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Roses in Between My Thighs

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1.

Ronan Lynch was not an easy bed partner.

There were nights he knew his sleep would bring terrible things with it and he stayed at the Barns. Other nights he decided to risk it. So far his sleeping mind seemed to sense that Adam was there, and the only living thing he brought back was a tiny orange kitten who woke them up by purring next to Adam’s ear. The kitten, who was called George Bernard Shaw for reasons known only to Ronan, stayed at 300 Fox Way and didn’t grow any bigger.

About half the time Ronan stayed awake while Adam slept. If Adam was very tired and Ronan didn’t want to risk bothering him, he’d slip out of bed and do whatever it was Ronan did while other people were sleeping. Adam had woken up to the following things on the floor of his apartment: a ship made out of curled pieces of paper; knitted mice stuffed with catnip for George Bernard Shaw; a circle of toothpicks, glued together and pointing upright like the world’s smallest fortress; a series of drawings from dreams that Adam claimed were serial-killer-wall material and Ronan claimed fuck you Parrish; seventeen copies of Neil Diamond’s greatest hits, which Ronan had apparently thought would be funny, but Adam didn’t mind Neil Diamond so the joke was on him. The next morning Adam found a mobile made from fishing wire and bits of the CDs, and hung it up out of spite because Ronan jumped a little every time the mobile twisted and Neil Diamond’s disembodied eye stared at them.

If all factors aligned perfectly – if Ronan was tired enough to sleep without dreaming and Adam wasn’t studying or working or off on Cabeswater’s business – Ronan slept wrapped around Adam like a snake and Adam woke up feeling as if he’d been restored to a point of his life that had never existed, a point during which he was refreshed and filled with physical well-being. It was disconcerting to realize, one day, that he was happy when he woke up with Ronan. Could a person be happy at constant full boil? It didn’t seem likely, and yet.    

Ronan woke them both up with a nightmare – a normal one, like a mostly normal person – about once a week. It was the source of their only real knockdown drag-out fights, the kind they’d had early on when they didn’t know each other. Ronan, who if given five minutes alone with Adam would spend four minutes and fifty-nine seconds touching him, pushed him away so ferociously after a nightmare that Adam was hurt enough to hate him. But if Adam let him alone he’d grow more and more agitated until he finally left, slamming the door behind him. He’d come back at dawn and slide into bed behind Adam and press his cold hands and feet into his warmest parts, and the wordless apologies calmed Adam’s anger but didn’t make him forget the previous hurt.

Things were dire enough that after the fourth time Adam deliberately asked Cabeswater to let him into Ronan’s dream, which hadn’t happened in a while, and ambushed him.

“The fuck are you doing here?” Ronan asked without rancor.

“You know exactly what the fuck I’m doing here,” Adam said, sitting down beside him on the porch swing that had sprung up the moment Ronan saw him. Ronan said nothing, pushing the swing with one foot.

“It’s the same fucking thing every time,” he said finally. “I’m just there in the driveway staring down at his brains everywhere and smelling all the rotting blood and the birds are pecking at him. When I wake up it doesn’t go away. There’s nothing you can do about it. It won’t get better. If you have to do something, just…distract me.”

“How am I supposed to distract you if won’t let me touch you?” Adam asked, trying to keep his voice even. It was a new thing for him, wanting to touch this badly, and he could barely admit it to himself, let alone explain to Ronan how the feeling of being pushed away resembled that long-ago moment in the grocery store, the shame and hatred of being reminded of his worthlessness.

“Parrish, if I let you touch me, I’d cry all over you like a fucking toddler.” Ronan pushed the swing a little too hard and Adam let his heel drag on the porch to slow it down.

“So?” he asked.

“So I fucking hate crying and you’d pretend it was fine but you’d be embarrassed as shit,” Ronan said. He wasn’t wrong, Adam thought, which made it even more irritating. “Just – I don’t know, talk to me. Tell me about all the shitboxes you fixed at work, or your boring homework, or what Cabeswater needs. I don’t fucking care, just say words and I’ll listen to you.”

“Fine,” he snapped. “But just so you know, I’d get over being embarrassed. I’m not that selfish. I could deal with it.”

