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i. 

“Sorry, sorry,” Blue said as she slid into their booth at Harry’s half an hour late. Gansey passed her his half-finished mint chocolate chip gelato. “My mother’s current and former lovers are currently engaged in a macho piss-off contest in our living room. Mostly they just glare pointlessly and try to outdo each other at making tea. It was way too much testosterone for me.” 

Noah patted her head in a show of solidarity. From his side of the table, Gansey looked like he was restraining himself from doing the same, and only the sure threat of Blue’s wrath kept his hand firmly pressed against the tabletop. With a rush of relief, Adam realized he found the way Ronan attacked his scoop with a tiny spoon, so drastically out of place compared to Ronan’s history of grand acts, much more fascinating.

“What did Maura have to say about that?” Adam asked.  

Blue rolled her eyes. “Nothing. She sent Calla to break it up, but she’s enjoying this way too much for her own good. I thought the house was crowded before, but I was so, so wrong.” She pointed at Gansey, Ronan, and Noah in turn with her plastic spoon. “I have no idea how all your male egos fit at Monmouth.”

“Czerny’s dead,” Ronan pointed out helpfully.

Blue waved the comment away. “You and Gansey are enough to make up for it, trust me. Men take up so much space.” She stabbed her ice cream hard, perhaps in the way she’d like to stab the patriarchy. There was probably a metaphor in the way the soft gelato engulfed her spoon.

“Maybe that’s because you’re the size of a baby ant,” Ronan mumbled under his breath. Blue stuck her tongue out at him.

As Gansey began to pull Blue into a discussion about the third sleeper, Adam picked up his coffee gelato the way picked up women – which was to say: not very well at all.

A moment passed before Adam actually felt the spilled gelato against his leg. In that moment, Adam cursed fate, cursed his clumsy fingers, cursed Ronan’s proximity, the immediacy of him. Ronan already had napkins pressed against Adam’s thigh before he even realized he needed them, maybe even before Ronan himself had noticed. He moved too quickly for it to be more than instinct.

Adam shouldn’t feel this hot all over. This wasn’t the way temperature worked. With dawning pleasure, Adam recalled his recent daydreams about Ronan’s hands on his thigh as he worked his way up Adam’s body. Ronan’s hands could force his thighs apart, and shit, Adam refused to pop a boner while eating gelato.  

It was a near thing.

Ronan dropped his hand as if burned, but Adam was already waving him away, his cheeks red. “It’s fine. I got it,” he said as he snatched the napkins from Ronan’s hand to dab at the stain on his jeans. The flush got worse when Adam’s fingers made contact with Ronan’s.

The touch lasted half a second more than was necessary, and Adam didn’t care to analyze whose fault it was.

“Fine, deal with it yourself,” Ronan said, his voice gruff, but he had already turned back to the table, ignoring Adam completely.

“Parrish, are you alright?” said Gansey. His eyes traveled slowly between Ronan and Adam. Sometimes, Adam wondered if Gansey simply knew Adam better than Adam could admit, or if a glaring sign over Adam’s head announced his complete lack of cool when it came to Ronan Lynch.

“It’s nothing. Just a stain.” A brown stain that would be hell to wash out of his best pair of jeans, but Gansey wouldn’t understand. Worse, he’d try to understand and only draw attention to Adam’s limitations. A pair of $30 jeans from an outlet required careful budget rearrangements and an influx of disposable income he didn’t have.

Blue eyed Gansey’s loud yellow polo. “Hey, maybe you should spill ice cream on yourself. It would probably make that shirt easier to look at. 

Gansey patted her on the head, and to no one’s surprise, Blue kicked him under the table.

ii. 

As Noah prepared to start on his fourth cup of gelato, Maura called Blue by way of Gansey’s iPhone to tell her that Maura was sorry, but it seemed that Gwenllian’s animosity towards Artemus was reaching an all-time high, and it would only get worse with Blue there, so could she please spend the night with the boys until Maura smoothed it over.

When she ended the call, Blue pressed her face into her hands. “I’ve said less than ten words to him, and my dad’s already messing up my life. I didn’t think it’d be rainbows and flowers, but I never expected my father to be like – “ Blue shook her head.

