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

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Ronan would love to say that he's paying attention when he runs into his soulmate, that his words were deliberate and well-chosen.

The truth is, he's pissed off.

Gansey's nagging him about speeding tickets, and he had a half hour phone call that morning with Declan about settling Dad's estate -- or, more precisely, he'd had five twelve second phone calls, and then one twenty-nine minute phone call after he'd gotten hanging up on Declan out of his system.

So when he slams his shoulder against some guy coming out of Gansey's favorite coffee shop, it's sheer reflex that makes him say "fuck off."

He doesn't even notice the guy, not really, and that's the worst part. That he's going to be trying to remember this moment for the rest of his life, and he wasn't even looking, not until the guy is already past him and he hears the reply, disgusted:

"Charming."

Ronan freezes.

He's paying attention now, but it's already too late: his soulmate has just walked out into the street, out of his life, and Ronan hadn't even looked at his face. By the time the shock wears off enough for him to turn around and open the door again, his soulmate has disappeared into the stream of people hurrying along the downtown sidewalks.

He's already gone.

Unless that wasn't his soulmate. Sure, Ronan has the word charming on his chest, but someone else could say that to him at some point. Even if no one ever has until now. Even if Ronan is not the kind of guy who charms people on first impression. Or second impression. Or ever.

It could happen, theoretically.

It probably won't.

He needs to run out into the street and find -- whoever it was.

But he hadn't been looking. He doesn't know what he'd be running after. He doesn't know what the hell you say to someone after telling them to fuck off.

Gansey finally notices that Ronan has fallen behind. "Everything okay?"

"Fan-fucking-tastic," Ronan says. He scans the street one more time. It isn't any more helpful than it was the first six times.

Gansey frowns. "Is there any point in reminding you that we're in public and there could be children around?"

"No." Every authority figure in the last two decades of Ronan's life has tried to reform his use of profanity, and it hasn't stuck so far. Honestly, he's surprised none of them went withwhat if you swear at your soulmate the first time you meet him. It feels like a very pressing and persuasive argument, now that it's too late to make a difference.

Or not too late. Because that wasn't his soulmate. That was a...weird coincidence.

There's no way that the love of Ronan's life is walking around with a mark on him that says fuck off.

Right?

-

The problem is, Gansey loves that goddamn coffee shop.

It's locally owned, organic, fair trade, gluten-free, grass-fed, nut-yourself-over-how-virtuous-you-are coffee, and it tastes exactly the same as Starbucks as far as Ronan is concerned, but Gansey gets some kind of high from it. Normally Ronan shuts up and goes along with the long line and staggering pretentiousness for Gansey's sake.

But going back there the day after his charming run-in feels like a bad decision. It feels...unlucky. Cursed.

If he bails on Gansey he'll have to explain why, though, and that would be a worse decision. It's a miracle that Gansey hadn't heard the exchange for himself; Ronan's not going to volunteer the information and open himself up to an excruciating conversation about soulmates and profanity and heartbreak.

And he'd miss Gansey, if he ditched. Not that he's going to volunteer that information, either.

So Ronan meets him outside the coffee shop the next morning for their usual ten o'clock hang out, Gansey on a break from his highly boring job moving money around for other rich people and Ronan on a break from his extremely taxing schedule of being a rich person who has money moved around for him.

Ronan thinks every three seconds about leaving, dragging Gansey out to the crepe place or the park or the library instead.

And then a new customer will walk through the door, and Ronan will immediately zero in on them, trying to match them to the figure he has in his mind.

Unfortunately, all he has to go off of is: male (he's virtually certain), shorter than him (he's pretty sure), wearing a jacket (as of yesterday).

At least Prince Charming had a fucking shoe size.

"Are you listening?" Gansey asks as they pick up their order.

"No," Ronan admits, and Gansey doesn't even berate him for that.

"Well, I thought it was interesting, trying to secure people's accounts against soulmate fraud," Gansey says. "But clearly I'm boring you."

"Don't try your persecuted act with me," Ronan says, "I grew up with a martyr."

It's a thought, anyway. Soulmate fraud. Maybe Mr. Charming from yesterday was some kind of gold digger. Ronan's family does have a stupid amount of money.

Ronan has been pretty careful, over the years, not to let people see him shirtless, but he's made enough bad decisions -- or, one epically bad decision -- that he can't say for sure there aren't strangers in the world who know what his soulmark says.

Not like Gansey. Only a handful of people in the entire universe know what Gansey's mark is, know that there's a tidy scrawl of words along his thigh that reads I wasn't talking to you. Ronan wishes more people did know about Gansey's soulmark, because it would make him feel like less of a fuck up, and because it would mean that Gansey had more people to talk to. Given how open Gansey is with his family about things that really matter to him, Ronan has to bear the brunt of all of Gansey's late-night thoughts about "it's a tautology, I mean, if they had been talking to me previous to telling me they weren't talking to me, then that would be what was on my soulmark instead," which is usually around the point that Ronan finds himself miraculously cured of insomnia.

"You don't really give people's soulmates access to their accounts," Ronan says.

Gansey blinks at him.

"It's not like, 'my mark says half-caf venti, can I get all of this guy's money' and you give it to them, right?"

"I shudder to think what you think my job actually entails," Gansey says. "Soulmate as a practical term and soulmate as a legal/financial term are separate things. It's not as hard as pretending to be married to someone, maybe, but there's still a process." Gansey sips his coffee meaningfully. "Should I be worried about your taking an interest in what I do for a living? Are you dying? Am I dying? Who's dying?"

"No one's dying," Ronan snaps. "I'm just trying to make some goddamn conversation. I could interrogate you about when you're going to stop being a loser and go back to grad school instead."

Gansey winces. "Please don't."

"Okay, so, on a scale of one to ten, if someone was trying to pretend to be my soulmate, how easy would that be."

Gansey puts his coffee down on the table. "This isn't a hypothetical, is it."

Ronan scowls, but he can't tell Gansey that he's wrong.

Gansey starts to say twenty different things and gives up on all of them. "Should I be worried?"

"No," Ronan says. Of that, he's sure. If there's some kind of physical threat, some financial attack, he can deal with that.

If someone's trying to -- to toy with his affections -- well, he can deal with that, too.

"Just, keep an eye open," Ronan says gruffly, and Gansey nods at him with perfect sincerity, like they're brothers-in-arms riding off to battle together.

-

-

As it turns out, Gansey only has to keep his eyes open for about twenty minutes.

They leave the coffee shop, and a very short, very angry woman comes charging up to Ronan.

"You have a lot of nerve!" She pokes him in the chest.

"Who the hell are you?" But even as he asks he knows. Mr. Charming -- he'd been with someone, hadn't he? A woman, leaving the store a step ahead of him.

It was radically unfair, to be able to recognize the woman who'd been with his soulmate and not remember anything about the love of his life.

The probable love of his life. The possible, maybe, hypothetical love of his life.

Ronan stares down at this woman and thinks -- freckles? Had his soulmate had freckles?

"I'm pissed off, that's who I am! I thought I'd have to camp out at this coffee shop for weeks waiting to spot you and you came back the next day. God, you don't have any shame, do you?"

"You're mad that I didn't waste more of your time?"

"I'm mad that you don't even care about what impact you could have," the woman says, crossing her arms under her chest. She might be five-foot-nothing, but Ronan wouldn't want to get into a fight with her, except maybe he's not going to have a choice.

"Hang on," Gansey mutters at Ronan, trying to step between him and the short woman. "Is she -- ?"

Which is when the short woman fixes Gansey with a poisonous glare and spits out, "I wasn't talking to you."

And Gansey, useless shithead that he is, just stares at her slack-jawed and says, "I wish you would."

She goes blank with shock, and Ronan has a long second to debate whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, his best friend has a shot at eternal, universe-mandated happiness, and everyone is going to be way too distracted to keep bitching about his shitty choices.

On the other hand: Gansey is going to be so fucking sappy.

But then something weird happens.

Instead of riding off into the sunset with Gansey, as she is clearly meant to, the short woman pokes Ronan once more, and then pokes Gansey in the chest for good measure.

"Who the hell are you two?" she demands. "If you're stalkers I will call the cops. My cousin is dating a police officer."

Gansey is apparently too upset for logic, because he only says, "I'm not a stalker! My name is Richard Gansey," as though that's an actual defense.

