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the breach of all thy laws

Chapter Text

Ultimately, this is all Declan’s fault.

Ronan is certain that’s the case, that Declan is the reason he’s following a prison guard down a bare cinderblock hallway, on the first day of his new, way shittier, life. If Declan had been less of an asshole, Ronan wouldn’t have gone out street racing that night, and if he hadn’t gone street racing he wouldn’t have had some cop give him shit, and if the cop hadn’t given him shit Ronan wouldn’t have had to kick his ass.

He might’ve been a little drunk, but really, it’s Declan’s fault.

What he is absolutely sure of is that if Declan hadn’t gotten all holier-than-thou and refused to hire a decent lawyer, Ronan would’ve gotten off a lot lighter. Instead it was aggravated assault on a police officer and maximum sentence and all that bullshit.

He doesn’t really care, in the end. The anger still itches inside him the same way it has since he found Niall, and being behind bars isn’t gonna change that, no matter what Declan thinks. But whatever. If shitty tv shows have taught Ronan anything, it’s that there’s plenty of fights to be had in prison.

And that’s just fine with him.

He rolls his shoulders, not even glancing into the other cells they pass, aware of eyes on him. Fresh blood. They can look all they want, size him up, decide how he fits into this closed ecosystem. Ronan carries himself as he always has, with easy confidence and chained rage, his buzzed head and scarred fists speaking volumes. He’s ready for whatever crap this place might throw at him.

The guard unlocks a door, slides it open, motions Ronan inside. Ronan walks in like it was his idea all along.

The cell is small, the floor concrete but clean. There are two beds - more like cots, really, metal-framed with thin mattresses and thinner pillows. A toilet in the corner, a tiny sink. Two shelves, one empty and one with a tidy array of books, a pen, a notepad.

“Home shit home.”

Ronan bares his teeth, not quite a smile but about the closest thing he can give right now. He’s ready for a fight, ready to assert himself and make a space in this tiny, shitty prison cell that’ll be all his. He’s expecting posturing, he’s expecting testing of his boundaries, he’s expecting to need to prove he shouldn’t be fucked with.

But his cellmate doesn’t seem interested in rising to Ronan’s expectations.

He looks at Ronan with ashy blue eyes, taking him in, and it makes Ronan uncomfortable, so he stares back, bullishly.

The guy’s around the same age as Ronan. A little shorter, less muscle on him. Strange, delicate features that don’t quite look like anyone Ronan’s met before. He doesn’t look very intimidating, but there’s something in the way he holds himself, a certain watchfulness, a bright intelligence in his eyes. He looks oddly elegant. He looks like he doesn’t belong here.

Ronan suddenly doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do. Introduce himself? Punch the guy? Shout?

He’s never let not knowing what to do stop him from doing things, though, so as the guard pulls the cell door shut and walks away, he looks away and throws himself down on the other bed. He already doesn’t like being confined like this, but it’s not like he has a choice. Maybe if he just pretends the other guy isn’t there -


His voice is careful but steady, and when Ronan looks over, the guy’s still watching him. Measuring him, and it pisses Ronan off for some reason. Ronan could probably beat the shit out of this guy - Adam - without breaking a sweat, but he’s looking at Ronan like Ronan needs to prove himself.

Childishly, Ronan wants to turn away, not say anything. Sulk. Let this guy know he doesn’t even get the favor of Ronan’s name. But he moves restlessly, then, flinging a hand out to punch the pillow, and he sees Adam get still, sees Adam watch his hands with a careful wariness, and he thinks - he’s not sure. He doesn’t think Adam is afraid of him, but he thinks Adam could be, and for whatever dumb reason the thought of that sits wrong.

“Ronan,” he says finally, and some of the wariness goes out of Adam.

He wonders what a guy like this could’ve done to end up in here. Wonders if he was always this wary or if this is what prison does to you when you’re slender and look breakable. If he had to learn how to watch his own back or if he already knew.

If they’re going to be stuck together, Ronan guesses he can maybe not be a total asshole all the time. He can at least give Adam his name.

Adam nods in greeting. “The last one snored. I hope you don’t.”

There’s a southern accent strung through his words, almost suppressed but still just barely there, and it reminds Ronan of certain parts of home, and anger churns under his skin. But it’s not Adam’s fault, really. It’s the world’s. He’ll have plenty of people to take it out on that aren’t going to be sleeping three feet away from him every night.

“I don’t sleep much,” Ronan says with a shrug, because maybe that’s reassuring. No sleeping, no snoring. Or whatever.

“All right,” Adam says, and that’s it. He takes a book off his shelf and rests his back against the wall and reads, as if Ronan wasn’t there, but Ronan can see him get still every now again, see his eyes flicker, and he knows Adam is very aware of his presence.

He thinks about what he could’ve gotten. Someone as angry as him, someone ready to fight. Someone actually crazy, someone who could be a threat. Some sick fuck. All things considered, Adam, with his quiet caution and his dust-colored hair and his cheekbones, isn’t so bad.

He could be a sick fuck, maybe. For all Ronan knows he’s in here for murdering a busload of schoolchildren and making art out of the corpses. But he’s only known Adam for a couple minutes and he thinks that’s not likely.

So whatever. It’ll be fine.

Chapter Text

Ronan Lynch is not quite what Adam expected.

He’s seen the way Ronan holds himself, his scarred knuckles, his fighter’s stance. And now he’s seen the tattoo, the sharp-edged attitude, the willingness and desire to fight, and it should all make perfect sense, but it doesn’t quite.

They’ve only been cellmates for a couple weeks, but Ronan has been surprisingly decent. There’s always posturing in prison, jockeying for power, attempts to show everyone you’re a badass who should be feared and respected. Adam doesn’t participate - he has nothing to prove - but he’s seen it, and he’s had it directed at him.

Ronan absolutely does that, but not to Adam. Their little cell is quiet, not exactly calm but not the tension-filled cave it could be. Ronan seems to get that Adam’s not interested in a power struggle, that all he cares about in here is finding a way to survive.

They aren’t friends. He knows Ronan’s first name, and Ronan knows his, but Ronan only ever uses the name fastened to his uniform. Always Parrish, never Adam, and Adam doesn’t really care but he does notice. Ronan is not interested in being friends, he thinks, and that’s fine. Adam isn’t either. He’s never been good at that.

They don’t talk much, they don’t hang out together. They eat separately. Adam’s free time is spent in the library, Ronan’s usually in the yard. Ronan has already gotten into a couple fights, brief skirmishes that didn’t land anyone in solitary but that have begun to cement his reputation.

Adam has a reputation too, but not that kind. Not the kind you get with fists. He doesn’t think Ronan knows it, because he doesn’t think Ronan has asked anyone about him. Why would he? And who would he ask, if he wanted to? Ronan is too new to know who the best sources of information are, probably wouldn’t care even if he did.

Adam is staring down a long sentence. Adam knew, when he ended up here, that he’d need to keep himself safe, and that fighting would never be a good way for him to do it. He’s not physically imposing, and he freezes when he shouldn’t. He had that kind of fight beaten out of him a long time before he ever got here, and overcoming that is going to take far more time than he can spare.

So he’s used what he does have. His intelligence, his resourcefulness, his observational skills. What this means is that if someone wants to beat on him, he can’t stop them, but he can make them pay. And once people know they can’t touch him without consequences, they won’t touch him at all.

It works, most of the time. The one flaw is that newcomers don’t know, at first, and Adam knows he seems like a easy target, with his quiet wariness and his thin frame.

He’s in the showers when it happens. Not showering, not yet, but on his way there. They’re empty, and while Adam prefers to do this sort of thing alone, something about it sets him on edge. Adam doesn’t ignore his gut feelings. He wouldn’t be alive now if he did. So he’s about to leave, teetering on the edge, telling himself he’ll come back later, when a hand grips his shoulder and slams him up into the wall.

His chin knocks against the tiles. He doesn’t fall, but whoever’s got hold of him doesn’t waste time, pushing him around to aim a hard punch at his stomach. Adam couldn’t block it even if he’d had time to, and the air is knocked out of him. He crumples, only the wall behind him keeping him upright.

His mind is spinning. He recognizes the man, a new arrival, not long after Ronan. Cellmates with Garcia, who owes Adam a favor, so he’ll pay and he’ll learn an important lesson about leaving Adam Parrish alone. But first Adam has to survive the next few minutes.

This isn’t the first time this has happened, and it won’t be the last. Adam knows how to take a punch, how to take a beating, and he’s been lucky enough that it’s never gone further than that. He takes a few punches, he finds a way to survive, he makes them pay so they’ll never think about fucking with him again. That’s how it works. It seems easy, when he puts it that way, but it isn’t.

He takes a backhand across the face, feels his lip split on his teeth, tastes blood. He’s afraid, of course, a hard core of fear inside him, but what they never seem to understand is that Adam has been made of fear for so many years that it’ll never ruin him. He’s already been ruined, damaged beyond repair, and it wasn’t at the hands of some asshole prisoner who wants to show what a big man he is by beating on someone who won’t fight back.

Another punch to the stomach, and he goes limp, sliding down the wall. Calculated, really, Adam can take a lot more damage than that, but sometimes it works, sometimes they decide that’s enough.

Not this time. The man grabs his collar, and Adam tenses himself for another blow, but it doesn’t come, because for some reason Ronan is there. Adam has no idea where he came from or how he got there, but there he is, and the fierce expression on his face almost looks like joy as he peels the other man off Adam as if it’s nothing, slams him into the opposite wall, punches him in the face.

Adam steadies himself against the wall, tries to catch his breath, almost able to ignore the ache in his stomach, his face, the new bruises now forming.

