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too much to believe (too much to deny)

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As Noah feels the pull of unconsciousness, falling, he finds himself catching a glimpse of his wrist—blank, as always—and he wonders, for a second. Wonders why. Wonders, if things had been different, what name he would have seen there.

 

The name on Blue’s wrist has been there since the day she was born: a single word, in her own handwriting, messily branded over the fragile veins of her inner arm. Gansey.

She doesn’t know why it’s only one word. She doesn’t know if it’s a first name, a last name, a nickname (a really, really weird nickname, if that’s the case, and would she really fall in love with somebody who willingly went by a name like that?). She’s chosen to never find out, because she’s never going to fall in love anyway.

Knowing who your soulmate is, even so obscurely, makes knowing you’ll cause their death with a single kiss much harder.

The women of her family, to her knowledge, have all had the names on their wrists since birth. That’s not always the case, and it’s not always genetically determined, but as long as she can remember, she’s caught the glimpses of stark black scrawls whenever the women in her house move their dominant arms.

Blue has never actually seen the names on their wrists, though. She’s not sure why; she’s never asked, but it’s always seemed as if none of them really want to talk about it, so she leaves it alone. She doesn’t know what Orla’s looking for when she peers at her boyfriends contemplatively, and she doesn’t know if her mother’s wrist bears her father’s name. She does know that Maura, Calla, and Persephone all have each other’s names on their wrists, though she’s never seen them herself. It’s one of those things she’s known for so long that she can no longer remember how she found out.

Since the subject of names is not up for discussion in her home, and she’s been raised to believe it’s rude to ask others about it (though she knows not everyone shares that belief, which is why she wears a heavy bracelet around her wrist to school and work; the last thing she wants is a stray comment from a well-meaning acquaintance or customer telling her something, anything about the mysterious Gansey), Blue spends most of her teenage years doing research. The best way for her to prepare herself for whatever future her name proclaims is to know as much as possible about what it might mean. So by the time she turns seventeen, she considers herself a semi-expert on the subject.

She knows that some people are born with names on their wrist, and some aren’t, and some people’s wrists stay bare for their entire lives. She knows that sometimes the names can change, and that some people have multiple names on their wrist (though she knew that already, of course). She knows that sometimes, names will appear on wrists only after two people have met, or disappear after the dissolution of a relationship. She knows that there are stories out there of people whose soulmates have a different soulmate, of people with names of incompatible genders, of people who can’t marry because the names on their wrists don’t match or because one or both of their wrists is blank. She knows that there are two schools of thought in the study of the subject: those who believe that the names on everyone’s wrists represent the highest form of fate, and that whatever happens simply mirrors a predestined path—and those who believe that the actions people take can change their destined matches, and that the idea of soulmates is more mutable than fixed. (Blue isn’t sure which she believes. She likes the idea of agency over destiny, but her own fate seems all but inevitable at this point.)

But for all her knowledge, she’s not at all prepared to come face to face with a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve, and for him to give his name as the one on her wrist.

(“That’s all?” she asks, hoping—praying—that she’s wrong somehow, that there might be a way out of this.

“That’s all there is.”)

Blue doesn’t want to believe it, doesn’t want to see the look on Neeve’s face when she tells her who this spirit must be.

“Either you’re his true love… or you’ve killed him.”

Or both hangs in the air between them, unspoken.

 

Gansey’s wrist was bare when he was born, and it remained bare for years, and he was always comfortable with that.

His parents’ wrists were bare until they married, after all. It ran in the family, or so his father has always told him. Now, of course, they proudly display their wrists with shorter sleeves, arms unadorned with jewelry, in the way that happily matched soulmates of high status tend to do. But there was a time when they didn’t know. Helen doesn’t know, either, and Gansey knows that it bothers her, but he trusts that it’ll happen for him sooner or later.

