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the moon, inverted

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Niall Lynch wants three sons. He has one son already, and Declan is growing up... fine. Not badly, but not what he wanted out of a son, surely. Not a dreamer. He and Aurora try for a second not long after, and he’s convinced it will be another son. That his name will be Ronan, and he will dream the dreams his father dreams, but bigger and brighter and more painful for it. A warrior poet, like all the stories his gran told him back home.

And then he has a dream about a little girl with his face but sharper, and he tells Aurora in the night, “It was like she was mine. She was a hellion in lace, like a love letter that gouges your eyes out.”

She laughs at him, softly, charmingly, the way that she does.

He falls asleep with his hand on her stomach. He dreams of the little girl again, but she tells him to wait. That she doesn’t have to be taken out of the dream, because she’ll be there soon enough. Oddly enough, he believes her.

Ronan is born nine months later. They write Siobhan on the birth certificate, but the child is never called that. Ronan is the name of the second child, and that’s how it stays.

Adam knows as he hits the edge of sleep that he is going to have a Cabeswater dream, and so when he comes into it, it's hardly surprising that Ronan is already there too.

He’s laying in a splash of lavender and moss that smells just like his cheap detergent, in his boxers, just the way he fell asleep. Ronan is sitting on the ground next to him, back to him and bowed over something in his hands. He's also bare as the day he was born, and the tattoo on his back looks wet and shifting in the moonshine.

It doesn't occur to him that it might be weird for him to reach out and touch it. Nothing about this situation strikes him as too out of place, though he knows, factually, that it probably should.

Ronan falls into one of his stillnesses at Adam’s touch. Like he thought, the ink acts like it's fresh, gliding and smearing like greasepaint as Adam traces the marking up his spine, around the knob of one shoulder and up the other side of his neck.

Then Ronan shivers, just the smallest fluttering of muscles beneath Adam's finger. He leans close enough to hook his chin over Ronan's shoulder to see what he has in his hands.

It's a music box, large enough to be ungainly to hold. When Ronan flips the lid open, a black horse, thin and wild looking, canters around a miniature pond set into the bottom. A little round mirror is set in the lid, glowing slightly like a miniature moon, it's reflection dancing on the little pond. A tinny version of “All the Pretty Little Horses” mixes with the whinnies of the horse and the lapping water sounds.

“He made this for me when I was a baby, to make me go to sleep,” Ronan says, and claps it very abruptly shut. Sure enough, the slight stupor the music and the dancing light had cast on Adam falls off of him. Ronan sets the box aside, though his hand lingers on the wood.

“He used to ask me which I thought I was. The horse, the pond, or the moon. I told him none, and he told me I was all of them.”

Adam presses his lips to the skin by his mouth. Ronan’s stillness goes bone deep, like he’s gone to stone, and Adam leans his cheek against the smear of black, tremulous ink to see if he can feel it. It feels like nothing at all but cool skin, growing warmer with contact. Curious and daring in Cabeswater, he lets his eyes follow the lines of Ronan’s body.

Two long red scars separate his chest from his ribs, bisected, like he’d been opened up for someone to see inside of him. They are angry looking, thicker than normal scars. Adam snakes a hand around to touch one, and Ronan doesn’t move. It reminds him of the way a tree scars when a limb is removed.

“Did it hurt?” Adam asks. His voice doesn’t sound like him, but there’s a strange ring to his voice. The sound of gilt leaves whispering in Latin rustles around them, but he can’t make out the words.

“Yes,” Ronan says, and then jerkily, “that’s why she looks like me. Orphan Girl.”

“Oh,” Adam breathes, thinking of the girl’s thick blonde curls cut boyishly short. And then, “So she is a part of you. And you hated her.”

“Of course I hated her. But I’m trying this new thing where I don’t do that, so my dreams aren’t shit,” Ronan says, and then looks at him, their faces very close, “so maybe that’s why you’re here now.”

Adam’s heart trips a beat. He thinks about kissing Ronan, and then that that would be all wrong. Not in a dream, not when both of them are asleep right now. Ronan leans forward like he’s going to anyways, and Adam catches him by the jaw. His fingers are stained from the tattoo too, and he leaves smears of black on Ronan’s chin, then his lower lip when he runs his thumb over it.

“How’s that working out for you, Lynch?” he asks, oddly hushed in the space between them. Ronan doesn’t say a word, only looking at him, solemn.

Adam wakes up.

He looks at his hand, and it’s black. Then at the floor, where he’s shocked to see Ronan, eyes partly open and stiff as a corpse. There’s black trailing his lip and neck. Though he’s not as naked as he was in the dream, the evidence of their touching feels illicit, like he’s going to be caught touching Ronan Lynch’s bottom lip any moment now.

Then he realizes Ronan isn’t moving, and reaches out a hand to push at his shoulder.

It takes a moment, but Ronan blinks, groaning, then he looks at Adam’s hand on his shoulder, and his hand shoots to his chest, where Adam had touched his scars.

He gets up and goes to the bathroom. Adam hears the thick sound of his skull hitting the doorjamb, his cursing, the water running. A moment later, he ducks his head back out.

“It’s just dirt. It comes off.”

He’s looking at Adam like he did in the dream for a moment, and then he ducks quickly back into the bathroom. When Adam snakes past him for his own turn and then comes back out, he’s already gone.

Adam drives to the Barns three days later, squinting into the dawn wearily. Normally, he would never get up this early on his day off. Normally, Ronan would not be avoiding him. Normally, it wouldn’t bother him if Ronan had to avoid him, because there was an uneasy understanding between them of not pushing too hard. Pushing, yes. Pushing was necessary. But pushing too far got them fighting, and they weren’t fighting, and yet Ronan was still avoiding him.

