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numb is an old hat, old as my oldest memories

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“I’ll meet you there,” said Adam, when Gansey suggested they get pizza. Gansey and Ronan were glowing, victorious. It was a victory. They stood outside the court house, which was a tall and narrow Henrietta-boned building. The weak winter sunlight gilded the rooftops with pale gold, gilded Gansey too and turned Ronan’s cheekbones into weapons. It was a victory. It was a return to their lives and unlife as a four that Gansey suggested. It was a handshake and a bond between them. It was also just pizza, and Adam was starving. He weighed all this and his hunger against the child’s handful of change in his pocket. He weighed it against the lightness untethering his bones and leaving him skinless and dizzy.

His fingers trembled. He kept his hands in his pockets so that they wouldn’t see. It was relief, he told himself, that the Judge had listened and then proclaimed Adam’s truth as stark as the judicial angles of Ronan’s face. It was relief. It was victory. Cabeswater trembled magic and mossy green at the cusp of his vision. 

Gansey offered to wait, glancing at Ronan, while Ronan, sharp-eyed, watched Adam.

“I’ll meet you there,” Adam repeated. His words felt like stones clogging his mouth. He needed quiet. He felt new, and raw with it. Meeting Ronan’s eyes felt impossible but he did it, somehow, and watched something like understanding shape the unforgiving bones of Lynch’s face.

"You'll be late," Ronan said, prophet-like. He chucked his phone at Adam's chest, so that Adam had no choice but to take it or let it splinter on the pavement. He pressed his hand against it, pinning it against his chest, just under his heart. 

"Call us if you're going to chicken," Ronan said.

"I'll be there," he repeated. He tried to give Ronan's phone back to him and got a look like the edge of a knife, coated in contempt. Ronan's version of caring.

"Whatever," Ronan replied. He shrugged, turned the shrug into shouldering Gansey away.

This released Adam, who went back to his flat.

 

* * * * * * * * *

 

Adam’s little room above the church was cramped and cold, taking Henrietta’s autumn chill and rendering it damp and bone-deep. Adam ducked through the door, unbuttoning his coat. His room was all impractical uncomfortable angles, paint peeling in tiny curls on the walls. He tried to think of it as home. It was freedom, that would have to be enough.

He put his coat on the back of one of his two chairs. It was not as though Adam could imagine ever inviting someone back to sit in the other, but there would have been something too sad and shameful about one chair alone.

He swallowed, tired. 

It was a victory. Adam had walked out of the courtroom with that taking a weight off of his shoulders, but his history was written on his bones. A Judge’s decision didn’t change who Adam Parrish was, or what he came from.

He had carried so much for so long. And now, it felt as though the clockwork that was Adam Parrish was about to grind to a halt.

He wanted to shower. He wanted to turn the water scalding hot and stand under it until his skin was as red and raw as he felt inside. 

But the calculator that was Adam Parrish’s brain constantly weighed up the cost of things like food, sleep and a hot shower against the cost of everything else that he needed. Adam’s life was pared down to necessities and necessities further stripped down to absolute need. No matter whether it was money or time that he needed to pay, Adam always came up short. 

He kept thinking about his mother. 

Cabeswater rustled a soft susurrus of leaves in his ears, his good ear and his deaf one. In the eye of Adam’s mind, there was a cool green stillness waiting for him to rest. It was so tempting to let Cabeswater take him, just for a moment, just so he could breathe.

It is the verdict of this court, Judge Harris had said, and if this was winning why did it feel so strange?

His heart trembled. 

In his pocket, Ronan's phone buzzed suddenly. Gansey, probably, checking up on him.

Adam was starving. It felt like he’d been hungry for ages. But his throat still felt so choked that he wasn’t sure he could manage to eat. Especially with Gansey and Ronan there expecting him to be as pleased with the result as they were for him. 

The phone buzzed again. Then again. And again. Which meant it was Ronan, not Gansey, because Ronan practised patience only when it would irritate someone else. Of course Ronan hadn't given his phone to Adam so Adam could cancel. Ronan gave his phone to Adam so he could ring it until it raged like an angry hornet in Adam's pocket.

Adam wiped the back of his hand across his mouth, tiredly, then went to wash up.

His bathroom was an inconvenience. The ceiling was so steeply sloped that standing in front of the mirror required Adam to turtle his head down into his shoulders. His back hurt. Old man, Ronan would have called him, dismissive, sharp, and he would have been right. Adam felt old. 

His reflection was a boy though, with slender bones and tired eyes, born from the same dirt and dust as his father. 

Adam ran a few inches of cold water into the sink. It rippled with strange, improbable things until Adam dipped his hands into it and scooped it, splashed it over his face and pressed his fingers to his tired eyes. His hands smelled of moss and magic.

He was the sum of both his parents. Once, Adam had thought he could never amount to more than that. His father hated him for even trying. But the smell of Cabeswater and Ronan’s dreams reminded him that it was possible.

When he lowered his hands, Noah was there.

