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The first time Ronan Lynch sees Adam Parrish, he’s chasing Noah down the castle’s corridors and it’s only on account of Ronan’s Seeker reflexes that he doesn’t go flying down the stairs to avoid bumping into him.

There is an odd sense of irony in the fact that one of Ronan’s first thoughts upon meeting Adam Parrish, right between “well, shit” and “fuck, he’s cute”, is a vaguely relieved: At least I didn’t fall.

The boy’s face is all elegant lines and fine cheekbones, pretty blue eyes framed by dusty brown hair unevenly cropped in a way that should look sloppy but manages to look good. The only thing somehow putting a damper on the boy’s appearance is the frown firmly etched between his eyebrows, and the fact that he’s currently glaring at Noah and Ronan as though he’d like nothing more than to pull out his wand and set their robes on fire.

Ronan stands there and tries not to stare as Noah, who wasn’t fast enough to avoid the collision, erupts into apologies and bends down to pick up the books Parrish had dropped when Noah had slammed full force into him.

“You’re not supposed to run in the halls.”

“Sorry! We’re kind of in a hurry.” Noah lies easily, flashing his best winning smile at the guy. The latter doesn’t seem very impressed with it, but the look in his eyes falters slightly until it looks less murderous and more disapproving, and he blows out a sigh that can only truly be described as long-suffering. It says something that it kind of makes Ronan feel like an idiot.

“You should be more careful.”

“Will do,” Noah says with an air of sincerity so convincing Ronan almost believes it.

The guy either buys Noah’s sheepish act or doesn’t care enough to push the issue any further, because he holds his books closer to his chest, gives Noah a curt nod, and breezes past them without so much as a glance in Ronan’s direction.

“Who was that guy?” Ronan asks when he’s sure he’s out of earshot, resisting the urge to look over his shoulder.

Noah turns bewildered eyes on Ronan, and Ronan instantly knows he’s going to regret asking that question.

“How do you not know who Adam Parrish is?”

“Unlike you, I don’t keep tabs on everyone in this damn school.”

“Adam Parrish isn’t just anyone!”

The name does eventually ring a bell in Ronan’s head, though it takes him a few more seconds to put his finger on it. “Is that the guy Gansey has been obsessed with recently?”

“Wow, you actually do listen when Gansey is talking to you. Yes, they have Divination together this semester. More importantly, he’s the Slytherin Head Boy and the most brilliant mind Slytherin has to offer. He’s top of his class in almost every subject and rumor has it they gave him a Time-Turner last year so he could keep up with all the classes he wanted to take. He’s pretty popular even among the other houses.”

Of course Gansey would be friends with someone like that.

“Seemed like an asshole,” Ronan says, because the alternative is saying something embarrassing like Gansey didn’t mention he was ridiculously hot, and Ronan knows better than to give Noah a metaphorical stick to beat him with.

“We kind of were the assholes in this situation.”

“You’re the one who almost knocked him to the ground.”

“Because you were running after me.”

“Because you were being a little shit.”

“All I said was you might want to slip Whelk some Calming Draught to make him more inclined to put up with you so you don’t fail his class for the third time in a row—”

Ronan punches Noah’s arm with more force than he would normally apply, Noah makes a show of clutching his arm and complaining loudly about it, and that’s the end of it. For now.

 

~~~

 

The second time Ronan sees Adam Parrish, he’s running on two hours of sleep and he’s out of it enough that the first thing that crosses his mind is that the boy standing in front of him is a particularly vivid figment of his imagination because Ronan has never run into another student in the Owlery at this hour.

Then he remembers that his brain hates him too much to conjure up something so pleasant of its own accord, and a very real pointed cough is enough to snap Ronan out of it.

“May I,” Parrish says, voice perfectly polite save for the small touch of irritation a man less versed in the subtle art of passive-aggressiveness would fail to pick up on.

“Sorry,” Ronan says a little dazedly, stepping out of his way.

Parrish takes three steps towards the door before he stops suddenly and straightens a little, throwing Ronan a hesitant look over his shoulder. “Hey, you’re friends with Gansey, right?”

“Uh, yeah.” Ronan says, doing his best to mask his surprise.

“Can you tell him to bring my Muggle art book to class tomorrow? I need it for an assignment.”

“Why is Gansey reading a book about Muggle art?

The words roll off his tongue before he can think them through, and Ronan mentally curses himself as he clamps his mouth shut. Gansey hadn’t failed to mention that Adam Parrish was Muggle-born in his detailed lowdown on the guy that day after Noah had told him he and Ronan had run into him (quite literally), and Ronan knows he has an unfortunate tendency of sounding a lot more disdainful than he actually feels. Parrish looks taken aback for a second, but he recovers quickly enough, and Ronan is relieved to see the hint of a wry smile pull at his lips. Offending the Slytherin Head Boy doesn’t sound like something Ronan would like to do, not to mention the last thing Ronan wants is to give someone the impression of being a prejudiced pure-blood bigot.

“You don’t think Non-Muggles should want to learn more about Muggle culture?”

Ronan gives a measured shrug. “I was more surprised by the art part. Gansey isn’t much of an artist.”

“Gansey has been very interested in all areas of Muggle studies lately. I might be off base, but I think he’s trying to impress a certain Muggle-born Gryffindor.”

It takes a few seconds for it to click in Ronan’s head, and he can’t help the surprised laugh that escapes his lips when it does. It is no secret to anyone in Gryffindor that Gansey has a massive crush on Head Girl Blue Sargent, but Gansey is either closer to Adam than Ronan had assumed or he’s even more obvious about his feelings than Ronan had thought if even people from other houses know about it.

“Did Gansey take up Divination so he could see into the future of that relationship?”

“If he did, I’m afraid he’s going to be disappointed by the results. He didn’t tell me. Blue did.”

Ronan pushes his secondhand embarrassment to the back of his mind. “You know Sargent?”

“She’s my ex-girlfriend.”

Ronan’s eyes widen comically, mouth falling open. He certainly hadn’t expected that answer.

“And... you don’t mind?” Ronan asks, wondering how he should phrase the rest of his question before deciding to leave it at that. Ronan is distinctly aware that he’s overstepping several types of boundaries by prying into the affairs of someone he’s speaking to for the first time, but if Gansey is about to accidentally start a feud with the Slytherin Head Boy, Ronan would rather know about it now.

It’s Parrish’s turn to shrug, looking unbothered. “We dated for a few months in our fifth year. It’s all water under the bridge.”

Ronan nods, putting on his best understanding face. There’s a brief silence where Ronan tries not to fidget and a weird expression crosses Parrish’s face like he’s wondering why he’s entertaining Ronan’s invasive questions, and then he clears his throat and jerks his thumb towards the door.

“Well, I’ll be on my way. Don’t forget to tell Gansey about the book, please.”

“I will,” Ronan promises, and gets back to business just as Adam leaves.

 