That left one option available to Adam, and that was to push harder.

The Barns are resplendent in the dawn. He sees the horde of deer moving off into the trees as he approaches, mist lying low and lovely over the fields of grass. The trees cradle purple night in their leaves even as golden light breaks through. The droves of fairy lights drift lazily through the air, giving the impression of dusk fighting the morning.

He drives up to the house, and even from there he can hear the sound of working people. He follows it along the crooked footpaths to what Ronan told him was the hay barn, and in the mouth of it he finds Declan of all people, in battered jeans, boots and a tank top. If not for the long hair and wider shoulders, he might be Ronan from the back.

“Parrish,” he says, with some surprise, “didn’t know you were coming up. It’s Sunday, we’re headed to church in a few.”

“Yeah, I need to snag Ronan from you before you leave, if that’s alright,” Adam says coolly. He doesn’t like Declan now, but he doesn’t dislike him intensely either. He recognizes the ambition in Declan as akin to his own and can’t fault him for it, even when it leads to him mishandling Ronan.

“He’s in there,” Declan indicated with a jerk of his thumb and headed back towards the house, presumably to shower. Adam crossed inside to see Matthew at the bottom of a hay loft, covered in loose bits of the stuff. He was dressed similarly to Declan, with work gloves on, and smiled cheerily at Adam as soon as he saw him.

“Adam, hi!” he said, and then a hay bale came soaring out of the loft above. Matthew caught it by the chest before Adam could even flinch at the thought of impact. He then moved it to the side, where a stack of moldering bales was forming.

“Few more, Matt,” Ronan’s voice said from above, and there was a grunt of effort before another bale came flying down. Matt caught three more as Ronan lobbed them, looking like an overjoyed retriever.

“We’re helping Ronan clear out the bad bales so he can restock, come spring,” Matthew said. He glimmered with sweat and cheeriness. Adam craved coffee just looking at him, but managed a smile.

“That’s great, Matthew. If you guys are done, could I have a couple of minutes with Ronan?”

“Oh, sure, I have to shower anyways or Declan will complain the whole way to mass. Come in for breakfast when you’re done, Adam!” he said, cuffing Adam jovially on the shoulder before he jogged off after his eldest brother. This left Adam to turn his attention to Ronan, who was loping down the stacks of hay like a long-legged bird. He saw Adam and stopped.

They looked at each other for a long moment, and then Ronan said, “I’m sorry.”

“For what?” Adam asked, bewildered. Ronan had never outright apologized for anything before, including much larger transgressions, and this wasn’t even something he wanted an apology for. Ronan stuck his hay hook in a bale, stripped off his gloves, and came down to the dirt floor with Adam, where he turned to a low spigot in the wall and started to wash hay dust off of his arms.

“I might have influenced Cabeswater during that dream without meaning to. I didn’t mean for it to be....” he seemed to lose the grasp of his words here, and Adam dove in.

“Intimate? Revealing? Naked?”

Yes,” Ronan snapped, “I didn’t mean for it to be any of that. Sorry.”

Adam waited for more after that, but Ronan seemed like he was biting words back and grinding them up in his molars, if the way his jaw was working was any indication. Adam wanted to roll his eyes, but then chewed it over a little more himself. How Ronan had given him his back, and talked about the music box, rather than himself.

“I’m sorry if you feel like you didn’t want me to know,” he says slowly, trying to get it right, “but I know now, and I’m alright with it.”

Ronan looks at him sharply, shrewdly. Waiting for a catch.

“I am!” Adam protests, feeling his ears start to burn. He knows what Ronan must think- trailer trash aren’t exactly known for their open-mindedness. Slowly, though, the sharpness around Ronan’s eyes loosens.

Then he grabs the back of his shirt and hauls it over his head. The scars there are just as livid and real as they were in the dream. Adam has to scrunch his hand into a fist to resist the urge to touch.

Ronan ducks his head under the spigot and rinses dirt and sweat out of his hair. Adam watches it arch down his back, and when he rises up and shakes his head wildly to get water off of his face, he looks at Ronan’s chest, too. Not the scars, but the sharp lines of muscle from farm work and tennis and being a force of destruction.

Creation, too, he realizes, and wonders when his habit of looking at Ronan had turned into a habit and not an accident. When he started noticing things instead of just looking.

When he meets Ronan’s eyes, there’s surprise there, and delight, and a dare.

Then he throws a handful of water right into Adam’s face, and he splutters with shock even as Ronan yells at him to hurry up or he won’t get breakfast.

Breakfast turns out to be eggs and hash browns and thick black coffee, courtesy of Declan. Adam can’t stop mumbling his thanks around mouthfuls, and Matthew eats like a hog once he’s out of the shower. Ronan disappears briefly, and reappears in what must be his church clothes.

Adam has never seen him in them- he always seems to change after, or brings a change of clothes with him. Even if it’s just a button up and less dingy jeans than usual, Ronan manages to make it look edgy and classic somehow.

Declan clears his throat, and Adam looks around at him. He’s got his eyebrows raised meaningfully.

“We taking the BMW or your vulva, Declan?” Ronan says, words gnarling with attitude. The picture of clean-cut Catholic boy is utterly broken by his sneer.

“I told you not to call it that, it’s disgusting,” Declan says, narrow-eyed, but he looks at Adam again. The meaningfulness has not left his eyebrows, and it has not escaped Adam what it’s trying to point out.

“Only because you don’t know how to find one,” Ronan says. He snatches the coffee out of Adam’s hand and drains it. He hands it back with sarcastic sunniness. Adam simply refills it with an eye roll.

“We’ll take the Volvo, I don’t want to give you an excuse to run around afterwards, we all know how you get if you have to sit around too long,” Declan says, and Ronan sticks his tongue out at his back. Then he leans on the counter next to Adam, all elbows.