"Okay, what, is this some kind of hidden camera show?" She glares around them like someone's going to pop out from behind a piss-soaked bus stop and give her a giant novelty check, or whatever the fuck they do on hidden camera shows. "Is this a Catfish thing? A couple of cute guys trick people into thinking they've found their soulmates?"

Gansey grins, and Ronan can already hear the next four voicemails Gansey is going to leave him, she thinks I'm cute. His fingers itch to erase the messages and Gansey hasn't even left them yet.

But then Gansey starts to think about what the short angry woman is saying. And about what Ronan had said to him in the coffee shop.

And whatever else Gansey is, he isn't stupid.

"Hang on," Gansey says. "I think we need to establish what's happening here." He fixes Ronan with an expression that is so clearly trying not to be hurt that it cuts Ronan to the core. "Is she the person you meant? Did she say -- something, to you?" Gansey does have the sense not to say what Ronan's soulmark is, which is for best because at this point they have a fucking audience. People are staring.

"Jesus fucking Christ." Ronan grabs Gansey with one hand and the short woman with the other. He drags them ten feet down the alley next to the coffee shop and deposits them next to a dumpster; he'd have liked to get further off the street but the tiny woman has been digging her claws into his hand the whole way. That shit hurts. "Knock it the fuck off, would you?"

"This is kidnapping!"

"Tell it to your cousin's boyfriend," Ronan snaps.

"God, I've spent years trying to picture who would say Adam's words, and you know what? You're even worse than I imagined. Congrats, you are the actual worst human being alive."

She's trying to shame him, but all Ronan can focus on is the information he didn't have before.

Adam.

His soulmate's name is Adam.

And now Gansey has that information, too.

"Ronan," Gansey says, and he is marvelously annoyed at this point. "Kindly explain the situation. Immediately."

Ronan feels a little bit better for noticing that Gansey's high-handed tone earns him an ugly glare from his soulmate. At least if Ronan has to suffer, he won't be suffering alone.

"We were here yesterday," Ronan starts, "And this -- gremlin -- "

"Hey!"

"Was leaving with a friend of hers, and he said." Ronan is not, is not, going to say it out loud. He gestures toward his chest.

Gansey knows what he means. "And you said -- "

Ronan makes a face.

"Oh, go on," the woman mocks Ronan, "tell Richard what you said."

"Gansey."

She glares at him, but with a little confusion mixed into her hostility. "What?"

"Just Gansey. No one calls me Richard."

She blinks, and it clearly takes some effort for her to process this. "Okay. Gansey."

"Can I ask what your name is?"

"I'm not sure I should tell you," she says, but she's wavering. "This still feels like a set up."

"Then why the fuck did you track me down?" Ronan asks.

Shit, he shouldn't have said anything; now she's back on the chew out Ronan train of thought. "If you're legit, then why didn't you come after him?"

"He could have come back for me," Ronan says.

"That's different."

"Bullshit, it's different."

"It is, okay?" She recrosses her arms, like she's thinking about jabbing him again. "Adam doesn't want to meet you -- "

Ronan isn't prepared for how hard that hits. He's taken sucker punches that left him less winded. Six words from this tiny woman and it's all that he can do to stay on his feet.

Adam doesn't want to meet you.

And she's still blathering on. At least that means his poker face is intact. Or she's more of a sadist than he's giving her credit for.

" -- but I figured someone has to check up on you so you can't just pop up later and make trouble for him."

"Check up on me?" Ronan snarls. "You won't even tell Gansey your fucking name, and I'm, what, supposed to go through a background check? Just so your friend can pretend I don't exist?"

She looks mulish, like she knows this is bullshit but isn't going to admit it. "Cut me some slack, I wasn't counting on Gansey. He threw off my plans."

Gansey beams like that's a compliment. It sort of is. At least, it means that she's going to fit right into his life, because I wasn't counting on Gansey is the unofficial motto of everyone who really knows him. Ronan would feel sympathetic towards her, if she weren't his least favorite person in the entire world.

"I think there's a solution here that addresses everyone's concerns," Gansey says, and Ronan thinks no, there isn't. Because Ronan's soulmate doesn't want to meet him, and nothing can fix that, not even Gansey.

"Oh?" she says, like she has any right to be skeptical.

"Have dinner with me," Gansey says, and Ronan snorts.

"You'd like that, wouldn't you?" she asks him, but her righteous fury is slipping.

"Yes, I would." Gansey is perfectly earnest. "I'd like to get to know you, and I hope that you'd like to get to know me. But at the very least you'll know that I am who I say I am, and then if Ronan ever makes trouble for you, you'll know who he is, too."

She thinks this over for a minute, shooting a dire look at Ronan. He just glares back. Probably his endorsement would make her decide against getting dinner with Gansey, so he doesn't say anything.

"Fine. We can have dinner. But not tonight, my mother's in town," but she could have said not until next year or not until my divorce is finalized or not until you've been initiated into my cult by performing the blood sacrifice and Gansey's expression would not have been one bit less nauseating.

"Wonderful. I'll call you?"

She snorts. "No you won't. Give me your number."

Gansey hands over one of his business cards. She scowls at it. Ronan's not sure if she's put off by the name or the job title or just the fact that Gansey carries and distributes business cards. It's all pretty horrifying.

But she takes it, and slides it into her pocket, and she even tells him, "My name is Blue."

"Seriously?" Ronan asks.

She glares daggers at him. "I'm sorry, did you want to talk about making personal decisions that other people get stuck with for their entire lives," and no, obviously he does not.

"I'll talk to you later, Gansey." Blue pointedly does not say goodbye to Ronan before she leaves.

Gansey looks thoughtful. "That could have gone better."

"No shit."

"But it's -- open for improvement," Gansey says. "Do you really think it's some kind of scam?"

Ronan doesn't.

He knew all along, but he didn't know how to deal with screwing up so badly. He should have chased after Adam. He never should have let him out of his sight.

He never should have said fuck off.

"You're the expert."

"I'm really not," Gansey says. "How much am I going to regret asking you what you said to this Adam character, anyway?"

"Aren't you late for work?"

"This is worse than if you'd just tell me. Like a horror movie where they don't show you the monster and your imagination makes it scarier."

"My life isn't a horror movie." Ronan reconsiders. "Not because of this."

Gansey hmms, but doesn't look like he's going to let it go.

"If you spend the whole day worrying about what I said, you don't have to worry about your date."

"That's extremely unhelpful," Gansey says. "I'm capable of worrying about two different things at the same time."

Ronan just looks at him: what do you expect from me.

Gansey sighs.

Chapter Text

The problem with secretly tracking down your best friend's soulmate behind his back after he asks you to drop it -- aside from ethics, betrayal, yadda yadda blah -- is that when tracking down said best friend's soulmate leads to you finding your soulmate, you can't talk to your best friend about it.

Blue thinks of herself as a reasonable person, not one for pointless regrets, but right now she wishes her actions didn't have consequences.

She sneaks a peek every thirty seconds at the business card Richard -- Gansey -- Richard Gansey -- gave her, marveling anew each time at the fact that she has a soulmate and that he's the kind of yuppie asshole who gives people business cards.

She pulls up an incognito tab on her work computer, even though she's not doing anything wrong, and types in the name of the company on the card. It looks real, from what she can tell. She even finds a Richard Gansey III listed as a "Member Of Our Team" on their website. There's a head shot. It's cheesy and stilted and ought to look awful, and somehow it doesn't.

She closes the browser.

No part of this makes sense. If soulmates really do mean anything, then Blue and Gansey are supposed to -- match, to complement each other in some way, and she sees no sign of that. Blue works for a conservation non-profit and volunteers at her local women's shelter; Gansey does the sort of high finance that Blue doesn't understand that gets millionaires out of paying their taxes.

She wishes she could tell Adam. He's good at finding the connections between dissimilar things. But he's...weird, about soulmates.

Luckily her mother is in town.

Have a Very Important Thing to talk to you about at dinner, Blue texts her mom, and then, since she's got her phone out anyway, she texts the number listed on the business card as cell phone and hopes for the best.

Are you sure you're for real?

Gansey replies almost immediately. Blue's equal parts annoyed and charmed. At least he's not trying to play it cool.

I am sincere in everything I do
And I most sincerely want to get to know you

Blue bites her lip.

