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My Backwards Walk

Chapter Text

Just for the record, Adam didn’t want to be there in the first place. He was already half deaf, and the last thing he needed was to lose the other half in the mosh pit of a rock concert. He didn’t even like rock concerts.

Unfortunately for him, he did like Blue.

Also unfortunately for him, Blue had two tickets for the Second Sleeper concert and she “wasn’t about to bring Orla to that, she’d get topless and scream for them to sign her breasts”. Adam had shrugged off that horrifying mental image and hesitantly agreed to accompany her.

He had a lot of regrets.

“Are you sure you want to be this close?” he yelled into her ear. He tried to stand his ground as the crowd shunted him sideways, but he collided painfully with the side of the stage barrier and grabbed hold of it to stay upright.

“Of course I do,” she snapped back, deploying her surprisingly sharp elbows to clear herself some personal space. A guy with frosted tips and several lip piercings went down, clutching his liver. “This is the best spot in the house.”

“Uh huh,” Adam looked over his shoulder at the relative calm of the balcony. People were sitting at tables up there, having a drink and chatting while the opening act continued to crash through their set. The throbbing of the bass line tore right through his chest, and he felt his heart beating in counterpoint to it, an uncomfortably arrhythmic sensation.

The opening act let loose a last resounding crash, their drummer’s arms pin wheeling like broken fan blades, and then began to file offstage. Adam took a deep breath as the crowd subsided and let him ease off of the metal barrier. He was concerned that if he stayed pressed against it much longer, his ribs would give in and he’d be flattened. He didn’t have good enough health insurance to cover that. Or cover much of anything, honestly.

“They better not be late,” Blue groused, eyeing the roadies critically as they assembled a new drum kit and rearranged microphones. One of them carried an electric blue bass guitar onstage, cord swinging until he connected it to an amp. Another man handed him a deep red guitar, a pattern of sinister black ravens etched across it. They looked like they were ripping their way out of its sleek body, razor tipped wings spreading triumphantly across the waist.

“I’ve heard that Ronan’s the problem,” Blue said conspiratorially, following the path of Adam’s gaze toward the sinister red guitar. “Drugs or something,” she shrugged.

“Huh,” Adam said noncommittally. He’d seen photos of Ronan Lynch before, usually concert stills where he looked cool and derisive, guitar slung low as he shredded through a solo. He made it look effortless.

Then again, lots of things were probably easy for Ronan Lynch. He was rich, talented, beautiful. Even Adam had to admit that the harsh cut of his cheekbones and the arrogant tilt of his head in PR shots were alluring. He looked tough and dangerous, which was probably the driving force behind the number of posters Orla had of him.

Adam ,” Blue hissed suddenly. The lights were dimming and pulsing, blue shifting to green shifting to yellow. Blue punched him in the arm, unable to transmit her excitement through anything but violence.

He rubbed his bicep and rolled his eyes at her, but she wasn’t paying any attention to him.

The crowd was thrumming now; restless chatter and the occasional yell punctuating the lull.

Adam could tell the moment the band took the stage, not because he could see them, but because the crowd surged forward in one coordinated rush. He grabbed onto the barrier like a lifeline, trying to stay abreast of the tide.

“Oh my god,” Blue moaned next to him. He looked up in time to see a very tan young man walk casually up to the microphone in the center. He was wearing a plain black t-shirt and the most impeccably tailored jeans Adam had ever seen. He looked, for all that he was the front man of a rock band, like a lax bro with an alternative side. Maybe he listened to punk music and had a secret goth phase he never talked about.

The rest of the band followed him: a bouncy blonde kid in ratty flannel and converse who cheerfully struggled to connect his guitar strap to the bright blue bass; an Asian dude with hair that defied gravity began busily arranging his drumsticks; and Ronan, who slunk onstage in leather pants that looked painted onto his body. His appearance elicited the biggest cheer yet, and when he scowled at the crowd their screaming only intensified.

“Hey everyone,” the lax bro said into the microphone. He grinned out at them all, and it was like he’d cast a spell, like everyone should automatically obey everything he ever said, like the world would be ok if only he kept talking. Everyone quieted immediately, all the better to hang on his every word. “We’re Second Sleeper, and we’re gonna, you know, play some stuff for you tonight,” he shrugged like it was nothing.  

“Oh my god, no one cares,” Blue groaned, although Adam could tell that literally everyone cared. He found himself caring, and he didn’t even know this band. “Gansey is the worst,” she said, although Adam watched her eyes trace over the muscular lines of his body. “Noah’s the really cute one,” she pointed the blonde kid. He was, indeed, adorable. “Henry’s ok too,” she nodded at the drummer. “ Fuck Ronan,” she spat, not even bothering to glance in his direction.

If you insist , Adam thought wryly to himself. He watched Ronan as Gansey spoke to the crowd. He looked bored, fingers deftly flipping his pick back and forth over his knuckles while he waited for the show to start.

“Ok, I can feel Ronan getting antsy,” Gansey grinned, illuminating the entire theatre. “Let’s do this thing!”

“Ugh, lame,” Blue shoved herself up on her tiptoes to see better.

Adam was just getting ready to resign himself to an uninspiring 2 and a half hours when something miraculous happened. Gansey started to sing.

Adam didn’t really spend a lot of time thinking about music. He filtered it in and out as he worked in the shop, noticed how other people were always offering an ear bud to a friend or telling someone to crank up a certain song. It didn’t feel that relevant, and he was fairly indifferent in his taste.

But he could tell from the very first note that this was something special. There was an incredible energy to the men onstage that felt visceral, private but on display anyway. They rotated instinctually around one another as they performed, with Gansey at their center. Adam was forcibly reminded of a snippet of concert footage he’d once seen his father watching; Mick Jagger twisting across the stage in a sparkly white jumpsuit, his voice almost a howl as he sang. Robert Parrish had growled, “Good music if he weren’t such a fag,” and turned the television off.

This felt uncannily similar, electrifying and primeval, and the songs almost began to blend together in Adam’s brain. It was an endless loop of Gansey strutting up and down the stage, transformed into something wild and new by the music, his eyes lit up with righteous vitality. Noah was stirring up the crowd, jumping up and down like a pogo stick and clapping along enthusiastically. Henry kept breaking sticks, bits of wooden shrapnel spitting into the air and catching the lights, but he never missed a beat.

And then there was Ronan, prowling in the background, fingers stroking up and down the neck of his guitar with intimate precision. Adam’s eyes kept being drawn back to him, and he caught something different every time. The way the stage lights cast shadows from his eyelashes across his cheeks, the bunching of muscle in his thigh as he planted a foot on the edge of his amp, the shape of his pursed lips while he concentrated on a chord.

It made it even more jarring when he was suddenly moving to the front, shouldering his way past Gansey. He was coming closer to the crowd, to Adam, and the audience responded, throwing hands into the air and swelling like a tidal wave drawn by his gravity.  Adam was caught up in it, reached toward the stage without thinking, could feel Blue beside him, but her arms were just a little too short. Ronan sneered down at them, and they were worth nothing, he was their master, the most important person alive. His fingers flew over the frets of his guitar, his solo winding higher and higher, more complex and dizzying until it peaked and broke over them, came crashing down with the sound of Henry’s drums.

Ronan began to turn toward his preferred spot at the back of the stage, but Gansey shoved him gently in the chest until he whipped back around, snarling. He moved perfunctorily to the edge of the stage and extended his hand, fingers spread to catch on the grasping hands of the crowd. He moved from one end to the other, looking like an indolent god performing a grudging miracle. He was getting closer to Adam and Blue, and Adam’s hand was amid a mass of other’s, one of many sweaty palms seeking contact.

Then Ronan was there, and he looked implausibly perfect up close. His lips were full and plush, his shocking blue eyes rimmed with thick lashes, his cheekbones high and cruel. His fingers brushed past the many hands and hit Adam’s, and suddenly everything was spinning.

“Adam? Adam !” Blue was beside him, he’d yanked his hand back as it seared too hot to bear, his entire arm numb, body tingling like he’d just been electrocuted. He’d reeled back, prevented from falling by the rush of the crowd, but the crowd was oddly hushed now, drawing back from the stage in confusion.

Adam flailed against Blue’s hands on his shoulders, craned his neck to see past her concerned face. Ronan was still above them, standing stock still, face pale, hand held out in front of him like he hoped someone might take it from him.

It was unmistakable. The tips of his three middle fingers looked like someone had dipped them in deep green paint, tattooed them with all the hues of an evergreen forest. Adam looked automatically down at his own hand, the matching swirl of color imprinted on his palm. It was a deep, iridescent gray.

He felt sick. He felt dizzy. He thought he might throw up.

“Ronan!” Gansey ran across the stage and grabbed at the shoulder of Ronan’s ripped black tank top.  Ronan seemed to come back to himself and threw him off forcefully, Gansey reeling backward. He cast a last vicious look at the stunned crowd before ripping his guitar off and throwing it across the stage.

And then he was gone.

 

Chapter Text

“FUCK, fuck, fuck !”

Ronan seemed intent on trying out every possible intonation of the word. Gansey could only stand helplessly in the doorway and watch as Ronan methodically smashed everything fragile in the room, plus a few things that he had previously thought indestructible.

Gansey thumbed through his emergency contacts and settled on their manager. “Uh, hey, auntie?” he said the second she picked up. “You know Room 447 at the Henrietta Grand? Uh, yeah, Ronan’s room. Could you please let them know to charge my credit card and that I apologize deeply for any inconvenience?” He held the phone away from his face as Mrs. Woo started yelling, mostly English but enough Korean for him to know she was supremely pissed.

A lamp went sailing past his head and exploded against the closet mirror, which cracked. Funny, Gansey would have assumed he’d start with the mirrors; they seemed like the most satisfying breakables in the room. An empty beer bottle crashed into the mirror next, and a huge leaf of glass sheeted out of the frame and splintered on the carpet.

“I know it’s not the first time, but I really…ok, yes, I mean, he’s sort of out of control, but—“ Gansey waited patiently to see if any of his words had penetrated her tirade. “No, I don’t want to be banned from another hotel. Ok. Bye.” He hung up on her and shoved his phone into his back pocket.

“The fuck did she want?” Ronan stalked toward him and Gansey felt he deserved a lot of credit for not flinching back. Ronan’s eyes were molten pits of rage, both fixed on Gansey.

“Just letting her know to charge the room to me,” Gansey said as evenly as he could. His blood was still boiling from the performance, and he sort of wanted to smash things with Ronan. He wanted to take a swig of his beer and then chuck the bottle as hard as he could at the wallpaper, wrench down the curtains and use the rod like a baseball bat. He flashed back to a long time ago, when he and Ronan were practically kids. The streak of a Molotov cocktail arching high into the air and exploding with awesome finality on the wreckage of a burning car.

He snapped back into the present. He shouldn’t give in, especially because he knew Ronan that was exactly what Ronan wanted. He needed to keep his head and be Responsible Gansey.

“Do you think you could stop breaking everything?” he asked gently.

“NO,” Ronan growled.

“Do you think you would trash my room if you came to it?”

“Yes,” Ronan gritted out.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Gansey tried, knowing the answer.

“Do I look ,” Ronan shoved his face right up into Gansey’s and spit the words like broken glass, “like I want to fucking talking about it, Dick?”

“Well no, not really,” Gansey rolled his eyes.

“I want ,” Ronan continued, “to get fucked up.”

“That doesn’t seem like the best—“

DO I LOOK LIKE I GIVE A FUCK ABOUT THE BEST IDEA? ” Ronan screamed.

This time Gansey did flinch. He hadn’t seen Ronan this off the wall since his father had died. He’d come over to Gansey’s after the funeral and they’d lit everything they could find on fire in the driveway: pieces of furniture and tires; concert posters and empty food containers; an old bike and an entire potted ficus tree (that hadn’t worked terribly well).

“I don’t want you to—“

“Too fucking late,” Ronan sneered. Then, abruptly, “Get the fuck out.”

“What?” Gansey took an automatic step back and then stood his ground. He wouldn’t put it past Ronan to hit him, but he wasn’t scared of getting hurt. Not really. He was more scared of what Ronan was capable of doing to himself.

“Get. The. Fuck. Out,” Ronan clearly enunciated, moving forward again.

“Wh—“

“Hey dickweeds, what’s the—holy fuck, babe, look at this.”

Gansey closed his eyes at the voice, praying to god it wasn’t who he thought. He opened them slowly and turned on the spot.

Joseph Kavinsky was standing just behind him, pushing his expensive white sunglasses up his forehead to better survey the wreckage. He looked impressed and a little aroused—an observation Gansey was dismayed to be making—and he leered at Ronan.

“You did this all by yourself? Coulda called first,” he faux-pouted. “I wanna play.”

“Get the fuck out, Dick,” Ronan repeated, a little more calmly this time.

“Yeah, Dick,” Kavinsky parroted, looking delighted. “Your bitch doesn’t wanna fuck tonight, you’re old news.”

“You called your drug dealer?” Gansey spat, incensed. They’d been over this a thousand times. They’d talked to counselors, to priests, to Declan , and yet here Gansey was, standing in the same room as Joseph Kavinsky once again.

“I don’t just sell drugs ,” Kavinsky smirked, and draped himself over Ronan’s shoulder, toying idly with the strap of his tank top. “Want me to get Proko in too?” he turned his mouth into Ronan’s ear, bit at his lobe. “We could make it a foursome,” he winked ostentatiously at Gansey.

“Fuck no,” Gansey backed away from them, from the bleak look on Ronan’s face and the way his right hand was curled so that no one could see his green-stained fingertips. “But this isn’t over, Ronan. If you’re hung-over or strung out tomorrow morning, if I have to take you to the fucking hospital again, if—“ he couldn’t even form the next thought into words. “I know this can’t be easy. But we are talking about it tomorrow, and I will kick you out of the band if you don’t pull it together.”

He left the room, slamming the door behind him with uncharacteristic frustration. He didn’t know what the fuck to do anymore--nothing seemed like it got through to Ronan. Nothing does like Kavinsky , he thought grimly. He marched down the hall, away from the muffled moaning sounds. He shuddered, unable to see the appeal of that asshole. Kavinsky was obviously toxic and unhinged, but he still held some weird fascination for Ronan.

He was the only one who treated Ronan like he was less-than-human. Maybe Ronan felt he deserved that.

Gansey squared his shoulders and marched into his room, already preparing to call Declan, then the priest at St. Agnes, and then to settle in for a long conversation with Woo about handling the PR nightmare.

He had a sinking feeling that this mess was just getting started.

 


 

Adam was unresponsive. Blue had the presence of mind to drag him out of the theatre before pandemonium struck, but now that she had him in Calla's car she didn't know what to do. He was staring straight ahead with his hands curled into fists on his thighs, eyes unfocused and hazy. She cleared her throat and started the car.

"What do you want to do now?" she asked. It was the first thing that popped into her head, but of course it was dumb. It was a woefully inadequate question. What was he supposed to say to that? He'd just found out his soulmate was the lead guitarist of one of the most famous rock bands in the world. That was a world Adam wasn't even remotely a part of--the type of attention Adam actively abjured--how was he supposed to respond to that?

"Nothing," was what he said.

"Nothing?" Blue aggressively maneuvered the car until she’d successfully navigated them onto a main road. She shot through a gap in the concert traffic and swerved into the correct lane, cars honking and skidding behind her.

"I'm not going to do anything," Adam clarified. His voice sounded oddly disconnected.

"For tonight, right?" Blue said. "Like, you'll sleep on it, see how you feel, maybe contact his management tomorrow?" It was all she could think of. How the hell did someone just get in touch with Ronan Lynch, especially to awkwardly introduce themselves as his soulmate. He was a rock star, he probably had a bodyguard to keep the crazies from battering down his door. There would surely be layers of security between him and Adam too.

"No," Adam said more emphatically. "I'm doing nothing. Like I said. I'm going to work tomorrow and I'm going to class on Monday. That didn't happen."

"Are you high??" Blue stomped on the breaks as the light turned yellow. She took a deep breath and tried to temper her tone, "I mean, you're FUCKING kidding right?" Nailed it . "You just found your soulmate. That happened . It happened in front of, like, five thousand adoring fans. That doesn't just go away , Adam."

"Yes it does," Adam finally turned and looked at her, the fine bones of his face thrown into jagged relief by the red light of the traffic stop. "He doesn't know me, I don't know him. It doesn't mean shit if I don't want it to."

"Theoretically," Blue eased onto the accelerator as the light cleared green. The car lurched forward.  "But don’t you want to find out more? He's, like," she twisted up her face, every fiber of her being rejecting this concept, "hot, I guess. Seems like kind of a junkie asshole, but he's gotta be ok if he’s your soulmate."

"Stop saying that," Adam snapped.

"Soulmate?" Blue glanced at him, surprised. He was staring ahead again, his face a smooth, incalculable mask. She'd rarely seen Adam lose it before, and she knew he preferred it that way.

"The universe doesn't pick my fate," Adam said flatly. "I'm sure Ronan ," his voice twisted around his name, ugly, "feels the same way."

Things started to slide into place inside Blue. It was their senior year, Adam had turned 18, he’d escaped his shitbag father, he’d started at that fancy-ass private school, he was on track for an Ivy. It was important to him to make his own destiny.

"I see," was all she said, feeling internally pleased at her own restraint. She was dying to tell him he was an idiot, but that didn't seem like it would help at the moment.

"Want me to drop you at home?" she asked instead.

"Can I—" he broke off and sucked in a deep breath. She knew what he was going to ask, and spared him the indignity.

"Of course," she said, and turned in the direction of 300 Fox Way.

Chapter Text

Ronan’s phone was having a fucking seizure. Eventually, he'd grabbed it off the bedside table and flung it at the wall. Unfortunately, all that did was trap it against the molding and make the buzzing even more obnoxious. He groaned and cracked an eyelid to survey the damage.

It hadn’t been entirely mindless destruction: he'd intentionally kept the bed clear of detritus (he had to sleep sometime), but the rest of the room looked rough. The mirror frame was empty, powdered glass shimmering up from the carpet. The curtains hung off their rod, which was sagging in the center, and there was a beer stain on the window from where he’d chucked a bottle. Long drip marks had dried down the pane and pooled on the sill.

Predictably, K was gone. He’d shown up and done a line off of Ronan's back, then fucked him into the mattress until they both collapsed. Ronan gave himself a pat on the back for not taking anything K had offered, although K always gummed the last of a line. There had been a definite chemical taste to his kisses that had taken the edge off, made it easier to keep up with K's pace in bed.

Now he felt sober and half dead with exhaustion, and he blinked awake with the feeling that he'd forgotten something important.

Oh yeah, his piece of shit phone.

Objectively, it was not a piece of shit, but he called it worse as he fished it out from between the bed and wall. He hadn't even succeeded in cracking the screen, but now he wished he had. It was lit up with a dozen news notifications.

"SCANDAL AT SECOND SLEEPER CONCERT: WHO IS RONAN LYNCH'S MYSTERIOUS SOULMATE?"

"CONCERT INTERRUPTED AS LEAD GUITARIST OF ROCK BAND FINDS SOULMATE ON STAGE"

"LUCKY CONCERTGOER DISCOVERS SOULMATE: ROCK STAR RONAN LYNCH"

Ronan didn't realize how hard he was clenching his phone until it began to hurt. This was bad. This was so enormously fucked up that his brain couldn't wrap itself around the concept. The headlines burst with excitement -- it was a “mystery,” a “lucky” accident, an exciting “find.” Ronan rolled over and swallowed back nausea. His shock and anger had ebbed, and panic was starting to set in.

He pulled himself to the edge of the bed and fumbled for a pair of unripped underwear. It took a bit of digging before he could shake out a relatively intact pair. He pulled them on, then his boots, and walked mostly naked out of his room and down the hall to Gansey’s.

When Gansey opened the door, he looked like he hadn't slept. (In all fairness, he probably hadn't.)

"You've seen the news?" he said in greeting. He gestured at the phone in Ronan's hand and then sat down at his cheap hotel desk. He spun slowly back and forth in the swivel chair, one hand resting lightly on the keyboard of his laptop.

"Yes."

"It's everywhere," Gansey said matter-of-factly. He tilted the screen up so Ronan could see it clearly. Gansey clicked through Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, The New York fucking Times. Ronan didn’t have any of that shit; Gansey’s phone must have been blowing up all night.

"I had to turn off notifications," Gansey said, as though reading his mind. "The apps kept crashing."

“Huh,” Ronan grunted. He didn’t know what to do with himself now that he was here. He leaned up against the wall opposite the desk and stared at Gansey. Gansey looked guilelessly back.

“So I was thinking,” he said at last, spinning back around to face the computer. “I asked Woo to keep the official concert footage off our site for now. It’s impossible to keep things off the Internet,” he sighed. “With so many Snapchat videos and photos, who knows what’s on our fans’ phones.”

“What are you talking about?” Ronan asked. It wasn’t like they’d be able to contain what had happened. It was already out there for good.

Gansey clicked around for a second and then shoved his laptop at Ronan. The headline blared, “ARE YOU RONAN’S SOULMATE? TIPS COMING IN ON MYSTERY FAN’S IDENTITY.”

“The fuck?” Ronan breathed.

“We have to find them before the fans or the paparazzi do,” Gansey said. “I told Woo to withhold the footage so we can go through it ourselves. We must have caught them.”

“Him,” Ronan corrected automatically, then snapped his mouth shut. He didn’t want to encourage Gansey.

“Him?” Gansey wheeled around excitedly. “Did you get a good look at him? What did he look like?” He pulled up their shared drive and started flipping through photos from the show. There were hundreds: an action shot of Noah doing a ridiculous Pete Townshend-style jump, of Gansey swinging a microphone by its cord as he strutted across the stage, of Henry flipping his sticks into the air, of Ronan sneering as he flipped off the cameraman. “There have to be shots of the crowd,” he muttered to himself.

“Gansey,” Ronan shifted away from the wall and planted a hand on the desk. His green stained fingertips twitched against the wood, but it would be a bit obvious to withdraw them now. Instead, he used his height to curl menacingly over Gansey. “Stop.”

“Why?” Gansey was puzzling over a photo of himself with his back to the camera, arms spread wide as he encouraged the crowd to sing along. There were hundreds of glowing, upturned faces below him, none of which were distinguishable.

“What makes you think I want to find him?” Ronan growled.

“What?” Gansey sounded politely confused. “Why wouldn’t you?”

“This isn’t one of your fun mysteries, Dick,” Ronan said. “I don’t know him.”

“But he’s your—“

“I don’t give a fuck,” Ronan scowled. “I don’t know him.”

“But think about him, Ronan,” Gansey said, turning in his chair and refusing to be intimidated by Ronan looming above him. “Our fans are already trying to find him. They’re doing all kinds of crazy shit, getting tattoos of your mark, harassing management, editing themselves into concert pics. We have to get there first.”

“He’ll be fine, he’s a fucking adult,” Ronan glared. Why should he give a flying fuck about this guy? He was some stranger who had the misfortune to brush against Ronan during a show. He was probably horrified to find out Ronan was his soulmate. Or else he was a crazy, one of those fans who would steal Ronan’s toenail clippings and add them to his shrine.

Either way, he didn’t want shit to do with it.

 


 

“It’s chaos out there.” Blue shoved a freezing foot under Adam’s thigh to get his attention. It was early in the morning, and he was trying to muster up the energy to get dressed for work.

He was still lying in Blue’s bed, head resting on the wrong end. She was propped up against the headboard on a pile of pillows, knees drawn up to cradle her huge, elderly laptop. It wheezed and whirred, and Adam had to wriggle around until he could tilt his head and see Blue around it.

She looked focused, her tongue clamped between her teeth as she scrolled through whatever she was reading. Adam’s heart clenched and released. He wanted to curl his hand around her bare ankle, stroke a thumb up her soft brown calf.

“About what?” He stretched instead, wrapping one hand around the opposite wrist and pulling until his shoulder popped. His head felt buzzy in the aftermath of the concert--like noises were filtering to his good ear through thick cotton.

“You,” Blue said, like this was obvious.

“What do you mean?” Adam drew his arms back down and held his left palm out in front of his face. The mark was shimmery and fine, with a pearlescent sheen to it. Its colors shifted in the light, first throwing back an aquatic blue, then bottle green, then rich lavender. It was strangely shaped, tracking the quick swipe of three fingers. The lines tapered off from the center of his palm toward the base of his fingers.

“You know exactly what I mean.” Blue withdrew her foot and kicked him until Adam looked up from his hand. She leaned over him with her laptop held to the side and an “I will take none of your shit” expression on her face. It was somewhat mitigated by how cute she looked with bedhead.

“I don’t want to know.” Adam shrugged and rolled out of bed. He quickly shucked off the horrible orange paisley pajama pants he’d borrowed from Calla last night. He didn’t want to go to work in his concert clothes, although they were just a pair of ripped jeans and a faded red Henley. He would need to get his work gloves too. There was no way he was walking around with this thing on display.

“It’s sort of your problem, Adam,” Blue pointed out. She considerately averted her eyes as he got dressed. “They’re looking for you.”

“Let them.” Adam dragged his shirt over his head. “How would they find me?”

“Social media, Adam!“ Blue sat up and glared at him. “You know, concert pics and shit? There are a lot of people out there who care a whole lot. If they find you, there’s a target on your back.”

Adam laughed dryly. “That seems a little melodramatic. What, you think I’m gonna get mobbed by a bunch of screaming girls?”

As if on cue, Orla burst into the room, toned limbs flailing. “YOU WERE THERE!” she shrieked. She was brandishing her phone in front of her like a talisman. The screen was lit up with dozens of news stories and notifications, multiplying like cockroaches as they watched. “DID YOU SEE HER?” Orla screamed. There was the sound of running from all around them as the other occupants of 300 Fox Way roused themselves and rushed to the disturbance.

“No,” Adam said quietly. “We didn’t see her.”

“This is NOT OK!” Orla dramatically threw her phone down and flounced out, shouting at Jimi to retrieve it. Jimi picked it up off the floor and rolled her eyes at Adam and Blue.

“What happened?” she asked. Maura, Calla, and Persephone’s faces popped up around her, each jockeying for position to peer into the room. Calla surveyed the lack-of-destruction, pursed her lips, and withdrew to take off her hairnet.

“Ronan Lynch found his soulmate,” Blue said.

“Oh dear,” Jimi sighed. There was an amused twinkle in her eye. “What a disappointment.”

“Tragic,” Maura nodded sagely.

“Indeed,” Persephone said, but she wasn’t looking at Orla’s still-vibrating phone. She was staring intently at Adam, who had surreptitiously tucked his hand behind his back.

“I have to get ready for work,” Adam said. He waited patiently until Jimi moved out of the doorway, then edged past the women clogging the hallway and started toward the stairs. He was unsurprised when Blue caught up with him on the second step. She was still in her pajamas: a pair of artfully shredded cotton shorts and a paint splattered t-shirt.

“He’s from around here.” She lowered her voice at a sharp look from Adam. “I don’t think they’ve left town yet. Just think about it.”

“Think about what? Finding him?” Adam stopped at the front door and looked at her fully. She looked so small in her giant sleep shirt and bare feet, dark hair sticking up all over her head. She batted his hand away when he reached to tug on a lock.

“Yeah,” she said quietly. “Don’t do anything you’ll regret.” He dropped his hand and looked away. He’d never considered the idea that he could regret loving Blue.

She grabbed his hand, tugging his eyes back to her face. Both her expression and tone were fierce as she said, “You might regret not doing anything, Adam.”

“Ok,” he said. He didn’t voice his next thought.

Would he even want me in the first place?

Chapter Text

Gansey hadn’t canceled their media for the day, and Ronan wasn’t sure if it was a grave oversight or an attempt to pretend everything was fine. The hotel was swarmed. Reporters obstructed the street, camped on the strips of lawn out front, and clamored to be let into the lobby downstairs. The staff had come in to clean and tactfully pretend not to be dismayed by the state of Ronan’s room, and now he sat on the couch by the window watching the press milling around below.

“You coming, Ronan?” Gansey tapped on the edge of Ronan’s open door and poked his head inside. He was wearing a pair of thick-framed glasses and a ratty old Pixies shirt. “The Rolling Stone dude is here.”

Ronan didn’t get up from where he was sprawled across the couch. “I hate interviews.”

“You promised me,” Gansey crossed over to him and swore under his breath. “Goddammit, Ronan, it’s 2 pm!”

“It’s 5 o’clock somewhere.” Ronan grinned up at him, then stood. An empty whiskey bottle slid off of his lap and hit the floor with a dull thunk . It had been half full at breakfast, and Ronan was surprised when he swayed a little before regaining his equilibrium.Was he that drunk? Was it really 2? Gansey’s eyebrows rose almost to his hairline, but he didn’t say anything else.

Ronan followed him up a floor to a cozily furnished lounge overlooking the rest of the town. Noah and Henry were already there, Noah talking a mile a minute to the bemused-looking reporter while Henry lounged insouciantly in a wing-backed armchair. When Ronan entered, the reporter cut off his questions and narrowed his eyes .

“Hey boys,” he said. He stood and brushed nonexistent lint from his jeans before extending a hand to both of them. Ronan stared at it but did not shake. “I’m John.”

“Great,” Gansey said genuinely. He chose the seat across from him. Ronan sunk into a chair like Henry’s, slinging a knee over the arm and cradling his head into one of the wings. Ronan glared at the reporter, ignoring how the room swirled sickeningly around him. He didn’t want to seem open for questions, but he hated staring at his phone. Instead, he flicked his pocket knife open and started trailing the point over the seams of the upholstery.

The reporter was mercifully focused on Gansey and Henry and Noah. He asked all the usual things: how did they get together; who were their musical influences; was their next album in the works?

“We met in high school,” Gansey said smoothly. “We were friends for years, and we all really liked the same stuff, you know? Old blues masters, Howlin’ Wolf and Little Willie John and Robert Johnson—“

“And punk!” Noah interjected. “The Clash has always been a favorite, and The Stooges.”

“I like post punk, personally,” Henry put in. When the reporter turned to him, he fluffed his hair importantly.

Ronan let himself drift away from the conversation. He wasn’t particularly interested in talking about his reasons for playing the music he did. There were a ton of angsty white boys with guitars singing about their daddy issues. It wasn’t a new story, or one he was eager to share with a stranger. He stabbed the knife into the arm of the chair and closed his eyes, but that only made the dizziness worse.

He sat up a little and absentmindedly ran three fingers over his lips, then, realizing what he was doing, yanked them away. He looked around, but no one was paying any attention to him. He uncurled them slowly in his lap.

He’d seen ugly soulmarks before, usually worn with the most pride by idiots too sappily in love to care.

This one wasn’t like that.

The color reminded him of the silvery underside of pine needles or the verdigris patina of a stone in a forest brook. It looked intentional, like he had pressed his fingertips into pigment, tattooed it into his flesh. He felt the ghost of the shock that had raced up his arm at the casual contact with his soulmate.

He wanted to shy away from the thought of him. He made himself remember. There had been so many pale, confused faces in the crowd below him, and he hadn’t been able to pick out the correct one. They’d spun before him, grasping hands trying to yank him down to their level. He’d been too dazed, felt his face shut down into an emotionless mask, immediate flight the only option he could comprehend. It wasn’t until he was backstage that the significance of the scene hit him. He promptly vomited into the nearest drum case. It had been a powerless moment, and nothing made Ronan angrier than being powerless.

What was his soulmate thinking about right now?

Probably how unfortunate he’d been to get saddled with Ronan. He knew how he looked in the press. He was hard pressed to prove them wrong. Badly behaved, drug-addled, the kind of asshole who stormed off stage in the middle of a show and trashed his hotel room. He’d been on and off sober for the last few years, but he’d actually been holding steady this time, six months and counting. It only took one badly timed tantrum to ruin the media’s redemption arc, and he’d handed them that last night.

“So, Ronan.” The reporter shifted in his seat and looked at Ronan with ill-disguised anticipation.

“What?” he barked. The reporter seemed unfazed.

He leaned into Ronan’s space. Ronan wished he could flinch away, but he kept his façade of aloof disinterest in place. “You’ve been compared to quite a few famous guitarists over the last few years. Is there anyone in particular who you identify with?”

“What do you want me to say?” he asked. “I’m not going to compare myself to Keith Richards or some shit. I’m my own person.”

“You don’t like being pigeonholed?”

“What do you think?”

“You don’t like being tied down? Does the idea that you might be destined for something disturb you?”

“Is there something you’d rather be asking me about, John?” Ronan sneered. He moved lightning fast, boots thumping down onto the carpet and face inches from the reporter’s. He jerked his knife free from the couch and heard Gansey groan in consternation.

“You must have seen the news by now,” the reporter said, more hesitantly. “It’s gone viral. Your fan base is going crazy. Everyone wants to know who your soulmate is. Do you know?”

“You can go shove your tiny cock down your own—“

“RONAN.”

“No Gansey, fuck you , fuck this, it’s none of your goddamn business, asshole. I don’t owe you people shit.” He realized he was standing now, towering above the rest of the band and the reporter. They were all staring at him. He swallowed thickly and clicked his knife closed, not wanting to say or do anything he’d regret later. Your soulmate might read this , part of his brain told him.

He stormed out of the room, feeling the whiskey burn in his eyes as well as his throat. He was getting pretty fucking good at running out on his obligations this weekend.

 


 

Adam got through a few hours of work before it came up again. Second Sleeper was a favorite on the radio station Boyd always played in the garage; he should have realized his boss had heard of them. Who the fuck hadn’t heard of them, especially now?

“You hear the scandal?” Boyd asked companionably, jacking up the car next to Adam. “Happened right here in Henrietta, at that concert all the kids went to last night.”

“Yeah, I did,” Adam muttered and rolled beneath his car again. His gloves had gone unremarked upon for the entirety of the morning. He hoped it would stay that way.

“That young man is so talented.” Boyd’s voice was muffled but still distinguishable. “Too bad he’s trouble.”

“Trouble?” Adam called back. If Boyd was in a chatty mood, silence wouldn’t do any good.

“Well, you hear the rumors about these young rockstars,” Boyd said. “They were just the same when I was a kid, always drinkin’ and sleepin’ around. I hope this girl of his is cute. Though I s’pose it doesn’t matter much if she’s his soulmate.”

Adam made a noncommittal noise.

“My Beth was never called a looker by most fellas, I reckon,” Boyd said. Adam rolled out from under the car and reached for a wrench. Boyd had paused his work to caress a finger across the outside of his forearm. A wide bar of rose pink slanted across it. “But the first time I saw her, I knew she was somethin’ else. Beautiful.” His wrinkled old face looked soft and far away, and Adam felt like he was intruding. He cleared his throat and looked away.

“You’ll find yours one day, boy, and it’ll make sense then,” Boyd grinned at him. “Till then, sow your wild oats.” He winked roguishly and finished jacking the car up.

Unlikely , Adam thought. He barely had time for his schoolwork, let alone to fall in love -- especially now that he knew who his soulmate was. Ronan Lynch partied and toured the world and had rich, famous friends. Adam didn’t have the time or means for that type of lifestyle.

He found himself thinking about it anyway while he worked. He could perfectly picture the glide of stage lights over the shorn crown of Ronan’s head, haloing him like an angel. The smooth muscle of his forearms flexing under the skin as he played. His lip curling when he surveyed the screaming crowd laid out below his feet.

He was thoroughly unapproachable, not the kind of man you could just reach out and touch. Why couldn’t it have been anyone else? Adam would have taken Gansey, with his expansive smile and warm voice, or Henry and his mile-high hair and skinny jeans.

He shook himself. He would have taken someone who wasn’t a rock star, too, of course. He couldn’t fool himself into thinking he deserved someone like that. What was even appealing about that kind of guy? He didn’t want some rich playboy who probably bumped cocaine in the green room.

Then, he remembered the roll of Ronan’s hips when he caught the beat of the music and how his eyes ignited during a solo.

Ok, maybe he could see it. For once, Orla was right about something: Ronan was undeniably sexy.

That didn’t make it any better.

“Poor kid, though, I tell ya.” Boyd’s voice came out of nowhere. Adam jerked and banged his forehead. He rubbed at it as he rolled back out from under the car.

“Huh?” he said blankly.

Boyd shook his head. “Whoever that soulmate is, I hope she’s ready for a world of crazy. Heard the newspapers and TV crews’re camped outside their hotel. They can’t go anywhere. And all them internet nuts’re mounting these ‘investigations’”--he sketched air quotes. “Whole websites poppin’ up to try to track this kid down. Dozens of people claimin’ to be the one, tryna get interviewed ‘n’ on their tour buses.” He scratched at his chin, leaving a long smear of motor oil. “If I was them, I’d take a break from that tour of theirs. Lie low until she comes forward, assumin’ they don’t already know who she is. Better for her if they do, I’d say.”

“Why?” Adam sat up. He liked Boyd a whole lot and respected what he had to say, although it might be disingenuous to benefit from his advice without him knowing he was giving it.

He shrugged. “If she’s with them before the paparazzi find out, she’s got some protection. I wouldn’t wanna be in it alone if I was her.” He wiped his hands off on an old rag and started heading back toward his office.

Adam sat on the floor of the garage for a long moment, mulling that over before he shook himself and went to finish a tire rotation.

 


 

“Adam? I’m sorry, Blue’s not home, is—“

“I’m here to see Persephone,” Adam said in a rush.

“Oh, she’s in the reading room.” Maura stepped aside to let him into the house. She retreated to the kitchen, where Adam could hear Calla aggressively mixing something in a cocktail shaker. He checked his watch; it was about 2 in the afternoon. 5 o’clock somewhere, he thought. It was one of Calla’s life mottos.

Persephone sat on a squishy lavender love seat in the corner of the reading room, shuffling a deck of tarot cards back and forth in her slender hands. Her pale blonde hair was almost indistinguishable from her lace dress, so that her hands and disconcertingly dark eyes seemed to float within a downy cloud of white.

“Adam,” she said, not sounding the least bit surprised to see him. She stopped shuffling her cards, laying them face down in her lap with her hands folded delicately atop them.

“I came because—“ Adam moved closer, until it was just the table between them.  He looked down at its smooth wooden surface, rubbed shiny by the shuffling of hundreds of cards over dozens of years.

“I know,” she said and smiled gently.

