It may not surprise you,
but pride has been known to
rise up a storm.
If you recycle a piece of time for long enough it thins out like cloth, becomes worn and soft and almost transparent, like maybe if you lifted it up to the light you'd be able to see right through. Time in this form can show you a glimpse of a cloudier and more tantalising existence, but it is prone to tearing if you use it with too much force.
Safer, perhaps, not to keep treading the same old ground over and over again.
Adam Parrish closed his eyes in his shabby room and opened them on soft moss and grass, with the sky above a triumphant and almost-white grey. Pearly pieces of it reached his eyes between the fingers of the Cabeswater trees.
He heard the footsteps coming through the forest, and had raised himself onto his elbows by the time Ronan appeared. Both of them regarded the other with what Adam felt was the correct amount of wariness when it came to anything new. Magic seemed to operate under as many rules as the Latin language, and its irregularities were just as frustrating.
Latin was not Adam's subject.
Ronan was the weekend version of himself, very Ronan indeed in his leather jacket and expensive jeans. His eyes were narrowed.
"It's Cabeswater," Adam said. Whatever it was, it was Cabeswater. He was so much more than himself, so much tighter and more wonderful in his skin, in this place.
Ronan's eyes narrowed even further. "No, you usually look different, here. You should look less like him, not more."
Adam's lips were parted to say, less like who, but the answer crashed into his mouth instead. "You dream about me?"
"Alright, what are you?" Ronan said, flat. Adam knew how to use a person's hands as a weathervane and Ronan's were a restless north-east, the tendons standing out on their backs. Even more alarming was the suggestion of chittering and claws on the air.
"I'm me," Adam said. "Adam Parrish. This is my dream."
Ronan gave a soft snort, argumentative as ever, but he looked hard at Adam for almost a minute. Adam put it down to general Ronan Lynch weirdness and ignored him, stretching out on the grass again, listening to the suggestion of music echoing in the shell of his good ear.
Eventually Ronan came and sat near him.
"This is very Zhuangzi of us," Ronan said. "Who gets to be the butterfly and who gets to be the philosopher?"
Adam rolled his eyes, recognising the concept if not the name. "I'm not Gansey, you don't need to show off."
"And now I believe it's you, Parrish."
"What were you trying, there?" Adam said. "How do you know?"
Ronan's mouth got thinner. "I couldn't change you," he said after a moment. "I've gotten the hang of this place, mostly, but I tried tweaking you and it laughed at me."
"Once again for the cheap seats," Adam said, "you dream about me?"
"You're not special," Ronan fired back. "I dream about everyone. Or...Cabeswater listens, and gives me a version of any of you, if I've been…thinking. If I want to try something out."
Adam was frankly surprised to learn that Ronan had ever thought about a conversation before he was in it.
"You rehearse what you want to say to people?"
Ronan lifted a shoulder in a not particularly apologetic shrug, and looked away.
"And you're still this much of an asshole?"
The grin Ronan turned on Adam was more than a little dangerous. He could have been covering up for hurt; it was hard to gauge. Ronan carried his defences like bronzing on his skin, and maybe things punctured them and maybe they didn't. The grin was the clash of an ancient battle, steel striking steel in Ronan's unreadable eyes and the shout of warriors in the way he held his mouth.
Adam dug his fingers further into the grass. Cabeswater knew him and welcomed him, both in dreams and in reality, but he could never relax there entirely. Right now, his face under siege by Ronan's smile, he was more aware than ever that he was a tiny speck of a creature on a vast and turning planet, acted upon by forces he would never understand. Instead of making him feel insignificant, the knowledge was dizzying. There were roads for corpses, there were lines to be sung, and he had thrown himself into the ecosystem. All that power was there to be called upon.
After a little while, Ronan's expression faded into something more uncertain. The trees chattered intensely around them, never resolving into either Latin or their own old language. Willow leaves lengthened like gentle green ribbons and stroked themselves across Ronan's arm, across Ronan's cheek.
Adam felt as though he was holding himself to the surface of the Earth through sheer force of will.
Even when taken strictly in context as a tarot card and not as a literal sign of one's accidental acquisition of a whole new role in life, the Magician is--fittingly--about recognising your own skills and potential. Seizing the initiative, or putting yourself forward to solve a problem. It sits at the beginning of the arcana and it is a card for beginnings: the first few steps along a bridge from the old to the new. The moment when the foot rising from the clutch meets the foot pressing down on the accelerator, the engine catches and turns over, and everything begins to move at once.
"Time is a field," Persephone said. "Or a mountain range--yes, that's better. It stretches out in both directions. In front and behind."
Adam shuffled the cards and looked at his hands, enjoying the splash of sunlight on the back of his neck. His hair was longer than it had been in a while, but the collar of this shirt was stretched out, faded, and there was enough skin there to soak up the heat.
"A mountain range," he repeated.
Persephone leaned her chin on her folded hands. They probably looked strange to anyone passing 300 Fox Way, seated as they were on a rickety, metal-lacework pair of chairs with matching table which Calla and Blue had dragged triumphantly back from a yard sale, now jammed into the tiny space that counted as the house's front yard. The grass was patchy and unwell-looking but almost knee height, and there were some beds of either flowers or vegetables, now spilling over their borders and gone to seed. In this overgrown chaos the furniture, with its white paint flaking copiously off to reveal the rust beneath, looked strangely at home.
Adam felt less so. Seated opposite Persephone he felt like he was taking part in a performance, and nobody had bothered to hand him a costume or teach him his lines.
"To remember is to look backwards," Persephone said. "To see the future, you have to turn around on the spot. And look the other way."
"I'm not a psychic," Adam argued, even though trying to argue with Persephone was like trying to punch a wet cloth. "Cabeswater's power doesn't show me the future. It shows me what it needs now, what's blocking the ley line now."
"You're not pushing hard enough," Persephone said. "You're too scared to take control."
"What?" Adam said, sharp.
But the thread had been lost in the breeze of her attention. "It is showing you the future," she said, ending on a yawn. "What will you do to unclutter the line? If this, then this. One arm of the future's forking."
Adam tried to make himself concentrate through fatigue. The smudges under his eyes were almost palpable, as though someone were digging their thumbs in hard; on his worst days he looked as bad as Noah. Conscious dreaming wasn't as restful as normal sleep, and he never got much of that anyway.
He shuffled the tarot cards and thought, what do we need? What can I do next? He thought: I can keep moving stones and shifting branches forever if I have to, but everyone's getting ragged. After waiting years--years and years, in Gansey's case--so much had happened in the last few months that the inaction felt like they'd been rolling downhill, gathering speed, only to hit a pothole. Glendower was on the other side of a crystal door. Adam was asking for the key.
Persephone had been right about the fear. It crawled into his throat and throbbed there boldly.
The hot itch of the cards in Adam's hands identified three, which he laid out in a simple line. Knight of Pentacles, ten of cups. The Universe. Adam traced them one by one and then blinked as Persephone put out one of her hands and laid it over his, flattening it on the central card. Her skin was dry, her fingers like eggshells.
"I need to scry," Adam said.
"No you don't."
"The picture's never as clear with just the cards."
"Turn around, magician," Persephone said. "Face the other way. I'll help."
What do you need me to do, Adam thought, and closed his eyes.
Gansey with a crown of raven feathers, looking ancient and newborn and inevitable as he took hold of a sword and turned to face an enemy that Adam couldn't see. Two women, dark-haired and laughing. Blue, her face stricken and determined, walking on the surface of a black lake. Blue with runes appearing on her skin, then words, then a subway map of lines like glowing veins, the paths of the dead sketched out on her whole body. Noah cutting his palm open with a knife and the wound spilling out white ashes instead of blood. A red stone doorway. Ronan with water all over his face, his eyes shining like polished stones on a creekbed. Ronan with his lips at the hollow of Adam's throat. Adam gasping with his fingers splayed urgently on Ronan's back, the tattoo curling out from under his palm as though he'd splashed the ink there himself.
All of this fell into Adam's sight at once, and he wrenched himself back to the place he knew to be true. The sun smiled against his skin. Orla's laughter drifted down through an open window. His head was ringing.
Persephone pulled her hand away from his.
"Well, isn't that nice," she said vaguely. "Have fun."
"Have fun?" Adam choked.
Persephone hummed, tidying the cards. "Sex for any ritual purpose is always fun. Or else there's no point to it."
Adam should have been asking more questions, but he was stuck on Persephone, with her cloud of ethereal hair and her far-away manner and her childish voice, saying the word sex. He'd have expected it from Orla, from Calla; maybe even from Maura, though he'd have felt weird about that. But Persephone?
"Ritual?" he managed.
"Looked like it to me," Persephone said. She tilted her head and looked at Adam, sparrow-like. "But it was your vision. Maybe it was recreational? What do you think?"
"I...think I'm going to be late for work," Adam said.
"If I had to have magic ritual sex with someone," Blue said thoughtfully, "Ronan would be near the top of the list."
"That is less helpful than you seem to think it is," said Adam.
"He wouldn't be on my list," said Noah.
Adam nearly dropped his gelato. "Christ. Noah. Please find a way to do that less suddenly."
"Have you told him?" Blue asked, after she and Noah had exchanged some new kind of complicated handshake. "Because he's going to be pissed if he knows you told us first."
She was absolutely correct. The fact that Adam hadn't intended to tell Noah, and only told Blue because he'd been seized with paranoia that she might hear it from Persephone first, would matter not one bit.
