Gansey draws a circle over the back of his hand. “It’s right here. It’s a mirror, with these little insect wings. Bee wings? Probably hornets considering me, but it’s painted like the most lovely watercolor.”
“That’s nice, Gansey,” Adam says, though for all he knows it could look like Microsoft Word clipart. He’s not Gansey’s soulmate, so he can’t see Gansey’s soulmark.
“You have one, right?” Gansey asks.
Adam shrugs. He does have one. He doesn’t think about it. His soulmate is not real to him yet, not until he stops being broken.
(He thinks about it only when it’s too painful. One person could love him.)
Gansey nods sagely. “You don’t have to say.” Then he squints his eyes are Adam, even though he’s wearing his glasses. “Just do not ask Ronan about his. He doesn’t have one.”
Adam raises his eyebrows. “I wasn’t going to. You’re the one who brought this up.”
Gansey lets an appropriate pause go by before sighing wistfully. “I just wonder where she is. I wonder what she’s doing.”
“How do you know they’re a she?”
Gansey stares at him. It is apparently a question nobody has brought up. “Do you think? I mean, I’ve never thought of it—I’ll have to consider some things, I suppose. I mean, it’s fine if it is—”
Adam regrets asking. Gansey’s face is morphing into Stage One of a meltdown. “It was just a joke.”
Gansey huffs. “I mean I’m okay with it. I’ll deal with that if it happens.”
The pause after that is awkward until Ronan joins them and is offensive enough to not make it awkward any longer.
Adam thinks the Nino’s waitress is pretty. Really pretty. He keeps it to himself because her eyes zero in on Gansey’s hand and Gansey stares at her wrist, his mouth falling open. He fumbles with his sweet tea and spills it on the floor.
She scowls and marches away. Gansey scrambles to follow.
There’s a worried furrow between Noah’s brows as he stares after them.
“That soulmate shit must blow,” Ronan says dryly. He bites at one of those leather strands he has around his wrist.
Maybe that’s why he wears them. To make up for not having a soulmark. Maybe that’s a cruel thought.
Gansey comes back, flustered and red. “Her name’s Blue and she’s under the impression I called her a prostitute.”
Noah grins and exchanges a look with Adam. “Any time you say ‘under the impression’ I kind of just replace it with a punctuation mark. You probably did call her a prostitute.”
“Is something going to happen there?” Adam needs to know because Nino’s has Free Slice Friday coupons and he’s not going to lose that because Gansey was Gansey.
Gansey is still scowling when he replies, “She said she doesn’t believe in that soulmate crap and told me where I could shove my destiny nonsense.”
“She’s not wrong,” Ronan says unhelpfully.
Gansey’s wrinkles are going to be permanent at this point. Fate and destiny are big things to him.
“And,” he continues, his voice lowering, “she said she’s dating her coworker, who’s a girl I think, and that I should mind my damn business.”
A weird silence follows. It’s loud in the way Noah stares at Ronan and Ronan stares at his wrist and Adam stares at them without anyone noticing.
Gansey breaks it. “What should I do?”
When it’s clear nobody else will say anything—
“Mind your damn business,” Adam offers.
“I thought you were going to help me with Latin homework,” Adam says, rolling up the shopping cart next to Ronan.
He can’t take any more dolly scabs, so he’s gone out of the way to find a shopping cart for the next time Ronan’s in whatever mood this is.
“You don’t need help with homework, Einstein,” Ronan says.
Adam bites back a smile. This is the only Ronan he can tolerate. “I need help with the verbs and you’re not the worst at Latin.”
Ronan raises an eyebrow that says I did better than you on the last test. It doesn’t say much, as Ronan doesn’t take many tests.
Adam smirks and nudges Ronan with the cart. “Get in then.”
“You get in.”
“I got more scabs last time.”
There is no way to prove this, but Ronan gets in regardless.
Adam turns the cart slowly in a circle, trying to calculate degrees by eye. “Which way?”
Ronan shrugs. “Whichever way is gonna kill me.”
Adam takes a long, exaggerated step, edging the cart forward slowly. “I changed my mind, I wanna go on a nice stroll.”
“Don’t pull that shit.” Ronan shakes the cart with his hands. “And don’t say stroll. You’re gonna summon Gansey.”
Ronan isn’t facing him in the cart so Adam lets himself grin. He shoves it forward, his fingers clutching at the handle as he runs with it. Adam steps up the bottom of the cart and balances there as the coast down the slope, gaining momentum.