Adam knew all about fathers whose only job was to disappoint their kids.

When Noah saw Blue’s shoulders droop, he nudged her with his elbow. “This is great! Sleepover!”

A normal sleepover apparently required a shitload of blankets and foresight, as well as detailed plans on how to construct a blanket fort. They’d dragged the blue sheets off Gansey’s bed, and had liberated a spare blanket from the closet. The quilt Blue had brought from home topped off their fort. Blue must have made it herself – it contained patches of such clashing colors that no one else could’ve had a hand in it except Gansey, and Adam seriously doubted Gansey’s ability with a needle and thread. The quilt boasted burnt orange patches next to deep purples next to a pattern of repeating diamonds that hurt Adam’s eyes the longer he looked at it.  

After an hour of failed attempts, they’d managed to stretch the blankets across two chairs. Gansey weighed them down with a stack of his books – tomes on Welsh history, dictionaries, old issues of The Economist, even a couple of Sports Illustrated swimsuit editions, which made Blue purse her lips and Ronan cackle.

Adam had caught Ronan idly flipping through one of them, his face twisted in mild horror. When he noticed Adam watching, he threw the magazine back on the couch dismissively.  

No one had asked for Ronan’s blankets. It was a miracle he was still here at all, and the sneer he had worn through the entire construction of their fort was more appropriate to being subjected to psychological torture. 

Blue grabbed a couple of couch cushions to throw under the lifted blankets. Adam barely had enough room to cram himself next to Gansey, and his knees knocked against Blue’s at the slightest movement.

They were a tangle of arms and legs, only held together by the mutual understand that, yes, this probably made the top ten most pointless things they’d done together, but no, they wouldn’t rule out getting caught in each other like this again.

“Are you coming in?” Blue asked Ronan, who still stood by the TV with his arms crossed over his chest. “What are you so afraid of? Cooties?”

“Actually, maggot. Yeah.” Ronan squeezed himself next to Adam instead. Adam wondered if he would have to add this to the list of things they would never talk about. He pointed a bag of popcorn at Ronan, but only received a grunt in response, which Adam took to mean Ronan was still resisting the powers of blanket fort friendship.

“We should’ve brought fairly lights,” Gansey said, looking up. For all of his smartly pressed shirts and khakis, Gansey could be as fanciful as Blue. They all were – just enough to believe that magic could coexist with the incessant droning of everyday life, and even enough to find magic where it didn’t exist.

Ronan just snorted at Gansey’s easy smile, but even he’d begun to settle into the pillow at his back.

Noah pulled one of Ronan’s empty beer bottles from behind him and shooed at the rest of them until they pulled their knees close enough to their chests to make enough space in the center.

“I’m not kissing anyone,” Blue was quick to say.

“No one’s kissing anyone. Today, anyway. Remember, you all know where I live.” Noah winked dramatically, an action that would have looked lecherous from anyone else but from Noah was only mildly vexing and oddly charming.

“We’re playing Truth or Dare,” Noah said, spinning the bottle before anyone could protest. Ronan gave a dramatic roll of his eyes, but maybe the blanket fort had addled his brain too, because his disapproval stopped at that.

To be fair, they did play for a full five minutes. Gansey had even dared Ronan to perform one of his Irish jigs for their viewing pleasure, but Ronan flipped him off so adamantly that the subject hadn’t been visited since then. The game had since derailed into blatant interrogation under the guise of Truth or Truth.

So far, Adam had learned that Noah’s first kiss had been a drunken make-out when he was thirteen, Gansey had only ever dated tall blondes, and Blue had, in fact, drank her milk – her height, or lack thereof, could only be attributed to a mixture of bad luck and faulty genes, thank you very much.

When the bottle landed on Adam, he felt a strange sort of resignation. Adam Parrish was a barrel of secrets – revealing one more wouldn’t make a difference. Maybe he even wanted to.

Blue tapped her chin, and her gaze was more searching than he was comfortable with. “Who was your first crush?”

Adam hesitated. From his spot next to Adam, Ronan grinned grotesquely. “Yeah, Parrish,” Ronan said, kicking Adam’s foot, “which lucky girl was it?”