Ronan sounded like he was going to say something a few times and then didn’t. “It’s not about you, Parrish,” he said after a while. “It’s one of those things – if I let it out it would be worse than the night terrors. I can control those. Whatever this is, it would – I wouldn’t – be a person anymore.”

And out of all the things Ronan had ever said to him, he understood that the most, so instead of replying he turned around in the porch swing to look up at the building Ronan liked to retreat to sometimes in his dreams.

“You don’t see a lot of porches attached to castles,” he said.

“And how many castles have you seen?” Ronan asked. “There could be double-decker porches for all you know.”

“How many castles have you seen, dickhead?” Adam shoved him. “That’s a sliding glass door.”

“It’s automatic,” Ronan said, as if that explained anything.

Later, he took Adam’s hand and led him into the castle and showed him what was there, as carefully and casually as he had taken Adam to the Barns so many times. Adam didn’t remember all of it when he woke up, but he remembered enough to erase the pervasive feeling of rejection entirely.

The next time Ronan had that particular nightmare and huddled in the corner of Adam’s quiet, stifling room, looking a little like one of his own nightmare creatures, Adam didn’t try to go to him and didn’t ask him what was wrong. He had planned to run through all the cars he’d worked on during the day, but instead he said, “I didn’t learn how to ride a bike until I was twelve. We couldn’t afford one. I think by that time everyone just sort of assumes you know how to ride a bike. Like swimming. If you admit you don’t know how, everyone thinks you’re a baby. This one family moved out pretty much overnight – the other kids decided they were in Witness Protection but I think they just wanted to get out as fast as they could – and left behind a boy’s bike. It stayed there for a while, maybe a month, before I took it. I didn’t want it to get rusted, but I didn’t want my dad to know I had it either, so I hid it in a barn about a mile away and I practiced there with nobody around. I was really bad at it. When I finally got up the nerve to use it for real, I ran into a parked car and broke my wrist. I don’t know how I didn’t get found out. I think my dad thought he’d done it to me so he didn’t ask. It took me a month but I fixed the front of the bike and that’s the one I still have, and I’m still pretty bad at it. Even when I could hear out of both ears I didn’t have very good balance. Anyway. That’s why I hardly ever used to let anyone see me ride it.”

Ronan made a considering noise, and just as Adam was about to go on, he said, “That was a really boring story.”

“Eat shit, Lynch,” he replied easily, and let Ronan curl around him again.

“You don’t have to stop talking,” Ronan added. “Tell me more trailer park shit so I can sleep.”

Then Adam did begin to go through all the cars he’d worked on, and fell asleep in the middle of a word halfway through the first one.

 

2.

Adam was skittish in ways he didn’t expect, and not skittish in ways that surprised him. If he’d given it any thought, he probably would have assumed he didn’t like to be manhandled all that much, but he and Ronan were rough with each other and he seemed to like it. He waited for it to bother him when Ronan pushed him onto the bed, held him down and made fun of his eyebrows, dragged him into fields, shoved him against walls and kissed him, but there was nothing malicious about it and he liked that Ronan wasn’t delicate with him.

When he did get skittish, Ronan didn’t get angry about it, which would have been bad, and didn’t get sad about it, which would have been worse. He didn’t soothe and he wasn’t careful and he didn’t pretend nothing was wrong. He just moved ahead. Sometimes he said something that would have sent Gansey to his fainting couch, and Adam didn’t like it exactly but it took the sting out. Once in a while the looming shape of a limb coming near his head, just out of his line of sight, or an unknown touch on the back of his neck, or even a grip on his arm would startle him. He had it under control most of the time – you could hardly get along in a school like Aglionby if you jumped every time someone clapped you on the back – but sometimes it turned him into a blind bird flying away from a predator on instinct and he couldn’t conceal his shame and anger when he came back to himself.

He apologized – once.

