It started when Adam woke up late. Or specifically, Ronan woke him.
He stirs a little when Ronan stretches. His hand slaps around on the bed, looking for his phone, and Adam squeezes his arm tighter around Ronan’s stomach and burrows into his shoulder in an effort to pretend he’s still asleep.
Then Ronan goes tense, and sits up.
“No,” Adam says thoughtlessly, pulling clumsily at Ronan’s arm, but Ronan whips the covers off of them.
“Wake up, numbnuts, you’re gonna be late if you don’t leave right now,” Ronan snapped, and Adam huffed.
“Naw, it’s Sunday,” he says, his sleep-addled mind clearing slowly but facts still a murky distance away. Ronan snorts and pushes him off of the mattress, the cold floor on his legs snapping him into focus quicker than coffee.
“Yesterday was Sunday,” he snaps, and shows Adam the time on his phone screen.
It’s 6:43, classes start at 7, and it takes Adam 17 minutes to get to Aglionby from St. Agnes on his bike on a good, clear day. Today, it’s raining.
“Shit!” he yells, and starts scrambling to get his books in his bag with one hand while he snatches up a pair of pants with the other. He doesn’t realize they’re Ronan’s ratty jeans until he tries to shove his foot in and his foot shoots straight through the gaping hole at the knee.
Confused, he jerks them off again. Ronan just snickers and holds out his hand for them.
“I’ll drive you, calm down,” Ronan says, and Adam manages to scrape together his uniform from the hamper, his desk, the floor, and the bathroom. Ronan puts his ratty jeans and threadbare t-shirt on, as well as stealing Adam’s hoodie. The sleeves are too short on him so he pushes them up to his elbows, rendering his tight forearms very bare.
“Ready?” he says, but he’s already got his keys and is striding out the door, so Adam hurries after him.
The ride in the BMW is quiet, and Ronan parks in a faculty spot close to the English building so Adam won’t be late.
“Thanks for waking me up,” he says, and Ronan hums.
And then he reaches over and starts messing with Adam’s hair.
Adam holds very still and lets him do it, and after a minute Ronan also fixes the last button on his collar up. It covers a hickey now, and Adam sweats at the thought that someone would have seen it if not for Ronan’s help.
“Thank you?” he drawls, and Ronan pushes wordlessly at his shoulder, practically shoving him out the door.
The rest of the day of classes passes much less dramatically, although his mind sticks on Ronan looking him over critically as he fixed his hair and his collar. It doesn’t feel mean or nitpicky, like he thought it might. It actually feels very sweet, like Ronan’s trying to make sure he’s as put together as he wants to be, even when he isn’t.
“You’re thinking about Ronan again,” Gansey points out, a little excitedly, at lunch. Adam, chin in his hand and admittedly staring out the window with his mind elsewhere, levels him a look.
“Yes, is that a crime?” he asks, but he’s a little embarrassed all the same.
‘Nope, not at all,” Gansey says, but his fingers are tapping with much too much enthusiasm on the cover of his book, and he can’t seem to hide his smile.
“Geez, Gansey, you seem happier about us being together than seems decent, seeing as you didn’t have a hand in it,” Adam says, and Gansey only beams at him.
“You haven’t seen what Ronan’s like when he’s thinking about you,” Gansey said, and Adam realized suddenly that this was gossip, like regular teenagers had.
“Oh? Is that supposed to intrigue me?” he asked, although it did and Gansey knew it. Gansey only smiled, and started asking him about Latin homework.
When school let out for the day Ronan was in the parking lot, leaning against the hood of his car. As Gansey and Adam made their way over to him, Adam couldn’t help but notice the holey jeans again. Not only were the knees ripped wide, wide open, but the black had faded to an abused grey, they hung very low, and they looked dangerously tight. There were also paint splatters and stains, and then Ronan hoisted them a little, and Adam realized that they didn’t hang low naturally. Ronan had put them that way on purpose, because as soon as he hauled them up Adam caught a flash of ankle. They were actually too small for him.
“Ronan,” he asked, when they reached him, “how long have you had those poor jeans for?”
