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in the nothingness of a night

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Gansey lives and all of them are changed. Adam’s hands shake on the way back, a physical reaction that he can’t feel, can only observe, like he might watch something happening to someone else. He feels raw inside, a little bit empty. He had not thought Cabeswater was so loud until it had gone entirely. No, that’s not true, Ronan is loud so Cabeswater was loud. That’s not true either, Cabeswater was loud because it was a magical dream forest of trees that spoke fucking Latin. Adam misses it already.

They drop Gansey and Henry off at Fox Way with Blue. It’s not a surprise to Adam, that they split into these two groups, like two new families. They are tied to each other and always will be, but they are ones and twos and threes now too. They say their goodbyes in the car. Gansey touches Adam’s shoulder, Blue squeezes Ronan’s hand. Henry doesn’t say anything, he offers them a weak smile and Ronan touches two fingers to his temple, a lazy salute that is more than Adam can bring himself give. None of it seems real yet, he feels like he’s still dreaming, like all of them are things Ronan’s brought to life, splintering as they try to get used to being outside of his head. He hopes he gets used to Henry quickly.

He and Ronan don’t leave until the others are inside and the door is closed. Orphan Girl clambers off Adam’s lap, where she had been sitting, pulling at his sleeves and humming, and she climbs across the gear stick to get to the passenger seat. Adam doesn’t care, he can see Ronan easier from the back, it doesn’t pull at the muscles in his neck he hadn’t known he’d strained. He wants to see what pieces of this night Ronan is still scared of. Gansey dying or Adam’s hands or whatever unknowns come next.

Ronan might watch him more than he does the road. His eyes are dark, shadowed under sharp brows and the straight line of the black-rimmed mirror. Adam remembers seeing a movie once, where a girl looked through a mirror down a well so she could see the future, and he feels like this now, seeing Ronan’s eyes on him. His future wavering in silver water.

They get to the Barns and Orphan Girl gets out immediately, stumbles across the wet gravel to the house, her hands plucking at the air around her, white stars in the velvet of the early morning. Ronan and Adam wait, feel out the quiet. Birds are starting to sing. Ronan turns in his seat. One of his hands is still on the wheel, the black of the plastic stark against his skin; the dips in hand-grip mimic the rise and fall of his knuckles. He is a muddle of old and new, Adam thinks, a BMW and a Celtic knot. Adam wonders what the loss of Cabeswater feels like to him, whether there are blank spaces in his head now, neural pathways struggling to find their way. Maybe he feels like Adam does: sick and tired. His face feels grubby somehow, dirty with tears maybe, or dust from the cave. He runs his tongue over his teeth and they feel sharp and gritty. His fingers hurt too, from the rigid lines the unmaker kept them in, steel-strong so Ronan’s skin would give first.

“What’s wrong with your face?” Ronan asks, too loud for the car, too sudden. Adam smiles though, it’s brought him back to the present.

“Stop looking then,” he says, and Ronan’s teeth flash in the twilight.

They leave the car, they walk across the gravel, taking their steps like old men, dragging their feet across the stone. Orphan Girl is waiting for them by the front door, her hands full of her sweater, her expression petulant. She kicks at the door in explanation. Ronan nudges at her with her elbow.

“Use your words,” he says, and Adam is sure he would at least pretend to be angry if he knew how gently he spoke to her.

“Locked,” hisses Orphan Girl, not gentle at all, kicking the door once more. Ronan gives her his key and she fumbles with it for several long seconds until it finally swings open. She disappears into the dark, not bothering with the light switch. She drops the key on the floor. The sound of her crashing down the hallway echoes back to them.

“Thinks she owns the place,” mutters Ronan, as they step inside.

There is no question as to what they’ll do next. Adam can barely keep his eyes open already and Ronan sways as he walks. They go to the kitchen first and Ronan gives Adam an apple and he eats it down to the seeds, sitting at the bench. It’s almost like a toothbrush, he thinks, he hopes it’s enough of one that Ronan won’t complain about it if they kiss. He swishes water around his mouth and spits into the sink. Orphan Girl gets dried apricots and she splits them down the sides and squeezes out the sweet flesh before putting them in her mouth. Ronan eats an apple too and he opens a window to throw the core.

Orphan Girl sleeps in Declan’s room, at the foot of his bed, curled up like a seashell. Ronan throws extra pillows and blankets at her and she squeaks in outrage and throws them back and Adam laughs. When she settles down he and Ronan continue on to his room. The silence gets heavy and slow when Ronan collapses onto his bed and Adam stays standing, looking down at him, tugging on his fingers until the joints crack.