“So could you—“ He gestured loosely at the cards in her lap.

“No, I don’t think so,” she said politely, then stood up and swanned out of the room.

Adam watched her go, nonplussed. He didn’t get the impression that he was supposed to leave, but he didn’t know when she intended to return and he had an evening shift.

By the time he pulled a chair back from the table and settled in to wait, she was already gliding back into the room with Calla at her back.

“Take off the gloves, you aren’t fooling anyone,” Calla grumbled, sitting down heavily in the chair next to him.

“What?” Adam immediately retracted his hands, curling them protectively in his lap.

“Give them here,” she said impatiently. “You came for a reading, and I’m going to give you a reading.” She waved a hand imperiously at Persephone. “And give me my drink, too, would you? I need it, if this one’s going to be difficult.”

Persephone dutifully set a cut glass tumbler down on the table in front of Calla. It smelled to Adam like particularly potent rubbing alcohol.

He took off the gloves.

“That’s better.” Calla took a swig of her drink and smacked her lips frankly. There was a little bit of magenta lipstick on her front teeth, but Adam wasn’t confident enough to point it out to her. Instead, he silently held out his hand, palm up. His soulmark shone in the overhead light.

“It’s a pretty one,” she harrumphed, a finger poised over his heart line. “Ready?”

Adam nodded.

Calla plunged her finger downward. Adam stayed still as the length of her nail dug into his skin, the pad of her finger warm and a little damp from the condensation on her glass. Her eyes were clamped shut, but he could see them moving beneath the lids.

Persephone moved quietly to sit back down on her sofa. The whisper of cards catching and sliding filled the room again. Adam stayed perfectly silent, not wanting to mess Calla up. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust she’d give him reliable information, but there was still part of him unsure of what to expect from the psychics.

“Hmph,” Calla grunted. Adam watched her face carefully as she came back to herself. “Hmph,” she repeated and withdrew her finger to reach for her glass again. “Well,” she fixed Adam with a steely gaze.

“What?” he asked warily. She hadn’t asked any questions since he’d come into the house, but he supposed that she knew more about the situation than he did by this point.

“You’re in for a time of it,” she said, tilting her glass in his direction. “You keep holding out on him, and you’re in for an even worse time of it.”

“Him? Who?” Adam said, knowing full well her answer.

She snorted. “That snake you found.” She drained her glass. “He’s a piece of work.”

“Oh. Great.” Adam felt a lump rising in his throat. He tensed to stand, no longer sure what he’d come here for, not sure he wanted to hear any more of Calla’s insights. He’d hoped for something he didn’t know, not a confirmation of what he already did.

“Stay put!” she barked, and he froze. “I’m not done yet.”

Adam lowered back into his seat.

“Listen here.” She leaned in and patted his hand in a perfunctory gesture of comfort. “He’s a tough one, but that doesn’t mean he’s not worth your time. This could go one of two ways, and you won’t like how one of them turns out. Don’t keep using your head instead of your heart. Heads are stupid. When the time comes—and you’ll know it!”--she raised a hand to forestall his question--“Don’t do what you think you should. Your first instincts can be wrong sometimes.”

“But—“

“That’s that, Persephone! See the client out, please.” Calla sat back in her chair and fixed Adam with an unexpectedly mischievous smile.  “If it goes right, you have some very nice things to look forward to,” she chortled.

“Adam can see himself out,” Persephone said serenely. Adam stood up and made toward the door.

“I do agree,” she called as he stepped through it. “He’s quite dedicated, your boy.”

He stepped out onto the front steps, their peals of laughter pushing him out into the afternoon sunshine.

Chapter Text

Gansey let Ronan sulk in his room. It wasn't a great coping mechanism, but it kept Ronan out of his hair, and there was nothing left in his suite to destroy. Gansey had a lot of shit to deal with: postponing their last few tour dates; trying to keep Noah entertained; talking Woo out of strangling Ronan; and pacifying fans on social media with upbeat but obfuscating messages. It was a tricky balancing act, especially because there were other things he'd rather be doing.

At the moment, he was taking a break to indulge himself.

He wasn't sure why he felt so furtive about it, but he bolted his door before turning on his laptop. Their official photographers had emailed him the footage from their last concert, and he’d been poring over it meticulously ever since..

He was going to find Ronan's soulmate. It didn't matter that Ronan didn't care right now; since when did Ronan think of the future? Their fans were doing the same thing right this moment, with the small difference was that there were millions of them across the entire globe,a veritable sea of people that could spend 24 hours a day looking for Ronan's mystery man. Gansey hoped he had a head start, but he could only do so much without a face, and if Gansey couldn’t find Ronan's soulmate before the fans did, it would be a catastrophe. He had a separate security team looking into the flood of fans claiming to be The One, but none had checked out so far and the paparazzi didn't fuck around. They'd been interviewing concertgoers, trawling message-boards, tailing Second Sleeper's security staff...If they found Ronan’s soulmate first, he wouldn't be safe. And if he hadn't come forward yet, he wasn't looking for that kind of attention.

And that was nothing compared to what Ronan was going through. It seemed obvious to Gansey that this forced disinterest was a coping mechanism, but Gansey hated that Ronan felt the need to hide how he really felt, especially from himself. There was no doubt in Gansey’s mind that the shock and anger were real, but it was the emotions behind the reaction that were more interesting to Gansey. He’d rarely seen Ronan so angry and, by extension, so vulnerable. Ronan might snarl and snap, but he was covering for how raw he felt. Gansey hoped that finding his soulmate would force Ronan to confront the uncomfortable reality that he had a future.

Good fucking luck to Gansey. Ronan was an expert at avoiding his feelings. Sometimes that was the only way to handle the pain, and Gansey had given in to Ronan’s more...primal instincts at select times in the past. Gansey shivered at the memory of the night Ronan had met Kavinsky. He should never have let that happen, but in the heat of flaming car, the growl of revving engines, the dark hedonism of smoke curling from between parted lips...It was impossible not to be caught up in it, and he hadn’t noticed Ronan’s disappearance until he’d found him the next morning, naked and blissed out in the back of a slick white Mitsubishi. What seemed like grief-inspired rebellion morphed into a streak of self-loathing that Gansey hadn’t known the human body was capable of withstanding. Maybe that was why so many musicians joined the 27 Club.

Gansey sighed and moved a few dozen photos into the "Useless" file, then scrolled slowly through a few more. He was looking for pictures of the front of the crowd, that thin swath of audience that could conceivably have reached Ronan onstage. He could count out women--Ronan seemed dead sure it was going to be a man. He dragged a few more shots into the garbage.

Maybe ones from right before Ronan had stomped offstage? He scrolled all the way to the end and flinched at a ferocious action shot of Ronan's guitar sailing across the stage.

Finally, he thought to himself. These were the money-shots. They were taken from several different angles, including the slim gap between the stage and the metal barriers. One of them had been snapped the second Ronan had leaned down in the center of the stage, extending his hand into a groping mass of fingers. Gansey clicked excitedly through them, until... There!

It was the right part of the stage--off to the center right--a photo taken from behind Ronan's back, gracefully curved  as he bent over and thrust his arm into the crowd, knotted leather bracelets sliding down his arm. People were grabbing at them, trying to tear one free for a souvenir. Gansey ignored them; Ronan's soulmark wasn't on his wrist. He squinted and zoomed in, the image becoming grainy before resolving into better resolution.

He couldn't quite see where Ronan's fingers were, but he was pretty sure...

There was a beautiful girl down there, with dark wild hair springing up across her head and a carefully deconstructed Second Sleeper shirt slipping down her right shoulder. He tried not to be distracted by the blue light glancing off of her bare skin and focused on the boy next to her instead. He was thin and unearthly under the pulsing lights, all large eyes, wavy light brown hair, and delicate bone structure. He was staring up at Ronan like he was the most amazing thing he'd ever seen. His arm was held aloft.

Gansey clicked to the next photo, keeping an eye out for the boy. He appeared in a few more pictures, and in one, he looked… strange. He was obviously being held up by the weight of the crowd, and the girl had turned away from the stage, gripping him by the arm. It was hard to make them out once the photographer became more concerned with Ronan's impending temper tantrum.

But Gansey had a feeling about this thin, pretty boy with his high cheekbones. Hands shaking with excitement, he fumbled with his phone for a second before he managed to dial a number.

"Grey," came the deep voice from the other end of the line.

"I'm emailing you some photos. Is that enough to track him down?" Gansey asked. Grey was the best, Gansey was sure he could do it.

"Of course," Mr. Grey said smoothly. "You're sure this is the right one?"

"Yes." Gansey nodded, even though Mr. Grey couldn't see him. He felt a swelling sense of surety in his chest, the purposeful feeling that he was on the right track, so close to unraveling the mystery. He didn't know who this boy was yet, but it was only a matter of time.

When he emailed the zoomed in photos and hung up with Grey, he printed a few of them out and called Ronan. It was never guaranteed that Ronan would pick up, but after Gansey left two messages, there was a knock on his door.

He unbolted it to let Ronan inside. Gansey could recognize when he hadn't been sleeping. His heart clenched at how pale and drawn he looked. Kavinsky had paid a few more visits; the security team might not be able to stop him, but they let Gansey know whenever he was nearby.

"What have you been up to?" Gansey asked quietly. He didn't want to push Ronan, but he needed to make sure.

"I'm not doing drugs, Dick," Ronan said flatly. He looked on edge, but there was something fiercely honest in his eyes.

"I didn't ask that," Gansey said. Then, on second thought, he asked, "Have you been you drinking?"

Ronan hitched one shoulder up. "Sometimes."

"So yes."

"I don't lie," Ronan snapped rotely. Ronan never lied; it was part of the code by which he lived his life, but the other parts of the system continued to elude Gansey. He wasn't sure if they allowed for lying by omission.

He believed that Ronan drank "sometimes," but they probably had different definitions of that word.

Gansey switched tactics. "I called about something important."  He stood up and spread the pages he'd printed out on the bed. He gestured at them, and Ronan glanced at him warily before moving forward.

"He's hot," Ronan said flippantly. His face was turned away, so maybe Gansey was imagining the sudden brittleness in his tone. He didn't think so, though. "Pretty." Ronan stroked a green-tipped finger across a glossy cheekbone, then yanked his hand away and balled it in a fist beside him. "Why are there a bunch of shitty photos of him on your bed?" His voice was tight.

"I think this is him, Ronan," Gansey said. He was trying to keep the ill-contained glee out of his voice, but he didn't think he was doing a great job. He was still stuck on the absentminded way Ronan had traced the outline of the mystery boy's face.

Ronan played dumb. "Who?"

Gansey let out an unflattering snort. "You know exactly who; your soulmate , the boy from the concert you--"

"You went looking for him." Ronan sounded resigned, not even a little bit surprised that Gansey had gone behind his back. It wasn't a violation of trust so much as a confirmation of everything Ronan knew about Gansey's personality. Gansey had a penchant for going out of his way on crazy projects and missions; this wasn't a secret to anyone.

"So what's his name?" Ronan asked. His tone was all studied indifference, but Gansey felt tension dripping from every syllable.

"I--" Gansey was stymied. "Well, I don't know yet. Grey is tracking him down. I wanted to keep you, you know, up to date on what I knew. This is it." Gansey kept himself from adding for now .

Ronan was silent.

"How do you feel? Looking at him, I mean." Gansey thrummed with anticipation. He could only imagine how he'd feel if he found his soulmate, if he had a soulmate -- their hands brushing and forming the connection, their marks blossoming across their skin, the soaring orchestral music reaching a crescendo in the background... or maybe he just watched too many movies. It was hard to tell sometimes.

He reached up and lay a hand on Ronan’s shoulder. Ronan’s eyes fluttered shut and he leaned into the touch for a split second. Gansey felt something like hope flare to life in his chest, but then Ronan’s eyes snapped open and he drew away.

"I don't feel shit," Ronan said. He slammed the door on his way out.

 


 

Blue didn't sit well with worrying. She'd grown up in a close-knit house full of women, and there was always someone else do the worrying. Usually it was about her. She had a deep seated sense of responsibility and protectiveness toward her family and Adam, but they were generally boring people. Besides the whole psychic thing.

So worrying about Adam felt unfamiliar and uncomfortable. She'd known him since before he started at Aglionby, she’d seen some things, but she'd never felt this way before.

He was working more than ever before, he wasn't sleeping, and she could tell he wasn’t eating either. She'd barely seen him at all in the weeks since the concert, and she didn't know if he was intentionally avoiding her or trying not to engage with anyone . It wouldn't be hard for him. Blue and the women of 300 Fox Way were the only people he had to fall back on. He knew he was cared for, but he tried not to take advantage. She didn't know how to explain to him that they saw him as one of their own. Maura sent him out the door with leftovers, Persephone patched the holes in his jeans, Jimi shoved baby cousins into his arms. He was family.

Two weeks after the concert, half the household gathered in the kitchen for Saturday morning breakfast.

"I haven't seen Adam since Calla's reading," Persephone said. She was flipping huge, fluffy pancakes onto plates that Maura distributed to the younger cousins. Jimi stood at the counter with Maura, making mimosas with cheap pink bubbly they'd gotten on sale at the liquor store.

"Since Calla's what?" Blue asked. She’d been fairly busy this week, but surely if Adam had been by, she would have heard about it.

"I didn't tell you?" Calla called. "Came to see about that mark of his."

"What did you see?" Blue asked excitedly, forgetting momentarily that she was holding the bowl of batter for Persephone. Batter slopped over the edge and onto her sleeve. Jimi tutted.

"Good luck getting that out of mesh.”

Blue rolled her eyes. "Whatever. What did you see ?"

"That's not for you to know," Calla said sternly.  She glanced meaningfully at Orla, who had just shown up in the doorway, stretching luxuriously.

"Know about what?" she yawned.

"Never YOU mind," Calla snapped, batting Orla away when she reached for a drink. Orla didn't look at all abashed.

"No, but really," Blue asked later, once she and Calla were up to their elbows in soapy dishwater. She'd volunteered to help with cleaning the kitchen so that she could corner Calla. "What did you tell him? I've barely heard from him all week. It isn’t like him."

"Blue, the boy is coming to terms with the idea that he's not going to date the girl of his dreams," Calla said shrewdly. "Give him some time."

Blue felt herself go pink and hated it. "Adam and I--," she began.

"Don't explain it to me. I don't need to know the sordid details of your love life," Calla said, at odds with the interest painted all over her face.

"We weren't going to work out anyway," Blue mumbled. "We weren't even together."

"If you say so." Calla held a tumbler up to the light as though inspecting it for cracks. The light refracted through its cut glass facets and rainbows danced across the kitchen walls.

"Is he going to be happy?" Blue asked quietly.

"Hard to say." Calla set the glass down. "Could be, if he finds that boy. The snake." Her lip curled.

"The snake?" Blue thought about what she knew of Ronan. It wasn't a whole lot, but “snake” seemed fitting somehow.

"Mhmm." Calla nodded noncommittally and plunged the glass back into the water.

Blue groaned. When Calla was in this kind of mood there wasn't much Blue could get out of her.

They finished the dishes quietly, and Blue tromped back upstairs, not sure how she'd committed such a grave oversight. She hadn't even Googled Ronan afterward, had wanted to respect Adam's space, not overload him with information. But that didn’t mean it was wrong to satisfy her own curiosity.

"Ronan Lynch," she muttered, typing his name into the search bar. Wikipedia seemed legit, more so than the flood of fan blogs and increasingly dramatic headlines about the ongoing search for his soulmate. She rolled her eyes. Everyone was assuming that he wanted to be found, because being Ronan Lynch's soulmate would be the most amazing thing in the world, a role anyone would want to occupy.

"But what's your deal?" she mused. She was sure she could go to Orla and ask her fill; Orla would happily lie across her bed and talk about Ronan all day. Unfortunately, Orla also represented the base of fans increasingly suspicious of anyone and anything to do with Ronan. Orla would want to know why Blue was taking a sudden interest, and Blue didn't want to answer any uncomfortable questions.

So Wikipedia it was.

 

Ronan Niall Lynch (B. March 21, 1995) is an Irish-American rock and blues guitarist and songwriter based in Henrietta, Virginia. He is most well known as a founding member and lead guitarist of the award-winning rock band, Second Sleeper (along with schoolmates Noah Czerny, Henry Cheng, and Richard Gansey). His music is characterized by distorted guitar and a menacing stage persona.

Early Life

Lynch is widely known for his extreme privacy. He was raised in Singer's Falls, VA, by the prominent art dealer Niall Lynch and his model wife, Aurora Lynch, alongside brothers Declan and Matthew. He began playing the drums and guitar at the age of 12 and received singing and bagpipe lessons as a child. His father was killed in 2010 under mysterious circumstances. Second Sleeper was formed shortly thereafter.

Musical Career

Second Sleeper began playing shows around the Henrietta, VA area in 2011 and gained immediate local popularity, signing to Glendower Records NYC in the same year. They recorded and released their first album, Dream of Wings, in 2012. Rolling Stone named it one of the top albums of the year, and the band has since toured consistently, releasing their next album, Ghost Boy, in 2013, the eponymous Second Sleeper EP in 2015, and their latest album, Monmouth, in 2016. Second Sleeper has won several Grammys: Best New Artist 2012; Album of the Year for 2013’s Ghost Boy; and both Best Rock Performance (“Ravens”) and Best Rock Album (Monmouth) in 2016.

Lynch was declared "Best Young Gun" by Rolling Stone's 2012 "Best of Rock" issue.

 

Blue sat back. There were more sections: "Live Appearances", a much more expansive “Awards and Nominations" list, "Instruments," and the omnipresent and terrifying "Personal Life". She flicked through them, a passage in the last category giving her pause.

 

Lynch was arrested in 2015 after an argument with his elder brother, Declan Lynch, escalated outside of a Henrietta punk club. The musician was charged with aggravated assault and released on bail. Charges were later dropped. While spokespeople for the band did not comment on the arrest, Declan Lynch has alluded to the guitarist’s “reckless behavior” (including long term struggles with drugs and alcohol) as the impetus for the fight.

 

“Fuck.” She spun around in her chair, staring at her posters and collage art without seeing them. Calla said that Adam could be happy if he found his boy. Blue didn’t like that “if.” She didn’t like this information about Ronan’s past. She didn’t like how any of it tallied with Adam’s personality. If Ronan was violent, if he was unstable, if he drank too much...these were all “if”s without happy resolutions, and having Adam’s happiness dependent on a person like that was a dangerous proposition.

Adam wasn’t going to reach out to Ronan, and they all knew it. He would have to be good and ready, and she didn’t see the likelihood of that increasing. Especially if the media furor continued or if he found out about Ronan’s checkered police record.

“Adam,” she sighed to herself. “What the hell are you thinking?”

Chapter Text

Ronan hadn’t anticipated this.

That was the understatement of the century. He hadn’t anticipated any of the last few weeks, but he still managed to surprise himself.  He’d stolen one of Gansey’s photos while he hadn’t been looking and had barely put it down since.

“Fucking idiot,” he muttered. He meant to drop the photo of the kid to the ground, but he couldn’t quite get his fingers to move. They kept clinging to it, smudging the glossy photo paper. It wasn’t like it mattered. The corners were dark and grainy, but Gansey had pulled some bullshit computer sorcery to punch up the resolution on the boy’s face.

And Ronan just couldn’t stop staring at it.

He had known, of course. The second he walked in and saw  the images on Gansey’s bed, something sharp and painful had shot through his chest. He tried to play it off, but Gansey had to have noticed. There was no one in the world better equipped to read him than Dick.

Well. Until now. Maybe.

Shit . He wanted to put that idea right back where it came from. For one, this boy looked like exactly that: a boy . Ronan wasn’t a good guy, but he also wasn’t a creep . He wouldn’t go after some fucking teenager just because the universe or God or whatever thought they should bone. He’d never been particularly interested in what the universe wanted.

He thought immediately of St. Agnes and felt a twinge of guilt. He shook it off; if God had any vested interest in him, he would have shown up by now. Done something more useful than tie him to a random 15 year old.

He set the photo down, but his eyes slid back to it every few seconds. He wasn’t sure if he was imagining things from staring too long, but he thought he could see a light dusting of freckles across the bridge of his nose. His lashes clinging together damply from the heat of the crowd. Ronan didn’t think he was hallucinating the rapturous way he was staring up at him, at Ronan , the moment before they’d connected.

But if he did want Ronan, why hadn’t he come and found him yet?

Ronan stood up and stretched, kicking empty bottles aside as he started to pace back and forth. Gansey said dozens of fans had come forward, that security had been working around the clock to see if any of them were remotely credible. Now that Gansey had distributed photos, things had gotten easier, but Ronan was still on edge. What if they’d trusted the wrong people? What if a nondisclosure agreement wasn’t enough? He had no idea how much a major tabloid would pay for a tip, but his fan mail alone was enough to make him feel sick.

So when Gansey framed it as a safety issue, Ronan couldn’t disagree. Just looking at the delicate beauty of the boy’s face made him want to—what? Cry? Break things? Protect him? His feelings were too tangled to be sure. All he knew was that if Gansey was going to take this on, he wasn’t going to stop him.

It just meant he had time to kill.

He hated it.

Woo had confiscated his car keys and told him sternly that if she caught him trying to sneak out to drag race with K, she’d flay him alive. He wouldn’t put it past her.

For the first time ever, he was starting to feel uncomfortable around Kavinsky. Ronan was buzzing under his skin, e cagey and restricted, like all his clothes were too tight. When he had said as much, K laughed and offered to help him take them off. He hadn’t stopped that either, but. Fucking Kavinsky didn’t make it feel better. If anything, seeing K made him feel even more like he was going out of his skull.

K’s solution was coke, but that was his solution for most things. Ronan didn’t want to lie to Gansey, and he’d told him he wasn’t doing drugs. In his more enlightened moments he decided that was behind him, but sometimes…

Well, at least he hadn’t made any promises about alcohol, as much as Gansey wanted him to.

Speaking of which—his phone started chiming insistently on the bedside table.

He picked it up and debated whether or not to take the call. But it was Gansey, and if Ronan didn’t do it, he’d come running down the hall and bang on Ronan’s door until he’d see him.

“What?” he snapped. He’d been told his phone etiquette left something to be desired. He told those people they could suck his dick.

“His name is Adam!” Gansey said, all in a rush. “Adam Parrish, he’s 18, he’s a senior at Aglionby, he lives—you’re gonna love this, oh man—he lives in the apartment above St. Agnes, he works three different jobs, but—“

“Calm the fuck down, Gansey.” Ronan held the phone away from his ear and sank down onto his bed. He had the overwhelming desire to punch something, but then Gansey would have to pay for another hole in the wall. He’d be good about it, but he wouldn’t be happy. When he felt he could stand it, he said, “Slower.”

“Ok, sorry, yeah.” Gansey sounded winded by his own excitement. “Grey found him. He’s been keeping a discreet eye on him the last few days to make sure, but this is him , Ronan, can you believe it?”

The answer was no. Not because he didn’t have faith in Gansey and Grey, but because he thought he might be in shock. He dimly recognized that his hands were shaking.

Gansey didn’t need an answer, though. “He works a couple different places, at a garage and a factory—“

“Why?” Ronan interrupted sharply. “Why does he do that?”

“Well, he lives alone. No idea about family yet, he’s on scholarship at Aglionby—“

“How much? Has his tuition been paid this semester?” Ronan mentally calculated what was on hand in his checking account. More than enough to cover the tuition for Aglionby if it hadn’t changed much since he’d left. He could cover him for the next three years if he needed to.

“I don’t know, I can find out, but he’s pretty consistent; Grey’s keeping track of his schedule, he’s seen that girl around a bit too, and we’re looking into—“

All the air was gone from the room, stolen by those two words. “His girlfriend?” Ronan tried to keep his tone casual, but he inexplicably felt like he was going to die. Was this a panic attack? He couldn’t be sure.

“Stop interrupting me,” Gansey sighed. “It doesn’t seem like it, no.” Ronan could hear the faint satisfaction in Gansey’s voice, and he wondered if it was for himself or for Ronan. Ronan knew Gansey’s type by now.

“So should we move on this?” Gansey asked. He sounded invigorated by the prospect, and Ronan could just picture the healthful flush to his cheeks, the bright enthusiasm in his eyes.

“No,” he said shortly. He didn’t even know why, just that he couldn’t show up at this guy—at Adam’s —workplace out of nowhere and expect something of him. At least he’s over age, he thought, although the relief was mixed. If Grey just walked up to Adam outside his apartment, Ronan would have to admit to having him tailed. If Ronan didn’t react well to having a stalker (and he knew from experience), he couldn’t imagine his soulmate would either.

“But Ronan, c’mon...” Gansey rarely wheedled, and Ronan had to brace himself in the face of it. He closed his eyes to marshal his resolve.

“I said no, Gansey,” he said, then hung up on him.

 


 

Adam saw it when he was on his way out of work.

It was sitting on Boyd’s chair in the front office, paper cover bent from being curled while read, but the photo unmarred and unmistakable.

It was Ronan.

Adam picked up the magazine. It was that week’s Rolling Stone , its cover blaring EXCLUSIVE SECOND SLEEPER INTERVIEW. The headline was splashed across a glossy photo of the band, all shirtless and lounging on a row of pool chairs while beautiful women sprayed them with uncorked bottles of champagne. Noah laughed as the fizz rained down on him; Gansey smiled politely at one of the women; Henry sipped calmly out of a crystal flute; and Ronan was utterly cool in his leather pants and a pair of aviator sunglasses. Ronan’s abs were clenched tight from curling up to avoid some spray, and Adam felt an unexpected bolt of arousal shoot through his body.

“Boyd,” Adam called into the back. He waited until he’d heard Boyd grunt in acknowledgment, then, “Can I borrow this magazine?”

“Read it on the john durin’ break!” Boyd hollered back. “It’s all yours.”

Trying not to think about that pleasant mental image, Adam rolled it up, tucked it under his arm, and carried it home with him.

 


 

Adam didn’t read it right away.

Instead he ate some leftover rice and beans Maura had pressed into his hands last week (“They’ll only go into the trash otherwise”) and finished up his math homework.

He’d already spent the entire day half-paranoid every time he saw a stranger. If anything, the media’s occupation of Henrietta had gotten worse the longer it stretched. He supposed  the last few weeks had given them more time to fly to Virginia, especially since other news had been slow. Not that he’d been following the coverage—he was too busy, and he would be the first to notice if news vans started camping outside of St. Agnes or Aglionby.

Blue had been good about everything, giving him space but checking in every once in awhile. He didn’t know how to express his gratitude to her, let alone explain what he was feeling. He thought it was inevitable that they get together, had been looking forward to it. They had met toward the end of his time at home, so she missed the worst of it, but took care of him after that last blowout fight, no questions asked. She’d thrown a tantrum until he let her come to court with him, then promptly dragged Calla and Persephone and Maura along. Adam knew he wouldn’t have gotten the restraining order without the four of them staring down the judge.

He owed her, and Adam wasn’t comfortable owing anyone. Sometimes it kept him up at night, worrying that he wasn’t good enough for her or that they wouldn’t be able to start a relationship on equal footing.

He supposed that wasn’t an issue anymore.

He finally flipped the magazine open, riffling through the pages until he found the correct one.

 

Second Sleeper: How Nice Boys From Virginia Got Big, Got Fucked Up, and Found Love

by John Beydoun

 

Adam snorted. The title was exactly what he’d been expecting.

His eyes fell on the first line. Things got much less funny.

 

Ronan Lynch was as high as Henry Cheng’s infamous hair. That was all that could explain it--he had to be high.

I’m not talking about the raging fit he threw onstage (literally threw: the repairs to his custom Stratocaster are estimated to reach the thousands), but his behavior over the course of a group interview the other day. Lying across an armchair and casually menacing the room with a pen knife, he was on a whole other plane of consciousness.

At only twenty-one, Ronan Lynch is already halfway toward legendary. His leather pants, a callback to old- school punk aesthetic, are practically a member of the band. (“He wears those pants almost as well as he plays guitar,” says Keith Richards, “and he plays pretty damn well.”) Getting fucked up for an interview could be equal parts classic rocker or modern EDM star, but either way it’s all Ronan Lynch.

Stoned and angry are pretty standard for him, according to his bandmates. “He’s too punk for love,” Noah Czerny shrugs innocently, before being hushed by frontman Richard Gansey III, who uses the latter moniker as his stage name.

“He’s just having a rough time right now,” Gansey says. For his part, Gansey plays the “good ol’ Southern boy” role impeccably. Gracious and diplomatic, he seems as comfortable impersonating a PR rep in plastic hipster frames as he does strutting under concert lights in a jumpsuit. He’s quick to defend his best friend and hesitant to give up any dirt behind his back.

Because we did see the back of Lynch: an hour into that now infamous hometown show and ten minutes into our interview the day after.

“It’s not usually a problem,” Gansey assures me.

Lynch was notoriously arrested in 2015 after an altercation between himself and his brother, businessman Declan Lynch. Charges were dropped, but the elder Lynch was quick to cite the musician’s alleged substance abuse as the reason behind the incident.

“Ronan has been sober for 6 months,” Gansey says proudly.

“He’d be out of the band and into rehab if he pulled that shit again,” Henry says. I get the impression I’m being moved along.

At first, it seems remarkable that the band puts up such a united front despite the drama surrounding Lynch. Then one remembers their shared history, meeting as teenagers at the world-renowned Aglionby Academy in Henrietta, Virginia and shirking Ivy-league expectations in favor of practicing rock music in the abandoned Monmouth Manufacturing factory.  Since then, they’ve supported one another through many trials, including the brutal murder of Ronan Lynch’s father, renowned art dealer Niall Lynch, in 2010.

“The band came together pretty organically after that,” Gansey says. “We wanted to be there for Ronan, and he communicates best through music.”

The rest of the group aren’t too shabby either. Gansey and Lynch are the primary songwriters, but Czerny and Cheng provide a certain pizzazz in addition to instrumental talent. Czerny appeals most to the grunge tween crowd (“It’s the Vans and flannel,” Gansey teases), and Cheng isn’t too punk for tender loving care, if the time he purportedly devotes to his own hair is any indication.

“It takes two kinds of product,” Cheng admits when asked how he maintains his signature ‘do.

“And a half hour in the bathroom,” Czerny adds with a grin.

There’s easy camaraderie here, and each band member is undeniably and uniquely charismatic. Their magnetic onstage presence has led to routinely sold-out venues and crowds of almost 100,000 at festivals like Coachella, making them a favorite of event organizers.

“We made it big so fast,” Czerny says. He still seems a bit surprised by it. “The Grammys really hit that home. We definitely didn’t expect to win one, let alone four.”

But win they did, catapulting Second Sleeper into the international spotlight. It’s a position they’ve thrived in, dating supermodels (Czerny has been tied to Gigi Hadid, although he says they’re “just friends”), shutting down entire clubs for personal parties, and reportedly filling a private pool in Saint-Tropez with champagne. Nevertheless, their newfound lifestyle comes with its own challenges.

“Fame is weird,” Czerny says articulately.

Gansey chimes in. “You give up a lot of yourself to the public. You have to draw a line somewhere. To make sure you know how much you’re willing to tell versus what you should keep for yourself. I wasn’t prepared for that aspect of fame.”

“I was,” Cheng protests. It’s not hard to see why -- Cheng is a shameless attention seeker behind his kit, known to improvise gymnastics and flirt with female fans from across the stage. (Despite this, the oft-androgynous drummer plays his sexuality close to his chest, stating that he’s his own boyfriend.) Once, during a concert at Madison Square Garden,  he even left his platform mid-song to ask for a pretty girl’s number. He swears now that it was just for makeup tips.

“Her winged eyeliner was impeccable,” he says by way of explanation.

“That was memorable,” Gansey admits. “I thought Ronan was gonna throttle him with his guitar strap.”

Lynch’s absence today is keenly felt. He comes up in conversation so often that it’s obvious he’s an integral part of the group and a dear friend to them all. That makes his bad behavior all the more heartbreaking for those close to him.

“He knows what’s important to him. It’s all about perspective,” Gansey says. “After last night, though, I’m not sure…”

...That trailing off speaks volumes. Rarely has there been a more public or controversial soulmate connection than Lynch’s. A little more than an hour into the hometown stop of their current tour supporting their latest album, Monmouth, Lynch came flying out of the mosh pit with a shiny new souvenir: a soulmark given to him by a mystery fan in the crowd below. Soulmates are relatively uncommon, of course -- maybe the shock was why Lynch stormed off the stage. One in 5 Americans report presenting a soulmark, although statistics are on the uptick as globalization shrinks our increasingly interconnected society. Interpretation of color differs wildly by culture, but speculation is rife about Lynch’s forest green fingers.

Whatever the reason for his swift exit, he left a scene of chaos behind him. The rest of the band scrambled to calm the crowd, although no one knew what had happened yet. It only became apparent after fan-shot concert footage hit the internet.

“I don’t know much about that,” Gansey says when asked what he thinks about frenzied investigations into the identity of Lynch’s soulmate. He’s similarly tight lipped about whether the band knows who it is, and Lynch’s declaration that he doesn’t “owe you people shit” indicates that he, too, wants to play it coy.

It’s a mystery for the modern era, and one that fans are absolutely slavering over. Crowds of supporters and media have descended on the band’s hotel in Henrietta, but most of the action is taking place online. Communities on Tumblr and Twitter have exploded with amateur detectives combing smartphone videos for evidence, and followers of the band are still holding out for the release of official tour photos that seem less and less likely to arrive.

“There’s a lot of disappointment out there,” one concertgoer told camera crews on the front lawn. Sporting a controversial fan-created shirt reading “Lynch Mob,” she stated that, “Thousands of girls dreamed of dating Ronan, but I guess he’s all tied up now.” It may be out of fear of fanbase backlash that Lynch’s soulmate has stayed in the shadows, and it is always possible that the band’s security is already protecting them from public view (and fangirl wrath).

For better or worse, the enigmatic guitarist might be taken for good. Despite Lynch’s very vocal rejection of my questions, he did forget himself for a moment before his outburst. In a quiet moment of unstudied contemplation, he looked uncharacteristically pensive, lips pursed, green soulmarked fingers raised to his mouth. Was it a kiss, a promise, a symbol of continued silence?

Or maybe it was none of those things.

After all, he was pretty high.

 

Adam didn’t like it.

He didn’t know what he didn’t like, but whatever it was, it was bad.

He dropped the magazine to the table, paced back and forth across his apartment a few times, then went to brush his teeth. When he came back into the main room he started tidying his desk, only to pause at the sight of the article. The magazine had flopped open to a full-page photograph of Ronan.

It had clearly been taken on the same day as the cover shoot. He was wearing a pair of leather pants, the unforgiving material tight around lean thighs and calves, slung low to reveal the slash of sharp hipbones and the sticky sheen of dried champagne on his lower abdomen. He was snarling at something off to his left, eyes narrowed and teeth bared, one arm slung up over his head so that his knotted bracelets slid down his arm. His eyes were a shocking blue so intense that if Adam didn’t know better he’d think they’d been photoshopped.

Everything about the image spoke of power: money, talent, influence, fame, sex. Ronan Lynch had all of it and the ability to get more. He had the focus; whoever or whatever he was growling at clearly held all of his attention, and Adam shivered at the thought of being caught in the crosshairs of so much raw intensity.

Discipline was what he lacked. Adam had that in spades.  

He flipped the magazine shut. It occurred to him then what was bothering him so much.

The tone of the writer was judgemental and smug, content with the knowledge that Ronan was a fuck up. Against all odds, a tide of indignation swelled inside Adam’s chest, a protective streak blown wide by the presumption that this reporter who didn’t know Ronan could theorize about what his soulmark meant to him. He implied feelings that probably weren’t even there. That had an impact, those words mattered , they presented Ronan in a certain light, they made readers think that Ronan… that Ronan what?

Adam had to remind himself that he didn’t know Ronan either. It must be that last paragraph getting to him. “Soulmarked fingers raised to his mouth,” he muttered, then snorted. Reporters could - and would - exaggerate things  for the narrative. Ronan probably was stoned, he thought viciously. His supposed behavior in the interview wasn’t indicative of anything.  

He hated himself for raising his own soulmark to his mouth, then doubly so for the swooping sensation in his stomach.

 


 

That night, Adam dreamed about Ronan.

He’d finally fallen into bed, exhausted beyond belief from work and worrying, half asleep before his head even hit the pillow.

He wasn’t sure when thoughts of the article transitioned into the dream, only that they did. He was still in his bed at St. Agnes, but now he wasn’t alone. There was a warm arm lying across his side, a leg slung casually over his hip, a dick very obviously pressed against his ass, for all that it was soft.

He rolled over and looked up into Ronan Lynch’s face.

“Morning, sleeping beauty,” Ronan said. He was propped up on one elbow, looking down at Adam with wry fondness. He brushed a piece of hair off of Adam’s forehead and leaned down to kiss him.

It was like watching someone else’s interaction, like he was barely present in his body. He could feel the velvet warmth of Ronan’s lips, but he felt detached from the sensation. He’d dreamt like this before, usually about Blue, but his dreaming brain couldn’t hold onto her right now.

“Come with me,” Ronan said. He took Adam’s hand, but Ronan’s arm wasn’t an arm. It was a wing. Adam ran his fingers over the smooth black of raven feathers, then looked up into Ronan’s face. He didn’t look so cocky now, but he smirked when he saw Adam looking. “Hold on, kid.”   He wrapped his wings around Adam and they lifted out of the bed, the room falling away  until they were skimming the tops of the Henrietta trees and soaring into the lightening sky.

Adam looked down at the dwindling town and knew he should be terrified, but he’d never felt warmer or safer in his life. Ronan wasn’t even flapping, they shouldn’t be able to fly, but having the warm line of Ronan against his back was too soothing for him to care about logistics.

“It’s been waiting for you,” Ronan said into his ear. Even though Adam had never heard Ronan’s speaking voice, he shivered at the sound.

“What’s been waiting?” Adam asked, twisting around to look at Ronan. He could only see the underside of his jaw, the stubbly patch where Ronan had missed shaving that morning. He wondered how old Ronan was. There were so many things he didn’t know.

