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To Noah Czerny, being dead was sometimes a frustrating experience—especially because his best friends hadn’t even realized he was a ghost yet. He couldn’t exactly blame them, because teenagers rarely had to wonder if the other kids they hung out with were equally alive, but he’d been living with Gansey and Ronan for months now, they hadn’t seen him eat, sleep, or accidentally caught him while taking care of bodily functions (which a, he didn’t have, and b, was a fairly common occurrence in Monmouth, considering the fridge was in the bathroom). Still, they were all good to him, so he tried to cut them some slack when he was feeling particularly forlorn. 

 

Sometimes they would make vague statements that had Noah’s not-beating heart skip a beat, sure they’d finally figured it out. Things like “Noah, I’ve never seen you around school, it’s such a shame we don’t share any classes.” Or “Fucking hell, Noah, do you have a food aversion or something, Jesus Christ.” But even when Noah flat-out told them “I’m dead inside,” they’d taken it as a metaphor, and not its literal meaning. Maybe he shouldn’t have added the ‘inside’ bit, but he did have a flair for the dramatics, much like Gansey himself. 

 

The more he spent time with them, the more he learned about his own experience. He’d figured out that often, when Noah wasn’t actively participating in a conversation, they’d not… notice him. It was different than being forgotten, it was like, temporarily, not existing in their reality, therefore, not being seen even passively . He sometimes used that to his advantage—even ghosts had bad days, but more often than not he would force himself into their circle, making them see him, making them notice him. 

 

And today was a sulky day, so he had plans to… not. As in, he would make himself small and invisible and unthinkable, at least until his mood improved or he got too lonely in that vast expansion of semi-nothingness. 

 

When you were dead, time, too, was weird. He remembered how it worked, how it was technically supposed to work for the living. One second after the next, then the minutes, then the hours, etcetera. Always forward, that was the law of the universe. Except as a dead man, Noah could play with time, kind of. He couldn’t modify it, or bend it, or rewrite it, but he could jump through it, though that took an intense amount of power which he wasn’t always happy to spend. The ley line was still dormant and unhappy, so every trip would make Noah fade in a way he’d be scared he wouldn’t be able to come back from. 

 

What he’d gotten better at, though, was — sleeping? It kind of felt like sleeping. Letting go of the strings that kept him just enough to slip, not enough to slip away. 

 

So Noah sat in the living room, arms crossed, determined to just do that—make himself scarce for the time being until he could cheer himself up.

 

Except right at that moment, the door to Monmouth opened and weary footsteps started pacing around the hallway. Noah considered not letting Gansey see him, but when he caught Gansey’s anxious face, he felt guilty. 

 

“Hey, man!” he said, trying to sound cheerful. Gansey startled—either because he’d been too deep in his thoughts, or because Noah had been nearly successful in leaving. 

 

“Noah!” Gansey’s pinched expression relaxed a bit, though there were still tense lines across his forehead, a heavy set downturn to his mouth. “I didn’t know you’d be here, did you finish classes early today?”

 

“Sure, let’s go with that.” Noah grinned when Gansey shot him an exasperated smile. 

 

“Did you have a good day then?” Always polite, always kind, always thoughtful. Noah could never leave Gansey to the dark side of his own mind, not when he could do something about it. 

 

“Enough about me,” he countered, waving his hand dramatically just to keep Gansey amused. It wasn’t really working. “What’s going on with you, though? You look, I dunno, worried or something.”

 

Gansey did that thing with his thumb and heaved a deep sigh. He ran his hand through his neat hairdo, making several strands fall free and wild. It gave him that look Noah liked the most. Not Richard Campbell Gansey III, but just Gansey. Not the boy everyone put up on a pedestal, but the boy who stepped down from it and huddled with his friends because he adored them. 

 

He crossed the living room, past the Henrietta in-progress model, and reached the potted plants sitting on the windowsill. He plucked one of them, placed it over his tongue, and walked to sit next to Noah. In a rare display of vulnerability, he hid his face in his hands, elbows on his knees, spine curved inwards. Noah frowned, and waited. 

 

Gansey only ever worried like this about other people. 

 

And with everything going on… “Ronan?” he asked. 

 

Gansey didn’t respond for a moment. Noah felt the curl of anxiety in his own belly, and being dead and anxious usually had the side effects of chilling the room. He could already see Gansey’s shoulders trembling, but it could be from his own mind running through worst-case-scenarios, too. 

 

When Gansey worried about Ronan, he worried with every single cell in his body. Every molecule was attuned to their third roommate. Noah could see how it could be extremely overbearing, but he also knew it to be very nice when you were cared for by Gansey. 

 

And, honestly? He couldn’t blame him for that fierce protectiveness. He’d seen, not that long ago, what had happened. He’d let Ronan spin the story about why he’d been found in a pool of his own blood, the cuts in his wrist deep and deadly. Noah found him because he’d known Ronan had to be found—but Gansey had been the one to take action. Call the ambulance, call Declan, talk to the doctors while he waited, argue with Declan on Ronan’s behalf, argue with Ronan on Ronan’s behalf, and care for him after he’d been discharged. Everyone could see the toll it had taken on him—even though Gansey was still a Gansey the Third at school, he was only just ever Gansey

 

Plus, now Ronan was hanging out with that creep Kavinsky, racing the streets at night. He’d also taken to drinking when the nights got rough, which were every single night. It was only a question of time and Gansey’s never-ending perseverance, that Ronan wouldn’t mix the alcohol and driving. 