And then he dies, and he hears the voice, and when he stumbles back into the house, he catches sight of his wrist, where the name “GLENDOWER” is printed, in his own neat capitals.

This, more than anything else, convinces him of his purpose.

It isn’t until he’s traveled to England and back, until he’s convinced his father of the wisdom of his attending Aglionby and moving to Henrietta, that he notices that Glendower’s name on his wrist isn’t alone anymore. Below it, in smaller, less urgent letters, are two additional names.

The addition of the names of who appear to be actual people doesn’t surprise him. Glendower’s name is further up on his wrist than any name he’s ever seen, nearly at his palm; these names are closer to the position in which he’s used to seeing them, and written in standard capitalization, rather than the larger block letters of Glendower’s. The only surprise is the names themselves. He doesn’t know what kind of name Blue Sargent is (a nickname? Another mythological figure, maybe?), and Ronan Lynch isn’t what he expected simply due to gender. More to the point, there’s two of them, which he certainly never saw coming.

He doesn’t question it, though. Gansey’s life tends to provide him with what he needs, when he needs it, and he’s sure that his soulmates will be no exception.

 

Looking back on it, Gansey can’t possibly pinpoint the moment in his first conversation with Ronan Lynch that made him realize exactly how important they would be to each other. He only knows that that was when it happened, and that it didn’t take more than an instant to comprehend.

He knows that it happened before Ronan rolled down the thick leather bands encircling his wrist—obscuring what was written there—just enough to reveal Gansey’s name (his full name, he noticed with resignation), holding it next to his own name on Gansey’s wrist. He knows because the sight of it, their matching names, sent a thrill of recognition and confirmation down his spine, so he must have known it already. And he knows that, even though Ronan doesn’t say anything about it either, he feels it, too, in equal measure.

He doesn’t ask why Ronan wears the leather straps, but he is pretty sure that Ronan has another name on his wrist, below Gansey’s. He doesn’t ask about it, of course. Ronan doesn’t ask about Blue Sargent, either. Maybe he, too, doesn’t have an explanation for his other name yet.

But this is why Gansey doesn’t hesitate, when Niall Lynch is killed, to take Ronan in when he needs somewhere to go. That’s why he doesn’t hesitate to do whatever seems to be required for Ronan, even if it doesn’t seem like Ronan appreciates it. After all, who’s in a better position than Gansey to know what Ronan needs?

 

Adam doesn’t remember a time when his wrist wasn’t blank.

It’s simply become a part of him, informing his identity as much as his shitty house and his excellence at Latin and his bruises and his bone-deep exhaustion at how hard he has to keep working, all the time. He’s Adam Parrish; he’s good at fixing cars and bad at accepting help of any kind, and he wants more than anything else to get out of Henrietta and make something of himself, something lasting and something real, and he doesn’t have a soulmate.

He’s so used to it that it’s almost stopped hurting.

Intellectually, he knows that there are reasons other than the obvious for his wrist to be blank. Hell, he’s met at least a dozen other people with blank wrists. If the theory that your decisions affect your fate was true, he could have not yet made whatever choice in his life would lead him to his soulmate. His soulmate could be in a relationship with someone else, a relationship that was meant to fail somehow but hadn’t yet. And it could still be none of those things—that there was no reason for his name not to have shown up yet, that it just hadn’t, but that it still would one day, without warning.

Occasionally, on days when he feels like being hopeful, Adam tells himself one or more of those things. But he doesn’t do a very good job of believing them because deep down, he knows the truth. He doesn’t have a soulmate, and that’s all there is to it. One day, he’ll get used to the idea; one day, he won’t care anymore.

Most of the time, when he wishes for a name, it’s to stave off his father’s disdain. Robert Parrish, branded with a name since birth, believes that anyone with a blank wrist is lesser somehow, and the fact that his son is one of them infuriates him beyond belief. Not surprising, he spits out at Adam sometimes. He always knew there was something wrong with him. It doesn’t surprise him that no one will ever really love Adam.

