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So Fair To Be Seen

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So Fair To Be Seen

 

 

Adam woke up first.

He was, for quite possibly the first time in his drafty dorm room that he shared with his roommate Gansey, warm . Heat was pressed solidly against his side, something heavy across his legs, pinning him in place. It might have been a pleasant experience if not for the acrid taste of rotten cotton balls in his mouth and the faint but nauseatingly present tension behind his eyes.

Slowly, he opened his eyes and found himself tucked low against Ronan’s bare arm. It was Ronan’s heat keeping him warm, Ronan’s leg under the blanket sprawled out over his legs. Groggily, Adam shifted enough to press his cheek until it fit perfectly in the slope of Ronan’s built bicep. The smell of Ronan was his entire world for a long second.

He was trying to piece together exactly the events that had led to this when he noticed the other hand.

Ronan was laying on his stomach, his back a swath of black ink on pale skin. Everything was feathers, claws, beaks. Except for the hand, still and peaceful on the small of his back covering a thorn or a Celtic cross or a road.

Adam let his eyes work their way from the hand up the arm, up the naked torso, to Gansey’s face, slack-jawed with the open-mouthed sleep of the inebriated. Ronan had an arm over Gansey’s chest the same as he had a leg over Adam’s. Warm, protective, possessive.

Instantly, the comfortable warmth was too hot, like a sweltering summer had bloomed instantly from a winter night and Adam was suddenly very, very aware of how very, very naked he was.

Vague memories of kisses and hands and more penises than he had expected to be handling in a single night were slowly coming back to him as he stood still as prey in the bed, staring at Ronan’s arm over Gansey’s chest. His fingers were curled sleepily around Gansey’s arm, the same arm slipped onto Ronan. The two of them slotted together seamlessly and Adam wondered if this wasn’t the first time they had fallen together like this.

He looked around them for other signs of familiarity, as though something bright and neon could appear to indicate Adam as the third wheel again in their friendship, but it was simply a mess of tossed pillows and Gansey’s rumpled hair and the sheet pulled off the edges of the mattress in a suggestive way that made Adam’s ears hot. A blanket had been tossed over them at some point, tangled over all of their legs. Over six legs. How did so many legs fit on the bed?

A memory came forth, hazy on the edges and soaked in alcohol, of Ronan bitching about Gansey kneeing him in the back one too many times while the three of them had fumbled around on Gansey’s bed, all reaching for purchase on each other in heated frenzy. He and Gansey had made out on the floor, too desperate to keep their hands to themselves while Ronan drunkenly shoved their beds together, knocking pillows to the ground in the process. He remembered looking up at one point, marveling at fluid motion of Ronan’s muscles (Ronan had been shirtless at that point, but Adam couldn’t remember when that had happened) as he shifted Adam’s and Gansey’s mattresses sideways until Gansey had slipped a hand in his boxers and gathered his full attention once more.

Slowly, carefully, Adam extracted himself from under Ronan’s leg, the wiry hair coarse and electric against his skin. He missed the warmth immediately as his bare skin met the cool air of the room and he felt too vulnerable to stand there naked and cold, staring at Ronan and Gansey curling closer to each other with his absence.

Not wanting to risk waking Gansey or Ronan with the squeak of the university-issued dresser drawers, Adam dug through the mess of clothes that had clearly been discarded without much care or concern the night before. He located his boxers buried under Gansey’s sweater and his jeans on top of Ronan’s leather jacket and his shirt somehow flung across the room on top of his desk chair.

He had a sudden memory of Ronan pulling it over his head the night before, laughing with the wild abandon of drunken glee as his head emerged messily. Gansey had tried to cover Ronan’s mouth to capture his laugh, to keep him quiet, but his hands kept slipping from Ronan’s chin clumsily as he laughed into Ronan’s shoulder, neck, cheek. Gansey had smeared sloppy kisses into his skin until Ronan threw Adam’s shirt into the deep recesses of the room to be forgotten as they all fell into the mattress.

Adam pulled the same shirt back over his head now, shoving the swoop in his stomach aside at the memory of Gansey catching at Adam’s elbows as they fell back, Ronan’s lips at his temple. He debated the merits of just leaving the room now, but the taste in his mouth had gone from sour to rancid and the need to brush his teeth had turned dire. The eyes looking back at him in the mirror looked exhilarated and thrilled and shamed as more and more pieces flooded into his battered brain. Henry pressing drinks into their hands, Ronan and Adam returning to the room, Gansey’s mouth, Ronan’s mouth, Adam’s wanting.

He left the bathroom and was immediately put off again by the state of the room. The entire orientation of the room was thrown off and not just because of the two incredibly naked bodies of his best friends in the bed. At least he assumed they were also naked. Their torsos were bare and the feet sticking out of the blankets were pale and unsocked. He was curious to peek under the covers, to confirm what his hazy memories had yet to provide visuals of, but the thought of either of them (or worse, both of them) waking up in each other’s arms to find Adam looking at their junk cured him of that curiosity.

But the room felt tilted with the sudden shift of their furniture. Gansey’s bed had been moved, a bare patch of starkly white concrete blocks newly visible under the layers and layers of posters and notes and research taped and clipped to the wall above where the bed usually was. On the floor were forgotten socks, receipts from the local pizza shop, and dust bunnies so advanced that cleaning them later would probably be considered a form of genocide.

It was Gansey’s pillow in the middle of the floor, untouched by the scattered clothes still streaked on the floor. His own pillow had been shoved off at some point during the night. He thought maybe he had actually been the one to push it off, his head moving further and further up the mattress as Gansey had mouthed at his thighs, Ronan lathing his neck with hot kisses and whispering filthy and beautiful promises in his deep voice that brought him to ruin.

The Ronan that was here now, asleep in the shoved together beds, not living in Adam’s memory and throwing him into shallow breaths, shuffled in his sleep. His foot jiggled slightly, elegant ankle bones sharp in the growing morning light.

Adam had to leave.

He grabbed his tattered messenger bag from its spot on his desk chair where it had spent the night protected by his shirt. He felt in his pockets for his keys, still thankfully there. There was a granola bar in his jacket pocket, too, which he was grateful for. His university card was low on funds, dwindling down as it did at the end of every semester, no matter how hard he tried to ration it.

He grabbed his shoes before he left, tiptoeing out in his socks. He glanced back at his friends and he paused, switching everything to one hand so he could reach over and adjust the blankets so their bare feet could be covered.

Then Adam slipped out the door and down the hall to the stairwell before he finally dropped his shoes and slumped against the wall.

“Fuck.”

 


 

It started with this:

“I hate Christmas.”

“Well, that’s festive.”

Henry seemed amused as Blue glared venomously at the row of plastic candy canes lining the walkway to Georgetown’s Healey Family Student Center’s entrance. Adam frowned at the off-kilter way the candy canes tilted away from each other, as though shaken from their original uniform line of attention. But Blue was staring them down as though each one had personally insulted her mother.

“I don’t know,” Gansey mused over the top of his hot chocolate. It had been nearly six dollars and he had purchased it at the kiosk without a second thought on their way back to the dorms after dinner. Adam had been painfully jealous of the thought of a warm drink in his hands, his own hands tucked into his pockets to ward off the winter chill. “I think it’s a nice holiday. Spending time with family and loved ones, exchanging gifts, making cookies. There’s always donations going on and food drives and book drives for children. And I’ve always liked the history and traditions associated with it. Also,” Gansey gave a little shake of his peppermint hot chocolate, “everything comes mint-flavored.”

“There are plenty of nice holidays this month.” Blue repeated nice as though it could have been replaced with something like abominable or nauseating . “It’s not just Christmas.”

“Christmas is the reason for the season, Maggot.”

Blue turned her withering glance to Ronan who wore a piously Catholic expression that was at odds with his leather jacket and studded boots and constant air of sharp defiance. Whatever further rebuke bit at the end of her tongue died out as Noah tugged at her sleeve wordlessly to point at a series of plastic carolers glowing faintly at the corner of the building. An unfortunate one at the end had lost its head, giving the entire scene a rather macabre sort of edge.

“Why do you wind her up?” Adam muttered, elbowing Ronan.

“Declan calls it middle-child syndrome.”

“Asshole.”

“He is, yeah.”

Adam rolled his eyes at Ronan’s deliberate misinterpretation of his jab, but his mouth quirked and he saw Ronan’s expression still for a moment before releasing a loose smile.

Adam felt a surge of accomplishment and nerves to have made Ronan smile something loose and free. He looked away to see Gansey looking at them both peculiarly and the thrill intensified to have been caught, seen.

“I hate having Christmas shoved down my throat,” Blue continued. She shoved her boots into a particularly sloppy patch of slush on the street with vengeance. “It’s everywhere.”

“I suppose that’s fair.” Gansey was still looking at Adam even as he answered Blue.

“Well, as long as you suppose . Don’t I feel validated.”

“What’s got you in such a mood, my Blue girl?” Henry soothed. He draped an arm over her hunched shoulders as he strategically guided her away from another slushy patch, pausing their group outside of the dorms.

“Oh Jesus Christ,” Ronan groaned quietly so only Adam could hear. He leaned heavily into Adam’s shoulder, a literal physical weight in anticipation of Blue’s indignant fury that was indeed building up under her knit cap.

First of all ,” she stressed, holding up one finger, exposed from her edgy and fringed fingerless gloves, “while there are basic tenets of Christanity that I can contend with, organized religion has corrupted those beliefs to justify countless atrocities throughout the ages. Second of all, I don’t care how good the cookies are, Christmas is just a mess of capitalism at this point. Yes, sure, you get to have some time off to spend with your family for the holiday, but what about everyone else who doesn’t celebrate Christmas? There’s Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Bodhi Day, Yalda, Pancha Ganapati, and of course Yule .” Each holiday got ticked off on another finger. “And all of it just gets ignored.”

“I think there’s a menorah over there.”

They all turned to where Noah had vaguely gestured and Blue jabbed an indignant finger at the decorative menorah in the dining hall window with only five candles. Adam had to admit, it was a solid argument in her favor.

“Nobody ever does anything for Yule. Just the stuff the Christians pilfered for Christmas.” Blue gave Ronan a dark look as though he was personally responsible for the Church’s transgressions centuries ago. “And god forbid anyone do anything secular. God forbid Starbucks makes a holiday cup with snowflakes instead of Santas.”

“Well, yeah , that’s as good as just declaring a war on Christmas. You may as well shoot a cannon at Santa’s house.”

“Lynch,” Gansey admonished automatically.

“Sorry, Dad.”

Adam couldn’t stop the snort that escaped him and Gansey looked exasperated with both Ronan and Adam at this. Normally Adam would feel chastened by this look of reproval from Gansey, a mix of wanting to please Gansey and wanting to fight back against it, constantly at odds with how to respond. But the heat of Ronan’s weight against his side and the memory of Gansey’s eyes catching them before made him hold Gansey’s gaze a little steadier. He thought he could smell the mint of Gansey’s hot chocolate. He thought he felt another surge of nerves.

“We should have a Yule celebration,” Blue said suddenly, her voice much brighter.

“Lame,” Ronan sneered. “Pass.”

“Like you’d be invited anyway.”

“I think it sounds fun.”

“It would be fun, Noah! Oh! We can still eat cookies! And we can eat apples and oranges, they represent the sun. And we can have wheat, we have to have wheat. And we’ll need a Yule log and mistletoe and we can make herbal sachets and wishing ornaments and make birdseed ornaments as offerings.”

As Blue spoke, her face lit up. Every complaint about Christmas that had clouded her expression melted away with her excitement as she took Noah’s mittens in her hands and beamed at the rest of the boys. Adam could see at once that Noah was hooked; his shining face a mirror of Blue’s. Henry, too, had been swept up in Blue’s enthusiasm as soon as the word celebration had been uttered.

Adam could understand Blue’s desire for more representation of her family’s holiday on campus, but this sounded like work. He did not know where to get a Yule log or where to get wheat, but he had a feeling it would require time out of his day when he should be studying for his last few finals or finishing up his last work study hours before the semester was over. Whether or not this Yule celebration would happen to the scale of Blue’s imagination relied solely on Gansey’s involvement. Ronan would only get involved if Gansey asked him to, Adam knew that well enough.

“How can I help, Blue?” Noah asked.

“I want to be in charge of the music,” Henry practically begged.

Adam looked at Gansey. Adam could see him edging closer to the idea, keen on the concept from a research perspective more so than any interest in a social gathering. Adam wanted to hold his breath.

Is there traditional Yule music?” Gansey asked curiously. 

Adam sighed.

“Yes! Waissaling . It’s like caroling but with less mentions of God.” Blue paused for a moment as Henry’s face froze awkwardly somewhere between horrified and trying to cover it up. “We can listen to other music, too.”

“That’s what I wanted to hear. It’s settled. I’ll be in charge of music.” 

“I thought waissaling was a drink,” Gansey mused as they started to walk inside the dorms.

“Oh shit,” Ronan perked up suddenly. “There’s drinking? I’m in.”

With heavy resignation, Adam mentally rearranged his studying schedule to now fit in planning for a Yule Celebration. Fantastic.

 

***

 

Ronan was halfway through the third beer he had stolen from Noah’s room, hardly feeling a change in his equilibrium as he threw the bitter liquid back. Noah had shit taste in beer and as soon as Ronan could cut through Blue and Cheng's tipsy and vocal planning, he would be sure to tell Noah this. His attention was divided between throwing out what Bible passages he could half remember from his years attending Mass whenever Blue made a scathing retort about how the Christians stole Yule rituals and watching Adam taking refuge on one of the uncomfortable university-supplied couches in the corner of the dorm common space with a worn copy of Metamorphoses .

This past week crashing at Gansey’s dorm room before the holidays, Ronan had grown accustomed to Adam’s particular brand of bonding with the rest of the group. It was a careful balance on the fringe of their camaraderie, staying physically present and available to throw out input or corrections when needed while still maintaining his usual rigorous academic effort. Every now and then he would look up to see Ronan still watching him before returning to his book. He said nothing and so Ronan did not look away.

He was nearly finished with his beer and was considering getting a fourth when Gansey sat beside him. The world felt unbalanced.