You don't even know who this is

I have good reason to believe this is a fearless woman who defends her friends against ill-treatment
But if it's actually a robot trying to sell me life insurance, please disregard

Blue laughs at that, and sneaks a quick look around her desk to make sure no one is close enough to hear. No one is; in the manner of non-profits, they are chronically understaffed and underfunded, so everyone else is too busy to pay any attention to Blue.

Which would make Blue feel bad for slacking, but under the circumstances she's doing pretty good just by coming back from her coffee break at all.

Too late. Your policy has already been activated. You are down for termination

Then I guess it would be a bad idea for me to arrange to meet you at a specific time and place
Like for dinner

You don't give up, do you

I do when I'm being a bother
For example, if a woman I was interested in told me that she did not want me to contact her again, then I would not contact her again

Congratulations on meeting the bare minimum of basic human decency

Thank you
May I commend you on having a good understanding of human customs, for a robot
Also a better than average ability to avoid answering questions

You haven't asked me a question

The little typing dots pop up on screen and disappear half a dozen times before he finally sends, Do you want to get dinner with me tomorrow night?

She wants to. She surprises herself, by wanting to. She's normally the very definition of down-to-earth about men, and while she always figured she'd meet her soulmate someday, she never let herself get carried away thinking about it.

It was easy being grounded, with the people she'd grown up with: Adam, who is dismissive of the whole concept; Orla, who says the connection that matters between people isn't anything to do with souls; her mother and Calla and Persephone, who are an inseparable team, better together than they could have been apart, but who aren't, well, very romantic like movies told you soulmates are supposed to be. Blue learned young that there was a lot of negotiating chores and working long hours and making compromises, when a match really worked out.

And Gansey might still be an asshole.

She texts him back, Maybe. I have to consult with my psychic first. It buys her time to decide on how she wants to handle the situation, and it's true, since she's going to ask her mother for advice tonight.

It's also one of her methods of screening for jerks.

What sort of psychic? Palm reading, tarot card, crystal ball?
Unless no one actually uses a crystal ball and that's an offensive stereotype
In which case I apologize for my ignorance, I'm not in the habit of going to psychics
Do you always go to the same psychic? For regular check ups? Like going to the dentist?

Blue stares at her phone, stumped. She expected Gansey to say something patronizing, or maybe for him to be too into the whole psychic thing. Both are reactions she's used to; both are reactions she knows how to handle; both would justify making him wait for that dinner he wants so much.

She's not sure what to say in the face of earnest curiosity.

She settles for responding to the last thing he said.

Exactly like going to the dentist
Except instead of lying and saying that you floss three times a week you're lying and saying that you burn herbs three times a week
When really it's been two months

Oh of course, who has the time for burning herbs?
You always think of it when you're already tired and you just say, I'll do it tomorrow

Exactly

I expect a psychic probably gets more people asking how to find their soulmate than what to do once they have

True, Blue sends back, because there are weeks where that sort of lovesick pining is the bulk of the house's business, and those are dreadful weeks. There isn't usually much a psychic can tell someone about their soulmate. A lot of it boils down to "just wait for it to happen, the whole point is that life brings the two of you together when you need each other" and shrugging off questions about how long and where and whether the soulmate is going to be good-looking. But in this case my psychic is also my mother.

That must have made for an interesting childhood

Blue braces herself. This is the part where Gansey decides that she's crazy, or a liar, or an idiot. What's that supposed to mean?

I can't imagine you got away with much, if your mom's psychic
Did she ever ground you for things that you were going to do, in the future?

Huh. That...wasn't what she was waiting for.

She doesn't really believe in grounding
Or telling children what to do
Sometimes it was irritating because I'd ask her for advice and she'd be like, whatever you think is best
She did know I was going to kiss my high school boyfriend before I did, but that might have been a mom thing, not a psychic thing

I'm not sure my mother noticed anything I ever did in high school
But I also can't imagine asking her for advice now
So we might have different relationships with our parents

Blue's thinking about Adam when she texts back, phrasing her question as neutrally as possible. Not close to your mom?

Oh, she's a lovely woman, but always very busy
Do you have any of those friends that when you run into them you say, we should catch up sometime, and then you don't?
That's how I feel about my parents

You're really bad at this, Blue texts him. You're supposed to be talking up what a family man you are, so you sound better and win me over.

Frankly that's a terrible idea
If I start lying to you now wouldn't I have to keep lying?
Who can keep track of that?

Blue scowls. There's something terrible about Gansey, she knows it, and if it's not that he's scamming her or judging her or lying to her, then what the hell is it.

I have to get back to work, Blue sends. I'll let you know about dinner.

Have a good day, and she figures he's going to text her again after that, but he doesn't. She keeps looking at her phone, waiting for it to buzz, and it's as distracting as if he were texting.

"Not a bother," she mutters to herself, disgusted, and drags her mind back to her work.

-

"I see you met him," Maura says once she releases Blue from her welcome hug.

Blue scowls. "It's my news. You could pretend to let me tell you."

"I raised you to be honest," Maura says, unapologetic, as they take a seat at the restaurant table. "Persephone thinks that will be important for the coming days. She says your match is an honest man."

There's one fear dismissed, at least. It doesn't make Blue feel any better. "Glad you were all gossiping about me over tarot and vodka. Calla have any advice?"

"Pepper spray and concealed weaponry, but that's her advice for everything." Maura gestures, and Blue can see the words wrapping around her wrist, like two bracelets side by side. She'd read them hundreds of times as a kid, you have a talent for bad decisions and oh good, you've found each other. "And your cousin had a lot of advice that I'm not going to repeat, you're a woman of the world."

Blue knows the sort of advice Orla dispenses. "I'm not going to sleep with him," she says, and Maura raises an eyebrow. "Right away. Maybe ever. I'm not even sure I'm going to see him again."

"Why not?"

"He goes by his last name," she blurts out.

There goes the eyebrow again.

"Let me start over," Blue says, and explains about Adam, and Ronan, and going back to the coffee shop to find Ronan since Adam refused to do it himself.

"And then his friend butts in and says my words and -- " Blue makes an irritated noise. "But you already knew that part."

"Just the general picture, not all the colorful details," Maura says, and a waiter swoops down on them to take their order.

"So tell me something," Maura continues, once the waiter has left, and Blue's glad. She didn't know what she was going to say next. "If you think Adam is making a mistake by giving up his soulmate, why are you letting him force you into giving up yours?"

Blue is no longer glad. "Adam's not forcing me to do anything. He doesn't even know."

"You realize your story about how you met your soulmate is entirely about Adam, with your soulmate only appearing at the very end."

"I wouldn't have met Gansey if it wasn't for Adam," Blue argues. "That doesn't mean it's about Adam."

"Or only in the sense that you'll do anything for Adam."

"He's my friend! I worry about him. I don't want him to regret this for the rest of his life just because it's not what he wants right now."

Maura looks unconvinced, like she knows Blue is holding something back.

And, she realizes with a lurch, she is holding back.

"I was curious," Blue admits. "Okay? I wanted to know who Adam's soulmate was. I was nosy."

"You always were a curious child," Maura says, neither shaming Blue nor sympathizing with her. Blue could have handled either of those fine, but this just the facts attitude gives her nothing to fight against. "I assumed you'd be as curious about your own match as you were about Adam's."

"I am curious," Blue says. She had spent another hour googling Gansey when she should have been working. "I'm also cautious."

"And I don't suppose your reluctance to go out with Gansey has anything to do with not wanting to explain the situation to Adam," Maura says.

Blue squares her shoulders. "All right, I don't want to explain it to him. I already know that he's going to be pissed off about it and I don't see the point in getting in a big fight if Gansey just turns out to be terrible anyway."

"Not that I know how the kids do things these days," Maura starts, and Blue huffs at the deliberate mom-ism. It's not like Maura is that old. "But I think that's the point of dating. If you want to know if Gansey is worth getting in a fight with Adam, that's a reason for you to see him again. Not for you to ignore him."

Blue wants to argue, but deep down, she knows that there's no point.

"I'm not going to enjoy myself," she warns her mother.

"Keep an open mind," Maura says. "If I only went on dates that I thought were a good idea, you wouldn't be here."

Blue sticks her tongue out. "I'm not kidding about the last name thing," she says. "And he's a Third. He probably drives an imported European sports car that gets terrible mileage and has a domestic worker that he doesn't pay a living wage."

"No chance you're going to outgrow being a judgmental teenager, then."

"You raised me to have strong opinions," Blue reminds her mom. "I bet he talks on a Bluetooth headset the whole time we're out to dinner."

