The tattoo isn't the first thing Adam noticed about Ronan--his Aglionby sweater covers it--but once he does notice it, he can't stop. He knows that's the point, that Ronan wants people (wants him) to look, and at first, it's just another thing about Ronan that he envies and admires. Adam can't imagine getting a tattoo, let alone spending nine hundred dollars on one, but Ronan doesn't have to think about potential college interviews and future employers questioning his life choices if he's got ink peeking out from under his collar or cuffs. No one is going to mistake Ronan Lynch for trailer trash.
Still, even before the thought of being anything more than Ronan's friend occurs to him (and lord knows, it'd taken Adam a while to wrap his head around being friends with Ronan and Gansey), he finds the tattoo fascinating. Once it does occur to him, he thought he'd be used to it, the sweeping lines and sharp hooks of it so dark against Ronan's skin, but that initial fascination comes roaring back the first time Ronan carelessly strips off in the warmth of Monmouth Manufacturing, leaving a trail of clothes in his wake. Adam wonders what would happen if he followed.
He tries to be sly about the way he looks at Ronan now, at least at first. (He should know better, know that Noah, at least, is onto him.)
Sometimes, when he's tired enough to stop caring if people notice (if Ronan notices), he finds himself mesmerized by the stark black lines of it. He tries to follow the twisting knots and curves as they disappear beneath Ronan's tank top and then reappear on his shoulders, the curls and arabesques of it lulling him into forgetting to be wary, into thinking he might one day be allowed to touch it. About what it would mean if he did.
Sometimes, he imagines he can see it beneath Ronan's white button-down shirt and Aglionby sweater, sharp and clear as the ley line is when he closes his eyes.
He wonders at the connection, a mysterious road laid bare on Ronan's skin for all the world to see, dangerous to everyone but those he chooses to let in on the secret. Ronan's very good at secrets. It's another thing he and Adam have in common, another way Cabeswater binds them together. Adam worries about that, too. Ronan is Cabeswater's favorite, and Cabeswater has ways of getting what it wants.
They've all been cautious about going back there after the harrowing trip through the cave of ravens, though Adam continues his work as Cabeswater's hands and eyes along the ley line. It's not the same without Persephone to guide him, but he's always found work a good way to take his mind off his troubles. But he hasn't been back to the wood itself, not alone. He can feel it humming under his skin, hear it in his bad ear, the whispering rush of the trees demanding his presence, more insistent the longer he stays away, so he's not surprised when Ronan pulls up in the BMW one Saturday morning when he's on his way to do his laundry.
"Get in, loser," he says. "We're going to Cabeswater."
"Did you just quote Mean Girls at me?" Adam asks as he slides into the passenger seat, shivering. Chainsaw caws from her perch on the backseat.
"Shut up." But Ronan flashes him a sharp half-grin before he turns his attention back to the road. "Gansey and Sargent are doing 'research,'" he says, and Adam can hear the air quotes and the innuendo in the word 'research.' He finds it doesn't bother him the way it used to, the way he maybe thinks it still should. "So I thought we could go to Cabeswater."
There's always a kinetic spikiness to Ronan, but today it's practically radiating off of him, and Adam feels like he's vibrating on the same frequency. "You feel it, too?"
Chainsaw caws again, and Adam wonders how his life includes a raven laughing at him on the regular.
Ronan rolls his eyes and turns up the music in response. Even the windshield wipers seem to be moving in time, mimicking the excited beat of Adam's heart.
It's warm in Cabeswater, a fine summer day in complete defiance of the cold, gray autumn outside, and Ronan strips away his layers like a snake shedding its skin, or Chainsaw molting her feathers.
Adam watches from the corner of his eye as he unzips his own jacket and hoodie so he's just wearing a thin t-shirt. He's already sweating and they haven't even done anything yet.
Ronan doesn't stop at his jacket and hoodie, though. He peels out of his muscle shirt, back turned towards Adam like he knows Adam is looking. Because Adam is, and maybe his steady gaze, his interested stare, has a palpable weight to it, because Ronan glances back over his shoulder and his mouth is curved in that sharp half-grin again, and the glint in his eyes is a dare. He rolls his shoulders, scarred from the regular grip of Chainsaw's claws, and then reaches his arms up and arches his back, a big cat instead of a snake for the moment, stretching in the warm sunlight. Adam watches the way his muscles move, the sinuous lines of his tattoo shifting with them, mouth suddenly gone dry.