“If you say you’re sorry every time you act like a freak, it’s going to get old fast,” Ronan said. He was lazing around on Adam’s bed, petting George Bernard Shaw, his shirt rucked up enough to show his stomach. Adam stared at the line of soft dark hair running under his navel and let himself retreat from the shadow box of fear/shame that had appeared out of nowhere and surrounded him. Until thirty seconds before, Adam had been stretched out beside him with his head resting on Ronan’s shoulder, rubbing under George Bernard Shaw’s tiny kitten chin to feel him purring. Ronan had put an arm around him and reached up for some reason – to run a finger along his ear, to stroke his hair, any of the numerous and quiet and beautiful ways Ronan touched him – and before Adam even realized he was doing it he had pushed himself off the bed and was standing beside it, breathing hard and saying sor – sorry, I’m sorry.

He unclenched his fists. “Dickhead,” he said, hating the way his voice shook, and climbed back into the bed. Ronan’s arm went around him again instantly, but this time when he reached up Adam was prepared. He had so much homework that night that he’d be awake until nearly morning, but he let himself enjoy this small five-minute encapsulation of contentment: cold room, warm boy, warm purring cat.

 

3.

In the part of his mind that resisted his customary self-control, he had wondered if sex would be an issue. Before, back when he was only starting to wonder about Ronan, he hadn’t quite been able to imagine himself actually touching – watching, maybe, out of curiosity, but never touching, and certainly never wanting to be touched. It had made him feel stupid, prickly and awkward and uncomfortable, if he so much as considered it. It was a little amusing now to remember sitting at his desk, letting his mind wander for a split second and imagining what it would be like to – but always, before he could even finish the thought, he’d shrugged it off with an irritated, disgusted no. No, he did not like that. He had no problem with what men did together but he, Adam Parrish who did not like Ronan Lynch, was not a fan.

“Sometimes I think you want to fucking eat me,” Ronan said lazily one night, examining a deep purple suck mark on his stomach.

“Maybe I do,” Adam said, lifting his head with great effort and biting the other side of Ronan’s stomach to make him symmetrical, pulling the skin in between his teeth and sucking until Ronan was hard again and he could roll between his legs and put his mouth to more productive use.

He loved the way Ronan’s thighs tightened helplessly around his shoulders and the way his breath sobbed over Adam’s name, the way he never pushed at all and the way he was always so fucking difficult but not when Adam was touching him, the way he sucked so enthusiastically and moaned what Adam was certain were swear words around his cock, the way he refused to hold back and gave it up entirely, instantly. Adam did not love, at first, his own greed and terrifying desperation. He’d been hungry for many things in his life but never for this, and now that he knew, now that he’d realized what they could do to each other, he was useless the second he saw Ronan’s body. Discipline, grinding relentless discipline, was a part of his life and would be for a long time, but in this one area he couldn’t get himself under control no matter how hard he tried, not even in front of Gansey.

It was alarming to be surrounded by his friends and to suddenly be aware of the way Ronan moved, walking from the door of Monmouth to the Pig, to go from being fully present in the conversation to breathlessly laser-focused on the roll of Ronan’s hips, the dip of his back just above the curve of his ass, the tattoo spread out over his shoulders where Adam always wanted to sink his teeth. If he gave Ronan a look just then, if he slid his fingers under the hem of Ronan’s shirt and rubbed his skin, Ronan would forget everything he was doing and turn to him and within minutes they’d be somewhere private, anywhere, Ronan would have him up against the wall and Adam would be biting that one spot on his neck that made him jerk his hips harder and faster, and Ronan would whisper shakily that they needed to get out of there soon so Adam could fuck him. They hadn’t made it that far yet – the embarrassing truth was that as soon as they were on each other they had a difficult time moving from whatever surface they were pressed up against – and Ronan mainly said it because he knew it made Adam go insane to hear Ronan’s voice trembling as he said when are you gonna fuck me, huh, Parrish?

It was difficult to remain inscrutable in the face of all that.

“Have you talked with Gansey about – this?” Adam asked one evening after school, when they were leaning against the side of the BMW but too lazy to go inside yet.

Ronan grinned at the ground. “He congratulated me on the requital of my long-standing affection.”

“Oh my god,” Adam said.

“I know.” They stood basking in the wonder of Gansey until Ronan nudged his arm. “He also told me to be gentle with you.”

Adam snorted. “What did he really say?”

“That’s what he fucking said. ‘Be gentle with Parrish.’” Ronan let him be disgusted by that for a moment before adding, “‘Because he can destroy you.’”