Ronan makes a sound, or he says something, but it gets lost in the wind. As they’re hurtling towards the wall, Adam is seized with the desire to see Ronan’s face.
He would let Ronan see his grin if he could know what was on Ronan’s face in this instant. He stops the cart and they both lurch forward. The handle digs painfully into his chest.
They breathe, loud and ungainly, then Ronan leaps out of the cart in a fluid motion. Adam runs this motion over in his mind three times.
“Okay. Get in.” Ronan’s words catch on his erratic breath.
Ronan, predictably, does not stop, and they are tumbling onto the patchy grass and soggy dirt when the cart pitches over the curb.
Belatedly, Adam thinks he should have covered his nose.
“Hold up two fingers, I bet I have a concussion,” he says between greedy inhales of air.
Ronan holds up one particular finger. Adam has it in him to roll his eyes. “Two,” he says anyway.
“Yeah, you’re good,” Ronan says, then laughs.
It’s a laugh like he’ll never laugh again. It ripples through Adam like a shockwave.
“Even if I didn’t have a girlfriend, he’s an idiot and ridiculous,” Blue says hotly. She rubs her wrist against the table.
She’s still very pretty. Adam has a shallow relief that she’s not his soulmate, that he can’t see her soulmark. He’s not going to meet his soulmate until he’s someone worth meeting. He not there yet.
“Not always, sometimes he’s just ridiculous,” he says.
Blue smiles. “Anyway, that stuff doesn’t even matter to me. Having something just decided for you like that, I can’t imagine.”
He understands, in a sense. Adam is forging his own path in a sleepless, tireless way, taking care every day to not even look at the path already decided for him. But this, at least, matters to him, even when he tries to make it not. One person could love him. What would that be like?
“Your family deals in decided things, though,” Adam points out.
“I don’t,” Blue says bitterly, “I’m not a psychic. And that’s different. Imagine if my mom just sat around waiting for her soulmate. I wouldn’t be here.”
“I’m glad you’re here,” he assures.
The double-wide isn’t a place for heartfelt conversations, so Adam has never known if his parents are soulmates. He hopes they aren’t.
Blue taps on his hand. “Where’s yours? What does it look like?”
“It’s there,” he answers. “It looks like something.”
Adam knows it’s a sign of his wrongness that his soulmark isn’t on his hand, where it’s supposed to be. It’s fine. His wrongness will be insignificant by the time he meets his soulmate. It’s fine.
Ronan comes back, so Adam hastily changes the topic. “Had a nice piss, did you?”
“Please, I was checking myself out. Blue, why the fuck do you sell rum raisin pizza?”
Adam’s back vibrates pleasantly every time the ball bounces off the wall. He’s supposed to be studying, he has his textbook open but his eyes follow Ronan’s tennis racket as it cuts through the air. Ronan’s gaze is distant and he hits the ball in an unseeing, memorized way.
Adam knows they’re waiting for Gansey to finish up some appointment. He knows he can study in the library, where he’ll get much more done. He knows he can meet up with the two of them, after Gansey’s appointment. He doesn’t know why he’s sitting out here, on hot cement, watching Ronan practice.
Sometimes everything about Ronan is too much. Even his silence is too much.
“Why haven’t we ever been to any of your games?” he calls out.
Ronan’s eyes focus. His wrist snaps down and he dribbles the tennis ball. “Gansey’s been. A long time ago. He was so fucking embarrassing I banned him.”
If Gansey is banned, Adam assumes it means he’s banned too. Which is unfair; he didn’t even get the chance to embarrass Ronan. Adam feels the dribbles through the worn soles of his shoes. He reads a few lines.
“You wanna try?”
Adam looks up. “What, tennis?”
“No, getting a life. Yes, tennis.”
“That’s not getting a life.” But Adam shuts his textbook and stands. “I’m not ruining my scholarship boy reputation by playing rich boy tennis,” he teases, even as he walks up to Ronan.
“I’m the only one here.” Ronan whacks the ball hard once and catches it on his racket. “And your reputation is always gonna be nerd ass nerdster with me so don’t worry.”
Adam holds his hand out. “Whatever, Lynch. Give me the racket.”
He’s not too good at it, the racket is clunky in his hand and Ronan adjusts his grip about fifty times— “No that’s western, Parrish” “You shifted my grip half an inch why does it matter?” “ You wanna break your damn wrist?” — but they’re fifteen minutes late when they meet Gansey.
