Adam grows up knowing that his family isn’t like others.
Oh, he doesn’t realize it at first. No child would - they only know what they’re taught, and Adam is taught not to expect love. Not to expect hugs when he gets home from school, or a loving kiss on the cheek. He quickly learns not to expect to be held when he’s crying, either. The best he can hope for there is to be ignored, to be spared mocking words from his father or pitying glances from his mother.
He is a smart boy. He learns that fast, and as soon as he begins school, he also learns that it isn’t like that for everybody.
He sees his classmates run into their mothers’ arms, sees their fathers pat them on the head. He sees this casual, affectionate contact, and he sees that it’s more common than what he has - which is nothing.
He doesn’t understand, not really, not at that age, but he knows the Parrishes are different. He does not realize until he’s older that what they’re lacking is love, and by then he’s not sure love is a real thing anyway.
He doesn’t expect hugs, and freezes up when his first grade teacher gives him one at the end of the year. It’s comforting and warm, and he likes it, and that’s scary. He knows already that there’s no point in liking things like that. He can wish all he wants that his mother would hug him like that, but it’s as pointless as wishing his father won’t get so angry.
It doesn’t change as he grows up. He’s bad at making friends, which is a natural consequence of his quietness at first and later a conscious choice. First because he doesn’t want anyone to know what his home is like - then, after that, because he doesn’t want anything tying him to Henrietta, when all he wants to do is leave.
Or maybe he’s just telling himself that because he’s awful at making friends.
Whatever the reason is, it means that Adam misses out on a lot of the things that other kids take for granted. Again. There’s no friendly rough-housing in his life, no boys his age to wrestle with. No secret handshakes, no laughing friends throwing an easy arm around his shoulders.
He notices when he is touched. When the girl next to him puts a hand on his arm to ask to borrow a pencil, when his chemistry teacher pats his shoulder awkwardly after a successful test. He feels like these things shouldn’t matter, like he shouldn’t even notice, but he does. In his more self-pitying moments, he can count the days-weeks-longer since someone has touched him.
Not counting, of course, his father’s fists. Not counting the big hand twisting his arm hard when he drops the wrench yet again, not counting his mother perfunctorily cleaning a cut he can’t reach, her lips pressed together in disappointment.
He notices each touch, but he doesn’t really think about it. It’s just another thing on the list, something else to file away as fix this later, when you’re out of here, along with making friends, not counting every penny, and buying things that aren’t secondhand.
It’s a pretty long list.
But then he meets Gansey, and Gansey is not overly physically affectionate - which is probably good - but he does touch his knuckles to Adam when they meet, and it’s sort of quaint when he does it. Then there’s Noah, who is always cold but doesn’t flinch from grabbing Adam’s arm or tapping his shoulder, and Ronan, who - well, he doesn’t touch Adam, not really, but he elbows him sometimes or kicks his ankle to be annoying or pulls at the frayed edge of his sweater. And it’s all easy for them, so Adam tries to return it.
He’s not very good at it, but he’s learning, and it’s more contact than he’s had in years. It feels like friendship, like something he should have learned a long time ago, so he does his very best to make sure none of them notice it’s all new to him.
He bumps shoulders with Gansey in the Aglionby halls, he invents a ridiculous handshake with Noah that they both immediately forget. He lets Ronan talk him into doing stupid things and then smacks his hands away when he gets too fidgety and tries to pick Adam’s scabs too, because that is disgusting - even as some part of him is weirdly pleased that Ronan is comfortable enough with him to do that.
It’s nothing. He knows it’s nothing, too, he knows it’s ridiculous to catalog every touch and second-guess himself, to wonder if the casual elbow in Ronan’s side when he says something shitty is too much or not allowed. He knows none of them notice the moments of hesitation, or at least if they do they pretend they don’t.
He’s getting the hang of it, maybe. He’s starting to learn how to be a real boy with real friends, like Gansey who’s never worried about that for a moment, like Ronan who grew up with brothers.
Then there’s Blue, and she holds his hand and lets him put his arms around her sometimes and brushes his hair out of his eyes. And that’s something else entirely, something he never even imagined, and he is disturbed by how much he wants more of it.
He realizes later that it wasn’t Blue, exactly. Not that she isn’t beautiful, not that he didn’t want her, but rather that she was the first person willing to touch him like that.
But only willing to a point. He wants more, he’s only beginning to understand this aching hunger inside him for someone who will be willing to touch him, will want to touch him, will reach out when he doesn’t quite know what to do.
And how embarrassing is it that he wants that? He shoves it to the back of his mind, doesn’t think about it. He and Blue end badly anyway, which is something he should have seen coming. And he fights with Gansey, and Noah is flickering in and out, and Ronan’s sharp-edged friendliness has a different tone to it that means he doesn’t touch Adam, either.
Adam has so many other things on his mind. He barely notices - no, that’s not true. He does notice, but he doesn’t allow himself to think about it, doesn’t spend more than a passing thought on it. His father is no longer leaving bruises on his skin, and if his friends are no longer touching him either, isn’t that a fair trade?