“Well?” Ronan demands, when the silence gets too long.

“I have… I have to draw cards,” says Adam, only knowing that that’s what is sitting wrong with him when he says it. Ronan doesn’t say anything but his eyes narrow and he sits up a little straighter and drags his palms across the rumpled duvet, clearing space. Adam kneels on the ground, pulls the velvet bag from his back pocket, rests his elbows on the bed as if he were about to pray.

There is only silence behind his eyes, under his hands, where Cabeswater used to be. That thing he has felt since he opened himself to the forest is gone, the flicker at the corner of his eyes has disappeared. He draws his cards. Ronan crosses his legs, rests his chin in his hands, watches Adam’s mouth instead of the cards. Adam smiles and Ronan rolls his eyes but doesn’t look away. The cards come to his hands easily, the hanged man, the five of cups, the fool.

“Well obviously,” says Ronan, smirking. Adam frowns; he still feels nothing, no twitch of power at his fingertips, vines growing up from a lakebed, construction dust tracing a circle around him. There is no white heat or water-logged cold. There is no magician.

“It’s gone,” says Adam, curling his fingers into his palms. He feels suddenly like he’s come to the end of something, he’s been let go, he has to stop acting like he belongs with people who command the dead and pull living creatures from their dreams. He is whatever his father would tell him at his ugliest, words that have no meaning anymore, just feeling, just scorn and pity and disgust. His throat aches so he swallows; his teeth hurt so he bites down on his tongue.

“I don’t... it’s gone,” he says, when the silence pulls.

What’s gone?”

“The… whatever Cabeswater gave me. Power, I don’t know.”

Ronan is silent and Adam can’t look at him. He stares at his hands, he stares at the cards on the duvet. The hanged man, the five of cups, the fool. They’re pretty pictures, they mean less than nothing. His father is telling him he doesn’t belong anywhere, not even in their double-wide. He presses his lips together. His mother is looking out the window, mechanically cleaning dishes. Adam remembers her hands, sticky and damp and wrinkled after washing because gloves were an expense they could not afford. Her fingernails smelled like old, wet food afterwards, but he held her hands sometimes, when he was young and his father was at work. He lay in her lap and shut his eyes.

“Cabeswater didn’t give you that,” says Ronan.

“Don’t be stupid.”

You’re being stupid,” snaps Ronan. Adam shuts his eyes. Ronan touches him, not gentle or soft, two fingers at his chin, tipping his head back, then his hand, sliding across his jaw to hold his skull still. Adam did not think a hand could do that, pull his bones into place, hold all the cracked pieces of him together. He swallows so that he might feel the heel of Ronan’s palm press harder against his throat.

“You don’t know,” he says. “You’ve always had it.”

Ronan lets go of him then, pulls his hand back, takes away their contact like it hurts him. Adam opens his eyes, licks his lips, looks up. Ronan is scowling and he runs a hand over his shaved head and chews on the leather bands at his wrist. He has messed up the cards with his movement and the five of cups is turned toward him and away from Adam. The golden cups look like they’re falling from the sky. He isn’t sure what to say now, maybe they will argue until they’re too empty and too tired and when they wake up it will happen again. He doesn’t want to fight. He wants to kiss him again. He wants to forget all of it, that he ever had power and then lost it, and kiss Ronan as much as he can before he loses that too. But Ronan is a thunderstorm and Adam can’t think of a way to calm the sky. He looks at the cards again. There is a ring of light around the hanged man’s head. He thinks of Noah’s smudges.

“The psychic,” says Ronan, startling Adam from his thoughts. “The one with the hair. She called you a magician. She’s not stupid even if you are.”

“She’s dead,” mutters Adam, but Ronan almost has a point. Persephone would know what to call him and why. She would flip her cards into his hands and there would be meaning there.

“Stop it,” hisses Ronan. “Give me your hands.”

“What?”

“Give. Me. Your. Hands.”

Adam does as he’s asked, getting up onto the bed beside Ronan to do it. He holds his hands out, thinking Ronan will take them, but Ronan just turns them, palm up. Adam can feel the fingerprints he leaves behind. He picks up two of the cards and puts them in Adam’s hands. He takes the last one for himself, folding a crease into one corner, he’s so careless with it. Adam doesn’t know what to do. He is holding the five of cups and the fool and Ronan has the crooked hanged man and he doesn’t know what to do.

“Now what?” he asks.

“Now you stop thinking about all the reasons you’re shit and start thinking about all the reasons you’re not.”