“Aaarngh,” said Adam, articulately, bolting upright and slamming his head into the sloped ceiling. He promptly hunched back down again, pressing one wet palm to his head. “Noah. Don’t do that.”

“Sorry,” said Noah, not looking sorry in the slightest. 

Adam turned around, because Noah in the mirror was so much more obviously dead than Noah looked at directly. Noah knew it too. His eyes were lowered. 

“Gansey said you won,” said Noah. He said it in a way that suggested Gansey had said some other things too. Adam felt a surge of adrenaline and nausea. He wondered if it was as obvious to Gansey as it was to Adam that he, Adam Parrish, did not have victory stamped into his bones. He was not some fierce weapon of righteousness like Ronan, nor regal in victory like Gansey. He did not have their cool assurance. 

He had felt like a man in the courtroom, clasping hands with Gansey, Ronan’s eyes not on him but on his father, a hunting wolf. But leaving the courtroom, dizzy with relief, Adam had felt like a child again. Like the first time he had turned and his father’s palm had slapped down against his face - the same sharp dizzy brightness. 

Adam licked his chapped lips. “Yeah,” he said.

Leaving the courtroom, he had felt orphaned. 

“You’re not, though,” Noah said. 

“What?” Adam said. Noah stared at him with strange, fathomless eyes, still chewing on his thumbnail. 

Adam reached out and slapped his hand down, not roughly. Noah gave him a wounded look and began to fiddle with his sleeves instead.

“It’s cold in here,” he said, complaining. 

You’re cold in here,” Adam retorted. 

Noah scowled. “That’s nice,” he said, rather tartly, but there was something of the wounded owl in the way he ducked his head down into his shoulders. Adam relented, because with Noah he could.

“Come on,” he said, ducking his way out of the bathroom. 

“Hey, Adam,” and when he looked over his shoulder, Noah was following, grinning with delight, “if you’d been on the toilet, I could’ve scared the shit out of you. Get it?”

Adam snorted. “Very witty,” he replied. The hole in his heart felt slightly less gaping. “You get that from Lynch?” 

“My best moments,” Noah replied, “are my own.” He still wore a copy of Ronan’s shit-eating grin, a poor copy on Noah’s soft smudgy face, not designed for Ronan Lynch’s vicious brand of personal expression.

If it had been Gansey or Blue with him, Adam might have felt self-conscious about his dingy little room, a room for existing in not for living. As it was, his pride couldn’t quite seem to decide whether Noah being dead trumped Adam being poor. Nevertheless, he was acutely aware of the bare lightbulb, the peeling paint, the way the window didn’t quite fit its frame so the autumn cold of Henrietta seeped into the room like water. The fact was that even if the room hadn’t let the cold in, there was no heat to let out, because Adam prioritised heating at the bottom of his list of things that needed paying for. 

Adam poured himself a glass of water and sat down. He didn’t offer Noah water, because that would have been unkind. Instead, he rested his elbows on top of the upside-down packing crate that served as his table and watched as Noah wandered around Adam’s room.

He tried to ignore the way his stomach tied itself into knots. This isn’t me, he thought. This room isn’t me. It felt like a habit, this anxiety, something Adam’s body had learned like muscle memory. 

It wasn’t like Blue in his room. Blue in Adam’s room made him feel like one raw exposed nerve. Gansey in Adam’s room showed up everything that was wrong about it, everything that was wrong about Adam.

Ronan didn’t.

But Noah… Noah picked his way around Adam’s room like a cat inspecting new territory. He rapped his knuckles lightly on the top of one of the plastic bins containing Adam’s clothes. Try as he might, Adam could only read curiosity in Noah’s expression.

“Ronan said you lived in a hole,” Noah said, with no apparent cruelty. He peered over his shoulder at Adam.

Something hot curdled savagely in Adam’s stomach.

But that too was muscle memory.

“Ronan’s a shitbag,” Adam replied, because it was true. The phone buzzed against his thigh.

Noah snickered. “He is,” he said, with obvious pleasure. He left Adam’s clothes alone, toed the corner of his mattress, flicked one of the peeling paint curls from the wall to the floor. He peered out of Adam’s tiny window into the street below and then came padding back to Adam.

“It’s like your Monmouth,” he said. 

Adam snorted. “In what way?”

Noah waved a hand around the room, as though Adam should have been able to see what he saw. Adam couldn’t. He supposed that Monmouth Manufacturing and Adam’s tiny room were both the in-progress bones of lives being built. But Gansey could live in glorious squalor because he had a choice. The way it defined him was different to the way it defined Adam. 

There was nothing glorious about Adam’s room.

He remembered his father in it. 

He remembered his father in the courtroom.

He remembered his father.

I wish you could have been different, he thought. Then maybe the mark of his father that Adam carried in his blood would feel less like a stain.

Ronan's phone buzzed again.

"When did you get a phone?" Noah asked.

"Ronan's," Adam replied, short.

Noah snorted. "Of course," he said, with a complete lack of surprise. "So it's Ronan. Probably." He came closer, bounced a little on his heels and leaned down to peer at Adam's table. “This is clever. I don’t think I was like my father either.”

