Adam was surprised at how often Ronan visited him at St. Agnes. He shouldn’t have been, really; it was Ronan’s church, and Ronan had always wandered at nights.
Adam was largely glad that something about Kavinsky’s death had knocked some sense into Ronan: he wasn’t doing whatever he’d been on, he was drinking less. If he still went racing, Adam didn’t know about it. If Adam had Ronan dropping by on transparently manufactured pretexts a few times a week, he considered it a fair trade.
At first, Adam genuinely believed Ronan was stopping by for real reasons. Ronan arrived with tasks for Gansey: snippets of research for Adam to confirm with his cards. Or he arrived with a bag of snack food for Adam to eat as Ronan drove him to work. Or he complained about the line as the Greywaren, set Adam tasks for Cabeswater.
He dreamed at St. Agnes’, too. Adam wasn’t interested in burying another body for him, and told him so; Ronan sneered and continued flinging himself onto the floor with his leather jacket spread over his chest, and something balled up under his head for a pillow. Like he couldn’t stand to touch Adam’s scratchy sheets or staticky blankets.
Adam would set himself to work, facing his desk and the blank wall. After a while — if Ronan was making noises, or if he’d finished his work — he’d scrape his chair over the floorboards, turning his chair around to see.
More often than not, Ronan would go tremblingly still and then rouse with something in his hands, shove whatever mysterious thing he’d created into his pockets and lope to the bathroom. Sometimes he’d emerge with fine scratches visible on his arms, or new rips in his shirt. Sometimes he’d toss a dream object at Adam before heading back to the Barns, or to Monmouth, or to wherever else Ronan went at night.
Adam kept Ronan’s dreams, lined them up on his windowsill or across the back of his desk or used them or broke them. Ronan never seemed to notice them after the fact, or ask after them, or complain when they disappeared.
A lightbulb for his desk lamp that glowed a soft orange instead of harsh white. A flower that smelled like cigarette smoke and fresh-cut grass, which Adam kept inside his pillowcase until it withered. A hunk of sparkling crystal that refracted moonlight; Adam kept it on the windowsill by his bed, so he could watch the lights shifting on the wall, until he accidentally knocked it out of the window one night in his sleep.
One night Ronan arrived with both hands full: one with plastic bags full of takeout, the other holding onto the top of a milkshake cup, the straw jutting up between his fingers. He’d leaned against the door, trying to elbow it open, until Adam finally let him in, after which he dumped both bags on top of Adam’s homework and made himself comfortable in Adam’s bed.
Adam tried not to think about Ronan’s handsome angularity against his rumpled sheets. He always looked the same way he fit into Cabeswater, wild and magical. Somehow, he nearly made Adam, his apartment, feel the same way, instead of throwing their shabbiness into sharp relief.
“Help yourself,” Ronan said, as if there was any chance Adam would.
“Gansey’s busy,” Ronan said, as Adam moved the food from the outline he'd been working on to the floor. “Babysitting Malory. But he wanted to know if you’d found anything about those red-handed bitches with your cards, or whatever.”
“That’s not how it works,” Adam said. “I can keep looking, but I don’t think I’m going to find anything like that.”
“And don’t say bitch,” Adam added, mostly out of loyalty. He didn’t really care about Ronan’s language, but: “Blue’s going to kick your ass.”
Ronan rolled his eyes and slurped noisily at his milkshake. “Anyway,” Adam said. “I’m busy. And your food’s going to get cold.”
Ronan stayed while Adam worked, as he sometimes did, but he didn’t sleep. Adam tried to ignore him, and mostly succeeded. He didn’t like the thought of someone at his back, while he was facing a wall.
It wasn’t awful. He knew it was Ronan, and Ronan’s occasional shuffling squeaks and noisy sighs and loud yawns had become part of his auditory repertoire. He was used to them.
But he still didn’t like it.
The phone rang, and Adam startled badly. He rarely received calls. It was Gansey.
“I’m sorry to call,” Gansey said. “But I was fairly sure you didn’t have work tonight and you said you would be home working on Milo’s essay —”
“What is it, Gansey,” Adam said, still eyeing Ronan where he was sitting on the bed, thumbing over his wristbands. His hands stopped moving.
“I was wondering if you’d seen Ronan,” Gansey said, apologetic, worry banked in his presidential voice. “He’s been out at the Barns a lot lately, nights, you know, dreaming. But he said he’d pick up dinner and then never came home.”
“He’s right here,” Adam said. “You want me to put him on?”
Ronan’s neck was bowed. His head had been shaved recently, enough that Adam could see the skin. His ears stuck out, a little. Adam dared Ronan to look up at him.
“No,” Gansey said, after a long pause. “No, that’s alright. I’ll leave you to it. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Adam hung the phone back up.
“So you were saying Gansey asked you to come by,” he said. The tips of Ronan’s ears were turning red. He scowled, glancingly, and jiggled his leg.
“I don’t have time for this,” Adam said, and Ronan’s scowl deepened. “Gansey’s waiting on dinner.”
