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How Lancelet and Guinevere Slew the Dragon

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When Gansey wasn’t reading about Glendower, he was often reading about Arthur.

“Do thou thy worst,” he ordered, brandishing a wooden spoon before him terrifyingly, as if it were a foil. “I defy thee.”

“It is a dirty pint Gansey,” Adam told him tiredly. “Not Gettysburg.”

The truth was, after a hard days’ researching British mythology and folklore, as encouraged by the latest near shipment of books deposited by a sweating, fuming delivery man on the door of Monmouth, and topped off by an evening of most enthusiastic merriment, it was more than difficult for Gansey to tell the difference. Adam found that despite his usual aversion to drinking, he didn’t mind. Gansey drunk, he suspected more so on the cheer of present company, goodwill to all men and the proximity of Blue’s bare knee to his than on the actual alcohol, was a decidedly more pleasant and endlessly more amusing creature than any he had yet witnessed intoxicated.

“Gettysburg,” said Ronan mockingly, taking great pains to parody his accent. “It’s called Camlann, hick.”

Gansey toasted Ronan before lifting the plastic cup to his nose, sniffed and grimaced. Adam didn’t blame him. He could smell the vegetable soup, mixed with the clinical pierce of vodka, from where he sat opposite him in the circle.

“If I drink this I might die,” Gansey said, quite sensibly.

“It is better that we slay a coward, than through a coward all we to be slain,” quipped Ronan.

Gansey released a “Ha!” of delight and, as if spurned on by the sheer joy of Ronan’s memory, knocked back the entire cup, finishing it off in one gulp.

Cheers and applause erupted round the circle as Gansey gagged and Blue thumped him aggressively on the back. Adam wondered idly if that would do him much good, medically speaking, but then he saw how Gansey’s eyes seemed to brighten at the contact, his cheeks flushing very slightly as he accepted the glass of water Noah offered him, and thought that maybe there were some benefits, psychologically at least.

Ronan was smiling, a wicked, slithering thing, pointed and sharp as a snake’s. His eyes glittered with black amusement as he lifted a beer bottle to his lips. His other arm was pressed against Adam’s, as was his knee. It was a spacious circle, lots of gaps and yet they were sitting very close together. Nobody said anything about this. Adam wondered if they’d noticed.

“For I have promised to do the battle to the utmost,” said Gansey, sticking out his tongue as if by doing so would get rid of the aftertaste.

“Will you two please get a room?” Blue demanded, raising an eyebrow. “You’re making me feel sick.”

Inwardly, Adam clapped in approval. The applause was short-lived however as Ronan’s snake-like grin widened and Gansey clinked glasses with him, saying “Here’s to you, Lance” and Adam suppressed the urge to grab a shot glass for himself.

Blue rolled her eyes dramatically and mimed impaling herself on Gansey’s spoon. Noah’s laugh was high and joyful but all Adam could manage was a weak sort of smile. He felt Ronan’s eyes flash upon him and that whole side of his body, the side that could feel the warmth of Ronan through his designer jeans and cashmere sweater, tensed automatically.

Persuaded by the combined encouragement of Blue and Noah, who assured him it was empirically proven that the effects of a dirty pint could only be countered by the downing of another, Gansey lifted his beer glass to his lips and swallowed it to their bellowed count-down. Chainsaw cackled in the background and Ronan watched silently, fingers absently stroking the neck of his own bottle. He had only had one, and wasn’t planning on having another. This was because he was taking Adam home.

Earlier that day, Adam had called him at the garage. “So guess what.”

Contrary to habit, Ronan had picked up. Adam could only assume that this was by accident. “What?”

“My car is broken.”

Ronan’s swear was savage and gleeful. “What’s wrong with it?”

“Fan belt’s gone. Boyd said it’ll take a day to replace, at least.”

He heard rather than saw Ronan’s smile. “Have you tried fixing it with a pair of tights?”

Adam released a huff of impatience, driving his foot into the dirt and raising a little cloud into the air. “Funnily enough, I left my tights at home.”

“I could lend you mine.”

He felt the grin crawl, unbidden, into his cheeks. “Then what would you wear to Gansey’s?”

“I’ll improvise,” Ronan replied automatically. “My wardrobe is very extensive.”

“Any colour as long as it’s black?”

“Did I say extensive? I meant expensive.”

Adam rolled his eyes, still grinning. “Whatever,” he said. “Tell Gansey I can’t make it, will you?”

There was a long pause on the other end of the line, filled by Adam scuffing his sole deeper into the dirt. Finally Ronan’s voice came sharply, the words rolling into one another. “Why shouldn’t you be able to make it? Gansey will give you a lift after his function.”

Neither of them mentioned what they both were thinking, that Adam couldn’t take his bike. Two days before they had found it, wrangled into a pretzel-like knot with the handles sticking out like the antlers of a mutilated deer. Ronan had gone off like a hand grenade, spitting and swearing and making violent threats at everyone from Tad Carruthers to the school principle. Adam had left him to it. He didn’t know who had done it, but in any case the knowledge was trivial. Any personal hurt he might have felt was vastly outweighed by the numbing burden of how much it would cost to replace it.

“I have work early in the morning,” Adam told Ronan. He hesitated before adding, “And Gansey will be drinking.”

Another pause, briefer. “So I’ll take you back,” said Ronan.

Adam drew in his breath sharply. He knew, as did Ronan, that when he’d said “Gansey will be drinking” what he had really meant was “You will be drinking”. He struggled at how exactly he was going to make this point now, when he had considered it a given. “But-”

“-It’s fine,” Ronan cut across him harshly. “I’ll just start when I get back. Early or late, makes no difference, right?”

It was difficult to tell over the phone whether there was a note of bitterness in his voice. Doubly so as this was a contentious topic between them; Adam, who did not drink, and Ronan, who considered an empty bottle a waste of space. Usually, Adam had no problem being around other people when they were drinking. But Ronan…well. His relationship with Ronan was complicated enough when he was sober.

“Are you sure?” asked Adam quickly. “I don’t want you to go out of your way, or anything.”

During this silence, he held his breath. On the other end of the phone he felt he could see Ronan, the heavy rise and fall of his chest as he flicked through his mind for a response that wasn’t unnecessarily full of poison. “It’s fine,” he said again at last, sounding only vaguely irritable. “Just get your ass there, Parrish.”

Against his better judgement, Adam smiled again. “You gonna be bored without me?”

Ronan swore and hung up. Shaking his head in exasperation that bordered on fond, Adam weighed up the odds of Ronan actually managing to stay sober enough throughout the entire evening to take him home.

Once again, he was astonished by the sheer ability of Ronan, when he put his mind to something. He didn’t touch a drop throughout Blue’s insisted round of board-gaming, nor either through Noah’s rendition of several various Kate Bush songs. When finally, after his fifth shot Gansey began snoring softly into Blue’s lap, Ronan got to his feet, tossing his car keys in his hand and jerked his head at Adam.

“Come on Parrish,” he said. “It’s past your curfew.”

Adam yawned, said goodnight to Blue who nodded unseeingly at him before resuming the stroking of Gansey’s hair, and turned to wave at Noah who had vanished. Then he and Ronan departed silently from Monmouth. Ronan climbed into the BMW and Adam followed suit. Ronan started the car.

They didn’t talk on the way back. Ronan kept his eyes fixed on the road and Adam leant back against the head rest, his own eyes watching Ronan, the sliver of him he could see in the dark, his pale blue eyes flickering to the rear view mirrors, his knuckles white on the leather of the wheel. The watery light of the streetlamps bled into his skin, breaking up the shadows. Adam took a deep, shuddering breath and looked out the window.

They drew up outside St Agnes; Adam scrambled out the car and Ronan copied him, following him up the stairs to his apartment as he always did by unspoken agreement between them. Once inside however he hovered by the door, leaning against the frame with his thumbs tucked nonchalantly into his pockets, like a vampire waiting for an invitation.

Adam stood in front of him, somewhat awkwardly. They never knew how to proceed from here, what the rules were. Ronan always came upstairs with Adam, but whether he said goodnight was very much dependent on a number of unpredictable factors. “Thanks,” he said at last.

“No problem,” shrugged Ronan.

He didn’t leave but remained standing expectantly, as if waiting for Adam to say something that would give him a reason to stay or go. Adam didn’t know what he wanted (that was a lie, he certainly did) but Ronan’s pale blue eyes were blinking at him, uncommonly long, dark eyelashes fluttering against the white of his cheek and it felt like a test.

“Do you want to come in?” Adam offered, reluctantly.

Ronan shrugged again but he stepped off the threshold, shrugging his leather jacket off his shoulder. Adam sighed and crossed over to his desk while Ronan slumped onto the corner of the floor next to his bed. Unlike Gansey’s, which Ronan claimed in the same way that he claimed everything of Gansey’s as an extension of himself, Adam’s bed was off limits to Ronan. This was by his own conclusion, rather than anything Adam himself had said or encouraged. Adam had asked many times whether Ronan wouldn’t be more comfortable on something that wasn’t hard and full of splinters; Ronan had just given him a withering look and made a quip about bed bugs.

Adam opened a Latin textbook, twirling a pen between his fingers. He sensed Ronan’s eyes narrow on the back of his head.

“Are you studying now?” he demanded.

Adam glanced at his watch. It read 12:48. He looked at the Latin words in front of him and saw that they were wriggling across the page, like blurry caterpillars. “No,” he sighed.

Ronan looked smug as Adam closed the textbook and turned round to face him. They held each other’s gaze, Ronan’s searching and expectant as it had been when he’d stood by the door. After a while he looked away and withdrew his attentions to his hands instead.

“What are you doing tomorrow?” he asked. “After work.”

Adam lifted one thin shoulder. “Studying, probably,” he replied. He had two papers and an English test due on Monday. Which meant that Ronan also had an English test on Monday, but apparently this had slipped his mind. “Why?”

“Gansey’s in Washington,” Ronan replied. “Thought maybe you’d wanna hang out.”

The offer of Ronan’s time was a thing rarely given, especially directly. Often, Ronan would show up at the garage or the factory when Adam was just finishing up and would generally make a nuisance of himself until he was allowed to go. Or else he would knock on Adam’s door late at night, knowing he’d still be up, and crash onto his floor without ceremony. Or there was Cabeswater stuff. But unless it was the latter, this kind of casual spending of time together was rarely pre-planned or arranged. Much like the way that their arms and elbows touched when they stood, or knees knocked when they sat. Adam knew that he ought to be pleased, but the first part of the request stuck in his mind and he found that, after this evening, all he felt was bitterness.

“Because Gansey’s in Washington,” he repeated sullenly. “What am I, second choice?”

He’d meant it to sound flippant. It did not. Ronan blinked at him, trying to work out what he’d said wrong this time. Having done so he flushed angrily, dark eyebrows knitting together, and when he spoke it was dripping with sarcasm.

“Calm down princess,” he said, folding his long arms behind his head. “Jealousy is not an attractive look on the poverty-stricken.”

“Don’t flatter yourself,” Adam snapped. “I’d just rather not have anyone settle for me.”

Ronan laughed, a harsh, unpleasant sound completely devoid of humour that was more like a bark. “You know,” he said, “All of this self-pitying bullshit is starting to get old pretty fucking quick, Parrish.”

“Yeah?” Adam raised an eyebrow. “Then how come you’re still hanging around?”

Ronan looked at him levelly, trying to decide whether this was a request for him to leave. Adam held his stare, as if challenging him to decide for himself. Silence stretched between them, then Ronan tore away, a muscle jumping in his jaw.

“Fuck knows,” he said, getting to his feet. “Whatever. Forget I asked.”

“Ronan, wait,” Adam said without thinking.

Ronan halted, one hand on the door. Adam shook his head. “I’m sorry,” he said. “That was uncalled for.”

Ronan raised an eyebrow, a sharper, much more jagged movement than on Adam. “You think?”

“I’m tired.”

“So am I, man. And in case you didn’t notice, I didn’t drink all evening just so that I could give you a fucking ride-”

“-I know, I know,” Adam cut him off, wincing. “I’m sorry.”

Ronan nodded shortly. The muscle was still jumping in his jaw like the flit of a moth’s wing, clenched painfully tight as if he feared what would fall out if he loosened it. A wave of guilt washed over Adam, mixed with embarrassment. He wondered whether exposure to Ronan was turning him into a more efficient fuck up.

