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you're ripped at every edge but you're a masterpiece

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Watching Richard Gansey from afar was made worse by his constant shadow, Ronan Lynch.

It wasn’t that Adam listened to the comments from other Aglionby boys about “the brain and the brawn” or took any of their gold-plated opinions into account. It was the fearless, almost insubordinate, nature of Ronan’s rolled up sleeves. Two handprints encircled his wrists, a deep violet, darker than any mark Adam had ever seen. Gansey sported a matching color on both palms, as if he’d dipped them completely in paint.

They were untouchable. They were never alone.

After helping Gansey with his pathetic Camaro once, though, something changed - he didn’t know what. He was worthy of being addressed? He’d proven himself by fixing up a car and listening to chatter about a king named Glendower? Either way, Gansey stepped out of his way to engage Adam in conversation, often dragging a reluctant Ronan with him.

In one such time, Gansey leaned over the desk in Latin class and said pleasantly, “Parrish. We’re going to try dousing the ley lines this afternoon after class, care to come?”

It was Tuesday. He didn’t have work after school. Yeah, there was always studying to do for trigonometry - but, theoretically, he was free.

“Sure,” he said, avoiding Ronan’s laser glare. Jesus. As if Ronan could be jealous of anyone’s relationship with Gansey when he’d already left his mark, permanently.

By the time classes ended, Adam wasn’t sure if the ley line mission was still happening. They hadn’t discussed a place or time to meet, so he hitched his backpack over one shoulder and headed for the bike rack, scanning for Gansey’s unmistakable figure amongst the huddles of uniformed boys.

He’d all but decided it was a moot point when, out of thin air, Ronan materialized. “Fucking finally,” he said, then jerked his chin, “Gansey’s waiting in the car.”

Pivoting on one foot and loping towards the parking lot, Ronan didn’t glance backward to check if Adam was following. Adam grudgingly followed and caught up in several quick strides. It might have been his imagination, but several heads seemed to turn at the novelty of catching dirt-poor Parrish with the most infamous Lynch brother.

“Where exactly are we going?”

“To the woods,” Ronan said - not clarifying very much, as Henrietta sat in the middle of a heavily forested area.

Gansey lounged in the driver’s seat of the Camaro, sunglasses hiding his twinkle-perfect eyes, leafing idly through a large book. He brightened when he saw them approach. Ronan swung into shotgun and left the entire back row to Adam and his backpack.

Shifting the car into drive, Gansey handed his book to Adam. “A refresher on what we discussed the other day,” he said, taking a left out of the parking lot and heading toward downtown, away from Adam’s house. “Don’t mind the notes. The more important stuff is towards the back.”

There seemed to be a silent conversation happening in the front seat. Ronan’s quirked, angry eyebrow shouted at Gansey’s oblivious shoulder. Or maybe Gansey was purposely ignoring him. It was hard to tell which parts of his persona were faux Aglionby and which, if any, went deeper than that.

Well. Not many trust fund babies at Aglionby spent their time roping fellow students into hunting for dead kings.

Ronan cranked up an obnoxious punk song. Adam looked at the book, nestled on his lap, and opened to the first few pages. It was a coordinated mess of sprawling notes and images, lovingly pasted onto thick lined paper. He skimmed a brief history of the Welsh monarchy. Upon reaching the legend of Glendower, titled Owain Glyndŵr, Adam paused.

He leaned forward to the front seats, raising his voice over the music. “What’s this it says about waking up Glendower?”

“WHAT?”

“WHAT DOES IT SAY ABOUT WAKING UP GLENDOWER?”

“LYNCH, TURN OFF THE MUSIC.”

Smug, Ronan turned the dial down and kicked a foot up on the dashboard. They were nearly out of downtown now, passing a convenience store and a high school before breaking into tree-spattered fields.

“Well,” Gansey began, “that’s what I left out the other day, when I told you about Glendower. He isn’t actually dead. He’s sleeping.”

“That’s where we’re going,” Ronan said, “to find him.”

Adam stared blankly down at the portrait of Glendower - his high brow and solemn beard, the yellow-stained hands folded over a sword. He was six hundred years old. Sleeping. “And the favor?”

Gansey met his eyes through the rear view mirror. “It’s ours if we wake him.”

To Adam’s utter astonishment, they actually spent the day trudging through the woods with a long metal rod and various cables. It seemed as if Gansey spoke another language with the equipment - he kept muttering to himself as he worked, and handled it rather carelessly. Ronan, to his fascination, didn’t grow bored. He seemed content to analyze the forest and Gansey’s nonexistent readings. Several times, they lost him in the brush, eyes cast to the tops of the trees. Once, he came back missing his Aglionby sweater and the button-up underneath, leaving him in only a gray tank top. He never explained himself.

Though Gansey was eager to show him how the objects worked and explain how the electromagnetic readings were relevant, he was careful not to touch Adam.

Their purple-almost-black marks were distracting in their stark permanency; the darkness lured Adam’s eyes again and again throughout the afternoon. Once, Ronan caught him looking and smirked.