“You gonna stick around? I know you’re off today.”

Adam opens his mouth, and then realizes he can feel the heat of Declan’s stare on the back of his neck, making it grow hot. The words fall out without his permission.

“I picked up an extra shift this afternoon.”

Ronan frowns. Adam knows by now that Ronan can spot a lie on him, but somehow he doesn’t say anything in response to this, only clicks his tongue and swipes Declan’s keys out of his pocket as he passes.

No,” Declan snaps and snatches them back. A brief tussle sends them tumbling out the door, Matthew bobbing happily in their wake with a wave for Adam. Adam waves back, a lump in his throat.

The house turns quiet around him. He cleans up breakfast with his hands on autopilot, thoughts trailing over the morning and over his dreams. He hates that he caved away from Ronan’s attention under Declan’s eyes. He vows to tell Declan to shove it next time.

That assumes there will be more moments where he’s subject to Ronan’s attention, his bright eyes and snake smiles. And shirtless, maybe.

Adam’s thoughts circle like the soap suds around the drain, never quite making it all the way to their destination but close enough to know what it is.

Feeling stupid and presumptuous, Adam puts the dishes away and gets back into his monstrous little car, then back to his tiny apartment, and he stews.

When the BMW finishes its crawl up the driveway, Ronan shuts it off, and the two of them sit in their seats in the bitter November darkness.

Slowly, Ronan bends to put his forehead on the steering wheel. It is a gesture of control and defeat all at once. Adam doesn’t know what to do with it.

Eventually Ronan sits up again, blinking blearily. He’s still covered in bits of black grime and he looks at Adam with hollowed eyes.

“I’m so tired,” he says hoarsely, hands flexing. There’s a bleak note there, like he doesn’t expect to sleep ever again. Adam understands in a way that feels vital and important. An idea comes, unexpected but brilliant.

“Switch me,” he says, and Ronan doesn’t seem to process this until Adam gets out and comes around to his door. They switch seats in silence, and Adam crosses his fingers as he starts the BMW again. Luckily, his lessons in stick shift have survived a little time, and he backs down the driveway.

He doesn’t go anywhere particular. He follows roads blindly. The lights cut grey-white against the bleakness. At one point he reaches over to turn on the radio, some music of Ronan’s, but Ronan shakes his head and lets the window down. The sound of the wind rushing in lets him know there’s more out there right now than magic that nearly killed them, or a king, or a force that could kill Gansey and a force that could save him. There’s only trees right now, and the wet smell of a cold night whisking in and making him shiver.

Eventually Ronan points to a spot, and Adam pulls over without a word. They get out, Adam locks the car, and he follows Ronan a little ways into the trees.

There’s a pond there, gloriously deep and clear and spidering with frost at the edges. Ronan crunches through the dying grass to the edge, and strips off his hoodie and shirt in one fast movement. Next he shucks off his jeans and boots, left standing there in his boxers. The bruises on his neck look like an extension of his tattoo, or the ink Adam had spread with his fingers in a dream.

Adam takes off his jacket and drops it on top of Ronan’s things. He looks at Adam as he strips down, until they’re both shivering.

“This is crazy,” Adam says, because he feels it needs to be said.

“Crazy as life,” Ronan says, shrugging, and holds out his hand.

It should not pull Adam up short. They’ve held hands before now. Never like this though, so clearly an invitation, a request, an open question for comfort and solidarity.

Adam takes it, and Ronan says, “On three?”

Adam nods, but he jumps at one, pulling Ronan in after him.

The water cuts him to the quick, so much so that all other thoughts fly away. He surfaces quickly, and he hears Ronan gasp and then curse with vehemence at the sky. For a moment, treading water, their limbs tangle.

Ronan swoops close and kisses him. It’s clumsy since they’re swimming, but his mouth is fire hot compared to the cold around them. His smile has all the parts to a smile, but it doesn’t quite mesh together right.

They drag themselves up out of the pond. Ronan slips in the mud and Adam catches him, and once they regain their feet they stand there for a moment, trying to snatch heat from each others skin and only succeeding in dripping all over their clothes and letting the air get to them. They redress quickly, socks on sloppily, shirts sticking, jeans only pulled up so far before the struggle isn't worth it.

They jog back to the car, and by unspoken agreement they both get in the back. There’s a blanket that Ronan pulls out from under the passenger seat, and Adam uses the inside of his jacket to scrub his hair dry. Then he leans forward to stick the key in and get the heat going. The soft glow from the dash lights casts Ronan in green, and the bruises on his neck and around his eyes look sickly then. It strikes Adam to realize that Ronan is very young. They are both so very young. They will never again be as young as they are now, and they will never have this moment again. He wants, suddenly, so hard that his chest aches with it.

“Hey,” he says, and Ronan meets his eyes.

He doesn’t know who initiates the kiss, but it’s Ronan licking into his mouth and his hand up Ronan’s shirt making him shiver from the cold of his fingertips, and it’s Adam surprised gasp when Ronan grabs him by the hip and hauls him closer. The kiss is not either of them, it’s both, lips snagged by teeth and neither of them caring that it hurts a little when Ronan’s tongue is slick and skilled and Adam can’t stop grabbing at his arms and ribs, feeling every hard piece of muscle heaving to get him closer, closer, closer.

Then his fingers pluck at Ronan’s boxers, questioning, and Ronan arches into the contact, his mouth falling to Adam’s throat and sinking in sharp enough to scare a sound out of him.

