As far as Ronan was concerned, it was better this way. Quiet. Bright. Everything around him was made out of his father: the fields, the cows, the barns themselves. They were full of him, even if he hadn’t dreamed them, and Ronan was, too.
He took another swig out of the bottle.
As far as Ronan was concerned, it was the best night to be alone. Nobody else, not Declan, not Matthew, not Gansey, and especially not Adam Parrish, wanted to see him like this. Over the edge, or just on it. It was hard to tell the difference when he was this drunk, when the night was like liquid in his hands, pouring through him and making every nerve ending dull and senseless. What did it matter, really? Another year. Another anniversary. Another night of drinking, of giving in, once a year, once a year.
As far as Ronan was concerned, there was no difference between this night and any of the other nights that he had spent like this. Except that there was, and it was his father, covered in blood on the floor in front of him, dying and letting the rest of the world around him wilt into gray. Ronan had spent years in that gray. Centuries. At least now, he reasoned, at least now it’s only tonight, only ever tonight-
He stood up, wobbled, and sat back down. Chainsaw nudged her head into his elbow. “Kerah?”
“I fucking know,” Ronan said, and pushed himself towards the edge of the roof.
Adam Parrish was standing below him.
“If you jump, I’ll kill you.”
An indiscernible amount of time later, Ronan was sitting at the kitchen table, and Adam was making coffee.
“‘M too out for that,” Ronan slurred. “’Sgonna taste like mud… anyway. Sit down, sit-” He pulled helplessly at Adam’s shirt, but he didn’t turn away from the counter. His hands were shaking, Ronan thought, or maybe just pulling open sugar packets, or shaking, Adam Parrish shaking? No, no, no, this is why Ronan was always alone on this night, always- “I wouldn’t have jumped, Parrish.”
He heard the desperation in his own voice and swallowed thickly, past the alcohol in his throat.
“What were you doing up there?”
“’S a good night for it. Smells like him. Feels like him. Can you believe we’re friends with the Gray Man?” Ronan started giggling, and he couldn’t see why he hadn’t started sooner. The whole situation really was funny; him drinking alone on the roof, Adam in his driveway, Mr. Gray and Maura and Blue at 300 Fox Way, and all around them, his father, his father. Dead. Tonight, dead, all over again.
Adam sat down. He pulled the bottle out of Ronan’s hand, and Ronan let him.
“He killed him, you know. The Gray Man. Killed my father. You knew that, didn’t you? You know everything, Parrish.”
“Killed him tonight.”
Ronan rubbed his finger under the table, where the wood was unfinished and rough, and he was relieved to feel when a splinter pierced his skin. The vodka was starting to wear off; his world was sharper again, and he could see Adam clearly - the flush in his cheeks, the bridge of his nose, his hands twisted around each other in his lap.
“What are you doing here?”
He blinked. “What?”
“What are you doing here? I thought- didn’t you have something? Didn’t you-”
“I did. I left. I forgot until tonight, and I couldn’t have you be here. Without someone.”
Ronan’s vision flashed white-hot. “I don’t need you,” he spat. “I don’t need you, I don’t need you, or Gansey, or Declan- I don’t need a fucking babysitter because my dad died tonight, in this house, I-” He pulled himself out of the chair, shaking, unsure of why he was so angry so suddenly. “Don’t you trust me?”
Adam pulled him forward by his wrists. “Ronan.”
“Were you afraid I was going to off myself? Jump off that roof, or eat pills, or something else stupid that I might have done three years ago? I’m over that, Adam. I’m past it. I just need tonight, I need tonight. I need it. Don’t you understand?” His voice cracked on that last word, don’t you understand, Adam? “It’s only tonight. Then you can have me again. I get to be whole for every night except this one.”
Hot tears pooled in the corners of his eyes, and he wiped them away viciously. Adam was quiet, watching him, still holding one of his wrists loosely in his hand.
When Ronan collapsed towards him, Adam caught him in both arms.
The next morning was full of Matthew Lynch.
“Declan couldn’t make it today because he had a big meeting. And a date. Maybe the meeting is later, but mostly he had a date. That’s weird, don’t you think? He tries not to miss church, mostly.”
