Gansey has the Pig’s hood propped and is looking inside. From the passenger seat, all Ronan can see is the orange sheen of car and a narrow swoop of grey September sky.
The car’s fine; they’re in the parking lot of Monmouth. Gansey has been examining the Camaro’s insides more frequently ever since Ronan brought it back from the dream. Like he’ll find something wrong with it. Or like he's amazed by it. Possibly both; Ronan vacillates between which he thinks it is depending on his mood.
Gansey removes his head from the car and comes to the passenger door. It’s open, it’s too hot to have it shut. He leans down a little so he can see Ronan’s face. Ronan looks out the window and waits.
“Can I talk to you about Adam?” The tone says Gansey already knows what Ronan's answer will be and is prepared to ignore it.
“No,” Ronan says anyway, “you can’t.”
“He’ll get over Blue.”
Ronan wonders if Gansey knows how he says her name. Like his mouth’s full of honey. Fiery honey. Something you want to savor and something you also want to swallow fast. He thinks maybe he does know. Maybe he was guarding himself, protecting Adam, protecting Blue, when he started calling her Jane.
“You say that because you want him to. Because you want to date Blue without pissing him off.”
Gansey’s tight expression suggests he’s not being fair. Ronan knows, though, that it’s true.
“Although it’s been harder to piss him off lately,” he adds.
Gansey’s expression doesn’t loosen.
“Hey, you wanted to talk about Adam. That’s about Adam.”
“I wanted to talk about you and Adam,” Gansey corrects, and the way he says it is at once too brave and too naïve for Ronan.
He kicks his feet from the Camaro and stands, dropping a shoulder against Gansey as he swings around him.
“Lynch,” Gansey turns, “I’m not trying to make anything happen.”
“Good. This isn’t yours to control.”
Gansey’s eyes narrow. “I do not want to control anything.”
Ronan flattens him with a look. “Fuck that, you get off on being in control.”
Gansey looks exhausted. “Don’t do this.”
Ronan wheels back. “I’m not doing anything.” And then he breathes. It’s been an odd month, days settling soft and hot and humid and suddenly snapping overnight into frosty dry stretches. Today he breathes in water. “I am just saying. We have enough to think about, don’t we?” He knows he does. He knows the dreams, Cabeswater, the Barns, the sleepers, the king—all of them are enough without adding anything else. Without talking about Adam the way Gansey wants to. Without talking about Blue the way he started to.
Gansey touches his lips. “Yes,” he agrees, “I suppose we have a lot going on.” He leans back against the open door to the Camaro and eases it shut behind his weight. It’s graceful and natural, Gansey and his open-mouthed car. He goes to release the rod keeping the hood up and asks, “Have you seen Noah today?”
“He might be with Blue.”
None of them is certain how Noah operates. It is possible, although Ronan has never seen any evidence of it, that he could be with Blue and also with them; time doesn’t mean as much to Noah as it does to people who are alive, and space means nothing. Maybe splitting himself would take more energy than he could access, but maybe not. Ghost lives are not a thing any of them has spent any time studying. Adam should have, Ronan thinks, because Adam does that, researches widely. Gansey wouldn’t have, because his love is limited to the ley lines, everything that gets caught in those is just collateral.
Ronan hasn’t, because Ronan prefers action to books.
“We should go find them,” Gansey says. “We haven’t been to Blue’s in a while.”
“Two days.” Ronan counts back. It does feel like longer. He hadn’t liked 300 Fox Way at first; at first, it had made him itchy and angry. He’s not sure if he exactly likes it now, but he doesn’t leave there feeling like someone’s eating at his knees anymore, which is sort of the feeling he used to have. Like he was always swatting at something nasty outside of himself.
“Yes, two days,” Gansey agrees. Ronan can’t tell if he’s mocking himself, or just confirming how long it’s been. He decides it doesn’t matter.