On his worse days, it doesn’t surprise Adam either.

At the end of his first day at Aglionby, Adam’s surprised to see that his wrist is no longer blank—but whatever’s on it is faint, pale, spidery. The name (if it even is a name) is so indistinct, it’s impossible to read. Adam tries everything. He takes pictures of it, looks at it under as many different kinds of light as he can find—but it remains inscrutable. Worse, he swears it changes from time to time, meaning that he can’t even spend time trying to figure it out, because in a few days it might be unreadable in a completely different way. And worst of all, it’s so faint that no one else sees it (and even if they did, would they be able to figure it out when Adam has no idea?).

By the end of his second year, Adam’s given up on keeping his wrist hidden. He works too hard to hide too many other things; he doesn’t have the energy for another one anymore. And by now, most everyone at the school has seen it anyway. He knows that among the rich, people without a name are not quite looked down on, and not quite pitied, but that the presence of a name is viewed as a mark of status or a point of pride. His absence of one is another way that he’ll never quite fit in, but it’s nothing he doesn’t already know. In between his classmates and his father, he’s gotten the message.

Gansey is the first person Adam’s ever met whose eyes don’t go immediately to his wrist, when he meets him. He seems not to care about it at all—in fact, has an almost comically oversized watch hiding whatever’s on his own wrist. And when Adam begins spending time with him and Ronan (who does immediately look at his wrist, but whose own is also obscured with leather bands) and Noah (whose wrist is indistinct, almost smudgy), no matter the problems he faces, the arguments they get into or the distance he still feels, it’s the first time he’s ever truly known belonging.

 

Gansey doesn’t mind sharing the presence of Glendower’s name with everyone; Ronan being a near-constant fixture at his side is advertisement enough of his name on Gansey’s wrist, and he would welcome any and all information about the mysterious and still unexplained Blue Sargent. But while displaying names prominently is commonly done in his family’s circle, he knows that his parents wouldn’t exactly be thrilled with him showing off three names, especially given that one was of a mythical Welsh king. He also knows that, though he’s never said anything about it, it makes Ronan a little uncomfortable, especially since he insists on keeping his own wrist out of sight. So he covers it up, the watch just big enough to obscure the meaning of the names while revealing that his wrist isn’t blank, and he lets people assume what they will about why he wants to keep whatever name written there hidden.

He’s never been gladder for that decision than when he enters the psychic’s home and realizes that Blue Sargent—the mysterious and unexplained Blue Sargent—is the girl from the restaurant, the waitress, the one Adam likes, and he’s so profusely grateful that he doesn’t have to explain the incredible awkwardness of the situation to anyone. That he’s the only one who realizes that the girl who might be his soulmate wants nothing to do with him, and that he has no idea how to react to this. None at all.

 

As Gansey is having his cards read, Blue can’t help but stare at the watch blocking his wrist. It doesn’t fully conceal the presence of words, but it obscures them enough to make them illegible.

Gansey. Here. Inches away from her. She can practically feel the letters on her wrist burning a hole through her sweater.

It’s impossible not to sneak glances at his wrist, to wonder—is my name there?

 

As soon as Gansey sees Blue, approaching the helicopter with Adam, all he can think of—staring at the large, chunky bracelet hiding any writing on her wrist completely—is is my name there?

All signs point to a negative answer, if the easy way she and Adam interact says anything. Gansey knows it isn’t that simple, that people can fall in and out of infatuation or even love half a dozen times before settling down with their soulmate—that some people’s names go unrequited, and their soulmate is meant for someone else—that the bond delineated by Blue’s name on his wrist can mean something else entirely, not the archetypal true love narrative so popularized by everyone happily married to their designated soulmate. Surely Gansey of all people, Gansey of the three soulmates, knows that much.