Then everything comes to a head. Then there is a demon, and Glendower’s body, and Gansey’s death.
Ronan who kisses him in his childhood bedroom, Ronan who gives him time and space to think it through, Ronan who’s been looking at him for months.
Adam, who has been looking back for months.
Ronan who lets Adam kiss him on his porch, who settles his hands along Adam’s ribs, who isn’t bothered by Adam’s hunger. Ronan, who lets Adam’s fingers trace the intricate lines of his tattoo, who lets Adam touch him and doesn’t pay attention to any hesitation.
Adam’s not sure he does hesitate. The whole night is a dream.
It’s only after everything is over, after they’ve picked up the pieces and started healing, that Adam really understands what he’s been missing all these years.
Because Ronan touches him so easily. Now that he knows he’s allowed to, it’s second nature to him - Ronan has always been more expressive physically than verbally, so Adam shouldn’t be surprised, but it shocks him anyway. He didn’t think about what it would mean for him. Even with his friendships, with his slow progress, he didn’t expect this.
He’d gotten used to it, after all. Not being touched, and some part of him that he locked away always wanting it. And now there’s Ronan, who touches him all the time and without thinking about it at all.
He lets Blue take shotgun in the Pig and crowds into Adam’s space in the backseat, pressing their sides together. He stands so close, close enough so Adam can feel his warmth, so their arms brush when either of them move. At Nino’s, he slides his ankle over Adam’s, or sometimes rests a hand on his knee, or sometimes even takes his hand under the table. He rests a hand at the small of Adam’s back, puts an arm around him, tugs at him until they’re draped over each other and Blue is wrinkling her nose at them.
He never thinks about it. Or he never seems to think about it, but Adam knows him better now, Adam catches the careful look the first time Ronan takes his hand, the way he is so aware of Adam, ready to step away if Adam doesn’t like it.
But Adam does like it. He likes it so much it scares him, so much he always wants more.
It isn’t easy for him the way it is for Ronan. He doesn’t think it ever will be. But he tries, and Ronan never seems anything but pleased. He lets Adam kiss him, lets Adam rest against his shoulder and nap, lets Adam trace his tattoo and tangle his fingers in Ronan’s leather bands.
He lets Adam be hungry when they’re alone together.
It feels like there’s something inside him that will never be filled, something that didn’t get its first taste of fulfilment until Ronan’s hands were on his ribs and Ronan’s lips were against his, and now that it’s tasted that it only wants more.
When they’re alone, at St Agnes or the Barns or in the BMW or a hundred other places, he kisses Ronan. He presses against him and they kiss until they’re both breathless. Ronan’s hands slide under Adam’s shirt and stroke his skin, and Adam thinks he could die from the pleasure of it, he could want nothing more than this. He curls a hand around the back of Ronan’s neck and kisses him more deeply, more hungrily, and Ronan always returns it, like he’s not afraid. Like he’s not bothered by how much Adam wants.
Adam knows he should slow down. He knows he shouldn’t let himself get caught up in this, but it’s too late for that. Ronan touches him, and he forgets about everything else.
He doesn’t think that it would work if it was just anybody. He can’t imagine being like this with anyone else. It’s a trust thing, he knows, because he trusts Ronan completely. Ronan is an asshole, can be childish and impossible. They still argue, though with nowhere near the vitriol they once did, and Ronan still gets on his nerves and he knows he gets on Ronan’s too.
But he trusts Ronan. He trusts that if he reaches out, Ronan will be there. He trusts that Ronan’s hands on him will never hurt. He trusts that on some level Ronan understands. He likely can’t understand completely, not coming from a mother who gave out hugs freely and a father who ruffled hair, but he knows the outlines of it, he understands that this is something Adam has been missing.
So he teases Adam a little sometimes, teases him about how easily he gets distracted from studying by kisses, teases him about being thirsty, but Adam knows him. Adam can see the awe underneath that, the combination of smugness and disbelief that he is the one Adam wants so much. He is the one allowed to touch Adam Parrish freely. The teasing doesn’t sting, the trust is always there, and that’s what makes it possible for Adam to want. Adam rolls his eyes at him and responds with his own sharp teasing and everything is fine.
In his head he knows he probably shouldn’t move too fast. His heart and his body say something very different, however, and his head is outvoted and forced to concede that if he can trust anyone with this, it will be Ronan.
They’re in St Agnes, in Adam’s bed, sheets kicked off the lumpy mattress. It’s still spring, but there was a heat wave, and Ronan took off his shirt - because of course he did - and Adam found it very difficult to pay attention to his Latin notes after that - because of course he did.
And now here they are, in Adam’s bed. Adam’s shirt has joined Ronan’s somewhere on the floor, and Ronan’s hands are mapping his body, fingers catching on the jut of his hipbones above his jeans. Ronan’s mouth is on his, and then on his neck, and then pressing kisses to his collarbone. Ronan bites, a careful nip, and Adam gasps.