“Blue wants to invite the entire dorm Saturday night. Hers and ours,” Gansey began. His voice was diplomatically smooth and free of any personal opinion that might inflect his words. “Yule is technically Sunday, but Henry convinced her that more people would be willing to attend on Saturday. She wants us to invite people by going door to door with clove-spiked apples and oranges laid in baskets of evergreen boughs and wheat stalks dusted with flour. The apples and oranges represent the sun. The boughs are symbolic of immortality. Evergreens were sacred to the Celts because they did not die in the autumn like the other trees, thereby representing the eternal aspect of the Divine. The wheat stalks portray the harvest and the flour represents triumph, light, and life.”

“Yeah.” Ronan finished his beer with a belch. “I’m not fucking doing that.”

“I didn’t think so.”

Ronan belched again, just to see Gansey roll his eyes at him. Noah, on the floor by his feet, let out a peal of laughter, which got Blue and Cheng giggling into their notebooks. Somewhere between her second and third drink, Blue had gone to her own dorm to grab some journal thing she called a grimoire, and she was using it now to hide her laughing face.

“They’re sauced.” Ronan scoffed derisively. “Lightweights.”

Gansey gave him another leveling look, eyeing his small collection of beer cans.

“Some of us didn’t start building up a tolerance in high school.”

“Yeah, some of us were cool.”

Gansey sighed, his weariness too put upon to be serious. Then, hypocrite as he was, Gansey drank from his own bottle. It was an IPA Ronan didn’t recognize, probably something local. Ronan watched carefully how the bottle fit against his lips, imagining the liquid going down his throat as Gansey’s Adam’s apple dropped with a swallow. He looked away to Noah's abandoned notebook, messy red notes that said something about Yule herbs. He could read bayberry, evergreen, mistletoe, holly, oak , before Cheng's mixed drinks had obscured his handwriting into something unintelligible. When he looked at Gansey again, he was looking at their friends with carefully intrigued composure.

“This should be fun.”

Ronan snorted. Gansey said fun like a documentary narrator observing it from a safe distance. Gansey held his gaze for a moment, suddenly serious in the shitty, fluorescent lighting of the common room.

“Are you going to bring Adam?”

“It’s not a fucking sock hop, Gansey.”

“Is he why you came to visit this week?”

No , Ronan thought, though the word caught in his mouth. He couldn’t say anything as the weight of his impromptu decision to crash at Gansey’s stupid university waved through him. Why had he come to visit? The thought of Adam, wane and exhausted before his finals and smug with accomplishment after. The thought of staying with Declan at his claustrophobic townhouse in DC for the family-obligated holiday bonding with his brothers. The thought of seeing Gansey, a solid weight of comfort against the grief that settled in before his orphan’s Christmas.

He wanted something stronger to drink.

“I think you two are good together,” Gansey said quietly, mistaking Ronan’s silence for confirmation.

“Thanks for the blessing, Pope.”

Ronan was saved from the agony of whatever sincere followup Gansey had planned by Cheng’s exuberant cry.

“Ganseyman! I need your impeccable eyes! I think I may have ordered a thousand pinecones off of Amazon and I need you to tell me I am wrong. Or tell me how to cancel. Or tell me how to get onto Pinterest so I can figure out what to do with so many pinecones.”

“We’re supposed to just find the pinecones in the woods,” Blue said, exasperated.

“Animals pee on things in the woods. I am not touching animal pee.”

“We could always clean them,” Noah suggested thoughtfully.

Gansey laughed and looked at Ronan as if to say what can you do .

Ronan looked back as if to say pretend you don’t know them .

Then Gansey stood up from beside Ronan. Ronan hadn’t realized how close he had been sitting until his side was cold from the sudden absence of his friend.

He thought again how he wanted more alcohol. He did not want another one of Noah’s shitty beers.

Ronan got up, walked down the hall of doors until he found one propped open that was marked to belong to T. Carruthers and H. Broadway. The markerboard was scrawled, “we’re out - Skov, leave your shit in the fridge.” Ronan grinned and slipped into the room, looking every bit the scavenger he was right then.

He returned to the common room and sat deliberately next to Adam. He shoved at Adam’s studious form with his hip on the unbearable uncomfortable couch. The fabric was scratchy and stretched thin over inadequate padding. Ronan could feel the wooden frame through the cushion. He sloshed the stolen whiskey into two stolen red cups and the sharp, smoky smell hit him pleasantly.

He didn’t recognize the label and flowery descriptions that made it sound like drinking the whiskey would be like romantically licking a barrel did not particularly appeal to him. But it was dark and the little he knew of Tad knew he was always boasting about his family’s wealth, so Ronan bet this would be slightly better than the usual bottom shelf bullshit.

Adam did not look up from his book until Ronan was shoving the cup enough against his arm that some spilled over the edge onto his worn sweater sleeve.

“I shouldn’t be drinking.” He eyed the drink warily, though his hands did not move from the book.

“Man, you’re fun at parties.”

“This isn’t a party. It’s a Yule planning.”

As one, they looked up to their friends who had long since abandoned their Yule planning and instead had given in to sharing holiday stories. They watched Noah’s reenactment of his sister’s one-act play of the nativity scene that she apparently had put on some Christmas past. Ronan, having been privy to many Nativity scenes growing up in the Catholic Church, did not remember the birthing scene being quite so graphic.

“Yeah,” Ronan deadpanned. “We better take notes.”

“I have studying I should be doing.” 

“You’ll pass.”

“You don’t know that.”

“You’ve had your nose in that book for a week. You’ll pass .”

Adam seemed his usual blend of self-satisfied agreement with Ronan’s words and the immediate follow up of guilt that always seemed to trail behind, anchoring him. The lamp he had turned on the small table beside him was a warmer light spread over his fine cheekbones.

“Is the test tomorrow?”

“...No.”

“Drink with me.” Ronan moved closer to Adam’s side, wondering if he looked like the devil on his shoulder. He felt braver somehow after a night of staring at Adam and not being told to look away. “You can read me the book later. I’ll quiz you.”

“I’m sure you’ll be excellent help.”

“Pudet haec opprobria nobis et dici potuisse et non potuisse refelli.

This, finally, got Adam’s attention. He slipped a finger between the pages to hold his place and Ronan could see the knobs of his knuckles just barely exposed over the edge of the book. He looked at Ronan incredulously. It was, Ronan thought, a good look on him.

“You know Ovid?”

“I don’t know, maybe. What’s one dead poet compared to another?”

“Oh no,” Adam shook his head, smiling through his surprise. “You’ve exposed yourself now. You can’t recite Ovid to me and act like you’re too cool to know Roman poetry.”

“I’ve exposed myself?”

Adam brushed away the innuendo impatiently.

“How do you know this? You don’t go to college.”

If anyone else had said this, it would have set Ronan’s fury into sudden fire. But this was Adam, who could be unintentionally cruel with his straightforward pronouncements. This was Adam, whose stock in university was personal only and had little regard for how anyone else fit into the prescribed formula of success. The words fell off him like water on oil and Ronan shrugged, keen to be an enigma to Adam.

“Non scholae sed vitae discimus. Now will you drink?”

He offered the cup again and this time he saw hesitancy dash across Adam’s face. He did not put his book down completely, but he did look into the proffered cup with vague suspicion.

“Is this Henry’s?”

“Please. Like I’d touch Cheng’s sorority swill.”

“Where’d you get this then?”

“Swiped it from some room.” Adam gave him a look Ronan thought he might have learned from Gansey and shrugged. “If people didn’t want their stuff stolen, they should lock their doors.”

The corners of Adam’s mouth twitched and Ronan felt closer to success. From his own cup, he took a long pull of the whiskey. It went down smooth, smoother than he expected, and he felt the heat pulling in his stomach immediately. He did not break eye contact with Adam.

Adam took the cup.

“I shouldn’t be drinking.”

“You already said that,” Ronan reminded him, gleeful with his victory. He nudged Adam with his shoulder as he put his book away in his messenger bag, gesturing at Noah’s continued Nativity reenactment. “C’mon. I wanna see how this ends.”

Ronan was not sure how much time passed, but he and Adam put about half the bottle away between shared barbed comments on Noah’s performance and Cheng’s followup interpretative dance to Dominic the Donkey playing tinnily from his phone.

Ronan could feel the drink settle into his bones until his entire body felt elastic and sated. He was still aware of his movements, but they moved more fluidly now. The brush of his arm against Adam’s, the tip of his nose clumsily hitting against Adam’s cheek as he stage-whispered his running commentary, the slide of his fingers over Adam’s as he handed Adam’s refilled cup back to him.

Adam’s eyes on him were liquid, and there was a sort of drawling smile playing across his face that Ronan knew he would normally try to hide. Ronan thought he might do anything to keep it there.

Gansey walked by at some point, and Adam and Ronan immediately moved to make room for him on the small couch. Ronan was pressed to Adam’s thigh, knee to hip, and Gansey settled into place on his other side. All the points of contact were bursts of warmth under the haze of the whiskey. Ronan immediately topped off his cup and handed it to Gansey, scowling at the IPA bottle until Gansey put it aside.

Ronan drank straight from the bottle, despite Henry’s accusations of his uncouth behavior.  He threatened to backwash while Gansey made drunkenly jovial comments about how he tried to housetrain him better than this.

Eventually, more people showed up between the music and laughter, all ready for a break from studying. The room became increasingly crowded and the bubble of comfort that had grown around them became more strained.

Gansey got up to smooth things over with the RA and Ronan saw Tad Carruthers come up from the stairwell, bright and excited at the prospect of a common room gathering. That was his cue, he figured.

He leaned in close to Adam, like he had all night, like he had every time he wanted to make fun of their friends, but the space felt charged. Adam had leaned into him as well, his hand light on Ronan’s knee. He didn’t remember when Adam had done that. Ronan knew it was the alcohol speaking and not the truth, but he thought he was close enough to Adam’s face to feel the warmth of his cheek against his lip without even touching him.

“Let’s go.”

Adam held his gaze for a moment, steadily, sure. He nodded and they stood. Adam collected his bag and Ronan kept the bottle of stolen alcohol away from prying eyes, and they slipped away from the still growing group to Gansey and Adam’s dorm room.

Adam let them in with relative ease, dropping his keys only once. Ronan wasn’t sure if he fumbled with the lock from the alcohol or the electricity that seemed to be ramping up between them. He let his hand rest against Adam’s back as they walked through the door. Adam had discarded his sweater at some point, warmed by the whiskey, and was in a thin t-shirt now. Ronan could feel the warmth of his skin through the cotton.

The door shut and the room felt almost like a vacuum, void of the sounds of students in the hall, living in their own dorms. It was suddenly a different space entirely, one with less oxygen, one with more gravity.

Adam did not look at him for a moment as he put his messenger bag in its usual spot by his desk. He seemed to hesitate at the chair and Ronan saw his hands come up to the back of the seat, fingers clenched as if grounding himself. The tendons in his arm were taut and Ronan had to put the bottle down before he dropped it. He placed it on Gansey’s desk next to his mint, somehow contradictory in its pairing.

At the sound of glass against wood, Adam turned around. He met Ronan’s eyes, his gaze still liquid, but his mouth softer than his smile. They stood quietly for a moment before Ronan could not take it any longer.

“Adam.”

At once Adam was across the room and kissing Ronan. His hands were hot where they rested on Ronan’s neck, against Ronan’s ribs. The stubble scratching against his face was paired with the velvet slide of his tongue against Ronan’s, and Ronan curled his hands into Adam’s hair, angling his head for better access to his mouth. Ronan felt as though they were pressed so tightly against each other that he could feel Adam’s heartbeat as fiercely as his own.

He broke away only when it was necessary to restart his heart, and he breathed into Adam’s neck, “ Amor sceleratus habendi .”

Adam gave a full body shudder against him, “You can’t say that.”

“Adam.”

“You can’t say that either.”

Adam shuddered again. He dragged Ronan’s mouth back to his in a series of frantic, hungry kisses that ended much too soon with Adam’s forehead resting against Ronan’s. They were panting against each other, something desperate between them.

“I thought you hated me,” Adam confessed, his eyes still shut.

Ronan thought back to when that was a true enough statement, when he had first met the Adam Gansey had texted him about nearly non-stop after meeting him freshman year.  He had come to campus ready to hate his usurper, feeling his ties with Gansey weakening. Then he had met Adam, quiet and dismissive and elegant in a way Ronan could not pinpoint, and the immediate mess of jealousy that had pooled in his stomach.

“I thought you were dating Gansey.”

“Why— Oh.” Adam pulled away enough to look at Ronan. His hand pulled from under Ronan’s shirt and Ronan barely had a chance to miss it before Adam’s palm was against his cheek. “It’s not— we never—.” He shook his head a little, a smile Ronan did not love catching on his mouth. “I thought—you, Gansey. When you first came to visit. I felt like I shouldn’t be there.”

When Adam finally looked up to meet Ronan’s eyes again, Ronan saw the same jealousy and want mirrored in his expression. He understood, suddenly.

The door opened.

“Oh.” Gasey blinked at them in surprise. There was no mistaking this, they were so caught up in each other, Adam’s hand was on his face. Neither of them broke apart, but Ronan felt Adam go very still in his arms.

“I’m sorry,” Gansey flustered, “I’ll leave. Sorry. I’m sorry.”

But Ronan put a hand on his arm, stopping him. The entire world stopped.

Gansey looked down at Ronan’s hand and then at him, Ronan looked at Adam. Adam was staring at Gansey, hungry, starving. Ronan knew that expression mirrored in his own as well.

Slowly, cautiously, Gansey let the door shut.

Ronan let go of Gansey’s arm long enough only to take another long pull from the whiskey on Gansey’s desk before putting it down. Then without completely letting go of Adam, he leaned into Gansey’s space with a hand on Gansey’s hip. He paused over Gansey’s lips, giving him a chance to move. Gansey did not and Ronan saw his glasses fog up with their shared heated breath in the small space between them. Ronan kissed him, whiskey still tattooed on his lips.

He felt Adam come up closer to them both tangled up against the door, felt Adam’s hand between them under Gansey’s sweater to rest against his heart, felt Adam make a space for himself to kiss Gansey’s neck.

Gansey twisted, breaking both kisses to stare at them in wonder.

“Jesus. Christ.”

 


 

Gansey woke up last.

