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Souls of Wood

Chapter Text

Adam didn't remember it, but on his third birthday he was almost completely lost in the mountains.

Almost completely. To be completely lost would mean that no one tried to look for him. His mother did not look very hard. His father did not look at all. But someone did look -- look inside the forest, which is where he was lost.

These things always happen in the forest.

-

There was a man, once, who walked into the forest and met a dream.

That was several hundred years ago. They had a son. At the appointed time, his son dreamed himself a wife. That was several hundred years ago minus a lifetime. The son had a son. At the appointed time, the son’s son dreamed himself a wife. That was several hundred years ago minus two lifetimes. The son’s son had a son. At the appointed time, the son of the son of the son dreamed himself a wife.

And so on.

In the end, there was very little left of the original man. This is to say: if you take one man and add a dream the result is Mr. half-dream, who is born with the ability to dream a wife. So you take the half-dream and add a dream. The result is Mr. three-quarters-a-dream, who also dreams a wife. The result is Mr. seven-eighths dream, who also dreams a wife, and with his wife he makes Mr. fifteen-sixteenths dream.

Declan calculated it once.

If the man who walked into the forest was Fergal Lynch, the first Lynch ever recorded in the first census ever taken in Ireland, then Ronan was thirty-one parts dream to one part human.

Declan was a great deal less dream than that. He was a mistake: his mother was not the dream, but the one-night-stand that had followed a folk concert in Glasgow. Declan never told anyone this. In fact, he locked the whole thing in a silver-green steel cash box with a latch and he put the cash box in the trunk of his Volvo and he drove the Volvo to a wet and green section of the property, marshy with what his father always said were the finest memories a man could drink, and he dumped the cash box in the marsh and watched the false memories eat it all away like acid.

Just as well.

The original man was not Fergal Lynch, but Fergal Lynch’s grandfather. Ronan was one-hundred-twenty-seven parts dream to one part human, and the only person who knew it was Opal, and she told Adam as much, and Adam, stupefied, said: “Who dreamed the first dream?”

That is really the question.

But there are other interesting parts to the story. First: what is a dream? These dreams were all the same. They were wife-dreams, which means that they were meant to be suitable partners, flexible, accommodating, infused with enough light to make even the dreariest, wettest household bearable. Did they have their own flaws, did they have their own struggles, did they have internal organs? It probably doesn’t matter. They were light. That was enough.

Second: what else happened? Sometimes second or third sons were dreamt alongside the wives. These went off and traveled and dreamt and intermarried, sometimes with human women, and so here and there you had other families with sons who were less dream than Ronan but more dream than Declan. For many years, Atlantic City was terrorized by a Bulgarian mobster who was thirty-one parts dream. His father had met a dream woman in Cuba who was also a descendant of Fergal Lynch’s grandfather. His father had fallen in love with the dream: it is easy to fall in love with a dream.

Close your eyes. Then the dream sits on the edge of your consciousness. It could be terrible, it could have an ugly temper, it could snarl and curse, but you will not, cannot will it away. You don’t even want to frighten it. You don’t want to see it hurt. That is a dream.

Declan once wrote it out in a notebook: qualities of dreams, underlined. Below that, you never really want to hurt the dream.

He had a habit of dating dreamy people who were just the same, people he never really wanted to hurt (but he did; he wasn’t good at not hurting people) and then once he met a girl from his school’s sister-school who said, “Like, no offense, but Catholicism is a horrible institution with, like, a history of female oppression?”

And he felt a deep-seated irritation. And he wanted to snap at her. And he didn’t, but he appreciated that he wanted to. This, he decided, was the woman he would marry. Not a dream.

He did not want to spend his life with a dream. Many don't. People think they do, and then when it comes time to choose --

They realize that dreams can be accommodating, or they can be like the forest: wild, old, inhuman things.

-

There was a woman, once, who walked into a forest and cried at the roots of a tree.

That was several hundred years ago. The tree woke up. The tree and the woman had a daughter. That time it was a Guaiacum tree, which sleeps very lightly and likes women who are too proud to cry in public. Other trees like the Guaiacum are the oak and birch and sugi and sala trees, and a few others. Some trees are dead trees, but not these. These merely sleep lightly. Each has a different preference. The sala trees like generous women best, and the birch trees talkative women, and the oak trees usually prefer men.

