“I love you, Adam.” Ronan said, one summer night at the Barns. Adam had come directly from Boyd’s to spend the night with Ronan and Opal, as he did often now. Opal played with the animals while Ronan and Adam sat together inside. Talking and casual touching had gradually made way for less talking and touching that was significantly less casual, as it often did.
Adam had been expecting a kiss, and he found himself wholly unprepared for the words he was met with instead. His eyes went wide and he opened his mouth, hoping a response would somehow appear.
When it didn’t, Ronan just smiled. “Close your mouth, Parrish. You look like a fucking fish. You don’t have to say anything back. It’s okay.” He said, and Adam knew he meant it because Ronan did not lie.
Adam nodded, embarrassed and grateful; then with a desperation he’d never felt before, he took Ronan’s face in his hands and kissed him.
Adam was not a stranger to desperation. Desperation was the walls he lived in, the engine that fueled him. This kind of desperation, though, was new to him. It didn’t have an end goal, or an obvious way to alleviate it. Adam didn’t even know what he was desperate for, just that Ronan had a great deal to do with it.
He wasn’t sure if he wanted something from Ronan, or wanted to communicate something to Ronan.
He just wanted.
Ronan, possibly sensing this, let Adam kiss him until they were both breathless. And when Adam’s frenzy faded and left him empty and confused, Ronan leaned forward and kissed him with a softness that made him ache.
Adam could feel his hands trembling, and slowly drew them away from Ronan.
“You okay?” Ronan asked softly.
“Yea, I’m fine.” Adam managed to say. “I’m sorry, I’m just tired.”
“Understandable. You work like a fucking madman. You already got a scholarship, remember?”
Adam smiled ruefully. “Work’s a hard habit to break.”
Ronan kissed him softly on his forehead. “Go to bed then. You’re off all tomorrow, right?”
“Good. Opal and I were gonna try and plant some pumpkins, for next fall.”
“Damn right. I’ll see you tomorrow, Parrish.”
He didn’t particularly feel like it, but he thought he should, so he kissed Ronan one more time. “See you tomorrow.”
- - - - -
Adam said a quick goodnight to Opal before making his way upstairs. As he settled into Declan's old bed, the storm he’d been putting off came over him.
The farther he got from the trailer park, the more the unfairness of it all settled on his shoulders. It seemed like every night he lay awake, remembering. His father’s fists, his mother’s words. Himself, alone. Unknowable, unlovable. Ugly and warped.
He knew this was normal for abuse victims, to ruminate and relive their trauma once they had been removed from the situation. When you’re being abused, your focus is on not being hurt again. Only once you don’t have to worry about safety and survival can you begin to process what happened to you. Adam understood this, knew it made sense. But it still made him want to punch a fucking wall.
What was the point in leaving, he fumed, if it was just going to follow him around, heavier than before?
He took two shaky breaths.
That was a stupid thought, and he knew it. The point in leaving was to be free, to be able to wake up to Ronan every day, talk to Gansey and Blue on the phone, play with Opal, prepare for college-- instead of working three jobs and sneaking in and out of his own house like a ghost, hoping in vain to be left alone.
Being with Ronan right now was the height of his life. It was a fucking privilege. But it also reminded him every day of what he'd never had. That gestures that were everyday to Ronan were new and strange to Adam. Love was a second language he was still learning.
Normally he could push his thoughts away with happier memories, but now with Ronan’s words still running through his veins like lightning, he couldn’t escape the question that hung in the back of his mind.
Why had no one ever loved him?
There was no answer, except that Adam had drawn the short end of the stick and that did not make him feel any better.
He began, horrifyingly, to cry. This had happened a few times in the past few months, and Adam didn’t know what to make of it. He had not cried in years, except perhaps once or twice. He wasn’t sure if you could even call this crying. It was more shaking and breathing hard with bouts of intermittent tears. He couldn’t see a point in fighting it, so he let the panic and sadness take a stranglehold on him, locked down his throat so no noise could escape, and waited for it to pass.