This was, he realized, unusual for him as his insomnia made deep sleep nearly impossible for him under the best of circumstances. Typically, if he wasn’t still awake when Adam’s alarm went off in the morning, he had already been awake for an hour or so, prodding quietly at a history paper or making slow progress in his journal.

Gansey felt off-kilter somehow to be the last one awake, feeling as though he might have arrived late to an event, as though he had missed something crucial. When he opened his eyes, Ronan’s stormy eyes were already fixed on him. The intensity of his stare was such that Gansey felt newly exposed. There was a space on Ronan’s other side, gaping and empty. Adam’s absence was overwhelming.

Last night I made out with my two best friends.

He had done more than make out with his two best friends, but it was as if the memories of the night before were slowly unfurling in his brain like a flower responding to the early morning sun.

“Lynch.”

“Dick.”

“Adam left.” Because of me.

Gansey thought about when they had piled into the bed, a mass of naked limbs and acres of bare skin like a vast beast from Greek mythology. How the frantic heat of their kisses had eventually slowed into something softer, as they all came down from their orgasms, spent and exhausted. They had settled themselves for sleep without thought of consequence, but even with his mind fogged with alcohol and orgasms, Gansey had overthought their arrangement.

He had wanted Adam in the middle, but had not wanted to crowd him. He thought of catching Ronan’s eyes, communicating silently this incessant need. He thought of how he and Ronan had seemed to wordlessly understand that Adam would need the potential out and let him sleep on the edge and how Ronan had shoved at Adam until he complied, his long limbs like a newborn colt as he shuffled onto his side.

Ronan was still watching him, his face carefully neutral of expression but softer around the mouth than Gansey was used to. 

Gansey reached for him and instantly Ronan let himself be taken into Gansey’s grasp.

“I didn’t expect this,” Gansey murmured, because it needed to be said. He dragged his lips over the soft buzz of Ronan’s shorn scalp. It felt achingly pleasant against his dry mouth. “I thought you liked Adam.

“I do.”

“Then what’s this ?”

Gansey gestured inelegantly at them both in this makeshift bed and Ronan scoffed.

“Didn’t you get an academic scholarship or some shit?”

Gansey glanced down at their exposed chests, their limbs intertwining under the sheet. He watched the shape of Ronan’s leg cross over his under the sheet as he felt the coarse leg hair brush his skin, and the combination of seeing and feeling at the same time made him shiver. He brushed his lips over Ronan’s scalp again, this time kissing him as understanding flooded through him.

“Since when?”

“I don’t know. Monmouth. When we met. Just,” Ronan gave a jerky twist of his hand in the air, “part of it all.”

Gansey replayed moments from their time in Monmouth Manufacturing, their shared apartment while they attended Aglionby Academy. He could not remember a time when the intensity of Ronan’s eyes on him had ever given him away. Everything Ronan had said to him was restructuring itself in his head.

The enormity of this confession did not move him as he might have expected it would. It was part of it all, as Ronan had said. On some level, Gansey wondered if he had always known.

“What about you?” Ronan poked at his chest, his discomfort coming through in fits of agitation. “I thought you were strictly into pussy.”

Gansey flushed.

“I was, ah, enlightened freshman year. Toga party. Although, I didn’t expect this.”

You already said that.” Something in Ronan’s voice went vacant. The finger still poking at Gansey’s chest slid until Ronan’s hand was a balm over Gansey’s heart. “You gonna leave, too?”

“No,” Gansey said immediately, instinctively. He swallowed and thought about it, realizing just then how sure he was. “ No .”

Ronan’s expression was sharp and bright. He had always been handsome, but this brilliance was like the sun and Gansey thought his eyes would burn to look at him for too long. Still, he did not look away. He wanted to whisper “no” again, to brand it into Ronan’s skin as permanent as his tattoo, to make him understand that he would not leave Ronan.

“Adam shouldn’t have left. He probably thought it was too much. That he didn’t deserve this so freely.”

Ronan groaned and dipped his head and Gansey missed his light.

“Jesus, he needs to lighten up. It’s a fucking wonder he doesn’t shit diamonds for how tight his asshole is.”

“Maybe now isn’t the best time to talk about tight assholes.”

It took Ronan a moment to realize what Gansey said but that only meant Gansey could watch the slow spread of Ronan’s lizard smile crawl across his face, filthy and decadent all at once.

Ronan brought that smile to Gansey’s, kissing him as though he did not care that they had morning breath, kissing him as though all he could do was lick into Gansey’s mouth. Under the sheet, their bodies pressed tighter together, and Gansey felt Ronan grow hard against his leg.

Ronan shifted, slotting their dicks together in the crook of Gansey’s hip like it was already second nature for their bodies to fit together. It was dirty and dry and Gansey could still feel dried cum in the crease where his thigh met his leg from the night before where Adam had missed a spot wiping him off with too many tissues.

Ronan rocked them together, the pace shifting from fast to slow without any rhythm Gansey could catch. He felt constantly on edge, his hands gripping at Ronan’s shoulder, his back. They kissed messily, sloppily, until Ronan fell into a fast grind that pressed Gansey further into the mattress and they couldn’t do more than pant heavily against each other’s cheeks.

“Adam should be here, too.”

“I can stop.”

But even as Ronan hesitated, lifting himself an inch from Gansey to eye him more closely, Gansey grabbed Ronan’s ass with a whine he did not recognize as his own escaping his throat. He hooked a leg over Ronan’s, already knowing his leg would cramp quickly but he did not care. The feeling of Ronan’s breath on his face, the scratch of his coarse chest hair against Gansey’s smoother skin, the twist of Gansey’s muscles were remotely present, as though Gansey could not feel anything else as clearly as he could feel the hot slide of Ronan’s cock frotting against his.

He came first, and Ronan rutted artlessly against his suddenly slick skin until he came, too, grunting and panting and boneless as he collapsed over Gansey.

They laid like that for a moment, Ronan a heavy weight over him. Gansey ran a hand over his shorn head, his neck, his back in sweeping arcs, petting him even as he shivered.

Then Ronan came back alive, pressing messy kisses to Gansey’s shoulder before he rolled to the side and wiping the mess from their bellies with the bed sheet. It was filthy and raw and Gansey wanted to save the sheet, preserve it forever.

“What now?”

“We can pretend it never happened.”

A frown line had dimpled next to Ronan’s reddened mouth and Gansey pressed a thumb to it like he had wanted to do so many times over the last few years. It was his mother’s move he’d seen repeated countless times growing up as she would trace the lines of his father’s face. There was a thrill to do this to Ronan now.

“It did happen,” he promised. He had meant it when he said he was not leaving Ronan.

The light returned to Ronan’s expression. He caught Gansey’s hand in his and kissed the pad of his thumb as though he could take that next step to erase the frown from existence.

It was too much to be the brunt of Ronan’s affection and again, Gansey wanted Adam here to be shined at with him. Even as he smiled, his eyes drifted to the still empty spot on the beds where Adam should have been.

“I feel like I ruined things for you by showing up.”

Ronan’s grip on his hand was suddenly tight and fierce and Gansey felt his bones slide under Ronan’s palm in a way he thought his hand had never moved before. It thrilled him.

“You didn’t ruin shit, Gansey,” Ronan swore. “It’s better.”

At once, a hundred scenarios crossed his mind about how Adam might have left. True that this situation was new, but over the last three years, Gansey knew this sunken feeling in his chest over fights with Adam too well. He recognized it as fights over school work, over Gansey’s offers to cover costs whenever they left campus, over Adam’s second and third jobs off-campus that interfered with his sleep. Gansey was not even sure why Adam needed the jobs, but ever since a particularly disastrous fight they had had freshman year, he had learned better than to ask.




 

Adam had always been particularly good at avoidance, a skill he had picked up as a child while learning to navigate his father’s moods. He felt, sometimes, he had started this skill on a particularly difficult level, attempting to dodge an expression or swing of the fist while living in a cramped trailer in a dirt-filled nightmare of a childhood. It was easier, now, to fade into the background of a widespread campus, to become a face in the mass of students.

He still felt like a coward.

He had been successful in avoiding Gansey and Ronan on campus for nearly 36 hours. It had been a tedious balance of spending hours in various studying spaces on campus, careful to steer clear of Gansey’s usual study haunts during finals, and planning his meals at off times or even skipping meals all together (the dwindling funds on his card cured him of his hunger pains nearly every time he thought about getting a sandwich).

Last night he hadn’t returned to their dorm until much later than normal. He had unlocked their door with a furiously pounding heart, hoping neither of them was going through one of their common bouts of insomnia and would stare at him as soon as he entered. But it had been for nothing. Their beds had been returned to their original locations as though it might have never happened. Gansey, asleep in his bed, Ronan stretched out on the couch that was hardly big enough for his long limbs.

He hadn’t stopped to think about Ronan moving the bed back in place. He hadn’t lingered over the smell of Gansey on his pillow. He only quietly got himself ready for bed. It hadn’t hit at all until he got into his sheets and found them suspiciously laundered of the smeared sweat and cum from the night before.

Gansey had often offered to throw Adam’s sheets in with his when he did laundry and Adam had always fought him on it. This time he said nothing.

Adam had always been good at avoidance, but even the thought of his money draining from his account was not enough to stop the most recent and violent of stomach pains. He found himself in the cafeteria right at the same time his friends were at their usual table.

He tried to think of a trajectory that would lead him past them to the exit without them noticing, but even as he walked by, Blue’s voice called out to him.

“Adam!”

For a brief moment, he considered walking past them. He thought for one wild, irresponsible moment that if Blue asked why he ignored her, he could play up the deafness in his one ear. He usually pretended his impairment did not exist at all, hated when anyone brought attention to it. But maybe he could do it this one time, just this once.

No, he could not do that.

He schooled his expression into an exhausted neutrality before turning around. He did not look at Ronan or Gansey, but felt their eyes on him all the same.

“Don’t tell us you were going to sit in the lounge and study while eating.” Henry scolded, eyeing the tray in Adam’s hands and taking note of his trajectory to the fireside lounge. Adam hated being so transparent. “Gansey’s been telling us how you’ve been in the library for nearly two days. We were about to send a wellness check on you.”

“We thought the stacks might have finally fallen on you,” Noah added.

Adam shifted his weight from one foot to another, uncomfortable.

“I had work study, too.”

“We love a working man,” Henry cooed obnoxiously. “Well, come! Sit! We only have so much time before we all disperse for the holidays and it would be nice to spend these last few meals together, don’t you think?”

The only open seat at the table was beside Gansey and across from Ronan. Every part of Adam knew this was a bad idea, but the sudden rumble of his stomach forced him into compliance.

Gansey nearly raised a fist to him for their usual ritual of bumping knuckles, but seemed to think better of it and his hand simply wavered between them for a moment. Adam tried to remember the last time he had seen Gansey so unsure and he hated how it looked on him. Ronan’s gaze was hot against the side of his face, his expression unreadable.

“Look at it,” Blue said at the other end of the table. She held up the Santa cookie that had been placed on everyone’s tray for dessert. “It’s just pathetic.”

“Oh,” Noah said. “He’s sad.”

Adam looked at his own cookie. Santa looked up at him, bug-eyed and cross-eyed all at once, his red nose disproportionately large.

“Pathetic.” Blue shook her head voraciously, his spiky dark hair dancing with her disdain.

“They made an attempt at some festivity,” Gansey frowned. He nibbled at the tip of Santa’s hat. “It’s the thought that counts, right? Isn’t that what the season is about?”

“Apparently the season is about the assertion of Christianity onto the whole western populace under the guise of half-hearted secularity that everyone knows is made up in order to push the normalization of Christianity,” Blue shot back.

“I think this season is about a woman giving birth next to a donkey and then a little drummer boy shows up after hours of labor to give her baby a drum solo.”

Blue glared at Ronan over Noah’s head.

“You’re the devil.”

“I didn’t think pagans believed in the devil.”

“Maybe you’ll make a convert out of me yet, Lynch.”

Ronan shoved the entire cookie into his mouth and chewed it noisily. Gleefully, he gnashed it between his teeth with an open mouth in Blue’s direction. She opened her mouth to retort before Gansey smoothly cut her off.

“What is everyone doing for the holidays anyway?”

“It’s back to 300 Fox Way for me.” Blue gave Ronan a final disdainful glare before focusing her attention back to her salad, stabbing brutally at a crouton. “I won’t be home for the actual Yule celebration since the university only recognizes Christmas as a holiday that people may want to celebrate with their loved ones.”

She looked up, but no one rose to her bait.

“But I’ll still get to do other winter stuff with Mom and Calla and Persephone and everyone. Usually Mom and Calla drink a little bit and walk around the neighborhood and judge people’s Christmas lights, and that’s pretty fun to tag along for.”

Adam wished he had pretended not to hear Blue when she had called him over. He listened to Henry and Noah ( “I have a ticket for Vancouver leaving on Tuesday. Mom doesn’t celebrate Christmas.” “I’m just going home to see my family. Adele’s bringing her girlfriend home at some point over the break for us to meet her, but nothing too exciting.”) recount their holiday plans as though it were a timer to a bomb.

“What about you, Adam?” Gansey asked. “Are you staying on campus again this year?”

“I haven’t seen you pack,” Ronan spoke up before Adam could respond. His eyes were an ice storm. “But I guess you’d have to actually be in the room to do that.”

Gansey pushed past Ronan’s pointed comment as though he had not spoken. “Don’t your parents usually go on vacation for Christmas?”

Adam nodded into his plate, pushing the last of his pasta artlessly through the sauce. His hunger from earlier mixed badly with the new, horrible weight in his stomach.

“How come you don’t go?” Noah asked.

“I’m not particularly interested in joining my parents on a romantic cruise.”

“Well, why don’t they plan a vacation that would work for all three of you?” Blue questioned.

“You can always come back to my parents’ house with me. They love having guests.”

Adam wanted the floor to swallow him.

“I’ll be fine. Thank you, Gansey.”

“Oh look,” Henry pointed out blithely. “Everyone’s making the same expression as the cookie.”

Adam looked up from his food to see Henry was right. The same pitiful, pathetic expressions were mirrored back to him and Gansey’s was easily the worst. He could see immediately in the set of his handsome jaw that he was methodically putting together a series of arguments to convince Adam to come home with him. Bitterly, Adam wondered if he’d reuse his arguments from last year. He didn’t want to sit around to find out.