The pronoun – the easy assumption of it – caught at something inside Adam, made his breath go shallow.

Finally, he said, “It was Daphne from Scooby-Doo. I liked her hair.”

Adam barely heard Gansey announce that he’d personally liked Velma more – no surprise there. Ronan’s comment had snatched at the beginnings of a secret, the whisper of something Adam had never needed to put a name to. Not when he meticulously cut out glossy pictures of a male model for easy access in his glove compartment. Not when he watched Attack of the Clones and discovered he wouldn’t mind experiencing the Force with both Padme and Anakin. Not when he began to notice Declan’s tight face when he saw Adam and Ronan together, how it reminded him of the way his father had glowered the first time he’d caught Adam staring at a boy a second too long.  

Adam hadn’t even thought about it the first time he met Blue. As awkward as their first meeting was, Adam had fallen for her with all the elegance of a first real crush. Totally and completely but without any sort of caution. Relief had flooded his system when he discovered that she liked him back. The novelty of it had overwhelmed him to the point where he hadn’t stopped to consider why it mattered that the first person to reciprocate his feelings was a girl and not a boy.

“No one, okay? I haven’t kissed anyone.”

Ronan’s muscles were tense, every one pulled tight as he stared Blue down. Adam hadn’t heard the question asked, but he hadn’t expected this answer. Someone like Ronan, even with his sharp edges, should never want for interest. It didn’t make sense. 

Out of the corner of his eye, Adam could see Ronan gauging his reaction. It made his head hurt, his skin itch. The new knowledge only intensified Ronan’s lingering eyes, made Adam more ashamed for coveting them. Adam wanted Ronan’s attention too much to be deserving of it. He needed Ronan to look away.  

Around midnight, Gansey delegated Adam and Blue to hot chocolate-making as he set up a game of Monopoly.

Blue cuffed him in the back of the head as she left. “It’s only fitting that you’re the banker, Gansey. You’d be great at perpetuating capitalism. Your mom’s a Republican.”

“I’m not giving you any of your 500’s,” Gansey said cheerfully.

“You wouldn’t do that.”

They all knew it to be true. Gansey didn’t have an ounce of unfairness in him.

Ten minutes later, as they waited for the water to boil, Blue asked Adam, “Who was the first boy you liked?"

Maybe his friends had known his secret long before he even became aware of its existence. The knowledge of it settled inside his gut.

Adam felt himself smile. “Draco Malfoy.” 

Blue made a face. “You and a million other fangirls. Was it the hair?”

Adam just dumped a spoonful of marshmallows into her mug.

iii. 

“Isn’t it beautiful?” Noah’s voice wavered, and he clutched his hands to his heart dramatically.

That morning, Noah had appeared in Adam’s apartment to inform him of a very important meeting of the Glendower Finders Club happening at 3 PM after school. Whatever this was, it had nothing to do with Glendower, or dead kings at all, or even Gansey, who remained blissfully oblivious.

Ronan and Noah had built a wooden ramp in the middle of the Monmouth Manufacturing parking lot with an old plank they’d found on the first floor supported by three bright orange traffic cones. They’d at least weighed down the end of the ramp touching the ground with two of Ronan’s weights. The entire contraption looked like it could break down at a particularly mean-spirited gust of wind. A small trampoline stood four feet away, with two Razor scooters stacked against it. A line of black tape about a Blue-sized length from the end of the ramp indicated a starting point.

Adam had never gotten along with physics – too many numbers with too little direct practical value – but he wished he’d paid attention in AP Physics last year, or at least remembered which angles and velocity would spell out instant projectile death.  

Noah’s eyes grew misty. “Our best work so far.”

“So far” was crucial. Noah and Ronan would come up with a thousand more stunts like this, a thousand more ways for someone to break their neck and die. What would Adam even say at Ronan’s funeral?

He was my friend, except when he was an asshole. No, that’s a lie. He was always an asshole, but sometimes it mattered less, and sometimes it mattered so much it just made me want him more.

Adam hated the uncertainty that straddled the middle ground between wanting something he shouldn't have, and having something he shouldn't want.

