Adam had been hearing about Joseph Kavinsky for years before he’d joined Aglionby. Henrietta was rife with rumours about him - about his troubled home life, about his parents’ perversions and habits, stories that involved drugs and sex and scandal. Adam’s father used to talk about them at dinner sometimes; used to scoff with disdain at the things he’d heard about the Kavinskys.
The truth was, as distasteful as Kavinsky came across in these stories, Adam couldn’t help but feel bad for him. He felt a sort of kinship towards him, in a sense. Like Adam, Kavinsky couldn’t help who his parents were and what they did. If he acted out, it was a direct result of his terrible upbringing. Adam understood how hard it was not to become the monster your family was trying to turn you into.
Then Adam joined Aglionby, and on his very first day he ran into Joseph Kavinsky.
Adam was hurrying out of class at the end of the day. He needed to get back home before it got dark, at his father’s behest. He was running and then he was falling, his books toppling to the ground into the dust, and he looked up to see Kavinsky smirking at him, his foot stuck out and poised in Adam’s way. Beside Kavinsky, was Ronan. Dangerous and sharp, his light blue eyes pierced Adam’s heart, filling him with shame. Kavinsky looked down at him, and with mirth in his voice, asked him ‘how trailer trash’s first day was going.’ Then he laughed, and he and Ronan walked off without even a glance back. Adam got dust on his trousers, and his father had beat him when he got home, and it was enough to make him never feel sorry for Joseph Kavinsky ever again.
Kavinsky had been harassing him ever since. Whether it was in class, making crude gestures at him, or out in the hallways and the lunch lines, calling him rude names and making threatening comments. Unlike Ronan’s taunts of ‘loser’ and ‘runt,’ which served merely to irritate Adam, Kavinsky’s insults managed to dig deep, right into the core of Adam’s chest. Adam was adept at pretending like things didn’t affect him, but even he had a hard time willing back the tears when Kavinsky reminded him that he was utterly worthless.
Adam had come to realise that his hatred for Kavinsky had bled into his feelings about Ronan - it was easy to assume that because Ronan was Kavinsky’s friend, that he was as bad as him. But Ronan was also friends with Gansey, Noah and Blue, and Adam was slowly starting to see why they were all drawn to him.
Ronan was… surprising. Adam was frankly a little taken-aback by the layers in him that were starting to emerge - his softness towards his brother, his eclectic childhood hobbies, his tenderness towards birds and animals. And then there was that day Ronan had let him drive his car, and they’d dragged each other around on the dolly behind the BMW. Adam couldn’t remember ever having been so thoughtlessly happy. It was only until Gansey returned and started fluttering about the road burns on their elbows, the scratches on their faces, that Adam had realised how reckless they had been. How could he have been such an idiot? The wind in his hair and the sun on the back of his neck had gotten him into some sort of drunk haze. He’d even started to… well, he’d almost started feeling warmly towards Ronan.
Maybe they were becoming friends, in this weird, confused way. Maybe Adam had misjudged him. Clearly Blue and Gansey saw something in Ronan that Adam had initially missed, but now that he and Ronan had started spending time together, Adam was starting to see hints of it. Shadows of someone thoughtful and electric hidden between those sharp angles.
Kavinsky, however, seemed to have no hidden depths. Even though school was out for the summer, Kavinsky was still hovering around Henrietta, threatening to burst from the shadows at any moment and dig his fangs into Adam.
Kavinsky and Ronan hung out regularly. Ronan had blown the rest of them off on several occasions to disappear for hours on end, returning - according to Gansey - in the early hours of the morning, drunk and fuelled with adrenaline. It had been a complete mystery where he went and what he did, until the day Ronan had shown up at Boyd’s at three in the morning with a battered fender, and Adam had discovered that his late-night escapades involved racing Kavinsky around the streets of Henrietta. It was another thing that Ronan had sworn him to secrecy. Apparently Gansey and Blue weren’t fans of Ronan trying to murder himself.
Adam failed to understand what drew Ronan to Kavinsky. He was glad Gansey seemed to share his concerns.