“I have to study.”

Mechanically he stood and threw out his tray of food, grabbing the cookie only at the last minute as he remembered the gnawing hunger pains from earlier. He knew it would taste like ash in his mouth, but the ever dwindling funds on his card flashed through his mind as a cruel reminder.

He did not make it all the way to the table where the group was carefully avoiding his eye in embarrassment when Ronan cut through his path. He wore Adam’s messenger bag across his broad chest, the strap looking more tattered and worn against the smooth leather of his jacket, and handed Adam his coat.

Adam accepted the coat and reached out for his messenger bag. He expected Ronan to dump the messenger bag into his hand with a comment about bricks in his bag or the weight of academia being a douchebag’s tool of oppression. He half-expected him to say something in Latin. Maybe he only wanted Ronan to say something in Latin.

But Ronan only shoved his hand aside.

“I’ll carry your books.”

“I can carry my books.”

Adam was not sure if he should be insulted or annoyed. Ronan seemed privy to this internal debate and smirked, raising a single eyebrow.

“You won’t let me be chivalrous?”

“I won’t let you throw them into a puddle.”

Ronan jerked his head as though that was a fair assumption, but he did not give Adam his bag and instead headed to the exit. There was a beat and then Adam followed.

This time when his friends offered Adam their goodbyes, he did pretend as though he could not hear them.

Outside, the winter air cooled his flushed face. Adam hadn’t realized how much he had been straining to hear his friends over the din of the dining hall until the relief of the quiet evening soothed him.

He fell in step with Ronan, several paces ahead of him.

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“The fuck would I talk about?”

Adam looked at him suspiciously for a moment, but Ronan’s face was elegantly neutral. Under the street lights, his face was thrown into relief, his features sharp. Adam waited one second, two seconds for Ronan to make some sort of crack at Adam’s studying habits or interrogate him about his plans for winter break. But Ronan seemed content to stay silent and so Adam did as well.

The silence carried between them as they walked to the Riggs Library until it was almost comfortable. Adam could almost pretend the last time he had spent time with Ronan, they hadn’t been naked and breathless and furiously happy. 

When they finally arrived outside the library, they seemed to simultaneously see the inflatable snow globe in the yard. Artificial styrofoam snow blew up against the clear vinyl, showering back down on a scene of Santa making a snowman in front of a Christmas tree.

Even without her present, Adam could nearly hear Blue’s argument against the oversaturation of Christmas as well as her usual tirade against holiday inflatables and their waste of electricity. Ronan and Adam exchanged a look and smirked.

Then Ronan pulled the messenger bag over his head and shoved it at Adam as if holding textbooks for a second longer would burn him. Adam took it, checking to make sure Ronan had not replaced his books with car magazines or stuff pilfered from Henry’s dorm room or whatever else Ronan might find hysterical.

When he looked up, Ronan was already walking away.

“Have fun studying, nerd.”

 


 

Gansey had spent most of his waking moments since he and Ronan had woken up without Adam imagining what it would be like when Adam finally graced them with his presence again. Part of him had been worried Adam would ignore them until after winter break concluded, part of him worried he’d return to campus in January only to find his room half-barren and Adam gone to live with a new roommate. He had promised himself that if Adam spoke to them before the break was out that he would be careful, collected. He wouldn’t make any mistakes.

The best laid plans , he thought. Gang aft a-gley.

Adam’s sudden, terrible departure from the table had left the rest of them uncomfortable, and Ronan’s ability to seek him out without hesitation had further shoved Gansey into a particularly melancholic state. The group dispersed awkwardly after that, and Gansey had gone to the fireside lounge, wondering with a no small amount of self-deprecation if it would have just been better if Adam had eaten here alone instead.

The fire danced merrily, oblivious to his mood, warming him as he sank into a poorly padded seat and watched through the window as Ronan and Adam walked away, growing smaller and smaller with each tandem step. Ronan was still wearing Adam’s messenger bag.

“Richardman! Bee in your bonnet?”

When Gansey did not respond, Henry pulled another seat beside him and followed Gansey’s gaze to see Ronan and Adam disappear past a throng of students coming in for a late dinner. “Ah, young love. I’ve always thought Parrish could do better, personally.”

Gansey frowned, but he knew Henry did not mean any harm by this statement. Henry never really knew Ronan.

“I’m talking about you, you fool,” Henry said fondly. “Bit slow on the uptake today, hmm.”

“Ronan is better than me.”

“No one is better than you,” Henry corrected with such absolute sincerity that Gansey finally looked at him. Then Henry winked at him and flashed him his most winning smile. “Well, there’s me. But honestly, Adam and I would probably kill each other after ten minutes or so. I can’t be with someone who cuts their own hair. I just can’t.”

“We—”

Gansey didn’t know what to say. Hooked up sounded so crass and insufficient. It had been more than that, a confluence, a joining, a sigh of finally that had lasted for hours. It had been the beginning of something extraordinary.

“We kissed,” he finished lamely.

Henry’s eyebrows shot up so quickly they were in danger of getting lost in his carefully sculpted hair.

“You and Adam?”

“Yes. And me and Ronan. And Ronan and Adam.”

Gansey pressed a thumb to his lip, pausing before he could figure out how to say the rest. Henry, to his credit, was quiet and still, patient in a way he never was when the entire group was together.

“I haven’t spoken to Adam about any of this yet. He’s avoiding me. Ronan is… happy. He didn’t know I was… an option.”

These words again felt inadequate, but Henry made a little humming noise and Gansey knew he understood what Gansey struggled to say. 

Henry was possibly the only one who knew Gansey was bisexual. It wasn’t a secret, but Gansey had never felt the need to announce this about himself. It had, in fact, been Henry whom he had drunkenly kissed and kissed and kissed at the toga party freshman year. It had been a glorious time, fun and easy and Henry’s smile had caught him off guard every time they broke apart to look at each other. The magic had worn off a little the next morning, but the friendship had caught instantly and Gansey’s sudden understanding of this unexplored part of himself had stuck.

“I never told anyone,” Henry promised, as though the memory was infectious. “I wouldn’t tell your secrets.”

“Ronan wants both of us. He wants to make it work.”

“And Adam?”

Adam wants to graduate with honors. Wants a high paying job in chemical engineering. Wants to prove himself to his absent parents. Wants to prove himself to himself. Adam wants so many things.

“I think Adam wants time to adjust,” Gansey said instead. He thought of Adam and Ronan standing side by side as they disappeared onto the campus. “Maybe he only wants Ronan.”

“What do you want?”

Henry pushed their shoulders together, grounding Gansey for a moment. His eyes were friendly and sincere and it struck Gansey to realize that Ronan had not asked this. No one else had asked him this. He barely had to think of the answer before he knew the truth of it.

“I want them both to be happy.”

 


 

Like many of his contemporaries, Ovid is intensely interested in magic. In the Ibis , a six-hundred line poem written late in his career, he practices an elaborate devotio against an enemy whom he calls “Ibis,” after the poem of Callimachus that he is imitating. Here, as everywhere in his work, Ovid is fully aware of the long tradition of magic as a literary motif, stretching from Homer to his own time, and he elaborates and modifies this with the originality and wit characteristic of all his work. As the Ibis shows, Ovid also draws on popular views of magic. He curses his enemy with a long list of misfortunes that befell various mythical figures and then adds bits of folk major, like the threat of emerging from the grave to haunt his victims and dreadful curses on his body.

Ovid’s oeuvre exhibits a wide range of attitudes to magic, from skeptical distance to playful participation; but for the most part he projects the persona of a cosmopolitan rationalist, knowledgeable about magic but detached, ironical, and critical of simple credulty about its power. He depicts himself as a poet of art, humor, good sense, and reason. In the amatory works, for example, the conventional motifs of love-magic often serve as a foil to a sophisticated and urbane view of love as part of human nature, which like all human phenomena, lends itself to amused and sympathetic scrutiny.

Adam frowned at the middle of his practice essay, trying to remember his professor’s predilection for black and white magic. He rubbed his weary eyes hard enough for bursts of color to appear and when he opened them again, the his small enclave in the library blurred slowly into focus.

He had no idea what sort of essay questions Professor Mallory would provide for the final and he had spent the better part of the last two days writing out essays for past years’ exams. Gansey had collected for him from his network of upperclassmen friends from the rowing team last week. Pride and desire had warred within Adam, curbing his instinct to delete the email. Eventually the need for higher grades won out and he accepted Gansey’s offer.

Gansey had smiled so sincerely that for a moment Adam couldn’t remember why he had ever considered saying no.

A noise by the stacks pulled him from his dangerous thoughts. Adam looked up to find Gansey as though he had been summoned, his yellow sweater a drastic contrast to the leather-bound books on the shelf behind him, his hair just slightly tousled from the winter wind outside, his pea coat carefully folded over the crook of his arm.

Adam wished he wasn’t covered in pathetic Santa cookie crumbs and didn’t smell of highlighter ink.

“Mind if I join you? Ronan has taken to listening to his music in the dorm and I just can’t think straight anymore. I would have found another place to sit—”

“—but this is the best spot.”

Adam and Gansey had discovered this spot in the second semester. Riggs Library hadn’t been the main university library for several years, its purpose split between events and storage for less commonly used books. But Gansey had been charmed by the cast iron walkways and spiral staircases, and Adam had preferred its solitude. There was a rickety old study table that had been left behind, deemed too out of date to be transferred to the new library, and Adam had spent a rare free afternoon freshman year tightening the bolts and leveling out the legs until it was perfectly functional.

Now, Gansey stood at the end of the table, his expression devoid of anything but a cordial smile. Anyone else would have appeared as though they were hovering, but Gansey’s presence was smooth and assured. But Adam knew better.

“I can leave.”

A long moment passed in silence as Adam looked down at his half-finished essay, shamed and unsure. He saw Gansey turn out of the corner of his eye and something burst in his chest.

“We can both study here, Gansey,” he offered quietly.

Gansey paused, looking back at Adam for a moment, studying him. Whatever he saw on Adam’s face convinced him to settle down at the other end of the table. Adam was at once comforted by the distance between them and stranded by it.

 

Gansey was not a particularly quiet study partner, often punctuating his thoughts with a sigh or a whisper “ah yes” of victory whenever his busy mind settled on a line of thought that pleased him. But Adam was used to this, even comforted by the familiarity of it, and his deaf ear was turned to Gansey so that his presence became a muted effect that punctuated the otherwise stillness of the stacks. Minutes stretched into an hour of this relative silence and, much like on his walk with Ronan, Adam could feel some sense of equilibrium between them.

Gansey’s phone buzzed once, twice against the laminate tabletop, demonstrably loud in their studying cocoon.

“Ah, sorry about that,” Gansey apologized, hastening to pick up the phone. Adam saw the guilty wince turn into something fond across his handsome face. “It’s Ronan.”

From the almost-possessive way Gansey held his phone, Adam could not make out any of the text on the phone, but the string of obnoxious emojis was as clear as any signature he could imagine. Ronan barely used his phone, but when he did, it was with gratuitous use of the least appealing emojis.

Gansey ran his thumb over his lip in such a familiar pattern, Adam wondered how the skin wasn’t worn smooth. His mind flashed to the other night when he had traced the same line with his tongue.

Gansey turned to him, intense. “Don’t break him, Adam.”

“I’m not an idiot, Gansey.”

“I’m serious. He’s not as tough as he seems.”

“I’m not an idiot , Gansey.”

Frustration and fury tangled themselves in Adam’s throat, chest, stomach. He had balled his hands into fists on the table, the pen in his right hand pressing against his palm like a branding. He stared studiously out the window where the table butted up, anxious for the tension to burn out through his body. It was too dark to see the Potomac River just beyond the campus, but he knew it was there. He let his eyes trace the line of the river as he remembered it from hours spent here studying with Gansey.

“I think you’re the opposite of an idiot,” Gansey said. “I didn’t mean to imply otherwise.”

The pen fell from Adam’s loosened grip. He looked at Gansey and saw that chagrin was a delicate and scholarly look on him, paired with the glasses. He knew Gansey didn’t think he was an idiot. But Adam also knew he had hurt Gansey’s feelings over and over, even when he had meant no harm. He could not blame Gansey for his concern.

He wanted to tell Gansey he didn’t want to mess with Ronan’s head, with Gansey’s head. He wanted to tell him he didn’t know how he felt at all. Adam did not know how to deal with the feeling of wanting and having, both the same.

“It’s too much,” he finally said.

“I’ll back out,” Gansey suggested immediately, painfully. “If that’s the problem.”

Gansey waited a long pause to see how his offer would be received, but Adam could not give him an answer. He picked up the pen again to scratch something useless in the corner of his essay, focused on the bleed of the ink on the page even as Gansey sighed resolutely and left.

 


 

“I can’t believe you tricked me into going to a craft store.”

Under the harsh, fluorescent lighting in the craft store parking lot and burdened with fistfuls of plastic bags, Ronan was a Baroque painting of masculine melancholy.

“I did not trick you,” Gansey said evenly. “I asked if you wanted to come along for a drive.”

“A drive is not the same thing as running errands for the maggot.”

“Well, if you hadn’t come along you wouldn’t have gotten the gift for Chainsaw, so let’s just call it a win-win.”

Ronan’s raven had been left with Matthew and Declan while Ronan stayed with them, partially because not even Gansey could convince his RA to allow a carrion bird in the dorms for a week and partially because taking care of Chainsaw was one of Declan’s least favorite tasks. Gansey knew Ronan felt a certain amount of guilt over not being near Chainsaw and had seen him surreptitiously grab a spool of thin, glittery silver ribbon and bury it under tiny fabric satchels, red velvet bows, and greenery from the gardening section.

Ronan, though his expression suggested he was deeply unimpressed with this consolation, had no come back except to transfer all of the bags to one hand and clumsily wrangle a shopping cart with the other.

Gansey made a move to place his own handful of bags into the cart, when Ronan suddenly pulled it out of Gansey’s reach. He pointed at the cart.

Gansey raised an eyebrow at him, Ronan only continued to point.

“I’m sorry,” Gansey asked pleasantly, “did you mistake me for Adam?”

“No, the stick is slightly less up your ass.”

“I’m not getting in the cart.” Gansey emphasized his point by catching the end of the cart before Ronan could pull it away and placing his plastic bags inside. “Hmm, we should have brought our own bags. Blue will hate that we used so much plastic.”