“Could I?” Adam asked. He knew he could, and hated himself for liking it.

“Couldn’t I destroy you too?” Ronan replied with a little sideways eyebrow raise.

You already do, he thought, but only said, “Maybe. I can’t believe Gansey’s put that much thought into our sex life.”

Ronan shrugged. “It’s probably pretty obvious.”

Adam went hot so fast he was lightheaded, flushed all the way down both arms. “Do you think he knows –” He couldn’t finish the thought but it continued in his head in a multitude of ways anyway: that I want to touch you every second of every day? that I’m barely holding onto everything I need to do because I want you? that the only reason I’m holding onto everything I need to do is that I want you? Did everyone know how much he craved it? Could they all see how terribly out of control he was?

“– that I’d let you do anything to me?” Ronan smiled at the ground again. “Everyone knows that.”

“That I want,” he began, struggling. “That I want to do everything to you.”

Ronan ran his finger over Adam’s wrist. “No,” he said abruptly. “No, I think that’s just for me.”

Adam’s breath caught at the soft drag of Ronan’s skin against his. He wanted to say I hate that I want you so much, but it wasn’t true. He loved it. No one was ever as awake as he was when Ronan Lynch was touching him.

“I know I’m weird about it,” he said. “I’m always – all over you.”

Ronan lifted his gaze from the ground and smirked. “You think I’m going to complain because you like my dick?”

“But you’d tell me – you’d stop me,” Adam said, trying to push through it. “If you didn’t like something.”

“Since when have I ever been a fucking martyr, Parrish?”

“You don’t like to be vulnerable though.”

“No, that’s you.” Ronan straightened and swung around, pressing Adam up against the side of the car gracefully with his hips, hands braced on either side of Adam’s head. “You like to make me come my fucking brains out because then you’re less vulnerable than I am.”

Adam’s hands twitched out to touch him before he could stop himself. Ronan’s nipples were hard under his palms and he leaned his forehead against Adam’s when Adam started to play with them.

“What I like,” Ronan said unevenly, “is how fucking hot it gets you to make me feel good.”

It was true; his breath shuddered in and out and he was rubbing hard against the thigh Ronan had pressed between his legs. He hadn’t even realized he was doing it but the way Ronan responded to his fingers made him crazy. Ronan let go of the car and slid his hands down over Adam’s ass and that made him even crazier. He let his head fall back against the car and moaned breathlessly, tried to stop himself, and then did it again and louder when Ronan dug his fingers in and pressed harder against him.

“See?” Ronan gasped. “You like getting me off so much. The second I come, you lose your shit.”

“Are you gonna come?” Adam asked, absolutely incendiary at the thought. Excitement lit over his nerves and he barely recognized his own voice.

“If we keep going, yeah,” Ronan said, rolling his hips in slow, agonizing circles. “But I want to wait until we’re alone.”

“I can get you hard again,” Adam said. He was suddenly desperate, like he always was, to play Ronan’s body until they both hit that rhythm that was so good – so satisfying, indulgent really, getting exactly what he wanted and then some and whenever he wanted it. After such a long time of being asked again and again what he wanted and not knowing how to answer, he could finally say there was at least one thing and it was beautiful.

“If we get off right now, we’ll just go inside and fucking eat pizza and fall asleep,” Ronan said, moaning when Adam pinched his nipple a little harder. “I want you to fuck me.”

Adam pressed his cheek to Ronan’s, wanting to feel the furious blush there. “Well then,” he murmured against Ronan’s ear, “don’t say things like that, please.”

“You’re so fucking polite when you’re about to come in your pants.” Ronan kissed him hard and let him go. “Get in the car.”

*

Ronan did not seem to have any feelings either way on being despoiled, repeatedly and happily, over the church. Adam had asked him once if it was weird going straight from mass to sex and Ronan, on his knees and quite busy, had only given him an amused look from under his lashes. Later Adam thought it might just be all the same to him: worship here or worship there, it made no difference.