“That’s not magic.”

“It might be magic getting you to do it.”

“You’re such an asshole.” He doesn’t want to fight.The words fall from his mouth like stones.

Adam,” Ronan says, stressing his name like it exhausts him just to say it. “Stop fucking thinking for one second.”

Adam hasn’t dropped the cards, but he’s holding them like they’re meant for throwing. The worn velvet of them feels like the softest thing he’s touched in a thousand years but that can’t be true. He kissed Ronan. He fastened his watch around Orphan Girl’s wrist. He talked to Noah. He doesn’t stop thinking but he does lower his hands to look at the cards properly and he does press against the ragged edges Cabeswater left him. Because Ronan said his name like he couldn’t contain it.

“Noah,” says Adam, not not thinking, just seeing him again in the golden edges of the hanged man.

“What about Noah?”

“You have his card.”

Ronan looks at the card he’s holding, the boy with the halo, the tree that grows from the underworld. Adam can feel the flutter of something at the edges of his vision, like Noah is there too, covering his eyes with his hands. All at once Adam knows that they won’t see him again, that he gave up some part of himself to bring Gansey back too. But the card is Ronan’s, because Ronan knew Noah like the others didn’t, like maybe only Blue did.

“You should talk to Blue,” says Adam, sighing. “We should do something for him.”

Ronan doesn’t reply, he puts the card down, shuffles it back into Adam’s pack. He looks worn out. They haven’t slept in a long time, not properly, and Ronan has had more death than all of them, these last few days. Adam wonders if he might pull some piece of Aurora back for him, from the ruins of Cabeswater. A ribbon or a rose. He would give up his hands and eyes again in a heartbeat if he meant he could do that for Ronan.

“This is us,” he says, quietly, putting the fool down in front of Ronan. “Or it’s what we should be. Will be.”

“Typical,” says Ronan, leaning back on his hands, tipping his head toward the ceiling. “And the other one?”

“It’s me,” says Adam. The cups are falling into his palms, the sky is violent, the figure is cut from the night. Cabeswater is a scar, a mark on the land, like what gets left behind after a fire, deep and dark but not unreachable. He cannot explain how he knows what these cards mean, but he does. There is a well under his hands, deeper than he could ever reach, but he can make the water ripple. Even without Cabeswater there to guide him. Possibly. Maybe. Maybe he will just compete with 300 Fox Way for customers, but he doesn’t think so. Now that he’s caught on to one thing he can feel others. Like the way sun feels so much brighter after a cloud has passed.

“Idiot,” says Ronan and his familiar scorn is that same brightness too.

Adam sighs. He puts the cards back in their bag, tugs on the drawstring, places it carefully on Ronan’s side table. Ronan is watching him again and his is expression is clear and open, like he has known forever that they would end up here, two boys on a bed, a moment away from touching. Adam has never been that certain of anything, anyone, in his life. He reaches across the space between them, takes Ronan by the elbow and pulls him closer. They kiss on his bed like they had the first time, and the second. Adam holds Ronan’s face between his hands, kisses him like Cabeswater might pass between their lips; dreams and forests and entire worlds made real because they are on a bed and kissing.

When Ronan’s hands skim over his hips, up under his shirt, when his fingertips trip down his spine, feeling out every part of him his skin will allow, Adam forgets everything that has happened to them. Ronan bites on Adam’s earlobe and he forgets about what power means to him and why. Adam pinches Ronan’s cheek and laughs when he scowls and he forgets that Cabeswater is gone and that he’ll have to go to school soon and that they are both teenagers with no parents.

They end up half-clothed and breathing hard, a mess of limbs and heat. It’s pink outside, the sun is almost up, and they are both too tired and too new to get much further than they are, cold sheets and hot skin. Ronan presses their foreheads together, like he wants to fight this, keep going, but Adam puts one hand to his chest and he goes still.

“Tease,” says Ronan and Adam laughs, covers his mouth with a hand, laughs again when Ronan licks his palm.

Adam still has doubts, that any of this is real, that he should want it or deserve it. Cabeswater is lost but Ronan isn’t and neither is the leyline and the connection they all have to it. Cabeswater could be found again. There is power in his hands, his eyes, like something that disappears when he turns to look at it, like something that only exists sometimes. He doesn’t know if it will stay with him when he leaves Henrietta for college, but it might be there when he comes back. Like Ronan will be there. There are unfinished parts to all of it: he needs to talk to his parents, they all need to do something for Noah, Ronan needs to navigate the remains of his patchwork family. But first of all, they need to sleep.