longer believed in?
Last night, Adam had pressed Ronan against the wall of his cramped St. Agnes shower under the guise of cleaning themselves up after shoveling mulch for three hours at the Barns. Ronan always relaxed into another, younger version of himself there, and if that meant a dirt fight with Adam, so be it. Adam looked less perfect covered in shit. It made Ronan more functional, less prone to Gansey levels of romance-induced dramatics.
Adam, naked and wet from the spray of the shower, was so hard to ignore that Ronan wouldn’t have minded fucking all of this up before he did it by accident. It would only take a few words. Ronan did always know where Adam’s armor was the most sensitive.
Ronan had instead hooked a calf around Adam’s leg to pull him closer, so their dicks pressed up against each other. Ronan felt so heavy. His body thrummed with the effort of not thrusting without abandon until they both came. He rolled his hips just once and watched as Adam’s breath stuttered, as his muscles strained to keep still.
Like everything else he did, Adam experienced pleasure in controlled bursts. It would’ve frustrated Ronan to no end, if he hadn’t already heard the glorious sounds of Adam begging Ronan for more as he tongued the head of his dick with the kind of precision his Calculus teacher probably would’ve liked to see translated to math. Adam’s hands came to rest on the shower wall at each side of Ronan’s head.
His voice had come out rough, and Ronan could feel Adam’s hot breath on his cheek. “You smell like fertilizer, Lynch.”
“Poop smells bad. It’s like science or something.”
Adam gripped his hips harder, rubbing their cocks together. At Ronan’s whimper, he grinned smugly and said, “Eat shit, asshole.”
“Pretty sure you already did that today.”
For Ronan, danger resonated somewhere deep in his system, not as a series of actions he chose to undertake but as a function of his being, a fact of his existence as real as the devil or the malleable truth of his dreams. It demanded to be fed. Some nights, he could convince himself that Adam was just an unfortunate bystander of it all – just Ronan’s self-destruction directed at this lesson in futility.
But the way Adam had held him, like he was anticipating the fragility Ronan didn’t even know he had inside of him, had reminded Ronan that futile and Adam Parrish no longer went hand-in-hand. It would make anyone’s head spin, realizing that their worst weakness was the only thing holding them upright.
Later that night, Ronan had fallen asleep next to Adam only to dream himself tangled in barbed wire, its points seeking to unite with the pointed edges of Ronan’s insides so completely that they seemed to grow from his tattoo. By typical dream-logic, Ronan had retained the ability to run as fast as his boots could make contact with the springy grass. His ribs were a poor cage for his heart as it filled and emptied of oxygen again and again. His legs ached.
At his back was a phantom Adam, one so far removed from the Adam that Ronan knew that Ronan only recognized him by the collection of his features. The dirt hair, still streaked with water, the elegant hands, the bruise on his upper thigh Adam had gotten just that day, falling off a ladder. He’d stepped straight out of his shower and into Ronan’s dream.
He didn’t run the way humans were meant to, with every impact pounding the breath from his lungs. His feet barely made contact with the ground as he proceeded unmarred by basic laws of physics.
This was not the Adam who’d laughed into Ronan’s ear as they’d watched Legally Blonde before bed – this is gonna be you at Harvard, Parrish. This Adam wore his nakedness like a weapon aimed straight at Ronan. This Adam was not a sum of his parts but a pair of lips Ronan had worked hard to erase from his neverending list of wants, a hard chest, an unspoken sin. This Adam threatened to leave nothing of Ronan behind when he left.
Ronan had hurtled straight into a ravine, his legs wheeling and losing control. His head hit something hard and rang with the impact. He’d jolted back consciousness before the other Adam could catch up.
Now, unthinkingly, Ronan tightened his grip on the real Adam’s hand where he held it under the mattress. It made his heartbeat slow somewhat, made his vibrating limbs let go of the memory of careening into the unknown. The vines had trapped Adam only where their bodies touched. Ronan’s fingers on Adam’s face, their hands under the mattress, his knee wedged between Adam’s legs. Adam was just an unwitting victim of the storm in Ronan’s head. Cabeswater must have tempered the harshness of the barbed wire by transforming it into this, but there was something terrifying about beautiful things that hurt when they got too close.