"Noah," Adam said, pleading.
Noah glanced at Blue and ducked his head, looking more alive than usual in the sunlight. "I'm good with secrets," he said.
"It worked," Adam said.
Ronan shrugged his usual disdain for the obvious. "Now what?"
They were once again in a dream version of Cabeswater, or maybe it was exactly the same dream. The clouds were still that pale, obscure color. Maybe dreams were like time and you could tidily inhabit the same one, over and over, until it gave you what you needed.
Adam chewed too hard on his lip and was unsettled by the jab of pain. This was a deliberate dream, this one. You want to be here? Here you are. If you hurt yourself, that's on you.
"What was it like to bring an injury back from a dream?" he asked, unthinking.
Ronan touched the leather ties on his own wrist, noticed he was doing it, and jerked his fingers away, all in the space of one of Adam's heartbeats.
Ronan said, "What was it like to bring an injury to school from your own house?"
Adam's cheekbone itched, as did a patchwork of once-broken capillaries down both of his forearms. He was expecting it, and he didn't move so much as a muscle. Even so, shamed heat rushed into his face.
"Alright, don't answer," he bit out.
"It was a question," Ronan said, lip curling. "I meant it."
"And I meant mine."
"And I want you to answer first," Ronan said. Careless, but not quite as confident in his wants as Gansey or even Blue would be. Ronan, like Adam, had trained himself out of expecting much of anything from other people.
"Like carrying a bomb into a safe place," Adam said finally. "Like pissing all over the walls."
Ronan's lip curled again, but this time it looked pleased. "Yeah," he said.
Adam thought about how gently Ronan handled Chainsaw, how he looked at his mother and his brother, how even the ghostly night-terror had been bundled under the wide and ferocious wing of Ronan's love. The things he carried into the real world, he did so because he wanted them there.
"I felt like shit about it," Adam said, in tentative exchange. "I mean--I felt like shit about feeling that way. Home's supposed to be the place you want to protect."
"That place wasn't your home," Ronan said, savage.
Adam was...oh, Adam shouldn't have turned over those fucking cards. Now when he looked at Ronan, he could feel Cabeswater like a liquid stirred with a spoon, swirling and creating its own gravity in those parts of him promised over to the ley line's service. Adam's eyes were heavy and curious and if he let them blur, Ronan slid further into focus, which gave him a headache within ten seconds. His hands were clamoring about their emptiness, and about the particular angle where Ronan's shoulder met Ronan's neck.
Tell him, Adam thought. What's the worst that could happen?
The fear in his throat stuck out its elbows, stubborn, and obligingly filled his head with possibilities as loud and stifling as a flood of birds from the depths of a cave. The clouds were thickening overhead, and the air was getting cooler and damper. Adam's skin was bristling with magic and the promise of rain. Eyes and hands. If he burrowed his fingers deep into the dirt he could pull out a card and know its significance without a second thought.
Adam wished, suddenly, that Gansey were there. The two of them, Ronan and Adam, were still getting used to being alone without Gansey. Their friend would know what to say; he would align them properly.
There was something in the tension of Ronan's shoulders that told Adam he was wishing the same thing. So it didn't seem surprising when Gansey himself walked out of the trees, frowning his faint frown of preoccupation with whatever ancient story or historical source was playing out in his mind.
Ronan and Adam looked at one another.
"I don't know," Adam said. "You're the one who can apparently tell the difference."
"I think it is him," Ronan said.
"Hello to you too," said Gansey. "What are you talking about?"
"We've worked out how to share a dream," Ronan said, "and now it looks like we've managed to hook you in as well."
Adam put the pronoun in his pocket to deal with later.
"Oh, hey, like skydiving," Gansey said, with a quick smile. "You know, how some people make formations in the air? You leap out separately, and grab hold on the way down."
The sun began to feel its way through a crack in the clouds, and the feeling under Adam's skin had subsided. He liked the mental image called up by Gansey's metaphor; it suited the way everything had settled, everything was more balanced, when Gansey was sitting there with them. Now Adam felt like he could look at Ronan, could maybe even touch Ronan, without bringing the sky crashing down around them.
Adam was barely awake before his phone was ringing. Or the ringing woke him. Or he'd pulled a ringing phone straight out of his dreams--but no, that was still Ronan's thing, the day that started bleeding over was the day he'd really let himself worry. Either way, the name on the screen was Gansey's, so Adam's fingers answered before his brain had entirely come online.
"I wasn't asleep!" Gansey said before Adam could speak. He sounded excited by way of royally pissed.
"What," rasped Adam, grasping for wakefulness. The sun had risen but was still skulking near the horizon. There was a glowing spot of pain between Adam's eyes and he was thirstier than he could remember being in a long time.
"I mean, I woke up on the kitchen floor, with bruises on my hip and my elbow and probably my cheek, thanks to you. And the fridge door open. I wasn't going to argue if you'd found a way for all of us to dream together, that could be useful, but I'll thank your Cabeswater to check if I'm asleep first. What if I'd been driving?"
"Hold on," said Adam, now awake enough to be indignant. "Why thanks to me?"
"Hm," Gansey said, and then, loud and away from the phone, he bellowed, "Lynch."
"Am I needed for this?" Adam said.
"What? Yes, of course you are," Gansey said, with enough of his firm and essential Ganseyness behind the words that Adam threw back the covers with a sigh, because it looked like he was heading to Monmouth. "Pick up Jane on the way," Gansey said, a parting shot, and hung up.
It was a school day; there was time for only a brief round of exclamations and questions before they parted ways with Blue again, with promises not to discuss it too much without her, and an agreement to meet later at 300 Fox Way to ask advice from whomever felt inclined to give it. Blue's gaze stayed with the car for a long time after they dropped her at her own school. Adam might have felt like an imposter frantically scrambling after a life that he wasn't even sure he would know how to hold on to, but at least he was in the right place for that scramble. At least he still had Gansey writing him notes full of obscure quotes and queries in biology class, and Ronan's insolent eye catching his in Latin, inviting him in on the joke.
When they'd been dating or not-dating or whatever that stalemate had been, Adam had tried to talk to Blue about her own school, her plans for the future. She'd always managed to shrug the conversation off in a half-prickly, half-ironic way that reminded Adam of Ronan's old caginess around his family and his past. Like she was asking him to play along with her denial in a way that made it impossible to refuse.
Mostly she hid it well, the fact that she was afraid. But she was. Adam didn't know if it was just the terror of being left behind, stranded alone in Henrietta, after they'd stormed into her life and befriended her and made her part of their quest--that was a fear Adam understood at the level of his bones--or if there was something else there as well.
"So," Calla said, poised with a forkful of apple and rhubarb pie in front of her mouth. She seemed less combative than usual under the influence of sugar. "You didn't do it deliberately."
"Not the first time," Adam said. "The second time, Ronan and I agreed to see if we could make it happen again, but drawing Gansey in was an accident."
Calla chewed her pie, not very elegantly. Persephone was in the front room with a client, and Orla at her usual post on the phone upstairs, so Calla had won the position of advisor by default and was holding court in the kitchen. Adam was relieved; he didn't mind Orla and her long legs and her throaty laugh, but she had a tendency to drape herself over the back of Ronan's chair while licking slowly over her lips, and Adam didn't need that juxtaposition of images today.
He hid a smile in his glass of iced tea. Juxtaposition was a word he'd learned from Gansey.
"Have you done this before?" Calla demanded of Ronan.
"Shared dreaming? Only with someone else who--could. Who was like me."
"Ronan's probably making the dream, but Adam's the one powering it," Gansey said. He had his notebook spread out on the table, gathering pie crumbs, and was sitting up straight as though called upon to answer a question in History. "We know that's how it works, right? The Greywaren's power comes from Cabeswater."
"So Adam's a battery too," Blue said. She gave him a sarcastic little wave. "Welcome to the club. I'll make you a badge."
"I've been stabilising the ley line," Adam said. "Would that be enough? To increase the Greywaren powers, or whatever it is that's meant we can do this."
Calla shrugged. "Could be. Could be your volunteering made you more of a, whatsit." She tapped her fork on her plate. "Like telescopes."
"Lens?" said Gansey.
Calla nodded. "More power means this ley line can listen out for what you want to do with it," with a nod to Ronan, "but more focus means you can be deliberate about it."
Ronan hadn't made much of a start on his pie. He frowned. "Fine. I thought about Gansey, Gansey got drawn in. But the more I do, the more I drain. Should we be playing around with this, if we need Cabeswater to be at full power to get access to Glendower?"
Adam tried to remember how he’d felt, in that dream. Like something magnetised. Like drowsy magic was building between the two of them.
"Maybe it's different if you're asking permission," he said, "and especially if it's you. The Greywaren is Cabeswater's right hand. Another extension of its will. It doesn't make sense for one to be nothing but a parasite on the other."
Gansey looked up from his notebook and said, "There's some lore around ley lines that involves...rituals for recharging, more or less. If that's what's going on, then Ronan taking stuff out of his dreams does use Cabeswater's power, but doesn't drain it. If anything, in the long run, it increases the power available. It assumes he's working towards the same purpose."
Calla granted Gansey a bemused look. "Do they teach you about the water cycle, at that fancy school of yours? Water's evaporating all the time, but it doesn't matter because somewhere else in the world it's raining over the same ocean?"
"Yes," said Adam.
