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Hold On

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Gansey parks the Pig in the small parking lot and pulls his keys out of the ignition. In front of them, a black sign proclaims TATTOOS in large, western font. “What’s this place called again?”

“Dreamland,” Adam says, doing his best to seem nonchalant about it. As if that hadn’t seemed like an omen at one in the morning a month ago back in his dorm room when he was desperately missing his friends. His Henrietta friends. He has friends at school, but they’re different. These people who come back to use the Barns as the center for all of their separately spiraling lives, they’re his family.

“That seems on the nose, even for us.” Gansey takes off his glasses and rubs them off with the hem of his polo shirt, which Adam is certain has more to do with the state of his nerves than the state of his glasses. Gansey is an inveterate adventurer, welcoming all new experiences and things, but tattoos still mean something very different to him than they do to most other people. Adam knows he’s picturing a younger, freshly hurt Ronan. “Are you sure you can’t just let Blue draw this thing on you every morning with a sharpie?”

“Are you sure you could spare her every morning?”

“Are we certain she wouldn’t have very stern words for both of us planning out her time like this without her having a say?”

“Absolutely positive about the opposite of that.”

They both look out the windshield at the low slung red building. It’s not what Adam thought a tattoo shop would look like before he started his research. In his limited experience tattoo shops are usually squeezed into strip malls that are otherwise unremarkable. The bland brick walls framing windows that are portals to fantastically different worlds, splattered in color and contrasting sharply with the lives going on around them.

Adam unbuckles his seatbelt. “You don’t have to come in if you don’t want. I can call you to come back.”

“No,” Gansey says. He throws off his own seatbelt and opens his door. “I’m curious.”

“Me too.”

They get out and slam their doors, then start up the walk. The wooden steps creak quietly beneath their weight as they climb up onto the porch. Adam takes a deep breath and opens the door.

The interior of the shop is exactly what he expects; organized chaos, riots of color against lots of flat black. Gansey wanders away almost immediately to look at a poster splattered with sailor aesthetic flash art. Adam approaches the high black counter. There’s a young woman perched on a stool behind it playing with her phone, her purple hair falling over her face and heavily inked tan shoulders. She doesn’t look at him when she says, “What can I do for you?”

“I have an appointment,” Adam says. “With Anna?”

The girl looks up, gives him a once over with her black, black eyes that he thinks must be contacts, and puts her phone down. “Ah, you must be Adam. Let me go get my sketches and you can decide which one you like.”

She hops off the stool and disappears down a hallway. Adam lets his gaze wander. The art on the walls is a jumble of styles that represent the artists who come through the shop. Next to the front window there’s a Monet-esque painting of dappled leaves with bright points of stars floating in the black behind them. The stars might actually be small gemstones. He can’t tell, but they’re very shiny. “Blue would like this one,” he says.

Gansey comes up behind Adam and looks at it over his shoulder. “It has a nice use of shadow.”

Adam’s about to tease Gansey about this assessment when Anna comes back. She beckons Adam over and spreads several sheets of paper across the counter top. “I tried to take your idea and give it a few different twists, but if there’s something you want changed just let me know and I’ll go back and work on it again. I want you to be sure about it.”

Gansey makes a small ‘hmmmm’ sound, because he’d said the same thing to Adam when Adam sprung the idea on him. Adam, for his part, is very sure about both the tattoo and the sentiment behind it. He heads back to the counter and starts swapping the pages around, trying to form some sort of ranking for which ones he likes the most. He immediately discards a folded up wing that looks a lot like a harp. Gansey picks it up and holds it close to his face, studying the lines.

Adam settles on two different designs that he pulls toward him and studies side by side. The first is almost wave-like, the stark lines emanating out in a wing-shaped vortex from a center point, the edges of the ends of each line ragged like brush strokes. The second is more realistic, softer. The individual feathers are there, intricate, mostly white but mottled through with splatters of grey, as if it rained across the drawing. Adam’s very taken by it. He runs his fingers over it, disappointed that it only feels like paper.

“This one,” he says.

Gansey leans in close to peer at the one he’s chosen. “That’s very...delicate.”

“Exactly.”

If Gansey has a question about Adam's certainty in this too, he doesn't ask.

Anna sweeps up the art. “Do you want me to change any of it? I know you said you’d know when you saw it, but I don’t want to take too many liberties.”