It’s like they’re trading heat, back and forth, growing stronger with each touch. When he sticks his hand daringly down the front of Ronan’s pants, he sighs out a sound that Adam can’t catch all the way, and then he outright jumps when Adam brushes skin hotter than anywhere else he’s touched, softer. His fingers suss out the shape there blindly, and he listens to Ronan curse wretchedly into his collarbone.

Suddenly he needs to see Ronan’s face, needs to watch him. He hooks his foot behind his knee and pushes with his free hand until Ronan lets himself be pushed up against the seat, and then he straddles one of Ronan’s thighs.

“Jesus fucking weeps, Parrish,” he rasps into Adam’s hearing ear, half a laugh melding into another gasp. He didn’t expect Ronan to get anything like hard, but it’s there, and he rubs his fingers over the tip softly, then a little harder when Ronan stretches his head back and swears at God some more. The angle is hell on his wrist, leaving next to no mobility, and he doesn’t give a shit. Ronan’s hands roam greedy over Adam, scratching a little at his spine and getting a handful of his ass through his jeans. Ronan’s thigh is the perfect shape to grind against, and they kiss again, again, again as Adam rubs at Ronan’s clit, his swears melting into helpless groans that Adam can feel.

Then Ronan hitches his knee up, pressing Adam closer to him and making his hand slip lower into Ronan’s jeans. He touches warm wetness, and Ronan moans, the sound filthy in the small, quiet car. When he rubs his fingers lower Ronan’s curse sounds gutted, and when he presses inward he sucks in a breath like the car can’t possibly contain enough air, and for the barest second he melts.

Then he grips Adam’s wrist and rolls his hips down, swearing so earnestly that Adam is pretty sure he might come first. Inside he’s so wet, and Adam couldn’t possibly have expected the way he can feel muscles flutter and flex to pull his finger further in. Ronan’s face is driving him crazy, putting an itch under his skin to make him feel more already. When he pulls out a little and adds another finger, Ronan arches fitfully into the contact, now holding onto Adam like he’s afraid.

He leans forward to kiss him and Ronan moans into his mouth as if it hurts. He rocks his fingers in a little further, then out, and he watches as Ronan goes from bowed into him, sharp and burning with how bright his desire is, to languid and helpless and overwrought as each little pulse of his fingers in and out pulls deep animal noises from him.

“Fuck,” he whines into Adam’s neck, biting him again. His fingers tangle in Adam’s hair, keeping him close, “Fuck, fuck, Adam.”

Adam changes the angle of his wrist a little, and suddenly he’s deeper inside. Ronan’s hands on him tighten, and that’s all the warning he gets before he shakes, an earthquake inside that brings shivers to his limbs. They keep wrecking him, over and over as he bites his lip and moans, eyes wide open and trained on Adam watching him.

He draws his hand out when Ronan tugs on his wrist, and Ronan yanks his boxers out of the way with breathless force so that he can wrap his hand around Adam’s dick. He curses himself, bracing a hand on Ronan’s shoulder when he jacks him off, slow and even.

“Gorgeous,” Ronan says into his ear. He’s still shaking a little, and he bundles Adam close in his lap with his hand on his ass again, this time down his shorts. The contact is surprising, how good it feels, despite Ronan’s cold fingers, and he lets Ronan guide him into a short, rolling rhythm on his thigh. It feels brutally good, Ronan’s hands on him, and he pants sloppily into Ronan’s cheek as the pressure builds.

“Fuck,” he echoes, and Ronan presses at the head of his dick with his thumb, a hot hard touch that makes him shudder. He feels blinded by everything that Ronan does, everything he is, and when the grip on his ass tightens he comes, pressing his mouth to a bruise he made to stifle the wounded sound.

Ronan does not let go of his ass or his dick as they stop straining against each other, and for a moment he can only breathe, his mind fuzzy on particulars as he comes down from orgasm.

Then there is the sharp little noise of metal on glass. A knock.

They both go tense as piano wire. Ronan makes a noise like a laugh as he tucks Adam back into his pants. They try to button up, scrambling around in the space that didn’t seem so tight before for their boots, which fell off.

They climb out of the car, and a local police officer looks at them in their damp, rumpled clothes and flushed faces. Ronan looks unrepentant to the extreme. Adam realizes there’s a string of still-wet come on his fingers, and Ronan zips his hoodie over a stain on his shirt.

“You boys know you can’t be parked here,” he says slowly. He’s shining his light at the ground, but it still feels too bright to Adam, like this can’t be real.

“Sorry, officer, it won’t happen again. We needed to rest. We’ve been driving for too long with too little sleep,” he says. The officer raises his eyebrows, looking between them, and Adam feels his face getting hotter and hotter at the lie.

“You’re the Parrish boy,” he says, and Adam’s heart, bruised but full only a moment ago, deflates.

“Yessir,” he says. Ronan makes a face and opens his mouth, but Adam shoots him a look and he snaps his jaw shut.

“Are we in trouble, sir?” Adam asks, carefully neutral. The officer shifts, clearly uncomfortable with the idea of them together.

“Well,” he says, ever so slowly, “I guess not. I assume if I breathalyze you, since you’re underage, you’d pass?”

“Yessir,” Adam says, trying not to sound too eager. Ronan repeats it, his scraping disdain reined in to at least reluctant sarcasm.

“Well then,” the officer says, I’m letting you off with a warning this time, but if anyone else had caught you two,” he says, gesturing at the car with a significant look, as if to say “I know what you’ve done here”, “you wouldn’t be getting off so lightly.”

“I understand that, sir. Thank you very much, it won’t happen again,” Adam says. He holds out his left hand awkwardly for a handshake, and the officer obliges him. He holds on for a moment too long, and when he lets go he says suddenly, “You probably don’t remember me.”

Adam doesn’t, but a glance at Ronan confirms that he does. Which can only mean one thing.

