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this is torturous/ electricity between both of us

Chapter Text

Gansey was talking about something, probably intending for more than just Blue to hear what he was saying, but Adam could not for the life of him focus on whatever Gansey was saying. He was staring at Ronan across the table from him, and Ronan was staring back.

It had been three weeks since the end of everything, three weeks since the beginning of everything else. It wasn’t that they were settled back into their normal lives, that they’d gotten over everything that had happened- Adam didn’t think that was ever going to be the case- but a sort of routine had fallen on them. Adam, Gansey, and Henry were back at Aglionby; Blue was back at her school. Ronan had officially dropped out and was slowly transitioning to living at the Barns. Memorials, funerals, conversations, understanding- all of that had been done.

Now there was just living with it.

And right now, Adam felt like being able to just live was really, torturously nice.

He had never really let himself stare at Ronan before. He’d done it by accident enough times, and indulged in quick secret glances, and thought about him endlessly at nights when he was just trying to get some sleep. This was different. This wasn’t against the rules. This wasn’t done with half a worry that he was imagining the whole thing.

This was intensely, achingly real.

He let his eyes travel over each jut and plane of Ronan’s face, studying it like it was a slide under a microscope, trying to figure out the internal workings that stitched together the strange beauty. God, how had he ever focused on anything when Ronan was around?

Ronan’s eyes were sharp, mesmerizing, staring at Adam like they were both inside a dream. It looked so effortless for him, like this wasn’t twisting him up inside the way it was for Adam. Looking at Adam was like dreaming for him, probably- natural. Maybe it was easier to deal with something this magical when you were born of magic.

This isn’t a big deal, Adam thought, trying to breathe normally. We’re… dating, aren’t we? We’re allowed to look at each other-

Ronan’s foot slid against his under the table, and Adam gave up on breathing normally.

Both of them were smiling now, both a little red, staring into each other’s eyes, and this was otherworldly, this was ridiculous. They were barely touching. Adam had dated people before. He had never come apart like this holding his seventh grade girlfriend’s hand, or even touching Blue, when they’d been dating. What the hell was happening to him?

Hey.

Fingers were snapping in Adam’s line of sight. He jumped. Blue looked irritated and amused.

“I’m sorry,” she said, clearly trying to hold back laughter, when Ronan and Adam finally turned, startled, to look at her. “Are we interrupting something?”

“What? I didn’t- we- what is it?” Adam said, then turned red.

Gansey laughed good-naturedly, and said, “Have either of you heard anything Jane and I have been saying for the past five minutes?”

Adam stared down at his hands, not sure how to answer that.

Ronan said, “I can probably guess. Something something Aglionby, something Cheng, boring bullshit whatever.”

“Hilarious,” Gansey said. “Actually, I was asking if either of you wanted to go to Henry’s party tomorrow night.”

Ronan snorted. “Yeah, OK. I told you, I’m sorry I was a dick to your new friend, and I’m good on being friends with him too now, but I’m not going to a fucking Litchfield party.”

“Me, neither,” Adam said, feeling stable enough to talk now. “Henry’s nice, but I don’t think his parties are really my thing.”

“You’re just assuming that it’s going to be terrible,” Blue said. “It’s not. I mean, I thought the last party we went to there was going to be terrible, and it was actually lovely.”

“It was lovely, huh?” Ronan said mockingly.

“That means that it was nice and good, Ronan,” Blue said, mimicking his asshole-y tone of voice.

“Anyway,” Gansey said, “I understand if you don’t want to come, but you know, tomorrow’s Friday, and we haven’t really had a chance to- well- to unwind, I guess. After everything that’s happened. And I would like to have you there, if you’re OK with it. You haven’t had the chance to do something fun in a while.”

Adam thought that his and Ronan’s idea of fun was more to do with minor acts of vandalism and forest magic than playing beer pong or whatever it was that the Vancouver crowd did at parties, but Gansey sounded so sincere and longing that he said, “Fine. I guess. I can come for a little bit, at least.”

“Fine, me too, then,” Ronan said. “When do you want us to be there?”

Adam’s breath hitched at the word ‘us,’ which was stupid because there were two of them and it was likely that Ronan was going to drive him there, but lately he had taken to pointlessly analyzing Ronan’s words and thinking about all their implications.

“It starts at eight,” Gansey said.

“You can even be on time for a change, Ronan,” Blue said.

“Don’t sass me, Sargent. I’m perfectly capable of being on time.”

Blue rolled her eyes.

“It’ll be fun,” she said. “I promise.”

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep,” Adam said.

Ronan laughed, and Adam felt warm- god damn it, every time he made Ronan laugh or smile, this happened.

“Jesus Christ,” Blue said. “At least pretend like you’re expecting to have a good time. You two and your sly asshole comments are going to chip away at poor Henry’s ego.”

“I mean, his ego could probably use it,” Ronan said.

“No, come on, she’s right,” Adam said. “Cheng doesn’t know how to put up with your bullshit like we do. You should tone it down until he gets immune to it like the rest of us.”

Ronan rolled his eyes, but he was smiling, that kind of smile that comes from being known.

“All right,” he said. “I’ll pretend like I’m having a good time. Don’t want to scar Cheng for life with my apathy.”

“Your apathy has scarred many an innocent man, Lynch,” Gansey said.

He yawned, and Adam, suddenly mindful of the time, glanced at his watch- it was almost 7. Shit. He had a chapter to read for econ, a packet of questions for chem, a monstrosity of a reading for French, not to mention a set of math problems. If he didn’t get started now, he was going to be up well past midnight.

“I’ve gotta go home,” he said. “Get started on homework.”

“Let me out, Gansey,” Ronan said, and slid out of the booth.

“Why are you going?” Blue said, as she let Adam take his backpack and move out of their side of the booth.

“I drove him here,” he said. “Come on, Parrish, let’s go.”

“See you tomorrow, then,” Blue said. “Eight o’clock.”

“See you,” Adam said, and then he and Ronan headed out to the parking lot.

He felt a sort of rush run through him- they were alone. Not really alone- there were other people milling about in the lot and walking through the street and holy fucking Christ, Ronan was so close and after all that open staring, Adam just wanted to press himself into Ronan and-

“You OK, Parrish?” Ronan asked, as they got to the BMW.

Adam looked at him. Ronan’s expression was incredibly gentle.

“Get here,” Adam said, grabbing him and pressing him against the car. Ronan sounded a little surprised but not much- this wasn’t the first time Adam had done this. He closed his eyes and buried his fingers in Adam’s hair.

Adam kissed him and kissed him, every sensation alive, hands grasping at Ronan’s neck and shoulders and chest, wanting so much, letting himself want so much and then letting himself take it. He was greedy for it, selfish for it, and none of it felt greedy or selfish at all, even though rationally Adam thought it should have. It felt- fuck, he couldn’t analyze how it felt, not with Ronan’s mouth warm and wet against his, making every muscle in his abdomen light up. It felt uncannily right. It felt like something he didn’t even have to work for, even though he did work for it.

They stopped for air, and Ronan said between breaths, “We should… go to your… apartment. Fuck.”

“Yeah,” Adam said, leaning against Ronan’s forehead. “Yeah, too many Aglionby shitheads around here. Ruins the mood.”

No one at Aglionby knew about them yet. Adam wasn’t ashamed of the relationship, but he’d heard enough slurs and homophobic comments thrown around in the halls to not be eager about giving his classmates another reason to be shitty to him.

Ronan nodded. They both got into the car. Adam was still breathing heavily.

“How’s Opal?” Adam asked, once he’d caught his breath a little more.

“She’s doing great,” Ronan said. “Still having nightmares, but, well.”

“Aren’t we all,” Adam said quietly.

Ronan looked over for a second.

“They- they aren’t too bad, are they?” he asked. “Yours, I mean?”

The question was so caring and fragile, like a soap bubble in the air. Adam’s breathing slowed.

“Some nights I sleep OK,” he answered truthfully. “I can handle the bad nights pretty well. Once I wake up, I recover pretty quick.”

“You should teach me that trick,” Ronan said.

He sounded dark, and Adam said, “Are your nightmares OK?”

“I’m used to them,” Ronan said. “Having Opal around helps. She always helped in the dream world, but it’s better having her around when I’m awake.”

Adam nodded. There wasn’t much to say.

“Where is she, anyway?” he said, after a short while. They were pulling into the street St. Agnes was on. “At the Barns, right?”

“Yeah,” Ronan said. “She’s all right by herself when she’s there. Still shouldn’t leave her alone for too long, but she can feed herself and all that shit just fine.”

“Good,” Adam said.

“Why?” Ronan asked. “You want me to stay over for a bit?”

There was a hint of implication at the edge of his voice, and Adam’s eyes widened. God. He really, really wanted Ronan to stay over for a bit.

“No,” he said, finally, as Ronan parked next to the door to his apartment. “I have too much homework.”

“I can just sit and do nothing.”

“No, you’ll distract me.”

“Really, I won’t say anything, I’ll just sit there.”

“No-” Adam turned red. “You’ll still be… distracting.”

Ronan raised his eyebrows.

“Oh,” he said, and it came out a little bit breathless. “OK. Well, I don’t want to fuck up your homework.”

“Yeah.”

“Right.”

They looked at each other for a moment, then Adam leaned in and kissed him again. It was longing and lingering. Ronan looked a little lightheaded when they broke apart.

“Hey,” he said, as Adam began pulling away, then turned a little pink. He said quietly, “You’re distracting, too.”

Adam smiled. He supposed he should have laughed or made fun of Ronan for being so open about his feelings- a month ago, that was the kind of thing they did.

But he didn’t want to. He liked Ronan saying out loud what he felt. He wanted Ronan to feel safe with him, like he felt safe with Ronan.

“Good to know,” he said, instead, and gave him another quick kiss. Then he said, “See you tomorrow,” and got out of the car.

“See you tomorrow,” Ronan said.

He didn’t leave the parking lot until Adam was up in his room and looking out the window to see if he’d gone yet. A few moments later, he drove away. Adam watched the car disappear down the road, then let out a long sigh. Jesus fucking Christ. He was losing his mind.

Adam wrenched his thoughts away from Ronan, forcibly, and opened up his backpack, spreading the work over his desk. Breathing in and out, he let his mind fall into the rhythms of problem-solving. This was easy enough, chemistry homework and math, felt like another dazzling infatuation that calmed him down at the same time.

The econ reading was less easy to focus on. And Adam knew he shouldn’t have left the French reading for last. It was only six pages, but he sucked at French, and it was nearly eleven, which wasn’t the latest he’d ever stayed up by a long shot, but he’d had a long day and he was tired.

And he couldn’t focus.

Ronan. His eyes, like swirling stardust. Adam wanted, irrationally, to swim in them, which was such a surrealist thing to even think, but now he’d thought about it and he was thinking about swimming. That was how he felt- bobbing in strange water, not sure if he had gills, but wanting desperately to dive underneath.

He’d lost track of where he was in his paragraph. The sentence made no sense. He went back to the beginning of the paragraph. He was thinking about Ronan’s voice saying, “you’re distracting, too,” and the way he sounded when he confessed little things. He tried to remember if they’d learned this particular word in class. He was thinking about how much he wanted to kiss Ronan, right now. He started reading the sentence for the hundredth time. He arched back against his desk chair, suddenly picturing Ronan on top of him.

Adam shoved the French notebook into his backpack and resolved to ask Gansey to explain it tomorrow.

He brushed his teeth, changed out of his clothes, and turned off the light.

It was a little past eleven. He was exhausted.

He was not thinking about sleeping.

It wasn’t that he hadn’t thought about Ronan like this before. It was just that before, he had been so ashamed of it. That he would dare to picture someone like Ronan, when he wasn’t even sure if Ronan really did feel that way or he was just imagining it, or if it was just a passing phase, and he didn’t have the right to want him back. Then when he’d become pretty sure that Ronan wanted him, he agonized about the fact that he was cruel and emotionless for playing games, imagining the kind of intimacy that he wasn’t good enough, wasn’t careful enough to really deserve.

He was still worried about all those things.

But a lot less.

And it was overwhelming, and it felt so goddamn good to let himself feel what he felt.

He thought about Ronan’s tattoo. He thought about how it had felt under his hands. He thought about taking off Ronan’s shirt again. He hadn’t done it since that night. They hadn’t really had that much time alone, and when they did they’d mostly talked or slept or kissed desperately.

He wanted to feel Ronan’s bare skin against his. All of his bare skin. Shit. He was really fucking hard. He was going to lose his goddamn mind. He was going to lose control.

Adam wanted to be free enough to lose control.

He felt free enough to lose control.

He wrapped a hand around himself and let himself lose control.

Chapter Text

Adam moved his Friday shift at the warehouse a few hours earlier, so that he could get out at seven-thirty and go to the party at Litchfield. He wasn’t looking forward to it, but he knew how much Gansey wanted them to all be there. Plus, Henry Cheng had turned out to have a lot more in common with him than he thought. Maybe they’d have another interesting conversation about social theory and the night wouldn’t be completely unbearable.

Ronan picked him up as soon as work was over and drove the both of them to Litchfield.

“Sargent’s family is taking care of Opal,” he said. “She gets along with them pretty well.”

“Makes sense,” Adam said. Then, “I miss her.”

“You saw her, like, two days ago.”

“Yeah, still. She’s always so nice to me.”

“Why wouldn’t she be?” Ronan said, a little softer than usual.

Adam shrugged. “She’s not always nice with everyone else.”

“Neither am I,” Ronan said.

Something in Adam’s chest dropped.

“So what are you saying?” Adam said. “She likes me because you like me? Because she came out of your head?”

“No, Jesus fuck,” Ronan said. “You think she doesn’t have any free will? She likes you because why wouldn’t she? You fucking gave her the watch off your wrist the first time you saw her. I think she…”

He fished around for words.

“She told me you’re the same as her,” he said. “I don’t know what she meant by that. She said that’s why she’s nice to you. Because you’re the same.”

It was odd how much Opal’s thoughts about Adam reminded him of his thoughts about her.

“I think I know what she means,” he said. “We both came out of nightmares.”

If Ronan was going to be honest, he was going to be honest too.

“Yeah,” Ronan said quietly. “Yeah, I guess you did.”

They rode in silence for a bit, then Ronan added, “She likes you because you’re a good person. She could see that right away.”

The words you’re a good person made something happen to Adam that he didn’t quite recognize, something warm as sunlight and cool as a river in spring, and the thing was that he knew he was a good person. He did. But hearing it from Ronan, who said nothing unless he meant it wholeheartedly, was something else.

“Thanks,” he said. “For telling me that.”

Ronan looked pointedly at the road and muttered, “You asked me.”

Adam smiled, and then they were pulling into the Litchfield driveway, and already Adam could tell that the party was not going to be enjoyable.

For starters, he recognized a few of the cars parked outside, which belonged to some particularly nasty Aglionby guys. Also, there was already someone vomiting into the bushes. And he could hear pop music blaring all the way to where they were parked at the edge of the street.

“Mother of fucking Christ,” Ronan said. “I can’t believe we let Gansey rope us into this shit.”

“I thought Blue said that the party was just going to be some guys sitting around and talking,” Adam said. “In togas.”

“Guess she was wrong.” Ronan sighed. “Come on, Parrish, let’s get this over with.”

They got out of the car and headed inside. It was less crowded than Adam expected, but unbearably loud and unpleasant.

“Hey, hey, hey,” Henry said, strolling over to where the two of them were milling awkwardly by the door. “Thanks for coming. I know this isn’t really your scene-”

“No shit, Cheng,” Ronan said.

“-but well, try and make the best of it. Blue-girl and Dick are upstairs, first door on the left, if you want to see them.”

Adam nodded, then said, “Thanks for having us.”

“No problem,” Henry said, then disappeared around the corner into the living room.

“Let’s go see Blue and Gansey,” Adam said. “Maybe it’ll be less quiet wherever they are.”

“Please,” Ronan said. They started climbing the stairs, where Ronan nearly tripped over a red plastic cup and swore.

“For fuck’s sake,” he said. “Doesn’t Cheng have some sort of guardian to keep him from doing this shit?”

“Yeah, Mrs. Woo,” Adam said. “But he told me she was away visiting relatives for the week. Didn’t realize that meant he was gonna throw a… whatever this is.”

“A trashy-ass party.”

“Yeah.”

Adam opened the first door on the left, expecting to see Blue and Gansey with a few of Cheng’s friends, but they were met with the sight of Blue sitting on top of Gansey on the bed, stripping his shirt off.

“Holy fuck,” Ronan exclaimed. Blue climbed off of Gansey, who sat right up and turned bright red.

“I- I’m so sorry- we- I didn’t know-”

“Calm down,” Adam said. “We’ll leave you two alone.”

“No- it’s all right- if you want to stay-”

“They said they’d leave, Gansey,” Blue said. She looked significantly more amused and less humiliated about the situation than he did.

“It’s fine,” Ronan said. He looked amused, too, now that the initial shock had worn off. “Have fun, losers.”

Then he closed the door and looked down at Adam.

“Guess we have to go suffer through the actual party,” he said.

Adam did not by any means want to go suffer through the actual party, but now he was thinking about Blue on top of Gansey on the bed, and how incredibly cliché and high-school-movie it was, and how these sorts of parties were supposed to be fuel for one-night stands. Making out on other people’s couches. Fucking in the bushes. His head was a confused haze of Blue’s hands on Gansey’s chest and Ronan tilting down to reach him.

“I guess we do,” he said, and headed down the stairs.

The party was not that interesting, as it turned out. Some girls from the town were sitting on the couches holding beers, trying desperately to reject obvious advances from Cheng Two and a couple of other Aglionby guys. Henry kept changing what song was playing, and a crowd of people were essentially dry-humping to the music in the middle of the living room. Ronan and Adam waded awkwardly through into the kitchen, where the music was still too loud, but there were less people.

“Do you want to, uh…” Adam didn’t know what they were supposed to do. “Drink or something?”

“I’m the one who drove us here.”

“Right. OK. Uh… fuck, I don’t know.”

Ronan glanced around, then put his arm around Adam’s waist. Adam’s breath quickened.

Ronan leaned in and whispered into Adam’s good ear, loud enough for him to hear over the music, “Do you want to get out of here?”

“Yes,” Adam said, a little too quickly. Ronan smiled, took his hand, and led him back out the door to the BMW. The music was getting quieter but it was still pounding in Adam’s head. They got into the car.

“Where do you want to go?” Ronan asked. Something was free and on edge in the air. Adam figured that was the appeal of these kinds of parties.

“I was thinking,” Adam said, “the backseat.”

Ronan’s eyes widened. “You sure?”

“Yeah.”

Both of them got out of the car and then back into the backseat. Stupidly, Adam sat down like he was a passenger. Ronan looked nervous. This was ridiculous. They’d made out on each other’s beds enough times in the past three weeks.

Adam was sick of analyzing it. He took Ronan’s face in his hands and kissed him.

Then things were a bit clearer, reduced down to the way Ronan’s back moved under his hands, his teeth on Adam’s lips, their tongues against each other, their breath rushing, pulses racing, Ronan pushing forward so that Adam’s back was against the side of the door and their knees were interlocking. There was no room to think about anything else except want, want, desperately want.

It was so good. Adam hadn’t made out with a lot of people, but most of them had been during middle school and ninth grade, and most of them had been terrible. Even if they hadn’t been terrible, this was so different. He didn’t know why. He couldn’t figure out why. He was not interested in figuring out why. He had to know why.

He broke off from Ronan and leaned his head against the window, letting out a sound that he hadn’t intended to sound so obscene. Ronan took that as a sign to kiss down Adam’s jaw to his neck, and Adam clutched at the leather seat.

“Wait, wait,” he gasped.

Ronan stopped instantly.

“We can stop,” he said, breathing heavily and looking at Adam.

“No, I- fuck.” Adam took a long breath. Ronan looked down at him, gentle and worried.

“What is it?” he asked.

Adam took another breath. It didn’t help much. He was exhilarated.

“Fuck,” he said again. “I- I want you so much, Ronan. So fucking much. And it’s killing me. I don’t understand why.”

Ronan stared.

“You- you- I mean, I knew that,” he said finally.

“Asshole.”

“I mean, I just figured you- you wanted this. Otherwise you wouldn’t be doing it.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Adam said. “I want- I want you, specifically.”

Ronan still looked confused.

“Why else would you be here?” Ronan said. “I didn’t know this was news to you, that you wanted to date me.”

Adam sighed.

“I know, I fucking know. It’s not that I didn’t know already that I like you. Of course I do. I just… it’s just… overwhelming. How much I want it. It’s like I’m losing control.”

Ronan’s face softened.

“You don’t always have to have control,” he said. “Nothing bad is going to happen. I-” He swallowed. “I want you too.”

“That I definitely knew already.”

“Asshole.”

Adam laughed, and grabbed the back of Ronan’s neck again. They fell back into making out, hands running everywhere. Ronan wrapped his knees around Adam’s waist, grinding against him, and Adam gasped against his mouth.

“Do you want this?” Ronan asked, voice way more suggestive than usual.

“God, yes,” Adam said, and he felt like the ground was falling out from beneath him. He thought of Ronan saying nothing bad is going to happen in that low, safe voice, again and again in his mind, and then he let himself go.

He tugged at the edge of Ronan’s shirt. Ronan pulled it over his head eagerly and discarded it. It was a bit cold, but they were both incredibly warm and pressed close together. Adam, out of his mind, leaned forward and kissed Ronan’s chest, over and over again. Ronan was panting above him. Adam lifted his hips to meet Ronan’s, and felt with a jolt that they were both hard.

He gasped and said, “Do you- want- is it OK-”

“Yes, God, Parrish,” Ronan said, pushing down on him.

Adam took a breath and unbuttoned Ronan’s jeans.

Fuck,” Ronan hissed into Adam’s shoulder.

He’d never been with anyone like this, never this far. He wondered for a moment if this counted as sex. He wondered if he really wanted his first time to be in the backseat of a car outside Henry Cheng’s house.

“Adam,” Ronan said, and Adam stopped thinking.

He pulled down his own jeans, then grabbed Ronan’s hip and thrust against him. He had no idea what the hell he was doing. Neither did Ronan.

They were kissing again, and Ronan’s hand was moving down Adam’s chest to his waistband, and then Ronan was whispering, “Can I-”

“Yes,” Adam said, breathless.

Then Ronan’s hands were on him, and he couldn’t think even if he’d wanted to. It wasn’t scary, it was fantastic, it was the whole universe. He’d slipped below the surface and he was underwater and he could breathe, he could breathe, he could see a whole world of star-speckled ocean life.

“Ronan,” he moaned.

Ronan was grinding down against him, focused, and Adam reached to push his hand against Ronan’s erection through his boxers. Ronan let out a gasp.

“Fuck, Parrish,” he breathed.

Adam wasn’t keeping track of time. He knew it didn’t last that long. Then they were both coming, desperately, loud and shuddering, into each other’s hands, and then Ronan collapsed on top of Adam and kissed him until they couldn’t breathe anymore.

Ronan buried his face in Adam’s neck. Adam released a long, ecstatic breath.

“That was...” He sighed. “God. That was so good.”

“You’re telling me,” Ronan said against his neck.

Adam closed his eyes and ran his hands over Ronan’s head. He felt like he’d just jumped off a cliff and survived without any injuries. He felt like he ought to go write a scientific journal and let them know that cliff-jumping was safe and in fact, it was good for your health, and felt better than anything.

“Maybe we should go to more parties at Litchfield,” he said, and Ronan started laughing.

“I’ll put up with any of Cheng’s shitty parties if it means we can do this again,” he said.

He sounded unsure, and Adam, wanting to make damn sure now that Ronan knew how he felt, said, “Or we can do this again anywhere, whenever, all the fucking time.”

Ronan grinned up at him.

“You liked it that much, huh, Parrish?”

“Fuck you. So did you.”

“Can’t argue with that,” Ronan said, and sat up. Adam caught his breath. They were a mess. They definitely weren’t going back inside.

“So where do you want to go, then?” Ronan said.

Adam shrugged. “I’m hungry. Let’s get some food.”

“Shit, you never had dinner.”

“Yeah, that’s why I’m hungry. Come on, let’s go.”

They got back into the front and Ronan pulled away from Litchfield. Both of them were smiling uncontrollably. Adam closed his eyes for a bit and let the night silence and Ronan’s shitty electronica and that glorious sense of calm wash over him.

He felt so unbelievably safe here.

Chapter Text

They stopped at a little diner near the edge of town. It was almost nine o’clock, so the place wasn’t very crowded. Adam ordered a burger and fries, and Ronan ordered waffles.

“Waffles for dinner?” Adam said, as the waitress walked away.