"Well, it's not like that, " Calla said. "But you could think of it like that."
"This seems important," Adam said. "You can't tell us what it is like?"
"Oh, I can tell you exactly," Calla said. "But, I don't know." She clicked her tongue. "Boys. I thought maybe you'd prefer some scientific nonsense."
"We can handle it," Ronan said.
"It's love," said Blue suddenly. Her voice had an edge to it. "Isn't it? You can keep on giving and giving, and if it's to the right person then you'll end up with even more than when you started."
"The ritual helps, of course," Calla said, doing nothing for Adam's composure. "There'll be actions that can be performed, to--what did you say? Recharge. Create a surge of power, towards a specific purpose."
"What kind of ritual?" Gansey asked.
"Yeah," Blue said blandly, not looking in Adam's direction. "What kind of ritual?"
Adam was going to solve all of Blue's problems by strangling her before she had the chance to kiss anyone.
"Take your pick," Calla said. "There might be one way that's ideal, but it's usually not the only option. There's more than one way to skin a cat."
"I vote we don't skin anything," Blue said.
"I'll do some more reading," Gansey said.
Adam bit down on saying, please don't.
Blue kicked him on the ankle, under the table. He kicked her back, and took another forkful of pie.
It was likely that Ronan wasn't aware he was humming. Adam leaned his head against the passenger seat window and said nothing, just listened. As tunes went it was exceedingly Irish: jaunty, but with little bittersweet dips and pauses. Adam's shift at the factory had ended six hours ago and he'd only slept for four, but it was one of those rare days when his fatigue faded into the foreground like a fluffy cloud, so mundane that he barely noticed it. It was probably for the best that he wasn't the one driving, though.
Adam hadn't given a reason for today's expedition, just asked Ronan outright to drive them to the Barns, and Ronan hadn't asked why. If he had, Adam had thought about saying that Cabeswater wanted him to do something on the grounds that would help unclutter the ley line. Plausible, and harmless.
But Ronan didn't lie, ever. Honesty was important to him.
When your first instinct was to lie, Adam was discovering, it was difficult to unlearn. He'd never thought to wonder why untruths slid so easily into his mouth; he had wondered why other people should find it difficult. Easy liars recognised other easy liars. Adam didn't spend much time with Mr Gray, if he could help it. There was something there more unsettling than kinship, like Adam was being shown a kind of future his past could have steered him towards, if it wasn't for Gansey. And if it wasn't for Ronan, who'd shattered Adam's life with his fists and forced him to find something better in the shards.
Ronan's humming cut off abruptly as they pulled up near the house, an obvious a sign as any that he'd just heard himself. He didn't look over, but his knuckles paled around the steering wheel. On his shoulder, Chainsaw fluffed out her feathers.
"You can help me move some boxes," Ronan said. Probing, but not with force.
"Sure," Adam said.
They moved boxes; they wandered through the house, and Adam kept catching glimpses from the corner of his eye of what he still suspected was a pre-Niall's-death version of Ronan, younger and less shadowed. As Ronan laid hands on the doorframes and the windowsills everything about him became less angular, more rounded. Adam took a moment to hate him, not for owning this place with its lovely ceilings and sprawling grounds, but for loving it so obviously.
Adam found his nerve in one of the upstairs bedrooms, but waited until they'd retreated to the living room before opening his mouth. Chainsaw was exploring the window, tapping at her own reflection's beak.
"Okay," Adam said. "I asked you to drive us out here because I need to talk to you about something and I didn't want to be able to run away."
Ronan's eyebrows did something serious, then leapt into mockery. "Okay."
"I know what kind of ritual it is, that recharges the ley line."
"And you didn't feel like spitting it out in front of Gansey, when it was relevant?" Ronan said. "Wait. It's not--Gansey isn't--"
"No!" Adam stumbled. "No, God. It's not got anything to do with Gansey, this part of it. And it's not. It's not dangerous, nobody's going to die."
"Are you trying to build dramatic tension?" Ronan demanded. "Because you're shit at it. What?"
"It's," Adam said, courage stalling like the Pig on the side of the road. "God. Can't you dream me a fake version of yourself so I can try this out a few times first?"
Ronan snorted. "Jesus, Parrish. What's the big deal?"
Don't lie, don't lie. "I don't know how you're going to take it," Adam said carefully.
"When have I ever reacted badly," Ronan drawled, inviting a smile that Adam couldn't bring himself to give. After a moment Ronan's face stilled, and he threw his arms wide, full of swagger. "Alright. This is my realm, and I'll give you my personal guarantee. Here, we don't shoot the messenger."
The side of Adam's mouth was coaxed upwards.
"Or beat him," Ronan added.
Adam froze, feeling more ready than ever to run, but Ronan was more than an arm's length away and now barely mocking at all. That wasn't meant to wound; it was an insight, a gift, albeit one with sharp edges. And for all the danger that Ronan carried around with him like a portable stormcloud or a second black bird, Adam had never felt unsafe in Ronan's company. Not once. Not ever.
"Tell me," Ronan said.
Adam told him.
In one sense all days are the same day, the same rotation of the earth. And all years are the same year: the cycle of seasons, the death of the summer and her smiling ghost stretching out its hands to the season of barren ice. Every culture has built ritual and celebration around this cycle.
Most of them recognise that it's about joy and sorrow coexisting, and about inevitability, and about opening a gate to a path down which power can spill.
"You found this out last week? And you didn't tell me because--no, fuck. Never mind," Ronan said. "Messengers and bullets."
"I didn't know what I was seeing, at first," Adam said. Ronan sneered and Adam said, impatient, "Not like that, don't be a dick. But what it meant. Persephone had to tell me."
"You sure she wasn't fucking with you?"
Adam sighed. "Come on, Lynch."
"Are you sure you're not fucking with me?" Ronan said, and the part of Adam always alert for danger told him how serious a question it was.
"I'm not," he said.
"If you think about the pagans, about--I don't know, solstices, witches," and Ronan made a face that Adam could read as annoyed resignation that Gansey had made them both fluent in that kind of thing, "when it comes to those sorts of rituals, they're mostly about fertility, yeah? Won't Cabeswater care that we're both packing the same kind of equipment?"
He made a gesture, just in case Adam hadn't grasped his meaning. Adam gave an unimpressed roll of his eyes, but he thought about the gathering clouds in the Cabeswater dream, and the images that had been trying to push themselves into his vision every time he used the cards.
He said, very dryly, "It seems not."
"Well, no matter what that woman at Blue's house said, I don't think it has to be about--you know," Ronan said. "If it's ritual, it's the action that's important. The people involved are just avatars. Actors playing roles."
"This is a bit more than a production of The Crucible," Adam said.
Ronan's sharpest smirk appeared. "You're right. Cabeswater wants us to do porn."
"Fuck you, Lynch," Adam said. "Augh. Jesus. Why do I listen to a word you say?"
For a moment Ronan's eyes were hot and unabashed on Adam's face, and then he turned away and tossed the keys to the BMW in his hand, once, twice. As though it had been a signal, Chainsaw made a harsh sound and fluttered up from the windowsill to alight on his shoulder.
"Get in the car, Parrish," Ronan said. "I'll take you home."
Adam's soul dropped back into his body with a feeling like being slapped, hard, on every inch of his skin at once.
He focused on the bowl of dark water on his desk. There wasn't so much as a ripple on the surface. It was late and Adam's back ached from bending over the open hoods of cars, and already he'd gritted his teeth through an English paper due the next day, but he wanted to keep pushing at this. He'd hoped to see more of the tangled vision that Cabeswater had granted him when Persephone's hand was on top of his, but he was also nervous of scrying too far on his own. So he'd flown through the darkness, wary, and seen nothing but more black water. Unsettling and deep.
He stretched, and picked up the tarot cards instead.
For some reason he was thinking about his mother. He'd been avoiding doing that, because he got an angry coil of snakes in his stomach when he did. Anger at himself for not setting foot on his parents’ property since he'd left; anger at her for daring to be scared, and for not following his lead. There didn't seem any point in getting angry at his father. That was a well so deep it couldn't be drained. And there was always the image of Ronan standing over Robert Parrish, aflame with anger, which Adam could call up like a cigarette lighter struck in a dark cave. Something to cup between his hands and find comfort in.
Adam turned the cards and began to shuffle rapidly.
He didn't know what last year's version of himself would have thought, if he could have seen Adam as he was now: Gansey's magician, Cadeswater's sacrifice, sitting over a scrying bowl and a pack of cards. Sometimes Adam was afraid that this choice he'd made, this one thing he'd done to get himself closer to what he wanted, had just set him irrevocably further apart from normality. The boy from the trailer park, playing dress-up in his Aglionby uniform, and a magician serving as avatar of a ley line.
Ace of cups. Six of cups. The Magician. (At least, Adam thought, that was usually a sign that he was asking the right question.) Knight of Pentacles, again. Four of wands. Fortune.
A while ago Calla had shouted at him for being lazy and at Persephone for enabling his laziness, and forced him to take home a book on tarot symbolism. It had helped the clarity issue, having an intellectual framework to lay over the more visceral and intangible direction of Cabeswater. It was slow going, though. Another thing to study on top of everything else in Adam's life.
When he brushed the first two cards, his hand struck up a glow that felt--pink, somehow. It sped up his arm and brimmed huskily in his chest, his skull, his groin. He was floating in a pool of warm water, caressed by unseen hands. He was full to bursting, enclosed and safe. He found himself on the verge of panting, and halfway to hard in his pants.