"Blue Sargent," and ah crap, full name, that can't be good. "What's the real problem here?"

She looks down at her napkin. At some point it got all twisted up. "I don't want to get carried away."

Maura sighs. "That's never been your failing, Blue. You're sensible, and that's not a bad thing to be. But life isn't sensible, and there isn't always a reasonable way of doing things."

Blue says, feeling small, "You think I'm cold."

"I know you aren't," Maura says. "No one who raised you through the tree frog incident could think that. But you're allowed to care about things besides the environment and your best friend."

"I don't want to, though," Blue says stubbornly. "I like my life."

"Good. You've built a life you love once, you can do it again if you have to."

The waiter returns with their food.

Blue waits until he's gone to pick up her phone with an extravagant flourish of her wrist. It only takes a few taps at the screen to pull up her thread with Gansey and send him, what are you doing tomorrow night?

She turns the screen around for Maura's approval.

"Your food's getting cold," is all Maura says.

Blue makes a face and sticks her phone back in her pocket.

"His mother is a Congresswoman," she says, not willing to give up without one last shot.

"So you know he's comfortable with women in positions of power."

"A Republican Congresswoman."

Maura sets her wine glass down. "Oh, Blue, I am so sorry."

-

Gansey keeps sending Ronan texts, updating him on The Love Song of Gansey and Blue several times an hour. Seriously, Ronan has no idea how Gansey is getting any work done. He needs to go back to academia where he actually gives a shit, so he doesn't have to distract himself by talking to Ronan all day.

He isn't asking Ronan about Adam, at least, but he is asking him all kinds of other bullshit: should I suggest a place for dinner or let her come up with one and I think I found her on Facebook, is it weird if I friend her? and I know you're not going to respond to any of these but I just need to talk to someone.

Everything is weird on Facebook, Ronan texts, and then turns his phone off for the rest of the night, because it's good to upset Gansey's expectations.

"Dinner tonight at a pizza place uptown," Gansey tells him the next morning. They meet at the crepe shop three blocks south of their usual spot. Ronan is never setting foot in that coffee shop again, and if that means he has to watch Gansey make sad eyes at subpar lattes for the rest of his life, so be it. "I've been informed that she knows the owner personally. It seems I'm still under suspicion."

"Isn't that just a thing women do on first dates?" Ronan asks.

"I thought that was for -- blind dates and internet dating and things." Gansey drums his fingers on the table. "She's met me."

"Yeah, I saw what she thought of you. You're lucky if she doesn't bring the cop along."

Gansey looks so fucking sad that it's not even any fun taunting him. "What if she doesn't like me? We got off to a rough start. I was hoping I could change her opinion, but what if I can't?"

"Then she doesn't want anything to do with you and that sucks," Ronan says.

Gansey stops drumming his fingers.

"I'm being obtuse, aren't I."

Ronan takes a very large sip of coffee.

"Look, I am going to turn this around," Gansey says. "If she gives me a second chance, I mean. I'll show her that you're a good person, and Adam will come around too. You grow on people. You're not a man of first impressions."

"I can take care of myself," Ronan says, to hide how bright that makes him feel, that Gansey wants to help him, that Gansey has faith in him. "Just try not to fuck up your date any worse than you already have."

"Right," Gansey says dryly. "Anything else I'm screwing up?"

"Don't do that stupid thing where you give her a plant."

"But it's perfect! It's like flowers but they don't die the next day."

"Nobody wants a plant, Dick. It's just another fucking thing they have to take care of."

"I'll get her a succulent," Gansey insists. "Those don't even need to be watered that often."

"Don't do that. And don't use the word succulent, girls hate that word."

"Right, I forgot you were an expert on women."

Ronan shrugs. "I've had as many serious girlfriends as you have, asshole."

"I've had girlfriends." It's a mild protest. "I dated Lauren in grad school for six months."

"You were in Wales for four of those," Ronan points out. "And then she visited her parents. You broke up because you forgot you were dating."

"Not a great example," Gansey says. He thinks for a second and sighs. "All right, so I haven't had a serious relationship before. Thanks for reminding me."

"Christ, don't get pissy about it." Gansey ought to know that Ronan's not judging. Gansey knows how Ronan's serious relationship worked out. There's worse things than being single. "I always figured you were waiting."

"I wasn't, though. Or not intentionally. Maybe a little bit on a subconscious level." Gansey rests a hand on his thigh. "I was always curious, but I told myself that I wasn't going to let it get in the way of anything. I didn't want to be that person who assumed that my soulmate was going to show up and everything in my life would fall into place."

Ronan looks out the window.

He had always been that person who believed his soulmate was going to show up and everything in his life would fall into place.

Instead, he'd told his soulmate to fuck off, and his soulmate had taken him up on it.

"Obtuse again," Gansey says softly, "sorry. I'll quit texting you about Blue, I promise."

"What, for the rest of your life? Don't be a moron. Text me after your dinner tonight, I'm fucking invested at this point."

Gansey laughs, "Yeah, okay," and they move on.

-

-

The first text from Gansey's date is a picture of Ronan's least favorite person in the world holding a tiny potted cactus: Blue LOVES her new succulent.

that is the grossest sentence of all time, Ronan texts back.

He shouldn't be rewarding Gansey for that photograph, and he definitely shouldn't be giving Gansey the expectation that he's capable of texting back at all, let alone promptly. But he's invested, at this point.

Uh-oh. She thinks I'm pretentious and too rich

so your being yourself

Not helpful, Lynch

tell her you made all your money pretending to be someones soulmate

That earns him a solid hour without another text. Or maybe Gansey just realized it was weird to spend his whole date on his phone.

I can't stop putting my foot in my mouth, it's awful
I think my only option at this point is to lean into it. Just be really awkward and uncomfortable
Either I'll die of embarrassment or she'll become completely immune
Good plan?
Why do I even text you, you're no help

maybe shes annoyed bcs your texting so much

She's in the bathroom
Or possibly in the kitchen plotting with the owner to murder me
Maybe I've already been poisoned. I can't say that I'd know if the oregano was tampered with
Wait moment of truth she's coming back

That's the end of the texts, so either the oregano was tampered with, or Gansey's too busy to text.

He assumes the latter, but the radio silence extends to an hour, two, three.

It's almost midnight when Gansey texts him, I think that went well.

Ronan throws his phone across the room.

Chapter Text

All in all, it's considerate of Adam to let her have a key to his apartment. Blue's roommate is -- high-strung would be a nice way to put it. Despotic would be more accurate. She's particular about the "rules of the apartment" that she unilaterally drew up, which include things like no overnight guests and no noise after ten pm. Blue would be more on-board with said rules if activities like "opening the front door" and "getting changed in my own bedroom" didn't somehow count as making noise and result in days of passive-aggressive notes being slid under her door.

So nights that she stays out late, it's easier just to crash at Adam's and go home in the morning.

The downside is that she never knows if Adam's going to be around or not. And right now, holding Gansey's cactus and dressed in one of her cute weirdo outfits instead of her everyday weirdo outfits, Blue's hoping for 'not around.'

Which means, naturally, that Adam's sitting on the couch across from the front door, reading.

"Hey, Blue," he says, without looking up. Someday someone is going to break into his apartment to rob the place and he's going to say hey, Blue. "Did I know you were coming over?"

"Not unless you've been taking lessons from my mother," Blue says.

"Like your family would ever accept a male psychic." Adam shuts his book and finally looks up. He doesn't comment on the outfit. Maybe she's overestimating his fashion sense. Or her own.

Or maybe that's just not the weirdest thing that's happening.

"Where did you find a cactus at midnight?"

"It was a gift," Blue says. "From the guy I was out with."

"Who gives someone a plant on a first date?" Adam asks. "Now you have a plant to take care of."

"It was sweet." Blue's not sure who she's defending, herself or Gansey. "He probably knew I love the environment."

"You didn't tell him that?" Adam asks. "How'd you meet this guy?"

Crap. Evade, Sargent, evade. "I met him at a coffee shop," Blue says. "He asked me out on the spot. That's how wonderful I am."

"I didn't think anyone did that anymore," Adam says. "Asked strangers out in person."

"It's making a comeback. Like denim cut-offs and fascism."

"Two things that you want to associate with a new boyfriend."

"It's easy for you to be critical," Blue challenges, sitting on the couch next to Adam. "When was the last time you went out on a date?"