When they emerged from the depths of the trees, the sun barely grazed the mountains on the horizon. Adam had lost track of time - he backpedaled, wildly trying to remember if he’d told his father that he had work today - fuck, it was too late, it didn’t matter now.

Distracted by his own shortcomings, Adam didn’t notice Gansey shutting the equipment in the truck and coming round to lean on the back door beside Ronan, effectively creating a barrier between Adam and his means of escape. Twin skyscrapers. Discomfited by the sudden turn of events, Adam stepped back. The roadside was empty. Are they about to murder me and drag my body away in the Camaro - ?

“Relax, Parrish,” Ronan said.

“I don’t know how to say this any other way,” Gansey said, rather straightforward, and stuck out his hand.

It still took a minute to register what was happening.

Gansey stood firm in his offer, unwavering and sure. The skin of his wrists were smooth, tanned to perfection, and when he tilted his chin it was inviting rather than challenging.

Some people went out of their way to touch others - just for the off chance they could be soulmates. Some bared their skin like Ronan in his tank top, Ronan in his rolled up sleeves. Adam thought about reaching forward and pressing his fingers into the inside of Gansey’s unmarked arm.

He thought about what would happen if no colors showed up.

“No,” he murmured, ducking his head, “ah, no thanks.”

Gansey took the rejection well. He nodded once, dropped his hand, and strode to the driver’s seat. He was a little quieter as they piled in after him, less rambling and more musing, but seemed to disregard the disappointment in favor of dissecting the infinitesimal readings they’d discovered that day.

Adam buckled his seatbelt and dropped his head back to flop against the seat. Guilt warred with his inescapable pride. What would they think of him, if they knew? These polished boys that Adam, for some reason, loathed to disappoint.

His eyes caught on Gansey’s book, perched on the center console.

“Which House are you in, Adam? We can drop you off.”

“I live off-campus,” he heard himself say. “Take a right at Juniper.”

If either boy knew what kind of neighborhood that was, they said nothing. Adam could probably get away with walking down the road to his double-wide. No one had to see the decrepit stairs and stained walls. They drove in relative silence, Ronan’s music a low hum from the front seat, and it was decidedly less awkward than Adam would expect after refusing to touch Gansey. Trees whizzed by, morphing into intersections and truck stops.

Before long, the Camaro turned right and started pulling down a familiar road. “Stop,” Adam said, “here’s fine.”

He reached for the door. Ronan’s hand snaked out and stopped him, fingers bunched tight in the sleeve of his sweater, and Adam froze. It was the first time someone had deliberately touched him without the intention to hurt in so long -

Ronan was careful not to let his knuckles brush Adam’s skin. He leaned in. “Do you believe in magic yet?”

Adam’s eyes skirted back to Gansey’s book. Maybe -

 


 

It was only weird in how not weird it was that, suddenly, Gansey-and-Ronan had become Gansey-Ronan-and-Adam. They trekked into the forest together numerous times, ate dinner at Nino’s over ancient books sent from a correspondent called Malory, studied in the haphazard construction zone that was Monmouth Manufacturing. In just a few short weeks, they had integrated themselves so seamlessly into Adam’s life that he couldn’t remember the cool isolation of sitting alone in class.

That’s why it came as such a shock when Gansey pulled open the door to Monmouth, Ronan slinking inside after him, to reveal a boy spread out on the floor, idly picking at a Henrietta building from the replica. Adam nearly stopped on the threshold.

His Aglionby sweater was rumpled and he looked - for lack of a better word - insubstantial. Thin and hollow. But his eyes, raising to meet Adam’s, were bright.

“Hi,” he said.

“This is Noah, our roommate. Noah, this is Adam.”

Adam waved, and Noah waved back. He took a seat at the desk, dropping his backpack to the floor and trying to discreetly inspect the surprise addition. Gansey and Ronan hadn’t mentioned a roommate before, though the name sounded familiar.

He had marks on his knees, curling out from underneath a pair of cargo shorts, others on his bony hands, and more color dabbed into the collar of his neck. All were faded to the point of discomfort - they didn’t look natural, not quite, and Adam averted his eyes.

He looked up and straight at Ronan, who watched him watch Noah.

Gansey dumped a book onto the floor, Pre-calc rather than Welsh, and took a seat beside it. So today was a study day. Rummaging through his bag, Adam ignored the feeling of Ronan’s eyes on the side of his face. It was a study day. It could be a peaceful day, he didn’t have to fight with Ronan Lynch -

“Parrish,” Ronan drawled, leaning against the doorway to his bedroom, “where’d you get that?”

A mottled bruise poked out from the sleeves of his sweater - warped and recent. Adam jerked his arm back and turned toward the desk, effectively cutting off the others. “Slipped. In the auto shop.”

“You didn’t have work yesterday.”

“It was last week.”

“Didn’t see it then.”

“Lynch?” Adam paused. “Fuck off.”

Ronan released a string of expletives, lacking real heat, while throwing up his hands and kicking the bedroom door open. He ended with, “ - deal with a fucking liar,” while slamming the door behind him. Adam simultaneously wanted to pound his fists on the wall in retaliation and take a very long nap.