“That’s the last of it,” Ronan says, slumping over the side of Adam’s alleged bed.
He has no right to look so tired, considering they only made two trips. Adam is distinctly lacking in possessions.
He sits on the bed, close to Ronan’s knees. Adam’s fingers barely graze at Ronan’s knuckles. “How’s the hand?”
“Still not broken. How’s the ear?”
“Still not hearing.”
“Hm.” Ronan looks at him through hooded eyes, under long eyelashes.
The apartment is cramped, small. If Gansey or Blue were here, it would be too many, the floor would fall apart under their weight. Noah would probably be fine here, ghosts probably didn’t have weight.
He’s glad it’s just Ronan here. Ronan who is too much even in this tiny apartment.
“Did you study for Latin?” Ronan asks.
Adam shrugs. “A little.”
Ronan sits up. “I’ll quiz you.”
Adam gets some paper and pencils from his messenger bag. He takes the chair. Ronan slides up to the edge of the bed, close to the desk.
He writes something on the paper. “Translate this."
“Okay, I can’t figure out that part...sat on a wall. Uh, same thing can’t read that...had a great—oh, c’mon, Lynch.” Adam’s lips twitch up. “That’s lame.”
Ronan snickers and turns the paper back towards him and writes some more. “Okay, seriously.”
Adam considers the new words. “How much of your heart was truly in your words?”
“Correct,” Ronan says, tugging the paper back.
“Where is that from?” Adam asks, to distract himself from the feeling burning through him at Ronan saying ‘correct’.
“No idea. How about this?”
Ronan is biting his leather bracelets when Adam, some time after understanding, answers, “be patient and tough, someday this pain will be useful to you.” His voice wraps around the words and holds them close.
He wants to ask Ronan why he chose that, he wants to think too much into it. He asks, “is that Virgil?”
Ronan shakes his head and writes some more. They go through several translations before Adam finds himself stuck.
Adam is fairly good at Latin. He can figure out some of the words in the passage Ronan has written, but he can’t make something coherent out of it. He rubs his eyes. “God, do you think it’s gonna be this hard?”
“Giving up, Parrish?” Ronan’s gloating eyes dim. “Maybe you should take it easy today.”
He tries to take the paper back but Adam snatches it away. He folds it into a small rectangle and points it at Ronan. “I’m going to figure out what this means. And I’m going to get back to you.”
Ronan smirks. “Sure.” He falls back on Adam’s bed.
Adam’s eyes land on the sliver of skin where Ronan’s shirt rode up, on the slight curve of his hip bone.
“You should just sleep over,” Adam says before he can really think about it. “You’re probably tired from carrying my stuff up.”
Like Adam has plasma TVs to carry up, like he has dining tables.
“Sure,” Ronan says again.
There are three sharp, familiar knocks. It’s reaching past evening, the darkness of night shadowing over the pinks and oranges of the sunset.
“It’s open!” He doesn’t look up from reviewing his homework.
Ronan walks in. “Why? You know there’s a marble bust of Jesus downstairs. What if someone goes to steal it? What do you think will happen if they come to dick around here after?”
Adam grins. “I think you stole a marble bust of Jesus and you’re feeling guilty about it.”
Ronan sighs. He sits down on the floor, his back leaning against Adam’s bed. “Why the fuck would I steal a marble bust when I can dream a gold one?”
He’s in a mood. It bothers Adam that he can’t figure out which mood it is.
Adam twists in his chair. “What’s up?”
Ronan clenches his jaw, the line of it is sharp and dangerous. Maybe beautiful. Adam erases beautiful. It’s just sharp and dangerous.
That’s easy. “He’s a piece of shit.”
“Right. Yeah, you’re right.” He plays with his leather strands.
“I’m kind of a piece of shit too.”
Ronan is not quite vulnerable, but he’s not quite closed either. Alarm bells ring in Adam’s head, though he doesn’t know what they’re for. He hates all this not knowing.
“Not like him,” Adam says, “you wouldn’t be here if you were like him.”
Adam heaves a sigh and hands blank flashcards to Ronan. He grabs his textbook and swipes the glue and colorful pens onto the floor. Then he sits down across from him.
“Help me make these flashcards.”
This help is okay. Because Ronan helping Adam with this helps Ronan too. He hopes it does; it looks like it does. At the very least, Adam’s going to remember all the vocab with the shitty jokes Ronan makes with them.