All trees, however, prefer daughters to sons. That is just the way of trees. When a son is born to the trees he is born odd and frail as the branches, and very cowardly. When a daughter is born to the trees she is born odd and firm as the trunk, and very fierce. The sons of the trees dim everything they encounter: they suck power in. They have to learn to offer it back. The daughters of the trees amplify everything they encounter: they mirror the power around them. They have to learn to soak it in.

All trees love to learn. But they are capricious. Here is some of what the trees love to learn about: stars, rivers, song, promise, clouds, wind, frogs, hope, earth, gems, ocean, rabbits, beauty, light, laughter, health, crocuses, birds, bats, grins, magic, sky, delight.

Here is some of what the trees do not like to learn about: paradox, selfishness, ugliness, death.

This is itself a paradox. Some trees are very selfish. Maura walked into the forest once and met a selfish tree. They had a daughter.

This has happened to many, many women and men around the world. At first, it happened only once in each family. The children of the trees were not having children of their own. This is because the son of a tree will dim every person he meets, and, being a dreary and depressing person like this, will not often find anyone willing to put up with him. And the daughters of the trees are much sought-after because they amplify the power of others, but they do not like to tie themselves to men: with enough prodding, they can amplify men’s weaknesses and see the broken spots inside them, which is a really depressing thing to have to deal with if you haven’t known someone for very long.

Because of the flightiness of the daughter-trees and the undesirability of the son-trees, someone long ago declared that every tree should have a true love.

“Who?” Adam asked, when Artemus explained this.

“Well, obviously it varies by tree,” said Artemus’ former fling, Maura (Artemus was that selfish tree mentioned earlier).

“No,” Adam said, “Who declared that?”

That is really the question.

This true love business was, for some time, booming. The oaks and birches and Guaiacum dutifully awoke when necessary and pursued princes and princesses, humble maidservants and strapping woodsmen. Everyone had a very good time, except for a few people who didn’t. Much new magic was introduced into the world: the draining magic of the sons and the overpowering magic of the daughters. Every child born to these sons and daughters eventually did what all the other tree-witches had done, which was to become a tree, and sleep, and wake at the sound of their true love’s voice. There were really very few problems with the system except for the ordinary marital kind that come about when a human (who will learn about anything, even the dark things) marries a tree (who is easily annoyed by humans that begin to talk of ugliness or paradox and do not respect the trees’ firm desire to only ever think of lovely things, like stars and promise and delight).

But now and then the system began to show cracks.

There was a king once who walked into the forest and seduced a tree. He was not her true love. They had a daughter anyway. Her name was Gwenllian, and she was odder than even the other tree-daughters, but firmer and fiercer too. She loved to talk of paradox and death. Even the trees didn’t know what to do with her.

And then there was Artemus, whose true love had died several hundred years earlier in Wales, and who only pursued Maura because yes, he was a tree, but in terms of moral steadfastness he was really, spiritually, kind of a shrub.

They had a daughter. She loved to learn about stars, rivers, song, promise, clouds, wind, frogs, hope, earth, gems, ocean, rabbits, beauty, light, laughter, health, crocuses, birds, bats, grins, magic, sky, delight. She felt that she could more or less cope with learning about paradox, selfishness, ugliness, and death. She had a dash of selfishness. Just a dash. People are permitted a dash, and so are the trees.

But this tree-daughter was cursed. When she kissed her true love, he would die. Or if she kissed her true love, he would die. Or both when and if. The point was: she was a very strong amplifier, being woman and tree, and he was something that could be killed by that. At the touch of her kiss. The kiss business was very important. It had to be a kiss, and it had to be the kind of kiss that involved lips. If they just touched palms or rubbed noses or something, he would probably be fine.

Who decided that? was what Adam might have asked if he’d bothered to think about this, and that would really be the question.

-

There was a boy, once, who walked into a forest and was murdered there among the dreams and the trees.

That was only a few years ago. But years are irrelevant. Once murdered, the boy no longer understood linear time. Death left him adrift; time was no longer a valid measurement. He inhabited the forest at all times, and in the inhabiting he made a friend. He admired that friend very much, and when that friend died the boy saved him.