They were descending into a clearing a ways from Henrietta. When they touched the ground, Ronan let him go and held his hand out. The tips of his middle three fingers were tinged a deep green, the same color as the trees around them. Adam held out his own hand, and Ronan pressed his fingers to the streaks of silvery grey crossing Adam’s heart line.

A shock went through Adam’s body like when they’d touched the very first time, and he felt himself drawn back into Ronan. He placed his hand flat on Ronan’s chest, soulmark pressed over Ronan’s heart. He could feel the deep vibrations of Ronan’s breath, and when he laughed Adam’s own heart skipped a beat.

“This has been waiting for you,” Ronan said. Suddenly Adam’s hand was sinking into Ronan’s chest, and he was holding Ronan’s heart in his hand, and Ronan was breathing deep and even. Adam’s instincts told him to pull away, but he couldn’t move, and he didn’t know whether he wanted to. Ronan’s heart was beating fast and frantic in Adam’s palm, and if he twitched he would crush it. He looked up at Ronan in panic, but Ronan’s face was serene.

“You won’t hurt it,” Ronan said, and his arms were arms again. They encircled Adam, and Adam was…

Beep beep beep

Adam shot up out of his bed, dragging in great heaving lungfuls of air. He ripped back his blankets and stared down at his hands, half expecting to see one of them dripping with blood. Instead, his soulmark gleamed up at him. He clenched his fist around it and got out of bed. He had a paper to finish writing before work and a dream to shake off.

He opened his laptop—elderly and refurbished, but his —and turned it on. He closed his eyes for a brief moment, telling himself not to go back to sleep, just to recover himself enough to write. He couldn’t let go of the feeling of Ronan’s heart in his hand, of how strange it felt to hold, but how right it felt for Ronan to hold him.

His laptop wheezed to life, and he clicked around listlessly for a second, his email, then the news and…

He froze.

No .

It was unmistakable. Poorly lit, grainy, a thumbnail under the Entertainment section of the New York Times, but still. With shaking hands, Adam clicked on the image, which blew up into a news story.

IS THIS RONAN’S LYNCH’S MYSTERIOUS SOULMATE? INTERNET DETECTIVES SHED NEW LIGHT ON RECLUSIVE GUITARIST’S SEXUALITY

“Shit,” Adam breathed. He skimmed the story, bits of it jumping out at him.

…fans have been scouring Instagram and Facebook for concert footage bloggers led the charge in tracking down the photo that broke last night young man still unidentified, best guess at the soulmate thousands have searched for

“Oh my God.” Adam sat back from his computer. He felt numb.

He fumbled his laptop closed. His fears were finally being realized, but he couldn’t afford to give in to panic.

He had to get dressed and get to Blue’s. It was still early, only 7AM, but the second that people in town started waking up someone who knew him would recognize that photo. It was poor quality, but plenty of other people were watching this story. Someone would know it was him and then it would spread.

He needed to be at 300 Fox Way before that happened.

He dressed quickly, threw on his shoes and stuffed his backpack with basic necessities and clothes for a few days. He was outside in under 2 minutes.

He would have noticed if he hadn’t been so caught up in his own thoughts. He told himself that later -- not that it would have mattered, because the fact that he didn’t notice changed everything. One second he was locking the stairwell door behind him, and the next he was slammed up against it. His head collided with the door, stars popping behind his eyes, and he dropped his keys. Dimly, he worried about losing them, but then Robert Parrish’s angry red face was right in his. His brain short-circuited with visceral fear.

“Want to explain this to me, you fucking fag?” he roared, shoving a newspaper into Adam’s face. Adam’s eyes slid unsteadily toward the front page, where that same indistinct photograph of himself was printed. “Did I raise a fag?”

“No, sir,” Adam said and closed his eyes for the impact.

 

 

Chapter Text

The impact didn’t come, but the police had. Adam wasn’t tracking time very well. At some point, a man dressed in head-to-toe grey had pulled Robert Parrish off of his son and pinned him neatly to the ground. His head hurt, but it wasn’t an unfamiliar pain, and he tried to protest when a police officer came to help him up off the ground. He had slid down the door because his deaf ear was ringing again, and he didn’t want to get dizzy and fall over. Hurting himself worse wouldn’t accomplish anything, especially if he wanted to get to Blue’s house.

“Yeah, an ambulance, I think he’s concussed,” the officer said to his partner;  then they were both steadying him, telling him not to move until the paramedics arrived. Adam stayed very still, watching as his father was cuffed and put in the back of a police car. It was something he thought he’d want to remember.

The man in grey talked amicably with another cop, explaining that he called 911 when a suspicious-looking man appeared to be trying to get into Adam’s apartment.

“Just on my way to work, sir, thought I’d call just in case. A real blessing I was here, since things escalated so bad,” he said serenely, while the officer nodded in agreement, jotting notes onto a little pad. Adam thought they only did that on TV.

The ambulance arrived, and Adam was loaded into it. He didn’t remember being strapped to the gurney, but he was horizontal when they rolled him on.

The last thing he saw before the doors shut was the face of the grey man staring after him as he dialed a number into a small silver phone.

 


 

Since Blue was listed as Adam’s emergency contact at school, she was the first person the hospital contacted when he came in. Still, she wasn’t allowed back to see him.

“WELL THEN, WHAT WAS THE POINT OF CALLING ME?” she screamed after the attending. She kicked the nurse station, and her steel-toed boots left a long scuff.  The other people in the waiting room stared at her disapprovingly.  “What?” she spat. They all looked away quickly.

“This is bullshit .” She flopped down next to Maura on one of the crappy plastic chairs.

“I know,” Maura sighed. She had that pinched look that she only got when she was really worried about something. She had driven Blue to the hospital and stood patiently behind her as the doctors explained that Adam would be all right, and that they couldn’t release any medical information until he was able to give them explicit permission.

“If he’s fine, why’s he passed out again?” Blue asked suspiciously. “I thought concussed people weren’t supposed to sleep.”

“We’re running some tests,” the doctor said calmly. “We’ll let you know when he’s lucid.”

“So he’s not asleep? Is he brain damaged?” Blue felt  her voice rising, but she didn’t care.

The doctor wouldn’t give her any more answers -- just turned and walked away, leaving her to stew in her own resentment and anxiety.

A deep, even voice interrupted her sulking. “Excuse me?”

She looked up and opened her mouth to bitch at whoever had dared to approach. He was tall and sort of attractive in a middle-aged way, dressed all in grey. His eyes were warm and inquisitive.

“What do you—“ she began, but Maura laid a hand on her shoulder. She looked around at her confusedly, then back at the man. They were looking at one another in a way that made Blue want to morph into a toddler just so she could yell “GROSS” at them.

“Oh, for god’s sake,” she muttered instead.

“Yes?” Maura asked him. Her cheeks were a little pink.

“I was wondering if you could answer a few questions,” the man said smoothly.

Maura’s eyes hardened. “Are you a detective?”

“In a manner of speaking,” the grey man said. “I’m a private investigator. You can call me Mr. Grey.” He stuck his hand out.

“Fits,” Blue rolled her eyes.

Maura looked at his hand but didn’t take it. “Why don’t you sit down, Mr. Grey?” she said instead.

He retracted his arm and settled next to her. “Do you know Adam very well?”

“Why do you want to know about Adam?” Blue asked nastily. “Who do you work for? You gonna sell him to the press?”

“No, that is not my intention,” Mr. Grey said. Blue hated that there was something about him that made her want to trust him. That’s how they get you, she thought angrily. “I’m merely gathering information for my employer.”

“Yeah, and who’s your—“

At that moment the hospital doors slid open and something careened through them with the speed of a bullet.

“Ronan!” Another figure came running in after. Once they stopped moving, they resolved into two young men.

“What the fuck?” Blue breathed. The blur was Ronan Lynch, and he looked pissed .

“Where is he?” he shouted at the nurse, who dropped the phone in surprise. “Adam Parrish? Where is he?!”

“Sir, I can’t—“

“Ronan!” The other man was unmistakably Richard Gansey III, in a wrinkled lavender polo and worn boat shoes. Blue couldn’t stop staring. “Calm down, I’m sure—“

“Don’t tell me to fucking calm down ,” Ronan spat at him, and then spun back around to face the nurse. “Don’t call security,” he warned. “I’ve got plenty of my own.”

“Oh my God, Ronan, would you please—“ Gansey tried again, but Ronan didn’t seem to hear him.

“I need to see him now .” Ronan’s fist landed on the desk, hard.

The nurse fumbled to recover the phone. “Dr. Frazier?” she said into it,  her voice admirably steady. “I have someone here to see you. I don’t think he can wait.”

The doctor was there in the blink of an eye, and, to his credit, didn’t quail under Ronan’s glare.

“Adam Parrish?!” Ronan demanded.

“I’m sorry sir, but I can’t just—“

“I’m his fucking soulmate ,” Ronan shouted. He shoved his hand under the doctor’s nose. Green glinted under the dull fluorescent lights.

The entire waiting room went deadly silent.

“Well.” The doctor blinked, straightened his glasses, and looked up at Ronan. “Well then. I suppose. All right then.” He turned and gestured for Ronan to follow, and then they were both gone.

“What the fuck ?” Blue complained. “He doesn’t even know him!”

“And you’ve just met my employer,” Mr. Grey sighed. “Hello Gansey.”

“Ah! Grey!” Gansey turned and noticed them for the first time. His face slid easily back into a charming smile. “And…” He trailed off as he looked over Maura, then Blue. His eyes went almost comically wide. “Hello,” he said softly. “I’m Gansey.”

“Yeah, I know,” Blue grumbled.

“Right,” Gansey said. “Um, may I?” he waved at the chair next to Blue. She nodded tersely, not quite believing that this was happening right now. He sank gratefully into the chair, and for a brief moment his bicep pressed against the top of her bare shoulder.

Motherfucker ,” she screeched, rocketing up out of her seat. Her entire arm had gone numb like she’d stuck a finger into an electrical socket.

“Oh my,” said Mr. Grey. Blue looked down at her shoulder in horror. There was a bright gold oval in the exact place where Gansey had touched her.

 

Chapter Text

The doctor didn’t take him to see Adam right away.

Instead, he was escorted down a short side hallway into a quiet room where a line of light-boxes marched down both sides of the walls.

“What is this shit?”

The doctor gave him a quelling look and picked up a thick manila x-ray jacket. “This is a radiograph viewing room. Adam isn’t lucid yet, and there seem to be some, ah”--the doctor shuffled the folder between his hands, “extenuating circumstances that could hinder his recovery.”

“What do you mean?” Ronan asked. He didn’t like it when people spoke in code—it felt too much like trying to obscure the truth, like lying.

“I hope I can make it clear,” the doctor said. He began taking out x-rays and shoving them onto clipboards. There were a lot of them—ribcages and arm bones, wrists and a skull. Ronan moved closer, thinking back to his childhood injuries. He’d been a bouncy kid, but Declan has accidentally broken his arm once, and he remembered how the doctor had pointed out a long, bright white line in the healed bone where he’d fractured it.

There was a lot of white in these x-rays.

“Sometimes,” the doctor said at last, “a patient comes in whose skeleton shows unusual signs of trauma. This here,” he pointed at an elbow, “ is a classic metaphyseal lesion. We call it a bucket-handle fracture. This,” he indicated an x-ray of a ribcage, “shows evidence of multiple bilateral rib fractures. Here it appears that the patient suffered a minor fracture to their orbital roof as a child.”

He looked meaningfully at Ronan.

“What does that mean?” Ronan whispered. There was an odd rushing in his head. He thought he might be sick. He didn’t want to hear the doctor’s answer.

“Ronan,” the doctor said gently. “These are all injuries common in victims of child abuse. Do you know anything about your partner’s past?”

“No, I—no,” Ronan shook his head, trying to clear it. This all felt like some sort of horrible dream. He shouldn’t have come here, shouldn’t have burst in on the personal and medical drama of a person he didn’t even know. A man who didn’t even want to be his soulmate. It was invasive and wrong but he still wanted to find the person who had done this to Adam and murder him.

You haven’t even met him yet, Ronan reminded himself.

“Can I see him?” he heard himself ask. He was still staring at the crooked stripe of opaque bone where someone had broken Adam’s humerus.

“I’ll check in and see,” the doctor said, then left Ronan alone in the room.

He sagged for a second against the wall by the door. He was exhausted—he’d already been up half the night when Gansey burst into his room to  tell him that Grey had called. He was out of bed and breaking into Auntie Woo’s room before Gansey had even finished telling him Adam was in the hospital. She’d kicked up a fit when he found his car keys and sped away from the hotel, but hadn’t been able to stop him from going.

He’d been driven by blind panic at the thought that he might lose his soulmate before he’d even met him, and he’d torn through the hospital doors thinking only of Adam. Small and shrunken on a hospital bed. Open and bleeding on a surgery table. Under a sheet on a gurney. He remembered how they hadn’t even bothered to try saving his father; Niall Lynch had gone straight to the morgue.

Surely the emergency room was a better sign.

“Mr. Lynch?”

He spun around. The doctor stood in the door looking serious.

“You can come see him now.”

Ronan felt uneasy as he followed the doctor through more hallways to a closed door.

“I’ll let you be alone with him,” he said, and disappeared.

For a moment Ronan’s panic spiraled, a great yawning void in front of him, the door an insurmountable barrier that he couldn’t bring himself to try shifting. He didn’t know what was behind it. It could be the boy from the concert photos who had glowed under the stage lights, who had looked up at Ronan with his eyes full of wonder. The one who looked at Ronan like he was worth something. It could be a recalcitrant kid who wanted Ronan to fuck off and never contact him again. The one who knew who Ronan was and didn’t want any part of him.

It could be complicated, it could be disastrous, it could hurt.

Could it feel any worse? he wondered.

“Shit,” Ronan said aloud, and pushed the door open.

 


 

Adam was sliding in out of consciousness when his door opened again. He didn’t even bother to open his eyes; it was probably just another doctor or nurse coming to make sure he hadn’t died. Even though they’d turned the lights down, it still felt like the beams were stabbing him in the head every time he tried to focus on anything.

Vaguely, he realized that whoever was in the room with him wasn’t making much noise. That was welcome; his head hurt like hell. The concussion wasn’t bad enough to warrant an overnight stay, but they’d been taking x-rays for the last hour and he wasn’t eager to be poked and prodded again. Still, he supposed he should be cooperative if he ever wanted to get out of here.

When he opened his eyes, Ronan Lynch was the last person he expected to see standing over his bed, staring at him intently.

For a moment he thought his concussion was worse than he’d feared, that he was hallucinating. He reached for the nurse call button.

Ronan’s hand shot out and wrapped around his wrist.

“Don’t,” he said quietly. Adam froze.

The hand on his wrist felt warm and real; Adam could feel its calluses against his skin. The voice was low and husky, and he wanted to close his eyes and wrap himself up in it like a blanket. It was so nice.

That just didn’t tally with what he knew of Ronan Lynch.

“I have to tell the nurse,” he slurred, “that I’m seeing things.”

Ronan let out a soft huffing laugh. “You think I’m not real?” He dropped Adam’s hand to slide a chair closer to Adam’s bedside.

“Must not be,” Adam said and narrowed his eyes. He wanted to keep looking at Ronan, but he didn’t like how bright the room was. “What would you be doing here?”

“I heard you were hurt,” Ronan said, his brow furrowed. “I didn’t really think it through.” He looked angry, confused, vulnerable, and Adam didn’t know him, but god, it felt like he should. He didn’t know what to do with that, or why this stranger should make him want to reach out and touch back, or why his chest suddenly hurt even worse than his head. For a wild moment he thought of Ronan holding him in a dream, he thought of Ronan’s hand reaching through the crowd to find his, he thought of a slick magazine spread versus a grainy photo in The New York Times. What the hell did all of it mean?

“Huh,” Adam said eloquently. He turned his head and rested his cheek against his cool pillow. “My head hurts.”

“Yeah, I bet,” Ronan snorted. He kicked his feet up on the edge of Adam’s bed like he had a right to and took Adam’s hand again. It was his left one, the hand with his soulmark. Ronan brushed the green tips of his fingers across the long silvery stripes.

“Gonna kiss it next?” Adam snarked. His hand felt tingly and warm and strange, and the feeling radiated through his whole body. He didn’t know if he wanted Ronan to stop. “That article…”

Ronan snorted, fingers still caressing Adam’s. “I am frequently misportrayed in the media,” he said primly, but shot Adam a wicked grin that quickly lapsed back into something more reverent. Adam had to admit that the colors looked pretty together; silvery grey reflecting green, rough tanned fingers against pale callused ones.

Adam was gradually beginning to feel a little sharper, a little less sore. He struggled to sit up on his pillows and look at Ronan head on.

“Whoa, careful, what are you doing?” Ronan’s boots thumped back down to the linoleum floor. Adam winced at the sound, which only made Ronan look angrier. Adam didn’t know who or what he was mad at, but it was a familiar expression by now.

“What are you doing here?” he asked. His tongue didn’t feel so thick in his mouth now.

“You were hurt,” Ronan repeated churlishly.

“How did you know that?”

Ronan’s face closed off, but he said, “Gansey.”

“Who let you back here?” Adam shot at him. “Blue hasn’t even been here.”

“Your girlfriend?” Ronan’s lip curled.

“My friend,” Adam said, and choked back the she was almost my girlfriend that he wanted to add on. Ronan seemed to sense it anyway. He dropped Adam’s hand, and some of the sluggishness crept back into Adam’s body. Ronan’s fingers twitched toward his hand again, then stilled.

“I told them the truth,” Ronan said, hitching his chin up arrogantly. “That I’m your soulmate.”

“I didn’t ask you to be,” Adam snapped. He hadn’t wanted Ronan to show up here, hadn’t wanted to meet him like this. He didn’t think he’d ever been more vulnerable in his life. This wasn’t how he wanted Ronan Lynch to see him.

“I’m aware,” Ronan said harshly.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Adam asked tiredly. He closed his eyes again.

This was more or less what he’d expected Ronan to be like, he reminded himself. Angry and defensive and snide, a pampered playboy. He didn’t bother to squash down his disappointment. It unfurled from somewhere deep inside his stomach, sending hot green tendrils up into his throat and eyes.

Don’t cry in front of him.

“You knew who I was,” Ronan said. “You knew this whole time.”

“I did.”  Adam didn’t have the energy to say anything more to Ronan. His head throbbed. His thoughts felt long, stringy, fragile. He couldn’t follow their threads without them snapping, and he didn’t feel strong enough to try.

This was a stranger. He didn’t owe him anything.

They sat in silence for a little while, Adam trying to summon the energy to punch the nurse call button and ask them to take Ronan away. Occasionally he opened his eyes and glanced at Ronan; every time, he was watching Adam with undisguised intent. Ronan’s eyes were very bright blue, fringed with thick black lashes and burning with furious determination. Adam had no idea what he was so worked up about, but he hoped it didn’t concern him.

Eventually the doctor came back with some paperwork and asked if Adam wanted to see Maura and Blue. He nodded and waited, hoping Ronan would leave when they arrived.

But since when did he have any luck?

Only a few moments later, Blue shot through the door like a miniature missile. She pulled up short and threw herself across his chest with uncharacteristic gentleness. She was swathed in one of Maura’s sweaters, and he plucked at it weakly.

“Since when do you wear beige?” he smiled.

“Since I ran into that asshole,” she said cryptically, jerking her head at fucking Richard Gansey III, standing in the door to Adam’s room.

“Are Noah and Henry in the waiting room too?” he asked. Everyone in the room laughed. He hadn’t actually been making a joke—at this point he expected fucking Oprah to show up. YOU GET A CONCUSSION, AND YOU GET A CONCUSSION, he thought hysterically.

“They said you can come home if someone agrees to watch you for the next week,” Maura said. “You’re welcome to stay with us.“

“No.”

Everyone turned to stare at Gansey, who stepped forward into the room. “Um,” he cleared his throat, looking sheepish. “I don’t mean to insert myself where I’m not wanted,” he said, “but the media undoubtedly followed us from the hotel, and a photo of Adam broke early this morning. It would probably be best if he were somewhere safer than your home.”

Blue stood back up and put her hands on her hips. “So where?” She stared Gansey down like he was a recalcitrant toddler. He flushed but didn’t look away, although he did reach up and scratch at a spot on his upper arm. Now that Adam was looking at him properly, he thought it was odd that he was wearing a slightly oversized grey blazer over his polo.

Ronan spoke up for the first time. “My house.” All eyes flashed to him. “I’ll take him to The Barns.”

“Whoa, what makes you think—“ Adam struggled to sit up again. Blue pushed him back.

“That’s an excellent idea!” Gansey said. “We can set the security team at the perimeter and make sure no one follows you.”

“Is it really safe there?” Blue wrinkled her nose at him; Adam was horrified to see that she didn’t look indignant on his behalf.

“I’m not just going to—“ he began again, but Ronan interrupted him.

“It’s perfectly safe, maggot.” He glared down at Blue haughtily. “I’ll keep an eye on him.”

“What did you call me?” She swelled with rage, but Maura cut across her smoothly.

“Do you know how to look after a concussion patient?”

“Sure, make sure he doesn’t die in his sleep,” Ronan shrugged.

Gansey looked at him disapprovingly. “It’s a little more than that, Ronan.,”

“Yeah, I know, I’ll get a pamphlet from Dr. Fuckface.” Ronan shoved his hands deep into the pockets of his leather pants. Adam hadn’t noticed before, but he looked remarkably out of place in the dull hospital room. He was pale and drawn, yes, but he was practically vibrating with dynamism; even the dark circles under his eyes and the way his tank top hung off his sinewy shoulders suited him.

“Dr. Frazier,” Maura corrected with a faint smile.. “Good luck with this one, Adam,” she said, squeezing his knee through the blankets.

“I never said I’d go anywhere with him,” Adam protested, but Maura’s hand tightened on his leg.

She leaned in and pressed a kiss to his forehead. “Maybe now’s the time to think without your head,” she whispered. “Goodness knows it’ll be out of commission for a few days.”

It took him a second to parse out what she meant, before he remembered magenta-stained lips smacking out the word snake. He looked back over at Ronan, who was examining his own nails with the kind of concentration usually reserved for standardized testing.

“Fuck,” he breathed, collapsing back onto his pillows.

 

Chapter Text

BREAKING: RONAN LYNCH’S SOULMATE CONFIRMED...AND IT’S A BOMBSHELL

 

Second Sleeper guitarist Ronan Lynch may no longer be a drug addict, but he’s just been 100% confirmed as a drama queen.

In the few short weeks since the infamous concert when the controversial rockstar gained a soulmark, fangirls have experienced a roller coaster ride of feelings. First, their beloved mob leader was stolen right out from under them, then he disappeared from the spotlight (perhaps indulging in old bad habits, see Rolling Stone for more); now, he’s gay. You read that right -- the subject of so many lusty female fantasies has a male soulmate: one Adam Parrish, an 18 year old mechanic from Ronan’s native Henrietta, Virginia.

And how do we know this? From the man himself!

Around 8 AM on Monday morning, Lynch led the paparazzi in a crazed car chase down the main city drag and pulled up in front of Henrietta General Hospital. He didn’t even bother to turn off his car before he burst into the waiting room.

“I can’t talk about the patients,” an anonymous hospital worker said, “but Mr. Lynch ran in demanding to see his soulmate.”

“He was screaming at the doctors,” a bystander confided. “He calmed down once they let him in, but he seemed out of control.”

Can you blame him? Photos of his young soulmate are all over the web, and he’s a hottie!

“At first I was really upset, but now I can’t wait to see them together,” a fangirl confessed. “Pynch is my new favorite couple.”

Relatives couldn’t be found to shed light on Mr. Parrish’s personality, or what landed him in the hospital. However, we got the scoop that Parrish is a senior at Lynch’s alma mater, Aglionby Academy. Here’s what one teacher had to say:

“He’s very studious, well-behaved, a hard worker. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him at Harvard next year.”

Sounds like a world away from our favorite bad boy rocker! Does this mean Ronan Lynch is turning over a new leaf?

Only time will tell, but I hope for our sake that it doesn’t!

 


 

Getting out of the hospital fucking sucked.

Ultimately, it involved smuggling Adam out through the back loading dock and into Ronan’s waiting car, while Gansey wrapped a stoic Mr. Grey in a hospital blanket and accompanied him through the horde of journalists out front.

“He’s a decoy,” Gansey said proudly.

“And the fuck are we?” Blue flicked a finger between herself and Maura.

Gansey looked like he was running through a lot of potential answers in his brain before he said carefully, “Friends of Adam’s, of course. We’ll take the fake-Adam to your house, if that’s alright with you.” He directed that last part at Mr. Grey as well. His eyes snapped from Maura’s bare shoulders to Gansey’s face in an instant, and he inclined his head.

“Ugh.” Blue pulled a face. “They’re gonna follow us, aren’t they?”

“Most definitely,” Gansey nodded solemnly.

“I can’t wait to see Calla’s reaction,” Blue grinned evilly, and Maura laughed.

“Will it be okay if I stay as well?” Gansey asked. “Just for a few days at most. I need to arrange some things in private. With most of the security team here, I’m sure the hotel is overrun by now.”

“If we can’t get rid of you,” Blue said grudgingly.

“Thank you,” Gansey said quietly, leaning in to speak directly to Blue, who flushed almost imperceptibly.

Adam looked around at Maura, but she only winked at him.

“Time to go,” Mr. Grey said. “They’re releasing you to Ronan; he should be out back by now. Woo brought his car around.”

“Yes, after leading the press on a high speed chase around Henrietta,” Gansey sighed. “Crazy old bat.” Blue stifled an amused snort.

Neither of them looked at one another.

Adam widened his eyes at Mr. Grey this time, but he only smiled blandly.  

“Thanks for everything,” Adam said to the room at large. Dr. Frazier (now permanently Dr. Fuckface in his brain; thanks, Ronan ) would make sure he made it to the loading dock in one piece. He was still a little out of it.

Maybe it was the closed head injury, but he was feeling a lot less worried about accepting their help than usual. He had the feeling that they were almost universally excited about the intrigue (discounting Mr. Grey, who seemed thoroughly unflappable).

Making his way through the hospital was uneventful, but by the time he made it out the back, his head was throbbing.

“I’ve got it from here,” he told Dr. Fuckfa—Frazier, firmly. He was sick of being medically scrutinized; all he wanted was to get into bed and call his various bosses and school to cancel on them. He panicked for a moment at the thought of all the money and homework he’d be missing, but then shoved those thoughts down. He had bigger issues at the moment.

Like the fact that he was walking toward an idling charcoal BMW that was unmistakably Ronan’s. As he neared it, the driver’s side window rolled down and Ronan’s face appeared. He was wearing a pair of chunky white sunglasses and smiling wolfishly.

“Those make you look like an asshole,” Adam said crankily, rounding the shark-nosed hood to let himself into the passenger seat. By the time he was settling himself, Ronan had removed the sunglasses and tossed them carelessly into the backseat.

“Well, more of an asshole,” Adam amended.

“Nice to see you too, baby,” Ronan cooed. “Buckle up, I don’t wanna damage you worse. The maggot probably has castrating shears in her purse.”

Adam bit back a snide comment about how he’d like to see Ronan try. He had the prickling feeling that Ronan wouldn’t want to, although he had no idea where that sensation was coming from.

Instead of speaking, he lay his head back against the seat as Ronan pulled smoothly onto the main roads. He drove fast; it was unclear if that was because he always did, or if he was trying to make sure they weren’t followed. Probably both.  

When Adam opened his eyes again, they were well outside of Henrietta and the surrounding suburbs, speeding through swathes of open farmland and patches of murky forest. Ronan was drumming his fingers on the gearshift, but his other hand was clenched tight on the wheel. He reached up to fiddle with the radio and then pulled his hand back as though burned. He shot a guilty look at Adam that morphed immediately into an impassive mask when he saw that Adam was watching him.

“What?” he asked roughly.

“You can turn on the radio,” Adam said quietly. “Just not too loud.”

“Right.” Ronan rummaged one-handedly around between the seats and came up with an iPod that he thumbed through for a moment.

Adam didn’t bother to tell him to keep his eyes on the road; it seemed like pointless advice. He had every confidence that Ronan would ignore him and maybe make a scathing remark to boot.

After a moment the car filled with the sounds of a soft drum loop and guitar reverb, a thickly Scottish voice joining them mid-bass drop.

“Huh,” Adam turned his head a little, even though it hurt, and surveyed Ronan. “This is so…mellow,” he said lamely. “I thought you’d listen to something with more screaming.”

Ronan snorted. “I reserve the screaming for non-concussed audiences.”

“I like it,” Adam said. Ronan’s stormy expression broke. He glanced sideways at Adam and the corner of his mouth twitched.

“I’ve got more where this came from,” he said finally.

Adam smiled. “Scottish folk?” He wondered if they were finally getting somewhere. He didn’t feel comfortable with Ronan exactly, but he didn’t mind sitting here with him, lilting music pouring out of the radio, talking about something innocuous.

“This is definitely indie rock,” Ronan rolled his eyes as though anyone should know that.

“I don’t know anything about music,” Adam admitted. “What’s the difference?”

He expected Ronan to laugh at him, or maybe to despair—it couldn’t be a rock star’s dream to have a soulmate that didn’t know anything about their life’s work, but that wasn’t what happened.

His eyes lit up.

“They aren’t mutually exclusive,” he began, and then Adam started to lose the track of his argument, lulled by his hoarse voice and the motion of the car. He hadn’t taken Ronan for a talker, but maybe it was just the subject. He didn’t notice his eyes slipping shut until they’d ground to a halt and Ronan was looking at him exasperatedly.

“Did I bore you?” he asked with a bite of self-deprecation in his voice.

“No,” Adam said honestly. “I’m just concussed.”

Ronan looked at him for another second, then abruptly got out of the car. Adam fumbled with his seatbelt, but then his door was swinging open and Ronan was reaching over him to click it open.

Adam’s breath caught at his nearness. He couldn’t help his immediate Oh my god, it’s Ronan Fucking Lynch reaction. He didn’t give a shit about celebrities, but even weeks of knowing he was his soulmate couldn’t dampen the surrealism of the moment. Ronan smelled good—the dark headiness of bourbon and smoky musk of leather with something clean and masculine underneath it all. Adam supposed that must be Ronan himself.

Before he could identify it, Ronan was gently manhandling him out of the car. He would have protested, but it was getting to be mid-afternoon and he hadn’t exactly slept well before the morning’s events. He was too tired and sore to complain as Ronan wrapped an arm around his waist.

They were on a gravel driveway surrounded by a copse of trees, and Ronan walked him to the front steps of a sweeping three-story farmhouse. Beyond the trees he could see rolling cow pastures dotted with mismatched barns ranging in size, from a huge red stable to a small sheet metal lean-to.

“Steps,” Ronan warned. He looked down hurriedly, wincing at the motion in his neck, and Ronan’s arm tightened.. The porch was wide and worn, paint rubbed deep into the grooves of its planks and peeling from the sides of the steps. Ronan supported most of his weight as they climbed them, and Adam didn’t have the heart to tell him that was unnecessary. The warm line of Ronan’s body against his was comforting and familiar; it wasn’t the first time in the last 24 hours that Ronan had taken him away from Henrietta.

When they reached the sturdy front door, Ronan fished around in his pocket for a moment, finally coming up with a tarnished key to match the old-fashioned doorknob. He swore vociferously as he fumbled with it, one-handed, until the door swung open and he hobbled Adam over the threshold.

Adam blinked around at the room in surprise. They were in a cluttered but spacious foyer.  A jumble of old rain boots sat beside the door and overloaded coat hooks lined the wall. A low bench supported a stack of weathered books that had been shoved haphazardly to the side so someone could sit there to tug on shoes. The threadbare rug had a long bare stripe down the middle where it led to the foot of the stairs before them.

It didn’t look how Adam would have pictured Ronan’s home.

Ronan didn’t say anything as he dragged Adam up the stairs, not seeming to care that they were still in their jackets and shoes. They reached a landing with a single door on it, then kept going upwards until they hit another landing that put them level with the foliage Adam could see through the windows.

“In here,” Ronan grunted. He shoved at the nearest door, which was plastered with an assortment of teenage oddities: a “NO TRESPASSING” yard sign and a bumper sticker that said “Give me the finger like you mean it” (edited with Sharpie to read “finger me like you mean it”); a battered U2 concert poster and an assortment of speeding tickets. Adam flushed at the bumper sticker and kept his head down as Ronan led him inside.

“Here,” Ronan repeated, nudging Adam until he sat down on the edge of the unmade bed. The sheets beneath Adam’s finger were soft and cool--nothing like the scratchy hospital sheets or his ratty blankets at home. He wanted to bury his face in them. His head throbbed, and he felt foggy and off-kilter sitting in what was obviously Ronan’s childhood room. The shelves were full of strange knick-knacks and old comic books, the walls papered with more concert posters, The White Stripes and The Ramones, Janis Joplin and The Alabama Shakes. It was fairly neat; dirty clothes spilled out of the hamper and the pillows were strewn all over the bed, but the floor was clear.

“Lie down,” Ronan said impatiently. He dropped to his knees in front of Adam and began tugging at Adam’s battered work boots, growling as the laces caught. Adam watched in disbelief while Ronan pulled them off and shoved at his knees until he swung his legs up onto the bed. “You don’t have to sleep in your clothes,” he muttered, and walked over to the bureau. He rummaged around for a second, then threw a soft cotton t-shirt and flannel pajama bottoms at Adam. “I’ll just—“ He was blushing as he walked jerkily toward the door and shut it behind him. He made a lot of noise as he tramped back down the stairs.

Adam stared after him for a moment. There was something deeply incongruous about Ronan Lynch, world-famous rock star and probable Sex God being too shy to watch Adam change. Even though he was alone, it made him feel a ridiculous pang of secondhand embarrassment as he reached down to unbutton his jeans and tug on the pajama bottoms. It felt like he’d never worn anything more comfortable, and he relaxed against the pillows, trying to ignore how everything smelled like Ronan.

He let his eyes slip closed, and he was half-asleep when Ronan returned with a glass of water and some soup.

“It’s nothing bougie, but hospital food is the fucking worst,” Ronan muttered, shoving the tray into Adam’s lap.

“Thanks,” he said quietly.

“Dr. Fuckface said you were on bed rest,” Ronan said. He seemed not to know whether to sit on the edge of the bed or not, so he awkwardly loomed over Adam. “No TV, no reading, no cell phones, no physical activity.” He checked them off on his fingers, then shoved his hands deep into his pockets. “So,” he shrugged, “bed rest.”

“Thank you,” Adam repeated. He imagined what this recovery would be like without Ronan: alone in his apartment above St. Agnes, struggling to take care of himself. He didn’t know if he was all right with Ronan taking care of him because he really needed it, or if it was because Ronan was so casual about it. He didn’t make it seem like any effort to help Adam, or like he expected anything in return.

The whole thing sat strangely with Adam, mostly because it didn’t feel strange at all.

Was this what having a soulmate felt like?

He looked down into the soup to hide whatever expression was on his face. He wasn’t good at concealing how he felt, and he hardly thought his abilities would improved when concussed.

Ronan finally gave in and sank onto the end of the bed. Adam had the distinct impression that he was being stared at, but he pretended not to notice as he spooned soup into his mouth. It was definitely better that the hospital food.

“So, uh.” Adam looked up. Ronan ran a hand over the back of his buzzed head, looking rueful. “We don’t know each other.”

Adam snorted and set down his spoon. “Yeah, I know.”

“Fuck off,” Ronan said automatically, then, “It would be good to know you.”

“Yeah,” Adam said. His chest felt funny and tight; Ronan was looking at him with something like hope in his eyes. “I guess that would be... good.”

“Right,” Ronan said, looking intently into Adam’s face. Adam had no idea what he was thinking, but he jumped when Ronan stood suddenly and grabbed for his empty bowl. “Ok, uh, sleep well,” he said abruptly, and left.

Adam stared at the closed door, then shook himself and lay back down. Even though he was exhausted, it took a long time to fall asleep.

Chapter Text

There were reporters on the lawn, there were reporters in the street, hell, she wouldn’t be surprised if there were reporters on the fucking roof by now.

“Are they on the roof?” she called up to Calla.

“Only if they want me to pick them off like tin cans,” Calla called back. When Blue looked questioningly up the stairs at her, she was holding a gun.

“Where the fuck—“ Blue began, but Maura interrupted as she brushed past her.

“It’s a paint gun. Also,” she flicked Blue on the shoulder, “ language ! Go talk to our special guest, he looks lost.” She slanted her eyes toward the reading room.

“Good,” Blue muttered. He could go on being lost. She started up the stairs to her room, but Persephone appeared at the top, barring her way.

“What?” Blue asked irately.

Persephone planted her hands on her hips and stared impassively down at Blue.

“What??” she asked again. Persephone only pursed her lips.

“UGH,” Blue groaned, and thudded back down the stairs and into the reading room. “ Women ,” she spat, slamming the doors closed behind her.

There was a polite cough from the corner. She clamped her eyes shut and gathered her patience. Turning around was a lot harder than it should have been, and seeing fucking Richard Gansey The Third on her couch didn’t help any.

He looked hilariously out of place with his boat shoes, tousled hair, and politely baffled expression. He certainly didn’t look like the frontman of a famous rock band. He’d also taken off Mr. Grey’s coat, and the brilliantly blue oval on his bicep drew her eye like a homing beacon.

“Right,” she said, then wanted to kick herself. The fuck was she saying that about? There was nothing right about this situation. Bad enough that Adam had gone and got himself a goddamn soulmate from that concert, what the fuck were the odds that she’d get one too?

He was staring at her shoulder where Maura’s sweater had slid down, and she jerked it up again. His eyes snapped to her face, and he looked guilty.

For some reason that only pissed her off worse.

Maybe because him feeling badly made her feel badly, and neither of them had really done anything wrong.

“I don’t know you,” she clarified. “We aren’t friends. I’m not going to fuck you just cause some magic tattoo says we should.”

Gansey looked horrified. “I wouldn’t expect you to!” he said. “You don’t owe me anything! I mean, there are people who are, are…platonic soul mates! People who have more than one soul mate even! This doesn’t have to mean anything, I just—“ He pulled up short, but she had a funny feeling she knew what he’d been about to say.

“Want it to be romantic?” she quirked an eyebrow at him.

He nodded mutely.