“I finish at twelve,” he offered.

Ronan nodded again. “I might be late,” he said. “I need to dream.”

Adam wasn’t aware Ronan had a schedule for dreaming and tried not to let the surprise register. “Something special?”

Ronan smiled and although wicked, Adam was relieved to see that it lacked a sting. “Guess you’ll find out, won’t you?”

And Adam knew that Ronan was dreaming something for him. The realisation struck him awash with a new wave of guilt, along with something else, a tingling sort of feeling that was a lot like pleasure.

“Don’t disappoint me Lynch,” he said.

The corner of Ronan’s mouth twitched. “As if I could,” and once again it was difficult to tell whether there wasn’t a trace of bitterness behind the humour. “That’s the difference between you and Gansey, if you were wondering.”

“You can still surprise me,” replied Adam.

Ronan shrugged. “That depends almost entirely on your mood.”

“Goodnight Lynch,” Adam dismissed him.

“Night, asshole,” Ronan snapped back and then, pausing on the door handle he added, much more softly. “Sleep well.”

He was gone before Adam could reply.

***

It was like this: before Cabeswater, before awakening ley lines and congenial hitmen and gun wielding Latin teachers there was Gansey and Ronan. Although it had not been that way for a while, and despite the addition of numbers to their quest, the fact remained that Ronan was the first person to believe that Gansey wasn’t eccentric at best and a monomaniac at worst. And while for the most part, Adam, Noah and Blue were all able to stake some kind of claim in Glendower, it was only to Gansey and Ronan that Arthur had ever belonged.

This was largely the reason that Ronan preferred these stories.

When he was young, Ronan had owned a book called King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. It contained the heavily illustrated adventures of Arthur and his companions; Gawain, Percival, Gareth, Lancelet. Ronan remembered late nights, crawled upon his father’s knee while he and Niall flipped through the pages, the colours rich and bright as the ones in his Bible. In hindsight, Ronan thought his father must have dreamt the book because several of the adventures took unexpected turns before ending abruptly, as if the writer had forgotten how they were supposed to, resulting in Niall having to quickly make up a new one on the spot to satisfy Ronan’s brattish nagging.

When Gansey had come to Henrietta he told Ronan that he was looking for something, and that that something happened to be a sleeping king. “What, like Arthur?” Ronan had asked and Gansey had given a little start and stared at him, eyes wide with delighted surprise and exclaimed, “Yes! Yes, exactly like Arthur.” It wasn’t long before, being still driven by a need to impress, Ronan was applying the name half-ironically to Gansey, Glendower being his own personal Holy Grail, and Gansey retorted by dubbing Ronan ‘Lancelet’. Ronan was in two minds about this. On one hand, the fact that Gansey was nicknaming him after Arthur’s dearest friend made him so ridiculously pleased with himself that for a while he was quite stupid with it. On the other, he had never really liked Lancelet.

“Alright, so what happens to him?” Adam asked from where he was sprawled out under a Honda Civic.

As promised Ronan had showed up late, and so Adam had stayed longer to finish up on the car. Having missed laundry day he had foregone his usual work overalls, and his jeans were torn and oil stained. The bottom of his t-shirt had rucked up, revealing hard planes and a stretch of tanned abdomen, the angular jut of hipbone. Ronan’s eyes had been trained on this particular jut for the past half an hour.

“Who?” asked Ronan, who had sacrificed his tether of the conversation in favour of higher things.

“Lancelet,” Adam replied. “Does he ever marry Guinevere after Arthur dies or what?”

Ronan shook his head. “Nah,” he said. “He can’t get his shit together so he goes insane instead. She becomes a nun. He takes up priesthood. Later she dies and he fucking bites it six weeks later.”

Adam slid out from under the car to grimace at Ronan. “Heroic.”

Ronan nodded. He did not have much time for Lancelet’s conduct, in the later years of his life or in general. He did not like cowardice.

Adam made complicated movements with the wrench that made his lower stomach muscles twist and flex. Ronan enjoyed this phenomenon as a scientist might consider the Northern Lights. In the light of the torch shone into the underside of the vehicle, a scar gleamed white and stark along his abdomen. Adam Parrish’s body was not lovely, the angles too sharp and bones obvious from not enough food at the right times. Sometimes, Ronan thought he saw in it a different kind of hunger, or maybe he was projecting.

“So do I get a nickname?” asked Adam teasingly.

This was such a Blue-ish question that Ronan glared at him, or rather at the bare patch of him that wasn’t covered by car or clothing.

“You have a nickname, white trash,” Ronan replied.

Adam kicked out at him, catching his shin with his heel. “Merlin’s the Magician, right?” he said. “Can I be Merlin?”

“You can be whatever the fuck you want,” Ronan snapped irritably.

Adam cut his eyes at him before sliding smoothly out from under the car, wiping his hands on a piece of scrap lint. Ronan followed his movements, the long fingers pulling absently at the thin fibres, the same fingers that had plucked fruit from the trees at the Barns. “I just think it’s unfair that you two get chivalric alter egos,” he said. “On top of super-powers.”

“Jesus Christ,” Ronan rolled his eyes before mimicking Adam’s Henrietta drawl. “‘I just think it’s unfair’. Am I talking to the fucking maggot or what?”

Adam threw the lint in Ronan’s face; briefly he smelt oil and diesel grease before he was looking at Adam again. “Don’t be a shithead,” Adam told him.

He walked over to the tap to splash some water on his face and neck. Ronan looked at his hands and tried to decide whether he wanted to laugh or break something, which were usually the two reactions he had when faced with any truth.

The truth: Adam had a nickname. It wasn’t Merlin. It wasn’t ‘white trash’ either.

Ronan had lost quite a lot of respect for Lancelet when he’d discovered that he was in love with Guinevere. This was down to a contribution of factors: firstly, even back then young Ronan couldn’t think of anything that was remotely interesting about girls, and in fact thought the only one who was sort of okay was his mom. More than this though: Ronan couldn’t fathom why for the life of him Lancelet would ever even consider choosing Guinevere over Arthur.

It did not take Ronan long after he had met Adam to establish the connection. Lancelet, who equal parts desired and resented Guinevere for disrupting the easy world of two, forcing it into a new era of three. Guinevere, who came along and in the space of a few weeks had succeeded in taking his best friend from him. If he thought about this argument properly he knew how stupid it was; Blue was a much more likely candidate for the part of Gansey’s wife, after all. But then he thought about that first day, walking into Monmouth and seeing Adam there, nervous and polite and horrifically out of place and he knew exactly how Lancelet must have felt, being introduced to his rival for the first time.

Fuck if he was going to tell Adam that, though.

Adam took a long drink of water and then he straightened up, walking back towards Ronan. As he moved, Ronan’s palms itched like they did when he felt the need to start a fight, or dream something up. Neither of these reactions fit what he felt when Adam stood in front of him though and crossed his arms over his chest.

“So can I see what you dreamt or what?” Adam asked.

Ronan grinned. “Greedy little shit.” He stood up from the work bench he’d been sitting on and crossed over to the garage entrance, gesturing at Adam to follow him. The BMW was parked just outside, sleek as a shark in warm water. Ronan lifted the boot and pulled out a plastic bag which he thrusted at Adam before shoving his hands defensively into his pockets.

Adam reached into the plastic bag and searched until his hands closed upon something. He pulled it out. A silver ring, of Celtic design, sat in the centre of his palm. A large grey stone was set in the middle, the exact dull, weary colour of the sky above them. Adam felt a trill of excitement as he ran a finger along the metallic knots and loops.

“It’s a mood ring,” Ronan told him.

“Like in the cereal boxes,” Adam said in a hushed voice. Last week, Adam had told Ronan about how as a kid he had rummaged around in cornflake packets, desperate in the hope that his fingers might seize around a chunk of cheap plastic. Ronan had laughed and made some predictable comment about digging for treasure but now Adam imagined him, going home and thinking about what he had told him, greedily harbouring these scraps of Adam’s childhood as if they too were something valuable.

Ronan huffed. “Well no,” he said impatiently. “This one actually fucking works.”

He stepped forward and took his hand. The pads of his fingers brushed over Adam’s, flitting over the knobbly protrusions of his knuckles, his squat thumbs, the calluses on his palms. Adam’s breath hitched as Ronan ran over them, his touch light and gentle as his words never were. Reverent. Tender. He put the ring on his index and the grey inside the stone swirled.

Adam pushed past the lump in his throat to ask, “What’s it say?”

Gently, Ronan turned over Adam’s finger, brushing over the knuckle. “That you’re tired as fuck.”

Ronan’s hand was warm. He did not let go of Adam’s but continued to stroke it, tenderly, casually as if he wasn’t wholly aware that he was doing it. He was aware, very much so, and so was Adam, but neither of them let it show and kept their faces indifferent. Adam’s heart was beating very fast, his pulse thrumming against his wrist. The mood ring was changing colour, flushing pink like storm clouds parting for a dusky sunset. Ronan’s hand, which was still touching the ring, shook. He released Adam sharply.

“Yeah,” said Ronan after clearing his throat. “So. Consider this a better version of the trash crap you drooled over as a kid.”

Adam lifted the ring to his eye line and squinted at it. Ronan was looking bored and sulky but Adam ignored him, like he ignored the barb. He knew now exactly why Ronan had given him this, and that it had a lot less to do with Adam’s emotions than he made out.

“Thanks man,” he said. “I’ll see if I can find my old decoder ring, and then we’ll match.”

Ronan rolled his eyes but Adam could see the lurk of a savage grin behind it, one that wanted to whoop and cheer. “Just get in the car, Parrish,” he ordered. “I want some food.”

It was impossible for Adam to hide his own smile as he slid in beside Ronan, closing the car door behind him before settling back against the seat to admire his ring. The stone had returned to its habitual grey but there was blue peeking out behind it, and the edges were tipped with gold like sunlight on a cloudy day. Ronan wasn’t looking at him, his eyes on the rear view mirror as they backed out of the garage, but Adam saw how his hand shook slightly on the gear stick, how white the knuckles shone through the skin, and he felt a little like whooping and cheering himself.

***

Later, Ronan took Adam home. This time he said goodbye at the door; Adam had to study and this was fine because Ronan would see him tomorrow. Gansey was still in Washington. Gansey was in Washington for five days, and for a whole five days Ronan had a ready excuse to indulge himself.

After looping the block surrounding St Agnes an indeterminable number of times, stopping briefly outside the church to glance up at the apartment window before setting off again with a screech of car tyres, Ronan returned to Monmouth. He threw his jacket onto Gansey’s bed and then he collapsed onto his own, covering his hands with his face. He breathed deeply, chest rising and falling as he attempted to control his pounding chest and the blood, speeding through his veins like a drag race down a naked highway.

He still could not decide whether it had been a good idea to give Adam the ring. It had seemed sensible at the time, that if they were going to continue doing this…whatever they were doing, for Adam to know what he was really thinking when he talked poisonous shit. Ronan talked poisonous shit a lot, and Adam always let him because he wasn’t Gansey and it didn’t bother him so much, and horribly it was much easier to talk poisonous shit to Adam than to say what he really wanted to. Ronan didn’t want to hurt Adam, but he was also a coward. Dreaming something up to say the words for him, when Ronan couldn’t, had seemed sensible.

Except now Adam had an open window into Ronan’s heart, and Ronan wasn’t sure how he felt about that at all.

It didn’t matter anyway. What was done was done. Ronan had given Adam the fucking thing and Adam had looked so pleased with himself anyway it had been worth it just to see the smug look on his stupid face.  

Ronan thought about that look as he drifted steadily into sleep. When he opened his eyes he was in Cabeswater and there was Adam, standing loftily in a pool of dappled sunlight, one eyebrow raised in quizzical mockery. Ronan crossed quickly over the leaf-strewn floor and took his hand. He skimmed the ridges of his knuckles again, the dry, calloused palms, the long, lovely fingers. He breathed out.

“Adam,” he said.

He lifted his hands to his mouth. As Ronan’s lips brushed the skin of Adam’s palm Adam gave a strangled gasp, eyes rolling closed. Ronan felt a very distinct tugging in his nether region before the body in front of him dissolved, crumpling into a hundred dry, brown, autumn leaves before being carried away by the wind.