“No, that’s perfect.”

She grins at him. “Okay then. Follow me back. Your friend can come.” Adam and Gansey follow her down the hallway and she points them to one of the side rooms. “You can sit down in there in the black chair in the middle. I’m going to make the stencil.”

Adam ducks into the room with Gansey close behind him. There are only two chairs and one of them is obviously for the artist, so Gansey hovers near the wall. He pulls his phone from his pocket and makes a face.

“What is it?” Adam asks.

Gansey holds the phone out and Adam takes it. There’s a text that is definitely from Henry’s number, but that contains a creative string of very un-Henry-like expletives followed by the poo emoji and then: lunch?

“You’d think Ronan hasn’t seen you in months,” Gansey says.

It’s both a joke and a one hundred percent accurate assessment of the situation. Adam’s not even home for the whole summer, just a couple more weeks. Then he’s back to school to do a Summer II session. He feels the impending distance just as keenly as Ronan does, so he understands the cursing and the tantrum over any lost time. But instead of dragging all of that out in public, he merely hands Gansey his phone back and replies, “I didn’t know Ronan knew how to use emojis.”

On Adam’s own phone there are a lot of texts from Ronan’s phone that are filled with emojis, but they’re not from Ronan. Opal is quick on the pick up with a lot of things, and even though Adam sometimes feels like he’s reading a picture book when she sends him messages, they make a startling amount of sense once you understand the language. It’s possible that, having lived so long in Ronan’s dreams, Opal thinks best in imagery.

“I’m telling him we’ll be back before dinner, but they’re on their own for lunch.” Gansey types as he speaks.

Anna comes back in with a small tray of supplies. “Do you know where you want it?”

Adam does know. He knew that before he knew exactly what design he’d settle on. He wants it to go in that place where Ronan always seems to be holding on to him for dear life.

The night of their first kiss, after everyone else was gone, Ronan had looked at him across the porch and said his name with such tender anticipation and hope that it answered all of the questions swirling around in Adam’s overworked mind. He’d practically launched himself at Ronan, like he was jumping into a lake, and Ronan had caught him about the waist and held him close while they explored the tilting, drowning feeling of it together. And ever since, whenever Ronan needs Adam he holds him there, fingers curled tightly just above his hip, grounding Adam and steadying him and keeping him upright when everything else in the world seems to want to knock them both down.

He pulls up his shirt and grips at that place where their connection always feels like it runs through him at its strongest and most steady. “About here?”

Anna puts her things down on a table at the edge of the room and turns back to Adam to fuss over cleaning his skin and fixing the placement. Once she gets it on she nudges him to get up and check it out in the mirror in the corner. It’s little more than a purple outline, but he can already see how the edges of the feathers will gracefully overlap his hipbone. The tilt of it makes it look a bit like it’s sprouting from his rib. It feels incredibly right.

“I think Henry has his phone back,” Gansey says, as Adam gives Anna a thumbs up and settles himself back into his chair with the side of his shirt carefully tucked into his armpit. “There’s a ransom threat being made, you for my boat shoes, but there are no expletives.”

“That’s just a day that ends in Y for you, isn’t it? I’m surprised Blue didn’t toss them into the Grand Canyon.”

Gansey looks up with a small frown tugging at his lips. “She teased it, they almost went in on accident. I can replace shoes, but no one wants to walk through the desert barefoot.”

“Of all the indignities,” Adam muses. “If it makes you feel better, Ronan got kicked square in the shin by a baby goat on Thursday. There’s a massive purple bruise on his leg, which is why he’s been in jeans since you got here. He tried to play it off like it was nothing, cussed up a storm, but I swear to god he almost cried.”

“What did he do to deserve that?”

Adam shrugs and watches Anna unwrap the needle. “I think it was just a case of shared ornery cussedness.”

“Like father like kid,” Gansey mumbles.

Adam laughs and Anna pokes at him. “You get that all out of your system now. No laughing allowed while I’m stabbing you with the sharp objects and permanent ink.” She buzzes the machine at him to drive the point home.

He holds up his hands in surrender. “Yes ma’am,” he says, and sits up straight.

“Oh no you don’t.” She swats at his arm. “I’m not old enough to be a ma’am. What are you, twenty?”

“For another week or so.”

“See, you’re basically my little brother.” She dips the needles into the ink and then spreads her free hand over his ribs. “Now hold still.”