"A week ago."

Blue almost drops her cactus. She puts it down on the table in front of her, before tragedy can strike. "You didn't say."

Adam shrugs. "Wasn't anything to say. Turns out she's waiting for her soulmate and wants to go on practice dates until he shows up."

"I can't believe she did that."

"I can't believe she admitted it," Adam says. "Lots of people do it."

Blue rests her head on Adam's shoulder, which requires sitting on her feet to make herself taller and Adam's slouching down a bit. "Who am I supposed to be right now," she asks, "the supportive friend who promises you that you'll find someone soon or the loud angry friend who tells you that all men and women are dogs anyway?"

"I was hoping for stoic friend who listens politely and then has a cryptic piece of advice that doesn't mean anything but makes me feel better."

"Sorry, she's on vacation." Blue yawns. "But I think the Chinese place on Spring Street is still open, we could order delivery and read the fortune cookies to each other."

"Pass," Adam says, "no one needs Chinese food at midnight."

Blue thinks it's less to do with digestion and more to do with the end of the month. Adam had probably blown the last of his restaurant budget buying her coffee the other day when she'd forgotten her wallet. It was a nice gesture, and the universe had repaid him for it by ruining his day.

Blue thinks about Adam, and Ronan, and Gansey, until guilt wells up in her stomach.

"But they have that cute delivery boy," Blue points out. "We could ogle him together and pretend that you're going to ask him out this time."

Adam huffs. Blue can feel his breath tug at the hair that's falling free from her clips. "I'm fine, Blue. I know what I'm setting myself up for." He pauses, and tries so hard for a lighthearted tone of voice that it makes her soul ache. "Besides, when we're forty there'll be lots of people who have tried with their soulmate and given up, I'll find someone then."

His shoulder is tense underneath her head, and she knows without asking, without looking, that he's worried she's going to mention Ronan.

She mimics his tone back at him. "Why procrastinate? You could date a forty-year-old with a chip on their shoulder right now."

"No, now I'm holding out for one of these old-fashioned coffee shop cactus enthusiasts. Since you liked yours so much."

Blue pulls back enough to get a look at him. "Why do you say that?"

"I thought it might be nice to have standards for once."

She crosses her arms. "I meant, why did you say that I liked him."

"That's obvious," Adam says. "If you hadn't liked him you'd have thrown the cactus in his face."

"I would never do that to my cactus, it's wonderful and I love it." She strokes the little clay pot with one finger. "Him, I haven't decided yet."

"But you think there might be something there."

"Yeah," Blue admits. "I think there might be."

"So go out with him again," Adam says, like it's just that simple, and she wishes it were. "If it doesn't work out, at least you got some dating practice in."

Blue wraps an arm around Adam in a half-hug. There's a surprised second before he reacts, leans into it and half-hugs her in return.

"You haven't really been talking to my mom, have you?" Blue asks. "Because you sound just like her."

"Since it's you saying it, I'll take that as a compliment."

"It's just -- " She pauses to get her thoughts together. "It's like he's several different people. If I'd just spent four hours with the guy who gave me my cactus, I'd be over the moon right now."

"Right, that's you," Adam says. "Easily swept off your feet."

"Would you let me talk about my feelings for a second?" she demands, and Adam sits forward attentively, chin on his hands, like she's a movie he's engrossed in. "Ugh."

"No, go on, I want to hear about your boyfriend with the multiple personalities," Adam says. "It's like very lazy polyamory."

"Funny," Blue says. "It was more like -- I got to the restaurant and he was there early and he stood up to greet me and knocked all the silverware off the table. And then he tried to give me the cactus and clean up the silverware at the same time and he was just so flustered."

"Uh-huh," Adam says derisively.

"Shut up, it was cute." Blue pets her cactus again. "But then the waiter showed up and it was like he changed completely." She doesn't need to be looking at Adam to read his reaction. "Not like that. He wasn't rude, I would have called him out on it. But -- " she breathes, trying to put her finger on any of the maddening things she'd noticed about Gansey. "He was very polite like that's how he was taught to be, you know?"

"Yeah, I know." And he would; Adam's had nearly as many dead-end jobs as Blue has. He does at least relax a little bit, though not all the way back to where he'd been when he was teasing her. Blue wonders if maybe she doesn't need to say that Gansey's her soulmate in order for Adam to decide against him.

"Anyway. It was a lot of things like that. Moments where he wasn't doing anything wrong, just where I felt like I didn't know who I was having dinner with anymore."

"Maybe next time you'll get lucky and he'll fall off his chair or something," Adam says.

"Keep talking and I'm going to tell the delivery guy you have a crush on him."

Adam just smirks at her. "No, you won't."

"I won't," Blue admits. She didn't need to be taught not to hit on a service worker; she's been there. "I'll think of something even worse."

"Well, I'll leave you to plotting your revenge." Adam stands up. "Are you taking the bed or the couch?"

"Couch," Blue says, and Adam waves goodnight. She doesn't think she's going to be falling asleep any time soon.

-

-

They don't have a standing arrangement for coffee on Saturdays, but it's not unusual for Gansey to ask Ronan if he wants to get lunch, or go for a drive, or tolerate a family outing.

Ronan doesn't know whether he's blowing Gansey off today, because that would mean he's looked at his phone, and he hasn't.

He goes for a run, boxes as many people as he can get away with at his gym, and spends a masochistic evening going through his father's old things in case Declan asks him about it at mass the next morning.

He does, of course, because Declan wouldn't know decency if it crawled out of one of his hand-tooled leather shoes and bit him.

"Any progress?" Declan murmurs to Ronan during the first reading, while Jacob tricks Esau out of his inheritance. Ronan is surprised Declan isn't taking notes. But then, the thing Declan had always wanted to take most from Ronan was Niall's approval, and it's too late to steal that now.

"Went through Dad's office yesterday," Ronan growls. Just because he was expecting it doesn't mean he has to like it. "Pulled some of his things we can fight over later."

"And Mom's things?"

"What about Mom's thing?"

The choir leader starts in with the psalm. Matthew sings along, tone-deaf as always. Declan and Ronan wait for the music to end, each simmering in his own assured righteousness.

"We have to go through her things, too," Declan says.

"She's not dead," Ronan snaps.

"She's not coming home, either."

Ronan holds his breath, until he feels less like he'll explode. "If you want to erase her from your life, fine. I'm not going to help you do it."

Declan shuts his eyes for a long moment. "Have you talked to Gansey lately?"

"Why?"

Declan exhales. "Because I tried to call him, and he didn't call back. That's not like him."

As though Ronan is going to be shamed, by Declan, about his phone habits.

"He's busy," Ronan says. It's against his nature to give Declan more information than he needs to, but it's even more against his nature not to lash out at Declan when he has the ammunition. "He met his soulmate this week."

Sure enough, Declan's jaw tightens. "Good for him," he says, sounding not a bit like he means it. Declan doesn't have a soulmate. Ronan had never envied him that before. "Tell him that's not an excuse."

"Maybe he just doesn't want to talk to you," Ronan says.

"Quit projecting," Declan tells him, and their conversation is drowned out by hallelujahs.

-

"I can't help but feel like you're avoiding me," Gansey says, jogging to keep up with Ronan.

"Don't know what you're talking about." Ronan takes a sip of his drink and grimaces. Maybe he's gone a step too far avoiding the old cafe by buying coffee from a cart in the park. He's not a snob like Gansey, but this tastes like shit.

"I sent you a text that said I'm dying and you didn't respond."

Ronan takes another sip of shit-coffee. He hadn't seen that text. When he'd finally gotten around to collecting his phone off the ground, he'd deleted all of his messages from Gansey, unread.

"If you're dying and your response is to text me, that's your problem."

"I admit to needing your attention and validation sometimes," Gansey says.

"Good for you."

Gansey squints at him. "This is when you admit your failings to me. It's a process. We can share this moment and come out of it stronger than before."

"Sometimes, when my friend is being an idiot, I fantasize about smacking him over the head."

"You're a difficult man, Lynch."

"You should call Declan."

"Well, yes, he could commiserate, but I didn't expect you to suggest it."

"He wanted me to get on your case about why you didn't return his call."

"And now you're doing your brother's dirty work for him?" Crap, maybe this wasn't as good a tactic as Ronan thought. "You must really want to distract me from your vanishing act this weekend."

"I was busy."

"Busy ignoring me."