“It’s hot,” Noah commented, fanning himself with one hand. The pale hair at the nape of his neck didn’t stir. “Gansey, we should get an air conditioner.”

Immediately Gansey sprung to his feet and said something about downstairs, sparing furrowed eyebrows at Adam that said we’re talking about this later. Key word, later.

Adam really liked the new roommate.

 


 

They were eating at Nino’s one evening when Adam nearly fell asleep into his pizza.

Ronan and Gansey were having some lover’s spat about whether or not Helen liked Ronan more than Matthew liked Gansey - he was having trouble following the complicated familial relationships when he’d had sparing contact with each of them - and Adam did his best to tune them out.

(“Ever since you showed up to that gala in a suit cut specifically to showcase your tattoo - ”

“Matthew adores everyone. He’s like fucking sunshine, he can stand DECLAN, that’s an automatic win - ”)

The orange-yellow-purple sunset, when he squinted, was the same color as his cheese-and-pepper pizza. Tilting his head to the right nearly blended the two swathes of color together. He had an odd and off-kilter thought that didn’t sit right with the pizza: Gansey was undoubtedly his best friend. For the first time, Adam felt comfortable admitting that to himself.

He realized too late that the table was quiet.

“Adam,” Gansey said, “you still with us?”

“Yeah, sorry. I have to tune out the sound of your lovelorn bickering sometimes,” he said, biting into the pizza to give his hands something to do. Ronan picked at the bands around his wrist. Something about their timelines puzzled him - Adam, considering what he knew about Matthew’s age, asked, “Wait, how long have you guys been together?”

Gansey blinked.

Ronan bent forward and laughed, explosively, cackling into the table. His whole body shook with it, one hand slapped over his mouth. Adam felt the flush creeping up his neck. What the fuck was so funny?

“We’re not together,” Gansey clarified, rolling his eyes at Ronan. He was relaxed, a total contrast to Ronan’s buzzing mirth.

Oh, but - your marks,” Adam said, as the floor shifted beneath him. There was no way these two weren’t romantically involved. He’d never seen them physically romantic, sure, but the implications of that shade - the nearly-black, midnight flash of purple - should be clear. The darker the mark, the deeper the connection.

“We know what it appears to be. I thought you knew, though.”

“No.”

Ronan’s raucous laughter quieted. He rolled his shoulders and grinned sharply at Adam. “If we’re talking about marks, now. I’ll show you mine if you show me yours first. They must be so hidden. I haven’t seen a single damn one.”

Adam picked at his pizza and ignored the jibe. “I don’t have any.”

It felt like the whole restaurant stilled. The last smears of orange and yellow were dripping behind the ink trees of Henrietta’s skyline. Adam looked out the window so he didn’t have to see their faces. It would only make him angry.

“Adam - ”

“No. I don’t want your pity.”

“Please,” Gansey said, and both of his hands were outstretched, sitting flat on the table. It mirrored one of their first days together, leaning on the Pig with one hand out. Again, Ronan watched with dark eyes.

Gansey’s decision to reach forward. Gansey’s terms for Gansey’s marks and Adam doesn’t know which would be worse - watching the marks bleed into his skin and ultimately becoming one of Gansey’s things, or not leaving one at all.

He shook his head and left the booth. He rode his bike all the way home, allowing the crickets to guide him back to the dirt.

 


 

Adam couldn’t focus past the drum-drum-drum of Ronan’s fingers on the desk.

Professor Trang paused when he got to Ronan, tossing his test results beside his restless fingers, and continued with his cycle of feeding letters to hungry, empty students. This was the only sustenance Adam needed. He pulled out a smile for Trang and tucked the A into his bag. The flash of red on Ronan’s paper caught his eye - an F, no surprise - as Ronan crumpled it and tossed the remains into his own bag.

Ronan caught him looking again, and seemed unimpressed.

Should he even bother? Adam sighed.

“If you’d talk to Gansey - ”

“Don’t bother.”

“He’s only trying to help.”

“You’d know a lot about that, wouldn’t you?” Ronan asked, one sharp eye sliding to the shallow cut on Adam’s neck - an unfortunate collision with a glass bottle - and away again.

Somehow, Ronan’s words always managed to get under his skin. Whatever the implications were, Adam didn’t like it. He’d gone through too much to keep his own secrets; he wasn’t giving them up willingly. “I don’t need it. Not like you do,” he said simply, dropping his polished notebook on Ronan’s desk.

When the bell rang, he left without looking back and met Gansey for lunch. Ronan didn’t turn up to eat with them, and Gansey expressed concern, but Adam just told him he was studying.

 


 

The first week of summer was absolutely perfect. It wasn’t hot enough for humidity yet, but the warmth seeped into the grass around Monmouth and left a pleasant heat in the air. Windows were flung open. A soft breeze tickled Adam’s nose with pollen. He languished outside, enjoying the infinite hours he had before his next shift. Ronan was passed out beside him, one arm strewn over his face.