 

Of course Gansey was worried about Ronan— everyone was worried about Ronan. 

 

“Well, yeah, indeed,” Gansey said, raising his head. He was smiling, but there was no happiness in his eyes. “I’m always worried about Ronan. But… but no. It’s not about him.”

 

Noah’s eyebrows shot up. He took another guess (not that it was much of a guess, considering there was only one other person, excluding Noah himself, who would make Gansey pull a face like that). 

 

“Adam?”

 

Gansey nodded. 

 

There was a lot to worry about Adam, too. Not like Ronan, not in that urgent he’s-gonna-actively-kill-himself kind of way, but in a he’s-gonna-end-up-dead-someday kind of way. 

 

Noah, like everyone else, had seen the bruises and the cuts, and the look of utter exhaustion that was chronic by now. Adam, like the two of them and Noah once-upon-a-time, was an Aglionby student, the best one, as far as he knew, though Ronan still enjoyed taking first place in Latin just to spite him (well, not just to spite him, heh). He worked three jobs and kept his grades up, and when nobody was looking, he was getting beaten up at home. 

 

Noah bit his lip. The first few times, Adam had tried to downplay it, lied about it, and then he’d settled for changing the subject. When Gansey hadn’t let himself be ignored, Adam had shot him a look so cold, even Noah had felt it, and it had taken a few week-long arguments for Gansey to learn that asking about Adam’s injuries only lead to more hurt. So they’d coped with it, as a group, never commenting on the purple on his skin, the winces, never asking about the missed school days. Noah didn’t like it, nobody did, but Adam was Adam, and he could out-stubborn stubbornness. 

 

“Is he hurt again?” Noah asked, concern plummeting the temperature around him. 

 

Gansey unconsciously rubbed his arms around himself. “Not—not that I know of.” Because sometimes, he’d be hit where clothing could hide the damage. “But he was looking rather peaky and I’m worried he’s headed to work anyway, and then he’ll go home where he won’t… rest. Properly. I mean.”

 

If there was one thing Noah knew about Adam Parrish, it was that he was definitely headed to work anyway, and then go home and not rest properly. 

 

Or not be allowed to rest properly. 

 

“I told him he could come over but…” Noah didn’t need Gansey to finish that sentence to know how that had ended up. “I’m just worried.”

 


 

Well, to be fair, there had to be some advantages to being a ghost. Gansey was still at Monmouth, where he could not check on Adam, but Noah was at Boyd’s, standing next to a Mercedes, unnoticed while Adam bent over the hood, fingers working dexterously as he did something Noah didn’t understand. He’d had a car, back before he’d been murdered, but he’d never seen the appeal of understanding what made it tick as long as he could get it running, so even if Noah tried to make sense of it… he couldn’t. 

 

What he could do, however, was watch Adam. (That sounded inappropriate.)

 

Gansey was right. 

 

In fact, he’d either been polite in stopping at “peaky” or Adam had gotten worse in the last few hours. Or all of the above. 

 

Adam extracted himself from under the hood, hid his face in his elbow, and coughed, the sound muffled, but the intensity making his shoulders shake. Noah winced on his behalf. He glanced around them, but the only two other mechanics were under two different cars, and the secretary had left the office hours ago. Adam gripped the side of the car, cleared his throat, and waited as he kept his eyes shut, probably dizzy. 

 

Noah wanted to make himself apparent, but he knew it would only make things worse, so disrespectful creepy stalking it was. 

 

It was wrong, he knew it. Adam would be rightfully livid at him for disrespecting his privacy. But—but it would be even more wrong for him to let Adam be alone. 

 

Two evils and all that.

 

Whatever Adam had managed with the car so far was apparently enough for him to call it a day, which Noah was grateful for. He frowned when Adam called out to the remaining two workers, his voice practically a croak, telling them that he was gonna head home, though he was relieved when they both told him kindly to rest and take the day off tomorrow if he needed to. But then again, Adam Parrish wouldn’t.

 

Especially because it was a Saturday, and not being at work meant being at home. 

 

Being a ghost didn’t grant Noah superpowers like ultra-speed or anything cool like that, though, so he wouldn’t be able to keep up with Adam’s old bike, even if he couldn’t pedal at full speed—which he normally wouldn’t, anyway, because he also couldn’t afford a hospital trip if he got himself in an accident at night. 

 

So Noah just waited outside the door as Adam washed up in the bathroom, changed out of his coveralls, and, if he heard correctly, vomited violently in the toilet. 

 

This was gonna be a long night for Adam.

 

He had to make a decision. Noah’s first thought had been to check up on him, stay for a few minutes until he could understand what had Gansey fretting, and then, after making sure Adam would indeed be okay, he planned to go back to Monmouth. Perhaps bend the truth a bit and say that he’d stopped by the garage and peeked inside, that no, Adam hadn’t caught him, and yes, he looked tired but okay. Then Gansey would be able to relax a bit, Noah would feel better, and then everyone would be back to normal.