"Shit," Adam muttered, snatching his hand back.
He wasn't fond of the suit of cups, in general. And he didn't have Gansey's effortless swordly quick-wittedness. He was most comfortable with wands, with willpower. Emotions were messier.
He waited for his breathing to even out before continuing. He'd barely touched the Knight of Pentacles before he knew that it was Ronan; the sudden flash in his mind of the other boy's face, as though illuminated by lightning, was nothing but overkill. It was a logical fit. Ronan with his ability to turn things from pure imagination into solid objects. Ronan, walking the hills of the Barns with his raven on his shoulder, like a warrior pilgrim.
Adam kept his hands firmly away from the last two cards. In a fit of stubbornness, he looked them up in his book instead. Four of wands: harmony, completion, equilibrium. Fortune: acceptance of one's destiny, the cycle of time and decay.
Cabeswater churned within him, restless and demanding.
"Alright," Adam said aloud. "I've got the picture. Enough for now."
He went to bed and had troubled dreams, and he dreamed them alone.
"I feel odd talking about this with you," Adam said.
"Likewise," Blue said. "But guess what. We’re going to push through it."
They were studying in the kitchen of 300 Fox Way, which had begun to sprout more yard-sale chairs in recognition of the fact that it was becoming a centre of raven boy activity as well as a hub of psychic and feminine pursuits. A hen's night's worth of women were currently screeching and giggling in the front room, despite the fact that it was a Wednesday. Orla was good with hen's nights, Blue had told him. The house smelled of nail polish and of the sweet berries left in the bottom of Blue's yogurt container, which she had pushed aside with a complicated look after eating her way down to the fruit.
Adam had a rare night off work and had been invited for dinner. He wondered if he was being, in some obscure way, recruited. Dinner had so far failed to appear.
Calla had shouted at Adam in an almost friendly way and then told them she was going to Nino's to pick up some pizza, though she'd been gone long enough that Adam was wondering if she'd abandoned it for some other errand. Persephone had asked politely after his recent tarot attempts, breathed, "Oh, six of cups--pleasure," in a way that made a blush fight its way up Adam's neck, and then drifted away again, leaving Adam and Blue exchanging a deeply uncomfortable look.
"I think Persephone's done it before," Adam said now. Trauma shared was trauma halved. Maybe. "Had sex for a ritual."
Blue's entire face winced. "I don't think that image can be removed by anything but choc-mint gelato."
"Hint taken," Adam said. He tapped his pen against the page and nearly smiled at her. Only Blue would demand that he treat her to ice cream, and he liked her for it; both Gansey and Ronan were getting better about trying to pay Adam's share, but both took refuge in being scrupulously fair instead.
"Could be worse," Blue said. "There could be, like, an altar involved. Or an audience." She flicked a look at him, serious again. "You know nobody's going to ask you guys to actually do it, right?"
"Of course he isn't," Adam said, because why pretend at generalities when Richard Campbell Gansey III would always be their specific. "But people have died trying to find Glendower, people are," lost, he managed not to say, "and this is--not much, in comparison."
"Maybe," Blue said with great satisfaction, "Ronan is terrible at sex."
"Persephone said--" Adam said, and closed his mouth and laid his head down on his open workbook.
"She said we might not get a say in that," Adam said, muffled. He felt stupid, and lifted his head again. Blue was gazing at him, resting her cheek in one hand. She was very pretty and very spiky. He wanted them to be friends, to hold onto some part of this, so badly it almost hurt.
He said, "Screw destiny anyway."
"You can talk," said Blue. "Your destiny involves getting spectacularly laid and you got to volunteer for it. Mine was shoved on me when I was born, and it doesn't even want me to get kissed!"
"Well, when you put it that way," said Adam.
"Blue!" boomed Calla's voice from the front door. "Come and help with these pizzas!"
It was two days after that when Adam, freshly showered after a work shift and steeling himself against the prospect of a Friday night spent doing calculus homework, opened his apartment door in response to a knock. The knock was somehow arrogant, enough so that Adam was unsurprised to see Ronan, holding a shopping bag and looking like something from a noir film in the awful lighting of the small landing, at the top of the stairs that led down to the church office. Ronan was still in his deconstructed version of the Aglionby dress code. Chainsaw was nowhere to be seen, which was unusual out of school hours.
Ronan opened the opaque bag and lifted out a full bottle of bourbon, which he wiggled carelessly by the neck.
The we might as well talk about it was implied.
Adam didn't recognise the label of the bourbon, which probably meant it was more expensive than anything he'd ever put in his mouth. His pride gave no more than a mild stab. There was something very normal, very expected, about Ronan lounging in his doorway with illegal alcohol and hooded eyes, even though it had never happened before.
Adam felt something in his shoulders relax. Maybe it was visible; Ronan walked right inside, and began to busy himself in the tiny kitchenette.
"What's that?" Adam said. "Aren't you the straight-spirits-or-nothing type?"
"This is plausible deniability," said Ronan, lifting the bottle of Coke. "Glasses, Parrish."
Adam hunted out the extent of his clean drinking vessels. One tall glass, chipped at the rim. One mug with half of an ugly loveheart design on one side, faded almost to pinkish obscurity, and clearly part of a matched pair. Both of these had been in the cupboards when he'd moved in, left behind in an obvious act of discarding by the previous inhabitant. It wasn't as though Adam really needed more. It wasn't as though Adam entertained guests.
Ronan's mouth twitched as Adam handed him the glass and kept the ridiculous mug for himself. Once again Adam's pride failed to recognise it as a slight. He was starting to feel dangerously included in Ronan's jokes; probably it was the fault of Latin class.
"Bibamus, moriendum est," said Ronan, as though reading his mind.
Adam blanched. "No Seneca after school hours."
"Full marks, Mr Parrish." Ronan's teeth appeared. "Now conjugate the verb bibere."
Adam flipped him off.
Ronan laughed. Ronan poured the drinks with a generous hand and threw back half of his own almost at once, with the ease of practice. Adam hadn't taken a sip yet when there was another knock on the door. For a moment Adam wondered if it would be Noah, even though Noah wasn't much good at places other than the backseats of cars if Blue wasn't present. Then he wondered if Ronan had been stupid enough to leave Monmouth without telling Gansey, and if Gansey had come here in frantic search.
"Mr Parrish?" came the voice of Mrs Ramirez, the church officer.
"Aren't you the popular one tonight," Ronan drawled.
Adam shot him a look, abandoned his mug prudently on the table, and opened the door. "Yes?"
"I just ducked back into the office to pick up the volunteer roster, and I heard voices, thought I'd just--nice to check in on you from time to time--you do remember that you agreed not to have girls--oh, Mr Lynch," she said, as Adam let the door drift wider, trusting that Ronan would have hidden any incriminating evidence. "Hello." Her face softened, and then there was a furtive dart of the eyes to Adam and back which Adam assumed had something to do with the fact that Ronan Lynch, teller of the truth at all costs, had managed to persuade an almost-nun to lie for him so that Adam could afford to stay at Aglionby.
"Latin study," Adam said smoothly. "Ronan's a lot better at languages than I am," and there, that part wasn't even a lie.
Mrs Ramirez, having reassured herself that nothing untoward was happening, took herself and her hat and purse away again. Adam closed the door and seated himself on the floor, mixed drink in hand. He didn't have a couch. The scrap of Henrietta hospitality and the veneer of society manners both demanded that he leave Ronan his desk chair, but Ronan planted himself next to Adam on the floor as well.
"No girls," Ronan said. Adam wished he had a pen to throw at his smirk. "What a failure of imagination."
"She seems to like you," Adam said. "What do you do in that church every Sunday? Kiss babies?"
"Nothing a holy person likes better than a sinner," Ronan said. His teeth flashed again, white.
With difficulty, Adam stopped looking at Ronan's mouth. He took a long drink. He still drank very seldom, and could feel it affecting him even halfway down the mug. It took him almost a minute to realise that the swaying in his vision, the suggestion of dappling shadows on the walls, was not a result of the alcohol. The invisible trees whispered and hissed.
"Cabeswater?" Ronan said.
Adam looked at him, startled. Ronan had his head tilted, a small frown between his brows like he was doing a difficult translation in his head.
"It wants my attention," Adam said. "And yours, probably."
Ronan stopped frowning and looked around. Lifted his boot, where the silhouette of willow leaves was swaying, and stomped experimentally. "For what?"
"What do you think?"
Adam took another gulp from the mug. The bourbon was like the embers of something, almost burned to completion, scattered from throat to chest to stomach. It felt enough like courage that he leaned forward suddenly, and laid three of his fingers on Ronan's arm just above the wrist.
Every shadow in the room gave a jubilant shiver. Adam could have hooked his fingers through the leather ties, could have dragged Ronan towards him and crashed their mouths together. It would have been like gliding downhill.
Ronan's breath caught and Adam pulled his hand back. He drained his mug, avoiding Ronan's eyes.
Ronan said, "Is that all Cabeswater's got?" as though his tongue was thick in his mouth. "Another failure of imagination. I could dream it a thing or two."
"I've never. Done it before," Adam said suddenly.
"Neither have I," Ronan said. Like it was obvious. He must have seen something in Adam's expression, because he gave a short scoff of a laugh and said, "Seriously, Parrish, with whom?" landing on the last word with all the drawling sarcasm he employed in Latin class. Extending the middle finger, via grammar.