“I like to break social conventions,” Ronan said, flicking the straw wrapper off the end of his straw. Adam laughed.

Their feet brushed under the table, and Adam let his feet tangle with Ronan’s comfortably. He still couldn’t stop smiling. There was a golden bubble of light around their little booth, or at least it felt like there was.

“You know,” Ronan said, leaning forward, “yesterday, at Nino’s, I was going crazy.”

“What, when you were staring at me?”

“Yeah, dickwad, what else. I nearly lunged across the fucking table at you. But I didn’t want Sargent to get fired for destruction of property or something.”

“Sure,” Adam said, leaning against the soft back of his seat. His chest felt pleasantly warm at the knowledge that Ronan had been just as worked up as he was just from looking at each other.

Their hands met across the table, and Ronan ran his fingers over Adam’s hands, studying them. Adam inhaled sharply. This was incredibly nice.

“How long did the Fox Way women say they’d keep Opal for?” he asked.

“Uh, ‘til midnight,” Ronan said, tracing the lines on Adam’s palm. “Why? I thought you missed her.”

“Yeah, but I’ll see her tomorrow, won’t I?”

“You’re coming over tomorrow?”

“Yeah. I don’t have work until the afternoon. I’m staying over, right?”

“Right,” Ronan breathed, and Adam realized he hadn’t taken that for granted.

“Anyway,” Adam said. “I miss Opal, but it’s nice spending some time alone. With you.”

Ronan hummed in agreement and kissed Adam’s fingertips, which he stopped abruptly when the waitress came back with their food.

“Wonder how Gansey and Sargent are doing,” Ronan said, while they started eating.

“Seemed like they were doing the same thing we were,” Adam commented, and Ronan laughed.

“Jesus. Gansey is gonna be insufferable tomorrow. Ronan, what you saw Jane and me doing was part of a consensual adult relation.

“You know, when a mom and dad love each other very much,” Adam added, and Ronan cracked up.

Adam got caught up in trying to memorize Ronan’s laugh, and didn’t notice the girl walking over from the kitchen until an oddly familiar voice shouted, “Adam Parrish! Is that you?”

Both Adam and Ronan turned around. A teenage girl, who was clearly one of the waitresses here, with curly red hair and skull-shaped earrings, was walking over to their table.

“Who the fuck is that,” Ronan muttered under his breath.

“Ah,” Adam said awkwardly. “My ex-girlfriend.”

Ronan’s expression sharpened, and Adam braced himself.

“Adam, I haven’t seen you in forever,” the girl- Alex- said. “Not since you transferred to Aglionby, I don’t think.”

“Yeah, I think that was the last time we saw each other,” Adam said. “How have you been? Still painting?”

Ronan was holding his fork and knife like he was planning to rip his waffles to shreds.

“Yep, still painting,” Alex said. “God, remember those awful paintings I did back in ninth grade? The series about the Grim Reaper?”

Adam laughed. “Yeah, you were very edgy and dark back then.”

“Still am,” she said, gesturing at the skull earrings. “Now I gotta tone it down if I want to keep this job, though. Gotta save up for art school, you know.”

“Good for you,” Adam said. He could feel Ronan’s eyes boring a hole into his skull, and he cleared his throat and said, “Uh, Alex, this is Ronan. Ronan, this is Alex.”

“Nice to meet you,” Alex said. Ronan glared at her.

“Ronan’s my boyfriend,” Adam clarified. “He’s not good with meeting new people.”

“Fuck you, yes I am,” Ronan said.

Alex laughed. “Nice tattoo. I always wanted to be a tattoo artist.”

“Oh,” Ronan said, his face slightly softening. “Uh, cool.”

The door to the diner opened, and Alex said, “Well, I’ve got to get back to work. It was nice seeing you again, Adam.”

She walked away, and Adam glanced over at Ronan and said, “You can unclench your fists now.”

Ronan rolled his eyes, but let his hands relax.

“So,” he said, clearly trying to sound casual. “You dated her, huh?”

“Yeah, for like five months in the ninth grade,” Adam said.

“Five months?”

“Yeah, and I haven’t seen her since I transferred. You can calm down, Ronan.”

“I am calm,” Ronan said. “What’s not to be calm about?” He stabbed at his waffle violently.

“You’re jealous,” Adam said. “That’s almost sweet.”

“I’m not jealous. Why would I be jealous?”

“I thought you didn’t lie.”

Ronan crossed his arms. “What do you want from me, Parrish? She’s your ex-girlfriend. She comes over and you start fucking talking like… I don’t know.”

He stared down at his plate, red.

“Ronan,” Adam said.

“Fucking forget it.”

“Ronan, what did you think, that I was going to get back together with Alex? I told you, I haven’t seen her in years. I don’t even like her anymore.”

“Seemed like you did.”

“What, because I was friendly to her? We were still friends after we broke up. What, can I not talk to Blue anymore now?”

“That’s different,” Ronan said.

“How is it different?”

“I don’t know, ‘cause I know Sargent. I see you guys every fucking day, I know you don’t like her like that anymore.”

Adam stared at him, trying to work out his ridiculous Ronan logic.

“OK,” he said finally. “So, let me get this straight. I can only talk to people that you have personally approved-”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, Parrish, I didn’t say that. I’m not fucking trying to control your life. I’m just saying you can’t get mad if I get jealous when some girl talks to you-”

“Well, if you’re gonna be a dick about it-”

“I won’t be a dick about it, then. You know what, whatever. I’m leaving.”

Adam felt a rush of irritation and anger wash over him, and then he said, “No. You’re not leaving. Sit the fuck down.”

“Now who’s controlling whose life?”

“Jesus fucking Christ, Ronan, you can’t just walk away from every argument. I don’t want you to walk away from every argument. I want to talk and figure this out.”

“I don’t,” Ronan said.

“Ronan,” Adam said. “Please.”

Ronan sat down. He didn’t look happy about it.

“If we’re going to do this,” Adam said, “we need to be able to talk to each other. Not just curse each other out and run away.”

Ronan took a long, deep breath. He didn’t say anything.

“Why are you jealous of Alex?” Adam said.

Ronan sighed.

“I’m jealous of everyone,” he said.

“Well, that makes even less sense.”

“Why doesn’t it make sense, Parrish, since you’re such a fucking expert on my feelings? Why wouldn’t I be jealous of everyone? Everyone likes you, and I don’t blame them, and you know what, fuck it. I didn’t say you couldn’t talk to them. It’s not my choice whether you break up with me for someone else. I wouldn’t blame you.”

Adam’s eyes narrowed.

“You… what?” he said, completely bewildered.

“I said you’re allowed to do whatever you want, it’s not my choice. I’m sorry I made you feel like you weren’t allowed to talk to anyone else. You can do whatever you want.”

“Do you think if I talk to someone else, it means I’m going to leave you for them?”

“No, I’m not a fucking idiot. I just think that eventually you’re going to talk to someone and realize that they’re better for you and why the fuck are you wasting your time with me?”

Ronan looked terrifyingly bare.

“I don’t want to date anyone else,” Adam said. “There isn’t anyone else. If I’m talking to another girl, or another guy for that matter, it’s not even a thought in my head that I might want to date them. It’s only you, Ronan. I thought you knew that.”

Ronan looked up at him, eyes a little wide. He said, “Do you mean that?”

“Yes,” Adam said, and he meant it more than he’d meant anything. “I want you. I told you that earlier. I want only you.”

It was less scary to admit it than he’d thought it would be. With Ronan, baring his heart across the table to him.

“Jesus,” Ronan said, letting out a breath. “Fuck.”

Then, “You know, same here.”

They looked into each other’s eyes for a good while, and Adam said, “Gansey was right; this did turn out to be a good night.”

“Yeah, not at Litchfield, though.”

“I don’t know. I thought the Litchfield driveway was fun.”

“Well, I don’t think Gansey wants to hear about that.”

They both laughed. Everything was warm.

 

It was a little after ten when they picked Opal up at Fox Way. Blue and Gansey weren’t back yet. Calla was sitting on the couch, telling a sleepy Opal stories about witches.

“What kind of satanic propaganda are you telling her this time?” Ronan asked, after Maura let them in.

“Nothing worse than any Catholic propaganda from you,” Calla said, shooting Ronan a glare.

“Did she have fun?” Adam asked.

“Adam!” Opal said, quieter than usual because she was tired. She held up her arms and Ronan walked over to pick her up, and she whined, “No. Adam.”

“Well, fuck you, too,” Ronan said. Adam smiled and picked up Opal to wrap her in a hug.

“You know, it’s interesting,” Maura said. “You’re worried about exposing her to our witchy ways, but you’re always cursing in front of her.”

Ronan just grunted in response.

Opal was clutching on to Adam tightly and nearly falling asleep on his shoulder. She whispered, “I miss you, Adam.”

“I miss you too,” Adam said. “But we’re gonna see each other all day tomorrow, until I have work in the afternoon.”

“Good,” she said.

“She behaved very well,” Calla said. “Didn’t eat anything she wasn’t supposed to. She’s the only person who can calm Gwenllian.”

“A miracle,” Ronan said. He moved to head out the door.

“We’ll see you Monday,” Adam said. “We’re coming over to help Blue make posters for that protest thing at her school.”

“Right,” Maura said. “We’ll see you then. Have a good night.”

They headed out. Opal was chewing gently on Adam’s shirt sleeve. He settled her in the car seat that Ronan had bought the other week, then got into the passenger seat himself.

“To the Barns?” Ronan asked.

“Yeah,” Adam said.

Opal was asleep within a minute, and Ronan cleared his throat.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “That I picked a fight with you.”

“It’s OK,” Adam said. “We’re always fighting.”

“But… you were right. In the diner. I should learn how to talk with you, not just be an asshole all the time.”

“Ronan,” Adam said. “You are learning. A few months ago, you would have told me to fuck off and probably stormed off to set fire to a cornfield or something.”

“That’s fair. I guess I’m improving.” Ronan laughed.

He sighed.

“I just feel bad that we had a fight right after… just after…” He turned red.

Adam smiled down at his hands on his lap.

“That doesn’t matter,” he said. “It was still really fucking good, regardless of what happened after.”

“Yeah, but… it was the first…” Ronan trailed off.

“Oh,” Adam said.

“I mean, I don’t know if it was for you-”

Adam laughed self-consciously. “Yeah, it was.”

“Oh.”

Then, “So you and Alex never-”

“Oh, honestly, Lynch, get over it. You’d think you’d be happier, considering ninth-grade Alex was basically a mini-you.”

“I’d never wear skull earrings,” he muttered.

Adam laughed, then said, “You know, if you wanted the first time to be special or whatever, you could have told me.”

“Fuck you, Parrish. I’m not some sentimental sappy-ass romantic.” He paused. “Besides, it was… special or whatever. Who cares where it was.”

Adam realized with a jolt that Opal was sitting where they’d done it, then realized it didn’t matter. Everything in this new little whatever-it-was was safe and warm and light, and it wasn’t like Opal knew, anyway.

“Yeah,” Adam said. “Who cares where it was. Besides, we can always have a do-over when we get to the house.”

The car jolted forward as Ronan’s foot pressed into the gas suddenly.

“Jesus fuck, Parrish, I’m driving,” he said.

Adam grinned. “Don’t crash the car, Lynch. Just because I’m offering to get you off again-”

“I’m serious, Adam, I can’t concentrate when you do that.”

“When I talk?”

“When you talk about… Jesus God, you know what.”

He was all red, and Adam leaned back against his seat, looking over at Ronan with a pleased expression. It was a bit of a rush to know that he could turn Ronan Lynch into a stuttering mess with a few words. It was also nice to know how much Ronan was into this. Adam wasn’t going to say it, but he was thinking the same thing Ronan had in the diner.

That any moment, Ronan was going to see someone else and wonder what he was doing, wasting his time on Adam.

When they got back to the house, Ronan carried Opal up the stairs and settled her into bed. It was getting close to eleven. Adam thought he should have been more tired, but he felt a little bit lit up. Like someone had walked into the house of his body and flicked on all the lights.

He settled into Ronan’s bed. He’d only slept over a few times before now, but he felt comfortable enough doing it. Something about the Barns was like a constant reassurance, even if it was one he didn’t wholly believe: you belong here, no one’s leaving you, you are loved.

Ronan walked in and pulled off his shirt before getting into the bed.

“You’re not gonna sleep in that, are you?” he asked.

“Wasn’t really planning to sleep right away,” Adam said.

He leaned in, hungry and electric, and started kissing Ronan again. Ronan responded quickly, rolling on top of Adam, hands and teeth, claws and beak.

“Eager,” Adam murmured against him.

“So are you.”

He couldn’t argue with that, so he took Ronan in further, kissing him deeper, and then Ronan was grasping desperately at his shirt.

“Can I,” Ronan panted. “Can I take it off?”

“Yes,” Adam said, tilting his head back.

Ronan took off his shirt. It occurred to Adam that this was the first time he’d done that. He felt the urge to cover up his chest.

But Ronan was just looking down at him with something like wonder in his eyes.

“Adam,” he said quietly. “You’re not still scared, are you? I don’t want to do anything if you’re not ready.”

“We already did,” Adam said. “In the car.”

“But if you’re worried about something, we don’t have to.”

“No, it’s not… I just want to make sure you really want this. Because I do. But I don’t know…”

“How many times do I have to tell you?” Ronan said. “I want this. I want you.” He leaned down and left a soft kiss on the side of Adam’s neck. “Only you.” Another kiss at his ear. “Only you.”

Adam’s chest twisted up with an odd sort of ache.

“I’m sorry,” Adam said. “That I make you say it so much.”

“I’ll say it as many times as you want,” Ronan said. He looked into Adam’s eyes. “You can ask me a thousand times and I’ll tell you a thousand times. I want you. I love you.”

He’d said that last one before, earlier that week. It still lit Adam like a fireplace to hear it, in Ronan’s low, soft voice.

“Keep going,” he said.

“Keep going with what?” Ronan asked.

“Keep kissing me.”

Ronan grinned, leaned in, and then they were making out again, desperate, starving. It was a lightning shock to have their bare chests against each other. Ronan wrapped his legs around Adam’s waist, grinding against him like they’d been in the car, only there was so much more luxurious room here. Adam’s hands gripped at Ronan’s back.

They were both hard. Ronan was unzipping his jeans. Adam reached down to pull them off of his ass.

“Mine, too,” Adam said, and Ronan took his off too.

Then Ronan was kissing down his chest. Adam arched his back.

“Are you going to-” he gasped.

“If you want.”

“Fuck, yes.”

He closed his eyes. He could not watch this. He opened his eyes. He had to watch this.

Ronan’s hands were sliding down his outer thighs, pulling off his boxers. He was completely naked now. It was intoxicating and terrifying.

“I want you,” Ronan repeated in between his legs. “Adam.”

Adam nodded, too out of his mind to speak.

Ronan took him in his mouth.

He closed his eyes again.

Everything was gasps and heavy breaths.

He was going to fucking suffocate. He needed to let it out. He moaned, loud and embarrassing. Ronan sucked him harder after that. He was practically whimpering. He had no idea what he was supposed to do and he could not think.

It was unbearably good.

He came in Ronan’s mouth, and Ronan slid off him and then licked off what he hadn’t swallowed. Adam let out another quiet moan.

Ronan climbed back on top of him.

“Was it good?” he asked, looking a little nervous.

“Did it sound like it wasn’t?” Adam asked, and laughed, also nervous.

They held each other, Ronan looking down at Adam, both smiling again like they had in the car.

“I’m never gonna get enough of you,” Ronan said, like he was confessing an embarrassing secret.

“Good, there’s a lot of me to give,” Adam said. Ronan laughed. He was all red.

“I don’t even know if that was even that good,” Adam said. “I don’t have any comparisons or whatever. I think I just…” He looked to the side. “I just like you so damn much that it would have been good anyway.”

“Nerd,” Ronan said. “You don’t need to write me an essay about my dick-sucking skills.”

Adam laughed and curled against him.

“Your turn,” he whispered into Ronan’s ear, and turned them over so he was on top.

Chapter Text

It was December before anyone at Aglionby found out that Adam Parrish was dating Ronan Lynch. Adam had to stay after school for the monthly math league competition. It was an event that gathered several competing schools in a gymnasium and had all the members complete a math test. Whichever team had the highest collective score would win.

Adam’s score, naturally, pushed the Aglionby team up to second place, right after a prestigious girls’ school from way upstate. The other handful of members on the team, now, back at Aglionby in their meeting room, were trying to convince Adam that this was not the most tragic failure of all their lives.

“I should have gotten that sixth question,” Adam said. “It was so obvious looking back.”

“Parrish, none of us got the sixth question,” said Hunter Morgan, who was the president of the team. “It’s not our fault those girls probably fucking cheated or something.”

“They didn’t cheat,” Adam said. He smiled a little at the thought of what Blue would say if she heard the way Morgan was talking. “They were just better than us.”

“Second place is great,” Landon Eriksen said. “There were like thirty schools there. That’s gonna look hella good on our apps.”

“Wait, didn’t you already get into Yale, Parrish?” Morgan said.

Adam looked down at his desk sheepishly. He had gotten into Yale, early decision, and found out a few days ago.

“They can change their minds,” he said. “Even early decision, if you get bad enough grades second semester, they can back out.”

“Jesus H. Christ, P, you’re an overachiever,” said Darren Colson from the back of the room, where he was filling out the monthly math league report.

Just then, there was a knock at the door. They all looked up. Ronan’s face was peering through the glass window.

“Oh, great, it’s the delinquent,” Morgan muttered.

Adam got up to get the door. He gave Ronan a quick kiss.

“I’ll be out in a sec,” he said. “Just gotta-”

Then he stopped, realizing why the room had gone silent and Ronan looked paralyzed.

Colson was the first one to say anything.

“What the fuck?” he said. “I’m not the only one who saw that, right?”

Adam stared at the ceiling and resigned himself to the conversation. He knew it was going to happen sooner or later. Some part of him had been hoping that it would happen, well, never- the defiling of the magical thing between him and Ronan, by way of Aglionby boy gossip.

“You’re gay, Parrish?” Morgan said.

Adam turned around.

“I’m bi,” he said.

“Whatever,” Morgan said. “You- you just kissed Lynch!”

Adam took a deep breath.

“Yeah,” he said. “So?”

He and Ronan looked challengingly at the handful of boys in the room.

“So what, are you two fucking or something?” Peter Drummond added.

Ronan stood up taller and smiled, all teeth and eyebrows.

“Yeah, actually,” he said. “And what about you, Drummond? You found anyone willing to put up with that weird smell you always have on you?”

“Don’t pick a fight,” Adam said.

“Aww, that’s cute,” Colson said, voice high and mocking.

Adam and Ronan both rolled their eyes, while the rest of the boys in the room laughed.

“Let me finish copying that damn flyer, Morgan, and then I’m leaving,” Adam said.

“No, no, I’ll copy the flyer,” Morgan said. “You go on your date with Lynch.”

Adam walked over to the copy machine to finish copying the math league flyers. Ronan said, “You’re never gonna let him live this down, are you?”

“No, I’m just worried for his mental state,” Eriksen said. “Why is the best student at Aglionby dating a- a dropout?”

Ronan didn’t say anything in response to that, and Adam glanced over at him. His face was steely and silent.

“No need to be fucking assholes to Lynch just because you’re all single,” Adam said, his voice sharp and serious. “And you can get off your high horse about going to Aglionby, Eriksen. Your shitty score on the test nearly dropped us back to third place.”

Then everyone in the room was really silent. Adam finished copying the flyers and handed them to Morgan.

“See y’all in calc,” he said, then slung on his backpack, took Ronan’s hand, and left.

Ronan was grinning. “Those assholes really can’t take an insult.”

“That’s because I’m usually nice to them,” Adam said. “I don’t think I’ve ever told Eriksen what a fucking idiot he is. They were probably just surprised, that’s all.”

“You didn’t ruin your spot on the team or whatever, did you?” Ronan said.

“Nah, they can’t afford to let me go. Besides, whatever. I won’t see any of them again in a few months.”

He didn’t say the rest of what he wanted to say: and I’m planning to keep seeing you for long, long after that.

Ronan wrapped an arm around Adam, kissed him, and then let go and jumped down the stairs two at a time, out to the parking lot. Adam walked down after him.

Opal was waiting in the back of the car. Adam said, “Why didn’t you bring her in with you?”

“I told her Aglionby was a shithole and she said she wanted to wait in the car,” Ronan said.

“You asshole,” Adam said. He opened the back door.

“Adam!” Opal shrieked, and yanked him into a hug. “Adam, me and Kerah went to the zoo today, it was so cool!

“Really?” Adam said, although Ronan had already told him about his plan to take Opal to the zoo. “You have to tell me all about it on the ride home.”

“Home?” Ronan said. “I thought we were going to the Barns, not St. Agnes.”

“Yeah,” Adam said, “we’re going-”

He stopped.

“Hey, don’t worry about it, Parrish,” Ronan said.

Opal quirked her head at them.

Adam hadn’t thought about it. No, that was a lie, he had thought about it.

“I meant home,” he said quietly. “I didn’t mean St. Agnes. Really, I didn’t even mean the Barns, Ronan. I meant…”

He swallowed. This was too much to handle.

Ronan walked over and held him. Opal unbuckled her seatbelt, jumped out of the car, and wrapped herself around Adam’s leg.

“You don’t have to say anything,” Ronan said.

“But I want to,” Adam said. He hadn’t thought about it before and yet he understood it. Like that question on the test, an hour ago, where the answer had just come to him by instinct. He hadn’t even known he’d known this kind of math and logic.

“You’re home,” Adam said. “You and Opal.”

Ronan held him tighter.

Adam didn’t need him to say any words to know how he felt.

“Adam,” Opal said, from where her face was pressed against Adam’s upper leg.

“Yes, Opal?” Adam said. He let go of Ronan and picked her up.

“I love you,” she said.

It wasn’t the first time she’d said it, either. She and Ronan were full of love to give out to the world.

Adam, quietly, said, “I love you, too, Opal.”

That was the first time he’d said it back to Opal. He hadn’t said it to Ronan, either. But he didn’t want Opal to feel unloved. And whatever it was he felt, all warm and safe in his chest, standing there with the two of them, was close enough to what might have been love that he thought it was worth the risk to say it. At least to this little girl who had spent too long in a nightmare realm to not hear that she was loved.

Ronan leaned in and said, “Tell Adam about the baby elephant.”

Opal’s face lit up.

“There was a baby elephant at the zoo!” she said. “A elephant is like a big gray horse, but it’s not a horse.”

“I know what an elephant is,” Adam said.

“And, and the elephant had a mom and a dad. I told Kerah it was like me and you, because the elephant tried to eat his toys but the mom told him not to. In elephant language.”

Adam laughed, and Opal laughed along with him, high and pealing.

“I tried to climb into the elephant closure,” she said, “but it was against the rules. Adam, is that fascist?”

“Is that what?” Adam said.

“Fascist. Kerah said that your school is fascist because it has too many rules.”

“Are you kidding me, Lynch?” Adam said.

Ronan looked proud of himself.

“She should learn from an early age to question authority,” he said.

Adam sighed. “Opal, if you want, I can explain why they have rules at the zoo, and what fascism actually is.”

“OK!” Opal chirped. She loved when Adam explained things to her. He was endlessly patient, despite her constant interruptions, unlike Ronan, who would give up on explaining things to her within minutes.

Adam helped Opal back into the car, then turned to Ronan and said, “Jesus Christ, I can’t believe I’m gonna have to explain Nazi Germany to a kid because you’re such a fucking idiot.”

“A fucking idiot that you still like,” Ronan said, smiling.

Adam rolled his eyes and got into the car.

 

By late January, Opal had made close friends with a brother and sister around her age who lived on the farm down the road from the Barns. Adam hadn’t met them yet, but he heard a lot about them from Opal- Joey and Kristen, whose sage opinions on everything from TV shows to superstitions were going to be the bane of Adam’s existence.

“Kristen told me that reading is stupid,” Opal said, one day when Adam came over after work.

“She did, huh?” Adam said. He opened the cabinets to get her a snack. “What’d you say to that?”

“I said that I thought reading was fun,” Opal said. “I told her about that you’re teaching me to read.”

Adam smiled. He poured Opal some Froot Loops. She was fond of the colors and the crunchiness.

“Then Kristen said,” Opal continued, “that she has to do reading for school. She’s in third grade, did you know?”

“Yeah, you told me.”

“In third grade they have to read chapter books already. I said that I can only read picture books but I’m learning really fast. She said that she hates reading all books. So I chewed up one of her books.”

“Opal!” Adam exclaimed.

“Then I also chewed on her hair clips because she was being mean. She cried after that, but Kristen cries about everything.”

