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if love is just a game (then how come it's no fun)

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There's no one in the house when Blue lets herself in. She follows the sounds of conversation out to the backyard, where Adam and Gansey are standing over the grill.

"Already?" she demands.

"These things take time, Blue," Adam says.

"Not that much time, you two just want an excuse to play with your toy. I guess I'll just bring all the groceries in by myself."

"No, I'll help." Gansey detaches himself from the grill, but not before giving it one absent-minded caress, which really just proves her point that he's gotten disturbingly attached to it.

Adam catches her scowling and smirks at her. He would think this is funny; it's his fault. He'd taken one look at the grill on Gansey's deck and said propane? with so much scorn that Gansey had gone right out to the store and bought a second, charcoal grill that he needed Adam to show him how to use. Blue told them that they were not allowed to be grill guys together, but they didn't listen to her anymore than when she'd said they couldn't be car guys or intellectual guys or rowing guys.

Gansey helps her get the groceries out of the Camaro's trunk. She locks it and hands him back the keys.

"Did it give you any trouble?"

"I stalled twice," she says. "I think that counts as me giving the car trouble."

"Only twice, though. You're learning fast."

"Yeah, well, it's not like I went far," she grumbles, to hide how pleased she is.

They take the groceries around to the yard, since it's all stuff for dinner anyway, hamburgers and beer and too much lettuce that Blue's going to need to find a use for after this.

"Where's Ronan?"

"Running late." Adam pokes at the grill, just to have something to do, Blue is pretty sure. Most of grilling is making it look hard so people fawn over you. "He called me this afternoon to walk him through turning off the water supply to an overflowing toilet. Apparently Jackson flushed a bunch of shit down it. By which I assume he meant non-literal shit."

"Isn't that most of what toddlers do, though? They poop."

"Not enough to break a toilet. He's only about as big as you are."

"Ha, ha."

"What delightful dinner conversation." Gansey looks faintly grossed out, like he hadn't rambled on about peat bog mummies at happy hour last week. Fortunately it was later in the evening and at least some of her colleagues were tipsy enough to think that was funny instead of disturbing.

"The coals aren't even ready yet," Adam points out, but lets him change the subject.

When Ronan arrives Blue stops him before he gets anywhere near the food.

"Go wash your hands. I know what you've been touching all day."

"I took a shower, Jesus. I don't walk around with shit on my hands."

She squints like she's debating his trustworthiness.

"Let me through. Or do you not want your stupid housewarming present?"

"Aww, you got me a present?"

"I was gonna buy you condoms," Ronan says, "but Parrish told me not to since Dick's going out of town."

"Also because that's creepy and invasive," Adam chimes in, from where he is supervising Gansey supervising the burgers.

It probably should have felt invasive for Ronan to joke about that. On the other hand, the first time Blue ran into him sneaking out of Adam's bedroom in the middle of the night, she had forced him to give her a high five while he'd tried and failed to find an insult to call her that wasn't slut-shaming and hypocritical, so she thinks if he did give her condoms she'd mostly just criticize him for being cheap.

"I don't see any present," she says.

"It's inside, I don't need to hand-deliver it to you, I'm not Santa Claus."

"Yeah, Santa doesn't do that either," she tells him. "Did you only get the boring parts of Christmas growing up?"

Ronan says "no" at the same time Gansey says "essentially," so now Ronan has someone besides Blue to glare at. She ducks around him and into the house.

She spots her gift immediately -- Ronan practically did hand-deliver it, had dropped it off just inside the door. Sitting on a coffee table are a dozen yellow roses in a gorgeous blown glass vase she's pretty sure she recognizes from her favorite stall at the craft fair. It takes her a second to pull up the correct mixture of sentiment and sarcasm; stupid sentiment keeps taking over.

"Oh, you killed a plant for me, how sweet."

Adam cranes his neck to peer through the open doorway. "I need to prune the roses bushes soon, anyway. It's more like he gave them a haircut for you."

"Okay, but if he cut off some random person's hair and gave that to me, that would be creepier than condoms."

"That's not what you want for your birthday?" Ronan demands. "Fuck, how do I return used hair?"

"If only O'Henry had written a sequel," Gansey says.

"The Gift Receipt of the Magi," Adam adds, and they giggle -- sorry, chuckle with the manly fortitude of two grill masters. Blue rolls her eyes.

Ronan rolls his, too. "Shit, if I knew roses would turn them into dorks I wouldn't've given you anything."

"They're dorks on their own, you can't take credit for that. Anyway, you already got me the best gift of all."