You will live because of Glendower, he told Gansey.

This was nonsense. Gansey lived because of Noah, who by then was not a boy but a ghost.

A ghost is an echo of something that came before, and when you free it of the constricting measurements of time the ghost can linger as long as it likes because before no longer matters. This ghost lingered long enough to save Gansey, and gave itself up to that. The forest liked that. The forest respects sacrifice and reciprocity.

When the forest was dreaming, once, it met Fergal Lynch's grandfather, who offered the forest a song, so in response the forest gave him a black-haired dream.

That was who made the first dream -- the forest did. You must have noticed by now that in these stories there is always a forest, and you should know that it is always the same forest, replicated endlessly along the ley lines, different each time, sometimes stupidly searching for connections without really realizing that it is searching for itself, another self, the same forest. This is the forest where the Guaiacum tree met the woman. This is the forest that declared all its trees should have true loves. This is the forest that decided death should be triggered by a kiss.

It is a massive, eternal, wild forest, less a forest than the pool of energy that has created all magic.

Noah gave it his last lingering energy and the forest pushed it into the dying boy, and then -- what? As far as the forest was concerned, nothing happened. It was like the dream-wives and the kissing curse. It was magic for the sake of magic. The forest makes no plans and has no forethought. A ghost can be more deliberate than the forest.

In fact, when called on to save Gansey again, the forest was fairly haphazard about it. All times went in at once. Three or four people were shamelessly stolen from. It was not over-concerned with making a Gansey-Gansey, a stuffed-prop creature to display at senatorial parties. Instead it made Gansey-the-friend, Gansey-the-one-saved-by-Noah. The forest wanted something worthy of the sacrifice, something properly reciprocal. It made something like a dream, something ley-given, something patchworked from many bits of magic, with a little humanity thrown in. The forest creates the same way its children create: if it can hold it, then it's made it real. If it can hold it, it's good enough. Does the thing created have internal organs? Who cares?

Not the forest.

-

Adam walked into the forest, once, and gave it his hands and his eyes if only it would wake the line.

Every time the forest had ever existed along that line suddenly lined up and awoke. The forest itself shivered. It had never bothered to notice its other forms before. It tried to stretch out along the line to meet itself, mistaking all these other versions of itself for something more. It made Adam work to help it. It had Adam's hands and eyes now, whatever that meant.

In practice it meant that things reversed. In practice it means that, once, the forest walked right into Adam.

The forest was always doing extraordinary things for other people, but this was the first time anything extraordinary had happened to the forest.

Chapter Text

Ronan went to sleep, once, and woke in the forest he had remade.

The forest woke too, new once more. That was Ronan's ability. Ronan was one-hundred-twenty-seven parts dream to one part human, and so he could dream the forest back from the brink of non-being. The forest, for this, deemed him unspoiled by his one human part. The forest called him Incorruptus, the sole Greywaren, walking light. The forest thought of him as the one who is like me.

The forest had taken over a year to return, because Ronan had timed it right. It was July 3, and this was Adam's gift. This play of light on the leaves, this perfect wilderness, this defiant unspoiled moment. Turn past the oak and see the sunshine go, see the pale moon gleam. Sudden night. In the forest, time is a trick. The dream negates reality.

This was Ronan's gift to Adam: to always, always combat the dirt brown Henrietta strip malls and grey garages, to skid fast and marvelous into a dream instead. Ronan lined pockets with baby ravens. Ronan tucked balls of light into the glove compartment. Ronan delivered up textbooks that bloomed flowers when Adam opened them.

Adam reminded himself to be grateful for the gifts.

You've nursed too many hurts and wounds, he told himself. You let them build inside you. Stop. Stop. Let this come now, too.

They went to the forest three times that day. First with their friends. Blue, abundant with energy. When he looked too closely at her Adam thought he could see the way the trees stood straighter around her, the way the lilies sprouted tall and starlike. He did not look at her with any heat anymore. But he realized why he had, once. This was not just his friend, not just the strongest person he knew. This was a daughter of the trees.