Ronan narrowed his eyes, but Gansey looked him over and then said, “Oh, Ronan. Are those that same pair?”
“Shut it about my clothes. You and I agreed we were never allowed to talk about clothes ever again,” Ronan warned Gansey, and after a moment of argumentative faces at each other, Gansey rolled his eyes and went to the Pig.
“Seriously Ronan, when did you get those? They look like they’re on their last leg,” Adam said, and Ronan made one of those growling, non-committal noises he made when he didn’t want to answer.
“So what if they’re old? They’re my favorite,” Ronan said, and had to haul them up again as they made to get in. Adam barely concealed a laugh.
“You hike them any higher, I’m gonna be seeing your shins,” he commented, and Ronan sneered at him, but didn’t say anything else.
When they reached Monmouth by unspoken consensus, Ronan got out of the car. The ragged edge of his jeans caught on the edge of his door, and Adam opened his mouth, but Ronan had already slammed the door, and the leg of his jeans ripped nearly all the way around.
Ronan made aggrieved noises as he picked the denim off of the edge of his door, then made his way up the stairs, pants trying to make their way off of him the whole time. Adam didn’t bother to hide his laughter then, and Gansey made a small sympathetic noise when he saw Ronan on his way to his room.
“He’s had those since he was thirteen, and I’m fairly sure they didn’t fit then, either,” Gansey said conspiratorially to Adam, and they heard Ronan slamming around in his room. He came out a moment later in better fitting jeans and a belt, and then he pinned Adam with a look.
“Let’s go, Parrish.”
“Where to?” he asked. He didn’t move from where he was toeing off his wet sneakers.
Both Gansey and Adam made disbelieving noises, and when Ronan just juggled his keys loudly in his hand, Adam looked up at him.
“Why do you wanna drive all the way to Pulaski just to go to the mall? You hate the mall. I hate the mall.”
“Yeah, well, I only have three pairs of jeans, and all of your clothes look like you’ve had them just as long as I have, or else you’re trying to look like him, which is unconscionable.” Ronan gestured at Gansey with this statement, and Adam straightened up.
“I am not trying to look like Gansey,” he said, and Gansey piped up, “Yes, Ronan, that’s rude.”
“Rude to Adam, maybe. C’mon, Parrish, I’m not waiting any longer,” he said, and Adam rolled his eyes.
“For one thing, you have more clothes than that. And for another, I’m not letting you buy me things.”
Ronan shrugged his shoulders around, like someone would grind their teeth in frustration, only Ronan did it with his whole body.
“How about this, then. We’ll pick out things for each other, and whatever you like that I pick, you have to let me buy, and vice versa.”
It was a left field type of challenge, the likes of which was only Ronan-like in its unexpectedness. And it definitely was a challenge, judging from Ronan’s pointed staring at him and lifted chin. But it was a soft, intimate type of challenge that seemed more in Blue’s arena of expertise than anything Ronan might dream up. It left Ronan open to Adam’s interpretation completely, and Adam to Ronan’s. Suddenly his heart was beating a little harder.
“Alright, then, it’s a date,” he said, mostly because the word “date” made Ronan uncomfortable. He put his sneakers back on.
“Send Gansey Snapchats,” Noah’s voice, disembodied, echoed around them, “I want to see.”
“Yes, do,” Gansey said, his eyebrows wiggling excitedly. Blue tromped in just as they were leaving, and they heard her laugh ring high and clear through the apartment before the door cut the sound short.
The drive was made short by Ronan’s speed and a mix of music that seemed designed just for the purpose. As Ronan was parking, Adam popped it out of the player just to see, and the Latin on it and slightly psychedelic art confirmed his suspicion that Ronan had dreamed it up.
They made their way into the mall, and Adam put his hands in his pockets. The place felt huge and expensive in the way that middle class people trying hard to seem upper-middle class always seemed to him, a little fake and desperate. The tinny music and bad lighting was already giving him a headache, along with unwelcome memories of school shopping with his mother in middle school.
