As he tucked his laptop into his bag and stowed his planner, Adam felt Cabeswater, a sweet and indistinct susurration, kiss the shell of his broken left ear. His fingers stilled on the cover of his textbook and his eyes closed. Students slowly trundled themselves out of the lecture hall around him, jackets and bags and bodies brushing around him, but he flipped the switch within himself and thought only, only of Cabeswater.
Adam, on occasion, would hear faint noises, like the whisper of leaves, or the buffeting of wind, or the whisk of rain, against the shell of his left ear. He had expected the phantom pains of Cabeswater to retreat after everything that had happened back then, but Cabeswater lingered within him in the strangest of ways. It showed up but rarely, a brief sunshower that slid in and out of existence in a flutter of timid sensation. Even more than five years later, he could not tell if he resented or craved the unsettlement of his personal climate.
He opened his eyes after the door to the classroom slapped shut, merciless in its clamor. He sighed, and tucked the book away and slid the bag’s zipper closed. He heaved the bag over one shoulder and tucked his hands into his pockets, nodding to his professor, who nodded back distractedly. “Have a good weekend, Adam,” the man muttered, unmooring his laptop from a sea of loose bits of paper and dry erase markers.
“You too,” Adam replied.
Outside, the William & Mary campus was resplendent with spring: green buds unfurling along tree branches in the merry sunlight, undergraduates lazily sunning themselves as they meandered towards their weekend plans, and Adam could not help the thrill of enjoyment he felt, watching the campus greenery regenerating after so long a winter. It was his last spring here, and he felt almost, almost , reluctant to leave it behind. But in a few weeks’ time, he’d have his M.S. in Computational Operations Research, and he’d turn in the key to his tiny studio apartment and leave Williamsburg for the last time.
The walk to his apartment was short, the same quick jaunt he’d been making since junior year. He knew the storefronts, the street signs and alleyways, the beats in time he’d wait at each intersection. It was all familiar, comfortable, and Adam relished the subtle nip of the wind on his bare arms when it blew through with the final lingerings of winter. The shiver was nothing more than the usual reminder: nothing lasts forever, not winter, not spring, not college.
His apartment was an austere studio above a small-time engineering firm, reminiscent of and only slightly more modern than the old apartment above St. Agnes, and he earned money against his rent by cleaning the office in the early morning on Wednesdays and Fridays. Two evenings a week, he whiled away his lonesome hours at a mechanic shop specializing in foreign cars. He spent a few hours on easy freelance computer projects handed out by approving professors and professional contacts. Every other hour of the week was dedicated to classes, seminars, and school work, a schedule carefully carried out by hands that were used to maneuvering each grain of time in the hourglass with tweezers.
But, as uncomplicatedly as possible, the weekends were for Ronan.
He spotted the BMW in the back lot of the firm, glimmering darkly next to his significantly more modest sedan. After the Hondoyota’s ignoble, spluttering death during Adam’s junior year, Adam had allowed Ronan to dream him up a car that wouldn’t stand out, but also wouldn’t leave him stranded on the highway for over an hour during a sudden cold snap. “ Not a BMW,” Adam had insisted. “I just need it to go from school to home.”
Ronan had raised one dark eyebrow in annoyance, because the longstanding but generally long-distance nature of their relationship had left them stranded in a tentative détente over the nature of yours, mine, and ours . “You suck the fun out of everything, don’t you, Parrish? We could go racing ,” Ronan had argued. But when Ronan woke up, the car was simply a nondescript Honda, the VIN number suspiciously close to the BMW’s, but also, inexplicably, containing Adam’s birthday, too. The car went unusually fast for an unassuming sedan, but Adam had wisely chosen to not press Ronan on the matter.
The sight of the BMW parked next to Adam’s car was a welcome one. He’d known that Ronan was driving up, another longstanding tradition for the five years Adam had been at William & Mary College: Adam would drive the two-plus hours back to the Barns for all breaks and long weekends, but Ronan came up most weekends, staying from Friday afternoon until Sunday morning, when he’d generally head back in time for the 11 o’clock mass. The hard-packed truth of it was sweet comfort during the week, but it was sweeter still come Friday night when routine was reality.
When Adam unlocked the door to his apartment, he found Ronan sprawled out on the mattress-and-boxspring on the floor, and Chainsaw balanced atop Adam’s desk, picking at Adam’s jar of pennies with great concentration. Ronan’s eyes were closed, and music was distantly throbbing in his headphones. Ronan lay on his belly atop the sheets, back bared and tattoo disappearing under the waistband of his jeans. Adam watched the familiar rise and fall of Ronan’s sleek back, the dip of his spine and the curve of hard-earned muscle. Tattoos were scrawled over his arms, a wealth of imagery that Adam had traced with fingertips and tongue as they grew across Ronan’s skin. Something inside of Adam unfurled, like so many spring buds outside his window, at the tender sight of the back of Ronan’s closely shaved skull, face slack against Adam’s pillows.
Adam shucked his shoes next to the toppled over spill of Ronan’s thick-soled boots, and hooked his bookbag over where Ronan’s leather jacket hung off the back of Adam’s office chair. He shed his own shirt, too, unbuttoning it and hanging it back up rather than dropping it on the floor beside Ronan’s cast-off black t-shirt. His belt found its home on a nail hammered into the closet wall, his socks, the hamper. His khakis were folded and set atop his small, squat dresser.
Adam sighed when he slipped into bed beside Ronan, pressing his face to the broad curve of a scapula. Ronan’s deodorant, soap-on-skin, faint traces of sparingly-used cologne: they were all hardwired into Adam’s brain. Adam’s hand skimmed over the small of Ronan’s back, all of Adam already curving around the warmth of Ronan’s slumber. He curled himself closer, and then he, too, fell asleep.
“Wake up, asshole,” Ronan groaned against Adam’s good ear. “You’re fucking crushing my arm.”
Adam groaned, too, but scooted himself over and off Ronan’s arm, then shoved a pillow over his head and planted his face into the sheets. Ronan’s smell had already sunk into the worn cotton. “What time is it?” he mumbled, accent slurring through his vowels.
“Almost five thirty. You fall asleep right when you got back?”
Adam just made another indistinct noise in response, shifting slightly against the sheets.
Ronan’s blunt fingernails skated up Adam’s back in one, two, three long strokes. “Hour nap. You’re getting fat and lazy, Parrish. Next you’re going to tell me you’re not finishing up your fucking masters in a year, after all.”
Adam peered out from beneath his pillow with one cracked eye, trying to muster up a scathing look but failing. He was too comfortable.
“Come on, Adam. Dinner.” Ronan’s mouth was wet and hot against the bare wing of Adam’s shoulder, and even after nearly six years, Adam still shivered at the feel of it. “Let me take you out.”
“Jeph’s?” Adam asked, hopefully.
Ronan smiled against Adam’s skin, an emotion that Adam could feel and wanted, suddenly, to see. In answer, he yanked the pillow off his head and sprawled onto his back. He wasn’t disappointed: Ronan’s smile was a soft, unguarded thing when they were like this. Adam leaned up and pressed a soft kiss to Ronan’s smile, one hand coming up to cradle the back of Ronan’s head. Stubble scraped his palm and his chin, and Adam smiled back into the kiss.
“Dinner?” Adam said, slinging an arm around Ronan’s back.
Ronan rolled his eyes, the blue shining in the dim light. “Yes, yes, Parrish. Dinner,” he said, mockingly. He heaved himself upwards and out of bed, a long, lean line of muscle. “We’ll even go to that shitty diner.”
Adam cracked his back when he stood, ignoring Ronan’s complaints. He knew that Jeph’s was Ronan’s favorite, too.
They redressed in tandem: Ronan stole a pair of socks out of Adam’s dresser when he only found one of his; Adam grabbed Ronan’s t-shirt from the floor and pulled it over his head, slightly too loose on his narrow frame; Ronan pulled another shirt from the closet while Adam pulled on a pair of jeans. Wallets and keys were tucked into their pockets, and Adam dug a light jacket out of the closet while Ronan tugged his leather jacket on.
It was still nice when they walked outside, the nine-to-five businesses on the block mostly closed down as everyone migrated downtown for the evening. Adam’s palm brushed against Ronan’s, a riot of sensation where Ronan’s calloused fingers found his, where the leather of Ronan’s wristbands scraped the fine veins inside Adam’s wrists, where they both squeezed the other’s hand too tightly for a long moment before letting go.