She sighed and went to go sit next to him, but on the other end of the tiny sofa.

“This is weird,” he said, rubbing his hands down his thighs. “For me too. I wasn’t expecting this. I’m not unhappy about it, though. Are you?”

She was taken aback by how frank the question was. She looked at him and the words were out of her mouth before she even considered them, “No, not really.”

She didn’t realize how tense he was until he slumped with relief.

“What did you think I’d say?”

“I thought you were coming in here to kick me out of your house,” he said. “Which would have been fair, I am a complete stranger.”

“I promised you could stay,” she shrugged. “I keep promises.”

Gansey smiled. She wanted to hate the way it lit up his whole face and made her feel like the only person in the world who mattered, but. It was a good smile.

“May I?”

She looked down at where he was gesturing. His hand reached toward her shoulder where the sweater had slipped again. Just the barest edge of the gold oval was showing beneath the fibers.

“Sure,” she said, not knowing what he was asking to do.

He pulled the sweater aside and brushed his fingertips reverently over the mark. She couldn’t suppress the shiver that raced down her spine at his touch, and when she looked from his fingers into his face, her breath caught. He was very close, and his eyes were wide and dark in his face. Her eyes flickered down to his lips, full and pink and a tiny bit chapped.

So not platonic soulmates then.

“Thank you,” he whispered.

The words were a catalyst; she reached out and pressed her fingers to his mark. It was a curious feeling, like a circuit being closed, like two puzzle pieces snapping together, like that time she’d broken a vase and watched Calla glue the final piece back into place like it had never shattered.

Her breath hitched and Gansey shuddered, his palm going flat on her shoulder, dragging her closer, and her fingers twined into his hair, and she pressed herself back into the arm of the sofa as he loomed over her, and somehow this felt dangerous and illicit and right…

“Fornicate later, we’ve got reporters on the roof!” Calla yelled from the hall, followed by the front door slamming open and the unmistakable sound of the paint ball gun going off.

 


 

When Adam woke up, he felt warm and muzzy. Everything smelled nice.

He stretched and assessed his body. Still a little sore in places--his elbow where they’d drawn blood, his ankle where it had twisted under him as he fell. His neck and head felt better, but it was only a matter of time before the throbbing came back.

He swung his legs over the side of the bed and wobbled his way to standing. He had to pee, and his mouth tasted like the apocalypse. He shuffled into the connected bathroom and used the toilet, then studied the assortment of objects on the chipped porcelain sink: a toothbrush and toothpaste in a navy blue mug, an old-fashioned straight razor, a pair of hair clippers that looked lethal, and a bar of plain ivory soap.

He gazed longingly at the large claw-foot bathtub behind him, but instead of switching on the taps he started rummaging in the drawers for a spare toothbrush.

It wasn’t until he was facing down the flight of stairs that he began to have misgivings about leaving Ronan’s bed. Part of him was tempted to take them how he’d done stairs as a little kid—sitting on his butt on the concrete steps in front of the trailer and sliding down one by one.

He compromised by clinging to the bannister and trying not to move his head too much. The early morning light was mercifully dim, but he could already feel the beginnings of a headache.

When he reached the first floor he wasn’t sure where he was supposed to go. The house was a warren of cluttered rooms and hallways. All the furniture was high quality and had obviously been repaired many times over—an old armchair spewed stuffing out of a previously patched hole, the seam in a cracked cabinet door carefully glued back together. He passed through a chaotic music room, a book-lined study, a cozy den, a bright solarium-- still, Ronan was nowhere to be found.  He moved deeper into the house until he reached a living room that looked more regularly used than the rest of the house. The sagging couch had a pillow bunched up at one end and a tangle of blankets kicked down toward the opposing arm. He tugged the blanket from where it was stuck between the arm and the cushions and folded it neatly before carrying on through the next doorway.

He was just wondering to himself why Ronan would sleep on the couch instead of a bed, when he found the man himself. Ronan sat on a stool in the quaint farm kitchen, an acoustic guitar in his lap and a frown creasing his brow. A sheet of paper and pen sat in front of him next to a small pile of picks. He alternated between scribbling on the paper and snapping the picks in half with his thumb and forefinger. Bits of plastic littered the floor at his feet.

He drew up abruptly as Adam walked into the room, dropping the pen, but keeping the next pick pinched between his fingertips.

“Why’d you sleep on the couch?” Adam asked.

Ronan looked at him like the answer was obvious, “You were in my bed.”

Adam folded his arms over his chest. “Is it the only bed in the house?”

“No.” Ronan picked the pen back up and wrote something else down, then carefully chose a new pick and began playing a raucous, jangling tune. He smiled sharply over at Adam, who found that his tongue was suddenly stuck to the roof of his mouth. He didn’t know what it was about Ronan’s long fingers moving over the frets that disarmed him so badly.

“I said bed rest,” Ronan eventually called over the noise.

Adam scowled at him and moved further into the kitchen, looking for the fridge. He found it wedged into the corner between a lip of counter and a window, and yanked the door open. He swayed at the sharp motion, and there was an echoing clatter as Ronan dropped the guitar and grabbed to steady him. His right hand closed tightly around Adam’s bicep, green-stained fingers digging into the muscle.

“Bed,” he said firmly. Adam looked up into his face; concern burned deep in Ronan’s blue eyes. Adam’s brain went curiously blank as he met Ronan’s gaze, mapped the strange landscape of Ronan’s irises, the ridges and valleys of color radiating out from the pupils. They narrowed as he watched, swallowed up by black pupil.

His own eyes flicked down to Ronan’s mouth. Ronan’s breathing picked up almost imperceptibly, and Adam zeroed in on his lower lip, to the flash of tongue that he could see behind it. His left hand wrapped around the back of Ronan’s neck, fingers brushing through soft shorn hair, and Ronan went completely still.

Adam reached up, pushing up onto the balls of his feet to lean in and run his nose up the column of Ronan’s neck. There it was again: that smell that was just Ronan’s. Ronan swallow convulsively as Adam nudged along his throat and toward his jaw, tilting his head up until he could regard Ronan evenly.

He’d come this far. He wondered if Ronan would close the distance.

They stayed like that for a moment, staring at one another in a strangely unhurried stand-off, Ronan’s mark warm against Adam’s arm, Adam’s mark pressed to the back of Ronan’s neck. The air between them crackled with tension, and they breathed it in together.

Until Ronan reached behind Adam and gently closed the fridge.

“Bed,” he whispered again. This time, Adam was gratified to hear that he was the one who sounded shaky.

 

Chapter Text

Ronan put him back to bed like a sulky child. Adam supposed that maybe he deserved it; he’d been nothing but antagonistic toward Ronan, and he could sense that he was trying , that he was struggling to navigate the uncertain terrain between them. He almost wished he’d let Blue tell him what she’d found out about Ronan, if only to give him some idea of the person he was currently living with, his soulmate. He didn’t know anything about Ronan.

No, that wasn’t true.

Ronan exuded an aura of menacing disdain onstage, calm arrogance off it. When he looked at Adam he was all quiet intensity and gentle movements. Music poured out of him like breathing. He was moody and abrupt and viciously clever. In his own way, he was trying to take care of Adam, and Adam didn’t know how to let him.

They seemed to be made of contradictions like that: pieces that shouldn’t seem to fit, but somehow did. Ronan’s erratic overtures and Adam’s measured distance combined until they orbited one another safely. Ronan’s taciturn glares and Adam’s pretenseless nature made for comfortable silences. Ronan’s dynamic energy and Adam’s understated perseverance kept them both even keeled.

Adam could just hear Calla’s voice in his head: “ The universe isn’t stupid, you know .”

Ronan disappeared from the room once he made sure Adam was back in bed, but returned twenty minutes later with scrambled eggs and toast, a mug of strong coffee and a glass of juice. He set the tray on Adam’s lap and sat down on the edge of the bed, much closer to Adam than the day before.

“Are you too crippled to feed yourself?” Ronan asked rudely.

Adam narrowed his eyes at him and thrust a forkful of eggs into his own mouth. He chewed aggressively, swallowed, and had to stop himself from shoveling the rest of the eggs into his mouth. He had no idea where Ronan had learned to cook, but they were good.

Ronan had brought a second fork to eat from Adam’s plate. Adam watched openly, able to appreciate the slant of his cheekbones and the angle of his jaw as he chewed. His lips were very pink; Adam zoned out staring at them, wondering whether he should have kissed him earlier.

“My mom used to use this when we were sick.”

The words were so unexpected that Adam nearly upset his juice. “The tray,” Ronan clarified as Adam made a wild grab for the glass.

Adam, disaster averted, froze and stared at Ronan. He wasn’t looking at Adam, and the tops of his ears were pink. “I have two brothers, and when we all got sick, she let us climb into my parents’ bed and watch old movies all day. She used to make the best soup.” He smiled slightly, but it wasn’t a happy expression.

“Used to?” Adam asked quietly.

“She’s been in the hospital since my dad was murdered,” Ronan said evenly. “She had a breakdown. We visit her after church every week.”

“You and your brothers?” Adam asked, striving to keep his voice as calm as Ronan’s.

“Matthew,” Ronan said automatically, then his lip curled, “and Declan. We go to St. Agnes.”

“Did you know,” Adam set his fork down carefully and kept his voice light, “that I live there?” He had the creeping suspicion that Ronan knew a lot more about him than he let on.

“Yes,” Ronan admitted. “But,” he looked up at Adam, and his eyes were blazing, “I didn’t want to take the choice away from you.”

Adam felt like he’d been punched. “What choice?” He didn’t see what choice either of them had left at this point; sure, they could turn their backs on one another at any time, they could decide to never speak again, but they didn’t have any choice in their soulmate.

“You didn’t come find me.” Ronan shrugged, too nonchalant and well-practiced to be convincing. “You knew who I was.”

Adam nodded. “I did.” He looked down at his hands clenched on top of the tray between them. They were dry and callused and even though he knew they were clean, the dirt felt too deeply ingrained to truly remove. “But I also know who I am.”

“Well, I fucking didn’t,” Ronan said. He shoved the tray to the side and glared at Adam.

“No,” Adam’s eyes flashed up to Ronan’s. “I’m not like you, Ronan. I’m not rich or talented or attractive or famous. I don’t know shit about music. I’m not what you wanted, I’m what you got stuck with . I’m a fucking mechanic , not some rock star’s girlfriend. I’ve never done drugs or even had sex.“ He sucked in a deep breath, mortified to feel wetness prickling in the corners of his eyes. “I may be boring and poor, but I’m not stupid. Why would I come find you just to be told I’m not good enough?” Adam said flatly.

Ronan’s face had gotten paler and stormier the longer Adam spoke, his lips compressed into a thin, unhappy line. His voice, when he finally spoke, was deadly. “Well since you have me so figured out,” he spat. “Since you know what I want , without fucking asking me first—“

But Adam interrupted him, his humiliation churning into rage, “Prove me wrong, then. You gonna tell me this is what you would have picked ?”

“How the fuck should I know?” Ronan shot up from the bed and started pacing, hands scrabbling over his head, leather bracelets sliding down his arm.

“You want this ?” Adam snorted derisively and gestured at himself, scrawny and plain against Ronan’s expensive pillows.

Ronan was on him in a second, teeth bared and muscles taut as he slammed a hand into the pillow next to Adam’s head. Their faces were inches apart. Ronan’s body was a tense line suspended over Adam’s, one knee planted on the mattress so he could loom more effectively.

Adam’s heartbeat was drumming out of his chest, thumping so hard that he felt sure Ronan could see it, but when he went to identify fear, that wasn’t at all what he felt. Somehow, he couldn’t bring himself to be scared of Ronan, and that frightened him in and of itself.

“Who said I don’t want you?” Ronan gritted out, his eyes wild.

Adam’s entire body went white hot.

“Do you?” he challenged. He was trapped under Ronan, and he could feel the frustration and resentment simmering in both of them. He thought of the kitchen. How could that only have been an hour ago? He’d always been this aware of Ronan, hadn’t he? He must have always wanted to touch, kiss, bite.

“Fuck you,” Ronan hissed, and kissed him.

Adam didn’t know what he’d expected, but it wasn’t this.

Ronan was gentle with him even though his entire body spelled violence. His lips were soft and chaste, and his hand curved around Adam’s jaw, holding Adam at bay when he tried to deepen the kiss. Adam had only ever kissed Blue, and it hadn’t been like this. He’d wanted her, yes, but not in this way that was ferocious and maddening, where he wanted to push until he got exactly what he wanted.

Adam parted his lips, flicked his tongue across Ronan’s bottom lip, reached up to scratch his nails down Ronan’s arm. Ronan twitched but pulled away instead of deepening the kiss, and Adam groaned. Ronan’s eyelids were heavy, just a sliver of blue focused on Adam’s lips when he spoke.

“You said you’ve never had sex,” Ronan said huskily. The way ‘sex’ dripped from his mouth had Adam shifting under the sheets. “Was that your first kiss?”

Adam shook his head.

“Good,” Ronan whispered.

This time he kissed Adam properly, open mouthed and hot. He pushed Adam back into the pillows and Adam twined his arms around Ronan’s neck to pull him even closer. Ronan settled between his legs, his body a long line of heat through the sheets. Adam’s hips jerked up at the contact, and Ronan moaned and shuddered, hand fisting in the pillowcase.

Ronan’s lips were all consuming. His tongue was in Adam’s mouth and his thigh was between Adam’s legs, and Adam didn’t know which to concentrate on. Adam felt drunk from kissing, everything velvet heat and spit-slick arousal. His hands found the hem of Ronan’s torn tank and he pushed it up until he reached skin, until he could feel the dip of Ronan’s lower back and the swell of his ass. He didn’t know it could be like this.

Ronan pulled back too soon, sitting up and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. His lips looked wet and obscene. Adam tried to follow, only to be pressed gently back into the pillows. It looked like it cost Ronan something to hold him at bay, though. Adam could see the bulge at the front of Ronan’s jeans, and Adam bucked his own hips up to provoke him.

“Fuck,” Ronan swore and rolled to the side so that he was practically hanging off the edge of the bed.

“What are you doing?” Adam tried to sit up again. Ronan put one heavy hand in the center of his chest to stop him.

“No goddamn strenuous fucking activity, you fucking idiot.” Ronan rolled the rest of the way off and landed on all fours. He hung his head for a second and Adam watched, fascinated, while he collected himself before looking up at Adam. His eyes were bright and glassy, lips still swollen.

“Right,” Adam said. He didn’t give a shit.

“This is fucked,” Ronan muttered, and then drew himself to his feet and charged into the bathroom, slamming the door hard enough to make Adam wince. He could feel his headache coming back, and it wasn’t until the shower started running that he realized what Ronan must be doing in there.

“Jesus,” he whimpered, and palmed himself through his—oh god, Ronan’s —pajama pants. It felt wrong to jerk off in Ronan’s bed, in Ronan’s pants , even if he was pretty sure that was exactly what Ronan was doing the next room over. But it was Ronan’s house and his bathroom, and he could jerk off wherever the fuck he wanted.

Adam laid back and tried to think of anything but Ronan naked and glistening wet, one hand braced on the shower wall, his other moving on his hard cock, water sluicing over his chest and down his back, rivulets tracing the curves of his ass and the proud lines of his dick.

He closed his eyes and beat back the mental image, trying to ignore the sound of water pounding against tile. It was actually soothing, like rain, and he willed it to calm his racing heart and shaking hands. He rested them on top of the bedspread and resolutely avoided his cock.

The water shut off and Ronan stomped out of the bathroom a few minutes later, just as Adam was beginning to get control of himself. Ronan, dripping wet and wearing only a towel, was supremely unhelpful. Adam’s eyes caught on his bare back--there was a sprawling tattoo there, black and complex and vicious. Ronan avoided Adam’s eye while he dug around in his dresser and shut himself back in the bathroom to get dressed. When he reappeared he stood at the foot of the bed and raked his eyes over Adam.

“Good shower?” Adam raised his eyebrows at him.

Ronan flushed but only folded his arms and kept looking at him.

“What?”

“You’re beautiful,” Ronan said resolutely. “And mechanics are hot. Also,” he glared harder, “I don’t do drugs anymore.”

Adam was at a loss. Ronan didn’t seem like he was going to say anymore, and the staring was getting old. “If you aren’t going to fuck me, are you going to let me sleep?” he asked acerbically.

It was extremely gratifying to see Ronan’s face go slack for a split second before he retrieved his usual arrogant sarcasm. “I didn’t say I’d never fuck you,” he grinned. “Sleep well,” he said, winking on his way out.

Adam groaned and shoved a pillow over his face. He was never sleeping again.

Chapter Text

The problem with living in a house full of so many people was that there were rarely any spare moments for “fornicating.” Someone was always bursting into the room or coming in to brush their teeth when the bathroom was occupied or opening the coat closet and acting surprised when there were people inside of it.

“You’re psychic ,” Blue spat at Calla, whose talons were currently digging into the upper cartilage of her left ear. Gansey was similarly incapacitated and making a valiant effort not to grimace.

“So I was supposed to...what? Leave my coat on the floor because teenagers are in the closet? I think not.” She marched them briskly into the kitchen and deposited them in chairs on either side of the table. They sat facing one another, both red faced and resolutely avoiding each other’s eyes.

Blue bit back her retort that she wasn’t a teenager anymore . Now didn’t seem like the time to stake her adulthood on an arbitrary legal age, and she had the uncanny sensation that Calla’s reply would go something along the lines of “Eigh teen still seems like a teen ager to me.”  There were some things you didn’t need to be psychic to predict.

“I’m sorry for the inconvenience,” Gansey said stoically. Blue kicked him under the table. Fucking traitor. Calla could sense weakness like Orla could sense gossip, and Gansey was playing right into her hands.

Against all odds, Calla’s eyes softened. “Well. I appreciate the apology. If you won’t leave room for Jesus, at the very least keep the canoodling out of my sight…” She trailed off ominously.

“Wait, he gets off the hook?” Blue exploded. “What kind of feminist are you? You’re upholding centuries worth of double standards predicated on the forgiveness of white men and the villainization of--”

“Oh my god, calm down, snowflake,” Orla waltzed into the kitchen and winked at Gansey. She’d recently taken to wearing less clothing than usual around the housed, and today was no exception. She was dressed in a pair of spandex boy shorts and a lace bralette, and enormous be-jeweled hoops swung from her ears. “Yeah, you’re furthering the cause, whatever.”

“You--” Blue lunged up from her chair; Gansey flung an arm around her waist and lifted her bodily into the air. The one small part of Blue that wasn’t indignantly aflame at her cousin’s ignorance caught fire with lust. It should not be sexy that Gansey could bench press her, and she resented the fact that she liked it.

She bit him in retaliation, but the kicking and clawing didn’t stop him from bearing her away from the kitchen and out the screen door.

Persephone was lying prone on a beach chair on the back porch. She was the only one who kept them from throwing it away. Its wicker was frayed and stabbed its occupants, and it let out a worrisome creak whenever someone tested their weight on it. Despite the fact that the day was overcast and chilly, she wore a sunshine yellow romper and cat-eye sunglasses, clearly caught in the middle of sunbathing.

She let out a tinkling laugh at the sight of Blue fighting her way out of Gansey’s disgustingly well-defined arms.

“Your golden king carrying a mirror to burnish his armor in,” she said cryptically, swinging her legs over the side of the chair. She was barefoot, her toes painted a delicate rose. “If you sheath your sword, you won’t suffer the consequences,” she said, then burst into giggles and swanned back into the house.

“What on earth...” Gansey said, looking after Persephone with perplexed curiosity.

“She’s telling you to wear a condom,” Blue snapped.

“Oh my,” Gansey said, eyes going wide. The expression held so much shocked Southern sensibility that Blue wanted to punch him.

She was still struggling to find the balance between wanting to strangle him and wanting to...Well, not sleep with him since that’s what everyone in the house obviously expected to happen.

Blue looked at Gansey. His hands were shoved into his pockets and he looked abashed. His hair was in disarray, and the neckline of his worn Byrds t-shirt was crooked. He was pretty much the male lead of every teen romcom ever made, and at the end of the day...he was hers .

“Sorry I picked you up,” Gansey said. “I should have respected your bodily autonomy.”

He’s learning, she thought grudgingly, and decided that spoke better of her teaching than his absorption.

“Thank you,” she said stiffly. She edged closer to him and almost held herself back -- before she thought Own your sexuality and pounced.

They went down onto the chair in a tangle of limbs and lips, Gansey clearly surprised but more than willing to go along with it. Usually, he was the one who wanted to stop and talk things over, clear the air, define the boundaries, but she was working on bringing out his spontaneity.

The primary stumbling block was Adam. At that thought, her libido came to a grinding halt. She disentangled herself from Gansey but stayed collapsed on top of him. He lay panting against the chair, cheeks flushed, eyes glassy, and she struggled to resist the heat in his eyes. An unmistakeable hardness pressed against her stomach. She shivered.

 She scrambled to her feet abruptly. “I need to make a call.”

“Ok,” she heard him call weakly as she marched back into the kitchen. It was mercifully empty, but she still grabbed the phone then dragged a stool into the pantry. The cord stretched just far enough to let her close the door and lean up against the wall. It was dark, but her eyes adjusted enough for her to punch in the number Gansey had given her.

The phone rang so long that she nearly gave up. Then there was a click and a husky voice snapped through the line, “Who is this?”

“Hi Ronan,” she said, rolling her eyes. She hoped her tone conveyed just how disinterested she was by his bullshit macho posturing. “I need to talk to Adam.”

“He’s asleep.”

“No, he’s not,” came a voice in the background, followed by the sounds of clattering and vociferous swearing.

“Blue,” Adam’s voice filled her ear. She let out a gusty sigh of relief. She hadn’t known how worried she’d been until she heard his voice.

He’s ok .

“I can come get you right now if he’s being an asshat,” Blue said quickly. Objectively, Ronan was an asshat, but she needed to hear it from Adam before she could act. She’d read that Rolling Stone article, for all that it made Gansey wring his hands and promise that, “It doesn’t paint Ronan in a fair light.”

“No more than usual,” Adam said darkly.

Blue was on her feet before he’d even finished the short sentence. “What’s that mean?”

“It’s fine,” Adam said hurriedly, sensing her outrage. She was feeling very tightly wound recently, and she was introspective enough to recognize that she was looking for something to storm about. ( It’s all the pent up sexual tension, the Orla-sounding part of her brain helpfully provided.) “I’m glad you called though.”

“It’s good to hear your voice,” Blue admitted, sinking back onto the stool. “I miss you.”

“I miss you too,” Adam breathed. “It’s weird. I always thought…”

“Yeah, I know,” Blue said. They hadn’t acknowledged it before this moment, and she knew why the conversation was happening now. They could avoid looking at one another, for one thing. “I have something to tell you.”

“Anything to do with you wearing Maura’s sweater in the hospital?” Adam said wryly.

“How did you--” Blue’s mouth dropped open. She never gave Adam enough credit for being observant.

“You don’t like beige,” Adam said simply.

“Hmph.” Blue crossed her arms and fiddled with the curly phone cord. “Gansey’s my fucking soulmate.”

“I figured,” Adam said. He didn’t sound angry, but she could feel his regret, even through the phone line. “Guess it really wasn’t meant to be, was it?” he asked, the sadness now tempered with amusement.

“No, I guess not,” Blue said, not knowing what else was appropriate. She wasn’t good at holding back, but she wanted to try for Adam’s sake.

“How is it?”

“He’s an elitist, easily scandalized rich boy,” Blue said automatically.

“You really like him, don’t you?” She could hear the smile in his voice.

“Fuck.” Blue’s head thumped back against the pantry wall, and she winced when one of her barrettes stabbed her scalp.

Adam full out laughed.“You do.”

Blue couldn’t stop the smile spreading over her own face. “Yeah, what about you? You went for the bad boy , that’s so cliche Adam, oh my god.”

“Yeah, but he’s…” She heard him drag in a ragged breath. “I don’t really know what he is, actually. We haven’t...”

“What?”

“Talked much,” Adam said carefully.

“Too busy doing other things?” Blue asked gleefully.

“No,” Adam protested, “he, uh, won’t. Not until my concussion is better.”

Blue snorted. “How gentlemanly.,”

“He’s not like I expected,” Adam said quietly. “But he’s also exactly like I expected, if that makes sense.”

“It sure does,” Blue sighed. She closed her eyes and let images of Gansey parade across her lids. Gansey wreathed in stage lights, Gansey swinging a microphone by its cord; Gansey awake at their kitchen table at 2 in the morning, unable to sleep, Gansey lying flushed on the deck chair, eager to respect her limits. “Gansey’s a romantic,” she said, mouth twisting with disdain.

“So’re you, at heart,” Adam said playfully.

“Am not ,” she groaned, but quieted at another of Adam’s soft chuckles. “Whatever.”

“I don’t know if Ronan and I...connect,” Adam said suddenly. “I mean, physically, yes. But I’m not like him. You should see his house.”

“What, he’s rich? Color me surprised.”

“He’s so--” Adam broke off. “He doesn’t buy into this soulmate stuff.”

“Neither do you.”

“No,” Adam said. “I wanted to have a choice. I wanted someone who picked me.”

Blue, clutched the phone harder. “Sometimes we don’t get that.” She hadn’t spent a lot of time mourning the loss of her budding relationship with Adam, but suddenly it ached . “I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, me too,” Adam said. “Thank you, though. You know I…”

“Yeah,” Blue said. She knew how he felt. “You’re family.”

“Ok,” Adam said. She wanted to smack that hint of doubt out of his voice. “It’s good you called.”

“Hang in there, champ,” she said, trying to emulate Gansey’s posh Virginia accent. Adam let out a huff of amusement. She could picture him all too easily: propped up in bed, expensive phone held carefully in his capable hands, delicate wrist bent to hold the device to his ear, hesitant smile on his face.

She wanted him here.

“Hi to Maura and everyone,” he said finally.

Blue wrinkled her nose. “Even Orla? You stole her man. She’s very upset.”

“Even Orla.”

“Will do,” Blue said. “And Adam?”

“Yeah?”

Blue couldn’t believe she was about to defend Ronan fucking Lynch , but all of their lives had taken a turn toward the surreal lately. “Don’t decide that he wouldn’t have picked you. Not until you know him better.”

It was silent on the other end of the phone.

“I’ll try.”

 


 

Ronan adjusted surprisingly quick to having Adam in the house. He slept most of the day; Ronan brought him meals, read aloud to him when he was awake and angry at Ronan’s insistence he stay in bed, and, above all else, kept his hands to himself.

Adam, he was learning, liked to be moving at all times, and while he didn’t get bored easily, he was prone to frustration. Ronan called a favor in with Henry to get Adam’s homework, and spent more time working on it with Adam than he’d ever spent completing his own. Adam wasn’t allowed to read or use a computer, but insisted Ronan sit on the end of the bed and read off his assignments so he could dictate everything from an English paper to his physics problem set.

Ronan also had to sit by as Adam called his various jobs to explain that he couldn’t come to work, then stew in impotent irritation at the pinched look on Adam’s face when he was done. Adam’s worrying felt like an itch under his own skin. It would be so easy to write him a check and pretend the concussion never happened. The fact that Adam would never take it seemed like a footnote, something he could easily brush aside by paying Adam’s rent right under his nose.

But he didn’t want to accidentally make this worse for Adam.

He couldn’t stop thinking about their tumultuous first day. Pissing Adam off, making out with him, furiously jerking off in the shower while Adam’s warm body lay in his bed a few feet away. He was a twitchy, frustrated wreck, trying not to snap at Adam but getting horribly turned on whenever Adam sniped right back. He never anticipated that his soulmate would be able to take him down a peg with nothing but a well-timed glare.

Then again, he’d never given that much thought to his soulmate at all.

On the third day he called Gansey.

“Ronan??” Gansey sounded panicked when he finally picked up. “Is Adam all right? Did the press find you?”

“What? No,” Ronan snapped. “What’s got your panties in a twist?”

“You never call,” Gansey said plaintively.

Even Ronan couldn’t argue with that.

“Fuck you, this is me calling,” he said instead.

“Right.” There was a rustling sound on the other side of the line, and when Gansey spoke again he sounded a little out of breath. “It’s been a bit…busy on my end. Is this a social call? Do you need advice?”

“I…” Ronan didn’t really know why he’d called. Adam was asleep upstairs, looking oddly delicate against Ronan’s dark sheets, and he’d stood staring at him for far too long. It had been  creepy and had made Ronan’s chest ache. He didn’t know if those two things were related or not.

Gansey sighed. “Tell me what’s been going on.,”

“Nothing,” Ronan said defensively. He leaned against the kitchen doorframe and chewed absently on his bracelets. Then, “Adam is...”

Stubborn? Frustrating? So magnetic that Ronan had a hard time being in the same room without touching him?

“He’s what, Ronan?” Gansey asked gently, and Ronan snorted. Gansey had switched into therapist-mode, ready to help Ronan articulate his feelings .

“He’s a stubborn asshole.”

“Sounds familiar,” Gansey said lightly.

“We had a fight.” Ronan scrunched up his face, trying to decide if that was a fair descriptor. Adam had kind of yelled at him that first day.

“What about?”

“He thinks that if we had a choice—“ Ronan bit viciously into a strap and felt it break, “I wouldn’t have chosen him.”

“Would you have?”

“I don’t—yes.” Ronan closed his eyes. “Fuck. Yes. I would have. I think.”

“You should probably tell him that,” Gansey said patiently.

“Like he’ll listen,” Ronan scoffed. “It took fucking jumping him to convince him I wanted him.” He sneered at the phrase—it sounded like something out of one of his mother’s old romance novels.

“You what?” Gansey sounded shocked.

Ronan rolled his eyes at Gansey’s dramatics. “It was consensual making out. Followed by frantic jerking off.”

“In separate rooms?” Gansey sounded too amused for Ronan’s liking.

“Yes,” Ronan grumbled. “He’s a virgin.”

“You show remarkable restraint,” Gansey said drily. “So you had to show him?”

“That I want to bone him? Sure, you could say that,” Ronan mumbled, remembering Adam’s hands dipping into the back of his jeans, his hips canting up to meet Ronan’s. It made him feel uncharacteristically off kilter; sex was sex was sex, but this felt different.

“So you’ll have to show him that you choose him.”

“Great. Sounds nice and easy,” Ronan glared at the broken bracelet, daydreams about Adam breaking apart at Gansey’s words. “The maggot called the other day. How is she?”

“She doesn’t show much restraint,” Gansey said diplomatically. Ronan’s eyebrows shot skyward.

“Oh ho, Gansey-boy, what did you say?” he laughed into the receiver. “Just don’t tell me the details of your heterosexual fucking.”

Gansey sounded scandalized. “I didn’t say—“

“Yeah yeah, kiss and tell, fuck and shut up,” Ronan grinned. “You never get laid, how’s it feel?”

“I never said I was getting laid,” Gansey said, and Ronan could feel the blush from across the phone line. “I feel like a creepy old man,” he added. The smile slipped from Ronan’s face.

“She’s over age, right?”

“She’s 18,” Gansey confirmed.

Ronan tilted his head back and studied the ceiling before answering. There was a long crack in the plaster that he should patch up, and the wooden molding could do with polishing. There was always so much to fix in this house.

“Adam is 18, too,” Ronan said, finally. “Does that make me a fucked up old man?”

“No, no, that’s not what I meant!” Gansey said hurriedly. “It’s 3 years, what’ll that mean 20 years from now?”

“If I make it that far.”

“Don’t say that,” Gansey said sharply.

“Whatever, yeah, fine.” Ronan wedged the phone between his ear and shoulder so that he could pull at the broken bracelet. The scars underneath were old and fading, but he knew Gansey remembered every time he saw them. He stared down at them, seeing blood and black spots and Gansey’s panicked face before he dropped his arm. “I’ve been writing a lot.”

“Yeah?” Gansey sounded eager. “Anything good?”

Ronan cast another glance up at the ceiling, imagining that he could see through it to Adam lying asleep upstairs. “Best shit I’ve ever written,” he said quietly.

“That’s amazing, Ronan, I can’t wait to hear it, I…”

Ronan didn’t even pretend to listen as Gansey started talking about recording their next album.

He was still thinking about Adam.

 


 

Adam was listening to music for the first time.

He’d heard some of this stuff before, at least the bands everyone seemed to know. Calla blasted Led Zeppelin while she cleaned, Maura swayed to Ray Charles on the porch on summer evenings, Persephone sang along to Simon and Garfunkel during craft times with Blue.

But for the first time, Adam was listening to them. One day, when Ronan left him to sleep, he had slipped out of bed and puzzled over the buttons and knobs of Ronan’s beautiful sound system until he’d figured it out. Now, trying to fill his spare time, he thumbed through Ronan’s music collection, an eclectic mixture of scuffed cassette tapes, dusty vinyl LPs, and scratched CDs. He listened to the whole Second Sleeper catalogue that first day, then went searching through the rest. The albums that looked the most loved took priority, including a barely tolerable heavy metal Celtic group.

On the fourth day, Adam found something different.

It was a shiny bronze rectangle half the size of his thumb, with a small depression on one end. Turning it over curiously in his hands, he fit his thumb into the depression and jumped when a USB drive popped out of one end.

He stared at it, then looked around for a port. It didn’t occur to him not to find out what was on it.

Adam had gotten pretty good at working Ronan’s sound system by now, but it still took some fiddling to make it play the drive. Adam felt furtive as he plugged it into the speakers, but he already knew that Ronan was out back smashing empty beer bottles and wouldn’t come around to interrupt him.

It sounded like a demo tape, ambient noise whispering in the background and betraying that it hadn’t been recorded in a sound booth. Adam bent his good ear toward the speaker and turned the sound up. Someone strummed a guitar softly, humming along to the chords before they split into an intricate pattern of notes.

Adam didn’t know anything about the guitar, but this didn’t sound like anything else he’d heard before. It sounded like a master at work.

He was taken aback when the singing started. He figured it must be a song for Second Sleeper -- maybe a guitar part Ronan was messing around with, but this wasn’t Gansey’s voice over the track.

It was Ronan’s.

 


 

The problem with showing Adam that he gave a shit was that he already was . Ronan was bringing him breakfast in bed and pretending not to know he’d ransacked his music library. He was reading to him at night and doing his best not to pick a fight and fucking giving a shit about any of this in the first place .

But Adam didn’t know him. He didn’t know that those were things Ronan wouldn’t do for just anyone. Part of Ronan wanted to call Gansey in to explain, because Gansey did know him. He could probably translate easily while Ronan sat in another room and tried not to think about what Gansey was divulging.

He knew that wouldn’t work. If he was going to explain anything to Adam, he’d have to do it himself.

He hated that.

Maybe sucking it up and doing it anyway was part of the point Gansey was trying to make.

On the fourth day, Ronan mounted the steps to his room with trepidation. He had no idea what to say to Adam, kept turning ideas over in his head until he was so frustrated that he’d gone out onto the patio with a baseball bat and a case of empties. It wasn’t until he’d smashed every bottle into a fine, shimmering dust that he felt competent to speak to anyone.

On the landing outside his room, he paused and frowned. His head inclined to listen to the soft music filtering through the thick door. It sounded familiar, but not like any of the albums he knew he had stashed away in his room.

He opened the door just in time to see Adam jump guiltily away from the stereo. A bronze USB drive stuck out of it, pointing at Adam like an accusation.

It took Ronan a second to recognize his own voice pouring out of the speakers, to think about what was on that drive and what Adam had heard by now. He’d only recorded a few songs on it, but they were… personal.

His voice was dark and flat when he spoke. “Where did you find that.”

“It was…” Adam trailed off, his fingers twitching toward the bookshelf. It had been lying there for years. Ronan had never foreseen a time when someone else would be in his room. He’d thought it was safe.

“It’s not for you,” he said.

But neither of them moved to remove it. The music just kept playing. It filled the distance between them, and Ronan felt like the spot where he stood was empty, negative space. The music and Adam were the only real things in the world.

Somehow, listening to it while looking at Adam closed a link inside him, and he didn’t know what that meant or how to feel.

“Who was it for?” Adam asked, tilting his chin up. On another person it would seem arrogant, but on Adam the gesture was wary. “It’s so…”

“Disturbing?”

“Sad,” Adam corrected. “Who was it recorded for?”

“No one.”

Ronan finally pushed into the room and yanked the drive free. He tossed it on the shelf and shoved his hands deep into his pockets. He didn’t look at Adam. He should be angry that Adam had gone through his belongings, that he’d heard work Ronan had created during—

But what he felt was closer to relief.

Which pissed him off.

“What right do you have—?”

Adam cut across him. “You wouldn’t have told me yourself. No, I shouldn’t have looked at your things without permission, but you,” he jerked his head toward Ronan, “are the one who said we should get to know one another.”

“Like I’m the only one holding back?” Ronan scoffed. He rounded on Adam. “Were you planning on telling me how your daddy beats you?”

Adam’s face drained of color.

“Show you mine if you show me yours?” Ronan said viciously.

“You, you—“ Adam didn’t have a word ugly enough to describe Ronan. He looked shell-shocked and pale, too unwell to stand here and fight with Ronan. Ronan felt a surge of pride for Adam that he was doing it anyway. “How did you know? All that money and power and you, what? Bribed a cop for my CPS file? Questioned my mother? Hacked into the Henrietta PD archive? That’s disgusting,” he spat.

“Does it matter?” Ronan was savagely pleased that Adam was fighting back. He could all too easily picture Adam shutting down, looking at Ronan with the shuttered detachment of their first meeting or the wry hopelessness of their first fight.

“It’s my fucking business,” Adam seethed. “I don’t need you to save me. I don’t need to tell you about—“

“We’ve all got our shit,” Ronan said. “You think those songs weren’t my fucking business?

Adam looked at him evenly for a long moment, then turned and walked back to the bed. He lay down against the pillows and closed his eyes. “I shouldn’t have listened to it,” he finally said. “You shouldn’t have found out about my dad until I told you.”

Ronan wanted to leave the room. He wanted to go back outside and find something else to take the bat to.

Instead he sat down on the edge of the bed, snug up against Adam’s side, closer than he was sure either of them were comfortable with. It felt important, somehow, that neither of them moved away.

“I wrote them during…” Ronan scrubbed a hand over his head. “A hard time.”