The trees rustle and sigh, and Ronan says, "They want to know why you've stayed away so long."
Adam barks out a laugh. "Maybe they should get on Facebook," he says. "Relationship status: it's complicated."
He can see the change in the set of Ronan's shoulders before Ronan turns to look at him, barbed grin and inked hooks warning him to be wary. "Is it?" he asks with a mildness that makes the hair on the back of Adam's neck prickle. But he tips his head back and spits out a few pithy sentences in Latin without waiting for Adam to answer, or maybe reading his answer on his face.
"Let's go," he says when the trees accept the explanation, or at least stop harping on Adam's absence.
They gather up their shed clothing and Adam shoves it into his backpack.
Ronan leads him deeper into Cabeswater and waits with uncharacteristic patience whenever he stops and tries to figure out what it wants from him now. It mostly hums with low pleasure at their presence, magician and Greywaren where they belong, safe within the reach of Cabeswater's branches, warm beneath its sun and safe in its shadows. Chainsaw circles above them, dropping down occasionally to chatter in Ronan's ear before launching again, as if drawn by gravity.
Adam feels the same thing tugging at him, attraction like the strongest force in the universe, and he wonders sometimes why he resists.
Chainsaw takes off again and gazing after her, Adam realizes they're not just wandering, that Ronan is leading him somewhere specific, but he's still surprised when he sees the small cottage, looking like something out of a Disney movie, in a clearing. There's a stone birdbath in the middle of the front garden, and Chainsaw spirals down to drink.
Ronan taps on the front door and then opens it. "Mom?"
Adam glances around--he recognizes some of the furniture from the Barns, but some of it was clearly dreamt up by Ronan.
Ronan kisses his mother hello, and Adam turns away from the soft look on his face, tunes out their low conversation.
"The garden needs weeding," she says after a few moments.
"Of course, Mrs. Lynch," Adam says. "It's no trouble at all."
She goes back into the cottage and Adam catches something that looks like happiness erase itself from Ronan's face, as if he's afraid someone else might see it.
"Suck up," Ronan says. There's no sign of anything but amusement in his expression, but he sounds pleased.
Adam takes off his t-shirt--it was clean when he put it on and he wears his small store of clothes as many times as possible before he washes them--folds it neatly, and puts it into the backpack. He can feel Ronan's gaze on him. It makes him want to slouch and hide, but he figures fair's fair and he's done his share of staring at Ronan today. And Ronan doesn't say anything about his fading farmer's tan, so maybe he's even one up for once.
They're both on their knees in the dirt when Adam says, "How long have you been coming here alone?"
"She's my mother," Ronan answers. "What did you think I was going to do?"
"Is fine." Ronan yanks some weeds viciously, the way he does everything. "If you'd been here, you'd know that."
Adam sucks in a deep breath and lets it out slowly. "I know."
Ronan's mouth thins but he just grunts in acknowledgement.
Adam can feel the tension seeping out of his shoulders as they work. The sun feels good on his skin, and the work is soothing in its way. The pleasant feeling of using his hands and his body combines with Cabeswater's contentment, leaving him feeling warm and achy in a good way when they're done.
Mrs. Lynch offers them iced tea and cookies after they wash up, but Adam declines; they're reading Ovid in class and he can't help but think of Proserpina and the pomegranate seeds. Ronan's smirk as he sips his drink is knowing, but he doesn't say anything. Adam should probably thank Mrs. Lynch for that.
"We should get back," he says instead. "I have work in a few hours, and I still need to do laundry." He gives Mrs. Lynch a smile and offers his hand. Her hand is small and soft in his, and her smile is warm. Adam tries to see Ronan in her, but his imagination fails.
"Thank you," she says. "Don't be a stranger."
He can't help the Henrietta in his voice when he answers, "Yes, ma'am."
He turns away when Ronan hugs her again. He doesn't want to think about his own mother, and how she hasn't once reached out to him since he left.
The walk back seems longer, or maybe he's just tired. The sun feels good, and part of him doesn't want to leave, doesn't want to face the chilly gray day, the dirty socks and bleach smell of the Laundromat, and a long shift at the factory afterwards. He's careful not to articulate the thought too clearly, though. He doesn't want to know how Cabeswater would respond, doesn't want to blunder out of the woods to find that months or years have passed, that Gansey's dead and Blue is gone and he was too wrapped up in his own head to notice.