"Kavinsky," Adam said.
Ronan covered his face with a hand and laughed again, dark and guttural and muddy. "Jesus. No."
A small flame of fierce satisfaction glowed in Adam's chest, that Joseph fucking Kavinsky never got to see Ronan that way. Whatever it was that Ronan looked like. Would look like.
His hand itched and he rubbed it against his knee.
"Do you think that gives it extra power?" Ronan said. "There's a lot of that in mythology. Virgin sacrifices. Et cetera."
"I'm not asking Calla that," Adam said, horrified. "Or Persephone. Or Gansey."
Ronan found that even funnier. Adam set down his mug, stood and stretched his legs, then paced in the tiny space, light-headed and uncomfortable; this version of Ronan was new, and his laughter kept trying to creep into the gaps between Adam's ribs.
"Stop looking so tortured, Parrish," Ronan said finally. He stood as well, leaning against the wall. His knees clicked. "You heard her. There will be other ways to do it."
"But this is the easiest," Adam said. "Think about Glendower, about Gansey--"
Like a card flipped, sudden and absolute, the laughter left Ronan's face.
"You're just so willing to sacrifice yourself, aren't you?"
"That is not what I said."
"I don't think I want to fuck anyone who's just going to put up with it as a favour to Gansey," Ronan said. The word fuck was a tiny explosion at the base of Adam's neck. All the blood in Adam's body yearned daggers after the terrible brightness of Ronan's eyes.
"I wouldn't be just putting up with it," Adam said, low.
Ronan pushed away from the wall. The room was so small. Ronan's presence took up at least seven-tenths of it.
"You," he said, with venom. "Adam Parrish, who whined so much when Blue Sargent wouldn't kiss him. That's bullshit. You've never given this a thought."
"Stop it," Adam said. "Stop being so--" he waved a hand, meaning Ronan and also, unfairly, Aglionby "--and presuming that you know what I want, or what I've thought about. Because you don't."
Something predatory chased a flash of shock across Ronan's expression, caught it, and ate it alive. Ronan stepped closer.
"Really, you've thought about me that way? Don't try to play me, Parrish. It doesn't suit you."
Honesty pounded in Adam's throat. "I've seen the way you look at me. Of course I've thought about it."
Ronan's face darkened further in a way that Adam recognised as self-preservation.
"Yeah? About what, exactly?" He crowded further in, forward and forward until Adam was backed up and trapped with one of Ronan's hands flat on the wall beside his face. Adam had a mental image, very vivid, of Ronan's room with its swords leaning in corners and the raven cage with its door almost permanently ajar. The fingertips of Ronan's free hand were a spectre of sensation down the side of Adam's face, his neck. "Come on, scholarship boy." Ronan's voice was the color of Chainsaw's plumage, his face untrusting and brutally symmetrical and very, very close. He smelled like bourbon and leather and wet leaves. "Share with the class. Is this what you've thought about? What about this?"
Adam inhaled like the point of a knife; Ronan's leg had shoved its way between his. They were almost the same height, but the few pounds of muscle that Ronan had on him were abruptly significant. The wall was holding Adam's weight. Nobody had ever looked at him like this before. He had to try twice before he could swallow, and when he did, Ronan's eyes darted to his throat.
"Are you done?" Adam said. "This is a fun game, but it's pointless. I know you're trying to cut me deeply enough that my inner homophobe falls out, but it's not there. You're not going to scare me off, Ronan. We're friends."
"Are we?" Ronan growled.
Just enough fear seeped through the cracks of his voice that Adam had a short, contained moment of anger against whatever or whomever had taught Ronan to play this game.
"Yes," he said. He took hold of Ronan's wrist beside his head, loosely; let his arm dangle there as though from a loop on the bus. Cabeswater went tidal and exuberant inside him at the renewed physical contact, and Ronan's pupils crept outwards like oil spills. Adam ignored both of them. "Of course we are. Look, I don't think either of us was ever cut out to be a good friend, or an easy one. But we've had a very good teacher."
A real smile, or part of one, appeared at the side of Ronan's mouth.
"You ever wonder what you'd be without him?" Ronan said.
"Yes," Adam said. "I don't like it."
"I wonder sometimes," Ronan said, "if I'd be dead."
Adam didn't break eye contact. "So do I," he said, very soft. Truth.
And then Ronan was leaning even closer, playing a new game or else picking up the old one again, blatantly signalling intent, and Adam couldn't think properly. Blissful gossipy magic was hammering through his veins.
"Wait," he said. Then, "No, just--wait," and tightened his grip around Ronan's wrist, holding him in place, when Ronan's face went darkly injured and triumphant, thinking that he'd finally cut deep enough to prove himself right and Adam a liar.
This was something that Blue had told Adam about, and maybe they weren't the same kind of battery, but Adam thought it was worth a shot. He closed his eyes and imagined a bubble of glass, or something stronger, cutting himself off from the golden thread of awareness that was Cabeswater, always singing and prodding. Not forever; I'm not backing out. I'm still yours. But a shield, a barrier, just for the time being. He focused with all his might.
When he opened his eyes again, the room was normal. His blood was quiet. His good ear could hear nothing but their breathing. Ronan was blinking rapidly, his eyelashes a distracting line of shadow.
"What did you do?" Ronan demanded.
"Told Cabeswater to fuck off," Adam said, bold with success. "This is you, and me. Believe me or don't. I'm done proving myself."
He released Ronan's arm. Ronan's blinking slowed.
Ronan peeled his hand off the wall and moved it to the side of Adam's neck, his thumb at the hinge of Adam's jaw. Adam's lips were dry with steady awareness. It felt different to wanting to kiss Blue: not more, not less, just different.
"Adam," Ronan said, a warning, and Adam leaned forward and touched their mouths together.
Skydiving, Adam thought. Leap out. Grab hold.
Ronan's lips moved on his immediately, warm and exploratory. But the kiss stayed where Adam had began it, soft and light, as though they'd agreed silently between them not to do anything frightening. So this is it, Adam thought. The moment felt like it should be larger, but also felt too huge to wrap his head around. It felt awkward and it felt easy. Ronan's hand settled and curled around Adam's neck, holding him in place to be kissed; Adam rested his own hands on Ronan's hips, where Ronan's untidy shirt spilled over the familiar texture of their school uniform pants. Adam was coming slowly alive, in a very human way. He could feel the faint scratch of Ronan's stubble on his face, the intimate heat of his breath. He couldn't taste anything but bourbon and Coke. He wanted Ronan's leg to move.
Ronan made a rough sound and deepened the kiss for a few seconds that sent something giddy through Adam's chest, before pulling fully away. He took two steps backwards, nearly tripping over Adam's desk chair.
Adam bit his wet lip against words that would probably be I told you so. He didn't think that would go over well.
"Right," Ronan said. He looked shattered, and hesitant, but his voice was as offhand as ever. Somehow Adam had thought it would be the other way around. "This ritual. Are we considering it?"
That pronoun again. Adam inhaled it, tried it out in his own mouth. He nodded, slowly.
"We're considering it."
"Could you do anywhere else?" Blue asked. "I'm sure this is lovely, but we can all come to Cabeswater in person, if we want to. Dream us somewhere new. I'd like to see the Grand Canyon, how about you?"
"No," Ronan said. "We're all here. That's the bargain."
"Not all," Blue said pointedly. She snapped the stem of another daisy with her nails.
"Ghosts don't dream, maggot."
It had taken some planning around Adam’s disastrous sleeping schedule, but they’d managed to organise this dream like any other social activity. They’d set a time for everyone to be in bed, so as to avoid any further episodes of what Gansey called imposed narcolepsy. It was Ronan's job to pull the dream into being, and Adam's to provide the focus so that they could hook Gansey and Blue into the loop, gathering them together.
It was easy, in the end.
"No, Jane, this is where we're supposed to be," Gansey said. He kept rising onto his toes, brimming with excitement. It made him look on the younger end of his usual spectrum from grinning boy to ancient wonder. "This is why the increase in power is important, why we need to be able to do this. Don't you see? If the easiest entrance to Glendower's resting place is here in Cabeswater--the real Cabeswater--then we can use the dream version as a flight simulator."
"You’re going to have to spell that one out," said Blue.
"Somewhere to get things wrong, without actually crashing into a mountain and going up in flames," Gansey said cheerfully. "And somewhere we can cheat. If we get stuck because we need more rope, Ronan can dream us more rope. If it turns out we're going to need something that doesn't exist in the real world, Ronan can bring it back. And I'll take notes," Gansey finished. His eyes were shining with researcher’s glee. "Lynch, come here, I want to try something."
Adam wandered closer to where Blue was sitting against a fallen log. She looked charmingly wild, with her hair for once not clipped back in a hundred tufts. He wondered if that was her own doing, or Ronan’s, or his own. Responsibility was hard to pin down here.
"Flight simulators don’t sound very mythological," he said.
"Neither are EMP meters or private helicopters," Blue pointed out. There was a hint of bitterness there, which gave Adam a clue as to why she was sitting apart instead of hovering close in Gansey’s orbit. Adam could attest to Gansey’s skill at starting arguments with an offhand remark and maintaining them through obtuseness.
Blue was making a dense and complicated daisy crown. At first this seemed an oddly un-Blue activity, but then Adam remembered the scraps and collages on her bedroom wall, the way she never wore a piece of clothing that she hadn't altered in some way.
