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 “I had almost three years to teach him how to use a cell phone.” Gansey says, looking at the lines of his palms as if they had uttered some sort of unspoken accusation, “Where did I go wrong?"

     Adam glances up from where he had been picking at a loose thread on his sleeve, rolling it between his fingers before tearing it off in a quick pull of his wrist. He lets out a rushed sigh and stretches his arms above his head, rolling his shoulders and neck before turning to Gansey seated beside him. 

     “I wouldn’t say Ronan is an 'old dog,'” Adam begins, “And learning how to text back isn’t what I’d call a 'new trick,' but he doesn’t seem inclined to learning how anyway."

     “Do you think he even brought it with him?”

     “I wouldn’t bet my life on it.”

     “What would you bet on it?”

     Adam pauses, pulling his bottom lip between his teeth and glancing briefly to the the baggage claim, watching the conveyer belt circulate, eyeing jet-lagged passengers from across the Atlantic heave bulging suitcases to their sides as the flight number from Richmond, VA flickers to the top of the electronic tally.

     “A pack of gum. A gum wrapper. Chewed gum.”

     “That’s promising.”

     “Blue got a phone for graduation.” Adam recalls, eyes following a faded green suitcase as it tumbles between the grimy plastic flaps of the conveyor opening, “She hasn’t texted yet?”

     “Not since they took off.” Gansey replies, fingers flying across the smudgy screen of his smart phone, pulling up the text conversation for confirmation, “I think she’s conspiring with Ronan to take years off my life.”

     “If they are, they’ll be happy to know that that particular conspiracy is succeeding, at least.” Adam leans over to eye the last message, a short see you soon followed by an alien emoji, what Gansey had explained to Adam as the Blue Sargent equivalent of a pixelated heart. (“It’s very Jane.” Gansey had said, “As she is out of this world.” Adam still holds that particular exchange in the back of his mind for blackmail and/or wedding speech purposes, whichever comes first.)

     Adam’s eyes flicker from the screen to Gansey’s face just in time to catch a fond smile tug at his lips before he shoves the phone into his pocket again only to pull it out approximately fifteen seconds later, turning it over in his hands. If Richard Campbell Gansey III is incapable of anything, it's sitting still once anxiety burrows itself under his skin.

     “Is it too much to ask for some timely correspondence, Adam?”

     “Gansey, I’m sure they’re-“

     “Ronan, I swear to God. If you step on my heels one more time.” 

     “If you didn't have such small fucking strides it wouldn’t be a problem, maggot.” 

     Gansey stands erratically to his feet, a grin plastered on his face as if his previous worries had been dissolved in the same acidic substance that seems to have had its way with Blue’s shirt, the questionable material remarkably ragged over a black and white poka-dot tank top, hanging just past the hem of her high-waisted skirt before finally meeting astonishingly turquoise stockings at her mid-thigh. 

     If Adam didn't know better, he would have thought she’d begun taking fashion advice from Gansey himself. But Adam is also fairly certain the Apocalypse isn't scheduled for this particular day.

     “Jane.” The nickname leaves Gansey’s lips as if it had been punched out of him, as if it'd been his last breath and he hadn’t even considered wasting it on any other conceivable syllable. 

     Watching them, Adam feels a familiar pang between his ribs, half watered-down jealously, half misdirected pining. It takes a moment to self-diagnose the ache pitted in his chest, but he ultimately remembers the feeling, reminiscent of the one that used to twinge, brief but sharp near his heart, upon stepping into Monmouth Manufacturing. It's a pulsing strain characteristic of longing; of wanting a reason to feel how he imagines Gansey is feeling in the moment he embraces Blue, toppling her carry-on suitcase over onto its side as he lifts her off her feet and turns in a quick, elated circle.

     “Richard Campbell Gansey the Third, put me down before you throw out your damn back!” Blue exclaims, her fingers curling into his shoulder and lips lingering dangerously close to a grin as she’s eventually placed back on her feet, "You saw me three months ago. I know you hang around Adam a lot, but it wouldn’t kill you to have a bit of chill.” 

     “I resent that.” Adam comments, standing to his own feet and pacing over to them. He glances over their somewhat military-homecoming-esque display to offer a smile at Ronan, who had been previously observing the same scene with characteristic disinterest, as though he had been expecting as much and still managed a degree of distain at its ultimate fruition. “Hey, Ronan.”

     The other drops his leather wristbands from between his teeth to mumble a, “Yo, Parrish.” before shoving both hands in the pockets of his jeans, prodding Blue’s fallen suitcase with the toe of his shoe, making little effort towards even the thought of picking it up again.

     “How was the flight?”

     “Uneventful. Sargent fell asleep on my shoulder and drooled on me, though. Which might have been endearing if she was a dog and not, like, a full-grown human being.” Ronan accompanies the "full-grown" portion of his sentence with a set of timely air quotes, and Adam would have advised him to shield his shins if Blue wasn’t so busy fending off Gansey’s puppy-like affections.

     “What did you say about me?” She snaps, twisting in Gansey’s relentless grip around her waist, “You’re the one who offered, Ronan.”

     “I offered a shoulder, not a damn bib.”

     “Well, next time don’t even bother at all. I’ll just- oh my god, Gansey. Let go of me already.” The three of them are practiced enough to understand that the exasperation in her voice is more for show than actual feeling, as a smile is already forming on her lilac-tinted lips. Adam briefly wonders if the lipstick is a gift from Calla, or perhaps stolen from her cousin Orla for the occasion. Or maybe she had purchased it on a whim with the intention of marking up Gansey’s cheek as she does now, before finally worming her way out of his arms.

     “Any sign of Noah?” Ronan asks, glancing over his shoulder at the baggage claim as if said smudge of a boy would tumble onto the conveyor belt along with the other arriving luggage. 

     Adam turns to Gansey, who has since managed to blink himself back into the moment after the temporary, Blue-induced distraction, “We’re fairly north of the ley line, so it’s hard to know if he’ll have enough energy to stick around. Though, Blue’s here, which will probably help.” He pauses, leaning down to stand Blue’s suitcase upright and reach out to Ronan for a brotherly clasp of their hands, “But we haven’t seen him yet.” 

     “He could always catch up, though.” Adam offers, rubbing the ridge of his hand under his nose before slotting it in his pocket, thumbing at a bit of lint at the bottom, “Being a ghost renders him exempt from the necessity of car travel. We’ve got about an hour and a half drive to campus, though.” He pauses to let out a long sigh before coating his next sentence with a generous dosage of sarcasm, “We all know you’ve missed the Pig.”

     “Lord, that thing’s still kicking?” Blue asks, the expression on her face a confusion of relief and disappointment and poorly-concealed astonishment.

     Gansey claps a hand on Adam’s shoulder, his other palm flattening against the breadth of Adam's chest over the embroidered university logo spanning his navy crew-neck. It’s such a fraternal, boyish motion that Adam’s sure it would allow Gansey a spot in any fraternity on campus if he had any interest in them whatsoever, “Adam won’t let the Pig die on me.” he says, triumphant. Adam couldn’t hate the open-mouthed grin on the other’s face if he tried, “The Pig lives as long as Adam does.”
     
     “Well,” Ronan starts, pushing up the sleeves of his black leather jacket, “Sorry it had to be this way, Parrish.” Adam eyes him, the promise of a smile balanced on the corner of his own lips as Ronan’s grin betrays any sort of faux menace he may have been trying to accomplish. 

     Adam allows himself a moment to remember to miss this, when the rest of their whole leaves for Henrietta again in a few days. To remember to miss the nauseating  but familiar displays of affection between Blue and Gansey. To remember to miss Noah’s tendency to blink suddenly into existence, not uninvited but wholly unannounced, in the unsuspecting spaces of their group just as he does now, saying a relieved, “Found you,” and Blue responding with a near-violent embrace as her arms cling around his neck. 

     He allows himself a moment to remember to miss the way he misses Ronan, unknown and undefined until facing him after absence. To later recall the, "Ah, that’s it." that fills some Ronan-shaped hole in his arsenal of things he so adamantly tries to not want when he can’t have them: A good night’s sleep before an exam. A nice car like the ones he still finds himself beneath when working late nights at the garage in town. Ronan, curled up an arm’s reach away, someone who might render his wavering but persistent loneliness a little less so when night shrouds all optimism to shadowy doubt.

     It’s only when Gansey’s hand returns to his shoulder after the initial Noah commotion that Adam is suddenly forced away from his unearthed thoughts, warmth prickling the back of his neck when he feels Ronan’s gaze linger on him, the raise of the other’s eyebrow catching in the peripheral of Adam’s vision. 

     “Hungry?” Gansey asks, though the question is theoretical at best, and ultimately dismissive of their response, “It’s no Nino’s, but there’s a decent pizza place near campus. Let’s get an apron on Jane and it’ll be just like old times.”

     “Keep that up and I’ll spit in your iced-tea.” Blue replies casually, lifting the handle of her suitcase and pacing a step ahead of the boys towards the automatic doors leading to the parking lot, “Just like old times.”

     They follow her, cringing, but not at all surprised.

***

     Adam still feels the pull of Cabeswater sometimes.

     He had spent the whole of last summer attempting to tie up as many loose ends as possible before starting his first semester at university. That is, if those loose ends include mossy, misplaced boulders, unintentionally dammed streams, or loose branches blocking sunlight to a very particular patch of impossibly small, white flowers, petals no larger than the head of a pin.

     The day before he and Gansey had driven out of Henrietta, Adam had gone to the forest with a parting on his lips, a farewell of indeterminable length pitted just under his ribs. He had heard the rustle of the trees, speaking to him on a level he didn't need to translate from Latin to understand, the meaning itself rushing through him like the blood in his veins, like the air in his lungs.

     Thank you, our hands, our eyes.

     Cabeswater’s presence is gentler now. It doesn’t pull him from his bed, or push him to scry in the shared bathroom sink down the hall. It appears to him in familiar, unthreatening apparitions of smiling strangers who are there one second and gone the next. It appears to him as the smell of mist over water, of moss blooming in rooted shadow. It’s as good of a, “How are you?” as Adam supposes a magical forest of sentient trees can manage.

     Adam thinks he feels Cabeswater now, lying on his back in the courtyard of their residential college, trying to decipher starry constellations through the semi-urban glow arround them. He thinks he feels the motion of flowers blooming behind his breastbone, of petals unfurling from each other and tickling his lungs. He thinks he detects the ghost of a warm, spring breeze rustle the hair curling behind his ears despite the promising chill of fall surrounding him. He wonders if it’s the presence of the other four that settles such feelings of contentment under his skin, rather than the well-wishes of an ancient forest. It only takes a sudden chorus of laughter for him to think that it is.