Ronan took his bags of carry-out and left. Adam was irritated to realize Ronan had left behind a meatball sub, made up the way Adam liked it and Ronan had repeatedly told him was revolting. Adam didn’t want it; he hadn't asked Ronan to shell out eight dollars for a sandwich. Adam put it into his fridge.
It took up nearly an entire shelf, which wasn’t an issue, because the only other thing in his fridge were the remnants of a twelve pack of Cokes he’d gotten a deal on at Kroger. He’d decide what to do with the sandwich in the morning. He couldn’t exactly return it to Ronan; it wasn’t a library book. He knew he would eat it, of course, but it made him feel better to pretend he wouldn’t.
Ronan also hadn’t finished his milkshake, left it half-full and dripping rings of condensation onto Adam’s windowsill. Adam finished the rest of it, vengefully, while he finished his homework. It was perfect, sweet and cool and thick.
Ronan didn’t stop dropping by. He stopped making excuses, though, and Adam stopped asking Ronan why he was there. He took Adam for long nighttime drives and let Adam drowse while his mind wandered the ley line, and gamely helped Adam haul rocks and dig up shrubbery that had distorted the line’s energy.
Ronan mostly slept on his bed, or on his floor. He threatened to buy Adam a rug. He refused to do any of his own homework and distracted Adam from his. Adam tolerated this for some time. It was nice to have company, even company as easily bored and attention-seeking as Ronan Lynch.
Tonight, though, he was too busy to entertain Ronan with a fabricated errand, and Cabeswater, if it wanted his attention, was going to have to wait. It was only ten, but Adam had a problem set to finish before he could squeeze in a few hours’ sleep and then rise at two thirty for his next shift.
He’d only gotten two hours yesterday; he hadn’t been able to stop thinking and Cabeswater had taken him for something more than three hours, paralyzed and staring at the ceiling while his mind wandered the line. When he’d come back to himself, his eyes had ached badly; when he’d shut his eyes he’d been able to feel his pupils protruding, hard nubs pressing through his eyelids.
Adam rubbed his thumb and forefinger against his eyelids again now. His whole body ached to stretch itself out on his narrow bed, no matter that Ronan was in it. It might be easier, even, with Ronan furnace-hot enough to stop Adam’s joints from aching.
The bed creaked again, almost rhythmically, like Ronan was — but Adam fiercely cut off his thoughts before they could turn into a daydream.
“Get out of my bed,” Adam said, instead. He pushed his chair back enough that he could turn over his shoulder to look at Ronan, who only seemed to consider taking orders if they were hammered into him by the weight of Gansey’s gaze.
Adam didn’t expect it to work for him, but Ronan didn’t listen when Adam faced his desk, either, and it made Adam uncomfortable and dizzy to hear Ronan moving behind him.
“I’m keeping it warm for you,” Ronan said, with a delighted leer. Adam ignored him and turned back to his homework.
The Ivy League schools are having a Mathletics tournament, his statistics problem proclaimed, and have been paired off uniformly at random. How many possible outcomes exist for this first elimination round? (An “outcome” specifies both the team pairings and which team was eliminated.)
Adam knew how to solve the problem, he just didn’t know which numbers to plug in. He couldn’t remember how many Ivies there were.
He had, of course, carefully perused all the pamphlets available in the college counseling office, but he could only remember the ones his past self had considered viable possibilities. The ones out of his reach had been carefully excised; there was no point in caring about them. And none of the other Aglionby boys were seriously thinking about college yet; he didn’t have gossip to rely on to bolster his memory.
He listed the ones he could remember in the margins. Harvard, Princeton, Penn, Yale. Need-blind admission with all need met, the ones he would apply to. Brown, which he remembered largely for Mr. Gansey’s jokes about communists and unstructured learning, the way Gansey’s shoulders had crumpled at this discussion of his future prospects.
In any case. Harvard Princeton Penn Yale Brown.
That was five. It had to be an even number. Adam worried the cap of his ballpoint pen between his teeth. He knew he was forgetting some, but he didn’t know how many. It could be one or three or even five more schools. He couldn’t move on until he figured it out.
Ronan squeaked the bed again. Adam recognized the spring in question.
He returned to his homework. Agonizingly, he scribbled Dartmouth beneath Brown. Someone complaining that his dad’s fraternity chapter had been shut down.
Another spring creaked. Ronan seemed to be attempting to locate each broken spring individually. Adam didn’t much care about Ronan’s attempts to destroy his bed, which was beyond redemption, but at the moment he couldn’t afford distractions.
Pointed disinterest never worked for Gansey when Ronan got like this. Adam didn’t think it would work for him.
He heard the bed creak. He glanced back, and Ronan had pulled himself from his usual dissolute slouch into the sort of lean that came with forward momentum.
Adam’s apartment wasn’t so large as all that; Ronan could easily reach out and touch him. He didn’t know why his brain wouldn’t stop catching on the thought of that.