“I figured,” Adam said. When Ronan glanced over at him, his eyes were still closed. Ronan stayed quiet for a moment, and Adam continued. “Drugs and sex and death. But acoustic,” he said, and his lips twitched.

Ronan felt his own lips twitch right back. “I save the screaming for the love songs.”

“Good to know,” Adam said,  frowning a little.

It took Ronan a moment to puzzle out the frown. “I haven’t screamed at you.”.

“You don’t love me.”

“Not yet,” Ronan said.

Adam sucked in a breath. His eyes flew open.

Ronan ducked his head, worrying at a bracelet with his teeth and trying to avoid whatever expression was on Adam’s face right now.

“Someone beat my dad to death in our driveway,” Ronan said. “He was an art dealer, but I guess he was doing some shady shit on the side. Forgeries, antiquities, whatever. They never caught the murderer. I was the one that found him.” Ronan was sure he was never going to look Adam in the face again. “He got us all music lessons as kids, but I was the only one who was any good. I moved in with Gansey after my mom broke down. We started the band. I met a shitty guy. I did a lot of dumb stuff. You showed up. The end.”

He dropped his wrist into his lap and tilted his head back to stare at the ceiling, uncomfortably aware of the heat pressing at the backs of his eyes.

He froze when he felt a whisper of a touch at his wrist; he hadn’t felt Adam move across the bed. Adam drew the bracelets up his forearm, running a thumb softly across the scars underneath. Ronan was grateful that the track marks were indistinguishable among the others.

“It wasn’t really on purpose,” Ronan said to the ceiling. He shuddered as Adam’s fingers were replaced by something even gentler. Warm breath gusted across the scars, Adam’s lips tracing the lines. “Adam,” he tried to say, but his throat felt thick and the word came out strangled.

“The shitty guy,” Adam said against his skin. Every muscle in Ronan’s body went taut; he’d hoped Adam wouldn’t pick up on that. “Are you still with him?”

Ronan had to smile ruefully at that. “We were never together.”

“Is he still around?”

“Yes.”

Adam’s lips stilled, but he didn’t move away.

“Is Blue still not your girlfriend?” Ronan countered weakly.

“She was never my girlfriend.” Adam pressed his mouth to the center of Ronan’s palm. Ronan held very still, taking in great gulps of air. He felt like his negative space was being slowly filled in with honey, warm and thick, and he was drowning in it.

“He doesn’t matter,” Ronan said.

Ronan felt Adam shrug. “It would be ok if he did.”

“Adam,” Ronan finally opened his eyes and looked down, his head spinning. Adam was on his knees next to the bed with Ronan’s arm cradled in his hands. The sight of him made Ronan’s body want, so badly. “ He doesn’t matter.”

Ronan pulled his arm free of Adam’s and reached out to touch. He pulled up just short of Adam’s cheek, his green fingertips hanging between them.

Adam reached up, pressed his hand over Ronan’s, marks brushing as Adam held Ronan’s palm to his face. Adam’s cheek felt warm and soft beneath Ronan’s callused fingertips. Sparks danced down his fingers and shot up his arm from the point of contact. Adam blinked up at him slowly, pretty blue eyes and pale eyelashes casting feathery shadows across his high cheekbones. In the half light, his eyes slipped colors easily: steel grey one moment, light blue the next.

Ronan couldn’t help but think of one of his favorite songs: Oh you’ve got green eyes, Oh you’ve got blue eyes, Oh you’ve got grey eyes. And I've never seen anyone quite like you before.  

Adam closed his eyes altogether, and Ronan mourned the loss. But then the next moment Adam was surging up into the circle of Ronan’s arms, wrapping his free hand around the back of Ronan’s neck, and kissing him for all he was worth...

Chapter Text

“Adam is about to go through a change,” Persephone said, apropos of nothing.

She and Blue were working their way through a basket of fabric scraps, Blue holding them up to an old green jumpsuit to see if their colors matched. Blue did not look at all concerned by that pronouncement.

“What kind of change?” Gansey asked. He held the basket in his lap and was doing his best to answer Blue’s questions about what looked good. So far she’d disregarded every one of his suggestions, but it felt nice to be included.

Persephone shrugged. “Finding the snake doesn’t solve it all. He can’t put the lid back on that basket.”

“What do you mean?” Blue finally piped up. She was looking at Persephone very intently. “Calla said that if he found him--”

“Heads and hearts,” Persephone interrupted, “are very different things.”

“Well, yeah, but--”

“There’s a man who Ronan needs to see,” Persephone said. “He never went away, even when he died.”

Gansey perked up, this new mystery setting the cogs of his brain whirring into motion. “Ronan’s father?”

“A relation? Perhaps not.” Persephone set aside the wisps of lace she’d been piecing together, drawing a pack of cards out of the inner pocket of her voluminous skirt.

Gansey leaned forward eagerly. He’d seen her shuffling them absently, drawing them out and sliding them across the table, passing cards back and forth between herself and Maura, pointing out significant shapes to the younger cousins. He’d never witnessed a proper reading.

Persephone handed the deck to Blue, who shuffled it perfunctorily before handing it back. Persephone closed her eyes and turned toward the sewing table, fanning the cards out and letting her hand ghost over them slowly. Gansey watched carefully and sucked in a breath when he saw one of the cards move on its own.

No, inanimate objects didn’t do that. It must have been a trick of the light.

Nevertheless, Persephone’s hand descended and she plucked the card free, laying it down face up and returning to the rest of the deck. She withdrew two more cards and spread them out in a row before opening her eyes.

Blue shoved her fabric out of the way and moved to stand behind Persephone.

“The Chariot and the Seven of Cups are inverted,” Blue said quietly. Persephone nodded vaguely.

Gansey craned his neck and peered at the cards. The middle one caught his eye. It was right side up and unambiguous, an orange-skinned figure with great curling horns and wide, leathery wings. It was seated, the figures of a man and woman standing at its feet. There were chains wrapped around each of their necks, linking them to one another and the…

“Devil,” Blue breathed. “I’d feel better if that was reversed.”

“It does paint a clear picture,” Persephone agreed.

“It does?” Gansey asked. He was flummoxed by the whole thing, but more than ready to believe their interpretations. He’d seen enough since arriving at 300 Fox Way to know that the psychics’ advice was worth its weight in gold.

“The Seven of Cups usually means fantasy, imagination,” Blue explained. “But when it’s inverted it means temptation and illusion. And the Chariot”-- she touched the edge of a gilded card depicting a handsome young man flanked by a set of sphinxes, their coloring yin and yang--“is usually about victory. But in this case--”

“It’s about aggression, losing control,” Persephone finished. “And the Devil--”

“--represents sexuality and addiction. Toxic relationships, usually,” Blue said.

“Oh no,” Gansey said faintly. He looked out the window at the front lawn. There were still a few reporters milling around, but after a few days with no news, they’d started dispersing. It had felt like a blessing after the last few weeks of chaos and heartbreak. But now his heart felt like someone had pumped it full of lead.

“I know exactly who Adam’s about to meet. And I don’t think he’s dead.”

 


 

Ronan still wouldn’t have sex with him.

Leisurely making out? Sure. Ronan was gentle, cradling his face in his hands and staying resolutely upright even when Adam tried to press him back into the bed. Adam even resorted to straddling Ronan’s thighs, pressing his hips to Ronan’s, scratching his nails across Ronan’s scalp. Ronan groaned and bucked up against him, but refused to deepen the kiss or move his hands anywhere south of Adam’s collarbone.

It was infuriating, especially when Ronan started shifting against Adam in a way that clearly conveyed he was as uncomfortably hard as Adam. He finally rolled Adam carefully onto his back, but just as Adam tasted victory, Ronan disentangled himself and disappeared back into the shower.

Adam wished he was shameless enough to strip and wait for him to return (he’d seen enough porn to know that tactic usually worked), but all he could do was lie red-faced and aggravated across the bed trying to catch his breath.

When Ronan came out of the bathroom he didn’t return to change. Instead he dropped his towel in full view of the bed.

“Ronan,” Adam croaked, sitting bolt upright. His head felt better than it had in days, and the presence of Ronan’s bare ass had him remarkably focused. The stark black lines of his tattoo ended just above the cleft of his ass, a visual journey that kept drawing his eyes back down to where he wished he--

“Eyes up, Parrish,” Ronan grinned over his shoulder at him, but there was something tight there.

Adam knew he was just as affected as Adam was. He just felt more comfortable parading around nude.

Adam dropped back into the pillows, eyes never leaving Ronan as he pulled a pair of black boxer briefs on, the tight silk stretching across the globes of his ass. His thighs were pale and dusted with light hair, his back smoothly muscled beneath the ink. He was long and lean, his limbs graceful even as he wrestled with his leather pants and finally turned to face Adam.

Adam’s mouth went dry at the blazing expression on Ronan’s face. Adam’s eyes flickered down over Ronan’s bare chest, the dusky pink of his nipples and the scant trail of hair disappearing into his waistband. Ronan maintained eye contact as he drew a soft grey tank top over his head and prowled closer to the bed. The wicked hook of a talon curved over his shoulder, still visible beneath his shirt’s strap. Adam wondered at how he’d barely noticed Ronan’s tattoo before. All he wanted was to map it with his mouth, trace its lines with his tongue.

“Sleep with me tonight,” Adam said quickly; Ronan was still sleeping on the couch downstairs. He reached up and touched the ragged edge of the tattoo.

Ronan leaned down and kissed him again, a long, slow drag of lips and tongue. “We’ve been over this. When I fuck, it’s ‘strenuous physical activity’.”

Adam flushed red and licked his lips, eyes fixed to Ronan’s.

“That’s not what I meant,” he protested weakly. “The bed,” he gestured at it, “it’s, you know. Big.”

“I know what else is big,” Ronan said with a straight face.

Adam cracked up. “You’re an idiot,” he said wonderingly. “Does anyone else know that? The great Ronan Lynch, the wet dream of thousands of teenage girls, is a fucking dork.”

“I’m offended ,” Ronan drew back, but he was smiling again. “Sure. I’ll sleep with you.”

 


 

Ronan both liked lying next to Adam in bed and felt deeply uncomfortable doing so.

Ronan had never been touch deprived as a child—he’d wrestled with Declan and snuggled with Matthew and hugged Aurora.

But Adam was different. Touch was a much more fraught genre of personal interaction.

Ronan felt a sick stab of guilt about bringing up Adam’s father earlier, but it was too late to take it back or apologize, and Adam didn’t seem to be holding it against him.

The room was dark, the silence only broken by the occasional whisper of sheets and Adam breathing softly next to him. Ronan didn’t think he was asleep, but he didn’t want to disturb him if he was close to dropping off.

Ronan lay on his back, staring blindly into the darkness. His mind couldn’t stop playing that afternoon over and over on repeat: Adam in his lap, the twist and arch of Adam’s body over his own, the quiet shuddering breaths against his lips, the gentle scrape of teeth over his clavicle. He wanted to kiss Adam right now. He wanted to roll Adam over and spread his hands across the width of his slender back. He wanted to mouth down his spine and sink his teeth into the globes of his ass. He wanted to reach around and cup Adam’s cock, run his fingers up the length of it and listen to him moan.

Adam shifted restlessly next to him, and then, there was skin , Adam’s bare calf pressed against his knee. Adam was a bit shorter than him, younger-- maybe still growing and definitely a bit malnourished.

Ronan reminded himself of these things, but.

He couldn’t just turn himself off , especially when he couldn’t stop thinking about reaching down to run a hand up Adam’s thigh until he met the hem of his boxers—the boxers that Ronan leant him and had been trying to ignore ever since. Thinking about them on Adam’s body was overwhelming. He was learning to live with the omnipresent desire to tear them off.

Another rustle. Ronan bit his lip and stayed still. Adam’s breath picked up a little. Had he fallen asleep without Ronan noticing? Was he having a bad dream?

It didn’t sound like a bad dream.

“Ronan?”

Ronan nearly jerked upright in surprise.

“Fuck,” he croaked.

“Ronan,” Adam repeated.

Ronan turned his head; Adam looked flushed, even in the darkness, his eyes glittering.

“Yeah?” he managed.

Adam bit his lip. Ronan tracked the motion then kept going, eyes sweeping down Adam’s body. His right hand was under the covers, unmistakably palming his cock.

“Jesus,” Ronan swore softly, eyes snapping back to Adam’s.

Ronan had not prepared for this.

“I jerked off in the shower yesterday,” Adam said quietly. “It felt wrong to do it alone in your bed.”

Ronan’s throat clicked as he swallowed. He had the feeling those were not words Adam would say in the light. His mouth was dry.

“Do I need to get in the shower now?”

Ronan didn’t trust himself to speak. He propped himself up on his elbow so he was looming over Adam; he looked back down at Adam’s hand, at the bulge of his erection, the lump that his fist made squeezing the base of his cock.

Ronan shook his head.

Adam’s hand began to move.

Ronan made a noise like someone had punched the air out of him. It certainly felt like he’d taken a hit to the solar plexus. Adam was jerking off in his bed, doing it because Ronan had told him to...

This was bad.

“Ah,” Adam moaned; his heels dug into the mattress as his hips jerked up. Ronan screwed his eyes shut, trying to make his brain think something other than Holy fuck, holy fuck, Adam .

If he was going to be painfully turned on and stick to his self-imposed no-touching policy, he should at least be as miserable as possible. He twitched the blanket aside. The motion clued Adam into his intent, and he kicked the blanket down.

Fuck . Adam’s dick was probably nothing special, but Ronan had seen a lot of them and this was the first time his reaction was: Pretty . It was a bigger than Ronan was anticipating, long but well proportioned, not as slender as Adam himself and getting steadily thicker as Adam fucked up into his own fist.

Adam had shoved the waistband of his boxers—Ronan’s boxers, Jesus —down under his balls, and it only served to illustrate how much more of Adam was still covered. Adam’s shirt had rucked up a little, his nipples clearly hard under the fabric.  

It wasn’t nearly enough. Ronan wanted him naked and lubed up and on his goddamn knees.

He didn’t seem like the type to go to his knees without a fight, though. His eyes met Ronan’s as he stripped his cock, and there was something challenging in them. Adam may be reserved by nature, but he had an undeniable strength in him.

It made Ronan even harder, if that were possible.

Ronan rolled over onto his stomach, elbows braced beneath him so he could watch Adam jerk off. He hoped that trapping his cock might get it to calm the fuck down, but the pressure of the bed on his erection only made it worse.  He thrust down without thinking and had to bite back an embarrassing moan—he didn’t want Adam to see him fucking dry humping a bed .

Adam didn’t seem to mind. His eyes flicked to the motion and then back up to Ronan’s face, and his tongue darted out to wet his lower lip. He was making these breathy little noises each time his hand rubbed over the head of his cock, and Ronan’s hips rocked helplessly in time.

He bit down on his arm when Adam let out a particularly loud groan, and nearly came when Adam shot him a smirk. Ronan wiggled a hand underneath himself and pressed it to his dick. He didn’t want to jerk off -- that felt gross somehow, to be jerking off to Adam without his permission, but he needed some kind of relief. This was fucking intolerable . Meanwhile Adam just kept going, his lower body moving in time with his hand, his vocalizations getting steadily louder.

It was oddly intimate: the darkness of the room, the sounds of their ragged breathing, the prolonged eye contact without touch. Ronan circled his orgasm, and he knew Adam must be close from the frantic stutter of his hips. He wanted to see Adam come, wanted to hold out until Adam had orgasmed first. It felt important that he was the first person to see Adam come and that he paid it the attention it deserved.

“Fuck,” Adam moaned. Ronan watched, mesmerized, as Adam reached up to toy with one of his nipples through his shirt. He rolled it between his fingers and pinched, his other hand twisting around his cock, his thighs clenching as he fucked up off the bed. “Ronan,” he choked out; Ronan closed his hand around his dick, trying to hold back.

“Better,” Adam said, eyes fluttering shut, “if you did it.”

“Fuck, Jesus, shit,” Ronan rattled off a litany of swear words, trying to remember why he wasn’t the one jerking Adam off, tried to bring his mind back to the cycle of thoughts that had been torturing him lately: No sex ‘til he’s recovered, he’s still a virgin, he’s only 18, no strenuous activity...

But shit, keeping his hands off of Adam was strenuous for Ronan’s mental health.

“C’mon, Ronan,” Adam gasped. “I’m close.”

“Come,” Ronan implored, “please Adam, please, come .”

Maybe it was the please that did it, or hearing his name as such a naked plea, but Adam’s mouth dropped open and he came. His hand slowed as he did, and his cock jerked, striping his chest in white. Adam was quiet even now, his jaw slack and brow furrowed. He kept staring glassily into Ronan’s eyes, and Ronan felt his own orgasm bearing down on him.

He only lasted a few seconds longer, finally sacrificing his dignity long enough to get off. His hips pumped against the bed, against his palm, and he bit out another fuck, Adam as he came in his pants. Adam’s eyes were wide and round, watching, his lower lip red and swollen from biting it.

Ronan collapsed forward into his pillow, unable to keep looking at Adam. The sound of their uneven breathing filled the room.

After a few moments in which he told himself he wasn’t a creep, Ronan got up to find a washcloth. He ran it under warm water and delivered it to Adam first, who didn’t meet his eye as he swiped it over his softening cock.

“Thanks,” he said quietly, pulling his boxers back up. Ronan took the cloth back and looked dispiritedly down at his own dick for a moment before giving up and going to find an entirely new pair of pants.

“Your tattoo,” Adam said.

Ronan tensed. He was shirtless with his back to Adam; Adam must also have seen it earlier. Ronan was an idiot for not thinking about it—he’d fucking teased Adam shamelessly, showed off his ass without thinking about the consequences. All he’d wanted was to make Adam think about fucking it.

“Yeah,” he said, his tone softer than he’d expected. He drew on a new pair of boxers, hardly caring if Adam was staring at his ass now. They’d just shared more than nudity.

“Can I touch it?”

Ronan whipped back around to stare at him. Adam was propped up on his pillows again, and for all that he hadn’t met Ronan’s gaze a moment before, he was meeting it now.

“I don’t know if that’s—“

“—a good idea?” Adam finished. “I didn’t touch while I was jerking off,” he pinked a little at his own words. “Don’t I get points for good behavior?”

“I…”

Ronan didn’t think he could say no.  When Kavinsky touched his tattoo it felt like a violation, like running his hands across the lines bled them of their meaning. With Adam, he suspected it would give them a whole new expression.

He couldn’t find the right words to articulate that, hoped that continuing to rely on his body would tell Adam everything he needed to know. He crawled back onto the bed and lay down—carefully avoiding the wet spot—and pillowed his face on his arms. He closed his eyes, not wanting to watch Adam approach, but wanting this to be an invitation to do so.

Adam’s voice was somewhere near his left shoulder blade. “When did you get it?”

“After my dad died. After I was hospitalized.” It was hard to breathe around those words in his throat.

“But before the drugs.”

“Yeah,” Ronan said.

Adam’s hand pressed flat to his flank. He tried not to arch into the touch.

“It’s beautiful,” Adam said.

Then, his palm was gone and it was just one gentle fingertip, skating over his skin and tracing the pattern.

Ronan nodded into his arms. He’d wanted something vicious and complicated and stunning, a design that looked how he felt. Maybe that was emo or punk or just...really gay. He didn’t know. It had felt right at the time. It still did now.

“Did it hurt?” Adam asked. There was a quality to his voice that made Ronan think this wasn’t a superficial question.

The Naw, it was fine died on his lips. He swallowed.

“Like a bitch,” he croaked.

Adam hummed and spread his fingers across the span of a raven wing as though measuring it.

“I thought it wouldn’t be that bad,” Ronan said. “I thought I had it under control, that it would make things better. I don’t regret it,” he clarified quickly. “But it wasn’t what I expected. I’m glad it’s over.”

“Yeah,” Adam said gently. “Yeah, I can understand that.”

His voice came closer, and Ronan felt the unmistakable caress of lips against his spine. He shivered involuntarily, and Adam reached down to hike the blanket up over his ass.

“I have a restraining order against my dad,” Adam said suddenly.

Ronan froze, but Adam continued idly tracing the curves of his tattoo, the lines of his ribs. “You probably already knew that. It was bad. Both living with him, and what happened before the order. Blue and her mom helped me through it.”

“Gansey,” Ronan offered up. “Gansey was there for me.”

“Not your brothers?”

“Not your mother?” Ronan countered.

“No,” Adam said. There was some bitterness to his tone, but much more resignation. “I don’t like owing anyone. If someone gives you something for free there’s always a price in the end. Or they can take it away again.”

Ronan lifted himself up, accidentally dislodging Adam’s hands. “No, Adam. I don’t—“

Adam slid his hands back onto Ronan, pushing him down to the bed. “You aren’t my father. You don’t want control over me.”

“No, but—“ Ronan tried again, twisting his head to try and see Adam properly, but he was just too far. “Adam, I want you. But you aren’t owed to me just cause we got matching friendship tattoos.”

“Oh.” Adam’s fingers stopped moving. Ronan couldn’t read any emotion to his tone, but he sounded a little too measured. Like he was considering, weighing, coming to some decision within himself. Ronan wanted to look at him, but one of Adam’s hands was still planted on his lower back, holding him to the bed.

They stayed in complete silence for a few seconds before Adam let go of him. He lay back down within Ronan’s line of vision and closed his eyes. His face was serene.

“Good night, Ronan,” Adam said formally. He slipped his hand into Ronan’s, his palm warm and calloused and slotted perfectly against Ronan’s.

“Good night,” Ronan echoed. He squeezed Adam’s fingers until he felt Adam squeeze back.

Chapter Text

Everyone has heard stories about the infamous connection between substance abuse and the music industry. Modern day rock stars are no different: Amy Winehouse is a recent notable example of a talented musician cut down in her prime by addiction. Fans of Second Sleeper have long been wondering whether they would hear their own tragic news one day.

As far as sibling rivalry goes, Ronan and Declan Lynch could give Liam and Noel Gallagher a run for their money, their animosity culminating in a brother-on-brother fistfight outside of Cabeswater nightclub in Henrietta, Virginia. But it isn’t the younger Lynch’s 2015 arrest that gives fans the most pause -- it’s the guitarist’s long-running public battle with addiction. Lynch’s juvenile record was expunged when he reached adulthood, but Lynch has been previously slapped with a Minor in Possession charge, a Class 1 misdemeanor in the state of Virginia, and was arrested a year later for juvenile drug possession. Although the latter charges resulted in nothing more than drug counseling and six months of probation, they prompted a famous statement from Second Sleeper frontman Richard Gansey III, in which he said that his best friend was “unwell and not making the best decisions.”

Gansey struck a similar tone in a recent Rolling Stone exclusive with the band. When reporter John Beydoun asked about Lynch’s struggles with drugs and alcohol (during a tense interview that an allegedly stoned Lynch walked out of), Gansey stated that he had been sober for six months, but seemed hesitant about whether it would last. Drummer Henry Cheng stepped in to clarify, and drew a veritable line in the sand: if Lynch doesn’t keep his act together, he’s out of the band.

This ultimatum has not been lost on the fans or media. It marked the first time that a member of Second Sleeper publically acknowledged that Lynch’s behavior posed a problem to the integrity of their group, and that there were limits to their tolerance. It struck a new note for a band that has sidestepped questions about musical penalties and rehab for one of their own; when concerns were posed about Lynch’s fitness for their 2013 Ghost Boy tour, they unanimously professed their faith in Lynch’s ability.

It was on that tour, however, that the first cracks began to show. Joseph Kavinsky--a rumored drug kingpin with ties to the Bulgarian mob--notably joined their second tour and was frequently photographed with Ronan Lynch stumbling out of nightclubs and drag racing down residential streets, sparking speculation online and in the tabloids. Kavinsky, whose rap sheet includes Assault, Driving without a License, Possession of Illegal Substances, and Possession with Intent to Distribute, has never served time for any offense. Lynch has long been cagey about the nature of their relationship, repeatedly declining to comment even when asked directly.

Kavinsky, however, has no qualms about dishing on the star. “Lynch and me? Together forever...he doesn’t go anywhere without me and my services,” Kavinsky reportedly told journalists backstage at a show in New York City.

“Joseph Kavinsky does not represent our band, nor is he employed by our group, nor does he have an official position within the tour team,” Gansey later stated.

All of the conjecture and rumor swirling around Lynch has come to a head since the iconic moment when he found his soulmate during a Second Sleeper gig in Henrietta, Virginia. His soulmate’s identity remained a mystery for several weeks, until internet “detectives” tracked down one Adam Parrish, whose role was confirmed by Lynch after Parrish was hospitalized for unknown reasons. Parrish’s family and friends could not be reached for comment, but his teachers and employers, including Boyd Williams (owner of the local independent auto garage), spoke at length about his virtues. “Works hard, never makes trouble like most boys his age,” Williams told reporters. “He don’t seem like much, but he’s the smartest kid ever worked for me.”

These early signs seem at odds with the Ronan Lynch the world knows. Although there has been some positive response from fans regarding Lynch’s sexuality, this information is potentially damaging in other ways. It sheds new light on his relationship with Joseph Kavinsky, a fact which many news sites have used to paint an unflattering portrait of Lynch’s adolescent decision-making. While it would seem convenient to gloss over such trauma as the early loss of Lynch’s father,  many have taken this event to its opposite conclusion, making lurid conjectures about Lynch’s ability to sustain a relationship with his soulmate.

Taken together, these events do not look good for Second Sleeper. Cheng and Gansey’s comments have primed the public for a showdown, and Lynch and Parrish’s disappearance from the public eye, almost as fast as Parrish entered it, has not been well-received. Fans have taken to Twitter to vent frustration about being locked out of the entire soulmate narrative. “Never got refunded for tix...if Lynch can’t handle the spotlight, stop making music,” one fan wrote, while another posted that, “I won’t buy any more music @secondsleeperband , thx for promoting Ronan’s druggie BS.”

Addiction experts have largely lauded Lynch’s recently low profile. One counselor spoke anonymously: “It can be very difficult to manage an addiction as well as the pressures of celebrity, and the fact that Lynch has a strong support system [in Gansey] and has taken time for himself speaks well of his future.”

Not everyone agrees, but one thing is clear: Second Sleeper cannot afford to handle this latest controversy with anything but perfection. Many fans are demanding that they cut ties with Lynch, and when picking between a career and one band member, many legendary bands have gone on to great success after choosing the former.

Second Sleeper is balanced on the precipice of a big reckoning, and the music world is watching with bated breath.

 


 

 

They didn’t talk about it. It was an uneasy truce, but one that they both seemed committed to.

It was their sixth day together, and they were back in the kitchen, Adam sitting on the counter while Ronan aggressively cracked eggs into a steel bowl beside him. Adam was learning that he enjoyed Ronan trying to be punk while doing a variety of hopelessly domestic activities. No matter how disdainfully he looked at the dishwasher, it still gave a happy little rattle when he kicked it closed and cranked the dial to “on”.

“I have a break next week,” Adam said nonchalantly. He handed Ronan a whisk. “I was planning to work the whole time.”

“But…” Ronan didn’t look up from the bowl.

“Now that could change,” Adam said tentatively. “Well. Not really. I can’t miss that many shifts. But I only planned to spend time with Blue.”

“The maggot’s indisposed,” Ronan said opaquely.

“I know she’s with Gansey,” Adam said, rolling his eyes. Ronan trying to protect him from the realities of the world seemed a dubious endeavor at best.

“Oh,” Ronan said. Then, “Sucks to suck, huh?”

“Wow.” Adam snatched the whisk back so that Ronan would look at him. “Jealous, huh ?”

“I never said that,” Ronan spat as he grabbed for the whisk. “Just cause your stupid girlfriend went and got herself a new Dick--”

Adam held the whisk behind his back. “She’s not my girlfriend--and she’s not stupid.”

“Just because your cheating girlfriend--” Ronan grabbed his elbow and tried to yank his arm back to the front.

“She’s not my girlfriend,” Adam repeated, passing the whisk to his other hand and holding it out of reach. Ronan dove for it. “Why do you care ?”

“You really have to ask that?”

Adam froze.

Ronan took the opportunity to steal the whisk back. The only sounds in the kitchen were the faint whispers of the radio playing and the metal on metal sound of mixing.

Adam stared out of the kitchen window. There were buds on the trees and crocuses popped soft purple heads out of the soil below. The moss looked especially green under the grey skies of spring, and the soulmark on Ronan’s hand nearly matched its color today.

“We should do something you like,” Adam said suddenly.

“Why not something you like?” Ronan said gruffly.

“I don’t know what I like,” Adam admitted. “I’ve never had time for a hobby.”

“Hmph,” Ronan grunted.

“I still don’t get music,” Adam said. He’d been thinking about it a lot recently. He couldn’t seem to recapture that sweet aching in his chest that he’d felt while listening to Ronan’s personal songs. “It sucks that you got stuck with a soulmate who doesn’t get you.”

“You get me,” Ronan said quietly.

“Do I?” Adam said. He didn’t know how else to address that statement. It sent a pleasant tingle down his spine, chased away by a sharp pang of distress. “Music is your life.”

“Yeah, I guess.” Ronan paused his mixing to crank the shaft of the pepper mill over the bowl. Adam watched little black flecks decorate sunny yellow liquid.

“And you’re getting stir crazy,” Adam pointed out. He’d seen Ronan pacing around the house, seen how every guitar seemed to jump into his hand, but none of them could satisfy his frustration.

(I probably could he thought smugly -- but that was a fight for another day. A “recovered from concussion” day.)

“I love The Barns,” Ronan said defensively. He was hunched over the egg bowl, but he glared up at Adam when he spoke.

“But you still wanna get out,” Adam said patiently. “I’ve been here, what? 6 days now? When my week is up--”

Ronan’s stool screeched as he stood abruptly. “When your week is up...” he said hoarsely, moving toward Adam. Adam backed up, locking eyes with Ronan and unable to look away. Ronan’s eyes were bright and attentive, and Adam remembered back when he’d only wondered what it would been like to have all of that raw intensity focused on him. Fucking overwhelming, it turned out. Adam hit the wall at the same time that Ronan’s hand snaked out and found his waist. “...we have better things to do,” Ronan finished. He leaned down and ran his nose up the line of Adam’s throat, an imitation of Adam that first day.

Adam’s breath hitched, and just as he was about to tilt his head down to kiss Ronan, Ronan was moving back toward the counter.

“Fuck you,” Adam spat, feeling winded. How did Ronan do that?

“In 2 days,” Ronan said, winking lasciviously. His pupils were so huge they were indistinguishable from his irises.

“I’m being serious, Ronan,” Adam said. “Let’s get out of the house. I want to understand.”

Ronan seemed to weigh his words as he prowled over to the range and poured the eggs into the skillet. They sizzled gently. “Fine,” he finally said. “We’ll go to the club. They know me there. No one’ll make a fuss.”

“Perfect,” Adam said. He swallowed back the unease in his throat. He wasn’t really a “club” kind of person as far as he knew, but he’d suggested it. He was going to follow through on whatever harebrained evening Ronan cooked up for them.

 


 

It was the eighth day, and Adam didn’t have anything to wear.

Adam had worn a rotating cast of Ronan’s old t-shirts, boxers, and pajama bottoms for the entire week, and that made it difficult to get dressed to leave the house.

He stared down at contents of his backpack, packed eons ago during his doomed flight from St. Agnes. There were a few days’ worth of decent clothing, his Aglionby uniform, his toiletries, and his laptop. Nothing that could be worn to a punk club without advertising that he didn’t belong there.

A cascade of clothing landed on top of his backpack, slippery fabric spilling down the side and pooling on the bedcovers. It took a second to register that this delivery was courtesy of Ronan, who stomped into the room and peered over Adam’s shoulder to make sure they’d landed.

Adam fingered a metal rivet and steeled himself before plunging his hand bravely into the pile. He pulled out a shirt, held it up to the light, and felt a little faint.

“You don’t--” Adam stared down at remaining the clothes with undisguised fear. “You can’t--”

“Wear them or don’t, I don’t give a fuck,” Ronan said, flopping down on the bed. “You’d look hot, though.” He leaned up on his elbow and smiled at Adam wolfishly.

“If they’re yours…” Adam trailed off.

“They’ll fit.” Ronan went back to horizontal. “They’re old. From my misspent youth.”

“You’re still in your misspent youth,” Adam muttered.

“Yeah, but now they pay me for it,” Ronan grinned.

Adam held up a pair of leather jeans. “If I wear these pants, we’ll match.”

“You don’t wanna be my leather daddy?” Ronan sat up and looked offended. “And after I asked so politely.”

Adam couldn’t keep the blush off his face, but he cocked an eyebrow and said evenly, “Handing someone leather pants and a collar doesn’t usually constitute ‘asking politely’.” He held up the aforementioned riveted collar. It was helpfully attached to the t-shirt.

“Well the collar is for me,” Ronan leered. “If you’re the daddy in this situation.”

Adam looked at him flatly.

“Fine then,” Ronan huffed dramatically. “I’ll get my kicks elsewhere.”

“And the mesh?” Adam held up a sheer tank top.

“So everyone can see how delicious your nipples are,” Ronan said seriously.

“I don’t think you can see a taste,” Adam mumbled, face scarlet.

“Yes you can, it’s a medical fact.” Ronan rolled back over onto his side and snatched the tank top from Adam’s hands. “Maybe I’ll wear this one.”

Adam’s entire body flashed hot at the idea of Ronan in sheer black anything . The reaction was so strong and startling that he tried to cover it with a coughing fit, but when he recovered, Ronan was watching him closely. He looked delighted.

“Jeans,” Adam said finally, the desperation breaking through in his voice. “ Not leather.”

“Fine,” Ronan dug around in the pile for a moment and lobbed a handful of black denim at Adam’s head. “Spoilsport.”

 


 

Ronan was wearing eyeliner.

Adam hadn’t known that he would react so strongly to this until it was before him, but there was something about shocking blue ringed with smoky black that leveled him. He tugged self consciously at the hem of his t shirt and tried to avoid eye contact.

“You look great,” Ronan said. His voice sounded rough, and that made Adam look up against his better judgment. Ronan’s eyes were tracking him, sliding across his body with such weight that Adam could feel their progress.

He wasn’t sure about that. His shirt was a few sizes too small, and clung to his body uncomfortably. He only escaped strangulation because it was artfully torn. His jeans weren’t much better. They’d been worn to a soft, supple texture, but they were tight , and he had the feeling that if he looked below his belt, he wouldn’t like what was on prominent display.

Ronan seemed to disagree.

...or maybe not, since the next words out of his mouth were, “For a newbie.”

“A newbie to what, the local punk scene?”

Ronan shrugged and turned away to stomp his boots on. “I’m a fucking cradle snatcher.” He bent over to tie his laces.

“It’s 3 years, not 3 decades,” Adam said, suddenly disgruntled. “I’m not a newbie to adulthood .”

“I mean technically ,” Ronan straightened again and cocked an eyebrow at him.

“Shut up,” Adam said lamely. “I’ve been 18 for months.”

“If you say so, daddy,” Ronan grinned. Adam was almost too horrified to protest.

“Don’t call me that,” he spluttered, which only made Ronan smile wider. He wrenched the front door open and held it gallantly for Adam. Adam walked outside, still glaring, and made his way toward the passenger side of the BMW.

“You know how to drive a stick?” Ronan asked. Adam turned to answer, and was just in time to see a set of keys sailing towards him. He caught them by the ring and frowned down at them.

“No, and--”

“I’ll teach you,” Ronan said, and loped to the wrong side of the car. He settled himself carefully and buckled in ostentatiously before sticking his head out the open door. “Some of us have less time left on this earth, sonny,” he called.

Adam snapped his mouth shut and climbed into the driver’s seat.

 


 

Adam was a quick study. It was good, because Ronan didn’t actually have to worry about him crashing, and could focus all of his attention on watching him drive.

It was just as sexy as he’d expected. Adam drove his car like a natural, handling the stick with such calm finesse that Ronan couldn’t hold in his innuendos. Adam snarked back at each one, but his face was pink and pleased. Ronan wished he’d stop trying to hide it. He wanted to make Adam blush and squirm all the time.

When they reached the outskirts of Henrietta Ronan had to actually pay attention again. It had been a long time since he’d visited this particular club, and it hadn’t seen many of his finer moments. He almost hadn’t suggested it -- it made him recall a pretty fucked up time in his life, but it was also perfect for what Adam wanted. Music so loud you couldn’t hear yourself think, lights so dim your dance partner could be anyone, drugs so good you weren’t even sure you’d gone home between one night and the next.

Well, not the drugs. Adam wouldn’t be interested in that, and Ronan knew that he couldn’t be either. The point was that the music was good and the vibe was so immersive that Adam couldn’t help but get lost in it.

“Park back here,” Ronan directed, and Adam pulled into the spot smoothly. “Parking brake,” Ronan reminded, but Adam had already put the car in reverse and engaged it.

With most people, Ronan would assume vibrating equaled nerves, but Adam seemed to become stiller and quieter the more anxious he was. Ronan figured that must be some kind of messed up self-preservation mechanism and bit back his anger over it. Adam was silent as they got out of the car. He handed the keys back to Ronan, who stowed them in his pocket and moved in close.

“You good?” Ronan asked, not expecting anything other than the stoic nod he received. “It’ll be good,” Ronan promised, and let his fingers brush over Adam’s.

They made their way through a couple of skinny back alleys, the kind where they had to walk single file and avoid drain pipes and broken milk crates. Ronan led them toward a slightly wider alley, where there was an opening in the brick wall. Someone had spray painted “CABESWATER” in giant dripping letters on the brick in lieu of a sign. A beefy guy in a black leather jacket was slumped in the doorway, but he straightened when they got closer.

“LYNCH!” he said, clearly surprised. He was a big red-faced man with a booming voice; every utterance was unintentionally shouted.

Ronan nodded in greeting. “Jesse.”

“LONG TIME NO SEE,” Jesse shouted, slapping Ronan on the back. Ronan nodded again and shoved Adam ahead of him into the doorway. Jesse was a nice guy, but a little much for Ronan. Still, he made sure no one got in Ronan’s face, and for that Ronan was grateful. A good bouncer was worth slipping an extra $20 in with the cover charge.

“GOOD MAN,” Jesse yelled, and waved them in with the hand still holding the cash.