“Opal, you really shouldn’t chew on other people’s stuff,” Adam said.

“But you told me that reading is important,” Opal said, indignant. “It was like a… protest.”

“That’s not…” Adam sighed. He knew telling her about Blue’s protest was going to end up like this somehow.

“Are you mad?” Opal asked.

“No, no, Opal, I’m not mad,” Adam said instantly. He reached over and patted her head. “But, you can’t chew on other people’s things, OK? You should try and be nice to your friends, no matter what they say about reading.”

Opal looked irritated at the thought, but she said, “Fine.”

At that moment, Ronan emerged from the back door, hands covered in dirt, and said, “Oh, hey, Parrish, you’re here.”

“Lynch,” Adam said. “Can we talk for a sec?”

Ronan froze up.

“It’s not something bad,” Adam said. “Calm down.”

He put his hand gently on Ronan’s shoulder. They headed over to the living room. Opal stayed in the kitchen, cheerfully eating her Froot Loops.

“Sorry,” Ronan said. “I know, every time you ask to talk about something, I do that.”

Adam reached over and kissed him.

“It’s all right,” he said. “I just meant to talk about Opal. Should we be teaching her about, you know, discipline?”

“Discipline?” Ronan said, and it came out like a dirty word.

“I don’t know. She told me she chewed up Kristen’s hair clips.”

“Good, that kid had it coming,” Ronan said. “She’s annoying as shit. And her hair clips are ugly. She should thank Opal.”

“Ronan,” Adam said warningly.

Ronan sighed. “Fine. I guess Opal shouldn’t have done that. But what the hell are we supposed to do about it?”

“Teach her about being nice to people?” Adam said.

Ronan’s eyebrows narrowed.

“She is nice to people,” Ronan said. “She’s not a bad person.”

“I didn’t say that,” Adam said. “But she’s still a little kid. She doesn’t know how she’s supposed to behave yet.”

“But how exactly are we gonna teach her?” Ronan asked.

Neither of them brought up the idea of punishment. Neither of them could bear the thought of punishing Opal for anything.

“Shit,” Adam said. “I don’t know how to do this shit.”

“Me, neither,” Ronan said.

They stared at the floor, eighteen-year-old kids who weren’t quite sure how they’d become parents.

“We should ask Maura,” Adam said finally. “And Calla. They’re always babysitting Opal, and they’re great at it. And they raised Blue. They probably know about… parenting.”

“Jesus,” Ronan muttered. “I don’t need to hear Calla making fun of me for being an idiot.”

“She’s not gonna make fun of you,” Adam said. “I mean, for fuck’s sake. We aren’t supposed to know how to raise a kid.”

Ronan looked up at him.

“Is that what we’re doing?” he asked. “I mean… both of us?”

Adam looked up at Ronan.

“I don’t know,” he said, truthfully. “It’s… I’m scared.”

“Scared of what?” Ronan asked.

Adam didn’t say anything. His arms were going rigid. He was thinking way too fast, like a wheel rolling downhill. Before, when he had just happened to be taking care of Opal, it was one thing. He could not raise her. He could not ruin a child’s life. He could not ruin sweet, joyful Opal’s life with his nightmarishness.

Ronan curled his arm around Adam and pulled him close. His lips brushed Adam’s hair.

“You don’t have to,” Ronan said. “But if you did, you would be a good parent. A great parent. You already are. Opal loves you.”

“I don’t know,” Adam said, muffled against Ronan’s shoulder. “I don’t… I don’t know.”

“I promise you,” Ronan said, “you are. I’ll tell you every day if you want. You’re such a good person.”

They breathed, in and out. They stayed there.

Opal ran in from the kitchen and jumped in between them.

“Adam,” she said, sounding serious. “I’m really sorry that I chewed up Kristen’s hair clips. I’m gonna tell Kristen sorry and I could make her new ones if she wanted.”

“That’s a good idea,” Adam said.

“You told me that when I hurt somebody’s feelings, I have to say sorry. Remember?”

“Oh, yeah,” Adam said. A week ago, Opal had shrieked something at a random girl at Nino’s, who had started crying. Adam had explained to her about saying sorry.

“So I’m gonna say sorry to Kristen,” she said. “’Cause I hurt her feelings.”

“See?” Ronan said quietly. “She’s learning. From you.”

“I’m proud of you, Opal,” Adam said.

Opal smiled, bright and toothy, and said, “Can I have a play date with Joey and Kristen tomorrow?”

“Sure,” Adam said. “I mean, if Ronan’s OK with it.”

“Yeah, you only go over there every fucking other day anyway,” Ronan said.

“Yay!” Opal shouted, and jumped off the couch to run off somewhere and wreak havoc.

Ronan and Adam lay back on the couch, arms intertwined.

“Hey,” Ronan said quietly. “Does it bother you when I… when I fucking talk to her like that?”

“What?” Adam asked.

“I don’t know. Just… that I curse and say mean stuff and shit.”

“Ronan,” Adam said. “You’re not really mean to her. She knows you better than almost anyone; she knows you don’t mean any of that.”

He sighed.

“Sometimes I think that I don’t know how to be human,” Ronan said.

Adam stared at him.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“I mean, I’m… I don’t know. I’m a night horror, Adam. She doesn’t deserve to have that for a parent.”

His voice was raw and strange. Adam wondered when it had happened that Ronan let all the leaves covering the branches of his heart fall.

“God,” Adam said. “You think you’re inhuman and I think I’m inhuman.”

Ronan turned sharply. “You’re not inhuman.”

“I know. You’ve told me that before. And I’ve told you before, you’re… you’re made of light and beauty and gentleness. Why do we know it about each other and not ourselves?”

They lay there, staring at the ceiling, arms around each other.

“Maybe,” Ronan said eventually, “it’s easier to see the truth of someone else than yourself.”

“Opal doesn’t see us as bad,” Adam said. “Maybe she’s right.”

Ronan nodded. He leaned into Adam’s shoulder.

“Still,” he said, “we’re gonna need help figuring out how the fuck to be parents. I mean, you’re not even out of fucking high school.”

“Eh. How hard can it be?”

Ronan let out a shaky laugh.

“You’re right,” he said. “We should ask Maura and Calla. And maybe, I dunno, read a parenting book or some shit.”

“We’ll figure it out,” Adam said.

“Yeah,” Ronan said. “We will.”

Chapter Text

Adam was meeting Henry and Gansey at a coffee place in the next town over from Henrietta. He hadn’t ordered anything, because the place was absurdly expensive, but he sat across from them trying to work on his English essay.

Unfortunately, Henry and Gansey were making it difficult to focus on the task.

“Flowers? Parrish, you got her flowers one time, didn’t you?” Gansey said.

Adam looked up for the hundredth time from his book.

“I don’t think Blue will love Valentine’s Day flowers,” he said.

“I’m telling you,” Henry said. “We need something unique. We’ve only got, what, a week left to plan this?”

“Why don’t you take her stargazing? She likes stars,” Adam said.

“That’s what I said!” Gansey exclaimed.

“We go stargazing on every date,” Henry said, exasperated. “It’s Valentine’s Day. It has to be something… show-stopping.”

If Adam had thought it was difficult to deal with Blue having one boyfriend, he hadn’t realized how annoying it would be to deal with two boys trying to impress Blue Sargent. He remembered the whirlwind of being attracted to Blue, ages ago, and smiled fondly. She did deserve something show-stopping for Valentine’s Day, but he wasn’t sure that she would actually want anything her boyfriends came up with.

“Cheng, you’re always doing covers of those K-pop songs,” he said. “Why don’t you serenade her or something?”

Henry slammed a hand down on the table. “Genius.”

“No, no, no,” Gansey said. “I can’t sing. Don’t make me sing.”

The door to the coffee place banged open, and a gust of cool wind rushed in. Everyone inside looked up, annoyed, while Ronan strode in and sat down next to Adam.

“Why are you all meeting in some tiny fucking place I never heard of before?” he said. “It took me like forty minutes to find it.”

“Nice to see you too, Ronan,” Adam said, kissing his cheek quickly.

“We can’t meet at Nino’s,” Henry said. “Blue’s there, and we don’t want her to overhear.”

“Overhear what?” Ronan said. “Are we plotting to kill Sargent or something? I vote, poison her yogurt.”

“Don’t even joke about that,” Gansey said. “No, we’re trying to plan Valentine’s Day.”

Ronan pretended to gag. “You gotta be kidding me, Gansey. You’re really celebrating Valentine’s Day?”

“Just because you don’t believe in any displays of emotion, Lynch-”

“Excuse me, I’m perfectly fine with displays of emotion, Gansey.”

Adam snorted, and Ronan turned to him and said, “You of all people would know.”

“I think Henry and Gansey are planning something better than a mix tape with the murder squash song on it,” Adam retorted.

“Whatever. Fuck you, Parrish. I’m great at emotions. That’s not the point. The point is that Valentine’s Day is bullshit.”

“Aw, is this part of your anarchist teenage rebellion?” Henry said. “Valentine’s Day was invented by Hallmark to sell cards?”

“It wasn’t invented by Hallmark, it was invented by capitalism in general, asshole. First of all, St. fucking Valentine’s story isn’t romantic at all. Second of all, the commodification of the idea of love is fucking disgusting.”

“Who cares?” Henry said. “It’s an excuse to celebrate. I seem to recall that you went all out celebrating Christmas, and that’s even more defiled by capitalism than V-Day is.”

“Do you really want to start this, Cheng?” Ronan said. “First of all, unlike all you heathens, I actually go to Mass on Christmas, to honor the birth of Jesus Christ.”

Adam rolled his eyes. Didn’t Henry know by now not to get Ronan started on religion?

“Second of all, the celebration of Christmas in America is layered, OK? Obviously there’s a lot of fucked-up materialism in it, but that’s not all there fucking is. The materialism in Christmas defiles the idea of the gift-giving, which by the fucking way, wasn’t even originally part of the original tradition. Valentine’s Day doesn’t have a fucking original tradition. It’s literally just, oh, let’s pretend like this day we give a shit about romance or whatever the fuck, by spending money. The only layer to this bullshit holiday is redefining love as only counting if you buy some shit.”

“Now imagine if he’d put this much effort and analysis into his homework,” Adam said, rifling through his English notes.

“What exactly is the problem here, Parrish?” Ronan said. “What, you want to celebrate Valentine’s Day?”

“God, no,” Adam said. “But I also don’t really care either way. It’s just a holiday, who cares?”

“You’re the one who’s always going on about how culture and media influence people’s ideas and shit,” Ronan said.

“Yeah, but no one really believes in Valentine’s Day, anyway,” Adam said.

Ronan crossed his arms and let out an angry huff.

“Hey, relax,” Adam said. “I think it’s cute when you get all worked up about this stuff.”

“Cute, huh?” Ronan said, smiling.

“Oh, Jesus Christ,” Gansey said. “Fine, so Lynch hates Valentine’s Day. Noted. Let’s get back to the planning session.”

Adam returned to his English essay. Ronan’s arm wrapped around his waist.

“What’re you doing?” he asked.

“Essay for Paulsen,” Adam said quietly. Across the table, Gansey and Henry were arguing about song numbers again. “It’s about Romantic-era poetry. Wordsworth in particular.”

“Wordsworth, who’s that?”

“The guy who wrote that long poem about the walk in the woods. The one I showed you the other day.”

“Oh, yeah. I like him.”

Adam smiled. Ronan had never shown nearly as much interest in anything at school as he did when Adam was telling him about it.

Outside, the wind was whistling, February rushing in. It made the little coffee place, with its sugary scent and with the warmth of Ronan’s arm and the sound of Gansey and Henry arguing, all the cozier.

 

Adam, Ronan, and Opal were all hanging out at Fox Way the Thursday before Valentine’s Day, when Ronan got a call.

“You gonna answer that?” Calla said, from where she was sitting reading Opal’s cards. They were all in the living room- Calla and Opal across from each other on the couches, Ronan and Adam and Blue gathered next to Fox Way’s one computer looking at a web page Blue had set up for the recycling club at her school.

“Calla, Ronan’s never answered a phone in his life,” Blue said, not looking away from the computer.

“Well, it’s interfering with my read here.”

“Fine, witch,” Ronan said, and grabbed his phone, heading out of the room.

“Wonder who it is,” Blue said to Adam.

“Someone who doesn’t know him that well, I assume,” Adam said, “if they’re trying to reach him via phone.”

Blue laughed.

“Anyway,” she said, “no one at Mountain View cares about how much electricity we waste. I’m trying to explain to them that it’s a financially sound decision to switch to fluorescent, considering the amount they’ll save on energy bills, but they actually told me, they actually said the words ‘you don’t know what you’re talking about.’ Like, no, they’re the ones who don’t know what they’re talking about. Fucking entrenched bureaucrats.”

“Language,” Calla said, and Blue said, “Opal’s heard so much worse from her actual parents.”

“I know what words are bad words and you can’t say them to your friends,” Opal commented. “Because their parents are hardasses.”

Calla bent over herself laughing.

Adam looked back at the website.

“You should ask Cheng for advice about this,” he said. “He’s always doing some protest or other.”

Blue sighed. “Yeah, why don’t I just ask my boyfriend for help, because I’m just a dumb girl-”

“That’s not what I said,” Adam said.

“Well, it’s what everyone else thinks. The school board seems to think so, anyway.”

Adam took a moment to think before he said anything to that. It was true that the school board probably hadn’t said anything about Blue’s gender, but it was also true that her being a girl had probably not worked in her favor at a meeting trying to change the minds of a bunch of middle-aged men.

“I know,” Adam said, finally. “You’re gonna come up against sexism in any protest you do, Blue. Intersectionality or whatnot.”

“Hey, you remembered what intersectionality is,” Blue said.

“Course I did. If it’s important to you, I’ll remember it.”

“It’s important in general, Adam,” Blue said. But she looked pleased.

Ronan walked back into the room, holding his phone and looking highly pissed off.

“So who was it?” Adam asked.

Ronan let out an irritated breath.

“Sharon,” he said. “She wants me to bring baked goods and napkins to the fucking Valentine’s Day dance.”

Sharon was a thirtysomething-year-old farmer who was one of the board members of the farmer’s association that Ronan had joined a few months back. They were always hosting events to spread knowledge and education about agriculture in their county. Ronan had become somewhat friends with Sharon, who was into punk subculture, and she’d even visited the Barns a few times.

“To the what?” Blue asked.

“The fucking Valentine’s Day dance,” Ronan grumbled.

“I didn’t know the farmer’s association was having a Valentine’s Day dance,” Adam said.

“That’s ‘cause I didn’t tell you, because I didn’t want to go,” Ronan said, “because it’s fucking stupid. But now Sharon goddamn twisted my arm, so we have to haul ass for an hour fucking drive to get to some hall she rented out and bring cookies or some shit, and she said I have to bring you and Opal.”

“Cookies?” Opal said, piping up.

“You can help bake them,” Ronan said.

“There’s no way to get out of it?” Adam asked.

“Jeez, you guys are a weird couple,” Blue said. “Gansey and Henry are psyched about Valentine’s Day; they’ve been planning it for weeks.”

“How did you know about that?” Adam said. “I thought it was supposed to be a surprise.”

“They’re incredibly obvious,” Blue said. “I’ll try and pretend like I’m surprised, so don’t tell them I know.”

“You like Valentine’s Day, Sargent?” Ronan said. “I thought at least you wouldn’t be such a slave to capitalism.”

Slave to capitalism, honestly, Ronan, you’re melodramatic,” Blue said. “If my boyfriends want to get me a bunch of gifts and free food, I’m not complaining.”

“Don’t you dare get me gifts and free food, Lynch,” Adam said.

“Trust me, I won’t.” Ronan crossed his arms. “Especially not for fucking Valentine’s Day. But now we’re stuck going to this fuckass dance.”

“Maybe it won’t be terrible,” Adam said. “Maybe they’ll have nice food or nice music or something. It’s something to do, I guess.”

Ronan grumbled incoherently and sat back down next to the computer.

“Maybe,” he said. “I’m gonna complain the whole time, though.”

“Wouldn’t expect anything less,” Adam said.

 

Valentine’s Day was on Saturday, and Adam had work until late in the afternoon. Ronan picked him up from the auto shop, Opal sitting in the backseat.

Adam got in the car and did a double take. Ronan was dressed nicely. Not formally or anything, but in nice, ironed pants and a clean sweater. He looked good.

“Don’t laugh,” Ronan said. “Sharon bullied me into wearing something nice.”

“I wasn’t laughing,” Adam said, looking him up and down.

“I swear to God, Parrish, I’m not gonna dress like this just for you,” Ronan said.

“Didn’t say that either.” Adam closed the door. “Though, I do feel a little underdressed now. I’m still covered in grease from work.”

“So?”

“So just because you’re into that, doesn’t mean the middle-aged farmers you work with are.”

Ronan rolled his eyes. “Fine, the Barns are on the way. We’ll stop so you can wash up and change into something else.”

He spent most of the drive to the Barns talking about the evils of capitalism inherent in Valentine’s Day and other holidays. Adam was already dreading St. Patrick’s Day next month, based on Ronan’s rant about that.

Adam washed and changed quickly into some nicer clothes that he found in Ronan’s closet, then headed back out to the car.

“Adam!” Opal said. “What’s an alco- alcolic- alcoholic?”

“I leave you alone for five minutes,” Adam said to Ronan.

“I was just telling her that I’m sick of American media showing all Irish people as alcoholics. Then she asked what an alcoholic is and I tried to explain it but she isn’t listening.”

Adam sighed and said, “Opal, it’s too difficult to explain. Maybe when you get older.”

“OK,” Opal said reluctantly. Lately Adam had learned to not try and explain every single thing to her, because it got exhausting.

The rest of the drive was mostly occupied by Ronan talking about the personalities of various members of the farmer’s association. Opal laughed at some of his crueler descriptions.

Adam stared out the window, feeling uncertain. The people Ronan was spending time with sounded very typically Virginian, Southern. Older.

He hadn’t thought about it much, the fact that he and Ronan were both boys. There’d been that one awkward conversation with Gansey where he’d had to explain the definition of the word ‘bisexual.’ And of course, after the math league had spread the word about his and Ronan’s relationship, he’d heard countless immature comments from every asshole at Aglionby.

But those were just comments, just dumb jokes. Adam dealt with dumb jokes all the time. And half the time, he was with Gansey or Henry, who jumped to his defense. This was different. These people were from a different generation. There was no telling what they would do- scream at them, throw stuff, tell them they were going to hell, kick Ronan out of the organization and make sure no one in the agricultural community talked to him again.

He wasn’t sure how to bring it up.

“Ronan,” he said, when Ronan’s phone GPS let them know they were ten minutes away.

“Yeah?” Ronan said.

“Uh… so, your farmer friends…”

“I’d hardly call them friends,” Ronan said.

“Acquaintances, whatever. They’re not… uh… they’re not gonna flip out if they see us holding hands or something, right?”

Ronan’s shoulders sank a little.

“No,” he said firmly. “They know about us. I told them all the first time I met them. One guy told me to get out and that I was gonna burn in hell, and Sharon threatened to rip his throat out. That’s why I ended up being friends with her, actually. They’re all scared of her, so they’re not gonna pull any shit.”

Adam felt a warm rush of affection for Sharon, who he barely knew otherwise.

“Why didn’t you tell me about that?” he asked.

“It was months ago. I was worried about scaring you. Then I guess I forgot. But you know now. I’m sure some assholes there are going to judge us, but no one’ll say anything.”

Adam nodded.

“Good,” he said. “That’s good to know.”

They pulled into a large parking lot soon after. Opal jumped out of the car excitedly. She was wearing a dress Blue had made her. She insisted on carrying the tray of cookies she and Ronan had baked the day before, promising that she wouldn’t drop them.

When they got inside, an older woman led the three of them into the main hall, which was covered in tacky decorations of hearts and cupids. Ronan looked like he was going to be sick.

“Ronan!” exclaimed a voice. Sharon emerged from a group of people who were milling in one corner and walked over to them. She was wearing nice enough clothes, but Adam could still see her tattoo that proclaimed “punk isn’t dead.”

“I’m glad you actually showed up,” she said, giving Ronan a quick hug. “Thought for a while there you weren’t going to come.”

“I’m not happy about it,” Ronan said. “Here’s the napkins.”

“Here’s the cookies!” Opal said, holding up her tray.

“Wow,” Sharon said, bending down to look at Opal. They’d met a few times before. “Did you help your dad make these cookies?”

“Yeah,” Opal said. “I was really good, I didn’t chew on anything.”

Sharon laughed and ruffled her hair. Opal made a face.

“I’m so glad you could make it, too, Adam,” Sharon said.

Adam smiled. “Thank you for having us, ma’am.”

“Listen to this one,” Sharon said. “So much politer than you, Ronan.” She shook her head. “Let’s take these over to the dessert table. And Ronan, at least pretend like you’re having a good time.”

Ronan rolled his eyes, but Adam could see that Sharon was wearing down at his insistence on being antisocial.

There was a man at the dessert table who said hello to Ronan. He was wearing a t-shirt and jeans and setting down a tray of brownies.

“Hey, Steve,” Ronan said. “How are the goats?”

“Doing well, doing well,” Steve said. “How’re things at the Barns?”

“Still setting everything up,” Ronan said. He glanced over at Adam and Opal, then said awkwardly, “Uh, this is, uh, this is Adam. You know. My boyfriend. And this is Opal. My… daughter.”

“Right, you’ve told me about them,” Steve said. “Good to finally meet you, Adam. Congrats on getting into Yale, by the way.”

“Thank you, sir,” Adam said, shaking his hand.

“And good to meet you, too, Opal,” Steve said, leaning down. Opal looked up shyly and didn’t say anything. She still had a difficult time with strange adults.

She tugged at Ronan’s sweater and mumbled something in Latin.

Ronan sighed. “She wants to know if she can have one of those brownies.”

Steve laughed. “Of course she can. What a cute kid.” He handed Opal one of the brownies from his tray, which she ate much more carefully than usual. Ronan and Adam had been teaching her how to eat politely.

They milled around for a while, eating some of the pizza that the board members had ordered, and the baked goods various people had brought. Adam met most of the other people in the farmer’s association. They all seemed to already know about his college acceptance, auto-mechanic skills, and favorite books.

A couple of people shot him and Ronan dirty looks, and one woman felt the need to give Adam a five-minute speech about how she was really OK with gay people. Other than that, it was surprisingly not awkward to talk with all these older farmers. Ronan was in his element talking about agriculture, which Adam found way too attractive.

Opal, meanwhile, tentatively made friends with some of the other kids who were there, and ran off to play hide-and-seek with them.

Some of the older couples started dancing to the music that was playing overhead. Ronan and Adam sat at one of the tables and talked, getting up occasionally to get more of Lilian’s pecan squares.

“I’m glad you quit Aglionby,” Adam said.

Ronan looked over at him. “Any particular reason you’re bringing this up now?”

“Because I’m thinking about how it was the right choice. You hated every second at Aglionby. And here, even though this is a cheesy dance that you don’t even like, you don’t look stressed. You’re doing what you want to do with your life.”

Ronan stared down at the table. “Yeah. That’s true. My life is a lot better now.”

He smiled up at Adam, who smiled back, and then both of their chairs jolted to the side.

“Kerah! Adam!” Opal exclaimed, yanking at their chairs. She was looking a lot less shy now. “Can we dance together?”

An instrumental, rhythmic song with a cheerful beat was playing on the speakers. Some of the other kids were dancing with their parents.

“Do we have to?” Ronan asked.

“Please!” Opal said.

“She said please,” Adam said.

“Jesus,” Ronan muttered. “Fine, come on, birdbrain.”

They both got up and followed Opal over to the open floor. She took both of their hands and started shimmying back and forth, silly and carefree.

Adam’s face warmed- this was so unfamiliar, still, being part of this tiny happy family, dancing in a circle in a bright room in February.

All three of them spun in a circle. Their dance moves were terrible. Opal threw her head back and laughed, jumping in the air so that Ronan and Adam had to lift her up and spin her.

Adam caught Ronan’s eye, surprised to see that he was smiling, too. The words I love you came unbidden to his mind, like they did a lot lately. He still hadn’t said it. He was pretty sure it was true, though.

One or two songs later, the tempo changed and became slower. Opal grumbled and ran back off to her new friends. Adam moved to leave, but Ronan caught his arm.

“We can… if you want,” he said awkwardly.

The song was gentle as falling snow. Adam hadn’t felt this nervous energy run through him around Ronan in a while.

“Sure,” he said, and pulled them closer.

He hadn’t slow-danced with anyone since freshman year of high school, and the last one had been painfully awkward. He suspected Ronan had never done this with anyone. Around them were middle-aged couples. Sharon was swaying with her husband a few feet away.