Chances were, Adam’s shitty ass speech would be a moot point anyway. Ronan would drag Adam on whatever death-defying stunt struck his fancy, and when they both turned out not to be so young and invincible after all, they’d die together with the full awareness of their own pesky mortality.

The first time Ronan had dragged Adam behind his BMW in a dolly, blasting music purposely chosen to offend as many faint-hearted southerners as possible, Adam had thought of himself as a stand-in for Gansey. Someone more willing to go along with Ronan’s reckless stunts but nonetheless a poor substitute for the friend he actually liked. Adam wasn’t so sure anymore.

“This is a terrible idea,” Adam said when Ronan strode over from where he’d been adjusting the cones. All of it was a disaster in the making – the wind blasting through the thin cotton of his hoodie, his tired muscles screaming at him to give them a break, Ronan’s smile, just this side of savage, threatening to split his face in half. With that smile aimed at him, Adam could exist as a series of spontaneous, impossible stunts, instead of one impossible, messy whole.

Ronan stretched his arms over his head, working out the kinks in his shoulders. The fluid move wasn’t quite beautiful the way Adam was used to. Beautiful was burnt orange sunsets over a hill, the rightness of the ley line readjusting when he fixed a frayed connection, his mother’s hand stroking his hair after his father beat him, when he still thought she gave a shit.

Ronan was all suppressed power, rage temporarily tamed into short bursts of dangerous spontaneity. “That’s why we’re doing it, Parrish.”

Maybe Ronan had tested this terrible idea against himself and found it wanting. Ronan Lynch himself would always be a worse idea – a ticking time bomb in the body of a boy who didn’t look like he could be anything but. 

Noah framed their makeshift obstacle course with his fingers. “Remember this day, boys. Today is the day we make history.” His voice turned solemn. “I’ll take one for the team. I’ll go first.”

“You’re already dead. What does it matter?” Ronan scoffed.

Noah punched Ronan in the arm. “It matters to me.”

Noah marched over to the scooters and picked one for himself, wheeling it over to the starting line. He sent Ronan and Adam a jaunty wave before boarding it. A kick of his Converse-clad foot sent him rolling towards the ramp, and he only picked up momentum with each slap of his foot against the concrete.

Adam braced himself for Noah’s impact against the pavement, but Noah bounced against the trampoline harmlessly, laughing as he went. His scooter skidded on the ground where he’d dropped it mid-jump.

He cupped his hands around his mouth. “Get over here!” he yelled as he bounced on his ass. “It’s very relaxing.”

“Relaxing” must have more than one definition, and Adam wasn’t acquainted with Noah’s.

Ronan nodded over to the scooter still leaning against the trampoline. “After you.”

“No fucking way. If I die, you die too. We’re doing this together or not at all.”

Ronan shrugged, but Adam thought he could detect a quirk of the lips as he sauntered over to the scooter Noah had dropped. “You chickening out, Parrish?” he called out when Adam still didn’t follow him.

“I never chickened in,” Adam grumbled, but claimed the other scooter anyway, just like Ronan knew he would. For two people who could predict each other’s potentially disastrous decisions so well, they should really function better.

Ronan managed to reach the edge of the ramp first even though they’d started together. He let out a string of curses as he leapt into the air. All Adam managed to accomplish in the split second he stayed suspended in midair was letting go of the scooter’s handlebars. 

Adam’s face smashed against the trampoline first, the impact threatening to squash his nose into a fleshy blob. As he bounced against the elastic, his heart bounced with him. Action and reaction. Newton’s third law gone rogue to conspire against his better judgment. Ronan let out a whoop of joy, throwing his fists at the sky. Adam’s heart bounced more. 

When the trampoline finished its work on them, Ronan laid against its surface, staring up at the sky. He stretched his limbs out flat against the trampoline, an earthly angel facing off against the sun.

Ronan took up so much space that Adam only blinked at him uncomprehendingly when he said, “Lie the fuck down.”

“What?”

“There’s plenty of room.” Ronan crossed an arm over his chest to make space. “See?”