This is the first time anyone’s ever intervened. He knows better than to think it’s because of him, knows better than to presume Ronan was rescuing him. Ronan likes to fight, wants to fight, won’t ever back down from one, and the only thing Adam has to do with that is as an excuse to start one. Or get in the middle of one. Or whatever this is.

He’s good at it. Adam already knew that, but watching the two men fight is an education. Ronan outclasses the other man easily, has probably actually been trained formally while the other one has only ever been in street brawls. He fights with a wild abandon, a certain disregard for his own safety that Adam can’t even imagine, and it serves him well.

He wins easily. All Adam can think of for a moment is that he won’t have to cash in that favor Garcia owes him. Then he thinks that he definitely owes Ronan a favor now. Then he thinks that Ronan probably doesn’t care, that the fight was probably more than enough payment in his eyes, but that it isn’t in Adam’s. He tucks it away to think about later.

“The guards will be here soon.” They always are, they always come late because they don’t really care about fights as long as everyone lives. Adam struggles upright, head swimming, licking the blood from his split lip.

Ronan looks at him for a moment, eyes hard and piercing, tracing the lines of Adam’s face, and Adam knows what he sees there. Weakness, someone who can’t win a fight, the new bruises already darkening Adam’s skin.

It shouldn’t matter. Survival is what matters, and that’s what Adam’s always been good at. It shouldn’t matter what Ronan thinks of him, but it sort of does, and Adam doesn’t like that. He stiffens his spine, looks away, wishes he maybe had a little more muscle on him. When he looks at Ronan again, Ronan is looking away too, not disgusted or judging, maybe not caring at all.

“Fucker,” he says, and kicks the man in the stomach one last time. Adam doesn’t stop him, only watching with narrowed eyes, trying to sort himself out. “Yeah, let’s go.”

Ronan’s not uninjured, his knuckles split where he hit the tiles instead of the other man’s face, a few bruises almost certainly forming under the uniform, but he doesn’t move with any stiffness. Adam thinks he’ll be fine. He thinks he maybe ought to start trying to figure out the puzzle of Ronan Lynch, because even if the fight wasn’t about him at all, Adam would never have expected Ronan to step in like that. Not in a million years. But he did, and no one ever has, and - well.

Adam owes him.

Chapter Text

They don't talk about it. Adam doesn't thank him. They don't say anything, as if it never happened.

Not that Ronan was expecting a thank you. Adam's not some damsel in distress waiting to be saved, Ronan just happened to be there at the right time, and he might be an asshole but that guy'd had at least fifty pounds and a couple inches on Adam. The fight hadn't been fair even if Adam had been fighting, which he wasn't.

So of course he'd stepped in, and he doesn't expect thanks for it, which is good, because he doesn't get it.

Things do change, though, even if it takes Ronan awhile to put his finger on it.

Adam's not friendlier, exactly, he's not more talkative, they don't start sitting together at meals and being all buddy-buddy. But he does little things - tiny things that would've meant nothing outside but sure as hell matter a lot more in here, and Ronan starts to realize there's a lot more to Adam Parrish than he thought. He starts to realize there's a reason Adam's managed to survive in here when he can't even fight.

Ronan's almost caught passing some contraband, once - nothing much, a couple of cigarettes he was gonna trade for some shitty prison hooch - but before the guard has a chance to shake him down, Adam intercepts the man with a quiet question, polite and unassuming and eminently distracting, and Ronan slips away.

Another time, Adam warns him their cell is about to be searched, giving Ronan more than enough time to hide all the shit he shouldn't have. He has no idea how Adam knows, but what he does know is that Adam didn't have to breathe a word of it to him.

Ronan's not stupid, he thinks probably this is Adam's way of paying him back. It kind of pisses him off, because he didn't do it to be paid back, and Adam doesn't fucking owe him anything, but he doesn't say anything about it. Adam will get it out of his system and they can go back to ignoring each other.

Except then he's about to start a fight - two seconds away from slamming his fist into the face of that shitbag Kavinsky who's been asking for it for weeks, needling him and posturing and making it clear he's got it out for Ronan - but before they can make it around the corner, to the narrow strip of grass between the chapel and one of the cellblocks where the guards hardly ever go, Adam appears out of nowhere.

He barely spares a glance for Kavinsky, just nods at Ronan. "Guards'll be patrolling this way in a minute or two."

Kavinsky swears, calls Adam a dumb hick, and Adam shoots him a cold, disgusted look and walks away. And that's it, because Ronan might want nothing more than to beat that smirking Bulgarian until he pukes, but he's not going to solitary for it. He walks away, angry and worked up and with no outlet, and Adam was fucking lying because the guards don't come.

He's no less angry by the time night rolls around and he's stuck in a cell with lying, meddling Adam Parrish. He seethes quietly for about as long as he can take it, and Adam doesn't seem at all surprised when Ronan finally surges up from his thin bed and turns on him, sharp and hot with anger.

"You're not my goddamn mother, Parrish, you need to stay out of my fucking business," is where it starts, and Ronan doesn't finish there. He's got some choice words to say about Adam not owing him shit and him not wanting any help, about how next time he's just gonna walk on by when he sees someone beating on him. About Adam's skinny ass and his hick accent and his parentage.

Later he thinks that Adam probably intended to sit silently and let him wear himself out, ignore him completely. But Adam has a temper too, as much as he likes to pretend he doesn't, and something Ronan says gets under his skin just enough to rile him up. His eyes blaze and his lips thin and it's actually kind of amazing to watch, because Adam usually keeps himself under such tight control. And now he's losing it, all because of Ronan.

"Fine, Lynch," Adam says, his accent slipping more, on the edge of a drawl, all dirt and sunshine and trailer park, "next time Joseph Kavinsky and his cockroaches want to get you somewhere private and knife you, I'll let them. And when you're bleeding out you can feel all self-righteous and tough."

And his accent turns want to into wanna and slides the g off bleeding entirely in a way that would be weirdly cute if he were saying just about anything else. Ronan snarls at him and tells him to fuck off and throws himself back down on his bed, but he can't keep fighting because it undercuts his anger in a moment.

Not the accent. What Adam said. Ronan had been too pissed off at Kavinsky to notice at the time, but thinking back, it'd been just K pissing him off. His usual pack of bullyboys had been conspicuously missing, not trailing after their leader or wandering in the yard or laughing from the sidelines. And Adam has no reason to lie, especially if he wasn't intending to say anything at all. It's possible - probable, actually - that around that corner had been a bunch of shitheads and at least one shiv, and Ronan is pretty fucking badass but even he doesn't like those odds.

It takes him pretty much the whole night to let his anger settle. He's not going to fucking apologize to Adam, though. That's bullshit.

What he does do is wait about a week and then beat the shit out of Jacobson, who everyone heard call Adam a cocksucking piece of trailer trash in some dumbass attempt to start shit. Adam didn't react to it, because he never does, and it's not that far off from some of the crap Ronan's said, but that's beside the point.

A few days later, the guards do a random search and find a stash of cocaine in Kavinsky's cell, along with a shiv and some other contraband. He gets transferred to a different facility with higher security, and Ronan doesn't have to watch his back anymore.

Adam doesn't say anything about it, and neither does Ronan, but things are okay between them after that. Better than okay, actually. There's a weird give and take, they kind of watch each other's backs, and Ronan realizes that Adam really does have his shit together. He doesn't fight, but he's smart as hell and he seems to know all the alliances, who's got things to sell and who wants to buy, who owes who, which guards can be talked into looking the other way and how random searches never have to be random if you know who to talk to. And a whole lot of people owe him favors.

And it's fine that he doesn't fight, because Ronan does, and he's pretty damn good at it.

So that all works out kind of well.

Chapter Text

Adam has spent most of his life taking punches. It was one of the first things he learned as a boy, and in the long run, it’s been more useful than knowing how to fine tune an engine. Maybe if he hadn’t ended up here, that wouldn’t be true, but then, a lot of things wouldn’t be true. Knowing how to get hit and keep going has served him well in prison. It never really gets easy, pain always hurts, but he’s managed to survive.

He never really bothered to imagine what it would be like if he didn’t have to take a punch every now and then. Not until Ronan Lynch.

But this - alliance, whatever you want to call it, has changed things. Before, Adam had a certain amount of protection. People would learn that they couldn’t hurt him without retaliation, but there were always a few who either didn’t know or didn’t care. They had to learn the lesson personally, and that involved a certain amount of pain on Adam’s part.

Now, Ronan is more than happy to take on whatever newbie assholes come Adam’s way. Ronan likes fighting, and while they’ve never actually vocalized the silent bargain between them, he always holds up his end. Adam hasn’t had a fresh bruise on him in weeks, not since a strutting new guy trying to make his mark shoulder-checked him hard into a doorframe and Ronan broke the guy’s nose in return.

It pricked Adam’s pride a little, at first, but he’s too practical to let that ruin things. Besides, Ronan is getting at least as much out of their arrangement - nobody else could get into that many fights and survive this long. The inmates who think with their fists know Ronan is more than happy to take them on if they try to involve Adam. The ones who are a little smarter know that, in return, Adam has no problem finding the right lever to press to keep Ronan out of any real trouble.

Getting Kavinsky sent down had taken some effort, but it’d been a great way to show that Adam has no problem doing what he thinks needs to be done. If he can get a bag of coke planted and a random search done once, he can do it again, and people know that now.

They’re not famous or anything. In the grand scheme of the prison, they don’t have a whole lot of power. There are plenty of guys who’ve been there longer, have gangs behind them, have power and resources Adam and Ronan could never dream of. Comparatively, the two of them are small fish. None of the powerful guys has any reason to care about them, and the weaker ones have every reason in the world to leave them alone, and that’s how Adam prefers it.