There was a knock at the door in the quiet. Adam started just as the door opened a crack.
“Hey, Parrish. You up?” Ronan asked quietly.
“Um, yea.” He turned to look at the clock on the nightstand, which read 1:52. “What- what are you doing here? Why are you even awake?” He asked, rubbing his eyes aggressively and trying to get out of the range of the light coming in through the door.
“Opal woke me up. She said I might want to check on you.”
“Oh, Christ.” He muttered. He wondered how Opal had known. He knew he hadn’t been loud enough for anyone to hear. He thought he'd seemed perfectly fine when he said goodnight, but Opal always seemed to know how he was feeling. Normally he appreciated that, but now he was just annoyed. He very genuinely did not want to have to explain to Ronan why he was upset.
“Can I sit?” Ronan asked.
“I’d rather you not.” Adam said. “Just go back to bed.”
Ronan hesitated before saying. “Yea, I can’t do that.”
“Because you sound like you’ve been crying.”
“I haven’t been— goddammit Ronan, just go to bed. I’m fine.”
“Don’t lie to me, Adam.” He said and sat next to Adam on the bed. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” Adam said, and his voice was immediately steadier. Maybe he could cry alone, but he didn’t think he was capable of crying in front of someone else.
“Is it- is it because of what I told you?” Ronan asked and Adam wished for a brief moment that he was dating someone with a fucking modicum of subtlety before the desire extinguished itself and Adam was left feeling worse than before.
“No.” he lied.
“I didn’t mean to upset you. I thought I might but- I thought you would want to be alone.”
“I do want to be alone.”
“You’re not as good a liar as you used to be.”
“Ok, fine. I had a shit childhood." Adam snapped. "Am I not allowed to be upset about it?”
“Of course you are.” Ronan said, reaching to put his hand on Adam’s. “But not alone in the dark.”
Adam didn’t trust himself to speak, so he didn’t try.
Eventually, Ronan asked, “What do you need?”
Adam pride fought with his need for Ronan’s touch and he let out a choked breath before asking, “Can I have a hug?”
“No, you dipshit.” Ronan said as he folded Adam into his arms. Adam didn’t even try to hold him back, he just rested his head against Ronan’s neck and breathed in. He was shaking again, all over, but his eyes were dry. Ronan rubbed slow circles into his back and after a few minutes, Adam’s breathing returned to something closer to normal.
“Fuck, Adam.” Ronan muttered. “Whenever you feel like this, come and get me, okay? Or call me. I’ll pick up. I promise.”
Adam shuddered. “Okay.” He said, full of that feeling he had for Ronan that he’d so far refused to put words to.
Adam loved Ronan, of course he did. He’d known that for a while. He just wondered, after his upbringing, whether the feeling he was calling love was actually that. Whether he was even capable of producing the real, genuine article. Adam’s feelings for Ronan were strong and real, but laced with several things Adam knew were not supposed to be part of healthy love. Possessiveness, jealousy, an ugly desire to use Ronan and show him off, prove to everyone he was desirable and capable of being in a relationship.
Sometimes Ronan made him quiet, like Gansey had said. But sometimes he made him intolerably loud, until Adam wanted to fucking kick something just to shut his own brain up.
Ronan’s feelings were pure and true as a beacon. Adam’s were just a warped version of something similar, and he had not wanted to embarrass himself by throwing his shitty, half-formed feelings into the open.
But, fuck it. He was overflowing with it, and it was all he had.
“I love you too, Ronan.” He said into Ronan’s neck.
Ronan stiffened before saying “Parrish- you don’t have to-“
“I’m not saying it because I feel like I have to. I love you. At least, I think I do. I’m not sure if I know enough on the subject to say for sure, but I’m saying it anyway. Deal with it.”
Ronan laughed softly. “Okay.”
“Say it again.” Adam said, still not looking at Ronan. He wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to look at Ronan again, after this.
“Say what again?”
“What you said earlier. You meant it, right? Say it again.”
“Fuck- of course I meant it. I love you.”
