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Summary: Sometimes there's only bad and worse.
For darkrosaleen.

Warning for non-graphic references to child abuse and incest.


Adam was sitting on the step of Monmouth Manufacturing when Declan pulled up. He didn’t look up when Declan rolled the window down, car still idling, and said, “Parrish.”

“Lynch,” he said back, like they were friends in the Aglionby tradition, sailboats and handjobs and last names.

“Seen my brother?”

Adam shrugged, which hurt. “I’m waiting for him-- for him and Gansey. They’re on the way.”

“Ok,” Declan said, and Adam waited for him to put the window back up, but he didn’t. After a minute he said, “You ever try hitting him back?”

Adam and Declan weren’t friends; Adam and Ronan were only really friends by association. And this wasn’t something Adam talked about, not even with Gansey. He looked up, startled, and gave Declan the full effect-- black eye, split lip, chipped tooth, bruise that marked the side of his face like Henrietta dirt he couldn’t wash off. “No,” he said finally. “You ever hit yours?”

“Once. It turned out he liked it better when you fought back.” It was something he’d always known and something he and Ronan had never talked about, but it hurt Adam to hear to Declan say it, to have it confirmed that the things the Lynches had, the money and fast cars and big house and Aglionby gloss, came with the same price as his own battered bike and dusty trailerpark.

This was closer than Adam and Declan had ever come to a conversation, and he thought for sure they were done, that after this revelation Declan would roar off to pick up the beautiful blonde of the week and eat overpriced sushi. But Declan said, “It turned out there were worse things than being hit in the face.”

And Adam hadn’t known that, hadn’t even imagined it happening to fierce, unhappy Declan, to fierce and broken Ronan, to easy, happy Matthew. But Declan was already shaking his head. “He only ever-- he didn’t, to Ronan. And he never touched Matt at all. That was why I stayed, he promised me he wouldn’t.” There was something proud in his voice, and something terrible; this was not a confession but a comparing of scars.

Adam sighed at that, with something like relief, and something like gratitude for once, for his own father, who had never gone that far, who was only ever angry.

“I don’t know who killed him,” Declan said, “but I figure it was someone he fucked, one way or another.” His face, in profile, was Ronan’s face, their dead father’s face: they were handsome in a way that had nothing to do with Henrietta, with Adam, exotic and dangerous as hawks in a hen coop. He met Adam’s eyes for the first time that afternoon. “He do that with his fists? Or did he knock you down and kick you?”

“Fists,” Adam said, and he felt a little sick just saying it out loud, admitting it for the first time. He’d always thought it might make him feel better to talk about it but it didn’t. He touched his split lip with his tongue, and thought of the bruises Ronan had explained away as boxing lessons, the cracked ribs he’d said were from falling off his bike.

“He hits your mother, too,” Declan said, and it wasn’t a question. “My father didn’t. It would have been like accepting that she was real. You don’t lose your temper with a piece of furniture.” He looked sad, saying it, sad and younger than Ronan. “I don’t think she knew. I’d like to think she didn’t know. She was always pretty soft-hearted, but she loved him more than she loved me or Ronan, I think. She was made that way.” There was something about the way he talked about Aurora Lynch as if she were dead that Adam didn’t understand, but he hadn’t really known either of Ronan’s parents, except by sight. They hadn’t fit together anymore than a hawk and a hen would have, not like Adam’s faded mother and sullen father, or Gansey’s bright, cheerful parents.

There was a rumble in the distance that Adam recognized as the Pig approaching. Declan looked toward it, and back to Adam. “Don’t tell Ronan,” he said. “He loved him, and it would just screw him up that much more. Let him think-- let him think he just lost his temper sometimes, like yours does, all right?”

“Yeah, of course. But--.” But are you okay, Adam wanted to ask, and was it bad, was it worse than being hit with a belt until you were bleeding, and he already knew that of course it was. Could see it in the way Declan held himself, the straightness of his shoulders, the way he never touched Ronan or Matthew, the blondes that changed with the weather.

“Everyone loved him,” Declan said. “That was always his thing. He could sell ice to Eskimos, my mother always said. But someone beat him to death with a tire iron in his driveway where they knew his family would find him, so maybe it wasn’t quite love.”

The Pig was visible now, orange and smoking. Gansey had said it was leaking oil again, and suddenly Adam’s hands itched to take it apart, to fix it. To fix something. “If you ever want help,” Declan said. “If he taught us nothing else, Ronan and I, he taught us to fight.” The Pig turned in to the lot. “You’re an only child,” Declan said, and his eyes were on his brother, snarling in the passenger seat. “You could fight.”

Adam shook his head. “No one ever taught me to fight,” he said quietly, and then Ronan was out of the car and coming toward them, already angry, and Declan was opening his door, and Adam moved back out of the way.

He heard Declan say, “How can you be failing English, you can speak English, Ronan,” and the argument started.

Behind Adam, Gansey said, “Hey,” and Adam turned, forgetting for a moment what he looked like. “Oh, Adam,” Gansey gasped, and Adam was grateful for the shock and sympathy in his voice, grateful for the excuse to look away from Declan and Ronan. Grateful, for once, to be who he was.

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