With nothing more interesting to look at, Adam found himself blinking at Ronan. Tiny marks dotted his finger, a soothing pale green, that Adam assumed were from Matthew. He’d never asked, but the little grooves would fit perfectly around the hand of a baby.

A bird cawed. Lazy and thin, a cloud passed shortly over the sun.

Eventually, the peace had to end - Ronan awoke with a start, seeming shocked that he’d fallen asleep. Drawing up his knees and blinking, he asked, “Wanna go for a drive?”

Adam’s head lolled toward him. Gansey wouldn’t be back from the store for hours; he’d left to explore an exotic plant shop earlier in the morning. There was nothing better to do.

“Yeah.”

Wordlessly, they got up and clambered into Ronan’s BMW. The back of the seat stuck to Adam idly, and an insect buzzed near his ear. Before he could change his mind, he stripped off the outer shirt he had on and tossed it out the window. It fluttered to the concrete and left him exposed in a tank top.

Ronan’s sharp eyebrows approved.

They rolled down every window and Ronan sped like a maniac down the highway, taking turns that Adam had never even noticed past the trees. He’d obviously done this a million times. Hair whipped back and not a single thought in his head, Adam was the happiest he’d been in a while.

When they returned, Noah threw an arm around both of their shoulders and demanded popsicles.

 


 

Change only happened at night in Henrietta, Adam knew, and its moonlight and shadows were simply more than in other places. If he had the chance, he’d set down his Latin textbook and take a walk through the fields at nighttime.

Yet, he was drearily conjugating when the phone rang.

Adam bolted for it. The ring was quiet, yes, and usually his father didn’t wake up - but - the chance -

It had to be Gansey. Something was wrong.

“Hello?”

“Adam? I’m sorry, I know I shouldn’t call, but it’s Ronan. Noah found him and there’s a lot of blood, we’re heading to the hospital now, but - ”

“Let me see if I can meet you there.

A brief exhale of relief. “Thank you.”

“It’s fine, Gansey, it’s going to be fine,” he muttered. A lie he told himself daily.

Adam hung up the phone and gingerly placed it on the receiver. He stood very still and very quiet for a few moments. In the fuzzy illumination from the moon at the window, he could hardly see the outline of his parent’s bedroom.

The world remained calm.

Toeing on his sneakers, Adam held his breath as he opened the front door. Easy, easy - he stepped off the last stair, trying fruitlessly to avoid the twigs at the base of the double-wide on his way to the bike, locked at the corner. He waited for the merciless light of his parent’s bedroom window.

It was almost like a game. Cat and mouse.

Adam rode faster than he ever had in his life. The hospital was just over three miles away, but he made it in fifteen minutes. It was a miracle he didn’t hit a rock and fly over the handlebars - all of Henrietta slept in the dark. No light for miles. Sweat rolled down his back.

He locked his bike to the Pig, an anachronism in the bottomless parking lot, and sped toward the front doors. Should he go in through emergency? Which waiting room would they be in? Adam cursed Ronan in his head, long and simmering, trying to catch his breath as he pushed open the doors.

“Adam,” Gansey said. He was on a chair just inside, wearing a disturbingly relaxed t-shirt. He stood up immediately. Silently, he led Adam back outside and to the Pig.

“What happened? Is he okay?”

“He’s in surgery right now.”

“Did you call Declan?”

“Of course. He left to pick up Matthew.”

Gansey leaned against his car and rubbed his face harshly with both palms. For a moment, it looked like he was trying to scrub the color onto his cheeks. The lines under his eyes should have rendered Gansey human - less powerful than his royal image - yet he stood with his chin high and eyes clear. Hospitals and honor. Even the sight of one of his soulmates half-dead couldn’t taint the nobleman of justice.

“Poor Noah,” he muttered, “he found him, covered in blood. His wrists were cut open. I can’t believe Ronan would do this.”

For all of Ronan’s moody tantrums and reckless behavior… Adam was surprised, too.

They leaned against the Camaro side-by-side, looking up at the stars. Gansey smelled of antiseptic, and there was a tiny bit of dried blood on his pants.

“Thank you for coming,” Gansey said. “I’m glad that I’m not here alone.”

Adam looked at him - really looked. The deep, steady breaths. Bedhead. Just a boy who cared about his friends more than anything, more than quests and kings, more than money. He thought about the whirlwind his life had become, just because Gansey’s car had broken down on the way to Aglionby one morning. He thought about Gansey’s extended hand.

He reached up and touched Gansey’s skin just above the elbow, a comforting anchor. Smooth and warm, his arm tightened under Adam’s touch. A bloom of impossibly dark color spread from his fingers, filling up the spaces where they met.

So green it was almost black - all over Gansey’s elbow and Adam’s fingers. The thrill of it ached.

“It’s going to be fine,” he said.

Chapter Text

Adam didn't make it back to bed after Ronan's trip to the hospital.

He stood outside with Gansey, discreetly rubbing his fingers together to see if they felt different, somehow, until Declan and Matthew arrived. As soon as they had word that Ronan was out of surgery and just fine, Adam said his goodbyes. He lingered on Gansey's handshake and small smile - he wanted to stay, to wait in the hauntingly white room with these exhausted boys, but the sun would rise in only a few hours.