The walk to Jeph’s was familiar, too. They were early enough to avoid most of the pre-gaming undergrads that milled around the campus like a sea of unruly, migratory fish from Thursday night to the earliest hours on Sunday; Jeph’s was also enough of a townie institution that most of the other students’ eyes seemed to skate right over it, all tunnel vision for cheap, gooey pizza and hastily prepared Chinese take-out.
As they walked, they caught each other up on the week. Opal, who was learning Old English from Mr. Gray and tarot from Maura, had enjoyed a sleepover with one of Blue’s innumerable relatives; Matthew was doing quite well at his kindergarten classroom placement and was looking forward to student teaching in the fall; Declan was an ass, as always, though this was admitted more fondly than it had been just a few years ago. Adam had sent out five job applications this week per his plan to get a full-time job after graduation; Gansey and Blue were planning a trip to the UK to visit Malory, a sort of vacation and Yale-graduation present all wrapped in one. During the week, Adam and Ronan rarely spoke on the phone more than once or twice a week, though they exchanged texts and emails much more frequently. Back in Adam’s freshman year, communication had seemed like a never ending fight--who was calling who when and who was too busy and who was ignoring who--but, for the most part, they’d grown out of that conversation and grown into a routine of sorts. Getting Ronan to the phone no longer felt like pulling teeth, and Adam had learned to settle the seething annoyance he felt when his phone calls weren’t returned in good time.
They settled into a booth at Jeph’s, feet tangled together under the table, and placed their usual orders without flipping through the sticky, laminated menus. The waitress-- an older woman with remarkably bleach blonde hair and a prominent nose-- tapped one brightly varnished nail on the table before she turned away to send their order to the kitchen, smiling at them as she always did. Ronan-and-Adam were welcome here, a small handful of places where they’d carved out comfort at Adam’s home away from home.
Ronan looked good in the light of the diner, splashes of yellow and strange shadows cast over his knife-sharp face.
“I felt Cabeswater today,” Adam said when the waitress was out of earshot. His hand went up, fingertips rubbing over the lobe of his left ear. He felt it, phantom soundwaves in his skin, but did not hear the motion of his own hand over his ear.
Ronan’s face stilled a little, as it always did at the mention of the forest. Even six years later, it hung over them all in sullen, cloying, and strange ways. Cabeswater was at once their savior and the glue that had bound them together, but also a cavernous mausoleum in their collective mind, the site of making and unmaking and inexplicable loss.
“You don’t usually hear it when you’re at school,” Ronan said, leather wristband halfway to his mouth before he dropped his hand back to the table. He fiddled, instead, with the package of silverware rolled up in a paper napkin.
Ronan tilted his head minutely. Well? He seemed to ask.
“I don’t really know why for sure,” Adam said. “I feel like it might be because you’re here, and it’s spring, and… well, I’m going to be home for good, soon.”
Ronan unfurled his silverware from its paper napkin and then rolled it back up. He did not look at Adam, but Adam did not need to look into Ronan’s eyes to know he held Ronan’s complete attention.
Touching his tongue to the back of his teeth, Adam thought for a moment, fingertips pattering on the table between the two of them. Over breaks and vacations, the five of them (Adam and Ronan, Blue and Gansey, and Henry, but no more Noah) would often traverse the ley line, muddling through swampy brush and slow-growth, slow-rot forests, seeking energy and focus and the spectre of Cabeswater . Those hours spent on the line kept them all tethered to Henrietta and each other, to Aglionby, to a past that propelled them into their future selves just as much as it beckoned them back home. They all knew Cabeswater was lurking there, waiting for them; what, what , precisely, would spring it back to coalescence left them on tenterhooks. They held their breath when Gansey walked the line. “Remember? We found some hubcaps, the side mirror? Parts of the Camaro ‘long the ley line?”
One side of Ronan’s mouth curved up, sharp mouth flinty in its smile. “Yeah.”
It was Adam’s turn to raise a single eyebrow. Well? You’re the closest to Cabeswater out of all of us.
“I told you before, Parrish. I don’t think it’s done with us. I think…” Ronan paused, looking out the windows, eyes flickering carelessly over cars parked alongside the curb, people flowing in disparate currents up and down the sidewalks and across the road. “I don’t think it’s done with us, but it doesn’t feel ready, yet, either.” Ronan’s eyes flickered over his face, and Adam felt the blue gaze strike him viscerally, as it sometimes did. Greywaren , he thought, known and unknowable . “Maybe soon,” Ronan said. “Maybe when all of us are back. For good.”
They were both silent, but smiled up at the waitress when she brought their plates over: Adam’s single chocolate chip pancake the diameter of a basketball and smeared thickly with hot butter, and Ronan’s shepherd’s pie, gravy and vegetable oozing out from underneath the daub of mashed potatoes.
When all of us are back. For good. Adam tured the phase over in his mind like the rattle of dice in his palm. Because at some point between Cabeswater and the Barns and Glendower and Gansey, that had become the plan for all of them: leave, maybe for a little while, but always return to the very place that had sifted through them all, separating out the man and the child and leaving something impossibly tender and strong in its wake. The ley line, the land, beckoned, always drawing them back to Henrietta. Adam had felt it, but struggled to articulate it, because what was Adam if he no longer clawed and clamored to leave?
Adam had always wanted to leave Henrietta, his college dream-list something like out of a movie: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, and Stanford. And he did apply to all of those schools, with one carefully chosen addition: William & Mary College, just a few hours from Henrietta. Ronan’s face had been like a mask when Adam told him this, an impassive mask too carefully schooled to even allow for the usual imperious twist of cruelty that marked Ronan’s features. They had been curled together in Adam’s tiny bed at St. Agnes when Adam told Ronan this, and it had only been when Adam pressed his lips to Ronan’s that he’d been able to sense the relief in Ronan’s mouth, in the shudder of Ronan’s much broader shoulders, in the tight grip of Ronan’s seeking fingers. There were tears in Ronan’s eyes when Adam’s fingers found their way inside Ronan’s mouth and Adam looked up from where his mouth was stretched red around Ronan’s dick and neither of them said anything when the wet rolled down the side of Ronan’s face and into the pillow. Neither of them talked about the implications of it all.
While Adam waited for acceptance and rejection letters, he learned to read Ronan’s silences any time the subject of college was brought up: the same strange blankness that swept through his face like a winter whiteout, the compulsive gnawing at his bracelets, the taut lines of discomfort that ran across his shoulders and down his arms and along the ridges of his spine.
Later, Adam realized that Ronan was scared because Adam and the Barns had been Ronan’s dream, while Adam’s dream had always been, simply, to leave . And so at the time, they avoided the subject of decisions to be made, but simply let it hang around them, like vines creeping intrusively along an untended brick house, tiny, fragile tendrils wreaking surprising havoc when nobody was looking. Ronan knew Adam too well, loved Adam too well, to say what he wanted and what he feared, and Adam had never been any good at parsing the difference between grim satisfaction and happiness.
With that first spring of their togetherness came a scattering of college emails, arriving over the course of a month in fitful bursts that had Adam and Ronan skittering along each other like the rubber had been peeled back from their sparking live wires. Ronan would disappear into the Barns for days at a time; Adam picked up extra shifts and churned out needless extra credit assignments. They fought bitterly over a spilled can of energy drink in the BMW, the shape of Adam’s handwriting, Chainsaw (utterly unbothered and cheerfully shredding the shower curtain to nest in Adam’s sink) accidentally getting locked in Adam’s bathroom overnight when the humidity made the door swell up, and a thousand other stupid things that usually wouldn’t have generated much more than a scowl or brief spat.
Because, of course, they weren’t fighting over spilled drinks, but fighting around the amorphous mess of their imagined futures, where dream was nightmare was nightmare was dream was reality.
Princeton and MIT: Waitlisted.
Harvard, Yale, Stanford: Yes.
William & Mary: Yes.
Six emails, each encompassing a discrete thousand branches of the ways Adam’s life could grow. It was only when he held all of the options close to his chest and imagined himself in some nebulous elsewhere that he realized that leaving and running away and coming back were all words he hadn’t placed in any certain order.
He could go to any of those colleges and feel desperate satisfaction at clawing his way out of the Henrietta trailer park he’d been squirted into. But Adam realized could stay in Virginia, at what was still a top-ten-in-the-country school, and be happier than he might be all those extra hundreds of miles and hours away from Ronan and the ley lines and Cabeswater because it was his choice , not the knee-jerk act of a boy that wanted irrefutable worth engraved on a diploma for all to measure, as though that would ever be enough.