 

But Gansey was right to be concerned, even Noah felt it under his skin. 

 

And the thing about Noah was that, while he’d had a terrible intuition while alive (which had gotten him un-alived in the first place), he was keenly perceptive as a ghost. And he trusted his gut when it said that Adam Parrish would not be okay that night, and if Noah couldn’t be there for him, he could at least be there for him. 

 

He watched Adam stumble out of the bathroom. He was pale where he usually was tan, his freckles dark against his skin. His eyes were red-rimmed and glassy, and he was trembling. Noah could guilt himself for that, except it really, really wasn’t his fault. 

 

Perhaps he should call Gansey or Ronan, have either of them get into their cars and pretend to find Adam biking himself home. Ronan would be the better choice, seeing that Adam could intimidate Gansey even in this state, but Ronan wouldn’t let Adam walk over him even at his best. They could bully Adam into staying at Monmouth, let him rest, monitor his fever. 

 

But he didn’t, because he couldn’t. It was bad enough that he was seeing Adam when he didn’t want to be seen. He tried to convince himself that it would be worth it in the long run if it got Adam back to health faster, except he knew. He knew. Taking Adam away from his set path would make him resent them, and he wasn’t coherent enough to understand it was for his own good. If they did anything without his consent, they would lose Adam for good. 

 

And Adam would need them. They would need Adam. 

 

Something big would require them all together.

 

So Noah alone would have to do. 

 

He watched Adam walk towards his bike, unchain it with uncooperative fingers. He could only pray he wouldn’t crash against a tree or pass out as he pedaled.

 


 

Sure, fine, there were creepy advantages to being dead and all, but it was tricky to make the perks work in your favor, especially when Noah was worried or in a hurry. And he happened to be both that night, which is why when he found himself outside Adam’s trailer, an indeterminate amount of time later, it didn’t feel so much like an advantage and more like a curse. 

 

It couldn’t have been more than thirty minutes since Adam left Boyd’s, could it? It was dark and having a watch for him never made sense, so just in case he decided to peek into the trailer. Since Adam’s parents didn’t know him or of him, and because he didn’t want to be seen in the first place, even if his parents were staring right at Noah, odds were they wouldn’t even know he was there. Unless they were mediums or psychics, which now that he thought about it, would mean really shitty consequences for Adam in more ways than one. 

 

He went through by the side, where he could guess Adam’s room was, and peeked into the dark insides. He could barely make out a tiny desk and a plastic chair, a hanging rack with some clothes, as well as a single, narrow mattress in the corner. He was tempted to go in because curiosity was making him fidgety, but he still had to find out if a, Adam had made it home, or b, he was on his way home, or c, he wouldn’t be making it home, after all, which required a whole new level of freaking out. 

 

And just as he was rounding the corner to the front door again, ready to risk the Parrish’s being psychics, he heard the telltale squeaking sounds of Adam’s poor bicycle as he approached the driveway. Noah had to stop himself from calling out his name out of pure reflex, and then he almost did it again when Adam nearly face planted to the ground the moment he got off the bike. He breathed out in relief as he somehow kept his balance and locked it. 

 

If Adam had been looking miserable back in the garage, the trip back hadn’t done him any favors. Maybe he really should’ve called Ronan, after all. 

 

Adam was panting like he’d ran a marathon instead of a route he was surely used to by now. He was drenched in sweat, wet patches along the back of his neck and his armpits, and if that wasn’t bad enough he really looked like he was going to hurl or die or both at the same time. He was both too pale, too flushed, and too green to make sense, and for a moment Noah was sure he wouldn’t make it to the door without something going wrong. 

 

And Noah liked being right, but this time, he hated it. 

 

As soon as Adam reached the steps to the double-wide, he doubled over, holding onto the handrail for dear life as he coughed, and coughed, and coughed. At first they sounded hoarse and almost breathless, but as he tried to draw air, it seemed to get caught, forcing him to try harder, louder, the echoes loud enough to reverberate through Noah’s bones. He took a step forward, itching to help, and he was seriously considering blowing his cover when the door of the trailer burst open with a bang loud enough to startle a ghost of all things. 

 

“The fuck you’re doing out there, boy, making all that noise!?” 

 

Oh.

 

This explained a lot . Not that it explained anything, per se, but Noah suddenly understood more than he wanted to. 

 

The man standing at the door was a menace. And he’d known that before, of course he had, he’d seen the marks on Adam’s skin for months now. But now we saw the fists they were coming from. The voice that told Adam the lies that had made him who he was. The face he saw when someone moved quickly around him and startled him. It made Noah want to jump in front of Adam, to break the rules, to spook this man into stopping this meaningless abuse. 

 

But he himself seemed to be frozen in fear, because Noah recognized the crazed look in those beady eyes. 

 

Those were the eyes of someone who wasn’t above murder. 

 

Noah would know. 

 

Adam kept trying to catch his breath and apologize, but he just kept doubling up, hacking out a lung and probably about to vomit. And Noah knew that if Adam gave into his body’s demands, that man would have demands of his own. 

 

Fuck. This was so much worse than he’d imagined. Even Gansey, perhaps even Ronan, didn’t get it. 

 

“Sorry, sir,” Adam finally managed. He still had his hand over his mouth, and his father must’ve recognized the look of someone about to vomit.