She gave him an old, lovely set of cards she'd bought at a bazaar in California. He thanked her for them. The trees seemed to whisper something when he did, but they were quieter now. Or maybe he could not hear them any more. He was no longer connected to them.

Gansey was. Adam could see now that Gansey always had been, that he was a son of Cabeswater more truly than any of them, reborn and saved by the sacrifice of the forest. Maybe this was why the forest still obeyed his every word. When they stopped by a pond beneath a row of birches, he asked for fish. Fish came a-plenty. Fish in the pond and golden fish peeking out from the bluebells. Fish floating past in the air. Fish-shaped leaves, and slithery, slippery fish darting through the grass as though it were water.

He gave Adam a fine old pen, expensive, magnificent. Adam thanked him for it, and bit back any old wounds hiding beneath his tongue. The forest rippled cheerily in the breeze, and for a moment Adam thought it would speak, but still it didn't. It was alive with sound, but the only one who could perhaps pick out the meaning was Ronan, who was more forest than boy, who was savage enough to be Incorruptus.

Ronan did not give him anything while they picnicked by the pond, because Ronan had already given him the forest. Later Ronan, with much cursing, agreed to double-back and pick up Opal from Fox Way, and invite Henry Cheng too, and when they had them both they went to the forest once more. Henry gave Adam a delicate state-of-the-art watch; Opal gave Adam a watch made of caterpillars. Henry had never been to the forest properly before, and had to be given a tour. Really it was a tour for everyone. Ronan had remodeled the forest.

The third time they went to the forest that day, Ronan and Adam went alone, and it was nearing dark in Henrietta, and when they turned past the oak, past the brightest of the sunshine, they were in the dark completely. Ronan's teeth flashed, white and silent and pure. Adam's breath went when they kissed. Adam put his hands up to Ronan's chest to feel it, hard and wild. Ronan would not pull him in, so Adam's hands clenched and did the pulling for them.

Gansey had once discussed the quiet, but this quiet was so bright and great it was a lantern. A crashing quiet, that banked Adam and set him alight. Ronan stumbled into him. Adam stumbled back, and steadied himself on the frail young sala tree behind him.

The tree dipped, sighed, spoke. Adam paid it no heed. Adam was no longer connected to the forest, and so though it had been speaking to him all day, he could not hear it.

Et dabo tibi munera?, scraped the bark, the leaves, the branches. Et dabo tibi munera?

It still spoke that guttural, mangled Latin. Ronan, who could hear it, waved it away irritably. In the morning he would realize that Adam could not hear the trees anymore, and would swear roughly, furiously. It would seem wrong to him. It did not seem wrong to Adam. Adam wasn't tree, wasn't dream, wasn't pieced together by sacrifice. Adam was not like the others. He was dirt-human.

Ronan would still press one more thing on him before he left: a green, glittering piece of glass left on the front seat of the BMW. If Adam held it up to the light, the light was magnified a hundred-fold.

-

If Adam looked through the glass, he saw the forest.

He discovered this while coming out of the main university library one day. Columbia's buildings hemmed him in, and the sounds of New York City hemmed in Columbia, and he lifted the glass to his eye and the sounds faded, the buildings faded, and he saw -- trees.

One more step and there he was. In the forest. He dropped his textbooks in shock, and dropped the glass too, and scrabbled for it in the grass. When he'd collected his things and himself he looked up and the trees were waving frantically. They were speaking, but he couldn't hear them.

"Kerah," someone said reproachfully. Opal, playing quietly by the stream, ageless and strange and vulnerable. Her tone was reproachful because she was laying the blame: this was Ronan. Ronan gave gifts like these, wildfire gifts, magical windfalls with no explanation.

Adam wasn't annoyed. He sat next to Opal on the grass. She was building a figure out of twigs and rebellious snails. Every time they escaped her, Adam plucked them up and delivered them to her again, with a careful reminder not to eat them. They were starting Opal on human foods. Or at least he was. Ronan didn't seem to care. Opal made a face at him, but she played with the snails instead of swallowing them, which Adam took as a good sign.

"How do I get back to school, though?" Adam mused, once Opal had successfully trapped several snails in a kind of snail-twig gazebo.

"You're smart enough to figure that out yourself, science-guy."