It had not always been easy, and there were moments where he felt like he and Ronan were still peeled-back live wires waiting to ignite. But William & Mary had been his choice, and he never felt doubt when people bemusedly questioned him about his hometown highschool sweetheart, as though Ronan were a thing to be shucked off so Adam could reforge himself at college. Adam had already sacrificed himself to Cabeswater and remade himself, he’d lost Cabeswater and remade himself. His body had been cursed and possessed, and he had to remake himself with the knowledge of what his hands looked like choking the air out Ronan’s throat, Ronan who never fought him off. He’d almost lost Ronan and Gansey, and he’d remade himself out of that, too. He’d chosen Ronan and the Barns and the ley lines, William & Mary and Williamsburg and a five-year B.A.-M.S. program, and remaking himself in this way was surprisingly easy and not nearly as complicated as others made it out to be.
He’d already made his choice, the night he first kissed Ronan on the porch at the Barns, and he was only bothered it had taken him so many of their first months of togetherness to figure it out. Five years of unbroken togetherness had soothed that ache until it barely twinged.
Dragged back to the present by the squawking of the tinny speakers across the diner, Adam looked up from his pancake, and spoke, as he rarely did, with a direct line from his heart to his mouth. “I’m glad we’re here. You and me, you know. After everything.”
Ronan smiled back at him, predatory smile a familiar flicker on his sharp, handsome face. “Me, too,” he said around a mouthful of food, lips shiny and eyes dark. His knee nudged Adam’s under the table. I love you , he didn’t say out loud.
Adam nudged him back but left his leg pressed to Ronan’s, knee to knee, calf to calf, ankle to ankle. I love you, too .
They took their time on the walk back, stopping at a park bench when a video call from Gansey, at Yale, came through on Adam’s phone.
“Ah, there you are!” Gansey said, as though they were a pair of spectacles he’d lost in an unruly tidal wave of primary sources, and Adam felt a strange rush of affection because he knew what Gansey meant. “Blue’s off for drinks with her feminist book club, so I thought I might call when I could expect to actually hear from Ronan.”
Ronan might’ve gotten a little better at answering his phone, but not by much.
“Gansey,” Ronan said. “Heard you losers are taking a trip abroad for graduation?”
In the pixelated screen, Gansey lit up a bit. “Yes! We won’t be long, since Blue will have to get back to Virginia for her ecology internship, but still, I’m excited to be taking her to Wales at all. I persuaded her to let me pay for the air fare, with the stipulation that I’m not to buy her so much as a scone once we land in London.” Gansey looked very pleased at his compromise. “Blue wants to conduct some wetlands botany research while we’re there, and there’s so much for Malory to show us, of course.” Gansey pushed his round glasses up his nose, and Adam could see him opening up his mouth to ramble on about one thing or another.
“Did you and Blue decide what you’re doing after graduation?” Adam asked, attempting to forestall what was probably an inevitable discussion of Gansey’s research.
Gansey visibly switched tracks, neatly brushing a wave of hair away from his face. “Oh, yes! I’ve decided on Harvard, just have to send in the paperwork. There’s more opportunity for Blue to get a job in Boston than there is in Connecticut, and they always say it’s better to pursue graduate studies at different institution from your undergrad. And in a research field like history, well, really, how can I go wrong meeting new people to work with? Plus the opportunities to write for different publications is just too good to pass up. Publish or perish, as they say,” Gansey said cheerfully.
Out of the corner of his eye, Adam could see Ronan nodding along with mock seriousness. “Yes, Gansey, very wise,” Ronan said, somehow keeping a straight face. Adam felt his lips twitch a little, and he pinched Ronan’s arm, right over where he knew there was simple lineart tattoo of a smudgy boy on a skateboard.
Gansey just rolled his eyes. “Do I make fun of your cows, dickhead? No, I do not.”
“Too many other things to make fun of, I suspect,” Adam quipped, grinning when Ronan pinched him back.
They talked for a while longer, Gansey complaining a little about his parents reluctance to accept that Gansey wasn’t interested in a congressional, senatorial, gubernatorial or otherwise political seat, until it was too cold to sit on the park bench in the growing dark. Blue came back in just before they ended the call, a little windswept and flushed with the righteous anger and rum and cokes of feminist book club.
“Oh, Henry called from California while I was out! He’s spending the summer with us at Monmouth,” she said towards the end of the phone call. “Aaaaand,” she said, her voice raising into a sing-song, “he’s bringing a giiiiiirl .” She rubbed her nose against Gansey’s while Ronan gagged exaggeratedly.
They finally hung up after Adam promised to call Gansey next week about his job applications; both of them were shivering slightly and leaning into each other.
Ronan nodded at a little brick pub close to Adam’s apartment as they walked back. “Want to get a drink before we head back?” he asked.
“Sure,” Adam agreed.
The bar was a little louder than Adam might’ve preferred, and he made sure to stick close to Ronan’s left side to hear him over the loud music playing. But it was nice to have more of an excuse to lean into Ronan’s side, to feel Ronan’s palm settle against the small of his back for a long moment when he leaned over the bar to order a local IPA for Adam and a chocolate stout for himself.
Between Ronan’s thunderous appearance and sheer luck, they managed to commandeer themselves a small section of the bar, up against the wall where they wouldn’t be too bothered as they finished off the night out with a drink. Adam never liked getting drunk, but he liked a beer or two when he felt like it, and today he felt like it. Ronan didn’t drink the way he used to, though he generally drank more than Adam did.
They drank slowly, Ronan’s eyes scanning the bar while his fingers slid under the hem of Adam’s pilfered shirt, stroking slowly over the small of Adam’s back. Adam talked a little about some of the job applications he’d filled out: a couple jobs that were mostly telecommute in D.C., a few more out of Richmond. Not exactly ideal, but there wasn’t much call for analytics in Henrietta. Some variety of a commute was essentially guaranteed, with secluded location of the Barns, though Adam hoped to limit that to a couple of days a week at most. He didn’t want to move back to the Barns only to spend his days behind the wheel, constantly driving back and forth.
“Don’t see why you’re getting all worked up, Adam. You’re going to get whatever fucking job you want. Don’t be a baby.”
Adam’s beer was mostly gone, and he leaned his temple against Ronan’s chest, breathing him in through his t-shirt. “Don’t want to spend four hours a day in the car, though, asshole, not anymore than I have to. Leaving before seven to be to the office by nine, not getting home ‘til eight o’clock.” He pulled his head back, but leaned his shoulder more deliberately into Ronan’s. “I’ve enjoyed it here. I’m just... ready to be home,” he confessed. “Plus, I am so fuckin’ sick of school.”
Ronan leaned back, his mouth a fleeting impression against Adam’s crown. “Should’ve dropped out,” Ronan said flippantly, not really meaning it. “But somebody had to fuckin’ go off to college. And get his masters in one year, like some sort of fuckin’ freak.”
Adam turned so his lips were almost pressed to Ronan’s neck. His eyes were closed, but he knew without looking where jagged claws of ink were scrawled into the skin beneath his mouth.
“I told you,” Adam said into Ronan’s throat. “I’m ready to be home.”
When Adam pulled back, he could see that Ronan’s blue eyes had narrowed to slits, and his fingers pressed more harshly into the skin of Adam’s back.
“Finish your fucking drink, then, Parrish,” he ordered, tipping the last of his stout back.
Adam lifted his drink. “Whatever you say, Lynch,” he muttered, but complied anyway. “Ready to go?”
Ronan led the way out of the bar-- it had only grown more crowded since they arrived, and everyone seemed to clear the space around Ronan, who was imposing in all of the ways that Adam seemed to be receding. He’d been scary enough in high school, all harsh lines and shitty attitude, but it was moreso now: he was older, broader in the shoulders and thicker with muscle. Ronan’s anger had sharpened, too, like the flinty features of his face, less sullen and more focused. He’d already lost everything once, so he had even more to lose now that he’d rebuilt the Barns, less in Niall Lynch’s image and more in his own.
They didn’t hold hands, neither of them particularly demonstrative, but Ronan’s hand was at the small of Adam’s back as they ducked through the door, brushing past a group struggling their way inside.
The final couple of blocks back to the apartment were quiet, just the two of them barely brushing shoulders. Adam breathed in the night air, slightly too cold yet redolent with spring. Sometimes simply being with Ronan was like Cabeswater all over again, whatever that seemed to mean in that moment.
Chainsaw was there to greet them when they unlocked the door to Adam’s apartment, settling instantly on Ronan’s shoulder, close to his ear. “ Kerah! ” she croaked, settling her wings in against her body, head tilting and twisting as she considered Adam with beady black eyes, not suspiciously, but with what he had decided to presume was something like great regard.