Adam was spending the evening at Monmouth. They’d decided to take a night-off from Glendower hunting and just hang out together. Noah had selected a movie - some ridiculous horror thing about aliens - and Gansey had ordered four pizzas that were scattered across the room. Gansey was eating a meat lovers pizza as he worked on his model of Henrietta, applying paint carefully to the miniature mock-up of their school. Adam divided his attention between Noah’s movie, watching Gansey work, and occasionally, trying to get glimpses into Ronan’s room. He had yet to see what it looked like - Ronan was intensely adamant about keeping the door tightly shut. But today the door was ajar, and Adam could see flashes of Ronan moving about inside.
“What is he doing?” Adam asked, chewing on a cheese pizza.
The only reason he was eating it was because Gansey hadn’t taken money from anyone. Granted, Adam had started paying more attention to Noah since his revelation, and had noticed he didn’t really eat anything, but Ronan definitely did, and he’d already swiped three slices from the first box they’d opened.
“Who?” Gansey asked, his brow set in an intense look of concentration. “Ronan?”
Gansey’s expression shifted. “He’s going to Kavinsky’s party.”
Adam had heard of Kavinsky’s parties. Nothing good ever happened there. He glanced again at Ronan and then hurriedly looked away when he caught a flash of skin.
“Dick,” Ronan called. “Have you seen that sock Chainsaw loves?”
“Yes, I put it in the laundry.”
Ronan emerged from his room, still not wearing a shirt. Adam stared pointedly at the floor before him. How far down his back did Ronan’s tattoo even go? And why was he thinking about Ronan’s tattoo anyway?
Ronan made a face at Gansey. “Why the fuck did you do that?”
“Because it’s my sock, Ronan. And I don’t like the bird chewing on it.”
“Don’t call her 'the bird.’”
Gansey looked heavenward. Adam risked a glance at Ronan as he walked back into his room. All the way down his back. Adam bit the inside of his cheek.
“Why are you going to Kavinsky’s party?” Adam asked.
“Because his parties are fucking fun.”
“They’re dangerous, Ronan,” Gansey said.
“Thanks dad,” Ronan replied, mockingly. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
He pulled a tank top on, the dark lines of his tattoo disappearing under the soft fabric.
“Stay here,” Adam heard him telling Chainsaw. “Don’t be a prick.”
Adam had to stifle his laughter as Ronan returned outside. He gave them a parting grunt, and then disappeared out the door. Adam watched him go. Then he returned his attention to the movie.
The alien disaster film had two follow-up movies, and Noah made them watch both. Halfway through the sequel, Gansey brought out an arm-load of snacks from one of the kitchen cabinets - popcorn and spicy chips, nacho cheese and MnMs. Adam tried to refrain from helping himself, but the spirit of the evening got to him, and he let himself forget his pride and his deep-seated issues with hand-outs for the night, delving into the chips and the nacho cheese. He couldn’t remember ever having been this content, this at peace, while doing absolutely nothing productive.
At some point during the evening Chainsaw flew out of Ronan’s room, disobeying Ronan’s words - clearly the rebellious thing took after her ‘father’ - and settled on the back of the sofa. She bothered Gansey for a bit, nipping at his ear and his hair, and then - getting bored by his lack of reaction - walked over to Adam.
Adam side-eyed her warily. He wasn’t afraid of birds, but he wasn’t used to being so close to a raven, and there was something disconcerting about having her watch him with her beady eyes. He was considering shooing her back to Ronan’s room when she hopped onto his shoulder and sat there, digging her claws into his skin, eyes trained on the the movie. Her closeness made him feel vaguely uncomfortable, and her claws hurt, but he understood the action for what it was; Chainsaw, a seemingly suspicious creature at heart, was trusting him. So even though his shoulder smarted, he remained still and didn’t shoo her away. Noah gave him jealous looks for the rest of the evening, complaining about how Chainsaw never came to him even when he begged.
Despite his better instincts, Adam couldn’t help but be a little flattered.
The third movie was reaching its climax, and it was getting dangerously late. Adam had told his father he was out with Mason. It was naturally a complete lie, but he knew it was the only way his father would let him stay out late. Robert Parrish had a peculiar fondness for Mason. But even using Mason’s name wouldn’t get him out of trouble if he got home past two in the morning on a night he wasn’t working in the garage. He got to his feet, dusting pizza crumbs off his jeans.
