This is how life works for boys like a Lynch brother: all the wealth in Virginia can't shake Ronan out of driving off the road. All the prep school Latin in the world, weighted on his tongue like Communion wafer, can't bid him open his mouth and sing the ballad of the sad rich boy. Not to the expensive Aglionby counsellor, not to the doctors who tend the ruin of Ronan’s wrists like his body's a crash site, like his body's a graveyard, like his body's the ground of some great and unholy massacre. Not even to God.
Transubstantiation is only transition.
Ronan and his healing veins are heading down a highway, shotgun in the Pig with Gansey grim-lipped in the driver’s seat. Gansey is seething, terror-stricken, the whites of his eyes and knuckles prominent. Ronan supposes finding him half-dead in a ditch will do that. Gansey shuts off the Pig’s engine, and they both sit outside Monmouth in mausoleum silence.
And Ronan knows the shit they talk about boys like him, boys like him loving it down on their knees; but some days Gansey strides through the morning light with all the authority of a king, and a childhood of Sundays like Ronan’s has unwillingly taught him obeisance. The sun flares behind Gansey’s head, so loud and bright it makes Ronan half-shut his eyes against the glare.
“Never,” Gansey says, very quietly, almost velvet with threat, “do that to me again, Ronan. Do you hear me? Never again. ”
The light illuminates Gansey, a circlet of sunshine and dust motes. They are both resurrection stories now. His mouth very dry and stale, Ronan settles for nodding.
Ronan has never questioned the loyalty of Glendower’s men, carrying his body halfway across the globe; once hung up on Declan for insinuating there was dirty laundry in the way Gansey said Ronan and Ronan jumped, ignoring his calls for five days. Ronan has never thought to question it; you don’t scrutinise what you understand, blood-and-bone deep, the closest form of magic:
There are some men you make way for.
“Good,” Gansey says, short and staccato, and gets out of the car.
If sunlight crowns Gansey, makes him into something gilded and irreplaceable and ancient - eyed, then sunlight makes Adam into a stained glass window. Something bright and veined and almost pagan. Ronan looks up beyond the priest at Mass, and picks out the indigo of Mary’s shawl, Mary’s tears on her bleeding son’s face. He doesn't look at the blood in the frame, the gore at Jesus’ feet. Some penances he doesn't need a focal point for, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do.
He looks at the windows, the statues, the consecrated Host. Honestly, he’s bored. Mass is not transcendent for him. Ronan’s religious experiences are drenched in gasoline. His faith is built on the soft churn of a deer’s slow blinks, the weight of a salt block stinging his chapped palms in the cold, flowers in his mother's hair. Mass is a homecoming of the collective Lynches. Mass is a survivors’ breakfast.
Most of Ronan’s miracles have tried to kill him, and there’s only one man in church who can be brought back from the dead. Sometimes, Ronan longs to be a normal teenage boy, normal in the sense that he longs to be what he would have been if not for application of a tyre iron, and so being bored in a pew each Sunday is the one staple from his childhood Ronan keeps.
After the service, he shakes hands with the priest, gruff and grudging muscle memory, and takes the steps to Adam’s miserable apartment two at a time. Ronan, Adam and Adam’s shitty mattress as an unholy trinity; Ronan, Adam, and all the saints’ names in Ronan’s head.
Man cannot live on bread alone.
“Jesus God,” Ronan groans. It’s the closest boys like him get to speaking in tongues.
Ronan’s confirmation name is Thomas, but when Adam first asks, he flips the St. Jude’s medallion out of his pocket and sneers like letting blood.
“Patron saint of lost and hopeless causes,” Adam says, raising his eyebrows, with his eyes too honey-large and knowing. “Nice, Lynch.”
“Really, Ronan,” Gansey had sighed from the driver’s seat. Blue had looked at Ronan, eyes glittering with magenta eyeshadow, and said, “Isn’t that a little a dramatic?”
“Isn’t your face?” Ronan sniped back, throwing himself back into the seat. The familiar sweat-sticky material cradles him in the heat like a womb, so hot it’s like dying in reverse. Ronan, cut from the same cloth as his father; Ronan, who looks nothing like his mother; Ronan, with Niall Lynch's old prayer medallion in his pocket, his feet up in the backseat.
Ronan, Ronan, Ronan; meaning little seal, meaning late-night fairytales, meaning a selkie cut off from the sea, cut out of his skin, the salt taunting him on the air. Ronan, meaning a relic of history.
“Poor little seal,” he thinks he hears Noah sigh, half-mocking, half-wistful, but when he looks around Noah’s nowhere to be seen, the creepy little fuck.
“Buy some fucking aircon, Dick,” Ronan snarls. “I want my goddamn skin back.”
Adam yawns into his own hand, eyelashes fluttering in half-sleep. He grabs clumsily for Ronan’s wrist and kisses his palm, yawns against the cup of that as well. In Ronan's bed at the Barns, he is a golden-skinned reality and for a moment it's unbearable.
I would tear out my ribs for you, Ronan thinks, suddenly and without warning, and doesn’t say.
“It’s Thomas,” he says instead, and Adam blinks awake, frowning.
“My confirmation name,” he says. “It’s Thomas.”
“Patron saint of architects,” Adam says. His eyes are mirrors, so understanding they reflect Ronan back to himself in the sheen of irises. Ronan turns his head away.
“Yeah,” he says, half-muffled by the pillow. He knows Adam gets it. If you search for the meaning of Ronan, you get: legend tells of a seal who is warned never to stray too close to the land. If you search for the legend of Thomas, you get: he doubted. He who doubts. A boy who saw his best friend die and didn’t believe he’d come back until he touched the wounds with his own two hands. A boy who doubted his creator, a boy who doubted God himself.
Adam kisses his bare shoulder. Ronan shivers.
Selkies will die trying to drag themselves back to the sea they were born in. Thomas kneels before his saviour and touches the wound in his side with trembling fingers. Ronan kisses Adam, named for the first man alive, his shaking hands tracing Adam’s ribs, and feels something in himself quietly, impossibly settle.
He tastes salt.
“What name did you pick for yours?” Ronan asks his father at thirteen, an unlucky age for a boy who lacked nothing. Niall laughs and ruffles Ronan’s hair, loose and ringleted like a Pre-Raphaelite painting.
The countdown had already begun, had begun when Niall drew breath in a Whitehaven hospital, when he built himself into Ronan’s first messiah, when he fled troubled Belfast, brick dust of settling explosions and the wrong h on his tongue.
“Ronan,” he says, and means my son, my heir, my one and only. Declan scowls over his workbook at the kitchen table. “I chose St. Jude.”
“That’s dumb,” Ronan tells him, and Niall laughs again. “That’s not funny. That’s fucking dumb!”
“Careful with that tongue, little seal,” Niall says, still laughing, his eyes dark and alive. “You’ll cut something with it one day.”
Declan snorts, ugly and inelegant. Ronan throws his cereal spoon at him.
Transubstantiation is only transition: Ronan and his slowly healing soul are heading down a highway, shotgun in the Pig with Gansey a last living miracle in the driver’s seat.
“One more time for old times’ sake?” Gansey asks, hopeful. The sun is dying. It turns his hair to copper. It turns him into something immortal.
Ronan’s faith is not blind.
“That’s so fucking sentimental, Dick,” Ronan says, like last night he hadn’t crossed his own wrists above his head for Adam, bared his throat like Abraham’s son for the knife. And Gansey grins, old and young and Ronan’s liege lord, grins with too much teeth like Ronan taught him, and turns the car back around.