Ronan saw this as a total lie - Declan was the most common to cancel on their church outings, for meetings, dates, and assorted other unspecified reasons - but he put his hands in his pockets and shook his head anyway. “Shithole, I’m telling you. Move back with me. Don’t you like it here?”
Matthew shrugged and imitated Ronan’s posture, leaning slightly against nothing, eyes cool and sharp, head tilted impossibly back. “I don’t know. I miss it, especially our house and school, but…” He chewed his lip. “It’s easier there. Everything is so busy. It’s hard to run out of things to do.” Eyeing Adam suspiciously, he added, “Don’t tell Gansey I said that.”
Adam bit in a snort and nodded. “Never. Lips are sealed.” He made eye contact with Ronan over Matthew’s blond head and raised his eyebrows. They were in the church courtyard, drinking watered-down lemonade and eating stale box cookies. It had shocked Adam when Ronan asked him to come. “It’s Sunday,” Ronan had said, “and you’re here, and I don’t have time to drop you off at your mouse hole before I have to meet Matthew. And you’re not driving your shitbox; it looks like one of the tires is about to come off, and probably both of your mirrors. It’s a real fucking road hazard, Parrish. Humor me.” So come he did, and though he was generally indifferent or cold towards church, experiencing it with the Lynch brothers was a new experience entirely.
“Matthew!” An old lady approached them, structured hat towering high over her gray hair, and threw her arms open wide. Matthew stepped into them, beaming in a way that others wouldn’t. “I’m so glad you could make it.” She released him and raised her chin, appraising Adam. “Ronan, who’s this friend of yours? I can’t say I’ve seen him at the sermons before.”
Adam extended a hand. “Adam Parrish, ma’am,” he said, letting his Henrietta accent run thick. “I don’t usually have the time to come to church, but this ceremony is beautiful - what’s the occasion?”
Ronan stepped back, towards Matthew, and shut his eyes against the sun. His head was pierced clean through with a hangover - he had dreamt up a cure, of course, ages ago, but he didn’t bother using it. It had a horrible smell and a bad habit of deciding whether to work based on the reason Ronan had gotten drunk. Matthew leaned towards him, bumping against his shoulder.
“He’s doing well,” Ronan murmured. “Got some nice charm hidden behind all that fucking stubbornness.”
“Is he living with you?”
“Of course not. Proud bastard. He wouldn’t accept butter if you passed it to him at the table.”
Matthew made a humming noise in the back of his throat and took in a breath. “Have you asked him?”
“To live with me?” Ronan had thought about it. Constantly. The problem with the idea was that it was either like or not like Gansey asking Adam to move in at Monmouth Manufacturing. If he passed it off as live in the Barns, Adam, your apartment is small enough to fit in your shirt pocket, Adam would refuse. But if he said, live in the Barns, Adam, so I can learn how to breathe properly when I’m around you… it was too soon, never mind that Adam spent every day there anyway. A couple nights. Once, an entire weekend; he hadn’t meant to, but Ronan had talked circles around him until he closed the door and fell on top of him on the couch. “Guess not. He’s going to college in the fall, anyway. Cornell. Princeton. One of them. What’s the point?”
“Don’t you want him there?”
Ronan opened one eye and looked at his brother. Matthew’s face gave nothing away - he was watching Adam’s conversation posture, which Ronan could see with his eyes closed: elbows drawn in close to his sides, shoulders relaxed, chin firm.
“I’m gay, Matthew.”
Matthew broke into a smile. “Yeah, no kidding.”
After they had escaped the courtyard - “It was her husband’s funeral!” - Ronan drove Matthew to the train station. Adam sat in the backseat, and Ronan kept catching himself looking back at him in the rearview. He and Matthew were talking back and forth, mostly school stories on Matthew’s end and mostly interjections of reason and surprise on Adam’s. Rain was starting to fall, and for once, the BMW’s stereo was silent. Ronan leaned back, readjusting his hands on the wheel, and watched drops slide back against the windshield.