The patch of daisies by her right hand had probably appeared expressly for this purpose. With Blue’s battery self in the mix as well as Adam playing lens, everything was brighter and more vivid in the dream version of Cabeswater, as though it was putting on a show for them. The atmosphere was clear and mild, the sky unclouded, which Adam put down to there being two whole extra people present to balance out Cabeswater's increasing stormy pointedness around himself and Ronan. It made it feel safer. Adam sat atop the log and watched Ronan, who was leaning against a tree while Gansey crouched near the entrance to the cavern and gesticulated with a flashlight.
Adam was good at keeping the parts of his life in their boxes. He'd learned to focus. He wasn't like Gansey, who at school seemed able to devote half of his mind to Glendower plans and daydreams and still answer questions when called upon. To be as good as he needed to be, to keep his head above water when most of the hours of his week were so tightly scheduled and spoken for, Adam had to compartmentalise. When he was doing his homework, that's what he was doing. At work, his attention was on his work; a reputation for diligence kept him employed. At school, he focused on what he was learning.
So even though Adam now knew how it felt to kiss Ronan, to have Ronan's body pressed against his, for the most part he kept that knowledge stowed away, lest it spread like a vine and wrap itself around his thoughts at a time when he couldn't afford them to weaken. But here, in this lazy fairweather dream, he could let it out and consider it.
Now Adam's eyes could steal upwards from Ronan's feet, bare--they often were, in these dreams--and mostly hidden by the slouching cuffs of his jeans. Ronan's legs and waist and the glimpse of ink on the back of his shoulder and neck where the cutaway line of his tank top left them exposed. Ronan's cheekbones carving a shadow on his face that Adam's mouth was curious about.
Ronan was the one thing in Adam's life that didn't want to stay in his box. That box's label had never been clear, its walls had never been particularly strong, and they were dissolving entirely since that night in Adam's apartment.
Ronan shifted and rubbed his shoulder as though at a biting insect, and glanced over to meet Adam's eyes. Adam's skin was hot. He looked away, annoyed at himself; dream-Cabeswater might be quiescent, but it was still listening.
Adam's guilt said, "Why isn't anyone pestering Ronan about how keen he is for this ritual?"
"I think Gansey probably has," Blue said, and Adam felt even more like an asshole. "But you mean, is the way he feels about you obvious to anyone else."
Adam went very still. Hearing it from her mouth made it strange and real. He nodded.
"Noah told me," Blue said.
"What happened to good with secrets?"
"Ronan didn't tell him," she said. "Noah noticed. He notices a lot."
"Still, it's not a direct leap," Adam said. "From feelings, to being willing to do--that."
"I think for Ronan, the feelings are the leap."
Adam looked down at her. She was narrow-eyed and thoughtful in the gentle light, with her fear simmering away beneath the surface. "Okay, when did you get so wise?"
"I absorbed it from the psychic aether," Blue said solemnly. "Like a sponge."
"Do you think," Adam said. He paused and arranged his thoughts. He said, uneasy, "Do you think people can really be destined for one another? Fate chooses your true love and you just slide down the path?"
Blue's hands stilled. The crown in her lap was almost complete.
She looked at Gansey.
As pastimes went, it was one that they all shared. But Adam saw Blue's particular brand of looking for what it was, and in the next instant he realised that the hot worm of recognition and jealousy he felt was no longer personal. It wasn't about her. It was more for the feeling, for the suggestion of certainty and exclusivity.
"I think it's a lot more complicated than that," she said. "And man, I really wish I thought differently. But...yes."
Adam sat cross-legged on his bed and ignored the irritated rattle coming from the pipes in his bathroom. It was just the hot water system playing up. Yes. This was an old building.
Adam shuffled the pack of tarot cards, letting the familiar motion soothe him. What do I want, he thought. This isn't for you. This is for me.
The rattling stopped. As he shuffled, Cabeswater tried a new tactic and created a shadowplay on the opposite wall. A king was crowned. A battle raged. A boat drifted in a straight line, and its sails became the wings of a raven, and the sun rose and set and rose again. Two figures reached for one another, then merged into one figure, then merged into an arched gateway.
Adam didn't erect the bubble all the way, this time. But if he concentrated, he could make Cabeswater fade into a dim and distant awareness, just a trickle of magic remaining inside him, just enough that one card burned at Adam's fingertips. He pulled it out and laid it down, face up.
Adam glared at the card. The Knight of Pentacles was unmoved by his annoyance.
"I see you've decided to give up on subtlety altogether," Adam said.
"Parrish. This was dropped off for you."
Adam took the paper bag with a wary nod. John shrugged on his coat and said, "Don't forget to lock up when you leave," which he said every time, even though Adam had never forgotten.
"I won't," Adam said.
Then he was alone in the repair shop with the evening air drifting in through the open roller door, the familiar shadows cast by the light bulbs in the ceiling, the friendly and silent hulks of the cars. He looked down at the bag.
GOT THESE FOR YOU PARRISH, was written on it in Ronan's spiky handwriting.
It felt like it meant something, that Ronan had left it here instead of giving it to him at school or breaking into his car or coming to the little apartment above the church office. Adam uncrumpled the top of the bag and tipped its contents onto a workbench.
There was another unmarked pot of hand cream, just like the one that was sitting, nearly empty, on Adam's basin at home. When Adam tested it on the back of his hand, the texture was the same, but instead of the bland chemical-nothing smell, this version had a scent that was plant-like. Not floral. The fresh smell of trampled grass.
The largest item in the bag was circular and white. At first Adam wondered if Ronan had stolen his mug, thief that he was, and was now returning it, but no: Ronan had stolen from his dreams the long-lost other half of the set, identical down to the weathered-through-washing design. If Adam set this mug on his shelf snug up against its twin, the awful pink heart would be complete.
Inside the mug was a strip of what turned out to be condoms, each with a single raven stamped onto the packaging.
A small thrill went through Adam. And then he found himself laughing, sudden and pleased, alone with the absurdity of Ronan's gifts. Gansey had taught them how to be friends, but Adam suspected that this was something that was uniquely Ronan: actions and objects in place of verbal communication. There was a chronically fractured part of Adam that would always cling, fierce and helpless, to the value of that. None of his father's words had ever mattered as much as the point where they gave out and he lifted his fists instead.
Adam trusted almost nothing, but he trusted what a person did, when words failed them. That was truth.
Like in a Cabeswater dream, the thought of Gansey seemed to be enough to summon him. As Adam put everything back in the paper bag and tucked it into his backpack, he could hear the familiar growl of the Pig's engine, grumbling through gear shifts, and he lifted an arm to shade his eyes from the flirtatious flash of headlights as Gansey parked.
"Couldn't focus, felt like company," Gansey said, when he emerged from the car. He had his notebook in his hand. "Do you mind?"
"Something wrong with Monmouth's kitchen?" Adam said, before he could find the energy to be nice. It was always harder at the end of the day; it was why he was glad to have this job. Machines didn't mind that you were a little bit cruel, a little bit strange.
Gansey's mouth twisted. "I wanted to be somewhere else."
Adam couldn't argue with that. He said, "Make yourself at home," and found Gansey a stool. Gansey sat on it with one knee drawn up, hovering on the border between the artificial light and the falling dark, his face handsome and sleepy above a red college hoodie that Adam thought he might have stolen from Helen. He read and reread and annotated his own notes while Adam worked.
"I read something," Gansey said abruptly, after half an hour of occupied silence. "Actually, I translated it. My Welsh is still terrible, it took ages, but I think it's related to the Cabeswater-Greywaren thing."
Adam straightened up with a pained expression. Gansey, for his part, looked unapologetic.
"I told you I'd do more reading."
"You'll always do more reading," Adam said, manners slipping again.
"Do you want to hear about it or not?"
Adam sighed. "Go on."
"I've told you about the precedent for Ronan's powers, in some of the poetry and stories written about Owen Glendower's court. Though obviously they call it something different and most people interpret the manifestation of dreams as a metaphor: if you want something enough, you can make it come true, that sort of thing. What I found was an extra bit. Most versions of the narrative don't have it, so most scholars assume it's one bard's fanciful embellishment. It said that most dreamers were set apart by their gifts, but sometimes the--okay, eventually I decided the word was wellspring--of the dreamer's power would enter a second person, who would then become the dreamer's consort. Or possibly it would enter them because that's what they already were? That part wasn't quite clear. I asked Malory and he was very rude about the syntax. But it fits with what Calla and Jane said about the nature of the relationship, doesn't it?"
Oration delivered, Gansey lowered his notebook to his lap, and looked hopeful.
Adam was still stuck on, "Consort?"
"That's the best translation," Gansey said. "Malory suggested it was a more neutral noun and closer in meaning to spouse, but--"
Adam leaned his forehead against the metal edge of the open car hood and closed his eyes. "Stop talking before you manage to tell me that this is some kind of magical arranged marriage."
"Oh, God." Gansey sounded appalled, but when Adam opened his eyes again, he was gazing at his notebook and chewing his lip as though he was about to start a sentence with, well, actually...
"No," Adam said, pointing a rag at him. "I said stop."
"I'm attempting to be academic about it," Gansey said. "It helps. I'll be honest, I'm finding this whole thing more than a little weird."
"You're finding it weird," Adam said.
Gansey laughed, then sobered. "This is my quest. I involved all of you in it."