"Jesus Christ, Gansey, not everything is about you."

"I feel like you ignoring me is, by definition, about me."

Ronan throws his cup of coffee at a trash can. It's still three-quarters full, but that's not much of a waste. It glances off the rim of the trashcan and explodes in a shower of brown.

"You need to get your ego in check."

"You said you didn't mind if I texted you about Blue," Gansey charges on ahead, and more the fool Ronan for trying to stop him. Gansey is a force of nature. Now that he's caught in the storm he can't do anything but ride it out.

"Yeah, well, if you're going to spend the rest of your life together it's stupid to pretend we're never going to talk about her."

"I don't know that I'm going to spend the rest of my life with her."

Ronan fixes Gansey with his most critical stare.

"I don't!" Gansey protests. "Anything could happen. To anyone. At anytime. Just because you're soulmates doesn't mean you work out. And just because you work out doesn't mean that you get to spend the rest of your lives together -- "

Ronan tries not to wince, but he knows he fails, even before Gansey winces back at him.

"I just keep sticking my foot in my mouth, don't I?"

"It's not your fault I have a tragic fucking nightmare life," Ronan says. "Look, I hope she makes you happy. I hope you have eighty-three babies and live to be a million. Just give me more than one fucking weekend to get used to the idea, okay?"

Gansey looks uneasy for a very long beat, before he nods. "Fair. I suppose it wasn't decent of me to text you hourly updates. But -- I was excited. I wanted to talk to someone."

Ronan feels a pang, that Gansey needed something from him that he couldn't provide.

But at the same time -- he's really glad he deleted those texts.

"Call Declan," Ronan says. "You want to talk, he wants to hear from you, I want him to be miserable, everybody wins."

"You'll forgive me if I don't do that," Gansey says.

-

I had a lovely time last night

Blue stares at the text, exasperated. Who does that? Who just texts someone that they've met twice and tells them outright how they're feeling, without even waiting a day or feeling out how the other person feels or dressing it up as some kind of line?

The text arrives while she's starting her shift at the shelter, so it's easy to push it to the back of her mind; too many other things to do, too many things that don't coexist with the idea of lovely times, too many things that do, in fact, coexist with the idea of dating, but not in a way she wants to dwell on.

It's still there where she takes a break for coffee and sunlight in the afternoon, though, glaring up at her with its open affection.

Her match is an honest man? Well, fine. Blue can be honest, too.

you're really bad at this
you're not supposed to tell me you had a good time, you're supposed to wait until I text you and then pretend that you need a reminder about who I am

I'm sorry, do people often forget who their soulmate is?

you're not supposed to ACTUALLY need a reminder, you're just supposed to PRETEND

I hope you won't take this the wrong way
But I don't think very much of the people that you've been dating, if that's what they're like

Blue snorts. I don't think much of them either, or I'd still be dating them.

At least I can comfort myself that, if you decide you don't think much of me, you'll let me know

If that happens, I will. She bites her lip. But it hasn't happened yet.

I stand relieved
Do you need more data points? I would be happy to provide you with more chances to form an opinion.

did you just ask me out by telling me to fill out a spreadsheet?

There's a delay before she gets the response.

Yes apparently that is exactly what I did
I am also shocked and appalled by my behavior, if that helps
Now may be a good time to let you know that more than one person in my life has seen fit to tell me that I am a nerd, and something in her heart clenches, hard, because that's cactus Gansey, through and through, that's knock-the-silverware-over Gansey.

oh
no
Gansey
this is not the first time that I am realizing this
did you really think I hadn't noticed you were a nerd?

A man can hope, Gansey sends, and Blue wonders if she can hope, too.

Chapter Text

They grab lunch a few days later, since they both work downtown. Gansey doesn't offer to pay for her sandwich, the way he'd tried to pick up the check at dinner; Blue takes a tiny bit of encouragement from that. Except then she can hear Orla's voice, you just have to train men to do what you want, and she doesn't like putting it that way.

The food court on the ground floor of Gansey's office tower is crowded and loud. She's about to ask if he wants to eat outside when someone calls out "Gansey!" from somewhere behind them. A hand lands on Gansey's shoulder a split second later, one of those bro-y slaps on the back that fills Blue with scorn even when it isn't delivered as a sneak attack. She wasn't the target and she was still startled by it.

Gansey doesn't startle. Gansey doesn't move at all. For a moment his body goes very still and his eyes, behind his glasses, go empty.

And then he's turning around, greeting his assailant like that moment never happened. "Blake!" and Blue can tell just from the way that he says it that it's a last name. What is wrong with this subspecies from Planet Gansey that they don't have first names? She can understand not wanting to be Richard, maybe, but what are the odds that everyone he knows is called something terrible?

Well, given the sort of shit rich people name their kids, the odds are pretty good. Still.

"This is Blue," Gansey says, drawing her attention back to the conversation. He gives no explanation for her presence. It isn't like she'd have introduced him to anyone as her soulmate, but she'd have said something. Doesn't he wonder what Last-Name-Blake is going to come away thinking of her?

Apparently not, because they jump right into talking about money before Blue gets a chance to say anything for herself.

She watches them more than she listens. Gansey has transitioned again, seamlessly, from the guy who was nervous about whether they'd be able to find each other in the middle of the lunch rush into some man's man that Blue hasn't met before and is already tired of. She's considering just bailing on him when Gansey excuses them from the conversation, watches Blake take a step away before he turns back to her.

"Have you seen the sculpture park?" and wow, here's to business, chum Gansey is already gone. How does he do that without getting whiplash? "It's just a few blocks away. We don't have time to take in all of it, but it'll be nicer than in here, anyway."

He has so much enthusiasm that she can't say no. Or, she could, but it is nicer outside than in here, and she hasn't seen the sculpture park except in passing.

"All right," she says, "let's go."

Gansey has clearly been before. There are little plaques by each sculpture with the artist's name, and the materials used, and name of the sculpture which is sometimes the only clue that she has to what it's even supposed to be. Gansey doesn't need to read any of the plaques to talk about them. He just knows everything already, and has opinions about everything, even just the landscaping. He asks Blue what she thinks, too, and hangs on her answers, even when she tells him that this much grass is an ecological disaster; he asks for her opinion of golf courses.

"Oh, no," she gets distracted from her own point. "You play golf, don't you."

"I don't." He hesitates and then admits, "I was taught how to play, I have played before, but I don't play in the present tense."

She shakes her head with a smile. "You're a recovering golfer."

"Given my circumstances, the only other option available is a golfer who isn't in recovery."

She considers this. "I guess you're okay. Given your circumstances."

He grins at her, brightly. Part of her gets caught up in that grin, in that brilliance. Part of her is still thinking about Blake, about what it means about Gansey that she doesn't recognize him sometimes, about what it means about her that she could be so willing to give up on him and walk away.

-

Thursday night is Blue's suggestion; the coffee shop is Gansey's.

"Thank you for agreeing to meet me here," Gansey says. "I love this place, and now Ronan refuses to come here with me."

The pause when he hits the name Ronan is brief, would almost have been unnoticeable, except that Blue had tripped on it the same way that he had.

She shrugs. She not going to let Gansey handle the weirdness better than her. "I like their parfaits."

It isn't very busy in the coffee shop. Blue figures no one really wants caffeine at eight o'clock at night, or at least, she figures that until Gansey orders a cappuccino.

He notices her skeptical look. "Did I do something wrong?"

"I wasn't going to say anything. If you want to keep yourself up all night, go for it."

"Oh, no, that's not a problem for me."

"And that's why I wasn't going to say something. It's your body, you can order whatever you want."

"Now I understand." He picks his drink up from the bar and takes a sip, with a little smile like maybe he really did need the caffeine. "I'm not sure why I assumed the worst. I guess I'm apprehensive because you have more dating experience than I." She must make a face of some sort because the corner of his mouth quirks up, a self-conscious smile. "Is bringing that up another thing I'm not supposed to do?"

"I have given up trying to guess what you'll do," Blue tells him as they head over to a table. They have their pick; the only other customer is a woman sitting by a window at a laptop with headphones on. She wishes it were a little busier. It feels like the barista has nothing better to do than eavesdrop. "I have dated, but it was mostly pretty casual. The only really serious relationship I've had is -- Adam," and there's both of them catching on that name, too.

Gansey says, "I didn't know the two of you were like that."

"This was back in high school, before you freak out."

"Why would I freak out?"