Ronan. Leaning against the trees. So still, too still for Ronan, but now he was straightening and there was his energy, his cold grin. He looked at Adam like he was mesmerized. Adam still didn't know how to accept such a look. This, too, was a gift.

Adam stayed hours, until he wanted to know how the shimmering glass worked, until he figured it out. If he lifted it to his right eye, it brought him to the forest. If he lifted it to his left eye, it brought him back to the world.

When he came back, no time had passed at all.

Thank you, he texted Ronan, using the phone the women of Fox Way had harangued him into buying (that had been their gift for his birthday). But Ronan detested phones and had little use for thank yous, so he didn't text back.

-

This didn't mean Adam was connected to the forest again. He wasn't. He had given that up, and to be a proper sacrifice, that had to stick. He was not a dreamer and a dream. He was not a star-daughter, a tree-daughter, a magical amplifier. He was not a great, glorious, regal son of the ley line.

He was human, albeit a human who had once offered that humanity to the trees.

But before a very difficult exam, or during a sleepless flu-ridden night, or in the nervous moments before a job interview, he found that he could lift the glass to his eye and see the forest reaching for him. And if he stepped forward, then he was in it. And there was Ronan. Sometimes Ronan alone. Sometimes Ronan and Opal. Always the flash of Ronan's teeth amid the dark leaves. Always Adam's arm pulling him in, pulling Ronan to his skin, asking Ronan's lips to touch his jaw, imagining that every kiss planted a flower beneath the skin: blooming, energized, bright.

Adam had never expected this, to have this at his fingertips. It was such a private thing that he could hardly verbalize what it meant to Ronan. If he said thank you, Ronan swatted the thank you aside with violence.

Things were not perfect between them. Adam didn't expect them to be; he didn't believe in perfection. He still had a tendency to polish up old hurts and wounds. Ronan still had a tendency to snarl and slam and bare his teeth when enraged. Adam was earth; Ronan was light. Adam loved to learn; Ronan saw little use in it. Adam pored over bills and just about expected paradox, selfishness, ugliness, and death. Ronan cheerfully set bills on fire and threatened Adam's creditors and banished from his home just about anything real or unpleasant, preferring to focus on things like stars and deer and promise and delight.

Adam sometimes wondered, in the worse moments, whether he should escape to the trees and leave Ronan to find him there. But this would be too great a betrayal. Instead he faced Ronan's wounds and accepted responsibility for them. Faced Ronan's barbs, too.

Ronan was surprisingly fragile, and did not like to face barbs. Gansey was so regal he could erase barbs from his mind if necessary. Blue was a daughter of the trees, and she did not stand for them if she didn't want to.

Adam was human. Barbs were a part of that. When they fought, he let Ronan alone until they had both calmed, and forgave, and tried again. Humanity required humility.

You've kept your pride too close for too long, he reminded himself, after one particularly brutal fight. It was his twenty-eighth birthday and he had been gone for years, for college, for graduate school. Now he was leaving again, this time to survey a poor, mud-brown little town much like Henrietta, a town that needed clean energy.

"You said you'd come back!" Ronan had snarled.

He had said that. And he would come back. And didn't they have the forest? And why had he worked so hard for so long, if only to retire to this dream-swept valley?

But that last bit was pride speaking.

You've kept it too close, he told himself. Let it go. Let it go.

Love was something that he had to work at constantly, to keep soft, good, clear of rot and of obstruction. It was like clearing the ley line, like helping Cabeswater. Adam was good at work, even if it was constant. He went to apologize. Ronan batted the apology away but didn't fight. Not a sorry crossed his lips, but it wouldn't, because Ronan wasn't made of sorrys, and Adam didn't want him to be.

Ronan was that glimmer of the green glass, later on, when Adam was alone in Montana and missing him desperately. He held the glass to his right eye and stepped into the forest and there Ronan was, watching him now with eyes that seemed to take no account of him.

Careful not-watching.

"This is coming back," Adam pointed out.

"Semantics, asshole," Ronan said, and held out hands full of singing marigolds. Adam took them. Ronan now pulled him in, reckless about it.