He is immediately suspicious of her gratitude. "What?"

"You helped me move out of my apartment."

Gansey says, "as I recall, Adam and I helped with that project as well."

"Anyone can carry boxes. Only Ronan could offend my roommate by breaking every single one of her rules at once."

"And only half of them were on purpose," he brags.

She has to admit that the food is good, once it's ready. They sit out on the deck and talk about stupid unimportant things and eat too many burgers, which doesn't stop her and Adam from going inside after dinner to warm up a pie for dessert.

"How are you feeling?" Adam asks. "About living here."

She glances outside. The pie is in the oven; they could go back out to the deck, but Ronan and Gansey are talking, leaning in toward each other like the conversation is personal or intense or both. She and Adam can give them space.

"It's only been three days," she points out.

"That's not enough time for you to form an opinion about something?"

"It is. I like it." She sighs. "It just sucks that he's leaving so soon."

"At least he's excited for the dig."

"I know. I can be happy for him and sad for myself."

Adam drums his fingers on the counter top. "He's mentioned, oh, several dozen times, how disappointed he is that he'll miss your anniversary."

"I was trying not to think about that, thanks."

"I thought it might help."

"How does that help?"

"I don't know, you're both sad together, that seems better than being sad on your own," he says. "Or be sad for him and happy for yourself."

"Is there something about my boyfriend missing our anniversary that I should be happy about?"

"While he's gone, you won't have to wake up to the sound of anyone grinding coffee beans first thing in the morning."

A grin starts in the corner of her mouth. "I won't have to watch any TED Talks, either."

"You can reorganize his closets so that a normal human being can actually find what they're looking for."

"I would do that even if he were here." Her smile fades a bit. "I think I'm just going to stay sad about this for a while." Adam nods in understanding. "Thanks for trying to cheer me up. And thanks for offering to drive out with me and visit my family next month, it'll be nice to be home for a bit."

"Yeah, of course," he says. "You know I love your family. Besides, I really want to see how they react to Ronan."

She snorts. "It's gonna be a disaster. How'd you get him to agree to come along?"

"Agree?" Adam raises an eyebrow. "It was his idea."

"No."

"Yes. We have to stop at the outpost, by the way. He's pretending he's just doing this to get another meatloaf sandwich."

"It's a good sandwich. That might just honestly be his motive."

Adam shakes his head. "He's got about thirty things planned for the next month. 'Ways to check in on Sargent' and 'things to do with Sargent' and 'ways to keep Sargent busy.' I saw him using a calendar the other day to keep track of them."

She covers her open mouth with both hands, a picture of delight.

"We never had this conversation," he warns her.

"I can't promise I'll keep your secret," she says, solemn, "but I promise that if I do rat you out, I'll only do it when it'll be really, really funny."

"Fair."

Ronan comes into the kitchen and walks up to the counter next to Adam. Adam nods, acknowledging him, and Ronan wraps an arm around his waist, standing behind him and kissing his ear.

Last month, Blue had gotten her tattoo touched up, and Adam had tagged along to the parlor to get a single word on his chest. He hadn't told her what dēlector meant, but he'd asked her not to tell Ronan because it was a surprise, and she figured that pretty much told her what she needed to know.

Ronan's hand slides up Adam's chest and comes to rest where the tattoo is hiding under his shirt, so Blue thinks the surprise was a success.

"Dessert ready?"

"Nope," Adam says. "Give it a minute, you can't possibly be hungry yet."

"I'm not hungry, I'm bored. If there's no pie I'm going to go get Gansey shitfaced until he tries to do chemistry in the garage again."

"He has an eight-hour flight tomorrow, don't get him drunk."

"Flying hungover is fine. You don't stress about the plane crashing because you already wish you were dead."

Blue leaves them squabbling in the kitchen and goes back outside. Gansey is sitting on the chaise lounge. She sits between his outstretched legs and he fits himself around her.

"It doesn't seem fair that I can't take you with me," he says. "I wouldn't be going if it weren't for you."

"I wouldn't like it anyway."

"Wouldn't you?"

"Maybe parts of it." The way Gansey describes being out on an excavation, it does sound nice sometimes, the camaraderie, the excitement of a find, the remote location far away from the world. "But the rest of it -- spending all day brushing dirt off of one pottery shard? How can anyone stand that? Don't archaeologists ever just look around and scream, it's all just pots! It's so many pots! I've wasted my life making jigsaw puzzles out of dead people's pots!"