Slowly, Adam turned all the way around. His chair scraped over the floorboards.
Ronan was very large, somehow, filling up the space. Adam was surprised at that; Ronan had been so careful to make himself a constant and familiar presence that Adam himself was surprised to discover it hadn’t work.
“If you’re going to distract me,” Adam said, “you could at least help me with my homework.”
Ronan’s eyes glittered. “Nah,” he said. Adam gritted his teeth.
“Do you know how many Ivy League schools there are?” Adam asked, because if Ronan was going to play cooperative for once in his life he might save Adam ten minutes.
“Nah,” Ronan said, again, this time dragging the word out, really enjoying it.
Adam, briefly, couldn’t stand him; the fact that Ronan didn’t have to care about college. That he had a future, or at least enough money to buy one. Tree branches feathered out at the edges of his vision.
“You’re saying you can’t rattle them all off?” Ronan said, then, though, and Adam’s resentment bloomed back in full force, dewy leaves sticking to his skin. “You? Mister upwardly mobile?”
“Are you helping?” Adam ground out, and there must have been something in his voice, because when he shot a glare at Ronan, Ronan was startled. Not vulnerable, exactly, but Adam felt his frustration leak away. He did not want to be angry.
“So shut up,” Adam said, turning back, a futile parting shot over the bow.
Ronan shifted his weight forward onto his knees, maybe reached towards him — and Adam felt gooseflesh prick up all down his back. A vine curled around his pen. Ronan’s hand hovered over his shoulder, close enough that Adam could feel the heat. A flower bloomed on his shoulder before Ronan pulled his hand away.
“Wasn’t giving you shit,” Ronan muttered, instead. “For once. Jesus.”
Ronan was sulking. He would need attention, or he would be just awful for hours. Days.
Adam resigned himself to another five minutes of conversation, mentally reworking the time he’d allotted to each question on the worksheet.
He wasn’t going to finish his work and he would have to rise early to finish the sheet. He was so tired. It was not fair. That didn’t matter, of course, but Adam had the thought anyway.
Someone was in his apartment, behind him. Adam could be touched unexpectedly and he wouldn’t be able to stop it.
Cabeswater beckoned. Adam pushed it back.
“I don’t have time for this,” Adam said. “I have to work. If you can’t entertain yourself, leave.” He looked back at his schoolwork.
Ronan might go out and do something stupid if Adam didn’t pay attention to him. Adam was unsure of this; Ronan had been much better. But the thought pounded. At the same time: Adam did not want to reward this behavior.
Ronan was laser-focused on Adam and he was about to do something. Adam could feel it. Ronan was always going to do something, but it was moreso, now. Adam did not know what that something was going to be. He briefly worried about a blast radius.
He knew for a fact that Ronan had hardly slept at all this week, maybe even less than Adam had, from Noah’s vague but ballpark reports to Gansey before morning assembly.
Then again, the week before Ronan had slept sixteen hours a day.
Ronan was too close to him.
One of his hands was curled around Adam’s headboard to steady himself and from where Adam was sitting it looked like a fist.
Cabeswater beckoned. Adam pushed it back.
Ronan shifted so his head was closer to Adam’s good ear. “Well,” Ronan began, his eyes glittering and cruel as he looked at Adam.
Adam looked back, unfazed. He could hear Ronan properly, now. He could feel tension slithering out from between his shoulderblades. Leaves he hadn’t noticed at the edge of his vision faded away. His hands stopped tingling.
He couldn’t feel Cabeswater anymore. He was present in his body. His eyes and hands were his, for the moment. He lost his patience.
Ronan opened his mouth to sneer something. Adam could imagine what Ronan was going to say. One of the usual insults, the ones that should by now be muted by repetition if they hadn’t been such deep cuts in the first place. White trash. A crack about how Adam should get his hearing checked, maybe. That sort of thing.
They never stung as hard coming from Ronan, but it was late, and Adam was tired of this. Adam did not want to hear it. Ronan had never been predictable before, and Adam found he didn’t like it.
Annoyed, Adam said, “what.” Ronan paused. When two rapid heartbeats had thumped in Adam’s bad ear and Ronan still hadn’t said anything, Adam made a little spit it out hand gesture. “I haven’t got all night,” he said. It was true.
Adam’s heart pounded in his ear. Not long, just for a few moments, but then something changed in Ronan’s face. The handsome slash of his mouth twisted into something small and private as he closed it. Arrogance slid out of his posture, reducing him from a fierce and otherworldly creature into something as mundane and washed out as Adam’s uniform sweater.
Only his eyes were still sharp: piercingly blue, ringed with long lashes. His dark circles looked bruise-purple, as bad as Adam’s.
Finally, Ronan looked away, tense and rickety once again. He leaned back out of Adam’s personal space and then hauled himself out of the bed in a single gangling motion. Despite everything Adam had thought he’d known about Ronan Lynch, he did not quite manage to make this seem graceful.