Ronan clicked his tongue and Chainsaw nudged her head affectionately against Ronan’s. “Hungry, you pain in the ass?” he asked, already moving to the small refrigerator on the far side of the apartment. He dug out a baggie he must’ve brought with him, half-full with cast-off cuts of red meat. Ronan settled Chainsaw into her cage with a strip of meat and fresh water; at the Barns, she was free to roam outside, but Ronan rarely liked to set her loose in the city. She made a noise like a guff caw that rolled into a burred purring, a happy sound that she often made when Ronan was near.
After brushing his teeth in the tiny box of a bathroom, Adam sat at the edge of his bed and flicked through his planner while Ronan finished tending to Chainsaw and then scrubbed up his hands with the cheap liquid dish soap Adam kept at his sink. Ronan disappeared into the bathroom to brush his teeth, and Adam absently listened to the sounds of running water and Ronan spitting while mentally tallying the next week’s workload. He was well ahead of schedule with his capstone research project, but he’d probably spend Sunday night after Ronan left up to his ears in programming. Nothing unusual, then.
He settled his leather-covered planner-- a gift Gansey had sent to him at the outset of each fall semester since freshman year-- on his makeshift bedside table next to the clutter of strange trinkets and scraps of leather that would materialize whenever Ronan showed up.
“Hey,” he said, looking up a Ronan, who was now standing at Adam’s desk, his back to Adam while he seemingly fiddled with something at the desk. He’d shed his jacket, baring his arms and their sweeping, scrawled ink marks and the array of hard-fought scars to Adam. “Come here.”
When Ronan turned around, his face was beautiful and strange in the dim light, from the furrow of his brow to the flat set of his mouth. He held something in his hands, a trick Adam was used to by now. Crossing the room in a few short strides, Ronan sat down next to Adam at the edge of the bed, thighs and elbows nudging together, and Ronan opened his hands to Adam’s gaze.
Balanced in his callused palms was a toy car, a silvery swoop and furrow of dream metal and glass that was somehow managed to be every model of muscle call rolled together. Adam knew that if he reached out and spun a wheel, music would fill the heavy air between them.
Ronan always kept it in his office at the Barns, placed at eye-level in one of the many shelves and cubbies of the antique-looking desk that had once been Niall’s. They never really spoke of it, but every now and then one of them would spin the wheels along the edge of the desk and listen to the melodies that would play, thinking back to the sweet wonder of their first kiss in Ronan’s bedroom. It was an idol in the mythology of their relationship, a touchstone for every open-hearted thing they shared.
Adam picked the toy car up. “This thing,” he mused, thumbing a wheel and enjoying a few bars of a vaguely Irish melody.
When Adam looked up, Ronan was looking at him very intently. For all the ways-- loving, mortifyingly embarrassing, tenderly and perfectly-- that they’d memorized each other over the course of their relationship, this moment was very much like their first, slightly wet lips and a sharp inhalation, the threat of an approaching storm, the thunderous wait for what Adam already knew was coming. Ronan’s eyes were dark, studying Adam’s face. Adam had the strange thought that emotions were calculable and incalculable all at once, just a set of numbers and physics that hadn’t been dreamed up yet, etched into Ronan’s hard face.
Ronan leaned forward, telegraphing his intent when his eyes dropped to Adam’s mouth. The kiss was chaste and dirty all at once: a tender brush of lips but also the swipe of a hot, wet tongue and blunt, calloused fingers rough at the hinge of his jaw but delicate over Adam’s thundering pulse.
Just as quickly, it was over, Ronan leaning back slightly and tilting his hips to dig something out of his pocket.
“Adam,” he said, and opened, carefully, slowly, his cupped palm. Two shiny metal circles rested on the rises and valleys of Ronan’s heart and head and life lines.
They were both silent when Adam set the car down on his thigh, and Ronan tilted the rings into Adam’s expectant hand. Ronan was a sentry at his side as Adam ran a light, curious hand over them, fingers shaking a bit as they touched metal and, surprisingly, wood.
Adam picked up the smaller ring, knowing without proof that it would fit him perfectly. It was silver, a simple band save for the inlay of pale, freckled wood, dreamed up to resemble some sort of maple or ash but also more fantastic than that, with a certain refined thorniness about it. The wood was warmer than the metal, but still hard, resilient. He rested the ring on the tip of his thumb, tracing over the engraving there. Unguibus et rostro , it read, in Ronan’s handwriting, and Adam felt like he couldn’t swallow. Wood and metal were silky under fingertips, warmed with Ronan’s body heat, warm like it could melt into his skin, his bloodstream, his entire being.
Carefully, he set that ring down on in Ronan’s open hand and picked up the other, this one similar and dissimilar in all the right ways. It was slightly bigger, just as Ronan’s hands were slighter larger than Adam’s. The engraving on the inside was the same, only this time, the spidery scrawl was replaced with Adam’s tidier, deliberate block print. The wood was different, too, like a black walnut: densely black, but shot through with a watery shimmer of something brighter. It was Ronan, the way he loved: fiercely, but with all the heart he had, with every good and bad thing about him, a greasy spill of motor oil, resplendent and viscous, vital and dangerous.
He set that one back down, too, on Ronan’s palm. He cupped Ronan’s hand in both of his, and they sat with heads bent, holding vigil over the gifts in Ronan’s palm.
“I want--” Ronan said to their hands and their rings, voice halting a bit, “I want to marry you this summer, at the Barns. When you come home for good.”
Ronan’s hands were shaking, but Adam’s were, as well. Adam looked up, not wanting to look away from the rings, but needing, suddenly, to see Ronan’s face. Ronan looked at him, hard and sharp and dark, and Adam felt that brief moment of before-the-storm, when the wind picked up, the pressure changed, the clouds just about to break open and pour over.
Adam curled his hands more tightly around Ronan’s, their grip on each other just shy of painful.
They were never much for talking, at times like these.
So instead of saying anything, he leaned forward, capturing Ronan’s mouth, sweet but hard, eyes screwed shut and breathless with the same wanting he’d had for more than five years-- but more so, always more so. It was the only way, the best way he knew how to say yes.
They kissed like that for a long time, hands still curled between themselves, heads tilted awkwardly and necks bent at uncomfortable angles. When Adam tried to shift, turning into Ronan, the toy car he’d balanced on his thigh was tipped, rolling off his leg with sharp jangle of musical trilling before crashing to the floor.
Ronan laughed into Adam’s mouth. “Way to ruin a moment, Parrish.” Ronan’s eyes were even darker now, lips redder, red flush riding high on his cheeks. His smile was easy, though, happiness effortless on his lips just like light gleaming through stained glass.
“Yeah, well,” Adam started, but his mind failed to supply a witty remark, too preoccupied with the sparks between his synapses and his erratic heartbeat. Instead he just loosened his grip on Ronan’s hands and ran his fingers back over the rings. His fingertip traced the circle of Ronan’s ring, then his own. “Do we-- do we wear them now?”
Ronan picked up the smaller, lighter ring, jammed it down just over his thumbnail, and handed the other ring to Adam. “I was thinking you could hang onto mine and give it back to me, you know. When it’s time. I’ll keep yours.”
Adam nodded, slipping the tip of his index finger through the ring and spinning it slowly with his thumb, feeling the engraving roll over his skin, feeling the sleek wood slide under the pad of his thumb. “They’re perfect,” he said, looking at Ronan out of the corner of his eye, unable to stop his own smile from splitting his face.
Ronan just shrugged and looked a little embarrassed. “Had enough time to think about it,” he remarked, shifting away from Adam to root through the piles of junk he’d left on Adam’s beside table.
“Enough time?” Adam asked, studying his own handwriting on the inside of Ronan’s ring.
Ronan looped a long bit of black leather cord through Adam’s ring, knotting the ends and tugging experimentally. “I’ve been in love with you since I was, like, fucking seventeen, Parrish. You tell me.” Ronan held the ring up by the cord, examining it in the faint overhead light. A necklace, so Ronan could keep the ring with him.
Adam twirled Ronan’s ring a couple more revolutions around his index finger before slipping it onto his right hand middle finger. It fit there, snug but not constricting. He flexed his hand, aware of the stupid smile on his face.
“Yeah,” Adam said, meaning so much more than simple agreement when he looked at Ronan, when his thumb absently stroked the underside of his ring where it sat at the base of his finger.
Ronan turned to face Adam, dropping the necklace down over his head, and Adam’s hand reached out, tracing the place where the cord rested against the tattoo on Ronan’s neck. “ Unguibus et rostro ,” Adam whispered, reverent. Ronan’s skin was hot, iron from the fire, where Adam touched him.