“She’ll live.”

Ronan tossed his bags in the cart with significantly less care. Gansey wondered if it was worth the impending eye roll and argument if he made a comment about how if anything in the bags broke, they would only have to go back into the store to replace the items.

Instead, he pulled the cart away from Ronan to catch it by the handle and push it towards the Pig, his prized Camaro. She waited for them like an orange beacon in a sea of drab, modern cars.

Ronan collapsed on Gansey’s shoulders, draping himself like a cloak so Gansey ended up carrying half his weight. “Let me drive.”

“No.”

“Let me drive.”

“No.”

The cart ricketed over the asphalt and the buzz in his hands amplified with the feeling of Ronan’s voice in his ear. Ronan pressed himself more heavily against Gansey’s back, but he did not break stride until they got to the Pig.

He dug in his coat for his keys and Ronan slipped his hand alongside Gansey’s in his pocket. His other hand crawling around Gansey’s side to rest against his stomach, pulling Gansey’s back to his chest possessively. Ronan’s mouth dragged against the side of his neck.

“I sucked your dick. Let me drive.”

“You live your life according to a fascinating rubric.”

“Say rubric again.”

Ronan licked a line up Gansey’s neck and bit at his ear, his hand clutching at Gansey’s stomach through the fabric of his coat. Gansey gripped his wrists, feeling the tendons underneath his fingers, until Ronan let go and Gansey turned himself around. He leaned against his car, boxed in by Ronan’s imposing figure. He found he liked this, liked that Ronan was bigger than him. Gansey had always been the bigger one in any relationship he had ever had and there was something intoxicating about someone bigger than him, leaning over him, covering him completely.

Ronan shot him a delicious sneer, holding Gansey’s hips and then tucking his hands up into the peacoat to trace his chilled fingers against Gansey’s sides, his stomach, the small of his back. Ronan brought their faces close together and the tip of his cold nose bumped at Gansey’s temple.

“What do I have to do to get the keys?”

“Get your associate's degree.”

At once Ronan dropped his hands from where they had been tracing along his skin and pressed his forehead to Gansey’s.

“Fuck you, Gansey.” But there was no heat in his words.

“We never got to that point,” Gansey reminded him blithely. “You came on my chest, remember?”

Ronan let out a surprised bark of a laugh and the breath of it was sharp against Gansey’s face. Gansey shut his eyes to remember the sound of Ronan’s laughter. Once, in high school, days after Ronan’s parents died in the car accident, he thought he’d never hear that sound again.

His front was suddenly cold as Ronan pushed away and crossed to the passenger side, shaking the car door handle incessantly until Gansey got in the Pig and unlocked it from the inside.

He let Ronan pick the music since he had not let Ronan drive. He felt this was a particularly generous concession, as he and Ronan had never agreed on music before and he was particularly disinterested in Ronan’s preferred EDM. But something about the night felt more electric with the memory of Ronan’s laugh and the chilled, ghost lines of Ronan’s touch lingering against his ribs.

Ronan’s phone went off and Gansey watched Ronan grab at it immediately. He knew Ronan had been quick to reach his phone since Adam had left them in the room, but this was something they did not talk about. The expression on Ronan’s face clouded so quickly that it could only mean one person was on the other end.

“Is that Declan?”

Ronan snorted his confirmation.

“He keeps asking when I’m showing up and for my itinerary .” The word was venom in his mouth. He jerked his chin in the general direction of Gansey’s phone. “He text you?”

“Yeah.”

“Jesus. You’re not my keeper.”

The thrilling feeling from just moments ago was rapidly slipping through the fingers. Gansey turned the horrible music up another notch and pressed his foot on the gas pedal until the Pig revved and sped a healthy twelve miles over the speed limit, but Ronan seemed to be settling into a sulk that could not be worn out by music and speed.

“You’ll have fun with Matthew at least,” Gansey tried. Usually time with his younger brother could soften Ronan’s edges. But he only shrugged non-committedly, staring out the window and chewing absently at the leather bands around his wrist.

“You think Adam will have fun here on campus?” Gansey tried again, his voice straining over the music. “While his parents are away?”

“Come off it, Gansey. You know he’s lying.”

The music blared in the cabin of the Pig, as loud as Ronan’s hostility. Ronan was looking at Gansey again, but the disdainful expression on his face was a far cry from what Gansey had been trying to accomplish.

Yes, Gansey did know Adam was lying. Had known it from that first pinched expression freshman year when Gansey came back to their dorm in January to see all the signs of someone who had stayed inside for too long. He hadn’t bought Adam’s story of his parents’ cruise then and he did not buy it now.

He thought over in his mind again, how to convince Adam to come to his parents’ house with him. It would be a boring affair of events and donor parties. But maybe there could be a connection made there for Adam. And in-between luncheons and receptions, they could take out his father’s cars and drive them down the country roads. They could incessantly bother Helen into taking them for a helicopter ride. They could eat the good food from the kitchen until even Adam’s perpetual hunger was satiated. They could invite Ronan to visit. The three of them could drink his father’s brandy. The three of them could use the indoor pool late at night with no one to bother them. The three of them could repeat the other night, their limbs slick underwater and skin flavored by the chlorine and—

Ronan turned the radio down and for a wild moment Gansey wondered if his thoughts had been broadcasted, vocalized without realizing it. But Ronan’s expression was only cloudy, guarded in a way it normally was not with Gansey.

“Do you really want me to get my associates degree?”

Gansey could only give Ronan the truth.

“I only want you to do what makes you happy.”

 


 

The next day, Ronan waited for Adam outside of his final. He kept one leg kicked up against the wall, leaning back elegantly. Several students walking by eyed his deviant posturing. He bared his teeth at them.

Eventually, Adam came out of the room, harried and weary but none the worse for wear. Ronan thought he might have been the first of his classmates to exit the final and something flared inside of him. Gansey would call it pride. Declan would call it arrogance. Neither of them would be wrong.

Adam still had his academic expression set in place and Ronan wanted to wipe it off his face, but he came back to himself once he noticed Ronan waiting for him.

“Parrish.”

“Lynch. Is it worth asking how you got into this building without a student ID?”

“Stupid questions are for stupid people,” Ronan shrugged. He considered pointing at the classroom, but he saw Adam’s eyes flicker multiple times to his arms crossed over his chest. He nodded at the door instead. “Pass your final?”

“Grades won’t be posted until next week.”

Adam could make dodging questions an art form, so Ronan gave him a look that read bullshit . It was an expression he had learned from his mother and practiced on Declan. He could practically see the moment Adam gave in.

“Yeah, I passed.” There was a flush on his neck, as though Adam thought if he admitted it, it could be taken away from him.

“Bully for you.”

Ronan kicked off from the wall towards Adam, lightly smacking his shoulder with the back of his hand to convince him to follow. He didn’t have to see Adam’s face to know he was rolling his eyes, and he nudged them into an empty classroom.

Ronan locked the door and pulled down the shade over the window. He ignored how his heart rate ticked up. He wondered if Adam’s did, too.

He turned, all casual, to look at Adam half-sitting on one of the desks. Adam looked back, all casual.

Ronan walked to him and, when Adam did not object, he slipped a hand under the strap of Adam’s messenger bag until his palm was flat against Adam’s chest. He slid his hand across the worn fabric of the sweater and pulled the bag over Adam’s head to drop it on the ground. Adam permitted this, allowed Ronan to move closer into his space until Ronan could smell the ink and exhaustion on him.

“So you’re done now,” Ronan asked. When Adam looked at him confused, Ronan rolled his eyes. “Are you done finals now, Parrish? God, do I have to spell it out for you? So you have time now for other stuff?”

“Some of us have work, you know.”

Ronan made a noise to indicate that this was not important to him.

“Are you just trying to make me angry?” Adam raised a dusty eyebrow at Ronan. Ronan stepped closer still, slipping his leg between Adam’s thighs as he invaded his space.

Adam’s breath caught and Ronan smiled like the devil.

“Maybe I like you angry,” Ronan shrugged. He put his thumb to Adam’s frown, resting the pad of his finger on the swell of his lower lip. He dragged it down, exposing the pink, wet underside of Adam’s lip, before he held Adam’s chin in his hand, pulling him up.

“You’re such a shitbag,” Adam muttered just before they kissed.

It was a good kiss, hot and slow and all the dirtier for it. Adam moaned, his hands curling into Ronan’s leather jacket, tugging him even closer. Ronan desperately needed more.

The desk was not large enough for Ronan to lay Adam out on it, so he wrapped an arm more tightly around his waist and brought Adam to his feet. When Ronan palmed his ass and picked him up, Adam broke the kiss to press his cheek to Ronan’s.

“God,” he managed, the word strangled.

Ronan pressed him against the wall. He dropped Adam’s legs to grip at his ribs, hungry, desperate.

“Adam,” he breathed. He wanted to know if Adam would shudder again. He had lost hours over the last few days thinking of Adam shuddering against him again.

Adam shivered. He was a miracle under Ronan’s hands.

“Your voice,” was all Adam managed.

Ronan hmm’d into Adam’s good ear and then tongued at it.

“Gross,” Adam chuckled weakly. But he pulled Ronan closer, closer.

Ronan hmm’d again, deep and throaty, his mouth pressed to Adam’s ear. Adam nearly keened against him, his hands so tight against Ronan’s shoulders that he nearly lifted himself off the floor in an effort to be closer to Ronan’s mouth.

“Look at you, getting so worked up,” Ronan marvelled. He pitched his voice low in his throat, peppering kisses against Adam’s face, neck, shoulder between words. “You’re so fucking wound up. You need this at least twice a day just to chill you out, don’t you?”

Adam reached for Ronan’s belt buckle, eager and frantic, but Ronan swiftly caught both of his hands around the wrists. He brought them up above Adam’s head, rough without hurting him.

“No, this is about you.”

“Ronan.”

Ronan nearly caved at the way his name sounded in Adam’s mouth just then. He let himself drink in the sight of Adam, wanton and pressed to the wall, his arms slack in Ronan’s hands, his eyes blown out. He had wanted this for so long, but it was not enough.

He shifted so that he held both of Adam’s wrists in his left hand, his right hand sliding down the side of his face, the planes of his chest. He kissed Adam again and again as he nearly ripped off the button of his jeans, tearing down the zipper. He shoved the jeans down and pushed the stretched out elastic of Adam’s worn boxers just under his balls.

He wrapped a hand around Adam’s cock, giving it a few experimental tugs. He watched Adam bite down on his lip, knowing he couldn’t be loud and give them away with students taking finals just one room over. Adam didn’t make a sound other than a strangled whimper while Ronan jerked him off. They echoed in Ronan’s head like church bells anyway.

“See,” Ronan panted. He manuevered himself onto Adam’s thigh, gently thrusting to relieve his own erection. “If Gansey was here, he could be sucking your dick right now.”

It was a marvel that Adam’s lip did not bleed for how hard he was biting down. He screwed his eyes tight as Ronan chuckled throatily, his hand picking up speed as he used Adam’s precum as lube.

He bent down to whisper in Adam’s ear, “Bet that would feel better than my hand, huh, Parrish?”

Adam came instantly.

Ronan worked him through the aftershocks, one, two, three more tugs until Adam shivered almost violently from the over-sensitive sensation. Ronan gave a final press of his dick against Adam’s thigh. Not enough to finish, but enough to take some of the edge off before he pulled away completely.

He dropped Adam’s hands and they fell like marionette limbs. He was slumped against the wall with his jeans still around his knees, his dick still weakly twitching. Adam looked good slack-jawed with cum on his sweater. Hickies Ronan did not remember giving were starting to bloom on his neck.

Adam’s pupils were blown black and trained on Ronan’s hand as he licked the cum off his fingers one by one. Then he fixed Adam with a hard stare.

Ronan was good at staring. There was something about his stare that took something from the other person. He waited until Adam’s breathing smoothed out and he looked like he could stand more steadily on his own before speaking.

“Gansey’ll never say this so I will: Stop being an asshole. It’s better with all three of us. You know it, I know it, Gansey knows it.”

Adam’s expression very nearly gave nothing away, but for the almost guilty way he dropped his gaze to the floor before staring back up at Ronan. Ronan might have missed it if he had not been watching so intently.

Content for now that his message had gotten through Adam’s stubborn skull, he headed to the exit, not bothering to slow down enough for Adam to tuck himself back into his boxers first. Ronan opened the door, calling out casually behind him, “I’ll see you back in the room.”

 


 

 

“It’s supposed to be an actual Yule log! And we burn it and let it smolder for twelve days!”

Adam sighed. It was not the first time Blue had grumbled this particular complaint as they decorated her dorm and the common room down the hall for the Yule festival. She kept glaring at the bags Ronan and Gansey had dropped off the other day, and the afternoon had a particular stressed edge to it that fatigued Adam.

“Blue, we aren’t even allowed to have a hot plate in the dorms.” He said evenly. When she didn’t respond, he sighed again and pulled the ash log from her hands. A few holes had been crudely drilled into the top and Adam had a sneaking suspicion Ronan had found a way into the drama department to steal their set tools to do so.

He dug out a green, red, and white candle and fitted them into the log, massacurring the wax at the bottom to make sure they fit snugly and straight. Well, relatively straight. When Blue continued to look small and scowling, he nudged her.

“I know I’ve seen logs with the different candles in them.”

“It’s not the same,” she said again. But she reached into one of the bags of greenery, somewhat mollified that Gansey had at least purchased actual evergreen branches and not anything plastic, and began to dress the log.

Adam wanted to snap at her, it’s just a party! But he knew the pressure in his chest and the metal taste in his mouth was not Blue’s fault. It was not her fault he had gotten the call from his off-campus job telling him he was off the schedule until the school year started up again. It was not Blue’s fault that Adam felt suddenly stuck here on campus, already dreading the times when the cafeteria closed and he would have to ride his bike in the cold to the local grocery store, picking up a meager amount of food that fit his now reduced budget and would fit into his bag as he rode off. It was not Blue’s fault that his mind was scattered between the homesickness he hated himself for feeling at Christmas time, regardless of the fact that he had never once had a pleasant Christmas with his parents, and his confusion over Ronan and Gansey.