Standing, Ronan’s head was bowed; Adam wasn’t certain whether it was some strange Catholic penance or an attempt to avoid the slanted roof.
Ronan didn’t move. Adam studied his profile: aquiline nose, lowered lashes, chapped lips, dark stubble. The usual Ronan. Adam didn’t know what had just happened.
Ronan scuffed the toe of his socked foot over the curling edge of a bare floorboard. Adam didn’t know if Ronan was planning to leave. He was fidgeting at his bracelets, usually a certain sign that he was bored and about to explode. Or cause an explosion.
Adam could do without the explosion, but he did not precisely want Ronan to be bored.
Ronan was certainly bursting with energy, pawing at the ground with the pent-up equine desire to move he usually only expended via horsepower.
Ronan’s sock caught on the floorboard and slid down Ronan’s ankle, bunching at the toe. Ronan swore and kicked his foot forward in a wiggling motion, to unhook the sock and push it back onto his foot. It didn’t work. He swore again.
When Adam looked away from Ronan’s foot, Ronan’s face hadn’t moved an inch. Still scowling in profile, the full curve of his lower lip rounded with pouting distress.
He was watching Adam watch him out of the corner of his eye, Adam realized with a jolt. His gaze wasn’t unpleasant. Just sharp. Adam let it sting, mentally turning the sensation over and carefully inspecting it until Ronan hunched his shoulders and slid his eyes back to the floorboards.
“Put your shoes on,” Adam said, finally, and turned back to his homework. “Or you’ll get splinters.”
The door didn’t open. Ronan stayed. Adam could still hear floorboards creaking irregularly, Ronan moving around behind him. Pacing, maybe.
Eventually, the bedsprings creaked. Ronan settled.
Ronan stayed quiet, but Adam hardly noticed it. He was busy working, checking over his Latin assignment, rearranging what he planned to get done in his half hour lunch break.
Finally, with all his written work packed away, ready for the morning, he settled in to do half an hour of reading for his English lesson. Ronan was sleeping. Adam did not want to wake him. He told himself it was because waking Ronan unexpectedly seemed likely to spawn a night horror, but he had a creeping sensation it had something more to do with the jagged shadows Ronan’s eyelashes were casting.
He could hardly begrudge someone else a few minutes of rest.
Adam left his desk light on. He went to lie down in bed. The light was still bright enough to see over his shoulder, and his back hurt. He couldn’t go to work with his back hurting like that. So he lay down and bent back the cover of his paperback novel.
The words were too small and blurry, and the paper too yellowed, for him to be able to read easily. Especially with Cabeswater and exhaustion pulsing at the edges of his vision. He pressed his elbow into Ronan’s back.
After ten pages of heavily annotated reading, something thumped into the wall. Adam dropped his pen, and then picked it up. It had left a scrawling stripe on his white shirt, which was alright, because he was just going to wear it to work and then under his sweater to school, but still filled Adam with a faint resigned disappointment.
The thump was Ronan. He had kicked the wall. Adam looked down from his book and Ronan was turned over his shoulder. His eyes were sleep-heavy.
Adam frowned, and Ronan’s expression eased into his usual half-wakefulness. Ronan rolled onto his back and sat up. There was something crumpled in his hands.
He held it out to Adam. It was a pennant, old-fashioned and huge, at least two feet long. The fabric was scratchy and woollen and the same dusty brown as Adam’s hair. It said, COLLEGE, in bruise-purple lettering. A tangle of ivy leaves sat at the broadest part of the flag. Some sort of logo. Or mascot.
“Count the leaves,” Ronan said, voice raspy, as he clambered over Adam’s legs.
“Thanks,” Adam said, still uncertain and surprised into sincerity. Ronan scoffed, trying to jam his feet into his boots without undoing the laces. It worked after only a few tries. Adam wondered if they were dream things.
“I’ll be back to drive you to your shift,” Ronan said, and was gone.
Adam held the pennant in his lap. He counted. When he touched the ivy, it rustled at him, shifting under his hands. There were eight leaves.
Adam’s alarm went off at two thirty. His shift started at three; it would take him twenty minutes to bike there, and Ronan had not returned to fulfil his promise of a ride. Perhaps it had only been an offer, and Ronan had not considered himself bound by it.
Adam rolled out of bed, exhausted and on autopilot. He pulled on a jacket and laced up his sneakers. One of them was coming unpeeled at the sole; it would be another two paychecks before he could afford to replace them.
Adam found his keys and clipped them onto his belt loop and went downstairs. The bike ride would wake him up, he thought to himself. What he wanted was another ten minutes of sleep. Something to eat. He went down the stairs and kept his hand on the banister so he wouldn’t trip.
When he made it out into the parking lot, Ronan’s car was parked in his usual spot. Ronan was asleep in the driver’s seat.
Adam felt a rush of something that was very nearly relief. He knocked on the window. Ronan didn’t startle, just opened his eyes. After a moment, he unlocked the car, and Adam let himself into the passenger seat.
Ronan put the key into the ignition.
