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shards of devotion

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Adam Parrish didn’t have a soulmark.

It wasn’t that uncommon. If anything, it was rarer for someone to have a soulmark - that’s what the hard numbers said. He would have found it reassuring, knowing that, if he’d been the type to dwell on his lack of a soulmark.

He wasn’t. It didn’t matter, he’d told himself long ago, and had put it out of his mind, except for those moments in the dark of night after a particularly painful evening at home when he would think, self-pityingly, of course I don’t have a soulmate. Who could ever love me?

Neither of his parents had a soulmark, which wasn’t a surprise. Honestly, it was safer for him not to have one. Adam had imagined, once, waking up to find someone’s name on his arm, and had been unable to stop himself from thinking of what would happen next, when his father saw it.

No, it was much safer not to have one. He assured himself of that and put it out of his mind, ignoring the gossip at school whenever someone manifested a new one, ignoring the sighs and daydreams of those who hoped they might. He had other things to worry about, after all.

He didn’t think about it much at all until he met Gansey, until a while into their friendship when Gansey pulled off his sweater and Adam saw scrawling marks on the inside of his wrist. He averted his eyes politely, but Gansey only smiled - easy, proud, eyes sparkling - and turned his arm toward Adam.

Blue, the name read, and Adam had to smile.

“It’ll be easy to find them,” he said. “There can’t be a lot of Blues running around.”

“You’d be surprised,” Gansey said, a bit mournfully. “There are thousands just in this country.”

He’d checked, of course, which also didn’t surprise Adam. If anyone deserved a soulmate - if anyone had the easy capacity for love that would ensure the fates would give them someone perfect for them, it would be Gansey.

“It probably means the fucking color,” Ronan said, sprawled out on the grass next to them. “Gansey’s soulmate is his favorite fucking color.”

Unbidden, Adam’s eyes flickered towards his wrists - impolite to look, impolite to seem curious about whether someone had a soulmate or not, and he’d managed to avoid it so far. But with Gansey’s Blue on his mind, Adam looked without meaning.

Ronan’s wrists were covered by his leather bands, but Adam could see a tracery of black underneath them. He couldn’t read the name, but unless Ronan had chosen to get a tattoo in the exact spot his soulmark should be, there was one there.

He might have. Some people did, either because they didn’t want to know or because they wanted to pretend they had one when they didn’t. But Adam didn’t think either of those things was Ronan’s style.

Ronan caught his eye and scowled at him, anger flashing bright, and Adam looked away quickly. Gansey’s soulmark hadn’t bothered him, had seemed right, but Ronan? Angry, sometimes cruel Ronan who’d never wanted him there, who spent the first weeks they knew each other being a colossal asshole to Adam at all times? Ronan, who barely had the capacity to care for another human being?

Even he had a soulmark. But not Adam.

“Blue isn’t my favorite color,” Gansey said, somewhat offended, and Ronan made a rude comment about how the name on Gansey’s wrist should be Glendower, and they moved on.

They didn’t talk about it again until after they’d met Blue. Until Adam asked her out, and only then learned her name. He’d tried to backpedal, but there was no graceful way to un-ask someone out, and Blue had ferreted out the reason almost instantly, then responded with towering fury to the idea that Adam wouldn’t ask her out because she was probably his friend’s soulmate.

There had been a lot about how soulmates were bullshit, how fate was bullshit, how she had free will and could choose who to be with, how the name on her arm - or her name on someone else’s arm - would not dictate her life. How he shouldn’t let it, either.

It had still felt strange dating what he was quickly convinced was Gansey’s soulmate. It was one thing to date someone with a soulmark - plenty of people did. You could have a soulmate and never meet them, or not until years had passed, and just because you had a mark didn’t mean they were the only one you could ever love.

Just the one you’d fit best with. Just the one who would love every part of you, always.

But it was a little different dating someone with a soulmark who might meet their soulmate years down the line, and dating someone with a soulmark whose soulmate almost certainly was your best friend. Adam carefully avoided ever looking at Blue’s mark, made easier by the fact that she kept it covered with long sleeves or wristbands, and Gansey almost immediately told him that it was fine.

It wasn’t fine. Not really. He liked Blue, he liked her a lot, but she had a name on her wrist and he didn’t. There was some part of Adam, on some level, that was unfit to love another person. And there was another part, a larger part, that would never be comfortable possibly taking from Gansey the person who would love him completely.