“Oh,” he says, but the officer blusters over him, “I thought it was awfully brave, what you did.”

“Oh,” Adam says again, but this time it’s less an acknowledgement and more a sound of shock, “Oh, um, thank you, sir.”

“You’re welcome,” he says staunchly, and then, “Have a good day, boys,” and he gets back in his car. He waits until they’ve gotten back in the BMW to pull away, and Adam watches him go as he starts the car.

Ronan bursts out laughing.

Adam watches him, how the laugh is fear and surprise and joy all in one, shocked out of him by absurdity. Adam starts laughing too, until there are tears running down his face.

“This is so weird,” Ronan snickers, “how the hell is everything so weird?”

“Well,” Adam says, thumbing tears off his cheeks, “you’re involved, aren’t you? Ronan Lynch, guaranteed weird.”

Ronan laughs, and when Adam pulls out to head back too fast, Ronan crows out the window, the sun liming him golden.

“Gansey, Noah, Blue,” Adam says with one cheek stuffed full of licorice, and Ronan groans into a beer bottle. He’s been nursing the same one for hours now, which is both a positive and a negative. Positive because Adam likes the idea of Ronan not having to get a liver transplant before he’s forty, and negative because Adam has found that it is so, so easy goading Ronan into sex if he’s drunk. Not, in a weird way, though. In a sloppy, hot, heavy-handed and wild way that stole his breath and left him embarrassed if he thought about in public.

“Jesus Christ. Kill Gansey for the irony, I guess. Fuck Noah. Marry Blue.”

Adam starts laughing as soon as he says “fuck Noah,” but at “marry Blue” he inhales and nearly gags on his candy, and has to bend over and hack into his fist. Ronan thumps him on the back hard enough to nearly upend him.

“Come on, man, shut up,” he whines, and Adam swallows his candy breathlessly so that he can talk.

“Marry Blue, though. Does she know how you feel?”

Ronan puts his hand over Adam’s face and shoves a little. Adam runs his tongue up the crease of Ronan’s palm. Ronan recoils, trying to act put out but maybe more on the edge of turned on.

“Whatever. Like she wouldn’t get a kick out of being my beard. Plus, all she’d have to do would be kill me off and she’s got herself her own little fortune to go explore trees and shit with.”

“Ah, the perfect crime,” Adam muses. He sticks another string of licorice in his mouth and chews it, the gumminess getting stuck in his teeth. Ronan watches him do it, beer bottle wagging thoughtfully from his fingertips.

“Blue, Carruthers or K,” he says suddenly. Adam stops chewing. They look at each other for a long time.

“Uh,” Adam says, digging pieces of candy out his teeth with his tongue, “Kill Kavinsky. Definitely.”

He sees Ronan swallow, and his gaze settles on the horizon. The sun is setting, the porch at the Barns now familiar to him as his own hands. It's cool enough for flannel and sweatshirts, but Adam cherishes Ronan's body heat more than layers.

“Fuck Blue? And marry Carruthers with the idea that I’m allowed to take out an unholy amount of life insurance on him. And then make him take up an interest in extreme sports.”

Ronan snorted with a mouthful of flat beer. Adam saw some of it come out of his nose, and he reached out and wiped it up with the back of his hand. Ronan’s face felt hot under his hands, and he relished the idea that Ronan might be flushed in the half-darkness.

Chainsaw came out of the air then, landing at the railing at Ronan’s hip. Adam chucked her under the chin, and her tongue darted out to lick beer off his fingers. Ronan watched this, nearly smiling. He did this sometimes- the smile would be on the edge of his face, the boyish, joyful one that Adam coveted, and then something would hold it back.

“Same set,” Adam asked, and Ronan used a hand to scoop Chainsaw’s body to his chest. She went with it like a tolerant house cat, rather than a carrion bird, and let Ronan ruffle her feathers with a warble like a toad’s croak.

“Still marry Blue. Kill Carruthers,” he said, and that was all that had to be said, wasn’t it? He’d like to have fucked Kavinsky, and Adam felt the knowledge settle hard in the pit of his stomach. The candy soured in his mouth, and the idea that he might eat Ronan out in his childhood bed later withered where it’d been growing.

“It would have been awful though,” Ronan said, mouth twisting. His eyes glinted with the malice he’d been shedding like layers of sunburn lately, now back in full force.

“I mean,” he continued, “I’m pretty sure he tried to fuck me while I was asleep once, so.”

Adam felt the way he jolted in shock, and it set off a chain reaction of Chainsaw jumping and Ronan’s shoulders hiking up to his ears. All the muscles in his body seemed to lock in stupid shock.

“That’s messed up,” he said finally, and somehow, Ronan managed to wind himself tighter.

“Get used to it,” Ronan said sharply.

“Why the hell would you want that for yourself?”

Ronan looked at him then, and his gaze said all it had to. That Adam was kind of a hypocrite.

“We accept what we think we deserve, don’t we? Or some shit like that,” he said.

This, more than anything else, made Adam mad.

“You don’t deserve that,” he said fiercely, “you don’t- why would you think you deserve that?”

“Someone gets to live out of it that wouldn’t otherwise, and I’d get punished for a life I took,” Ronan snapped, and the air between them clarified so suddenly that it left Adam a little breathless.

“I know it doesn’t- bother you, the way it does me, ‘cause you think he was just an asshole,” Ronan says. Chainsaw rights herself in his arms, and seeming to decide she doesn’t like their current attitudes, takes off again. Adam watches her, a weird heat caught in his skin. He thinks it’s embarrassment, or shame. He can’t tell.

“He was an asshole. And a murderer. Ronan, he would have killed Matthew, or you, and just made a copy to cover it up.”

“Yeah, well, what’s to say I wouldn’t do the same?”