It’s pitch black out the tiny window when they finish, and Adam finds himself weary. He is weary by Ronan’s weariness and by his apartment’s smallness and by the night’s lateness.
“Just sleep over,” he says, and Ronan looks at him.
The first time, it was an offer, and the second time, it was an accident, an “I don’t feel like driving back to Monmouth”. This is the third time, this makes it a pattern.
“Sure,” Ronan says.
“You can’t just stare at me,” Ronan insists, staring at a street light while Adam stares at him. “I don’t know what that means.”
“I’m waiting for you to say something.”
“I’m not sorry.”
“I didn’t want you to say sorry.”
Ronan laughs harshly. “I don’t think I’m gonna want to say whatever you want me to say,”
“Matthew’s fine?” Adam has asked this already.
“And you? Are you fine?”
“You asked this already, Parrish. Are you fine?”
Adam thinks about this. “I’m tired. And I want to pay you back. Obviously.”
Ronan does not say how ridiculous it is for this to happen. How it won’t happen this year, or next year.
Ronan’s smile is not unkind. “I’ll charge interest too so watch it.”
Adam shoves Ronan’s shoulder playfully and shifts his weight to his other arm. He casts Ronan a sidelong glance, takes in the way the dreary street lights stretch the shadows of Ronan’s eyelashes down his cheeks.
Adam knows Ronan looks beautiful under these poor-budget lights.
“What a week.” He tilts his head back and enjoys the easing soreness on his neck. Adam wants to lay back, but while it is cool and pleasant, the hood of the BMW is not soft. “There’s a lot of stars.”
“There are.” Ronan makes an outline in the sky. “That’s the Big Dipper.”
“Really? Because it looked like you just drew a dick.”
“Oh sorry, I meant the Big Dicker.”
Adam shoves Ronan again. “God, you’re so—” (much) “—shitty.”
Ronan smirks like it’s a compliment.
“Sleep over,” Adam suggests.
“I was going to,” Ronan says.
Adam is sure if he waits around for a respectable morning hour when humans wake up and do respectable morning things, Ronan would happily pretend nothing happened.
Adam does not want to pretend.
So he parks horribly outside of Monmouth a little after 5 AM. Ronan sits outside, Chainsaw perched on his knee. When Adam sits next to him, Chainsaw hops over onto his knee.
“Your parking is fucked,” Ronan observes.
“It is.” Adam takes a breath. “How—did you deal with it?”
“I—” He swallows thickly. He did not prepare what to say.
“I told you it’s not great in my head.”
“And I’m telling you now if you push me away I'm going to push back. I won’t take it. Not from you.”
“You don’t take it from anyone.”
No, sometimes he just got a magical forest to take it for him.
Ronan was stroking the top of Chainsaw’s head. Adam wants to say he should have stayed, he should have helped, but Ronan’s shoulders still have a tenseness to them and Adam doesn’t want to fight about something he doesn’t know.
Adam says what he knows.
He presses his fingers to Ronan’s wrist, through his leather bracelets. “I’m glad it was a copy. I’m glad it wasn’t you.”
Ronan opens his mouth. Then closes it. He keeps his hand there, on Chainsaw’s head, and Adam keeps his hand there, on Ronan’s wrist. When Ronan finally drops his hand, Adam’s hand, caught in the bracelets, drop with it. He doesn’t move.
Ronan says, “I taught Chainsaw to nosedive. Check this shit out.”
Adam blinks, sees Persephone’s body. Blinks again, sees a crowded driveway, a neglected but not ugly lawn, and a boy next to him.
It’s become Adam and Ronan now. Gansey’s gone inside to look for Blue and Adam doesn’t care what’s happening between them, as long as they’re safe and alive. He doesn’t know if it’s bad to have such a low standard.
What Adam knows is he doesn’t care as long as it stays Adam and Ronan.
He presses his knuckles against Ronan’s. Ronan twines his index finger with Adam’s.
Ronan pulls out his phone with his free hand and scrolls for a bit. He pushes one earbud in and offers the other to Adam. When Adam turns his ear to it, Ronan puts the earbud in carefully.
There’s a pressure against Adam’s eyes from the inside of his head, and Adam lets the music fill up the empty sadness.
“God, it’s so hot,” Adam mutters, digging for a shirt. Chainsaw’s wing brushes over his hair as she flies above him. Something else brushes through his hair, right by his ear.