~~~

 

Ronan doesn’t really see Adam Parrish for a few weeks after that.

When he does see him again, it’s three weeks before Christmas and the entire castle is buzzing with excitement and anticipation for the approaching holidays.

Ronan can count the number of times he’s set foot in the school library in all the years he’s been at Hogwarts on the fingers of one hand. Maybe two, if he counts the times he’s been in there looking for Gansey.

Ronan moves through the rows towards the Magical Creatures section of the building, feeling a little lightheaded at the sheer number of books surrounding him on all sides. The aisles are largely empty, most likely because the majority of the student body would rather spend their free time enjoying the rare December sun than holed up in a library. Ronan doesn’t particularly care for sunlight, and their Quidditch practice session was cancelled after most of the team had decided to take a trip to Hogsmeade, and Ronan was bored enough that a visit to the library didn’t sound like the worst thing in the world.

“I can’t find it in the Night Creatures section—Oh. Hi. I thought you were the library assistant.”

“Hey,” Ronan says, stumbling a little over the word. Adam Parrish looks every bit as pretty as he did a few weeks ago, though the shadows under his eyes are a new addition that has Ronan wondering if he hasn’t been sleeping well before he remembers that he’s not supposed to care. Parrish puts a couple of volumes back on the shelves and runs a hand through his hair to smooth it down before facing Ronan again, a gesture that strikes Ronan as a little self-conscious and makes him want to brush the hair away from his face at the same time.

“I’ve never seen you in the library before,” Parrish says noncommittally. Ronan can’t tell whether or not it’s meant to be an insult.

“I don’t read much,” Ronan says dryly, leaning against the bookshelf.

Adam glances down at the book in Ronan’s hand—Transfiguration Spells For Facial Hair and Body Parts—before raising an elegant eyebrow.

“Interesting choice of book.”

Adam’s face is perfectly neutral, but Ronan feels his cheeks grow warm against his will.

“I’m just returning a book my friend borrowed. A non-Gansey friend,” Ronan feels the need to clarify. Ronan doesn’t think Gansey would be too happy about Adam asking him why he’s reading obscure books about human Transfiguration in his spare time.

“And here I was thinking Gansey was trying to grow a beard.”

Before Ronan can decide between letting out a cackle and defending Gansey’s honor, they’re interrupted by the library assistant, a short redhead in yellow robes who gives Ronan such a vicious glare upon seeing him he almost flinches before remembering that the last time he’d come in here had ended with him accidentally starting a fight with some Slytherin dickhead. Ronan figures she still holds it against him. “Adam, I found your book.”

“Thank you, Alice,” Parrish says, drawing out the vowels. Ronan only has enough time to glimpse part of the title—A look at the effects of female Lycanthropy—before Parrish stuffs the book into his messenger bag and out of sight.

“What can I do for you?” The assistant asks reluctantly, turning her attention to Ronan. The difference in the way she looks at him is almost funny.

“Nothing,” Ronan says, then adds quickly after realizing how brusque he sounded: “I’m just looking. Hm, I’d like to return this book too.”

She takes the book from him with a curt nod, smiles charmingly at Adam, shoots Ronan a warning look, and walks off in the opposite direction.

“I don’t think Alice likes you very much.”

“I don’t even know who she is,” Ronan lies, though it’s partially true.

“I doubt she’d glare at you like that for no reason.”

“Maybe she’s just a jerk.”

“She’s not.”

“You friends with her?”

“Kind of. We dated for a bit.”

Ronan arches an incredulous brow at him. “Did you date every girl of below-average height in this school?”

There’s a beat of silence where Ronan bites his tongue and wonders if he was out of line, but Parrish merely rolls his eyes and holds up two slender fingers.

“Only two.”

“I think you have a type.”

“I guess I do,” Parrish says, an amused sort of smile playing on his lips.

They look at each other for a moment longera moment too long—and then Parrish seems to remember that he didn’t come here to chat with Ronan and Ronan remembers that he didn’t come here to chat him up, though he frankly can’t think of a better use of his time.

“I’ll let you get back to it, then,” Ronan says a little awkwardly, shifting his weight from foot to foot.

“Okay.”

“Hm, I’ll see you around.”

“Weren’t you looking for a book?”

“Not anymore. Think I’ve reached my quota of hanging around the library for the day.”

“You haven’t read anything yet.”

“Exactly.”

Adam’s eyes crinkle a little at the corners as he laughs, and Ronan pretends the way his heart skips a beat is due to the excess of caffeine in his blood.

 

~~~

 

Care of Magical Creatures is Ronan’s favorite subject, and it’s also, incidentally, one of the only subjects that doesn’t require him to be stuck in a classroom for hours on end as the teacher drones on about things Ronan couldn’t care less about.

It’s because Care of Magical Creatures is one of the very few subjects Ronan actually enjoys, and because this is the one class Ronan can’t afford to fail if he has any intention of graduating this year, that Ronan would very much like to be able to focus during class.

Except he can’t, because Ronan’s stupid best friend, who is only taking the class because he was one class short of the minimum number required (and because Ronan’s brother charged him with making sure Ronan is attending somewhat regularly, though Gansey doesn’t know Ronan knows that), can’t shut up about Muggle cuisine of all things.

“And they use ovens, which are like thermally insulated chambers, to bake and roast food.”

“Fascinating.”

Gansey doesn’t seem to catch the sarcasm. “The base ingredients aren’t that different from the ones we use, but the preparation is vastly different. Muggle food varies widely from one country to another, too.”

“Are you going to open a Muggle restaurant?”

“No, but I’d like to try some Muggle food one day. Adam said his mom didn’t cook much, but you can find recipe books in any Muggle library or on the Internet. I assume you know what that is.”

“Tell him to bring you back samples when he comes back from Christmas.”

Gansey is silent for a beat, long enough for Ronan to cast him a curious glance. “Adam doesn’t go back home.”

Ronan stares at him. “Like, ever?”

“Not since his second year. I think... He didn’t go into details, but I don’t think he’s in speaking terms with his family.”

“So, he just stays here all year round?” Ronan asks, trying to quell his unease at the thought.

Gansey shrugs, mouth turning down unhappily. “I don’t know, I didn’t press.”

You didn’t press?”

Gansey scowls a little. “I can tell when someone doesn’t want to talk about private matters, Ronan. Anyway, don’t go telling people, I believe he told me that in confidence.”

“Yes, because I talk to so many people other than you and Noah, who probably already knows.”

Gansey ignores him and walks over to a group of Ravenclaws to say something to Henry Cheng, having either exhausted the topic or realized that distracting Ronan during class is unconducive to his goal of helping him pass, and Ronan ignores the lingering discomfort in his chest from the previous conversation and tunes in on Dittley’s explanation about Thunderbirds.

 