The forest echoed with laughter, high-pitched, chilling and familiar. Ronan cast about wildly for Kavinsky but couldn’t see him, only heard his voice carrying on the wind and a sudden clogging smell, like burning.

It won’t last.

Flames licked the corners of his vision as Kavinsky’s laughter grew louder, filling up Ronan’s head so that he felt he would suffocate from the sound of it, and the smell of burning leaves choking his throat. Behind the laughter came a roar, too monstrous to be human.

Ronan jolted awake. His skin was burning and there was an aching between his legs, so hard it was painful. He looked down and found himself tenting the denim of his jeans.

“Eugh,” Noah said, upset.

Ronan sat up as if someone had branded him. Noah was sitting cross-legged on the floor of his room, eyeing Ronan with an expression that was half pitying, and half revolted.

“Eugh,” Noah said again, with feeling.

“Get the fuck out of here,” Ronan snapped at him. His hands were bunched into fists against the sheets and they were shaking wildly.

Noah looked at him, deeply unimpressed. “You need to deal with that,” he said, and it took Ronan a moment to work out that he wasn’t talking about his downstairs situation. “That is not a cool thing. Seriously. Get rid of it.”

“Thanks for the advice,” Ronan snarled cuttingly. “Now scram.”

Noah gave him one last withering look before disappearing. Ronan waited to be sure he was truly gone before letting his head fall back into his hands. He breathed deeply, trying to restore his heartbeat to a normal rate. Outside, rain drizzled against the window, smattering against the pane into smaller drops before drizzling wetly into the abandoned parking lot below.

Inside, there was fire.

Chapter Text

When Adam woke up, he found there was a vine wrapped around his wrist.

“Dude,” he told Cabeswater. “What the fuck.”

He tried tugging at it but the vine only wound itself more tightly, the thick tendrils running perpendicular to the blue veins shining prominently through Adam’s thin skin. Adam tried not to panic. His cell phone was lying on the cardboard box he used as a bedside table and very briefly he thought of calling Ronan. He chased the thought away. Ronan might have picked up once when he hadn’t really been thinking about it, but Adam was hardly going to push his luck this early in the morning.

Besides, Adam could deal with this.

Experimentally, he tried touching one of the dark, shiny leaves. The vine flexed defensively, gripping onto Adam as if he were a life raft. Horribly, Adam was reminded of a scene in Alien, which they had all watched upon the insistence of Ronan and Blue (Gansey had had to leave halfway to go and vomit while Noah had satisfied himself by saying “Eugh” feelingly every five minutes.) He didn’t think Cabeswater would inseminate him with a parasitical carnivorous nightmare, but then the forest did work in mysterious ways.

Adam lifted himself off his mattress and rummaged around his room until he found a pair of scissors. Tentatively, he lifted them so that the blades hovered an inch away from the vine. At once, the bonds grew so tight Adam could feel them cutting off the circulation to his fingers. A hideous image of oozing acid flashed through his mind and he put the scissors down. The vine relaxed very slightly.

Adam huffed in frustration, lifting his arm to examine the green, organic bandage for a semblance of any weakness or pressure point whilst simultaneously trying to remember everything he had ever learned in Biology about excessively tactile plants. Nothing came to mind, but he did find himself thinking about the five leather bands that habitually graced Ronan’s wrists. He was no expert on Cabeswater’s ecosystem, but he thought it might be more similar to Ronan’s genetic makeup than any of his succulents.

At that moment, the shower-head in his bathroom chose that exact moment to turn itself on, spraying a forceful jet of water over the aged tiles. Adam spun round, bewildered as the notes on his desk top began to flutter at the beck of some non-existent wind. Through the gaps in his window pain, tight green stems were beginning to force their way onto the ledge, clambering inkily across the wallpaper. And Adam understood.

The pipes in his bathroom were starting to groan. “Alright,” Adam told them irritably. “Alright, hold on, wait a minute.”

He reached for the cardboard box and his fingers closed around the pack of tarot cards that lay there. Gripping them in his hands he felt they were pulsating slightly, each card giving off a vague thrumming heat as he shuffled them. He turned over the card at the top of the pack, revealing the Nine of Swords. The nightmare card.

Adam frowned, staring at the figure on the card who was sitting upright in bed, face in their hands as if having just woken from a truly terrible dream. Automatically, he thought of Ronan. He shuffled the cards again and drew another: the Knight of Wands. Fiery, brash, impetuous. Passionate. Creating. Ronan’s card. But had he only drawn it because Adam had been thinking of him, or did it have anything to with what Cabeswater wanted?

Adam shuffled the cards one final time and flipped over the top. At once he felt a sinking feeling in his stomach as he stared down at the black, curving horns and leathery wings of The Devil.

Adam groaned, rubbing his eyes tiredly as he attempted to block out the noise in his good ear. Whatever the cards were telling him, he thought it was fairly safe to conclude that it wasn’t good. As if to corroborate this deduction, the creaking in his pipes grew louder so that Adam feared the walls might split.

“Okay,” Adam said aloud, wincing. “Okay, I get it. I’ll check it out.”

The vines around his arm pulled insistently. Adam sighed, shoulders slumping in submission. “Today,” he told them. “I’ll check it out today.”

At once the vines released him, slinking backwards across his skin and shrivelling as if a torch had been put to them. Adam looked to his window and saw that the stems there were also retreating, slithering away behind the window frame. The pipes were silent once again and Adam breathed a sigh of relief.

Adam fell back against the mattress and closed his eyes. He and Ronan were supposed to go to the Barns. What with exams looming close and Glendower constantly beckoning Ronan hadn’t been able to go for a while, and Adam felt bad for stealing him away. But then again, maybe the promise of Adam’s company would make up for it. It wasn’t in Adam’s nature to be presumptuous, particularly when it concerned people’s feelings towards him. But he didn’t think he was wrong in this.

Absently, one of his hands touched the fingers of the other, remembering how Ronan’s had done just yesterday. He knew he wasn’t wrong in this.

Well. If Cabeswater had a job for him, there was no point lying around here for much longer. Adam heaved himself off the mattress and headed for the bathroom. The walls were blessedly quiet now, and the shower-head too had returned to normal. Adam was relieved, as much as he hoped Cabeswater appreciated him as its hands and eyes, he wasn’t expecting it to volunteer to pay his water bill anytime soon.

Adam turned on the water and stepped into the shower, relishing the sensation of warmth cascading over him. He reached for the soap, sliding it along his neck when he felt something catch and tangle in his hair and he realised. He was still wearing the ring.

Through the curtain of water Adam squinted at it, wondering if it was okay to wear in the shower. It looked silver but there was no way to be sure…did dream metal rust? Adam rubbed a thumb over the stone, gleaming its habitual grey in the middle of the twists of Celtic knot.

Ronan had given Adam this ring. Adam knew why, as well as if Ronan had told him himself, which was sort of the point. Adam wasn’t sure how it worked, whether the ring mirrored Adam’s mood until Ronan got close enough, whether it switched between the two. That would suggest that their emotions were linked, one in some way.

That was a thought.

Adam let his head fall back against the tiles, exhaling deeply. The fact that Ronan had wanted so desperately for Adam to understand his feelings that he’d literally dreamed up a window for him was a little overwhelming. No one had ever trusted him like that before, or wanted so badly to be known by him. Certainly Adam, who had considered himself unknowable for so long, had never trusted anyone like that before. He wondered whether he ought to return the favour, whether Ronan expected him to.

He didn’t think he did. Ronan had never once given him the sense that he expected anything in return from Adam; for his gifts, for his looks, for his hunger. Back when they were less than whatever they were now, when Ronan’s gaze were still supposedly a secret, when the accidental brushes of touch between them still carried a lingering of guilt, Ronan had presumed nothing. And even now, when Adam was the first one to stick his leg out an inch closer than necessary, or when Ronan turned around and caught him staring, even now Ronan waited; patient, optimistic, hopeful, but assuming nothing.

It was overwhelming…but it was sort of nice, too.

At first, Adam was so stunned by the concept of being wanted by Ronan that he hadn’t known how to react. For a time he merely relished the attention, basking in the knowledge that he, Adam Parrish, could be wanted. It had taken him a while before he actually found himself asking whether he could want back. The thought had scared him. It still did. Not just because the object was Ronan, although that was certainly a large part of it. But also because Adam had never really allowed himself to want before.

Adam brushed his wet hair out of his eyes. A week ago, Ronan had showered here. When he had come out his face was bright red, and he’d avoided Adam’s gaze. Adam, whose thoughts had been on calculus at the time, had thought nothing of it. Now though, he wondered if Ronan had been jerking off.

This was presumptuous, and Adam knew it. But then Adam thought about how Ronan had looked at him with heavily lidded eyes as he’d taken Adam’s hand, how his own had shaken as he placed the ring on his finger. He thought about Ronan, touching himself lazily under the stream of Adam’s hot water, shaking hands moving down the long, hard length of him.

Adam’s breath hitched. He closed his eyes, picturing Ronan’s head falling back against the shower tiles to expose his white throat, thick eyelashes fluttering, mouth slightly parted. He thought about the black claws of his tattoo, hooking out over the muscles of his shoulder, gleaming beneath beads of water. Adam wondered what it would be like to touch it, to flatten his palm over Ronan’s bicep, moving along his shoulders to grace his back. To trace the lines of his tattoo and hear Ronan gasp beneath his touch.

Adam was allowed to want. Adam did want.

He’d never been so hard in his life. Adam grasped himself roughly, jerking forcefully into his fist as images of Ronan flitted through his mind. The tendons of Ronan’s neck, snaking down towards his collar bone. The razor sharp, knife point of jaw, angling beneath a smirking smile. The slanting grooves above his hips at either side of his abdomen, leading downwards towards Ronan’s…Oh.

Adam came with a yelp, so forcefully that he had to fling an arm out to steady himself against the shower walls and for a moment he thought he had gone blind. He cried out again as the waves of his orgasm rolled into one another, crashing down until he could barely stand. He stood there, one hand against the wall, bent over and gasping for air.

There was a knock on the door. Adam froze, one hand on the shower wall, the other still wrapped around his dick. The banging grew louder, more insistent.

“Parrish,” Ronan’s voice sounded from the door of the other room. “Open up.”

Adam felt his blood run cold. “Hold on,” he called back, a beat too late and sounding oddly strangled.

He washed himself quickly, a difficult feat as his hands couldn’t stop shaking and he dropped the soap several times, causing Ronan to ask impatiently “What are you doing?” to which Adam yelled back, “I’m in the shower, asshole.” After that there was silence and Adam allowed himself a fleeting feeling of triumph as he rinsed the soap from his body, grabbed a towel and scrubbed himself dry.

After an anxious scramble for underwear, t-shirt and pants during which his heart thundered so frantically against his chest that he thought he might have an attack, Adam opened the door. Ronan was leaning casually against the frame, his narrowed stare sweeping the hall behind him. When Adam opened the door Ronan switched his gaze to him and for the second time that morning, Adam felt his breath catch in his throat. He was wearing his typical black tank top and his jeans were slung low around his waist, the band of designer boxers peeking out from over the top. He was so beautiful that for a moment, Adam could hear nothing in either of his ears apart from buzzing.

Ronan frowned at Adam, taking in his flushed cheeks and swiftly rising chest. “You look like you ran a marathon,” he observed.

“I…” Adam swallowed and tried again. “I didn’t think you’d be here so early.”

Ronan shrugged, moving away from the door to enter the apartment. “I got bored,” he said.

He crossed over the tiny space to yank open the fridge. This was purely out of habit; Ronan knew, as Adam did, that there would be very little inside to tempt him. After scanning it briefly he closed it again and straightened up, shoving his hands in his pockets and turning to face Adam.

“Are you ready to go?” he asked.

Adam reached over to scratch the back of his neck. It was hot, like the rest of him. “About that,” he began. “Something really weird happened this morning. Cabeswater weird, I mean.”

Adam thought he saw a shadow pass over Ronan’s face, but then he blinked and was sure he had missed it. “Really?” asked Ronan coolly. “What kind of weird?”