The three of them had spent the evening watching possibly the stupidest videos they could find on Youtube. Ronan did not for a moment give away a hint of the debauchery he had set up in the classroom and Adam hid the hickeys from Gansey who made sure to avoid touching Ronan in front of Adam. But Ronan and Gansey had shared space on Gansey’s bed, and Adam had felt so sick and separate to be on his own bed, an island of self-deprecation and regret.

This was not Blue’s fault either.

“What if you called your mom?”

“Or Calla?” Noah piped up from the floor where he was carefully applying red and gold glitter to the ends of a poster about Odin and the Green Man. Blue’s notebook, her grimoire, lay open beside him. He was eager to make things up to Blue after they had first started organizing the contents of the Gansey and Ronan’s craft store trip and had made a particularly unwise remark about how pulling all of the supplies out of the bag had “felt like Christmas!”

“No, this is good,” Blue sighed with resignation. “I just want things to be perfect. People seem excited.”

She fluffed some of the evergreen branches to make a nest for some of Henry’s many, many pinecones to sit between the candles. Adam saw flashes of her nail polish through the needles, green and gold in preparation for the night.

Blue had spoken with her RA Gwenllian about the festival and Gwenllian had apparently just stubbed out her illicit cigarette, blowing smoke in Blue’s face as she said she didn’t give a fuck. Undeterred by this lack of enthusiasm, Blue had managed to rope some of the other rooms on her floor to join in the festival. There was a room for making herbal satchels, a room for something involving pine cones that Adam was still unclear about, a room for learning about and honoring pagan gods. The common room had been relegated to Yule foods and wassail. Adam was pretty sure Blue had told Gwenllian it was alcohol-free, but he was equally sure Gwenllian did not care that this was a lie.

“I invited some friends. We love mistletoe.”

Blue’s roommate Orla was sprawled magnificently on her bed, the only flat surface in the room that was completely devoid of supplies and decorations. She was remarkably unhelpful in the entire decorating process, but made her presence known every few minutes by gloriously stretching her long limbs or pointedly ignoring Noah or asking if Ronan would be coming that night.

“You love being a pain in the ass,” Blue snapped at her.

She looked at the Yule log with deep scrutiny and artfully threaded holly into the greenery, Adam had to admit the overall effect was attractive.

“I still wish we could have handed out invitations with the baskets,” she said wistfully.

“I would have passed them out,” Noah promised, his love and loyalty to Blue as unwavering as ever. He took the Yule log from her with deep reverence and placed it on her desk as a point of highest honor.

“Thanks, Noah.” Blue smiled bright and kind at Noah, before her face fell so quickly into a scowl that Adam felt secondhand whiplash as she glared at Orla. “Are you going to help or not?”

“Not. Make sure to hang some mistletoe here.” She tapped the wall above her bed with a perfectly shaped paisley-painted nail and got up from her bed so fluidly it looked like a dance move. 

She traipsed out the room, winking at Adam and tweaking Blue’s nose on her way out. Blue looked apoplectic.

“She’s terrible ,” Noah said solemnly. He reached over to pat the back of Blue’s calf sympathetically, the highest part of her he could reach from the floor. Traces of glitter on her black tights looked like stars and the visual effect it had seemed to calm her.

She looked at Adam as though expecting him to agree, but he eyes caught sight of the bow Adam was twisting around his fingers.

“Here, Adam. Like this.”

She took the ribbon from his hands and put three knots in a line before looping the rest about the artificial sprig. She frowned at the plastic leaves, but apparently understood even Gansey, always eager to please, would have drawn the line at poisonous plants in a college dorm.

“I always do things in three,” she explained. “Mom always said three was the strongest number. Well, they all say that. Her, Calla, Persephone. But I think it’s true. Morning, day, and night. Beginning, middle, end. There were once three knights. Three Jesuses.”

“Oh. God. You mean God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit?”

Blue waved off Adam’s question impatiently. “I always forget their names. There’s a three-lady-god, too. One named War, I think, and another one’s a baby. I don’t know. I don’t remember the details. But the three is the important part.”

She handed him the mistletoe again and let Adam tie the rest of them on his own. The ribbon was cool and satiny in his hands, snagging a little on his chapped knuckles.

“It’s a stable number, three,” Blue continued, moving on to press cloves into oranges in intricate designs. “Fives and sevens are good, too, but three is the best. Things are always growing to three or shrinking to three. Best to start there. Two is a terrible number. Two is for rivalry and fighting and murder.”

“You’re right.”

Blue gave him a strange look at his soft tone, but didn’t press him when he didn’t elaborate. There was a time, once, when she would have, Adam realized. He wasn’t sure when these changes had happened, he wasn’t sure when his friends had learned how to maneuver around him.

Adam looped ribbon after ribbon on the mistletoe, tying each one three times, three knots. The work was mechanical and soothing and he wondered if this was a ritual. He took the grimoire from Noah, pouring over it for clarity even as he put together a small pile of mistletoe when something in the notebook caught his eye.

He knew he had promised Blue he would help prepare the rooms until the party that evening, but after he hung up the mistletoe strategically around her dorm and the common room, he excused himself to get ready.

Blue looked as though she might argue, but kept herself quiet when she saw his expression. He wondered how he looked to her right then.

Adam paused at the door before leaving.

“We can do the log outside,” he promised. Blue lit up beautifully, mouth falling open to exclaim, but Adam cut her off. “Just us. Just the six of us. Afterwards. Outside. Where there is proper ventilation.”

He pointed up at the plastic bag taped over the smoke detector, good enough for candles but clearly inadequate for an entire Yule log. He raised an eyebrow at her and she made a show of huffy resignation, broken by the smile she could not keep from her face. She waved him off and Adam left the building.

He shot off a text to Gansey, but did not head back to their dorm yet. He had a stop to make first.

 


 

Don’t leave the dorm for the party just yet. I want you and Ronan to wait for me.

The text had come from Adam nearly a half hour ago, but he had yet to appear or send any additional text. Ronan had taken to pacing in the dorm, his boots loud enough that the occupants in the dorm beneath them had knocked hard on their ceiling. Ronan had just stomped louder.

Want. When had Adam ever asked Gansey for something so plainly? Never.

Suddenly the door flew open and there was Adam, hair a mess and nose red from the cold. Gansey stood immediately from his bed. Behind him, he felt Ronan stop his pacing.

“Adam.”

“Gansey.”

“Parrish.”

“Lynch.”

“Ronan.”

Adam and Ronan looked at Gansey with twin expressions of exasperated confusion and Gansey’s need to bluster and joke out of his discomfort faded. “Sorry, it was the only name that hadn’t been said.

“Dick.” 

Gansey and Adam ignored Ronan as Adam took off his coat and pulled something out of his bag.

“What is this?” Gansey asked.

“It’s an apple.” Adam opened his palm enough to expose the shining red skin. “I got it from the cafeteria.”

Apparently Adam had also stolen a knife from the cafeteria (Gansey wondered if he had picked up the habit from Ronan) because he pulled that from his bag as well and roughly cut the apple into thirds. His movements were slow and deliberate. The knife sliced through the skin easily and a tiny stream of juice dripped down Adam’s wrist into the cuff of his sweater as he offered pieces to Gansey and Ronan.

“I read this in Blue’s grimoire. You’re supposed to share an apple with your loved ones.”

Even as Adam’s words were settling around them, Gansey and Ronan accepted the apples. It was still cold from Adam’s walk outside and a softer, grainer texture than Gansey usually preferred. The flavor wasn’t particularly strong, maybe a little too sour.

It was the best apple he had ever eaten.

The three of them finished their slices in silence. The feeling of possibility that Gansey had felt since Ronan had first pulled him to Adam was even more pronounced. Everything was possible, good and bad.

“Are you sure? It’s not too much?”

“Gansey, for the love of Christ, do not try to talk him out of this.”

“I’m sure,” Adam said quickly. He was still except for his fingers twisting slowly together. His eyes darted between Gansey and Ronan, his tongue flicking out to lick his lips. “I still think it’s too much but…”

He reached for them both at the same time and kissed Gansey without another word. Before Gansey’s eyes fluttered shut, he saw Ronan put Adam’s fingers to his lips and lick the apple juice from his palm. Even as Gansey opened his mouth to Adam, he blindly reached out to Ronan to wrap his arm around him, completing their circle.

He felt Ronan alternate between him and Adam, sucking on the exposed tendons of their neck, pulling back the fabric of their shirts to smear kisses onto collarbones. He petted at Adam’s hair before breaking off to kiss Ronan, reveling in the feel of his teeth where Adam’s tongue had just been.

His phone went off.

For a moment he considered ignoring it, but he felt it go off again, again, again, all in rapid succession. It was clearly Henry. He ignored Ronan’s groans and pushed him vaguely towards Adam, who seemed content enough to occupy Ronan’s time while Gansey read the message asking where they all were.

where are you?

you’re missing my debut as yule dj. im amazing.

Blue made so much food and i don’t know how she did it. does she have access to the kitchens?? can we have access to the kitchen??

where ARE you?

ohhhh are you all 🍆🍆🍆💦💦💦

“If we are late to this Yule festival,” Gansey said regretfully, “Blue will kill us.”

“I’d die a happy man,” Ronan swore against Adam’s neck.

Adam seemed incapable of coherent words, but the hand that was not firmly on Ronan’s ass twitched in Gansey’s direction, attempting to draw him back. Gansey caught it and, in a giddy moment of chivalry, kissed Adam’s knuckles before he moved to his bag.

As much as he wanted to stay, he did not want to upset Blue. He also suspected that if they did not show up, she would eventually storm over to their dorm and being interrupted mid-coitus was a scenario he assumed all four of them would like to avoid.

He pulled some holly he had taken from his delivery to Blue and some tape from his desk drawer and affixed the sprig at the corner of the doorframe. It was a far cry from his mother’s usual display of grand Christmas decorations, but he thought it looked festive all the same.

“I thought we were supposed to use mistletoe,” Adam managed, panting slightly. He leaned heavily against the door, pulling Ronan with him and they both looked between the holly and Gansey.

“I didn’t want to be presumptuous,” Gansey said, too pleased to be embarrassed. “Holly is meant to be kept near the door all year, to invite good fortune to visit the residents.”

He looked meaningfully at Ronan. Ronan’s smile was huge and uncontainable.

“Did you hear that?” he teased at Adam, licking the end of Adam’s nose. “I’m good fortune .”

“You’re a shitbag.”

Gansey shifted to stand directly beside Adam, their shoulders brushing. The two of them looked at Ronan expectantly.

“What,” Gansey asked when Ronan didn’t say anything. “You didn’t bring anything?”

Ronan shook his head.

“I looked at Maggot’s spell book thingy and it said if I wanted to make bread for someone to love me I had to press my dick into the dough. I shut the book after that.”

“Oh,” Gansey said.

“Thanks for refraining,” Adam added.

“Yeah, I figured no one wanted to floss with my pubes.”

There was silence for a moment before the three of them burst into laughter. Gansey watched Adam shake in silent convulsions of laughter, completely undone and biting his hand. Ronan’s laugh was merry, a throwaway sound. An easy one that said it could be spent so easily because there were more where that one came from.

Gansey thought again, everything is possible .

 


 

To no one’s surprise except Blue’s, the Yule Festival turned into a rager.

Barely a few minutes after Ronan, Gansey, and Adam had arrived at the party, Tad Carruthers had shown up with at least half the soccer team in tow. Ronan watched as Tad and his stupid hair took one look around the scene and he grinned a split second before the roar ripped from Tad’s stupid mouth.

“PARTY!”

It was possible, Ronan thought as he watched Tad attempt to rip his shirt open on his chest and succeed only in stretching out the collar, he had pre-gamed.

Blue had looked aghast as several packs of beer were placed on the table alongside her suspiciously impressive spread of food.

“Girl comes from an entire family of psychics and she can’t see this coming?” Ronan had whispered to Adam, who only smirked.

They were barely an hour into the festival and it had already dissolved into a full blown college extravaganza. No one was crying in a corner, yet, but Ronan figured it was only a matter of time.  At least three Santa hats and two reindeer antler headbands had already been lost to the floor, kicked around and damp with spilled beer. Cheng had taken to his role as DJ for the party with no hesitation and had done something admittedly clever with his music system and the colored lights strewn across the room so that they changed color in beat with the music. At some point, a disco ball had been pulled out of one of the other girls’ dorms and duct taped to the ceiling so that tiny squares of mirrored lights danced over everyone’s faces.

Students darted in and out of the rooms, sometimes tripping over themselves laughing and showing one another the herbal satchels they had made. “This one is for luck!” “This one is to fuck!”

Some girls showed up with Orla, each one more scantily clad than the last in outfits that didn’t seem weather-appropriate. To which Cheng’s friends Rutherford and Cheng2 had cried out, “Holy fuck, we got girls?” and immediately started standing strategically under boughs of mistletoe.

Gwenllian made a brief appearance at one point when some goodie two shoes from a dorm at the end of the hall marched out in honest to god bunny slippers to pound at her door and complain about the noise. Cheng had paused the music for a moment and a hush fell over the crowd, all of them watching the RA wind through the crowd, sneering at the undergrads.

Then she shrugged and grabbed a can from the table

“Like fuck I’m not gonna celebrate Bríg,” she said before shotgunning the beer.

This had been met with a sudden fury of drunken cheers and Bunny Slipper Girl had gone back to her room in furious defeat.

“Well,” Blue said with deep resignation. “I guess this is happening.”

Ronan patted her arm and poured her a huge cup of wassail in sympathy, refilling his own so he could cheers with her. The drink was warm and sweet, spiced with ginger and vanilla. An orange slice floated on the top, bumping against his lip and nose as he downed half the cup.

“This shit isn’t half bad,” he told her, half-shouting to be heard. She rolled her eyes at him, but drank deeply.

“It got better once you put that third bottle of whiskey in it,” Gansey said, appearing at Ronan’s elbow, helping himself to a cup.

His glasses had been knocked askew, probably from the tiny mosh pit in the corner that he and Noah had somehow ended up being dragged into. Adam reached out to adjust them on Gansey’s face and Ronan was glad one of them had.

“Oh.” Blue squinted at the three of them, her eyes on Adam’s hands grazing away from Gansey’s face. Comprehension seemed to dawn on her. “This is why you got weird about the number three.”