“Yes m-, sure.”

“That’s the spirit! This is going to sting.”

Adam closes his eyes. There’s the buzzing sound again for several short bursts and the room seems to hold its breath in the space between them, then it does indeed sting as she presses the needles to his skin. He inhales sharply and the breath rattles around in his throat. He can feel the pulse in his jaw.

“I still can’t believe Ronan sat still long enough for his.”

“Did you even know he was doing it?”

They never talk about Ronan actually getting his tattoo. For a long time after Ronan told them about his magic Adam just assumed he’d managed to catch one of his dreams by the tail and sew it into himself, like Peter Pan reclaiming his shadow. They were several months into their relationship before Adam asked about it and Ronan told him that no, it was real, and that it had hurt, but not enough to distract him from everything else that was happening like he’d wanted it to.

The tattoo is a magnificent part of Ronan’s now, but the actual act of getting it seems to be locked up tight in the box labelled BEFORE. Ronan’s slowly letting Adam into that part of himself, but some scars will feel too fresh no matter how long you’ve had them. That’s a fact Adam knows well, so he doesn’t pry.

“Not until it was done. He went during school hours so Declan couldn’t stop him if he found out. It was a couple weeks of missed Algebra classes before you could see it over his shirt collars and by then all I could do was help keep it clean.”

“I don’t think Declan would have had much bearing on the situation even if he had known.”

“No,” Gansey says. “Probably not.”

“What’s your friend’s ink?” Anna asks, blacking out the sharp edge of one of the feathers.

“Boyfriend,” Adam says, at the same time that Gansey says, “A map?”

Anna huffs out half a laugh that Adam feels ghost warm across the skin of his arm. She winks up at him. “A boyfriend map it is. Couldn’t we all use one of those?”

Adam is a little embarrassed by the knee-jerk answer. This complete stranger surely doesn’t care about their friends or his relationships. It’s just that still, after spending two years in a large city that affords him the sort of freedom to be that took him a while to acclimate to, he still expects these small places where he grew up to disapprove quite a lot of who he’s finally becoming. He’s still sensitive about being erased or pushed aside or rendered invisible. He didn’t go through everything that happened just so he could fade back into the background of the world. Adam has more than earned his right to be seen and heard. They all have.

The pulsing of the needles is starting to fade into a crawling ache across his side. Adam thinks he understands now what Ronan meant about how getting the tattoo hadn’t hurt enough. This creeping stinging feels a little like a building orgasm that just won’t break. A monotonous, euphoric anticipation that can’t be forced to completion. He thinks about a terrified Ronan sitting hunched forward over a chair back, or maybe even fully prone, for hours and hours of this and praying for the release that never came. Thinking that if he could just tip it over into something overpowering he could stop feeling like he wanted to be released from so many parts of his life full stop.

It makes a lot of sense. It makes Adam reconsider the beginning of their friendship, but that’s a thing he’s had to reconsider so many times he’s surprised he hasn’t worn the memories clean away.

“It’s not really a map to anywhere. Just of his imagination, I guess.”

“It’s his home,” Gansey says. “Lots of beaks and talons and thorns.”

“And flowers and other blooming things,” Adam adds.

“I get it,” Anna says. “I’ve certainly had friends that I wished I could turn inside out like that. It’s hard to know people sometimes.”

Especially, Adam thinks, when what they want you to know and what you want to know don’t always match up. That was once him and Ronan to a tee. They’ve both done a lot of growing.

Gansey’s phone dings again. He checks it and pinches the bridge of his nose. Adam can’t help but laugh when Gansey turns the phone around to show him the picture. Anna pulls the needles away quick and looks up.

The photo has come from Henry’s phone, which Adam assumes means Henry won it back, because Ronan is clearly in front of the camera and not behind it. He’s on his knees in a fast food restaurant ball pit with his arms crossed over his chest, grinning down maliciously at where Blue’s hands are pushing at his arms and stomach, trying to knock him over. The only way Adam can tell they’re Blue’s is the neon orange and green nail polish. The rest of her is buried beneath Ronan’s thighs and dozens of primary colored balls.

“I don’t even know how he fit through the tiny rope tunnel,” Gansey says.

“What if Calla called him snake so many times he started to take it heart?”

“You,” Anna observes, “should tell him to pick on someone his own size. I can’t see the rest of that person, but their arms are tiny.”