Again, Adam was stunned. With sudden grace and force, Ronan hurled his beer bottle into the yard. It sailed away, glinting in the dying light, arcing droplets flashing. Just another light from Ronan for one moment, and then gone and maybe broken the next.

“Because you haven’t. The people around us that have died- they’ve stayed dead. You’re nothing like him.”

Ronan’s chest heaved with untidy breathing. Adam could feel the way watching Ronan’s anger mount was shutting parts of him off and away, and yet there was nothing to be done about it. It happened without conscious effort or thought.

“Yeah, well it’s a close fucking thing. Do you know how many times I’ve dreamed-” he cut himself off, literally censoring himself with a hand over his mouth, wiping away the last traces of beer. His hands came down on the railing and gripped it, head bowing a little, as if this was the real altar Ronan prayed to, not the one at St. Agnes.

“No, I guess I don’t,” Adam said, “like you said, I’m not like that. Even the things I came up with to get rid of doesn’t touch me. I can’t let it.”

Ronan huffed out a noise, not amused, not despairing, just acknowledgement.

“Yeah, you probably wouldn’t be able to do anything if you couldn’t compartmentalize like a motherfucker,” he said, then laughed to himself. “Not like me. Everything comes out up here eventually.”

He tapped his temple with his index finger, fingers bent like the shape of a gun. Adam picked more bits of licorice out of his teeth so he didn’t say anything stupid. Minutes passed like that. Eventually, Ronan took deeper breaths, and his shoulders unwound in pieces.

“Besides, it’s not like any self-respecting guy is going to let me fuck him in the ass, so might as well get it out of my system with that dickhead,” Ronan said, sarcastic, like it was a joke. It took Adam a second of watching his face scrunch uncertainly and his hands flex to realize it wasn’t, at least not wholly.

“Wow,” he said, “what did I do to make you think I had any respect for myself, Ronan? Cause it was a misunderstanding.”

Ronan snorted, and when Adam just let the silence become heavier around them, looked over at him with something like alarm.


Adam butted up next to him, tilting into Ronan’s personal space and letting the railing take his weight.

“I mean, I thought that’s what you were getting at, with all of the ass grabbing,” he said. Ronan just stared blankly, and it was hard to tell in the light, but Adam thought his ears were turning a shade of pink that looked like it warranted a hospital.

“I know you don’t want me to fuck you, at least, not right now? But I’m very into it, if you want to,” Adam said. He felt like he should be more embarrassed about it, but he wasn’t.

“Uh,” Ronan said, and then again, “Uh.”

Adam smiled, incredulous. “You alright?”

“I don’t have anything,” Ronan blurted, then shook himself, “I mean, for that.”

Adam considered it for a second, then said, “Well, you’ve got some time, don’t you? Even if you wanted to fuck me right now, you couldn’t. I haven’t even fingered myself before, so I’d have to get used to that first, and then-”

Ronan clapped a hand over his mouth, suddenly laughing, but it looked slightly pained and humiliated rather than purely amused. Adam frowned, confused.

“Your timing is kind of shit, Adam,” he said, but then he uncovered Adam’s mouth, face softening enough to flicker through an array of emotions before his eyes settled on Adam’s lips.

He gripped Adam’s waist hard when he leaned forward to kiss him, and he curled his arms around Ronan’s shoulders as they kissed, languid and a little hesitant with each other.

“How are you so-” he cut himself off with a frustrated noise that turned into nuzzling into Adam’s neck, and the parts of him shut away like precious china around other people’s anger came back out, bloomed, flowered, and grew fruit.

“Just talented, I guess,” Adam said into his ear, and like he’d thought it would, it made Ronan’s chest jump with laughter against his.

When Adam let himself into the house at the Barns, he could hear Ronan talking to someone in the low and dangerous tone he used when he was being vicious. He stripped off his gloves and coat faster, and when he reached the kitchen it looked like Declan had backed him right up to the sink. Like always, the Lynch brothers at war were posturing cats, seconds from drawing blood.

The difference this time was that Opal clung stubbornly to Ronan’s front, his fists trapped to his body.

Adam was so focused on this fact- Opal between two boxers easily four times her size, who had and would again nearly kill each other, the worry that she might get hit by accident- that he didn't realize the argument hadn't reached physical violence yet. Declan was still yelling, and Ronan was all teeth.

“I told you, I tried to put her back. It didn’t take.”

“Maybe you’re not trying very hard,” Declan accused, tone oily and condescending, “since you don’t seem to mind keeping her.”

“That’s not how- you don’t know anything about it, do you? God, you’re fucking dense. Can you control your fucking dreams, Declan? Can you trick yourself, even in your own fucking mind?”

He looked like he’d like to have his finger shoved in Declan’s face, all accusing, or rather just busting his front teeth out on the counter. Adam cleared his throat rather loudly. Declan didn’t even look around when he scoffed, “Parrish, no one needs you here right now.”

“Opal,” Adam said, his traitorous voice belying how every part of him wanted to shake, was going liquid-hot with terror, “Opal, sweetie, come here.”

She peeked over her arm at him, looked at Ronan- who watched Declan- and then shook her head.

“They’ll fight if I do,” she said tearfully, “I don’t want them to fight.”

“I know,” Adam said, “but you can’t help that sometimes. Please.”

Adam had stopped saying “please” a long time ago. He held out his hand. It shook, and Ronan’s eyes jumped to it and then to the girl around his waist.

He took Opal’s wrists in each hand and started to pry her off of his body. She instantly shrieked, “No! Kerah, no!”

She went boneless, so that Ronan huffed shortly and scooped her off of the ground. He shouldered past Declan, who allowed this, and deposited her into Adam’s frantic arms.

“Take her to see the cows. I’ll be out in a minute.”

