In truth, Blue was the final brick in the wall that had been building between Gansey’s little group and the rest of Aglionby.
The boys still talked to them. Gansey regaled peers and professors alike, just as he always had, and the difference was barely palpable. Surely, Adam thought, he was the only one who noticed. Few stayed after class to discuss work with Gansey, and even fewer dared to glance at his hands, Ronan’s wrists, Adam’s fingers - marks that everyone still whispered about.
Adding a local girl to the mix had Henry Cheng shooting them puzzled glances in Latin. Adam knew it was rumored that Blue was a soulmate to more than one of their group, and he was glad that no one knew the truth. They each belonged to her.
After his last period of the day, late in the spring, Adam stood from his desk and failed to escape before Tad cornered him. Fresh from the rugby field, the grass stains and light sweat suggested he’d run straight from practice. “Parrish,” he said cheerfully, a little out of breath, “ah, did you take notes in History?”
“Think I could borrow them? I fell asleep,” Tad said, a sheepish grin threatening the honorable jut of his chin. Enough arrogance for the entire rugby team and their worthless state titles. Adam politely stepped outwards and walked to the door, allowing Tad to fall into step beside him.
“I have work tonight, but I can drop them off afterward,” he agreed, reluctant.
“Why don’t you stay for dinner,” Tad said, and it wasn’t a question, “Burgers and fries. I’ll probably need someone to explain the Communards, anyway, I’m shit at the French Revolution.”
Across the quad, Adam saw Ronan loitering by the lab building where they usually met up and walked to the parking lot. Using the incredible powers of his laser vision, he tried to lasso Ronan into walking closer and interrupting this train wreck.
Tad was polite to his face. Yet, Adam had no desire to help anyone who was so flippantly inconsiderate. He straightened the warm collar on his shirt. “I’m tutoring Ronan tonight,” he lied, “I don’t want to bail on him.”
The diplomatic response would have been to invite Ronan for dinner as well. Tad slowed, eyebrows furrowed, and said, “Oh, okay. Next time, then.”
Not a surprise. Gritting his teeth and baring Tad farewell, Adam took the last few steps to join Ronan under the shade, absently kicking one shoe against the side of the building.
“What’d he say to piss you off this time?”
Adam opened his mouth to reply - almost did - and stopped. How could he say, I’m angry with him because, like all of this damn school, he’s unfairly privileged and prejudiced because of that? That was an acceptable response to Tad’s money, which Adam naturally boiled over. The subtle, animalistic parts of him that snarled when Ronan or Gansey were treated with injustice - that was new, that was strange and inexplicable. He knew what soulmates entailed, but had never felt it so clearly until that moment.
A little voice in the back of his head reminded him that he had yet to touch Ronan.
They were not lepers for this connection. So what if their marks were darker than anything Adam thought possible? Fuck. The more he thought about it, the angrier he got.
“Nothing,” he muttered. Ronan brushed their shoulders together, protected by the snug school sweaters. Whether it was an accident or not, Adam was grateful, and pressed into him briefly before continuing to the parking lot.
The first time that all five of them were together in Monmouth - Gansey Ronan Adam Noah Blue, a myriad of colors and tentative smiles, the feeling that something was terribly right - it rained. An early summer drizzle.
In painstaking detail, Gansey explained the myths and legends of Glendower. He sat cross-legged in front of a well-worn text, Blue sitting beside him. He called Adam over.
“I don’t blame you if it’s hard to believe. I thought he was insane at first,” Adam said, smiling at Blue.
“It’s not so far from what my family does.”
“Energy is energy,” Gansey nodded, eyes bright. His hand swept over the text, a passage that Adam was familiar with, and detailed the delicately spun world of ancient Wales. Chainsaw hopped off Ronan and landed on the text. Her front claw just barely grazed the “Raven King” title bestowed after Glendower’s Welsh name.
Lost in the magnetic descriptions of royalty, Adam’s eyes caught on Blue’s shoulder, scandalously bare in her layered tanks. They sat close enough to touch. The knowledge that he could simply reach out and skim a finger over the pale, jutting bone of her ankle was distracting. An enormous weight, the maybe of it.
His heart skipped. Adam tapped her ankle once, twice, gentle and quick. He stood quickly and stepped away, allowing Gansey to finish the story, but kept watching her. When she looked up, they smiled at each other.
Ronan sneezed from his position curled up on Gansey’s bed. The sheen of his skin was pale, dangerously unmitigated, and almost translucent next to the unmade sheets.
“If you’re coming down with something, please quarantine yourself,” Noah said. He looked less smudgy standing over Ronan’s pathetic frame.