The forest was such a clear, perfect dark that Ronan's limbs stood out all the more stark and wonderful. Ronan was dangerously, perfectly handsome and like Opal, a little ageless. Adam kissed along his shoulders and this time imagined that he was the one planting a flower with every kiss. But he didn't have the power for that, he thought. He was still the Magician and could read the cards, but his magic was human magic, rational thought and deliberate effort. Science-guy. That was all. He was not really magic.

Around them, the trees rustled and tried to speak again. Strange, drooping white flowers blossomed, creating whorls and patterns, setting out the language of the wood. Adam, who had Ronan, paid it no heed.

-

The longer he had Ronan, the more he realized the dream-things, the ageless good looks, the clever artistry of Ronan's mind, the way Ronan had learned to shape his wounds into glowing fireflies or brilliant birds or green, green fields.

Adam showed the wear of years, of travel, of work, of a hard childhood. Ronan did not. Adam's fine bones cracked into fine frown lines and wrinkles. Ronan did not. And Gansey, of course, aged perfectly and regally, and Blue was magic -- so in the end it was only Adam and Henry Cheng who displayed the years in the human way, and Adam more than Henry.

But by Adam's fiftieth birthday he'd seen every state in America, attended conferences across Europe and Asia, worked constantly, always come home. When he thought of the boy who had bargained with the forest these days, he realized that he hadn't expected to survive. Not like this. Not this long. He hadn't expected to wake into a life like this. But he had.

You have never been grateful for this -- this luck, he told himself. Be grateful.

He was not as magic as the others, but he hadn't needed to be. And magic was not always wonderful. Blue longed endlessly for the stars to such a degree that it was like hunger, a hunger she confessed to when she and Adam were alone. Gansey was glorious and regal but, he confessed himself -- limited. If you lived all times at once, there was no future to grow to. There was only the eternal present.

And Ronan, troublemaker, gift-giver, best of lovers, still sometimes had his night terrors, though he'd learned to domesticate them.

Adam had only one nightmare: he was young, and lost in the forest, and he knew no one was looking for him. It came at odd intervals, before his sixtieth birthday, before his seventieth.

He didn't make it to his eightieth birthday.

Chapter Text

Ronan left the Barns when Adam died.

It was still precious, holy, home. It was still wild with plums and the scent of morning dew, alive and awake, full of living, real, fully-realized beasts and birdsong.

It was his. It was just what he'd wanted. But Adam was not coming back to it.

Ronan was not shattered by this grief, he was not so fragile that it destroyed him. But the light of the Barns seemed suddenly too cold, and there was nothing more that he wanted to see grow in the damp earth. Opal, forever a child, waggled her fingers at him as he left. Chainsaw kerah-ed, but let him go. Gansey and Blue might come in the morning, he thought, and see them both, and decide to take them in. They would know that all was well by the fact that Opal and Chainsaw were awake. It would all be awake. Ronan was not planning to kill himself. He realized that the years had worn away the jagged parts of him, that living with Adam had made him honey-smooth in this regard. He would not die. He would only live.

Maybe Blue and Gansey would move in, he thought. There was no place in the world they could seem to settle. Blue did not want to stay still; she wanted to see new things always, always -- and Artemus had said that the urge would be with her until she decided to return to her birch. And Gansey wanted to be where Blue was, and wherever his family wasn't. Richard Campbell Gansey III had died long ago, and in his place had sprung up a regal son of the ley line, and Gansey was never happier than when he realized that this was what he was: king of them, king of magic, born from a sacrifice to Cabeswater.

Ronan did not go there directly now, because without Adam he did not want to. Instead he went to Charleston, and then to Winnipeg, and then to visit Cheng in Los Angeles, and to Ireland after that.

The trouble was that Cabeswater intruded.

Ronan had always assumed that there was only one Cabeswater. There was. But it was so vast and magic that it replicated endlessly along the ley line. If he was on the line, then he was likely to walk or drive into it. He crashed endless dream-BMWs into the same gnarled oak.

Greywaren, the oak told him each time, like a blessing.

"Oh, fuck off," he told the oak.

Cheng thought it was hilarious. And Cheng thought it was deliberate, the forest deciding to call him back each time.

Ronan eventually decided to believe this. Every time he returned, he saw that it was for a reason. Adam.