He looked up at Ronan, who looked terrified.

“Dumbass,” he said affectionately, and led him gently.

He could hear Ronan’s breathing speeding up and then slowing. Adam leaned into his shoulder and left a gentle kiss at the edge of his neck. Everything was quiet. His own heartbeat was too fast. This was ridiculous. It was a tacky Valentine’s Day dance. They’d already seen each other naked and told each other all their secrets.

“Adam,” Ronan said quietly, into his hearing ear. “I have to tell you something.”

“What is it?” Adam asked.

“I don’t hate Valentine’s Day.”

Adam laughed. “I won’t tell anyone.”

“I just…” He was talking very quietly. “Mom and Dad used to make a big deal about it every year.”

“Oh,” Adam said. He pulled back and looked Ronan in the eye.

“It’s OK,” Ronan said. “I’m OK about it now. Just sometimes there are still things they used to love that I can’t handle anymore.”

“That’s fine,” Adam said. “Really, it is.”

“But…” He looked like he was struggling to find words. Adam kept looking at him. “But it’s getting better. I think I don’t associate it with them so much anymore.”

They were looking into each other’s eyes. Adam’s breath caught in his throat. He thought about Niall and Aurora Lynch. He thought about all the middle-aged couples dancing around them. He thought about Valentine’s Day. He thought about years and years of this.

The electricity between him and Ronan didn’t feel quite so much like electricity anymore. It was more like sunlight. The young thing full of dust that woke him on mornings at the Barns. The familiar old squares Opal would curl up in on the kitchen floor. The constant energy that fed trees and made them grow.

He leaned forward and kissed Ronan while they turned slowly.

“I should tell you something,” he said. “I don’t really care about Valentine’s Day one way or the other.”

“Asshole,” Ronan said, and laughed.

Chapter Text

Spring break at Aglionby was the last week in March. Gansey had spent most of it fretting over his college decisions- he, unlike Adam, was applying regular-decision and had to wait until April to find out where he was going.

Adam spent most of the break, on the other hand, working, and doing homework. He still had more free time than usual, not having to go to school, and slept most nights at the Barns, and spent a lot of his days hanging out with his friends.

They were about halfway through the break when Adam had a day off. The day before, he met with Blue and Henry after work. They picked him up, got milkshakes, and went to Litchfield, where they hung out in Henry’s room.

Henry was a lot like Gansey, in Adam’s eyes, but in a very different way that made him somewhat more palatable to someone like Adam. Henry didn’t waste time on pitying people or trying to understand them. He was like Ronan in that way- he took a feeling about a person and lived it entirely, instead of hiding it within himself.

His Gansey-ness was admirable, too- that fearless leadership, the way he would dream of something and then walk into darkness to find it. Adam was still ashamed of the fact that he and Ronan had been such assholes to Henry at first. It was just the kind of thing he hated people doing- judging someone based on vile assumptions.

He’d become part of the group pretty quickly, though, similarly to how Blue had, or how Adam had for that matter. It had become increasingly normal to spend an afternoon doing homework with Henry, or to know something and remember he knew it because Henry had told him.

Blue and Henry, now, were talking about some feminist issue that Adam didn’t really understand, something about movies and actresses. He worked his way through the calculus packet he’d been assigned for the break. By the time he finished with it, it was dusk, and Henry and Blue had stopped their conversation to go downstairs and make dinner, leaving Adam alone in Henry’s room with his homework.

Henry’s face popped back in the door.

“Dude, you wanna take a break already?” he said. “Blue-jay’s helping Koh make a recipe he found online, bound to be interesting.”

“Oh,” Adam said. “Yeah, I finally finished this packet, might as well.”

“Jesus,” Henry said. “The whole packet? You’re a fucking machine.”

“Ha,” Adam said. He was tired and hungry and wasn’t fond of being told he was a machine.

Henry, oddly, seemed to get that he’d said something wrong, and quirked an eyebrow.

“I never asked,” he said. “Why do you still work so hard at school? You’re already into your top choice school, man, full ride. I get that you still wanna keep up your grades but you go above and beyond.”

Adam looked up. Henry looked trusting. Lately Adam thought that being bluntly honest was a good thing.

“If I don’t do perfectly in school,” Adam said, “I don’t have any other worth.”

Henry didn’t deny it. He just said, “Who told you that?”

“Good question,” Adam said. “I can tell you who’s told me it’s not true. Gansey, Blue, Ronan, Cabeswater.”

Cabeswater was an odd addition to bring up to someone who hadn’t known the forest, but this was an odd conversation. Henry had a habit of dropping people into odd conversations without forewarning.

“But it doesn’t matter what other people say,” Henry said. “Only matters what’s in your own head.”

“I’m trying to change it,” Adam said. “I’m trying to teach myself to do things because I want to, and not to pay off the debt of my existence.”

“You’re doing better than me, then,” Henry said. “Not that I’m in the same boat that you are, but you know my head’s fucked up too.”

“Yeah, I know,” Adam said.

“For what it’s worth,” Henry said, “you can add me to the list of people who’ve told you you’re worth more than your achievements.”

Adam nodded. “Thanks.”

They headed downstairs and ate dinner. Blue and Koh had done a decent job with the recipe, and Adam felt slightly less dizzy after getting some food into him.

Henry had been the one to drive Adam to and from work, so they were heading out the door so that Henry could take Adam back to St. Agnes when they saw the BMW pull into the driveway.

“Ronan!” Adam said, surprised, when Ronan got out of the car and slammed the door. “I thought you were gonna come over to St. Agnes later.”

“Yeah, that was the old plan,” he said. He looked on edge. “Something’s come up.”

“Ronan,” Adam said. “Are you all right?”

Ronan was shaking.

“Cabeswater,” he said. “The new Cabeswater.”

Blue had come out the door, too, standing next to Henry.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

“Nothing for you to worry about, maggot,” Ronan snapped.

“Oh, no,” Blue said. “You are not talking to me like that.”

Ronan looked like he was about to breathe fire. Adam said, quietly, “Ronan.”

He took a long breath.

“I meant,” he said, “nothing for you to worry about, Sargent.”

“Are you sure?” she asked.

“What did you mean, Cabeswater?” Adam asked.

Months before, Ronan had dreamt a tree and planted it in the place where Cabeswater used to be. He’d been adamant that it was not a replacement for Cabeswater, but rather something new entirely. They’d visited the new tree several times, and it was growing quite well, but the way Ronan was shaking, reverting back to his old patterns of self-contained anger, didn’t suggest that he was talking about the little tree.

“I dreamt something,” Ronan said. “When I was there. I didn’t mean to. I don’t know what it is, but- it’s asking for you, Adam.”

“And you think it’s Cabeswater?” Blue asked.

Ronan took an exasperated breath. “What the fuck else would it be?”

“But that doesn’t make sense.”

“No shit, Sargent.”

Adam was trying to gather his thoughts. He had a strange, nauseous feeling, like that feeling you got when you were already on the highway for a long road trip and then had to turn around to go back home and pick something up that you’d forgotten. That feeling like you’d already resigned yourself to saying goodbye and now…

He missed Cabeswater.

But what he felt didn’t matter. If Cabeswater was somehow back- if it needed him-

“What do you mean, it asked for me?” Adam said.

Ronan looked at him.

“It asked for the magician,” he said. “It wouldn’t leave me alone until I promised to get you.”

“Wait,” Henry said. “Cabeswater- it gave itself up to save Gansey. Where’s Gansey? Is- is he OK?”

“He’s- he’s with Helen,” Blue said. “Shit, God, what if he’s-”

“That’s not how it works,” Ronan said. “Cabeswater is more complicated than that. Gansey’s alive permanently now, I can tell you that. Cabeswater exists in layers.”

He was still shaking.

“I’m going to call him,” Blue said. “I- you should go take care of the thing you dreamed up. Both of you.”

“I’ll get my phone,” Henry said, and disappeared into the house.

The three of them were standing in the driveway, dusk rapidly falling on the spring roads, and Blue rushed forward and embraced Ronan tightly.

“You’re gonna be OK,” she said. “Don’t panic.”

Ronan nodded.

“Make sure Gansey’s fine,” he said. “Come on, Parrish.”

Adam was too busy trapped in his thoughts. They got in the car, Ronan drove, they didn’t talk.

“Parrish,” Ronan said, when they were on the road that led to where Cabeswater used to be. “You’re overthinking.”

Adam looked up.

“Do you blame me?” he said.

“No, but stop doing it. It’s not going to help, you know that. List something.”

Adam closed his eyes and listed the names of the first twenty U.S. presidents, until his mind cleared.

“Thank you,” he said, when he opened his eyes.

Ronan nodded and kept driving.

“Whatever this is,” Ronan said, “I’m- you know- I’m going to be there with you.”

“What if it is Cabeswater?” Adam said.

“Then we’ll figure it out.”

“OK,” Adam said.

They pulled over by the edge of the woods. Adam’s eyes widened. Something shimmery and wavering was in the air, weaving its way between the trees.

“Shit,” Ronan said. “It’s already got all the way out here?”

Adam stared. It wasn’t touching any of the trees or leaves or dirt, just the air, and it was thrumming. When he listened closer he heard it say, in English, Where is the magician?

“I’m here,” he said out loud.

Was it Cabeswater? Could it be Cabeswater? Did he want it to be Cabeswater?

“Adam,” Ronan said. “Be careful. I don’t know what the hell this is.”

Adam stood up taller. Now that he was facing this dream thing, he felt surer of himself. This was real.

He stepped forward into the shimmering dream.

Instantly, he knew it wasn’t Cabeswater. It was nothing like the mossy old forest that had once tugged at the edges of his consciousness.

This was a consciousness in itself, the consciousness of an ancient and magical wood, but not Cabeswater. It felt- warmer. Belonged more to night. He could hear, if he listened, echoes of cicadas.

Who are you? the forest demanded, loud and thunderous, and Adam threw a hand over his hearing ear.

“The magician,” Adam said out loud. He took his hand over his ear and stood up straighter. “You asked for me.”

What are you?

The air became louder, more humid, suffocating. He forced himself to breathe and said, “You- you asked for me.”

The magician. Where is the magician?

Then it struck Adam- the forest didn’t want him. The forest had been expecting someone magic, ethereal, godly. Not someone made of dirt, not someone who was born without a single spark between his bones.

He fell to his knees.

Get out of here, human.

“I’m sorry,” he murmured.

Whatever this place was, it was more than him. It did not want him. He’d defiled it.

“I’m sorry,” he said again. The air was burning him. He couldn’t get up. He was going to go unconscious.

“Fuck you,” said Ronan’s voice, loud from behind him. “You wanted the magician, here he is.”

Get out of here, Greywaren.

Adam pressed his hands down. He was on the earth, technically, but the dream-thing was not letting him touch the soil. It wanted him to go but it did not want to let him go.

He scratched at the dirt, eyes closed, head hazy, and he-

There was a flower.

It came from Ronan’s dream tree.

It was white and wispy. It had three red dots on it. He knew this without opening his eyes. They were three pomegranate seeds. Persephone.

He remembered her saying, the Magician can make anything magical.

He forced his way off his knees and said, voice inexplicably clear, “I am a human. I don’t have any magic. I was born without magic. This is who I am. Cabeswater trusted me. Do you?”

The air cleared.

Standing next to him was Ronan. He had not fallen once. For dreamers, dream things were not poisonous.

A deer wandered in between the trees. It was part of the dream. It touched nothing but the air. It was silver.

It said, “You’re a rare thing, Adam Parrish.”

Then to Ronan, it said, “We are leaving.”

The dream collapsed around them.

“Jesus fuck,” Ronan gasped. Finally, the air had been knocked out of him.

“You OK?” Adam asked.

“Are you OK?” Ronan said. “You’re the one who- fuck- you’re the one who I thought was fucking dying over there-”

“I’m fine,” Adam said.

“What was it?” Ronan asked.

“Not Cabeswater,” Adam said. “I think you pulled out a really powerful dream forest, or dream jungle, or something, from somewhere really far away. It didn’t like being in Virginia. But I think it heard about…”

He didn’t quite believe it.

“I think somehow it knew about… me.”

Ronan looked at him with that expression again, the one Adam didn’t understand, full of wonder.

“You,” he said. “Like, what, it read about you in Magical Forest Weekly?”

“I don’t fucking know. I think it was expecting me to be… cooler, I don’t know.”

Ronan narrowed his eyes. “Is that why you said all that? It- it thought that you weren’t the magician because you’re not technically fucking magic? Jesus.”

Adam stared into the woods. The dream-forest’s consciousness was gone completely now. He didn’t understand it, but he’d been given some sort of understanding.

“It… it trusts me,” he said. “Now. It saw me and it was surprised, because it expected someone really magic. Like you. Instead it got a human.”

He still didn’t understand what had happened. Why the forest had so suddenly turned around when he’d confessed to his humanity. He’d expected it to lash out. He’d just wanted to be honest.

“I am human,” Ronan said.

“That’s what you’re taking away from this?” Adam asked.

“Yeah, that’s what I’m taking away from this,” Ronan said.

He was shaking again, his voice back in that angry cut-off tone.

“What’s wrong?” Adam asked. “Don’t close yourself off like this.”

Ronan inhaled sharply.

“What’s wrong is that fucking forest- you- are we two different species? No, we’re fucking not. Stop looking at me like I’m- like I’m-”

“A god,” Adam said.

“I was going to say monster.”

“Well, you’re not a monster, and I don’t see you that way.”

“I’m not a god either, if that’s what you think! I don’t know what I am!”

He screamed the last part so loudly that his voice echoed in the now-empty woods. Then he hollowed out and collapsed onto the ground angrily.

So that was what had been bothering him.

Adam sat down next to him.

“You’re Ronan,” he said. “I don’t know your species classification. But you are human in the ways that matter. You’re human the way Opal is human- maybe not technically, but where it matters, you are. You’re full of light and love and, and contradictions.”

“Contradictions,” Ronan muttered, but he sounded less angry. “Of all the things, you go for contradictions.”

Adam laughed. “Dumbass. I’m trying to say that you’re as human as I am.” He leaned in. Ronan’s shoulders relaxed. “And I love you.”

“Love you too,” Ronan said, and sighed. He stared down at his hands in between his knees.

They sat there for a while in silence. Around them, the forest settled, quiet.

“What do you think it wanted?” Ronan asked.

“Dunno,” Adam said. “To go home, I think. Maybe it needed to see me first to do that.”

Ronan glanced over at him.

“You know,” he said, “you’re not just human.”

“No,” Adam said. “I am.”

“No, I mean, you’re not just human. You’re not just anything. These kinds of forests, they’re scary, they don’t trust just anyone. It trusted you because it saw who you really are.”

Adam stared at the ground, too.

“And what am I?” he asked.

“The best kind of human,” Ronan said.

Adam’s eyes widened. Ronan hadn’t even hesitated before saying it.

“That’s who you are,” Ronan said. “You don’t have to do anything to prove it. I’m not gonna write you an essay about it. It’s just the truth.”

“I’m trying to believe it,” Adam said.

“Good. Don’t stop trying.”

“I won’t.”

Chapter Text

He parked the BMW outside the Barns. Tomorrow would be Gansey’s graduation party, which, although Gansey refused to admit it, was also Gansey’s attempt at a graduation party for Adam, Henry, and Blue.

In the meantime, he was going to rest, just rest.

Ronan and Opal were still out. Gansey, Henry, and Blue were doing last-minute packing for their road trip. He was alone.

He was home.

Adam knew that he and Ronan were not going to stay at the Barns forever. But for now, it was a place that represented what they had- he and Ronan and Opal. It calmed him down just to be there, as a result.

He sprawled out on the couch and released a long breath.

Seeing his parents had been far easier than he’d ever expected.

He’d done it for a lot of reasons. To prove that he could do it, for one. To see if maybe there was a chance at reconciliation with his mother, though now he thought that their relationship would be cordial and distant at best. He was fine with that.

Mostly, it was so that they would stop haunting him. That old emptiness where ‘family’ used to be, all taken up by pain and noise and anger- gone. It was an empty room, free for the filling.

Adam took a nap for a while, then took a shower. He was cooking dinner by the time Ronan and Opal got home.

“Hi, Adam!” Opal exclaimed, running over. “Did you have a good graduation?”

“Yeah, it was great,” he said.

“What are you making?” she asked.

He let her get up on the stepstool by the counter and showed her the dish he was making with some of the new vegetables from out in the garden. Some of them were dream vegetables, some were real. They made for an interesting combination.

“Graduation didn’t suck too hard, then?” Ronan asked, beginning to set the table. Opal jumped off the stepstool and ran up to her room.

“Nah. I mean, Child spoke for way too long but I expected that. It was a pretty nice ceremony, actually.”

“I didn’t miss much, though?”

“No, you would’ve hated it.”

“Good.” He walked over to the edge of the counter, next to Adam. “And… the rest of the day?”

He’d told Ronan about his plan to go see his parents. Ronan hadn’t been thrilled at the idea, but he’d said that it was Adam’s choice to do it or not.

“It went well,” Adam said. “Really well, actually. My mom said she’d like to hear from me occasionally. Nothing bad happened.”

“That’s ‘really well?’” Ronan said.

“I was half-expecting it to be a lot worse,” Adam said. “But it wasn’t. It wasn’t bad at all. I… He doesn’t scare me anymore. That’s why it was good. I didn’t realize it, how much he doesn’t scare me anymore.”

Ronan grabbed him and held him tightly.

“God,” Ronan said. “I’m just so… I don’t fucking know. I’m so glad that it went well.”

“Yeah,” Adam said, leaning into the hug. “Me too.”

They stood there for a while, not talking, and then Adam said, “I don’t need them anymore. I have a new family.”

“Yeah, you do,” Ronan said. “You’re always gonna have us.”

Opal came crashing down the stairs, yelling, “Adam I wanna practice my reading! Can you help me practice my reading?”

“Ah shit, I forgot about that,” Adam said quietly. “I’m too fucking tired for reading practice.”

“I’ll do it,” Ronan said.

“You sure?”

“I may not be a high school graduate, but I can read, you know.”

“OK, I’ll finish dinner.”

He turned back to the kitchen counter as Ronan headed off to help Opal. He couldn’t help smiling, methodically working through the simple recipe, listening to Opal stumble over words and Ronan curse without any malice before explaining to her what she’d gotten wrong.

He knew this was a strange, unusual kind of a family. A hoofed girl from a nightmare world, whom they’d found more than adopted. Two boys who were barely out of high school, who up until less than a year ago spent most of their time fighting. A farm full of sleeping dreams. It wasn’t anyone’s definition of a family.

But it felt like what family was supposed to be. And he really needed that, he really wanted that. Maybe he even deserved that.

He did deserve that.

 

Gansey’s graduation party took place in the house his family rented out near Henrietta. It was painfully obvious how expensive everything was, in its minimalist décor and subtle works of art on the wall. Adam restrained himself from making any comments.

Gansey had insisted on only inviting the people closest to him- his parents, his sister, and his closest friends: Ronan, Adam, Blue, and Henry. Ronan and Adam brought Opal as well, which was considered a given at this point.

They all sat on the porch. Gansey gave a series of sentimental speeches, referring repeatedly to Glendower and the quest. He’d told his family the whole story soon after his second death, and they’d learned all about magic. They were oddly casual about it- that was how Ganseys were, after all, easy with the idea of greatness.

It was nice. Both Adam and Gansey had been working on being easier with the gap between them, the one that had once been taken up with pity and resentment and misunderstanding. It was still difficult, but less so.

Helen accidentally dropped a plastic fork on the ground, and Opal ran over and picked it up. She immediately placed it in her mouth.

Helen laughed. “I’ve been meaning to ask. What is she?”

“What do you mean, what is she?” Gansey said.

Helen pointed to Opal.

“Her. These two brought her with them,” she gestured at Ronan and Adam, “and to not avoid the obvious, she has hooves. And she’s currently eating plastic. So what is she?”

“I pulled her out of my dreams,” Ronan said. He was sitting on a chair next to Adam on the porch. Blue was with Gansey and Henry on the porch swing. Helen was standing next to it. Gansey’s parents had gone inside.

“Oh, right, nearly forgot you did that,” Helen said. “What does that make her, then? Your child? You gave birth to her, in a sense?”

Ronan looked horrified.

“No,” he said. “She existed before me and outside of me. She was always in my dreams.”

“Always?” Helen said. She examined Opal from a distance in a way that made Adam rather uncomfortable- like she was examining a specimen. “She looks so young. How old is she?”

“Time works different in the dream world,” Ronan said. “She’s probably, like, six. I haven’t really thought about it too much.”

“That’s so interesting,” Helen said. “Gosh. So she definitely isn’t your child, then, just something you found.”

Ronan’s expression was hardening. “Wouldn’t call her a thing, but yeah, I found her, I guess.”

“Oh, well, she’s definitely not human, is she? But you take care of her? What is she, your pet?”

“No,” Adam and Ronan said at once.

Opal looked up at Helen, looking a little bit worried.

“What’s a pet?” she said.

Helen, ignoring the question, said, “Why are you getting offended? She’s a trash-eating satyr. It’s reasonable to assume she’s your pet.”

“Helen,” Gansey said, in his mediator voice. Adam hated that voice. “I know Opal isn’t exactly human, but she isn’t an animal, either.”

“She has a consciousness,” Henry chimed in. “She can feel human emotions and things.”

“Right, but that doesn’t make her a human child,” Helen said. “She’s something in-between, I would assume. Not exactly a member of the family, right?”

“Is that really your fucking decision?” Ronan said, his voice more like a hiss now.

“Is it yours?” Helen asked. “You don’t have any legal or biological claim to her. What, are you saying she’s your child, the two of you? I’m sorry, you’re eighteen. You’re in no place to raise a child, and she isn’t a child, not in any normal sense of the word. I don’t see why you’re all getting up in arms.”

Adam said, in an incredibly calm voice, “I have to go get something real quick.”

Then he got up and walked in through the back door, through the kitchen past the Gansey parents, ignoring their polite inquiries of where he was going, and out the front door to sit on the front step.

He pulled his knees close to himself and then, unable to hold it in anymore, began to cry.

A moment later, the door swung open and someone stepped out. It was Gansey. Richard Gansey. He sat down next to Adam.

“If you want to talk,” he said, “talk. If not, I’m just going to sit here if that’s all right.”

Adam said, blurred through tears, “it’s fine,” and then choked out as much of the tears as he could get out in as few sobs as possible.

Helen was right. He had been a goddamn idiot. He didn’t deserve this, he didn’t deserve a family.

“You shouldn’t have encouraged us,” he said, finally, trying to wipe his tears away as quickly as he could. “You shouldn’t have called her our daughter, because she isn’t.”

“Jesus,” Gansey said. “Don’t fucking listen to Helen. She doesn’t know what she’s saying.”

“She’s right,” Adam said. “Damn it, Gansey. You know she’s right. She’s from the dream world; she’s not a child. And we’re not parents. We’ve never known how to be parents.”

“That’s funny, because you’re two of the best parents I’ve ever met,” Gansey said. “Especially considering who your parents were.”

Adam looked up.

“I didn’t mean to bring that up,” Gansey said quickly. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Adam said. “I was thinking it anyway.”

He took a long breath.

“It’s just… I knew this,” he said. “I knew it was too good to be true. I knew I was never going to have a real family. I just wish I hadn’t tricked myself into thinking I did.”

And then he was crying again.

There was the sound of someone yelling angrily, then the door slammed behind them. Adam looked back- Ronan was storming out the door, holding Opal in his arms. Opal looked mightily confused.

“Kerah, why are you yelling?” she asked.

“I’m not yelling at you,” he said. “You didn’t do anything wrong, I promise you, and it’s not your fucking fault. It’s Gansey’s shitty sister.”

Gansey sighed. He looked exhausted.

“Gansey,” Adam said. “I’m so sorry- your graduation party-”

“Do you think I care about that?” he said. “Do you think I care about that more than I care about my friends?”

He got up. “I’m going inside to talk to Helen. And Adam- don’t take it seriously, what she says. She says careless things.”

He gave Ronan a meaningful look and then headed inside.

Ronan sat down next to Adam and Opal immediately scrambled onto Adam’s lap and threw her arms around his neck.

“What’s wrong, Adam?” she asked.

Her voice was so caring and gentle that he broke down further. She held him tight. Ronan put his arms around the both of them.

“I’m sorry,” Adam said.

“For what?” Ronan asked.

“For what I said yesterday. About being a new family. I know we’re not.”

Opal said, softly, “We’re not a family?”