Gansey sighs. “That is my girlfriend, the rest of her is also quite small. And I’ve been trying to keep him from picking anyone for years.”

“As if there’s a force on this earth that can make Ronan not do something he’s put his mind to.” Adam thinks about the demon and his amusement deflates some. He’s very, very glad that Ronan is a force of nature, that Ronan is still here.

“That’s why you love him, right?” Gansey asks.

“Yeah,” Adam says, because it is. One of many reasons. He leans back in the chair so Anna can get back to her work.

Gansey waves in the direction of the doorway. “I’m going to go outside to call them so they can’t hear all this.”

Adam nods at him and he slips out into the hallway.

Without Gansey there Adam focuses on watching the needles as they dip rapidly in and out of his skin. The vibrations send deadened ripples coursing through him. He stares at the lines of black being left behind. Changed, he’s being changed right before his own eyes. No, that’s not quite right. He’s already been changed. He’s just making his outsides match his insides. It feels a little bit daring and a whole lot right. He can’t wait for Ronan to see it. The anticipation has him vibrating almost as much as the needles themselves.

“Your boyfriend seems like a handful,” Anna says. With the two of them alone her voice is quieter, unlike Gansey, who knows by now that he has to speak up if he wants Adam to hear him.

Adam has a little trouble differentiating her words from the buzz, but not nearly as much as he’d have if he was getting the tattoo on his left side. “Can you talk louder?”

“What?” She pauses in her work and looks up at him. He inclines his head toward her. “Oh yes, sorry about that.”

“Thank you,“ Adam says. Then, “He’s a lot, but he’s my a lot.”

“I know how that is. I’m guessing he doesn’t know about this, by the way your friend left so they wouldn’t hear.”

“Nah, it’s a surprise.”

“Are you getting it for him?”

“Not really.”

Really, this tattoo is for Adam. Really, it’s to commemorate how three years ago he left his parents’ house, how shortly after he was making his way on his own for real, how two years ago he’d received acceptance letters from a number of colleges who said they would be pleased to have someone as bright as him among their student bodies. Adam’s been yearning for the sky beyond the mountains for as long as he can remember and slowly, by increments, he’s taken it, earned it, and made his home in it.

Adam knows that it’s him who did all of this, his decisions and his hard work, but it’s impossible for him to untangle Ronan from it. The same goes for the rest of his friends, but Ronan has a special place in Adam’s life. He has since that first time Ronan convinced him to get into a shopping cart and he always will if Adam has his way. His way that he’s going to keep fighting for. The blank pale canvas of his skin gives way to the black of the ink as the feathers on the design take shape. The sound of the machine drones on, indefatigable as Ronan’s hope.

“Can’t wait to see his face when he sees it, though,” he says finally.

“Mmmm,” Anna hums. “I hope he likes it.”

“I already like it, so I think he’ll love it.”

“Right answer,” she says. She shoots him a finger gun with her empty hand and then goes back to the design.

Adam watches the ink being laid into his skin and sort of zones out on the feeling of it. He thinks Anna doesn’t mind when they talk, but he doesn’t get the impression she really needs him to either. He’s glad for it, for the easy atmosphere of this place where things are permanently changed. By all rights that should be a terrifying prospect and instead it just feels like what it is, inevitable and welcome. When Gansey comes back Adam looks up at the clock and is surprised to find that almost twenty minutes have gone by.

“I told Blue to tell Ronan that we were antiquing and we’d be back when we were good and ready.”

“Antiquing? Gansey, he’s never going to believe that I willingly walked around and looked at old stuff with you.”

Gansey crosses his arms. “Well why not? You all willingly walked around and looked at old stuff with me for years back in school. Besides, it was the only thing I could think of that he wouldn’t want to crash.”

“You better get your stories straight,” Anna says. “What were you looking for while you were antiquing?”

Immediately, Gansey says, “Plates for my mother.”

“An iron maiden?” Adam tries.

Gansey points at Adam in excitement. “A haunted suit of armor!”

“And the gang from Scooby Doo trapped inside?”

“A snow globe?” Gansey asks. He looks down with a thoughtful moue, drops his arms, and steeples his fingers around his phone.

That right there is another reason Adam refuses to fade away and not fully become. He owes it to Noah to make every new day worth it. They all do.