The sky was significantly lighter already; a gray that charged toward blue, actual color in the clouds rather than endless night. Adam kicked up his kickstand and enjoyed the feeling of early morning wind in his hair.

The dark green mark distracted him every time he gripped the handlebars. He wanted to stare at it, lose himself in the edges of color on his skin. How could he feel this awe when someone like Ronan, wealthy and grounded in meaningful relationships, wanted to die? It was guilt and the spark of something new, hope or affection or something similar, that Adam warred between.

He had a soulmate. Better yet, he had a soulmate that he chose. Even if Gansey was the only person to ever leave a mark on Adam's skin, it was alright. He wasn't alone anymore.

Adam left his bike at the front of the double-wide and crept toward the door. In the murky light, he fumbled with his key and let himself in, quiet as a ghost.

It took several heartbeats to hear his father breathing from his slouch on the couch.

"You," he said, and paused to grapple with his anger, "think you can sneak out and get away with it?"

Adam's blood ran cold. Wildly, he thought of telling the truth - one of his best friends was in the hospital, one of his hands now colored permanently - but if his father knew Gansey was a boy. Soulmates could be romantic, platonic, or familial. Robert Parrish certainly wouldn't see it that way.

He set his house key down on the table. All the air in his body ceased to circulate; Adam deflated.

There were no sharp excuses or quick thinking to get him out of this one. A rattled heave of air, the faint smell of whiskey, and a pair of thick hands shoved Adam backwards into the wall. It stung. His eyes still hadn't adjusted to the interior of the double-wide and his father was merely a gray blur of wrinkles and a stained t-shirt.

"Had your mother worried sick," Robert Parrish said. The lamp was taken from the side table and thrown at Adam's face - he batted it away a millisecond too late, and one eye smarted.

He couldn't remember much after that. A punch or two, some strangled words, a single kick. His father grabbed the half-finished beer from the couch and retreated to his bedroom, where Adam's mother watched with neutral eyes.

Adam shut himself in his room, sinking onto the bed weightlessly. It was dangerous to fuck up like that - he couldn't take risks, couldn't afford to, not when a particularly nasty bruise would keep him out of class. He was lucky that it was summer. Aglionby was all he had. Aglionby, and more recently, Gansey and Ronan.

He held up the hand stained green. No one saw, it's fine. I got lucky.

Adam fell on the bed and slept for hours.

When he woke, late Sunday evening, he stayed in bed. Neither of his parents knocked on his door or paid any attention when he flitted out for a piece of fruit, a cup of water.

Monday morning, all he could think of was Ronan

Had he spoken to his brothers? Told them why? Adam pressed down his sweater and pedaled faster, down and down and down the dirt road, on his way to Monmouth.

Before he even reached the end of the road, the Pig pulled up beside him. Gansey dangled out the window, cautiously hopeful. "Want a ride?"

"Sure."

He tossed the bike in the back and sat in the front seat. No Ronan in sight. It was odd that he'd been intercepted by the very person he was going to see - was that a soulmate thing?

When Gansey got a good look at the bruises on his face, the swelling around his eye, he sucked in a deep breath. Adam knew it was bad. A tiny tap dancer taking revenge on his cheek, little spots of purple stitched together and angry - probably the worst Gansey had ever seen. It didn't hurt much.

"How's Ronan?" Adam asked quickly.

"He's being discharged today. I'm picking him up, will you come?"

Smart enough not to ask about the bruising. Smart enough to keep the sidelong glances to a minimum, hands gripping the steering wheel too tight. Adam sank into the Pig with relief. He wasn't going to make him explain anything.

"Yeah," he said, watching dew roll down the window. "Of course."

When they arrived, Declan and Matthew were gone. Ronan was leaning over the front counter, arguing with the receptionist and signing his own paperwork. He didn't wait for a confirmation before walking out.

Unbelievably, Ronan seemed to notice the marks on Adam's hand before the black eye.

He raised his eyebrows and laughed. It was sardonic, directed inward rather than at Adam himself. Dressed in the shirt and pants Gansey had brought him yesterday, Ronan waltzed out of the waiting room laden with a bag of antidepressants and sleeping pills. He looked no worse for wear.

"And yet I need help," he muttered, eyes catching on Adam's face.

"I'm not suicidal."

"Neither am I."

"Ronan - "

"It's not like that," Ronan said, stepping off the curb and making a beeline to the Pig. He took shotgun and slammed the door. Gansey frowned, probably equally unhappy with their fighting and the unnecessary brutality towards the car door.

Adam climbed into the backseat. He wished Noah were here.

It was very quiet for a moment. Gansey met Adam's eyes through the rearview mirror, then flicked a glance over at Ronan, who aggressively bit down on the bracelets hanging off his wrist. The end of a recent, angry scar poked out from under his sleeve, and Adam's stomach swirled unpleasantly. It was sickening to think that he wasn't the most injured one in the car.