Ronan let Adam move ahead of him. They were in a dark hallway, short but cramped, and the very brick seemed to be vibrating with bass. The music got louder the closer they got to the end, and then the hallway suddenly dumped them into a large room.

Cabeswater had always felt like a place Ronan dreamt up to fulfill his preteen fantasies about what a proper underground club should be like. It smelled like soil and musk and pine, not a clean smell by any means (especially with the sour overtones of puke and spilled beer) but a good one. The floor was bare concrete painted a green so dark it was almost black, and the bartop was the source of the piney smell: a knotted slab of untreated wood with the bark still clinging in places. Cabeswater was bigger than it looked, with rows of tables along one wall and curtained alcoves lining the opposite one. Ronan could see flashes of skin as people moved behind the gauzy fabric, but they were just opaque enough to shield barely-innocent eyes. Dark passageways led off toward the back, their doorways rounded and rough hewn like yawning caves.

It was early, only midnight, but the crowd was a good size, bodies twisting and undulating under the shifting green lights. They cast Adam in an ethereal light, and Ronan watched his eyes widen as he stared around at the room.

Ronan felt a sudden sensation of vertigo at the sight of Adam under the light. How could he have failed to remember him from that night? It was so obvious that he was special, delicate but strong, with those high cheekbones and big eyes and the soft dusting of freckles across his nose.

There was a band onstage now that wasn’t half bad, but Ronan ignored its pull; he cared more about how the music was affecting Adam. Adam was rocking gently on the balls of his feet while he eyed the crowd, clearly not confident enough to dive into the tide of bodies washing back and forth across the floor.

“You want a drink?” Ronan shouted over the noise. Adam blinked and looked up at him, shaking his head mutely. Ronan watched him mouth “I don’t drink” and nodded that he understood. He wasn’t surprised.

He reached out and put his hands on Adam’s shoulders, sliding his palms under Adam’s jacket collar. Adam shrugged out of it, letting Ronan sling it over his own arm and wind his way toward an empty table. Adam’s fingers brushed Ronan’s back so they weren’t separated; goosebumps erupted across Ronan’s skin.

Ronan dropped their shit and turned back to Adam, who was once again staring toward the band. He looked incredible in Ronan’s old clothes, all that tight black hugging his lean muscles. Ronan couldn’t wait to peel them off of him. A thrill raced through his body at the thought of Adam later, undressed and spread out on his bed, still sweaty and dazed from dancing. He was brought back to earth by the reality of the Adam here and now and clearly waiting for Ronan to show him what to do.

“Here goes nothing,” Ronan said and wrapped his arm around Adam’s waist, towing him toward the dancing.

 


 

Adam wasn’t surprised that Ronan could dance. He’d seen him up on stage. He knew what Ronan looked like when he caught the beat and swung with it, his hips loose and overtly sexual, grinding up against his guitar as his haughty gaze swept the crowd. The way Ronan moved made teenage girls faint and teenage boys come in their pants. Adam wasn’t immune to it.

He let Ronan guide him toward the crowd, turning to face Ronan once they’d reached the middle of the crowd. It was hot and claustrophobic; he hadn’t been this aware of the sheer press of humanity since that night at the concert. There was something so frivolous and alive about it, but he didn’t understand the expressions of bliss and revelry on the faces of the people around him.

He jumped when Ronan tugged him in close and their hips aligned. He looked up hurriedly for confirmation that this was ok, but it was hard to read Ronan’s expression in the darkness. Ronan began to shift against him, easy and slow, finding the rhythm and drawing Adam into it.

Ronan’s palms flattened on Adam’s hips, pulling them together into an unabashedly filthy grind. When the lights swept back over them, Adam saw that Ronan was staring at him again, his eyes bright, his teeth bared possessively. He looked like he wanted to take a bite out of Adam, for all that Adam was practically standing still. The crowd was pumping around them like the heart of some massive living organism. Ronan was a part of it, but Adam was held apart.

Adam tried to refocus on the music. The band had retreated and a DJ had taken over, blasting something electronic that Ronan clearly liked, from the way his dancing picked up its pace. It was sort of abrasive, but it had a good beat, the kind that even Adam could hold onto. Adam hesitated before he reached up and wound his arms around Ronan’s neck. Maybe the closeness would help, would let Ronan lead him more effectively. Ronan’s head lolled back onto Adam’s arm, shorn hair soft against Adam’s forearm. He looked down his nose at Adam, but for once it was the good kind of arrogant: full of a sexual confidence that Adam couldn’t quite believe was directed towards him. Hot blue eyes swept down his body, strong thighs flexed against Adam’s, sharp hipbones pushed into his lower abdomen. Adam was already hard in his jeans, and they’d only been there for ten minutes.

Ronan leaned in, and for all that he had to shout over the music, his voice felt like he’d whispered right into Adam’s ear. “Relax,” he said, and repositioned Adam so that the whole length of their bodies were flush. “Move with me. Sink into it. It’s ok.”

Adam nodded, pressing his face into the crook of Ronan’s neck. He knew this wasn’t the right position for the kind of dancing everyone else was doing, which seemed to lean more toward a “back to front” approach that Adam wasn’t bold enough to try. But the smell of Ronan was grounding. Breathing it in calmed him down, made it easier to feel the music, the beat, the strange dips and whorls of sound around them.

He began to move.

“Good,” he heard Ronan say, but Ronan’s voice sounded farther away. Adam placed a hand flat on Ronan’s chest, curled it into the mesh of his stupid see-through tank top, used it as leverage for his hips to grind against Ronan’s. Ronan’s hand tightened on his hip, and Adam looked up into his face again, feeling like maybe he was on the right track for once. Shit. Ronan looked turned on, his lower lip wet and red, the shadows of the room casting his face into harsh planes and concavities. But Adam couldn’t pay attention to it, his head and body too full of the music. His borrowed jeans were riding low on his hips, his shirt getting rucked up as he thrust against Ronan, who sucked in a shocked breath. Adam ran his hand down Ronan’s chest and around to his leather-clad ass, using his grip to bring them together again and again. They were both hard, the music all-consuming, and Adam had never been drunk, but he wondered if this was what it felt like. He wanted to do what the girls around them were doing: turn around and press his ass against Ronan’s front, roll against him in time to the music, feel all that coiled sexuality winding tighter and tighter in Ronan’s body.  

It was so hot, the music so loud, the beat right inside of Adam’s chest alongside his heart, and Ronan was there with him, anticipating his movement and dancing in perfect counterpoint. Ronan’s face was full of undisguised awe and lust, and Adam had never felt powerful in his life, but fuck , that was Ronan Lynch looking at him like that. Ronan, who didn’t owe anyone shit, who didn’t care what people thought, who’d been to hell and back, who was a fucking god in this place…

He was looking at Adam like Adam was magic.

He certainly felt like a magician here.

Chapter Text

Ronan was an addict. It didn’t fucking matter that he was sober now, that he was leaving it behind. He still had the urge inside of him, that itch burrowed into the back of his brain that would never stop demanding to be scratched. He knew that, and he was trying to find better ways to deal with it.

Once upon a time he’d dealt with it by coming to this club. The rush of the music, the rush of the high, the rush of sloppy sex with K in the grimy bathroom...All of it felt hot and euphoric. It took him out of his head, it made everything bright and beautiful, and, most importantly, it let him pass out in a way that (while it couldn’t be strictly characterised as “sleep”) felt better than being conscious.

The self hatred had always been there. He wouldn’t have done any of it if Gansey’s disapproval had truly been able to penetrate the veil of lush destruction he’d drawn around himself. It took time for the darkness to begin to show through, but when it did, he reveled in it. Yes, he thought, this was what I was waiting for . It was the punishment he knew he deserved, and it felt good . When the tabloids reported on his drunken brawls, when the press gleefully covered his arrest, it brought him a twisted satisfaction. Finally the rest of the world was seeing Ronan Lynch as Ronan Lynch truly was.

But he didn’t want to die. Somehow that didn’t occur to him until he was bleeding out in the back of an ambulance.

He associated Cabeswater with that period of his life. It had all seemed so innocent at first, even though he knew that deep down, it was the opposite.

Like Adam.

 


 

So naturally, Ronan was scared shitless.

Last time he’d been here with a different boy. A meaner, sharper boy, jacked up on ten kinds of alkaloids and biting Ronan’s lip so hard he bled. Ronan loved it: the feeling of K’s body tight against his while they danced, the blood thundering through his veins and the colors popping in his brain, the sweet pain of their sharp edges meeting, trying to tear one another apart.

It was amazing how similar this night felt, and yet how incredibly, wildly different.

He was sober, for one. He hadn’t anticipated what that would be like. There was a haunted feeling in his chest, the dark spectre of temptation hiding around every corner of this place, the sexy, illicit threat of ecstasy just out of reach. He hadn’t realized how acutely he would feel the desire to seek it out again, just one last time.

It was dawning on him that he might have made a terrible mistake in bringing Adam here. The world knew what Ronan was. They knew he was a junkie rock star with no regard for his own self preservation, but Adam didn’t . Adam was still that boy from the concert gazing up at Ronan with wonder in his eyes, the guileless Henrietta boy who deserved so much better than a loud, dirty subterranean punk club full of Ronan’s worst memories.

And if Ronan let him stay here, Adam was going to see those memories.

He couldn’t let that happen.

The problem was Adam -- more accurately, Ronan’s reaction to Adam. Ronan couldn’t bear to tarnish his inherent goodness, but at the same time, that was all that he wanted to do. And it was hard to pick between those two impulses when Adam was taking the choice out of his hands with every passing moment.

Ronan had been on good behavior, dammit. He’d respected Adam’s boundaries, he’d brought him breakfast in bed, he’d helped him with his homework, he hadn’t screwed his concussed brains out . And here Adam was trying to blow all of that to hell with each thrust of his hips, every hot puff of breath against the column of Ronan’s throat.

Adam, it turned out, could dance.

It was so fucking cliche that this should be the thing to fuck Ronan’s resolve over so badly, but he was fundamentally weak. In this place, dancing to this music, holding this boy in his arms, Ronan was ready to fly apart at the slightest provocation. The part of himself that was always held tenuously in check was rearing its ugly head, whispering in the back of his mind that now was the time to burn this fucking club to the ground and suck Adam off in the middle of the flames.

The way Adam was grinding on him, he thought that Adam might let him. The cord was fraying, and Ronan didn’t know what would happen when his self-control snapped.

 


 

Adam could feel Ronan slipping. He was tuned into the beat of Cabeswater: the thrumming, pulse-like rhythm that connected everyone in the room, and he knew when Ronan began to fall out of sync with it. Adam didn’t know why it was happening or what was going on in Ronan’s head to make him pull away so suddenly, but he wanted to fix it before Ronan was too far gone. Stay with me.

Maybe that was why he grabbed a handful of Ronan’s tank and yanked him down to his level. He didn’t wait for Ronan to get with the program -- just kissed him for all he was worth, teeth and tongues and spit and hands everywhere . They were in public, this was indecent, but it felt so good . Adam cupped Ronan’s ass, thrust against him unashamedly, and Ronan’s palms were hot, branding him, sliding up under his shirt until they met skin. Adam moaned at the contact and bit Ronan’s lip, forced his lips apart and fucked his tongue into the velvet of Ronan’s mouth. Ronan groaned, still moving with the music, coming back to himself and pulling Adam along for the ride.

Except now Adam had the feeling that he , Adam, was in control. It was a heady sensation.

The song ended before Adam was ready, and he broke apart from Ronan, feeling dazed. The music still thundered in his good ear, a roaring wave of sound that he knew he wouldn’t shake off anytime soon. He gazed up at Ronan, who was staring disorientedly down at Adam. Adam knew he’d surprised Ronan...Hell, he’d surprised himself, and he didn’t want that to stop.

He shoved at Ronan’s shoulders, pushing him back through the crowd, which parted hastily for them as the next song began. He wasn’t sure where they were going until Ronan hit one of the gauzy curtains and went through it into the dark, cushioned interior of an alcove.

“Adam,” Ronan whispered hoarsely, eyes wide and glassy.

“Shut up,” Adam said, and kissed him hard, driving him onto the cushioned bench and straddling him. “You’ve made me wait,” he groaned into the next kiss. His blood was pulsing hard in his ears and his dick, and he felt like he was going crazy with how much he wanted Ronan.

“I know,” Ronan panted back, hands coasting across Adam’s back, finding purchase on his ribcage, dragging him infinitesimally closer. “We shouldn’t--” he kissed Adam breathlessly “--but...”

Adam knew distantly that Ronan was right; they couldn’t have sex in this gross alcove in an illegal basement club. That wasn’t where he wanted to lose his virginity, but he was rapidly losing his ability to care. The music was inside of him, spurring him on, the vocals crooning about unspeakable things, dark needs and insatiable appetites, and Ronan was panting beneath him, arching up into his touch. He didn’t want to let go out this feeling, this moment, this realization that he could have what he wanted .

He hadn’t known that before now.

He hadn’t known that given the option, he would like this: dirty, gritty, so full of desire he could burst. It made him feel so alive, so different from with Blue.

“Ronan, we have to--” he began, trying to tell Ronan that they needed to leave now before he did something he’d regret. But Ronan had gone still beneath him, and there was a sudden draft at his back.

He turned and craned his neck; it was hard when he was straddling Ronan, but he could just see the dark form of a third person holding back the curtain of the alcove.

“Well well well,” the figure said. “What have we here?” It stepped into the dark interior and Adam could see the flash of white--what kind of asshole wore designer sunglasses inside at night ?

Then he remembered something. A not-so-distant, “You look like an asshole” and a pair of chunky white sunglasses in the backseat of the BMW. “Who the fuck are you?” died in his throat.

“Jailbait, Lynch, really? Tired of playing with the big boys?” He cupped his own crotch suggestively, and Adam tasted bile in the back of his throat. He turned and looked down at Ronan, but Ronan wasn’t looking at him. His eyes were fixed on the figure, full of jumbled shame and leftover desire.

Adam scrambled off of Ronan and stood awkwardly between them, unable to meet either of their eyes.

He’d known he wouldn’t belong here. But it had felt so perfect before now, like his domain, like the club was speaking directly to him.

“Back to steal from Cabeswater some more?” Ronan said. His voice was throaty from moaning into Adam’s mouth, and Adam felt a strong sense of wrongness that Ronan was addressing anyone else with that scratch in his voice. That was for Adam.

“Something like that.” The figure reached into his pocket and pulled out a tiny baggie. He held it up, and the white dust winked in the ambient light filtering in through the curtain. “Want some?”

“Fuck you,” Ronan spat.

“If you ask nicely, baby,” the figure crooned.

When Ronan spoke again, his voice was a warning, but Adam didn’t know who it was meant for. “Kavinsky...”

Chapter Text

Orla had spilled her nail polish.

This wouldn't usually be a big deal, but it was a bottle of the $8 limited edition seasonal "Very Berry Sangria" color that she usually treated with a reverence bordering on holy. Now, she was ashen and unmoving, clearly not cognizant of the sparkly magenta puddle creeping toward her lap.  

Everyone but Gansey carried on with their business. Maura was vacuuming the reading room rug, while Calla stood guard in the hallway with her paintball gun (she’d taken to sticking the muzzle out the letter slot to pick reporters off the lawn), and Jimi plaited Persephone’s hair into an intricate 4-stranded braid.

Blue was reclining on the loveseat, a thick fantasy novel in one hand and a glass of pink lemonade in the other. When Gansey poked her shoulder she squawked indignantly and tried to smack him with the book. Gansey ducked, missed it narrowly, and was grateful for his reflexes; the thing was the size of a brick.

“What?” Blue hissed, setting her lemonade down so it wouldn’t spill. Gansey was sitting on the floor beside the loveseat, leaning up against the side of it while he jotted lyrics into a small Moleskine notebook. Blue threaded her fingers into Gansey’s hair and he had to stop himself from leaning into the touch like a cat.

“I was at a good part,” she complained. Her fingers tightened with irritation, and he winced slightly as a few hairs parted company with his scalp.

“There’s something wrong with Orla,” he whispered, jerking his head in the direction of the reading table.

“No there isn’t,” Blue said disinterestedly. “She put newspaper down this time.”

“What?” Gansey looked back at Orla. Her eyes were glassy and far away, and she had begun to sway back and forth slightly. The nail polish puddle spread across the Entertainment section, swallowing up a press photo of Ronan. “Not the nail polish-- Orla . She’s all...spaced out.”

“So?” Blue went back to her book, but left her hand in Gansey’s hair. Her fingernails scratched comfortingly over his scalp, and he remembered her in bed last night, nails digging gouge marks into his back. He flushed and looked back down at his notebook. But his eyes kept being drawn back to Orla.

Suddenly, her entire body shot upright and she let out a piercing wail. Blue calmly turned the page of her book. Maura turned off the vacuum cleaner. Calla fired a warning shot out the mail slot. Gansey jumped about a foot off the rug.

Blue ,” he yelped.

“What?!” She finally slammed the book shut and swung her legs over the edge of the sofa. “She’s obviously having some kind of vision. They’re psychics , it happens all the time.”

“Oh,” Gansey said dumbly. Orla was convulsing dramatically in her seat, but it did seem rather...routine.

Sure enough, she ceased movement just in time to catch a trickle of nail polish before it dripped off the edge of the table.

“Dammit,” she moaned, tipping the bottle back upright. “Ronan owes me nail polish.”

“Ronan?” Gansey and Blue asked at the same time. As if on cue, Mr. Grey walked in from the kitchen and leaned against the doorframe.

“What’s happened now?” he asked.

Orla, clearly enjoying the presence of an audience, threw her shoulders back into a dignified posture. “Ronan,” she declared with a ring in her voice, “is in danger.”

The whole room was quiet for a few seconds.

“Immediate danger?” Gansey asked carefully. He’d seen enough of Orla’s predictive style to know that caution was the only way to handle these kinds of pronouncements. On his second day at 300 Fox Way she’d told him that his father was heartbroken, and when he’d called home in a panic imagining tragedy and death, his confused mother told him that Gansey Senior’s lab tests showed high cholesterol. Blue laughed herself silly at this episode, and Orla only shrugged. “Imagine if they hadn’t caught it. Heart attacks are the leading cause of death in America.”

Orla slowly screwed the nail polish lid back on before answering.

“Stop with the dramatic suspense bullshit,” Blue spat. “Do we need to call the police?”

“Not yet,” Orla said. “We have a few hours.”

“A few hours?” Gansey stood up abruptly, and Mr. Grey moved further into the room. Their eyes met, and Gansey knew what both of them were thinking. If Ronan was going to be in trouble, they should get there before disaster struck.

“When you say ‘danger’,” Blue said, “do you have anything more specific in mind? How do you know?”

Orla puffed up defensively. “I am very attuned to Ronan.”

“Great, cool, what the fuck did you see?” Blue asked impatiently.  

“Don’t rush me,” Orla snapped. “Not that you would understand, but the third eye--”

“Orla,” Maura cut in smoothly.

“Fine,” Orla sat back into the chair, lower lip jutting out in an unmistakable pout. “He was at some club, pretty much getting it on with Adam -- in public ,” she added delightedly, “and some creepy guy showed up. Seemed like a super shady ex to me, juicy drama was obviously about to go down, and at some point the cops showed up.”

“That’s it?” Blue asked, but Gansey was already halfway to the door.

“Whoa, hey, where do you think you’re going,” Jimi asked, her bulky frame blocking the doorway just as Gansey made to move through it. Persephone, hair freshly braided, made a shooing movement at Gansey.

“She hasn’t finished yet,” Persephone whispered.

Gansey, diverted, allowed himself to be propelled into a chair at the reading table.

Everyone else, taking this as an example, began to settle down around Orla. Calla even came in from the hallway and lowered herself heavily into the most ornate armchair, the paintball gun propped ominously over its arms.

“Fill me in,” she demanded. “I could feel the energy even over those fuckwads on the lawn,” she jerked a thumb in the direction of the front door.

“Orla says Ronan is in danger, but she’s withholding all useful information,” Blue said.

“It wasn’t entirely useless,” Gansey said fairly. He was trying to keep a lid on the concern rising up in his chest. Orla said they had a few hours. A few hours until what? “This is it, isn’t it?” he looked over at Persephone. “Adam’s going to meet Kavinsky tonight?”

“Joseph Kavinsky?” Orla asked eagerly. She looked inordinately excited.

“How the hell do you know who Kavinsky is?” Blue asked.

“He’s been in the tabloids,” Gansey said resignedly.

That was an understatement. Joseph Kavinsky was half the reason Second Sleeper got any bad press... Ronan was the second half. But Ronan with Kavinsky had always been a special kind of nightmare that kept Gansey up late at night. He could feel a migraine coming on even now. He hadn’t been sitting around in some kind of love-drunk stupor since he arrived at 300 Fox Way; he’d seen the news. He knew how quickly the public could turn on a story, how fast the news cycle could spin a narrative away from you.

Kavinsky could spell disaster for the band’s career.

“He’s Ronan’s drug dealer,” Orla said excitedly. “Is he also his boyfriend?

Gansey snorted. “That’s an overly kind descriptor for their relationship.”

“Oh my god, they’re totally doing it,” Orla said in a choked voice. She looked like she might explode from the gossip. Gansey hoped she was strong enough to keep from yelling it out the windows to the journalists.

“Are you five?” Blue snapped at the same time that Gansey said, “Well, I hope not anymore.”

“This is just so much,” Orla threw herself forward onto the table to stare at Gansey. “I can’t even.” There was a pause, then, “Tell me more.”

“Um,” Gansey looked over at Blue for help. She rolled her eyes at him.

“Orla, focus,” Jimi said. Orla looked up at her mother, the pouting expression back on her face. Jimi was unsympathetic. “What did you actually see?”

“Not that much,” Orla admitted grudgingly. “Just that if we don’t get there in about,“ she looked down at the rhinestone studded watch on her wrist, “an hour and a half, something very bad is going to happen.”

“If we don’t get where?” Blue asked.

Orla shrugged. “It looked like a club. It was dark and gross, and they were totally dry humping.”

“Who was, um,” Maura struggled to form the words “dry humping” into something more palatable.

“Engaging in that activity?” Mr. Grey finished. Maura shot him a grateful smile, and his eyes softened perceptibly. They were sitting several seats away from one another, and Gansey felt sort of bad for Orla, sitting between them. He’d feel worse if she actually seemed to pick up on the tension.

“Ronan and Adam,” Orla said. “It was kinda hot, honestly.”

“Ew, could you not ,” Blue winced.

Gansey privately agreed. He didn’t have any desire to think about Ronan in sexual situations anymore than he already had to when Kavinsky was “visiting.” He’d hoped that would end now that Ronan had Adam, but maybe not. His heart hurt with an unexpected intensity. His faith in Ronan may seem crazy to other people, but when it mattered, Ronan rarely let him down. He didn’t like the idea that Ronan’s self-loathing and destruction ran deep enough to ruin his chance with Adam. And for what?

“Kavinsky?” Gansey thought out loud. All eyes turned to him, and he tried to segue into something that made more sense. “When did he show up?”

“When they were alone getting hot and heavy,” Orla said, eyes sparkling. Gansey shifted uncomfortably, although none of the adults seemed to feel the awkwardness of the situation. Gansey supposed that psychics probably saw all kinds of things that would traumatize other people. Maybe they were just used to accidentally knowing about their loved ones’ sex lives. That made him blush unexpectedly, remembering all the innuendo he and Blue had faced since his arrival.

“Still in the club?” Maura clarified.

“Yup,” Orla said, smacking the ‘p’ with relish.

“Anything after that?” Calla asked, leaning forward to stare intently at Orla, elbows on the paintball gun.

Orla’s face twisted up in concentration. “Flashing lights,” she said slowly, face starting to slip back into the slack expression from earlier, “so much energy, rabid, like…”

“Reporters,” Calla said darkly.

Orla nodded vaguely. “I don’t know what else. So much darkness, but…” She shook herself and snapped back to her usual self. “If we show up, we get to join the fun!”

Blue groaned.

Chapter Text

Are you still with him? Is he still around?

We were never together .

It felt harder to deny with Kavinsky in the same space as Adam, sucking up all the air in the claustrophobic alcove.

Ronan couldn’t bring himself to look at Adam--or maybe he couldn’t take his eyes off of Kavinsky. He didn’t know which it was, but he was sure the distinction mattered.

“Kavinsky…” he said, a warning in his voice.

“Ronaaaaan,” K echoed in a nasal whine. He slit open the bag and advanced towards Ronan.

“K,” Ronan said. His eyes were fixed on Kavinsky’s hand, on the thin plastic pinched between bone white fingertips. It sounded too much like he was begging, but he needed him to stay away.

Kavinsky leaned down, making to sprinkle a line of coke down Ronan’s bare shoulder--like he’d done a thousand times before.

Ronan jerked upright, knocking Kavinsky’s hand out of the way. The cocaine went flying, settling like shimmering white snow over the upholstery and floor.

“Now look what you did,” K said, low and dangerous. “You made a mess. I think you should lick it up.”

Ronan nearly went to his knees. He couldn’t help it: the temptation was literally in the air around him, glittering at the edges of his vision, and everything in his body was screaming at him to obey. He gave an involuntary twitch and K’s lip curled in satisfaction. He knew he’d nearly won.

Ronan tried to focus on Adam, standing between them. He was pale and utterly still, wide eyes wary. He looked like he was braced for impact.

Whatever was about to happen, it shouldn’t go down in front of Adam.

“Get out,” Ronan said abruptly. Kavinsky rocked back onto his heels and forward again, tilting precipitously close to Ronan. Ronan nearly reached out to steady him, but pulled up short.

He didn’t want to touch him. He didn’t want to be responsible for whatever came after.

“Do you really want that?” K whispered, tipping forward so far this time that his lips brushed Ronan’s ear, his breath hot and uncomfortably moist.

Ronan shoved him out of the alcove. He didn’t stop to look at Adam before he followed. He had no desire to see what was on his face.

Kavinsky stumbled backward through the curtain and righted himself just in time for Ronan to grab him by the arm and drag him bodily out of the main room. The bass beat felt stronger than ever, the lights flashing purple and bloody red; the effect was oddly oppressive.  

Ronan dragged K through the hallway, up the stairs, and out past Jesse. Jesse didn’t even bat an eyelash as Ronan slammed K up against the nearest brick wall, knocking off his sunglasses, but he did slink back into the doorway to give them privacy. It wasn’t the first time he’d seem them out here like this, on the verge of a fight or a fuck.

“What the hell do you want?” Ronan demanded. He felt like he couldn’t breath properly with Kavinsky so close, but it wasn’t the same pleasant dizziness as with Adam. It was a tight, sharp chest pain. Maybe he was having a panic attack.

Kavinsky would love that.

“You don’t wanna see me?” K wheezed at him. Ronan had his forearm braced across K’s chest, his other hand holding Kavinsky’s wrist to the wall. K’s free hand found its way to Ronan’s waist, skimming up under the hem of Ronan’s tank top, and Ronan wanted him to stop but couldn’t let go. Kavinsky’s palm was clammy and cold; his circulation has always been worrisomely bad, and even though Ronan didn’t want to be concerned, he still was.

That thought sent a jolt of rage through him. He tightened his hold on Kavinsky and growled, “Get your hands off me.”

“Answer the question.” K tilted his head, watching Ronan closely. His pupils were tiny, and the muscles around his eyes jumped spastically, even twitchier than usual. Ronan tried to dredge up some revulsion, but all he felt was jealousy, and he hated it. He didn’t want to miss getting high. He didn’t want to miss being like this.

“I don’t ever want to see you again,” Ronan said firmly. He was bracing himself for Kavinsky’s explosion, but it didn’t come. Instead he leaned in as close as he could with Ronan pinning him.

“I’m in your head, man,” Kavinsky breathed. “C’mon princess, you can’t fucking lie to me. I know you’re one sick motherfucker. That’s why you need me,” he said. He slipped his hand all the way up Ronan’s shirt, dug a ragged thumbnail into Ronan’s nipple.

Ronan let out a strangled sound of anger that Kavinsky misinterpreted.

“That’s right, bitch,” K gloated. “If you’re a good little girl I’ll fuck you tonight. And if you’re bad,” he ran his tongue down the shell of the Ronan’s ear, took the lobe between his teeth, “I’ll fuck you even harder.”

Ronan’s brain felt slow, bogged down by anger and confusion.

“Adam,” he croaked. He latched on to his name, the reason why he was here in the first place. He dropped his arm from Kavinsky’s chest, grabbed K’s hand from under his shirt. He yanked it away, shame welling up that he’d let him get so close in the first place.

Kavinsky smirked. “Want him to watch?” Even with Ronan pressing both of his wrists to the dirty brick wall, he still managed to use the leverage to press his hips to Ronan’s. “Be good for him, fuck babe. So he knows who you really belong to.”

“It’s not you, K,” Ronan said. “If I belong to anyone, it’s not you .”

“Don’t talk shit,” Kavinsky said, but he seemed more agitated now. His face twisted, pupils blowing wider, body trembling, obviously coming down from his high.

“I’m with Adam,” Ronan said. He’d never said it out loud before, hadn’t even asked Adam if that was what he wanted. “Get it in your fucking head. I’m not with you anymore.”

“What, you think it’s a fucking break up?” Kavinsky scoffed, voice rising. “That’s not how this fucking works, Lynch. It ain’t that ugly. We’re together till we die .”

“No,” Ronan said, recoiling. He didn’t want that, he didn’t know how he ever could have. He wanted...well, he wanted Adam, still downstairs in the club waiting for him. He wanted his fucking music, all those guitars hung up in his studio at home, the pages and pages of music he’d written over the last few days. He wanted to see Gansey again, make him drink beer on the roof at two in the morning when they couldn’t sleep, listen to him talk shit about taking over the goddamn industry.

He didn’t want this. He didn’t want to want this. Maybe that was what mattered most.

“Liar,” Kavinsky spat. He shoved at Ronan’s chest, and Ronan went, putting a few inches of space between them. “Don’t pretend I’m not in you,” he said. “Everyone fucking knows. This soulmate bullshit? You know what they’ve been fucking writing about you? I’ve read that shit, I know. He’s not shit, man, he’s not it for you. This fucking kid , the fuck does he know? I’ve seen some shit, I’ve seen your shit.”

“Leave Adam out of this,” Ronan said quietly, anger starting to simmer beneath the surface. “He has nothing to do with you.”

“We wouldn’t be having this fucking convo if he weren’t such a pussy,” Kavinsky swore. “You’re full of shit, man, you know it. You know he won’t want you. Not when he’s seen it all.”

“That’s not true,” Ronan said, but he was rooted to the spot, panic and seething fury holding him hostage. He wanted to rage, he wanted to smash Kavinsky’s face in, he wanted to grab Adam and get him the fuck out of here. This had been such a bad fucking idea.

“When they see,” Kavinsky said, and suddenly he was smiling wickedly. “Everyone will know we belong together.”

“When who sees what?” Ronan dismissed. “We’ve alone, K. And we’re over .”

No, we aren’t, ” Kavinsky screamed, and then he was dropping to his knees. Ronan looked down in horror at the top of his head. He couldn’t be fucking serious.

The door of the club slammed open, and Ronan’s head whipped around just as Kavinsky started groping for the zipper of his pants. Ronan grabbed at K’s hands, stumbling backward and away from him, but K had already gotten his fly open and pulling back didn’t help at all. Now it just looked like Ronan was in this fucking alley with his dick out and K on his knees, and the person coming through the door…

“Ronan?” Adam was standing there in the darkness, holding both of their coats, and it was fucking unmistakable unless you knew, and Adam didn’t know--

“Fuck, Adam, no!” Ronan shoved Kavinsky away and fumbled with his pants, trying to make himself fucking decent, because shit .

“Don’t want him to know what a whore you are?” Kavinsky was scrambling to his feet, reaching for Ronan; Ronan was repulsed, wanted to kick him away, but he didn’t want to do anything that would upset Adam more.

“Don’t you fucking come near me,” he hissed.

Kavinsky turned toward Adam. “He’s a fucking slut,” K crowed, his voice echoing down the alley. “You shoulda fucking heard him taking my cock like a fucking pro--”

“Adam, let’s go, fuck this, I’m so--”

“Ronan,” Adam cut across him, and he wasn’t even fucking looking at Ronan, couldn’t even make eye contact. Ronan felt shame, hot and wet and dark, rising up in him like vomit. He’d fucked this up like he always did, like the idiot junkie fuck up he was.

“Adam, I can--”

“Ronan, we need to go, now ,” Adam said, and the urgency in his voice had Ronan turning just in time to see the flash of red and blue lights reflecting off the brick at the far end of the alleyway.

“Fuck.”

 


 

“Time to go,” Orla said.

It was the catalyst they’d all been waiting for. The last hour and a half had been intolerable , with Gansey pacing back and forth, and Blue asking Orla again and again whether she was sure they had to wait until the last second before showing up.

“Yes, it’s important to let these things play out,” Orla said serenely, but Gansey could tell she was thrilled at the effect her vision was having. The rest of the psychics were huddled loosely together, talking quietly amongst themselves.

Mr. Grey was standing, still and silent, near the door, and had been for a disconcertingly long time. One could almost forget he was there; he had an uncanny way of making eyes slip past him.

But now the tension had broken. The psychics stepped apart, and Calla pointed imperiously at Mr. Grey.

“You drive them,” she said. “We won’t be coming.” Maura jingled a set of car keys in her hand.

Mr. Grey nodded stoically.

Everyone else began moving immediately. Persephone swanned over to Blue and wrapped a scarf around her neck, Calla tossed Gansey his shoes, Orla readjusted her crop top and moved towards the hall, and Maura slapped the keys into Grey’s hand.

They both went completely still, staring at one another, hands cupped together.

The room froze.

Then Maura began to laugh. Confusion rippled around the room as Maura threw her arms around Mr. Grey’s neck and kissed him full on the mouth.

“Oh,” Blue breathed, and Gansey followed her eye to where her mother’s hand dangled over Grey’s shoulder. It was unmarked.

“Why--?” Gansey began, but then everyone was darting back into motion, throwing on coats and shoes, moving around the interlocked forms of Maura and Grey.

“Well, isn’t that nice?” Persephone said, sidling up to Gansey. She was gazing softly at Maura as she broke away from Grey, a dazzling smile on her face.

“Yeah,” Gansey said quietly. “Love is…” he trailed off, not really sure what to say.

“Yes,” Persephone said simply, and floated away again.

“Remind me to tell you about my dad,” Blue said to Gansey under her breath, and he nodded. He, Blue, and Orla started towards the door with Grey bringing up the rear, but Gansey pulled up short before opening it.

“Don’t worry, I’ll cover you,” Calla said confidently, hefting the paintball gun onto her shoulder.

“Someone needs to take that thing away,” Blue said. “You’re getting too attached.”

“We’ll see how you feel when it keeps you from being attacked by these idiots,” Calla sniffed, and then Gansey threw the door open.

 


 

Blue ran down the front steps. There weren’t too many reporters left outside, but they stirred restlessly when the door opened.

Blue tried to focus on the car by the curb, shouldering her way past a paunchy photographer cameraman who’d been leaning up against Grey’s sedan. She bared her teeth at him when he made to shove his camera into her face, then sprang back when a burst of yellow exploded across his shirt. He fell back, howling, as Calla leveled the paintball gun at him once more.

“Go, you idiots!” she called across the lawn. The other reporters, seemingly resigned to their fate, shoved forward, and sprays of color blossomed among them, flecks of paint flying in every direction.

Gansey, at her side, yanked the door open so that she could climb in. Orla was at the passenger side; Grey ducked and ran around the nose of the car. He slid elegantly into the driver’s seat, and the engine kicked to life. They peeled away from the curb and shot off down the street.

“Where to?” Grey asked, merging smoothly into the traffic that flowed toward the city proper.

“When Ronan’s feeling particularly self destructive, he’s predictable,” Gansey said grimly. “In that he’ll pick the spot that’ll inflict maximum damage.”

“Where’s that?” Blue asked, not bothering to buckle her seatbelt. Gansey tried to reach over her to do it and was rebuffed with a slap on the arm and an, “ I am not a child.

“The club where he was arrested last time,” Gansey said wearily, “and where he overdosed.”

The car went quiet.

“Is that why…” Blue asked softly.

“He’s been sober the last 6 months?” Gansey asked tightly. “Yes.”

“And you…”

“Went on tour anyway? Yes.”

“Where is this club?” Grey cut in smoothly.

Gansey leaned forward to address Grey. “Do you know where Deja Vu is?”

“The strip club?” Blue asked. She guessed that she couldn’t fault Gansey for having been there before; he had been living whatever his version of the rock star lifestyle was. If that included strip clubs, they’d just have to talk about what it would involve in the future. She wanted in.

“Yes, I know where it is,” Grey said.

“Great.” Gansey sounded relieved, and he leaned back into his seat, pulling his phone out of his pocket. He tapped around for a second and then held it to his ear. Blue could hear it ringing for a few minutes before whoever he was calling picked up. Orla twisted around in her seat, vibrating with excitement.

“Hey,” Gansey said. “You getting bored yet?”

Blue heard an emphatic Hell yes! on the other end of the line.

“Meet us at Cabeswater with a getaway car?”

There was a whoop of excitement and Gansey winced, holding the phone away from his ear. He mouthed Noah at Blue, who grinned in spite of herself. “Awesome, come quick. Ronan’s in trouble. No, I don’t know specifics. Kavinsky. Yeah, same. See you soon.”

Gansey hung up, looking so stressed that Blue reached out without thinking. Gansey looked down at her hand, then laced his fingers with hers, looking grateful. Even through her own anxiety, Blue felt her mood lighten. She squeezed his hand gently, and he squeezed back.

“Ew,” Orla said in a bored voice, and turned back around to put her feet up on the dashboard.

 

Chapter Text

Adam only had so much mental capacity for disaster. If this situation called for him to temporarily forget seeing his boyfriend’s dick near another guy’s mouth, so be it. He would deal with it later. He’d had enough experience with the police to last him a lifetime; he was still waiting for news about his father’s arrest and the last thing he needed was more face time with Sgt. Burns “regarding his case.”