“Rosebud.” Anna nods to herself. She looks up at Gansey. “So what about you? Are you next in line here?”

Gansey holds up his hands in self-defense. “Oh no. There are some experiences I’m more than happy to let other people have for me.”

She shrugs. “Your loss, I do a mean vintage camera.”

They lapse into a quiet that lasts for quite a while after Anna moves on to the shading. Somewhere in the shop someone turns on a radio and the music finds its way to Adam in fits and starts over the sound of the tattoo machine. It’s a melancholy song that Adam knows. One he’s listened to hundreds of times since that first night he heard it. The rough voice makes him remember he and Ronan side by side in the dark while he tried to memorize every last detail to take with him when he went away to school: the warmth of the night, the hundreds of dreamed up fireflies, the bright stars beyond them, the way the grass prickled against his neck and the backs of his legs, Ronan’s hand in his...

...but inside your head there’s a record that’s playing a song called hold on.

Adam’s phone buzzes and he very carefully moves to pull it from his pocket. There’s a message from Blue. When he opens it it’s a picture of Ronan, Henry, and Opal in front of one of the sheds at the Barns. Ronan and Henry are holding a piece of rope while Opal crawls under it. Ronan has Chainsaw on his shoulder and is holding his side of the rope very low to try to catch Opal. Henry is holding his end at waist height and has his free hand thrown up in what Adam assumes is exasperation for blatant disregard of the rules on both Ronan and Opal’s parts. If that doesn’t encapsulate Ronan’s relationship with the world Adam doesn’t know what does.

“That is Norman Rockwell levels of cute,” Anna says, and if she notices Opal’s hooves she doesn’t mention them.

“They all have their moments.” Adam holds out the phone for Gansey to take. “Do you want to do the honors?”

Blue has a deal with all of them. Any time she sends a picture they have to take a picture of what they’re doing and send it back in thirty minutes if at all possible. Not doing so results in a penalty. Ronan is the only one exempt from the penalty because Blue got bored with fighting him on it a year ago. Still, he responds more than never, which is what they all expected at the start.

“Say cheese,” Gansey says.

“I will not.” Adam grins anyway while Gansey snaps the picture. “You have to make her promise she won’t share it until after I show him.”

“No trust, Adam Parrish.” Gansey sends the message and then gives Adam his phone back. “I’m offended on her behalf.”

“I will be sure to let her know you registered the complaint.”

Anna lays the machine aside and wipes at the finished tattoo. “There we are.”

Adam admires it, reveling in the heady sense of completion and the rush of adrenaline that had built up around the pain. Maybe he was wrong, maybe Ronan did get that sense of release after all. Adam feels like he has. And now there is a wing furling protectively around his side where Ronan’s hands always seem to settle. Even when Ronan isn’t there now, Adam will have the proof that he has been held and will be held again.

“It’s beautiful,” Gansey says. “It suits you.”

It doesn’t take long for them to settle the payment, instructions, and thanks and to swap instagram account information with Anna. Soon they’re back out in the Pig. Adam shifts in his seat gingerly and tries to keep the seatbelt from touching that part of his side.

Gansey starts the car and fiddles with the radio for a few minutes, waiting for the AC to cool. “I’m in awe of you, you know,” he says.

“No reason to be,” Adam replies. “This is just late teenage rebellion.”

“Oh, Adam.” Gansey’s voice is soft and Adam knows this is a feeling Gansey has carried with him for a long time, though he’s never really felt like he deserved it.

They both know too, that what Adam’s said is ridiculous. This is a far cry from the rebellion of his teenage years, and though it didn’t look like from the outside, his teenage years were every bit as rebellious as Ronan’s. It’s just that rebellion meant very different things to the two of them. It was a rebellion for Adam to even attend Aglionby, let alone graduate with a GPA over 4.0. It was a rebellion for him to be accepted to top colleges with offerings of scholarships and ripe possibilities. This is where the rebellion of his teenage years has brought him. Adam Parrish is his own man and he doesn’t need a tattoo to prove that, but he can have one, and that’s the whole point of it all.

He doesn’t know whether it’s because he’s coming down from the adrenaline of sitting for the tattoo or something else entirely, but he feels strangely vulnerable and laid bare in the face of Gansey’s honesty.

“Thanks, I guess,” he says.

Gansey puts the car into reverse. “You’re quite welcome.”