This was where nothing mattered and everything mattered. With them, the two of them. It felt so much like home that Ronan hurt. He pressed the gas further. Don’t you want him there? Of course, Ronan thought. Of course I want him there. Maybe he was overshooting this. How much do you want?
Ronan’s eyes caught Adam’s again in the mirror.
Once Matthew got out of the car, Adam moved up to the front seat, and Ronan turned on music. It was really just noise, but it filled up all the gaps where Ronan could ask, just like that.
Adam reached over and turned it down. “Gansey sold Monmouth.”
“He what?” Ronan’s foot seized on the brakes, and he swerved hard to avoid running off the edge of the road. “Fucking Christ. Jesus. What?”
Adam had braced himself against the dash, and now he leaned towards Ronan, checking the hold on his seatbelt. “Monmouth. He sold it. He’s still there, of course, but he and Blue and Henry are taking off for a trip this summer and he wants to get everything out before next month.”
Ronan swore. “Is there a reason I’m hearing about it from you, Parrish?”
“Gansey thought you’d take it better coming from me.”
A stream of expletives poured from Ronan’s mouth. He pulled over, stopped the car, then started it again. Then stopped it. Then opened the door, got out, slammed it, and got in. Adam watched him, jaw clenching and unclenching, until he slumped back and pushed his hands over his eyes.
“Yeah.” Ronan twisted the key, and the engine turned over. Monmouth had been his home almost more than it had been Gansey’s. For Gansey, Monmouth was just a crash pad. A box of ideas, of wishes. For Ronan, it was a refuge. He didn’t need it now that he was back in the Barns, not at all, but it was still familiar. Still an escape.
His hands tightened around the wheel, and everything blurred in the furious rain. Henrietta washed by: Aglionby, St. Agnes, Monmouth, the trailer park. He had raced Kavinsky like this, so many times he couldn’t count, and Jiang, and the rest of them, too, every time with something to prove, every time with someone to knock down. He didn’t look at the road, just at the windshield, not past it. Muscle memory ran thick in his fingers.
When the turn to the Barns came up fast on his right, he blew past it. Adam didn’t blink. The windshield wipers were working hard, pushing sheets of water to each side as fast as Ronan could make them. The road was wide and open and flooding slightly, and when Ronan slammed the brakes, the BMW skidded across both empty lanes and came to a jacked halt precariously close to the median. His breath felt too shallow.
“Get out.” Adam’s voice was firm. Ronan looked over at him. “Get out, Ronan. I’m driving.”
Relief washed over Ronan. “Jesus. Fine. But I’m not going out” - he jerked a thumb over his shoulder, gesturing to the pouring rain - “in that. Fucking soaked.”
“Okay, fine.” And just like that, Adam climbed over the gearshift. Ronan sucked in a breath.
“Parrish. What are you doing?”
“Driving.” Adam’s face was a breath from his, face level and cool. “Are you going to move?”
“What will you do if I don’t?”
Ronan watched Adam’s eyes flick to his mouth, watched his throat move as he swallowed. Everything.
“Nothing,” Adam murmured. “Not now. Later.”
Ronan bit his lip. “Okay,” he said. “Later.”
Once he had moved into the passenger seat, Adam drove back to the Barns.
It was later.
Ronan had showered, and he was sprawled on the couch, scratching Latin verbs into a bit of soft wood with his nail and listening to the water run upstairs. Opal was sitting on the counter in the kitchen, and he could feel her watching him. She probably had one hand in the peanut butter and a mouthful of aluminum foil. Chainsaw was watching him, too, but she was perched on the arm of the couch, ruffling her feathers every few minutes.
The rain had not stopped, and Adam had not left.
Suddenly quiet, Ronan realized that the shower had shut off, and turned his head to see Adam standing on the landing at the top of the stairs. His hair was wet, and he was wearing one of Ronan’s T-shirts. Something in Ronan twisted to see him there, and he resisted the urge to stand up and meet him in the middle of the staircase, to pin him against the wall right there. Instead, he looked away and went back to conjugations.
“Feeling better, Parrish?”
“I was about to ask you the same thing,” Adam replied. He plucked Ronan’s towel from the floor and scrubbed it through his hair, leaving it hanging around his shoulders. Ronan wanted to breathe him in like smoke.