He just wants to exist safely. He could’ve done it on his own - had been doing it on his own, before Ronan showed up - but this is better. He’s started to get used to seeing his own skin without bruises, started to warily trust in the idea that someone’s got his back. Ronan’s an asshole, but he’s a loyal one. They’ve only known each other for a couple months, and Adam is generally suspicious of everyone, but Ronan’s done nothing to lose his trust and everything to gain it, mostly without trying.

It’s not like it’s come totally without a price, though. What Adam does is not so obvious as Ronan’s fists and willingness to fight, it’s quiet and easily overlooked. That means people will find other reasons that Ronan might be protecting him. He doesn’t know if Ronan’s heard it. He doesn’t know what Ronan would think if he did. But Adam knows it’d been floating around for awhile even before anyone said anything to his face.

It’s Czerny who finally brings it up, a more or less affable asshole who’s a great source of fine cell-brewed wine, or whatever passes for it in this place. Adam’s making a deal - not for himself, but to pass on to someone else, one of the complicated network of favors he’s cultivated - when Czerny brings it up. He is not particularly delicate about it.

“Yeah, so - you and Lynch, right? Hey, that was a surprise, I never thought you were the type to get on your knees for a guy like that.” Czerny grins, salacious, and hands over a tupperware full of his finest hooch. “Can’t be half-bad, though. I heard he kicked Denton’s ass for looking at you funny.”

Adam is pretty sure Ronan kicked Denton’s ass for the sheer pleasure of it, actually, as Denton has never spared him a second glance, but he doesn’t say that. There’s no point. People are going to think what they’re going to think, and he’s seen the glances, he already knew this had to be floating around.

It looks like Czerny is about to say something else, but he sees Adam’s cold expression and falls silent with a good-natured shrug, and Adam leaves without any more speculation about the quality, or lack thereof, of his imagined sexual favors.

It leaves him tense and a little angry. He knows, he knows people will think this. What Ronan offers is obvious in every movement, every action. What Adam offers is less so. Of course people will think he’s giving Ronan something besides his own brand of protection. Plenty of others do that, Adam wouldn’t be the first person to let a stronger cellmate fuck him in exchange for safety.

And it’s not even like it’s that novel of an idea. Adam has never seriously considered it before, not even when he was new and had no protection at all, but he’s always known that for some people it was an option. He’d like to think that his pride would never allow it, but he knows that if it had come down to it, survival would have won over pride. It never has yet, never will, but Adam hasn’t gotten where he is by not considering all the options.

But that isn’t what’s going on. People will look at them and think it is, he knows, but - fuck. He doesn’t even know why he’s bothered by it. He knows that’s not what’s going on and so does Ronan, they both know Adam brings a lot more to their partnership - or whatever it is - than a free blowjob now and then. He shouldn’t care.

He delivers the wine to its intended owner, heads back to his own cell. By the time he gets there, he mostly isn’t bothered anymore. So what if some people are going to look at him and never see anything worthwhile? That’s not new. That’s pretty much the story of Adam Parrish’s life.

Ronan is there when he gets back, lounging on his bed with a magazine that’s got muscle cars plastered all over the cover. He glances up long enough to nod at Adam, then returns to his interested perusal, or possibly to his nap. It’s hard to tell. Adam makes himself comfortable on his own bed, pulling down a book he got from the tiny prison library.

He doesn’t really read. He glances at Ronan instead, and after a moment Adam has to admit to himself that actually, rather than pissed, he should be flattered that half the prison population thinks Ronan is infatuated enough to beat people up for looking at him funny.

Adam is not a hideous mutant hellbeast, but he knows he’s not all that attractive, either. He’s too thin - he’s always been too thin - and he’s always been more strange-looking than handsome. Not in a bad way, necessarily, he’s gotten a few compliments now and then, but when you grow up in a trailer park you don’t really want to be called anything but manly and tough, and Adam has never been called either of those things. He’s not charming, either, not charismatic or poised or anything of the sort. He’s quiet and too distant and not the sort of person anyone looks at and immediately wants.

Ronan is something else. Ronan is handsome in a sharp, dangerous way. He walks through the world looking for a fight, something that should warn anyone off, but he’s still got a sort of magnetism to him. He’s more like a wild animal than a person, sometimes, the kind of creature you know could tear your throat out but that you can’t stop looking at anyway. Adam is sure he cultivates that image, with the tattoo and the buzzed head and the attitude, but some of it is natural, too.

He doesn’t know how anyone could look at Ronan Lynch and honestly think he could want to fuck Adam badly enough to offer protection in return.

Adam finally turns his attention to his book, lips twisting into something like a wry smile. Really, he should be flattered. He sort of is.

Hopefully Ronan won’t be too pissed when he finds out what people think they’re doing. Adam has no intention of being the one to mention it.

They both know why they’re allies, and it’s not that.

Chapter Text

Ronan doesn’t feel comfortable in his skin.

He wants to drive ninety miles an hour, race a stranger, punch someone. He wants to drink until he can’t feel anymore. He wants a lot of things, but he can’t have any of them, and so he paces the length of his tiny cell. The guards are doing their count, it’s almost time for lights out. He can’t do anything.

It’s always like this after his brothers visit.

Finally, Ronan flings himself down onto his thin bed, breath shuddering as he tries to leash his anger. The only thing in here to take it out on is Adam, and that’s not something he even considers.

He is aware of Adam’s presence, quiet and still on the other bed. That makes his skin itch too, the knowledge of him there, the weight of Adam’s eyes on him. Only when Ronan glances over, Adam isn’t looking, barely seems to realize he’s there. It’s probably politeness, Adam letting him work his shit out, but somehow that pisses him off more. Like he should be making himself felt. Like Adam shouldn’t even be able to ignore him.

“Lights out!” the guard shouts, and there’s a buzz as the lights flick off, leaving only the emergency lights outside the cell to illuminate any part of it. It’s barely enough for Ronan to still see the edges of Adam’s slim form, laying on his bed. His mind can fill in the rest - long fingers, slender wrists, the elegant line of his neck. Dusty skin, dusty hair, intelligent blue eyes that always seem to see more than they should.

He stops thinking about it. Stops thinking about anything - not Adam, not his visitors today, not this cramped little cell. He tries to sleep.

He fails.

That’s not new.

Minutes or hours later, he moves convulsively, sitting up and punching his pillow, not caring if it wakes Adam up.

“Is it that bad?”

Adam’s voice is quiet, but there are no traces of sleep in it. He hadn’t been sleeping either, Ronan notes, and part of him is pleased. Maybe Adam isn’t as good at ignoring him as he seems.

He doesn’t ask what Adam is talking about. “Yeah, it’s that fucking bad.” He can hear the disgust in his voice, doesn’t try to disguise it. Ronan’s not a liar.

“But they come all this way to see you,” Adam says, and that makes Ronan’s anger flare again.

“Declan comes all this way to act superior and say I told you so. He brings Matthew so he’ll look at me all disappointed with those stupid puppy dog eyes and I’ll feel bad. It’s bullshit.”

In the dark, it’s easier to say these things. Ronan doesn’t think he could talk about it at all if he could see Adam, see the way Adam looks at him, like he’s a puzzle that Adam is coolly, distantly trying to solve.

Over the months, he’s realized Adam isn’t really as cool as he seems. It’s not an act, exactly, it’s just that he isn’t good at opening himself up. It’s easier for Adam to seem distant than friendly, icy than warm. Wariness and caution are his first response to nearly anything, and then he tries to take it apart and put it back together and make a plan, and only after that is he ever able to open up.

It’s so vastly different from how Ronan works that he can barely handle it, sometimes. They work together well, but every time he’s made Adam lose his temper - or worse, crack a genuine smile - is memorable. It feels like victory, almost, it feels a little heart-stopping, and that makes Ronan uncomfortable, and that makes him mad.

Most things do.

But the long and short of it is that Adam in the dark is, sometimes, easier to talk to. He knows Adam isn’t going to say anything to anyone. He doesn’t really know why Adam is asking about this, though. They don’t talk about their lives outside. They never have.

“It’s a long way to come, just for that,” Adam says. His tone is thoughtful, and there’s a hint of something else there that Ronan can’t place.

It is a long way, he guesses. This shitty prison is maybe four hours away from Declan’s place, where Matthew is staying now. But they still both come at least once a month.

“You don’t know my brother. He’d drive twice as far to get under my skin.”

Adam makes a soft hmm noise but doesn’t say anything for awhile. Ronan has to admit he isn’t entirely sure why they come all that way, except maybe that Matthew wants to and it’s hard for anyone to deny Matthew anything. But Declan? It doesn’t make sense to Ronan, which pisses him off.

After a long silence, Adam speaks again. “Isn’t it kind of nice to see them? I mean… isn’t it nice to know someone outside is thinking of you?”

Ronan scoffs. “Thinking of what a fuckup I am, maybe. What the fuck does it matter to you?” And his tone is harsh, and Adam falls silent, and Ronan sulks. It’s none of Adam’s business. Ronan would rather no one outside think of him, he’d rather be forgotten in here instead of having to face Declan’s disapproval and Matthew’s disappointment. What the hell is Adam’s problem?

They don’t talk again, and eventually the sound of Adam’s breathing evens out, and Ronan knows he’s asleep.

He still can’t sleep. He’s thinking about Declan and Matthew, and now about Adam too, and that soft tone of something else in his voice. Ronan knows what it is now, now that it’s too late to do anything about it. Not that he would have anyway, but - still.