“Fuck,” Ronan breathed, succinctly, as he reached forward with both hands to cradle Adam’s face. “ Fuck ,” he repeated, parted lips hot against the corner of Adam’s mouth. Adam felt a flicker of hot tongue, the rasp of stubble and the tender pressure of Ronan’s hands, and shuddered into the deepening kiss.
This was kissing with intent, with overwhelming need and helpless want. This was the slick slide of tongue and the sharp press of teeth, the quickness of breath and shivering lust. This was wanting and being wanted in return, both of them gasping for it, more practiced but no less wanting than the horny, desperate teenagers they’d once been.
Adam pushed into Ronan’s space, edging into his lap, and together they crawled backwards to the middle of the bed, Adam kneeling above Ronan. Ronan’s hands stroked through Adam’s hair, and Adam pressed his hands against the swell of Ronan’s biceps, trying to steady himself, trying to steady the riot of feelings that ricocheted beneath his skin, but it was futile: everywhere they touched, everywhere they didn’t touch, was electric. “Ronan, Ronan,” he mumbled into slick, wet lips. “Tell me what you want. Want you to feel good.” Adam rolled his hips, thrusting against Ronan, and groaned. It was like highschool all over again, rock hard from a few kisses and dry humping and both of them shaking out of their skins.
“Christ fuck ,” Ronan said, arching up to meet Adam when he thrust again. His fingers tightened, then slackened, in Adam’s hair. The long line of Ronan’s neck was beautiful, all muscle and sinew, bone and pale skin and the pulse of hot blood.
Rocking his hips forward again, he kissed the most jagged hook of the tattoo along Ronan’s neck, then let his lips move upwards, over, kissing Ronan roughly, teeth and tongue, until his mouth hovered over Ronan’s. But instead of kissing him properly, Adam just lightly rubbed his lips over Ronan’s, teasing. “Tell me what you want,” he said, needing to hear what Ronan wanted and needing, just as much, to give it to him.
Ronan arched up, stealing a kiss. “Fuck me?” he asked, punctuating his request by dropping a hand to Adam’s ass and rutting upwards.
Adam pressed his forehead to Ronan’s and sucked in a gasp of air, suddenly all too aware of the rough friction of his jeans and zipper, too tight and stiff. “Yeah,” he agreed. “Yeah.” He pulled himself upright, taking his time running his hands over Ronan’s chest, thumbing a nipple and dragging his nails over soft cotton and, underneath, hot skin and taut muscle. Ronan shivered under the touch, and while Adam wanted desperately to yank Ronan’s shirt off, he stroked his hands up over Ronan’s shirt again, fingers tracing the grooves of Ronan’s ribs and the lines of his abdomen, skimming up over his sensitive sides. Ronan sucked in a deep breath, and Adam let his fingernails catch, deliberately, carefully, over the pucker of a single pierced nipple, the narrow barbell and pointed ends and Ronan’s pink skin, and was satisfied when Ronan jerked into the touch.
Ronan suddenly sat up on one elbow, catching Adam’s chin with his thumb and forefinger before stealing a kiss. As Ronan sat up, kissing him more deeply, Adam slipped his hands up the back of Ronan’s shirt, pressing his hands to the warm, heaving wings of Ronan’s shoulder blades. They broke apart when Adam tugged Ronan’s shirt off, and Ronan thumbed the sharp lines of Adam’s hips while Adam reached back, yanking off his own pilfered shirt.
After licking a stripe over Adam’s bared nipple, Ronan tugged him forward, tipping them both onto their sides. Adam huffed out a laugh, dropping his head to lick kisses along the solid line of Ronan’s collar. Laughter vibrated, lowly, in Ronan’s throat, a pleasant burr under Adam’s mouth.
Lightly, he trailed his fingers over Ronan’s right side, where Adam knew there was an abstract allusion to the Magician card: a boy in vines, infinity symbol perched above his head like a halo, tendrils of it woven into the forest on his back. He could feel the rise and fall of Ronan’s ribs, the give and take of his strong lungs, the throb of Ronan’s impossible heart.
“Hey,” he said, suddenly, looking up into Ronan’s eyes. His hand wended its way from ribcage to bicep to shoulder to the sharp blade of Ronan’s cheek. “I love you.”
It was something Adam said sparingly at the beginning, afraid that airing it too often was to wear it out. His parents never bothered with it, and for a long time, he wondered if maybe love was something you convinced yourself of, if the words I love you were some sort of shorthand for formally agreed upon kinship. He was still careful with the words now, never wanting them to become meaningless, but he no longer measured them out like lines in a bank balance, penny by penny. Now the words simply were, like any other fact of their altogether unlikely existences.
Ronan’s hand was warm against his ear, fingers combing through Adam’s hair, that awful dust brown. Ronan ducked to kiss him. “I love you, too,” Ronan whispered into the curve of Adam’s lower lip.
They kissed like that for thousands of heartbeats, too hot and shivering with a delight that altogether sparkled. Adam’s hands traced whorls into Ronan’s back, and Ronan plastered himself against Adam, both of them crushed together on the same pillow, mouths meeting again and again. When Adam let his fingers slide with intent down the sleek line of Ronan’s spine, Ronan made a hungry noise and pressed closer, nosing against Adam’s collar and thrusting against him restlessly.
It was only a few moments to undo Ronan’s belt, to loose the button on his jeans and slide the zipper down. Then Adam’s fingers curled just over the waistband of Ronan’s underwear, the backs of his fingers sliding teasingly along the sharp hollow of Ronan’s narrow hips. Ronan’s skin was hot, too hot almost, and smooth against the rougher skin of Adam’s dry knuckles.
With practiced ease, Ronan shifted to lay on his back while Adam settled on his knees beside him. Ronan lifted his hips and Adam obliged, tugging Ronan’s jeans and boxer briefs down over thick thighs and strong calves, peeling socks off his shockingly pale feet, dumping the clothes off the side of the bed before standing and dropping his own jeans and underwear into the pile. Staring down where Ronan was spread out on the bed, dark and hungry, slowly jerking himself off, Adam pressed the flat of his palm to his own dick for a brief, stalling moment. Ronan’s eyes dropped to follow the motion of Adam’s hand, never stopping the rise and fall of his fist.
The bed dipped slightly under Adam’s weight when he knelt between Ronan’s thighs, the shift of the mattress causing one of Ronan’s bent legs to rub over Adam’s hip, rough hair and hot skin.
“Bored?” Adam inquired lightly, rubbing his hands down the backs of Ronan’s thighs. His gaze kept falling to Ronan’s hand, the head of his reddened cock peeking through his fist with every downward stroke.
Ronan shrugged lazily, red flush spreading across his pale face. “Just waiting,” he replied. He pulled his hand away--slowly, fingers skating over that upward curve for one teasing moment-- and linked his fingers behind his head, smile even more predatory than usual.
Adam dropped his hands further down Ronan’s thighs, humming his agreement as his thumbs circled slightly at the softest, innermost curve of Ronan’s thighs, down to the crease where thigh met ass. Pressing lightly, he encouraged Ronan to spread his legs further, to open wider for the spread of Adam’s broad hands, to let Adam slide his hands up to clutch handfuls of his ass.
Adam lowered himself to his elbows slowly, letting his eyes drop and skate over Ronan’s bare chest, from the barbell in his right nipple to the stark lines of black ink that wound over a firm pectoral; from the defined lines of his abdomen to dark line of hair that trailed down, down to his heavy cock.
Humming again, the sight of Ronan burned into his memory, he dropped his head and ran his tongue up the long line of Ronan’s dick, only sparing another glance upwards when the tip of his tongue was curling around the flushed head, tracing slow and wet along the slit. Ronan’s gaze was slitted now, and he hadn’t dropped his arms from behind his head, but there was a familiar tension in his biceps, in the tight, careful way he was holding himself, coiled and ready to strike.
Ronan was challenging him, and Adam accepted, dropping his gaze to close his lips around Ronan’s dick, sucking hard at the tip before relaxing his jaw and swallowing down the rest of it. This was known: the heft and feel of Ronan in his mouth, heavy on his tongue and warm against his stretched lips; the sharp exhale from above him, like breathing had suddenly become something cold; the tickle of hair at his nose when he took Ronan in as far as he could go; and finally, finally, the restless hands Ronan wound into Adam’s hair, pulling and tugging, but also caressing. Ronan’s thumbs swept over his temples and his short, blunt nails scraped shiveringly over Adam’s scalp, soothing and inflaming all at once. Adam closed his eyes, letting his mouth get a little sloppy, wet leaking from the corners of his lips and sliding down the warm length of Ronan’s dick. The taste was bitter but welcome, salt and musky earth, the sharp bite and milky tang of precome that lingered, silkily, on Adam’s tongue.