He says as much to Ronan, who laughs and says, "No Rip Van Winkle shit. Got it."
"Don't give them any ideas." Adam hip checks him and Ronan staggers. Adam drops the backpack and reaches out to steady him, fingers curling in the waistband of Ronan's jeans, and instead trips over a root he would swear wasn't there a second ago, sending them both stumbling. They fetch up against one of the trees, pressed together, chest to chest, Adam's hand still tucked against the warm skin of Ronan's hip.
Adam gasps, loud and ragged over the susurrus rustle of leaves. If Cabeswater is speaking, Adam doesn't understand. He's too caught up in staring at Ronan's face, which is dappled with lacy shadows. For once, his mouth is soft instead of sharp, his lips pale pink, and his eyes darken with some emotion Adam can't identify. Adam feels pierced through and pinned by Ronan's gaze, though he's the one holding Ronan against the tree. He eases his body back just enough to let a soft breeze flicker between them. Ronan's mouth thins and his chin starts to come up, but before he can say or do anything, Adam reaches out and traces the talon inked on his shoulder and the scars left by Chainsaw's claws. He follows the sharp lines with the pads of his fingers, and it's Ronan's turn to suck in a shuddery breath.
"Parrish," he says, his voice hoarse. And then, "Adam."
The whole of Cabeswater goes quiet in the space between Adam's heartbeats, between one in-drawn breath and the next. He licks his lips and sighs. "Ronan." He slides his fingers along Ronan's collarbone, and then up, to run his thumb over Ronan's lower lip. Ronan holds his gaze, but he looks vulnerable now, like Adam's touch could break him if he isn't careful, and he's angry about it. Adam wants desperately to be careful with Ronan, wants to never give him a reason to worry about getting hurt, even though he knows realistically how impossible that is.
He also knows that sometimes he needs to throw caution to the wind, and this is one of them. He leans in and kisses Ronan, closed-mouthed and awkward. Ronan laughs against his lips, and then teases them open. The touch of his tongue is exhilarating. Adam can feel heat surging in his veins, pooling low in his belly, and triumph humming in his bones, vibrating down through the soles of his feet and into Cabeswater's roots.
He cups the nape of Ronan's neck, scritches his fingers through the stubble on the back of Ronan's head, and Ronan makes a soft noise that jolts through Adam like electricity. He moves closer, trembling with the need to feel Ronan's skin against his again, though they're both sweaty and speckled with dirt.
Ronan's hands skim up and down Adam's sides, making him shiver and cling tighter. He wants to hold Ronan until all his broken places mend, and put him back together when they fly apart again. Ronan tips his head back and Adam kisses the sharp line of his jaw and the bony edge of his clavicle before running his tongue along the bold lines of the tattoo, tasting salt and dirt and skin. Ronan goes pliant under the touch, his hands clutching at Adam's hips and Adam presses in again, feeling the wild hammering of Ronan's heart against his own.
He doesn't know how long they stand there making out beneath the shade of one of Cabeswater's ancient trees. But eventually he pulls away, breathless and dizzy and aching for more.
"Parrish," Ronan says, tugging him in for another kiss. His grabs Adam's ass and squeezes, and Adam lets himself be drawn back in for another round of kisses that make his head spin.
Finally, though, he gets a look at his watch and forcibly separates himself from Ronan so he doesn't give in again. "My shift starts soon," he says when Ronan protests. Laundry is going to have to wait. Maybe Blue will let him use the machines at 300 Fox Way in the morning. He can change the oil in Calla's car in exchange.
"Fine," Ronan snaps, "but I'm not done with you yet."
A low thrill runs through Adam at those words, and he hums softly in agreement.
Ronan grabs the backpack, still lying where Adam dropped it, but he keeps his other hand locked around Adam's wrist. Adam guesses it's Ronan's version of holding hands, though he can only imagine what Ronan would say if he called it that. He finds he doesn't mind. The touch of Ronan's fingers is warm and sure and grounding; as long as Ronan's touching him, he can believe they actually just made out, because the tingle in his lips is starting to fade, and he doesn't want it to.
And if he concentrates on the press of Ronan's fingers against the inside of his wrist, he can pretend not to notice the tiny white flowers springing up in their wake as they head back to the car.