His shirt had slid up to reveal a good two inches of his stomach. Adam didn’t know what Ronan expected him to see when his fucking skin was there to distract Adam. A part of his brain idly wondered if Ronan would ever buy jeans that fit right on his hips. That small, detached part had nothing on the part that screamed at Adam to touch.

Adam gingerly settled his back against the canvas sheet, not daring to move too abruptly in case he brushed against Ronan. He pulled his arms tight against his side.

“What am I supposed to be doing?” His hands itched to move. He clenched them into fists instead.

Ronan crossed his arms behind his head. “Parrish, stop thinking for a minute and just stare at the goddamn clouds. Hell, that one looks like Greenmantle’s face. It’s a fucking miracle. Art come to life.”  

Later, Adam would wonder where Noah had gone off too, if he’d disappeared accidentally or had just tapped into his inner matchmaker. He’d wonder if Ronan could tell that his palms were covered with sweat, both from the physical exertion earlier and from the lack of it now. He’d wonder when he’d realized that his hypothetical desire to kiss boys in general was more like a very real need to kiss Ronan Lynch in particular.

But for the moment, Adam relaxed and stared at the goddamn clouds.

iv. 

“If you were a zombie, who would you eat first – Blue or Noah?” Ronan said. Ronan had picked Adam up after work that day, and they’d driven to the Barns to spend the night. Under the dim fluorescent light of the office, Ronan looked even paler than he usually did, too washed-out for someone so alive. The ridges of his face hinted at something otherworldly, and Adam couldn’t stop staring. 

Adam leaned back in his chair. “I thought we were keeping this game realistic. I could never eat Blue. She’d cut off my head before I ever got to her.”

In the past few months, Ronan had added his own touches to his father’s old office. Posters of an electronic band Adam didn’t recognize, empty beer cans, Kit-Kat wrappers. But the most surprising addition only came that day, an old couch that Ronan had shoved into a corner of the room. At first glance, the couch seemed to fit in well among the dust. It sat there, old and faded with a hole in the cushion. 

“Try it,” Ronan had said when they first entered the room. He was as casual as Gansey was about Glendower, as Blue was about Chobani Greek yogurt.  

Adam sat down carefully, but as soon as his body hit the cushion, his limbs went slack. The chair was heated, but no, that wasn’t all. The couch enclosed Adam in an atmosphere of home, of belonging, of being found before he realized he was lost. A dream piece of home to fit in the place Ronan felt most at home. 

Adam had immediately gotten back to his feet, shaking himself off to jolt back to reality. Ronan still stared at him, his face devoid of emotion, so much so that Adam would have to be an idiot to believe him.

“You could’ve at least fixed the holes,” Adam had said.

 Ronan waved him off as he headed for the other, less magical chair. “It’s yours for the night.”

I can’t, Adam would have said a month ago, when he’d thought himself an enigma too complicated for Ronan to figure out. It’s yours.

“Thanks,” Adam said instead. He was an unlearned novice in the art of self-esteem, but he had to start somewhere. Adam was an enigma, but a solvable one, and maybe it was time to give someone the decryption key.

With a careless glance at the clock – it was almost midnight – Ronan had decreed that they were to leave the animals until the next morning. Ronan had apparently gotten a chicken to turn its head, but that wouldn’t animate a brother and mother.

Adam gratefully accepted the offer of sleep. He’d picked up an extra shift at Boyd’s, and a packet-length Calculus problem set still sat on his desk at home, waiting to be finished this weekend. Now, though, Adam doubted his brain knew the meaning of sleep. He should’ve known better, thinking he could simply sleep when Ronan was right across the room, half-asleep but still coherent enough to mumble his way through a conversation. Adam’s skin buzzed with the closeness of him. He focused on the ceiling instead.

The Barns at night was different somehow. Not exactly weightier than the nights Ronan crashed on Adam’s floor or Adam slept over at Monmouth. But Ronan belonged here, the way he’d never fit comfortably anywhere else. He hadn’t just claimed this sprawling house as his home – it too had claimed him as the keeper of its secrets. The long-empty space demanded to be filled with personhood, and Adam was melting into the lethargic feel of 2 AM.

“Would you rather be pecked to death by a flock of ravens or listen to Welsh history narrated by a million Ganseys? Until you die,” Ronan added, after a moment’s consideration. 