 

“Get in here before I kick you out,” he snarled, and then he moved inside. 

 

For a tiny, tiny moment, Noah was sure that he’d finally been caught. Because he’d been watching that bull of a man move, so he hadn’t been looking at Adam, who was definitely looking at him. Something flashed through Noah’s minds—correction, many things flashed through Noah’s mind. Excuses. Apologies. Reasonings. Every plea he could use to convince him to call Gansey, or Ronan, or whomever, really, at this point, because something was going to happen tonight. 

 

And Adam shouldn’t even be able to see him, not really, not when he really didn’t want to (and he really, really didn’t want to) be seen, but perhaps Adam’s parents weren’t psychics or mediums but... Adam was? But surely he would’ve noticed beforehand, right? 

 

That had to be it, wasn’t it? 

 

As Noah opened his mouth to break the trance, Adam covered his eyes, took a shallow breath, and slowly, almost painfully, dragged his feet up the stairs. 

 

Oh thank you Jesus Fucking Christ. Ronan would be so made to hear him blaspheme like this, but surely he would’ve done even worse in this situation. 

 

And if he had a beating heart it would be hammering in his chest as he followed Adam’s footsteps, ignoring as the door slammed shut  into him. 

 

He could stop doors, but doors couldn’t stop him. 

 

The inside of the trailer was… sad. Perhaps he’d gotten used to opulence and privilege, more than he’d realized, because he’d never seen someone’s home look so… empty. There was a kitchen on one side, a small one, with several dishes and pots rinsing in the sink. A small kitchen table was empty except for a lone, empty bottle of beer, condensation still hovering on the glass. The walls were barren except from a few scratches near the door, and Noah also noticed a few bleached spots on the old carpeting. And, to his utter horror, there were dark patches here and there, brown, probably blood, too sunk into the fibers to be cleaned up. 

 

Noah watched as Adam stood on the doorway, head down. 

 

Across the kitchen, separated by the table-bottle duo, was a two-seater couch, threadbare, and even from his spot in the middle of nothing, Noah didn’t envy their users. It looked old, filthy, or perhaps it was the occupants of it. 

 

Near the window, Adam’s father sat with his legs sprawled in front of him, old jeans ripped with age and wear, rather than concern for fashion. He wore a white wife beater shirt, which was a name Noah hated on a good day, but today it seemed even more horrifying. The man, angry and wan and mean, looked even worse with the yellowish hue of the lamp overhead. He looked sick, in a different way than Adam did. 

 

He was nursing another bottle in his hand, almost empty but for a sip, and Noah saw several more bottles littering the ground around him. 

 

Noah had drunk beer once, before, well. He’d hated the taste, though everyone said he’d grow to love it. 

 

He didn’t think he would’ve. 

 

Next to him was Adam’s mom, and he knew it was his mom the same way he’d know that was his dad. Adam had definitely gotten his height, blue eyes, sun-kissed skin, and freckles, from this man—but everything else was his mom’s. The long, straight nose. The thin complexion. The terror ingrained in the tension of their bodies. Her dust-colored hair was more white than brown, still curly, though she seemed too young to be that washed up. Or perhaps that was what it took to be a Parrish in this world. 

 

Noah didn’t know what he had been expecting upon crossing the threshold, but it certainly couldn’t have been her voice, nasal and cruel, bite out, “You stink, boy.”

 

Adam apologized again, still sounding weirdly out of breath, and retreated to a room just next to the entrance. 

 

Noah stood there, wondering what in the world could go wrong for it to go this wrong. 

 

He’d died, murdered by his best friend, a failed sacrifice to a semi-mythological ley line. So he viscerally knew that things could get twisted badly, but he wondered what needed to happen for two adults to look at their child and not care

 

Adam made a lot more sense, though, he thought as he stood there, while he waited for Adam to emerge from the shower. He could hear the coughing, the retching, and he had no doubt that Adam was trying to keep quiet, but the walls were thin—and if Noah could hear him, so could his parents. Who were stuck to the TV, the father nursing yet another beer and with his eyes glued to the football game, and his mother knitting something on her lap, eyes unflinching when Adam was being loud, but wincing painfully when her husband grunted next to her. 

 

They’d always known Adam was driven, ambitious, smart. Cunning, sometimes. If he was in a good mood, he would talk about the day he’d leave Henrietta, go to college, and land a good job. In a way, Noah had always thought that Adam wanted it because he wanted , had never considered that Adam just needed to survive and provide for himself what his parents refused to. 

 

Because it didn’t take a genius like Adam Parrish to know that this was about need , not just a fancy want. It wasn’t Gansey hiking up trails and exploring caves in search of a King who had saved his life. It wasn’t even Ronan, who drove like a drunk and drunk like he wanted to be run over. It wasn’t even Noah, who clung to existence because he longed to see where he remained in this world. 

 

And Noah was now sworn to silence. He’d let himself be concerned on Gansey’s behalf, care on Ronan’s, and he’s broken Adam’s trust by forcing himself into a reality he hadn’t been invited to. If Noah breathed a word of this to anyone, anyone , Adam would hate him. And Noah had no doubt that, while Adam wouldn’t use his fists to show, he’d learnt how to hate from a distance and from a young age. 