He’s not sure what to call it. Wistfulness? Yearning? Loneliness, maybe.

Because it isn’t until Ronan is laying in the darkness of their cell, Adam’s soft breathing somehow managing to calm him, that he remembers that Adam has never gotten a visitor.

They’ve been cellmates for five months, now. They watch each other’s backs, Adam is maybe the closest thing to a friend that Ronan has in here, and he knows that it’s the same for Adam. But he didn’t realize - didn’t really pay attention.

Declan and Matthew are here regularly. Gansey visited once, writes regularly even though Ronan barely responds, and has promised another visit soon, during his spring break.

Adam’s never gotten a visitor. Never gotten mail, as far as Ronan has seen.

Isn’t it nice to know someone outside is thinking of you?

No. Not really, not when all Ronan’s ever done is disappoint them.

But maybe that’s still better than knowing no one cares. Knowing there’s not a soul who will make the trip to see you, to even write a letter now and then. Adam is alone.

Ronan feels kind of shitty now.

He listens to Adam breathe and lets the even rhythm of it relax him. He’s not gonna apologize, but maybe there’s something he can do.

Chapter Text

‘Richard Campbell Gansey III’ sounds like a lawyer’s name. Adam has no idea why a lawyer would take an interest in his case now, when everything’s been said and done - not even his public defender had been very interested. He’d seen it all before - either an abused boy fighting back or a troubled young man lashing out, depending on how the courts wanted to see it in the end. Adam had been nothing new, and without the scent of money to catch his interest he’d had no reason to spend any extra time on him.

So why would someone want to now? Adam had considered denying the visitation request, but in the end he hadn’t seen how it could hurt. At best, he’d meet some bleeding-heart lawyer hoping for a sob story, and at worst he’d waste an hour or two talking to someone who hadn’t spent the last three years locked up.

That would be a nice change.

So while he doesn’t entirely know what to expect when he sits down at the table, he has an idea. Assumptions. Theories.

And frankly, Richard Campbell Gansey III looks exactly like his ideas. Perfect hair, presidential jaw, sturdy shoulders. A pastel polo shirt and khakis. Adam can’t quite place his age - maybe he’s a little young for a lawyer, but he’s not sure.

The guard leads him to the table, and Adam sits. He feels entirely inadequate next to the paragon of young manliness that is Richard Gansey, especially in his ill-fitting prison jumpsuit. But Adam is used to feeling inadequate, so he raises his chin and pretends not to notice the vast difference in their stations. It’s impossible, but for a minute or two he can pretend.

“I’m so pleased you agreed to see me,” Richard Gansey says, and as Adam looks him over a little more closely, he starts to think he might not be a lawyer after all. He doesn’t have any files, he doesn’t have a pen or paper. On first glance it seems he might also have a soul, which would disqualify him based on all the other lawyers Adam has known.

“Is this about my case?” Adam asks. He’s not so sure anymore, but he doesn’t know what else it could be about. There’s no way this man could have anything to do with Adam’s mother - they aren’t the kind of people who can exist in the same world. And Adam can think of no other person in the world who might think of him at all.

“What?” The man across from him looks surprised for a moment, then a bit chagrined. “Oh, no. No, not at all. Ronan asked me to visit you.”

And that, Adam has no idea how to react to.

This man doesn’t look like he could exist in the same world as Ronan, either. Too polished, too polite. He probably hasn’t been in a street race even once, and Adam would be shocked to learn he’d ever punched a man. He falls back on his initial assumption, because he doesn’t know what else to do.

“You’re his lawyer?” He can hear the uncertainty in his own voice, but he can’t seem to get rid of it.

“Dear lord, no,” Richard Gansey says, and smiles. “I’m his friend. We went to school together. I came to see him once before, but that was awhile back.”

Adam thinks about it, and maybe he remembers that. It wasn’t long after Ronan came, so they didn’t know each other well. He didn’t know about Declan and Matthew yet, he just knew that Ronan got regular visitors and never seemed to like it. But there was one visit that hadn’t left him angry, just restless, distracted. Maybe that had been this man. Ronan’s friend, somehow.

He’s still talking, and Adam pulls himself back to the conversation, listens.

“I’m studying history at Princeton, so I really can’t get down here often. No doubt my parents would love it to be law instead, but they can’t have everything.” He smiles, offers a hand to Adam. “I know you know my name, but please. Just Gansey.”

Adam shakes his hand with a murmured, “Adam Parrish.” Gansey knows his name too, of course, but Adam doesn’t care about that. His mind is working too hard, jumping past its surprise at this entire situation and sliding quickly into something like anger.

He doesn’t need Ronan’s pity. He doesn’t need a visit from a friend of Ronan’s because he doesn’t have any of his own, because he hasn’t had a single visitor since he came here. And he doesn’t need a reminder of what he already knew - that even if Ronan is stuck in this prison with Adam, he comes from an entirely different world, one filled with fancy cars and trust funds and friends who go to Princeton and wear polo shirts.

Ronan didn’t have to tell Adam that. He figured it out on his own - the way Ronan never worries about running out of money at the commissary, the casually dropped reference to a destroyed car that Adam could never afford in a million years, the expensive tattoo. But it never seemed to matter much, not when they were both on the same level in here.

The reminder is harsh and unwelcome. Whatever he and Ronan have - an alliance, a friendship, something else Adam can’t name - it would never have happened outside these walls. Ronan runs with the Richard Ganseys of the world, and Adam is trailer trash without a single friend.

His shoulders are tight. His voice is too. “I’m not interested in Ronan’s pity, or yours. Thanks for the thought, but you’d better go.”

Gansey’s eyes widen, his carefully polished exterior slipping. “Oh - no! God, no, it’s not that.”

“He asked you to come visit me because he feels sorry for me.” Saying it aloud leaves a bad taste on Adam’s tongue. He’d thought - he doesn’t know. He sort of thought Ronan understood him, or parts of him. His fragile, carefully guarded pride, his determination to be independant. He hadn’t thought that Ronan had been looking at him with pity all this time.

He doesn’t like the thought. He feels a strange, unwelcome knot of betrayal in his chest. He shouldn’t care, but he does. Ronan seemed different.

Gansey makes an aborted movement, like he was about to put his head in his hands and decided against it at the last minute. “Jesus Christ, no, I’m doing this all wrong. It isn’t like that. I can’t imagine him doing that for anyone.”

Neither can Adam, but here Gansey is.

“He didn’t ask me, exactly. That was poor phrasing on my part.” Gansey looks more than chagrined now, he looks truly embarrassed, and somehow far more human because of it. Adam doesn’t want to warm to him, but he does, a little. “We’ve been writing letters, you know. He’s not very good at it, but he’s mentioned you a few times. He said, ah - pretty sure I found your future wife, Parrish is almost as much of a nerd as you. And other such choice phrases. He also told me to stop writing him letters and write you instead, but I think that was mainly because he’s tired of me asking him to think about his future. I mean, there was certainly more foul language than that.”

Gansey shrugs, looking apologetic. “I thought it would be better to meet in person first. I have to admit, I was curious. You seem to be a good influence on him.”

Adam is not sure anyone could really be a good influence on Ronan, but it’s true that Adam has kept him out of trouble multiple times. And apparently Gansey knows about that, or at least some of it, and - well. He wants to stay angry, but it all sounds so very Ronan that it’s difficult to.

He’s not sure that some of it wasn’t because Ronan feels sorry for him. If Ronan were a different person, Adam would think that maybe he wanted two of his friends to meet, maybe he’d looked at them both and thought they’d get along and decided to set them up in some kind of weird prison friend date.

On one hand, it’s not something Adam can imagine Ronan Lynch doing.

On the other hand, Ronan always seems to surprise him. Not so long ago, Adam had found him in the corner of the yard, carefully hand-feeding a baby bird that had fallen from its nest. It should have been impossible to take care of a delicate creature like that in an environment like theirs, but Ronan managed, and the little bird survived. It came to visit him still, taking bits of food and bringing back stray pieces of trash.

There are sides to Ronan that Adam doesn’t know. Maybe that’s what this is. Maybe that’s why he can’t seem to be angry.

He sighs, runs a hand through his hair, relents. Either way, this isn’t Gansey’s fault.

“I mostly just make sure he doesn’t punch the wrong person,” he says, and Gansey smiles, apparently relieved to be forgiven. Relieved Adam isn’t going to turn him away.

“I always tried to do that,” Gansey says, “but he truly has an astonishing talent for it.”

Adam can’t quite keep from smiling, just a tiny bit.

Gansey, it turns out, is pretty all right. His trust fund baby exterior covers up a vast curiosity and appetite for knowledge, a careful sort of kindness, and a charisma that Adam isn’t immune to. It’s not the dangerously sharp charisma of Ronan, but something softer, more inspiring. Friendly.

They talk through the visit, Adam cautious at first but slowly relaxing. He learns things about Ronan, about his family, and he shares little pieces of prison life - nothing too frightening, he doesn’t think Gansey could handle it. But enough, the kinds of things Ronan probably wouldn’t think to share. The food, the books in the prison library, the programs available.

And more, too. They talk about Gansey’s studies. Adam admits that he studies himself, working slowly towards a degree through one of the prison programs, even if he’ll never be able to use it. Gansey’s curiosity is sparked, and Adam gets swept along, and after it’s all over he has to admit that Gansey really is a giant nerd, and he’s not much better.

It’s okay. It’s nice, even. As Gansey leaves, he extracts an agreement, convincing Adam to write him. Adam isn’t quite sure how this all happened, but he doesn’t want to say no, and if he’s totally honest with himself… well, he has been lonely. He feels like he hasn’t had a glimpse of the outside world since he got here, and Gansey is so very outside.