     Adam rolls his head to one side, grass tickling just under his nose as he watches Gansey take Blue’s hand and lift it with his own towards the sky. Noah occupies the other, playing with her small, narrow fingers between his own, admiring the glittery purple of her nail polish. Adam takes a moment to think that if Blue had a third hand, he might want to hold it as well. 

     He tilts his head to his other side, eyes flickering over Ronan’s arms bent behind his head, eyes closed, just close enough that Adam can feel the heat of him without the permanence of touch.

     “Sleeping, Lynch?”

     “Staring, Parrish?”  Ronan cracks an eye open to look at him, the color of it a murky blue in the cover of night. Adam holds it for the challenge more than anything else. 

     Adam wonders if Ronan still has feelings for him, not that he had ever been one hundred percent sure before. All he really has is a compilation of inferences without the evidence of a confession to confirm any of his suspicions. Together they form an array of maybes lacking in a defining yes or no, cupped in his hands with no proper place to set them. A part of Adam is annoyed about the standstill the other has left him in, an occasional whirring of anxieties with no outlet. Another part, no louder than a whisper from across the expanse of his ever-present pride, knows that this is partially his fault.

     He doesn’t know what compels him to make an attempt at finally finding out.

     Does Ronan Lynch have a crush on me?

         “Do you have a problem with it?” Adam asks. The question is dangerous in the same way that a bottomless pit is dangerous. It’s similar to standing on the ledge, knowing he can’t stop his fall once he jumps, but deciding to anyway.

     (Do I have a crush on Ronan Lynch?)

     There’s only the slightest shift in Ronan’s expression to give Adam any inclination that this was not the response he had been expecting to receive. It’s gone quick enough that Adam has to convince himself later that he hadn’t been imagining it, as Ronan’s features set again in an instant; furrowed brow, tight jaw, and sharp mouth lined like an blade.
     
     “I’ve got enough problems already.” He murmurs, closing his eyes again and flattening his shoulders to the ground, away from where he’d been previously tilted towards Adam. He does his smoker’s breath before finishing, quieter than before, "Do what you want."

***

     Room accommodations are easy enough to coordinate. Adam and Gansey already share a small bedroom, and Blue’s size makes her sharing of Gansey’s twin-XL not only logistically convenient, but also of ideal proximity for the two of them. Ronan had quickly commandeered the futon in the common room, shoving aside a pile of textbooks and flopping unceremoniously onto it with a dangerous creak of its metal frame. “I’m calling it.” he’d said firmly, as if anyone had considered protesting. It's the only place for him anyway, as Adam’s own bed is already close to overflowing with its current occupant. Noah, as always, had seemed content to occupy the ether, or do whatever it is he always does while the rest of them sleep.

     Adam lasts through about ten minutes of overhearing hushed conversation from the opposite side of the room before he stuffs both his pillow and quilt under his arm and gets out of bed. (Helen had “made” the neatly stitched quilt for his nineteenth birthday, the whole of it a patch-work of their university colors with a large logo encompassing its center.) Saying a quiet, “It’s fine.” to Gansey’s muffled question, he makes his way to the common room, toeing the door closed behind him.

     The common room is a small, square, wood-panneled room with as much of Monmouth Manufacturing as Gansey could have possibly fit into it. Crammed into both corners beside each of their desks stand bookcases overflowing with dusty novels, dictionaries, and memoirs. Though Adam had persuaded Gansey into leaving the majority of his Glendower collection behind in the copious space of Monmouth, he’d still brought enough to feel “like home.” 

     Adam’s desk is neat for the most part, due more to a lack of things to occupy it rather than any sort of active tidiness on his part. Gansey’s is the opposite, cluttered with whatever books couldn't fit into the bookshelves as well as countless other knickknacks and artifacts gathered from over the years of his obsessive searching. His mint plant still occupies a corner, as it did in Monmouth. It gives a familiar, comforting smell to the room among less pleasant smells, such as the old, greasy pizza box on the center table, its contents looking less and less appealing as the number of days without refrigeration continues. 

     Above the unused fireplace is Gansey’s favorite, aerial view photo of the ley line, marked with a handful of tacks and red string, countless hand-written comments, coordinates, and doodles dotting its white border. Surrounding it are an array of polaroids from their last summer in Henrietta, the polaroid camera itself just another thing that Gansey had found whimsy in one day and, thus, had the next.

     Unlike Gansey, the few things belonging to Adam do not scream of Henrietta, of the past. Above Adam’s desk is a university pennant hung low at eye-level, a birthday gift from Ronan. He’d handed it over with nothing more than a, “Take care of Gansey.” and Adam hadn’t felt the need to mention that it had been Gansey who had done most of the taking care of Ronan. He thinks he'd gotten the message though; understood what Ronan always seemed incapable of expressing in words: Take care of yourself. 

     Surrounding the pennant are other recent mementos from their first three months at university: the cover page of a playbook from a student production the two of them had been reeled into going to by a bright, charismatic girl down the hall, a collection of business cards from a few speakers at a conference Adam had attended about a month ago, and a postcard Blue had sent him from her fully-funded, scholarship-awarded study abroad trip to Costa Rica over the summer. That’s a pigmy tyrant on the cover. Blue’s odd, type-set handwriting had mentioned on the back. It’s my spirit animal. 

     Next to these things, Adam had taped up some photos as well. Most of them are of him and Gansey: on move-in day, at a football game, at a local concert, at the after-party of said concert. However, a fair number of them include new faces as well: people he’d met in the coffee shop around the corner, classmates he’d suffered over a group project with, and hall-mates he’d gotten into the habit of huddling next to on a futon, watching Game of Thrones on rainy Sunday evenings after work. 

     The only photo from pre-university is a selfie that Noah had taken from Gansey’s cell phone the day before they’d driven out of Henrietta. Behind Noah’s crookedly grinning face is a candid snapshot of the four of them. Blue looks as though she’d just noticed the camera in Noah’s hand, though she’d only managed to stick her tongue halfway out of her mouth before it was taken. Gansey is pictured in mid-trip, arms a blur at his sides and features twisted in alarm. Ronan’s strained-neutral expression beside him is a clear indicator that he had been the perpetrator of the incident. On Ronan’s other side is Adam, his face settled mid-laugh, fingers clenched in the sleeve of Ronan’s black t-shirt. This picture, as well as Persephone’s tarot cards placed carefully in his topmost desk drawer are the only personal items he’d brought from Henrietta. 

     It's fitting, Adam thinks. They’d be the only things I would miss anyway.

     Among the familiar, boyish clutter is a navy futon, somewhat cheap-looking not for lack of money, but because Gansey had believed that the springy, mildly uncomfortable piece of furniture would match whatever college aesthetic he’d set about trying to accomplish. Adam had reminded him that they attend an Ivy-League. Gansey had dismissed this with a wave of his hand and had then proceeded to order a large, two-topping pizza and medium garlic bread from down the street.

     On this particular night, Ronan lies on the futon, looking smaller than he does in the daytime with the way he's curled into himself, facing where Adam stands, one arm bent lax out in front of him and fingers curled in towards his palm. Earlier, Gansey, Adam, and Ronan had attempted to wrestle the monstrosity so it flattened to a larger surface area. It had only been after Blue intervened and located the jammed spring that they’d finally maneuvered it into a makeshift bed. The futon is large enough that Ronan only occupies one half of it, the other half easy enough for Adam to settle onto after precariously stepping around the center table, its edges only barely visible in the scarce moonlight filtering in from the twin windows overlooking the courtyard below.

     Adam finds himself settled on his side, facing Ronan. The other is sleeping soundlessly, something Adam hadn’t necessarily expected with his track record. The other’s silkily expensive headphones cover one ear, and if Adam had allowed himself to lean closer to listen, he might have heard the low, melodic melody of Irish hymns. If Adam had allowed himself, he might have thought that Ronan looks handsome in sleep; a different sort of handsome than the one he undoubtably is while awake. It's a handsomeness that doesn’t threaten closeness, but encourages proximity; all of his edges softened, edges Adam could touch with the confidence that they wouldn’t cut him.

     The closeness reminds Adam of all the nights Ronan had spent at St. Agnes on the floor next to his mattress. It reminds him of how close they had been then too. He wonders if his hand had ever uncurled from himself the way Ronan’s does now. He wonders if it had ever lingered a breath away from Ronan’s face as Ronan’s hand does now to Adam’s. He wonders if Ronan had ever wanted to reach out and hold it (as Adam does now).

     It’s an innocent motion, the way Adam slowly extends his index finger towards Ronan, gently curling it around Ronan’s own. It’s nice, for the single, mindless second that Adam feels Ronan’s perpetual warmth seep into his skin at the point of contact. He only truly realizes what he’s doing when Ronan stirs, eyebrows furrowing and eyes blinking open slowly, inhaling sharply as one does upon waking up, his voice rough with sleep when he asks a quiet, “Adam?"

     Adam’s unsure if his heart has stopped, or if he simply can’t hear it over the sound of blood rushing to his ears. A small voice in the back of his mind comments on how this is only the fourth or fifth time in his life that he’s heard Ronan call him by his first name. However, it’s wholly drowned out by the immediate knowledge that he has just done something worryingly intimate with a friend, a friend who has caught him doing it, and a friend who is Ronan Lynch.

     "Is est somnium.” Adam whispers, somehow managing an evenness to his voice despite the whirring panic that lights every one of his nerves, that buzzes insistent and demanding under his skin. Gansey had once mentioned Ronan telling him that his dreams are almost entirely in Latin. It’s only in this adrenaline-induced moment that Adam had remembered this, as well as the Latin translation for the only English phrase he knows can amend what he’s thoughtlessly done.

     This is a dream.

     He watches, breathlessly, as Ronan squints at him for a moment before his expression settles. Adam doesn’t let himself think it’s one of disappointment until Ronan drowsily pulls Adam’s hand to his lips, pressing a silent kiss to the knuckle of Adam’s index finger.

     “Isn’t it always.” Ronan mumbles in English, voice hoarse and breath warm against Adam's calloused skin before he lets go and rolls over onto his other side away from Adam. Adam stares, wide-eyed at Ronan’s back for as long as it takes for his pulse to even its pace before he rolls over as well.

     He thinks about Ronan’s lips on his knuckle. He thinks about Ronan’s lips other places. 

     He doesn’t sleep for a long time.

***

     Adam comes to two conclusions as he sits in a secluded study nook in the library the next morning, neither of them involving the Calculus homework spread out in front of him.

     Ronan Lynch definitely has a crush on me.

     (I definitely have a crush on Ronan Lynch.)