“I should go,” he told them.
Gansey offered to drop him.
They drove slowly down the winding roads with soft jazz playing on the radio. It was starkly different from when Ronan had dropped him home, driving too fast and playing music so loud it ached.
“Adam,” Gansey said, his voice soft. “Could I ask you a personal question?”
Adam’s heart hiccuped and froze. “Sure,” he said.
“Do you… have trouble hearing from your left ear?”
Adam’s heart rate returned, but it was slow, thrumming. “I can’t hear out of it at all, actually.” He hoped his voice sounded steady.
Gansey nodded, slowly. “I noticed from the way you turn to listen to me when we’re in the Pig.”
He didn’t ask how it happened. Instead he changed the topic. Relief washed over Adam. He may not have been friends with Gansey for terribly long, but the affection he felt for him was intense. Even though they fought on occasion - Gansey was obscenely unaware of his own privilege at times - Adam couldn’t imagine how he could have believed their friendship was something he could have survived without. They talked about school and student government as they continued driving.
Gansey was in the middle of explaining why their political science classmate Henry Cheng was not - as Adam believed - ‘painfully irritating,’ when his phone rang.
“Could you see who it is?” Gansey asked, eyes fixed firmly on the road.
Adam checked. The number wasn’t saved, so he picked it up.
“Hello?” There was crackle on the line so he spoke again. “Who is this?”
“Dick?” Came a voice that was infuriatingly familiar. “You getting a cold? You’re sounding a lot like trailer trash.”
“What do you want, Kavinsky?” Adam spat.
Kavinsky laughed, a sound that made Adam wince. “Tell Gansey his dog needs to be put on a leash.”
“He doesn’t have a dog,” Adam said, coldly.
“He doesn’t?” Kavinsky asked, affecting mock-surprise. “Strange. Cause he’s here, barking and drooling all over me. But he’s getting out of control. If he doesn’t behave himself, he might have to be put down.”
Gansey had pulled the car over, and now he grabbed the phone out of Adam’s hands. “What’s going on, Kavinsky?” he said, his voice chilly.
Adam observed Gansey’s expression, calm but furious, and marvelled once again at Gansey’s quiet power. He wondered what was going on. How did Kavinsky have Gansey’s dog? He saw the nervousness in Gansey’s eyes, and had to sympathise. He wouldn’t want his own mutt anywhere near a psycho like Kavinsky.
Gansey’s face was gray now, his lips pressed tightly together. When he hung up, he looked ill.
“We have to go over there,” he said.
“Sorry?” Adam asked. His eyes, through force of habit and sheer terror alone, dipped to his watch. His gut tightened.
“Ronan’s in trouble.” Gansey shook his head, incensed. “Kavinsky calls him my dog,” he explained. He let out a grunt of frustration, his hands tightening on the wheel. “God, Ronan. I don’t why he lets Kavinsky into his head, but he does.” Adam opened his mouth to protest, but Gansey spoke before he could say anything. “Last year, Ronan tried to kill himself.”
Adam’s words caught in his throat. He stared at Gansey, his thoughts attempting to reach a conclusion but short-circuiting before they got there.
“What?” he managed.
“He got drunk, and he went missing. I looked all over for him, and then…” Gansey shook his head. “Noah found him. He was covered in blood. His wrists…”
Adam didn’t think he could bear to hear the rest of that story. “What’s Kavinsky doing to him?”
“I don’t know. He’s always so…” Gansey let out a sharp sigh. “He has his phone, and he was saying that Ronan was losing control. He always… he always drinks too much with Kavinsky. Races too fast, I just… I want to make sure…”
“Let’s go,” Adam said.
“But don’t you need to…”
Adam shook his head. Gansey started the engine and swerved the car around. Together, they raced through the darkness.
The smell of beer hit them flat in the face when they walked into Kavinsky’s apartment. The apartment was large, but it was dark, the music deafening. Adam kept close to Gansey as they pushed their way through sweaty couples dancing to the music. Everywhere he looked, Adam saw people drinking, people pressed to doors and walls, hands all over each others’ bodies.