"Hey," Adam said sharply. "Don't be insulting. None of us were press-ganged. It's our quest too, now. And I remember us not talking for a while because you were so angry I'd gone and offered myself to Cabeswater, on my own, by my choice. Nobody else's."
"Would you have done it if you'd known what would happen?" Gansey asked. He didn't sound angry.
Adam wiped oil from his hands and thought about turning on the spot and gazing forward into the future. If he'd been able to see like this on the night he made the bargain, if he could have shaded his eyes and seen himself, set apart and yet somehow more enmeshed than ever, seen the things that he would be able to do and seen the things that would be asked of him...then what?
"I don't know," he said honestly. "But I'm not sorry."
Gansey said, "I mean, I know Ronan's--" and Adam nodded; they'd all known that Ronan was, he suspected, even if they'd never spoken about it. "But what about you?"
Adam was not having another conversation about his personal position on the Kinsey scale. He'd already convinced the one person who needed to know. He thought again about what Calla had implied and Blue had stated outright. If it's the right person, you'll end up with more than when you started.
Even if it did nothing for the leyline at all, Adam couldn't imagine doing this and feeling like he'd lost anything. He thought about Ronan's gifts: the way they were exactly what Adam needed, no more and no less, and for once given to such a scale and in such a way that there was no insult attached.
"Shit," Gansey breathed, staring at Adam's face. He gave the best of his smiles, the one that was leonine and princely despite itself instead of on purpose. It was tinged with something that Adam thought might be envy. "Wow. Shit."
"It's not," Adam said, and stopped
"Are you sure?" Gansey said.
Adam's heart refused to do backflips. Refused to explode in his chest.
"No," he said.
"Snake boy," Persephone greeted them. "Magician."
"We want to talk to you and Calla," said Adam.
"Calla's making mimosas," said--was it Jimi? Adam didn't see her around the house as often. She whirled through the front door, dropping a breezy kiss at the insubstantial edge of Persephone's cloud of hair. "If you hurry there might be some left."
Persephone let them in. Calla was, indeed, pouring juice with one hand and picking over a set of what looked like runes carved into bone with the other.
"Blue's right. This house is turning into a real murder of ravens," she said.
"That's crows," Ronan said.
Calla shrugged. "Seemed appropriately turbulent." She handed a glass to Persephone and the two women stood there, unhurried and comfortable with the silence, sipping and gazing at them. Adam felt very teenage boy in comparison to them, when he spent most of his time at school feeling more witchy than everyone else. He leaned an inch to the right, experimental, and was gladder than he'd realised he would be when Ronan's shoulder was there, solid against his.
"Unkindness," Persephone said softly. "Ravens."
"If we were going to do this," Adam said. "What would we need to know?"
The car drew to a halt at the edge of the field that led to Cabeswater. Adam's pulse was starting to make itself heard in his ears, and his palms slid against one another.
Not even the combined knowledge of Gansey and 300 Fox Way could tell them if it'd make a difference to do this in the dream version of the place. But Adam was determined that it was going to be them, awake and in person. Stubbornly he was holding on to the fact that this wasn't just ritual, wasn't just the Greywaren and the Cabeswater creating energy between them. It was a very human act that involved actual human bodies, and Adam was eighteen years old and made of longing. This was his action, his choice. He was taking it in both hands.
Ronan cut the engine of the BMW. Adam took a deep breath.
"Are you sure?" he said.
Because everyone, Adam included, had been doing a fair bit of assuming. Ronan wasn't the type to go idly along with a plan he didn't agree with, but given the amount of pressures and purposes and motives here, Adam had some fidgety doubt gnawing at his gut. Maybe he should have spoken up earlier, but this was who he was: he stranded himself at the edge of difficult conversations so he couldn’t run away. It was time to silence that doubt before moving on.
"Do you need me to fake cold feet, Parrish?"
Adam gave him a level look. "I need to know that you're sure."
Ronan gave him a glance in return that Adam couldn't interpret, then climbed out of the car. By the time Adam followed suit, Ronan had walked around to the passenger side.
"Shut it off again," Ronan ordered. "Like you did before."
It was difficult to close them off entirely, so close to Cabeswater's borders, but the ley line's power was also so easy to draw on here, like a fish plucked from a stream. Adam held his breath and concentrated, and the glassy barrier fell between Adam and his magic, between the two of them and Cabeswater’s whispers.
He'd barely finished when Ronan stepped close, his hands at Adam's hips, pushing gently until Adam's back was against the car door.
"Ronan," Adam said.
"Before this gets all--magical." Ronan's eyes darted to the field and back, almost uncomfortable. "I want something for us. Just us."
Adam leaned back against the not-quite-warm metal and glass of the BMW. It could have been another test, another attempt to shake Adam's boundaries. It didn't feel like it. It felt like exactly what Ronan said it was, and it made a smile flick at both corners of Adam's mouth.
"Good," he said, and put a hand in the small of Ronan's back.
He was expecting a kiss, would have opened himself easily to a kiss. Instead Ronan put his hands on the car on either side of Adam, then leaned in with his head dropped and angled, and sucked gently at a spot on the side of Adam’s neck. Adam shivered and touched the back of Ronan’s head with his other hand. His shaved-close scalp was both smooth and bristling, the shape of his skull filling Adam’s palm. Adam found the words antler velvet in his mind.
"Tell me something," Ronan said, a low hot murmur into skin. "Tell me what Adam Parrish has thought about. Tell me you’ve jerked off thinking about this."
Adam’s body shuddered from toes to forehead. He felt cloudy. "Tell me what it is about me that you want."
Ronan nosed at his pulse, left a slow kiss beneath Adam’s jaw. "It was my fucking question."
"And I want you to answer first."
Ronan went still, the echo washing over both of them. He lifted his head. There was still some mockery in his face; he wouldn’t have looked like Ronan without it. Ronan touched the side of his thumb to Adam’s cheekbone, tracing a straight line.
"Here," he said, rough. Then the same thumb, where Adam’s collarbone branched off from the top of his sternum. "Here. And here," along the tendons of Adam’s forearm, elbow to wrist. Invisible heat followed skittering along the places he touched.
It was so Ronan an answer that it hurt. More action than words, and so carefully and sharply sweet, so full of understated yearning, that Adam’s own words stuck in his throat. He felt shaken and desirable. Desired.
Very daring, Adam moved his hands to the back pockets of Ronan’s jeans and tugged him closer, gasping at the first nudge of Ronan’s dick against his. Ronan was sucking at that spot on his neck again, his mouth like a branding iron.
"Yes," Adam said. He closed his eyes; that helped. "Yes, I jerked off. I wondered--I couldn’t properly imagine it, you. Jesus, I thought it’d be like trying to fuck an electrical storm."
Ronan let out a groan and Adam felt the stinging scrape of teeth.
"I wanted--oh, fuck, Ronan," Adam said, "fuck," and part of him was trying to work out if the collar of his Aglionby shirt even came this high, or if the mark of Ronan's mouth would be there for everyone to see. It was a timid part of him, and swiftly drowned out by the way his legs were going weak and his hips wanted to shove forwards and his skin seemed sensitive to even the finest textures of Ronan's tongue.
After half an age, Ronan pulled back. He touched his thumb to the now-tender spot on Adam's neck with a dark smile. Both of them were breathing hard.
"There," Ronan said. "That's mine."
A wave of lust like heat from an opened oven washed over Adam. He dropped the barrier, plugging himself back in to Cabeswater; he was half surprised to find it had stayed up through all of that.
"We should get going," he said. They were here for a purpose. He wasn’t going to have sex with Ronan Lynch up against a ludicrously expensive car, where anyone could drive past and see, no matter how much appalled and shameful arousal was raging through him at the very idea.
Ronan gave a short nod, and they set off across the field.
Cabeswater was waiting for them. They stepped from a fair afternoon with a hint of breeze into a boiling inkpot of a day, deep charcoal clouds hanging in the sky like bunches of grapes. The wind whipped around them, and there was a thinness and a charge to the air. It was a liminal moment: the one just before the first drops of rain fall. The moment in between the lightning and the thunder. It had been poised there, waiting.
Adam fumbled for his shoes and socks. As soon as his bare feet touched the grass, Cabeswater grabbed hold of him in a coiling snake of power, up his ankles and his knees and his hips and then a bolt straight up his spine, leaving him gasping. His hands throbbed with it. The power kept pouring in. In another moment there would be no room for Adam's breath alongside it. He needed to be earthed, and quickly.
He turned unsteadily to Ronan, whose eyes widened at whatever he saw.
"Fuck," Ronan said, harsh in the way he was when he was trying not to show that he was awed. "Jesus, Mary and Joseph."
Adam could taste the songlines in his mouth. His heart was filled with something lighter than air and twice as flammable. His lips burned with challenge.
"Come on, Lynch," he said. "Greywaren. Ronan. Come on."
Ronan put his shaking hands at either side of Adam's face and there was a sound like the world's largest branch being snapped in half, thunder shouting high and distant.
Ronan kissed him and it began, finally, to rain.
In the vast fabric of time are these worn-thin pieces, where one might almost step through into another universe. A piece of time is one mountain in a range: any climber will tell you that there are endless paths to reach the top. You can climb the same one a hundred times and always have a slightly different view.
Use the time given to you, then turn it upside-down and use it anew.