     A part of him figures it should have taken longer to come to such conclusions. Another realizes that it’s all been a long-time coming, even if he hadn’t been consciously aware of it until semi-recently. 

     The tail-end of their junior year and the majority of their senior year at Aglionby had been chaotic in the kindest of terms, hellish in the worst. The longer Adam thinks on it, the more it makes sense that he simply hadn’t had the capacity to handle romantic motives when he could barely accomplish even the most basic, physical needs. Eating. Sleeping. Living. He hadn’t had the capacity for much of anything when he could barely distinguish reality from non-reality, when “tired” became less of a feeling and more of a perpetual state of existence. 

     Adam wonders, briefly, if it had happened at any other time in his life, whether or not he could have handled his relationship with Blue better than he did. He doesn’t love Blue like he did a year ago, but he doesn’t want to forget that he had loved her a year ago. Blue is pretty, and she’ll always draw Adam's eye with her quick, clever face and the memory of her small, soft palms pressed to his own. 

     He lifts his hand to eye-level, gaze flickering over the ridge of his knuckles, over the faded freckles dotting them, spotty patches of forest over fleshed mountains. The pining ache that used to entangle between his ribs, curl around his heart and constrict him upon seeing Blue, he realizes, has returned. It craves another pair of lips, however, full and consuming where Blue’s had been kind and thin. Adam remembers the brush of them against his knuckle the night before, a touch that had been barely there in practice, but whose memory courses through Adam’s veins like fire, pitting at his core and burning him from the inside out. He doesn’t allow himself to think about actually kissing Ronan Lynch, or of anything else that has the potential to compromise him in a public place. 

     Adam is entirely unfazed by the fact that Ronan is a boy. 

     Adam's known for the last year that he’s bisexual. Upon more recent self-analysis he had realized that he’d had a crush on Gansey long before he’d had a crush on Blue. He had begun to wonder if his feelings arise primarily from proximity more than anything else. 

     No, he’s more surprised over the fact that that boy is Ronan Lynch. 

     At the same time, something about this realization feels okay in a way that it might not have before. It feels safe, attainable, in a way that it might not have before. Somehow, the more he rethinks his relationship with Ronan, the more it seems plausible, obvious, even; the reckless stunts Ronan always managed to reel him into, the hand lotion he had dreamed for his chapped hands, the shitty but oddly charming mixtape Ronan had given him for his equally shitty car. The nights at St. Agnes, the feeling of sleeping together separated by only the three inches Adam's mattress had lifted him from the floor. The afternoons at the Barns, Adam tinkering with Niall’s things to distract himself from watching Ronan desperately dream a solution to all those the departed Lynch had left slumbering in his wake. If proximity is indeed a factor in raising Adam’s affections, he’s surprised he hadn’t fallen head over heels for Ronan sooner, as they had been inexplicably inseparable.

     Not to mention the notable similarities between Blue and Ronan that Adam has only truly realized recently. 

     (“The same impossible stuff.” Gansey had said suddenly after the two of them finished a Skype call with the other three one night. 

     “What?” Adam asked, leaning into the mini-fridge next to his desk for a bag of baby carrots. 

     “Blue and Ronan.” Gansey replied, as if it was what he had said the first time and Adam had made him repeat himself, “You told me you thought about them like that once. It’s true though, I see it now. They’re like the male and female counterparts of the same concept of a person.”)

     Adam thinks, with a breathy laugh, tilting his head back towards the vaulted ceiling, that he may have a type.

     A small sliver of late-morning sunlight punctuates his thoughts as it streaks across his homework, the equations mind-numbingly simple in comparison to the problems tangling themselves into knots as he attempts to reduce his countless thoughts into something remotely comprehensible.

     “You seem distracted.” 

     “Jesus-!” Adam jerks in his chair so much that he nearly topples over, Noah’s quiet but alarmingly sudden voice breaking the silence of the study nook like a firecracker to his train of thought, “Noah! Give me some warning. I’m out of practice with the —" he pauses, struggling for breath to accompany his words, “— the whole 'appearing out of nowhere’ thing.” Noah’s smirk is small and devious in the same way that a four year-old’s smirk is small and devious: ultimately unthreatening while remaining just on the cusp of unsettling. 

     “I’ll remember that.” he says, seemingly uninterested in doing so, and yawning as though it’s a necessary function for him, “Ronan’s going to show up in about a minute, by the way.” Adam curses himself for the way he visibly starts at Noah’s words, failing to recover quickly enough to avoid the subtle quirk of the other’s lips.

     “Okay?” He offers, attempting to be casual, though he misses it by a mile and accomplishes a convincing rendition of "twelve-year old with an uncomfortable crush" instead.

     “Just thought you’d want to know.” Noah is nothing but the memory of a voice without a body by the time he finishes his sentence, and Adam wonders, briefly, if it’s because of lack of energy or simply the will to seem particularly ghostly this morning. With a sharp sigh, Adam straightens himself in his chair and picks up his pencil, bending over his notebook just as he hears the echoed creak of the fortuitous, wooden door open at the opposite end of the room.

     With Noah’s warning, Adam manages to appear studiously casual as he recognizes Ronan’s footsteps approaching him in familiar cadence. He supposes it's one of the advantages to having a seemingly omnipresent friend that he hadn’t considered until now. 

     “Who the hell studies this fucking early on a Saturday?"

     “Sometimes I stay through the night until morning.” Adam replies without lifting his head. He gathers a breath and wills his heart to settle as Ronan pulls out the chair opposite him with a distinct scrape across the wooden floorboards, sitting down and tilting himself on its back legs with a menacing creak, “Which is worse?”

     “That’s a hard one, Parrish.” Ronan muses, tilting forward to set down a cup of coffee and what looks to be a raisin bagel directly on Adam’s textbook. Adam recognizes the logo on the cup sleeve from the coffee shop around the corner and lifts his head to look at Ronan with a habitual frown. Ronan notices it and leans back again, looking exasperated when he says, “You can buy me one later, chill.”

     “You don’t drink coffee.”

     “Then buy me lunch or something, damn.” Ronan eyes Adam with the challenge, and Adam eyes him back long enough to put up a fight, though he ultimately drops his gaze to his notebook in compromised defeat. He considers how a year ago this may have become a fight, how now it seems like harmless bickering out of habit rather than actual feeling. 

     He wonders about new habits.

     “Fine.” Adam relents with a degree more force than he means. He pauses, managing a moment of defiance before he reaches out and lifts the coffee cup to his lips, “Thanks." 

     Ronan replies with a grunt and a wave of his hand, folding his arms behind his head and glancing back at the vaulted ceiling. “Gansey told me where your 'secret spot' was.” He says eventually, the sunlight streaking through the looming, stained-glass windows casting faint, multi-colored shadows across his prominent cheekbones and strong jaw, “Not a great secret, Parrish.”

     “That’s just what Gansey calls it,” Adam counters, pulling his gaze from said shadows catching the line of Ronan’s neck and dip of his throat, trying not to think about the difficulty of the motion, “I call it ‘that place I go when I need to get shit done.’” 

     “And what shit would that be?”

     Adam pushes his homework towards Ronan with one hand as he presses the coffee cup to his lips again with the other, watching as Ronan lifts the notebook to eye-level with a sloping frown, eyebrows furrowing as his gaze flickers uncomprehendingly down the page, “You went to college to torture yourself, is what I’m gathering from this.”

     Matching Ronan’s frown, Adam reaches forward to snatch the notebook out of Ronan's hands, tossing it unceremoniously on top of his textbook, dethroning the raisin bagel in the process, before he tilts back in his own chair, “You know I didn't.” He says eventually, scowling at Ronan over the lip of his cup. 

     Now this is the start of a fight, Adam thinks. 

     Ronan looks ready to spark for half a moment, but something in his expression shifts at the last moment. Instead of characteristic argumentation, he asks, quieter than Adam’s used to from him, “Did you sleep on the futon with me last night?”

     The question is so unexpected, Adam finds himself without a reply long enough for Ronan to look self-concious, lifting a hand to cup the back of his neck and break eye-contact with Adam in favor of boring holes into the scuffed floorboards, “Never mind, I probably—"

     “Yes.” Adam interrupts, sudden and awkward. Ronan’s expression is unreadable as he continues, "I couldn’t sleep in the bedroom with Blue and Gansey being Blue-and-Gansey. The futon’s big enough, so I slept there instead.” He pauses to pick up his pencil for an excuse to look away from Ronan, gripping it tight between his index finger and thumb before eventually asking in a tone he hopes is even enough to pass as casual, “Did I wake you up?”

     Ronan gives him a quick, assessing gaze and Adam holds his breath until Ronan eventually tilts forward to grab the raisin bagel from where it’s been relocated leaning against Adam’s calculator. With little pretense, he shoves a fair portion of it in his mouth, mumbling a muffled, “Not that I remember.”

     Ronan doesn’t lie, Adam thinks. So he really believes it was a dream. 

     Knowing this, Adam relaxes the tension in his shoulders, quickly changing the subject before Ronan has the chance to assume otherwise. Watching him chew the bagel with his best long-suffering expression, he says, “I thought you bought that for me.”

     “I did.” Ronan replies, a few crumbs tumbling from between his lips and onto the front of his jacket. Brushing them away absently, he swallows and continues, “But then I got hungry."
     
     “Charming.”

     Ronan grins wickedly at that, and Adam has to employ a significant amount of will power to keep his own lips from curling into a grin of his own. He notes, in the moment it takes Ronan to cram the rest of the bagel into his mouth, that he feels considerably lighter than he had only a minute ago; as though a veil of tension had fallen over their shoulders and hovered as the two of them stepped around verbal eggshells, only half-knowing whether or not such eggshells existed at all. 

     For now, they seem to have returned to Ronan-and-Adam. 

     Adam wonders how long he’s considered the two of them as a hyphenated unit. 

     “Oh yeah. Gansey told me about the party tonight.” Ronan begins, crumpling the bagel wrapper in his fist and promptly tossing it at Adam’s forehead, "You gonna show me how they party it up at the Ivies, Parrish?” 

     Adam glares at him, swatting away the crumpled ball before it makes contact with his face. Accepting that he won’t be finishing his Calculus as long as Ronan remains as wholly and obtrusively present as he is now, Adam marks his place in the textbook with his unfinished homework, sliding it into his backpack before he dignifies Ronan with a response.

     “One of Gansey’s teammates from the Club Rowing Team is throwing it at another residential college on the other side of Old Campus.” Adam says, zipping his backpack closed and settling back into his chair, picking up his coffee cup and holding it in both hands. He considers Ronan’s last sentence, tilting his head, an easy grin creeping onto his lips despite himself, “This’ll be your first college party, right, Lynch?” He muses, tilting back in his chair to match Ronan’s posture, “As for showing you something, I just might."