"Two exes who are still friends..." she waves a hand, do I need to go on?, but he still looks like he doesn't get it. "Surely we're just going to get back together, it's inevitable, I can't help but cheat on you, the only way I could stay faithful would be to dump my best friend and never talk to him again."

Gansey doesn't answer right away, like maybe she isn't done yet and he's waiting for her to get to the point.

"That's an awful lot of nonsense," he tells her.

"Congratulations on being more mature than literally every single person Adam or I have ever dated."

"Excepting each other, of course."

"No, I think you probably have me and Adam beat, too."

"So what happened there? If that isn't too invasive," he tacks on. "I'm very interested in learning the dos and don'ts on having a relationship with Blue Sargent."

Her stupid heartbeat picks up. She swirls her spoon around in her parfait as a distraction. "It wasn't anything in particular, it was just..." God, how does she describe a relationship that ended ten years ago but also didn't end? They'd never had a real talk about what happened; it just became obvious, at a certain point, that breaking up was what needed to happen. They maybe should have talked about it, but it hurt too much, at the time, and afterwards it didn't feel like it mattered enough to be worth bringing it up again.

"He always held part of himself back," she finally says. "He had his reasons, and I know that, but it felt like he didn't trust me. I didn't want to be with someone who was only going to let me be in part of a relationship with them. I'm happy to be his friend, I love him, but that's not what I want from my life."

"In my experience," Gansey says, "people are much better at taking what is shared with them than sharing themselves."

"Yeah," she says, still hung up in her own thoughts. "I don't know, I wasn't the easiest person in the world to date, either. You've already noticed that I can be pretty judgmental."

"I hadn't noticed any such thing."

She gives him a very pointed look: really, Mister 'oh crap what'd I do wrong now'?

He takes a sip of his cappuccino to get out of answering.

"And, I wasn't always very sympathetic with him or willing to meet him halfway. I can be cold sometimes."

"I would think those are mutually exclusive," Gansey says.

Blue frowns. "Why?"

"You can't judge something if you don't care."

"Have you ever been on the internet? People judge things without caring all the time."

"I don't think that they do. They may not be caring about the right things, or expressing it in the wisest way, but they care."

Oh, god, he's an optimist, why couldn't Persephone have warned her about that? "I guess I just have a gift for it," she tells him in the loftiest voice she can manage. "Now tell me something terrible about you."

"What? Oh." He shifts, uncomfortable. "Well, I come from an alarming amount of privilege."

"I knew that one already, Trip. Tell me something else."

"If you have such a natural talent for judgment then you shouldn't need my help identifying my flaws."

She says, "share something with me," and it comes out more serious than she meant it to.

"All right." He thinks it over before he answers. "I feel like I become a different person, in different situations, around different company. And the version others like the most isn't the same one that I do."

Without thinking she says, "you mean you're doing that on purpose?"

"Not on purpose," but then he sounds surprised too. "You noticed?"

"Did I notice," Blue mutters. "I spent all day wondering which of you was going to show up to this date."

He blinks a few times, blatantly trying to find his footing. "To be fair, I spent all day wondering if this was a date."

"Gansey." She doesn't hide her exasperation. "Why wouldn't it be a date?"

"You didn't say. You just said hang out. I didn't want to presume."

"Then you could've asked me what I meant."

He sighs. "Every way I tried to phrase it, it sounded so high school."

"You mean you just shamelessly said everything you meant back in high school?" she asks, laughing at him a little.

"I've always liked being direct about what I'm saying, yes," he says. "But I didn't do a lot of dating back then, it was an all boys' boarding school."

"Ugh, I wish you hadn't just said that, it's going to make this so much harder to say." She shakes her head. "Yes, we're dating, when we hang out, it's a date."

"Thank you, I appreciate the clarity."

"It's really not that big of a deal," she warns him. "This is the lowest possible level of commitment. I'm not your girlfriend, I'm not making you any promises about the future, I haven't decided what it means to me that we have this connection. But I do want to get to know you better."

"I'm glad. I want to get to know you better, too."

She makes up her mind on impulse, before she realizes she'd even been thinking about it. "Hey." She'd figured when they were texting that coffee was the kind of date she could end early if she needed to, but now that she's here she wants to have fun more than she wants an escape route. "Let's go see the rest of the sculpture park."

"You liked it?"

"I did," she says. "And I liked the Gansey that it brought out."

He smiles at her. "I liked him, too."

-

Ronan had never been good at sharing. Babysitters and teachers had despaired of that fact in his childhood, had tried to get his parents to intervene. They never did; Aurora tended toward we'll get enough for everyone as a conflict resolution strategy, even when it meant buying crap the family didn't need. Niall just felt that fighting things out instilled a healthy sense of competition in his boys.

Which means, either by nature or nurture, Ronan is fundamentally not built to share Gansey.

But the other options are give up Gansey or make Gansey give up his soulmate, and either one would be like cutting off an arm.

So during the week, when they get their morning coffee from a rotation of unsatisfactory vendors, Ronan asks Gansey about her, and listens to whatever new stories or observations or starry-eyed wonder Gansey has for a solid three minutes, and then he changes the subject.

"I'm going to tell you something," Gansey says Friday morning, "and I want you not to be unpleasant."

Ronan raises an eyebrow. "You really thought that would work?"

"I thought it was worth a try." He squares his shoulders, preparing for an official pronouncement. "Blue and I are dating."

"Does sarcasm count as unpleasant? Because no shit."

"I'm glad it seemed like a foregone conclusion for you, it never did to me."

"Good luck," Ronan says. "You're gonna need it."

"I want you to meet her."

"I've met her. Did you already forget the part where -- "

"Meet her properly." Gansey's getting a bit annoyed. Like his soulmate attacking Ronan was somehow Ronan's fault.

"Sure, let me just check my social calendar." He mimes opening a book. "What do you know, I have absolutely no openings for getting yelled at by a hobbit, damn."

"I know this can't be easy for you," Gansey says. "But I'm still working on it, I promise. Remember? Blue's decided I'm not so bad, so now you can show her you're not so bad, either."

Ronan stares out the window without answering. He doesn't want to think about the next part of the plan after that, because it's all he wants to think about and he can't, he doesn't even know enough about Adam to imagine what winning him over would be like. He doesn't know anything about Adam except his name and his taste in friends, which is almost as bad as his taste in soulmates.

"Fine. You guys can come over sometime."

"Oh. You want to host?" That's Gansey's I'm not going to disagree with you because I want you to discover for yourself why you're wrong voice. Figures Ronan couldn't get through one fucking coffee break without hearing that.

"Why not? Do you have a problem with my house?"

"I don't want you to feel that you have to go to any special effort -- "

"I won't." Gansey's still perched on the edge of an argument, so Ronan cuts him off. "Bring her over or don't, you're the one that wants to hook me up with your girlfriend."

"She isn't my girlfriend" is the part of that Gansey decides to focus on. "We're just dating."

"What the fuck's the difference?"

Gansey shrugs.

-

Ronan mostly avoids the main part of the house.

It's a gorgeous two-story, packed from the basement to the attic with childhood memories -- literally, because nothing that had been in the house when Niall died had been taken out. It wasn't easy, some days, to walk through all of that history.

Fortunately, some past owner had built an addition to the house, a suite of rooms that connected to the main house but could also be entered through their own door. Probably some nanny or grandma had lived there; it'd mostly gone unused by the Lynch family, though Declan went through a phase where he thought sleeping out there made him so mature and independent. He'd moved back into the main house after the accident, for a while, but then he'd left, and Matthew had left, and every step that Ronan took echoed through the house. It was too much to walk through every day, but it would have been worse to abandon the house and leave it completely empty behind him. So he'd moved into the suite, same as Declan had done during the world's most boring teenage rebellion, and that was better. He knew the house was right there, but most days he didn't have to go into it.

He doesn't actually like having people in his space, though. He can barely stand it even when it's Gansey; he's not going to let an enemy invader in. So he unlocks the connecting door and drifts through the house to the living room.

Everything's where it's supposed to be. Everything's where it's always been. He stands in the middle of all of the stillness for a while, waiting, but it doesn't work. None of the quiet passes over to him.

He switches on the lights. One of the bulbs is dead. He flicks the switch a few times, in case it's just some trick of the wiring, but the bulb stays out. It's a little dim in the room, but whatever, that's still good enough to host an angry pixie and her traitorous boyfriend. He cracks a window open for fresh air. There, that's special effort.