“What is it?” Adam touches the spot where Ronan’s hand just was. The warmth of it lingers as if Ronan’s fingers are still there. Adam drops his hand and the warmth is still there.
He tilts his head. Something else tilts too.
An odd look passes over Ronan’s face. “Nothing. I thought Chainsaw shit on your head.”
“No, but you might want another shower to be safe.” Ronan sounds odd too.
Adam grabs a shirt and scowls at Ronan with no real annoyance. “Aren’t you supposed to be expanding my music taste? All I’m hearing is Construction Sounds Remix Part Ten.”
“Fuck you, this is only Part Two.” Then, Ronan adds, “I didn’t know you had a tattoo.”
Adam freezes, his back still facing Ronan, his shirt half over his head. His soulmark is on his left shoulder blade. Five inky, feathery wings closed in a circle, kind of like a pinwheel, but more like a flower.
He dares his voice to not tremble.“I got it with some coworkers from Boyd’s.”
Ronan doesn’t press. “Huh. It’s not bad.”
Something is supposed to happen to your heart when you see your soulmate’s mark. It’s been written about in books and songs and it’s not happening with Ronan who sounds as imperfectly disinterested as usual. He just wants to know about the tattoo, he’s interested because he thinks it’s just a tattoo.
Adam finishes pulling on his shirt and faces Ronan. Ronan, who is his soulmate, who does not have a soulmark. “Can you not tell Gansey? He’s gonna make a big Gansey deal about it.”
Ronan smirks. “Your secret’s safe with me.”
“I’m gonna go—,” he waves a hand at his hair,”—towel off.”
Ronan eyes him shrewdly. “Be sure to check for shit.”
Adam presses his forehead against the bathroom door once he shuts it. He needs to think about this rationally.
He breathes out, shaky and weak. “Oh, god.”
Here are the so-called rational thoughts: How can Adam ever be Ronan’s soulmate? Ronan who makes impossible magic and little wonders. Ronan is so much and Adam is so little.
Here’s what Adam knows: Whatever magic makes soulmarks may decide he’s unworthy of Ronan, but Ronan still looks at him. Ronan thinks he’s worthy, and Ronan is magic. His soulmate is real and maybe that means he can love.
Adam knows the warmth where Ronan touched his hair is still there.
He opens the door. “Man, you better have some music that isn’t going to kill my brain cells.”
After Adam drinks the glass of water, Ronan hands him another one. He drinks that too.
“Ronan,” he finally gasps, “Ronan are you—”
“I’m fine,” Ronan says tersely. “What about you?”
His arms feel like jelly. His chest feels like the entirety of it has been scraped out. “Not good.”
Ronan’s face stiffens. “Let’s go outside. One of the fields.”
There is a distinct sound of hooves scuttering against wood as they leave the kitchen. Adam looks around but the Orphan Girl is nowhere to be seen.
“Is she...?” Adam trails off. She’s just a kid.
“She’s fine,” Ronan says firmly. “I know she’s fine. Come on.”
Ronan helps him over one of the fences, his hand stable on Adam’s elbow even though he’d just been drowning in acid water. Adam’s heart jolts.
They lay in the grass and only after several sluggish clouds pass overhead can Adam speak. “Am I—?”
But Adam cannot finish this question either. Ronan has already explained he’s only created Cabeswater’s body, not its brain.
But again, Ronan knows. “Unless you gave Cabeswater your—I don't fucking know—your heart and soul I guess, you’re still you.”
Hands and eyes.
Adam processes all of this. The gears in his mind turn slowly, lodged with exhaustion. Adam gave his hands and eyes to Cabeswater long ago, Ronan manifested Cabeswater longer ago, Ronan has been Adam’s soulmate always. He doesn’t know if those are connected. It’s so beyond him to understand this magic.
What Adam knows is he’s started to not care anymore. Ronan is already so difficult and impossible that of course, Adam could never be enough to be Ronan’s soulmate. But Ronan is here, lying next to him, real proof that Adam can love.
He looks at Ronan. Despite everything, Adam can still love.
“Cow,” Adam says because there’s one sleeping right by them.
Ronan says something in Latin.
He dissects the words and puts them back together. “Even as a cow she was lovely,” Adam translates. “Where’s that from?”
Ronan shrugs. He has a small, secret smile. “Fuck if I know.”