It was somehow both humid and cold in the apartment. There was no money for heat and Adam didn’t care because he had both Ronan and an ever-increasing pile of blankets. Still, he shuddered and his skin prickled everywhere with goosebumps when he stripped off his clothes, until Ronan wrapped around him, warm hands on his body and warm mouth on his neck. Adam loved the moments when they were first naked. Neither of them were self-conscious about nudity, but there was something about that initial moment of adjustment that made them almost shy with each other and Adam liked the slow way Ronan touched him, as if he’d forgotten he was allowed.

“Stop distracting me,” Ronan said roughly after he’d spent several minutes kissing Adam into a state of languid stupidity.

“Get on the bed before I change my mind, asshole,” Adam said, blinking like he’d just woken up, and tried not to smile when Ronan threw himself on the mattress like it was an enormous hassle to grant Adam this favor. But he couldn’t contain his eagerness for Adam’s fingers, turning around and snatching the bottle of lotion from him to do the job himself when Adam was too slow, and his breaths grew loud and shaky when Adam pressed two fingers inside, no fucking around, the way he liked it.

(The first time, they weren’t nearly so graceful. Adam was so shaken by the entire enterprise that he couldn’t figure out what to put on his fingers until Ronan crossly reminded him of the lotion he’d given him for his hands, and then they’d tried three different positions without success until Ronan finally turned over onto his stomach. They used so much of the lotion that it soaked into the mattress, and when, after almost ten minutes of nothing, Ronan jumped like he’d touched a live wire, Adam panicked and nearly pulled away, asking, “What’s wrong? What did I do?”

“It’s called a prostate, Parrish,” Ronan had said raggedly, fingers tightening in the sheets. “You might have heard of it.”

Oh,” Adam had said, embarrassed at his ignorance, but in a moment he was exploiting his newfound knowledge and Ronan was writhing and crying out in his low, hoarse voice so frantically Adam was afraid he’d disturb the parish below. He’d reached up with his free hand to cover Ronan’s mouth – he cared about not being evicted from St. Agnes, even if Ronan didn’t – and Ronan drew two of his fingers into his mouth and sucked, coming all over the sheets immediately. Afterward he flopped onto his back, as far away from the mess they’d made of the sheets as possible, and lay with his hands over his face, chest heaving.

“You bit me,” Adam had said, examining the deep, straight indentations on his fingers with great satisfaction.

“You deserve it for trying to kill me,” Ronan said, shivering so hard his teeth chattered. He refused to help Adam clean up the bed, and fell asleep on it as soon as Adam had put fresh sheets down. He slept for nearly twelve hours and when he woke up the entire room was covered in roses, which was so embarrassing for both of them that they didn’t talk for two days.)

It took approximately thirty seconds for Ronan to become impatient.

“Come on – fucking do it, Parrish, or – fuck, fuck, I’m gonna come without you,” he said, voice breaking. He sounded drunk, the way he used to get drunk, tense and frenetic and ready to snap. There was a defensive part of Adam that wanted to tease Ronan for it: how much he liked it, how he asked for it, how he lost his composure completely when Adam’s fingers were inside him. Look at you almost begging for me to make you come, he sometimes thought but never said, with a mixture of fierce pride and exultation and cruelty. The wild rush of love he felt for Ronan was painful and alien and ruined him like a flood, and he had very few defenses against it. Sometimes I want to be really shitty to you right when I care about you the most, he’d told Ronan one night, and Ronan had replied welcome to my world, loser, which did not make it perfectly okay but did make him less likely to suddenly self-destruct and say or do something irreparable.

“Oh my god, all right, give me ten damn seconds,” he said, pulling away and searching for the box of condoms and finding it on the floor. He was shaking a little from urgency and nerves and excitement and Ronan whispering fucking do it Adam come on hurry the fuck up, and forgot everything he’d ever learned in sex ed. The first condom ripped when he tore open the packet and the second snapped on a little too painfully, but he barely noticed. Ronan had pushed himself up on his hands and knees and Adam saw the sheets were dark and wet under him. There was a thin clear line of liquid running from his cock to the bed, and his muscles were trembling minutely. I did that to him, Adam thought, and had to brace himself with a hand on Ronan’s back because the knowledge made him dizzy. It was so close to too much, the way it was so often with Ronan because he couldn’t bring himself to keep his barriers up all the way when Ronan threw his down so eagerly.

At Adam’s touch Ronan rolled over onto his back, pulling Adam down with him.