Adam waved vaguely. “Like,” he tried to explain it. “Vines wrapping themselves round my wrist in the middle of the night and…my plumbing…Ronan, did you dream anything last night?”

Ronan’s frown intensified. “I dream most nights,” he responded stiffly. “Why?”

Adam ran a hand through his damp hair and sighed, his shoulders slumping. “I think there’s something wrong with Cabeswater,” he explained. “Or Cabeswater thinks there’s something wrong with Cabeswater…I don’t know. Either way, it wants me to go there and check it out.”

Ronan chewed his lip thoughtfully. “Today?”

Adam nodded. Ronan looked away and Adam took this opportunity to glance down at his mood ring. It was the colour of a morning sky, blue with slight traces of pink but Adam didn’t have any idea what that meant.

“Okay,” said Ronan at last. “Let’s go.”

Adam felt a tugging somewhere in his chest. “You don’t have to,” he said quickly. “You can go to the Barns. I’ll just…”

He trailed off stupidly, realising that he had no way of getting to Cabeswater by himself. The new fan belt was still yet to arrive and the Hondayota remained at the garage. Ronan looked at him, as if he had guessed what he was thinking.

“It’s fine, Parrish,” he assured him, taking his car keys out of his pocket and striding back towards the door.

He held it open, nodding at Adam to go first. Adam mumbled a thanks, feeling pretty guilty and still burning with shame. Then Ronan closed the door behind them and, after making sure it was locked, said very casually; “I don’t really mind where we go, anyway.”

***

Adam had been a very strange colour upon opening the door. Ronan supposed this could have been a result of the heat from the shower but he didn’t think so. He had showered at Adam’s before. The water didn’t go that hot.

Now he wasn’t looking at Ronan but out the open car window, pulling his lower lip back and forth between his teeth, lost in thought. The wind picked up strands of fair hair as he sat with his elbow propped against the rest, chin in his hand. He looked very far away. Ronan left him to it. It gave him time to think about the message Gansey had sent him that morning from Washington:

Lance I know the chances of you getting this in less than seven hours are slim but can you please tell me that good things are happening

Because Gansey only called Ronan ‘Lance’ when he was drunk, nostalgic (which was the same thing) or suffering from acute anxiety, Ronan had texted back.

whats up dad

A minute later, his phone had buzzed with a hurried reply that read decidedly harangued. Was at lunch with the senator and Cabeswater kept whispering Latin at me through the quinoa. Kept saying ‘timeo draconis’ and think p sure I caught “greywaren” somewhere. Think timeo is fear – I fear the serpent? Please to tell me that isn’t you.

Ronan took a second to marvel that Gansey’s ability to spell “quinoa” came more naturally than ninth grade basic vocab before answering.

u tell me pendragon

This time, Gansey took a lot longer to reply.

Is that a pun

Ronan is there a dragon  

Ronan

I’m coming back

Ronan, who had largely been ignoring this succession of texts, now scrambled for the phone.

chill out old man im sorting it do not come back

After that Ronan had turned off his phone so that he wouldn’t have to see Gansey calling it, or deal with anymore messages demanding for an explanation. He was annoyed with himself, not for worrying Gansey because Gansey was only ever happy when he was worrying about something. He was annoyed because now Gansey was sitting at a fancy dinner table in Washington, rocking very noticeably in his chair and in deep conflict with himself on whether he should stand up and politely tell the senator that he was very sorry but he had to leave immediately.

Ronan glanced at Adam, who was nibbling absently at his finger nails, and thought that this was the first time that Gansey had gone away and Ronan had not counted the hours to his return.

When they arrived at Cabeswater Adam climbed out the car first. Ronan hung back before entering the forest, scanning the tops of the trees for any sign of smoke or damage. There didn’t seem to be any. Adam took the lead, shuffling his tarot cards quite cheerfully as he walked.

“So what are you looking for, exactly?” Ronan asked, shoving his hands in his pockets.

Adam shrugged. “I don’t really know,” he confessed. “I think I will when I see it, though.”                         

Ronan vehemently hoped he would not. So far, he had not seen any evidence that the cause of Cabeswater’s distinct lack of chill existed outside of Ronan’s head. And while this was obviously not the safest place for monsters to be, he thought he had done a pretty good job of keeping it there so far.

He tried very hard not to think of fire or wings or Kavinsky’s laughter as they made their way across the stream with the colour-changing fish and through the trees. Once they reached the clearing Adam sat down, cross-legged on the forest floor and spread his tarot cards before him. Ronan watched him from where he lurked by a tree, the leafy sunlight bouncing off his head like a halo, and wondered whether he could continue to enjoy this moment undisturbed or whether he should be a good person and go visit his mother.

“Anything?” he prompted after too long a time had stretched without Adam talking to him.

“Shut up,” Adam murmured in response.

Ronan huffed in impatience. After two more minutes passed in which Adam ignored him, Ronan had just about decided that he would look for Aurora when he heard the whispery voice of Cabeswater in his ear.

Du Lac.

Adam’s head jerked up. His eyes found Ronan’s and neither of them moved, ears pricked as they listened to the rustling of the leaves above them.

Du Lac, the trees whispered again. Cave beluam.

Above his perplexed eyes, Adam’s fair brows wriggled in confusion. “Dulack?” he repeated. “What is that? Is that Latin?”

Ronan shook his head but didn’t elaborate. He was too stunned to speak.

Cave beluam, the trees insisted. Noli timere veritatem, est telum.

“Beware the beast,” Adam translated. “Don’t be afraid of the truth…it is a weapon…Who is Dulack? Who is it talking to? Does it realise we’re here?”

Ronan tried to make a sound but he felt like something had stuck in his throat. Adam tilted his chin, gazing up into the leafy canopy overhead.

“Quid vis?” he ventured. “Ad quos sunt tu loquerit ?”

To whom are you speaking? Adam’s question lingered in the air, as if suspended by the silence. Then, after a long time of nothing but the wind moving through the branches, the forest replied.

Du Lac, noli timere. Veritas est telum.

“Dulack,” Adam said again, frown deepening. “I don’t know what that is.”

“We should go,” said Ronan.

Adam stared at him, bemused. “We’ve only just got here,” he replied. “And I still don’t know what Cabeswater wants.”

“Cabeswater doesn’t fucking know what Cabeswater wants,” Ronan snapped back. “It’s not even talking to us.”

Adam raised an eyebrow at him. “We don’t know that.”

“Yeah?” answered Ronan challengingly. He threw back his head to speak up to the trees. “Visne Greywaren? Visne Magician?”

Another pause where Adam cocked his good ear and Ronan felt the blood pumping hotly through his veins. Then came the whisper: “Nolumus Greywaren. Volumus Du Lac.”

“There you go,” Ronan told Adam. “It doesn’t want us. Let’s go.”

“Hold on,” Adam brushed off Ronan’s grip, yanking away. “We need to know what Dulack is, if that’s what it wants.”

“We can find that out any time,” Ronan said impatiently. “Listen Parrish, I just don’t have a good feeling about this, okay? Please, can we just go?”

Adam looked at Ronan levelly. His eyes were bright with urgency and he was breathing hard, his hands balled into fists by his sides. His mouth was a thin tight line above a set jaw, clenched so tight it stuck out the tendons in his neck. The mood ring was hot against his finger; Adam looked down and saw that the stone was jet black, the colour of fear. His resistance softened.

“Okay,” he said finally. “Alright. Let’s go.”

Ronan breathed out in relief and the two of them left the clearing. As they walked Adam was aware of the hard, fast pounding of Ronan’s heart through his tank top, noticed the way his stride sped up as if seeking to put more and more distance between them and Cabeswater. He was exhaling very sharply through his nose.

Without thinking very much about it, Adam took Ronan’s hand.

Ronan’s footsteps faltered briefly and Adam thought he heard his breath catch. Then Ronan was squeezing his hand, quickly, furtively, as if it were a secret that he was doing so. It felt grateful.

They held hands all the way back to the BMW. Upon approaching it Ronan let go, and Adam felt a trill of regret run through him as they climbed back into the car. As they backed away from Cabeswater and set off once again down the main road, Adam set himself to wondering what Ronan had been so afraid of. Even now he seemed twitchy, running his hand across his shaved head as if to check that it was still there. The mood ring, though no longer the onyx it had been in the forest, was still very dark. He was not stupid, he knew full well that Ronan had understood much more of what Cabeswater had said than he’d let on, but he also knew that if he tried to ask him now Ronan would only snap at him.

He sighed, slipping his tarot cards into his pocket. All in all, it had not been a productive expedition. Adam would scry when he got home to try and find to out what Cabeswater wanted from them, what ‘Dulack’ was. As far as he could see there didn’t appear to be anything wrong with the forest, but then he remembered the intense urgency with which the trees had spoken to them, the insisted “Cave beluam”, and thought Cabeswater has sounded just as scared as Ronan was now.

“Are you hungry?” Ronan asked, yanking Adam out of his musing.

Adam hadn’t realised how long they had been driving for. He looked out the window and saw they were outside a burger place – “The Tastiest Burgers in Henrietta!” He felt his stomach rumble and realised that he was.

Ronan parked and then they headed inside. Immediately the smell of greasy fried food and oil hit Adam, along with another underlying scent like petrol. After the fresh, clean green of Cabeswater it was a little staggering and he kept close to Ronan who had steered forcefully ahead. While Ronan ordered two burgers Adam swept his gaze around the place. It was very busy, although Adam suspected this was more due to luck and location rather than the tastiness of the burgers.

A sudden loud, guffawing laugh caused his head to whip round at the familiarity and his eyes landed on one table in the corner. Adam’s stomach dropped. Around it were sat five of the worst sort of Aglionby boys from their year, and at their head, Chuck Layton. It was Chuck who had laughed; Adam knew this because Chuck had the loudest laugh of anyone Adam knew. It was one of the things that made him so dislikeable.

One of the things. There was also the fact that he was a complete and utter wanker.

Adam debated for a good five seconds on whether he should alert Ronan to this new development. On one hand, forewarned was forearmed. On the other, Adam had been looking forward to this burger, and he didn’t want Ronan to throw it in someone’s face.

Then Chuck bellowed “Ronan Lynch!” and Adam’s insides turned to lead.

Ronan’s head jerked towards the sound, like a wild animal catching a scent. His eyes narrowed.

The sprawl of meaty flesh that was Chuck Layton was drooped over what could have been at least three chairs. Next to him, Tad Carruthers and a few other members of the crew team made to offer them a wave, and then seemed to lose their nerve halfway through.

The legend of Chuck was that he had also been a member of the crew team, until Gansey had kicked him off for being horrible. Rather than taking this on the chin and using the lesson as motivation to improve himself as a human being, Chuck’s main response was to tell anyone who would listen that Gansey was a homosexual, and that the friendship between he, Lynch and Parrish was essentially Greek in nature. This rumour might have been taken more seriously, if it was not commonly accepted (here meaning: agreed between Gansey and Henry Cheng) that Chuck had a crush on Ronan.

Adam wasn’t interested in Chuck Layton’s sexuality. He knew what repressed self-hatred looked like, and didn’t think it got anyone off the hook for being awful.

“While the cat’s away,” Chuck chanted gleefully. “The mice will play. What are you and Parrish playing while Big Dick’s not around?”

Adam thought that maybe Chuck Layton was a masochist. Looking at the expression on Ronan’s face, he could think of no other explanation. It looked as though Carruthers and co were thinking along the same lines as they stared with wide-eyed, blanched faces to Ronan and back again.

“Ronan,” muttered Adam.

Ronan’s eyelashes fluttered. He grit his jaw and turned away. Adam felt a brief feeling of pride in him before Chuck’s foghorn of a voice sounded again.

“From Joseph Kavinsky to Adam Parrish,” he said mockingly. “Wow Lynch. You sure know how to dig around in the dirt.”

Ronan’s eyes had flashed at the sound of Kavinsky’s name; Adam looked down and saw that his hands had balled into fists, the knuckles white through taut skin, stark as a warning sign. Adam, who also knew well enough what danger looked like, reached up to grip his elbow.

“Ignore him,” he murmured. “Just ignore him. He’s not worth it. You’re better than he is.”

