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okay/not okay

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Adam wakes at 6.57 am, which is just enough time to reach out and switch off his 7 am alarm. His entire body aches with fatigue – he hadn’t crawled into bed until 2 am after a long shift and longer few hours of study, so deeply asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow that Ronan joining him hadn’t disturbed him. He vaguely recalls surfacing when Ronan had gotten up again, but that’s not abnormal for them: for all he hates leaving Adam alone in his bed, Ronan hates lying sleepless with his own thoughts more.

His headphones are nowhere in evidence, which is unusual. Also, he’s curled up against Adam’s back in a ball, which is sweet but very unlike his usual sprawl across the bed and Adam himself. He’s utterly out for the count, breathing deep and slow and scratchy, when he usually has an uncanny knack for waking within seconds of Adam, with the shifting of the mattress or the whisper of sheets against skin.

For Adam, whose survival used to be reliant on his skills of observation, or what psychology texts would call hypervigilance, all of those things set of tiny triggers in his brain. The two of them are a matched set – Ronan knows that Adam doesn’t need softness, holds his ground when Adam falters without pushing or pulling back. And that’s why Adam touches Ronan with the kind of gentleness that isn’t natural to him when he wakes him, fingers soft on his buzzed scalp. It’s so easy when he’s asleep.

Ronan, who normally wakes to Adam like he’s the softest and sweetest kind of light imaginable, crushes his hand to his face to block out the sun. It’s a move that Adam is intimately familiar with from hours spent in low light reading textbooks – a headache that makes you want to gouge your eyes out.

“Okay?” Adam asks, running a hand along Ronan’s arm from shoulder to wrist. Ronan hisses out a breath half way between a sigh and a sound of pain, squashed down.

“Yeah,” he rasps after a moment, moving his fingers to knead at his forehead. It’s a lie, but probably the kind you tell yourself rather than any other sort. Adam levers himself out of bed and goes to shower because it’s getting late, and he figures that if Ronan lies there a while he’ll go back to sleep anyway.

He’s scrubbing shampoo through his hair when the door opens to admit Ronan. It’s not the first time he’s interrupted Adam mid-shower, but usually it’s for more pleasant diversions than him needing to retch into the toilet. It sounds brutal even over the rush of water in the old pipes.

Adam pulls the curtain back and looks at the back of Ronan’s bent head. There’s a compulsion in him to comfort, but he knows from the drawn up curl of Ronan’s shoulders that it wouldn’t be welcome at this particular moment. He says instead, “Not okay?”

This is Ronan Lynch, so he half turns his head to rasp back, “Fuck off.” What skin Adam can see is grey and beaded with sweat. Talking makes him cough and then retch again, although nothing comes up this time. When he’s done he stays hanging over the toilet bowl, not touching it but looking like he desperately wants to let his weight rest there.

“Go lie down,” Adam recommends calmly through the shower curtain while he rinses. Ronan growls something dismissive back at him but does as he says regardless. He sways as he walks, particularly obvious now that he’s grown again, stretched in the obvious way of teenage boys with only the potential of expansion in other directions. Adam has looked perpetually like that since he was fourteen, six feet tall and slim with none of Ronan’s probable future bulk. He’s grateful that he hasn’t got his father’s heavy build, but he likes Ronan’s body and his few inches of extra height.

By the time Adam emerges from the bathroom in his uniform, Ronan is curled back up on the mattress with his eyes closed. Adam sits on the edge of it, close enough that his weight makes Ronan’s head roll against the outer curve of his hip. When Adam touches his forehead lightly, he’s too hot under the sheen of perspiration cooling on his skin, and shivering very lightly despite the blanket pulled around his shoulders.

“Reckon you can keep down some Tylenol?” he asks, keeping his voice low. Ronan shrugs a little and doesn’t swear, which is either a sign of the impending apocalypse or one of just how wretched he feels.

“I’ll find you some and I’ll take you back to Monmouth,” Adam says, smoothing a hand over the prickly curve of Ronan’s skull. Ronan finds Adam’s bed a comfort only when Adam is in it, and Monmouth at least has Chainsaw and Noah to keep him company. Adam needs to go to class, and if he doesn’t they probably will kill each other before the day is done anyway.