Adam bobbed his head like an imbecile and practically ran outside, his blood singing with panic, his empty ear buzzing hot.

They were in the barn full of sleeping cows a moment later. Adam couldn’t hear anything but his own blood and breathing. He set Opal on her delicate hooves. She was sobbing breathlessly, childishly, hands knotted to her cheeks. Adam knelt to check her over with his stupid, useless, shaking hands.

When hearing snapped back into space, he realized Opal was babbling in Latin.

“English,” he said, and she sobbed, “Declan will kill him!”

“No, he won’t. No. And you- you must never get between them when they’re angry again, do you understand me?” He seized her by the shoulders, looking her in her great big, sobbing blue eyes. They were the precisely same shade as Ronan’s. She didn’t say that she understood, and he had to grit his teeth to prevent his hands from tightening.

“Opal,” he said as patiently as he could muster, “Opal, you have to tell me that you understand.”

“But,” she said haltingly, “I’m just a dream thing. He can make a million of me.”

Adam’s heart plummeted to his feet so fast that it left a cold, rushing sensation in it’s wake. He felt a little faint.

“You are not disposable, Opal. You’re his psychopomp. He needs you, Opal, to guide the dreams. He needs you more than anyone, maybe. You’re a part of him. You’re his kid.”

Opal only gaped at him, her Ronan-eyes bubbling like fountains.

“Okay,” Adam said finally, and swiped a hand over his own face. Then he used his sleeve to try to dry her cheeks, but it only turned her red. In fact, her little hands were turning pink in the chill.

He glanced outside, and improbably, it was starting to snow. It was so picturesque against the Barns that it looked like some kind of soft-tinged memory that movies sold. A Thomas Kinkade painting, with the bonus of knowing magic was real. It was literally the last thing Adam needed.

What he needed even less was to hear the argument make its way outside. The flat thwack of knuckles hitting flesh- probably chest, from the thickness of the sound. And words, hissed and spat, not loud enough to be clear.

Adam knelt again.

“Do not move from this spot until I come to get you, do you understand?” he said. She nodded, and then when she saw that he was striding away from her very quickly, she wailed, the high inhuman sound like a baby animal being kicked.

Adam kept moving, and when he saw Declan clock Ronan straight in the nose, he did what he had never done before- he dived into the fight, breathlessly stupid and more scared to get hit, he thought, than he had ever been. Which was startling stupid, considering the kind of things he’d charged into before.

Ronan fell back as soon as he saw Adam, but Declan pursued. Adam shoved back at him, hard.

Electricity sparked in his touch, too sharp to be mistaken for static. The sky rumbled ominously just as Declan paused to meet his eyes, and Adam steeled his voice.

“If you lay a hand on him again or Opal ever gets hurt because of you, I will kill you,” he said.

A moment later, it felt stupid and dramatic. He had no business butting into Lynch family business. He certainly had no business threatening to kill Ronan’s brother, no matter how much he might mean it in the moment.

Declan squinted at him.

“And him? He a dream?” Declan asked, flicking a sneer in Ronan’s direction.

Adam remembered Ronan’s suspicion of the same thing. He’d brushed it off as impossible. He might not know the inside of Ronan’s head as well as, say, Opal or Ronan or maybe even Gansey, but he knew that of all the jigsaw pieces of his dream things, Adam Parrish was too big a thing for a Ronan Lynch to conjure from air. He hadn't been unmade when Ronan and Opal had been, so he was real.

And even if he was a dream thing, what did it change? He still loved him.

“No,” Adam said, “but you’re going to wish I was if you don’t go.”

Declan measured Adam’s surreal calm and Ronan’s scarred fists. His face was already bloodied, dribbling horribly all over his shirt. Adm couldn’t honestly tell where it came from. Finally, he fell back a few steps, then sat heavily in the grass to spit out gobs of blood.

Ronan seemed to take this as a truce as well, because he sagged down into the grass right down to his back and let the snow hit him full in the face.

“Your nose broken?” Adam asked. Ronan felt it, scrunched his face with an awful expression, then shrugged.

“Hairline, at best. I’ll live.”

“Clean up before you come back inside, then,” he said. His voice was going all wobbly again. Ronan nodded at him and closed his eyes. Adam forced himself not to check him over for a concussion or anything stupid like that. He hurried back to the barn with steps so stiff he nearly tripped.

Opal was standing just where he’d left her, crying trailing off into pitiful whimpers. She started crying anew when she saw him, and he went to her and plucked her up into his arms, holding her as close as he could. She heaved back into the hug as fiercely as her arms and haunches could manage.

“You did so well, thank you,” he murmured into her hair. As he started back towards the house, he realized that it was not the same dirty blond it had been that summer, but was turning strawberry colored. He thought that by this time next winter, it might be the same dark auburn as Ronan, as Declan, as Niall, and tried not to let it burn him from the inside out.

Adam could tell when Ronan had a Gansey nightmare because he always got up from the bed very quietly, went to the kitchen, and sighed at a little mint plant he’d dreamed just after the not-death of November. It had leaves shaped like little crowns that turned to gum as soon as you popped a piece in your mouth. He’d tried to give it to Gansey, but Gansey preferred real leaves, and now it only served as a reminder of his absence.

By the time Adam managed to get up too, his spine cracking, Ronan was already chewing the gum in the same rolling, obnoxiously open-mouthed way he always did, but he was staring moodily into his coffee cup.

His hair was sticking up crazily. It was long enough to get his fingers into, and as soon as Adam had realized this he had also realized that shaved was a good cut for Ronan, because it meant he couldn’t pull on it like he did now and make it even crazier.

“You’re going to go bald by the time you’re thirty, if you keep that up,” Adam said. He was a little gratified to see Ronan jump, and then slump with easy trust.