“Better about what?” He let his mouth twitch into a gleaming smile. “I have everything I need right here.”
Adam made a small noise, more nose than mouth, and stepped around the couch. Ronan watched him, watched his pale collarbones and his crooked nose and his long, slender hands. “Need?” he said. His voice was raw. “Or want?”
Ronan hooked his fingers into Adam’s waistband and pulled him closer. He felt like his skin was burning.
Ronan wasn’t sure when he had heard the back door slam behind Opal. He also wasn’t sure when Chainsaw had flown up to his room, or when Adam’s shirt had been lost to the floor, or when Adam had rolled on top of him, pressing into him with an electrifying weight. He let his hands wander up and down Adam’s back; the skin there was softer than he expected, and there was so much of it, he almost couldn’t believe he had never felt it before. Adam’s mouth was pressed into his neck, teasing a spot under his ear. His teeth grazed it, and Ronan’s whole body shivered. His head was full of air.
“Marking me up, Parrish?” Even to Ronan’s own ears, his voice was hoarse with desire. Adam’s laugh was quiet, and so close Ronan could hear his own want mirrored in it. His brain fell short of words. He ducked his head, trying successfully to catch Adam’s mouth. God. They weren’t even standing, and he still felt like he was going to fall over. Adam pushed his hands up the back of Ronan’s shirt, tracing his tattoo sightlessly and flawlessly, until Ronan sat up and yanked it over his head in one swift movement.
“What?” Ronan muttered. His face was turning red; he could feel it rush up into his cheeks, and he looked down at his own skin. He was floundering. “Dammit-” Pushing himself back, he reached for his shirt again, and froze.
Adam’s hand was pressed against his chest.
“What are you doing?” It was a whisper. Adam didn’t respond - he seemed transfixed, unable to move his gaze from Ronan’s torso. Slowly, he spread his fingers, and let them brush Ronan’s ribs, his sides, the waistband of his sweatpants. Ronan’s mouth hung open, his eyes wide, dumbstruck. His chest rose and fell with quick, heavy breaths.
Adam’s fingertips slid over his bellybutton and up the middle of his chest. He looked up at Ronan, face wide open, and Ronan felt awash with the sight of him.
“Parrish…” he breathed, and Adam surged forward, pushing him flat and lifting himself halfway so he was kneeling over Ronan, straddling him, one leg bent on the couch and one bracing him against the hardwood floor. Ronan pushed him back, leaning towards him, fingers skipping over the skin at his waist until one hooked inside Adam’s borrowed pyjama bottoms. He felt desperate for the taste of Adam, for the smell, the feel, the touch; even now, as he was pushing his mouth to catch the knob in Adam’s throat, as he was tracing his nose along Adam’s collarbone, as Adam was leaving as many marks as he could in a trail down Ronan’s chest. How much do you want?
He paused at the waistband, thumbs just inside, pressed against Ronan’s hipbones, and looked up at him. Ronan’s head was tossed forward and he was biting his lip so hard it had turned white. “No,” he managed. “Wait-”
How much do you want?
Adam was kissing just below his navel. Ronan let a little hiss escape his lips, then reached down, cupping Adam’s face with his hands. Adam leaned into him, arms stroking his sides, half-lidded and focused on Ronan’s mouth.
How much do you want?
“Live with me.” He said it quietly. Adam looked at him.
“You know I can’t.”
Ronan shook his head, clenching his jaw. His eyes focused on the wall over Adam’s shoulder. “You can.”
How much do you want?
When Ronan met his gaze, Adam had worry lines between his eyebrows, and he had fallen back, and suddenly Ronan was so cold he couldn’t stand it. There was icy anger curling in his stomach. He stood, lifting his shirt from the floor, and pulled it over his head as he made his way up the stairs.
In his room, it was even more unbearable. The window had been left open, and it was impossibly hot, and when he threw himself on the bed, the pillow smelled of Adam. Everything in this goddamn room smelled of Adam - Ronan had watched him drape himself all over it, like he was trying to find every piece of Ronan he could and absorb it into him. He rolled over, pressing his hands over his eyes, and breathed through his mouth.