“Lead on, MacDuff,” he said, gesturing to Ronan, who snorted, and hooked an arm around his neck to lead him along by. The one thing that could be said for the place, he found, was that the employees all looked too bored to judge their closeness, and the other shoppers too focused.
Ronan led him to a white and red store first, and they cut through the colorful women’s section to a smaller men’s area. It was a little surprising- everything looked very soft and simple, although when he realized the range of color was limited to shades of grey and blue for the most part, he was less so.
Ronan broke away from him with a look that Adam knew very well by now meant he wanted some privacy to think, so Adam wandered away to pick through the racks.
When he flipped his first price tag, he nearly had a heart attack, though, and made a beeline across the store towards Ronan.
“Ronan,” he hissed, suddenly very aware of the employee watching them several rows away, “Ronan, this store is expensive.”
“Some of it,” Ronan conceded. Somehow, he already had an armful of stuff. He was studiously avoiding looking at Adam, and then shoved the pile at him.
“Go try stuff on,” he said flatly, and Adam felt himself flush.
“I can’t, this is-”
“We agreed to the terms, yeah? You backing out, Parrish?” He turned his sharp eyes on Adam, and Adam, for want of something to do with his hands, thumbed through the clothes.
“This is all winter things, it’s only fall,” he countered, and Ronan visibly prickled before he made himself speak.
“Yeah, and you always look cold. And you’re moving up north, so.”
“Ah,” Adam said, throat clogged. They’d been dancing around his acceptance to Penn State for days now, and he found he didn’t like it suddenly. He wished they’d talked it over before they’d gotten here, that it wasn’t coming out in some department store.
Abashed, he took the armful of clothes to the dressing room. By himself in the small stall, he sorted through what Ronan had picked out for him. It was mostly button-ups, thick flannels, and neat jeans. He flipped a price tag on the jeans and distinctly felt an ulcer start up in his stomach.
There was a two-tap knock on the door, and then more clothes appeared over the edge of the door.
“That was fast,” he snapped, and Ronan scoffed.
“Whatever, just try stuff on already.”
Huffing, Adam tugged off his long sleeve and his jeans. The jeans were all the same slim bootcut style, he found, in differing colors, and he tugged on a pair perfunctorily. Then a hensley with a flannel, and he stuck his head out of the door to find Ronan lounging against the wall.
“You want to see these, or what?” he said, a little more snappily than he meant, and Ronan shrugged, but he was fiddling with his phone, and he realized a second too late that he’d taken a picture. He snapped the door shut on Ronan’s snicker, and reluctantly set aside the shirts.
It didn’t matter what he tried on- a thin black sweater, a navy button-down with tiny geometric patterns on it, a mottled red sweatshirt, a green flannel so soft he couldn’t stop touching it. He liked nearly all of it, and there was no question that it fit him better and was better made than anything he currently (or possibly had ever) owned. And the picture he made in the mirror was no longer a trailer park boy from Virginia, but a smart, handsome kid off to college in only a few months.
He stopped fiddling with his cuffs a moment and realized that Ronan knew exactly what he wanted to project to other people, and felt horrible that he’d been short. This was Ronan trying to say he was alright with it. This was Ronan accepting it, in whatever way he had to, and trying to take care of Adam in a small way that distance couldn’t prohibit. It was unbearably sweet, and Adam walked out of the dressing room in his socks to kiss an unsuspecting Ronan on the cheek.
“I like it all,” he said, and Ronan couldn’t hide his pleased smile then.
Then he snapped another picture, and Adam smacked him on the arm.
He changed back into his own clothes quickly, feeling frumpier for it, and Ronan took the clothes up to the register to pay. Even though he tried not to look, he caught a glance at the final number, and swore under his breath. Ronan merely looked breezily unconcerned, even when he wound up carrying the bags.
“Well, looks like you’re playing MacDuff now,” Ronan said, and Adam realized abruptly he had no idea what to pick for Ronan. No, that wasn’t right. He didn’t know what he was looking for, but he was definitely looking for something specific, and he’d know it when he saw it.