"That church we discussed," Gansey said, to no one in particular, "do you feel up to excavating it today?"

Ronan grunted.

Adam said, "I have to be back at four."

And so they went.


 The end of summer passed in a blur of Henrietta humidity, and most of Adam's autumn was lost to the sleep deprivation stemming from two part-time jobs and six academic classes. The days dragged together, Gansey antsy and frustrated at their lack of progress, Adam losing himself to daydreams of asking Glendower - for what? What did he want?

He, Gansey, and Noah circulated through a Ronan Watch for months after the hospital incident. It was an obvious scheme that Ronan never argued against - sometimes, in the right light, he still looked stricken with guilt or fear or some other dark secret.

Adam complained about being stuck as a glorified babysitter, but he didn't honestly mind. Letting Ronan drive him around like a Nascar professional relaxed him.

The nights where Ronan holed up in his room - well.

Gansey was facedown in his Henrietta model when Adam arrived fresh from a shift at the garage. He'd only come to help the residents of Monmouth with their Calculus, but it looked like one was already down for the count.

Stepping over a mini convenience store, Adam draped a throw blanket over Gansey's back. Where his arm poked out, below the polo shirt, he could see the ever-present green from Adam's fingers. As always, there was a certain primal pleasure in looking at it.

The door to Noah's empty room was wide open. That left Adam and Ronan to their own devices. He picked his way across the dangerous minefield of books, knocking on Ronan's door as quiet as he could. Ronan opened it in a pair of sweatpants and nothing else.

"Parrish?"

"Do you still need help with Calculus? Gansey's asleep."

"Don't wake him," Ronan said, stepping aside to allow Adam in.

The endless spread of his skin, marred only by the sprawling tattoo, kept Adam a careful distance. He still hadn't touched Ronan, and he didn't know why. It was logical that they would be soulmates, too - but Ronan hadn't offered.

Minimalistic and swamped by a bed the size of a small country, Ronan's bedroom was the coldest in the house. Adam sat gingerly on the side of his bed, pulling the Calculus textbook from his bag. He couldn't figure out what Ronan had been up to before he'd knocked. Staring at the ceiling? Staring at the enormous, silent speakers in the corner?

"Have you started any of this week's assignments?"

"Even if I do them all, I'm not going to sit in that class. It's a death sentence."

"That's not an answer," Adam said, and rubbed a hand over his face. He smelled faintly of oil.

Ronan materialized on the other side of the bed with a bottle of vodka. He waggled it at Adam, an offer with raised eyebrows. "Might help with those differentials."

"No."

"No fun, Parrish," he said, flopping on the bed and looking eerily like one of the preppy, devil-may-care models from Adam's drawer. The luxury and privilege just spilled from his pores, across the duvet, and screeched to a halt by Adam's secondhand jeans.

He looked away from Ronan's skin. It was quiet at Monmouth - quieter than his own bedroom, with the tinny football game in the next room, and the constant metronome of cans popping. He could work here regardless if anyone else did. It wasn't his job to fill Niall Lynch's place.

Maybe that's why he didn't mind being on Ronan Watch. Adam didn't feel compelled to force him to be better. He could do whatever the fuck he wanted and let Ronan do whatever the fuck he wanted. Maybe.

Adam got to work.

The problems were monotonous and mind-numbing. Enjoyable. He toiled until, distantly, he heard Noah's door close. The wide-open window drew in a cold breeze. Ronan slept beside Adam, lips parted absently. He was an incredibly quiet sleeper - if the rise and fall of his chest wasn't obvious, Adam would think he stopped breathing.

Readjusting his cramped knees, Adam laid carefully on his stomach to finish the last worksheet. He knew from experience that Ronan wouldn't wake up unless Adam started launching himself off the walls.

Fuck. It was already past ten. He'd have to leave very soon.

Adam hurriedly began scribbling equations again, but the soothing chill from the window tempted him to burrow deeper in the top blanket. Unsurprisingly, Ronan owned the most comfortable bed he'd ever seen. Probably a million dollar mattress.

Against his control, his eyelids drooped.

The next thing he knew, Ronan's hands were on his shirt, shaking him rather violently. "Adam, what the fuck, it's 2 am - "

He jerked awake. A Calculus book balanced on his head - no, that was just the weight of his headache. Unresponsive and frightened only because of the tone of Ronan's voice, he reached out to steady himself on Ronan's arm -

almost -

Adam drew back like he'd been burnt.

Ronan simply watched, eyes dark, patient and absolutely still. If he was disappointed by Adam's reluctance to touch him, even after all this time, he said nothing. Adam felt like he'd been electrocuted awake. Every inch of his body buzzed.

He slid off the bed, suddenly angry at himself. How embarrassing. To fall asleep uninvited in Ronan's bed. He shoved the Calculus book and his worksheets into his bag.

"I'm driving you," Ronan said, and his tone left no room for arguing.

A flash of color at the corner of his eye. Adam stilled. "Where did those come from?"

"A field."

It wasn't a lie, but it wasn't a truth either. Adam wasted precious seconds staring at the blue flowers on Ronan's bedside table. It was empty when he fell asleep.