“I get done at seven,” Adam said. He wasn’t sure why; Ronan knew. He would pick Adam up and drive him back to St. Agnes’ and then from there to Aglionby, where Gansey would pretend not to be relieved that they had arrived together, that Ronan was retroactively accounted for.
Ronan’s gaze flicked over to him and the back to the road, unreadable.
“About earlier,” Adam said. “Thanks.”
Ronan looked at him again, this time incredulous. Adam grinned, a rush of exhaustion lifting off his shoulders. It was still with him, hovering, but it didn’t weigh him down anymore.
“For keeping the bed warm,” Adam said, and laughed at Ronan’s scowl.
Adam hung the pennant over his bed. His bed smelled like Ronan for days, until Adam, exhausted and overslept, spilled his last can of Coke all over the bed, and had to change the sheets.
A few days later, Adam caught Gansey eyeing the line of Blue’s fuzzy calves and felt a surge of jealousy so intense he thought it was the call of Cabeswater. He did not allow himself to feel jealous of Gansey, as a matter of principle, so he beat it back.
He made an effort not to notice whether Blue was looking back, but he still caught her furtively eyeing Gansey’s broad shoulders, because he himself had been furtively looking at her mouth, at her eyelashes.
It made him irritable and foolish and frustrated, exhausted with himself. He did not want this sort of farce in his life. He was bad at that sort of thing, and he did not have the time to get better. Blue was his friend. Gansey was his friend. Both of them deserved better.
That had soured the half-hour he had been able to spend in the Pig before work. He had worked a shift at Boyd’s before heading to the demo yard, where a last minute substitution turned his single shift into a double. But his boss had paid him time and a half under the table for the short notice, for both shifts, even.
That meant he’d be able to afford real groceries for once, and to finally replace his worn sneakers. Maybe even leave him with ten bucks left over, if he got the cheapest pair of shoes he could find.
He’d seen a flyer for a secondhand microwave on campus, and carefully copied down the student’s name and phone number. Ten dollars would pay for that. The student was just trying to get the microwave out of his room, apparently too lazy to drive it to the dump.
Adam badly wanted a microwave. He would be able to reheat the food he brought home from Aglionby. He could cook eggs. Popcorn. A microwave would expand Adam’s culinary horizons significantly.
When Adam got back from his second shift of the night, a crumpled wad of cash in his work jeans, it was nearly six in the morning and Ronan was asleep in his bed.
Adam did not want to deal with this. Ronan woke when Adam dropped his things by the door. “Shove over,” he said as Ronan sat up.
Ronan obligingly rolled off Adam’s mattress. He thumped to the floor. It wasn’t much of a drop; Adam’s mattress was nearly level with the floor.
Adam put his money on his desk. Ronan wouldn’t be interested in a measly seventy dollars. Not that Ronan would take his money anyway. He stripped off his jeans and his sweaty work shirt where he stood, too tired to be self-conscious. He left them in a pile on the floor. They needed to be washed before he could wear them again; there was no use being careful with them.
Ronan had propped the window open at some point, and Adam did not have the energy to go over and close it. Adam slumped into bed and curled into the warm patch Ronan’s body had left behind. His sheets were too thin to stave off the mild chill. He was asleep the minute his head hit the pillow.
He woke two hours later, alone, with just enough time to shower and dress before morning assembly began. He would not have enough time to bike to school; this would mean another morning tardy.
There was something unfamiliar stretched out over him: a blanket, dappled green and soft. It was warm to the touch. Adam folded the blanket up and left it at the foot end of his bed to return to Ronan at some point.
He stripped down for his shower and nearly ripped the shower curtain down tripping over Ronan, who had apparently decided to nap in the bathtub.
Ronan streaked out of the room like a stepped-on cat. Adam showered, still exhausted, and headed back out into the main room with his towel wrapped around his waist.
Ronan stopped pacing to give Adam an alarmed look. “I’m in the car,” he said, and went downstairs. Adam changed as quickly as possible.
He had not had time to review his Latin homework, he thought. He would have to do that in the car, and during morning assembly, if he could get away with it. He usually could. Adam did not have time to worry about Ronan’s strange reaction.
Ronan drove them to school. St. Agnes wasn’t far from Aglionby; it was a nonexistent drive, frustrating only in contrast to the crawl of Adam’s biked commute. They were not marked late to morning assembly, though this was most likely a product of the Lynch name rather than the clock. In any case, the late proctor — Adam was at least relieved that it wasn’t Calla, whose sharpness had only become more cutting since things had ended between him and Blue — gave the both of them a severe look as she let them into the gymnasium.
After that, Ronan didn’t visit him, and didn’t visit him. This meant Adam couldn’t return the blanket. He wasn’t about to bring it to school. Adam grew accustomed to sleeping with it despite himself.
Adam wondered what Ronan got up to, at night; he couldn’t decide whether the aggravation of Ronan in his space was worth owing him for rides. Ronan exhausted him, but so did having to leave early, having less time to sleep, biking himself to work.