     As he receives a slow eyebrow raise in response, Adam realizes that he’s just flirted intentionally and unmistakably with Ronan Lynch.

     It isn’t a terrible realization.

     “I’m holding you to that.” Ronan says, lifting a finger and pointing at him as though the motion makes the proclamation official. Adam doesn’t have the chance to consider what he’s gotten himself into as Ronan’s cell phone begins to emit an obnoxious, electronic ringtone, drawing both of their eyes to his jacket pocket.

     “Do you still have a bizarre vendetta against cell phones, or are you going to answer it?” Adam asks, his lips quirking into an amused smile as Ronan mouths his question back at him in childish imitation before he digs the offending cell phone out of his pocket, glancing briefly at the screen before lifting it to his ear.

     “Yo, Gansey.” Ronan drawls, yawning and tilting his chair back far enough that Adam begins to wonder if gravity affects Ronan Lynch differently than other people, “Yes, I answered my damn phone. Do I get a gold star—? I’m joking. Seriously, I’m joking. I don’t care if Blue thinks it’s a good idea. She can shove it up—" Ronan cringes at what Adam rightfully assumes is scolding for his Blue-related slander. Ronan’s gaze slides to Adam, conducting a dramatic eye roll for either his amusement or sympathy. Perhaps both. “Yeah, sure. We’ll be there in twenty. In five? When you invest all that money of yours into fucking jetpack innovation we’ll talk about— Fine. Five.” He hangs up and tosses the phone to Adam, standing with the solid sound of both feet hitting the ground, “We’re being summoned for lunch.”

     Standing himself, Adam slings his backpack over his shoulder and pockets the cell phone, a motion that’s familiar despite having never owned one himself, but harboring Ronan’s for the sake of someone answering when it rings.

     “Of course we are.” He says, pushing in his chair before turning to Ronan, “Did you miss it?"

     “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t.” Ronan replies, looking straight ahead at the door away from Adam. Adam wonders about the sudden softness to his features, and whether it's vulnerability that he sees in the other’s expression, or if this is simply how Ronan looks from this angle. 

     Ronan paces ahead of him before he can take a closer look, “And you know I don’t lie."

***

     Gansey had looked concerned when Adam told him that he wanted to try drinking. Gansey often is concerned with most things related to Adam Parrish and anything else that had at one point been associated with the miserable double-wide he'd lived in for the majority of his life.
 
     "You're sure?" Gansey had asked, careful, tentative through direct experience in Adam's tendency to turn volatile at a single disconnect in intention. It's only recently that Adam himself has felt a sense of leveling stability in his bones, calm control where inherited violence used to reside, awful in its eagerness. A fuse, Adam had realized after leaving Henrietta in August, lasts a hell of a lot longer without the means to cut it shorter.
 
     The reverberations of this phenomenon have only just begun to make their way into the consciousness of the rest of the group, so Adam had simply replied with, "I'm sure.” and set a determined gaze in retaliation to Gansey's infuriatingly genuine worriment.
 
     Neither of them had mentioned Robert Parrish. Adam hadn't spoken of the permanence that the alcohol on his breath left on his memory. It’s difficult to forget when his father’s face had been inches from Adam's, swinging his fist in determination to be understood, as though verbal abuse weren’t enough to make his entirely convoluted points clear to his “ignorant" son. 

     All of it went unsaid, but remained leaden between them; Adam with determination to conquer his checklist of demons, and Gansey with the understanding that Adam’s telling him at all, was one of them.
 
     Gansey had suggested a drink between just the two of them in their common room, sounding severely un-casual in his strained attempt at the opposite. Adam had relented, sure of himself, but surer that Gansey would be less intolerable if he played things out the way the other wanted. 
 
     Adam had allowed Gansey to pour him an old fashioned with the whiskey he kept hidden in his middle dresser drawer, and Adam had teased him for his predictable choice in drink. ("Jesus, Gansey. Could you have picked more of an old man's drink?" "Olives or cherries, Parrish?" "Surprise me.") The two of them had ended the night a tangle of familiar limbs on the futon, laughing, and flushed, and too young for the glasses in their hands.  
 
     Adam had enjoyed the loose, heavy feeling in his limbs and his inexplicable amusement in literally everything; the way Gansey's nose had wrinkled after taking his first shot of the night. The way his own fingers fumbled on the TV remote and had, miraculously, landed on shoddy, late-night porn. How Gansey had flushed to his ears and scrambled to shield his eyes from it while Adam curled in on himself with the force of his laughter.
 
     Adam hadn't had enough whiskey to register more than a minor headache in the morning, but took pleasure in the way simply the creak of the floorboards under his feet had made Gansey's pathetically lightweight self groan and bury himself further under his comforter, a pitiful and hilarious bundle of hangover as Adam grabbed him a glass of water from down the hall.
 
     Parties were familiar now, Gansey's popularity blooming naturally on campus as it had in Henrietta. Lazy Friday and Saturday nights, typically, were only ones in which the two of them chose Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Chinese takeout over an invitation. 

     (“I'm introverted, Adam.” Gansey had said after flopping dramatically onto the futon next to him on one such weekend, looking endearingly ruffled in his loose sleep-shirt and wireframes, “No one seems to understand that.” 

     “You’re good at pretending otherwise.” Adam had commented offhandedly as he reached for the grease-stained takeout menu from off their equally grease-stained center table. 

     Gansey had lolled his head against the back of the futon, speed-dialing the delivery number and mumbling a long suffering,“Tragically.” as he lifted the phone to his ear. “So, the usual?”

     “It’s the usual for a reason.")

     Adam had also received a fair share of invitations, surprising more to himself than to anyone else. Though not as vibrantly charming as Gansey, Adam had learned that slow smiles and easy humor deliver effectively in this realm of social conquest, whether intentional or not. 

     ("Atta boy, tiger!" Gansey had said when Adam returned to their common-room with his first address written in loopy, feminine scrawl on the palm of his hand, “So, I'm guessing we're going to be busy Saturday night?”)

      Leading Blue, Ronan, and Noah across Old Campus to the residential college gate, up a narrow staircase towards the thumping bass of deafening music, a rhythmic strobe of colors seeping under the door, feels exhilarating. Adam doesn’t know how to describe the phenomenon of his worlds colliding, the anticipation of two very different types of familiarity melding into something new and unpredictable. 

     He can’t help his gaze from flickering to each of them, before settling on Ronan. 

     He can’t help but notice Ronan’s gaze already on him, sliding away as Gansey approaches the door before twisting the doorknob with innate confidence.

     The party is already in full-swing by the time they arrive, Adam feeling the bass beginning in his feet and ending at his ear drums, wondering if, at this rate, he’ll be deaf in both ears before he turns thirty. 

     It’s not too large of a gathering, between twenty and thirty bodies filling the space of the joint-common room, larger than his and Gansey’s. Next to a pair of notably expensive speakers stands a simple card table, cluttered with an array of liquor bottles and mixers, artfully stereotypical red solo cups littered between them. One of the vodka bottles draws Noah to the table immediately after crossing the threshold, not for the alcohol itself, but for the strobe light sealed to the bottle’s bottom, illuminating the clear contents in a mesmerizing display of pulsating colors.

     “This is the most magical thing I’ve ever seen.” Noah whispers, picking up the bottle almost reverently as he turns it over in his hands, Blue pacing to stand beside him, giving it an appreciative look herself.

     “Don’t discredit the rest of us like that.” Gansey chastises, stepping over to the drink table himself, lifting a hand to thumb over his bottom lip as he surveys the assortment like a dignified connoisseur and not an eighteen year-old whose experience with alcohol begins and ends with the bottles displayed before him, and whatever else Helen has ever bought for him.

     “Okay, Gansey. But have you seen this?” Noah insists, thrusting the bottle dangerously close to Gansey’s well-bred, Anglo-Saxon nose.

     “In fact,” Gansey begins, nearly cross-eyed as he observes it, the apprehension in his expression acknowledging that the inch separating the object from his face is also all that distinguishes it from a vodka bottle and not an effective bludgeoning weapon, “I can see little else at the moment."

     Seemingly satisfied with that answer, Noah promptly passes the bottle to Blue, who looks delighted by the gift, before he turns to survey the room. “Well,” He starts, watching as a figure wearing an alarmingly yellow bro-tank stumbles unceremoniously past their huddle, “It looks like we all have some 'getting turnt' to catch up on.”

     If Adam had already had a drink in his hand, he may have choked on it at Noah’s comment, his soft voice only barely slipping through a particularly loud bass drop.

     “Noah, I think you’d need a body to inebriate it.” Ronan comments dryly, though with a quick glance, Adam notices the way his lips tremble in an obvious attempt to keep from sputtering a laugh like the rest of them, “Also, isn’t that term a little after your time?”

     “Do you think I’m incapable of learning new vocabulary?” Noah asks pointedly, poking at Ronan’s chest indignantly with a small pout that would look more threatening on a kitten, or perhaps a cupcake, “That I’ve been under a rock all these years?"

     “Honestly, would anyone here be surprised?"

     Holding his pout against Ronan’s goading fortifications, Noah squints at him before eventually turning to Blue at his side, reaching for her arm with a gentle tug towards the mass of bodies forming an impromptu dance floor at the other end of the room, “Blue, Ronan’s being shitty and I want to dance.”

     “I concur.” Blue replies, her vibrantly teal lips flickering into a grin, luminescent in the dim lighting. Setting the bottle back on the table and curling her fingers around Noah’s, she lifts her chin to the rest of the boys before turning in a quick, impressively executed circle away from them, “Lead the way.” 

     As the two of them worm their way into the writhing crowd and out of direct line-of-sight, Gansey turns to Ronan with a disdainful frown, as though something mildly unfortunate has just happened to him and Ronan is to blame, which, if dancing with Blue and discreetly kissing her in shadowed spaces had been his intention, Adam supposes Ronan is to blame.

     “So, Gansey.” Ronan says, expertly ignoring the frown in favor of the table, picking over similarly eye-catching bottles in assessment of his options, “I’ll take a drink. But only if you’re capable of making literally anything other than an old fashioned.”

     “You’re already such a delight sober, you know.”

     “Nice try, Dick.”

***
     
     “Adam, your freckles are quite lovely." Adam raises a dusty eyebrow, eyeing Gansey amusedly over the lip of his cup as the other lounges in a comically undignified position next to him on a patchwork futon, looking up at Adam with alcohol-laden affection, "Has anyone ever told you?”

     “In fact,” Adam says, lowering his arm from the back of the futon to pat the flat of Gansey’s chest obligingly, “I think it’s been you. Every time I’ve heard it.”