Adam blinked slowly. “What?”

Noah looked at him, head tilted sideways. His posture was improbable, foregoing skeleton necessities. He blinked back, kittenish, confused. His breath was cold on Adam’s face. “What what?” 

Adam made a face at him, shoved his shoulder. He didn’t do it hard. No one shoved Noah hard, except Ronan, who threw him out of windows. Noah’s laughter was a bright, delighted trill. He spilled into Adam’s second chair and propped his chin on his hands, his hair flopping into his eyes.

“It’s different,” he said. “You’re different. Since you made the deal.”

Adam didn’t ask him what he meant, though he wondered if Noah knew Adam could feel the leyline pulsing in his veins like a heartbeat and that when his heart trembled, shaken by fear or fury, Cabeswater came to steal him away into the still green depths of its own heart. 

“It’s different for me too,” Noah said. He ducked his head as he said it. The laughter had faded from his voice and now there was something not entirely happy about it. It smudged him soft and insubstantial. “But that’s not the same.” 

When we find Glendower, Gansey had said, I will ask him for Noah’s life.

“Noah,” Adam said, and he stopped. He didn’t know how to ask Noah if his life was something that Noah wanted back. 

Noah looked at him, chin on his forearms. His eyes were unblinking and clear as dark water. He wavered. 

“They’re waiting for you,” he said. His voice was a whisper of leaves. 

On cue, Ronan’s phone buzzed again. He should go. Ronan’s temper was filthy when he was forced to wait and Gansey’s leash was only so tight. 

Gansey said you won, Noah had said. And he had, but he hadn’t known how to wear that winning in front of his friends when it also felt like the final mark of a loss that had been happening for years, ever since that first hit. 

But they weren’t going to talk about his father. Adam knew that. They had never talked about his father. Not just because Adam had wanted his family to be private, his own silent shame, but because they had always had more important things to talk about. To Gansey, Adam’s family was the least important thing about him. 

He knew that when he went to meet them, Ronan and Gansey and Blue, Gansey would speak to them of Glendower and Cabeswater, of everything that was at the heart of them and bound them together. It was at the heart of Adam too, along with the print of his father’s fists. He needed to remember that.

“You weren’t his anymore,” Noah whispered. He was the sketched outline of a boy, formed of shadows and guttering light. He said it though in a way that sounded like you’re ours

Adam thought of Gansey’s flushed face and the thin shine of sweat on Ronan’s throat, above his for-once-perfectly-knotted tie. They had run for him. 

And Noah. Noah who could never be relied on to be anywhere was here, with him.

They were as much a part of him as anything else, Adam thought. They were as much a part of Adam Parrish’s origin story as the dirt and blood he came from. And they were more than that too. They were the parts he was going to keep.

Gratitude was unspeakable in his throat, on his tongue. Adam bowed his head. He was more than the sum of his mother’s fear and his father’s fury. He was more.

Something cold touched his hair, just above his deaf ear. Noah petted him, terribly gentle, as though Adam were some great wounded animal come to rest. Adam didn’t dare raise his head. He had almost forgotten what it was like to be touched so gently. The last person to stroke his hair had been Blue, back when there had been the possibility of something between them, though that possibility had already been withering away under Adam’s transformation from the boy he’d been when they first met.

“Adam,” said Noah, barely a breath. “Adam. Your phone is blowing up.”

For a moment, Adam thought Noah was being literal. Then he realised that the phone had been vibrating furiously against his leg for at least a few minutes, and scrabbled around for it.

Gansey said his phone and 16 missed calls. And worse, new voice messages. If only it had been Gansey.

Ronan had his own way of calling people home. Or he was just irate at being made to wait. Ronan did not wait, unless someone wanted him not to.

“See,” Noah said softly. He was almost gone, the idea of a boy rather than anything close to one. “They’re waiting for you.”

“Noah,” Adam said. “Noah. You’re invited too.”

Noah looked away, shrugging his shoulder up against his cheek, hiding the smudged reminder of his death. His eyes were shadows. He said, “If I could, I’d be here all the time.”

“We won’t make you eat,” Adam said, uselessly. It had been their way of persuading Noah to come with, back before they’d known he was dead. The words didn’t work their same magic now. Noah just gave him a wistful smile.

But Adam was more than just the sum of his parents. He remembered that. He reached out, caught Noah’s slender wrist in his fingers. The leyline pulsed in his fingertips. “Noah,” Adam said, and thought about his friend. Everything that was Noah rather than dead. “Meet us there.”

Noah wrinkled his nose. “Bossy,” he said, but his tiny grin was a real thing, brilliant and sweet.

Adam laughed, relieved, and stood up. “Yeah.”

“I don’t eat pizza,” Noah said, pickily, as though it were only pizza he didn’t eat. 

Adam raised an eyebrow at him, waiting for the punchline.

“Because I’m dead,” Noah told him, very grave. Then he cracked up.

“Yeah,” Adam said, shaking his head. “I know.” He leaned over and ruffled Noah’s hair, fond with knowledge. “Come anyway."