“Like this?” Adam asked.

“I want to,” Ronan said. He said it like there was more to the sentence – maybe I want to touch you – but he wouldn’t say it and Adam didn’t mind. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t imagined it in every possible way, and he liked how Ronan’s thighs spread around him, liked running his palms over the soft pale skin and dark hair and tight muscle, when he knelt between them and began to press inside him.

Ronan breathed shallowly at first and Adam was torn between watching his face and watching his cock disappearing into Ronan’s body. He went slowly, more because he didn’t want to come than because he worried about Ronan’s comfort. He had no doubt at all that Ronan would tell him if something didn’t feel good, likely with illustrative hand gestures. But beyond the lack of shoving and swearing, it was obvious it felt good – Ronan’s cock twitched away from his stomach and all the tension left his face, and the hand on Adam’s arm went from squeezing too hard to rubbing up and down in a clear indication that he needed to move.

“Is it good?” Adam whispered.

Yes,” Ronan choked out.

He pulled Ronan up a little farther into his lap and kept his hands firm around his hips – it was the right move, he realized with a thrill of shivering excitement. Ronan rolled into it, eyes fluttering closed, and clutched the sheets above his head. Adam watched him in greedy awe, the entire long stretch of Ronan’s body spread out like living art before him, the tightening muscles and flushed thick cock and the dark sweep of his eyelashes and his beautiful mouth. Adam marveled over him, and it was only marveling, absent of any pride or smugness: he had done this, he had made this happen, he had created this gorgeous pleasure. He slid his fingers around Ronan’s cock – and god how he loved the wet, heavy thickness of it in his hand and in his mouth; it wasn’t the biggest surprise of all but it was a surprise – and Ronan opened his eyes, looking at Adam’s hand and gasping. He let go of the sheets and reached down to touch, and Adam expected him to join in, to link their hands and make him move faster. Instead he only ran his fingers over Adam’s knuckles. The touch seemed to set him off and he began to moan, first in the back of his throat and then rising into soft, hoarse cries.

Adam pressed into him slow and hard and watched with more attention than he had ever paid to anything. Every time, he thought in amazement, every time Ronan gave this to him – he let Adam make him helpless with pleasure. Perhaps it was why, in the end, he was never as terrible to Ronan as he was afraid he could be. Nothing untruthful or hidden was allowed between them when they were like this, and for a wonder, that left only beautiful things.

Ronan suddenly tightened around him, reaching up again to hold onto the sheets above his head and pressing his face into his bicep, rocking back and forth between Adam’s hand and his cock, and he let out a breathless, wild shout as he came. Adam lost all coordination the moment he felt his hand grow slippery with come and fell forward, caught off guard by his own pleasure. It spread through him in widening pulses and as always, he fought himself fighting against it, pushed himself to give in.

He needed to be so close to Ronan when he came – he always found himself wrapped tight around Ronan’s body, arms and sometimes even legs holding him like a vice, face buried in Ronan’s neck, low moans pressed against his skin. At first he had thought it might be because he wanted to be completely absorbed, for the two of them to just be one being, but it wasn’t quite that. It was more that he wanted everything to be solely for the two of them in that moment: his pleasure, his controlled letting go of his control, his bare self, all the things he held so close that he’d never thought there would be room for another person, before Ronan. He never apologized for it and Ronan never made fun of him – even in the middle of orgasm he only held Adam while he lost himself, shivering and overwhelmed.

He became aware of the smell of earth only gradually. Loosening himself from around and within Ronan, he lifted his head and pushed himself up, hands sinking into moss.

“What the fuck?” he said stupidly.

“Looks like you came so hard you altered time and space, Parrish,” Ronan said, grinning up at him. He loved it when Adam swore. The trees breathed around them and Ronan listened, still half-smiling.

“What are they saying?” Adam asked.

“Twofold union,” Ronan said. “In dreams and in life. They’re happy we’ve united.”

“We’ve united dozens of times before this,” Adam grumbled.

“Cabeswater keeps it traditional,” Ronan said. “Probably some birds and the bees pistil and stamen bullshit.”

Adam relaxed and rested his head on Ronan’s chest. “If they think you’re the pistil in this situation, it would explain a lot.”