Ronan said nothing but merely clenched and unclenched his jaw. The cashier had dumped two grease stained paper bags on the counter and was asking for Ronan’s card. Adam thought with relief as Ronan entered his pin that they Chuck had given up; he had turned back to his table and was regaling the crew team with rude hand gestures. Ronan paid, picked up the two paper bags and made for the door when Chuck’s voice cut across the diner, making him stop still.

“Make sure you wash your hands, after touching Parrish,” Chuck called out. “I can smell trailer from here.”

Ronan stiffened. Almost mechanically, he held out the bags of food for Adam to take.

“Ronan no,” Adam breathed out.

Ronan ignored him. He dumped the food into Adam’s arms and in three strides crossed the diner to where Chuck was laughing at the staggered faces around him. The laugh died in his throat however as Ronan seized him by the front of his shirt.

“Say that again,” he said.

Chuck swallowed. Before he could make any semblance of noise however, Ronan was already crashing his fist into his face.

“Ronan!” Adam shouted, sprinting across the room to seize Ronan by the arms. Everyone who was sat round the table were already on their feet, presumably having anticipated the reaction, and were attempting to restrain him from pummelling Chuck into the table. Several people were screaming and shouting for the police; Adam’s eyes sought the management and saw someone speaking into a phone. He tried to gesture at them to stop while simultaneously pulling Ronan back. He was spitting, swearing, wild as a hurricane and it was all Adam could do to avoid the mad flying of fists.

Blood was pouring down Chuck’s face. With a tremendous effort, Adam and Tad Carruthers managed to tear Ronan away and he staggered backwards in a flurry of swears. Tentatively, Chuck raised a hand to his own nose, attempting to stem the flow of blood, before spitting at Ronan’s feet.

Adam turned to Tad who had Ronan by the shoulders. “Hold him,” he ordered before walking over to the manager, who was still speaking anxiously into the phone behind the counter.

He thought as he spoke to the manager in his most Aglionby voice to call off the police, what Gansey would have done. Ronan would not have punched Chuck if Gansey had been there. Gansey would have said “Ronan,” or “Lance,” or lightly touched the back of his neck and Ronan would have slumped his shoulders and looked away, docile as putty. Adam flushed angrily as he sifted through the notes in Ronan’s wallet, pressing them into the manager’s extended palm. Ronan would not have wanted to disappoint Gansey.

They left the diner in silence, apart from the loud clang that sounded as a result of Ronan kicking the bin, and Chuck Layton’s shouts of “You fag bastard!” following them out the door. Ronan slammed the car door of the BMW so hard Adam was afraid the glass would crack. They did not speak the whole drive back to Henrietta, and as they drew in Adam told him “Take me back to St Agnes.”

Ronan swore but complied. Adam lent his head against the cool glass and exhaled. The heat of Ronan’s anger was almost physical, Adam could feel it pressing on him. As they drew up outside St Agnes Adam got out of the car and Ronan followed him as usual; Adam didn’t wait for him to hesitate by the door before heading straight inside and whirling on him.

“Well done Ronan,” he spat savagely.

A flicker of something like hurt flit across Ronan’s face before his lip curled and he was snarling. “What,” he said. “I’m supposed to just let that asshole chat shit about you to my face–”

“-What does it matter if it’s to your face?” Adam countered. “I’m not yours.”

This time, the hurt flashed brilliant and undeniable. Adam felt a squirming of unease as Ronan’s dark brow drew low, a sharp crease appearing in the middle like a crack in the glass, but he stood his ground. He wasn’t an extension of Ronan’s honour, any more than he was of Gansey’s generosity. He wasn’t something for Ronan’s pride to be bruised by.

“Right,” sneered Ronan and his voice dripped savagely with venom. “I’ll remember the fuck out of that, next time someone makes a crack at your family-”

“-Don’t do this,” Adam said impatiently and suddenly there was fire flaring inside him, the match he had been carrying around in his chest over the last few days striking with the gasoline feelings of resentment and jealousy. “Just because Gansey’s not here.”

Ronan stared at him. “What?”

“I know he’s your fucking King Arthur and you’re his precious knight or whatever,” Adam was saying before he could stop himself, before he’d even heard the words in his head. “But I matter too. You have to listen to me as well.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?” Ronan growled. He took a step closer, a menacing, aggressive thing which would have scared anybody who wasn’t Adam.

All Adam’s instincts of self-preservation seemed to have disappeared. He had never felt so close to the surface, so aware of the rage, boiling hot in his belly. Is this how it always felt to be Ronan? “I bet you’d tell him,” he said bitterly. “I bet you’d tell Arthur what was going on with Cabeswater.”

Ronan’s eyes widened, his face going pale and Adam knew he had struck home, but he didn’t feel good about it. “Fucking Christ,” Ronan hissed, recovering as blood came flushing back into his skin. “If this is more of your white trash inferiority complex-”

Adam didn’t hear the rest. This is because Adam had shoved him, hard. Ronan stumbled, his legs tripping on one another, and he fell back onto the floor. He stared up at Adam, eyes wide with shock and saw him standing before him, his hands bunched so tightly into fists that the veins stuck out of his arm.

“Don’t fucking call me that,” Adam shouted at him. “Why is it okay for you to call me that and not Chuck fucking Layton?”

“It’s different and you know it,” retorted Ronan, getting to his feet. He still looked stunned.

“How is it different?”

“Because…” Ronan gestured wildly, frantically. “Because you know I don’t mean it. You have to know I don’t mean it, Adam.”

His eyes flickered downwards and Adam saw that he was looking at the mood ring. For a moment, Adam felt an irrational spurt of hatred for it, and for Ronan as well.

"How am I supposed to know that?" he demanded. "Because a bit of metal tells me so?"

Ronan didn't reply. Furious, Adam wrenched the ring off his finger and threw it at Ronan, it bounced off his chest.

“Tell the truth, Ronan,” he ordered him.

He crossed his arms over his chest and glared at Ronan challengingly, waiting. Ronan looked at the ring, laying pathetically on the floor. He looked at Adam, who was holding his breath, hardly daring to hope but it was there anyway, a bright spark of it in the corner of his eye. Ronan’s throat felt very dry. He swallowed. Then he bent down and picked up the ring, tucking it away in his pocket.

Adam’s face flashed with anger. “You’re a coward,” he said.

The words, sneering and laced with contempt, hit Ronan like Adam’s push had not managed. “Fuck you, Parrish,” he replied.

With that he left the room abruptly, snapping the door shut behind him.

Chapter Text

Ronan didn’t go back to Monmouth until very late.

When he did his knuckles were bloodied, there was a hole in his tank top and he smelled very heavily of petrol and Jameson.

“Don’t go to sleep,” Noah warned him as he banged open his bedroom door.

Ronan ignored him. He collapsed face down onto his bed. The empty bottle of whiskey crashed to the floor and Ronan crashed into sleep.

When he opened his eyes he was in Cabeswater. As soon as he took a step forward however, he knew that something was wrong. There was a strange buzzing in the air, like the hum of too many insects, and the usual cool of the forest felt pressing and intrusive against his skin. He stretched out a hand to touch the bark of one tree and its surface seemed to recoil from his touch, as if it were afraid.

Laughter whispered at him from amongst the trees. With a sinking feeling, Ronan followed it to the clearing he had sat in with Adam just a few hours ago. Instead of dream Adam sitting cross-legged and judgemental on the forest floor however there stood only a dark figure, dressed in a white vest and sunglasses, black spikes licking from his head like flames.

Kavinsky was grinning at him. “Hey man,” he greeted, arms outstretched. “Long time, no see.”

Ronan felt his blood freeze in his veins. “Get out,” he said.

“Dude,” Kavinsky frowned. “Come on. Don’t be like that. How about a hug?”

“How about you stick a firework up your ass?” Ronan countered.

Kavinsky raised one eyebrow. He seemed indistinct somehow, smudged a little round the edges. There seemed to be some kind of strange aura around him, like a blurred charcoal outline, dark but shimmering slightly as if made of smoke. “Is that what you’re going by these days?” he asked.

The trees were whispering, frantic and panicky but speaking so quickly that Ronan was unable to understand what they were saying. A leaf broke off from a branch and fell onto Ronan’s cheek; Ronan was reminded of Adam, gripping his arm in warning. He didn’t think it was necessary. Even though Kavinsky did not at this moment look particularly threatening, he never had done to Ronan until it was nearly too late.

Besides, he was not entirely sure that this was Kavinsky.

“What are you doing here, man?” Ronan asked him warily. “Shouldn’t you have fucked off to Neverland by now?”

Kavinsky fixed him with an odd gaze that made Ronan shiver. It was the simultaneous familiarity and unfamiliarity of it that was so uncomfortable; Ronan couldn’t decide whether he recognised the expression or not. “You tell me, asshole,” he replied. “You’re the one who dreamed me up.”

Non credebat diabolus. The trees rustled above Ronan’s head, and this warning he certainly didn’t need. Quite apart from his good Catholic upbringing, Ronan had gotten very adept recently at understanding what he did and did not want. It hadn’t always been this way (queue sleepless nights, replaying smiles and conversations and wondering exactly what ‘best friend’ meant.) But he did know now, with the utmost certainty, that he had not wanted Kavinsky here.

“No,” Ronan shook his head, sure as life. “I didn’t.”

A flicker of something passed over Kavinsky’s face, half light and half shadow, like the glow of torch flame. It reminded Ronan a little of how he’d looked when Ronan had laughed at him, It was never gonna be you and me, and also at the same time, nothing at all like that. 

“Don’t lie, Lynch,” Kavinsky chided him. “I know you missed this. Don’t be a bitch.”

“I don’t lie,” Ronan told him simply. “I didn’t dream you up. I didn’t want you back. So I don’t know what the fuck you’re doing here, because I certainly did not fucking ask for you.”

Kavinsky’s eyes narrowed, his already thin mouth pulling even more taut. Ronan felt a faint tremor of unease but he ignored it. He had never once been afraid of Kavinsky when he was alive, and he wasn’t about to start now just because he was surrounded by a load of black shit.

Kavinsky sighed, running a hand through his sharp, spiky hair. “Whatever man,” he said. “God. You’re such a freaking downer. You could have been nicer about it. I might not be Parrish, but I still have feelings, Christ.”

Ronan felt something inside him jolt at the sound of Adam’s name, wet and scathing on Kavinsky’s tongue. “Don’t,” he said through gritted teeth. “Don’t even dare.”

“Adam Parrish,” Kavinsky rolled his eyes. “Adam Parrish, Adam Parrish, Adam trailer-fucking- Parrish. Oh my God. Get a grip.”

Ronan was seething so hard he quaked with it. Kavinsky surveyed at him, his clenched jaw, his white fists, and gave a humourless laugh. He looked distinctly unimpressed. “You’re so whipped,” he commented. “Jesus. Talk about loving it on your knees. Tell me, how does Dick feel about this? How does Parrish feel about Dick? Or is that sort of the point for you?”

“Stop,” spat Ronan. Every instinct was telling him to rush at Kavinsky and smash his body into the tree behind him, but something was holding him back. Or perhaps it was just the knowledge that it wouldn’t do any good.

In any case, Kavinsky seemed to know exactly what was going through his mind. “Cute,” he said. “I like that, the whole coming to the aid of the damsel in distress thing. Very…what’s the word…fuck. Chivalrous.”

He bent his head closer, leering so that Ronan could see his teeth. They seemed longer and sharper than they had done in life, combined with the devilish grin, he looked quite inhuman. “But it won’t last, Lynch. Sure he might think you’re hot stuff now but you know as well as I do it won’t last. Give it a couple of months, he’ll cool right off you. And then maybe you’ll learn to be a little nicer to the people who actually wanted to be nice to you.”

Ronan shrugged. It wasn’t like he hadn’t thought about this. He wasn’t even sure of Adam’s sexuality. He wasn’t sure if Adam was sure of Adam’s sexuality. He thought it very possible that Adam was using Ronan, as a rebound from Blue or as a means of figuring himself out. Ronan didn’t mind particularly. There were worse ways to be used than making Adam Parrish smile.

As if he had heard this thought, Kavinsky pulled a grimace of disgust. “Shit,” he spat regretfully into the dirt. “And I could have made you so cool.”

“-What do you want, K?” Ronan asked him venomously.