When Ronan woke up, it was dark. There was a foul taste in his mouth and his hands were empty, grasping at the sheets under him. His shirt was dark with sweat. It took him a minute to remember if he had had a nightmare or just a dream - it always seemed they left him the same way, shivering, but not with cold.
A dream. Then a nightmare.
It was worse than it had been in weeks. Ronan’s dreams almost never went to the Barns, never went to Aurora. It was like they were things that were only his father’s to dream. Restricted territory. Dreaming it felt like losing both of them all over again in a wild, tormented rush.
Ronan sat up, turning so his heels rested against the hardwood floor. It was so disorienting to wake up at night like this, like he was being hurtled out of another dimension at 400 mph. He pulled his headphones from the bedside table and slid them over his ears, scrolling through his music library until he found something abrasive enough to drown out any of the dream that might have been left ringing between his ears.
Whenever he woke up like this, here, he would go walking. The halls were lined with bookshelves crammed with volumes of encyclopedias, Irish faerie tales, historical fiction novels, but they had collected a layer of dust in the years that the house was empty but for Aurora, and when Ronan ran his knuckles along their spines, they came away ashy. Everything seemed tilted in this half-light, scrambled somehow, like he was looking at it through the lens of a kaleidoscope. He almost tripped on a loose board and steadied himself with one arm braced against the wall, bile burning into his throat: this is not a dream. This is not a dream. Looks like a dream. Feels like a dream. This is not a dream.
A weight settled on Ronan’s shoulder and he reached up, stroking his fingers along Chainsaw’s beak. She was real, he told himself. He could feel her heart beating next to his ear. Nothing and everything was alive in dreams. Nothing and everything was real in dreams.
This is not a dream.
He went downstairs, noting the empty couch, the empty driveway, the mess of pillows on the floor, each sight making him more and more sour. Adam was everywhere. The only problem was that Ronan wanted him to be. Adam was buried under Ronan’s fingernails, behind his eyelids, in every corner, behind every door, in every single nook and cranny in the Barns. Ronan wanted him to stay. The Barns wanted him to stay. Really, was there a big difference?
Ronan flicked on the lights and made his coffee with vodka.
The next afternoon found Ronan in bed. His headphones were clamped firmly over his ears, and he was focused on Chainsaw perched at the window, watching the driveway for Adam. She cocked her head, then let loose a loud “Kerah!” that pierced through the music in Ronan’s ears.
Ronan slid his headphones off and waited. The door slammed. There was shuffling in the hall, creaking, then the thud of Adam’s shoes on the stairs.
Ronan’s door creaked open, and though Ronan didn’t open his eyes, didn’t turn from the wall, he could see Adam’s pale face looking around the doorframe.
Go away, he wished, hands fisting in his pillowcase, and somewhere in the back of his head, the voice of Noah said sagely, you don’t mean that. And he didn’t. He just wanted to. Because right now, even after a day, after knowing he had been right every time he bit in the words, he still wanted Adam as close as he could get, skin on skin, tangled up in Ronan for days at a time.
He could hear Adam moving closer across the room, felt him sit down, felt the dip of the mattress.
He ached to lean over, to pull him in without a word. I’m sorry, his soundless mouth would say. I’m sorry. But he didn’t move. Adam’s hand reached across the sheets, hesitating at Ronan’s collar.
The words weren’t Ronan’s.
“What are you sorry for?” His words were drier than he intended them to be; he stretched up, closing his eyes. “Guess I ruined the mood.”
“That’s-” Adam struggled for words. “I-”
“I mean, come on, Parrish,” Ronan sighed. He wanted to kick himself for the sound of his voice. “I got caught up. I knew you were going to say no, and I asked anyway. That’s it, isn’t it? Fucking predictable.”
“I want to,” Adam said, suddenly cold. “You know I want to. It’s not that easy.”
“Why not?” He knew why not, but he pushed it to the side, letting his words fly like daggers. “You’re here all the time. Every day. Just don’t leave.”