~~~

 

When Ronan goes into the Prefects’ bathroom looking for Gansey, he expects one of two things: Either to find his friend or to find it empty.

What Ronan doesn’t expect is to see Adam Parrish, sitting on the floor next to the toilet stalls with his back against the wall, knees drawn up to his chest and arms wrapped around his legs. His face is buried into his arms and for a fleeting second Ronan considers bolting out of the bathroom before he can see him and pretending he was never here, but the sight of Parrish slumped on the floor keeps him frozen in place, renders him unable to move and unable to look away.

Ronan wrestles with himself for several seconds, hand twitching in an aborted movement, but then Parrish shifts a little, arms loosening around his knees, and Ronan’s mouth opens before he even knows what’s going to come out of it.

“Are you okay?”

Parrish’s head shoots up like he’s been struck, and his eyes go wide at the sight of Ronan. Ronan stares back at him without a word, tamping down the faint panic rising in his throat at the miserable look on Adam’s face.

He wasn’t crying, at least. Ronan is nowhere near qualified to handle that.

Parrish drags a hand across his face, visibly struggling to pull himself back into a semblance of composure. Ronan has the good sense to look away in an attempt to give him space, pretending to be interested in the stained glass window in the back of the room.

Parrish eventually clears his throat, voice notably raspier than it normally is. Ronan wonders how long he’s been sitting on the cold bathroom floor by himself before Ronan came in. “Yes, I’mHm. I’m fine.”

Ronan isn’t about to argue you don’t look fine at all, but his disbelief must have seeped into his expression, because Parrish ducks his head so he’s not looking at him, the closest thing to an admission Ronan is probably going to get.

“You wanna talk about it?” Ronan asks awkwardly, going for sympathetic and probably missing by a mile. He’s so bad at this Parrish can probably tell, but Ronan can’t back out now. Something about seeing Adam Parrish like this is troubling, leaves an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of Ronan’s stomach. Ronan isn’t sure what to make of it.

Parrish huffs out a laugh, but it sounds hollow. “Not really.”

Ronan lets out a sigh, almost relieved. “Good. Shit, sorry. I didn’t meanUh.”

The silence that hangs in the air is so thick it’s almost palpable. Parrish is quiet for so long Ronan has no other option than to accept it as his cue to leave him alone, but just as Ronan is debating whether he should say something or just walk away, Parrish takes a deep breath and lifts his head again.

“It’s justI.”

Ronan patiently waits for him to continue.

“I’m. Concerned. Someone I care about

He stops, biting down on his lower lip hard enough to hurt. His expression is conflicted, like he’s torn between letting it all out and retreating back into silence. Stupidly, Ronan thinks he wants to touch him, put his hand on his shoulder or reach up to smooth out the frustrated frown between his eyebrows. He sticks his hands in his pockets to keep himself from doing something immensely impulsive and equally foolish.

“Someone I care about is unwell,” Parrish says finally. He bites it out like the words were clawing at his throat for a long time, like he’s tired of choking on them every time he takes a breath. Ronan hesitates for a second before settling down on the floor next to him, the damp tiles immediately soaking into the fabric of his robes. Ronan is surprised by how much he doesn’t care.

“Are they sick?” Ronan asks gently, chewing on his bottom lip.

“You could say that.”

They’re both quiet for a moment, Ronan struggling to come up with something to say that doesn’t sound like the kind of empty platitudes Ronan loathes and Parrish most definitely doesn’t want to hear. Ronan isn’t good at finding the right words, has never quite gotten the hang of offering comfort or reassurance that doesn’t come in the form of a rough hug or a quick pat on the back. He’s so out of his depth it’s not even funny. When Ronan steals a glance at Adam, he’s staring straight ahead with an unfocused look in his eyes, guilt and misery and an emotion Ronan can barely identify warring on his face.

“It’s so stupid. I don’t even know what I’m doing here. I should be” Parrish barrels on before Ronan can say anything, the words coming out in short bursts like he can’t wait to get them out after holding them back for so long. Ronan gets the distinct impression that he hasn’t talked about this to a great many people, possibly no one. He doesn’t know how to feel about the fact that he’s trusting Ronan with it, although Ronan still isn’t sure what any of this means.

“Is it someone in your family?” Ronan asks tentatively, remembering his conversation with Gansey.

“No. Yes,” Parrish falters, eyes widening a fraction. His eyes flicker over to Ronan, face twisting into an expression Ronan can’t even begin to decipher. Ronan looks back, almost transfixed, any question he might want to ask about the slip-up dying on his tongue at the wretched look on Adam’s face.

“Are they seeing a healer? Can’t magic... Fix it?”

“It’s not something that can be fixed,” Parrish replies with finality, the bitter edge in his voice leaving a sour taste in Ronan’s mouth. And then he sighs, and the tension seems to bleed out of him at once, replaced by the same defeated slump from before. Ronan wonders if he should probe further, if this is as much as Parrish is willing to give. He doesn’t have an answer, so he keeps quiet and waits for Adam to speak.

“What are you even doing here?” Parrish asks after a moment, like he’s just now realizing they’re in the Prefects’ bathroom and Ronan has no business being here. Ronan winces, cycling through the limited list of excuses that would justify his presence and failing to think of a convincing one. He was hoping it wouldn’t come up.

“I’m the Gryffindor captain,” Ronan tries, more a deflection than a real attempt at bullshitting a Head Boy.

“No you’re not,” Parrish says, rolling his eyes. He doesn’t sound particularly mad, though. Ronan thinks he looks a little bit lighter than before, even, though Ronan is reluctant to take credit for it. “You don’t think I know the captains of every team?”

Ronan holds up his hands in surrender. “I was looking for Gansey. Couldn’t find him anywhere else.”

“He gave you the password?” Parrish asks, quirking a pointed eyebrow. Ronan considers saying no for Gansey’s sake before figuring Parrish is too smart for bald-faced lies and settling on a non-answer.

“Maybe.”

“You know I could get you in trouble for this, right?” Parrish asks airily, repositioning himself so that his legs are stretched out in front of him. He grimaces slightly, like he’s been sitting in that position for too long. Ronan doesn’t think he’s imagining the playful tilt in his tone, and Ronan can’t help the pleased flutter his chest gives in response.

“Will you?” Ronan asks in the same tone, brow cocked in a silent challenge.

Adam holds his gaze. “Not if you don’t tell anyone about what I told you.”

Ronan is a little thrown by the sudden change of topic, and there’s half a dozen questions floating through his mind still, but Adam is obviously done talking about it, and he’s looking at Ronan with the barest hint of a plea in his blue eyes, and Ronan thinks he would do about anything to avoid putting that look on his face again, so Ronan simply meets Adam’s eyes and says: “Deal.”