Adam didn’t stop to think before he held out his hand. His iridescent marks threw back the reddish light of the cop car, making them look bloody. Ronan didn’t hesitate before grabbing Adam’s hand, holding tight like it was a lifeline. Ronan’s expression was cracked open with raw, naked gratitude written across it. When their marks pressed together, he drew in a shaky breath.

“Adam,” he began--but then his hand was yanked roughly away as he sprawled forward onto the grimy asphalt. Kavinsky had tackled him from behind. He grabbed Ronan by the back of the neck and shoved his face down into the pavement.

“You think you can fucking leave me?” he snarled, grinding Ronan’s face into the filth, using his other hand to punch Ronan in the side. “This is where you belong , Lynch. Down in the fucking dirt.”

Adam swore so vehemently that he shocked even himself, darting forward to pry Kavinsky’s hands off of Ronan. Ronan was also swearing and kicking, trying to buck Kavinsky off, but Kavinsky’s grip was strong.

“They’re gonna raid the club, asshole,” Ronan spat. “They’ll arrest you too.”

“They’re coming for both of us,” Kavinsky jeered. “Who do you think called them?”

“You--”

Adam finally succeeded in wrestling Kavinsky off of Ronan, throwing him off to the side. Kavinsky’s back hit the alley wall, and he landed hard on all fours, spitting and cussing, a trickle of blood running from his left nostril.

Adam grabbed for Ronan, turning him over and running his hands over his face to make sure he was all right. He knocked Adam’s hands away and rolled to his feet, moving to stand over Kavinsky. He drew his foot back, and for a terrible moment Adam thought he was going to kick him in the ribs.

But his boot hit the ground, and he turned away.

Kavinsky laughed maniacally and lurched back up onto his knees. “Just the way you like it,” he grinned up at them.

“Go to hell,” Ronan said fervently.

There was a clattering from the end of the alleyway; but it seemed to be coming from the wrong direction. Adam whipped around just in time to see…

“Orla?”

His brain must be short circuiting. Maybe when he’d been trying to contain Kavinsky’s flailing fists one of them had re-concussed him.

“The paparazzi are on their way,” Blue panted, skidding to a halt next to her cousin.

Maggot? ” Ronan said in disbelief.

“Ronan!” Gansey nearly crashed into Blue from behind. “He called the police and the paparazzi, you need to go !”

Ronan turned on Kavinsky, who was still laughing on the ground. “What the fuck?”

Gansey grabbed Ronan roughly by the shoulder and shook him. “If they see you here--especially if you’re arrested for fighting Kavinsky, that’s the end. I can’t--” Gansey shook his head, his face eloquent with regret. “I can’t rationalize to Glendower anymore. They want you gone , the media will demand we kick you out of the band, the fans are turning on us. You need to leave .”

Ronan ran his hands desperately over his shorn head. “Shit, fuck man, okay... I fucked up,” he whispered, still unmoving.

“They’re here!” Orla shrieked.

Everyone turned to see people crashing into the opening at the other end of the alley. There was a scrum forming as reporters fought to get into the tiny space, and the sound of police whistles as they tried to clear the area.

“Adam, I’m sorry, I fucked up, I--” Ronan looked at Adam with wild eyes, but they didn’t have time for this.

Adam grabbed him by the arm and tried to run. For a brief moment he felt resistance in Ronan’s body, but then Ronan slipped his hand into Adam’s. They sped down the alley together, running flat out, feet slapping the pavement, panting breaths echoing around them so that it sounded like dozens of Adam’s and Ronan’s running for their lives, mingling with the clamor of the reporters at the end of the alley.

Adam made the mistake of turning and looking back.

His stomach turned over--there were so many people fighting their way towards them, and it didn’t look like they’d been spotted, but Kavinsky was still on the ground and he had no idea what it looked like, but surely, if Gansey were there that couldn’t be good for the band either...

His brain whirling, they burst out into a wider alleyway, nearly careening into a waiting car.

The passenger side window rolled down and Noah stuck his head out, sallow yellow streetlights reflecting off his sunny blonde hair and lighting him up. He smiled at them cheerfully. “Hop in losers, we’re going shopping.”

 

***

 

Blue barely had a moment to turn to Gansey as she realized just how badly they’d miscalculated. Now that Ronan and Adam were gone, it was just her and Orla and Gansey with a bleeding drug dealer in an alley, paparazzi and police barely 20 feet away and gaining.

Orla tapped her on the shoulder. She turned and looked up into her cousin’s face. Orla looked positively gleeful, big hoop earrings swinging and bracelets rattling as she planted her hands on her hips and fixed them both with a look .

“You lovebirds should skedaddle,” she said. “I got this.”

“You got this how ?” Blue asked.

Orla just winked and made a shooing motion at them. “Run along now and let me take care of things.”

“We’ve gotta trust her,” Gansey said.

Blue nodded. They turned and beat a hasty retreat down the alleyway towards where Grey had the car. By the time they reached the end, Noah and Henry were long gone with Adam and Ronan, and Grey was still idling by the curb of the nearest main street.

“Where’s Orla?” he asked sharply.

“Doing her thing,” Blue said. “Whatever that is.”

“Hmmmm,” Grey hummed, but looked placated. Apparently everyone else had a lot more faith in Orla than she did. Beside her, Gansey was pulling out his phone and opening Twitter.

“Is now the time to write a fucking tweet?”

“The Henrietta PD has a twitter,” Gansey, unperturbed, explained. “As do most of the paparazzi who follow us all over the place. Things tend to break there first.”

“Huh.”

Gansey scrolled for a moment when suddenly a tweet popped up from @orlathesexypsychic. Blue leaned over the glowing screen to read it, then groaned in a mixture of consternation and relief and flopped back into her seat. This time, she did buckle up.

“Grey, you’d better take us to the police precinct,” Gansey said with amusement.

 

***

 

The Henrietta Herald

 

LOCAL DRUG KINGPIN ARRESTED

 

Bulgarian mobster Joseph Kavinsky was arrested late last night outside of the underground punk nightclub Cabeswater, local officials say. Kavinsky, who has previously been arrested but never charged, was apprehended with 10 grams of cocaine and 16 grams of heroin.

The drug dealer, who has been associated with musician Ronan Lynch of world-famous rock band Second Sleeper, could face over 15 years in prison and pay up to a $25,000 fine for drug trafficking.

Police say they have been building a case against Mr. Kavinsky for several years, but received an anonymous tip that Kavinsky was present and selling cocaine to patrons of Cabeswater.

Paparazzi and several bystanders were also present, complicating the arrest. Notably, an intoxicated clubgoer, identified as psychic Orla Sargent, began to strip her own clothing off when reporters arrived. The police removed her from the scene, but not before she told paparazzi that, “I was just out for a smoke because I knew this guy was going to get arrested. Book a consultation if you want to know more about your future!”

Perhaps due in part to this sensational behavior, it took several hours for the scene to disperse. The club, which was also the site of Ronan Lynch’s famous 2015 arrest, has a long and storied history of illegal activity. The club itself is not licensed by city officials, but tends to disappear underground just before raids can be carried out.

“We caught a lucky break tonight,” Police Sergeant Burns told reporters. “We hope to keep clearing the undesirable element out of this beautiful city.”

Chapter Text

Ronan was shaking in the back of Henry’s car. The ride to the BMW was mercifully short, but he could feel the tension in Adam’s body beside his.

“Did you finally break up with Kavinsky?” Noah asked, grabbing his headrest and using the leverage to push himself around to face Adam and Ronan. “Did you beat him up? You’ve got blood on your neck.”

Ronan wiped at his neck in disgust but didn’t answer. He felt a confusing scramble of things: his mind exhausted and keyed up, heart full of shame and elation, body sore but buzzing for action. More than heroin, his drug had always been more , and he still didn’t know when or how to stop.

And Adam had finally seen that.

He peeked over at Adam. He sat motionless beside Ronan, washed out to a pale wraith by the shitty streetlights flashing above them.

“You gave him the boot, though, right?”

Ronan’s eyes snapped back to Noah, who looked invigorated by the excitement. If he wasn’t held down by his belt, Ronan felt sure he’d be bouncing.

“Of course he did,” Henry said dismissively. “He had to choose eventually, and the band is the only thing Ronan gives a shit about.”

“That’s not true,” Ronan growled.

“Oh, sorry,” Henry said, not sounding apologetic. “There’s also Gansey.”

“And Adam,” Ronan said automatically.

He flushed and snapped his jaw shut with an audible click . He couldn’t look at Adam; he didn’t want to see the rejection there. Kavinsky was the worst parts of himself, the representation of him at his lowest, and Adam had seen that spilled out like vomit on the filthy pavement. How long would it take for him to pack up his shit and demand to leave The Barns?

Probably less than 15 minutes. It wasn’t like he had much stuff to begin with.

“It’s $15 for the taxi service,” Henry said, pulling to a stop next to Ronan’s car.

“Go fuck yourself,” Ronan retorted.

He climbed out of the car and stood awkwardly next to the BMW, waiting for Adam. He was leaning forward to say something to Henry and Noah--undoubtedly about him--and Ronan shifted restlessly back and forth on the balls of his feet.

He jangled the keys in his pocket absentmindedly, thinking about whether it would be satisfying to key Henry’s car while he waited. He wanted to smash the back window. Serve Henry right for being such a flippant dickhead.

He contained the urge, but still, too much energy rushed beneath his skin. This was the kind of mood that got him into trouble: a brewing cocktail of self loathing and bitter destruction that ended in the back of a police cruiser with a black eye and a string of hickeys burning around his neck.

Adam finally clambered out of the car, tapping the hood once he’d closed the door. Henry pulled away, and Adam watched him go before turning to face Ronan.

“Are you ok to drive?”

Adam’s expression was utterly inscrutable. Ronan swallowed. He wanted to reach out and touch him, but he didn’t want to see Adam flinch away from him. If he did, then it would be out in the open, and that would be worse than just knowing Adam was about to end things.

“Yeah, ‘m fine,” Ronan grunted, and went to unlock the car. They climbed in without speaking, and Ronan’s anxiety and restlessness ratcheted up with every passing moment. He clenched the steering wheel with extra vehemence to keep his hands from shaking as he pulled out of the alley and wound his way through Henrietta to the main road. The silence felt brittle and uncertain, and he couldn’t bring himself to snap it. He had no desire to hurry along the inevitable.

Adam was the first to speak.

“I didn’t know it was like that,” he said slowly. There was very little inflection to his voice.

Ronan let out a harsh, mirthless laugh. He’d been so naive to hope Adam could assume the best of what he’d seen, both in the club and out of it, even before Kavinsky arrived. He flashed back to those few moments when they were dancing, when anything had seemed possible.

“It’s not like that,” Ronan said. “Not anymore.”

Adam sounded genuinely confused. “What do you mean?”

Ronan reached up to fiddle with the radio, trying to formulate his next words. He’d forgotten that his iPod was still connected; the car filled with the sounds of guitar reverb. He remembered the first time he’d driven Adam to The Barns. Things had been uncertain, yes, but also full of possibility. Feelings only beginning to burgeon, constant knots in his stomach, excitement and desire thrumming with bright urgency in his chest.

That all felt so far away now.

“I’m not fucking K anymore, and I don’t wanna be,” he said, finally. “He wasn’t blowing me in the alley, he was just trying to get inside my head. I wouldn’t let him anywhere near my dick. I don’t want to be with him .”

“That wasn’t what I was talking about,” Adam said.

“What?” Ronan stared at Adam. He was watching the country highway slip away beneath their tires.

“The music. I didn’t know that music could feel like that.”

“Oh,” Ronan said.

How the hell , after everything that just happened, could Adam still be thinking about the beginning of their night?

“I liked it,” Adam said, twisting to face Ronan. “I liked how it made me feel. Powerful, you know?”

Ronan swallowed again. His throat felt dry. “Yeah. I know exactly what you mean.”

“And you make that,” Adam said, his voice full of awe.

Ronan glanced away from the road again and nearly wrecked the car. Adam was staring at him with wide blue eyes, lips red and glossy, reflecting the glow that the road threw back from the headlights. He looked hungry .

Adrenaline , Ronan thought hysterically. It turns some people on .

“I do,” Ronan said roughly, redirecting his gaze to the road. “It’s the only thing I’m good at.”

“That’s not true,” Adam said, his voice closer. A hand pressed on Ronan’s chest, warmer and softer than Kavinsky’s, radiating sparks of heat from the point of contact and into Ronan’s limbs. “You took good care of me this week.”

“Adam…” Ronan groaned, licking his lips. The music filled the car, filled the space around them. He felt it in his chest, the same as the dying echo of the club beat, thrumming through him.

And he was getting hard just from Adam’s hand on him.

“Can I take care of you?” Adam whispered, his breath hot in Ronan’s ear. Ronan let out a whine, and Adam’s hand skimmed further down, fingertips brushing over a nipple through the mesh tank, palm curving over his abs, thumb catching on his belly button. The sound of his zipper seemed disproportionately loud.

“You’ve never…”

Ronan knew Adam was a virgin, but he couldn’t bring himself to say no, especially if this was all he was going to get before Adam left him.

“No,” Adam said simply, reaching into Ronan’s leather pants. His warm hand wrapped around Ronan’s cock, drawing it out of his boxers, and Ronan’s head slammed against the headrest, but he couldn’t close his eyes, he was fucking driving .

There were a lot of things he’d underestimated about Adam.

When he’d first laid eyes on his photo, he imagined a kid , someone with too much innocence and too little life experience to keep up with Ronan. When they’d met he assumed Adam was broken. When he took Adam home, he figured he’d never want to know Ronan. When he kissed him for the first time, love was far from Ronan’s mind. When he took him to the club, some part of him knew he was permanently ruining their chance of a relationship. It was only that last part that had borne out, but God , he wished it hadn’t.

The fact that Adam was this turned on from the music, from the danger, from the rush of the fight, only proved that he had a darkness to match Ronan’s. It only proved how perfect he was for Ronan, how much Ronan--

“Fuck, Adam,” Ronan threaded his fingers into Adam’s hair as Adam’s breath ghosted over the head of his cock. Adam was leaning carefully around the gearshift, one hand braced on Ronan’s thigh, fingers digging into the leather. He shifted into Ronan’s grip, so Ronan tightened it; Adam answered with a moan.

And then Adam’s lips were wrapping around the head of his dick.

The car swerved. Ronan could barely figure out how to correct it as Adam sucked hard, swiping his tongue across the slit and tightening his grip so that he could direct Ronan more easily into his mouth. Adam’s mouth was so wet Ronan could feel saliva dripping down, lubing him up for Adam’s hand, making everything slide smooth and easy and so good he couldn’t breathe.

Ronan had gotten plenty of head in his time, but nothing compared to this .

Adam pulled off with a little pop , tilting his head to lick up the underside of Ronan’s cock, tongue pressing just under the head. Ronan peeled his eyes away from the road to look down into his lap. He immediately regretted it. Adam was looking up at him with shiny precum painting his lower lip, pupils so wide his eyes looked black, hair in disarray from Ronan’s fingers.

“Pull the car over,” Adam said.

Ronan only let go of Adam’s hair so that he could comply. His hands were shaking, his feet almost too uncoordinated to work the clutch, but then they were on the shoulder. He cut the lights and pulled the brake, shoved his seat back as far as it would go, and then… then he had a lapful of Adam.

Adam kissed him frantically. He didn’t think either of them were capable of being gentle, not with Ronan’s wet dick pressed between them, not with how Adam hiked his own shirt up to press his bare stomach to Ronan’s erection, not with Adam grinding his hips down so Ronan could feel just how turned on he was. It was wet and hot and filthy, Adam’s tongue in Ronan’s mouth, Ronan’s teeth in Adam’s bottom lip, Adam’s hands wrapped around Ronan’s neck. Ronan swallowed against the pressure and bared his neck silently, shuddering out his relief when Adam’s teeth closed around his throat, sucking harshly, tongue swiping unforgivingly over the mark. Ronan whined again, thrust his hips up toward Adam, and Adam reached between them to palm Ronan’s balls, rolling them with a gentleness at odds with the line of hickeys he was painting across Ronan’s skin.

“Adam,” Ronan gasped, and he wasn’t too far gone to get Adam’s pants open too. He was fucking drooling for it, wanted Adam’s cock in his mouth, down his throat, wanted to fucking choke on it if Adam would let him.

“Can I,” Adam said brokenly, pulling away from Ronan’s neck and propping himself up with a hand on the door. “Can I jerk off on your abs?”

“Fuck.” Ronan hauled Adam back in for another kiss. Adam caught himself on Ronan’s chest as Ronan sat up and wrapped his arms around Adam, cradling him to his chest tenderly even though he was vibrating out of his skin with need. Their dicks slid together, not enough friction to get off, but too much to stay sane. “Yes,” he panted with humiliating eagerness. “Come all over me, fuck .”

“Ok,” Adam said, and he almost sounded shy, not quite meeting Ronan’s eyes as he leaned back and shoved Ronan’s tank up, exposing him to the cool air. Adam sat back on Ronan’s thighs, trying not to lean on the horn, and took his dick in his hand.

Ronan ghosted his own fingers over his cock, hard and leaking against his stomach, but he didn’t want to jerk off, didn’t want to come until Adam had.

“God,” Adam whimpered, reaching with his other hand, feeling out the concavities and convexities of Ronan’s abdomen. Ronan wasn’t usually vain, but he clenched in response, trying to give Adam what he wanted.

Adam seemed to appreciate it.  “You have no idea,” Adam choked out, his chin falling to his chest, fingers toying with the hair leading down to Ronan’s cock. “No idea how long I’ve wanted to do this.”

“Tell me,” Ronan gasped. “Fuck. Fucking tell me.”

“That Rolling Stone article,” Adam managed. His hand was really stripping his cock now, drops of precum hitting Ronan’s stomach. Ronan ran a hand through it, spreading the glossiness, making Adam lick his lips and falter in his story. “Shit, Ronan,” he said, and tried again. “That fucking spread with you, with your shirt off, oh my god,” he groaned. “I couldn’t fucking handle it, you’re so hot, how can this even be--”

“It’s fucking real,” Ronan curled over, shoving Adam against the wheel, not caring when the horn blared, and took him into his mouth. There wasn’t enough room to make this good, but he could get his mouth around the head and suck hard, and from the way Adam writhed and raked his hands over Ronan’s scalp, he didn’t mind the sloppy technique.

“Ronan, I’m gonna--” Adam began, and Ronan slammed himself back into the seat, letting Adam have free reign to come all over him. He did a moment later, face screwing up in concentration, stripes of cum hitting Ronan’s stomach, painting him white. A few drops hit Ronan’s cock and just looking down at himself had him on the edge too--the sight of Adam’s cum was obscene, too much to fucking handle.

Adam slumped over him, breathing hard into his neck. Ronan tried to hold still, but he couldn’t help how his hips circled up against Adam’s stomach, against his softening dick, Adam’s cum sticky between them. He wanted to come so badly, but he needed to take care of Adam more.

“Sorry,” Adam breathed, and reached between them again. Ronan’s cock kicked in his hand, cum spurting almost the second Adam touched him. Adam huffed a laugh and thunked his forehead down onto Ronan’s bare shoulder, stroked Ronan through his orgasm and kissed his collarbone lazily.

“The fuck are you apologizing for,” Ronan said. He let his eyes slip closed for a moment, wrapping his arms around Adam and letting himself bask in the feeling of Adam’s skin against his.

It didn’t take long for reality to reassert itself. Once they reached The Barns, his time was up.

Adam must have felt his tension, because he pulled back and gave Ronan a strange look.

Then he leaned forward and kissed him.

It wasn’t like before. It was long, slow, heartbreakingly sweet. Ronan didn’t know what Adam meant by it, but no one had ever kissed Ronan like that before.

Words died in his throat. He wanted so badly to blurt them out, to do whatever it took to make Adam stay .

Eventually, though, Adam had to climb back into his own seat, and Ronan had to put the car into gear and pull back onto the road.

For the first time ever, Ronan hoped he wouldn’t make it home.

Chapter Text

Adam didn’t have a lot of patience left.

Patience was something he thought he was pretty good at. He waited years for his father to stop hating him. Sat quietly while the boys around him whispered about his secondhand uniform. Worked dozens of extra shifts with the knowledge that one day it would pay off. He’d even waited those tense few weeks while the media invaded Henrietta and no one but himself and Blue knew the truth.

So why had one week felt like an eternity?

Adam hadn’t given a lot of thought to his own sexuality before Blue, and he’d certainly never explored much. A few stolen kisses. Jerking off whenever he had the energy, or when his mind was buzzing too much to let him sleep. He hadn’t even watched porn until recently. He still blushed thinking about it, dragging himself home from work and booting up his computer, clicking through the never-ending gay porn sites until he found something appealing. It had been half curiosity, half scientific research; it wasn’t like anyone had ever explained to him the logistics of how two men had sex. He’d certainly never gotten the heterosexual “birds and bees” talk as a child, hadn’t even been interested until he got older and started reading more mature literature.

It shouldn’t have surprised him that half an hour later he was flushed and hard, aching in his jeans as he watched a jacked up porn star bend his smaller partner over a counter and work his dick into his ass. Having a male soulmate had clued him in that he wasn’t straight, but fuck , this was on a whole new level. It had never occurred to him that he might want someone to do this to him.

He wanted Ronan to do a whole lot more.

He looked over at Ronan as the car crunched onto the drive at The Barns. Ronan’s face was lit up by the dashboard lights, glowing eerie blue-green. His jaw was set, and he was quiet and intent. He looked like a man trying desperately to make a decision and hold to it. Adam hoped that it didn’t involve continued abstinence. “Ronan,” he said, after Ronan had engaged the parking brake. Ronan glanced over, just a quick flick of his eyes, but Adam reached up and caught him by the throat, fingers tightening under Ronan’s ear to turn his face back to Adam’s. Ronan’s eyes were blazing, pupils enormous in the low light. Adam leaned in and kissed him again, trying to soften whatever was happening in Ronan’s head, whatever residual adrenaline was still clouding his judgment. Adam had never felt more alive than tonight, had never seen what he wanted more clearly than when he was spread across Ronan’s lap, fingers knotted in the neck of his mesh tank top. He wanted to keep feeling this.

“Let’s go inside,” Adam said when he broke away. Ronan’s mouth tried to follow his, but Adam pressed him away so that he could get out of the car, and Ronan eventually nodded and climbed out too. The moon hung fat and low to the horizon, silver light turning the house and trees to filagree.

They were oddly quiet as they walked up to the house, and Adam didn’t want to break the silence. He could feel the enormity of what he was about to do, and it seemed wrong to interrupt the fragile peace of this moment. He walked as close to Ronan as he could stand, brushing the back of his hand against Ronan’s, feeling his pulse jump at the contact.

Ronan held the door open for him, and he only paused to kick his boots off before heading for the stairs. Behind him he heard Ronan mutter a low oath, but then his feet were thumping up the stairs behind him. Adam thrilled at the sound.

He stopped at Ronan’s bedroom door, reaching out to touch the edge of one of the faded speeding tickets. He pushed it open, walked inside, kicked his backpack away from the edge of the bed, and sat down on the mattress. Ronan appeared in the doorway a second later, but didn’t enter. He leaned up against the molding, watching Adam warily, like he thought Adam might bolt at any second. He was cut from shadow and moonlight, stark and unearthly.

Adam held his hand out, and Ronan stepped forward but didn’t take it.

“What now?” he asked, his voice shaky.

Adam dropped his hand. “I thought that was obvious.”

“Right,” Ronan said. He drew a hand up over his head, fingers scrabbling at the shorn crown of his head and finding no purchase. “Stay?” he asked, sounding abruptly exhausted.

Adam didn’t understand. It wasn’t like he planned to sleep anywhere but Ronan’s bed. “Just come here,” he said.

“Adam--” Ronan said, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to fuck it up, but I just.” He broke off, his moonlit face anguished, and Adam stared at him. He’d assumed that Ronan knew what Adam was saying when he had thrown caution to the wind and sucked him off in a moving car, when he had climbed on top of him by the side of the road and painted his neck purple.

But suddenly Ronan’s silence took on a whole new meaning.

“Ronan, did you think I was going to leave you?” he asked quietly.

Ronan didn’t answer, but his face did something complicated and vulnerable that Adam didn’t have the language to describe. His own heart felt like it had stopped beating, because Ronan’s attempts to control his expression said more than if he’d just let them be.

“You think I’d have sex with you and then walk out?” Adam whispered.

Ronan gave a little twitch that Adam took for a Maybe .  

Adam didn’t want to be a guy who thought only with his dick, who said whatever it took to get someone in bed with him, and this was Ronan . But he was so tightly wound he thought he might die, and Ronan was being absurd, and over the last week Ronan had taught Adam all kinds of things about physicality, about the ways that you could reassure someone with your body. Adam wanted to speak Ronan’s language so that even with his tongue slow from orgasms and tiredness, he could tell Ronan that this wasn’t going to end now.

He settled for smiling up at Ronan. For leaning forward and holding his hand out. For saying, “Well I’m not that kind of girl,” with a sardonic eyebrow lift that he’d cribbed right from Ronan’s playbook.

Ronan chuffed a small laugh, and then finally, finally , he stepped into Adam’s space, dropped down to his knees, reached up to cup Adam’s face. Adam looked down into Ronan’s wide, frantic eyes, leaned into the touch of his trembling hands.

“I’m ready to go,” he said, softening his smile as much as he could manage. He leaned down to kiss Ronan. It was slow and drugging, open-mouthed and heady, building like a tidal wave on the brink of collapsing over them.

Adam’s brain and body were buzzing with a combination of weariness and adrenaline. The entire night had been a surreal dream, but Ronan still felt refreshingly real. His hand on Adam’s face, curling around his cheek, Adam’s eyelashes brushing his fingertips when his eyes fell closed. The heat of him crouched between Adam’s thighs. Smoke and leather and musk, the velvet brush of his tongue, the dark, bitter need building in the pit of Adam’s stomach.

“Get on the bed,” Adam said, breaking away from Ronan.

His own voice sounded distant and strange, huskier than usual. Ronan didn’t hesitate for a moment, taking the liberty of stripping his tank off as he climbed onto the bed. He leaned back against the pillows and watched as Adam got up off the mattress and moved around to the end of the bed. Adam stood there for a second, just watching Ronan. He looked beautiful: a hectic flush in his cheeks, lips red and slick, pale chest heaving as he looked back at Adam. It was 4 in the morning, the sky outside subtly lightening toward dawn.

They had all the time in the world.

Adam locked eyes with Ronan as he undressed, pulling the too-small shirt over his head, kicking the stupid skinny jeans into a corner, thumbing at the waistband of Ronan’s silk boxer briefs. He knew his body was imperfect: too thin, littered with scars, roped with muscle built begrudgingly in the midst of malnutrition. He’d never felt proud of it, only barely tethered to it by necessity. Sometimes he felt like he barely lived inside of it, so unlike Ronan, an inherently physical creature.

Ronan’s eyes on him were grounding, bringing him down to earth so that he could be fully present--devastatingly blue, ruinously hungry as they swept Adam’s body. He could feel the power welling up in him again. It was shaped from the same source as Cabeswater.

“Adam,” Ronan said, voice shaky. He wet his lips, the flash of pink tongue making Adam catch his breath. “ Please .”

The word took Adam out at the knees. He dropped forward onto the bed, catching himself on his arms and crawling up Ronan’s body until they were face to face, Adam’s body hanging over Ronan’s. He dipped his head down, ran the flat of his tongue up the length of Ronan’s collarbone, tasted the salt of his skin and felt his breath shuddering out of his body.  Ronan’s hands were curled helplessly on the bed, and Adam hadn’t figured Ronan for submissive, but he found himself liking it.

“What do you want?” Adam asked, open mouthed against Ronan’s neck. Ronan tipped his head to the side, giving Adam more room to kiss his way up his throat, take his earlobe between his teeth. Ronan’s left lobe was pierced, and the metal stud was cold and heavy on his tongue.

“Fuck me,” Ronan whispered, pressing his face into the pillow, not so much ashamed as overwhelmed.

“On your front or back?” Adam asked calmly, sitting back off of him, trying to pretend his pulse hadn’t started racing at the thought of being inside of Ronan.

Ronan closed his eyes, dark lashes brushing the red of his cheeks, lower lip held between his teeth. Then he began to turn over, the movement slow and purposeful until his knees and elbows were pressed into the bedspread, tattoo edges made soft by the moonlight, leather stretching obscenely across his ass. He hung his head between his shoulders so that Adam could only see the back of his neck and the tips of his ears, both tinged dark pink.

Adam was glad that Ronan couldn’t see him as he rifled through the side table for lube and a condom; he was sure his facial expression would embarrass him. He was overwhelmed in the best way, couldn’t stop looking back over at where Ronan was patiently presenting himself to Adam, nearly dropped the bottle of lube because his eyes caught on the smooth glide of leather over Ronan’s taut thigh muscles.

Finally he settled himself back behind Ronan, taking a moment to run his hands over Ronan’s clothed ass, palming the cheeks until Ronan made a restless noise and pushed back into his hands. Adam braced one hand on the small of Ronan’s back as he reached around and blindly fumbled with Ronan’s fly, feeling a thrill of victory when it popped free and he could reach into Ronan’s pants. Ronan was hard and weeping, and he keened when Adam wrapped a hand around his cock. The sound lit something afire in Adam, and he yanked Ronan’s pants down around his thighs, desire flashing through him as Ronan tried to spread his legs and met resistance. Adam let go of his cock to press a hand to the center of his back, and Ronan settled, breathing hard, the dark flush spreading down his neck and toward his shoulders.

Adam rubbed his hand down Ronan’s back, reached his ass and spread him apart, ignoring the way that Ronan shifted at the vulnerability of it. Ronan’s hole was a soft, dusky pink, and he couldn’t stop looking at it as he lubed his index finger, nearly collapsed when the first touch of his fingertip ripped a moan out of Ronan’s chest.

His finger slid in easy, so easy that Adam dripped more lube over it, circled a second finger beside the first until Ronan pushed back to take it, body clinging hotly to Adam’s fingers. He was so tight and slick, and Adam felt very aware of the fact that neither of them were naked, but it only served to ramp up his desire. Ronan was writhing beneath him, canting his hips back and swearing into the pillow, hands clenching and unclenching in the bedspread. He pushed Adam to speed up, but he practically sobbed when Adam added a third finger. Adam spread them gently, enjoyed the muffled “ FUCK ” that Ronan spit in response, curled them down and felt Ronan’s entire body go taut with pleasure.

Adam ,” Ronan wailed, and it had the same effect as his pleading “ please, ” made Adam pull his fingers back faster than he should have, wince at how Ronan hissed but rocked back to try and chase them. Ronan was open, wet and shining, and Adam struggled to shove his boxers down, open the condom, roll it on and slick himself up when Ronan was there like that in front of him.   

It felt like an eternity before he was lining himself up. He eased in slow by necessity, thanking God that he’d already come once that night, because Ronan was unbelievably hot, greedy with it, trying to shove back and take him all at once. Adam had to grab him by the hips, hold him still so that he could take his time, make this last.

Adam didn’t stop until he was deep in Ronan, hips pressed flush to his ass, panting as they both adjusted. He leaned forward and sunk his teeth into Ronan’s shoulder and Ronan groaned, back bowing, making Adam slip out and then push back in from the motion, and Adam’s head was spinning at the sensation.

“Fuck,” he whispered fervently into Ronan’s shoulder, and Ronan was cursing in agreement as Adam collected himself enough to lean back and begin to move.

Adam was already riding the edge of self control, but watching himself disappearing into Ronan’s body was too much. He thrust in earnest for the first time, heard Ronan howl like he’d been punched.

Adam felt like he’d taken a few blows himself. He knew it couldn’t last, but never wanted it to end, wanted to fuck Ronan forever, feel this heat, this intensity, the rush of emotions tearing through his chest. Ronan was a loud and active participant, filth falling from his mouth with impressive creativity, obscenities that egged Adam on until he was slamming into Ronan. Ronan pushed up onto his hands for leverage, meeting Adam with every thrust, snarling over his shoulder when Adam slowed down for a moment.

He made a disgruntled sound when Adam grabbed him by the shoulder and sat back on his heels, dick popping free but hands dragging Ronan with him until he was spread across his lap, Ronan’s back to Adam’s chest. There was a moment of rearranging before Adam slid back into Ronan, and the gravity of the position made Ronan take him so deep that for a moment neither of them could move, locked tight in place by the intensity of it.

Then Ronan was moving again, his hips circling until he found that spot again, the one that made his entire body lock up when Adam rocked against it. Adam scraped teeth across his shoulder, reached around to palm his cock, felt Ronan tremble when he thumbed under the head. He did it again, barely had to stroke Ronan at all before he was coming on a shout, his back arching, hand reaching to tighten on the back of Adam’s neck, holding Adam’s lips to his throat. Adam’s mouth closed over a hooked claw, sucked a purple mark there, kept his hand on Ronan’s cock as Ronan’s head lolled back onto his shoulder.

He stilled when Ronan did. Ronan was soft and pliant in his arms, hands looped back around Adam, holding their bodies together. He turned his head and nuzzled at Adam’s jaw, lips bitten raw and rough as he mouthed at the underside.

“Don’t stop,” he whispered, and he sounded wrecked , so fucking gone that Adam couldn’t help pushing back up into him, loved the little hiccuping, oversensitive sounds that Ronan made as Adam thrust. It wouldn’t be long now, and Adam tightened his arms around Ronan’s chest as his orgasm coiled tight in his spine, reached up to pull Ronan’s face around for a sloppy kiss as he came. The orgasm ripped through him, and Ronan moaned almost as loud as he did, hips moving again as Adam came. Adam wished for an insane moment that he was bare, that he was really filling Ronan up, could pull back out and see exactly where he’d been.

But then he was flopping back onto the bedspread, taking Ronan with him. Ronan was deceptively flexible, bowing his back so that he stayed seated on Adam’s softening cock, reaching down to take hold of one of Adam’s limp hands, running Adam’s fingers through the cum painting Ronan’s stomach and chest. Through his post-orgasm haze, Adam felt Ronan sucking those fingers into his mouth. Adam heard a distinct keening sound before he realized he was the one to make it.

Ronan laughed, low and dirty and satisfied, then rolled carefully away from Adam. Adam hissed as his cock slipped from Ronan’s body, then gentled when Ronan reached down and pulled the condom off. Adam could barely keep his eyes open, trying to track Ronan’s movements from sound and sensation: the movement of the bed as Ronan stood up, the sound of his feet padding toward the bathroom, the gurgle of water from the sink. Then there was a soft cloth on his skin, wiping him down, callused hands encouraging him to roll over and shift towards the correct end of the bed.

He finally opened his eyes at that, blinking blearily as Ronan pulled back the covers and helped him climb under then.

“C’mon,” Adam managed, holding his arms out for Ronan to join him. Ronan smiled a little, but his eyes were wide and he looked almost frightened. “What’s wrong?” Adam asked, “You’re not gettin’ in bed.” He couldn’t find it in himself to worry about the ‘g’s dropping off the end of his speech.

“I think I love you, Adam,” Ronan said harshly. His face clearly said that this was a disaster of cataclysmic proportions.

“But you haven’t even screamed at me,” Adam yawned, reaching back out to tug at Ronan, who folded forward onto the bed in an uncoordinated pile of limbs. Adam felt sure that the words would freak him out tomorrow, but this was his soulmate, and he’d just given him the most mind-blowing orgasm Adam had ever experienced. Adam was sleep-drunk and orgasm-happy, and Ronan was lying on top of him, a warm, living blanket. It felt oddly comforting.

“I don’t want to,” Ronan whispered into his neck.

Adam nodded. He didn’t know if it was in reference to the screaming or the loving, but he understood either way.

“Thank you,” Adam said, and something about the words made all of the tension ease out of Ronan’s body. Adam closed his eyes again, cradling Ronan closer in his arms. “Sleep,” he drawled, and Ronan nodded drowsily, clearly already halfway there.

The sun broke over the tops of the trees, sending rays of soft morning light into the bedroom, but they had already dropped off.

Chapter Text

Adam woke up with a jolt. It took him a moment to discern why: he was warm and comfortable, albeit a bit sticky, and Ronan’s room was flooded with bright afternoon sunlight.

Then he heard it again.

Somewhere nearby, and coming steadily closer, was a high pitched whining noise that was pretending to be music but not quite managing it.

The door crashed open with a bang , and Adam jolted upright in time to see it ricochet back off the wall as Ronan came marching into the bedroom grinning madly and--

Bagpipes?? ” Adam said incredulously. Then, after the full impact of the scene before him registered--

“Are you wearing a kilt?”

Cheeks puffing, fingers dancing up and down the chanter, Ronan wheezed his way through a few more bars before spitting out the mouthpiece. He grinned at Adam, who could only stare in open-mouthed disbelief.

“I am wearing a kilt,” Ronan said in an impeccable Irish brogue. He leaned in conspiratorially. “Do you know what I’m not wearing?”

“Your sanity?”

“Knickers,” Ronan said, yanking up the hem of his kilt so that Adam could confirm.

Adam stared at Ronan for a full thirty seconds, then burst out laughing. Ronan, looking immensely pleased with himself, resumed playing while Adam fell back on the bed, clutching his stomach. He didn’t know that he could remember the last time he’d laughed this hard, especially once Ronan began marching back and forth at the foot of the bed, drones piping out discordant notes and kilt swinging around his knees.

“I thought--” Adam sat up, wiping his eyes and trying to focus on Ronan “--that kilts were Scottish.”

“Do I look like a Scot to you, lad?” Ronan asked indignantly. “It's an ensemble and I happen to like the breeze.”

“Ok, ok, I’m sorry,” Adam chortled. He got up from the bed and tried to identify a clean pair of pants, skirting around the edge of Ronan. He didn’t want to get too close to anything that made such an incredibly noxious sound.

“Maybe I’ll put pipes on the next album,” Ronan said thoughtfully, then frowned when Adam made a face. “What? You don’t like them?”

“They’re...um…” Adam dragged on a shirt. “Interesting.”

“How dare you degrade my heritage!” Ronan cackled maniacally and began to advance toward Adam, the mouthpiece dangerously close to Ronan’s lips.

“No, please don’t, Ronan,” Adam begged, backing toward the door.