There was water running down into Adam's eyes from his soaked hair. He lifted one arm to wipe it away, but ended up laughing; everything was just as wet as everything else. He sat back, resting his weight on Ronan's hips, enjoying the powerful roll of Ronan's torso beneath him that was half-protest, half-tease as it pushed the bulge of Ronan's dick up against his own. Both of them were shirtless but they'd gotten distracted before anyone's pants could come off.
Distracted; more like deranged, Adam thought, balancing his hands on Ronan's chest. He tried to remember why breathing was important.
Lightning silhouetted Ronan more vividly against the grass, like a photo negative. Adam waited for the thunder. The heart of the storm was getting closer.
"Come here," Ronan growled, with another restless jerk of his hips that made all of Adam's thigh muscles clench.
Adam laughed again; it sounded a little strange, a little cruel, the rawest part of himself.
Water fell onto him like friendly fingers. He was everywhere at once, he was the ley line surging beneath them.
"Hey," Ronan said more sharply, "Adam."
There was a bright pain. Ronan had pinched and twisted the skin of Adam’s leg through his jeans. With effort, Adam said, "Yes--yes," and found something to focus on until he remembered where the boundaries of his skin were.
"Thanks," he said, when he was steadied. He remained gazing down at Ronan's blue and black creek-pebble eyes.
The moment hung, suspended. Adam could hear the pounding of rain and the pounding of his blood, one sound and the same. Here they were, magician and dreamer, sacrifice and thief. They had never been here before. They had been here a hundred times already.
Adam Parrish leaned down and kissed Ronan Lynch with all the mundane hunger of a teenage boy whose desire was expanding like a young universe inside his skin.
Ronan's hand slid up his spine, cupped his head for a moment, slid down again. Adam took Ronan's lower lip between his own, and forgot to be gentle when Ronan's fingers dipped below the waistband of his sodden jeans.
"Shit," Ronan hissed.
Adam pulled away enough to watch, enthralled, as Ronan rolled his lip into his mouth and winced. The single drop of blood welling there would soon thin out, diluted by the constant splash of rain, but for the moment Adam was Ronan's shelter.
The wince became a dangerous smirk almost at once. "Always knew you had claws to you, Parrish."
"I'll show you claws," Adam said, light-headed with want.
He leaned down and kissed Ronan again, savage and lingering, tasting salt. Adam could have stayed here forever, his whole body tight with arousal from the shove of his aching dick against the wet denim and Ronan's pressing up from beneath, endlessly tasting Ronan's mouth and blood and skin. But Cabeswater's power kept nudging up through Adam's bare toes, buried as they were in the grass on either side of Ronan's knees, pushing him to keep going.
The urgency flooded through him and transmitted itself. One moment Ronan had a strong arm around Adam's waist and one leg bent up, and the next instant he was rolling them to the side; Adam went with a half-surprised huff as his breath was knocked briefly out of him. It turned to a gasp as Ronan's mouth fastened over one of his nipples and Ronan, with his thieving hands, traced a path down Adam's stomach and started to unbutton Adam's fly.
"Fuck, oh," and Adam was clawing, now, at Ronan's slippery shoulders.
Ronan pulled Adam's pants and underwear down together, working it down over Adam's knees and impatiently off one ankle and then the other. Adam was naked beneath the inky clouds, the hammering rain. He had to gulp in air, snorting a bit around the water running into his nose, as Cabeswater's magic discovered that it had the whole expanse of his skin to use as conduit now.
Kneeling by Adam's feet, Ronan tossed the damp clump of fabric aside, and stared. For the first time in a while Adam felt uncertain, almost shy, under Ronan's devouring gaze. But he didn't have time to feel shy for long. Ronan shucked off his own clothes with more speed than grace. And then he was above Adam, he was wrapping his spidery hands around Adam's forearms--elbow to wrist, here--pressing Adam's arms down into the grass on either side.
A logical part of Adam knew that having sex on a forest floor in a rainstorm should not be this pleasant: there should be muddy leaves, and squelching moss, and twigs and pebbles digging into their bodies. But Cabeswater was playing along. Adam was lying flush on a clear bed of grass so young and thick and tender he almost couldn't imagine anything better. The rain was just cool enough that the contrast of Ronan's body heat, in the places they touched, was driving him crazy.
Here he was on the surface of the planet, and Ronan was the force holding him down.
"Snake," Adam said, with a breathless grin.
And Ronan grinned back. It was sudden and searing and incredible. It transformed him for that instant from a sullenly handsome boy into something darkly and almost unbearably beautiful, like a church window with candles behind it.
Adam's pulse was hammering in helpless worship against Ronan's palms. It sped up even further when Ronan fitted their hips together, skin shockingly against skin, such that Adam felt he would run out of blood before this finished.
"I'm not," Adam gasped, "Ronan, this isn't--God, God, I'm--"
"Yeah, well, fuck drawing it out," Ronan said, with a crack in his voice like damaged glass. "Cabeswater can just--" and instead of finishing his sentence he set his mouth to Adam's neck again--there was a throb of pain as he found the mark he'd left there before--and then moved down, tonguing at the rainwater in the hollow of Adam's throat.
When Ronan released one of his arms, Adam wrapped it immediately around Ronan's tattooed shoulders. He had one of his legs slung up around Ronan's hips now, trying to improve the angle; Ronan was grinding down against him and fumbling with his hand, finally getting them lined up. Adam couldn't help craning his neck awkwardly to look. His mouth went dry and his vision almost whited out at the sight of Ronan's dick, dark and blood-hot, sliding up against his paler one.
"Adam, fuck, fuck," and Ronan was bracing himself on one arm, and his fingers kept slipping as he gripped them both, kissing messy and off-centre like he was too far gone to find Adam's mouth.
Adam felt it in his own dick when Ronan came. A sudden bunching of Ronan's back muscles under Adam's hand, a shivering, and then a vague warmth spilling onto Adam's skin as Ronan buried curses and a groan in the flesh of Adam's shoulder. Next time, Adam told himself, he was going to make sure to see Ronan's face. That was something he wanted very badly.
Ronan kissed Adam's ear, the top of his cheekbone, the side of his lips. Clumsy and fervent with his wonderful mouth. "Are you, did you--"
Adam was a rope pulled tight; a glowing rock was lodged in his spine. He was harder than he'd ever been and it was going to take almost nothing to push him over the edge, but he needed--
"Please," he panted, "fuck, Ronan, please."
It was Ronan's hand around Adam alone now, almost too tight, tighter than Adam would have done for himself. Ronan had barely given a single stroke before Adam yelled, hoarse and shocked--even as it came from his throat, it seemed more sound than a single human being should be able to make--and he was coming in a shuddering rush and everything was shaking: Ronan, the ground, the thunder, Adam himself.
When the orgasm finally juddered and faded away, Adam's limbs felt jellyish. Ronan rolled off him and they lay, breathing, side by side. The rain was still steady but had eased off to a lighter sprinkling. It should have been cold, but it wasn't; it was just refreshing. Adam could see tiny rivulets on his chest and stomach shivering with the pounding of his pulse. He could feel the gentle scrape of the leather ties where Ronan’s wrist was touching his own arm.
After a moment Ronan made a wordless, curious noise, and prodded Adam until he followed Ronan's gaze to the slab of flat rock at the edge of the clearing. The slender and blackly forbidding entrance to the underground cavern was now a wide and gently sloping opening, as though a giant hand had levered it open.
"I think that was you, magician," Ronan said. "Lighting strike. When you, you know."
"Huh," Adam said. His brain was still coming back online.
"You were saying about electrical storms," Ronan said, and Adam laughed, helpless and breathless, flat on his back.
"So," Ronan said after a moment. When Adam looked at him, Ronan had a wicked angle to his lips. "Was it everything you hoped your wedding night would be?"
"Oh, Jesus," Adam said, covering his face with his hand. "I'm going to murder Gansey."
"Stop clutching your pearls, Parrish. I doubt it's legally binding in the state of West Virginia."
Adam reached out without looking to try and hit him, but Ronan caught his hand. Ronan's tongue slipped over his knuckles, an open-mouthed kiss, and Adam blindly traced the corner of Ronan's mouth with his fingers before taking his hand back. He stared up at the tree branches, strangely outlined against the clouds.
"I'm not tired," he said suddenly.
Ronan snorted. "You want me to try harder?"
"No, I mean--" But Adam honestly couldn't explain how he had become so used to the weight of fatigue like a layer of lead dust. How weird it was to feel properly awake, to feel that when he inhaled it painlessly filled his whole chest.
The light rain was soothing, cleansing. Adam ran his fingers across his own abdomen and felt the stickiness there washing away. He flushed with memory.
"You know, I actually bought those damn raven condoms with me," he said. "In my jeans pocket. And lube."
"Ambitious," Ronan drawled.
"Just in case," Adam said, obscurely embarrassed. "I didn't know what to expect."
"The day's young yet," Ronan said. "Or whatever this is. It's young, and so are we. Give me a minute. Next time I want to try sucking you off."
"God. Yes." Adam rolled towards him, put his mouth to the edge of Ronan's tattoo and lapped at the inked skin, then worked his way up to Ronan's lips, which parted for him. He felt like he could take lazy kisses from Ronan's mouth until Owen Glendower himself walked out of the earth.
Adam was sated and stirring and awake, awake, awake.
He said, "Do you think this is what destiny feels like?"
"You know what," Ronan said, in his black-feathered voice, "I don't give a fuck."
"No," Adam said, smiling. "Me neither."