“We are a family,” Ronan said. “Just because we aren’t some upper-class socialite asshole’s idea of a family doesn’t mean we’re not. We love each other and we take care of each other. That’s what family is supposed to be. It’s not about blood. Or, or fucking being a human, because I’m not even fully human, if you’re gonna get technical about it.”

“I don’t deserve this,” Adam said, quietly, trying to make sure Opal didn’t hear.

“Fuck,” Ronan said. “Adam. You deserve this. Don’t- don’t say that. Is that what you think this means? Adam, look at me.”

Adam looked up. Ronan’s eyes were intense on his.

“You deserve a family,” he said. “A real family. And this is a real family. You think blood and human species whatever-the-fuck makes a real family? Because your parents had that and you’ll fucking call them a real family over my dead body. Adam, I don’t care what the hell we get classified as. We’re still a family. All of us.”

Opal said, “I love you.”

Adam took a few breaths. Opal handed him a really disgusting tissue from her pocket.

“See, she’s being helpful,” Ronan said, and Adam laughed.

The door opened. Blue, Helen, and Gansey walked out.

“Hey,” Helen said, tentatively. “Uh- I’m sorry. I didn’t realize what I was saying. I kind of don’t think before I speak sometimes.”

“It’s fine,” Adam said. “It’s not your fault I reacted like this.”

“Well, it was a shitty thing to say anyway. I’m sorry I called her- I’m sorry I said that.”

She knelt down in front of them, face to face with Opal, and said, “Hey, Opal.”

“Hi,” Opal said, shy.

“You’re a cute kid,” she said.

Then she got up and said, “Dick, you know I’m terrible with children. I’m going back inside.”

“A very Helen apology,” Blue said, after Helen had disappeared back into the house.

She sat down on Adam’s other side and said, “You’re the best dad in the world, you know that, right?”

“Rude,” Ronan said. “Gansey’s right here.”

“Very funny, Ronan,” Gansey said, while everyone else snickered.

“Thanks, Blue,” Adam said quietly.

They sat there for a while, while Adam caught his breath and began to feel like a bit of an idiot for overreacting. He held Opal close and said, “I love you, Opal. Don’t forget that.”

Then Ronan looked up at Gansey and said, “Hey, Dick. I forgot to say, congrats on finally escaping the prison system of secondary education in America.”

“Thank you, Ronan,” Gansey said. “I appreciate the colorful wording.”

“That wasn’t colorful. Do you want to hear the colorful version?”

“No,” Blue and Adam said firmly.

And it was OK again. Adam didn’t know when this had happened, that a fight didn’t have to be a fight, that he felt safe saying what he felt, that he had people he loved and who loved him.

Everything was going to be OK.

Chapter Text

In July, the sun rose incredibly early. Adam had never really kept track of the sunrise before he’d started living on a farm, where the sun made the schedule, rather than a clock. It was illogical, but he’d thought that on summer weekends, when he had off from work sometimes, the sun was also allowed to sleep in.

Summer mornings at the Barns were comfortable and cool, under the thin cotton blanket in Ronan’s room. He and Ronan had stayed up late the night before, after Opal had finished catching fireflies and gone to bed, talking under the porch light until they were nearly falling asleep, well past midnight. That had been less than four hours ago. Adam was fully capable of functioning on less than four hours of sleep, but he didn’t want to if he didn’t have to.

But when the first bits of light started peeking through the window and birds started chirping, he felt a weight lift off the bed from next to him and his eyes fluttered open.

He grumbled and grabbed at Ronan’s arm. “Stay,” he said, voice blurred by the lack of sleep.

Ronan rubbed at his eyes. “I have work to do.”

Adam made an irritated sound. “Can’t it wait?”

“I already explained this shit to you,” Ronan said, and yawned. “If I wait, the sun’s gonna be fucking unbearable.”

Adam considered this, his mind too foggy to really understand it at this hour, then said, “Ten minutes.”

“Jesus Christ,” Ronan muttered, his voice affectionate. “Fine, you clingy shit.”

He crawled back into the bed. Adam pulled him close and closed his eyes again, curling his head into Ronan’s chest.

“The sun is an asshole,” he said.

Ronan laughed, exhausted. “You’re an asshole.”

He was warm in the way grass was warm when you lay down on it in the middle of the day. Adam breathed easy and he felt unbelievably quiet.

He was beginning to fall asleep again when Ronan said, “OK, I really have to get up. The cows are calling.”

He kissed Adam’s forehead and left the bed. Adam sighed, frustrated, and said, “Can I come with you?”

“No, you need to sleep,” Ronan said. “It’s your day off, for fuck’s sake. Sleep.”

“I miss you,” Adam said. He was so tired that he didn’t have any filters on what he was saying. And it had been long enough that both of them had said embarrassingly intimate things plenty of times by now.

Ronan smiled, soft in the early morning light. He said, “I’ll be right out in the pasture if you need me.”

“I love you,” Adam said sleepily, and heard Ronan say it back before he was slipping back asleep.

 

Adam woke up a few hours later to the sound of rustling. He rolled over on the bed and opened his eyes. In the corner of the room, Opal was standing on tip toes by the desk, clearly trying to be quiet as she opened Ronan’s wallet and pulled out a few bills.

“Opal?” Adam said.

Opal startled and threw the wallet away.

“Good morning I wasn’t stealing!” she exclaimed, then ran out of the room.

Adam, awake and warm, got out of bed and chased Opal back to her room at the end of the hall. She was curled up on the bed, holding a Boxcar Children book upside-down.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “The ice cream truck is driving outside.”

“You can just ask,” Adam said, sitting on the bed next to her. “You know I’m not mad, Opal, right?”

She nodded.

“But you have to be honest with me.”

She sighed. Adam was relieved to see she didn’t look scared or guilty.

“OK, I’m sorry,” she said. “Can I have money for ice cream?”

“Sure,” Adam said. “Come on, let’s go together.”

He quickly headed back to Ronan’s room and changed into some clothes, then took two dollars from the desk and went outside with Opal.

It was still odd, taking money like that. He kept telling himself that it wasn’t charity, that he wasn’t going to owe Ronan or Gansey or anyone, that there wasn’t going to be an emotional bill served any moment for the money, the living space, the food, the gifts, the endless ocean of love that Ronan and Opal and Gansey, Blue, and Henry kept giving him like it was nothing. Sometimes he broke down in terror that something bad was going to happen, even if he just took two dollars to buy Opal an ice cream cone. But he was working on getting better at it, and this summer morning, he felt like this was just his life.

What a feeling it was, to have this as his life.

“Can I get sprinkles?” Opal asked.

“Yeah,” Adam said. He dug in his pocket for an extra two quarters and when the ice cream truck came around, he asked for a vanilla cone with rainbow sprinkles.

Opal dripped ice cream all over her hands as they walked back to the house, and Adam had to convince her to wash her hands before she headed outside to play with Chainsaw in the fields. He ate a roll with butter for a late breakfast, then headed out the door to find Ronan.

Ronan was out in the rows of tomato plants, which were by now climbing the wooden posts he’d put up a few weeks ago. He was taking care of them, a pair of garden shears in one hand and a watering can on the ground. There was already a basket of ripe tomatoes next to him- some of the tomatoes were already ripening.

He hadn’t noticed Adam yet. Adam watched him work from a distance, overcome with affection. The sun was already beating hot overhead, but every move he made was precise and careful and strong.

When Adam began trudging between the rows towards Ronan, Ronan finally looked up.

“Watch your step,” he said.

Adam knelt down next to him.

“Good morning,” he said.

“This isn’t morning,” Ronan said. “What time is it? 10, 11?”

“Eleven thirty,” Adam said. “You’re the one who told me to sleep.”

“That’s true,” Ronan said. He set down the shears and kissed Adam. He tasted sweet and warm- Adam could tell he’d been eating the tomatoes as he picked them.

“So,” Ronan said. “Are you gonna help me with this work or are you planning to just dick around all day?”

“I think I’ll just sit off to the side and watch while you work,” Adam said.

“You fucker,” Ronan said.

“You’re doing the work pretty well on your own,” Adam said. “And it is my day off.”

“I wouldn’t make you work on your day off,” Ronan said. He turned back to his tomato plants and added, “Because you’re the trophy wife.”

“And you’re a fucking asshole,” Adam said. He finally got up, dusting the soil off his legs, and said, “I’m gonna make lunch. Come back to the house when you’re hungry.”

“Don’t use the shitty tomatoes from the supermarket!” Ronan called after him. “I’m gonna bring in some of these tomatoes when I’m done!”

“OK, dickhead,” Adam called back.

 

They got a Skype call from Blue, Gansey, and Henry sometime in the late afternoon. Opal scrambled over to Ronan’s laptop. She loved the three of them, and considered Blue her best friend.

Adam and Ronan sat next to each other on the couch, Opal wriggling her way in between them so that she was in the center of the camera’s view.

“Hello there, Opal,” Gansey said.

“Hi, Uncle Gansey!” she yelled, and Henry snickered at that.

“Am I Uncle Henry?” he asked.

“You’re not an uncle,” Opal said. “You’re not old enough to be an uncle.”

“And I am?” Gansey said.

“Yeah,” Opal said, incredibly matter-of-fact. Blue and Ronan both burst out laughing.

“Lynch, what exactly have you been telling your kid about me?” Gansey asked.

“Nothing,” Ronan said, putting on an innocent face.

“She comes up with all this stuff herself,” Adam added. “She’s just a natural learner.”

“You guys are the worst,” Blue said.

“Blue!” Opal shrieked. “What did you guys see today?”

“We’re in a place called the Badlands,” Blue said. “It’s full of rocks and mountains with all sorts of strange shapes. They’re really cool.”

The three of them told stories about their day, the other group of hikers they ran into, the tiny museum Gansey managed to find and drag them to, the beautiful pictures they took, the food they ate. Adam supposed he should have been jealous of them, with the whole world at their feet, but he’d never really wanted that life. It wasn’t blind and stunning adventure he wanted- it was possibilities.

Lately, he had infinite possibilities, and he made sure to choose the ones he wanted.

Gansey was going on about the historical significance of something they’d come across when Opal interrupted with, “I’m hungry.”

“OK, you urchin, let’s get dinner,” Ronan said. “Parrish, you keep these three entertained.”

He got up and took Opal over to the kitchen. Gansey looked a little offended, but not surprised, at having his speech cut off.

“So how are things back at the Barns?” Blue asked. “Boring as always?”

You’d be bored here,” Adam said. “No weird trees, no Gansey speeches.”

“Hey!” Gansey said.

“I just implied she likes your speeches,” Adam said.

“Which I do,” Blue said. “They’re very sweet.”

“But you’re not bored, Parrish?” Henry said. “Living the domestic farm life?”

“No,” Adam said. “No, it’s… really good.”

“Awww,” Blue said mockingly. Adam rolled his eyes.

“For now,” he added. “It’s good for now.”

“What does that mean?” Gansey said, sounding worried.

“Well, we’re not gonna live here forever,” Adam said. He and Ronan had already talked about moving somewhere else someday, so Ronan could create a place all his own, not his father’s. So that Adam could live far away from Henrietta and find a job that fulfilled his every ambition. “And this is just a summer-vacation kind of nice, doing nothing all day. Obviously I want to go back to getting work done soon enough.”

“Of course, you couldn’t live without work,” Henry said.

“That’s correct,” Adam said, smiling.

There was a bit of awkward silence. Before Gansey or Blue could fill it, Adam added quickly, “This is still the kind of life I’d like to come home to.”

He wasn’t sure why he’d said it. Probably because they’d been talking about the whole thing, and he trusted his friends more than anyone in the world except Ronan, and because Gansey had this worried look on his face that betrayed his need to protect both Ronan and Adam. Blue’s face lit up in a smile when he said it.

“I’m glad you found a life like that,” she said, softly.

“Yes, me, too,” Gansey said.

“I, for one, would hate a life like that,” Henry said. “I love a life with the road under my feet.”

“Well, don’t worry about us settling down on a farm,” Blue said. “Right, Gansey?”

“I don’t think I could handle farm labor,” Gansey said.

Ronan’s head poked out from the kitchen and he said, “Dinner’s ready, by the way, Parrish.”

“OK, I’m leaving,” Adam said. “Love you all.”

“Love you, Adam!” they all said, and he hung up the call.

 

After dinner, Adam and Ronan and Opal went down to one of the strange dream-fruit trees that littered the grounds of the Barns and picked ripe peaches, which they ate until their hands and faces were sticky. Then Opal admitted to wanting to get back to the book she was reading. Adam beamed in pride at hearing that- she was already working on chapter books, devouring the ones they got from the library. Once reading had finally clicked for her, she couldn’t stop.

She ran back to the house. The sun was finally beginning to set, and the sky was stained with a myriad of colors. Adam leaned back and sighed.

“The mosquitos are coming out,” Ronan said. “And the flies. We’re gonna be a fucking feast for them with all this peach juice on us.”

Adam raised an eyebrow and said, “I can take care of that,” then leaned over and started licking at the peach residue on Ronan’s face. Ronan laughed and leaned in. Adam rolled on top of him.

“Wait, your hands have got peach juice on them too,” Ronan said, and grabbed Adam’s hands and started sucking on them.

“Jesus fuck, Ronan,” Adam said.

“You started it,” Ronan said, between fingers.

Adam looked down at Ronan, content and warm in the grass under the peach tree, under him, and he let out a contented sigh.

“I love you,” he said.

He thought of when he’d first said it- at the end of February, on a day trip to another farm with Ronan and Opal, the day Ronan had admitted he didn’t want to live at the Barns for the rest of his life. Adam had been scared, up until then, of saying the words. Unable to imagine that he was capable of love.

Even just in the last few months, he’d changed so much. He was so comfortable and safe here.

Ronan smiled up at him and said, “I love you too.”

Adam rolled off of him to lie beside him. They looked at each other, close and quiet.

“When did you first know?” Ronan asked.

“Know what?” Adam said.

“How you felt. About me.”

“Oh,” Adam said.

“I was just wondering,” Ronan said. “You don’t have to tell me.”

“No, I don’t mind,” Adam said. “Hmm. There’s like fifty different parts to the answer.”
“Of fucking course there are,” Ronan said. “You analytical piece of shit.”

Adam smiled. He looked up at the dusty blue bits of the sky still not covered in violet clouds.

“I always liked you,” he said. “In a… hating you kind of way.”

Ronan laughed at that.

“You know what I mean,” Adam said.

“Yeah, I do,” Ronan said.

“I mean you were easy to be around,” Adam continued. “Everyone else, I wasn’t sure whether they hated me. You, you were an asshole to everyone. Nothing to worry about.”

“Romantic,” Ronan said. “OK, go on.”

“Obviously I didn’t even think about… I mean, I thought I was straight, anyway,” Adam said. “And back then I was really into Blue.”

“Yeah, I remember.” Ronan’s voice sounded irritated.

“Is that why you were such a dick to her at first? You little shit. Because you were jealous?”

“I was terrible,” Ronan admitted. “I already apologized to her about it, anyway. She told me she just thought I was really mean in general.”

“I mean, she wasn’t wrong.”

“Asshole.”

“Anyway. You wanna hear the story or not?”

“Yeah, keep going. You’re not doing a great job of feeding my ego so far.”

Adam rolled his eyes and continued.

“I actually think I first thought about it when I was still dating Blue,” he said. “To be fair, she was already thinking about Gansey at the time, I’m pretty sure. I…” He took a breath.

“It was the first time I came to the Barns,” he said. “It… it was like it was the first time I was really seeing you, all of you. Or what I thought was all of you. I just sort of thought to myself… I don’t know. I had one of those moments you always get with a crush, where one second you’re thinking about how you shouldn’t be staring at them, and then the next second you’re wondering why the hell you were staring at them in the first place.”

“I don’t think that’s an established thing that always happens, Parrish.”

“Whatever. You know what I mean. Anyway, I thought about it a lot after that. I tried not to. But I did. Then I figured out how you felt, sometime after I figured out the rent.”

“Right,” Ronan said. “Fuck. I should have asked you before I did that-”

“No, it was OK,” Adam said. “I was glad you didn’t ask me. That you didn’t make a big deal out of it. I mean, back then, we barely knew how to talk to each other without getting into a fight. That was just how we were back then.”

“Thank God we can actually fucking talk now,” Ronan said.

“Yeah, Jesus. Anyway, I thought it was… I mean, I didn’t know what to think. If Gansey had paid my rent, I would have-”

“You would have tore him a new one.”

“Yeah. But with you… I don’t know. I kept wondering what it meant. I kept wondering how you felt about me. I mean, to be fair, you were pretty obvious.”

“Fuck you.”

“You were. You kept leaving gifts in my car and shit. It was really flattering, actually.”

“Asshole. You were flattered? You vain little shit.”

“Excuse me for being flattered that the biggest asshole I knew got all soft and gooey just because of me.”

“I did not get soft- god damn it, Parrish!” But he was laughing, too.

“It was really nice,” Adam said. “Actually, I thought I was being a real dick for liking the fact that you liked me.”

“I- no, you weren’t,” Ronan said. “I didn’t really mean you were vain. Who wouldn’t be into you, Parrish? It’s not vain for you to like that. You deserve it.”

Adam smiled and curled in closer to him.

“I don’t normally like people being all obsessed with me, though,” he said. “But I really liked that it was you. Which… looking back, it should have been more obvious what that meant.”

Ronan laughed.

“I thought about it a lot,” Adam continued. “I mean, I probably spent most of October thinking about you all the time.”

“Did you know when I kissed you?” Ronan asked.

“No,” Adam said. “I wanted it, though. I didn’t really let myself want it, but I did. After you kissed me, I was trying to work out how exactly I felt.”

“Oh, that’s when you talked to Gansey, right?”

“Gansey told you about that?”

“Yeah.” Ronan made a face. “Told me he said some shit about not breaking me. I told him that was a fucking shitty thing to say.”

Adam smiled.

“Did he tell you what else he said?” he asked.

“Uh, I don’t really remember,” Ronan said. “Something about you pretending you were asking about Sargent.”

“Yeah,” Adam said. “I asked him how he knew he loved her.”

“Wait,” Ronan said. “So you could analyze it? Like, compare results or whatever?”

Adam turned red. “Sorry, I know, love isn’t scientific-”

“You were trying to figure out if you loved me? Jesus, I thought you were just trying to figure out if you liked me.”

He didn’t sound angry, he sounded… wondrous.

“I knew I liked you,” Adam said quietly. “But I didn’t want to do it halfway. I wanted to be sure.”

“Jesus,” Ronan said again. “And then you-”

“Gansey told me,” Adam interrupted, because if he didn’t get it out now he might never get it out, “that he loved Blue because she made him quiet. And he told me to be honest with myself. And so when he and Blue left, I tried to be honest with myself. I thought about how when I was with you, everything was quiet. Easy. Everything shitty in my life just disappeared. I thought about how you’re such a difficult fucking asshole, but you made me happy. And you said my name and all the counter-arguments in my head went away.”

His throat was a little knotted up.

“Adam,” Ronan said. His voice sounded a little knotted up, too.

“But I knew for sure I loved you the next day,” Adam said, and then he had to take a breath because he hadn’t thought about that in a while but it still hurt. “When I- when you- it was the worst moment of my life.”

“That’s a shitty way to find out,” Ronan said.

“Yeah. It was.”

Ronan wrapped his arms around Adam and held him close.

“I love you,” Adam said. “I took forever to say it because I didn’t want to lie by accident. Even though I knew already. I wanted to really analyze it first. But I knew for months and months before. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you right away.”

“What? I don’t care about that. You could have taken longer, I don’t care.”

“I know. But I wish I’d said it every day. I want to say it every day. I love you.”

Ronan held him tighter.

The sun was sinking.

“Hey,” Adam said, after a while. “When did you first figure it out? How you felt, I mean?”

Ronan said, “I don’t have a whole essay with MLA citations about it like you do.”

“You shithead.”

Ronan laughed and leaned back against the grass.

“I probably first thought about liking you ages ago,” he said. “When we were sixteen. Before we met Sargent. Remember that day- probably you don’t- that day when Gansey was chewing me out for being late for class?”

“That could be one of approximately four hundred different occasions, Lynch.”

“Ha ha. It was this one time when we were walking from Latin down to lunch, and Gansey was giving me a lecture. And you just said to him something like, Ronan isn’t gonna come to class early no matter what you say. He lives his own life on his own schedule.”

Adam laughed.

“I don’t think I meant that as a compliment at the time,” he said.

“No, I didn’t think you did, either. It was just- you didn’t expect anything of me. You knew what I was without even knowing me. I don’t know, I liked that.”

“You’re weird.”

“I know.”

“So what, that was what decided it for you?” Adam pressed.

“Oh, I mean, I didn’t really want to admit that I liked you,” Ronan said. “For a while. I just sort of didn’t think about it. Except when I did. Dreamt about it a lot. Then there was…”

His voice trailed off.

“What?” Adam asked.

Ronan’s eyebrows narrowed.

“Kavinsky,” he said.

“Oh.”

Ronan had told him about everything that happened with Kavinsky. How Kavinsky had tried to touch him one time, had tormented him about his sexuality, teased him about Gansey. Ronan hated him.

“You don’t have to talk about it,” Adam said.

“There’s not much to talk about,” Ronan said. “He kept pressing at the subject until I was forced to admit it to myself. Then I saw you in Cabeswater, the fourth of July. That was what made me figure it out. That I love you, I mean. I couldn’t unknow it after I knew it.”

The sun sank below the horizon.

“I don’t want to unknow it anymore,” Ronan said. “I don’t want to not know- I loved you, I love you, I will love you.”

Adam stared at him in the dusky remnants of the light.

He reached forward and traced every jutting bone and line of Ronan’s face.

“Past, present, and future,” he said softly but surely. “That’s us.”

Then he kissed Ronan.

Like the sun had set only to rise again inside his chest.

Chapter Text

The August heat was unbearable today. Matthew was sprawled out on the floor, next to a whirring fan, while Opal dropped ice cubes on him and herself at random intervals. Chainsaw was cawing irritably in the background, which was giving both Declan and Adam a headache.

When Ronan came inside, after hours of working in the fields, it was pretty clear that he wasn’t in the best of moods, either.

He stalked over to the fridge and grabbed an ice pack, which he threw onto the back of his neck.

“Did you get sunburned or something, Ronan?” Declan asked.

Ronan glared at him.

“Yes,” he said shortly. “I got sunburned. Happy?”

“No,” Declan said. “I told you to wear sunscreen.”

“Well, aren’t you a fucking genius.”

Adam, who was sitting next to Declan at the kitchen table and who was about ready to claw out his own eyes from the heat and the sound of Chainsaw incessantly shrieking, said, “Does it really matter?”

It came out sounding crueler than he intended. Ronan’s glare turned on him.

“You’re right, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “I didn’t take Declan’s sage advice. My fucking fault.”

“Ronan, this is about sunscreen. Do you have to make a drama out of it?”

“You don’t need to be like this,” Declan added. “It’s annoying and immature.”

Something in Ronan’s eyes broke. Adam saw his fists relax, then his spine straighten. It was the look he got after bad dreams.

“I’m leaving,” he said, and stormed out towards the front door.

Adam got up to go after him, and Declan said, “Let him go. He’s always better after he goes and throws a tantrum on his own.”

Adam looked at Declan closely. He looked tired. He was putting on a front, as always, of being well put-together, still wearing a suit even though he and Matthew were visiting the Barns for the weekend and not in D.C., but he was slowly melting in the heat.

Adam understood why Declan had responded like that to Ronan, because Ronan was exhausting sometimes. Rationally, he didn’t blame Declan or himself for being short with Ronan, but he was still overcome with an odd guilt.

It wasn’t like they hadn’t fought before, even now that they were dating. Of course they’d fought. That was how they were- storms and electricity, sparking against each other’s walls and edges. But over the past few months, both of them had worked on learning to trust, to be open, to be vulnerable. Adam had trusted Ronan with more than he’d thought he’d ever trust anyone with. Ronan had become less closed off, baring his heart and soul and his secrets. They’d learned to be honest, really honest, about when they were hurt and when they were afraid.

And now Ronan was running away.

Adam took a long breath. It was probably because of Declan, he told himself- Ronan and Declan were still working on repairing their relationship, and it wasn’t an easy path to take.

“Relax, Adam,” Declan said, still sounding exhausted. “He’s going to be fine.”

“I still think I should go talk to him,” Adam said.

Declan sighed. “Your funeral.”

Adam got up, and Declan added, “Listen, whatever he says, don’t take it personally. He can be a real fucking asshole when he’s in a mood like this.”

“I know,” Adam said. “I know.”

Then he rushed out the front door.

The BMW was gone, naturally, so Adam went over to the Hondayota that was parked there. He rarely drove it anymore, so of course it took forever to start up, but once he started it up he was on the road.