“Mm.” Adam breathed into his neck and pulled himself closer, essentially landing himself in Ronan’s lap, like a child. “Again?”
“If you’re trying to embarrass me, it’s not working. I love you.”
“Why should you be embarrassed? I’m the one who should be embarrassed.”
“Because I had a heart attack just because someone said they loved me. That’s probably not normal, right?”
“Fuck normal.” Ronan said with feeling.
“I’m sorry I freaked out.” Adam said when he felt he could speak without his voice shaking. “No one ever said it to me before. I got scared.”
Ronan froze before mechanically pulling away to look at Adam. Adam met his gaze full on, too far gone to be embarrassed or ashamed. He wanted Ronan to know what this meant to him.
“You’re fucking serious.”
Adam didn’t need to answer, so he didn’t. They blinked at each other for one moment more before Ronan’s arms were back around him even tighter than before, uncomfortably tight, pressing their chests together and Ronan’s face up against Adam's good ear. “I could kill them, I swear to fucking god, I could kill them. Fuck, Adam.” Ronan was muttering, his more subtle emotions being tempered into anger, as usual.
“I don’t want you to kill them.” Adam said. “This is enough.”
Ronan looked back at him, his expression tight and honest and Adam saw in it that no, this wasn’t enough. It was good, it was incredible, but it didn’t make up for 17 years of suffering.
Maybe nothing could. But this was a start.
Adam sighed in contentment, the worst of the panic leaving him. He just breathed in against Ronan’s neck and wrapped his arms around him, letting himself indulge for a few moments.
“Will you stay with me?" Adam asked. "Tonight, I mean."
“Yes.” Ronan answered immediately.
“Just to sleep.” Adam added.
Ronan let out an amused breath. “Yea, Parrish. Believe it or not, panic attacks don’t turn me on.”
Adam just rolled his eyes.
They settled into the bed beside one another. Adam still longed for the comfort of Ronan’s arms, though he no longer felt like it was the only thing capable of holding him together. In the end though, Adam always tossed and turned, and Ronan occasionally produced objects and creatures from his dreams, both of which made sleeping intertwined completely impractical. So Adam settled for laying on his side a few inches away from Ronan’s back, so that their legs just barely touched and Adam could feel Ronan’s body heat radiating towards him.
Adam was almost asleep when he felt Ronan shift. He opened his eyes and found Ronan looking at him, his gaze dark and serious.
“What?” Adam asked, honestly past the emotional drama of the night and eager to sleep.
Adam just looked at him until he said, “I just- my brain keeps coming up with awful poetic shit to say to you- don’t worry, I won’t say it. I’ll spare us both that embarrassment—“ he said, to Adam’s immense relief, “I’ll keep it simple: I love you. A lot, Adam. Opal loves you. And Gansey and Blue. Noah loved you too.” Ronan paused. Noah’s name still hurt them both. “You mean a fuck of a lot to all of us. And you make our lives better by being here." he paused. "Ok, I'm done.”
With a rough voice, Adam said, “That wasn’t the poetic shit?”
“Shut up.” Ronan said.
As Ronan was turning to go back to sleep, Adam said “You know it’s the first time I said it too?”
“You’re the first person I ever said ‘I love you’ to.” Adam said and kissed Ronan’s tattooed shoulder and watched the pale skin beneath go red. Fireworks went off his chest like they always did when he realized all over again that this- casual touching and comforting intimacy- was available to him all the time, not something to be counted and savored like a precious resource. “I’m glad it was you.” If it couldn’t be his parents, Ronan was the next best thing.
Ronan groaned. “You’re fuckin killing me, Parrish.”
Adam smiled and curled in tighter, his knees brushing up against the backs of Ronan’s legs.
“Oh, hell no. I love you, but we can’t sleep this way. Turn a little- like that. You’re a kicker, did you know that? So many times I’ve woken up to see your legs fucking freaking out like they were possessed by a demon.”
Adam blanched. “Not funny.”
“Too soon.” Adam confirmed.