“Fuck ‘f, Noah.”
“No one wants your germs.”
Adam checked Gansey’s watch. He had three whole hours before he had to be home - and he’d accept a ride in the Pig, tonight, since Blue’s house was on the way.
Stepping over a pile of translation dictionaries, Adam wrapped both hands around Ronan’s socked feet and tugged. Shouting creative obscenities that had Gansey blushing and Blue cackling, he slid from the bed and collapsed into a heap at Adam’s feet. His head nearly skimmed Noah’s shoes.
“I’m going to fucking kill you, Parrish,” he said, but he stood up and stumbled toward his own bedroom. The sight of his unbalanced walk was pitiful. Adam tried to assist as best he could without fingers touching Ronan’s shoulders, back, the curve of his spine. If Blue’s skin was distracting, Ronan’s skin was overwhelming.
In a dramatic flop, Ronan landed face-down on his bed and didn’t move. Adam retrieved a bottle of water from the fridge and tossed it at the back of his head. The window was cracked, and a metronome of sticky rain dripped through the opening.
Ronan struggled to take off his shirt and toss it into a corner, wriggling like a sharp-edged animal. Chainsaw hopped after them and made immediately for Adam’s shoe, which she enjoyed nibbling on, and he allowed only when Ronan was looking.
The searing lines of his tattoo looked different. Longer, more gaunt? Maybe they just contrasted more with his abnormally pale skin. Adam abruptly realized that it was too quiet, and that he’d been staring.
“Do you need medicine? I doubt you guys keep any in here.”
Adam shrugged even though Ronan wasn’t looking and backed out the door. “Okay. Shout if you’re about to face a timely death.”
He backtracked to the living room and walked in on an unusual scene. Gansey and Blue remained sitting in front of the book, but it was practically forgotten now - both of their eyes were wide on Noah, perched on Gansey’s bed and lifting his Aglionby sweater up over the bottom of his rib cage. Another washed-out mark peeked over his hipbone. An intimate place, corrupted by the off-putting shade of his unnatural colors.
As far as Adam could remember, it was the first time Noah had voluntarily pointed out his own marks.
“ - and I just don’t remember,” he said, forlorn, eyes lost in the ceiling somewhere. “They’ve been like this ever since I came back.”
“Came back? From where?” Blue asked.
“Back to life.”
It was quiet. Gansey laughed, then - the peacekeeping laugh, the rich and humorless chuckle that at once served to put everyone at ease. Adam cracked a smile, glad to hear him joking even though his marks were such a touchy subject. Blue’s quick eyes slid over the rest of his body. She said nothing.
The rest of the night passed uneventfully, with Blue cautiously entangling her fingers with Adam’s and squeezing Gansey’s wrist when she needed his attention. It was new, it was falling together in a tactile way that no one was used to, and every touch was exciting.
He wanted to know what color Ronan would stain his skin with.
The night that ended Adam’s life: a stair rail, his father’s spit, the brake lights on the BMW. A chunk of empty space on one side of his head. His mother’s eyes sucking in the entire night sky. Ronan, cursing and yelling and handcuffing - no, that wasn’t right. Ronan and his father. Ronan with dirt under his nails and scuff marks and bruises and he didn’t have to do it.
Adam didn’t ask for his help. He didn’t ask for anyone’s help.
When the doctor told him the damage to his ear was most likely permanent, a shard of something that might be his soul fell away. He felt it, absently, and spoke to the police with utter disinterest. Disconnect.
Adam checked out. He hit fast forward, through the fight with Gansey and the terrible terrible terrible car ride and -
When he stopped to look around, he sat in Noah’s room at Monmouth on a bare bed. Ronan leaned against the wall, arms crossed like an executioner about to strike. The door was closed. He couldn’t remember where Gansey had gone. It was dark.
“You come back to Earth?” Ronan asked. Quiet.
Adam had lost everything, and it was all his fault.
He couldn’t say, thanks for punching my father while I bled into the dirt, but the word defend kept crashing around in the otherwise icy calm of his head. What an ending. Absently, he reached a hand to his ear to assure it was still attached. Ronan watched.
“Come here,” he said, and they sat on the bed together.
There were only so many things that Adam had control over, now. Not his house. Not his family. Not his life, not anymore, not now that he’d taken a step backward and owed a debt to Gansey he couldn’t repay. But Ronan.
Adam still had control of a few things.
For the first time that night, Adam felt awake. A thrum in his veins. Ronan clenched and unclenched his fist. It seemed like he half-expected to be chewed out.