“Don’t give them any ideas,” Ronan said, stroking his hair. “I’m already an unwed teen mother.”

The part of Cabeswater they had been transported to was unfamiliar to him. The trees were as tall as redwoods and thick, shielding them from almost all light, and the forest floor was covered in a blanket of soft, damp moss. It was summery and humid; he found himself wiping his sweaty forehead on Ronan’s chest to hear him mutter, “God, gross.” As he watched, sleepy, the moss crept up the side of one of the trees and white flowers began to bloom out of it. He thought maybe he had never been so calm in his life.

He opened his mouth and said,

 

4.

“Gansey’s on the death list.”

Ronan stilled, and Adam held his breath, waiting to be pushed violently away. He wasn’t sure why he’d chosen this particular moment to confess, although he supposed it was hardly unusual for him to ruin something beautiful by simply being himself. But after a beat, Ronan’s fingers resumed their work.

“I know,” he said.

“How?” Adam asked. He felt, with a sudden fierce drop in his stomach, like he was going to cry, and the back of his throat ached; it was a near thing, a very near thing, and he hoped Ronan wouldn’t decide to look at him too closely, or be too nice to him. Not that there was much danger of that.

“Am I fucking blind?” Ronan asked. No, thank god, no danger at all. “Every time Gansey mentions bees you look like you’re going to faint.”

“I won’t kill him,” Adam said. “That tree showed me a vision where it was me, but I won’t – you know I could never – ”

“Stop being stupid, Parrish,” Ronan said harshly. “Whatever shit you’ve got in your head, you need to get rid of it or you might accidentally make it come true. We’re going to save him and you fucking know it.”

Adam did not know it, but he nodded against Ronan’s chest anyway, unable to speak. He watched the tree again, where small fresh green vines were sprouting from the white flowers and winding over to the tree next to it. In a matter of minutes it had created a net of vines and blossoms. Adam wondered what it was meant to catch. Gradually the spindly vines spread outward, reaching, unfurling down to the forest floor where he lay sprawled on top of Ronan. Adam reached up to touch it when it was close to him and it painlessly stabbed the tip of his finger.

He woke in his bed with his mouth full of leaves, under a pile of blankets, when his alarm went off. 2:45, time for work, and he hadn’t finished his essay on Heart of Darkness.

But when he rolled out of bed, stumbled to the bathroom, spat out all the leaves, and came back out to hear Ronan groaning irritably from under the blankets, his essay was sitting on his desk. It was ten pages long and complete with introduction and conclusion, although the last time he’d worked on it he’d only gotten through six pages of the body. He cast a suspicious eye on Ronan, but they were his words – things he’d turned over in his own head while outlining.

“What happened last night?” he asked.

One of Ronan’s hands appeared from under the blanket as he stretched. “You fucked me into Cabeswater,” he yawned. “I don’t remember after that. No, wait – I think Cabeswater shoved a fucking vine up my nose.”

“Me too. We really need to establish some boundaries,” Adam said, setting the paper down and lifting the blankets to crawl back into bed. Neither of them were naked, which was somehow almost as disturbing as the leaves in his mouth and his completed essay. Ronan was in his underwear and a flannel shirt, which might be Adam’s or might be Gansey’s but was definitely not his own, and when Adam slid his arms inside the shirt to warm up, Ronan pulled it around him so he was encased in it.

“Are you going to history?” he asked, muffled against flannel and Ronan’s skin.

“No.”

“I’ll probably want to kiss you after to keep myself awake,” he said.

“Don’t try to bribe me, Parrish. Greater men than you have failed,” Ronan said, but Adam knew he’d show up.

He gave himself three more minutes, listening to Ronan fall back to sleep, his breath deepening and his hands going slack, before he pulled away to get dressed. He had six minutes to be out the door, and made it in five, driving in the dark with his windows slowly unfrosting. It was painful to be awake this early, but once he was in the car he almost didn’t mind it. He wore one of Ronan’s t-shirts under his hoodie, and it was soft and warm and smelled like him, which made him smile even though he tried not to.

It won’t be all right, a voice whispered in his deaf ear. You know it won’t; you know what’s coming for you.

But for the first time, he didn’t agree.