He lost the thread of time a little while he ran his lips and tongue over Ronan, sucking and licking and teasing. He changed his rhythm as he went, enjoying the act of blowing Ronan, anticipating fucking him, and wanting, desperately, for all of it to last. He felt strangely aware of the ring on his middle right finger, where his hands were digging into Ronan’s ass cheeks; the ring was the first he’d ever worn, and soon, on some impossible summer day at the Barns, he’d put it back on Ronan’s finger and Ronan would do the same for Adam. Sex with Ronan had been a lot of things over the years, sometimes like wildfire, sometimes bland, and always like being known. Tonight was already a triumphant feedback loop of wordless emotion and gut-hooked physical sensation and Adam wanted, suddenly, to be kissing Ronan while he fucked into him, hard, slow, deep, soft, everything .
After one more long, swirling suck, Adam pulled off of Ronan’s dick and opened his eyes to look up at the man sprawled across the bed above him. Ronan’s breathing was quick, the red of his blush spreading down his neck. His blue eyes were glassy, and Adam could see where he’d been biting at his lip. When Adam finally spoke, his voice was gravelly. “Lube?” he asked.
Ronan leaned over the side of the bed, rummaging easily through the sideways crate that served as a fair imitation of a bedside table. While Ronan’s hips were lifted, Adam took the opportunity to slip a couple fingers between Ronan’s cheeks, stroking lightly but not quite reaching his hole. Ronan puffed out a breath unsteadily when he settled back down, passing the lube off to Adam before running his hands through Adam’s hair again.
Adam squeezed a fair amount onto his fingers, enough to get them started, before carefully closing the cap and dropping the bottle next to Ronan’s hip where they could easily grab it later.
“Ready?” Adam asked, pressing his mouth to Ronan’s hip while letting his fingers trace a smooth, silky line down behind Ronan’s balls, just fingertips over skin, gentle and soft as anything Adam knew how to do.
Ronan’s fingers traced the shells of his ears, over the stubble at his jaw, the tendons along the side of his neck. “Yeah, Parrish,” Ronan said, voice low and quiet. “I’m ready.”
The movement of Adam’s fingers turned purposeful; he increased the pressure as he rubbed slowly over the tight furl of Ronan’s hole, massaging the muscle there. The slick noise of the lube and the harsh exhale of Ronan’s breath and even his own quickened breathing shivered over his skin, sounds he could feel like gooseflesh. There was something that always urgent and dreamlike about this, their pleasure impossibly linked together so that each touch of Adam’s fingers, each subtle relaxation of Ronan’s body, was a promise of more for both of them.
Shifting upwards, Adam pressed a soft kiss to the underside of Ronan’s jaw, still rubbing gently between the beautiful splay of Ronan’s legs. He teased the rim carefully with the tip of his middle finger, lightly pressing to test the resistance there, as well as Ronan’s patience. He wasn’t disappointed.
“Jesus, Adam,” Ronan said, breathy in a way he’d never admit to. Ronan’s hands splayed across the span of Adam’s upper back, gripping restlessly at the freckled skin like he could demand more of Adam’s fingers through mere touch. He probably could.
Adam waited one moment longer, looking down at the obscene display sprawled beneath him. Ronan at eighteen had been beautiful, lean and dangerous, but Ronan at twenty-four was even more so. He’d filled out, his features only more intimidating, from the harder planes of his chest to the sharper corners of his jaw. He’d etched more ink into his pale skin, more sharp hooks and harsh lines that told stories of all of Ronan’s softest parts. There were more scars, too: narrow lines that crisscrossed his arms but practically disappeared into his skin, wounds he woke with; a thumb-sized pink weal just below his right pectoral that puckered slightly because Ronan had picked too often at the scab, never explaining the wound’s provenance to anyone; the faint pink dots that decorated his left hip, the remnants of the nastiest road rash that Adam had ever seen. Every single part of Ronan was laid out in front of him right now, more wild and dangerous, vital and beloved than Adam could have even conceived of at eighteen.
Adam rocked forward, finger breeching Ronan to the first knuckle just as he captured Ronan’s groaning mouth in a wet, filthy kiss; Ronan was impossibly tight around his finger and his lips stuttered softly against Adam’s mouth. While he slowly worked his finger deeper into Ronan, he fucked his tongue into Ronan’s mouth in languid, damp kisses, only pulling back to nip at the shiny wet curve of Ronan’s lower lip.
By the time he worked a second finger into Ronan, he had dropped his forehead to Ronan’s shoulder, pressing loose kisses to the hot skin of Ronan’s chest, nuzzling close to the strangely, sweetly arousing smell of sweat and deodorant that clung damply to the hollows of Ronan’s armpit. He laved his tongue over the tight bead of Ronan’s nipple, the pointed barbell scraping teasingly over his tongue, and he shivered when Ronan’s caught-breath whine swept over his ear. He bit, gently, teasingly, worrying the thin skin.
“One more?” he mumbled into the prickled beneath his mouth. Ronan was relaxed, his hole open but not quite enough; besides, he rocked back onto Adam’s fingers so beautifully when he was truly ready and wanting, and Adam wanted so badly to see that.
Ronan’s hand tugged, not exactly gentle, at Adam’s hair. In response, he scissored his fingers, gently, patiently, like he hadn’t been panting to fuck Ronan for what felt like days.
“Shit fuck,” Ronan said, “your hands.”
Adam repeated himself. “One more?” He punctuated the statement by pressing in deeper, harder, the pads of his fingers brushing Ronan’s prostate.
Ronan jolted, and his voice tipped slightly into a whine when he replied. “Yeah, baby, please.” The flush on his face was more pronounced, starry red splotches across his cheeks and blooming red all down his front to puffy, teased nipples rendered dark pink and wet under Adam’s mouth.
Sitting back up, he slowly slid his fingers out of Ronan. With his dry hand, he squeezed a palmful of lube onto his already shining hand and slicked up his dick, half a dozen tight strokes, trying to relieve the ache of his own want and feeling, desperately, as he did all too often, that his own fist was a poor substitute for the tight warmth of being inside Ronan.
Tipping more lube onto his fingers, he then pressed his fingers back against Ronan’s hole, slowly working three fingers in and watching Ronan’s face for any sign of strain. When he saw none, he pressed further and further in, letting his hand work just slightly too slow for Ronan’s pleasure.
Soon, he was rewarded with Ronan’s demands. “Fuckin’ hell, Adam, come on,” he groaned, rocking down onto Adam’s hand with a growing desperation. “Need you to fuck me.” Ronan’s hips jerked, and Adam felt a jolt in his cock at the sight of Ronan’s, heavy and hard, flushed and wet at the tip. A sticky patch of wet was daubed in the line of dark hair below Ronan’s navel; his balls were high and tight, flushed dark.
Adam squeezed his eyes shut for a single moment, trying desperately to hang onto his control. Ronan seemed to sense this, and began to fuck himself harder onto Adam’s hand. “Come on, please, need it,” he insisted, and Adam opened his eyes, mesmerized, just like the first time he’d seen his fingers disappearing into Ronan’s body. He groaned.
“Jesus, fuck,” he blew out on a quiet exhale. “Fuck.” He slid his fingers, harder than before, against Ronan’s rim and savored the stretch. “Yeah, okay, baby.” His fingers glistened when he pulled them out of Ronan’s hole, and he bit his lip at the sight of Ronan’s stretched hole, waiting for him. He grabbed for one of the tissues at his bedside, wiping his fingers hastily as Ronan shifted beneath him.
Ronan hooked his elbows behind his knees and pulled them up to his chest, opening himself even more for Adam, and Adam shifted himself accordingly, moving in closer into the open vee of Ronan’s legs until the tops of his thighs were beneath the backs of Ronan’s.
He slid the head of his cock over Ronan’s hole for a brief moment, teasing himself one last time before slowly working the head of his cock past the rim.
“Oh, fuck,” he groaned when he’d pressed the full head past the ring of muscle. He felt the flutter of Ronan’s hole; heard the short, harsh breath Ronan huffed out. Everything in him wanted to fuck in, hard and deep, a not exactly unfamiliar possessive urge to use Ronan and mark him and wreck him from the inside out because there was nobody for them but each other.