Adam vaguely recognised a few people as he passed them. In one of the rooms, Tad Carruthers was playing beer pong. He gave him a lecherous smile that Adam pretended he didn’t see. At the bottom of the stairs, that exhausting Brian Stevens who kept trying to get him to sign petitions about environmentally friendly cutlery was talking to a group of bored looking girls. He waved out to Adam, but it didn’t register until Adam was halfway up the first flight. Everything was a blur. His mind was spinning, and it kept returning to the same place, the same singular thought.
The air was humid, the smell of alcohol so thick Adam felt the need to gag. He walked in a daze behind Gansey. They were almost up to the second floor landing when someone whistled.
“Well look who it is,” Kavinsky said. He stood on the landing, decked out as usual in a tank-top and sunglasses. He wore a backwards baseball cap. His voice was heavy. Adam could instantly tell he was high. “Dick Gansey and his little mongrel.”
The word mongrel was one of Kavinsky’s favourites. No matter how many times he used it, it still stung.
“Where’s Ronan?” Gansey asked, curtly.
Kavinsky grinned at him, and spread his arms wide. “He’s hiding.”
Gansey and Adam pushed past Kavinsky and his cronies, and walked into the second floor. Here, the flat was filled with smoke. They could hear loud music coming from the back, but they couldn’t see anyone. Adam felt suffocated.
“Lynch!” Gansey called into the haze. “Ronan Niall Lynch, you answer me.” He turned to Adam, his eyes terrified. “Oh god, Adam,” he whispered.
“There’s a third floor too,” Adam noticed.
“What if it’s too late?” Gansey asked. “What if…”
“Let’s split up,” Adam said, firmly. “I’ll take the third floor, you walk around this one.”
Gansey nodded, hesitantly. They separated. Adam walked up the stairs, each one squeaking under his weight. He was aware of every ticking second. Fucking Ronan, he thought. He wished he was angry, but all he felt were the cold fingers of fear clutching at his throat.
The third floor was deserted. A dark hallway stretched out before him. Three doors, all closed. There was nothing, not even an empty solo cup on the floor. Adam took a step, and the wood creaked beneath his feet.
Adam tried the first bedroom. It was filled with coats and smelled like weed.
Ronan was in the second bedroom.
He was sitting on the floor, his tank top torn, a bottle empty beside his boots. He rolled his head to look at Adam as he walked in.
“Adam,” he slurred.
Adam walked up to him, cautiously. It didn’t occur to him that Ronan had called him by his first name till he was crouching beside him.
“Show me your wrists,” he instructed.
Ronan scrunched up his nose, but flipped his arms over. Nothing but the leather bands he always wore and the scabs from their day on the dolly. Adam let out a staggered breath.
“For fucks sake, Ronan,” he spat.
He sank to the ground, tugging at his hair.
“I told Gansey,” Ronan said. “I told him it wasn’t… what he thought it was.”
Adam wasn’t in the headspace to figure out what Ronan meant. He was furious now; furious that Ronan was so irresponsible, that he made Gansey worry. Adam looked at the watch on his wrist and his stomach clenched. Oh god.
“Get up,” Adam instructed.
Ronan stared at him for a minute, then got unsteadily to his feet. Adam couldn’t move. He was still shaking with repressed anger, repressed fear that was now rising to the surface.
He pressed his palms to his eyes. “For god’s sake, Ronan.”
“You found him.” Kavinsky’s voice floated in from the doorway. “Fifty points to white trash here.”
Adam stood up and grabbed Ronan’s arm. Ronan started, staring down at where Adam’s fingers wrapped around his elbow.
“Get out of my way, Kavinsky,” Adam said, his voice tight.
He tugged at Ronan’s arm. Ronan followed obediently. He must have been drunker than usual. Or maybe he’d taken something stronger. Kavinsky moved into the doorway, blocking their path.
“I don’t think so, man.” Kavinsky said. “I’m not done with all of you yet.”
“I think you are done.”
Kavinsky gave him a bored look, then turned his attention to Ronan.
“What’s the deal with this one, Lynch?” he asked, gesturing in Adam’s direction. “When did you two become friends?”
Ronan gave a half-hearted shrug. Adam stiffened. He let go of Ronan’s arm. It flopped to his side.
“Gansey,” Ronan slurred.