He didn’t know why Ronan had decided to stop visiting. He knew Ronan slept at the Barns most nights, and more rarely at Monmouth. He had been at St. Agnes’ a few times a week, though; Adam wondered, vaguely, if something was going right for Ronan’s dreaming, if he was being kept busy with that. Cabeswater told him nothing about the Greywaren.
Mostly, he put it out of his head. He was busy. School and work and Glendower, Cabeswater calling his attention away. Refusing to fixate on Gansey and Blue, or to think about what they must be like together. If Blue kissed Gansey where she wouldn’t kiss Adam. If Gansey could touch her; if Blue liked that.
He was only moderately successful. Noah sat next to him at school, sometimes. He always had, the two of them loners even in their group. Broken. Noah didn’t like it when Adam thought like that, so Adam tried to avoid it when he was around.
He tried not to wallow, more generally; Blue and Gansey would be better for each other than he could ever be for anyone. Adam was a scuffed and selfish thing, liable to lash out. Adam was quietly difficult, his sharp edges brushing up against Gansey’s kindnesses, his charity. Anyone would choose Blue’s fierce care over that. Anyone would choose Gansey’s sun-bronzed magnanimity over that.
Noah visited him at work more often, as well, when Cabeswater was strong and Adam could hear the rushing of water in his deaf ear. Noah sat in Boyd’s and made the radio static out, attempted to sing along to the ghostly emo rock station his presence sometimes produced.
Adam had asked him not to visit at the factory or the demo yard, where he needed to concentrate when he worked, but Noah was still sometimes present during his breaks. This cheered Adam more than he would have liked to admit.
Noah did not come to St. Agnes often. Adam would have liked the company, there. When questioned, Noah said, “I’m not supposed to set foot in a church,” but could not remember who had told him this, or why it was true.
Adam pointed out that Noah went to services with Ronan, and Noah had frowned at him. “That’s different,” he said, reproachfully, and vanished shortly thereafter.
All that was to say that Adam had St. Agnes to himself for the first time since he had moved in. He had never had privacy, really, not in his life. He supposed that his parents’ disinterest might, to a certain extent, qualify his childhood home life. But he had never been able to retreat behind a locked door, there.
St. Agnes was his space. Of course it was: it held his things in their cracked plastic containers, his wheezing mini fridge filled with reused tupperware from Fox Way, his new microwave, the plastic grocery bag hanging over his bathroom doorknob that served as a trash can. The cracked bakelite phone, incoming calls only, bolted into the wall, with its hopelessly coiled cord. The apartment was small and it was his.
It was strange to see that it was somehow becoming slightly more than that, though: his COLLEGE pennant on the wall, Adam’s tarot cards lined up on his work desk next to a few river rocks off the ley line, his Aglionby sweater hung up behind the door.
He had cut up an empty water bottle with Gansey’s serviceable and expensive scissors, to fill it with rich, dark Cabeswater dirt. Ronan had dreamt him a vase, once, slim and glittering glass, but Adam had broken it sleepwalking; this was the best Adam could do for now.
The dirt was what mattered, anyway. Adam was hoping it might help connect him to Cabeswater. It hadn’t yet, but he felt better for the attempt.
It wasn’t as though Adam somehow had more time, now that Ronan wasn’t coming by to bother him. He finished his homework and had to spend three hours moving logs for Cabeswater. He went to work, and came home, and worked ahead into next week’s readings, because he knew he would have to spend the weekend on the ley line. Adam had space to himself, finally, but never enough time.
Adam’s sink stopped working, and he had to borrow a toolbox from Boyd’s to tighten a nut on the coiled pipes under the sink. He was jealous of Gansey and Blue, and absently worried about Ronan and Noah, and lonely. He brought the toolbox back to Boyd’s and realized he’d left the wrench he’d used at St. Agnes, and had had to bike back to get it, losing an hour’s pay. He got a B+ on a biology exam because he’d forgotten how photosynthesis worked, Cabeswater leaves in his eyes.
He wasn’t slipping. He wasn’t.
Ronan called him that night. Adam had been lying in bed, exhausted and finally relieved. The phone ringing seemed like a natural occurrence. That he was tired, and that someone should want something from him when he could finally rest.
He had his own extension at St. Agnes, but he couldn’t tie up the lines during the day. You had to dial Adam’s extension specifically to make his phone ring. That meant someone wanted to talk to Adam. He hauled himself out of bed. It might be his supervisor asking him to move his shifts; they had this number on file at the factory.
He picked up, leaning against the wall, already fiddling with the springy cord. “Hello,” he said, trying not to make it a question.
There was silence. The rustle of leaves, the rushing of water. Adam hung up.
The phone rang again before he had even hauled himself back into bed. He picked it up again, and before he could snap, what, Ronan’s crackling voice said “Parrish” into his ear.
“Oh,” Adam said, instead. "It's late."
“Did I wake you?” Ronan asked, and there was something strange about his tone.