Fondness rushes through Adam. He swipes his thumb over the short spikes of Ronan’s hair, right above his ear.
Ronan startles. “What?”
Adam smiles. “Nothing. Thought I saw a bald spot.”
Ronan laughs like he thought he’d never get to laugh again. Adam laughs too.
There isn’t much left that Adam doesn’t know when Ronan says his name, but when Ronan says his name anything left that Adam doesn’t know doesn’t matter.
Adam has Ronan caged between his arms with one hand brushing where his hair meets his forehead. He kisses Ronan lazily, with time they don’t have. One of Ronan’s hands is deep in Adam’s hair, and the other rests on the back of Adam’s neck, rubbing circles of heat over the knobs of his spine.
Adam kisses him one more time, two more times because he can’t help it, three because Ronan can’t help it. He sits back on his knees and presses them into Ronan’s hips.
“Take your shirt off.”
“On the couch?” Ronan does not yelp.
Adam’s cheeks flame. “That’s not what I—I wanna see your tattoo, asshole.”
“You're making this so hot,” Ronan grumbles but he starts to sit up. Adam appreciates how Ronan’s legs move under him.
Sitting up puts Ronan’s face very close to Adam’s so once his shirt isn’t blocking him anymore, Adam kisses him again. He has no choice.
Their lips move so well together and Adam has never kissed or been kissed like this, with this softness and this strongness. They bump noses and they whisper laughs and the laughter catches in the tiny space between their lips and they kiss again.
Ronan pulls back, his eyes large and amused as Adam tries to follow his lips. “I thought you wanted to see my tattoo.”
“I changed my mind.” Adam taps his fingers over Ronan’s ribs. He enjoys the way Ronan traces over his ears and his cheeks, the way he lingers everywhere. He enjoys the everything about Ronan.
“Are you sure?” Ronan goads, because Adam is not hiding the want in his eyes. “I saw yours.”
Adam almost says it then. You’re my soulmate. He almost says it. But all this time, amidst all these conversations of magic and ley lines, soulmarks have never come up.
What Adam knows is he’s never been so happy before and he’s not going to ruin it.
Another thing Adam knows; watching Ronan die is watching the world end.
When they’re finally alone together Adam kisses Ronan like a breeze and he touches Ronan’s neck like a ghost. He does that until Ronan drags him close and kisses him like a forest fire.
“You’re not going to hurt me, Parrish.” He presses his forehead against Adam’s, panting.
“What if I do?” Adam’s voice shudders.
“You’re not,” Ronan says earnestly, his thumbs brushing gently over Adam’s hair. “Adam, you’re never going to hurt me.”
Words lock up and crowd in Adam’s throat, and tears do the same in his eyes. Ronan kisses Adam again, a more subdued fire, a fire made of promises.
“If I am to perish by the power of fire, at least let that fire be yours,” Adam whispers the words against Ronan’s lips.
“Fuck,” Ronan teases softly, “is that Ovid?” He kisses the corner of Adam’s wobbly, smiling mouth. “You translated it.”
“A while ago,” he admits, brushing their noses together. “It felt right to say it now.”
“Very romantic.” Ronan smiles that secret smile. Then he kisses Adam.
Adam has to bring it up now, because what they’re doing is a forever kind of thing. He brushes his thumb over Ronan’s lower lip. “You’re my soulmate.”
The expression on Ronan's face is one Adam understands well. He’s hearing the words from outside his body.
“I don’t care if you don’t have a soulmark,” Adam surges on, “I don’t care if I’m not your soulmate.”
“If you don’t care, that is,” Adam amends.
Ronan attempts to put some distance between them, but they’re in a complex, tangled position and he gives up. “What—what the fuck, back up. I do have a soulmark.”
Adam hears the words from outside his body. “What.”
“I thought I wasn’t your soulmate.” Ronan really tries to move away now, but Adam clamps a hand over his calf.
“Gansey said you didn’t have a soulmark,” Adam accuses, though Gansey is not here to be accused so the accusation hangs in the air and points at both of them.
Ronan blinks several times and Adam is momentarily, annoyingly, distracted by how pretty his eyelashes are. Now’s not the time, Adam.
“I told Gansey I didn’t have a soulmate,” Ronan says slowly, “a long time ago, because I thought my soulmate might be a girl, and I didn’t fucking want that. So I just decided I didn’t have one.”
“Oh,” Adam whispers. "Oh."