 

When Adam emerged from the bathroom, he walked silently, so silently Noah didn’t notice and he’d been waiting for him, and closed the door to his bedroom again. Noah didn’t let the door stop him as he followed after, and his stomach sank when he saw Adam on the bed, curled up over his sheets, both hands over his face. His breathing was shallow, a delicate balance between not coughing, not vomiting, and actually breathing. 

 

There was a trashcan next to the bed, and for some reason that broke Noah’s heart. 

 

He’d never had to weather sickness on his own while he’d lived. He had a mother who cared. Sisters who cared. A family. 

 

He missed them so, so badly. 

 

Out there, there was a family without a son, and here was a son without a family. What a cruel joke. 

 

He sat on the floor, facing Adam, watching him. He deserved to have someone watch over him. 

 


 

It was a miserable night. 

 

More than once, Noah had had the feeling that Adam was seeing him, except he didn’t say anything at all. His eyes were fixed on his, yet they were cloudy, and he didn’t speak at all save for soft whimpers when the coughing got rough or he vomited into the plastic trash can. He’d managed to cover himself with the thin blanket he had, but he was trembling violently, shivering despite the heat on his skin. 

 

Noah watched, biting his lips, just watched and watched and prayed he wouldn’t have to call Gansey or Ronan for help. 

 

What if he was wrong? What if waiting would mean Adam would get so sick they would lose him anyway? And fortunately his parents had left him alone, but Noah saw his eyes dart to the door every time he was particularly loud. He also found himself worried every time there was a sound on the other side of the door. 

 

“Ngh…” 

 

Adam had fallen into a fitful doze, face twitching, and Noah wondered what his fever dreams were like. Were they about school, or were they about Welsh Kings and Ganseys and Ronans and Noahs? Were they about home, about his father and his mother and the pain they promised and delivered? 

 

And what would Adam even do, come morning? Noah knew him well enough, and now knew of him well enough, to understand that staying home to heal was not an option. If anything, Noah had the suspicion whatever illness he’d caught would get worse because he was in this godforsaken trailer, unwanted, uncared for. 

 

Maybe, maybe if this remained still terrible, maybe he could have Gansey, or Ronan, or someone, himself, even, ‘accidentally’ run into him on his way to work. Odds were Adam would fight them all the way, but maybe whatever this was was bad enough that Adam might give in. He couldn’t work if he was dead, after all. 

 

Time, both a circle and meaningless to the dead, ticked. Noah studied the numbers from the alarm clock, it was now almost two in the morning. 

 

Adam wasn’t getting any better. How could he?

 

Noah sat up to a crouch, slowly, willing every atom stuck on this world to be silent as he approached Adam. He was unconscious, face white and glistening with sweat despite the violent shivers that rocked the bed. He needn’t touch him to know his skin was on fire. Noah remembered that one time, when he was perhaps seven, when one of his sisters had woken him up because the other was violently ill. He still remembered his parents’ stricken faces, how his mother had gone pale with apprehension. Words like ‘hospital’ and ‘seizures’ and ‘brain damage’ had scared him back then, and then scared him now while he recalled them. In the end, his sister had recovered after a healthy dose of IV antibiotics and lots of love. 

 

His thoughts were interrupted when Adam began to cough, shallowly, soft, his throat sore and painful. Noah’s stomach flipped with concern when he whined, head shaking from side to side. This wasn’t an Adam he recognized. Not strong, invincible, stubborn, and prideful. There was a vulnerability to him that made Noah want to cry. 

 

“Mm…” 

 

Adam’s eyes widened as he realized he’d made a sound, and even Noah’s non-pulse quickened when it broke the silence of the night. 

 

“Shh,” Noah whispered. 

 

He could’ve kicked himself. Because the whole point of watching over Adam was to do so quietly, unseen, like a guardian angel—which was something he would’ve found hilarious any other day of the week except it wasn’t funny tonight of all nights. But his mind had gone blank with terror on Adam’s behalf, and he’d also been biting his tongue, unable to soothe, unable to make things better

 

And now Adam was watching him.

 

If there was ever a doubt that Adam had seen him before, Noah knew now for sure, for sure , that he’d been caught. Well, he’d literally not-literally busted himself. 

 

Maybe he could pass this off as a fever dream, though it felt dirty to trick Adam this way. 

 

“Shh, shh…” he said again, because Adam wasn’t really reacting to seeing one of his best friends in his room, in the middle of the night. “You’re okay, you need to sleep.” He said it softly so that the monsters who hid behind the door wouldn’t hear. 

 

Adam blinked at him, owlishly. His blue eyes were particularly striking tonight, electric blue, highlighted by the contrast of the red capillaries in full bloom. The fever glassiness made them shine despite the darkness in the room, made them magical. And Noah knew Adam was a boy made out of magic, but it hadn’t happened yet, so this felt like a sneak peek into the future. Sometimes being a ghost was confusing. 

 

With a burst of courage, or perhaps it was compassion, Noah reached out to touch Adam’s face. And maybe it was the strangeness of the situation, or the direness of his condition, but Adam remained calm, whereas Noah had been expecting him to jump. Adam didn’t like to be touched, especially near his face, so this felt like a gift. 