“No,” Adam said, which wasn’t precisely true. He hadn’t been asleep. But Ronan had woken him.
Ronan didn’t answer right away. Adam stayed on the line, breathing, listening to Ronan breathe.
“I should let you get some rest,” Ronan said, which was bizarre enough that Adam ignored it. It was late. Ronan didn’t get loopy the way Gansey did, at night, but maybe he had dreamed badly.
“What do you need?” he asked Ronan. Ronan made a noise in his throat, sounding pained, and didn’t answer.
Adam uncoiled the phone’s cord. It wasn’t long, but his apartment was small. He took two steps, and got into bed, still holding the phone.
He lay down. “I’m in bed,” he said, because Ronan had told him to rest, and he wasn’t ready to hang up yet. “Where are you?” Adam asked. Ronan made the strange noise again.
“Are you alright?” Adam said. “Should you have Gansey check on you?”
“I’m at the Barns,” Ronan said, which Adam had suspected. His voice was rough, or it was the distortion along the phone line. “If I wanted to talk to Gansey I’d be talking to Gansey.”
Adam nodded. “Yeah,” he said, then, because Ronan couldn’t see his nod. Lines, he thought. Distortion along lines.
“I have to do something for Cabeswater this weekend,” he said, the idea percolating. “Will you help?”
Ronan grunted. Adam took it as a yes, because Ronan never made his disagreement or refusal easy to bear.
Adam continued. “I think clearing out the line will make it easier to hear —” and he had to bite down on a yawn. “To hear what’s on the. The end of it. Maybe I’ll be able to scry...”
“Christ,” Ronan said. “You need to relax.”
“I am,” Adam protested. “I am.” It was dark and quiet. He was lying down. He was under the blanket Ronan had dreamt for him.
“Liar,” Ronan said.
Adam didn’t say anything. The phone was hot against his cheek. His eyelids ached. He was thirsty but he didn’t want to fill a cup at the sink.
“I mean it,” Ronan said. “Take care of yourself, Parrish.”
Adam snorted. He didn’t mean to. Ronan wasn’t angry, though. He said, "Yeah, like I'd know," softly. This surprised Adam. He wondered what this strange un-angry nighttime Ronan looked like. He wondered where Ronan was: if he was in his room, or if he was out under the sky somewhere. Maybe he was in his car.
And then, after Adam’s mm of assent, Ronan said, “I would know, though. Don’t —”
And he cut himself off. “Don’t what,” Adam asked. It wasn’t as though any of Ronan’s methods of self destruction was appealing to Adam. Or available.
“I mean it,” Ronan said. “You should be asleep. You don’t have to work so hard.”
Adam disagreed. He did have to work so hard. There was no other option available to him. Gansey had finally come to understand this, though he obviously hated it; Adam had thought Ronan understood it as well.
He said, because he wanted to avoid an argument: “I can’t sleep. I’m too tired.” Ronan must know what that was like.
“Jesus,” Ronan said, though, disgusted. “What are you, just lying there staring at the ceiling? Take a shower and jerk off.”
The words flushed through Adam, incendiary. Adam was suddenly closer to wakefulness than he’d been in days. Was that what Ronan did at night, when he was at Monmouth with Gansey? When he was the only waking creature at the Barns?
“No hot water,” Adam said, because the trouble with his sink had turned out to be a problem with the boiler, and the parish couldn’t afford to have it fixed until next month.
Ronan laughed. Adam shifted the phone against his ear. He was on his side in bed, under his warm blanket, his bad ear pressed into the pillow. The side of his face was getting sweaty.
He was very awake.
Adam licked his lips. He was awake with the same sharp acuity that came with scrying, so awake his body didn’t know how to process it. He wasn’t entirely sure this wasn’t a particularly vivid dream.
Ronan, half-laughing, said, “That’s what’s stopping you?” and Adam rested his hand against his stomach, over his shirt. It was the same shirt he’d worn the time Ronan dreamt him the pennant. The pen marks hadn’t come out in the wash. Now he only wore it to bed, or to work under his coveralls.
Adam said, “I don’t know.”
Ronan, still amused, said, “Come on, man, it’s not like it’s hard,” and Adam rolled onto his back, fought briefly with the phone cord, which tangled around his neck. It would have been easier to move the phone to the other side of his face, but he couldn’t do that. He was briefly, troublingly, exhausted by his body, the way it was letting him down like this.
Adam licked his lips again, and said, “I think I’d have more of a problem if it wasn’t hard.” He was touching his stomach and the waistband of his boxers.
His body wasn’t letting him down there, at least. He’d been hard since Ronan said jerk off. Maybe longer. Maybe since he’d listened to Ronan breathing over the phone.
Ronan was silent for a few moments. Adam closed his eyes and pushed his shirt up. He rubbed his fingertips over his stomach. Over the raised scar parallel to his hipbone. He bit back a sigh.
Adam wanted to touch himself. Ronan was right. It would help him sleep. But actually putting a hand around himself while Ronan was breathing right into into his ear seemed rude, somehow. The sort of thing Gansey would disapprove of.