Before Ronan could ask what the fuck that meant, Cheng and Noah popped up like a bad habit on Blue’s other side. Ronan glanced at the music station to see it was empty.

“Oh, I can do it all from my phone, see?” Cheng waved his phone at them and a rainbow-slicked screen that was somehow difficult to look at shone at them. “I just liked having a pedestal.”

He smacked a kiss onto Blue’s spiky hair, slurring his words just a little. “Blue Girl, this is the most incredible Fule Festival I have ever been to. Yule. Festival.”

“Not half bad, Maggot.”

“Call her by her real name,” Gansey admonished. “Jane.”

“I’d rather die, thanks.”

Blue flipped him off.

They looked out to the crowd to see their handiwork. Cheng2 and Rutherford had given up their stations at the mistletoe, only to be replaced by hordes of giggling girls. Orla had taken an entire section to herself and seemed to be more successful than anyone else combined. A few people had wandered out of the pinecone room, more still from the herbal satchel room. Ronan could see them tracking spilled herbs out in the hall, mixing it with glitter covering the tiles from the room with Noah’s decorated posters. He had poked his head in there earlier to see Noah’s handiwork and had left immediately once he saw all the words on the poster. He wasn’t here to read.

“I still think we should have had a tarot room,” Cheng said offhandedly, helping himself to more wassail.

“Tarot isn’t Yule,” Blue insisted.

Cheng shrugged.

“Fair, but I have had at least one million different people ask me if there were tarot readings.” He perked up with all the exaggerated enthusiasm that came with being drunk and having a new idea. “Maybe next semester? Blue, I already ordered myself several decks and you can teach me about them.

“You mean I can do the spreads for you.”

Cheng nodded as if that were essentially the same thing.

Adam looked thoughtful for a moment “I bet you could do the spreads for plenty of people. You should charge.”

“A dollar a card,” Blue said immediately. “$10 for a full spread.”

“Charge Cheng $20,” Ronan corrected. “Look at his sneakers.”

Blue drank from her cup as she waved him off.

“Henry gets his for free. It’s everyone else who has to pay.” She turned to Adam, eyes hard and calculating. “Think you can learn 78 cards? You can get in on the ground floor of this new business with me.”

“Deal.”

They shook on it, Blue’s ruby and gold bangles flashing under the rainbow lights.

“Fucking entrepenial-ass motherfucker,” Ronan muttered, grinning as he pushed past Adam and several others to grab some food from the spread.

He pointed at the sliced bread laid out on paper plates and looked at Blue.

“Did you put this bread on your penis fly trap?”

“Did I— oh. You looked at my grimoire.”

“What a fascinating response to that question,” Cheng marveled.

Blue shot him a look and then shrugged. “No, I’ve never done that. It’s just a good bread recipe.”

Ronan stared at her suspiciously for a long moment before his alcohol-drenched stomach convinced him that eating cunt-bread wasn’t the worst thing that could happen to him.

“Shit.” He sprayed her with crumbs as he spoke around the slice shoved in his mouth. “This is fucking good.”

“Of course it is.”

Ronan turned to get more food, piling up bread and cookies and caraway cakes onto plates for himself, Gansey, and Adam. He put pork on Adam’s plate, too, figuring he needed some. He didn’t know how Blue managed to get pork cooked, but it smelled as though it had been cooked enough that he didn’t think he’d give Adam any unintentional food poisoning.

When he turned back to them, Cheng had returned to this post with Noah close behind, and Blue had left in favor of some drunken caroling two dorms over. (“It’s called waissaling and people did this to sing to the trees to ensure a bountiful harvest!”)

Adam and Gansey were now leaning against the wall, Adam’s deaf ear turned to the crowd to make it easier for them to talk. They turned as he approached them, lazy, drunken smiles playing on their lips. They looked good, happy. 

Gansey had insisted on a Yule tradition called mumming , which sounded dirty and had been the only reason Ronan agreed to it at first. Turns out it was just them sharing each other’s clothes. But now, several drinks in on some very strong wassail and influenced by mood set by the dim, colored lights, Ronan saw the appeal. Gansey wore one of Ronan’s black shirts in a way that hung on his broad shoulders in a way that revealed all kinds of pleasant nooks and corners that his sweaters and button-downs usually hid. Adam’s thumbs were caught in his pockets, Ronan’s leather bands looped around his wrist. For a moment he was overwhelmed by the sight of them mixed with the heavy scent of pine in the air. For just a moment Ronan was nostalgic for church and the faint wafts of frankincense that always seemed to linger.

Ronan wondered if he could get them to wear his clothes all the time.

He shouldered past Tad walking by with a sprig of mistletoe attached to his belt buckle and handed them their plates. Adam made a comment about utensils because not all of them were heathens like Ronan, who only shrugged and pulled a piece of pork from Adam’s plate with his fingers.

Another group of girls came in the ugliest Christmas sweaters Ronan had ever seen, including one that flashed rainbow lights in the crocheted tree on the front. He half-considered making small talk with her to figure out where she had gotten it so he could give one to Declan, who would hate it, and one to Matthew, who would force Declan to wear it so they could match.

“No,” Gansey said immediately, following Ronan’s line of vision.

“What?”

“You cannot get one for Declan,” Adam explained, returning with forks for all three of them.

Ronan threw his plastic fork into the crowd in protest.

“I changed my mind. I don’t want to date two buzzkills.”

They both ignored him, chuckling into their food. Ronan would never admit it to Cheng, but he was right. It was a good Yule Festival.

 


 

Several hours later, the Yule Log burned beautifully.

Gansey had borrowed a firepit and camp chairs from the Outdoor Education students and he and Adam had dragged it into a clearing in the wooded area behind the library parking lot. Ronan had always had the best luck with starting fires and had gotten a blaze going quickly enough. Even drunk as he was, Gansey had made sure at least two buckets of water had been taken outside with them. Henry brought a third, claiming his hair had entirely too much product in it and he was more at risk to catch fire as a result.

“It wasn’t exactly what I had planned,” Blue said through a yawn as she huddled closer to Henry, “but this was a nice event.”

“Tad threw up on your pillow.”

“I hate you.”

Blue glared at Ronan, eyes only slightly crossed from the wassail.

“Come on, come on,” Henry stressed, tossing pinecones and pencils at everyone. Alcohol had not improved his aim, and nearly all of them still had to get out of their seats to gather their supplies. “Before campus police sees the smoke and we get written up for not having a fire permit or whatever we need.”

Blue nodded, sitting up in her seat with more alertness. “Does everyone have their pinecone? Good. Now, write down your wishes and slip them into your pinecone and then burn the pinecone.”

Everyone else seemed to take their time deciding what to write, except for Ronan who scrawled his response instantly on his paper. Curious, Gansey leaned over.

“Ronan, your wish just says ANARCHY.”

“Yeah,” Ronan said. “It’s what I want.”

On Gansey’s other side, Adam snorted. Gansey couldn’t see what Adam wrote before he rolled it tightly and fit it between the spikes. The fire warmed his skin to a burnished glow and his teeth were straight and even as they reflected the light. Gansey tapped the pencil to his paper for several long moments, but between his alcohol-soaked brain and the warmth of Adam and Ronan beside him, he could not think of anything to wish for.

The other two would probably tease him, but Gansey’s heart was too full to care. He left his paper blank.

“Is this like birthday candles?” Noah asked. The light from the fire light his face up gaunt and ghostly. “If you tell someone your wish, does that mean it won’t come true?”

No one seemed to have an answer for him and he shrugged, tossing his pinecone into the fire. The others soon joined his, papers curling instantly in the flames. The smell of sap mixed smoothly with the smoky scent of the ash log and Gansey let it lull him comfortably.

“Blue, thank you for setting this up,” he said, catching her eye across the fire.

Her usual colorful hair clips had been replaced with gold ones adored with emerald and ruby paste gems, all catching the light of the Yule Log until she seemed like an entire universe of stars. She beamed at him.

“Yes, thank you,” Henry agreed. “And now, since one of the Yule traditions is gift giving, I have something for you!”

He reached into the pinecone bag and handed Blue a clipboard with a thin stack of papers.

“What is this?”

“A petition. For the school to be more inclusive in their holiday decor.”

“Oh, Henry!” Blue’s eyes shone as she flipped through the pages.

“That’s a lot of signatures,” Gansey noted from where he sat. He couldn’t imagine people being that concerned, but had the sense God gave him to keep his mouth shut.

“I started collecting them a few days ago on campus, but the last few sheets came from the party,” Henry explained, pride clearly evident in his voice. “Once the wassail started running low, I took the bowl and wouldn’t let anyone have any more unless they looked at the petition. Most of them seemed genuinely interested in a more inclusive spectrum of decor, but I do suspect some just wanted the alcohol. It became so much more coveted once there was less of it.”

“You coerced people’s signatures? Nice.”

“Approval from Lynch,” Henry frowned. “Suddenly I’m concerned about the validity of this document.”

“I didn’t sign it,” Gansey realized.

Gansey looked down at his cup on the forest floor by his feet, which he had filled very near the end of the party before Gwenllian had broken it up. Apparently one of the girls on the floor had called to complain about the party somewhere between Tad vomiting and the extension of the mosh pit into the hallway.

“Yes,” Henry nodded. “As you are my walking moral code, I wanted to keep this from you.”

“See, you knew it was shady,” Ronan grinned wickedly, polishing off his own cup. He crushed it and threw it towards the trash bag.

Henry ignored Ronan and pulled Blue into a half-hug, kissing the top of her head. Gansey felt an overwhelming warmth of affection for them, for all of them.

“Happy Yule, Blue Girl.”

“Happy Yule, everyone.”

“Merry Christmas and God bless us, everyone.”

Blue threw a pinecone at Ronan.

 


 

Adam, Ronan, and Gansey managed to keep themselves mostly silent and mostly respectable after dropping Blue off at her dorm and Henry and Noah on their floors. But as they climbed up the stairs, Ronan put his arm around Adam so they climbed hip-to-hip. Adam let Ronan hold him steady as they drunkenly maneuvered the stairs, holding a hand out to Gansey to ensnare their fingers together.

They stepped into Gansey and Adam’s dorm room and made it no farther. In the dark, the three of them tangled in each other for several minutes, passing kisses into corners of mouths, cheekbones, any stretch of skin they could find. Adam wasn’t sure whose hands were on his chest, whose lips were on his neck. It was surreal, it was dizzying.

“I’m gonna move the beds. Turn the fucking lights on so I don’t die before one of you gets your mouth on my dick.”

Ronan’s voice was muffled and Adam imagined it pressed to Gansey’s cheek, his neck, his shoulder. Then his side was cold where Ronan disappeared. His eyes slowly adjusted to the dark of the room and Ronan was right, it wasn’t enough. As Ronan ripped quilts and sheets off Gansey’s bed, Adam flicked on the lamps on their desks. A soft glow not entirely dissimilar to the Yule Log cast over the room.

Gansey was pulling off Adam’s mattress and Adam moved to help Ronan carry Gansey’s bed across the floor instead of dragging it noisily. They butted it to Adam’s bedframe and he watched Gansey and Ronan flip the mattresses as easily as if they had practiced this, prepared for this moment. Sheets and pillows were messily tossed back on the bed and for a single moment the three of them stood very still.

Then Adam pushed Ronan back on the shared beds, pulling Gansey after him. It was only a miracle that kept him and Gansey from smacking their heads together and they laughed quietly, muffling the sounds into the mattress.

Then they kissed Ronan together, Gansey kneeling over his head to kiss him upside down, Adam kissing at his neck and collarbones.

“I need to take off your clothes,” Adam swore, tugging instantly at the hem of Ronan’s sweater. He had borrowed it from Gansey for the mumming tradition. It was the only black sweater Gansey owned and hardly ever wore, and Adam had thought about pulling it off Ronan for hours.

Obediently, Ronan pulled the sweater off in a single pull. He tugged at Gansey and Adam’s clothes and soon they joined Ronan’s on the floor. The three of them threw their shoes off, clumsy with haste, their pants and underwear shucked off gracelessly. Most of the alcohol had worn out of Adam’s system at this point, but he felt drunk again as more and more of Ronan and Gansey were exposed to him.

Some of the frenzy came out of him and he let himself move more slowly. They had time, they didn’t need to rush.

Again, slower, Gansey and Adam lowered Ronan to the bed. There was almost a reverence in their movements.  Gansey seemed to recover first, kissing Ronan’s mouth, his bare chest. Adam followed behind Gansey, mouthing the same places on Ronan where Gansey had been only seconds before. The skin was hot and damp from Gansey’s tongue.

He reached out to stroke Ronan’s cock only to find Gansey’s hand was already there, so he reached instead for Gansey’s. Adam looked up to see Ronan watching almost feverishly at Adam’s hand pumping Gansey’s dick. For both Gansey and Ronan’s pleasure, Adam swiped a thumb over the head, and watched them both convulse pleasurably.

Part of him wanted to tease Ronan, to tell him to remember to breathe. But the larger part of him wanted to see how worked up he could get Ronan just by touching Gansey. He pressed himself to Ronan’s naked thigh, an imitation of what Ronan had done to him in the classroom, rocking slightly. The beds creaked and Ronan’s hand was a vice grip on his shoulder.

He leaned forward over Ronan and nudged Gansey’s face with his nose. Gansey paused from sucking a mark onto Ronan’s pec to see Adam. Instantly he seemed to understand what Adam wanted and kissed him messily over Ronan’s chest. Ronan’s hands came to rest on the backs of their heads, pushing them closer to each other, further into his chest. Adam worked his hand more furiously on Gansey, humping harder against Ronan’s thigh.

Then Ronan pulled his hands away, pushing lightly at their shoulders until they understood to let him stand up. Adam was breathless, unsure, his hand falling from Gansey’s cock as Ronan stood up and dug something out of his bag.

He tossed a bottle of lube at Gansey and nodded at Adam.

“Prep him?”

The question was aimed for Gansey, but Ronan looked Adam in the eye, wondering silently if this was okay. It was okay, it was more than okay.

He pushed himself up higher on the bed and Gansey put a pillow under the small of his back. Adam waited for Ronan to return to the bed, but he simply stood there, pulling at his dick in long, slow strokes. Adam lay back and opened his legs wider to give Gansey better access. He reached a hand down to his own penis, but paused for a moment. He waited until Ronan nodded before he touched himself, relieving some of the pressure.