 

As he expected, his skin burned, in contrast to his own lack of warmth. He soothed his forehead when Adam began to cough again, still softly, perhaps too tired to be forceful with his lungs. Oh, how Noah wished they were in Monmouth. Gansey would fret, sleepless, alternating between a chair next to the bedside and pacing the room. Ronan would sit on the floor, at the foot of the bed, close, but not too close, eyes focused, angry, wild, but present. They’d have medicine, a thermometer, even a car in case this required a trip to the hospital. 

 

They’d have wet cloths soaked in fresh, clean water instead of the hand of a dead boy. 

 

Noah knew, deep, deep down, that nothing would happen to Adam. He was needed, they all were. Adam would be okay, ish, the same way Ronan would be okay, ish. But that didn’t mean Noah had to enjoy watching them suffer. 

 

“M’sorry…” 

 

Before Noah could ask Adam what he meant with that apology, his eyes had drifted closed as he was dragged somewhere Noah couldn’t reach him. 

 

It was a miserable night for Noah. 

 

Adam wouldn’t remember it, not with a fever that high, but Noah would. 

 

In random intervals Adam would be dragged back into consciousness either by his lungs acting up, by his empty stomach rebelling and pushing out bile, or by tremors so violent the whole mattress grinded. Noah stayed there, cold fingers on his hot face, trying to keep Adam company in his misery. He was so, so sick. 

 

Adam would apologize. Noah would shush him. 

 

They would both fall silent when they heard his father move in the other bedroom. 

 


 

Adam gasped awake, and immediately regretted it as his lungs protested, aching within the confines of his sore ribs, drowning in snot and liquid and, honestly, it was all very gross. But the spasm triggered another fit, and he braced himself as the coughs tore free from his chest, beating the soreness into submission with their own urgency. Everything hurt, but his ribs and his throat and his face were on fire, and really, everything was, but the fit wasn’t ending and he was running out of air—

 

He heard an inhuman sob from somewhere on his right side, and it took him a while to recognize his own voice—and before he could wonder why he sounded so awful, a hushed curse broke into his consciousness, and something was placed under his chin just in time for his stomach to rebel. 

 

If breathing while coughing was hard, breathing while dry-heaving was impossible.

 

His gut seized with tension as his whole body locked in, stuck, scorching, and Adam felt the burn of bile as he vomited it, since he hadn’t been able to keep anything solid in his stomach for… He didn’t know what time it was, but it felt like forever. 

 

His mind knew there was nothing left in his stomach and that any further attempts would just bring in more pain, but his body refused to cooperate, still believing that the phantom weight in his midriff was due to unwelcome food, rather than illness. 

 

“Shh, shh,” someone was whispering in his ear as he slowly, oh so slowly, was let go of the heaving. The nausea remained, but he could handle that as long as his insides didn’t try to escape his body. 

 

He coughed again, and something wiped his mouth, and he tried to see who was doing it but he hadn’t managed to open his eyes long enough to focus. 

 

Icy fingers touched his forehead like a blessing. 

 

“You’re burning up.”

 

Adam knew that. Sick as he was, that wasn’t a wild conclusion to jump to. 

 

Everyone got sick and hated it. There was nothing to be enjoyed about having one’s body battle an invisible enemy where oneself was the battlefield. But to Adam—disease was more than a miserable nuisance, they threatened his life. Not the virus or the bacteria, the fevers and dehydration, it was that if Adam got sick, he had nowhere to nurse himself back to health. His whole life, whenever he’d caught the sniffles up to that one time he’d developed pneumonia in elementary school, the danger didn’t come from the illness itself, but from the circumstances surrounding Adam. 

 

Namely, Robert Parrish. 

 

Perhaps it was an aversion to germs that usually kept his father’s fists away from his face, but whenever Adam was sick, Robert’s whole face would twist in disgust, as though he could see the wrongs in his lungs, as if breathing the same air was more than he could bear. Which was fine. Except. Except both his parents would freeze him out. 

 

He was free from the punches and the physical ugliness of it all, but their sharp comments would sting even more viciously when high fevers kept Adam’s defenses low. Cutting remarks and violent insults would turn his stomach and trigger a vomiting episode, they would settle in his temples, throbbing, stuck on repeat like a faulty CD player. Nothing would bring comfort, so he often found himself huddled in a ball of misery in bed, sweating until his fever broke, having to clean up after himself the moment he got a spare burst or two of energy. No food, no water, no nothing—it was a miracle he hadn’t died of dehydration, especially when he’d been too young to know what dehydration could do to a child. 

 

The Parrish family wasn’t meant for nurturing. It wasn’t meant for love. 

 

And being unwell made it hurt in a different way than any physical damage to his body. 

 

Except. 

 

Adam groaned, which made his throat hurt, which made his stomach clench, which made his body titter on the edge of a self-destruction countdown. 

 

“Shh, here, try this. Spit first.”

 

Blissfully cold fingers cradled the back of his neck and helped him upright. Something touched his lips and he opened them on instinct, and it was water. Cool. Clean. Clear. He remembered the words, clung to them because they’d been kind and Adam was starved for kindness, and he swished it in his mouth before spitting it. 

 

Adam didn’t have time to wonder about that before the voice grunted in approval. “Now, drink. Small sips.”