“Can the world even hold more than one Gansey? Their combined nerdiness would be like,” Adam crashed his hand against the back of his own chair, complete with dying airplane sounds, “total death and destruction for all of us.”

“They would buy out the world supply of ugly polos.”

“What a shame. How will every other politician’s son survive.”

“Are you dressing like that when you get rich and famous too?”

“Hell, I hope not.” With a start, Adam realized that his Henrietta accent had slid out – no, that he’d been using the telltale drawl the whole time and hadn’t noticed. How many times had he gotten lazy around Ronan?

How many more times could he slip up before he finally acted on the reason why?

“I had a crush on him, you know. Gansey, I mean.” Adam’s heart beat too quickly for his chest to contain, and the sound vibrated in his ears, threatening to knock him out. “Before I ever met him. I didn’t even realize.”

He was beautiful in an untouchable way, and you were beautiful in a dangerous way, and maybe I’d noticed the wrong boy.

Adam’s confession was met with silence from the other side of the room. Only the sound of Ronan’s heavy breathing hung in the air. Then, just as Adam almost gave up on Ronan ever responding, Ronan said, carefully, “I don’t blame you, man. Gansey’s pretty hot.”

Adam’s chuckle rattled in his lungs. “Even in his nerd glasses.”

“Especially in his nerd glasses.”

Suddenly, a thought occurred to Adam, and he readjusted himself to face Ronan. “Did you ever like Gansey?”

“Me?” said Ronan, as if the idea had never crossed his mind at all. Ronan dealt in absolutes, had a box ready for everyone he met. Once he decided which one they fit, he hardly ever changed his opinion. He’d probably never thought of Gansey as anything but his best friend, his brother in spite of their odd friendship, or perhaps because of it. Ronan stretched out as much as he could on the chair. “Not really my type. He’d probably wear Crocs if he wasn't afraid of public shaming.”

Adam had never felt the urge to wear Crocs.

Adam was suddenly too aware that the couch had mussed his hair into a bird’s nest. Perfect for Chainsaw, maybe. Less so when he had Ronan’s appraising eyes regarding him as an unknown, as a possibility. He hadn’t bothered with his clothes at work. Gasoline would inevitably stain his shirt. The dark patch niggled at his mind as much as any fray on his Aglionby sweater would have. Ronan, meanwhile, wore his tank top and ripped jeans with elegance, daring anyone to question the right to make his brand of casual disrespect the newest fashion statement.   

There were miles between them.

“Would you rather: Channing Tatum or Zac Efron?” Ronan asked, leaning on the arm of his chair to look at Adam expectantly. It was an offering.

There were miles between then, but maybe they could bridge the gap.

Adam’s smile was a quiet, personal thing. “Channing Tatum looks like a rectangle that decided it wanted to go three-dimensional. I pick Zac Efron, but I swear, if Noah finds out, he’ll play High School Musical non-stop, and I don’t think any of us are ready for that.”

v. 

Ronan found Adam on his apartment floor with his cracked Lenovo in his lap. He had the Common App pulled up, but his fingers refused to obey him. His answer sat in his head, complete but untouched. He’d be a great fucking addition to the Harvard University class of 2020, and here were the reasons why, starting with his less than spectacular background all the way to his scholarship at Aglionby and his three jobs and everything else that made Adam Parrish a very exhausted model candidate.

Adam didn’t feel like a future Harvard student in this shitty apartment, with its creaky floors and cramped spaces. He felt more like Adam Parrish, lifelong resident of Henrietta, playing dress-up with a disguise too big for his body. Once a pretender, always a pretender.

“Gansey said you didn’t look great when you left school,” Ronan said from the doorway. His gaze was steady.

“And he told you?

“Figured if anyone could bully the answer out of you, it was me.” 

Right then, Adam wanted to yell at Ronan to stop treating him with kid gloves, to stop lingering in his doorway like he didn’t know him at all, like they hadn’t both bared their souls to each other. “Are you coming in, or are you just standing there to talk at me? There are self-help books for that.”

Ronan shut the door behind him and sat on the bed. He hissed when he noticed Adam’s bloody knuckles.