Adam, wistful and worn, trapped on a business trip somewhere boring. Adam, sick and sleepless, pulling him in.

They had done this while Adam was alive a few times. The first time, when he'd brought Opal. And then after, now and then, if Adam had a job interview or an important conference. But Ronan began to realize that Adam must have done this more often. Now Ronan was making up the difference. Time in Cabeswater was a slippery thing.

Ronan had aged, but not a great deal. Ronan had not changed significantly, not like Adam had, because Ronan was half-a-dream and dreams did not have to. And in the gloom of the forest, he thought that Adam sometimes couldn't tell that this was a Ronan-after-Adam, a Ronan who could no longer be happy in his home.

He tried to say it, once or twice. But he had spent so long batting words away that now he didn't have the knack for stringing them together. They wouldn't say everything he wanted to say, anyway. Having sex wouldn't say everything he wanted to say, and besides this it felt dangerous to do it with an Adam who didn't have all the facts. Ronan's kisses became soft, soft things. Gifts. Like he could plant blossoms beneath the skin with them. His hands became warmer, more comforting. He held Adam whenever he found him. He listened to whatever problem or question or idea Adam had.

"Figure it out, science guy," he told Adam every time.

He meant, figure out what's happening here. The forest around them would whisper the truth sometimes. But Adam had sacrificed this forest to bring Gansey back, and could not hear it.

Ronan thought, at first, that Cabeswater was doing this for him, for its Greywaren. It was. But it was doing this for Adam, too.

Shall I give you a gift? the forest said. Shall I give you a gift?

-

It was an old, old forest. It was the source of all magic, the wellspring of curses and blessings, the forest that gave birth to tree-daughters that shook the world and tree-sons that cowered from it. It loved sacrifice. It loved reciprocity. It loved waking up.

Ronan had given it form. But Adam had woken it. Adam had given it his hands and his eyes in exchange for the promise that it would wake, so that it had walked right into Adam and lived there, for a time. In a human.

For something so magic, that was incredible.

-

The last time it called Ronan back, Ronan stepped past the night on the left side of the oak and into the day on the right side, and it was not a sunny day but a day doused in gloomy, dull, hideous rain. Summer rain, sluicing around in a fog of oppressive humidity.

At the base of the birch trees, by the pond, Adam sat and cried.

He was wearing a tattered paper party hat. His knee was scraped. He was about three years old, and he'd wandered away a the picnic table in the mountains while his parents had argued, and no one had come looking for him.

Except for the forest. After Ronan had remade it, it was always looking for Adam. So here was the forest, and here was Ronan. Ronan went to him, and rubbed away at his tear tracks and said, "Stop crying."

He wasn't one for small children, not even after Opal, but he picked Adam up anyway.

"Don't be an asshole," he told Adam. "Stop crying."

He had a pocket full of fireflies, so he gave some to Adam. Adam put one in his mouth. This, Ronan felt, connected him in some cosmic sense to Opal.

The trees were showering many permutations of gratias upon them, but Ronan wasn't sure who they were thanking. It could be Adam. This Adam had not yet sacrificed the trees, and should be able to hear them, but he didn't say anything to indicate that he could. He was a very still, quiet child. Ronan held him tighter.

Where the forest ended, he could see the beginnings of a state park, a rain-sogged picnic table, a crying elderly woman, a couple arguing furiously. There was something noxious to them. Ronan hated them. Adam had never seemed to, but Ronan had never seemed to stop hating them. They were small, mean. They hadn't come looking for Adam.

Adam wriggled out of his grasp anyway when he saw them. It was too sudden for Ronan to stop it. Before he vanished into the high grass, running towards them as fast as his legs could carry him, Ronan saw his thin, determined mouth; his small sepia-colored hands.

Ronan lurched forward, and he felt the forest try to lurch with him, but they were both held back -- the forest Ronan had made; and Ronan, who was made from the forest. And in that instant Ronan remembered all the things the forest had been trying to say, things like:

thank you,

and

magician,

and what Ronan was thinking now, which was,

I love you I love you I love you --

For his true love. And for Cabeswater's.

But Adam had vanished into the dusty grass. His whole life was ahead of him.