“You might have to put me in the trunk,” Ronan rasps, which is not an objection as far as Adam can tell.

“Not as though a bit of vomit is the worst either of our cars have seen,” Adam replies as he stands. He has half a foil of Tylenol in the dingy bathroom cabinet that he feeds to Ronan along with half a cup of lukewarm water. Ronan flops down limp and sweating again once he’s drunk it, eyes closed like he can keep it down through will alone.

“One sec,” Adam says, leaving him to it when he steps out of his little apartment. The next step of his plan involves using Ronan’s cell phone – easy, seeing as it is already in his possession anyway – to call Ronan’s brother.

“Ronan?” Declan answers. There’s something in his voice that he can’t quite iron out, an uncertainty bred in fear. Apparently Ronan’s dislike of his phone has given Declan some kind of complex that he only ever calls with bad news. It’s probably fair enough.

“Declan, it’s Adam Parrish,” Adam says smoothly. “Ronan’s not well. Will you ring in an absence for him?”

There’s a too-long moment, while Declan presumably processes that it’s Adam calling and exactly what he wants, and then comes up with most biting response he can think of.

“I’m not calling in for him if he’s hung over,” Declan dismisses. It’s a fair assumption, or at least would have been a couple of months ago, but Adam feels his skin go tight with aggravation anyway.

“Do you really think I’d be calling if he was hung over, Lynch?” Adam snarls back. He’s not a snarling sort of person, but it’s a language that Declan understands and Adam is willing to make that work for him. “He’s puking his guts up. Don’t make them put another mark on his record just because you feel like being an asshole. Not now.”

Not now, because Ronan has been making an effort, for Adam’s sacrifice if nothing else. And not now because Ronan’s and Declan’s relationship has recently thawed from ‘cold war’ to something a little less aggressive than that.

After allowing Adam to listen to several seconds of frigid silence that mean nothing to him, Declan says, “Fine,” and hangs up. Adam allows himself a roll of his eyes, huffing his breath out, before he goes back in. Ronan had appeared last night in sweats and a tank and hoodie, and most of it he’s still wearing. Adam picks up the rest and throws it onto the bed.

“C’mon,” he prompts lightly. Ronan’s eyes don’t open straight away, but the skin around his lips goes white with pressure for a moment before he pushes himself up to sitting. He touches a hand to his forehead when he makes it upright, but doesn’t keep it there in favour of pulling his sweatshirt on – very slowly.

“Okay?” Adam can’t help himself from asking. It’s a bit like watching a tiger with a headache, and so abstractly a little funny.

“I will kill you,” Ronan mutters from the inside of his hoodie, without much conviction.

“Don’t make promises you aren’t going to keep,” Adam advises, grabbing the hem of the hoodie and pulling it down for Ronan. Ronan’s revealed face turns up to Adam, packed-down helplessness with a thin layer of aggression in his fever-bright eyes. “Aren’t you the one who never lies?”

He forestalls any response, which would probably have been cursing anyway, by firmly grasping Ronan by the wrists and pulling him to his feet. He wilts when upright, all six foot and three or so inches of him drooping until he recovers enough. Adam, ready to catch him but hoping he isn’t going to have to, holds him while he decides whether the pain in his head or the revolting of his belly is worse.

“Maybe you should stay here,” Adam suggests dubiously.

Ronan opens his eyes and straightens as though that statement is somehow offensive. “I’m good.” He’s shivering lightly again, so Adam sweeps up the top blanket and tucks it around his shoulders like a cloak.

“Alright,” Adam says, ushering him out the door and locking it behind them. He follows Ronan closely on the stairs, one hand held out like he has a chance of catching him if he goes down. He also opens the passenger side of the Hondayota without making a comment before walking to the driver side, tossing his backpack in the trunk on the way. He only vaguely listens to the soft sound of Ronan swearing as he catches himself on the roof of the car with one hand and then manoeuvres himself inside.

Once situated, Ronan asks, “Did you really call my brother?” He sounds a little surprised, like he thinks Adam is making excuses for him when he never has before. Like he thinks he needs an excuse for Adam to be in his court, or like being sick isn’t enough. It’s entirely Ronan, at once acting entitled to and surprised by people giving a shit about him.