But he was careful for these first few moments. Everything that came after could be rough, but he always wanted to take his time with the blessed slide of his dick into Ronan’s tight hole. If he was sweet now, with this sacred moment of the first breech, if he opened Ronan up for him carefully enough, he could lose himself later, fuck Ronan to just the right side of raw. But all of that had to be earned.
So he eased himself in carefully, listening to Ronan’s breathing and using his thumbs to smooth circles into the backs of Ronan’s thighs whenever he tensed. When he finally bottomed out, he stayed as far inside as he could, and leaned forward, draping his body over Ronan’s form. He pressed his lips to Ronan’s in a chaste kiss, one last moment of sweetness before he gave into his hunger.
“Adam,” Ronan growled, more gravel than anything. The lines of his neck were tight, the narrow curve of his lips too red, and the pupils of his eyes blown huge, even in the dim light.
Settling his thumb to Ronan’s lips, he cupped Ronan’s face in his right hand, cradling. The black ring on Adam’s finger was pressed into Ronan’s jaw, and the pale one on its leather cord was pressed between their panting chests. Adam pressed his thumb down until Ronan’s mouth open beneath the pressure, teeth and lips closing over the digit just above the knuckle, and Ronan’s eyes closed as he sucked the tip of Adam’s thumb.
Adam’s breath caught in his throat, a growl and a purr all at once.
He dragged his damp thumb out of Ronan’s mouth, tugging at Ronan’s full lower lip before letting it drag down over his chin. Holding Ronan in place, he leaned forward, pressing a short, sweet kiss to his mouth before drawing back, shifting his hips slightly as he settled into place on his knees.
At first, his thrusts were slow and controlled, gentle, even, as he let Ronan adjust. Narrow strips of light filtered through the blinds, casting rippling light over Ronan’s body as he shivered beneath Adam. The light and shadow caught in the glitter of his dark blue eyes and trembled over his skin, the shimmering suggestion of ink and metal, pale skin and shadow broken by pale streaks of sodium lighting. Even vulnerable, spread wide around Adam’s body and shuddering from want, Ronan was dangerous. The slick heat of him sucked needily at Adam’s length with every thrust, demanding and raw. It was impossible not lot lose himself in whatever Ronan’s body whispered to him.
It wasn’t long before Ronan’s unspoken demands for more: a nip to the thin skin at the inside of Adam’s wrist, then the wet streak of a tongue bathing the mark; the restless shift of narrow hips asking for harder and deeper ; hands tugging him forward into stuttering kisses and Ronan’s face nuzzling into his neck. After what felt like an eternity of want, it seemed impossible to not settle his hands on Ronan’s hips, to not drive into Ronan’s waiting, wanting body with less tenderness but more precision.
It never seemed like long enough. Both of them were always too eager, too starved for each other, for it to ever last when they first came together. And by the time they were almost used to it, the impending threat of separation would loom over them, sending them right back into that mindless hunger for touch.
Soon , some small part of Adam’s mind thought, Soon I won’t always have to count the days between Ronan and Not-Ronan, because I won’t be going anywhere.
Adam’s gaze caught on Ronan’s cock, hard flushed dark and darker at the tip, leaking wetly onto Ronan’s pale skin. He saw how Ronan strained upwards, seeking the friction of Adam’s belly, the possibility of coming, a desire to match the burning within Adam. He pulled his right hand away from Ronan’s hip, and brought his palm to Ronan’s mouth.
“Lick,” Adam ordered, and Ronan obeyed instantly, closing his eyes as his tongue stroked over Adam’s hand from the base of his palm to the tips of his fingers, over and over, suckling at the tips of his fingers and laving little kitten licks over the sensitive skin of his palm.
Ronan made a soft noise, a whimper and a whine caught together, when Adam pulled his hand away, and opened his eyes, clouded over with want. He frowned, reaching for Adam’s wrist to pull his hand back, but Adam wrapped his wet hand around Ronan’s cock, and Ronan truly whimpered then, jerking into the touch.
It was easy to fall into the mindless pattern of fucking Ronan and jacking him off in time with his strokes, to watch Ronan move inexorably towards orgasm. Ripples of tension played across the hard muscles of Ronan’s abdomen before Adam found the twitch in Ronan’s thighs. His fingers curled, hard, into Adam’s upper arms, spasming every time Adam stroked his thumb over the darkened head of his dick, smearing another dab of precome down the shaft. The ripples grew into shudders, and Ronan tilted his head back, exposing the delicate musculature of his soft throat.
Adam wanted to watch Ronan come, to watch Ronan come and then come on Ronan’s skin, too, to fill the grooves of Ronan’s belly with their come and to smear the mess into his skin and lick him clean, to dip his fingers in the mess and hold it to Ronan’s mouth and watch him suck Adam’s fingers clean and to hear Ronan ask for more.
Dipping forward, Adam ran his tongue up Ronan’s throat in a succession of three broad swipes from the soft hollow at the base of his throat to the hard tip of his chin. Ronan’s skin was salty and sweet with sweat, and Adam groaned at the taste of it; on the third swipe of his tongue, he caught the leather necklace cord against his tongue, a bitter flavor that made his heart swell. He pressed his mouth to Ronan’s shivering shoulder, open mouthed, and muttered his plea even as he fucked into Ronan harder, jerked him off faster. “Please, Ronan, come on, gotta feel you, please, want you to come for me.”
It was only a breath or two more, and Ronan made a low, guttural noise that Adam felt and heard in every part of his hot blood, same as the unholy tight clench of Ronan’s hole around Adam’s dick. There was the hot splash of Ronan’s come over his fingers and down across Ronan’s belly, and Adam fucked him through the last of it, hand slowing only after it seemed the last of his pleasure had left Ronan boneless.
His hand was sticky when he grabbed for Ronan’s hip again, and he fucked Ronan for his own pleasure this time, chasing the boil that lived beneath his skin.
“Adam,” Ronan whispered. “Adam.” Ronan’s eyes were barely slits, and he was panting, still shaking slightly with the force and pressure of Adam’s thrusts, probably just shy of overstimulation. His feet dropped to the bed, thighs falling around Adam’s hips.
Adam cried out, low and hoarse, when he pulled out, reaching for his dick and jerking off over the mess on Ronan’s stomach with rough, hard pulls. It was only seconds before he was coming, painting Ronan’s skin with more messy streaks of white. When the last of it had been wrung from him, Adam sighed outwards, dropping his hands to Ronan’s thighs and then his shoulders, relaxing into the bone deep contentment of getting off.
When he’d caught his breath a little bit, he was gratified to see the ring on his middle right finger, dark against his skin. He smiled, leaning forward to kiss Ronan. Their lips were softer this time, still a little sticky and mess from their wild kisses before, but it was welcome, a slow gentling of Adam’s racing heart.
As he pulled back, he rubbed soothing circles on Ronan’s thighs. Strong as he was, he had to be aching. “Shower?” he asked, reaching for the tissues to gently clean the mess from Ronan’s stomach.
Ronan nodded. “Yeah, sounds good.”
Adam yanked Ronan from bed, and Ronan laughed softly when he pitched forward, wrapping his arms around Adam’s waist and burying his face in Adam’s hair. He refused to let go, so Adam walked backwards and Ronan steered them into the bathroom.
The shower wasn’t big, so they crowded together under the thankfully strong spray. They traded spluttery, wet kisses and Ronan smeared shampoo into Adam’s hair while Adam ran a washcloth over Ronan’s arms and sides, and down his flanks all the way to his toes. After they rinsed Adam’s hair, Adam traced gentle fingers over the puffy rim of Ronan’s hole, rinsing away lube and spit as carefully as he could.
“Feels okay?” he asked.
Ronan pressed a kiss to his left ear. “Yeah, I’m good.”
They finished scrubbing up slowly, Ronan complaining about Adam’s plain shampoo and unscented bar of “miserable old man soap,” and Adam tickling at the soft curve above Ronan’s hips while Ronan was forced to bite back his undignified laughter. When they got out of the shower, they wrapped up in the fluffy towels Adam had just washed in anticipation of Ronan’s visit, and then rinsed their mouths with mouthwash.
Out in the main room, they shared a glass of ice water and let Chainsaw out of her cage, her dinner finished and water replenished. She visited with them for a moment before fluttering off to her perch and picking at the rope toy that dangled there, already bored with them.
They pulled on underwear from Adam’s dresser and hung their towels up back in the bathroom, flicking off the few dim lights they’d left on. Suddenly tired, Adam fell face first into bed, sighing with sleepy contentment.