 

~~~

 

Ronan can’t stop thinking about Adam Parrish.

The thing about thinking about Adam Parrish is that Ronan doesn’t do it consciously. It’s not like Ronan wakes up one day and decides to daydream about Parrish’s pretty eyes or slender hands or the way his dusty hair frames his elegant face. That would at least make some amount of sense, because well, Parrish is almost unbearably good-looking, and Ronan is very gay and very starved for a beautiful boy’s attention. No, the reality of Parrish creeping into Ronan’s thoughts is much more consuming and much more inconvenient. It’s what feels like a constant stream of thoughts in the back of Ronan’s head, it’s their last conversation replaying in Ronan’s mind over and over like a record player stuck on loop, it’s a heaviness in Ronan’s chest following their last encounter not unlike the feeling Ronan gets when Gansey is in one of his moods or Matthew is upset after a particularly bad breakup.

It’s desperate and sometimes unconscious efforts to catch a glimpse of Parrish, from walking Gansey to the Divination Tower on the off-chance of seeing him to trying to spot him at the Slytherin table without drawing attention from either table. Ronan is amazed no one has noticed. He doesn’t think he’s being particularly discreet about it.

It’s a little absurd, and more than a little pathetic, and Ronan can hardly explain it. It’s not like he and Parrish are friends, not even close. Ronan doesn’t get attached to people he talked to a total of five times in the course of a few months. Ronan doesn’t worry about people he barely knows and who shouldn’t mean anything to him. It’s stupid, and presumptuous, and if Noah or Gansey find out he’ll never heard the end of it.

It’s driving Ronan insane.

He could ask Gansey, but Ronan doesn’t know how to casually ask his friend how his classmate is doing without inviting exactly the kind of question Ronan doesn’t want to answer. The last thing Ronan needs right now is Gansey being Gansey about this. There is very little Ronan hides from his best friend, but there is no part of this Ronan wants to discuss or acknowledge out loud.

It’s a little over a week before Ronan is supposed to go home for Christmas. He was supposed to leave as soon as classes are over, but Matthew made plans with his friends for the first three days of break, and Ronan decided to wait for him so they could set out together. It certainly has nothing to do with the fact that Ronan is stalling. Ronan has absolutely no reason to do that.

Ronan tries not to make a big deal out of it. Ronan will be away from school for half a month, and he won’t see Parrish for two long weeks, and by the time he comes back Ronan will surely be over whatever is going on with him. Ronan should just take it in stride and wait for it to pass. Ronan is very good at ignoring problems until they eventually go away without him having to do anything. Really, this shouldn’t be any different.

Except every time Ronan thinks about leaving without seeing Parrish, the memory of Adam slumped on the floor with his knees drawn up and his face hanging low flashes through his mind like a persistent reminder. He looked so damn lonely. Logically, Ronan knows it’s not his responsibility to make sure Adam is okay, and Adam certainly has his own friends for that, but Ronan can’t for the life of him get the image of Adam looking so miserable and alone out of his mind. The knowledge that Adam doesn’t have anyone to spend Christmas with as far as Ronan understands does nothing to alleviate Ronan’s weird sense of responsibility and concern.

Ronan can’t leave the castle without talking to him.

Ronan lasts exactly seven days before he can’t take it.

“Earth to Ronan?” Noah’s voice carries over to him, jolting him out of his thoughts. They’re sitting outside in the courtyard after lunch, and Noah and Gansey are huddled around some kind of board game while Ronan is doing a poor job of pretending to pay attention to what they’re doing. It’s one of the last few days before the end of the semester, and Ronan should be a lot happier about it than he is, but the nagging feeling in the back of his mind is making it hard to appreciate it as much as he ordinarily would. Ronan can’t help feeling like he’s running out of time.

“Ronan?” Gansey says, waving a hand in front of his face.

Ronan casts his eyes around the other students in the courtyard one last time, glances down at his watch, and makes a decision.

“I gotta go somewhere,” Ronan says abruptly, jumping to his feet. He ignores the dumbfounded looks from Noah and Gansey alike, and doesn’t turn around when Gansey calls out his name. He’ll deal with his friends later.

Ronan doesn’t know what classes Adam is taking aside from Divination, and he has no idea where else to seek him out or where Adam usually hangs out outside of class. The castle is big enough that Ronan could be looking for hours before he finds him.

Clearly the only viable option is to look for him in the Slytherin Common Room.

And that’s how Ronan finds himself making his way to the dungeons, ignoring the niggling voice in his head telling him this is a stupid plan that will inevitably backfire. Ronan has rarely been in this part of the castle in recent years, but he knows his way around the dungeons as a result of being friends with someone who spent his first three years sneaking around the school after hours and insisting on dragging Ronan along with him. The Hogwarts castle holds no secrets for him.

The initial plan is to loiter around the Common Room until he runs into Adam, which Ronan is quickly coming to realize is exceptionally half-baked and doesn’t stand a huge chance of success. There’s no way Ronan is going to wait around all day in front of the dorms. He’s pretty sure someone would end up calling a Prefect on him. (Which might actually work in his favor if they decide to call Adam, but Ronan would rather not take that chance.)

So Ronan makes himself look as unthreatening as possible and resolves to ask the first person coming in or out of the Common Room about Parrish.

There’s no one but him in the hallway for the next ten minutes, which gives Ronan more than enough time to rethink the whole thing and consider ducking out before it’s too late. Adam is going to think Ronan is a weirdo. Ronan should have just asked Gansey—

The passage leading to the Common Room opens, and a tall girl with dark curls steps out of it. She looks vaguely familiar and approachable enough, and Ronan immediately coughs to draw her attention before he can psych himself out.

“Can I help you?” The girl asks as she stops in front of him, giving Ronan a curious glance.

“Yes. Hm. Adam Parrish? I’m looking for him.”

The girl gives him a searching look, and Ronan would very much like to crawl into a hole and preferably never come out. But he’s Ronan Lynch, and he doesn’t give his ground or lose face in front of anyone (especially not a Slytherin student), and so he holds her gaze with his head held high and waits for her to hopefully tell him where Adam is.

The girl looks at him for a moment longer before saying, voice thoroughly bored, “He has class in a few. He should be leaving soon.”

“Thanks,” Ronan says, and tries not to make his relief too obvious.

The girl nods and walks away, leaving Ronan alone in the hall again.

Sure enough, barely five minutes later, the passage opens again and the source of Ronan’s inner turmoil comes out of it. Ronan’s heart starts pounding in his chest the moment his eyes fall on Adam Parrish, almost catching him off guard. He’s probably going to have to do something about that.

“Hey. Parrish.”

Adam turns towards him, brows furrowed, and surprise floods his face at the sight of Ronan.

It occurs to Ronan then that Adam doesn’t even know his name, but then Adam is walking towards him and saying, “Lynch. What are you doing here?”

Ronan has rehearsed what he was going to say for nearly thirty minutes (really, seven days), but the lump in his throat is making it hard to get the words out. “I was, uh. Looking for you.”

Adam doesn’t look any less bemused after Ronan’s half-assed explanation, and Ronan can feel his bravado begin to crumble. “Looking for me?”

“Uh-huh.”

Adam is obviously waiting for him to explain himself further, but Ronan’s tongue feels like lead in his mouth. When Ronan doesn’t add anything, he just says in a carefully measured tone, “Oh.”

Ronan can’t stand it. “I know this is weird, but I haven’t seen you since—And I was just wondering if—” He knows he’s rambling, and by Merlin he should stop before he says something he’ll regret, but Adam is looking at him like he thinks Ronan might have hit his head, and of course he would think this is weird, and fuck why can’t Ronan ever be normal

“Lynch,” Adam cuts him off. Ronan’s mouth immediately snaps shut. The surprised look on Adam’s face finally makes way for something more controlled. Ronan would almost describe his expression as fondly exasperated if he didn’t know better. “It’s fine.”

Adam doesn’t look put out, at least, so Ronan counts it as a win and releases a breath he didn’t know he was holding. Silence stretches between them, and Ronan takes the time to really look at him. Adam looks significantly better than he did a week ago. The shadows under his eyes have all but disappeared, and he looks less pale, less worn out. Something settles in Ronan’s chest, like a fog clearing away. He tries not to think too hard about it.

Of course, Adam catches him staring.

“So you wanted to see me.”

Ronan is pretty sure his face is doing a very good impression of a firetruck. “Hm, yeah. I just—I mean. I wanted to know if you were. Okay, I guess.”

A voice that sounds uncannily like Ronan’s older brother rings through his head, Very eloquent, Lynch.

Adam’s face is completely unreadable. It makes Ronan feel like he’s teetering on the edge of a cliff. “Oh. Well. That’s... nice of you.”

Ronan shrugs awkwardly, looking very intently at a point over Adam’s shoulder.

“I am okay,” Adam tacks on, like an afterthought. He straightens up a little and gives Ronan a half smile, as if to prove his point.

“Good,” Ronan says too quickly. He crosses his arms and uncrosses them again just to give himself something to do.

“I appreciate you asking.”

“Yeah,” Ronan says, mouth dry as dust.

Before Ronan can fumble for something to say to fill the silence before it becomes stifling, the passage opens again and a few more students emerge from the Common Room. One of them raises a single eyebrow at Adam as she walks past them, looking between the two of them with an expression Ronan can’t interpret. Ronan glances at Adam to try and gauge his reaction, but Adam’s face is a perfect blank mask as he stares back at her.

“That your boyfriend, Parrish?” Another student says, somewhere between a joke and a taunt. Adam scrunches up his nose in distaste and gives him a withering look, and Ronan doesn’t know whether it’s a reaction to being teased or to the prospect of being Ronan’s boyfriend. He’s not sure if he would like to find out.

“Beat it, Carruthers.”

The group of students quickly clears off, and then they’re alone again.

“Sorry, he’s an ass.”

Ronan nods mutely. He doesn’t think he can trust his voice right now.

“I have to go to class,” Adam says after a few seconds. Ronan deflates visibly before he can catch himself. Embarrassingly, Adam must pick up on his disappointment, because he hesitates for a bit before adding, “I can see you after class if you want?”

Ronan opens his mouth and closes it again, brain racing to catch up. He wants to ask what do you mean exactly by seeing me after class, are you trying to imply something, am I reading the situation wrong. He doesn’t want to make things weird, though, so instead he musters every ounce of confidence he has and tries to play it cool. “Sure. Yeah. After class.”

“Are you free at five?”

“Fuck.” Ronan curses with probably a lot more vehemence than necessary. Adam doesn’t react to it. “I have Quidditch practice before dinner. I can see you after that? Or tomorrow, if you want.”

Ronan wonders if he’s getting ahead of himself by assuming Parrish will still want to see him tomorrow, but Adam merely nods his head and hums, “Okay.” A conflicted expression crosses his face then, like he’s thinking very hard about something, before he seems to reach a conclusion. “Meet me in the Astronomy Tower tomorrow after class?”

“Okay.”

“Cool.”

“Right.”

They maintain eye contact for two seconds, three seconds too long, and Ronan can swear there’s something there, crackling in the air between them, but then the passage opens again, and a new group of students spill into the dungeon, and the spell is broken as Adam tears his gaze away.

“See you tomorrow, then,” Adam says evenly, giving Ronan a quick wave before turning on his heel.

“See you tomorrow,” Ronan says back, a little dazed, and hopes he doesn’t sound too eager.

 