“As the person who was almost strangled, I feel like I get a say in whether its too soon.”
“Well, you don’t.” Adam snapped.
“Imagine your hands around my neck. My face while I gasp for air while you know it’s your fault.” The amusement slid off Ronan’s face. “Yea, not so funny now.”
“It wasn’t your fault, Adam.” Ronan said.
“If I hadn’t made the deal—“
“If you hadn’t made the deal then you wouldn’t be Adam. Your infuriating stubbornness and pathological need for independence are parts of you, and I like all of you, no matter how frustrating. Besides, do you honestly regret making the deal with Cabeswater?”
"No." Adam answered reluctantly. “I don't."
"There you go, then."
"I would have punched you.” Adam confessed. “If it was the other way around. I would have snapped your fucking arm and knocked you to the ground in a second. That’s not healthy, right?”
Ronan snorted. “Not healthy? Wanting to live sounds pretty healthy. You think my lowkey desire for death is healthy?”
Adam forgot what he was going to say.
Ronan rolled his eyes. “Relax, Parrish. I’m not suicidal. I was feeling a bit dismal at that particular point in my life, but I’m fine.”
“Is that why you didn’t hit me? You wanted to die?” Adam demanded.
Ronan was quiet for a moment and Adam's heart skipped a beat.
“I didn’t want to die.”
Ronan did not look at him as he spoke. “I just kept thinking that, when all of it was done, I’d be alive, and you’d have a bruise on your face, from me. And somewhere in your memory, you would have that image of me, swinging a fist at you, and I couldn’t live with that.”
Adam blinked. His brain produced several responses to that. The loudest was a sharp anger at the implication that Adam's delicate, abused psyche would not have been able to deal with Ronan hitting him, even if it had been necessary to save Ronan’s life. The other response was quieter, but came from somewhere deeper.
He was so very, very glad he did not have that picture in his memory. He was so very glad he did not know what Ronan’s fist felt like colliding with his body.
“If we're ever in a situation again where you have to punch me out to save your own life, I’m giving you express permission to do it.” Adam said. “I can live with being hit. I can’t live with you dying. But thank you.”
Ronan’s response, or lack of, was interrupted by the sound of the door opening. From the bed, Adam could see only the top of Opal’s blonde head.
“Opal, what’s wrong? Are you ok?” Adam asked.
“Can I sleep with you?” She asked quietly.
“Don’t be a baby, you can sleep on your own.” Ronan said.
“I can, but I don’t want to.” Opal replied, already climbing onto the bed.
Adam smiled and Ronan sighed. “Alright, brat. You can stay. But only for tonight, okay?”
“Okay.” Opal replied, grinning. She settled in between Ronan and Adam and before she closed her eyes, she lay her small hand on top of Adam’s cheek and said, “Goodnight.”
Adam choked down the lump in his throat before saying softly, “Goodnight, Opal.”
“What, no goodnight for me?” Ronan demanded.
“Goodnight, Kerah.” Opal said obediently.
“Goodnight.” Adam told Ronan, who reached out in response and brought Adam’s fingers to his mouth for a barely-there kiss.
“Don’t forget, Parrish. Pumpkins in the morning. I don’t care how tired you are.”
“Pumpkins.” Opal repeated happily.
Adam lay awake and thought of countless nights in the trailer, either too cold or too hot depending on the season, the stiffness of the couch he slept on, the noise of the neighbors outside and the buzz of the TV from his parents room. He thought too, of the nights in St. Agnes, colder still, and a little bit lonely, but safe.
And now this. He could feel the warmth of Opal at his side, hear Ronan’s even breathing. The quiet at the Barns was all encompassing and soft, the kind of quiet one only finds in the countryside. Depending on Ronan’s dreams, he might wake up with a present from inside Ronan’s mind. And if not, he would still wake up to a smile and a kiss, which was a gift in itself.
Adam still might not understand love, but he had always been a quick learner.
The storm had passed, and Adam Parrish had come out victorious on the other side. He closed his eyes and went to sleep.