 

Being so vulnerable would normally make Adam panic. Or perhaps that wasn’t the right word, not that he could find a perfect anything in his state, but it would definitely trigger all his insecurities and the weight of the complexes he carried. Of not being good enough. Not being more than Henrietta’s worst. Needing handouts. Pity. Vulnerability turned Adam into a monster, not unlike what his father had been, prone to outbursts, easy to anger, mean with words. Gansey was often on the receiving end of it, seeing as he didn’t understand , but he’d also left it unchecked around Blue, and Noah, and Ronan. 

 

A vulnerable Adam was a danger to Adam, and those around him. 

 

But this time… Maybe it was because he lacked the strength to lash out, or because of the bone-deep exhaustion that gripped him, but he took the words and indulged in their kindness. To worry about pity when he couldn’t open his eyes made no sense, not even to him. 

 

Plus, he reasoned, he’d changed. 

 

Somewhat. 

 

“I need to check your temperature.”

 

Whoever they were, the hands that guided him back to his pillow were gentle. They lingered on his forehead, ice and fire. 

 

“N-Noah…”

 

“Shh, shh.” 

 

Adam was making those noises again. 

 

That voice felt wrong. He couldn’t pinpoint what about it was upsetting, but it made Adam’s chest hurt in a way that had nothing to do with… this. 

 

He forced himself to open his eyes. He could tell that the blinds were down and the door was closed, but even the light peeking through was enough to send a stab of pain through his forehead and circle around his temples. 

 

“Hey,” the voice greeted him. Familiar. Warm. 

 

Something soft and wet and cool ran down his face, wiping his sweat and, to his chagrin, most probably some tears and some sick as well. It was run again through more water, and this time the moisture helped bring him awake as it rubbed gently around his eyes, taking away some of the gunk encrusted in his eyelashes. 

 

He must look absolutely dreadful. 

 

“Welcome back.”

 

“H-how…” long was I out but his voice was wrecked and irritable and he coughed again. This time the fit was short lived, though he still winced at the ache in his ribs. 

 

Ronan shot him a look, and because he knew him so well, he didn’t need to finish his question. “You’ve been in and out for the last six hours.”

 

Adam sighed carefully. 

 

“You scared the shit out of me, Parrish. And the moment you get better, I’m gonna fucking yell at you.” For all the intent behind those words, his tone was calm and gentle, and his blue eyes were soft and concerned. If Adam hadn’t felt like absolute garbage, he’d worry about the deep shadow under his eyes and how pale he looked even with the room coated in darkness. To be fair, a petty voice in his mind reminded him, Adam himself had lost sleep while he’d nursed Ronan back to health from his hellish flu. 

 

It was kind of Ronan’s fault, really, he reasoned, and he’d say it out loud if his speaking didn’t feel like glass shards down his throat. 

 

“I was this close to calling Gansey and let him mother you to death,” Ronan kept saying, but he was smiling that soft smile of his, like he thought Adam was important and worth caring for. “You worried me, asshole.”

 

Ronan pressed cold lips against his forehead, hissed and cursed, and told him to stay still, as if Adam had the energy to do more than exist. He rummaged for something behind him and when he turned to face him, he was holding one of those fancy thermometers Gansey liked, a touch to the skin on his forehead and the mysteries were solved. 

 

“103.4, fuck .”

 

Adam opened his mouth to say something along the lines of don’t worry, dumbass, but then Ronan shot him one of his looks. Not the angry ones, those he was used to. It was more than concern, too. And it frustrated him that his mind felt like mush and he couldn’t put together the pieces of the puzzle in order to read Ronan like he normally did. It felt like he was failing. 

 

The cloth returned, folded, over his forehead, as Ronan took his burning cheeks in his ice-cold hands and used the pads of his thumbs in a calming motion. 

 

Apprehension. That was it. Ronan was anxious about something. 

 

“W-what is it,” he forced out, the words breaking in the middle as it made something inside his chest bubble uncomfortably. 

 

“Don’t speak, you idiot,” Ronan shushed him. “Shh, shh… ”

 

“M’sorry.”

 

And suddenly Adam wasn’t lying on Ronan’s bed, nested in between thick and warm duvets, at the Barns, during winter break from college. Suddenly he wasn’t twenty anymore. 

 

This Adam, seventeen, was now on his ratty old mattress on the floor of the double-wide trailer, a thin, moldy blanket over his shoulders. It was the middle of the night, after a long day of forcing himself through school, through a shift at Boyds, through a bicycle ride home where he’d almost hit a tree. It was before, way before, before Blue, but after Glendower. After Ronan’s nightmares had almost killed him. Before Noah… 

 

Noah. 

 

Noah was in there, in the room, with him. Crouching right in front of his face, a concerned look on his widened eyes, almost panicked. The mark on his cheek was a deeper color than ever, almost scary, but Noah had touched him, soothed him through the night, whispering promises that everything was okay. They’d both been so silent. Adam, because rousing his father was dangerous and, recently, he’d been volatile enough to hit him unconscious. Noah, because he’d probably known his father was, well. 

 

It made sense, now that he looked back on it. Noah had always… known. More than any of them had ever been willing to share. About Gansey’s journey to Glendower and his rule as the Raven King. About Blue’s mirror, her strange ability to increase magic around her and take it away from others. About Ronan’s own otherworldly magic, where he took out from dreams impossible objects and he created magical forests who spoke Latin. About Adam’s sacrifice, about his skill to read cards and scry. 