The guard takes him out of the meeting room, back to his cell. Ronan is there, taking up space, and Adam isn’t sure what to say to him. A thank you would be strange, and there’s some part of Adam that’s still stung that Ronan would do that.

But the rest of him is quietly pleased, maybe even happy. He doesn’t say anything, but Ronan glances at him and then away, and Adam thinks maybe he’s nervous. It’s a strange thought, but a lot of today has been strange.

“He’s all right,” Adam says finally, not looking at Ronan. Organizing the books on his shelf, instead. “He knows a lot about 13th century Welsh kings.”

Ronan groans, as if the mere thought of that is killing him, but out of the corner of his eye Adam sees his shoulders relax. “Now he can talk all that shit at someone else. Thank fucking god.”

Adam feels a faint smile curl the edges of his lips, and he doesn’t try to hide it.

Chapter Text

Ronan finds himself in the library one day, and he’s not entirely sure how he ended up there.

When they have free time, he mostly prefers the yard, the open sky overhead the closest thing to freedom they can get. Chainsaw’s out there, too, and sometimes Adam likes to go for walks, or sometimes one of the other inmates Ronan doesn’t utterly hate drops by for a conversation.

Well, not really a conversation. Ronan’s not so into conversations. But Czerny will come talk at him for awhile, or one of K’s former goons will try to provoke him into a fight (which only works when he’s in the mood for it), or someone else will test the waters. Or they’ll all leave him alone and he’ll nap outside, the breeze in his face, pretending he’s somewhere else. Pretending he’s home.

But he’s restless today. He tried to teach Chainsaw to untie a piece of string, but wasn’t patient enough for her, and before long she’d nipped his finger and flown away. He’d even considered starting a fight, something to work off this useless energy, but even that he wasn’t quite in the mood for. And no one really deserved it right now, anyway.

Except maybe that idiot Lindner, who’d looked at Adam a little too long during breakfast today, but he’d backed off when Ronan glowered at him. And even Ronan has to admit he hasn’t actually done anything. Yet.

So he can’t stay outside, or maybe he doesn’t want to. And maybe it was inevitable that he’d end up here. The prison library, tiny and full of outdated textbooks and paperbacks too used for a bookstore. The province of the nerdiest and most boring of the prisoners.

Which of course is why Adam spends most of his time here.

Ronan pushes the door open, lets it swing shut behind him. There’s no guard - there usually isn’t, the library isn’t the kind of place people go for trouble, and the prison’s understaffed as it is. Actually, there’s no one, except for Adam. Sitting at one of the heavy, scarred wooden tables, his nose in a book, the sunlight from the window illuminating his fine, strange features.

He pauses for a moment by the door, but Adam doesn’t look up. Whether it’s because he’s too distracted by his book or because he already knows it’s Ronan is impossible to say. Adam is overly observant sometimes, not at all others. Ronan knows that Adam’s natural wariness is made more difficult by being deaf in one ear, but he also thinks - with a bit of ego-stroking - that having Ronan around has made Adam able to let down his guard more.

“Hey, loser,” Ronan says, and makes his way to the table. Instead of taking one of the other chairs, he leans against the edge of it. Adam looks up, though he doesn’t put his book down. His eyebrows raise just a bit, his lips twitch. It’s almost a smile. Ronan is pleased.

“Hey,” Adam says. “What are you doing here? Did you learn to read while I wasn’t looking?”

“Asshole,” Ronan says, and kicks the leg of Adam’s chair. Adam laughs, a sudden quiet thing, there and gone in an instant. Ronan thinks he might be the only person in the whole prison who’s ever heard it. His restlessness is ebbing away, bit by bit. “What’re you reading? Something lame?”

Adam picks up a torn bit of paper, sliding it into the book as a bookmark, his slender fingers careful with the pages. He looks up. Ronan looks away.

“It’s about the Norman conquest of England. Gansey was talking about it, and we actually have a book on it. I might as well know what he’s talking about.” Adam shrugs, shoulders a little tight, as if he’s embarrassed to be caught caring about something like that, or maybe as if he’s embarrassed he doesn’t know more about it already.

Ronan’s just sort of… pleased, maybe. Gansey and Adam are still writing letters, and once Ronan would have been pissed at anyone making friends with Gansey so easily, but Adam is different. He could say it’s because he knows Adam doesn’t have anyone else, that it’s some kind of pity, but he knows that’s not really it. Adam’s just different.

If anything, Ronan is a little jealous of Gansey for winning Adam over so easily.

“That’s pretty fucking lame,” Ronan says, and leans over to look at the cover of the book. This brings him in close to Adam, their heads nearly touching, but he doesn’t care, it doesn’t matter. They sleep together in a tiny cell every night, they’re near each other all the time. He can see the soft spray of freckles across Adam’s tanned skin.

The door behind Ronan swings open. He straightens quickly and turns, seeing another inmate there, someone whose name he doesn’t know. Carlson? Carhart? Who cares.

Before Ronan can scowl and snarl and intimidate him out of the library, he throws up his hands and backs out. “Oh man, sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt.” His retreat is as fast as his entrance, and the belief he came in in the middle of something private is written across his face. Ronan doesn’t have time to deny it, even if he were going to.

Adam lets out a breath of air, not quite a sigh or a laugh. Something else.

Ronan should let it go. He almost does. He’s been ignoring this for months. But - fuck. He has to know.

“Does it bother you?”

Adam looks at him, and Ronan knows he knows what Ronan’s talking about. But of course, Adam can’t make it easy. Adam fucking Parrish has been tangling Ronan’s life into knots ever since Ronan walked into that cell.

“Does what bother me?” Adam says, the barest traces of his Southern accent hanging off the edges of his words.

Ronan’s pissed that he has to say it. He’s pissed that he said anything, that he had a stupid moment of weakness and brought this out into the open. It’s been hidden away for months, the open secret that neither of them mentioned. So his voice is maybe a little more angry than it should be.

“That they all fucking think we’re sleeping together.”

And it seems like an oddly delicate way to put it, once it’s out of Ronan’s mouth. Sleeping together. Sure, that’s what they think, essentially, but that’s not quite it. They think he and Adam are fucking. They think that when Ronan plants his fist in the face of some dickhead who called Adam a cocksucker, it’s because Adam is sucking his cock. They think that if he and Adam are alone in the library together, it’s because Ronan wants to bend him over this shitty old table.

Yeah, right. They’d both get splinters.

It bothered Ronan at first, because no matter how he looks he’s not the kind of person who would do that, but he didn’t give enough of a shit to try to stop it. Now it bothers him for a different reason.

Which is, of course, that he sort of wishes it were true.

Not like that. He’s not interested in getting laid that way, he’s not interested in using Adam that way. And Adam wouldn’t need it, either. Inside Ronan, there is not one ounce of doubt that if he’d proposed that sort of trade when they’d first met, Adam would have told him in no uncertain terms to go fuck himself. And then probably made his life miserable, because as Ronan has seen, Adam is really excellent at that when he needs to be.

Adam can take care of himself. Ronan makes it easier, sure, but Adam doesn’t need Ronan’s protection enough to sell himself in return. And that’s good, that’s how Ronan wants it. He doesn’t think he’d have been very interested in Adam if Adam had needed to do that.

But the problem here, of course, is that he is interested in Adam.

Ronan isn’t sure he’s ever been physically attracted to someone the way he is to Adam. Adam is all dusty hair and blue eyes, thin wrists and long fingers. The prison jumpsuit doesn’t do him any favors, but Ronan could look at him for hours anyway. The way his fingers curve on the pages of a book, the soft slope of his shoulders when he’s relaxed, the hint of a smile at the corner of his lips.

If it were just the attraction, it would be one thing. But Adam is the only person in this entire goddamn place Ronan trusts, and one of very, very few that he likes. Adam is smart and organized, quiet and clever, sharp when he needs to be. He doesn’t let Ronan - or anyone - push him around, but he does it in a subtle way, a way that doesn’t involve posturing or fights. It’s not at all the way Ronan works, but maybe that’s why it’s so intriguing.

What it all comes down to is that the entire population of the prison thinks Ronan is fucking the one person he really wishes he were fucking, and the one person he can’t afford - doesn’t want - to scare off.

So Adam’s response matters a lot more than Ronan wants it to.

Adam is silent for a moment, still looking at him, and Ronan curses himself for saying anything at all, but then Adam shrugs and looks away. “It doesn’t bother me.”

It’s a relief. Sort of.

He thinks Adam is going to leave it there for a moment, change the subject and let things slide away, and everything will continue as it was.

He’s wrong.

“I don’t care what they think we’re doing,” Adam says, picking his words with care. “I’ll tell them we’re not if it makes you uncomfortable, but I don’t think they’ll believe me.” He’s not quite looking at Ronan, and after a moment, Ronan realizes that Adam is actually nervous.

He’s seen Adam scared before, tense, stressed. Nervous? Not so much.

“When have I ever given a shit what anybody thinks?” Ronan says, because it’s true and because he wants Adam to look at him, he wants to figure this out.

Adam does look at him then, and he slips out of his chair, stands, coming around the edge of the table to stand in front of Ronan. Ronan doesn’t know what that means. He goes still.

“You care what I think, or you wouldn’t have asked,” Adam said, and his voice is soft. For a moment he hesitates. Then he visibly steels himself, as if he’s afraid of what he’s about to say, and continues. “Is it because you don’t like it, or because you do?”

There’s only one answer that’s true, and Ronan doesn’t lie. He could avoid the question, though, he could bluster and snarl and let it all come crashing down, and he knows Adam would still wonder but he wouldn’t pursue the answer. He would let it go, and it would never come up again. Ronan could make that happen.