He found Ronan pretty quickly- there were only so many ways to go from the Barns, and he hadn’t had much of a head start.

He trailed him in the Hondayota for a bit until Ronan pulled over and Adam followed him.

Ronan slammed the door of the BMW behind him when he got out. Adam’s eyes widened. He looked like a hurricane.

“I don’t want to talk about it, Parrish,” he said.

The same voice he used to use ages ago.

“Ronan,” Adam said. “What is it? Why now?”

“Go away,” Ronan said. “Get in your fucking car and go back to the Barns.”

“I’m not leaving until you tell me what’s wrong.”

“I don’t. Want. To talk about it.” Ronan’s teeth were clenched, fists ready for a fight.

Adam took a step back. In the heat and the dust of the side of the road, nothing about this felt loving.

Then, in a voice that he was pretending was calm, he said, “You want me to leave? That would be the best thing to do right now?”

“Yeah. Go.”

Adam didn’t know what he’d done to cause this.

He got in his car silently and drove away.

Of course, he should have known this would happen eventually. Sprung on him like this, that was how he’d expected it. Just like the warning Gansey had given him: don’t break him, Adam.

He’d tried, he’d tried, he’d tried so hard not to break him, and somehow he still had.

You’re thinking irrationally again, some part of his brain thought, and he shut it off, shut off every part of his brain that was not in charge of making instant decisions.

He would go to St. Agnes. Technically, he had moved out, because it didn’t make sense to keep paying rent there when he never stayed there. But the lady in the office had said that since no one else was staying there, he could keep the key and crash there if he ever needed to. Adam had kept that in the back of his mind. He always kept backup plans in the back of his mind.

It was late. No, it wasn’t late, but it was late enough that the church offices were closed. Good. No one would ask what was going on, because he didn’t feel like talking. The sun was still up, in that surreal summer way where it was still light even though Adam knew goddamn well it should be nighttime at 7 pm.

His tiny apartment was dusty and hot as shit. The mattress was still in the corner, the only furniture left in the room. Oh well. He’d slept in worse places.

He collapsed onto the mattress and curled up and then he started crying.

Something about this room was such a comfort. His demons never left him but no tangible person could catch him here. There was nobody left to impress. Here, he could fall apart.

What had he done wrong? What had he done wrong? What had he done wrong?

But Adam knew there was no logic in the field of Adam doing things wrong. He did things wrong because he was Adam.

He was shaking with sobs. It hadn’t been this bad in so long.

The heat of the day was like a devil, and he began to think, maybe he was remembering the past few months wrong. Maybe they hadn’t learned to trust each other at all. Maybe he had made that up.

What an awful thing, to have the dream of his life turn out to be a dream after all.

He tried to shut off.

And then there was a knock at the door.

Adam sat up instantly. He knew it was Ronan; who else would it be? His mind woke up and started calculating the possibilities: Ronan was here to yell at him, to apologize, to break up, to tell him he was selfish, it wasn’t actually Ronan and it was somehow something even worse at the door-

“Adam?” Ronan’s voice asked from the other side of the door, and there wasn’t any anger in it. “Are you there?”

Adam took a deep breath and got up to answer the door.

Ronan, on the other side, was wearing a complicated expression, a purposeful expression, like he’d had something planned. But it fell away when he saw Adam, face red and clearly streaked with tears.

“Adam,” he said again, quietly. “God, Adam, I’m so sorry.”

Adam stared at him in disbelief.

“But,” he replied. “You… were angry…”

He wasn’t sure how to form sentences, between the heat and the headache and the terror of falling apart.

“I wasn’t angry with you,” Ronan said. “I wasn’t even angry. I was just being a dick. I’m so, so sorry. I-”

He looked like he was shaking inside.

“I never want to hurt you,” he said finally, voice a little thick. “I never, ever want to hurt you, Adam-”

“You didn’t hurt me!” Adam said. “I thought- I thought I-

He cut himself off, swallowing another sob.

Gently, Ronan came closer and put his arms around Adam. Adam was shaking.

“Adam,” Ronan said. “Shh. It’s all right.”

“I’m so scared,” Adam said. “Of becoming him.”

“You will never become him,” Ronan said fiercely. “You are a good person. You’ve never hurt anyone. You’ve never been anything but good to me and to Opal and to everyone. You’re so good, Adam. I’m so sorry I made you feel like this.”

Adam closed his eyes, leaning into Ronan’s shoulders, and let Ronan hold him while he caught his breath.

“I don’t want to break you, Ronan,” he said finally.

“God in heaven,” Ronan said. “I’m gonna murder Gansey. Is that what this is about?”

“It’s not about Gansey,” Adam said. “It’s…”

He let out a long breath. Ronan waited.

“I know you weren’t just mad about sunscreen,” Adam said. “You’ve been upset all day, and I was so worried that I made it worse. I wish you would just tell me what’s wrong. I know it’s hard to talk about it sometimes, but I just… I just want you to know that if you tell me, I won’t hurt you.”

Ronan released a breath.

“I didn’t think you would hurt me,” Ronan said. “That’s not why I didn’t tell you what was wrong. I… I was scared it would be too much for you. I didn’t want…”

He sighed.

“It was stupid. I know you’re strong enough to handle anything.”

“Really?” Adam said, watery. “Because a tiny fight sent me back here into a useless mess-”

“It wasn’t a tiny fight, I was being a fucking asshole, and you- you have every right to react like this when I’m like that. You’re strong, Adam. You’re the strongest person I know. I don’t know why I doubted that. Sometimes I’m just scared.”

“You- you don’t have to be scared,” Adam said. “You’re safe with me, Ronan.”

He wrapped his arms around Ronan and held him, too. They just stood there, in the doorway to Adam’s old apartment, holding each other and breathing, and the fears in Adam’s gut began falling away.

“Come on,” Ronan said. “I have to show you something.”

He detached himself from Adam and took his hand, leading him out the door. Adam shut off the light and locked the door of the apartment behind him.

He wondered- hoped- thought it was the last time he’d go back there.

They went down the stairs, through the abandoned offices, and into the chapel. The sun was still out, but getting lower, and it cast long shadows through every stained-glass window.

Adam had been to services with the Lynches a few times. It was an odd experience, one he didn’t entirely relate to. It was not so much that he didn’t believe in God, more that he could not translate the ethereality of things like Cabeswater and love and science into the rituals of the Catholic church.

The closest thing to God he’d ever witnessed when he’d come to Mass was the sight of Ronan, eyes closed, in genuine worship of something more than him.

Now he felt that again, with Ronan’s open, trusting eyes leading him through the empty chapel to a corner by one of the pews. There was an oddly placed, asymmetrical framed picture of the Virgin Mary there, though most of the wall was empty.

Ronan removed the picture.

In the faint light, Adam couldn’t see exactly what was there, but he looked closer. There were scratches on the wall, messy and violent but very clearly reading WHY AM I STILL HERE.

He looked back at Ronan.

“I wrote it,” Ronan said, “with my nails. One night. A while after he died. I thought if I slept in the church, the nightmares would go away. They didn’t. So I tried to ask God through the walls.”

Adam didn’t say anything. He just looked at Ronan, quiet and listening. It wasn’t like they hadn’t talked about this before. About Niall’s death, Aurora’s death, the nightmares, the suicide attempt, how much Ronan had wanted to destroy himself. It wasn’t like they hadn’t talked about Robert Parrish, the trailer, the scars, how much Adam had wanted to abandon himself.

Here, though, in the church in the dying light, something about it all felt… transcended. Like all those traumas and nightmares were just things that had happened, things that they could move forward from. Like they were both more than their scars, and they could believe it for themselves, not only for each other.

Ronan traced the carvings in the wood with his hands.

“I wanted you to know about this,” he said. “The only other person who knows is the woman who found me the morning after and put the picture here to cover it up. I didn’t want to tell anyone because I didn’t want to hurt anyone. And lately, I’ve been having nightmares that you, or Declan, or Matthew would find out, about this or anything, and leave me. But I know you won’t. I trust you, Adam. I trust you with everything.”

He could not know how much he was giving Adam by saying this.

“I trust you, too,” Adam said. “With… everything.”

He knew that he meant it.

Chapter Text

“Whoa,” Opal said, her eyes starry and mesmerized, peering out the car window.

Ronan looked dismissive. “Looks just like Aglionby,” he said. “Just a shit-ton bigger.”

Adam didn’t say anything. He had thought about this day for too long.

An attendant pointed them to the parking lot for his dorm, where they were greeted by energetic upperclassmen offering to help carry their stuff to Adam’s new dorm room.

Adam was relieved to see that he’d gotten there before his new roommate- some time to settle into the idea of this room before having to meet a new person. He’d talked to his roommate, Keith, a little bit on Facebook over the past few weeks, but it was one thing to talk to someone online and another to live with them.

“Jesus,” Ronan said. “This room is tiny.” Then, at the look on Adam’s face, “But… it’s also… clean.”

“Clean,” Adam repeated, and rolled his eyes, heaving his suitcase onto the floor by the bed.

Opal jumped onto the unmade bed.

“Adam’s new house!” she yelled, then collapsed onto the bed laughing.

Adam winced and said, “This isn’t my new house. I’m just gonna be staying here for a long while. I’ll still come home to see you as much as I can.”

She looked up at him and said, “This bed isn’t soft.”

Ronan laughed at that and said, “Get off his bed, urchin. We have to unpack all this shit.”

The unpacking took a lot longer than Adam had expected, since they had to add in all the dorm nonsense Gansey and Blue and Henry had insisted on sending him. They were all sweaty and tired by the end of it. Opal was cranky.

“Can we get ice cream?” she asked.

“Hang on,” Adam said, wiping his brow from sweat and picking up the flyer from his desk that the person back at the main office building had given him when they’d first arrived. He glanced at the orientation schedule.

“OK, right now there’s some mandatory event for parents,” he said. “So, skip that, I guess. Then in two hours we have to go back to that building we passed earlier, for a talk they’re gonna give all of us about… community or some shit. After that, it says parents have to leave and each residence hall has a meeting.”

“Well, it doesn’t say anything about boyfriends and children,” Ronan said. “So, I guess I can just do whatever I want.”

He grinned, and Adam sighed. He was tired.

“You OK?” Ronan asked.

“Yeah,” Adam said.

When he’d imagined his first day of college, he’d always imagined going there alone. He hadn’t even thought his mother would come along. He’d thought it would be so easy to let go of his family, because ‘family,’ back then, had been something to let go of. Not something to hold on to.

He was dreading the moment when Ronan and Opal would have to leave. He hated that little line on the schedule that said “Family goodbyes.”

“I’m gonna miss you,” Adam said.

“Me too,” Opal said, and crawled into his lap.

“Me too,” Ronan added, putting an arm around him. “But remember, we’re gonna talk every night. Every night that you can, anyway.”

“I’ll make sure I can talk every night,” Adam said.

“Aw, don’t say that. I want you to have an actual life, you know.”

Adam leaned into Ronan’s shoulder. Opal said, “Did you forget about the ice cream?”

“We never said yes to ice cream, birdbrain,” Ronan said. “We can get a real lunch. I saw on the brochure like fifty different places to get food.”

There was a little knock on the door, which they’d left slightly ajar, and Adam jumped up.

“Hello?” came a woman’s voice. A blonde, middle-aged-looking woman walked in tentatively, holding some bags. Behind her was a teenage boy with messy blonde hair, whom Adam recognized as his new roommate Keith.

“Are you Adam?” the woman asked.

“Yeah,” Adam said.

“Oh, wonderful! I’m Linda. I’m Keith’s mom.”

She came forward and gave him a hug.

“Hi,” Keith said awkwardly.

“Hey,” Adam said.

“And who’s this?” Linda asked, gesturing over at Ronan and Opal. Her voice had gone a little bit higher, the way adults’ voices did around little kids.

“I’m Opal!” Opal said.

Adam froze a little. He’d been worried about this- how he was going to explain them. Everyone at Aglionby had been shitty enough about him and Ronan. He’d been hoping to give at least a little bit of a good first impression on Keith before he had to get reduced to the weird kid.

“Uh,” he said. “This is, uh, Ronan. He’s my boyfriend.”

He paused for a moment to gauge their reaction. Keith and Linda didn’t react, just continued wearing polite smiles.

“And that’s Opal,” Adam continued. “She’s… uh…”

“My kid,” Ronan said. “Adopted.”

“Oh,” Linda said, her eyebrows raising a little. “How old are you?”

“Eighteen,” Ronan said. “’Bout to be nineteen.” Then he went forward with the story he and Adam had come up with, but that was still strange to say: “My cousin had this kid but she’s way too young to raise her, so I’m taking care of her. It’s a long story.”

“No need to explain,” Linda said. She didn’t look horrified or judgmental. “That’s quite a feat, to take over raising a kid when you’re so young. And isn’t she cute?”

“I’m a goat,” Opal added, which she’d become fond of saying lately just to weird people out.

Keith and Linda both laughed a little, then settled into their own unpacking. Linda talked for a while about various different things: how to operate the mini-fridge they’d brought, how their family lived close so if Adam ever needed anything, he could let her know, etc. Keith and Adam didn’t talk much- it was still fairly awkward.

“Well, I’m sure you guys want to go eat lunch after unpacking all morning,” Linda said finally. “It was great to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too, ma’am,” Adam said.

He, Ronan, and Opal headed out the door. Once they were back in the stairwell, Ronan said, “You’d think she’s going to be your new roommate.”

“She was just being friendly,” Adam said. “It was nice. They didn’t even find it a little weird that we’re…” He gestured at the three of them.

Ronan shrugged. “Are you saying people should find us weird?”

“No! I just, I don’t know, I expected them to be annoying about it.”

“Why, ‘cause everyone at Aglionby was?” Ronan said. “I guess this place isn’t just a copy of Aglionby after all.”

“Well, thank God for that,” Adam said.

The rest of the day went by far too quickly. Adam felt like he was holding on to every last moment with Ronan and Opal, even though he knew he was going to see them again soon enough- still, he didn’t know how he was going to spend weeks on end not seeing them in person. The day was slipping away so quickly, and he felt caught in a current- pulled away from the family he loved, pulled towards the future he was dreaming of.

After the long and boring speech about community standards that everyone was forced to attend, the new students were given ten minutes to say goodbye to their parents before heading to meetings with their residence hall.

Adam picked up Opal and hugged her tightly. Ronan wrapped his arms around the both of them.

“I’m gonna miss you so much,” Adam said quietly.

“I know,” Ronan said. “We’re gonna miss you, too.”

“I wish I could have both things,” Adam said. “Stay with you and go to school.”

“You can have both things, dumbass,” Ronan said. “You’re still with us, just living here sometimes. Just because you’re here doesn’t mean you’re not with us anymore.”

Adam smiled.

“I know,” he said. “I’m still gonna miss you.”

Opal didn’t say anything. She just held tight to Adam’s shirt.

Ronan leaned forward and kissed Adam, and Opal mumbled, “Gross!”

“You’re gross,” Ronan said to her. “You picked your nose all through lunch.”

“No, I didn’t!”

“I saw you.”

“I didn’t, I mean it,” Opal said.

Adam was filled with affection for the both of them.

“I’ll talk to you every night,” he said. “I promise.”

He set Opal on the ground and kissed her forehead, and said, “Don’t be too scared of Ronan’s bedtime stories. Tell him he needs to tell less scary ones.”

“I’m not scared,” Opal said. Then she leaned in and whispered in Adam’s ear, “Don’t be scared of monsters in your new room. There aren’t any.”

“Glad to hear it,” Adam said.

He stood up and Ronan said instantly, “My bedtime stories aren’t scary.”

“You are such a shitbag,” Adam said, then leaned close and whispered, “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” Ronan said, and put his arms around Adam’s neck and kissed him. They stayed there for a while, although Opal shrieked in horror and covered her eyes, and Adam knew there were hordes of other students around them. He didn’t care. He was going to miss this, miss him, so much.

“Everything is gonna be great for you here,” Ronan said, close. “Trust me. You’re gonna get everything you worked for.”

Adam nodded, and kissed Ronan again.

“OK,” he said finally, when he heard people around him start to leave. “I guess you really have to go now.”

“Yeah,” Ronan said.

He and Opal gave Adam one last hug, then they headed off.

Adam took a deep breath and walked back to his new dorm.

 

Adam’s RA had emailed his whole floor, multiple times, about the free pizza mixer taking place at 5 pm the first day of classes. He figured it would be a good way to save on dinner, and he was too exhausted after running around campus all day to go anywhere else but the downstairs student lounge.

There was a long line to get any pizza, but once he’d gotten some, Adam sat down on one of the nearby couches and ate while staring off into the distance. He hadn’t gotten any homework assignments yet- just syllabuses, for the three classes he’d attended that day. And he’d applied for an on-campus job, but hadn’t gotten a response yet. It still felt weird to sit here and do nothing after a school day.

“Hey,” said a voice.

He looked up. It was a girl with black hair in a high ponytail.

“You’re in my math class, right?” she said. “I recognize you.”

“Oh, yeah,” he said. He vaguely recognized the girl now. “My name’s Adam.”

“Liz,” she said, and sat down next to him.

Oh, God. He hated trying to make new friends.

“So where are you from?” she asked.

“Virginia,” he replied. “Uh, what about you?”

“I’m from California,” she said.

“Oh,” Adam said. “Far away.”

He wondered how he was going to escape this conversation to get back to his room.

“Ugh,” Liz said. “I hate small talk. Screw this. Do you want to tell me something interesting about yourself?”

Adam looked at her curiously. Something about this particular turn of conversation reminded him of Gansey.

“There’s nothing much interesting to tell,” he said.

“That’s not true,” she said. “Think of something.”

He narrowed his eyes. “Uh… well, it’s not really about me, but I helped my friend find the tomb of this long-lost Welsh king.”

Liz’s eyes widened. “You what?

Adam quickly recapped the story of finding Glendower, cutting out all the magic parts.

“So, that’s nothing much interesting, huh?” Liz said, when he was done.

“It’s not really about me,” he said.

“Hmm,” she said. “Still a good story. I mean, if I told you about the time I found a shipwreck when scuba diving, it’s not really about me, but it’s still cool.”

“Wait,” Adam said. “That’s interesting. Tell that story.”

“See?”

Adam was surprised to find that, despite his terror that everything was going to go wrong, nothing in particular went wrong. He was pretty sure he wasn’t going to actually stay friends with this girl, but the conversation was entertaining and she was nice.

When the room started slowly clearing, sometime after all the pizza was gone, Liz said, “I’m probably gonna go back to my room. Uh, hey- do you want to get lunch together on Thursday, after our class?”

She looked slightly nervous, and Adam blurted out, “Wait, you mean like a date?”

He cursed himself for saying it. Why had he had to make it awkward?

Liz just shrugged, smiling. “If you want it to be.”

“Oh,” Adam said, turning red. “Uh- I- that’s kind of you- but- I have a boyfriend.”

“Oh, OK,” Liz said, and this didn’t seem to faze her. “Well, not a date, then. Just as friends.”

Just as friends. Adam wasn’t used to the idea of friends outside of his tight-knit group back in Henrietta, and he certainly hadn’t expected to make any friends here at college. But he thought that out of all the strange and scary things he’d done in his life, maybe making a new friend was not that much of a risk in comparison.

“Sure,” Adam said. “I’ll meet you after class on Thursday.”

“Great! See you then.”

Liz left and headed back to her room. Adam waited a few minutes and then headed back up to his room as well.

Keith wasn’t there- he usually came back later in the evening, since he’d signed up to join the swim team right off the bat and they practiced at night- and Adam, relieved at seeing the empty room, fell back on his bed to rest.

He’d been here for a week, mostly occupied by orientation activities, and it had been such a strange combination of wonderful and scary. He loved his classes, the three he’d been to so far, at least. He loved the campus, the fact that the students were nothing like Aglionby boys, the feeling of freedom beneath his feet. It was nerve-wracking though- the worry that he might mess up. The nervousness of being away from home, or at least, from the people he thought of as his home.

Adam reached over to his desk for his new laptop. He’d saved up a while for it and had allowed Ronan to pay for half of the cost, given that Adam would pay him back in increments later. It wasn’t the best computer, but it would allow him to do assignments and make Skype calls back home.

From what he could see, Ronan had already tried to call him on Skype four times. He rolled his eyes- they’d scheduled it for 7:30, but Ronan was always needy.

“Was there an emergency?” he asked, once Ronan’s face appeared on the screen. “You tried to call me four times.”

“The emergency of you not responding, Parrish.”

“I was busy, dipshit.”

“Well, obviously you should drop everything just to talk to me,” Ronan said.

“Obviously. Having a social life at school pales in comparison to hearing your sarcastic comments on Skype.”

Ronan smiled. Adam knew he wanted to have a life at school, but sometimes he felt like he really did just want to talk to Ronan all the time.

“How is life at school?” Ronan asked. “First day of classes. Exciting.” Ronan sounded like he was describing being slowly stabbed to death.

“You don’t have to sound too happy for me,” Adam said.

“No, seriously, Parrish, tell me how your classes went.”

“They were great, actually,” Adam said. He launched into a description of the classes he’d been to today- his math class, a literature class, and the most interesting, an intermediate bio class. He’d taken AP Bio at Aglionby and so he was able to skip to a higher level now that he was at college, and just hearing the syllabus had been enough to excite him. Figuring out the intricacies of what made living beings work made him feel true to himself, and his biology professor had promised a plethora of fascinating lessons throughout the semester.

Ronan was wearing a soft smile while Adam talked, which Adam noticed halfway through a sentence about the dissection labs they were going to do later in the year.

“What is it?” he asked. “Why do you look so happy, Lynch?”

Ronan shrugged.

“I was thinking all day,” he responded, “about how much I miss you. And seeing you so excited about this science shit- it makes it all worth it. I’m just happy for you, asshole.”

Adam’s shoulders relaxed.

“Thanks,” he said.

“Thank yourself,” Ronan said. “You’re the one who got yourself here with all your hard work.”

“You’re such an asshole,” Adam said, because he didn’t think that I love you would express exactly what he meant.

He wasn’t sure what he meant. He just knew that he was happy.

 

Adam had never expected to have to keep up with such a flood of messages from everyone when he was in college.

Blue sent him near-daily emails, telling him about her applications to a forestry program and sending him links to articles she thought he’d find interesting. He’d had to ban Henry from texting him, since the phone he’d gotten didn’t have unlimited texting, a concept Henry didn’t seem to understand. Gansey sent him actual letters, handwritten, that arrived in the post office alongside the used books Adam had had to order for his classes.

There were care packages, too- little dream things from Ronan, a box of squashed but oddly delicious muffins from Fox Way, a collection of sticks and scribbly drawings from Opal, and an obnoxiously large package full of gifts from Blue, Gansey, and Henry, with a note on top that said, “I told them not to get you so much stuff but they got carried away, love, Blue.”

By the time October rolled around, Adam had a busy enough schedule that he wasn’t able to keep up with having a nightly Skype date with Ronan and Opal, but he still called Ronan every morning and night for at least a few minutes, just to hear his voice.

On one Friday night, he came back fairly late from a lecture on wealth distribution he’d gone to by an interesting guest speaker. He had a ton of homework to get to, and he was hoping to get a head start instead of leaving it all for the weekend.

It was nine by the time he got back to his room, which was empty- Keith usually stayed out late on Friday nights. He decided to get at least one-third of his homework done, which he later cut down a bit- he was getting better at letting himself cut down the work a little when he realized it was too much at one time.

Adam was just finishing up the giant PDF of biology reading he’d been assigned for the weekend when he got a Skype call from Ronan. It was a little past eleven, but he jumped and instantly answered it anyway.

Ronan was sitting in bed, looking about as exhausted as Adam felt, and not wearing a shirt, which Adam appreciated.

“Hey, Lynch,” Adam said. “Why are you calling me so late? I thought you were at that potluck Sharon was hosting.”

Ronan rolled his eyes.

“Just got back,” he said. “Fucking terrible. Opal kept hiding and not fucking wanting to leave because now she’s best friends with all these other little kids.”

“You’re mad that she’s making friends?”

“No, Parrish, I’m just tired as shit and this asshole never runs out of energy. It’s like kids fucking feed off each other’s energy or something.”

Adam laughed.

“If you’re so tired, why are you calling me?” he said teasingly.

“Asshole. You know why.”

“Yeah,” Adam said, smiling. “You’re never too tired for me.”

Ronan shrugged and leaned back a bit, which meant exactly.

“Keith’s not in the room, is he?” he asked.

“Nah. Out partying or some shit, I don’t know.”

“I’ll never get how you can live in the same room with someone you’re not even good friends with.”

“It’s not like I have a choice.”