     “Well,” Gansey replies, managing to right himself into somewhat of a sitting position in order to throw back a swallow of whatever concoction currently occupies his cup, “I am not wrong.”

     Adam feels the opposite end of the futon suddenly depress and glances up to see Blue flopped on Gansey’s other side, head lolling back for a moment before she turns it to survey the two of them with a bright grin. “Isn’t this cute?” She says, noting the familiar proximity to which Gansey has settled himself shoulder to shoulder with Adam, Adam’s hand still resting on Gansey’s chest, “Been taking care of him, Adam?”

     Adam matches her grin with a knowing look, “Just like you told me to back in Henrietta.”

     Gansey’s lips tilt into a small frown, looking like a puppy who has learned something new about the world that hasn’t immediately excited it, “Told you what?”

     Ignoring this, Blue leans over to press a quick kiss under Gansey’s ear, leaving an obvious, teal smudge of lipstick by the satisfied glint in her eyes when she pulls away. She then reaches forward to uncurl Gansey’s empty hand before placing her own cup within it. “Hey, Gansey. Can you get me another? A screwdriver, but without the vodka.”

     “Jane, that’s…” Gansey squints, looking from Blue, to her cup in his hand, and then back at her, “That’s just orange juice.”

     “I know.” Blue replies, smiling sweetly and gently pushing him to a standing position, albeit a wobbly one. “Someone needs to be sober enough to get you home tonight.” 

     As Gansey makes his way to the drink table with some difficultly, Blue slides herself into the spot he had been previously occupying, glancing quickly around the room before turning back to Adam. “Where’s Ronan?”

     “Bathroom.” Adam replies casually, his own gaze surveying the party for a glimpse of the tall, jagged boy.

     “You’re going to dance with him, right?” Blue asks, matching Adam’s casual tone, one of her slim legs crossing over the other as Adam attempts to contain the cup that’s nearly slipped out of his hand at the flighty, preconceived conviction in her question.

     “Maybe I will.” He replies before he truly thinks about it, surprising himself, and he takes a moment to look disdainfully into the contents of his own cup. Blue, to her credit, manages to look pleased rather than smug, nudging Adam in the bicep with a bony elbow.

     “I’m rooting for you, you know.”

     “Rooting for what?” Adam asks, though he already knows, the truth of it pounding against the inside of his ribcage.

     “Let’s just say,” Blue muses, her eyes catching Adam’s before she turns to watch as Ronan approaches them from across the room, “I got up to get a glass of water from down the hall last night and noticed a thing or two.”

     Spurred by Blue’s words, or perhaps simply by the rum loose in his veins, Adam turns away from her and stands suddenly to his feet, intercepting Ronan before he has the chance to sit down. 

     “No need for a standing ovation, Parrish.” Ronan says, though something in his expression reads apprehension behind a thin cover of complacency, “The bathroom wasn’t that hard to find.”
     
     Disregarding this, Adam reaches to take Ronan firmly by the wrist, expression as unyielding as he can manage, before he pulls Ronan back to where he had come, towards the mass of bodies on the opposite end of the room. It’s only when Adam has successfully navigated them towards the center of the writhing entity that he turns, releasing Ronan’s wrist as he does so, a slow grin pulling at the corners of his lips when he catches Ronan’s eyes involuntarily drift from where Adam had held him, to his face, down the length of his body, and up again. 

     “What—“

     “You asked if I was going to show you how we party here.” Adam interrupts, taking a quick swallow of his drink before passing it off casually to an appreciative looking dancer beside them. He allows the alcohol to settle his limbs loose at his sides, easy with inebriated confidence as he continues. “I said I might. Now I think I will." Adam cocks his head slightly, managing a teasing tone when he asks, “Don’t tell me you’ve changed your mind?”

     Ronan holds his gaze long enough for Adam to notice the rapid pace of his own pulse, anticipation like a rush to his core, leaving him lightheaded as Ronan matches his grin, bottom lip bit alluringly between his teeth when he replies, “Well, knock yourself out then.”

     Adam expects it to be awkward, which it is, at first. He takes a step closer, unsure of whether the looping thought of, “It's Ronan. It’s just Ronan." makes the situation better or worse, familiar or entirely unknown. It takes a few beats for his self-conciousness to dissolve, replaced by the same will that had pulled them both there in the first place. Reigning himself in, committing to the persisting want of Ronan beyond what he already knows, Adam sucks in a breath, takes another step forward, and drops his inhibitions entirely.

     Adam’s danced at parties before, with hands bold and unhesitating after practice, hips steadily learning their belonging between beats. He’d felt excited, alive then, buzzing to the ends of his fingers, exhilarated reverberations echoing in his bones. But something about dancing with Ronan seems intimate in a way the others had never quite attainted. 

     Adam feels as though the usual warmth at his core has transcended hot and evolved straight to burning. Ronan’s lidded eyes on him, his hands and the way they make their way to Adam’s hips, tentative at first but gaining confidence when Adam doesn’t push him away, feels like fire, liquid sharp. Each gaze, each touch, a flame licking his skin.

     After a while, Adam is unsure whether or not he still registers the music, or if he’s drowned it out entirely; whether or not he has become too consumed by Ronan to notice anything else, or if the other boy has melded with the gyrating beat of it, overwhelming his senses into a combined stimulus, lighting each of his nerves like eager firecrackers. Adam is aware of how close they are, suddenly conscious of the magnetic pull drawing him even more so; a step, a breath away, feeling less like Adam Parrish and more like the principle of him, engulfed by the impulses that drive him to fluid, mindless motion as the music escalates.

     Adam feels raw, the barest essence of himself confronted with the barest essence of Ronan, a compilation of senses that tangle tight and combustible within him, craving an outlet in which to ignite. He finds it as Ronan’s fingers work over his hipbones, curling in the belt loops of his jeans and tugging until their hips roll off each other in a heedless give-and-take of too-much and not-enough, Adam sucking in a sharp breath when he notices Ronan, half-hard against his thigh. He has to bite back a low groan at the rough contact at the front of his own jeans, the knowledge that Ronan is as worked up as he is spiking a rush of fervent wanting straight to his gut, dizzying in its demand to be acknowledged. 

     Adam’s arms lift to snake around Ronan’s neck, fingers curled along the jagged lines of his tattoo at the nape, right where the knob of his spine juts from the inked skin. Adam lolls his head back as Ronan leans forward to nose at the underside of his jaw, breath a hot stutter against the line of his neck when Adam offers a languid, but purposeful roll of his hips. Ronan’s lips hovering at his pulse are the concept of a touch without the satisfaction of contact and Adam remembers the feel of them from the night before, fleeting and chaste on his knuckle. It alarms him, somewhat, to realize he wants them in that same, gentle form as much as he wants them rough and claiming in the immediate moment.

     Drawing a hand from the back of Ronan’s neck to cup his fingers at the hinge of his jaw, Adam lifts Ronan’s chin to eye-level. It’s only as Adam feels Ronan’s breath, labored and uneven against his cheeks, that Adam notices his own breathing following the same hectic pattern. Ronan lifts a hand from Adam’s hip to push his fingers through the sweaty strands of hair plastered to Adam’s forehead, brushing them out of his eyes. Adam catches Ronan’s gaze as it returns to him, the other’s pupils blown to consume the otherwise light blue of them, framed by dark, alluring eyelashes. 

     Adam drops his eyes to Ronan’s lips in the same moment Ronan’s drop to his.

      It’s when Ronan tilts his head, transcending what had only been theoretical distance until now, an actual kiss becoming a promise rather than a possibility, that something sudden and violent jolts under Adam’s skin, instantaneously aware in all of the ways he hadn't been since gripping his fingers around Ronan’s wrist and pulling him to the dance floor.

     Not here. Adam thinks, thoughts dragging themselves through an inebriated haze to gradual, sobering fruition. His thoughts return to the night before; the genuine disappointment in Ronan’s expression when he’d believed Adam’s touch to be a dream. The unbridled affection. The casual, comfortable way in which Ronan had pressed his lips to his skin when he’d been convinced of Adam’s lie. The “always” in his “Isn’t it always.” The knowledge that Ronan dreams of Adam, dreams of waking up next to him, of kissing him in a way that doesn't command hesitation; that doesn’t require intoxication to accomplish.  

     We can do so much better than this.

     “Wait, Ronan—“ Adam starts, the words fumbled on his lips, lips that linger a breath from where Ronan’s have stopped abruptly. He can feel the exact moment when Ronan attains the awareness of what’s happening, retracting his hold on Adam as though he’d been electrocuted.

     “Shit.” Ronan breathes, sharp, and Adam watches as whatever confidences Ronan had gained crumble into unavailing shame as he drops his hands uselessly to his sides, then to his pockets. Something tireless and unsatisfied at the pit of Adam’s chest aches for them the moment they’re hidden from view, “Fuck. I’m sorry— I just—“

     “No, stop.” Adam interrupts, voice carrying barely any weight as his breath struggles to regain consistent rhythm in his lungs. "It’s fine. Don't—“ Adam has his exact intention aligned in his mind, but his words fail him in pronouncing it in a way that will dissolve the greying self-reproach carving itself into the contours of Ronan’s face, in the crease of his eyebrows, and the line of his mouth. 

     In increasing frustration, at himself and at the general situation, Adam hooks his fingers in Ronan’s leather wristbands, refusing to look back at the other as he tugs him away from the mass of bodies to where Blue, Gansey, and Noah have since retired to the drinks table. Adam musters all of his sobriety into a single, focused look directed at neither of them, but at a point somewhere over their heads as he says, “We’ll meet you back at the room later.”

     Though he can feel Blue’s pointed look on him, Adam turns before any of them have the chance to comment on his proclamation. 

     Ronan, attached to the wrist harboring the bands on which Adam tugs insistently, has little choice but to follow him out the door, descending the stairs in as coordinated a motion as their blood-alcohol levels will allow, before they enter onto the residential college courtyard and into the quiet chill of night.

***

     Adam is unsure whether or not abandoning the very real event of making out with Ronan Lynch in favor of aimlessly stumbling back towards Old Campus has ultimately been the right decision.

     He tries not to think about how close Ronan’s lips had been to his own. He tries not to think about whirling on Ronan now, in the middle of a deserted sidewalk at one twenty-three in the morning, and closing the distance like every fiber in his body urges him to do. He tries to think about what sober Adam would do, his last shred of characteristic sensibility forcing him to actually give a shit about what sober Adam would do: to keep his eyes trained in front of him, and not on the boy trailing just a step behind him.
 