But he isn’t fooled by his own attempts at equivocation. Every time he speaks with Blue—in the trees by the ley line, in her rambling and magical home, even their disastrous first meeting—he feels a spark, a tingle, a creeping at the back of his neck and a hint of turmoil in his stomach that tell him that something very, very important is happening. He doesn’t know what it is yet, can’t identify it simply due to unfamiliarity. It’s not quite what he had with Ronan, but it’s similar enough in its advent that he recognizes the seriousness of it.

It’s exactly what he always expected to have with his soulmate, back when he assumed he’d have just one. And so he can’t help but wonder if Blue feels it, too.

Again, there, all signs point to no, so Gansey tries to ignore it. He’ll be happier for it, he tells himself. He had best accustom himself to the sight of Adam and Blue together before it can start hurting.

He wonders, idly, if he can change things.

”I’ve always liked the name Jane,” he finds himself saying—as if by naming her something else, he can erase the meaning of Blue Sargent, turn it into something else, something less frightening and more comprehensible. He wonders if in doing so, he would also erase the sense of rightness that her being here brings—like they’re complete, like a perfectly harmonious chord or the final link in a chain. He wonders if maybe that’s all her name means, in the end.

”Ja—what? Oh! No, no. You can’t just go around naming people other things because you don’t like their real name.”

Gansey wonders, absurdly, if his name really is on Blue’s wrist, which name it is. Which combination of full name and nickname might have appeared there? Would it be the same as Ronan’s, and what would it mean if it were different?

”I like Blue just fine,” Gansey tells her, and means it. But that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t want to try and separate her as a person from what she might come to be to him.

 

When Gansey tells Blue the story of how his search began, he hesitates for a moment before pulling down his watch, just enough to reveal Glendower’s name. She can barely resist reaching out to touch it, to feel its presence on Gansey’s skin, and she wonders for a moment what that means for her. Whether it’s possible that her name is there, too, only in a different way.

And then they discover that Noah is dead, and she stops thinking about anything else.

 

If nothing else, Gansey thinks, numb, it explains the smudge on his face and his wrist. He did die so, so young.

 

Every single day since meeting Blue, Adam has stared at his wrist before he goes to sleep, wondering if he can make out the curves of her name in the barely-present lines, wondering if he can, by wishing with all his might, will it into being, a solid name that he wants desperately to see rather than the tease of letters, the promise of a possibility.

(He wonders if he wants the certainty more than he wants Blue. After a while, it becomes impossible to disentangle the desires from one another.)

When he makes his bargain with Cabeswater, he wakes the next morning to find his wrist completely bare again. For a moment, he thinks he sees a shadow across the pale skin—but he blinks, and it vanishes again, leaving nothing behind.

 

When Blue, heart full, gazes at her raven boys’ faces as Ronan’s dream plane takes flight above them, she wonders if Gansey’s name is on her wrist not because he himself is her soulmate, but because he was the one to bring them all together. That what she was really destined to do was find them, slot into them like a puzzle, and Gansey was the center piece each of them locked into.

In a moment like this, connected by magic and hope and impossibility, she doesn’t think she can believe in any other alternative.

 

The next day, Gansey makes an appointment, and a week later, he sits in the chair and rises after half an hour.

It had taken him the whole day to track down an artist willing to do the tattoo, to add names to his wrist, and it had cost him an unreasonable amount to keep the whole thing quiet. He doesn’t mind it, of course. He would have given anything to make this happen.

He knows he truly can’t reveal it after this, that if two names of living humans are gossip, four are beyond scandal. He’s spent all week planning how he’ll hide his wrist now, once he removes the bandages. He wonders, ruefully, if the owners of the names will ever even see them. Will ever know that he didn’t feel complete without their names on his skin.

He knows that it doesn’t matter either way. He’s determined to stop overthinking this, to simply let it happen. The important part is that it’s done now. The important part is that Adam Parrish and Noah Czerny have joined Blue Sargent and Ronan Lynch on his wrist, exactly where all of them belong.