They stop at a drugstore for the ointment and lotion Anna’d told them they’d need and every minute between Adam and the Barns feels like it stretches into taffy. By the time Gansey pulls up in front of the house Adam feels worn out, but as soon as he spots everyone sitting on the porch his mood rallies. Opal jumps up and comes galloping down the steps. Adam almost doesn’t have enough time to make it out of the car before she’s sliding up to him. He drops to his knees so she’ll throw her arms around his neck instead of his waist. She gives him a tight hug and then tucks several long blades of grass behind his ear.

“What’s this for?”

“We’re having a fairy party. You’re the green one.”

Adam places his hand over his ear to make sure the grass will stay in place. “Thank you.”

Opal grins at him. Blue walks up behind her and drops a hand into Opal’s messy blond hair. She has daisies knotted in her own messy hair. “You don’t seem to have much of a haul from this antiquing excursion.”

She pulls Opal up into her arms so Adam can stand without being tackle hugged. By Opal anyway. Ronan is just behind them, fidgeting like he’s straining against the youthful exuberance he and Opal share. He is flipping a long stick between his fingers.

“He brought Gansey back,” Henry says. He stands a little further back still and fixes the cluster of small white flowers sticking out of the collar of his t-shirt. “That seems like haul enough.”

“Ha ha,” Gansey says, voice monotone. He comes around the front of the car and Opal kicks until Blue lets her down. Then she produces a long purple flower from one of the pockets of her smock and runs it over to Gansey, who gives her a sweeping bow before taking the flower from her and picking her up.

“You’re the last fairy,” Opal says.

“This is because I’m the best I’m certain.” He spins her around and her hooves sway around his waist. “Where is the party, princess?”

Opal points back toward the house. As Gansey carries her off she says, “I’m not a princess, I’m a knight!”

Blue and Henry shoot Adam twin knowing looks, then trail after Gansey and Opal, following their knight’s instructions. Once she’s led them around the side of the house Ronan stalks over to Adam and wraps an arm around his shoulder, pulling him into a kiss. Adam quite happily lets himself be pushed against the Pig.

When Ronan lets him up for air he says, “We were gone for four hours tops. That’s not long enough for you to miss me this much.”

“For a bona fide smart guy,” Ronan says, “you sure are oblivious sometimes.” Which Adam knows is Ronan speak for ’I always miss you this much.’

“Ronan,” Adam murmurs fondly, which is his way of saying ’I know.’ He cups his hand over Ronan’s cheek and runs his thumb across the stubble just coming in along his jaw. His proud, strong jaw that Adam thinks he will probably always be a little weak for. Ronan reaches for Adam’s waist just like he always does and Adam twists away. He pulls the plastic drugstore bag out of the car and slams the door. “Come inside, I want to show you what I got while we were out.”

Ronan raises an eyebrow and gives Adam and the bag a once over, but he doesn't protest. He falls into step beside Adam and swats at Adam’s legs with his stick as they cross the lawn back up to the house.

Once the door has banged shut behind them and Adam’s toed out of his shoes, he ducks into the kitchen and pulls the tube of ointment from the bag. “Catch!” he says, and tosses it at Ronan.

Ronan catches it against his chest. “Thanks,” he says. “But I doubt this will help with the bruising.”

“It’s not to use on you, it’s to use on me.”

“Injure yourself antiquing, did you? What, did Gansey make you try out an uncomfortable chair?”

“I did spend most of our time out in a chair being somewhat uncomfortable, now that you mention.” He pulls up the hem of his shirt so Ronan can see the black plastic covering taped to his side.

Ronan’s eyes go wide. He takes a step forward and places the ointment and his stick on the table. “You didn’t!”

He’s on Adam in three more steps. Kissing him and pulling at the covering. Adam hisses when Ronan’s impatient finger runs over where the tattoo is and Ronan pulls away to be more mindful in his unwrapping. When the plastic has been carefully set aside on the counter Ronan lightly skirts his fingertips near the red outline around the black on Adam’s skin. There’s a reverent, admiring look on his face.

Adam pokes him in the side. “Remember to breathe.”

“Asshole,” Ronan says. “What does this mean?”

“Nothing you don’t already know.” He kisses Ronan to drive this home.