 

He hadn’t always known things at the right time, yet he’d known them in an unusual manner. 

 

What was it that the psychics at 300 Fox Way always said? About time?

 

It was a circle. 

 

And Noah had been there, with him, that night. And, in a strange way, Adam had known that, though he’d forgotten until today because… it was a circle. He was back to that scary room in that scary trailer he called home, and at the same time he was home with Ronan, safe, loved, cared for. And Noah, too, was here. Today. 

 

Noah was with them. 

 

“Noah…” he breathed. “We miss you.”

 

Adam watched as Noah’s boyish features—god, had he really been this young when they’d lost him?—beamed, almost alive. Noah’s lively eyes twinkled with the satisfaction of being seen. He’d been by his bedside the whole time, watching over him, keeping his secrets. He’d always held onto Adam’s truths like they were precious and untouchable, and Adam had loved him for that more than he could ever say. 

 

Ronan was there, except he was not, because Adam knew, he knew , that if he looked away from this boy they’d lost, he’d never see him again. 

 

That was the thing about circles. They were a loop, free, never-ending—but limited. The moment Adam stepped out of this snippet in time, when he crossed over the line of that circumference, he would never get back in it. And this was the line where he crossed over, where he got the chance to say goodbye to Noah all over again. For good. 

 

“I miss you too,” Noah grinned. His voice was soft. It had only been two years since he’d last heard him, but it suddenly felt like both an eternity and a never-forgotten memory. “I guess I’m not there where… you guys are. But I’m glad you’re okay.”

 

“M’m so sorry…” The words were difficult to say because his chest hurt for a whole different reason now. 

 

“Shh, you need to rest. I’ve got you, I’m taking care of you here in my uh, your past? Time is a circle, and all.” 

 

I miss you, he thought, fiercely. And Noah, because he was Noah and he knew things because being a ghost was about knowing things, nodded as though he’d heard him. 

 

“Hey, hey, Adam, fuck , Parrish!”

 

And then Noah was gone and the trailer around him vanished and he was back in Ronan’s bed, in his arms. He was trembling, his joints fiercely painful, teeth chattering. 

 

“Jesus fuck Mary and Joseph, you fucking asshole !” Ronan hissed in his good ear. “Don’t you fucking scare me like that, I’m taking you to the hospital and don’t you fucking—”

 

“Noah.”

 

“—tell me you don’t need to go, you just passed out while talking to me, you fucking dickhead!”

 

“Shh,” this time it was Adam soothing Ronan, though the coughing fit that followed and the nausea building up in his stomach weren’t letting him do a good job. “I’m okay now. I promise.”

 

Don’t you fucking—

 

“It was Noah.”

 

“You keep mentioning him, fuck, are you delirious?”

 

Adam huffed but he couldn’t really deny that, not when he’d been back in two places—in two timelines, simultaneously. No one lucid could do that unless they were scrying. Which he was, currently, not. 

 

It took a long time, but Ronan must’ve seen something in Adam’s eyes because he cursed again, voice still soft. “One more freaky trick like that and I’m calling 911 and I’m paying for all your medical bills, you jerk. I’m still fucking convinced I should being call anyway, holy fuck.” 

 

And it was a testament to how much Ronan listened and how much he cared for Adam’s respect that he didn’t. And Adam loved him so much at that moment. Ronan took the now-warm cloth in his hands and dipped it into water, wrung out the excess moisture, and placed it again over Adam’s head. 

 

Adam just closed his eyes, relishing on the cold, soft touches of Ronan’s affection. He wanted so much to tell him, but he could barely speak—it would have to wait. Ronan loved Noah, he deserved to know he was there. That time was a circle and Noah was there. 

 

It made no sense now even to his deep-fried mind, but it made sense deep down in his chest.

 

He remembered now. 

 

Noah sitting with him that night. 

 


 

Noah grinned to nobody in particular. 

 

He was still on his knees next to Adam’s shitty mattress, his friend still asleep or unconscious or both. But. But he was also somewhere warm and nice and cozy, he was also grown up, happy, safe, and loved. 

 

It broke Noah’s heart that the Adam in front of him would have so many battles to fight in front of him. There was so much pain and hurt and fear and despair ahead of him, and Noah would be there for some but not all. Some of the battles would be with the monsters he encountered, some of them would be with himself—and those, those would be the turning point. Life would not make it easy for this Adam Parrish, but Noah had seen how he’d conquer every battlefield like a hero in Noah’s favorite comic books. 

 

That glimpse… Noah had travelled somewhere, probably pulled in by identical circumstances. That Adam had also been sick, maybe he’d remembered Noah and took him with him. Was that a magical thing Adam could do, or was that a thing that Noah could do? 

 

Noah high-fived future Ronan.

 

It meant Adam would be okay, not okay-ish. That Ronan would be okay, not okay-ish. 

 

This Adam, the boy in front of him, would not remember this night until years into the future, and he was okay with that. 

 

Time was a circle, limited by the line that drew the circumference. 

 

But circles could be molded into loopholes, and Noah was happy to travel them all.