But the fact that Adam is asking at all means that Ronan not only has to tell the truth, he has to be honest.

“Because I do,” Ronan says, and he feels for a moment like he’s stepped off a cliff.

“Oh,” Adam says, and it’s a soft sound, barely even a word, but it’s wondering and hopeful and it arrests Ronan’s fall in an instant. Adam leans in, his hand coming up to rest so carefully on Ronan’s arm, and Ronan knows there’s nothing left to talk about. He knows, in the softness and surety of that touch, that Adam asked because he wanted this answer. Because he wanted Ronan.

But anyone could see them through the windows, and this isn’t for anyone. This is just for them. So Ronan slides off the table and pushes Adam into the stacks, the bookshelves around them blocking out the light, sending shadows across Adam’s cheekbones, and that’s where he catches Adam’s face in his hands and kisses him for the first time. That’s where Adam kisses him. That’s where they lose themselves in each other for a few stolen moments, Adam’s lips under his, Adam’s hand on his arm. His fingers brushing Adam’s skin, the soft sound of Adam trying to catch his breath as they kiss.

He presses Adam back against the bookshelf and kisses him more, deeper. Adam curls a hand around the back of Ronan’s neck and pulls him in, and it doesn’t matter where they are, it doesn’t matter that they’re both trapped here and Ronan can’t go home and Adam has nobody and they’re both criminals with ruined lives.

Ronan is happy. He never wants to stop.

Chapter Text

Adam never imagined that he could find something like this.

It’s not that he didn’t think he could find it in prison - he didn’t think he could find it ever. The world wasn’t made to give people like him good things. Adam’s life has always been a collection of bruises and disappointments, constant wariness and the dull knowledge that he’s never been wanted. He lives on anyway, too stubborn to do anything else, trying to claw out a little piece of success for himself. Outside, he tried to get into a good school. Here, he studies even though he might never be able to use a degree.

It’s something. It was never enough, never quite enough to make him feel light and easy and pleased with himself, but it’s something.

This is something else. Ronan is something else.

What few relationships Adam has had couldn’t even be properly called such. He’d barely finished high school when he ended up in here, and dating wasn’t the kind of thing he could ever really do under his father’s roof. Though he managed to fit in a certain amount of adolescent exploration, it was never particularly satisfying, always flavored with the fear of being discovered and the knowledge that he wasn’t really what they wanted, only a stop on the way.

He doesn’t know if this could be called a relationship, either. Probably not. But even so, it’s more.

Ronan touches him like he matters, looks at him like he has no desire to look at anyone or anything else. Adam had thought that maybe - maybe Ronan wanted something more - it would have been impossible to miss the moments when he looked too long, his eyes too hungry. But Adam couldn’t have imagined this.

It’s nothing he expects and everything he didn’t quite realize he wanted. It’s kisses in the library, Ronan’s fingers just barely brushing his wrist while they sit together in the cafeteria, Adam running his own fingers over the short soft hair at the back of Ronan’s neck. It’s the same trust they’ve built up over these months blossoming into something entirely new.

It’s stolen moments, mostly. They share a cell, but even so, true privacy is a rarity. At first, this is sort of for the best - this thing they have is new, and Adam is too cautious to let things go further than heated kisses, even if he wants more, even if he knows Ronan wants more. It’s not that he wants to take it slow - it’s that he wants them both to be sure.

But Adam overestimates his own need for certainty, or maybe underestimates how certain he already is. It’s not long before stolen kisses aren’t enough.

He wants Ronan in a way he’s never wanted anyone before. This isn’t idle curiosity, teenage hormones, an interest in experimentation. It isn’t Adam doing what he thinks he’s supposed to do. This isn’t anything like what Adam’s done before.

It’s fierce, all-consuming. Desire that he can’t ignore. Now that he’s acknowledged it, now that he’s pushed it out into the open, he doesn’t quite understand how he could ever have pretended it was anything else. He doesn’t know why it took them so long to get to this point. He can’t seem to ever get enough of Ronan.

Stolen kisses stop being enough, but as much as Adam would like to simply push things further - slip his hand into Ronan’s briefs as they kiss in the library, press up against him in the showers, find a hidden corner - some part of him doesn’t want it to be like that. Not the first time, anyway. Though he doesn’t know how to put it in words, is sure he could never admit it aloud, Adam wants this to mean something. He wants them to be able to take their time, to not be looking over their shoulders.

So he’s careful. So he plans, because he’s Adam Parrish, and in the end it isn’t that difficult. It takes a word in the right ear, a favor that he’s been saving for something important. This is selfish, frivolous, ridiculous, important.

Finally, after lights out, after the guard passes on his patrol, Adam slips out of his own bed, crosses the small space between them, and slides under Ronan’s thin blanket.

The prison beds are small and uncomfortable. To share, they’d have to lay half on top of each other, but that’s all right. Adam’s not interested in sleeping. He slings his leg over Ronan’s hips, straddling him, his hands braced against the bed by Ronan’s shoulders.

Ronan’s not asleep, of course. It’s barely past lights out, and sometimes he doesn’t sleep at all. His only reaction, at first, is a slight huff of surprise, and then his hands find their way to Adam’s waist, his hips, steadying him and helping him position himself.

Ronan looks up at him through the dark, the dim emergency lights of the hallway providing only enough illumination that Adam can see the sharp lines of his face. That makes it easier, somehow, though Adam briefly regrets that he’s not able to see Ronan, really see him. But this is good. It’s a little unearthly, a little strange, and it eases Adam’s nerves.

“Hey,” Ronan says. He seems unsurprised, but Adam knows him better than that. There’s the tiniest of hitches in his voice, the slightest tension in his hands where they touch Adam.

“Hey,” Adam says, and leans down to kiss him. Ronan’s fingers find their way into his hair, and the kiss deepens. Warm, deep desire rises in Adam like floodwater, and his nerves fade more quickly, replaced with the certainty that this is what he wants.

Ronan’s thoughts are running along the same lines as his. When they finally separate, he says, “Guard’s gonna be along again in awhile,” his voice tinged with something that might be warning or might just be regret. They’ll have to be quick, he means, and Adam smiles.

“Not until two,” he says, and enjoys Ronan’s sudden smile, the amusement and appreciation. Maybe he’ll regret using one of the few bits of leverage he has on a prison guard on this, of all things, but right now he can’t think of anything he’d rather use it for. This. Ronan. Stolen moments that don’t have to be spent constantly worried about getting caught.

It’s worth it.

Ronan pulls him into another kiss, and this one is hungrier, weighty with the knowledge of what Adam has done and why. What Adam has done for him.

And Adam responds, because it’s impossible for him to do anything else. They have time to themselves, hours that Adam has stolen for them, and all he wants is to spend them learning Ronan Lynch. He did it because he didn’t want them to have to be quick, he wanted them to have time for each other. And they do.

It’s lazy and easy at first, Ronan’s hands sliding under his shirt, Adam tugging at the hem of Ronan’s in return until they’re both shirtless and exploring each other. Adam’s fingers trace Ronan’s biceps, trail down his chest, and he leans in to press kisses to Ronan’s collarbone. Ronan responds by sliding his hands up Adam’s spine, along his sides. His thumb brushes Adam’s nipple, and Adam - still not used to being touched - catches his breath at the sensation of it.

All of Ronan’s attention is on him, which is intimidating at other times and incredibly arousing right now. Ronan grins, a sharp pleased thing, and does it again, deliberate and teasing this time. Adam gasps and moves against him in return, until they’re pressed together and he can feel the hardness of Ronan’s erection against his thigh.

Ronan is a little breathless by then too, his careful facade of control cracking. Adam wants nothing more than to touch him, but he waits, takes his time. They move against each other, kissing and touching, Ronan’s hand slips down to grab Adam’s ass, a little clumsy and a little eager and still somehow perfect.

Finally Adam can’t take anymore. He pulls away, balancing above Ronan, and leans down to kiss him before moving downward. He tugs Ronan’s underwear down along with his pants, down to his thighs, freeing Ronan’s cock, and then he has to pause for a moment.

Ronan pushes himself up on his elbows, looking down at Adam. He’s flushed with arousal, his cheeks and his cock both, clear against his pale skin. But he meets Adam’s eyes, and despite his obvious desire, he is as careful as he has always been with Adam.

“You sure?” he says, voice hoarse with something Adam thinks is need. He’s never heard that tone in someone’s voice before, not when they were looking at him, and it sends a shiver down his spine.

But he’s sure, of course he’s sure. It’s a stupid question and he favors Ronan with a steady, disapproving look instead of answering. Then he leans down, wraps his hand around the base of Ronan’s cock, and slides his tongue across the tip. It’s slick with Ronan’s pre-come, but not at all bad.

Ronan groans, and it’s the best thing Adam has ever heard.

He’s over-eager, maybe, and definitely unpracticed, but Adam is nothing if not a fast and attentive learner. He watches Ronan’s reactions carefully, notices what he likes and what he doesn’t, and puts it into practice.

His hand strokes Ronan’s cock, everything his mouth can’t reach, thumb sliding along the underside. He wraps his lips around the head, hollows out his cheeks, presses his tongue to the slit on top.

Ronan swears softly and tangles his fingers in Adam’s hair, but he doesn’t pull, he doesn’t push Adam down on his cock. Adam doesn’t know if he’s deliberately stopping himself or if it’s just that he wants to touch Adam, and he doesn’t care. He loves the contact, the gentle tug of Ronan’s fingers.