~~~

 

It takes Ronan a few hours to fully process the implications of agreeing to see Adam Parrish after class.

Ronan manages pretty well throughout the afternoon classes and Quidditch practice, but by the time Ronan is back at the dorms after dinner and there’s nothing to distract him from the realization that he’s actually meeting up with Adam Parrish, alone, on Adam’s own initiative, in possibly one of the most secluded areas in the castle, Ronan’s stomach is in knots, and he feels vaguely nauseous, and he’s pretty sure he just gave himself tachycardia because he can’t get his heart to stop thundering against his ribs no matter how many times Ronan tells himself there’s nothing to be so anxious about.

Ronan honestly can’t remember the last time he was this nervous about something that didn’t involve Quidditch or possibly life-threatening situations.

“What’s wrong with you?” Noah asks at some point during the evening. They’re lounging around in the Gryffindor dorms, Ronan and Gansey on their respective beds, Noah lying down next to Ronan. Ronan doesn’t think anyone gives Noah enough credit for his observation skills, because Ronan thought he was doing a pretty good job of keeping a cool exterior, but trust Noah to pick up on his agitation.

“Nothing’s wrong with me,” Ronan says without looking at him.

“You’re making a weird face.”

“Shouldn’t you be in your own dorm? It’s almost curfew.”

“Wow, typical deflection tactic. Something is definitely going on.”

Ronan glares at him, and miraculously, it actually seems to work.

“Anyway,” Noah drawls out, making himself more comfortable on Ronan’s bed. “Wanna go to the Three Broomsticks tomorrow after class? Gansey is leaving the day after that.”

Ronan’s mouth works uselessly, feeling like a deer in the headlights. “I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“I have plans,” Ronan says cryptically. He says it in the most casual way possible, doesn’t make eye contact, and hopes Noah doesn’t push. But it’s a lost cause the second the words are out of Ronan’s mouth, because Noah immediately narrows his eyes at him, interest piqued.

“You have plans that don’t involve us?”

Ronan gives him an irritated look but doesn’t say anything.

“Is this your way of getting out of it? Because if yes, you can just say it, you don’t have to lie.”

“I’m not lying,” Ronan huffs out, crossing his arms over his chest. “I’m meeting up with someone, okay? Stop making a fuss.”

Noah stares at him, face blank, before opening his mouth comically wide and turning towards where Gansey is sitting cross-legged on his own bed with Glendower in his lap.