"Whatever," he muttered.

Ronan drove him home in the BMW. It was quiet the whole ride.

What a moot point for Adam to fuck up so drastically over a pile of math homework. He missed two days of school for coming home so late. His professor rejected his attempt to extend the deadline.

Adam curled up in his own bed the next night, chilled to the bone and terribly alone.


 On Adam's birthday, they took him to get gelato.

He relented and allowed Gansey to pay with the promise that frozen treats would be his only present. Ronan ordered three bowls of the mocha flavor. Noah ordered nothing.

" - and I'm telling you, if Professor Keating said excelsior instead of carpe diem, he would be a perfect future Gansey," Noah said, "Watch it. Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams, 1989. Tell me I'm wrong."

Ronan and Adam laughed.

"I can't see myself as a professor," Gansey objected.

"What will you do, then? After we find Glendower?" Adam asked, curious because he couldn't help it, curious because raspberry gelato was a treasure and he wanted to drag the conversation on as long as he can. Sometime over the past few months it had become a when for everyone, not if. They felt it as sure as the breaking spring.

Gansey ducked his head. A shadow fell over his eyes. The table fell quiet - for the first time since arriving, Ronan and Noah stopped kicking each other under the table. Murmurs of evening bustle in the shop faded.

"I don't know," Gansey admitted. "Yet."

At one time, that would have aggravated Adam. To have no long-term goals was to be idle - but not Gansey, with his fluffed hair in the natural shape of a crown. Yet, he said. Adam could only melt raspberry on his tongue and hope fervently that, wherever Glendower took his soulmate before graduation, it wouldn't be far.

"Well, I'm going to be an astronaut," Ronan said, and Noah cackled.

"I'm applying to Stanford early admission," Adam said.

The unearthly hush, again. Gansey and Ronan looked at him. Noah looked at Ronan.

"You are?" Gansey was surprised - pleasantly, though, like he wasn't really surprised after thinking about it. He rubbed a thumb over his lip.

"In California," Ronan said flatly.

Adam's heart raced. He hadn't meant to say that - he wasn't even sure if he was going to do it, he'd thought about it a hundred times but kept pushing the decision off. It was only junior year and he had plenty of time. Still, the sunshine and shores wiggled in the back of his mind. Thousands of miles away from little Henrietta.

The only things holding him back were sitting at the table, too. Logically, Adam knew he couldn't sacrifice his freedom and education for any of them, even Glendower.

"In California," Adam repeated, and it hurt.

Ronan flashed his teeth in a warlike smile and set down an empty cup. "Dry heat's for fuckers."

He didn't sound angry, only hollow. Adam for the first time considered the implications of theoretically moving across the country. Not only would he miss his closest friends - one of whom was his soulmate - but they would miss him, too. It sounded fucking ridiculous, but he hadn't considered that before. He would leave an impression on his hometown. Noah fiddled with the blinds, opening and closing them rapidly. It was a startling contrast between the dark night and beige panels.

Gansey sat back against the seat. "I think it's great. A bit far away. It isn't an Ivy, though I'm sure you know that - "

"Yeah," Adam said.

The conversation gradually shifted, to college in general to classes at Aglionby to the desperation of the rowing team as finals loomed. The stillness after Adam's confession ebbed away, and the lighthearted feeling crept back to his chest.

Gansey described plans for the upcoming St. Mark's Eve. The Pig, the church they'd explored months prior, electromagnetic sensors, and recording devices: an absolute riot.

"Be careful," Noah muttered when Gansey finished. Everyone looked at him, and he shrugged. "What? I have a feeling."

"I'm always cautious," he agreed.

Adam finished up his gelato and they left, scuffing shoes in the asphalt parking lot, lazy and sated. Ronan tried to nick the keys to the Pig from Gansey's pocket and failed. Seizing his chance before Gansey unlocked the car, Adam pretended to be urgently interested in a bright, low-hanging star. The best part was that he wasn't lying - he actually did read an article about the Welsh and their Celtic astrology - but his timing was perfect for Ronan to slip an unnoticed hand into Gansey's jacket pocket.

Gansey didn't notice until Ronan shut the door behind him. He turned to roll down the window, and his victory smirk would have sent the devil straight back to hell.

Noah gave him a thumbs up as they both climbed into the backseat. With two arguing in front and two relaxed in back, the car felt balanced. Not full, not complete in the way Adam thought maybe his life would be - but good. Truthfully, it was so good that he expected something to go drastically wrong soon.

Fuck that. He deserved a good day once in a while.


 The next time Adam's life changed was months later, when the feeble snow was destroyed and the hues of the landscape returned to green. He recommended a psychic to Gansey. Ronan and Declan fought outside of Nino's - old news - and a pretty girl was offended by Gansey's embarrassing moves - also old news - but the surprising part came when he approached her to apologize for Gansey's misguided help.

In the lowlight of Nino's parking lot, without a second of hesitation, she bumped their shoulders together. Skin on skin. A deep brown spread down their arms, as dark as the green on Adam's fingers. The shock of it stopped him.