Blue is there, talking at Persephone in the kitchen. Noah’s nowhere. Adam’s at work. They go to Cabeswater anyway, the three of them, and sometime during the ride Chainsaw ruffles her feathers against Ronan’s ear and Noah appears in the backseat beside him.
They try not to react to him appearing anymore. He’s not there and then he is, like any of them, coming and going.
Adam stands in the gravel of the parking area at the Barns. He is thin and rain-wet, completely drenched, hair flattened against his skull and his skin running with rivers all over. Ronan feels him watching as he steps from the house, which fades behind him once his feet are sinking among gravel.
Ronan never knows what to expect when he finds others here. He doesn’t much care about rules normally, mostly disregards them with vigor and violence. But here it’s different. He helped disappear Cabeswater once and learned what it meant to be a thief among the trees, learned how slimy his gut got at the feel of that, of stealing from the dreams.
He thinks taking advantage of his friends in this world, even just their dream selves conjured by his ridiculous mind, is a different kind of thievery, probably even more wrong than recklessly drawing everything he wants from Cabeswater.
And Adam is even more dangerous, because he doesn’t know what has changed in Adam since his connection with Cabeswater. He doesn’t know if Adam can slip into the dream when he wants to, or when Cabeswater forces him to, or when he needs to. He is never sure whether the Adam in his dreams is an Adam who will remember standing drenched outside the Barns when he awakes, or an Adam created solely from Ronan’s own head.
That Ronan cannot tell means that his understanding of Adam is magnificently complete or that it is incredibly narrow. Does he force his view of Adam on his living friend? Does he know his living friend so well that he can recreate him, the way he did the Pig, in his dreams?
He can’t answer a single question. He tastes dreamed-up raindrops and licks his chapped lips and steps nearer to Adam.
“Do you know what we’re doing?” Adam asks. Ronan is relieved the question is not accusatory. They are all doing something unknown, but they are doing it together.
“No,” he answers.
Adam nods and lifts his hands. The backs are scaly and red and dry in a way they’re not anymore on the outside of dreams. Adam touches his own chin and digs his blunt fingertips in. Ronan watches, magnetic, as Adam lifts his skin away.
The mask, the one from the Barns, the one from earlier dreams, the one on the wall of his bedroom, the one he has been told to throw away, is beneath his face.
Dream Adam, then, and Ronan claws himself awake.
Dream Adam sometimes reveals himself hideously.
Chainsaw is flapping her wings, a feathered black windmill overhead. The room is dim, the apartment dark. Ronan wishes again that Adam would move in with them. Him and Gansey are too small for the bigness of Monmouth. He misses the old Noah, the four of them before this summer, when they thought they were more normal. It doesn't matter that just the memories of the past spring feel sharp with remembered rage. He still misses the way they were, sometimes.
He gets out of bed. Chainsaw lands on his shoulder, drawing painful lines on his bare skin as he opens his door.
Gansey’s not in bed. He’s not sitting among the intersections of his miniature Henrietta.
Ronan crosses the room and hits the light in the kitchen-bathroom-laundry. Gansey has his back against the fridge, his cellphone on the floor by his left thigh.
He blinks up at Ronan through his wireframes. Ronan pinches his nose and Chainsaw lets out a rough sound.
“I don’t know,” Gansey confesses. He sounds anxious. They may be inviting disaster, and he knows it, aggravating fault lines with their voices into telephone receivers, summoning earthquakes in the night.
You can’t break us up, Ronan wants to tell him. You made us this, you are not allowed to ruin it. You love her, it becomes unignorable. But instead he says, “Adam knows, doesn’t he?”
Gansey stares across the narrow space at Ronan. “No,” he says it slowly, like he’s watching someone fall off a cliff.
“Not about you and Blue,” although Ronan thinks that Adam might suspect. Adam is good at reading people. Gansey may think they’re being discreet, and maybe they are, for teenagers. But they are not teenagers at their most basic. They’re a psychic’s daughter, a resurrected explorer, a magician, a ghost. The greywaren. The five of them see more than most, and Ronan thinks Blue and Gansey are being as conspicuous as two black birds in a stretch of white sky. “I’m not talking about you and Blue.”