"Sometimes, but hopefully by then they've got tenure and everyone has to politely ignore their eccentric outbursts."

"Oh, is that what you need if you're eccentric? Better hurry up and get tenure."

"I'll focus on getting my degree, first."

"You're going to get it," she assures him. "You're going to do great."

"Thank you." He kisses her shoulder. "When I come back, I would like to find some way that I can be supportive of you, for a change. You deserve it."

"You are supportive."

"I try to be. It feels like you have done more for me than I could ever do for you."

"It doesn't feel that way to me." She turns her face up toward him. "You share the best version of yourself with me. And you let me share the best version of myself with you."

It's a little awkward, the way that they're sitting, but he manages to kiss her.

There's a clatter on the glass tabletop beside them. "Stop sucking face or I'll eat all of your pie."

Blue turns away from Gansey to grab a plate. She doesn't trust Ronan not to bluff when Adam's baking is on the line.

"I guess I should take it as a compliment that that worked," Adam says.

Ronan snickers. "Or Gansey should take it as an insult."

"Or you ruined the mood and no one wants to give you a show," Gansey says, delightfully pissy in that way he's usually embarrassed about later and that she finds hysterical. She scoops up a bite of pie and feeds it to him because she knows that will annoy Ronan.

They sit out on the deck long after the pie is gone and the night's gotten chilly. It'd be more comfortable inside, but Adam falls asleep on Ronan's shoulder, so they stay put.

He used to fall asleep like that sometimes at Blue's house, in odd quiet moments, when the need to catch up on sleep outweighed the discomfort of being vulnerable around other people. After they'd moved away he'd stopped doing it, either less tired or less willing to let his guard down. She'd almost forgotten that it ever happened. And then Ronan had shown up, looking like the complete opposite of a safe comfortable resting place, and Adam had slid right back into doing it like it was easy to trust all of them, and Ronan would lower his voice and still his movements and not let anything happen to him.

Like now: Ronan is interrogating Gansey about what kind of cell service and internet connection he'll have at the dig site. His attitude is intense, but his tone and his volume are soft. It gives her a weird feeling of deja vu that she needs a second to place. This is exactly what he sounded like when they'd been arguing in his yard and the kids had come running out of the house to play, and he'd tried to keep fighting with her without adding several new words to their vocabulary.

She grins.

"What's so funny?" he whisper-snaps at her.

"I think it's cute," she says. "You're so worried you won't get to talk to Gansey enough."

"No, I'm trying to mentally prepare for how often he's gonna bug me. I don't need a sneak attack from my phone every twelve minutes."

"Nor will you get one," Gansey says. "I should have a window of time in the evenings for phone calls. I'll know more specifically once I'm there, but it won't be every twelve minutes of every day."

"When you can call, call Ronan first," Blue suggests. "Then when he ignores you, you can call me."

"No, I'll answer," Ronan threatens, "and then I'll use up the whole window."

She reconsiders. "Call Ronan after you call me."

Adam mumbles something.

Ronan strokes his hair. "No one understood that, genius."

He sighs "oh" and goes back to sleep.

By the time Adam wakes up again, Gansey is horrifying her with stories of boarding school, and Ronan has made more progress on his plan to get Gansey drunk than Blue should've allowed. He cleverly started by getting her drunk, so she forgot why it mattered.

Adam stretches. He takes one look at the sky and tells what time it is from the position of the stars. Or maybe he saw his watch when he stretched, that would make more sense.

"Bed, now, all of you."

"You can't tell us what to do," Ronan grumbles.

"Yes," Gansey agrees. "We have -- self-determination. And liberty. And no bedtimes."

Adam turns to her. "Blue, tell Gansey to go to bed."

She sighs. "Okay, Gansey, it's time to go to bed."

"All right."

"Holy shit," Ronan breathes, "that works?"

"Only when used very sparingly," Adam says.

Gansey has a little trouble getting his feet under him, so Blue props him up. "Can you guys get the lights when you go to bed?"

"We're going, too."

"It's barely even midnight," Ronan complains.

"Yeah, and you're gonna be up at six to see Gansey off, so come on."

"It's so early," Gansey says. "You don't have to."

"Nope, we do," Ronan insists. "Gotta stick together even when it sucks."

Adam nudges Ronan off toward his bedroom. "We'll see you tomorrow."

"Yeah," Blue says. They'll be together tomorrow, hungover and sleepy and sad, and they'll be together the day after that, and the day after that, through short phone calls and subterfuge about why they're hanging out and bad first impressions on her relatives. "Tomorrow."