“Sleep?” Adam said hopefully. He’d woken up at 5:30 to clean the office downstairs and set up their new wide-format printer before the doors opened at 9 am.
Ronan rolled his eyes, but crawled into bed. He curled up, and Adam curled around him. “Love you, Parrish,” Ronan said, tapping a finger against the ring on Adam’s hand where it was pressed against Ronan’s bare chest.
“Love you, too, Lynch,” he replied, smoothing his hand over Ronan’s chest until his hand snagged on the ring hanging from its leather cord, and he tugged lightly before resettling his hand over Ronan’s chest. Finally, he pressed his lips to the sharp blade of black tattoo ink at the back of Ronan’s neck, and quickly fell asleep, lulled Ronan’s breath, Ronan’s heartbeat, Ronan’s scent, by Ronan.
Adam woke up blearily, to Ronan calling him an asshole, again.
“Hey, asshole. Wake up.” Ronan’s fingers were not gentle when then dug into his ribs, more of a shove than a tickle.
“What the fuck ,” Adam said, squinting at the red LED light of his alarm clock. “It’s, like, three in the morning.”
Ronan was practically vibrating against Adam; he’d probably only fallen asleep for an hour or two before waking up, and he’d reached the end of his patience and had to wake Adam. “I want to go for a drive,” Ronan said, digging his chin into Adam’s shoulder.
A drive-- shorthand for the mad press of Ronan’s foot against the gas pedal, a one man race against the night. Ronan didn’t really race other people anymore, but he’d never outgrown the urge to race himself. “What’s in it for me?” he asked.
“You can give me roadhead,” Ronan replied, instantly.
Adam threw his pillow in the general direction of Ronan’s smug face. “No, fuck you.”
Ronan’s fingers traced up Adam’s spine. “McDonald’s breakfast and we’ll go to your dumb lake on the way back,” he offered, feigning magnanimity.
Sighing deeply, Adam pressed his face into the sheets, letting Ronan’s scent soothe him. “Fine.” All in all, it was a fairly good deal, so Adam didn’t complain when he rolled out of bed to find Ronan already dressed and leaning against the desk and tapping restless fingers against Adam’s carefully organized notes from last week’s seminar. “Do you never sleep?” he asked rhetorically, flicking on the low lamp next to his desk. “Because some of us actually work, you know.”
“You’re a workaholic, Parrish. It’s my job--” Ronan hesitated for a moment, looking away before he finished-- “as your fiancé, to keep you from becoming even more of a boring asshole than Declan.”
Adam paused, jeans unbuttoned around his waist, and reached forward with one hand, grabbing Ronan and yanking him forward. Ronan came easily, warm hands on Adam’s neck and skin-heated clothes against Adam’s bare chest and open jeans. Adam laced his fingers at the small of Ronan’s back, heedless of his already sagging pants, and tilted his face up for the kiss. They both tasted a little sour with sleep, so they kissed chastely, noses brushing and lips closed, but it was sweet.
“Thank you,” Adam said, simply, into Ronan’s neck.
Ronan’s fingers were gentle in Adam’s hair for a moment before he tugged. “Yeah, yeah,” he said. “Let’s get moving.”
Ronan disappeared into the bathroom to freshen up while Adam finished dressing; Adam pulled on the shirt he’d stolen from Ronan for dinner back on, inhaling deeply as he pulled it over his face.
When Ronan came out of the bathroom, he went over to Chainsaw, stroking her back and talking in a low voice to her. The sound of his voice was all but inaudible when Adam shuffled into the bathroom to brush his teeth, scrub his face with cold water, and take a piss, but it was a pleasant rumble on the other side of the wall, and Adam strained to hear it whenever it was possible.
By the time Adam emerged from the bathroom, still yawning and shuffling a bit, Ronan had raided the cupboards and filled a water bottle and grabbed a couple of granola bars.
“Those are for the week, not the week end ,” Adam said, well aware of how fussy he sounded. He caught the granola bar when Ronan chucked it at his head anyway, automatically unwrapping it and jamming half of it into his mouth.
Ronan just shrugged, smile sharp as he snagged his keys from the counter. “Food’s for eating, Parrish. I’ll buy you some more.”
“You’re a rich asshole,” Adam said around a mouthful of granola, following Ronan out the door and checking that the lock had caught. Adam had come to accept that he was probably always going to be a bit strange about food-- doling it out strictly according to rules (like no granola bars on the weekends), weighing dollars per ounce value in the aisles at the grocery store, and generally turning up his nose at splurging. He’d gotten somewhat used to the way Ronan spent money, and he’d allowed himself the luxury of even enjoying it when Ronan paid for his meals-- for instance, the beers last night, and the fact that Ronan was definitely paying for McDonald’s in a few hours. But they would always approach these things a little differently, slightly at odds with casual luxury and puritanical restraint.
It was considerably colder outside at three in the morning than it had been when they’d come back from dinner and drinks last night, and Adam glowered at Ronan as he tucked his hands under his armpits, walking into the wind as the crossed the lot to Ronan’s BMW.
Once they’d settled into their seats, Ronan leaned over the armrest, grabbing Adam’s hand and pulling it to his mouth, pressing a kiss to his knuckles. Adam felt himself soften all over again, and when Ronan started the car, he rested his hand on top of Ronan’s thigh.
Ronan’s techno was playing, of course, as soon as the car started, but the car purred quietly as they pulled out into the street and headed towards the highway. Ronan’s fingers twitched in time with the music, right hand on the gear shaft and left loose at the base of the wheel.
“I’m probably going to fall asleep,” Adam warned when Ronan merged onto the highway, cranking through the gears at breakneck pace.
Ronan just nodded, eyes fixed on the mostly empty road. The needle on the speedometer slid restlessly up and over, vibrating past 80, 85. Behind the wheel, Ronan was cast in a blur of shadow and reflected light from the dashboard and the bright lights along the side of the road. He was beautiful like this, fierce, the Greywarren in him bleeding through the thin, human skin he was forced to wear.
Adam fell asleep, watching Ronan speed into the grey sky.
The dashboard clock read just past four in the morning when Adam woke up again; he’d barely slept for twenty minutes, but he was finally awake enough to stay that way. Ronan’s eyes flickered over to him when Adam lifted his hand from Ronan’s thigh to stretch. Shifting in his seat, he stretched his legs and rolled his shoulders, too, before reaching over to turn off the radio.
“How’s the roads?” Adam murmured, a roundabout way of inquiring after Ronan’s mood.
Ronan took Adam’s hand and pressed it to his jaw, scraping his stubble against the skin of Adam’s hand. “Good,” he replied, succinct. He smiled like a cat when Adam’s sleepy fingers curled to scratch at the corner of his jaw. Adam dropped his hand back down to Ronan’s thigh and squeezed before dipping the tips of his fingers in between Ronan’s legs and letting Ronan pin his hand there.
The sun was out a little bit more than when Adam had crawled into the car, streaky yellow sun filtering out from behind clouds and between the trees. Adam twisted the black ring around his middle finger, the wood and metal warm under the pad of his thumb.
“You want to get married this summer, then, yeah?” Adam asked. His voice was quiet, but it was appropriate to how Adam felt, like speaking too loudly might shatter the windows or the spell of being in love and being the type of people that get married.
Ronan’s shrugged, but Adam could see how controlled the motion was. “Seems like the thing to do.”
“Yeah, it does,” Adam whispered, amazed at how sweet the words tasted.
What little sun there was seemed to be shining over Ronan’s shoulders when he turned and smiled at Adam. “I think it made sense that you felt Cabeswater, yesterday. I think it’s always there. It knew that you were coming home, that I was going to ask you… you know.”
“I’m glad you did, Ronan,” Adam said. “I mean, I thought about getting married eventually, but… this is right. I’m glad we’re doing it this summer.”
Ronan was quiet for a long time; it was the type of quiet that generally preceded him saying something heartfelt. It was a living silence, the way Ronan chewed his lip and the shiver of blood in his veins, the twitch in his muscles. Whenever he spoke, his voice would be pitched low and his words might fall short, as they so often did between them, but it was always worth the wait. It was easier for Ronan to talk while he was driving, sometimes.
When Ronan dropped a hand from the wheel, it swallowed the back of Adam’s where it was pressed to the inside of Ronan’s thigh. He squeezed it before resettling his hand on the wheel. “I feel like I dreamed this up,” he admitted.
Adam traced a loose circle on Ronan’s thigh. “Me, too,” he said back. He looked over at Ronan, and Ronan was looking at him. “But I think that’s what this is supposed to feel like.”