“Oh.” Gansey drops his head against the fridge. There’s a crumpled edge of a map of Henrietta behind his messy hair. He’s covering up the corner where the mountains start. “Probably, yes.”
“Probably, yes,” Ronan mimics, venomous. “Tell me more, Gansey.”
“Definitely,” Gansey corrects, “I’d say he does. He hasn’t said he anything to you about it?”
“He’s careful.” Ronan shuts his eyes and sees Adam pulling his face off. “It doesn’t bother him, I don’t think.”
“Of course it doesn’t,” Gansey sounds affronted.
“Has he said anything to you about it?”
Gansey looks at Ronan’s bare feet. Ronan looks down at them too. His feet are dirty, like he was standing in mud minutes ago. He was, he was, and he wants to see Adam and touch his chin. He wants to feel skin.
“He just asked if I knew.”
Ronan knows that he has been talked about. That before the embarrassment of this infatuation he was discussed for his father and his anger and his brothers. Protecting him had been one of Gansey’s functions, as was protecting other people from him. He doesn’t think things have changed that much in the last few months.
Still, he feels ashamed. He doesn’t want to be looked at, examined.
“And what’d you say?” when the silence lasted so long he could taste it, musty and bitter.
“That you hadn’t said anything to me.” Gansey pushes to his feet. “And then he said that that didn’t mean I hadn’t noticed, and I said that maybe he should talk to you, and then he laughed and said you might not want to talk about it, which I agreed with. And that was it.”
“When was that?”
Gansey tilts his head. “When do you think? Yesterday morning. Before class, which you skipped.”
“Which is why you brought it up in the afternoon.”
“When you didn’t want to talk about it,” Gansey points out. “So why now?”
Ronan touches his chin. He looks at Gansey’s cellphone, cupped in his loose right hand. He shrugs. “A dream, I guess. And there’s you and Blue.”
“Me and Blue,” Gansey echoes. “You know how that goes.”
“It’s why I didn’t want to talk about it,” Ronan tells him, “at least a little of why. Nothing’s going to happen. We’ve got more going on and nothing’s going to happen.”
Gansey reaches up and touches his mouth. Ronan can tell what he wants to ask him. Gansey wants to explore the maybes. Gansey is always exploring the maybes, and he so rarely hits dead-ends that Ronan is tempted to let him. But they can’t risk ruining this.
“Remember when Adam was mad?” he asks.
“Yeah,” Gansey slips his phone in the pocket of his shorts, “I remember.”
So that’s it, Ronan decides.
They go out and get milkshakes. When dawn comes it’s a normal day all over again.
Which is to say anything could happen.
Blue is staring at him and he’s staring back. They’re sitting in a booth at the gelato place. Noah’s there, next to Blue, and Adam and Gansey are supposed to be meeting them. Ronan doesn’t know that they will be; Gansey has something going on at school and Adam is at the factory.
Noah is looking between the two of them. “This gets very old.”
“Shh.” Blue rests one of her hands on his shoulder without breaking eye contact with Ronan. She pats him absently.
“The two of you aren’t accomplishing anything.”
Ronan chews at the leather straps on his wrist and looks at Blue.
“You’re just being creepy.” Noah snorts, a half laugh at himself.
“And you would know,” Blue indulges his humor. Ronan’s eyes are dry. He can’t really make her out anymore, other than a dark fringe over a small pale softness. She’s all blurry, and Noah beside her, and the red of the booth behind them. He probably looks similarly impressionistic to her.
They keep staring. Noah gives up and starts chewing on the plastic spoon from Blue’s melty gelato dish.
“Do you think Gansey and Parrish are ever gonna get here?” Ronan asks conversationally. The dark shape of Blue’s lips smear a little. A smirk. She’s learning from them; he feels weirdly proud of her. “Because if not we should probably leave.”
“Well, this place closes at eight.”