“Gansey, Ronan has a date,” he bellows with a delighted smile on his face, because Noah practices riling Ronan up as a hobby.

Gansey whips his head towards them so fast Ronan worries he’ll get whiplash. “You have a date?”

Ronan considers being offended by his friend’s disbelief at the thought of Ronan landing a date before figuring he can’t really blame him. “It’s not a date.” Ronan hopes his tone doesn’t convey any of his disappointment.

“It’s not a date,” Gansey repeats, disappointment clear in his. Ronan elects to ignore it.

“It probably is a date,” Noah says, just to be annoying. Ronan punches him in the arm, making him sway a little.

“I think I’d know better than you whether it’s a date or not.”

“Okay, okay. Damn. Who are you seeing? And why?”

Ronan really doesn’t want to explain to his friends who he’s seeing and how it came to be, both because he promised Adam he wouldn’t tell anyone about the conversation that sparked all of this and because he’s not sure he can handle both of them grilling him about it at the same time. But Noah and Gansey are both looking at him like their eyes are about to pop out of their skulls, and Ronan supposes they’ll find out at some point anyway, and it’s not like Ronan is doing anything wrong. Ronan pretends to inspect his nails and says, tone as neutral as he can manage, “Adam Parrish.”

His friends stare at him uncomprehendingly for a long second, like they can’t make sense of the words. Ronan feels a vague sense of vindictive satisfaction at their confused expressions.

“Adam Parrish?” Gansey echoes, eyebrows knit together.

“That’s what I said.”

Noah’s entire face lights up like Christmas has come early. “You have a date with Adam Parrish?”

“Noah, I’m going to throw you out a window.”

“Why are you seeing him?” Gansey asks. He sounds genuinely surprised and not like he’s just trying to piss off Ronan, so Ronan focuses his gaze on him and pointedly doesn’t look at Noah.

“We’re just hanging out.”

“Hold up, let’s rewind for a second here. How do you even know him? Last time we ran into him you didn’t even know who he was.”

“Stuff happened,” Ronan says vaguely, then realizes it’s Noah and Gansey he’s talking to and this isn’t going to cut it. “We ran into each other again, talked a few times, and I guess we’re friends now? Or something.” It’s not exactly true, but Ronan doesn’t want to go into any more details, and he supposes Adam at least doesn’t mind his company if he suggested to meet up with him, so calling them friends isn’t a complete lie.

“Or something,” Noah echoes skeptically.

“This is a new development,” Gansey comments, blinking at him owlishly.

“Why didn’t you say anything? I never saw you with him.”

“I wasn’t aware I had to report back to you every time I talk to someone.”

Noah pouts. Ronan gives him an unimpressed look.

“Is it really not a date?” Gansey asks dubiously.

Merlin, no.”

Noah points an accusatory finger at him. “If you start dating Adam Parrish without telling me I will never forgive you.”

“You’re ridiculous. And for the last time, we’re not dating. Stop being weird.”

“Adam never mentioned you,” Gansey says thoughtfully, oblivious to the way Ronan’s chest twists a little at the words.

“Are you feeling left out, Dick?”

“Very funny. I’m just surprised you’re talking to other people.”

Ronan feels like he should stop Gansey before he says something ridiculously emotional like I hope you guys get along well or I’m glad you’re making friends, so he rushes to steer the conversation in a different direction.

“We can skip last period,” Ronan says, less because he thinks Gansey would ever agree than to distract his friends from the Adam Parrish topic.

“I’m in!”

“We’re not skipping class,” Gansey says disapprovingly, leveling a hard look at both of them.

“Why not? It’s the last class before break, no one is going to care.”

I care. Do you guys routinely forget I’m a Prefect?” Gansey sighs, long-suffering.

“You’re breaking plenty of rules already,” Ronan points out, earning a snicker from Noah.

“And I’m not adding skipping class and encouraging my friends to do the same to the list.”

Gansey and Ronan’s roommate enters the room a few minutes later, and Noah bids them goodnight with a very meaningful look in Ronan’s direction, and Ronan flips him off and wonders how he’s going to fall asleep. He finally drifts off three hours later, and if he dreams of dusty hair and crooked smiles and pretty blue eyes looking right into his, Ronan figures it was a long time coming.