     At the next street corner, Adam stops abruptly, Ronan bumping into him from behind with startled grunt. Adam’s eyes catch on the fluorescent shop sign flickering dimly, then to the “Open” sign turned towards them from the inner glass of the front door before he paces suddenly over to it. Adam pushes the door open, the small chime of bells above the doorway signaling their presence to the unfortunate shopkeeper nodding off at the cash register.

     Adam doesn’t know why he’s just decided to enter the shabby corner store, let alone why he's decided to drag Ronan along with him. It’s only after they’ve crossed the threshold of the door that he notices he still has a finger hooked in Ronan’s wristbands. Letting them go and bringing the same hand up to run his fingers through the hair at his forehead, Adam takes a long breath, willing his mind to organize the tangle of emotions and intentions whirring nauseatingly in his gut, fighting for dominance.

     “Parrish.” Ronan starts, and Adam notices the other looking at him in his peripheral before Ronan eventually turns to blink at the rows of convenience goods stretched out in dense, floor-to-ceiling shelves before them, “What the hell.”

     “I…I need something from here.” Adam lies, running a hand down his face before taking a step in front of Ronan and endeavoring into an entire aisle dedicated to snack food, perhaps hoping the answer to his elusive understanding of Ronan Lynch and his own relation to him has wedged itself between various Lays chip bags for him to find.

     Even intoxicated, Adam knows something final and irreversible has shifted between him and Ronan, something that had only lingered below the surface of their skin but now lies as obvious as a beacon would, bright and obnoxious above their heads. As Adam stares at a jar of mild queso, he thinks about Ronan’s breath on his skin, the roll of his hips, his cock pressed to Adam’s thigh through their jeans, as hard and wanting and willing as his own. He represses the small shudder that travels from the nape of his neck down the length of his spine, shifting his focus to stare intently at a bag of barbecue chips until he’s thinking straight. 

     I made the right decision, he convinces himself, although stubbornly. I have to be sober for this.

     He hears Ronan eventually follow him into same aisle as the wooden floorboards creak under him with each drag of his feet. They stop a pace or two next to him, the sound of crinkling plastic punctuating whatever sufferingly awkward silence Adam has created.

     “Did you make this popcorn, Parrish?” He asks, so suddenly that Adam visibly jolts.

     “What?” Adam turns, more out of simple curiosity than the will to acknowledge Ronan as a person he has to entirely reconsider. He squints as the other holds up a single bag of popcorn, “Sexy Pop” printed in gaudy font large across the plastic, “Bangin’ Cheddar Flavor" following as a smaller subheading, only attributing to the absurdity of the brand itself. 

     A laugh bubbles up from between Adam’s lips despite himself, a laugh that gains momentum at Ronan’s accompanying eyebrow waggle until Adam is clutching the shelf in front of him for support, wiping tears from the corners of his eyes, his gut aching with the force of his laughter.

     “Are you hitting on me right now, Lynch?” Adam asks when he’s gained the capability of forming full sentences and enough breath to speak them, raising an eyebrow as he continues, “With absurdly-named, local popcorn brands?”

     Ronan scoffs, attempting a noncommittal shrug but failing to cover the grin that tugs at his mouth despite himself. He lifts the ridge of his hand to rub under his nose in a sheepish motion, replying, “I’m sure as hell trying, Parrish.”

   The fluttering in his gut, previously drowned out in his bout of whirring anxiety, announces itself at the base of his ribs, and Adam feels a sudden flush of warmth flood over the bridge of his nose and down the back of his neck. Ronan glances back at him and the two of them simply hold each other’s gazes, seeing each other as Adam Parrish and Ronan Lynch but also as the indisputable Ronan-and-Adam that they’ve come to be. Though the flutter remains, the anxiety that had tangled itself in his chest unravels as Ronan casually slings a hand in his pocket, the tenseness that had lined their figure dissipating in the new, but returned familiarity.

     “So what did you need to get?” Ronan asks, and in lieu of responding, Adam paces over to him and takes the bag of popcorn from his hand. He offers a playful quirk to his lips before turning for the cash-register, knowing that he doesn’t need to hook Ronan by the wristbands to get him to follow.

     “You’ve already guessed it.” 

***

     Later, they stumble their way back to the room, bumping shoulders and swallowing their laughter as the chill of early-November needles its way under their jackets. Ronan flips off right-of-way drivers as the two of them jaywalk their way across various side-streets on their way to Old Campus, Adam nearly toppling over with laughter, clenching a fist in Ronan’s jacket sleeve to steady himself. Everything about it feels like the picture Adam taped above his desk. That is to say, everything about it feels right.

      When they finally reach it, Adam revels in the warmth of the residential college stairwell leading up to their room, the two of them climbing it with only minor difficultly, though Adam’s foot slips on the last step, and he still finds himself thinking about Ronan’s hand on the small of his back when they flop in an unceremonious pile on the flattened futon.

     Arms a loose tangle above his head, Adam inhales deeply and closes his eyes, feeling leaded to the futon’s lumpy surface like an Adam Parrish-shaped bag of bricks, managing only a drawn-out, “Shit.” though Ronan seems to concur as he offers a low grunt in reply.

     “I have to get up.” Adam says eventually, eyes still closed.

     “No you don’t.” 

     Adam groans and lifts an arm in the air before dropping it somewhere near where he believes Ronan lies sprawled. The back of his hand makes contact with Ronan’s chest by the sound of the disgruntled string of curses he receives in return. “I do. I feel disgusting.”

     “If you’re talking about the smell, you always smell like that.”

     “You’re a charmer, Lynch.”

     Adam slowly opens his eyes when his hand slides off Ronan’s chest as the futon shifts, and the soft, familiar fabric of his quilt is thrown in an undignified bundle over his person. The futon settles again as Adam claws the material away from his face, meet with Ronan lying beside him, tugging at a corner of the quilt for himself, his grin catching the moonlight that streams through the windows behind them. Adam registers the, now habitual, flutter at the base of his lungs in the same moment he registers the press of the Ronan's knee nudging into his thigh.

     “Go the fuck to sleep, Parrish.” 

     A small smile lingers on Adam’s lips as he catches the boyish glint in Ronan’s eyes, bright and familiar despite the greying quality of two in the morning.

     They’re the last thing he sees before he allows his eyelids droop closed and he’s consumed, completely and contentedly, in sleep.

***

     Adam isn’t entirely convinced that he is one-hundred percent in possession of his own person upon waking up the next morning, or that he even wants to be. 

     He lets out a long, agonized groan, regretting opening his eyes the moment the late-morning sunlight throbs another sharp ache just behind his forehead. He hadn’t been aware that he’d had so much to drink the night before. But then again, he figures the night would have gone much differently if he hadn’t.

     “Mornin’, sunshine.” Blue says, and Adam musters every fiber of his being into a sitting position, though his stomach immediately lurches in protest. He’s suddenly aware that a glass of water is being shoved into his hands, and he coordinates himself enough to take it. Adam glances over at Blue seated cross-legged beside him wearing one of Gansey’s t-shirts, the worn, faded material of it hanging loose off one shoulder. A spoon dangles from between her lips, a yogurt cup settled on her thigh.

     “Did you pack those?” He asks, voice notably groggy, irrefutably hungover as he lifts the cup of water to his lips, taking a swallow and repressing the nausea that threatens at the pit of his stomach.

     “Gansey, Noah, and I picked some up yesterday.” Blue replies, dipping her spoon in the yogurt cup again, the sight of food making Adam cringe and turn his focus to his water cup again, noting that it looks less grimy than usual. He wonders if Blue had washed it beforehand. She adds, after a spoonful of the yogurt, “We went while you and Ronan were canoodling in the library. Also, do you think I just bring yogurt with me everywhere I go?”

     Adam simply raises an eyebrow at her question, while he responds to the first part with, “We were doing no such thing.”

     “Canoodling at the party, then?”

     Adam cringes again, though this time at the convicting memory rather than the yogurt, “Closer.” 

     Blue taps the spoon to her bottom lip, letting Adam’s response settle between them before asking, “Did you kiss him?”

     “No.”

     “Do you want to?”

     “Yes.” Hearing the emphasis in his own voice, Adam feels a warm blush crawl down the back of his neck, lifting the cup to his lips and taking a long gulp to distract himself. With a glance around the common room, he’s suddenly aware that Gansey, Ronan, and Noah are no where within the general vicinity. In a brief, hazy flash of memory, he remembers Ronan’s bright eyes, his grin from the night before. Adam's gaze drifts to the empty expanse of the futon where the other had fallen asleep next to him. He can see Blue looking at him in his peripheral, but refuses to turn towards her when he asks, “Where is everyone?” 

     “Food.” Blue mumbles around her spoon, “All you two had in your refrigerator was a moldy dinner roll, a watery milkshake, and a bottle of mustard. Neither of you even like mustard.” She wrinkles her nose and extends a toe out to the center table, poking at the pizza box Adam had nearly forgotten wasn’t simply a permanent fixture in their common room. “And what the hell do you still have this for? A Chemistry project? This is like the kitchen-bathroom-laundry room all over again.”

     Agreeing with her, but moving past the subject for now, Adam asks, “Gansey, impossibly light-weighted Gansey, managed to drag himself into town for food after last night?” 

     Blue’s lips, still tinted teal from her lipstick the night before, curl into an amused smile, retracing her foot and tucking it back under herself, “When I took the vodka out of my screwdriver, so did Gansey.” She says, “You really think I could get him back here without him sobering up a bit beforehand? The three of us spent a lot of time on a swing set decreasing our blood-alcohol levels last night. Or, Gansey and I did. Noah just likes swing sets.” Blue waves her hand in the air as if Adam had said something worth dismissing, “But you and Ronan were no help in that. What with the disappearing to canoodle."

     “We did not canoodle. Stop using that word. It’s weirdly unsettling.” 

     “Alright, alright.” She relents, biting back a laugh and taking another spoonful of yogurt. The two of them sit in comfortable silence for a minute, listening to the sound of distant traffic outside the windows. Adam’s thoughts drift to Ronan, as he’s found them doing frequently as of late. He wonders if the warmth he hazily remembers in brief moments upon waking up throughout night are due to what he thinks they’re due to. His eyebrows furrow as he thinks about Ronan sleeping peacefully next to him, how it contrasts so drastically with what he had known about Ronan’s sleeping habits from only a couple months ago. Despite her claiming otherwise, Adam is convinced that Blue Sargent is at least a fraction psychic when she suddenly says, “You’ve probably noticed. He sleeps better now. Less nightmares.”

     “How do you know that?”

     “I mean, I’ve seen the two of you quite cozy together on this futon two nights in a row now.” Blue answers, smirking slightly when Adam glances quickly away from her, “But Ronan stays the night sometimes, back home. I see it then too.”