“What the hell happened?”

Holding his right hand to his chest, Adam said, “I fought the floor. The floor didn’t like it. Turns out floors are more stubborn than fists.”

He’d pulled back his punch before his fist could make full impact, but he hadn’t managed to avoid that particularly rough patch near his sweater bin. Adam should’ve sanded it down before he forgot that self-destruction would always find its way to him.

Ronan swore as he rifled through Adam’s first-aid box for tweezers. When he came back, he cradled Adam’s injured hand with surprising care and began to attack each splinter as if it had personally offended him. Adam felt a twinge every time Ronan yanked too hard. He filed it away in the part of his brain he reserved for pain.

“What do you have against floors?” Ronan said when he finally finished cleaning up Adam’s wounds with alcohol and wiped away the blood. He pulled the bandage tight.

Adam clenched his teeth and nodded to his cardboard nightstand. On it sat the English paper he’d received in seventh period that day. “Perversion of Victorian Norms in Dracula.” A messy “72” was scrawled over the top of it. Right then, that particular shade of red was the funniest thing in the world. Blood red. Dracula red. Fucking perfect.

“You got mad over a shitty grade?” Ronan asked slowly, like he couldn’t even dream up a situation where he’d understand this absurdity. “Have you seen my Chem tests?”

Adam gritted his teeth. “It’s not just that.” He shoved his laptop at Ronan. “Look at this. How the hell am I supposed to explain how my extracurriculars influenced my life goals? I don’t think ‘professional magician’ or ‘dead king seeker’ is what Harvard is looking for.”

He let out a desperate laugh. This was all so useless. Who was he kidding? Trailer trash was still trailer trash when it suited up to please the people who truly mattered. Ronan would understand the anger simmering in his chest. A dreamer was still a dreamer when forced to adhere to the irritating limitations of reality. How did Ronan pretend? How had Adam pretended this long?

“I talked to my mom today. She needed money. I gave it to her.” Adam pulled his knees to his chest and blinked rapidly. Once. Twice. He would not cry in front of Ronan. “Why the hell did I do that?” 

Ronan didn’t touch him. He barely moved. Adam should know by now not to look for answers in anyone but himself, but he had never claimed to be wise.

He was a wire pulled taut, a boy held up by strings who would collapse at the slightest tug.  “Look at me, Lynch. Tell me the truth. Am I ever gonna get out of here?”

Here meant Henrietta, the anger that sat in his genes waiting for the right moment to rear its ugly head, the constant exhaustion that dragged down his bones.

Adam had visualized escape before too many times to count. It got him through long nights of work, followed by longer nights conjugating verbs in a useless language. He’d sit in an office somewhere with his name on the plate in front of him, wearing a dark suit that fit all the right nooks and crannies of his body. The closer he came to that future, the further away it seemed.

Ronan said, flatly, “Tell Harvard that you don’t think your learning can happen in the classroom, or even through school-sanctioned organizations. Knowledge has to be sought out on your own terms. Your interest in the local history of Henrietta has given you a unique perspective on class systems. Maybe even throw in some bullshit about how the environment can influence poverty.  I don’t know. You’re the one who’s good at the whole school shit.”

Adam blinked. His only response was, “Why haven’t you told me you’ve been hanging out with Blue?”

Ronan didn’t bother answering that. Instead, he jabbed a finger into Adam’s chest, grounding him in this moment, this time, this particular argument between a wretched thing and a boy who could turn wretches into beauty. His face was only inches from Adam’s.

“Who gives a shit about your grade? It’s senior year. No one’s taking away your scholarship. Now, you’re going to bullshit your way through these college applications because you’ve been working your ass off for years, God knows why, and Harvard will love you, because who the hell doesn’t love you, and – “

Adam kissed him then, using the last dregs of anger-fueled adrenaline to create something much more fragile. Ronan didn’t have Adam’s answers, but maybe he could make Adam see them in himself. Adam’s lips pressed against Ronan’s without any sort of agility. It took a moment for Ronan to respond, his lips tentative as they tried to match Adam’s. He’d apologize to Ronan for a shitty first kiss later, if there was a later. Adam heard a gasp – a wet, heavy sound layered with desperation, and he realized it had come from him. When he felt his muscles go weak, he clutched at Ronan’s shoulders, his only lifeline in a sea of longing.