“Take off your shirt,” Adam said.
He knew with absolute certainty that Ronan would obey. Normally, he’d spring a smartass comment, a the fuck are you up to, Parrish? But he was just as tense. Inches of space between them.
The tattoo peeked over one shoulder. Adam leaned forward, carefully, and pressed his right ear against Ronan’s bare chest, directly over his heart.
Ba-bum ba-bum ba-bum.
The world considered Ronan Lynch to be raven, but his heart was all hummingbird.
Ronan melted. His arms came around Adam’s back, he skimmed the top of Adam’s head with his lips, and suddenly it was like Adam needed every inch of their skin to be touching. He moved back, noting with a dizzying excitement the red mark directly over Ronan’s heart. It was the color of blood, had blood been a shade lighter than black. Impossibly dark and impossibly permanent.
They curled together. Adam felt Ronan’s heartbeat jump when his roaming hands glided over the tattoo. He wished emphatically that he’d done this sooner, oh so sooner.
Exhaustion won out. The last thought Adam had before slipping into sleep was, this is mine, this is mine, this will never be undone.
On his own terms.
The morning dawned warm and somewhat humid. Adam opened his eyes disoriented and dizzy. Noah’s room in Monmouth. His head lolled to the side as he kicked the blankets off. The bed was empty and cold, as if Ronan had left hours ago, and it took a difficult minute to stand up without tilting to one side. Fuck balance.
Idly, he wondered if it was a terrible sign that Ronan allowed him to wake up alone the morning after they’d - what? Proven to be soulmates? It wasn’t a surprise. Maybe he’d come on too strongly. Maybe he hadn’t been subtle with the crashing need, ancient and enigmatic, to hear Ronan’s heartbeat thundering in his chest.
Adam wrangled jeans and an Aglionby sweater out of his bag. His eyes caught on shape on the bedside table, christened with the early morning sun, and he stopped.
Flowers. Exactly the kind he’d seen in Ronan’s room that night.
Except, instead of blue, these flowers were red.
Two days later Adam stepped into St. Agnes for the first time.
Gansey held one of his bags like a chest of gold. He set it gingerly on the desk, and Ronan swept past him to intensely inspect cobwebs in the right corner. Bare walls, bare floor, nothing but a desk and a tiny adjacent bathroom. More than Adam had expected, honestly. It was all his.
Unimpressed, Chainsaw pecked at the window. Ronan opened it and she snapped at a low-hanging branch.
“It’s cozy,” Gansey said.
“It’s a piece of shit,” Ronan said.
“It needs a good dust,” Adam said, and dropped his backpack just inside the door. They were both missing the point. He could pay for this, just barely. Picking up an extra shift or two to feed himself - he could do it.
They worked quickly. Ronan dragged in the secondhand mattress, Gansey carried the last box from the trailer, Adam assessed how much work needed to be done on the shower to make it accessible. Sweat dripped. Remarks about the gym were tossed about, with Ronan scoffing intermittently.
“You couldn’t even bench Maggot,” Ronan protested, squeezing Gansey’s biceps.
“I’m a bit offended.”
“Chainsaw can handle more than you. I mean, do you even fucking lift?”
“Speaking of Blue,” Adam interjected, sticking his head out of the shower before the idiocy could continue, “aren’t you supposed to be picking her up from school soon? We’re still checking out the ley line past highway 45, right?”
Alarmed, Gansey checked his watch and excused himself to do exactly that.
Adam tinkered with the flimsy showerhead. In a show of extreme unluckiness, it snapped off in his prying hand. He stepped out and tossed it to Ronan, who caught it one-handed. He stood against the wall, his figure a sharp contrast the dull paint, a vibrant piece of life contained in four decrepit walls.
This was the first time they’d been alone together since falling asleep in Noah’s bed.
Adam stepped closer. The breeze stilled through the open window, and Chainsaw abruptly took flight and perched just out of sight. Her rustling feathers were the loudest sound in the whole building, the whole world, and Ronan looked up at him with hard eyes.
He stood so close that their shoes threatened to touch. Adam could lean forward.
“You don’t know what you want, Parrish,” Ronan said, and his face was so close that Adam felt, rather than saw, his lips shaping the words. “Get. Off.”
Adam stepped back. Fists clenched, breathing deep, Ronan was a portrait of self-control. It was clear with every thick vein that he wanted to beat it, to run and destroy something, and a spark of fear raced up Adam’s spine. Electric. Had he gone too far? The way he looks at me - I thought -
No. When Ronan pushed Gansey, he talked him down. Something about his interventions struck the hurricane of Ronan’s heart and soothed it, at least for a minor fix.