Blue suddenly swims into focus. He’d blinked without realizing it. She’s grinning at him, mouth open and wide and triumphant.
Noah’s not there anymore, which is good for Ronan, because he would have loved to have seen Blue victorious. He would have reveled in it more than she would, and she would plenty.
Ronan presses his fists against the sticky plastic tabletop. “A fluke,” he tells her.
She looks too delighted to respond.
It’s snowing. Great giant quick flakes of it, all around. He’s in the forest and the trees are bare, gathering scarves of white. It’s cold, of course, and he’s wearing a jacket and jeans and boots and a hat, even. He’s sometimes much more sensible asleep.
No one’s there yet. Him and the woods and the snow and the silence. It’s peaceful. He wouldn’t mind to be left alone here for a little while. A whole night of peace like this, if he were able to stay warm, would be nice. It would be welcome.
But no, it’s already changing. The trees are shaking. Not whispering, just shivering. Noiselessly, mostly.
And then there’s Gansey, stepping out of the hollow in one of the trees, wearing clothes like they imagine Glendower would wear. He stops once he’s beyond the shell of the tree. He and Ronan look at each other through the snow, which is coming down so fast it’s like looking at Gansey through a just-shook snow globe.
Gansey says, “I’m not sure I like this,” and suddenly the snow is hornets. Not falling but flying down, and the air, which was so soft and still and silent, is vibrating with their buzzing. Ronan opens his mouth, and a hornet flies in. His skin is burning, pocking red all over.
Gansey is screaming.
Gansey is not screaming when Ronan wakes up. The only noise in Monmouth is Chainsaw. Ronan gets out of bed, scrubbing at the welts still risen on his skin, and goes to find his friend.
He’s not anywhere in the apartment. All the rooms are empty. Noah’s is stale.
Ronan leans out the window and shines his phone down toward the lot. His BMW and the Suburban are there. The Pig is not.
With Blue, Ronan reassures himself. Not with icy hornets in Cabeswater. With Blue.
He calls Chainsaw to him and leaves Monmouth. It’s no surprise when he ends up outside of Adam’s door.
There’s a line of light beneath it. He knocks, but only because it’s three a.m. You can barge in on your magician friend in the middle of the night, but only if you want a face full of thorns. He’s learned that.
Adam takes a long time to open the door. He leans in the doorframe, blinking at Ronan.
“You weren’t asleep,” Ronan tells him, although his hair is a mess and his cheek has creases on it.
Adam rocks back on his heels. “A little,” he says, nonsensically. “Come in.”
There’s a light on and books and notepaper fanned out on the floor, but his bed is a mess of holey blankets and thin pillows stacked on each other.
“What’s going on?” Adam asks. He sits down on the edge of his bed and drags a knitted blanket around his waist. It’s touchingly young, the way he’s sitting. Ronan sits down in the middle of his schoolwork and looks at the textbook. It should be familiar to him; he’s pretty sure he’s signed up for AP Biology too. Maybe.
What to tell Adam. Not sleeping is not unusual. Bad dreams are not unusual. Hornets and Gansey are not particularly unusual, although Ronan knows it’s dangerous to dream of those two together. Knows and yet can’t prevent it. His brain is a fucked up place.
He looks up at Adam. “Are you ever going to talk about it?”
Adam cocks his head. “What’s ‘it’?”
Ronan wants Noah to be there. He wants Gansey. He wants to not have asked this question. He wants to be back in the snow of Cabeswater, before the snow grew stingers and Gansey screamed.
He wants this question to have a different meaning, and a different answer.
“Come on,” he says, “you know.”
Adam rubs his chin. Ronan chews on the leather at his wrist and waits for his friend's face to come off. Adam drops his hand before it can and says, “I didn’t really think you wanted to talk about it.”
“I don’t.” Ronan drops his wrist.
“What’re you doing, then?”
“I don’t know,” Ronan admits. “I’m tired of not knowing.”