He takes in as much of Ronan as he can, enjoying the taste of him, the weight of Ronan on his tongue, the way he fills Adam’s mouth. The way he inhales sharp through his nose when Adam bobs his head. Adam is hard, almost painfully so, but he doesn’t touch himself. He wants to make Ronan come. He wants to swallow all of him.

Ronan’s hips jerk and he grips the thin mattress as Adam takes him deeper. Adam’s free hand presses into Ronan’s hip, tracing along his hipbone, encouraging him. Adam slides his tongue along the underside of Ronan’s cock and looks up, through his eyelashes. Their eyes meet, just for a moment, and that’s it.

Adam,” Ronan says, and he comes.

Adam is expecting it, is prepared for it, and so he manages to swallow most of it. He doesn’t mind the taste, wipes the rest of it off his lips, and presses a kiss to Ronan’s thigh as he reaches down to touch himself. He’s so hard, so fucking hard he knows it won’t take long, but Ronan only lets him for a few seconds. Then he’s caught his breath, come down from his high, and he grips Adam around the waist, uses his superior strength in a way he almost never does with Adam, pulling him up and flipping them over so Adam’s on his back on the mattress.

He presses hungry lips to Adam’s neck, kisses interspersed with soft nips, and shoves Adam’s hand away to replace it with his own. He jerks Adam off hard and fast, pressed close against him, and Adam knows he’s making truly undignified noises - soft gasps and needy moans, cries that he only barely chokes back - but he can’t stop himself and doesn’t care. Ronan’s hand on him is everything he needs, and it feels like only seconds before he’s coming hard, riding it out with Ronan’s fingers still wrapped around him.

It’s messy and intense and perfect. They rest against each other afterward, and Ronan smiles at him. It’s a real smile, still sharp but somehow gentle as well. His arm is around Adam’s waist, half on top of him in the small bed, and Adam trails fingers down his arm. Part of him still can hardly believe he has this, he can touch Ronan and be touched in return.

They lay there, kissing lazily, until Ronan raises his head and his smile curls into something a little more devilish.

“So,” he says, “how much time have we got left?”

Adam laughs. He can’t help it, he feels giddy and light and impossible. “Plenty,” he says, and pulls Ronan into a kiss that starts out sweet and turns hungry.

They make good use of their time.

After that, things are different. It’s stolen kisses still, of course, and they never have the freedom of that first time - but it’s more, so much more. Ronan corners Adam behind a little-used shed and shoves a hand between his legs, Adam slips into Ronan’s bed between one guard patrol and the next and jerks him off with eagerness and precision. They fuck in the library - not on the splintery table, thank God. Ronan sucks Adam off in the showers, barely finishing before someone else walks in.

They learn each other. What they like, what they don’t. The backs of Ronan’s thighs are stupidly ticklish, and he loves Adam’s hands, and he really likes watching Adam touch himself. Adam loves the sound of his name on Ronan’s lips, and Ronan kissing his neck makes his knees weak, and when Ronan slides two fingers into him while he sucks him off it makes him come so hard he can’t think straight.

They still watch each other’s backs, but there’s a new ferocity to it, a new sort of protectiveness. And when they’re alone together there’s so much more. Sometimes they have no hope of privacy, and all they can do is talk, share stories of the prison or sometimes even of home, or sit in silence and watch each other. Sometimes they can steal moments and kisses and touches.

Adam has never had anything like this before. He never dreamed of it, never imagined that he of all people could find someone as sharp and caring and incredible as Ronan. He knows he doesn’t deserve it, he knows it would be impossible anywhere else, but he treasures each stolen moment and the strange happiness it brings.

But he knows, he knows, Ronan deserves better than to be trapped in this place. And as selfish as Adam can be, as much as he wants to keep this amazing thing they’ve created, as his feelings for Ronan grow deeper he makes up his mind.

He knows what he has to do. Ronan deserves the world.

Chapter Text

Happiness has always been a strange thing for Ronan.

When he was young, it was easy, as easy as breathing. He was surrounded by family, protected and warm at home. A brilliant father who loved him, a mother who held him when he cried, brothers who were always ready to get into trouble. The rolling hills of the farm, the gentle cows and fluffy sheep and hidden mice. He never questioned happiness, back then.

Then his father died and his mother slipped into a coma and his brothers broke apart. He lost his home and veered off the path, and he could remember what happiness had felt like but he could no longer grasp it. Could no longer even imagine feeling that way.

What Ronan feels here, in this prison, isn’t the carefree happiness he felt as a boy. He’s paying for his mistakes, he’s trapped, he’s alternately bored out of his mind and on alert for danger, sometimes at the same time. He’s not free, he can’t drive too fast or play his music so loud he feels it in his gut. He can’t drink his worries away or crash on Gansey’s couch when it’s all too much or annoy the shit out of Gansey’s tiny Smurf girlfriend for fun.

He’s not happy, exactly. But sometimes in these past few months since that first kiss he’s been able to feel the shape of it, the bare outlines of happiness. When he listens to Adam’s soft breathing in the middle of the night, when Adam looks up at him and smiles. When Ronan is able to steal a kiss, pressing Adam against the chain-link fence right before the guard rounds the corner. When Adam’s slender fingers trace the lines of his tattoo in the brief moments of privacy they get.

It would be better if they were free. Ronan thinks about it, sometimes - stupid daydreams that he tries not to dwell on. Going to that gelato place Gansey likes so much, holding Adam’s hand. Laying in bed together, able to hold each other without fear of getting caught. Taking Adam for a ride in his car, then fucking him in the backseat.

Taking Adam home.

They don’t talk much about where Adam comes from, but Ronan has put the pieces together. Plus, Gansey carefully printed out an article about Adam’s trial and sent it to Ronan long ago, doing his due diligence about Ronan’s cellmate, and Ronan actually bothered to read it before tearing it up. So Ronan’s known for a long time why Adam is here, and that it means he has nowhere to go back to. If he’d doubted that, Adam’s lack of visitors would have been enough to prove it.

It doesn’t make any difference to Ronan. It’s fucking unfair, he thinks, that Adam has such a long sentence - it was self-defense, anyone can see that, and in his opinion anyone who would lay a hand on Adam in anger is better off in the ground anyway - but there’s nothing he can do about it. But he knows it means Adam doesn’t have a home to return to. In his weaker moments, Ronan thinks about giving that to Adam. A home.

But it’s a fantasy, nothing more. They aren’t getting out of here.

Or Adam isn’t, anyway. But he seems to think Ronan might be able to.

Adam and Gansey have something up their sleeves. That’s not exactly the right way to put it, not really - that would imply Ronan doesn’t know what’s going on. He does. Adam was clear about it, when he talked Ronan into starting these stupid classes, classes that he knows are almost impossible to get into, classes Adam must have used up all his favors to secure a spot in. Anger management, group therapy bullshit. He hates it, but Adam had seemed so hopeful.

“Take these classes and they’ll count toward your sentence. I talked to Gansey and he’s getting you a new lawyer. If we’re lucky we can get you out way earlier, maybe in just a year or so.”

Ronan went along with it, but the classes are stupid and he doesn’t trust lawyers and -


What’s the fucking point of getting out if he’s just going to go back to being on his own and messing his whole life up?

Gansey’s looked after him long enough, he’s got his own life to handle. He’ll be graduating soon, and he and Blue will probably get married or some shit. Declan has made it clear he’s not dealing with any of Ronan’s crap anymore. Matthew is never gonna have to, not if it’s the last thing Ronan does.

And sure. He doesn’t need Adam. He could, theoretically, keep his shit together on his own. He knows that.

But he doesn’t really want to.

The monotony of prison life has changed entirely since he learned what Adam’s lips taste like. He’s trapped, but it forces him to stay stable, and Adam makes it easier. When he wants to fight simply for the sake of fighting, he can find Adam instead, distract him from what he’s doing with stupid commentary and touch the back of his hand and somehow it’s all easier. It’s been months since he did something really stupid. Now he only gets violent when it’s necessary, when he or Adam is threatened.

What will he do without that, with all the freedom in the world and no one’s lap to rest his head in when he can’t handle it anymore?

Adam wants this for him, though, and so he tries. Gansey wants it, and so he tries. But unrest grows in his heart.

He’s brought to the office of the prison counselor assigned to him, finally. She’s an older woman, stern but not unkind, and she looks him in the eye and talks to him like a person.

“You’ve been doing well, Lynch. Between the programs you’ve finished and your lawyer’s appeals, things are looking up. You’ve been approved for early release, provided you stay out of trouble for the next few months.”

It should make him happy. He knows Adam and Gansey will be delighted. He thinks about walking through the prison doors, going back to his life, being a human again.

He’s not sure what kind of life he had before.

He nods, doesn’t know what to say. Thanks, maybe? But he doesn’t feel real fucking thankful.

She seems unaffected by his silence. His sullen stare slides off her. She’s seen worse. He’s a success story, after all.

He’s taken back to his cell. Adam is delighted at the news, as Ronan expected, and his smile is the best thing Ronan’s seen in days. Weeks. It’s almost enough to set his heart to rest.

But it isn’t.

Adam is happy, but Ronan is not. He’s a ticking time bomb, and he knows it. A few months of good behavior, that’s all, and he knows he can do it. He’s been good so far, he hasn’t been written up for anything since a couple months after he arrived, although admittedly that’s mostly because of Adam knowing how the guards work and knowing exactly how to get him out of trouble.

He can make it through a few months. He just has to think about Adam’s smile, the light in his eyes.

Except that doesn’t help, because all he can think about is losing them. All he can think about is Adam here, alone. And he knows Adam doesn’t need his protection, he knows Adam is smart and resourceful and above all a survivor, but he also knows that Adam doesn’t have anyone.