Kavinsky’s eyes flashed and against his will, Ronan felt a very real flicker of fear within him as he realised; these were not the eyes of the boy he had known. Kavinsky’s pupils were hot coals, alight with red embers from another realm, one that Ronan had learned to fear long before his own mind.

“You should know that by now Lynch,” replied Kavinsky and again the voice was not Kavinsky’s voice, but one that was much older, deeper, and innately more terrifying. I want what I always want. Fire.”

Ronan thought the last word must have come from somewhere inside him because there was no way he could have heard it, drowned out as it was by a sudden, deafening roar. Instinctively, Ronan clamped his hands down over his ears as the thunderous sound tore its way past his ear drums, reverberating beneath his very feet. It was a monstrous, unearthly sound, of a pitch so unidentifiable that Ronan thought it might turn him mad.

Kavinsky was laughing, a manic, terrible thing that sent Ronan’s skin erupting with goose bumps. The smoky darkness hovering around his edges seemed to be thickening until he was undefinable as a boy, his white sunglasses lost in the shadowy mass that had swallowed him. In his place, flames were licking the base of the trees, spreading and catching until the leaves were alight and cackling. Soon after the trunks began to split, as an enormous force made its way through the rapidly burning undergrowth. Ronan was just able to catch a glimpse of massive hindquarters and long talon-like claws, bright orange and seething with flame.

Then he was running for his life.

***

Adam felt like utter shit, and had been feeling similarly for two days straight.

After Ronan left, for a while Adam had just stood there, shaken, watching the door as if he half expected Ronan to march straight back through it. This did not happen and Adam instead resigned himself to sinking glumly into his desk chair, tapping his pencil against his Latin textbook as he pretended to be doing homework while glancing at his cell phone every five minutes for a text that never came. Eventually, when it was past midnight and having achieved very little, Adam gave up and crawled onto his mattress, still staring at his phone, and wishing for the morning.

Morning came and Ronan had not messaged. For the rest of the day Adam could not focus, one half on his brain being on the task at hand whilst the other went over and over their fight, thinking of all the things Adam had said and could have said, whether he had been right to say the things he had. His feelings fluctuated, at some points flaring up with passionate, self-righteous fury before an hour later he was cursing himself for his callousness. He had allowed himself to be duped by Ronan into forgetting that he was, in actual fact, a tender thing and easily broken. Adam had not recognised this. He had not been kind.

He spent so long agonising that he barely paid attention to what he was doing, his head jerking up at any car that slinked into the garage, in the hope that it was the BMW. Several times he was yelled at by Boyd for stupid mistakes before the threat of being sent home without pay renewed his concentration, although he kept glancing hopefully over his shoulder for any sign of a flurry of black feathers or a hulking boy, scowling. After Ronan failed to show up at closing time, Adam crept into the finally working Hondayota and drove home, feeling as though he might suffocate.

Later he tried calling Ronan, hanging up as soon as he heard the surly growl of his voicemail. He thought briefly about going round to Monmouth but chased that thought from his mind. If Ronan was still upset, then Adam forcing his presence onto him could only do more harm than good. Likely he only needed a day, brooding with his horrible electronic music and his bird, to cool off. Adam could give him that. Adam was good at being patient.

The next day came, and Ronan still hadn’t called. Adam had to try very hard to keep calm. He called Ronan again, no answer. He left a voice message, and then he drifted aimlessly inside and outside the Church, from one area of his apartment to another, stopping every now and then to type out texts:

Ronan, I’m really sorry. Can we please talk about this?

Oh my god dude a bird just crapped on my hand and no one was there to laugh at me so I went into this existential crisis over whether a single person’s perception counts as reality and if it had really happened at all

I know you hate me right now but I can see loads of stars from this one point in the parking lot and now I really miss you

I think I’m going crazy with how much I like you

He deleted each one without sending them.

At some point in the afternoon, Adam’s pipes started whining again. Adam, who had been busy gazing at the intertwining water marks on his ceiling and wondering whether they looked anything like Ronan’s tattoo, groaned. Since the disastrous trip to Cabeswater Adam’s mind had been rather preoccupied, and he had completely neglected to scry. He still had no idea what was wrong with the forest, or any clue of what the mysterious “Dulack” could be.

He had just decided to make a serious effort to move from his mattress in the direction of the bathroom when his phone rang.

Without hesitation, Adam dived across the room, knocking his cell off the cardboard box onto the floor. Adam grappled with it, ignoring the increased volume in the complaining from his pipes and, heart pounding with excitement and sheer joy, pressed the answer button.

“Adam,” came a hurried, harangued voice.

Adam’s joy evaporated as quickly as it had come. “Gansey,” he said, trying to sum up enough enthusiasm to not sound like someone had died. “How’s Washington?”

“How is Washington?” Gansey repeated, sounding horribly strangled. “How is Washington?”

“Don’t answer if you don’t want to.”

“Adam, if I ever express a desire to go into politics, I want you to shoot me.”

“That can be arranged,” agreed Adam. “What’s the matter? You sound tense. –Ser than usual, I mean.”

“Do I?” asked Gansey distractedly, sounding very tense. “Huh. That must have something to do with Ronan’s dragon.”

Adam had never had an anvil dropped on his stomach. He thought it might quite feel a lot like this though. “I’m sorry?”

There was a long pause on the other end of the line while Gansey thought about how best to break this fairly horrifying news and Adam reminded himself how to breathe. “Ah,” Gansey exhaled finally, his tone heavy with regret. “He hasn’t told you.”

“For God’s sake Gansey, a dragon?!”

“Well, I’m sure I don’t know. He sent me a very strange text, you know to do with Arthur Pendragon, and I couldn’t work out whether it was some kind of pun…of course he might have been speaking metaphorically, it’s very difficult to tell through a screen. Actually, Arthur never really adopted the epithet for himself; it was really his father’s thing, as a token of support for the Old Religion. He preferred to go by ‘Artorius’ from ‘bear’ rather than snake…although whether that was political manoeuvring or a simple desire to distinguish himself from Uther I don’t know…”

Adam had absolutely no interest in the political value of etymology. He did not much want to hear about King Arthur Pendragon. Despite the fact that his brain was mostly taken up with the thought of a dragon existing, he could not suppress the jab of resentment and jealousy that shot through him, mixed with a crippling shame as he thought back to the fight with Ronan, and the accusations he had made concerning Gansey. He shook them from his mind as he attempted to draw Gansey back to the issue at hand.

“Dude. Can we please return to the literal fact of dragon?”

“Oh, yes, sorry,” Gansey cleared his throat. “I’m sure he was joking. I mean, if there was an actual dragon running around rampant in Cabeswater, then the very least he could do is call. Anyway, you’re with him, aren’t you? How do you not know what’s going on?”

This last sounded oddly accusatory, coming from Gansey, and Adam felt briefly irritated, it being his turn to remain silent. Sensing his hesitation, Gansey asked carefully: “Adam? Is everything alright?”

“I’ve not seen any smoke,” replied Adam.

“I meant between you and Ronan.”

Adam swallowed, not knowing how much to tell him. On one hand, he didn’t want Gansey to worry. On the other, he didn’t want him to come back to Henrietta. “It’s fine,” he assured him. “I’m sorting it.”

Gansey let out a huff of frustration. “That,” he began. “Is what he said. And doesn’t that just fill me with confidence.”

“Don’t you have wine to taste or quinoa to pronounce or something?”

“As a matter of fact, I have a function in twenty minutes,” Gansey replied miserably. “Helen is buying candles, which drops the number of those belonging to our generation to one.”

“That’s more than the make-up of Congress.”

“I mean, true. But as political power does not, in actual fact, reside in the charming aesthetic of the table settings, you’ll forgive my reluctance to attend.”

“You are the apathetic youth.”

“I suppose so,” agreed Gansey ruefully. “I wonder if I have Blue or Ronan to thank for that. Alright, Parrish. If you’re sure everything really is fine, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Gansey, wait,” Adam said, a thought suddenly occurring to him. “This is gonna sound totally random but…do you have any idea what Dulack is?”

He waited patiently during the pause on the other end, imagining Gansey frowning in bemusement, absently running his finger along his bottom lip. “Dulack?” he repeated, perplexed. “No I don’t…unless you mean ‘du Lac’. As in, the French. As in, Lancelet du Lac.”

Adam thought he probably did. “Lancelet du Lac?”

“Yes,” Adam could practically see Gansey’s fervent nod. “It translates to ‘of the lake’. Legend has it that, being half-fairy and the son of the Lady of the Lake, Lancelet was brought up in Avalon. Which did wonders for his sense of identity I’m sure, growing up in post-Roman, Catholic medieval England.”

Adam couldn’t speak.

“Adam,” he could hear the frown in his voice. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” said Adam quickly. “Gansey, I’ve got to go. I’ll see you tomorrow. Have fun at the function.”

He hung up midway through Gansey’s startled exclamation, fingers fumbling in his haste to dial Ronan’s number.

“Pick up, pick up, pick up,” he hissed through gritted teeth. “Come on you asshole, pick up.”

Before he had dialled the final number however, Adam’s phone was ringing again. A glance showed it not to be Gansey, but Ronan himself. Heart leaping in his throat, Adam answered instantly.

“Ronan,” he breathed, and he sounded so breathlessly grateful it was almost like a prayer.

“Parrish,” Ronan’s voice came snarling back, crackly and unwilling. “I need your help with something.”

***

Ronan waited on the fringes of Cabeswater for Adam to arrive. He had been there since very early that morning and he thought it probably showed. Quite apart from his sickly pallor and the bruised-coloured circles under his eyes, his clothes were smoking.

On the ground Chainsaw snapped around his heels, beak clacking for worms and insects. Ronan tsked at her, flicking his fingers impatiently. He wasn’t exactly sure why he had brought her. It had something to do with the poetry of fighting an evil dream thing with another that was innately good. Ronan hadn’t thought it through. If he had thought it through, he would have remembered that the evil dream thing was easily twelve feet in height while Chainsaw was not much bigger than one of Gansey’s boat shoes.

Impatience was Ronan’s default setting currently. He had escaped Kavinsky and the dream dragon impatiently, diving into a lake that he certainly hadn’t remembered being there before, in order to wake up. He had driven impatiently to Cabeswater, slamming his foot on the accelerator much to the distress of Noah, who had been in the back seat. He had impatiently fought the dragon, which had managed to manifest itself in the real world and was now raging through the forest, swearing with the realisation that he had no weapons whatsoever. And now he waited for Adam, to whom he had solidly not been speaking, and who was taking a very long time, considering the circumstances.

Calling Adam had been a last resort. Once Ronan had been forced to admit that his powers did not extend to the ability to single-handedly combat a fully grown mythical nightmare, he had exited the forest as swiftly as he could, reaching for his detested phone once he was safely out of its reach. He was annoyed; ignoring Adam had been a vested interest and now he had spoiled it all by getting too drunk and not being able to keep a grip over his dreams.

Suddenly Cabeswater croaked a loud “Kerah” and Ronan jerked out of his brooding reverie to see the Hondayota buffeting along the main road. Ronan shoved his hands into his pockets, assuming an expression of cool disinterest as Adam parked the car and climbed out, slamming the door behind him.

“A dragon, Ronan?” Adam demanded, swiftly crossing the space that divided them. “Seriously? A dragon?”

“It’s not mine,” replied Ronan, stung.

“Really,” said Adam, raising an eyebrow in disbelief. “And who else do we know that’s capable of pulling supernatural creatures from their imagination?”

“Kavinsky,” snapped Ronan.

For a moment Adam frowned in confusion, likely as a result of the knowledge that Joseph Kavinsky had in fact been dead several months. Then his expression cleared, and he merely looked infuriated.

“Brilliant,” he spat savagely. “Just brilliant. And when exactly were you planning on telling me this?”

“Never,” answered Ronan shortly.

He turned away to regain his composure and began to walk brusquely in the direction of the forest. He threw a look over his shoulder and saw Adam still standing there, arms crossed over his chest and staring at him defiantly. He looked so much like the Adam from his dreams for a moment Ronan’s throat closed.

“Are you coming or what?” he forced out.

Adam fixed him with a glaring, adult look, like Ronan was a bratty toddler and Adam was thoroughly unimpressed with his behaviour, before walking reluctantly towards Cabeswater. Ronan swore and turned back round, setting off at a fast pace in order to keep a large distance between them.