“I know, but it’s fucking weird. Whatever. He’s not coming back soon, is he?”

Adam raised his eyebrows.

“What exactly do you have planned?” he asked. “Skype sex or something?”

“No, you asshole. I just want to be alone with you. Whenever he interrupts us, you start talking all… closed off and shit.”

It was true. Adam didn’t know how to let people see how he was around Ronan. Open and loving and honest. The innermost bits of him, the parts no one else saw. Ronan found them beautiful, and it was comforting to open himself up to that soft acceptance, but his new classmates would not be so understanding. Would not be able to widen their perception of sharp, studious Adam Parrish to include gentle smiles and blushes and the look he got on his face when Ronan held his hand or Opal shrieked in laughter.

“I like being alone with you, too, sweetheart,” Adam said.

Ronan choked and pretended to gag, and Adam realized too late what he’d said.

“What the fuck did you just call me?” Ronan said, half-laughing.

Adam sighed.

“It’s not my fault,” he said. “Dana keeps calling everyone sweetheart and now I’m doing it too.”

“Which one’s Dana again?”

“The one from Texas. The engineering student. Liz is friends with her.”

Ronan was still laughing. “Jesus fuck. Never call me sweetheart again, Parrish.”

Adam grinned. “You sure? What about honey or sweetie pie?”

“I’m gonna throw up.”

“Babe. Darling. Hmm… sugar.”

“I was gonna suggest Skype sex, actually, but I’m not in the mood anymore, asshole.”

Adam laughed. “I think I prefer ‘asshole’ as an adorable nickname.”

“Don’t call me adorable either, shithead.”

“Wait,” Adam said. “I’ve got it, I’ll call you Jane.”

“OK, now I’m really turned off, Parrish.”

“No, you’re not,” Adam said, smug, because he knew well enough by now that Ronan was into practically everything he did.

“Fine, no, I’m not. Don’t call me any weird-ass pet names, though.”

“What if I called you beautiful?” Adam said. “That’s not a pet name, that’s just the truth.”

“Don’t be sappy, Parrish.”

“It’s so hard not to be sappy,” Adam said, shoulders sinking a little. “I haven’t seen you in ages. I miss you so much.”

“Me, too,” Ronan said. “But you like it at school, right?”

“Yeah, of course I do. I love my classes and my new friends are cool and it’s really good here. I still miss you like hell.”

“It sucks, being apart,” Ronan said. “It’s the fucking worst. I just want to touch you through this goddamn screen.”

“Yeah,” Adam said. “I miss sleeping next to you.”

“Same here. I nearly dreamt up a body pillow before I realized how fucked-up that is.”

“You what?” Adam said. “Lynch, you realize I’m never gonna let you live this down, right?”

“Told you, I don’t care. I trust you with my embarrassing secrets.”

“A body pillow. What are you, some weird lonely middle-aged guy?”

“I live on a farm with my daughter and I’m lonely because my boyfriend is away being a smart motherfucker at Yale.”

“So, that’s a yes.”

“Whatever, Parrish. I miss you. Opal misses you. The cows miss you.”

“Well, I’m coming home for fall break in two weeks. And you can come visit if you’re willing to drive for ten hours.”

“Maybe I will.”

“Don’t strain yourself.”

“You know damn well it’s not straining myself if I get to see you.”

“Now who’s being sappy?”

“Both of us. We’re sappy disgusting assholes for each other.”

“Yeah,” Adam said, sleepy and smiling. “Yeah, we are.”

Chapter Text

The beginning of November was already stressful. Finals were still almost two months away, but the workload was getting heavier and more serious. Adam’s professors no longer let things slide on account of their being only freshmen- not that Adam often had any slip-ups, but the stricter atmosphere was still stress-inducing. Meanwhile, his job at the campus coffee shop got busier now that the weather was colder, and he wanted to go to different club meetings and activities, but sometimes he had to cancel just to catch up on homework and sleep.

It was November 7th when he got an email from one of his professors, his literature professor, about missing an assignment. He wasn’t very good in literature, and was only taking it for the credits, and that week had already been overwhelming.

“Shit,” he hissed under his breath, catching the attention of the other handful of people gathered in his corner of the library.

Mr. Parrish, it said. I noticed you haven’t submitted your response paper that was due yesterday. Did you submit it? I know the website is sometimes finicky. Please let me know soon.

Shit, shit, shit. And there, she was giving him the benefit of the doubt, blaming the website, when he didn’t deserve it. He’d completely forgotten about the response paper- a two-page little thing, but it had drowned amid all his work for his other classes.

What did he do? Hurriedly write something now and submit it, and lie? Email her now telling the truth, and ask for an extension- how pathetic. He didn’t even have a real excuse.

Oh, God. Everyone else in the library was back to studying. He took short, quick breaths, then longer ones. Did they all know that he’d forgotten an assignment?

He’d come to the library to get his lab report done and study for tomorrow’s math quiz, in the hour between his shift at the coffee shop and Dana’s poetry reading that he’d promised to go to. Their small group of tentative friends had planned to go out and get dinner afterwards, and he’d been looking forward to it, but now-

Now he was panicking. And it was useless to panic. Adam took another deep breath and then thought, again, about the situation. The response paper had been due yesterday. He had not done it. The clock was ticking.

He opened his email and wrote a quick response:

Dear Professor Reynolds, I’m so sorry. I did not do the assignment. I will make it up as soon as possible. I’ll accept any punishment you see fit- no, punishment was too self-deprecating, it sounded like a guilt trip- I’ll accept a failing grade on this assignment and I assure you this will not happen again. Thank you for letting me know.

By the time Adam had written a response paper, edited it to ensure that it didn’t look entirely rushed, and submitted it, he had remembered that one missing assignment was not the end of the world. But his nerves were still on edge. Now he was behind on the lab report and the studying and the reading he’d scheduled for later that night. He just felt so irritated and worn down.

How had he become so easily chipped away since high school? At Aglionby, he’d managed to keep on top of everything, not to mention the quest for Glendower. Why was he like this now? What had happened to him?

He couldn’t focus. And he was going to be late for the poetry reading.

At the poetry reading, which took place in one of the student lounges, he sat with his friends and didn’t talk much. Dana, the bubbly poet from Texas, had attracted Liz’s attention because she was as obsessed with gaming as Liz was. Adam had attracted Liz’s attention, apparently, because he was “interesting-looking and interesting at talking too”. And Jordan, the junior they’d met when Dana had dragged them to a meeting of the LGBT Alliance, had become fast friends with them because of her and Adam’s shared love of the woods on the edge of campus.

It was nice, being part of this group of friends, even if they weren’t nearly as close to Adam as Ronan, Gansey, Blue, and Henry. They were people to talk to, to spend time with. They just weren’t people who were going to properly understand him, or forgive him for the way he got when he was under stress.

“I think I’m gonna skip dinner,” he said to them quickly, as soon as they all got out of the lounge.

“No comments on my poetry?” Dana said.

“It was nice,” he said. “Sorry. I just- I should probably head back to my room.”

“What exactly is going on?” Liz asked, turning on him. “You were quieter than usual all through Dana’s poetry reading.”

He sighed. He knew any friendship he’d made was going to come to this.

“I forgot an assignment,” he said shortly. “For literature. I made it up, just now, but I assume I’m going to get a zero on it. I’ve got to go finish the rest of my homework now.”

Their eyebrows all raised at his tone.

“You forgot an assignment?” Liz said. “Let me guess, you assume this is literally the end of the world.”

She looked half-annoyed, half-amused. Adam didn’t know what they wanted.

“No,” he said. “I just- It’s- if I come with you guys to dinner, I’ll ruin it.”

Dana’s face fell a little, and she said, “You won’t ruin it. If you’re upset, you can just talk.”

It reminded Adam so much of how he talked to Ronan when Ronan was refusing to verbalize his emotions.

“I’m sorry,” he said, and his tone was a little less short. “I’m just stressed, that’s all. I think it’d be best if I went to my room and got my work done.”

“If that’s what you want to do,” Jordan chipped in.

“Feel better,” Dana said. “You can talk to us any time you want.”

“Thanks,” he said. “Have fun at dinner. See you tomorrow.”

They were likely just doing it to be polite. Just being nice to be polite.

Keith was already in their room when he got back, which grated on his nerves more- he didn’t hate Keith, but they weren’t really friends, and he just wanted to be alone.

He sat at his desk and got to work on the lab report. That was a little bit easier- methodic work. Then he forced his way through a literature reading, which only reminded him again and again that he’d forgotten an assignment, and something about that was eating away at him. He just wanted to crawl into bed.

Studying for his quiz in political science was impossible. There was no structure to studying, and there was no structure to this subject, and normally he found it fairly interesting of a challenge but right now he was going insane.

He grabbed his coat, his keys, and his phone, and headed out the door.

A walk would help. He needed to be among the trees. It was dark out but he didn’t care, he was all right in the dark. He passed by groups of students and cars and made his way into the tiny stretch of woods a few minutes’ walk from his dorm.

It was quiet. It was dark, but he knew his way instinctively, and he made his way to the young dogwood tree he’d befriended early in the semester, and took a long breath.

In these woods, it was just wild enough to be comforting, but just close enough to civilization to have cell reception. He pulled out his phone and called Ronan.

No response. Fucking typical.

He called Blue.

“Adam?” she said cheerily when she picked up, and he nearly broke down right then.

“Hey, Blue,” he said, trying to sound casual, which she saw right through.

“You OK?” she asked. “What are you calling me about?”

“Just, uh, just wanted to talk,” he said.

“Where are you?” she said. “I can hear trees around you.”

Only Blue would be able to hear trees through a phone.

“In the woods,” he said, which gave everything away- if he was in the woods at night, he desperately needed comfort.

“Adam,” she repeated. “What’s wrong?”

He caught his breath for a second, then told her the whole story. She listened carefully, which was what he needed, but it wasn’t all he needed. He wanted- he didn’t know what he wanted. He wanted something that would make him not think that the world was going to fall apart under his feet.

“Listen to me,” she said, when he was done. “I acknowledge, one hundred percent, that you messed up by forgetting this essay. But it’s also a very small mistake. Really, Adam, it is.”

“I know that,” he said, a little sharper than he meant to sound.

“I know you know. Sometimes it’s easier to remember when someone says it out loud, though. You aren’t a bad person for making a mistake. You’re just under a lot of stress. You need to de-stress somehow.”

“How? I have constant work.”

“I don’t know. But your mental health is important, too. Make some time, ten minutes, whatever, to rest.”

Adam sighed, because he knew she was right, but it wasn’t very useful advice to him, because he didn’t know what de-stressing was. He felt less stressful when he was with Ronan and Opal. He felt less stressful lost in untangling a puzzle or walking amongst trees. He didn’t know how to make that a tangible part of his schedule.

“Thanks for talking to me,” he said, because he was thankful for it.

“No problem,” Blue said. “I really hope you feel better. You can talk to me whenever, you know.”

“Yeah,” he said. “You, too.”

 

Liz, Dana, and Jordan all seemed a little wary of Adam the next day, but Jordan left a handful of interesting acorns outside his dorm room as a silent gift, and Dana stopped by during his shift at the coffee shop to buy a cookie only to hand it back to him, saying it was her treat and she hoped he was feeling better.

He was feeling better, better than yesterday anyhow, and it was nice to see that his college friends weren’t instantly abandoning him now that they’d seen him when he was less than ideal. But he was still stressed out. It was an hour until the end of his shift, and Thursdays were always so exhausting- close to the weekend but not close enough. He kept thinking of the massive packet of math problems that he needed to finish by tomorrow afternoon.

He finished making the latte that the girl at the counter had ordered and turned to hand it to her, when his eye caught a glimpse of something familiar through the glass door.

The door opened and Ronan and Opal walked in.

“Adam!” Opal shrieked, jumping up and down, drawing the attention of all the students in the crowded shop.

Adam didn’t hear Ronan’s quiet reprimand, but he saw Ronan look back up and smile at him, and he was smiling, too. It was like his mind had rushed to clear everything away the second he’d seen that smile, leaving only quiet.

Ronan came up to the counter, which was thankfully empty of other customers now, and said, “You look fucking ridiculous in that apron.”

“Don’t be a shitbag,” Adam said, and leaned over the counter to kiss him. It was too awkward a position for Adam to disappear into the kiss, like he wanted to, but it made him feel a little dizzy all the same.

Opal, who had covered her eyes, said, “Adam! Adam! Can I have one of those chocolate cakes?”

She pointed to the set of pastries on display next to the counter.

“Opal, for fuck’s sake, have you ever even heard of fruits and vegetables?” Ronan said.

Adam usually wanted Opal to eat healthy, but he hadn’t seen either of them in person in three weeks, and his resolve was lowered about everything.

“Here,” he said, pulling out a fudge brownie for Opal and wrapping it in a napkin. He typed his student ID into the cash register to pay for it and handed it over, smiling as she devoured it.

“So what are you doing here?” he asked, looking back at Ronan, who had leaned himself all too comfortably against the counter while Opal ate her brownie.

“Sargent called me last night,” Ronan said. “Said you were feeling shitty.”

“So you came all the way up here?”

“I didn’t drive ten fucking hours just to fix your vague problems, Parrish. I just thought me and Opal could help you relax. De-stress. Whatever the fuck Sargent told me you needed to do.”

Adam’s smile faded away slightly.

“You can’t drop everything every time my life gets a little stressful, though,” he said.

“I’m not going to. Relax, Parrish. This isn’t a sympathy visit. I missed you and I wanted to see you. If you want me to go-”

“Don’t go,” Adam said instantly.

He stood up a little straighter.

“I missed you, too,” he said. “I can handle my stress on my own but it’s still nice to have you visit.”

“Yeah, Parrish,” Ronan said. “I know you can handle anything. I still want to help when I can.”

“I thought this wasn’t a sympathy visit.”

“It’s a things-are-slow-at-the-Barns-anyway and why-the-fuck-not visit.”

“Why the fuck not is a good enough reason for me,” Adam said. “But, uh, you’re gonna have to move. My shift ends in a little less than an hour and you’re in the way of other customers.”

“Right, sorry,” Ronan said, with only a little sarcasm, and took Opal to sit at a table in the corner.

Adam’s eyes kept wandering over to them. Ronan was looking back, and it made everything lighten. He still had a shit-ton of math homework and another essay to write that weekend and a six-hour shift on Saturday, but they were all colored a little less gloomy by Ronan and Opal in the same room. The same room. God, he’d missed them so much.

He looked up at the next customer, and jumped a little when he saw it was Liz.

“Hey, Adam,” she said. “Uh, chai latte, medium. You look like you’re feeling better since yesterday.”

“Yeah, things are better,” he said. “Sorry I was an asshole yesterday.”

“You weren’t an asshole,” she said, while he started making her chai latte. “You were stressed and you didn’t want to talk about it.”

She was uncannily good at reading people, which was probably why Adam had been willing to stay friends with her for this long.

“Yeah,” Adam said. “That was it. I’m not good at being stressed.”

“Well, we’re your friends, man. We can help. You don’t always have to handle it alone.”

“I know,” he said. “I’m bad at knowing it, but I know.”

He handed over her latte when he finished making it. Ronan had a typically slightly jealous expression on, from across the room.

“By the way,” Liz said, “I saw a giant black bird on campus today. A raven, I think. Made me think of you, since you went to that weird raven school.”

Adam laughed. “That might have been Chainsaw.”

“Might have been what?”

“Ronan’s bird. He came to visit.”

“Wait, Ronan like Ronan your boyfriend? Edgy farmer man?”

“Yeah, that Ronan,” Adam said. “He’s right over there.”

Liz looked around to where Adam was gesturing and let out a barking laugh.

“He looks exactly as trying-too-hard as I pictured,” she said. “And that’s your kid, right? Opal?”

“Yeah,” Adam said. Ronan was wearing one of his less harsh, but still terrifying, glares now.

“Any reason he looks like he’s trying to figure out how to murder me?” Liz asked.

“He gets jealous easily,” Adam said.

“Ooh, you didn’t tell him about when I sort of asked you out, did you?”

“I did, actually. He’s going to be annoying as shit to you.”

Liz grinned. “I’m gonna go over and talk to him.”

“No, please don’t.”

“I have to. I’m too curious.”

“Fine. It was nice knowing you, Liz.”

She picked up her latte and strolled across the room to Ronan and Opal’s table. Adam watched from a distance, unable to look away. Ronan looked murderous at first but his expression distorted into something like bemusement, and then he was laughing.

When Adam walked over at the end of his shift, Ronan said, “Parrish, you sure know how to pick weird-ass friends.”

“What did you say to him?” Adam asked Liz.

“Just asked him questions and shit,” Liz said. “And responded the way any normal human would to this kind of, uh, unique personality.”

“I like Liz,” Opal chimed in. “She’s funny.”

“I like you, too, Opal,” Liz said. “Not sure how I feel about Ronan yet. I figure if you like him, Adam, he’s got to have a heart of gold somewhere under all the violence and edginess.”

“No, he’s just asshole through and through,” Adam said. “I’m dating him for the sarcastic comments and the thrill of constantly fearing for my life when he’s driving.”

“He says this like he’s indifferent,” Liz said to Ronan, “but he’s been smiling like he’s on top of the world the whole time you’ve been here.”

“Well,” Ronan said, turning a little red. “I guess I do have some good points, Parrish.”

Adam sat back in his chair, comfortable. Opal, next to him, leaned her head against his arm.

“Yeah, you have your good points,” he said, feeling as warm and cozy as he thought he ought to be on the cold autumn day.

 

He, Ronan, and Opal went back to his room, where they ran into Keith and let him know that Ronan and Opal would be sleeping over for the night and over the weekend. Keith seemed indifferent to the arrangement, and laughed good-naturedly when Ronan promised they’d be sure to do nothing but sleep in Adam’s bed.

Ronan kept Opal occupied playing some game on his phone while Adam worked through his math packet, until he only had a little bit left. It was simultaneously easier and harder to work when they were there- he was constantly distracted just by their presence, but they also made everything feel a little bit less frazzled and strange and stressful.

When they headed down to the cafeteria for dinner, Liz was already sitting at a table with Dana and with her roommate Riya. Dana and Riya politely introduced themselves to Ronan, and became instantly fond of Opal, who made a mess of the spaghetti she was eating for dinner.

“What a sweetheart,” Dana said. “You are so precious.”

Opal made a face at her and said, “I’m not precious! And I’m not a sweetheart!”

“Right, of course,” Riya said seriously. “Don’t patronize her. You’re a big kid.”

“I’m seven years old,” Opal said, which was the age Ronan had estimated her to be by now. “I can read really long books, like 100 pages. And I’m going to go to school next year, and I already know how to do times tables.”

“Times tables?” Riya said. “That’s really good for a seven-year-old.”

“I know,” Opal said.

“Adam’s genius rubbing off on you?” Liz said.

“No, she’s smart of her own accord,” Adam said.

“Didn’t doubt that, Adam,” Liz said. “I’m sure you’ve taught her a lot of what she knows, though.”

“Adam taught me reading,” Opal informed her. “And math. Kerah doesn’t know school stuff like Adam; he only knows how to do farming and dreaming.”

Dana and Riya cracked smiles at that, and Liz said, “Kerah is Ronan, I’m guessing?”

“Yeah,” Ronan said. “That’s what she calls me.”

“You are the weirdest family I’ve ever met,” Liz said. “And that’s saying something.”

When they’d finished eating, Liz turned to Adam and said, “Hey, if you want, me and Riya can take Opal for the night.”

“Oh, yes, I would love to have a sleepover,” Riya said.

“A sleepover?” Opal said excitedly. “Can I?”

“If you want,” Adam said.

Opal gestured for Adam to move his hearing ear towards her, and she whispered in it, “Liz is my new friend.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” Adam said, smiling and ruffling her hair.

“You two better take good care of her,” Ronan said.

“Relax, edgemaster, I’ve taken care of a child in my life before,” Liz said. “And we live one floor below you, so she’ll be close.”

“Jesus,” Ronan said, once they’d dropped off Opal in Liz and Riya’s room and were heading up the stairs to Adam’s floor. “She reminds me of Sargent.”

“Really?” Adam said. “She reminds me of Gansey. The way she sort of collects friends and gets to know them.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re making friends here, anyway.”

“You’re not jealous? That’s new.”

“I’m not always jealous, asshole. What, did you think I wanted you to be all alone here?”

“No,” Adam said. “But you do get jealous really easily.”

Ronan rolled his eyes. “You know I’m trying not to be possessive and shit.”

“I know,” Adam said. “It’s cute sometimes when you get jealous, though. Not, like, asshole-y jealous. Just a little.”

“You asshole. You’re such an asshole.”

You’re such an asshole.”

When they got back to the room, it was eight, and Keith was still out at swim practice. Adam knew he should probably finish his math packet, but he also knew he’d have time to do it tomorrow morning, and that it wasn’t the end of the world to put it off just a little, and it wouldn’t be the end of the world even if he didn’t finish it.

And he also hadn’t seen Ronan in three weeks, and they were alone now.

Ronan grinned at him, and Adam walked over to his bed and settled himself down on it on his elbows, pulling Ronan down on top of him.

“How long ‘til he gets back?” Ronan asked, hovering over Adam.

“Probably two hours, maybe more,” Adam said, impatient, annoyed that Ronan was doing anything besides kissing him.

“Good,” Ronan said, and leaned in.

Adam sank into his shitty college mattress, ran his hands over Ronan’s shaved head in the exact way that he knew would pull a groan out of Ronan against his lips, pulled Ronan closer against him. It was slow and fast at the same time- they were both hungry for each other, but instead of devouring, they just dissolved into each other’s arms.

It wasn’t, Adam thought, a permanent solution for stress relief, but it was working a damn miracle on his stress right now.

“I missed you so fucking much,” Ronan murmured against him. “I dreamt about you every night.”

“Good dreams?” Adam asked lazily.

“Yeah, good dreams, but shitty compared to actual reality.”

“What’d you dream about?” Adam asked, because he was warm and felt a little liquid and wanted to be annoying and mess with Ronan.

“You at the Barns,” Ronan said, running a hand through Adam’s hair. “You were surrounded by lions whose manes were made of flowers.”

“That’s poetic as fuck,” Adam said. “I was hoping it would be dirtier.”

“Well, I also dreamt about blowing you, if that helps. A couple times, actually.”

“That does help,” Adam said, and pulled Ronan back down to keep making out with him.

He’d really fucking missed this.

Ronan kissed up to Adam’s right ear and whispered, “What do you want to do? Anything you want, Adam.”

Adam hummed contentedly and said, “I missed seeing you fall apart under my hands.”

“I came here to take care of you, asshole,” Ronan said, running his hands up Adam’s sides.

“I want to take care of you, too,” Adam said, then, with a bit of a devious smile, turned them over.

“I bet you’ve been thinking about this,” he continued, his voice going a little bit softer. He could see that Ronan liked it. “About me. Do you?”

“Yeah,” Ronan said, getting breathless, eyes trailing Adam as Adam pulled off his own shirt.

Adam looked down at Ronan, whose eyes were wide, gazing at Adam like he was the answer to every problem in the world. He felt affection rush through him. He wanted to make Ronan feel good. He loved having Ronan’s pleasure under his control, instead of so goddamn far away at the Barns.

“Tell me what you think about,” he said. “And take off your shirt.”

“Fuck,” Ronan whispered, and pulled his shirt off.

“Do you like it when I tell you what to do?” Adam asked.

“Yes, Jesus Christ,” Ronan said. “You’re so fucking amazing sometimes, Adam.”

“Sometimes?” Adam said, raising an eyebrow.

“All the time.”

Adam ran his hands down Ronan’s chest, shivering at the sound Ronan made in response. He leaned back down and kissed his neck before sliding his hand down between Ronan’s legs. Ronan arched back, already hard, and Adam whispered, “God, you’re so easy.”

“For you,” Ronan said, through half a breath.

Adam got him off, slowly and by now well-practiced, asking Ronan questions in that low voice about how he felt. He was wide awake now, hanging on to Ronan’s every gasp and strained word and hissing breath. Better than music, sharper than the sound of lightning and rain. Adam was so captivated by the fact that his hands, his mouth, his voice could play the notes to pull out all these mesmerizing sounds.

When Ronan came, he gasped Adam’s name obscenely loudly, and someone in the room below hit the ceiling with a broom and yelled, “Shut up!”

“Still so goddamn loud,” Adam said, laughing, while Ronan caught his breath.

“Fuck you, Parrish,” Ronan said breathlessly. “College dorms… fucking dumb ass way to live…”

“Mmm, sure. Or you just have horrendous volume control.”

“You- fuck,” Ronan said. He was still all flushed and undone underneath Adam. Adam left kisses over his face, drawn to his warm skin and beautiful blue eyes.