     “You and Ronan have sleepovers?” Adam asks, looking incredulous despite himself. Blue grins wickedly.

     “I painted his nails once—“

     “You did not.”

     “—while he was sleeping.” 

     “That’s what I thought.”

     Blue laughs, a sudden, sweet sound that draws a mirroring one from between Adam’s own lips. Blue scrapes at the sides of her yogurt cup, a smile lingering on her face when she says, “I wouldn’t say they’re sleepovers so much as Ronan deciding to drop by and then eventually deciding to drop on the sofa in the reading room and pass out.”

     “That sounds familiar.” Adam admits, remembering such nights at St. Agnes.

     “It’s lonely without you and Gansey otherwise.” Blue continues, offering Adam a knowing look, “And Ronan’s not that much of a shitbag. Or, maybe his degree of a shitbaggy-ness has just decreased to tolerable levels recently.”

     Adam nods slowly, “And the women of Fox Way have been alright with a snake frequenting their home?”

     “Orla in particular. Actually, you should see Calla and Ronan. They sort of get along now.” Blue says, peering into her yogurt cup, frowning at the fruit bits at the bottom, “If you define ‘getting along’ as Calla offering to bring him frozen mice as an afternoon snack and Ronan limiting himself to only one curse in his reply.” 

     “I almost don’t believe it honestly.”

     “I think it’s the settling.” Blue says suddenly, almost cutting off Adam’s reply. He turns to look at her as her eyes drift from the yogurt cup to the photo of the five of them above Adam’s desk, “You’ve felt it, right?” 

     Adam thinks about the new, prevailing sense of contentment in his bones, burrowing under his skin, and stitching itself in all of the pockets of himself he used to fear, used to not know at all. He thinks about Cabeswater’s well-wishes, about checking off his demons one-by-one, about his short temper grown by the number of miles he’s set himself apart from Henrietta. He had been aware of this “settling” in himself, though he hadn’t necessarily considered the same phenomenon occurring in the rest of them.

     “After everything we went through in the last year or so…” Blue begins, pausing to gather herself for a moment, as though she had been harboring the words inside for a long time, and wanted to say them just right. Which, Adam assumes, is exactly what she's doing. “…It’s all so calm now. Safe. It’s nice. We’ve all changed, but in a good way. You’ve changed too. You’re—“

     Adam says “Better?” in the same moment that Blue says “Happier.”

     “Happier.” She repeats, reaching a finger out to prod him in the chest gently, “‘Better’ is a relevant term.”
     
     Before Adam has the chance to respond, the door opens, revealing Gansey with two armfuls of grocery bags, looking more presentable in his usual crew-neck and kakis than Adam thinks he’s ever seen him after a night out. Ronan follows, carrying absolutely nothing at all, looking jagged and disagreeable as usual as he strips his leather jacket off his shoulders and tosses it onto Gansey’s desk chair with a downwards curl of his mouth. Noah is the last to step through the door, appearing as Noah-like as the last time Adam had seen him.

     “Good morning, Adam!” Gansey says, chipper as he sets down the grocery bags on top of the already heavily cluttered center table, “How’s the hangover?”

     “Fine, thanks.” Adam replies, mildly bitter at how uncharacteristically well Gansey seems to be handling his own, “You got food?”

     “I thought we’d take a stay-in day today.” Gansey replies, riffling through the bag, pulling out various items that, by the exasperated sigh Blue releases upon seeing them, had not been what she had suggested restocking their refrigerator with, “We’ll watch a movie and nurse our hangovers.” Gansey glances as Adam again, tossing him a blue gatorade from one of the bags, looking over his shoulder and saying, "See, Ronan. I told you he’d need it.”

     “Whatever. You still didn’t need to wake me up at 'ass o’clock' in the morning and drag me to the convenience store.” Ronan grumbles, toeing off his shoes before rounding the center table and sitting heavily next to Adam.

     “I woke you up at nine-thirty. That’s at least three hours after ‘ass o’clock.’” Gansey retorts with a frown, “Also, I wanted company.”

     “Hey, I was there too!” Noah comments indignantly from where he had suddenly appeared at Blue’s side, lifting a hand that had been previously patting at her bed head.

     “You spent the whole time looking at distasteful bumper stickers.”

     “Ronan spent the whole time looking at cond—“ 

     “Gansey also rented a movie.” Ronan interrupts abruptly, Adam too busy gulping down the gatorade to hear why, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” Adam grimaces, meeting Gansey’s bright grin with a long-suffering look.

     “You’re going to subject them to this too, Gansey? That movie is overrated.”

     “Slander.” Gansey admonishes, pacing over to his desk to retrieve his laptop, pressing the disk-drive button and placing the DVD inside, “Get settled, all. You’re in for a classic.”

     Groaning, Adam stands to his feet, “I’m getting new clothes. And also showering.” He says, gesturing vaguely towards the laptop and then to the display of snack food occupying the center table, all the while trying to concentrate on anything other than how badly his head is spinning, “Feel free to start without me.”

     “Nonsense.” Gansey replies brightly as Adam reaches for the door to their bedroom, “We wouldn’t dream of it.”

     Gifting him with a witheringly look, Adam lingers only long enough to hear Noah say, “So, is there an actual python in this movie? That seems unrealistic.” before he steps out of the room.

***

     “They fell asleep. Unbelievable.”

     “It’s not that good of a movie, Gansey. I would have fallen asleep too. If, you know, I wasn’t dead.”

     Adam slowly blinks awake as the futon shifts beside him, feeling comfortably sleep-warm and much less hungover than he had been the first time he woke up that morning. The headache that had pulsated painful and persistent earlier seems to have subsided to nothing more than a dull ache at the back of his skull. He rolls his head to the right to watch as Gansey bends over near the opposite end of the futon, a single hand reaching down to coax a presumably sleeping Blue into just enough wakefulness to assist her to a proper bed.

     “Jane, come on.” He prompts, voice quiet and gentle, a single hand reaching down to brush a few stray hairs away from her forehead, “You fell asleep for the good parts.” 

     “Is it over?” She asks, voice muddled with sleep while the rest of her body summons itself into consciousness.

     “Yes.”

     “Oh thank god.”

     “I’d like you know that I am offended.”

     In response, Blue simply lifts her arms in the air with a lazy smile. Only managing a small, exasperated sigh of weak contempt, Gansey complies, his frown molding into a fond smile as he pulls her into a standing position before bending slightly to hook an arm at the back of her knees and heave her into his arms bridal style.

     Turning, he notices Adam and makes a gesture towards the bedroom with a slight tilt of his head, “I think we’re going to retire for…” He takes a moment to look down at Blue in his arms, already asleep again with her nose pressed to his chest, fingers curled into the fabric of his crew-neck, “…the rest of the afternoon, I suppose. Want to plan on dinner later though?”

     Adam lifts his arm to give Gansey a thumbs up before dropping it lax behind his head, “Sounds good.”

     “Sounds good to me too.” Gansey and Adam briefly look for a Noah to accompany the-voice-of-Noah, but he had disappeared without either of them noticing, perhaps to complete some ghostly errands in the ether now that his friends are retiring to mortal activities.

     Nonplussed, Gansey turns to offer him a nod, eyes briefly flickering to Adam’s side and widening a fraction before they quickly return, almost as though they had never wandered, “Right. I’ll leave it to you to tell Ronan then."

     Furrowing his eyebrows at the bizarre reaction and mildly hasty exit, Adam rolls his head to his other side towards Ronan.

     And immediately understands Gansey’s reaction, as well as why he’d felt so warm upon waking up.

     At some point during the movie, Ronan had rolled over onto his side, facing Adam. It’s jarring, upon first glance, to notice the similarity that his posture holds to the one that Adam had found him in on the first night. Though, as Adam’s heartbeat reminds him, urgent behind his ribcage, Ronan is much, much closer than he had been then. 

     Adam is suddenly aware of how Ronan’s warmth has melded with his own, indistinguishable until he’d turned to visibly see it. It’s only with conscious effort that he notices where Ronan’s knee presses itself into the bend of Adam’s, the index finger of his left hand (the same, Adam realizes with a rush to his gut, that he’d reached out to) hooked lazily in a loose fold of his t-shirt, his nose a breath from tucking itself into the ridge of Adam’s bony shoulder. 

     Adam, now suddenly and soberingly awake, blinks at Ronan’s face, inches from his own. He stares, transfixed at Ronan's full lips slightly parted, his eyelids twitching occasionally in peaceful dreaming. He notes, with an accompaniment of goosebumps blossoming at the back of his neck, each of Ronan’s steady breaths as they brush idly against the curve of his neck.

     Slowly, hesitating only to make sure Ronan is still asleep, Adam carefully lifts himself into more of a sitting position, tucking his legs underneath himself, leaning back on his forearms as he allows himself to take in Ronan beside him. 

     The first thing Adam realizes, it how familiar it feels, next to Ronan.

     The second thing Adam realizes, it how familiar it should feel, next to Ronan. His mind wanders habitually to Friday night, the mindless motion of reaching out to curl his finger around Ronan’s, the comfortable contact of it. He remembers the graze of Ronan’s lips, barely there along the ridge of his knuckle. 

     He remembers, hazily, last night, the moonlight when it had caught Ronan’s grin after the two of them had settled into a loose pile on the futon. Adam recalls the flutter at the base of his lungs when Ronan’s knee had nudged him under the quilt, voice soft when he’d said, “Go the fuck to sleep, Parrish.” The other's eyes, bright and glinting in the dead of mid-morning, had been the last thing Adam had seen before his own eyelids fluttered closed, consumed with sleep.

     The third thing Adam realizes, is that the presence of Ronan beside him, is the "Ah, that’s it" that he had been grasping for in the airport, the okay that had resonated within him at the idea of Ronan as more than one of his best friends.

     The fourth, and final thing Adam realizes, is that, despite all of his jagged edges and wickedness, he wants to kiss Ronan more than he’s wanted anything in a long time.

     Adam reaches to gently shake Ronan’s shoulder, breath held somewhere in his throat as the other makes a quiet, disgruntled noise, eyebrows furrowing and eyes slowly squinting open to meet Adam's. Adam gives Ronan a moment to blink himself to wakefulness before he trails his fingers from Ronan’s shoulder to his chin, the pad of his thumb pressed to the slight dip just under his bottom lip. Ronan’s eyes widen, disbelieving as they had been the other night. 

     This time, Adam wants him to believe it.  

     This time, Adam wants to make him believe it.

     “Adam?” Ronan asks, and Adam allows himself a moment to drink in how his name sounds rolling off of Ronan’s lips.