Adam pulled away before he embarrassed himself. He looked at the floor, his face heating. “Shit. I didn’t mean to do that.”

Ronan stroked Adam’s jawline with all his usual gruffness before holding two fingers to his pulse. Adam had only ever seen traces of this side of him in the way Ronan looked at him, sometimes, before he looked away. He wasn’t looking away anymore.

Ronan whistled when he felt Adam’s pulse race. “Jesus Christ, Parrish, it doesn’t take much to get you going, does it?”

He took Adam’s hand and held it against his throat. His pulse rivaled Adam’s.

Adam buried his face in Ronan’s neck. The scent of him was all sweat and detergent. “I knew. That you liked me. I think some wires got crossed when you learned the meaning of subtlety.”

Ronan locked his hands together behind Adam’s back. Adam could feel the heat of Ronan’s hands through his shirt, warm and real. Ronan held him with intensity – not like something fragile but rather as someone strong, unyielding. In the safety of Ronan’s embrace, Adam could be that person. 

“I know how to keep a secret. I wanted you to fucking know. Wanted to see how you’d react,” Ronan said.

“What’s the verdict?”

The beginnings of a laugh rumbled through Ronan’s chest. “I can’t tell yet.”

Adam pulled his face away from Ronan’s shoulder to kiss him again, drawing it out nice and slow so he could taste all of him – the magic, the urgency, the rightness of him. Ronan let out a moan as Adam crawled into his lap in a desperate attempt to get closer, closer. He mouthed at Ronan as if he could pull the desire from Ronan’s body and pour it into his own.

Adam braced himself on the hard lines of Ronan’s biceps. His jeans suddenly felt tight, and he unthinkingly pressed a knee between Ronan’s legs. Ronan surged up to kiss Adam harder, grinding against Adam’s leg.

Adam pulled back, panting. He swallowed. “What’s the verdict now?”

“Slightly positive. And I’m not that easy,” Ronan panted. Adam raised an eyebrow, like, I’m sure that thing in your pants wasn’t a fucking wand. “Okay, I’m pretty easy. But I won’t put out until the third date, at least. You’ll have to court me first.”

The sight of Ronan being courted like in a fairytale, complete with flowers and knight in shining armor, would be something to behold. The idea of Adam as the knight – as if he could be anyone’s salvation – frightened him.

He’s not looking for the answer to his problems, Adam reminded himself. He just wants you.

“I will let you kiss me again though,” said Ronan, so prim that he sounded positively lecherous. 

+1

Ronan allowed Adam to press his back against his scratchy sheets. Adam held himself on all fours above him, cataloguing the way Ronan’s eyes widened like he was discovering something strange, something amazing. Ronan reached out to pull Adam’s head back down, but Adam grabbed his wrist and held it against the sheets above his head.

Adam pecked his cheekbone lightly. “I’m afraid I won’t be what you expected.”

A kiss aimed at his bottom lip. “I jerk off when I think about sucking you.”

Then finally, a slow, drawn-out kiss that involved Adam sucking and biting seemingly all at once. All Ronan could do was use his free hand to grab at Adam’s ass. He dragged Adam’s hips against his so Adam could feel the hardness there, and Adam trembled in his arms. He barely managed to breathe out, “You’re actually hotter than Gansey.”

Ronan’s answering grin was smug. “Now you’re just trying to flatter me.”

Ronan turned serious again as he brushed a sweaty strand of Adam’s hair behind his ear. He said, so softly that Adam almost didn’t catch it, “I’m afraid of you leaving, but I’m more afraid of you staying.” 

Well, Adam was here to stay. Ronan would just have to deal with it.

“I really like you. Really, really like.” Adam said. He needed Ronan to know suddenly, needed to hear it as confirmation in his own ears. Somewhere along the line, the reluctant magician had fallen in love with a boy who had magic flowing in his blood.

Ronan kissed the top of his head. “You have shitty taste. I’ll take it.”