“I pissed him off, too, so you can consider your goals for the day ticked off,” Adam replies as he starts the car. Ronan makes a little hum of genuine amusement.

The drive there is silent besides the low hum of the radio, Ronan resting his hooded head against the window. It’s strange to watch him so still and taking up so little space, his shoulders curved inwards still like he hurts all over. When he catches Adam glancing at him he makes a snarling face but doesn’t say anything.

Even with a wall made mostly of glass, Monmouth is warmer than Adam’s place when Ronan lets them in. They’re greeted by a flutter of wings as Chainsaw soars through the narrow gap of Ronan’s open door. She changes course at the last moment and drops down on Adam’s shoulder, scrabbling at the unfamiliar terrain until she balances her feathery body against Adam’s neck. She turns her head to Ronan and makes one of her low krawk noises at him like she’s asking him something.

“Yeah, bird,” Ronan says with weary affection, stroking her head with a curled finger.

Gansey appears then, taking a path eerily similar to Chainsaw so he can come cluck over Ronan as he goes to the couch and sits. Gansey’s voice, soothing, is of course met with Ronan’s customary, “Fuck off, Dick.” Adam can’t resist smiling at the two of them a little. Adam isn’t the only one who knows that Ronan needs a little gentleness, now and then, for all he’s shit at accepting it. However, watching Richard Gansey III flutter over their sharp-edged and spitting friend is kind of hilarious.

Chainsaw lets out a low caw and swoops over to the back of the couch so there are two of them leaning over Ronan solicitously. Adam, sensing this a good moment, says, “Bye Ronan. I’ll see you at school, Gansey,” and then backs out of the door to leave them to it.

 


 

The Aglionby school day passes like it always does, simultaneously dragging and racing past until he’s climbing into his terrible car at the end of it and driving back to Monmouth. Gansey had been back to check on Ronan during the lunch hour, though Adam had only seen him for long enough during the afternoon for Gansey to pass on that Ronan was still alive and still prickly.

When he jimmies the door open and steps inside, he has to pause for a moment in the doorway. Ronan is fast asleep on the couch, curled into his blankets enough that the only visible skin is the curve of his cheek – white with a patch of red blazing on his cheekbone – and the dark fan of his eyelashes over one closed eye. Noah, who had been hovering in that anxious, ghostly way of his at the end of the couch, brightens at the sight of Adam.

“Adam!” he says, his voice even more muted than normal. “I’m bored of babysitting now.”

“How’s he been?” Adam asks, walking over and kneeling next to the couch by Ronan’s face. He’s still feverish under Adam’s fingertips, and he makes a discontented noise at his touch without waking.

“Restless,” Noah says. “Also, pukey.”

“Gross,” Adam offers, which is clearly the reaction that Noah was aiming for, seeing as he makes a pleased noise in response. When Adam throws a look over his shoulder, Noah has faded back to a reverse silhouette of a boy, pale white with dark features like a proper ghost.

“Bye, Noah,” Adam says, right before he fades to nothing. The room warms noticeably with his absence. When Adam turns back to Ronan, he has one eye half open, hazy but reasonably alert.

“Hi, Ronan,” Adam says, leaning his elbow on the couch cushion and his head on his hand.

“Hi Parrish,” Ronan replies. He sounds like he’s been gargling gravel. He moves his head closer to Adam’s so that they’re sharing breath, Ronan’s mint-sweet like he’s scrubbed the inside of his mouth regularly today. Unfortunately the rest of him still smells a little like sweat and the stuffiness of being in bed all day, dark smells against the fresh cold air of outside.

“I don’t like you that much, Lynch,” Adam says, though gently, pushing Ronan’s face away. “Keep your disease to yourself.”

“Mm hmm,” Ronan replies through a yawn. He clearly isn’t offended, his visible eye warm. “C’mere.”

He takes the wrist Adam is leaning on in his hand and pulls him into a briefly unoccupied section of the couch before letting his weight back down across Adam’s legs. He rolls a little so his head is in the soft part of Adam’s belly, his blankets sprawling over the both of them. Once situated, he lets out a long sigh that almost sounds content.

“Comfortable?” Adam asks with a quirk of a laugh in his voice.

“Yeah, Adam,” Ronan replies, without the laugh but with satisfaction.