“I didn’t come here just to let you get me off,” Ronan said.

“What’d you come here to do, then?” Adam asked, kissing down his jawline.

“I told you. To take care of you. Come on, lie the fuck down, Parrish.”

“I thought I was telling you what to do,” Adam said.

“Fine. Tell me to blow you.”

Adam rolled off of Ronan and lay back on the bed next to him. “I won’t object to it.”

“Fucking annoying shithead,” Ronan muttered, and kissed down Adam’s chest. Adam closed his eyes and let every touch roll over him. Ronan was too fucking good at this.

He finished in Ronan’s mouth, breathing hard, and a knot that he hadn’t realized had been tied up within him unraveled. He let himself sigh out Ronan’s name quietly.

Ronan climbed back on top of him.

“Feeling better?” he asked, with a soft kiss.

“Way better,” Adam said. “You make everything better.”

Ronan smiled, unguarded and carefree, and said, “That’s you, actually.”

He sighed and curled himself around Adam, resting his head in the crook of Adam’s neck, and murmured something that Adam didn’t hear.

“What?” Adam asked.

“You made my whole life better, Adam,” Ronan said, a little louder this time, hands wrapping around his back.

Adam was so quiet and warm.

“So did you,” he replied.

 

Adam only had his afternoon math class on Friday. In the morning, he took Ronan and Opal down to the student center and finished his homework while Ronan stopped Opal from tearing down all the flyers on the walls. They headed out for a walk around campus before Adam went to his math class.

When it ended, Liz came up to him and said, “Hey, a couple of my friends are holding a bonfire.”

“Yeah?” Adam asked, as they headed out of the building.

“So, I’m sure Ronan likes setting shit on fire. You want to bring him and Opal? We’re not gonna have any alcohol or other child-inappropriate stuff, don’t worry.”

“Yeah, sounds fun,” Adam said. “Opal was OK to watch last night?”

“For the hundredth time, she was an angel,” Liz said. “She had a great time. Relax.”

“I know she had a great time,” Adam said. “She won’t shut up about it.”

Opal had emerged from Liz and Riya’s room in the morning chattering nonstop about how much fun her ‘sleepover’ had been. Adam still felt a little guilty for leaving her there when he hadn’t seen her in weeks, but he was going to spend the whole weekend with her, and she seemed to have really enjoyed staying in another room as a fun adventure, anyway.

Ronan was waiting outside the math building with Opal on his shoulders when Adam and Liz came out.

“Don’t laugh,” he warned when they came over. “She wouldn’t stop whining until I gave her a piggyback ride.”

“Adam!” Opal shouted. “There’s so many trees and squirrels here.”

“I know,” Adam said. “I knew you would like them.”

“You guys want to come to a bonfire my friends and I are holding?” Liz said.

“A fire?” Opal said, sounding a little too intrigued.

“It’s safe for her?” Ronan asked.

“Yeah, totally safe. We’re gonna make s’mores.”

“In that case, yeah, we’ll go,” Ronan said.

The bonfire was a bit of a walk away, and it was quite dark by the time they got there. Liz’s friends were a combination of upperclassmen and interesting younger students, and they were all talking loudly around the fire. Adam secured some marshmallows and chocolate and showed Opal how to put together s’mores.

Opal took a handful of marshmallows and tried to skewer them all at once. Ronan rushed over from where he’d been sitting, a few feet away from the rest of them, and said, “No, birdbrain, like this.”

He and Opal managed to burn five different marshmallows into ashes before they got something somewhat palatable. Adam sat back on the picnic blanket that Dana had brought and watched them fondly.

“You really love him, don’t you?” Dana asked quietly.

“What?” Adam said, turning to face her. She was always saying something about love and romance, reading ridiculous love poems at her poetry slams.

“I can see it just from how you look at him. You’re like, over the moon for him.”

Adam rolled his eyes and leaned forward against his knees.

“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, that’s true.”

“It’s nice,” she said. “It’s a nice side of you. I know you’re capable of feelings and emotions and things but you don’t show it a lot.”

“I know,” Adam said. “I don’t want to be annoying, usually.”

“It’s not annoying, sweetheart. It’s lovely. Being in love is nothing to be ashamed of.”

“Course you would say that,” Adam said.

Opal crushed a graham cracker in her hands and threw it at Ronan, whose face scrunched up, and Adam laughed. Ronan glared over at him.

“You’re right, though,” Adam said to Dana. “I love him.”

Chapter Text

It was Wednesday when Keith let Adam know that he was going home for the weekend, so the room would be free from Friday afternoon through Sunday night. It was Thursday when Adam invited Ronan to visit for the weekend, and Ronan made plans to drop off Opal with Declan, who loved babysitting his strange niece. And it was Friday afternoon, right in the middle of Adam’s last class of the week, when he got a text from Ronan.

Which was a fairly rare occurrence, so he checked it frantically, only to see:

The golden trio forced their way into coming along to visit you too. be warned

Adam’s face lit up, and he pushed his phone quickly back into his bag, hoping his professor hadn’t noticed him checking a text during class.

He hadn’t seen Blue, Gansey, and Henry in ages- not since winter break, when they’d all met up back in Henrietta and essentially spent a whole two weeks all glued to each other’s sides. Spending so much time apart had only served to remind them all how much they loved each other.

The trio had gone to South America after winter break, because Blue had managed to get into a month-long environmental research program in Costa Rica. Gansey and Henry had come along because both of them were still trying to work out what they wanted to do in life, and Henry had gotten involved in some local activism for a while.

They’d come back to Henrietta at the end of February, about a week ago, and were planning to stay there for just a little while. Evidently they had decided to head up to Connecticut with Ronan to visit Adam.

As soon as Adam’s class ended, he headed out the door, where he was almost instantly attacked by a hug from Blue.

“Adam!” she exclaimed, her arms still tight around his neck, on her tiptoes. “Adam, Adam, Adam! It’s been so long!”

She still had a gorgeous tan, in contrast to the still-incredibly-cold March weather in New England. Behind her were Gansey, Henry, and Ronan, in various states of rolling their eyes and smiling with affection.

Adam closed his eyes and let himself hug Blue back. He was so warm and lit-up just from seeing all of them.

Eventually Blue let him go, and Gansey and Henry came over and each gave him a quick hug, while Blue continued to talk endlessly in the background.

“Look, I know I’ve sent you a thousand emails and we’ve talked a ton, but there’s still so much to tell you, Adam, and you of all people would get it, just knowing what it is you want to do with your life- there are so many opportunities I didn’t even think about, and there were so many people I met and I took a lot of really nice photos, you’ll love the trees there, I bet-”

“Can you shut up for one second and let me say hello, Sargent,” Ronan said.

“Oh, and Ronan’s been as terrible as usual this past week, because he seems to think environmental activism is a waste of time, even though he is a farmer and he should know more than anyone the importance of-”

Ronan shoved past her and kissed Adam.

“Don’t be an asshole about Blue’s passions in life, Lynch,” Adam said.

“This is why I didn’t want these annoying fuckers to come along,” Ronan said, but it was pretty clear he was fine with all of them being there.

“Come on,” Adam said. “Do you guys want to see the campus?”

“Fuck no,” Ronan said. “It’s cold as shit.”

“I’d like to see the campus,” Gansey said.

“I agree with Ronan,” Blue said. “It is cold as shit.”

“Admittedly, we were just in South America,” Henry said. “I’m sure you’re used to this frozen wasteland, Parrish.”

“Believe it or not, this is considered fairly nice March weather up here,” Adam said, gesturing out the door they’d just arrived at towards the grey sky and islands of melting snow amongst the pale grass.

“Let’s go to your dorm,” Gansey said. “I believe I’ve never seen it, and I am curious about what your living space looks like.”

“I want to meet your new friends, myself,” Henry said. “After hearing so much about them.”

None of them stopped talking as Adam led them across campus to his dorm building. They were all shivering behind him, Ronan especially who hadn’t bothered to bring anything more than a light jacket, but Adam felt unbelievably warm.

They all found his room to be charmingly college-y, and Henry took a bunch of pictures for his Instagram, which Adam reluctantly allowed. Then Gansey, Blue, and Henry unloaded a bunch of souvenirs and gifts on Adam, which Adam also reluctantly allowed because he knew they’d brought just as many gifts for nearly everyone else they knew.

And the gifts were pretty clearly not charity, seeing as most of them were utterly useless.

“You realize I don’t have anywhere to put these tacky magnets,” he told Henry.

“What about that mini fridge?”

“It’s technically my roommate’s, and I’m not going to torment him with the sight of this souvenir crap.”

Blue had gotten him a tiny book filled with illustrations of various rainforest species. Pressed inside were leaves and flowers she’d picked up for him.

“I tried to preserve them for the most part,” she said. “Using some preservation techniques and some tree magic my dad taught me. They should last a while.”

At six-thirty, they decided to head out to dinner. Adam invited Dana, Liz, and Jordan, who’d been curious about his friends from back home, and they went out to a pizza place in town.

The three girls arrived a little later and found the group sitting around a handful of tables, still waiting on their order. Liz introduced the three of them to everyone.

“Let me guess,” she said. “You’re Blue, you’re Henry, and you… are Gansey. Huh. No offense, but from what Adam’s told me, I was expecting you to literally be wearing a suit made out of money.”

Blue and Henry doubled over laughing. Gansey’s eyebrows raised.

“And what exactly has he told you?” he asked.

“Enough,” Liz said, and sat down.

It wasn’t quite as awkward as Adam had expected. He’d gotten used, in the years he’d known Gansey and Ronan, to the idea of new people meeting the group being a terrible thing, full of tension and jealousy and unspoken bitterness. But things had loosened just as they’d strengthened between the group of friends, and Adam realized that they’d grown up. Their friendship had grown up. They could love each other, all in different ways and the same ways, and love other people, in different ways and the same ways, and talk to each other honestly and openly and understandingly.

Jordan, who was very into environmental science, got deep into a conversation with Blue about trees. Henry and Liz grew fond of each other within five minutes, making wisecracks across the table at each other repeatedly, and Dana instantly started in on how romantic the three of them were, with their travels together and their true love’s kisses and all that.

The group splintered off later into the night, with Adam’s college friends returning to campus, and the other five heading to the hotel that Blue, Gansey, and Henry were staying in. They stayed up fairly late talking together, happy and laughing and talking.

Around ten, Blue leaned back, yawned, and said with a lazy smile on her face, “Isn’t this beautiful?”

“Isn’t what beautiful?” Gansey asked, turning to look at her.

“This. What our lives have become. I just… two years ago, things were so different.”

“You didn’t even know us,” Adam said.

“I barely knew any of you, for that matter,” Henry said.

“And…” Ronan added, before trailing off and staring at the floor.

Adam looked at him, from where he was sitting close pressed against him, and slid his arm around him. He knew what Ronan was thinking about.

“Wherever Noah is,” he said, voice lowered a bit, “I think he’d be happy that this is where we all are.”

“Persephone, too,” Blue added.

The grief didn’t get any lighter, but it did get easier to deal with, for all of them. It was part of life- they’re gone, they will continue to be gone- but it wasn’t an all-consuming loss anymore. It was, in its own strange way, OK. The way a natural disaster could leave flowers in its wake.

“We’re happy,” Ronan said, finally. “I’m happy, at least.”

“I’m happy, too,” Gansey said. “And I hope none of you are going to call me sentimental for saying this, but it wasn’t so long ago that I didn’t think I could ever be happy. Not unless I found Glendower, at least. But I’m happy now, because of all of you.”

“Gansey-man, feel free to make sentimental speeches whenever you like,” Henry said.

Blue yawned again, and Gansey said, “OK, Ronan, Adam, I don’t mean to kick you out, but I think Jane here needs to sleep.”

“Fuck you, Gansey, I’m not tired,” Blue muttered, and it was so Ronan-like that Adam nearly laughed.

“We’re meeting up for brunch tomorrow, right?” Gansey said.

This was something Gansey had decided earlier, and none of them wanted to tell him that normal people didn’t actually go to brunch as a regular meal, so they’d agreed to go to brunch with him the next day.

“Yeah, sure,” Ronan said. “We’ll see you at like ten AM.”

“See you then, asshole,” Blue called, from where she’d curled up on the bed. “You too, Adam.”

“See you, maggot,” Ronan said. “You too, Gansey and Henry.”

He and Adam headed out the door. As soon as they were out in the hall and the door was closed, Ronan pressed Adam into a bone-crushing hug.

“Sorry,” he said against Adam’s hearing ear. “I was going crazy with missing you.”

“Ha,” Adam breathed out, which was difficult with Ronan’s arms constricting his lungs. “You could have done that earlier, you know.”

“Didn’t want to get in the way of you talking to everyone else,” Ronan said. “You haven’t seen them in months, and I saw you three weeks ago.”

Adam pushed closer against Ronan, head against his shoulders, and breathed in his scent, which was the most calming thing he knew.

“Yeah,” he said. “But I missed you, too.”

They stood there for a little while before Adam said, “All right, let me go, let’s get back to campus.”

Ronan reluctantly let go of him but held his hand as they took the elevator back down to the lobby and headed out to the car, driving back to Adam’s dorm.

“Hey,” Ronan said, as they got out of the car. “Let’s stay out here for a bit. I hate that tiny-ass room.”

“Ronan, you’re going to freeze to death,” Adam said.

“Guess you’ll have to keep me warm, then.”

“Jesus Christ,” Adam said, but he smiled and wrapped his arm around Ronan while they leaned against the side of the BMW. It was cold, but in a sweet, New England sort of way, and the night was clear. A few stars were visible above, nothing like the infinity of stars you could see at the Barns on clear nights, but enough to be a pretty image.

They stood there, Adam idly kissing Ronan’s shoulder, for a few minutes, before Ronan said, “What did you think about what Sargent said earlier?”

“Which thing that she said?” Adam asked.

“About being happy with where our lives are now.”

“Oh,” Adam said. “Uh, I guess I kind of agree. I’m happy with my life. You know, this school is amazing- thousand times better than fucking Aglionby.”

“Yeah,” Ronan said. “That’s for sure.”

He continued staring into the distance, eyebrows knit together, and Adam said, “OK, so why are you asking?”

Ronan sighed.

“What about us?” he asked. “Is that- is that part of what makes your life happy?”

“What?” Adam said, completely taken by surprise, because he’d thought he’d made it clear a thousand times over how much he wanted to be with Ronan. “Yeah, of course it is. I thought that was obvious.”

Ronan looked down at his hands, and doubt surged in Adam.

“Why are you asking?” he said again. “Is- do you not- is it not good enough for you?”

“Shit,” Ronan said, looking back up at Adam. “No, fuck, that’s not what I meant.”

“So say what you mean.”

Ronan leaned back against the car, eyes trained towards the night sky.

“It’s so lonely at the Barns,” he said. “Even with Opal, and with Sharon visiting every so often, it’s so fucking lonely. The only times I really feel good is when I’m with you.”

“That’s not true,” Adam said, irritated by the last part of what he’d said. “I’m not the only good thing in your life, Ronan.”

“That’s not what I fucking meant,” Ronan said. “I didn’t mean you’re the only good thing in my life. I meant that I need you in my life. You’re not the only good thing in my life, but you’re… an essential thing.”

Adam didn’t respond, and Ronan added quickly, “I don’t want you to quit the life you have here, just for me. Or for anyone.”

“I wasn’t going to,” Adam said. “But if you feel lonely at the Barns, Ronan, maybe you should find a solution for that. I could help you find a solution. It’s not impossible for both of us to have the lives we want, and…”

He took a breath.

“And to have those lives together.”

Ronan leaned in closer to Adam. He was still pretty cold, as a result of not being responsible enough to wear a coat, but something in him always burned bright regardless.

“You know,” Ronan said, “I was looking up shit online about the farming community in Connecticut. It says there’s new young farmers coming here all the time.”

“What the fuck even grows in this climate?” Adam said, avoiding the point of what Ronan had said.

“Smartasses like you, apparently.”

Adam laughed, and wrapped his arm tighter around Ronan.

“Do you really want that?” Adam asked. “To live here.”

“I don’t know,” Ronan said. “I know I want to start a place of my own. I know I don’t want to be alone. I know I want to keep working in agriculture, that’s for sure.”

“Well, you’re nineteen. You don’t have to figure out yet what you want for the distant future. I don’t know all the details of what I want to do, even.”

“I thought you had this whole five-year plan and shit. Grad school and research and internships and all that.”

“Yeah, I have that planned out, but I meant really long-term. I don’t know where I want to live yet, my whole career plan, what exactly I’m going to specialize in. You can plan where you want to go for, you know, for now, and not know what you want years and years from now.”

Ronan didn’t say anything, and Adam looked up at him. His eyes were closed.

“Ronan?” Adam said. “What is it?”

Ronan opened his eyes, and Adam nearly lost his breath. It looked like he’d captured bits of the starlight from above within them.

“Thinking about the future,” he said. “Long-term. Years and years from now. I didn’t used to do that.”

“I can help you with it, you know,” Adam said.

“I know,” Ronan said. “I just never expected to have something I knew I wanted to have forever.”

“What do you mean?” Adam asked.

“You know what I mean, Adam. I don’t know where I want to live in ten years, or what exactly I’ll be doing in twenty years, but I know I want to be with you.”

Adam’s breath turned to light.

He’d known, ever since Ronan had first kissed him, that this was long-term. He’d thought about being with him for years and years to come; he’d been thinking about that since the first night, over a year ago. It was old and familiar to think like this, and new and breathtaking at the same time.

Committing to somebody else was not something that Adam Parrish did- it was such a contradiction to who he was, his own man. And yet this was not a contradiction. Wanting to be with Ronan was as intrinsic as breath, as the answer to a puzzle that had been obvious once he figured out a particular trick. It struck him that this was obvious, too- he wanted this forever, too.

Didn’t make it any less breathtaking.

“I…” he said, because he’d been staring at Ronan without speaking for a while now.

“You don’t have to say anything,” Ronan said.

“You know I want this, too,” Adam said.

Ronan leaned in and kissed him.

“You’re doing a shit job of warming me up,” he said, when he broke away.

“Then let’s go to my room like I said in the first place,” Adam said.

“How do you plan to warm me up there, Parrish?”

Adam rolled his eyes at Ronan’s obnoxiously suggestive expression.

“You’ll see,” he answered, and led Ronan into the dorm building, which was a relief of warmth after the cold outdoors.

Ronan was desperate and loud, like he usually was when they had sex, and Adam kept hissing at him to keep it down. Eventually he slid his fingers into Ronan’s mouth to try and keep him quiet, which Ronan didn’t object to at all.

“God,” Ronan exhaled, when they finished, and Adam rolled off onto his side, breathing heavily. “You’re so fucking… amazing.”

“Three… weeks,” Adam said, “of thinking about fucking you… Jesus Christ…”

They both shuddered out long breaths and Adam stretched his leg muscles before curling his arms back around Ronan.

“Maybe you should move to fucking Connecticut,” he said. “So we don’t get this goddamn desperate for it every time.”

“If I’m going to move to another state, I’m not doing it because of your fucking sexual frustration, Parrish.”

“But it would be a nice benefit to you being close.”

Ronan burrowed his head against Adam’s neck, and Adam thought he wanted to go to sleep. They’d already turned the lights off, and they were both tired.

“What else?” Ronan asked quietly, when both of their eyes were closed.

“What else of what?” Adam asked.

“What else would be nice if I lived close by?”

Adam let himself imagine a life where he had both things: seeing his family often, maybe every week even, and also following his ambitions and learning the way he learned things here at school. Out of habit, he nearly chastised himself for only thinking of the benefits to himself, and not those for Ronan, and then he thought, it isn’t selfish to have my own dreams.

Besides, he thought, maybe Ronan would be just as happy living this close, if he found a place that felt like his own.

“Seeing you,” he said. “Just seeing you, touching you, visiting more often- if it was only an hour or two of a drive instead of ten- visiting on weekends, or even for an afternoon. Falling asleep next to you. Waking up next to you. Getting to help teach Opal, not just on Skype. And if Opal went to school near here, I could see her if she did something for a science fair or a school play or something. And I could come see all the progress you make with your crops, and you could come see all the things I do here. You could live in a town that’s nothing like Henrietta, except for the nice things maybe. There’s nice towns up here, with good school systems and apple orchards and libraries with children’s programs. I don’t know. A hundred things.”

Ronan was staring up at him. Adam expected a sarcastic comment, but Ronan said, “That sounds… God. That sounds like the life I want.”

“Me, too,” Adam said, knowing that it was the truth.

“Especially falling asleep next to you,” Ronan said, and yawned, resting his head on Adam’s chest.

“I love you,” Adam whispered, as he closed his eyes again.

“I love you too.”

 

It was early when Adam woke up the next morning- not too early for him, because he usually woke up earlier, but early for a weekend when his first shift of the day started at four in the afternoon. The silvery light through the trees outside the window was still bare and undressed by the day.

He looked at the clock by the bed- it was eight AM. Still two hours until they’d agreed to meet the others at the brunch place Gansey had found in town.

Next to him, Ronan’s eyes were open, but he was paralyzed. His jerking awake had been what had woken Adam, but Adam didn’t feel startled out of his sleep- he felt refreshed and quite comfortably awake as he waited for Ronan to pull whatever it was out of his dreams.

The thing turned out to be a small, circular box made out of wood. Ronan looked down at it, unsurprised to see it in his hands.

“Morning, Parrish,” he said, looking back up at Adam’s curious expression.

“Morning, Lynch,” Adam said. “What’d you dream up this time?”

Ronan considered the box again, holding it up to his face.

“I think I know what it is,” he said. “But it’ll work better outside. In the woods. Come on, I’ll show you.”

It was tempting to stay in bed for a bit longer, but Ronan was already up and rummaging through the bag he’d brought for some clothes, so Adam got up, too. He was curious about the dream box. Ronan’s dream things sometimes required some external context to work, and he’d seen one before that needed to be out in the woods- a spinning top that could spin on thin air, but only if that air was that of a forest.

Adam liked when Ronan’s dream things met with trees.

“I have an idea of where in the woods to go,” Ronan said, once they were dressed and headed out the door. “That stump we came across. The one Opal said looked like a fairy table.”

“Oh, yeah, I remember,” Adam said. The woods outside his dorm were probably Opal’s favorite place on the Yale campus, and likely Adam’s favorite place as well. They went on walks there every time Ronan and Opal visited.

“What do you think it is?” Adam asked, when they entered the woods. “Your dream thing?”

“You’ll see, Parrish.”

The woods were always comforting, but in the morning there was something almost holy about them. In March, neither blooms nor leaves adorned the trees, but buds were on every branch, promising that the dream held within all winter was just about to spring forth. A gentle, cold but awakening light bathed the dirt path, and when they came across the clearing with the fairy-table stump, Adam could see a few bits of dust floating in the sun there.

Ronan sat down next to the stump, placing the box on top of it, and beckoned Adam to come over. Adam sat down across from him. The ground was cold and hard and clear beneath him.

“It has to catch the sunlight, I think,” Ronan said. “Here, look at it. I’ll open it.”

He lifted the lid off the small box. Adam peered in. There was a small metal circle within it with a glass sphere attached on one side.

Adam looked up at Ronan, lifting his eyebrows, but Ronan was angling the box to face the sun.

A burst of light sprang from the box when he got the right angle, and Adam looked back down at the dream thing.

The tiny glass sphere had filled with white smoke, streaked with blue and pink, that had settled to make it look quite like an opal. Ornamental leaves and flowers curled around the metal, looking beautiful without being gaudy, and the metal had turned to gold.

Now Adam recognized what it was. A ring.

He looked up at Ronan, who was staring back at him without any pretense or mask.

“Will you marry me?” he asked.

Adam had once told himself, when he was ten years old, that he was never going to get married. What he’d seen of married couples had convinced him that love didn’t exist and that he would be better off alone. He wasn’t sure why he thought of that moment, now in the woods looking back at Ronan- he hadn’t thought of that promise to himself in years. But it took nothing to decide that he would break that promise. He wanted this, not only in his heart but in his bones and in whatever part of him was eternal- he wanted this to go on forever.

He thought of the question Ronan had asked him with their first kiss. He thought of seeing him in Cabeswater. He thought of Opal. He thought of every gentle look and touch and word and of clear, awake understanding. He thought of how Ronan was looking at him now, patient and without so much as a hint of anger, knowing that Adam needed to think everything over, to analyze the answer to every question.

And the thing was, Adam already had the answer. He was only explaining to himself how he’d gotten there.

He reached over and picked up the ring. Within it in cursive writing, it read unguibus et rostro.

Adam looked back up at Ronan.

He said, “Yes.”