“Don’t what?” Ronan asked innocently, taking the mouthpiece between his teeth.  

Adam turned tail and ran for the stairs, the sound of Ronan trying to play and laugh at the same time echoing behind him.

 


 

When Gansey and Blue pulled up to The Barns, Gansey could hear the faint sound of a cat being strangled inside.

“Ronan’s murdering ducks?” Blue asked calmly.

“No, he’s playing the bagpipes,” Gansey said. “Hey, what’s the definition of a gentleman?”

Blue raised her eyebrows.

“Someone who knows how to play the bagpipes and doesn’t,” Gansey said, then hopped out of the car, chuckling to himself. He started walking toward the front porch, then turned around to make sure Blue was following him. He called, “What do bagpipers use as birth control?”

The bagpipes let out a particularly mournful hoot from somewhere deep in the house.

“Their personalities,” Blue said, and this time she laughed and skipped forward to take his hand. “These are so apt for Ronan.”

“I know,” Gansey said, as they mounted the steps together. “He’s full of them.”

“Of course,” Blue said, reaching out to bang on the front door. There was a final undignified squeak, and then the sound of rapid footfalls.

The door creaked open, and Adam practically threw himself out of it and into Blue’s arms. “Thank God,” he said into the top of Blue’s head. “He’s been chasing me around the house with his bagpipes .”

“If I didn’t know better, I’d think that was a euphemism for something,” Blue said drily.

Ronan appeared at the door, grinning hugely, dressed in a kilt and carrying a massive tartan air bladder, ebony pipes swaying dangerously. His neck was a mess of dark purple hickeys that made Gansey blush and avert his eyes.

“Maggot,” Ronan said with absolutely no hostility. Gansey was taken aback; Blue smirked right back.

He looked around at Adam for help, but he seemed just as confused as Gansey.

“Will you teach me how to play that thing?” Blue asked.

Gansey groaned.

“Could do,” Ronan said, then turned and marched back into the house. “Come in, you fucking gate crashers.”

“You’d think he didn’t want visitors,” Gansey muttered,  following him in.

“How’ve you been?” he heard Blue ask Adam quietly behind him. Gansey sped up to Ronan, wanting to let them have a moment alone.

“Music room?” he asked Ronan, who nodded and set the bagpipes down on a stool next to the stairs. “You good?” Gansey turned to ask Blue, but she and Adam had already disappeared.

“Well then,” he said, a bit put out.

Ronan shrugged. “Probably off to talk about us,” he said. “Girls, man.”

“That was sexist,” Gansey began hotly, then cut off his diatribe at the look of unbridled glee on Ronan’s face.

“This is gonna be fun,” Ronan said, then, “who said I was talking about the maggot?”

“The point of being gay is that there are no girls in the relationship,” Gansey said, rolling his eyes.

“I think I would make a very pretty wifey,” Ronan said, walking off down the hall, kilt swishing softly.

“For God’s sake,” Gansey said, all too familiar with Ronan’s particular brand of contrariness to bother fighting with him.

When he reached the music room, Ronan was standing at a side table, shuffling a stack of papers into a pile. They looked untidy and dog-eared, covered in scratched out words and sketchy musical notations, but unmistakably organized into verses and choruses. Gansey had to restrain himself from running over to look at them. He walked over to Ronan’s wall of guitars instead, giving Ronan space, letting him come to Gansey.

“So,” Ronan said finally.

Gansey breathed a sigh of relief; he didn’t know much about guitars, so it wasn’t very interesting to look at Ronan’s. He only tinkered around with songs on the piano, usually with Ronan beside him on the bench, pick between his teeth and guitar on his lap while he leaned up to scribble in the notebook Gansey kept on the lid.

The thought filled him with nostalgia. It had been a long time since they’d worked on anything new together.

“So?” Gansey said. He didn’t want to overwhelm Ronan with too many feelings at the moment. This was, for all intents and purposes, the first time they’d interacted with one another for weeks. They’d gone longer, but it always felt strange to be apart.

“I’ve been writing. I told you that, but, uh, here,” Ronan said awkwardly, shoving the papers at Gansey. He accepted them without comment, but didn’t sit down to read them yet.

“How are you feeling? Last night was…”

Ronan looked meaningfully at the music.

Gansey sighed. “Fine.”

He sat down in his favorite armchair and started reading.

 


 

Blue was surprised to find that she liked Ronan’s house. It reminded her of 300 Fox Way, with its worn furniture and labyrinthine feel, except that it was less lived in and clearly more expensive. She led the way through the different rooms, Adam quietly amused as she poked through Ronan’s stuff. She tried not to stare at the Multi-Platinum album plaque on the wall, utterly failed to contain her glee over a pair of vintage studded Docs, and dug around for a full five minutes in a crate full of what looked like shredded hotel curtains.

“I think those are from the Hotel Henrietta.” Adam poked at a set of green velvet drapes pocked with angry black scorch marks. “Pretty sure these are souvenirs.”

“Pretty sure they’re my next pair of pants,” Blue countered, but moved on down the hall.

Adam seemed to be making a beeline for somewhere, though, so she let him guide her into a living room. He disappeared through a door to the right for a few moments, returning with a plate of toast and a cup of coffee.

“I didn’t get breakfast,” he explained around a bite. “Not before Ronan’s bagpipe interlude.”

“He’s in an awfully good mood,” Blue said. She sunk onto the couch and dragged a crocheted blanket over her lap, looping her fingers through its lacy pattern. “Considering what happened last night.”

Adam set his coffee down on a side table and sat down next to her. “What exactly did happen?”

“There are some things you should ask Ronan about. But that guy, Kavinsky, got arrested after you left. We had to go pick Orla up from the police station for flashing the reporters as a distraction.”

“Oh my god,” Adam said, running a hand over his face.

“So really,” Blue said, “I should be asking you what went on. We had to bring in the cavalry to save you last night.”

Adam’s face did several complicated things at once. “Ronan told me he loved me last night.”

“Before or after everyone almost got arrested? And you’re avoiding the question.” She wasn’t sure how she felt about that piece of information, but trying to imagine Adam reacting to a confession of love was almost comical.

“After,” Adam said. “See, the thing is”--he paused, traced a finger around the rim of his coffee mug--“I didn’t really know anything about music before I met Ronan, and it seemed unfair to him. I asked him to show me what it was all about, and he took me to Cabeswater.”

It went without saying that that had been a bad idea, but that didn’t mean Blue wasn’t going to say it anyway. “Well that was self-destructive,” she snorted.

“What do you mean? Because of the reporters?”

“Because that’s where he got arrested.”

“Oh,” Adam said. Several pieces were clicking together in his head. “That explains some things,” he said quietly.

“Why?” Blue leaned into Adam’s side, bumping him with her elbow until he looked up at her.

“Ronan is complicated.”.

“So’re you.”

Adam smiled slightly. “Fair. Why do you think it was self destructive?”

Blue rolled her eyes. “He knew that if he got caught there again, the media would crucify him. Second Sleeper is big enough that if they fail, they fail hard ,” she said, thinking about Gansey’s sleepless nights and the worried crease between his eyebrows that smoothed out only when he looked at her. “Orla had a vision that if we didn’t show up, Ronan would get arrested and the band would break up.”

It had taken some work once they’d posted bail, but Blue had finally bullied the whole story out of Orla. It helped that Gansey promised to defray Orla’s legal bills. (“$1000 fine for indecent exposure? I say free the nipple,” Orla had sniffed, then, “Don’t even start, Miss Intersectional Feminist.”)

Adam swore under her breath, then rubbed a tired hand over his face. “He’s an idiot,” he said finally.

“Yeah, I know.”

“And he loves me,” Adam repeated, looking like someone had whacked him over the head with the words. His tone was somewhere between awe and disbelief. “He’s also…”

“What?” Blue asked gently.

“He cares a lot,” Adam said simply. “I think he’s good for me.”

“Yeah,” Blue reached over and stole Adam’s mug, took a sip, and grimaced. “I don’t want to admit it, but he probably is.”

 


 

It took a long time to work through Ronan’s scrawling script. Not only was it nearly illegible, he’d somehow managed to generate huge amounts of work in their short time apart, and all of it was… personal. Personal on a whole other level than most of the songs they’d written together or apart over the last few years. His heart was positively bursting with pride as he stared down at them.

Finally, Gansey said, “I don’t feel comfortable singing this, Ronan.”

“You’re the fucking singer,” Ronan said, nonplussed. He reclined on the sagging couch by the window, idly picking out chords on a battered ukulele. His kilt was inching dangerously high on his pale thighs, and Gansey looked away pointedly when he swung his legs back over the edge of the cushions. His boots thumped into the thick rugs blanketing the floor.

“Yes, but these are yours ,” Gansey said. He ran his hand reverently over the page in front of him. It was one of the most heavily edited songs, one where he could see Ronan had struggled to find the right words, had gotten frustrated and scratched things out, brought those same phrases back a few verses later, tinkered until he’d gotten it almost perfect. Everything Ronan did was a labor of love, and this exemplified that.

“We write all of Second Sleeper’s songs together,” Ronan pointed out. “They’re all mine.”

“They’re ours,” Gansey corrected gently. “Even when they’re personal. But this wouldn’t feel right.”

“Fine,” Ronan said, making to grab the papers back. “We won’t record them.”

Gansey snatched them out of Ronan’s reach. “That’s not what I said.”

“Then what?”

“I think you should record them. You can sing, you’re really fucking good. The band can back you. But if you’re going to tour with them...” -- Gansey almost couldn’t believe what he was about to say -- “You should do it solo.”

“That’s crazy,” Ronan said automatically. His eyes were huge and round, and he looked more vulnerable than Gansey could remember seeing him for a while. Everything about this Ronan was new: the lightness in his step, the easy slope of his shoulders, the happy tilt to his grin.

And the openness around his eyes where he used to be so tight. It was like a small window back to the boy Gansey had grown up with.

“Listen.”. Gansey ran a hand through his hair, even though Blue told him that it made him look like he belonged in a romance novel. He’d be lying to himself if he pretended that statement didn’t make him feel a little proud. “This has been a bad month for the band. You’ve been isolated from some of the fallout here, but we need to regroup and plan a big PR blitz. I’m not saying that the band should distance itself from you, but it’s you that the public is fixated on. If you go on tour alone, it’ll make it clear that you have skin in the game; the band won’t be there as a safety net. If you fuck up, it’s all on you, but if you do a great job, that’s also on you. Plus,” Gansey thumbed through the stack of paper, “I have the feeling that these’ll win lots of people over.”

He paused, then added, “Even better if you donate some of the profits to an LGBT charity.”

Ronan stared at him.

Gansey stared back.

Finally, just as Gansey’s eyes were beginning to water, Ronan dropped his head into his hands.

“Fine,” he said, voice muffled by his fingers. “I’ll think about it.”

Gansey blew out a sigh of relief. He hadn’t been sure how Ronan would react, but this was almost an admission of acceptance. He knew Ronan would do it, and he wondered why he’d given in so fast.

“How are things going with Adam?”

Ronan picked his head back up out of his hands. It was obvious to Gansy that he was trying to play it off casually, but he was failing miserably.

“You know,” he said gruffly. “Good.”

“Just good?”

“He’s…” Ronan sat back into the couch, fingers stroking absentmindedly up and down the neck of the uke. He stared up at the ceiling. “Different than I expected. Better. We talked about a lot of shit, but he’s also just… I like being around him. He makes me feel--”

“Happy?” Gansey ventured.

“Yeah,” Ronan looked around at Gansey, and his expression was achingly soft. “I guess so.”




 

Gansey and Blue stuck around for dinner, Gansey gallantly offering to help cook while Blue cackled and kicked her feet up on the kitchen table. “What, I’m supposed to be able to cook?” Blue huffed when Ronan glared at her. “Is it cause I’m a girl ?”

For some reason this question only made Ronan laugh, and Blue looked very pleased with herself. Adam couldn’t even pretend to understand what was happening with the two of them, but he edged over toward Gansey for protection.

Gansey took one look at Adam’s panicked face and sighed resignedly. “I share your concerns,” he whispered to Adam over the cheese grater.

Adam glanced back over his shoulder at Ronan and Blue. They were snickering over something Blue was showing Ronan on her phone.

“Maybe it won’t be so bad?” Adam said hopefully, but still winced when Blue let out a particularly evil laugh.

After dinner they lounged around in the living room. Blue painted Ronan’s nails a dark, glittering green, smacking his wrist when he moved too much. Adam and Gansey sat in dual leather armchairs, talking about the books Adam had read recently, what he was interested in studying at college, which schools he was waiting to hear back from.

“I have friends on Wall Street,” Gansey said, “And Ronan’s brother Declan is well connected in Washington.”

“I’m not sure politics or finance is for me,” Adam confessed. He looked down at his hands, scrubbed clean from washing dishes, but still rough and callused. “Maybe science or law. I’m waiting to hear back from Amherst, but they’re second best in the country and they have incredible financial aid, so…”

“My mother went to Smith!” Gansey said animatedly, eyes lighting up. It was easy for Adam to let him expound upon the virtues of western Massachusetts, especially when he looked over his shoulder and saw Ronan watching him. Adam winked and turned back to Gansey, who was in full flow about the Amherst alumni his mother could connect Adam with.

“No one cares about your elitist bullshit, Dick,” Ronan called.

Gansey looked put out. ““Adam seemed very interested. You weren’t just being polite, were you?” he asked Adam earnestly.

“Ronan’s just jealous I’m not paying attention to him,” Adam said, grinning blithely when Ronan let out an indignant sound. “Your mother’s running for Senate?”

“Yes, she--what?” Gansey sighed, looking up over Adam’s shoulder. Adam looked up too, just in time to see Ronan hike his kilt up to place a combat boot-ed foot firmly on the table between them. The fabric rode up, exposing a wide expanse of pale thigh.

Ronan , stay decent,” Gansey said, slanting his eyes toward Blue, who looked thoroughly unperturbed.

“Don’t do that on my account,” she scoffed. “But I still think Gansey and I should clear out. Before Ronan starts pissing on Adam.”

“He would nev--” Gansey began. Ronan waggled his eyebrows at him and Gansey groaned. “You’re disgusting,” he said, standing. “I’m so sorry to leave you alone with him, but Blue’s right. It’s getting late and the drive back to Henrietta is much less fun in the early hours.”

Adam flushed white hot from the roots of his hair halfway down his chest. Ronan’s lips twitched, and Blue grinned at him knowingly.

“I don’t know about that,” Ronan leaned down and whispered into Adam’s ear, kilt swaying dangerously.

“Ronan, I’ll see you soon?” Gansey asked, and Ronan finally dropped his foot and turned to clap Gansey on the back in farewell. He held his hand out to Blue, who gave his nails a final inspection and nodded her approval.

“They look good with your mark,” she said, poking at his fingertips. “Same color.”

“Yeah.” Ronan held his hand out, fingers spread, and looked at them with mock-criticism. “They’ll do.”

“Whatever,” Blue said, then hauled Adam up out of his chair for a hug. She felt incredibly small in his arms, and he was struck by just how much he’d missed her in the last week. “See you soon?” she asked quietly.

“Yeah, I’ll be back for spring break,” Adam assured her. “I’ve got work.”

“Awesome,” Blue said, and broke away. “Have a good night, you two,” she said, and she and Gansey moved off down the hallway.

Adam dropped back into his seat, closed his eyes, and let some of the exhaustion from the last 24 hours sink in at last. He’d enjoyed talking to Gansey; it was surprisingly easy once they’d begun. Gansey was endlessly generous, charming without being overbearing, funny in an understated way. Everything Adam used to think he wanted to be. He wasn’t so sure anymore.

“Gansey’s certainly well connected,” he finally said. “I didn’t know many Smith alumnae became Republicans, but--”

“We should talk,” Ronan said suddenly.

Adam opened his eyes and looked up at Ronan. He looked uncharacteristically stressed.

“Ok,” Adam said slowly, and leaned forward in his chair. Ronan shifted back and forth on the balls of his feet for a second and then threw himself unceremoniously into the opposing armchair. He occupied it very differently than Gansey had; Gansey looked like he was seated on a throne, Ronan, with his legs thrown carelessly across the arms, looked like he thought the chair was lucky to be graced with his presence.

When it looked like Ronan wasn’t actually going to start talking, Adam sighed. “What happened last night?”

“I’m a fucking addict, Adam,” Ronan said bluntly.

“I know that,” Adam said evenly.

This was hardly news to either of them. He didn’t know what Ronan was trying to get at, but he was willing to be patient while Ronan figured it out himself.

“You saw it last night.” Ronan wasn’t looking at him, picking at a loose thread on the hem of his kilt instead. “That isn’t who I want to be anymore. I don’t know why I took you there.”

“Yes you do,” Adam said calmly, looking back down at his hands. He curled them together, staring down at his marks. He took a deep breath before he continued. “You were looking for a way to fuck this up. If you want to do it again, I’m not saying I’ll stop you. You need to take responsibility for yourself. But if you thought being yourself was a problem, you clearly don’t know me.”

“And why’s that?”

“You found the one guy as fucked up as you are,” Adam smiled wryly over at Ronan, who finally met his eyes. “Listen, I don’t care. I mean, obviously I want you to be healthy. If you think you’re going to relapse, I want to know. But if you don’t care about my past, I don’t care about yours.”

Adam hadn’t considered his words before now, but as he spoke them, he found them to be true. He’d spent years working toward a better future for himself, and that was still his first priority. Working Ronan into his plan made things more complex, but that didn’t have to be a bad thing.

Ronan narrowed his eyes at Adam. “What about what I said last night?”

Adam considered this. He didn’t want his silence to scare Ronan, but this was one conversation he needed to get right. He never liked going into a situation unprepared, and while Ronan was already expanding that world view, he didn’t want to be reckless.

Finally, Adam said, “I’m not in love with you.”  

Ronan’s face began to crumple, and Adam hastily tacked on “Yet.”

“Listen,” Adam said, pulling his chair closer to Ronan’s. Ronan was physical where Adam was intellectual, emotional where Adam was practical, and Adam wanted to try to explain this on his terms. He reached out and took Ronan’s hand, the one that bore his marks. He traced his fingertips over them, felt the frisson of desire ripple through him when their marks brushed past one another. “I think one day I will,” Adam said. “And in the meantime I want to be together.”

“Together in what way?” Ronan asked. He was watching Adam very closely, blue eyes steady on Adam’s face even as Adam ducked his head to watch where their marks met.

“It sounds stupid,” Adam said, “but do you want me to be your boyfriend? I know that your relationship with Kavinsky was complicated, but I don’t think you’re good at doing things casually.”

Ronan let out a laugh, but he clearly didn’t think Adam was being funny.

“All right, Parrish,” he said. Adam looked up at his face, threaded his fingers through Ronan’s, and waited for him to finish. “Boyfriends. Or whatever.”

“Ok,” Adam said, and he couldn’t help the smile that spread across his face.

“Don’t get gross on me,” Ronan warned, but he was sliding out of his chair, onto his knees in front of Adam. He looked up at Adam through his eyelashes. He was so pretty, licking his plush lower lip, smiling up at Adam with his blue eyes sparkling in the lamp light. Adam ran a hand over the crown of his head, loving how soft his hair was, how he arched into the touch when Adam scratched his fingers across his scalp.

“You’re like a cat,” Adam laughed. Ronan only shrugged.

“My pussy’s only for--”

“Nope, don’t ruin it,” Adam slapped a hand across Ronan’s mouth, then drew it back in disgust a second later. “You licked me!” He wiped his hand off on Ronan’s shirt, but Ronan was already reaching forward and pulling on Adam’s jean zipper.

“Not the only thing I’m gonna be licking,” Ronan said slyly, and Adam groaned both at the pun and Ronan reaching into his pants. He wasn’t hard yet, but Ronan didn’t seem to care, coming up onto his knees and flattening his palms on Adam’s thighs, taking almost his entire dick into his mouth. Adam fisted his hands on the arms of the chair, panting as Ronan sucked him to hardness, watching Ronan’s thumb caress under his balls, jerking when he pressed at the delicate skin there. Ronan pulled back and opened his mouth wider so that Adam could see it, could see where the flushed head of his cock rested on the pink of Ronan’s tongue, could see Ronan’s spit glistening on his dick.

Fuck ,” he swore fervently.

Ronan grinned around his dick, leaning up farther and taking him into his hand before he closed his lips back around him. He jerked Adam as he went down on him, hand meeting his lips, saliva slicking the way, and Adam keened, embarrassingly loud.

Ronan pulled off suddenly, and Adam panted down at him in confusion as his cock slapped against his belly, trailing precum across his shirt.

“Wha--?” he began, but then Ronan was tugging at him, pulling him to standing.

“Trust me,” Ronan said.

Adam couldn’t say no to him, not when he was on his knees on the carpet, looking up at Adam with pleading eyes and lips swollen from his cock.

“Ok,” Adam said, confused and turned on and more than willing to do whatever Ronan wanted.

Ronan took him back into his mouth, and this time there wasn’t much suction, there was just Ronan pushing further and further forward, and Adam wanted to warn him that he wouldn’t be able to breathe, but then Ronan’s nose was brushing the curls at the base of Adam’s dick, and Adam was dying . He reached blindly and grabbed onto the back of the chair for support, accidentally tilting his hips so that he bumped the back of Ronan’s throat. He swore and tried to apologize, but when he looked down at Ronan, his eyes were rolling back in his head with pleasure, and Adam forgot how to breathe himself.

He thrust again, just shallowly, and Ronan moaned . It took everything in Adam to keep his knees from buckling as he placed a hand on the back of Ronan’s head, and Ronan pressed into it. He looked up at Adam again, hands coming up to rest of Adam’s hips and tug, a clear invitation for more .

“You’ve gotta be kiddin’ me,” Adam whispered, but he did as Ronan wanted, gently thrusting into his mouth while Ronan moaned around his cock, eyes sliding shut and breath whistling out through his nose when Adam pulled back. Adam could barely hold back, was teetering on the threshold between faster , harder , more , and not wanting to be too rough. The pressure was building, though, spurred on by how loud Ronan was being, by the way his throat convulsed around Adam’s dick, how Ronan’s hands clenched on his ass and drove him even deeper on the in strokes. Adam groaned along with him, hand on the back of his head holding him steady as he moved, and watching was almost too much, too overwhelming to keep him from…

“Fuck, Ronan, Ronan I’m coming, I--” Adam tried to warn him, but Ronan kept going, taking over as Adam’s hips stuttered, as Adam’s head snapped back and he barreled through his orgasm, coming down Ronan’s throat.

He collapsed back into the chair, struggling to keep his eyes open. Ronan was still on his knees in front of him, red faced and winded, eyes bright and glassy with pleasure. Adam could hear a filthy slapping sound and realized that Ronan was jerking himself off, was so turned on by sucking Adam’s cock that he was on the edge. Ronan pressed his face into Adam’s thigh, looking almost shy at Adam watching him, and Adam stroked his fingers through his buzzed hair, wanting to tell him how good he looked, how hot he was, but unsure how to say it without sounding like an idiot.

He did look incredible though, his flushed face and taut shoulders, his body jerking as he came all over his own fingers, going completely tense and then relaxing incrementally into Adam’s lap.

“C’mere,” Adam managed, slipping in and out as he dragged Ronan up into the chair with him. They didn’t fit very well. Ronan was bigger than Adam, but Adam cradled Ronan’s face into the crook of his neck and reached down for his hand. It was his right one, the one with his soulmarks, and Adam closed his eyes as he sucked his fingers into his mouth, tasting the bitterness of Ronan’s cum, rolling his marks across his tongue until they were clean.

“Adam,” Ronan breathed, and Adam opened his eyes to see Ronan staring at him in desire-addled disbelief. Then they crashed into one another, kissing like it was the last thing either of them would ever do, and for a moment, Adam forgot about his future, forgot about the rest of the world, forgot about Gansey and Blue and Second Sleeper.

Chapter Text

The New York Times Magazine Exclusive The Back Alley Redemption of Ronan Lynch

 

There’s a dark back alley in Henrietta, Virginia, where Ronan Lynch found his version of worship. It’s in the industrial part of town, stuck between a bus station and a food pantry, and the brick corridors are more graffiti than mortar. There’s a door recessed into one such stretch of wall, the site of Lynch’s 2015 arrest for aggravated assault. It is also, Lynch revealed, where he nearly died, one day in May.

Lynch looks every bit the old-school Irish punk, an intimidating presence at over six feet tall, with fiercely blue eyes and a permanent scowl. It does not resolve when he’s pressed into talking about himself. “I don’t talk to reporters much,” he said tersely, before lapsing back into his characteristic reticence. A few moments later, “I overdosed here, so I’m not planning to do that shit again.”

Last spring, the music community caught fire with the scandal of the decade--if not the century--when Lynch unexpectedly found his soulmate in the middle of his band’s hometown gig. The event launched a fortnight-long media and fan furor that did not culminate even when Lynch’s soulmate, one Adam Parrish, was identified via bootleg concert footage and his high school pictures. Second Sleeper, the biggest rock band in the world, faced incredible backlash for its handling of the situation.

At the end of the day, the band held together, although it is on a temporary hiatus, while Lynch completes a surprise solo tour. The move has paid back exponentially, both in terms of public goodwill and cash flow. It doesn’t hurt that Lynch’s personal project is incredibly well constructed, with songs that pay homage to the greats while retaining their own identity. They showcase a vulnerability that illuminates new facets to Lynch’s devilish persona.  

“That music was really personal,” Lynch said. He offsets the confession by kicking an empty beer bottle down the alley floor. “Adam heard it first...that was important.”

Lynch fangirls will swoon at the knowledge that he becomes animated when talking about his partner. “I had to check,” he said grimly, “about what he’s cool with me saying. He’s private. I’m private.” But Lynch has a hard time refraining from bragging, even if he does so with a predictably off-kilter affect. “He’s at one of those stupid bougie colleges where senators send their kids,” Lynch sneered, adding a quick, “I ain’t no senator’s son.” He grinned when I caught his Creedence Clearwater reference, the first time that such an expression crossed his face in our time together. It stayed in place when he expounded upon Parrish’s virtues. “He works harder than anyone, he’s smarter than I’ll ever be, he’s gonna cure fucking cancer or something.”

Parrish also played the muse for Lynch’s new project, although Lynch insists he was on the way back to sobriety before their relationship began.

“I don’t buy the savior bullshit, and I don’t like this Yoko Ono stuff,” Lynch said, referring to some fans’ belief that the guitarist’s romance has broken up the band, “It’s just not true. I was writing those songs before Adam, I just wrote more of them after.”

 

One day last winter, when the leaves had fallen from Henrietta’s trees and his album was about to drop, Ronan Lynch quietly purchased the Cabeswater nightclub. He also overcame his aversion to cell phones in order to ring and say he wanted to meet there, to revisit in the daylight that place which taught him about both pain and enlightenment.

The club had been operating illegally for years before law enforcement shut it down for good last March, but Lynch intends to change that.

“It’s seen some shit,” he said wryly, forcing open the metal door with a well-placed kick. “But it’s heard a lot of pretty fucking cool music, too.” Lynch envisions a place where he can have a studio and a performance space, but with an environment he can easily control. A safe haven, of sorts. “I used to come here to dream, but even then I wanted to get away,” Lynch called, as he led the way down a dangerously steep staircase. “I was into the possibility, but the reality fucked me up.” Lynch is an earthy character, speech constantly littered with profanity, especially when he saw the destruction the police wrought on the inside of the club.

“This used to be the bar,” he said, taking a seat on a slab of untreated tree trunk. Sap was still crystallized on its bark, and the piney smell suffused the entire room. It was almost enough to cover the smell of vomit and spilled beer. “Smells like home,” Lynch said.

Lynch comes from an Irish Catholic family, and he remains partial to that brand of spirituality. There is a cultural component that seems to revel in suffering, something Lynch has an affinity for, although he doesn’t frame it in quite those terms. He wrote much of this album during a very dark period of his life, and he had to revisit that place while polishing his original demos for release. “It was fine, though,” Lynch shrugged. “I’m used to it.”

To personal tragedy? Lynch was silent for a moment, then shrugged again. “I wrote what I wrote and I think that speaks for itself.”

 

Lynch downplays the truth when he says that he’s private. There are plenty of interviews with Second Sleeper, but Lynch might as well not be present for any of them. His commentary is so few and far between that it’s a wonder the public ever thought they knew him.

When I asked him why he lets Gansey do most of the talking, he had a simple answer: “I’m not verbose.”

Silence, however, was built into the way Lynch was raised. His father, Niall Lynch, was once a prominent art dealer, but his legacy has been sullied by allegations of forgery and association with black market suppliers. These accusations only came to light in 2010, after the elder Lynch was brutally beaten to death in the driveway of his Singer Falls, VA, home. Ronan was the person who discovered his father’s body.

“We didn’t talk about it,” Lynch said of his father’s death. “He was charismatic, shady, a real showman. The original Lynch performer. He didn’t talk seriously about most things.” Although the rest of the Lynch family pleads ignorance of their patriarch’s alleged illegal activities, the secrecy from his upbringing can be deeply felt in Lynch’s song-writing psyche. His lyrics are snarled knots of distorted pain and simmering lust, layered over menacing guitar and stuttering drum loops.

Still, there was a light side to accompany the Lynch’s dark underbelly. For one thing, all of the Lynch siblings grew up playing instruments, and even formed their own band when “They say every Irishman is a musician if you get them drunk enough,” Lynch explained. “Both my brothers are teetotallers. Maybe that’s why the piano lessons didn’t stick.”

 

[Continued on Page B5]

 

Rolling Stone Reviews | Ronan Lynch: Unknowable

 

4.5/5 stars

 

Rock stars don’t always find success when they go solo, but on Ronan Lynch’s remarkable debut album Unknowable he doesn’t just find success -- he finds himself. The album is equal parts heartbreaking confessional and rock raunch, all tied together by a sense of coherent urgency. The opener “Second Skin” is an apt title for a track that doesn’t pull any punches in its reference to Lynch’s Second Sleeper bandmates or his battles with substance abuse. (“Not dead but still drunk/They said it’s the same thing and I wish I agreed”). Lynch co-wrote almost every song in the Second Sleeper catalog, but he’s never before bared his black psychedelic ego to the public. This album cracks that darkness wide open, exposes it to the light, and mines torment for treasure.

Lynch has also never sung on an album before--his voice, a rasping wail, cleans up surprisingly well. “Interlude,” reminiscent of Johnny Cash’s definitive cover of “Hurt,” stretches his range to dangerous new lows. The slow-burn number sets the scene with the protagonist shooting up in a cemetery. “Came to visit today, where were you/The dirt’s cold and needles’re on the stones/Think I bled there last night,” he croons, before casually contacting corpses to ask, “How long before I join you?” The song eventually loops back around with the help of a garage shiver drumbeat and Lynch’s signature gritty guitar, delivering the goods and keeping Lynch’s heart beating for just one more day.

The song with both the hardest edge and the most precipitous fall is “Sedition,” whose beat drops sometime around the third act to reveal a sun-soaked romance that doesn’t give a fuck about society’s rules. “Fuck all night, on your knees but I pray to you/Don’t look now, they’re watching too” flips a middle finger to everyone from the media that hounded Lynch straight up to the Lord and Savior himself. That romance is evident in other places, though, as Lynch exorcises his acoustic demons (“Blue Eye Mirror”) and realizes the back alley doesn’t cut it anymore (“Signs”). The album makes good on its redemptive foreplay, ending on a Velvet Underground paean (“Come On Boy“) that feels like waking up to clean sheets for the first time in your life. The ache and ecstasy of hope washes over a lovingly layered song that confirms Lynch may be an enigma, but we should all aspire to his level of genius introspection.

 

“Well,” Adam looked up from the magazine. “ Rolling Stone seems to like you again.”

“Fuck ‘em,” Ronan grunted, but Adam caught the edge of a grin as he turned away.

“’Black psychedelic ego’,” Adam said drily. “It’s like they know you.”

“Fuck you too,” Ronan said, catching Adam’s eye in the mirror.

“Not before a show,” Adam said, as he turned a page. He held the magazine back up to his face and smiled to himself, knowing that Ronan was fuming on the other side of it. “Would you look at that. Jack White put out another album.”

“I don’t give a fuck ,” Ronan said, snatching the magazine away, “about Jack.” He was looming over Adam, the magazine held just out of reach, a mock-snarl on his face. But his eyes danced with mischievous energy. He was always wound up before he performed.

“But Ronan,” Adam blinked up at him innocently, “I thought you were friends!”

“You’re such a little shit,” Ronan said.

Adam dropped his eyes from Ronan’s face to his belt buckle. It was a battered metal rectangle, a raven etched haphazardly on its face. Ronan had made it in his father’s workshop when he was twelve. The same workshop where he did his forgeries Ronan had confided, sleepy and orgasm-drunk in the grass outside the Barns. I dreamed about it, but it didn’t exist until I made it.

Adam carefully placed his palm over it, feeling Ronan hard under the metal and leather.

“You’ll be late,” he said. “Aren’t we trying to rehab your image?”

“Poor choice of words.” Ronan cocked an eyebrow at him. “It’ll only add to my mystique,” he said, leaning in close and breathing into Adam’s ear, “if I show up looking freshly fucked.”

“I suppose,” Adam drawled, feeling the tension in Ronan’s body winding ever tighter. He glanced leisurely up at the clock on the green room wall. He could feel the thumping bass of the opening band through the floor, hear the distant screams of the crowd, still subdued to save their energy for the main act. Only a few minutes left now. “Can you make it worth my time? I have a concert to get to.”

Ronan ground his hips forward into Adam’s hand, and Adam had to stifle a moan. Ronan looked fucking filthy like this: leather pants riding low on his hips; tattered white t shirt rucked up to reveal a thin strip of abdomen; string-callused fingers sliding through Adam’s hair.

Adam finally slipped Ronan belt free, and Ronan’s hand tightened reflexively. Adam pressed his forehead to Ronan’s stomach and grinned into his shirt, absurdly and incandescently happy as the floor vibrated and the clocked ticked down and Ronan swore above him.

***

Adam slid into his seat. He looked down at the crowd below and felt overwhelmingly grateful that he wasn’t down there being crushed against a metal barrier.

“Your hair is a mess,” Henry sniffed as he passed Adam a bottle of water.

“Thanks,” Adam said, drinking half of it down before handing it to Noah, who immediately lobbed the cap at the stage, gleefully shouting “Where the fuck is Lynch?!”

“He’s late to his own show,” Gansey said hopelessly. “Why does he do this to me?”

“It’s fine,” Adam said. “People expect it; it’s all part of the Ronan Lynch Experience. He never comes when he’s supposed to.”

“I didn’t need to know that,” Gansey groaned, while Blue cackled behind him. She reached over Gansey’s lap to high five Adam.

“Nice,” she mouthed.

Adam felt himself go bright red, but before he could explain what he’d meant , the stage lights dimmed and began to pulsate, sweeping back and forth over the crowd and the stage. The smoke machine sputtered and coughed out a billow of white as Ronan slunk onto the stage. The crowd went wild, churning and crashing against the stage barriers as Ronan hooked his guitar to the amp, his entire posture telegraphing haughty disinterest. The room might as well be empty for all the fucks Ronan gave about the show.

“He’s such an asshole,” Gansey sighed. Adam could hear the admiration in his voice.

“Yeah, he is,” Adam grinned. He might be imagining it, but he thought he could still see spots of hectic red high on Ronan’s cheekbones.

Ronan finally stopped fiddling with his guitar and stepped up to the mic. The rest of his hired band settled around him, so overshadowed they might as well be stage props.

“Hey Cabeswater,” he said casually. The crowd roared. “Still smells like piss and sweat...And not just cause Gansey’s here.” The crowd stamped their feet and screamed.

“Well really ,” Gansey said. Blue was laughing too hard, so Henry patted him consolingly on the arm.

Adam wasn’t surprised when Ronan immediately broke into a searing guitar riff. Adam was surprised he’d begun the show with even that much talking--ordinarily Ronan was more about swaggering in without fanfare. But, Adam mused, he was always chattiest after sex.

The riff bled easily into the beginning of one of Ronan’s new songs, and the rest of the band joined in after the first few chords. Adam let Blue haul him to his feet, bouncing to the rhythm as she threw her arms into the air and began to sing along.

This was Adam’s favorite, actually -- the first one that Ronan had ever written for him, the one that still made his heart turn over and his stomach flutter when he recognized the opening notes. Ronan was howling into the microphone, the neck of his guitar swinging wildly as he stamped along to the beat, black tank already sticking to his chest under the hot stage lights. He looked like a demon, like a devil, like a god.

 

I'm working on my backwards walk

Walking with no shoes or socks

And the time rewinds to the end of May

I wish we'd never met, then met today

 

Blue was yelling the lyrics along with Ronan, her eyes lit up and her hair flying. Gansey would probably have been a bit hurt by her enthusiasm if he weren’t right there beside her, his glasses askew and his cheeks bright pink.

 

I'm working on my faults and cracks

Filling in the blanks and gaps

And when I write them out they don't make sense

I need you to pencil in the rest

 

Adam remembered Ronan in the kitchen that first morning, breaking picks and scribbling lyrics, the plastic rainbow at his feet and the graphic smudge on his wrist. He ached to be down on that stage, for the crowd to disperse and Ronan’s guitar to be acoustic, for it to be just the two of them in their bed at home with Ronan crooning this into Adam’s ear as they fucked.

 

I'm working on drawing a straight line

And I'll draw until I get one right

It's bold and dark, boy, can't you see

I done drawn a line between you and me

 

Adam was swept away by the music, by just how much had changed, by just how much Ronan didn’t mean this anymore, or maybe how differently he meant it now. His music had taken on new expression in the last few months, as Adam settled into the empty spaces in his life and made a home there.

 

I'll get hammered, forget that you exist

There's no way I'm forgetting this

I'm working hard on walking out

Shoes keep sticking to the ground

My clothes won't let me close the door

'Cause the trousers seem to love your floor

I been working on my backwards walk

There's nowhere else for me to go

Except back to you just one last time

Say yes before I change my mind

 

“Yes,” Adam whispered, and he knew he wasn’t imagining it when his hand began to tingle and when Ronan’s eyes met his. Ronan punched a triumphant, green-fingered hand into the air, and the music around them soared to its conclusion.