 

~~~

 

Ronan slips out discreetly after class before Gansey or Noah can catch up with him.

He swings by the dorms to drop off his books, spends an embarrassing amount of time fixing himself in the mirror and glaring at Glendower where the cat is staring at Ronan’s reflection—Ronan swears the cat’s gaze is awfully judgmental—and makes his way to the Astronomy Tower.

Ronan’s nerves aren’t faring a lot better than they were yesterday, but as the hours ticked by towards the end of class and the start of Christmas break, Ronan’s nervous energy was overpowered by a sense of excitement. Ronan was looking forward to seeing Adam Parrish. Ronan didn’t really care that he didn’t know what to say to him, or that there was an eighty percent chance Ronan would end up making a fool of himself in front of him, or that for all Ronan knew Adam just wanted to tell him to stop approaching him and forget what happened that day in the bathroom. Ronan wanted to see Adam, and be alone with him, and possibly get to talk to him for longer than ten minutes at a time and under more normal circumstances than some of their previous encounters.

It was rather poor timing for Ronan to admit to himself that he has a massive crush on Adam Parrish, but Ronan is nothing if not unpredictable.

Now, Ronan walks down the Astronomy corridor and tries to will his heart to slow down and stop threatening to beat out of his chest. This part of the castle is predictably empty, and Ronan vaguely wonders if students are even supposed to be here before figuring that the status of Head Boy grants Adam a few privileges over the rest of them. Ronan almost sprints through the deserted reading room and towards the stairwell leading up to the Astronomy classroom, draws in a deep breath, and takes the stairs to the top of the tower.

Adam is already waiting for him when Ronan gets there. He’s ditched his robes and loosened his tie just enough to pop the top button of his shirt open, and Ronan notices for the first time that the green of his uniform complements the shade of his eyes quite nicely. Not that Ronan would ever say that out loud.

When Adam registers his presence and their eyes meet, Ronan’s heart thuds in anticipation, but Adam merely gives a nod of acknowledgment and pushes himself off the wall. Ronan tries not to slump in disappointment.

“You came,” Adam says, voice a little flat. He sounds strangely resigned, almost like he was hoping Ronan wouldn’t show up. Ronan tells himself Adam wouldn’t have asked to meet him if he didn’t want to see him, and doesn’t let it get under his skin.

Adam leads the way into the classroom without a word. They walk side by side, close but not enough to touch. Ronan is itching to say something to break the silence, but there’s a weird tension in the air around them, and Ronan doesn’t want to risk accidentally making it worse.

Adam sits down on the ledge of the window overlooking the grounds, and Ronan joins him after a beat of hesitation. Adam relaxes his stance a little, leaning back against the window frame. They’re both silent for a moment longer, and Ronan can feel his stomach clench and his throat close up with every passing second. He wishes Adam would say something, anything.

“How was class?” Adam asks at last. It’s so polite and not what Ronan was expecting he almost wants to laugh, but Ronan figures it’s as good a conversation opener as any.

“It was alright,” Ronan says, rubbing the back of his neck. I almost ditched but didn’t want my best friend to burst a blood vessel the last day before break, he thinks but doesn’t say. He doesn’t think Adam would appreciate it.

Quiet settles between them again, thick and heavy. There’s obviously something on Adam’s mind, but he doesn’t seem inclined to share it yet, and Ronan doesn’t know if he should try to coax it out of him or endure the nerve-wracking silence until Adam is ready to speak.

Before Ronan can make a decision, Adam sucks in a breath and takes the leap.

“The other day, in the bathroom,” Adam starts. Ronan immediately turns to look at him. “I told you someone I cared about was sick.”

Ronan nods silently.

Adam is looking straight at him. There’s something burning in his gaze, a fierce determination and something else Ronan doesn’t recognize. Whatever he’s about to tell him is obviously extremely important to him, and Ronan finds himself inching closer and mirroring Adam’s sober expression.

“Do you know Persephone Poldma?”

It takes Ronan a few seconds to process the question, and when he does, he blinks slowly at Adam. “The ex teacher?”

Adam nods, but doesn’t immediately elaborate. He’s looking at Ronan with an unfamiliar look on his face, and Ronan realizes belatedly that he’s nervous, though Ronan can’t yet fathom why.

“What about her?”

Adam doesn’t immediately answer. He looks away from Ronan for a long minute, stares at the large armillary sphere in the center of the room. Ronan lets him gather his thoughts, fiddling with his leather bands.

Then Adam licks his lips, opens his mouth, and says, “She’s my guardian.”

“Oh,” Ronan breathes out, mind reeling. He’s not sure how he’s supposed to react to that or what he’s supposed to do with this information. Ronan remembers Ms. Poldma, of course, a quiet woman who taught Arithmancy during Ronan’s first three years at Hogwarts. Ronan himself had only had her as a teacher for about a year before she had mysteriously disappeared around the end of his third year, and no one has ever heard of her since as far as Ronan knows. Ronan doesn’t remember ever seeing Adam with her or hearing anything about her being a guardian to another student, but something tells Ronan this is all far from being common knowledge. This invites about a million questions about Adam’s biological family, too, but Ronan can tell this isn’t the right time to ask any of them.

“Nobody knows, and it’s not official or anything. But she’s been my only family since I was thirteen.”

“That’s,” Ronan starts, still processing. “Okay.”

Adam rolls his eyes a little, as if mocking Ronan’s awkward way with words, before his expression turns a lot more serious. Ronan instinctively straightens up.

“What I’m about to tell you is a secret that could cost someone more than you can imagine. You can’t tell anybody. Not Gansey, not anyone.”

Ronan’s heart clenches a little at the gravity in Adam’s tone. “I won’t,” he says firmly, holding Adam’s gaze so Adam can see that he means it.

Adam doesn’t immediately start talking. His expression takes on the same conflicted look he had in the bathroom, but it’s less intense this time around. Ronan keeps very still, scared that the wrong move will make Adam withdraw into himself again.

And then Adam meets Ronan’s gaze and says,

“She’s a werewolf.”

Ronan stares at him in astonishment.

“I didn’t know,” Ronan says after several beats, because he doesn’t know what else to say.

“No one knows. Well, almost no one,” Adam says darkly, a furious edge slipping into his voice. “Someone found out in our third year. She wouldn’t tell me who, but they threatened to expose her if she didn’t leave. She’d lose her job either way, so it wasn’t really a choice at all. Better leave of her own accord than be dragged through the mud and lose everything she has. She couldn’t stand it if everyone knew.”

Ronan swallows against the bile rising in his throat.

“She always made sure to be away on full moons and was very careful not to let anyone know. The Headmaster probably figured it out at some point, but decided to turn a blind eye. They could never do that if everyone found out though. Parents would never let a werewolf around their kids, especially as a teacher. She had no choice but to leave.”

When Persephone Poldma had left her job at Hogwarts four years ago, no one had really been privy to the exact circumstances of her departure. The official explanation was that she had resigned for personal reasons, but no one had dared or cared enough to demand more information, and by the time a new year had begun and a new teacher had taken over, everyone had slowly started to forget about her. She hadn’t crossed Ronan’s mind once since the start of his fourth year.

Now everything clicks, like a puzzle falling into place.

There’s about a million ways Ronan could react to everything Adam just told him, a million things he could ask, but there’s a most pressing question burning on his tongue.

“Why are you telling me this?”

Instead of answering, Adam presses on like he didn’t hear Ronan’s question.

“She could manage it pretty well when she was at Hogwarts. It was easier to acquire wolfsbane here. Wolfsbane Potion is extremely difficult to brew, but it’s not a problem for her. There’s only so much it can do, though. She’s been really sick this past year, and we haven’t been able to figure out why.”

Adam marks a pause and glances at Ronan, as if to make sure he’s still listening. Ronan nods his head in encouragement.

“She’s hit a low point a few weeks back. I’ve never seen her so sick. I was really scared that—” Adam trails off, then shakes his head like he can’t even think about it. “But she’s been a lot better this past week. She sent me a letter a few days ago.”

“I’m glad,” Ronan says automatically, almost surprised by how much he means it.