But when Ronan pushed Adam, he pushed back even harder.
Adam pressed him against the wall and kissed him, deep and desperate, one hand tight on the back of his neck. Tentative, Ronan responded. His head knocked against the wall and he made a tiny sound. Where Adam was wild, he remained soft.
Though Ronan was taller, Adam used his arms to cage him in. They were so close he could feel Ronan’s heart racing underneath the mark. Nothing could match up to that moment - a yearn to fill a void building in Adam since the day they’d met, a sense of completion blooming from the slide of their lips together.
Ronan slipped a hand in between them and gently pushed Adam away.
Startled, disoriented, Adam rocked backwards. A buzzing under his skin heightened the desire to touch. Ronan’s cheeks were hardly flushed, but his hands trembled when they fell from Adam’s waist.
“Wait,” he said, breathing deep, “Adam. This isn’t what you want.”
I’m not what you want, he seemed to say, unable to look him in the eye. Ronan shrunk against the wall.
“Stop saying that. You think I don’t know who you are?”
In one pointed jerk, Adam tugged down Ronan’s black tank top to reveal the mark on his chest. It pulsed with his rapid heartbeat. “This says different.”
He knew enough. He knew that it felt like more, that this was something he wanted, that this was something he could choose and keep.
Ronan’s eyes stopped at his mouth. Adam inexplicably wanted the chance to mark him again, to spread permanent stains all across his pale skin, over the outside edges of his slicing tattoo and down the spread of his back. This devil’s boy kissed like an angel. Crafted for war and executed for love.
Ronan kissed him this time, one hand snaking up luxuriously to Adam’s hair. They sank against the wall. Ronan seemed to need it for support - he leaned back, propped himself up with one foot, and gravity pulled Adam as close as possible. The sun ignited every place their skin touched. He simply wanted more, more, more of the rich, earthy, floral smell, the jagged cut of his jaw and expressive eyebrows.
Several things happened at once, then.
Adam’s knee slipped between Ronan’s legs, Ronan inhaled so sharply in surprise that it sent a whirlwind through Adam’s stomach, and Gansey opened the door.
Gansey opened the door.
Instant shock. A frozen expression of neutrality. Adam sprung away, one hand instinctively raising to cover his mouth, Ronan making no effort to conceal his bitten lips and shallow breaths. In fact, Ronan took one look at Gansey and grinned, bright and brilliant.
Blue peeked out from behind him.
“Mm,” Gansey mumbled. His brain lay splattered over the bare floors and walls. “Uh.”
“I thought so,” Blue said, smiling.
“I didn’t think so. I - uh, forgive me, I didn’t anticipate this at all,” Gansey said, but he blinked at the m several times and looked inquisitive, thoughtful rather than hostile. They literally watched him warm to the idea just as Adam had watched him warm to the idea of his Stanford application.
“Well,” Adam said, looking at Ronan’s shit-eating smile, “neither did I."
"Hey, Noah. Can I ask you something?”
The five of them were spread on their backs, enjoying the speckled light through the trees at Cabeswater. A stream gurgled happily nearby. Ronan’s hand absently tugged at Adam’s hair, like he wanted to be both physically tethered and continually annoying.
Blue sat up. She looked at Noah like Gansey might look at a particularly vague piece of translated literature. Noah’s eyes reflected the sky. He looked back at her.
“Yeah, what’s up?”
“You didn’t have those marks when you were alive, did you?”
“Do you think they’re from us? Like somehow, even though you’re not technically alive, we still share a connection?”
Adam blinked open his eyes. Admittedly, he’d almost been asleep. But Blue’s question stirred something in each of them, enough to have Ronan dropping his hand from Adam’s head and rolling over to face Noah straight on.
“We’ve never touched you,” Ronan said.
Without hesitation, at almost the same moment, Ronan and Blue reached out for Noah. The closest patch of skin to Ronan was Noah’s knee - right where a sallow yellow mark crawled up his leg - whilst Blue pressed her wrist to his collarbone. Two marks spread.
The pale shape of Noah’s mouth turned up at both corners. His laughter sounded far away.
Gansey and Adam reached second.
A new mark for each of them. A marvel they’d never considered.
Adam fell back in the grass, admiring his latest - and probably last - soulmate mark. For the first time in his entire life he felt completely at ease. Until Ronan dumped an armful of fallen leaves on his face. The peaceful, swelling moment abruptly burst and Adam was no longer at ease. Maybe, though. He jumped to his feet and raced after Ronan’s maniacal laughter in the brush. Maybe this was better.