Adam kept up his front of aloof superiority all the way into Cabeswater, looking up from his feet every now and then to glare at the back of Ronan’s head. Ronan ignored him, filling the silence by stomping unnecessarily loudly through the undergrowth. Chainsaw flew crowingly overhead and Ronan eyed her with envy, wishing he too could fly far away to just about anywhere else.

As they journeyed deeper and deeper into the forest, Ronan could sense Adam’s desire to ask where exactly they were going. To his credit however he continued to say nothing until nearly an hour had passed.

“I know who du Lac is, by the way,” he said.

Ronan felt a brief swooping sensation, as if he had missed a step, but recovered quickly. “Congratulations genius,” he snapped. “Two years at a private school and already you have successfully managed to manoeuvre the vast and complex workings of the Internet.”

“It’s you,” Adam said, as if he hadn’t heard him. “Cabeswater was talking to you, after all. But why was it addressing you as Lancelet? Why not as the Greywaren?”

“Fuck if I know,” replied Ronan irritably.

Adam lapsed once again into silence. It did not last long however before he was saying quietly, “You should have told someone you were dreaming of Kavinsky. It didn’t have to be me, but you should have told Gansey, or someone at least.”

“I’m not dreaming of Kavinsky,” Ronan told him. “At least, I didn’t choose to. He just…appeared. I don’t even think it’s him. I think it’s something else that’s threatening Cabeswater, and whatever it is just took the form of him to fuck with me.”

Adam muttered “Convenient,” under his breath and Ronan tossed him a dirty look.

They walked the rest of the way without speaking. Ronan, who knew where he was going, followed the path in his mind without offering explanation. It became more evident however as scorch marks began to appear on several of the trees, and the leaves above their heads seemed to be growing sparser. Ronan heard Adam’s footsteps falter as he noticed the patches of scarred, blackened earth and shrivelled plants and then, as Ronan led him through a break in the trees and the path began to curve downwards, Ronan heard Adam gasp.

“My God,” said Adam.

Ronan set his jaw by way of response. In front of them stood a tremendous stone fortress. It looked to be centuries, maybe thousands of years old; Adam hazarded a guess at 5AD, at least. Despite its age it seemed remarkably intact, an even more impressive feat when one took into account that everything around it was on fire.

The fortress stood in the middle of a ring of burning trees. The dragon was circling overhead, a flicker of orange flame against the brilliant blue sky. Its wings and tail were unfurled, looking like an enormous bat. For a moment, Adam could not do nothing more than gawp at it, unable to believe what he was seeing. Then he felt Ronan tug sharply at his arm. “Come on,” he said and began to steer him in the direction of the fortress.

A circular flight of stairs twisted round the crumbling stone, leading up to the battlements. Ronan held onto Adam’s arm, dragging up the steps as the dragon seemed to stop in mid-air, flapping its enormous wings as its head turned in the direction of the fortress. It released an ear-splitting shriek, so loud Adam instinctively slapped a palm over his good ear, stumbling backwards.

“Keep moving,” Ronan yelled, yanking him up by his elbow.

Adam scrambled up the last step. A huge wall, at least a head taller than Ronan ran round the entire width and Ronan pulled Adam down beside it, covering him with his arm as a ball of flame crashed into the walls of the fortress. Petrified, Adam clung onto the Ronan, blessedly warm and solid beneath him. He felt Ronan’s arm tighten protectively over his shoulders, pressing him against his torso so that Adam could feel the frantic leaping of his heart in his chest. He glanced up and saw that he was deathly white, his eyes wide, and he realised for the first time how terrified he was. Then he thought how Ronan had come here in the early hours of the morning with the intention of doing battle against the dragon alone. Disbelief flooded through him mixed with tidal wave of affection, so strong and sincere it was painful.

“How are we supposed to fight it?” he shouted over the monster’s screeches.

Ronan shrugged. His expression told Adam that he had been thinking along the same lines. Adam scanned the area for some sign of weaponry; there was nothing apart from a spear rack completely devoid of spears and an enormous wooden catapult. He flung out a finger in the latter’s direction.

“There,” he told Ronan, and tentatively the two made their way towards it, Ronan sending anxious glances towards the sky as he moved.

Once they reached the catapult, Adam cast about wildly for something to load it with. His eyes settled on a pile of debris that had clearly fallen from the wall in the face of the dragon’s onslaught. He motioned to Ronan who at once grabbed one of the rocks and with an effort, settled it into the strap of the catapult. Adam grabbed the other side, helping him to pull the leather back and the two of them heaved with the weight until they were nearly sitting on the stone.

“On my count,” said Ronan. “Three, two, one.”

They launched the catapult. The rock went flying from the parapets, lurching over the fortress walls and into the air in a smooth arch. The dragon released a cry of pain and rage as it tore into its left wing, buffering it backwards into the wind. There was no time to celebrate however as a second later the dragon had bent back its head and released a lurching jet of fire.

“Get down,” Ronan yelled, wrenching Adam down low as the heat pelted over his head.

Suddenly, Adam had an idea. “Can you man the catapult by yourself?” he asked.

Ronan hesitated only briefly before nodding. “Get on it then,” Adam instructed and as Ronan moved to collect another stone, Adam closed his eyes.

I am your hands, he thought to Cabeswater.

At once, Adam felt a thrum of energy, buzzing at the end of his fingertips. It spread along his hands, through the fine bones until his arms too were alive with it. He lifted them in front of him, turning in the direction of the pile of rocks. Then he flung outwards with all his might. The stone followed, soaring into the sky along with the catapult. Ronan, his accuracy hindered now that it was just him, missed. Adam’s however hit the dragon, pelting forcibly into its stomach.

The dragon recovered quickly. Suddenly it was rocketing towards them, slicing low through the sky, long curved talons outstretched. Instinctively Ronan and Adam flung themselves out the way as it bore down on them, narrowly missing being sliced by its claws. Using his mind, Adam heaved another stone at it but this one barely scraped its underside before crumbling into the fiery wasteland below.

“We’re going to run out,” Ronan observed.

Adam followed Ronan’s nervous gaze to the rapidly decreasing pile of stones. “Think something up,” he told him.

Ronan shook his head, looking distressed. “I can’t.”

The dragon roared, swiping a wing against the base of the fortress. Adam felt a tremor like a small earthquake as a chunk of the building fell away. “What do you mean you can’t?” he bellowed at Ronan. “You’re the Greywaren!”

Ronan shook his head again. “It’s not working,” he tried to explain. “I tried it before, and nothing happened. It’s won’t let me.”

Du Lac, a voice whispered. Ronan had to strain to hear it, it sounded so thin and stretched as if the trees were using their last efforts to reach him. Looking at Adam, who was crouching low against the wrath of the dragon, he knew he hadn’t heard it at all. Veritas est telum.

Rage bubbled inside Ronan, swift and violent. “That’s not nearly as fucking helpful as you seem to think it is!” he bellowed back.

Adam’s eyes snapped to him. “What is it?” he demanded. “Is it Cabeswater? What did it say?”

Ronan didn’t answer him. He was just about to tell Adam to fuck off and pay attention to what he was doing when the dragon breathed again. Adam screamed, “Ronan!” and it was only then that he realised he was in its direct line of fire. Ronan dived out of the way, just as the surge of orange flame smashed into the space that he had been but he wasn’t quick enough. He felt a sudden searing of white hot pain in his arm, looking down he saw the skin had been scorched red and black.

“Ronan,” Adam cried again, and made to crawl over to help but another jet of fire sent him leaping backwards.

Ronan grit his teeth, feeling tears sparking up at the back of his eyeballs. He gripped his arm, gagging at the smell of burning flesh. Adam was still sending rocks at the dragon but there were only small ones left, and Ronan knew he couldn’t manage the catapult now.

Noli timere, du Lac, Cabeswater hissed at him desperately. Veritas est telum.

Ronan wanted to cry. “Quid si vulnerat mihi?” What if it hurts me?

Fortes fortuna adiuvat, Lancelet.

And Ronan understood. Cabeswater was not calling him Greywaren, because it was not the Greywaren that Cabeswater was talking to. Ronan as the Greywaren was Ronan at his fiercest, his bravest, his best. A child born of a dream and a miracle, who in turn could pull miracles from his dreams. Ferocious and passionate and terrifying, a force of nature, a hurricane. This was the Ronan that had been born from the ashes of his father’s death, an avenging angel burning with righteous fury. This was the Ronan which sneered with contempt at the hero Lancelet, too fearful and cowardly to speak his feelings, and who lost both his best friend and the love of his life as a result.

The other Ronan had existed before. It listened to Cabeswater now as he pushed aside the last of his fear, and suddenly Adam was at his side.

“Oh my God Ronan,” Adam whispered, tentatively touching the burnt black skin of his arm. His bottom lip trembled.

“I’m sorry I called you white-trash,” said Ronan.

Adam stared at him, stunned. His fair eyebrows knit with confusion, pulling low over his eyes as Ronan looked at his feet. “It’s okay,” he replied finally, perplexed. “Ronan, what the hell-?”

“-No, it’s not okay,” said Ronan fiercely. “You get enough shit as it is, you don’t need to hear it from me. Just because I don’t mean it doesn’t make it right for me to say. And you deserve to know that from me too, not from something I dreamed up because I don’t have the balls to tell you myself.”

Adam continued to stare at him, eyes wide, his mouth working although no words came out. Ronan took the opportunity to take a deep breath before plunging ahead. “Also,” he began. “I gave you that ring because I like you.”

Adam blinked and Ronan, cheeks burning fiercely, snatched his gaze away. Then Adam smiled, and it was so bright and fair that the flames around them seemed dulled somehow and Ronan couldn’t help but steal a glance.

“I like you too,” said Adam.

Something shimmered in the corner of the battlements. Both Adam and Ronan whipped their heads round as the spear rack seemed suddenly to be sitting in a pool of light. Further inspection revealed it to be full of spears, each one glinting in the sun and the fire, sharp and lethal and deadly. Ronan felt a swelling of joy inside him, so fierce he thought he might burst.

“Quick,” he told Adam, snatching a spear from the rack. “Give me a boost.”

The dragon was preparing to dive once again. Adam looked at Ronan incredulously. “Are you insane?” he asked.

“Just do it,” Ronan urged him. “Come on.”

Shaking his head, Adam raised his hands and closed his eyes. At once, thick green vines, each one the width of Ronan’s wrist began to shoot from his palms, roping around each other to form a twisted, knotted bridge. Ronan scrambled onto it, heart thudding in his chest as it propelled him into the sky. The dragon turned its head towards him and with a beat of its wings, began to soar towards him.

Several feet below, Ronan could hear Adam muttering. “Oh my god, oh my god, this is so stupid, oh my god-”

The dragon was coming closer. It was opening his mouth, Ronan could see into the cavern of its throat, burning so brightly it was almost white. Ronan’s palm was sweating. He gripped the spear tightly, and, taking care not to lose his footing on the vine bridge, he leant back.

He threw.

***

The dragon had not died gracefully.  As the spear head tore through the creature’s oesophagus, splaying blood like molten lava it released an earth-shattering scream. Ronan and Adam watched, dumb as the creature’s worm-like neck warped and twisted in on itself, viscous coppery liquid pouring from the wound to drip down its massive stomach until it could no longer support itself in the air. And suddenly it was falling, down, down in a mass of sputtering, choking flame and black matter until it had crashed into the scorched earth and lay still, a smouldering corpse.

Ronan helped Adam down from the fortress and they walked side by side back through the forest, to where the cars were parked. By silent agreement the destination was Monmouth, and now Ronan was sitting on the couch in the warehouse’s living room, clutching his arm and waiting for Adam while Chainsaw cawed to be fed.

“Not a chance,” Ronan barked at her crossly. “Where the fuck were you when we were fighting the dragon, huh? Bloody chicken.”

"Ronan, where is your first aid kit?" asked Adam who was rifling around in various cupboards.

“Check under the bath mat,” Ronan told him.

Adam did, and emerged with bandages and antiseptic. “Why?” he inquired, rattling the bath mat incredulously.