Gansey knelt beside Adam and let his eyes roam over his body, allowing a hand to train in the wake across Adam’s chest where he tweaked briefly at each nipple before feather-light touches moed down over his taut stomach, making Adam huff in a breath at the sensation. His hand joined Adam’s over his dick, squeezing into the movement before brushing down to his thigh, his knee, then off.

Gansey opened Ronan’s lube and squeezed some onto his fingers, rubbing them together to help coat them. He leaned down close to Adam and Adam saw the honey warmth of Gansey’s eyes before his glasses fogged in their shared breath. Gansey laughed a little and pulled them off, stretching over Adam to place them on his makeshift nightstand formed out of a stack of books. This movement above Adam turned Gansey’s stomach into a canvas of smooth skin and Adam lathed his tongue over as much as he could reach before Gansey laughed again and came back to him.

Leaning down close again, he kissed Adam’s cheek first before shifting to his chin before claiming his lips. At that moment, the cool gel pressed against Adam’s hole, Gansey’s finger swirling around the sensitive opening before gently pressing inside, giving him time to relax into the feeling but never stopping as Gansey inched further inside him.

A dip on the bed let Adam know that Ronan had joined them and was sitting, watching. He could hear the soft slapping noise of Ronan stroking himself. He angled his head enough to rest against Ronan’s thigh, moving to kiss the soft skin there, paler than nearly anywhere else on his body.

“You look so fucking good like this, Parrish. You should fucking see yourself stretched out like this. God, you should see Gansey’s finger inside of you.” Ronan’s voice alone was enough to make Adam shake.

“Is this okay?” Gansey nearly whispered from between Adam’s legs. Adam nodded, using his free hand to grip Gansey’s shoulder encouragingly.

“Of course it’s okay, you take it like a fucking champ. Wait until it’s his dick. Wait until it’s his thick cock inside of you.”

Gansey pressed a second finger in with the first, making Adam tighten for just a moment as he was stretched that little bit more. Ronan reached for the lube and the new slick sounds of him jerking off paired with Gansey’s fingers inside of him, Gansey’s lips on his hip bone made Adam feel like he might combust.

“God, this is so fucking hot. Look at you, Adam. Look at you touching yourself. Your cock is so fucking good like this, it’s begging to be in someone’s mouth. It’s begging to fuck me”

Gansey trailed his mouth up Adam’s hip, up the sensitive patch of skin just inside his hip bone, up his stomach. He moved to Adam’s chest and took a nipple between his teeth before immediately soothing it with his tongue. Adam arched his back, barely raising off the bed, but Ronan held his shoulder down. The feeling of both of them touching him at once overwhelmed him, even Ronan’s seemingly innocent touch was deemed filthy by the sheer possessiveness and force of it. He didn’t even realize a third finger was already pushing in and out of his hole.

“Fuck,” Adam choked out.

Gansey seemed to know Adam was getting too excited too fast and he pulled Adam’s hand away from his dick. Adam moaned at the loss, but he wasn’t ready to finish just yet. Gansey stopped moving his fingers inside Adam, instead pressing them as deep as he could go and holding them perfectly still. He held them for a beat, two beats. Adam’s heart was going to jump out of his chest. He was going to die from this sensation alone.

“Gansey’s gonna fuck you so good. It’s gonna be so good. I can’t wait to fuck you. Can’t wait to feel how fucking tight you are. Can’t wait for you to feel my thick cock inside of you. Can’t wait for Gansey to watch. Or maybe you can suck Gansey’s dick while I fuck you. Maybe Gansey can suck your dick while I fuck him. I don’t care who fucks who or whose’s dick is in whose mouth. It’s gonna be so fucking good.

Then suddenly Gansey pulled away and it was as though all the air in Adam’s body was released with the absence of Gansey’s fingers. At once, Ronan shifted on the bed and sucked the head of Adam’s cock into his mouth. Just behind him, Gansey had rocked back onto his heels to lube up. The sight of both Ronan and Gansey down there made Adam’s breath return in a catch in his throat.

He watched both men take care of him, awed, stunned, too revved up to resist or move or do anything but let it happen. He watched as Ronan’s head bobbed up and down over his cock. Sometimes Ronan took the entire length in his mouth, the tip of his Roman nose burying into the thatch of dark hair at the base of his cock. Gansey shifted closer, the head of his dick now pressing against Adam’s hole, ready to push inside.

As Gansey tapped Ronan’s shoulder, Ronan lifted away from Adam’s dick at the exact moment that Gansey pushed inside Adam.

Fuck ,” he swore again. It came out like a growl, it came out like a prayer. Ronan must have been influencing him in ways he had not expected until just this moment.

Ronan slowly moved away, back to standing and watching and stroking himself with lubed fingers.

A little wassail-drunk and a lot cock-drunk, Adam grinned as he watched Ronan watch Gansey fuck him, the act heightening everything and turning Adam on more. He turned to Gansey, jerking his head to Ronan to make sure Gansey knew. Gansey buried his smile into Adam’s neck.

“Deeper,” Adam whispered. He wanted it, of course, but the expression on Gansey’s face when he realized Adam was asking for something that he could give him was the true goal. Gansey looked at him, wide eyed, his smile like the sun as he nodded fervently.

Instantly Gansey’s hips picked up the pace and the strength of him pushed Adam further up the bed. He hooked a hand behind Gansey’s neck to pull him down so he could kiss him. They were already getting out of breath and their lips met sloppily, messily, missing on occasion with tongues licking against the chin or lip.

Gansey moved back into Adam’s neck, hot breath and wet kisses trailing down to his shoulder while Adam turned his head again to see Ronan still watching intently while stroking himself.

Adam locked his legs around Gansey’s waist and it changed the angle enough to send sparks through Adam’s body.

“Gansey,” he panted, “I’m gonna— Gansey.”

Gansey grinned into Adam’s neck as he slammed his hips over and over. The locking of their bodies meant Adam’s cock was trapped, but it didn’t matter as he had stimulation from Gansey’s cock, his hands, his mouth, and the added pleasure of Ronan in the room watching, turned on so much by seeing Gansey fucking Adam that it was enough. More than enough.

As Gansey pressed their lips together one more time, Adam let go and wet, hot cum shot up between their bodies. After a few more thrusts, Gansey followed with a grunt, dick pulsing as he emptied himself into Adam before slowly pulling out and lifting himself back into a kneeling position between Adam’s legs. Gansey dragged his hands over Adam’s chest, through his cum, and down to Adam’s hole where his cum dripped out of him. Gansey mixed their cum together against Adam’s sensitive skin and wiped his hands against Adam’s thigh.

They stayed there, panting, staring at each other. Adam felt as if he had glimpsed through to another dimension, sex had never been this for him before.

“Nice show,” Ronan said, breaking the silence.

Both men realized Ronan hadn’t come yet, his hand still stroking his big, hard dick. It made Gansey lick his lips in a way Adam didn’t miss.

“My mouth,” Adam said at once, locking eyes with Ronan. He shuffled himself on the bed for a better angle to suck Ronan’s dick. Again, Ronan waited for Adam to confirm, to nod his head one more time, and then he was climbing back onto the bed.

He threw a leg over Adam’s shoulders so that he was kneeling on top of him. He slipped the head of his cock into Adam’s waiting mouth, pushing slowly, slowly in. He let out a long breath, eyes shut as if in prayer, and Adam took the length of him the best he could. Adam expected him to talk, to speak filthy things to him like he had when Gansey had fingered him.

But Ronan kept inhaling sharply, exhaling slowly and pushing his dick down Adam’s throat torturously-slow so Adam could get used to it. Adam swallowed around Ronan’s cock and relaxed his throat so that Ronan could take his mouth however he wanted. He rubbed at Ronan’s thigh, looking up at him until Ronan met his eyes, and did his best to nod again with Ronan’s cock in his mouth. At once, Ronan let himself move more quickly, picking up speed until he was fucking Adam’s mouth.

Gansey came over to the bed, not as content as Ronan to simply watch. With his knees on either side of Adam’s head, he faced Ronan. Adam could barely see what was happening above him, but the noises of deep kissing made him grip tight enough on Ronan’s thighs that he was certain he’d leave bruises. He could see enough to see to kno that watching Ronan fuck Adam’s mouth, watching Ronan’s balls slap against Adam’s chin had made Gansey hard again.

It didn’t take long for the combination of Gansey’s kisses and Adam’s hot mouth to bring Ronan to the brink. He broke Gansey’s kiss enough to say Adam’s name, to warn him. But Adam only brought his hands to Ronan’s ass, holding him in place, pushing Ronan’s dick further into him.

Ronan groaned as he came. Adam swallowed as much as he could before the last of Ronan’s cum dribbled out of the side of his mouth. As Gansey leaned away and Ronan climbed back off him, Adam wiped the back of his hand against his mouth. He did not break eye contact for a second as he licked the last of the cum from his fingers. Ronan looked as though his brain had short-circuited. Adam loved it.

Gansey pulled at Ronan’s stock-still body until he came back to rest against the headboard beside where Adam was lying flat on his bed. Gansey came closer on Adam’s other side, lying against his body and kissing his neck softly.

Adam turned his head to catch Gansey’s mouth and shared the lingering taste of Ronan on his tongue.

“Shit,” Ronan whispered in awe beside them before the three of them laughed bonelessly against one another.

Gansey got up for a moment to their sink, bringing back a warm, damp washcloth to clean off Adam’s stomach and chest, the still sensitive space between his legs. Adam waited for Gansey to toss the washcloth into the sink, turn off the lights, and climb back into bed before he threw a crumpled sheet over the three of them.

Ronan reached down over the edge of the bed for the pillows that had fallen off at some point until everything was soft and comfortable and warm around Adam.

Ronan kissed Adam, kissed Gansey, and whispered, “Nos tribus turba sumas.”

“I took French.”

Again, the three of them fell into stupid laughter at Gansey’s confession, exhausted and gleeful and satiated. Slowly they settled down and Adam thought he could feel both of their heartbeats against his body start to slow down. Gansey’s hand bumped sleepy up Adam’s chest and neck to stroke a line down his cheek.

“Adam, you’ll…”

“I’ll be here when you wake up,” Adam promised.

He felt both men tenderly stroke his arm, his chest, and he took a deep breath and allowed his body to relax. He closed his eyes to linger in the sensation and did not realize the moment he finally drifted off.

 


 

Adam woke up last.

He was alone in the bed, but only because Gansey and Ronan were busily shuffling around the room. Gansey was folding clothes from his drawers into a suitcase neatly, and Ronan was digging his dirty socks out of the couch he had slept on while visiting and throwing them haphazardly into his duffle bag. Both of them were shirtless still, but Gansey wore loose sweatpants with AGLIONBY ROWING up one leg and Ronan’s black boxer briefs were a sharp contrast to his pale skin.

Ronan was the first to realize Adam had woken up and grinned his lizard grin at him.

“Pack your shit.”

“What?”

“We’re skipping Christmas.”

Adam still did not understand. He sat up in bed, the sheet falling down to his hips. Gansey rolled his eyes at Ronan and brought over a water bottle for Adam.

He kissed him good morning, close lipped and sweet, and this more than anything convinced Adam to get out of bed so he could brush his teeth and kiss Gansey more thoroughly.

Adam got out of bed, not bothering right away to put any clothes on. He brushed his teeth, unconcerned with his nakedness as he stared at his boyfriends. Ronan looked without any signs of hiding his gaze, but Gansey’s eyes flicked all over Adam’s body as though unsure how to proceed.

“We’re going to the Barns for Christmas. Well, for the break,” Gansey explained and then immediately clarified. “Ronan is seeing his brothers Christmas Eve, I am seeing my family Christmas day. But the rest of the break will be spent at the Barns with you. And we’re never both gone at the same time, so you won’t have to spend any of the holiday alone. If you want to come, that is. I know you said work was postponed until after break and I know your on-campus job isn’t happening either. And we just thought—”

Ronan cut Gansey off by throwing random clothes from Adam’s drawers at Adam.

“Pack. Your. Shit.”

“You’re welcome to come with either of us to our families during the holidays, if you want,” Gansey promised.

“You do not want to come to Declan’s. Boring as fuck,” Ronan waved off. He grabbed the bottle of lube from the ground and threw it into his bag. “You’ll be happier at the Barns. It’s fucking picturesque. You can pet the cows. They only bite a little.”

He snapped his teeth at Adam with a wicked grin.

“I promise I have never been bitten by anything at the Barns.” Gansey swore.

“That’ll change.”

Gansey flushed and the hickeys across his neck and chest seemed almost highlighted in the act. He busied himself with carefully placing his mint plant on top of his now-closed suitcase.Adam spit the toothpaste out of his mouth and admired his own collection of hickies in the mirror. He pressed his thumb to a particularly dark one near the hollow of his throat and the memory of Ronan branding him sprang to mind instantly. He smiled to himself and bent down to collect some of the clothes Ronan had thrown at him, tugging on boxers and jeans.

“It’ll be boring at my parents’ house too,” Gansey continued. “But you can come if you want. The food is always exceptional. I know it’s not the same as being with your family, of course. But—”

“My parents aren’t on a cruise.”

There was pause in conversation and all movement halted for a moment.

Gansey and Ronan very carefully did not look at each other, but Adam could see they wanted to. Before, he would have taken this as a sign of pity, shame and betrayal washing over him at the thought of them talking about him behind his back. But he knew it for what it was now.

“I’m not… close with my parents. It’s complicated.”

It was too much to tell them now, somehow harder to share this secret even last night. He had spent so long covering up this part of himself, and he hated the idea of them knowing this truth of him, but he wanted them to know all the same. 

They looked at him, not expectantly or demandingly, but with more patience than he would have expected of them even a week ago. Adam knew they deserved the whole story and he wanted to give that to them. 

He took a deep breath and said, “I’ll tell you guys about it at the Barns.”

It seemed to take a moment for the realization to hit them both, but when it did their faces split into identical, joyful expressions.

“Really?”

“Yeah,” Adam nodded, chuckling just a bit. His heart felt lighter than it ever had before. He tossed the clothing Ronan had thrown at him into his backpack and looked at them eagerly. “When do we leave?”