Adam stood up, raking his hands through his hair. “I’m here all the time. Every day. Isn’t that enough?”
“No.” Ronan looked at him, raw and pleading and holding fire on his tongue. “Yes. No. Fucking Christ, Adam, I feel like I’m trying to answer two different questions with the same sentence.”
“So slow down and answer them in different sentences.”
Ronan’s brain was still so short, he could barely think of why he was angry. His thoughts kept skirting around it. Slow down. He took a breath, then another, and closed his eyes, forcing himself to make things stand still. “Just-”
“What?” Adam’s voice was harsh and clipped, tailored by Aglionby arguments and lined with fury. Ronan’s head was spinning. The silence stretched, and stretched, and stretched, until Adam snorted out a breath and left Ronan’s room, slamming the door behind him.
Chainsaw landed on Ronan’s knee and wouldn’t look at him.
“I fucking know,” he said.
It wasn’t that much later that Ronan found Adam on the couch downstairs. Not much later. Enough time for Ronan to sort through all his thoughts, to find the right words. Adam looked at him, mouth already slipping into speech, but Ronan talked first.
Adam blinked. “What?”
“Not too fair to ask like that, huh, Parrish? I mean, Christ. I know how you are with earning things. With earning your life. But when are you ever going to give yourself a fucking break?” Ronan’s mouth was moving so quickly, he almost couldn’t keep up with it. He felt like he was tripping over himself down a steep hill. “You’re constantly convincing yourself that what you’ve done isn’t good enough, and it is. Do you think there’s anyone else in that goddamn school who could have gotten in on their own work? Or who paid for their own tuition? You work so hard and you value things more than anyone I’ve ever met, but fuck, Adam, I’m not giving you charity. Living here wouldn’t make everything you’ve done worthless. It would just mean you’d be in this damn house as much as you are anyway. You can pay room and board if you want, I don’t care, but I’m not offering because I think you can’t handle your own life. I just want you to spend it closer.”
At some point, Adam had let himself be pulled forward, and Ronan’s hand was knotted in the front of his T-shirt. The tips of Adam’s ears were red, but he didn’t look angry. Ronan let go of Adam’s shirt in favor of his hips, letting his hands rest lightly there, where he could feel the pulse of Adam’s blood and his warm skin, and let his head fall into Adam’s stomach when he pushed his long hands into Ronan’s hair. It was such a relief to actually have confronted the thought that Ronan wished he could take back his bad reaction entirely. Wished it so badly, in fact, that he said so out loud, through gritted teeth. Regret was not an emotion Ronan liked to deal with. It was too similar to self-hatred.
He felt Adam shake his head and looked up.
There was a smile playing with the corners of Adam’s mouth, and he was looking down at him in a way that made Ronan swallow hard. “Didn’t think I’d ever hear you apologize with that stubborn mouth.”
Ronan growled and hoisted his other arm around Adam, flipping them over onto the bed. “Pot kettle black,” he muttered, and bit Adam’s neck behind his collarbone.
After Adam had gotten them both shirtless again, and after Ronan had lost his breath twice because of Adam’s full lips, and after they were both sprawled across the bed, limbs so tossed together that Ronan couldn’t tell which were his, he said, “I’d never force you to stay.”
Adam rolled over. “Huh?”
“Separate sentences. Point: I want you here. Need you here. Same difference.” He waved a hand (was it his or Adam’s?) and continued. “Commentary: I know it isn’t my choice, and I know you cling to that piece-of-shit apartment and that piece-of-shit car - calm down, I’m redeeming - because they’re yours and only yours, but guess what? I am too, Parrish. You may as well put it on a fucking T-shirt.”
“This structure would never stand in debate,” Adam remarked dryly. Ronan elbowed his ribcage.
“Shut up. My point is, I’m not offering you the Barns because I don’t think your piece-of-shit apartment is good enough for you. I don’t” - he threw a withering look towards Adam’s set of keys, which were poking out of his rain-soaked jeans on the floor - “but mostly it’s because you own my ass. I don’t care if it takes a year, I don’t care if it takes a fucking century… what’s mine is yours, Parrish. And that includes home.”