Ronan shrugged, unwilling to go into the story which had more to do with Gansey being a superstitious weirdo than lack of space. Adam shook his head in exasperation and, after running a towel in warm water, came over to the sofa where Ronan was sitting, shirtless and wincing.

“We should talk about the fight,” Adam said quietly, gently cleaning the burnt skin of Ronan’s arm.

Ronan rolled his eyes, lolling his head against the sofa rest. “I don’t want to,” he said.

“We should,” Adam insisted. He paused, dropping the towel and dabbing with the antiseptic. “I wanted to say sorry,” he added.

Ronan sucked in his breath, cringing at the sting on his exposed flesh. “You don’t have to apologise for anything,” he said sharply.

“I do,” Adam argued. He bit his lip, bending his head closer so that he could see the wound more clearly. Ronan could feel his breath, hot on his skin. “I’m not…happy with some of the things I said. I got real stupid over everything…and with you and Gansey…it made me mean.”

Me and Gansey,” Ronan repeated, his voice furious and tired at the same time. “For fuck’s sake Parrish-”

“-I know, I know,” Adam cut him off quickly. “I got stupid. Jealous. It’s just…you’re so close. You’ve got something that I’ll never have, not with either of you. And I know you love him and there’s a part of me that can’t help wondering if you aren’t in love with him too, a little bit.”

He snuck a look up at Ronan from behind his elbow. Ronan was frowning, but he didn’t look angry, just thoughtful. He looked like was thinking how to reply.

“I might have been once,” he said at last. “And maybe there’s a part of me that still is, but only in the same way that I’m also a little bit in love with Blue, and Noah. Sure there’s shit between me and Gansey that I don’t have with anyone else, but there’s also shit between me and you that I don’t have with Gansey. It’s a different kind of ‘in’, Adam. I can’t really describe it, but it’s a different kind of ‘in’.”

Adam wasn’t sure he understood completely, but he thought he did a bit. He was also pretty sure that Ronan had just told him he was in love with him.

“It doesn’t really matter,” Adam began, putting down the antiseptic and reaching for the gauze. “The jealous thing…it’s not even to do with you, really. It’s my problem, not yours. I’m just not used to…to wanting anything like this. Or having, for that matter. I’m not very good at it. I’ll work on it.”

Ronan’s eyes, which had flashed at the word “want” fixed hungrily on Adam. “Well, as long as we’re talking about self-improvement.” He reached into the pockets of his jeans and pulled out the mood ring, pressing it into Adam’s open palm. “I promise I’ll try to be better,” he told Adam. “But until I am.”

Adam nodded, allowing Ronan to slip the ring back onto his index. He felt something warm and glowing inside him as he did so and as the ring came into contact with his skin he saw the stone flush rosy pink. Looking up, he saw that Ronan was grinning.

“Are you laughing at me?” Adam asked.

Ronan shook his head. “I was just thinking,” he gestured to Adam, bent studiously over his burnt arm, carefully patting the gauze into place. “This kind of really suits your role.”

Adam raised an eyebrow. “And what role would that be?”

Ronan’s smile was wicked and snakelike, all sharp points. “Guinevere.”

He cackled as Adam’s mouth dropped open in indignation. “Gansey’s wife?” he demanded, bristling instantly.

“There’s more to it than that,” Ronan shrugged, sniggering as Adam wrapped a bandage around his bicep, tying it off rather more tightly than necessary. “I’d go into it, but I can’t be bothered.”

Adam finished off the bandage and put the first aid kit to one side. “Say it again,” he told Ronan.

“What?” asked Ronan.

Adam took Ronan’s hand. It was warm and dry and heavy in the absolute nicest way. “You know what.”

Ronan ran his thumb across the back of Adam’s hand. Then gently, he raised it to his mouth, brushing the knuckles softly with his lips. “I like you,” he said.

Adam felt the thrill of warmth that had begun in his stomach spread through him as Ronan leant closer, setting his lips to the crook between Adam’s neck and shoulder. “I like you,” he said again, kissing the skin there and pulling it back and forth between his teeth. Adam gasped even as Ronan released him and straightened up, so close that Adam could count every one of his long, dark eyelashes.

“I like you,” Ronan breathed before closing the space between them.

It took Adam the total space of three seconds for his mind to comprehend that it was kissing Ronan Lynch. He put his hands on his shoulders, relishing in the feel of his warm, sturdy muscles, alive and thrumming with energy under his palms. Ronan kissed him slowly and gently and so carefully, as if Adam was a fragile thing that he was terrified of breaking. One hand clasped the back of his neck, pulling him deeper into the kiss and Adam gave himself up to this pleasure like he had never allowed himself before; Ronan’s hand in his hair, Ronan’s strong, firm shoulders, Ronan’s hot mouth and wet tongue.

Ronan kissed him, so softly and sweetly that Adam was sure it was going to break his heart. He could feel his eyelashes fluttering against Adam’s cheek and his lips were almost as soft, softer than Adam had thought they would be. Adam didn’t know why; just because they were capable of spitting poison and harsh insults and foul words. Now they moved so lazily it was as if Ronan was intending to caress him, in the same tentative way that he had stroked his hand and gazed upon him reverentially across crowded rooms.

But Adam didn’t want reverence. He wanted to want, and he did.

He moved his hands from Ronan’s shoulders to intertwine at the back of Ronan’s neck, pulling him closer in order to deepen the kiss. Ronan gave a little hum of surprise which swiftly turned into agreement as Adam’s tongue grew bolder, eager in his exploration of Ronan. Then suddenly Ronan broke off, drawing a pathetic whine of disappointment from Adam before he was kissing his neck again, this time much more fiercely. Adam’s eyes rolled back into his skull, moaning as Ronan’s lips closed around the sensitive skin of his neck and sucked, flicking his tongue over the spot before biting down. This time Adam cried out and felt the curve of Ronan’s smile against his skin.

“Do you like that?” he murmured. “Is that good?”

Adam nodded, unable to reply. Ronan settled again on his neck, sucking wetly and drawing gasps from Adam whose brain could think of nothing but the wet heat of Ronan’s mouth and the scrape of his teeth. He could feel himself becoming hard and by the time Ronan had moved to kiss the hollow at his neck he was panting breathlessly.

“Oh my God,” Adam groaned as Ronan’s hands ran up under his shirt. “Your bedroom. Ronan.”

“Jesus,” Ronan muttered, forcing himself away from Adam’s neck. “Okay. God. Okay.”

He struggled off Adam, allowing him to slide off the couch, and followed him to Ronan’s room. Closing the door behind him, he turned around and saw Adam, sitting on the bed. For a moment he froze, one hand on the door knob and Adam wondered if he thought he had walked into one of his dreams. Then he was crossing the space between them, taking Adam’s face in his hands and kissing him fiercely, his thumb running gently along his jaw. Adam’s hands flew once again to Ronan’s shoulders, he couldn’t seem to stop touching them, touching him. It seemed a lifetime ago that he had thought of this in the shower. And why had he been thinking of this when he could have been here months ago, the reality so much better than any of his fantasies?

He wanted so badly he was burning up with it. He pushed Ronan back, forcing him into lying with his back against the mattress. Ronan allowed him, watching in silent awe with his hand moving automatically under Adam’s shirt as Adam threw a leg on either side of Ronan’s hips, rocking back and forth. He could feel Ronan’s erection, denim clad beneath his and he gasped at the friction, rubbing himself against Ronan’s length until he was biting his lip from the pleasure. Without thinking, he moved his hand up from Ronan’s chest, resting two fingers on Ronan’s bottom lip.

Ronan stared up at him and his eyes were wide with rapture, as if he were the Holy Grail. Slowly, he drew Adam’s fingers into his mouth. Adam’s mouth fell open, his lower stomach lurching at the sight of Ronan wrapped around his fingers, sucking lustily with heavily lidded eyes. Again without thinking he shoved deeper and Ronan took it, sucking harder and humming round Adam’s fingers so that the vibrations ran all the way up and down to Adam’s dick. He was so hard he ached with it, he could feel the tears springing at the back of his eyes. He drew his hands out of Ronan’s mouth to palm himself through his jeans, rocking even faster against Ronan who noticed.

“Do you want to come?” Ronan asked him, voice husky with want. “Adam, do you want to come for me?”

Adam nodded with a whimper, still moving. Ronan shifted beneath him, angling his pelvis so that Adam could relieve the ache of his dick. Adam sped up his movements, rocking harder and harder against Ronan, the friction was unbearable, he could feel the heat building up into his abdomen, rising and rising until he thought he would choke. “I’m gonna-” he stuttered before he was coming in his jeans, arching his torso and throwing his head backwards.

As he came he was dimly aware of Ronan, his hand moving tenderly up and down his ribs as he rode the waves of his orgasm. When at last Adam collapsed onto Ronan’s chest, shaking so hard his teeth chattered Ronan stroked his back until the aftershocks had subsided. It was only then that he realised, with a stabbing of guilt, how hard Ronan still was. Quickly, his hands moved to work the zip of Ronan’s jeans. Ronan’s hand faltered on Adam’s skin, resting against the small of his back.

“Adam,” he said. “It’s fine. You don’t have to.”

“I want to,” said Adam truthfully. “Let me?”

Ronan set his jaw, jerking his head mechanically and Adam tugged his jeans down over his boxers before finally freeing Ronan’s dick. He wrapped a hand around it and began to stroke, tenderly, lovingly, not at all how he would usually touch himself. He wanted it to be good for Ronan. Ronan deserved it to be good.

As he stroked Ronan’s length, he bent close to whisper into his ear. “I thought about you in the shower,” he confessed. “Thinking about me, and touching yourself. That’s what I was doing, the other day when you came to my apartment, and I was all bothered. I came so hard, thinking about touching you, that I thought I’d gone blind.”

Ronan shoved his fist in his mouth, forcing his high-pitched gasps to escape around it. Adam felt the drip of pre-cum as he sped up his movements.

“Is that what you dream about, Ronan?” he asked. “Is that what you dream about, alone in your car with no one to hear you? Do you dream about fucking me?”

That did it. No sooner had he said the word and Ronan was coming with enormous force. He bit down on his fist, so hard he drew blood as with the other hand he grappled for the sheets in a desperate attempt to anchor himself. Adam took his hand, moving it away from his mouth and Ronan cried out, coming in reams and reams against Adam’s t-shirt before falling back onto the mattress, his head in his hands.

Ronan was breathing very heavily. Adam flung off his dirtied shirt before crawling in beside Ronan bending down to kiss the flushed pink of Ronan’s shoulder. The mood ring was searing on his finger; looking down Adam saw that it was the colour of the brightest sunset, ruby streaked with gold. He put an arm around Ronan and felt that he was still shaking.

“You’re so brave,” he told him.

***                                                                                             

The next day Gansey came home. Despite what Ronan and Adam had thought individually on separate occasions, both were happy to see him. In actual fact, Gansey had barely emerged from the Pig than Ronan was sprinting down the steps leading up to Monmouth, nearly knocking him back into the car with the force of his embrace.

“Good God Lance,” Gansey laughed, flushed with the pure elation of seeing his friends again after the sheer age that was a near week. “Anyone would think you missed me.”

Adam watched with a mixture of exasperation and amusement, but not jealousy. He knew, and Ronan knew, that it was a very different kind of ‘in’.

As Ronan and Adam helped Gansey take his luggage back upstairs, Adam kicked Ronan lightly on the back of the leg.

“Bet Guinevere couldn’t do this,” he said, in relation to the fact that he was carrying two suitcases and a heavy box of Welsh literature at the same time.

Ronan glanced dismissively at him. “You have no idea what Guinevere was and wasn’t capable of,” he chastised him. “Don’t be sexist.”

“For God’s sake,” Blue’s voice sounded from the back room, lamenting and plaintive. “Adam. Not you too.”

“Shut the fuck up, Morgaine,” Ronan told her.

Adam looked at Ronan, horrified. “That is Arthur’s sister.”

“And slash or the mother of his child, depending on variant and telling. What? I didn’t make it up. More importantly, she is a tiny evil fairy elf witch.”

Adam shook his head at Ronan in a parody of disbelief. But it was only a parody. The mood ring was shining the unsullied blue of a hundred glorious summers and Adam couldn’t help but agree with it. For now, and for forever, Adam believed in Ronan.