     “This isn’t a dream.” Adam says in English, voice low and shaky with the anticipation of what he’s about to do. Exhaling the persistent flutter in his gut, and drawing in a new breath, he lifts Ronan’s chin just slightly, leans forward, and presses their lips together.

     It’s stiff in the first, brief moment of contact in which Adam reassesses just about everything he’s ever known up to this point in his life. But the moment Ronan seems to push past the shock of "Adam Parrish is kissing me,” Adam feels the other melt against him, releasing the tenseness in his muscles, leading Adam’s own to settle loose and yielding as their inhibitions disentangle to a slow parting of their lips against each other, Ronan’s hand lifting to curl his fingers at the back of Adam’s neck and pull him closer.

     Kissing Ronan Lynch is different from kissing anyone else in that Ronan doesn’t know how to do anything halfway, and Adam is immediately flooded with his intensity, his long-wrought want and eagerness expressing themselves as Ronan opens his mouth into the kiss, his tongue pressing between Adam’s teeth and flicking against the roof of his mouth in a way that sends a dizzying rush straight to the base of Adam’s spine. Adam releases a long breath through his nose as he allows his other senses to take in all of Ronan; his soft lips, his clever tongue, his breath against Adam’s cheeks, his fingers snaking their way under the hem of his t-shirt, curling against Adam’s stomach. Each touch ignites white against the back of Adam’s eyelids, buzzes at the core of his bones, and resonates all-encompasing from the ends of his fingers cupping Ronan’s jaw, to his curled toes.

     Without pulling away from the kiss, Ronan gently pushes with the hand on his stomach until Adam is lying on his back again, Ronan simultaneously propping himself up with an arm, adjusting himself until his other forearm lies on the opposite side of Adam’s head, leaning over him more effectively. Curling his fingers in the hair at Adam’s temples, Ronan breaks briefly from the kiss to trail smaller, fleeting kisses from Adam’s lips to his chin, the underside of his jaw, and settling at his pulse. Adam lets out a shaky breath as Ronan’s lips make contact where he had hesitated the night before. Adam lifts his hands to the nape of Ronan’s neck, the pads of his fingers tracing the lines of Ronan’s tattoo until he feels a small shudder start under his touch at the knob of Ronan’s spine. Cupping the base of Ronan’s skull, Adam prompts his gaze back to meet his, tugging Ronan forward for another quick peck of their lips.
     
     “I’ve wanted to do that…all weekend.” Adam says, catching his breath and looking up at Ronan from beneath pale eyelashes, a lazy smile pulling at his lips. Ronan lets out a huff of a laugh, poorly biting back a grin between his teeth before he lifts his hand, threading his fingers idly through the dusty hair at Adam’s forehead. Seeming to notice the fondness in his own actions, Ronan drops the hand after a moment, leaning down to nip playfully at Adam’s bottom lip, nosing at his cheek to his ear, before pressing a quick kiss there as well.

     “Then get back here, Parrish.” He murmurs, and Adam feels the curve of Ronan’s grin against the shell of his ear, “I don’t know about you, but I’m sure as hell not done yet.” 

     Adam presses his palm against Ronan’s jaw, guiding him until he’s within range to catch Ronan's lips between his own again. 

     Because he’s not done.

     He doesn’t know if he could ever be done kissing Ronan Lynch.

***

     “For the love of all that is good.” Gansey begins, taking both of Blue’s hands in his, looking at her very seriously as the five of them stand outside the doors of their terminal entrance the following morning, “Text me when you land.”

     “Please text him when you land.” Adam adds from where he’s leaning back against the passenger side of the Pig, yawning into his hand, “For Gansey’s sanity but also for my own. I’m the one who has to live with him.”

     Blue tosses him a brief, sympathetic look before turning back to Gansey, “Why don’t you ever ask Ronan?” 

     “This is not a joking matter, Jane.” Gansey chastises, frowning slightly as Blue’s lips tease into a slow smile at his growing distress, “Anyway, Ronan’s probably already lost his phone somewhere on campus by now.”

     “Ye of little faith.” Ronan butts in from Adam’s side, both Gansey and Blue glancing over at him expectantly as Ronan grins and nudges Adam with an elbow, “I gave it to Parrish to hold.”

     Adam obligingly pulls the sleek, black phone from his back pocket, pushing himself off the Pig and taking a few steps forward to hand it off to Blue who looks over his shoulder to give Ronan a wry smile before slipping it into her crochet purse.

     Looking ultimately unimpressed by this, Gansey reaches to brush a stray bit of hair behind Blue’s ear before leaning down to press a kiss to her cheek, “You should get going. You're boarding soon.”

     “We board in two hours.” Blue replies, raising an eyebrow.

     “Maybe so, but Ronan is going to want to stop and make fun of all of the souvenir shops inside.”

     “Well.” Ronan starts, and for a moment Adam thinks he’s going to defend himself, but he only finishes with, “Honestly though. Who the fuck wants a keychain from Hartford, Connecticut?”

     After a pause, Noah simply says, “I do." looking entirely unapologetic when Ronan glares at him.

     “Fine, fine.” Blue relents with a dramatic sigh, bringing both of her hands up to cup Gansey’s jaw, “Come here, then.” Gansey’s expression brightening with a fond smile, Adam watches as he attempts and fails to not seem too eager as he loops his arms around her waist, fingers curling at the small of her back as he pulls her in for a kiss. There’s a small part of Adam that twinges in dated jealousy, still harboring the want to kiss Blue Sargent somewhere in the deep recesses of himself. However, a larger, overwhelming feeling of rightness drowns out the emotion as he observes the two of them; the way Blue breaks to murmur something exclusive and private against Gansey’s lips, and how Gansey’s hold on her only tightens as he peppers her with shorter kisses between his staggered reply. They’re a pair of shared, breathy laughter when Adam suddenly feels a tug on his jacket.

     “You’re not going to let them show us up like that, are you Parrish?” Ronan asks from behind him, and Adam can feel himself being guided backwards as Ronan’s fingers grip the material at his elbow. Adam turns, raising a playful eyebrow at Ronan’s cocked head and easy grin, looking terrible and wonderful leaning languidly against the Pig, stark black against the obnoxious orange of the Camaro. Adam allows himself to be reeled in until he’s pressed up against him, his fingers lingering just under Ronan’s ribs, curled to feel the reverberations of the other’s heartbeat. Adam tilts his chin just enough to eye Ronan from beneath his eyelashes without actually kissing him, his other hand lifting to graze the pad of his thumb under Ronan’s cheekbone.

     “I don’t think I am.” Adam replies, in a low tone for Ronan’s ears only, closing the distance and breathing Ronan in as the other cups his hand just under Adam’s jaw, thumb depressing gently against his flighty pulse. It doesn’t seem like only yesterday Adam had kissed Ronan for the first time. He feels like he’s been kissing Ronan for a lifetime from the comfortable way their lips move against each other, fingertips as reverent as they are possessive over each other’s skin. His thoughts trail to the familiar way Ronan’s soft touch reflects that of last night, neither of them sleeping in favor of exploring each other’s bodies in all of the ways they’re now allowed. Ronan’s hands had been hesitant only until Adam had curled his fingers around his wrists and guided him along the lines of his own body. Adam craves them now, doesn’t think he’s ever stopped craving them as premature longing begins to burrow itself at the pit of his chest. He curls his fingers in the front of Ronan’s jacket as though to tell him this, and Ronan’s hand, as it finds itself thumbing along his hipbone, confirms that he feels the same.

     “Well now I’m feeling awfully left out.” Noah interrupts suddenly, the rest of them breaking away from each other to look at him standing forlorn between them. Taking pity, Blue untangles herself from Gansey and leans up on her toes to give him a quick peck on the cheek. Warming a shade lighter in coloration, Noah beams and reaches down to squeeze her hand, Blue returning the smile before adjusting her purse strap on her shoulder.

     “We’ll see you both in two weeks for Thanksgiving.” She says, the words directed at Adam and Gansey, “My mom makes a mean turkey. I’m just saying.”

     “We’ll be there.” Adam says, discreetly trailing his fingers down Ronan’s side until they find his hand, intertwining his fingers with Ronan's. He feels a flood of warmth blossom in his chest at the idea of a Thanksgiving at Fox Way; chaotic, crowded, and unlike anything he’s ever had in the past but everything he thinks he could ever want. He feels Ronan’s hand squeeze his, and he takes in a small, shaky breath, emotions a wonderful, loose tangle between he ribs.

     “I’ll scout out the place.” he hears Ronan whisper, leaning down to breathe the words against the shell of his ear, “For prime make-out locations.” Adam scoffs, elbowing Ronan in the chest, a grin threatening his lips despite all of his attempts to look chastising.

     “I didn’t hear what Ronan said,” Gansey begins, stepping over to Blue and placing a casual hand at the small of her back, “And I don’t think I want to.” With a slight tilt of his head, he gestures towards the automatic doors into the airport, “But really, security can be a nightmare sometimes. If you miss your flight, Maura might kill me.”

     “Security is only a nightmare if you attempt to pack suspicious looking ley-line uncovering devices into your carry-on.” Blue comments, smirking at Gansey’s guilty frown, “Also, Calla’s the one who does the dirty work.” Reaching up to pat Gansey’s cheek affectionately, Blue looks over to Adam and Ronan, eyes trailing to their interlocked hands with a brief smile, before motioning Ronan over, “C’mon, Ronan. We should go before all that’s left of Gansey’s sanity leaves him.”

     Begrudgingly, Ronan steps away from Adam, but not before snaking an arm behind him to make a quick grab at his ass, Adam responding with a swift kick at his ankles as Ronan cackles and joins Blue and Noah near the doors. Noah, with a quick wave at Adam and Gansey, flickers out of physical existence with the promise to make sure Monmouth Manufacturing is “less not-Gansey” in two weeks when they return. By the grimace on Gansey’s face, he knows about as much as Adam concerning what “not-Gansey” qualifies as, and doesn’t particularly care to delve into it.

     Gansey slowly makes his way over to Adam, bumping his shoulder as they both lean back against the Pig to wave goodbye as Blue and Ronan step through the automatic doors and into the airport, already bickering as assumed by Blue’s fist making hard contact with Ronan’s bicep. 

     As they disappear from view, Gansey breathes a long sigh, rounding the Pig towards the driver’s side and saying a cheerful, “Well, that was a nice weekend.”

     Adam glances down at his hand, his long fingers curled in towards his palm. He eyes the freckles dotting his knuckles, lips curling into a small smile. He makes a loose fist before finally dropping it to open the passenger-side door. 

     “Yeah.” He agrees simply, meeting Gansey’s knowing smile over the roof of the Camaro before leaning into the passenger seat, swallowing down the longing already settling heavy in his gut.

     Two weeks isn’t that long to wait.