A thorn scraped against Adam’s face as Ronan tried to shift away, and it pressed deep enough for Adam’s eyes to burst open. He lay there, blinking the sleep from his eyes, taking in the sight of Ronan’s cage of roses. Still groggy, Adam resembled a baby mouse marveling at its first taste of the outside world. Ronan focused on the scratch on Adam’s cheek instead, but it somehow only made the heartache more acute.
“What the fuck,” Adam said, enunciating slowly. His mouth opened slightly when his gaze snagged on Ronan’s hand. “You’re bleeding. I have Band-Aids.”
Ronan almost laughed. “They better be fucking huge Band-Aids.”
No one made Band-Aids for traitorous doubts anymore. It forced Ronan to deal with them himself, in potentially fucking healthy ways – if he ever figured out what those healthy ways were. Punching walls and slamming doors only went so far, and knuckles could only stay bruised for so long.
Adam removed himself from the tangled mess slowly, careful not to disturb the vines. Wordlessly, he pulled pruning shears from a box in the corner of the room. His Cabeswater tool box was a gardener’s paradise, if that gardener were a particularly hardcore one who had a vested interest in preventing a magical forest from wreaking havoc on his life as he knew it. Ronan had once turned on the chainsaw just to hear the roar of it groaning to life. Chainsaw – the bird – had protested at the sound, which had struck Ronan as profoundly symbolic.
Adam pressed Ronan’s wrist against the mattress as he held the shears as close as he could to Ronan’s skin. “Stay fucking still.”
The blades of those shears, old and rusted, could probably dismember him. Dismemberment and tetanus. Adam really did know how to woo a guy. “Do you think I have a death wish?”
Adam only hummed in answer.
He silently snipped the vines where they wrapped around Ronan’s limbs and dumped them into a trash bag. His ungloved hands worked over Ronan meticulously, careful not to stab himself. Adam’s concentration was a force of war. He always put too much of himself into the smallest of acts. It scared Ronan the way that Matthew’s easy grin sometimes made him want to hide.
As he worked, Adam asked, “What were you dreaming about?”
Ronan gritted his teeth. “I don’t fucking know. Maybe I just wanted to get you some flowers. Happy Valentine’s Day, babe.”
Adam snipped a rose over Ronan's calf with special contempt, nearly cutting a line through his pajama pants. “Shit, I almost forgot to swoon.”
But Ronan wasn’t a liar, and they were both so attuned to each other’s particular brands of sarcasm that Adam could see right through him.
“I dreamt about you,” Ronan admitted. “You were chasing me through the woods.”
This made Adam pause. “You were scared of me?”
The dim light of the moon framed Adam’s head like a halo, but he was no angel. Angels could wreak destruction with heavenly power. Adam chipped away a piece of Ronan in the most mundane of ways – his accent when he forgot to cover it up, the way his stupid hair fell in his stupid face, the curl of his toes whenever he managed a difficult Latin translation.
Adam had freed one of Ronan’s hands, and Ronan took this opportunity to clasp Adam’s wrist. Adam’s pulse flew, but his long fingers slowly came to twine around Ronan’s wrist in turn. Just two boys holding hands. Ronan could even pretend that they fit together that easily, as if the self-hatred was a thing of the past.
Ronan kept his voice low. It made his words louder. “You always scare me.”
He willed Adam to understand. Ronan scared and Ronan running were two entirely different states of being.
Adam pulled the rest of the vines off Ronan’s body and chucked them in the bag. With a careless jerk of his leg, he kicked the trash bag away as he let himself fall next to Ronan on the mattress, his weight nearly knocking Ronan over. His hand slipped into Ronan’s, and his grip was so tight that his fear slithered into Ronan too. He pressed them together so that they lay knee to knee, chest to chest. The desperation rolling off him was a tangible thing.
Adam cradled the back of Ronan’s head, this thumb drawing slow circles where hair met skin. The soft touch hid the ever-present intensity that came with making the short list of people Adam gave a shit about. “You scared the hell out of me.”
Adam’s hand in his felt like a truth. So Ronan gave a truth in return. “Sometimes I forget that I’m allowed to want you.”
He'd meant for it to come out as a snarl, but it turned into a whisper before it left his mouth.
Adam snaked a hand between their bodies and held it against Ronan’s heart. “As long as you don't forget that always I want you."