It’s not about Ronan, but it’s a little about him, and Adam wants Ronan to be sure of his place. He should already be. It’s not like either of them shy away from the practicalities of their future, but Adam figures you can’t say that sort of thing too much. It was a big deal the first time he told Ronan he loved him, but once he got the hang of it he decided he was never going to stop. There’s no room left in him for regret or doubt or fear. He’s all full up with the two of them and all that entails.

Ronan slides his lips up Adam’s jaw. Adam feels his hand ghost up over his waist, barely grazing the skin before settling it against Adam’s lower back. “You’re going to be stuck with it forever, you know.”

“Yeah, well,” Adam says, leaning away and draping his arms over Ronan’s shoulders. “That’s probably not the only questionable decision I’m going to have to live with forever.”

He grins at Ronan as if to say, this isn’t too much, right? Ronan smiles back in answer, easy and wide. It’s the smile he reserves for all the things he loves the most: Opal, Chainsaw, Matthew, his home, and Adam. Ronan tugs at Adam’s belt loops and backs up until he hits one of the kitchen chairs so hard it drags across the floor with a loud scrape. He sits down in it heavily and drags Adam close so that he’s standing between Ronan’s knees.

Ronan pushes at Adam’s shirt hem until Adam pulls the whole thing up under his arms. He kisses Adam’s stomach and waist and hip. With his nose, he nudges at the thin fair trail of hair leading into Adam’s jeans and inhales sharply. Then he presses his forehead to Adam’s chest and just holds him there, breathing, thinking.

Adam swears he can feel the tickle of Ronan’s eyelashes as he blinks. For several moments everything is quiet and still as they just enjoy existing next to one another. When Adam's had enough quiet he cups the back of Ronan’s head in one hand and uses his other to lift his chin so that they’re looking at each other.

“It’s not meant to change anything. I’m just-”

“I get it.”

“I know.”

“I want you no matter what.” Ronan says. “A year for each of your freckles. A day for each hair. For however long you have this and what comes after.”

“There’s only one of me. I doubt there’ll be much left after all of that.”

“That’s the point.” Ronan’s voice stretches, frustrated that he might not be saying it right. “Even then. I’m a greedy son of a bitch and I want it all.”

“If you get your wish, you’re going to be stuck with me forever, you know.”

Ronan’s smile goes sharp with the recognition of his words being given back to him. “And it won’t be long enough. I guaran-fucking-tee it.”

“Whatever you say, just promise me you’ll take it one hair at a time, okay?”

“Promise,” Ronan says. He reaches up, quick as lightning, and plucks a hair from behind Adam’s ear.

“Ow, shithead!” The grass flutters to the floor as Adam jumps back and bangs his ass into the sharp corner of the counter. “Jesus Christ.”

Just then, Blue peeks into the kitchen. “You rang?”

Robobee zooms in after her, doing a lap around both Ronan and Adam before going back and perching itself on her shoulder. She reaches up and gently taps its tiny metal thorax with her finger.

“Ain’t no one getting on their knees for you, Sargent,” Ronan gripes, and just like that, the moment is broken.

“That’s factually untrue,” she says. “And you know it. Anyway, your sir lady knight is getting anxious about her missing fairies. Can’t hold court without at least four, you know.”

Adam retrieves the plastic cover from the counter and holds it up. “We’ll be right out, I’m just going to wrap this up for now.”

She leans against the door frame, corners of her lips quirked up. “You know you make these things too easy sometimes.”

“Sargent,” Ronan says again.

“Sure thing, mighty fairy of the wood. You just help your boyfriend there wrap it up. Always practice safe fantasy play.”

Ronan throws an oven mitt at her and she ducks it, sticks her tongue out, and disappears before he can start in on the towels.

“She’s not wrong,” Adam says, gingerly pressing the tape against his skin and making sure it will still hold.

“She’s not wrong,” Ronan mimics. “We’ll revisit the fantasy conversation in three weeks when I can lick you without coming away with ointment all over my tongue.”

“Twenty-one hairs it is. Please tell me I get to keep them in my head while they’re being counted.”

Ronan bends down and collects the blades of grass from the kitchen floor. Once Adam has his shirt down again Ronan backs him into the counter and carefully tucks the grass back behind Adam’s ear. Then he buries his fingers in Adam’s hair and uses his grip to lightly tug Adam’s head back.

“I guess,” he says. “Whatever makes you happy.”

You do, Adam thinks, but the words seem insufficient. He gives Ronan one more searing kiss before dragging him out back to play.