He’s so hard. His jeans are rapidly becoming too uncomfortable, but they haven’t gone further than this. Adam wants to, so badly, but he knows his judgement is clouded. When Ronan’s hands are on him, he can’t think of anything else.
Ronan moves against him, licking a stripe along Adam’s shoulder. Adam feels Ronan, hard against his thigh, and he can’t take it anymore. He has to slow this down, but he doesn’t want to, and in an instant he’s made his decision.
He presses a hand to Ronan’s chest and Ronan stops in an instant. Even in the shadowy room Adam can see the flush of arousal on his cheeks, and the sudden uncertainty in his eyes. Adam kisses him to drive that uncertainty away and lets his hand slide downward, tracing a path to the button of Ronan’s jeans.
“Can I touch you?” he asks. His voice is quiet and raw. He would be embarrassed by the raw desire he hears there, except that he sees it mirrored on Ronan’s face, his thin lips curving into a grin. It’s probably supposed to be a smirk, but it’s a little too eager, and Adam finds it endearing and sexy at the same time.
He’s so far gone for this boy.
“‘Course,” Ronan says. He shucks his jeans off and settles on Adam’s bed, Adam pressed up against his side. The pressure against his own erection is not enough, and that’s how he wants it right now. He draws his hand across Ronan’s skin, wanting to touch him even as he adjusts to the sight of Ronan’s cock, hard and leaking precome.
Adam isn’t going to second-guess himself. There is no question what he wants, and if Ronan wants it too, there’s no need to hesitate.
The way Ronan groans when Adam wraps his hand around him is deeply satisfying to Adam.
At first he molds himself to Ronan’s side, kissing his shoulder and his neck and his jaw while stroking Ronan’s cock. But that doesn’t last long, because he wants to see Ronan instead, wants to see the way he looks while Adam is touching him. So he props himself up on his elbow instead, and the angle is a little awkward but Ronan cants his hips just right and it gets easier, it gets perfect, the sounds he’s making and the look on his face and everything, everything. The weight of him in Adam’s hand, the slickness, the way Ronan’s breath is going ragged.
It’s incredible to him that Ronan is letting him do this, that Ronan wants him to do this. Adam is careful not to move his hips, as much as he wants to, because he’s pretty sure any real stimulation is going to have him coming in his pants.
When Adam jerks himself off he’s always been businesslike, quick and efficient, because he doesn’t have the time or the inclination to take longer. But when he touches Ronan, he takes more care. He watches Ronan’s reactions, varies his speed and his grip in an effort to draw out more, to give him more pleasure. He doesn’t even think about it, he loses himself in the pleasure of touching Ronan.
Ronan comes with a bitten-off groan. It’s messy, but Adam doesn’t care, almost breathless himself just from doing that, just from touching Ronan. Ronan breathes, recovers, and then he’s reaching for Adam.
“Fuck, Parrish,” he says, and Adam loves the roughness in his voice, “your hands.”
And Adam doesn’t really know what he means, but he sort of does, because Ronan likes to kiss his fingers and tangle their hands together and Adam has seen Ronan watching the way he uses tools, the way he holds a pencil. He’s flattered and flushed, and Ronan is pushing him onto his back now.
“Is this okay?” he asks. The uncertainty is gone, because they both know this is nothing but a formality. They both know Adam would die before he said no. “Can I-”
Adam nods, and Ronan tugs his jeans down just enough to wrap a hand around Adam. Adam’s so fucking hard he knows he won’t last, but he doesn’t really care. Ronan’s above him, and his other hand spreads across Adam’s ribs, a fiery touch along his side, his chest, thumb brushing across his nipples and tweaking, and Ronan’s hand on his cock is moving.
Adam makes some truly embarrassing noises, hips rising to Ronan’s touch, fingers gripping the mattress. This is more than he ever dreamed of, all that he wants, Ronan’s hands on him, every inch of his skin alight with desire. Ronan wanting to touch him, wanting to be touched in return.
He comes with a choked gasp, spilling over his belly, the orgasm arcing through him like a lightning bolt. Better than he’s ever managed on his own, better than anything he could imagine. He’s shivery after, breathless, and Ronan curls around him and touches him, holds him, not caring about the mess.
Adam lets himself enjoy it, lets the hunger he always feels quiet for a moment or two. He’ll want more, he knows, he’ll always want more of Ronan’s hands on him, but this - this was more than enough to leave him sated.
Maybe someday he’ll get used to being touched. Maybe sometime it won’t mean as much as it does right now. If he does, he knows it’ll be because of Ronan, because he reaches out without hesitation, because he makes no attempt to pretend he doesn’t want to touch Adam. Because there’s never any chance that he doesn’t think Adam deserves to be touched, to be held, to be treated like something important.
He thinks he should say something clever, something light and witty, but instead he just curls into Ronan and wraps an arm around him, and they fall asleep like that, holding each other.