That wasn’t why it ended - he ruined it all on his own - but it contributed. And when she and Gansey started getting closer, it didn’t surprise anyone.

“I was reading about soulmarks,” Gansey said one day, carefully, as they returned from a trip to Cabeswater. “They can develop late.”

You could still get one, Adam knew that meant, and he already didn’t want to be having this conversation.

“It’s rare for them to develop after someone’s early teens, but not impossible. I even read about someone who didn’t get theirs until they were 45 years old and newly divorced.” Gansey enjoyed this knowledge, it was clear. He probably thought it was romantic.

“And some people never develop them at all,” Adam said. “It’s normal. It’s not a big deal.” He may have said it a little more harshly than intended, since Gansey fell silent and did not bring the subject up again.

Adam looked it up on his own later, but it wasn’t because of Gansey.

It was because of Ronan. Ronan, who looked at him too long, who left him gifts of hand lotion and terrible mix tapes, who was impossible and angry and fiercely loyal and - unfortunately - very handsome.

Ronan, who had a name on his arm that wasn’t Adam’s.

At a public terminal in Henrietta’s small library, Adam done what he had never done before and looked up facts, theories, statistics.

Only 37% of people developed a soulmark.

Of those people, 98% developed it before the age of fifteen.

There were no solid theories about what caused a soulmark to develop or not develop. If it was only your closest match, everyone would have a soulmark. You were not guaranteed to ever meet your soulmate, and there were plenty of stories of people searching forever and not finding them. Or finding someone with the same name and only later realizing their John wasn’t the correct John.

There were also stories about people with soulmarks finding love and lasting relationships with someone who wasn’t their soulmate, but Adam could not help but wonder how well that worked. Wouldn’t it hurt, always, to know that there was someone out there who could love your lover better than you ever could? Wouldn’t you constantly be comparing yourself to them?

His thoughts shied away from the marks on Ronan’s wrist.

He began to feel sick when he read, One thing most researchers agree on is that in order to develop a soulmark, one must have a strong understanding of love. The most common similarity among those who develop soulmarks is that they had growth and development that gave them a solid foundation for their conception of what love is.

He read the rest of the article with a morbid feeling of self-destruction. It was a scholarly article laying out all the reasons that unloved children were unworthy of the kind of love a soulmate could give and receive.

It wasn’t that, really. He knew that, could see that logically. The study only claimed that in order to develop a soulmark - in addition to whatever hand of fate was involved - someone had to have a working understanding of love. A foundation for their soulmark to build upon. It didn’t mean someone who had grown up unloved could never love, only -

Only that their hearts were not open enough, maybe.

He shut down the computer and left the library, and did not think about it anymore.

That wasn’t true. He thought about it sometimes in the darkness of his tiny apartment above St. Agnes. He thought about it especially when Ronan was asleep on his floor, when he could hear Ronan’s soft breaths as they both tried to sleep.

He had never tried to look at the name on Ronan’s arm again. He thought sometimes about what it would be like. Blue’s soulmate had been right there, they’d all known. Ronan? Adam had no idea who his could be. Maybe he’d never meet them. Maybe the name didn’t matter.

Adam did not know if it would ever not matter to him.

But overall, there wasn’t much time to think about soulmates and soulmarks and the intricacies of attraction to a man with a soulmark when you had none. They had a lot of other things going on. School, their futures, hit men, rich sociopaths. Dreams that became real, monsters that were dreams. Demons. Psychics. A magical forest atop a ley line.

Magic.

It was magic, in the end. It was one perfect moment, when Adam felt power in his fingertips and in his heart, when the forest curled around his mind and he thought: this is what love is.

It was new. It was impossible. Love could be so many things.

He didn’t notice the name scrawled across his wrist until he was showering that night, until he reached up to scrub his hair and a flicker of black caught his eye. Then he couldn’t stop looking at it.

Days later, Ronan kissed him. Adam kissed him back.

Later that night, on his porch, Ronan said, “I don’t care if you don’t have a mark,” and held his wrist out to Adam. Adam pushed the wristbands aside and traced his fingers over the letters there, Adam, made bumpy by scars but still so, so clear.

He didn’t say anything. He only held out his own arm so that Ronan could see his name, stark black on the inside of Adam’s tender wrist, new and true and impossible.

He heard Ronan’s intake of breath and stepped forward to kiss him.