“Ha, see, that’s worse for you, isn’t it? You’re the one who has to look at me all the time,” Ronan countered. Adam helped himself to the breadbox- it had croissants today, his favorite- and coffee.

“If you realized how often you checked yourself out in the mirror, you wouldn’t have the guts to say that,” Adam said primly. He dunked his croissant. Ronan made a face, although he was taking a sip with gum still in his mouth, so that proved who the heathen was in this relationship.

There was companionable silence for a while. Adam watched Ronan be tired, and Ronan watched Adam eat. It should have been strange, but they were strange so often that it was frighteningly normal.

“Did you and Gansey ever make out?” Adam asked, apropos of nothing. He didn’t know why he asked, or thought of it, or suddenly needed to know the answer.

Ronan’s eyebrows jerked up his forehead, and he didn’t say anything for a long time.

“Did you?” he asked.

“I asked you first,” Adam said. He hasn’t, but he didn’t want Ronan to think that it wasn’t because he hadn’t ever wanted to.

Ronan’s mouth shrugged around for a few moments, and then he sighed very purposefully.

“He wanted to make sure he was queer, and I...offered my services,” Ronan admitted, and then chugged his coffee like it would erase the confession from his throat. Adam whistled.


“Oh my God,” Ronan whined, and went to the sink.

“Wow,” Adam repeated, grinning, “you and Gansey, huh? Hot stuff.”

Ronan mouthed the words back to himself incredulously, shaking his head. He’d gathered the dishes into the sink- surprisingly, the one appliance the Barns house lacked was a dishwasher- and was filling it with hot water and suds. He frowned to himself, then looked at Adam seriously. His nose was healing nicely, but the black eyes were taking forever to fade, and made him look twice as severe as he usually did.

“Actually, he’s a terrible kisser.”

Adam burst into incredulous laughter.

“Right? He looks like he ought to be a good kisser. He has no idea what to do with his hands or his tongue. And he’s so fucking polite about the whole thing. I let it happen for like, fifteen seconds, and then it was so weird I had to shove him off.”

This made Adam hum with amusement into his cup, and when he realized Ronan was waiting for him to say something, he said, “No, I never kissed Gansey. Kissed almost every other queer kid in our class, though. Except Henry, somehow. He just never seemed interested in me and I left him alone.”

Ronan huffed at that. “Cheng owes me money, then. He reckoned you’d had the whole Aglionby set and he just couldn’t remember.”

This made Adam laugh, and he saw Ronan’s cheek bend with a small smile in response, as he wiped out mugs and soaped up mismatched plates. It occurred to Adam slowly that he loved this place. Even though the snow was piling against the windows and he could hear wind howling outside, it was warm enough that they were barefoot and Ronan had forgone a shirt, and the kitchen light was like a lighthouse in the storm that was the rest of the world.

The clock chimed a quiet midnight, and another impulse struck Adam and flowed up to his tongue before he could think it through. “Let me read your cards.”

He’d watched Ronan strike down offer after offer of this from the Fox Way women, from Blue herself, but Ronan met his eyes and after a moment, he rinsed and dried his hands.

Adam opened the nearest drawer. His cards, Persephone’s cards, sat there in amongst silverware. It was a trick he never got tired of, how the cards jumped to his location whenever he needed them. He took them out and handed them to Ronan, expecting a shuffle.

Ronan didn’t shuffle them. He spread them in an expert, fanning circle, the kind of flare Blue liked to employ. He pushed three of them forward, clumped in the middle, and when Adam took them he scooped the cards back into a neat pile, shuffled, and did the same thing over, with four cards this time.

Adam laid them out in their arc, a basic seven card spread. He felt vacant in his own body, but like the right shock could send him careening so hard into the present that his skin would be electrified. He plucked the first card up and twisted it over.

The emperor looked up at them serenely, scepter and orb in hand.

“Your past. The emperor. A man with utter control.” That doesn’t take a genius to figure out, and Ronan’s mouth surges into a frown of utter annoyance.

The next card is Death. “Influences over your past. Loss. Change.” This, again, doesn’t take a genius. It’s Gansey and the Grey Man all in one.

The next card. The Magician. Adam nearly starts, but Ronan only smiles humorlessly. He skips the explanation. Then the Page of Cups next. Blue and all her wonders, her potential. This time Ronan’s smile isn’t so harsh.

The Fool comes next. Ronan reaches out to finger the edge. Even in the illustration, the smile manages to have the same hook of fear and blase acceptance that Henry’s does. Somehow, despite the fact that he’s seen these cards a million times, it’s Ronan’s touch that makes him see it.

Next, the Knight of Swords, imperious on horseback, his dark hair framing his face without a helmet. Ronan snorts.

“The future,” he says, eyeing it’s sixth place in line, “and an opposing, exerting force, concerned with principal.”

“You can just say what it is, you know. My dad, Gansey, you, Blue, Henry, and Declan,” Ronan says, tapping each out in turn. Adam shoots him a look, but flips the last card.

It’s the Moon, inverted. Ronan has no smart comment for this one, but Adam smiles.

“The Moon. Your future. The land of dreams and the subconscious. Inverted, it means-”

“Yeah, yeah. I get it,” Ronan snaps.

“Traditionally, the Moon is also known as a card of feminine mystique and sexuality, and could be considered to represent the opposite when inverted,” Adam tacks on, mostly because he thinks it’s funny. Ronan rolls his eyes.

“So your fucking cards know I’m trans. Whatever. You want a medal?”

“No, but Maura usually charges thirty bucks,” Adam says.

Instead of replying, Ronan leans across the counter and kisses him, spoiling his spread. Adam considers it equal payment.