“And,” Ronan’s eyes narrow, “I’ve never seen anything on your hands so what the fuck are you even—”
“My soulmark is on my back.” Adam retorts. “I don’t see anything on your hands either.”
Ronan ignores the second part. “It’s on your back?” Realization seems to hit him in the same moment hysteria hits Adam.
“I don’t know shit about soulmarks but I know something’s supposed to happen here—” Adam thumps a hand on his chest, “—but clearly nothing happened to you that time. Your heart didn’t do anything. Clearly.”
“My heart was doing something,” Ronan growls like the words are wrenched from him, “I thought it was on account of you being fucking shirtless.”
Something tilts again, and Adam is left between two feelings. He wants to be shaken by this, he might have any other time. But Ronan is alive, Adam’s hand is warm against his leg and he’s warm against Adam. Nothing is more profound than this knowledge.
Adam presses his forehead to Ronan’s knee. “I thought I wasn’t your soulmate because I’m not enough.”
Ronan gently tugs on Adam’s hair until Adam kisses his knee and turns to look at him. “I thought I wasn’t your soulmate because I’m a glitch.”
Adam kisses Ronan’s knee again. Ronan’s hand threads through Adam’s hair.
“Where is your soulmark?” Adam asks; he figures it’s not on Ronan’s hand.
Ronan traces the curve of his left ear. “It’s behind here.”
Adam’s breath catches. His left ear; that couldn’t be a coincidence. They shift and move, shoving blankets and pillows until Adam swings his leg over Ronan and straddles him.
He cups Ronan’s face in his hands. “I might not be able to see it,” Adam warns, “and I don’t care if I can’t.”
Ronan is untroubled, but he still reassures, “If you can’t see it then soulmarks are bullshit. You’re always gonna be enough.”
Tears threaten to crowd in Adam’s eyes again—it’s been a long year—so he focuses on Ronan’s left ear, gingerly folding it over. It’s in a hard-to-see place, no wonder Adam never saw it before, but he sees now.
Ronan’s soulmark is a curling, stretching branch with vines and leaves spiraling around it. It is so intricate and so much in such a small space.
Adam’s heart does something. But it’s a something his heart has already been doing for months.
“Nice.” Adam kisses Ronan’s ear.
Then he kisses Ronan.
Adam knows the parts of Aglionby the other students don’t go near. This was clearly supposed to be an outdoor cafeteria at some point but it’s on the outer reaches of the school, on the opposite side of the parking lot, so no one can be bothered.
He sits on one of the sturdier tables, with his feet resting on either side of Ronan on the bench. Ronan, despite his earlier promises, was obviously not interested in Adam’s Modern Lit reading.
“Hey.” Adam grazes his fingers over Ronan’s scalp. “Hey, soulmate.”
Ronan blinks sleepily up at him from where his head rests on the inside of Adam’s knee. “What, Parrish?”
“Something came up in Latin.”
“Hm. Didn’t go today.”
“I know. I wanted to ask you a hypothetical question.”
Ronan gives Adam a long-suffering look. “Oh no.”
Adam tries to be serious. “Shut up, it’s not bad.”
Adam is not used to it yet, being like this; laidback without the constant worry of impending doom over their heads. He’s in the best dream, and he’s awake.
“Hypothetically, someone asks if I’m seeing anyone, can I say—well, can I say I have a boyfriend?”
“Parrish we are literally—” Ronan glares at him like he’s trying to figure out if Adam’s joking. “Did someone ask?”
Adam beams. “I said it’s hypothetical.”
“Then you can hypothetically say you have a boyfriend.”
Adam is fluttery and warm and his voice shakes with laughter. “Okay fine, asshole. What if someone just asks ‘hey Adam Parrish, do you have a boyfriend’ can I say—”
“Fucking god.” Ronan settles a hand on Adam’s thigh so Adam doesn’t fall off the table laughing.
“—can I say Ronan Lynch is my boyfriend?”
“Yes, soulmate,” Ronan mocks, “you can say I’m your boyfriend.”
He presses his head up against Adam’s hand because apparently, Ronan is more cat than dreamer or human and Adam resumes his previous ministrations.
Gansey, who after all this drama has turned out to be nothing but the king of ruining moments, yells from the distance, “lads!”
Adam and Ronan exchange fond, exasperated looks.
“Ignore him,” Ronan advises.
And Adam has no choice but to listen, because Ronan grabs his tie and pulls him into a kiss.