He knows that as much as Ronan never had anyone like Adam before, Adam never had anyone like him, either. He’s never had anyone to watch his back, to keep him safe. He has never had anyone to love him. Not until Ronan.

It’s selfish, but he doesn’t want to stop loving Adam.

He counts the days, months, years until he could touch Adam again. If he left, would they ever see each other again? Would Adam find someone else? Is there room in Ronan’s heart for anyone else? Would he destroy himself slowly, would someone hurt Adam when Ronan was unable to stop them?

Adam’s sentence is long. Ronan’s doesn’t match it, even without early release, but it’s closer. The math runs through Ronan’s head. He fucking hates math.

It builds and it builds, until in the end there’s no outcome except the dam bursting. Ronan’s confusion, his anger and his love all tangled up together are too much. He doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t want to leave, but he doesn’t want to disappoint Adam.

He’s always been good at disappointing people. It’s so easy to ruin everything. All it takes is a guard snapping at him in the wrong moment, destroying the last thread of his self-control. Ronan is on the man in an instant, slamming a fist into his face, and it feels so fucking good.

Of course it doesn’t end well. He’s bruised, his lip split, the perfect record that’s entirely Adam’s making ruined.

He spends a couple nights in solitary. When he’s returned to his cell, he thinks they’ll fight. Instead, Adam won’t speak to him. Doesn’t even look at him.

He’s ruined it, because that’s what he does.

Chapter Text

Adam doesn’t speak to Ronan for a week, then two. He doesn’t know what to say. Doesn’t even know where to start.

It would turn into a fight if he even tried. He knows that, because the words bubble behind his lips sometimes. Don’t you know what we’ve done for you? Don’t you know you deserve better than this? How could you ruin this chance, you aren’t going to get another one. He doesn’t know if he could keep from saying that. Anger and hurt gnaw at him when he thinks about it.

It’s awkward, of course. Their cell is not large, and they spend a good portion of their time there. Before, they talked, spent time in companionable silence, shared kisses when they knew they could get away with it. Shared more than kisses when they could steal a moment or two for themselves.

Now it’s just empty silence.

The silence gnaws at him, too. What they had before was so good, maybe the best thing Adam’s ever had. He knows that’s sad - he knows anyone else would feel sorry for him, think he’s pathetic that he never felt so wanted and safe until he was locked away with his father’s blood on his hands. But his home was never full of love, only pain and blame, and he never had a chance to create anything else. Not until now.

He doesn’t want to say anything until he knows what to say. He doesn’t understand why Ronan did that, or maybe he does and he just doesn’t want to admit it. It’s too impossible, bigger than it should be, and Adam can’t acknowledge it.

He calls Gansey from the prison phones when he’s able to. By then, Gansey already knows, word passed along by the fancy lawyer he hired. Adam doesn’t know what to say to him, either.

“I can’t believe he would do something like this,” Gansey says, voice full of well-bred indignation. “Well, no. I can, Ronan has always had a talent for destruction, but this? He’s torpedoed his whole future. He’ll be there for years now.”

Adam bites his lip. Gansey is only saying what he’s been thinking, but somehow it doesn’t sit right. “Ronan always does what he wants.”

“He listens sometimes,” Gansey says with a sigh. “Blue says he only listens when he needs to, so I suppose he didn’t think this was one of those times. Henry says he must have found something he thought was more important. But more important than freedom?”

Adam doesn’t really know much about Gansey’s friends. Blue is his girlfriend, he thinks, and Henry is a friend. Or maybe Henry is his boyfriend, and Blue is a friend? It’s confusing, and Adam is too polite to ask, but he always feels a strangely warm glow when Gansey talks about them like Adam knows them. Like Adam is somehow a part of their friend group, the one that includes Ronan too, the one that should have no room for a convicted murderer who grew up in a trailer park.

But Gansey doesn’t care, just like Ronan doesn’t care. It’s never seemed to make any difference to either of them. It’s because of Ronan that Adam has this, friendship he never had the ability to cultivate before.

He misses Ronan. They see each other constantly, but as angry and hurt as Adam still is, he misses the little things. Holding Ronan’s hand. Listening to him put on a parody of Gansey’s rich Virginian accent and read from an outdated history textbook. Knowing that he’s got Adam’s back, no matter what.

The worst part is that Adam is pretty sure the last part is still true. His anger hasn’t changed Ronan’s loyalty.

He sighs, clutching the receiver to his ear, listening to Gansey’s voice on the other end.

“It’s my fault,” he says, not realizing he’s going to say it until it’s out of his mouth. But once it is, he knows it’s true.

“It’s not your fault,” Gansey says, sounding almost offended. “You did what you could to keep him on the right path. It isn’t your fault that he couldn’t keep from lashing out.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Adam says, but he can’t put into words what he did mean. He’s not ready to say it, even if he knows it’s true. He can’t face the reality of Ronan’s feelings for him, the lengths that he would go to. That he did go to.

“Look, Gansey,” he says, cutting off more of Gansey’s anguished wondering over Ronan. “It doesn’t matter. I’ll still look out for him. He’ll be all right, I promise.”

Gansey goes quiet, then. They both breathe for a moment before he speaks again.

“I know,” he says. “And I suppose I can’t be that angry, not when it means he’ll be looking out for you as well.”

And that’s it, really. Adam swallows down a lump in his throat. It’s hard sometimes to accept that anyone out there in the world cares about him. It’s hard to accept that anyone in here does, either.

But they do. Gansey does.

Ronan does.

That night, after the guard passes, Adam slips out of his bed. He crosses the short space between his uncomfortable cot and Ronan’s. Before he can talk himself out of it, he slips into Ronan’s bed, under his blankets.

It’s small, of course. He’s pressed right up against Ronan’s side. At first, Ronan is tense, but there’s no way he didn’t know Adam was coming, and the mere fact that he didn’t stop it means something. After a moment, he relaxes a little and moves over, ceding Adam a little space though they’re still nearly on top of each other.

“Hey,” Ronan says, and he sounds uncertain in a way that Adam rarely hears, a way that hurts his heart for a moment. He did that.

“Hey,” Adam says. He still doesn’t know what to say, he’s still a little angry and a little hurt, but it isn’t boiling right under the surface anymore. He isn’t going to explode, he isn’t going to break everything apart. He’s a Parrish, but he’s not his father. He can be gentle and good. He hasn’t ruined himself yet.

There’s silence. He listens to Ronan breathe and tries to find the right thing to say. Ronan breaks the silence first, in the end.

“Didn’t think you were gonna talk to me again,” Ronan says. It’s too dark to really see, but Adam can feel Ronan’s eyes on him, piercing and cool.

“I can’t just not talk to you,” Adam says. “We live together.”

“We live together?” Ronan says, and there’s something like amusement in his voice, though it’s still laced through with tension and uncertainty. “Should I start saying ‘honey, I’m home’ when I come back in our fucking prison cell?”

Adam elbows him gently. He can’t quantify the relief he feels. It’s okay, it’s going to be okay. He didn’t ruin it. “That’s not what I meant, asshole.”

“Yeah,” Ronan says, and there’s some relief in his voice, too. He moves, turning in the small bed, and tentatively settles his arm around Adam’s waist.

Adam lets him. He slides closer, maybe a bare inch, and rests his head against Ronan’s shoulder. He missed this. He wonders if this is enough, if he should say more. If it’s enough to show his combined apology and forgiveness or if he needs to find the words.

Ronan breathes out, his breath ruffling Adam’s hair.

“I wasn’t gonna fucking leave you,” he says.

Adam knows. He figured it out right after it happened, even if he couldn’t admit it to himself. How could he? No one has ever cared about him that much. He never even really thought it was possible. And for Ronan to destroy his only chance at freedom, his ticket out, just to stay with Adam -

How could he believe that something like that could ever happen? But here Ronan is, saying it straight out.

He curls his fingers into the fabric of Ronan’s scratchy prison-issued uniform.

“You’re a dumbass,” he says, and tries not to notice the tightness in his voice, the way it sounds like he’s about to break apart.

He’s not going to. How could he, with Ronan right here, holding his broken pieces together?

All he can do, really, is return that. Hold the pieces of Ronan together, and be there if he ever needs to fall apart.

“Now you’re stuck with me,” Adam says, his voice evening out, though it takes some effort.

“More like you’re stuck with me,” Ronan says. His fingers slide up Adam’s neck, catching on his chin, pulling him into a kiss. It’s not passionate, exactly, but it’s intense and exactly what they both need. Adam holds on to Ronan more strongly, and he feels Ronan’s arm around him tighten too.

There’s a lot that goes unsaid, but only because it doesn’t need to be. They are stuck here together, and it’s what Ronan wanted, and Adam thinks it might be what he wants, too. He wanted freedom for Ronan, still wants that, because Ronan deserves the world - but if this is what Ronan wants, Adam can’t help but be happy.

Things can still happen. Prison is a dangerous place, and they could be transferred or moved or split apart, one of them could get hurt, and Adam’s sentence is still longer than Ronan’s. But for now, they have this. Everything else can happen if it happens, and they’ll deal with it.

They’ve survived this long because of each other, Adam thinks, as much as both of them might sometimes like to pretend otherwise. They’ll survive whatever else comes.

Part of him can’t believe that this place, of all places in the world, is where he’s fallen in love for the first time. The rest of him is only happy that he is loved in return.

He settles against Ronan, feels Ronan settle against him. The warmth of him, the solidity of his body. Adam turns just enough to press another kiss to Ronan’s lips, pure and sincere.

He can’t stay for long. The guard will be by again soon. But for now, he’ll steal what happiness he can.