It earns him a genuine smile from Adam, so Ronan counts his blessings.

“Me too. I almost dropped everything and went back home, but she wouldn’t hear of it. She can be awfully stubborn even when she can barely move or speak.”

Home. That answers the question of where Adam spends his breaks, at last. The part of Ronan that isn’t reeling from all these revelations is immensely relieved to know that Adam has someone waiting for him.

There’s a lull in the conversation as Adam lapses into silence, facing away from him, and Ronan takes the opportunity to fully process everything that just transpired between them.

Ronan was never raised or taught to be prejudiced against other people or marginalized minorities in the wizarding world. He would never tell anyone about Persephone, not only because it’s Adam asking him to keep it a secret, but because Ronan isn’t that kind of person. Ronan can barely hold back the righteous anger that has been simmering inside him ever since Adam told him about someone blackmailing Persephone and forcing her to give up everything because she couldn’t bear the thought of being treated the way people would surely treat her if they knew who she really was.

Ronan can’t help but worry about what would happen to Adam if the Ministry finds out he’s keeping quiet about an unregistered werewolf, though. As unfair and maddening as it is, there is no question that Adam could get in serious trouble if they were ever discovered. Persephone is Adam’s family, and Ronan understands the importance of family possibly better than anyone, but the significant risk this represents to Adam can’t be ignored, and Ronan isn’t sure how he feels about that.

But above all else, the knowledge that Adam has been living with this burden ever since he was a child and didn’t have anyone to share it with settles like a weight in Ronan’s stomach. Ronan doesn’t know if Adam didn’t fully trust anyone to keep his secret or if he just felt like he needed to carry it on his own, but Ronan can’t imagine being fourteen and forced to keep everything to himself as his only family was ripped away from him. Ronan doesn’t know what he would have done in his place, but he doubts he or anyone else would have handled it half as well as Adam did.

“I’m telling you this because I think I can trust you with it,” Adam says eventually, voice small and vulnerable like Ronan has never heard it. Ronan’s chest swells with feelings he doesn’t even have a name for. “And because I realized that maybe it would be okay if I told at least one person. Also, you have a bad enough reputation that I can always say you’re lying if you decide to tell everyone and no one will believe you over me.”

The last part is obviously a joke, as demonstrated by Adam cracking a lopsided smile at him. Ronan can’t help but smile back, doesn’t care if it looks as goofy as he feels.

“What do you know about my reputation, Parrish?”

“I know enough,” Adam says lightly, a lot more teasing than disapproving.

They fall into another silence, this one a lot more comfortable than the previous ones. Adam seems lost in his thoughts, but he looks more relaxed than Ronan has ever seen him, as if a weight has been lifted off his shoulders. Ronan can’t help but stare at his profile, the elegant lines of his cheekbones and the delicate curve of his lips. This close, Ronan can almost count the patch of freckles scattered across his nose.

Adam looks back at him then, his pale eyelashes fluttering against his cheeks. Ronan doesn’t think he could look away if he wanted to.

“You didn’t wonder why I wanted to meet you here?” Adam asks into the silence, waving a hand around the empty tower. Ronan almost doesn’t hear him over the sudden rush of blood in his ears.

“I was too busy freaking out that you wanted to see me in the first place,” Ronan blurts out, entirely too honest. His breath hitches in his throat when he realizes what he just said, but his eyes are still fixed on Adam, unable to look away.

They’re facing each other now, and they’ve gotten closer somehow, way too close, and if Ronan leans in just a little he could feel Adam’s breath on his lips.

Adam doesn’t back away, so Ronan doesn’t either.

“Really? Why’s that?”

It’s only because of their confusing proximity and because Adam is still not pulling away that Ronan finds the courage to choke out, barely sounding like himself, “I think you already know.”

Adam is staring at him, unblinking, and the extent of what Ronan just said finally sinks in, and Adam is still looking at him, face impossible to read, and oh Merlin why the fuck did Ronan have to say that what is wrong with him—

Ronan panics and jumps to his feet like the stone sill has burned him.

“Anyway, if we’re done here, I gotta go. Sorry, I won’t tell anyone about what you told me so you don’t have to worry about that—”

Adam gets up after him, bridges the distance between them in a few steps, wraps his fingers around Ronan’s collar, and pulls him into a kiss.

Ronan’s entire body freezes for a second, as if electrified, and then he’s kissing Adam back.

Kissing Adam Parrish feels every bit like Ronan would have imagined and not at all like any of his wildest dreams could have predicted. It’s sweet and hot and everything Ronan has ever craved, and it’s all Ronan can do to suppress the wrecked moan that threatens to rip through his chest. Adam’s mouth is soft and warm against his as he runs his tongue across Ronan’s lower lip, hand coming up to cup his cheek, and Ronan’s chest aches with longing that feels entirely too big to contain.

Ronan thinks he wouldn’t mind doing this forever.

There must be something in the way Ronan is looking at him when they pull apart, because Adam blushes faintly and pointedly avoids Ronan’s gaze. Ronan feels a huge smile stretch across his face, uncaring what Adam might see in it.

“That was,” Adam trails off, at a loss. It’s a nice change of pace, Adam being flustered and Ronan feeling strangely emboldened. He feels giddy, and like he could do anything, and he vaguely wonders if this is normal or if he might be in a lot deeper than he initially thought. The thought doesn’t bother Ronan nearly as much as he feels like it should.

“Incredible,” Ronan finishes for him.

Adam doesn’t immediately respond, and for a split second Ronan’s stomach drops to his feet, but then Adam smiles at him, bright and easy, and Ronan’s chest fills with so many emotions he almost can’t stand it.

Ronan can’t resist the urge to kiss him again.

Adam starts a little, like he wasn’t expecting Ronan to take the initiative, but he quickly smiles against Ronan’s mouth. This kiss is more chaste and less eager, their lips moving slowly against each other, but Ronan feels it down to his toes. When they break apart again, Ronan gives in to the urge to brush Adam’s hair away from his face. This time, neither of them averts his gaze.

Adam inhales heavily next to him, cheeks flushed a dull pink, and only then does Ronan realize how breathless he is himself. He never would have thought that Adam Parrish taking his breath away would ever become so literal.

They don’t say anything for a while, content to sit in silence and take it all in. Their hands are brushing slightly where they’re lying between them, but neither of them makes any move to pull his hand away.

“So, that happened,” Adam says after a full minute. Ronan can almost see the cogs turning in his beautiful head, but his tone doesn’t give anything away. Ronan hates that he still can’t read him at all.

“It sure did.”

Adam bites his lip and lets out a small laugh. “This isn’t how I was expecting this conversation to go.”

“Have any regrets?” Ronan asks uncertainly, glancing at Adam. He thinks he might as well give up and jump off the top of the tower if Adam says yes, but if this is where this is going, Ronan would rather rip off the band-aid now.

Adam turns his gaze on him, expression almost unbearably fond. “No.”

Ronan exhales a sigh of relief.

“Good.”

“Good?”

“I was just wondering if this was going to be a one-time thing.”

“Do you want it to be a one-time thing?”

“No,” Ronan says immediately. He can’t believe Adam even has to ask.

“Mm-hmm.”

“What?”

“Are you asking me out?”

“Would you say yes?”

“I might,” Adam says without missing a beat. Ronan knows it was heavily implied, but hearing it directly knocks the breath right out of his lungs, and for a hysterical second Ronan seriously contemplates the possibility that he crossed into a parallel universe where his luck has turned around so completely that Adam Parrish would even consider saying yes to going out with him.

But then Adam cracks one of his crooked smiles at him and brushes their hands together, too purposeful to be an accident, and Ronan decides this is very much real.

“Not now,” Ronan says after a moment, holding Adam’s gaze. His head is spinning and his mouth feels so dry he doesn’t know how he’s forming the words, but something in Adam’s eyes gives him the will to go on. “I’m asking you out after Christmas.”

The words hover between them, plain and irrefutable, and Ronan doesn’t think he’s ever been so terrified in his entire life, but then Adam’s hand squeezes Ronan’s wrist, firm and reassuring, and it’s like Ronan can finally breathe again.

“After Christmas,” Adam says with a smile, and it’s a promise.