“You do everything that Dick tells you to do?” Kavinsky asked. “What if he told you to jump off the balcony right now? Would you do it?” He flashed Ronan a grin. “I’d like to see you do it.”
“Shut up,” Adam said.
His voice was like a whip. Kavinsky turned to him, eyebrows up.
“Do you mind?” he said. “The important people are talking.”
Adam tensed. Kavinsky smiled, slow and lazy. He turned back to Ronan.
“He’s not worth your time, Lynch. Look at him. He doesn’t deserve to lick my goddamn shoes, man.”
Adam’s eyes burned. His hands balled into fists. He hoped Gansey would find them. He knew Kavinsky wouldn’t dare speak this way to Gansey, and that even if he did, Gansey would tear him apart.
Adam turned to Ronan. Ronan was looking at the ground, his cheekbones sharp in the semi-darkness.
“He’s not my friend,” Ronan said.
A tightness grew in Adam’s throat. Ronan’s words fanned the flame in his gut, turned it into pure white rage.
“Didn’t think so,” Kavinsky said. He turned to Adam, surveying him coolly. “Then what the fuck is the mongrel doing here?”
The thing was that ultimately, Adam didn’t need other people to have his back. His had his own damn back.
“I’ve had it with you, Kavinsky,” Adam said. His voice could have made icicles form. “Just shove off."
“Or what?” Kavinsky asked, his eyes dangerous.
A hundred insults ran through his mind. A hundred reasons, a hundred arguments.
Do you know why I take your abuse? Why I keep my mouth shut around you when you insult me and make me feel like garbage? It’s because I feel bad for you. It’s because I understand that you go around calling people dogs and mongrels, and making people feel like shit about themselves because you wake up every single morning feeling like a piece of shit yourself.
But when Adam opened his mouth to speak, all he said was, “You mess with me again, Kavinsky, and I will spend the rest of my life trying to make yours a living hell, I promise you.”
Maybe in the moment it sounded like an empty promise, but Adam believed it with every fibre of his being. He was nothing if not determined.
He didn’t look at Ronan as he pushed his way past a surprised Kavinsky, out into the hallway. Gansey caught him on the stairs.
“Adam?” he asked, surprised.
“Ronan’s fine,” Adam said.
He shoved past Gansey and continued down the stairs, his eyes still burning. Each tick of his watch - or was it the thump of his heart? - resounded loudly in his ear.
He was outside the house, walking across the street when he heard Ronan.
“Parrish. Fuck, Parrish. Stop.”
Adam whipped around, making Ronan freeze. He still seemed unsteady. How he’d managed to make it down the steps so fast and without being stopped by Gansey, Adam had no idea.
“Don’t fucking talk to me, Ronan,” he bit out. “I’m so tired of you and all your bullshit. You are such a selfish asshole. You don’t take a second to think about how your actions have consequences on other people.”
“I didn’t ask you to come here, Adam,” Ronan said, angry again.
He was always angry. He didn’t know what it was like to feel so tired and afraid that you could feel it in your bones.
“No you didn’t,” Adam shot back. “Gansey did. Because you go and do stupid things while he’s stuck worrying about you.”
“Gansey is a big boy,” Ronan said, snarling.
“So are you. So how about you learn to clean up your own shit.”
“I don’t need a babysitter, Parrish. And Gansey can handle himself.”
“You didn’t see him today,” Adam said. “He was a fucking mess.”
“It won’t do him any permanent damage, I promise.”
Ronan’s sarcasm was the last straw. Adam saw red.
“Go fuck yourself, Lynch,” he said. “Here I was like an idiot, thinking you weren’t as bad as I thought you were, thinking we were becoming… friends.” Adam shook his head. “I should have known. Mason told me all about how you fucked him over. How he was your maid’s son and you made his life miserable. How your family promised to pay for his schooling, and then went back on that promise. How friendships mean nothing to you. I wanted to give you the benefit of the doubt, but I see I was wrong. Maybe you don’t have to live with the consequences of going out and putting yourself in fucking danger, but I’m going to have to deal with the consequences of giving a shit about you.”
Ronan’s mouth was slack now, his eyes wide.
“Adam,” he croaked, but Adam was already walking away, past the Pig, down the road towards his double-wide.