Adam tugs on a piece of yarn coming loose from his blanket. It’s blue or grey or green, some weird shade between the three. “Not knowing what?”
He is stepping very carefully, and Ronan is grateful for this.
“I told Gansey we didn’t have time for this.”
Adam doesn’t ask for clarification this time. “You know about him and Blue,” it would never be a question.
“A blind man would.” Ronan feels compelled to support them somehow. “They’re trying, though.”
“I know. They don’t need to.” He looks at Ronan and Ronan looks at him. “I’m not going to get hurt over it. Anymore. Are you?”
“What would I be hurt over?” Ronan feels amazingly cold. Could he have been misread so badly? By Adam, by anyone who knows him?
“Don’t tell me you weren’t jealous when Gansey first found me.”
Oh, that. Ronan scoffs. “Gansey didn’t find you. You found him.”
Adam lowers his chin to his chest, considering this. “Maybe,” he allows. “But that’s not the point.”
“I’m not hurt,” Ronan says.
“Me neither,” Adam repeats.
“Well, good. Somebody should tell them.”
“Yeah.” There’s a weird heavy hesitation in Adam’s voice. This room is tiny, and still there’s enough space for the two of them to build up miles of walls. “There’s still,” and he shakes his head, finishing, “yeah. Somebody should.”
Ronan knows there’s something everyone else knows that he doesn’t. He considers refocusing the conversation on that, on whatever great secret links the other three—four, maybe—and leaves him out, but Adam is looking at him again. “I don’t know what I think,” he says finally. “About,” his hand rises into the air, falls back to the blanket. He’s unwound a whole row now. It’s unnaturally careless of him. He is always so particular about making things look nice.
But this apartment never could. It’s not a kind thought, and Ronan savors it while Adam makes him feel unsure and unbalanced, with his not-knowing. About--a hand risen in the air. About him, Ronan. About the two of them.
“Partly I think you’re right,” Adam says, “there’s no time.”
“Yeah.” The word’s unnecessary, but it fills a hopeless snag of momentary silence.
“And partly I think it makes no sense.”
Ronan lets the silence sit this time; hopeless as it is, he’s starting to think it has a point.
“For either of us,” Adam says, “aren’t we bigger than this?”
Than sitting in shitty light at three thirty in the morning talking about feelings? Probably they are bigger than this. But feelings have been making Ronan feel like he had eaten fire and thorns and a hurricane for over a year now; he’s been storming inside and outside over them. For a person, even a person who could take things from dreams, even a person who could hear the voices of trees, is there really anything larger than feelings?
“I don’t know,” Ronan simplifies. “I’m being eaten by it, I think.”
“I don’t know if I am.” Adam’s voice sounds sad. “Does it matter to you that I want to be, and sometimes I think I could be?”
“You want to want me?” Ronan tries a smirk. He thinks it comes out okay.
“I could want you,” Adam says. The words sound hard, harsh, quick. “But would it be good, like that? As a possibility?”
Ronan knows that by the time the sun’s up they won’t be talking like this. He knows they won’t be able to talk like this again for a long time. He’s being granted this moment because he caught Adam in a moment of susceptibility. Because Gansey screamed in his dream and he’s afraid, and Adam’s afraid.
Because they’ve finally admitted what they know about Gansey and Blue. Because of a lot of things, because of the gift of it being a little past three on a morning in September. Because of sleepiness, and magic, and the way they sometimes smirk at each other over nasty cruel things.
“I think,” he tells Adam, trying not to think about the angles of his face and how devastated they’ve made him, how gruesome he’s seen the boy in front of him dismantled in his dreams, “for now that’s good enough.”
“Well,” Adam blinks, eyes wide for a moment, “all right then.”
“I’ll let you get back to,” Ronan waves at the books.
Adam shakes his head. “I was sleeping.”
“I know.” Ronan stands. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Adam watches him leave.
One thing Ronan has learned since he got Chainsaw from a dream is how easy it can be to ask the right question, and how hard it can be to swallow the answer.