"Oh," he said.

"Adam, right?" A slow smile tickled her cheeks. "I'm Blue."


 Gansey was extremely put off that Adam's new soulmate happened to be that egregiously judgmental girl, oh no. Adam rolled his eyes.

They'd returned to Monmouth after breaking the Lynch brothers apart, and now Gansey was having a conversation with the wall - or Noah - about how an insufferable girl would have to be formally introduced to their group and Gansey was at a disadvantage because he'd already offended her.

A screaming bass pounded from Ronan's closed door. Slipping away, Adam let himself in and hoped the eyes he felt on the back of his head were Noah's and not Gansey's.

Ronan was in the process of destroying stuff. More specifically, he was about to take a hammer to his cell phone. Without so much as blinking, Adam turned down the music and snatched the phone in a single smooth movement.

Chest heaving indignantly, Ronan shoved past him and towards the window. The skin of Adam's arm had almost brushed his. "Fuck off, Parrish."

"You done throwing a fit yet?"

"Why are you here? And not with that girl from Nino's, your soulmate?"

"Her name's Blue," Adam gritted his teeth, "and I literally just met her thirty minutes ago."

Ronan paced. His pent up anger and energy needed a physical outlet - the fight with Declan had only made it worse - but a quick scan of the room revealed no invaluable items. Adam's thoughts kept sticking on the sensation of another color staining his skin. Like a tape on constant rewind. He couldn't focus on Ronan's tight shoulders or balled fists.

Recently, it had become increasingly odd to Adam that he hadn't tried to touch Ronan and see what would happen. Now he understood that Ronan would never offer, but would never reject if he tried, either. It felt a little wrong to have two soulmates, now, and neither were him.

Adam knew why he couldn't, though. It would mean something different. He wasn't ready.

He wanted to hug Ronan, offer some sort of physical support, but it would be impossible in his flimsy t-shirt. Navigating the social norms of soulmates was exhausting. Adam crawled onto the massive bed and promptly ignored Ronan punching the wall. He could tell by the sound that it wasn't a hard hit.

"Don't do anything fucking stupid," he said, and set an alarm on the phone for 11 pm. "That includes drinking a six pack of beer and passing out underneath your car."

Maybe it wasn't the first time he'd slept in Ronan's bed. He never seemed to mind - actually, he said it helped him sleep, though Adam had yet to catch him in the act since the first time he'd crashed there. Something about the softness, the smell, lulled Adam away immediately.

He heard Ronan throw open the window in the background. Distantly, Blue's smile swirled in and out of his head. Just a little nap. Just a little soulmate.

Adam smiled back as he fell asleep.

Ronan, several blocks away, dreamt of ravens.


 Blue entered their lives in a whirlwind of unbelievable psychic prowess and spilled yogurt.

Her endless family members crowded around Adam's arm, inspecting the deep brown mark with wide eyes and indecipherable hmphs. He sat uncomfortably straight at the kitchen table, Blue across from him, Gansey on another side. Ronan leaned against a wall.

Though outwardly, Adam received the most attention from the women of Fox Way - particularly the friendly blonde one, Persephone - he noticed blatant stares at Gansey. Maybe it was the obnoxious polo. Maybe it was the way he clearly enjoyed the card reading but had bigger questions simmering. They could sense that sort of thing, right?

Eventually, Gansey asked Maura about the ley lines. She told him nothing.

Blue walked them to the Pig, pausing in the porch sunlight where the adults couldn't hear her. She leaned towards Adam. She smelled like raspberries and ice water. "I'm sorry about my mother. She's - nervous. I've never seen her like this before."

"It's alright," Adam said, somewhat grateful he'd even survived the scrutiny inside. He was Blue's first soulmate. He didn't mind.

"Do me a favor," she said, stepping in front of him so that he was in between her and the front door, "stand here and look as if we're talking. I'll be right back."

She moved quickly down the driveway and around the side of the Pig, where she opened the door and kicked Gansey right in the leg. He jerked back, surprised rather than in pain, but he was too late - a navy blue, as dark as possible, bloomed at the base of his knee. Blue's bare foot swelled with color.

Adam watched, incredulous, as she marched to the other side of the vehicle and elbowed Ronan through the window, right on the side of his shoulder. He didn't flinch or move away, just stared aggressively as maroon spread over their skin. Chainsaw cawed. Gansey watched in open-mouthed shock.

She returned to squeeze Adam's hand. "Thanks. It's so much easier not having to tip toe around people."

Bidding him goodbye, Blue returned to 300 Fox Way. Adam trudged to the Pig and got inside. For a while, they sat in the car together, saying absolutely nothing and staring directly ahead. A day out of left field. He rubbed the spot on his shoulder from Blue, inexplicably feeling like she should be in the seat next to him.

"I can't wait to tell Noah," Ronan said.

Gansey drove away as fast as he could.

Chapter Text

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?”

“Yeah.”

“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.

“Up.”

“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.”

“Nerrghh.”

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?”

“You don’t.”

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."


epilouge

"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?”

“Nah.”

“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.