His first instinct was to head to Hot Topic, but he took a look inside for a moment, then shook his head. A grungy skater store got the same treatment, and then Ronan dragged him into a store that seemed to sell a combination of bachelorette party supplies and things drunk toddlers might wear. They both became transfixed by one of those static balls, though, fingers touching too intimately in the dark store to let their pulses stay sane, and when they started to wander around again Ronan put him in the same pseudo-headlock. He leaned into it this time, playing with Ronan’s dangling fingers as he looked at the places they passed.
Then they wandered past a women’s store, and Adam started to slow. Everything inside looked like a cleaned up version of something Blue would wear, and Adam looked at the things inside and then at Ronan.
“I’m not that gay, Adam, jeez,” Ronan said, in that very sharp way he did when he was nervous. Adam paid him no mind and wandered inside, and found himself picking up a pair of jeans that were nearly the same as the ones Ronan had been wearing earlier. They were very skinny, charcoal grey and ruined from thigh to ankle, but they were very soft and stretchy. They were on sale as well, so Adam put a loose black sweater on top that had a knit so big you could see through it.
He presented them to Ronan with a thumb pointed back towards the dressing room.
Ronan, his face and scalp turning the deep burgundy of someone who truly couldn’t hide a blush, snatched them out of his hands and went inside. He was only in there for four minutes, and when he came back out in his own clothes he headed straight to the register, mouth set in almost-anger.
Adam paid for it, and was feeling cheerful enough about Ronan’s clear mix of pleasure and embarrassment that he agreed to Ronan’s offhand, “Wanna see a movie before we head back?”
They didn’t get back to Henrietta until dinner time, and Gansey, Blue and Noah were on them as soon as they walked through the door.
“How’d the queer-eyeing go?” Blue asked, taking Ronan’s bag from him. She cooed instantly at the sweater, but Adam slapped her hands away when she tried to put it on.
“I bought that for Ronan and I expect to see him wearing it often, Blue,” he said, and she grinned at him with that knowing look in her eye.
“Ronan, I’m surprised!” Gansey said, rifling through Adam’s bags, “there isn’t even anything embarrassing in here. I thought you’d pull some jokes on Adam, at least.”
“Not everyone wants to look like a joke when they get dressed, Gansey,” Ronan replied, and Blue and Adam broke into appreciative giggles.
Later, when Adam was shivering in his chilly little apartment, the door opened and Ronan’s hands were on him in the next moment, smoothing his hair out of his eyes and warming him from the inside out.
“Saw you in a lot of clothes today,” Ronan hummed in his ear, “and it was always too many.”
Laughing, Adam let himself be stripped down by Ronan’s eager hands, but several minutes later found himself struggling to keep himself awake, even though Ronan was biting at him pleasantly.
Ronan, as observant as always, grumbled into his skin.
“Skip tomorrow, get some sleep,” he said, but Adam shushed him by petting at his back and the bared curve of his skull.
Some months later, Adam put the last of his things in his car and slammed the trunk shut. There was room to spare, a fact Ronan kept trying to take advantage of by sneaking little things inside, like a spare blanket, a knit hat, a dreamcatcher with some of Chainsaw’s feathers on it, a cat poster that was clearly from Blue, a big book from Gansey.
“Anything else? Should I shake you down for candles or snacks or God knows what?”
Ronan glanced slowly around, taking his time, and then tucked a little ball of something rolled in a sandwich baggie into Adam’s back pocket. Adam narrowed his eyes.
“To help you relax, asshole,” Ronan retorted. It was a Sunday, and more than that it was Matthew’s birthday, so Ronan couldn’t spend the day driving Adam up to Penn State. Instead they hugged in Monmouth parking lot, long and hard enough to ache. Ronan nosed at his hair, pressed a kiss to his temple and swiftly withdrew to his room upstairs. Adam understood, and so he hugged the others and waved as he got in.
Chainsaw appeared on his windowsill the next morning, after he’d moved in, and she followed him from a distance that day.
“I love your shirt,” some girl told him during orientation, and he smiled a little, touching the geometric patterns.
“Thanks. My boyfriend picked it out for me.”