Adam wasn’t Gansey, though, and he wanted to, and he so rarely got to have the things he wanted.
He had to let go of the phone and hold it between his cheek and shoulder for a moment. He moved his blanket, because he didn’t want to get it messy. He didn’t know how to wash a dream thing, and he did not want it to become another magical casualty of his own inherent plainness. It would be like him to ruin his warm and beating forest blanket by failing to use soft rinse at the laundromat.
He hissed in a breath at the chill, colder by contrast because of how warm the blanket was, and Ronan swore into his ear.
“Shit,” Ronan said, voice cracking and crackling, “fuck, Parrish, are you —”
Adam said, “I wasn’t,” because he hadn’t been, and Ronan shut up. Adam put one hand back on the phone and adjusted how he was lying, settled in on his back.
Ronan was silent, but Adam could almost hear his embarrassment. He took pity on Ronan. He thought it was obvious, but maybe Ronan couldn’t tell.
“I wasn’t,” he said, “but I’m going to. I want to. You’re right.” Ronan should know. He should have the opportunity to hang up, if Adam was being awful, taking the joke too far. Because it must have been a joke.
“Fuck,” Ronan said instead, high pitched and nearly trembling. Adam sighed and pressed the phone into his ear, white-knuckled his grip on the plastic. Not a joke, then. Adam didn’t know what that meant and he couldn’t think.
He slid his other hand into his underwear.
“Keep talking,” Adam said. He wanted to hear Ronan. He wanted to be reminded that he wasn’t alone. That someone was there, that someone was listening.
Ronan was quiet for a second. Adam listened to his breathing, gone a little faster, a little heavier. He was just teasing himself, pulling at his foreskin, testing. He wondered whether Ronan was doing this, too. Well, not this, exactly, but. If Ronan was touching himself.
“This is good too,” Adam said, quietly, because he didn’t want Ronan to think he had to talk. “You don’t have to talk. I just like to hear you,” he said and Ronan let out a plaintive noise, nearly the same one he’d made when Adam asked him where he was.
Adam moved his underwear down, wriggled it off his hips to get his dick out as easily as possible. He left his balls trapped, the waistband digging into them. It was uncomfortable. If it wasn’t uncomfortable it was going to be entirely overwhelming.
Adam added, “I missed hearing you,” because he had missed Ronan at St. Agnes. He was quiet for a few moments, working up a mouthful, and then lifted his hand to spit into it. Ronan swore. Adam was faintly embarrassed. He reached back down and tugged at himself.
He sighed at the first touch, wet and warm and rough, just the way Adam liked it, the way he was used to it.
“Are you doing it?” Ronan said, voice gravelly, and Adam sighed, not quite a word, in response.
“Good,” Ronan said. Adam breathed out.
It wasn’t going to be long, now. It had been a while since Adam had had the energy to do this. And it was good, the slide of his hand, his face flushed, Ronan all he could hear.
“I’m close,” he murmured. “You were right. I should have done this sooner.” Adam groaned and tensed his thighs, threw his head back.
He wanted to know if Ronan was touching himself too. He didn’t want this to be just another favor Ronan was doing Adam, Ronan offering something in a way Adam couldn’t figure out how to refuse. He couldn’t ask. He couldn’t get the words out. His hand was moving fast, now.
Ronan said, “Adam,” and Adam came all over his shirt with a soft cry. At least it was already stained, he thought, as his breath shuddered. He held onto his cock as it softened. His pulse was thundering in his ears, Cabeswater rushing around him. He could hardly hear. He let go of the phone, but managed to keep it mostly next to his face.
“Thank you,” he said eventually, his words clumsy. He sighed. He didn’t have any tissues, so he wiped his hand off on his shirt as well. He pulled his underwear back up, tucked himself away. He pulled the phone back closer to his ear.
“No problem,” Ronan said, sounding just as awkward. Adam hoped he hadn’t just spoiled things.
“This was nice,” Adam said, because Ronan should know that. Ronan made a noise. Adam couldn’t parse its tone over the phone, whether it was amused or irritated.
Ronan said, “Hang up the phone and go to sleep,” and it was definitely amused. Adam shut his eyes. He couldn’t argue with that. He was probably amusing. This might upset him eventually, but right now he couldn’t be. Everything was hazy and a little off-kilter.
Adam said, “Yeah,” after a few seconds. Ronan laughed, Adam thought, but he was so tired. His limbs were weighted down like lead.
“Come on,” Ronan said, coaxingly. Adam wondered if this was how Ronan talked to his dream cows, or Chainsaw, when she wasn’t being awful. His voice was very soft, and terribly persuasive.
Adam managed to haul himself the three steps to the wall where the base of the phone was mounted. “Good night,” he said.
Ronan said, “Go the fuck to sleep, Parrish.”
Adam dropped the phone back into the cradle, collapsed back into bed, and did.
He woke easily the next morning. He had never slept better. Not ever.