From the look on Gansey's face when he enters the house, that was not enough. He doesn't say that, of course, since they have company. Because Sargent's always so fucking polite.

"Oh, wow, these are beautiful." Sargent followed Gansey a few feet into the hallway but stopped in front of the pressed flowers hanging on the wall. Ronan waits for it to be a joke or an insult or something, but no, she's just -- really fucking into some old arts and crafts project.

"Uh. Yeah." It trips him up that she wasn't a dick to him, that he can't be a dick back to her yet. "My mom made those." The color's more faded than he remembers it being. "Figures you'd be crazy for old shit if you like Gansey."

"They're your flowers, and he's your friend," Sargent says. "What does that say about you?"

Ronan's mood, already low, sinks the longer that Sargent is over. It doesn't help that she keeps not being rude, not about the poor lighting in the living room, not about the dust on the couch cushions, not about anything. The rudest she gets is when Gansey suggests they order dinner, and all she does then is lecture him about why he should order directly from restaurants instead of using a food delivery service, which isn't necessary because she has Gansey convinced the second she opened her mouth. Ronan decides that Uber Eats is his new best friend.

He opens a second bottle of wine after dinner, hoping that enough alcohol can bring back stab you with my fingernail and shout at you in an alley Sargent. Instead it drags the torture out, because now she has to stick around long enough to finish another glass of wine, and they don't have dinner to keep them busy anymore.

"This is cute." Sargent points at an old photo, three brothers lined up for the camera, and taps her finger on six-year-old Declan, "is that you," which is the worst fucking thing anyone has ever said to Ronan in his life. Gansey just corrects her though, pointing out the actual human child that is Ronan, like that's all it takes to make things okay.

"Oh," Sargent says, "that kid looked the grumpiest, so I thought it was Ronan."

He can't tell if that makes the insult worse or not.

Eventually she asks where the bathroom is. Gansey darts off to use a different bathroom, moving fast like he's needed to go for a while but had to wait until he wouldn't be leaving Ronan unchaperoned with his girlfriend.

Ronan clears the wine glasses away. It's his house, he wants to keep it clean. The fact that Sargent's glass is still half-full is just a bonus.

While he's in the kitchen, he notices Sargent's phone sitting on the table.

He doesn't know how it got there. They'd eaten in the living room. They'd poked around the front rooms hunting for things to make small talk about, but they hadn't spent much time in the kitchen. She must have set it down in passing, thoughtlessly leaving her imprint where it doesn't belong.

He opens a cupboard and puts the phone on the highest shelf.

Sargent makes it back to the living room before Gansey. Ronan wonders what kind of panic spiral he's talking himself down from for that to have happened. Unless he's just taking a shit, but even Gansey can't be so clueless that he'd take a shit while he was on a date.

"I have a theory about people with siblings," Sargent says. "When they're kids, there's always that thing that distinguishes them from the others. They're the smart kid or the troublemaker or the shy one, or whatever. But when they grow up they end up being the opposite of whatever everyone told them they were."

"Really," Ronan says. "So what were you, the nice one?"

"I'm an only child."

"Your mom didn't want a whole rainbow of brats?"

"Maybe I was just so wonderful she didn't need to have another kid after me." She tilts her head like a thought is occurring to her. "You have a younger brother, right?"

Gansey comes back just then, and even if he'd heard what she said he would've thought that she wasn't trying to be rude, even though she totally fucking was.

"Hey, Gansey," Ronan says instead of openly going on the offensive. "Which of you was the smart one growing up, you or Helen?"

Sargent looks at him with surprise. "You have a sister?"

"Oh. Yes," Gansey says. "She's a bit older than I am, we didn't really grow up together."

"Oh. Is she a half-sister?"

"No." Gansey looks awkward. So does Sargent. They can't handle the reminder that they don't actually know each other because they met all of ten fucking seconds ago. It's the most that Ronan has managed to upset Gansey's girlfriend all night and all he did was state a basic fact.

It isn't much later that Sargent is saying she should head out. She reaches for her pocket and frowns.

"Has anyone seen my phone?"

She checks the area of the living room they'd been sitting in most of the night; no luck. She heads back to the bathroom while Gansey steps out to check the driveway, saying "I'll give it a ring." He's outside by the time that Ronan hears the chiming coming out of the kitchen.

Sargent follows the sound, frowning, and then opens the cupboard and takes in the fact that her phone is buzzing at her from up on a shelf that's a good two feet past what she can reach.

She glares at him where he's leaning against the wall, shamelessly not helping. For a moment he thinks she's gonna say something.

Instead, she puts both hands on the counter and hoists herself up, first to her knees and then standing upright.

"Christ -- " Ronan takes a few steps forward, spotting her on instinct. She'd shot up to her feet way too fast for him.

She grabs her phone off the top shelf and then jumps off of the fucking counter. Ronan's parents dishes rattle from the impact of her landing. She swipes at the screen, nonchalant, like she isn't a fucking menace.

"Thanks, Gansey, I've got it."

"Perfect." She hangs up on him, but Ronan hears that from Gansey's actual voice. He's already back in the house, and a moment later he's in the kitchen. "You found it?"

"Actually, Ronan did." Sargent looks at him in that way that teachers and babysitters do when they're giving you a chance to confess what you'd done on your own, before they told on you.

Except he doesn't confess, and she doesn't tell on him.

"I'll call you later, Gansey." She grabs her leftovers on the way to the door, tosses "thanks for having me over, Ronan, your house is lovely" over her shoulder on the way out.

As soon as the door shuts behind her Gansey rounds on him. "I don't know what you did but I don't appreciate it."

"How do you know I did something?" Ronan argues. "Maybe it was your tiny man-hating girlfriend."

"Years of lived experience."

"So every time something goes wrong it's my fault."

"I'm not the one pushing this to extremes," Gansey says. "I gave you a chance."

"The first thing you told me was not to be an asshole, what kind of chance is that?"

"One that overestimated your abilities, apparently."

Ronan storms off to his rooms, angry at first, and then guilty, and then angry about feeling guilty. It isn't fair that Gansey can do that, can make him feel like an asshole when no one else can. It isn't fair that Gansey can make him feel bad when he's the one getting screwed.

Chapter Text

Blue was not impressed with Ronan.

He'd been rude to her -- fine, it wasn't like she was always so polite; sometimes you have to be a little rude. He didn't believe in dusting or vacuuming -- whatever, she didn't live with him, that wasn't her problem. But she couldn't get past his attitude, the way he spoke around her instead of to her, like he was challenging her to earn his attention when he'd already decided she couldn't have it.

She can't imagine how he became so important to Gansey, or how he managed to stay that important to Gansey when he can't get through one night without doing something to upset him. She wonders about the phone. Did Ronan want to get caught? It was only luck that Gansey was outside when it rang. Did he want to force Gansey to choose between them? Then why couldn't he have just been hostile, to her face, instead of forcing her to spend the whole night treating him like one of her mother's terrible customers. She hated the kill 'em with kindness act, she usually hadn't bothered with it even when she was dealing with customers, but -- Ronan found it annoying. It was hard to stop once she'd started.

And this is Gansey's best friend. She doesn't get what Gansey sees in him.

She doesn't get how he's supposed to be Adam's other half.

So it wasn't encouraging, for a night that Gansey obviously hoped would mean something. She can't make things good between the two of them when it isn't her fault there's a problem. Unless Ronan surprises her and changes his attitude, this is exactly what all of their future interactions are going to be like. It's enough to make her pull up the pros and cons of dating Gansey and give the whole thing some serious reconsideration.

Ronan does surprise her, though. Ronan shows up at her office.

"What are you doing here?" she hisses at him, glancing around reception for an explanation. She already knows she won't find one. "How do you know where I work?"

"Gansey won't shut up about you for more than ten seconds in a row," he says, at full volume, like he doesn't care that their intern is standing five feet away, or like he knows that she cares and that's why he's doing it. "You don't want to know all the shit that I know about you."

She shoos him down the hall and toward the quiet room, hoping that none of her coworkers are having a worse morning than she is. Fortunately for her and for them, the room is empty. She snaps the door shut behind Ronan.

"Why are you here?" she asks again. "Don't you have anything better to do than bug me?"

"Hey, you can't talk." He looks around the quiet room judgmentally. "You're the one who has coloring books in her office."

"This isn't my office, this is a common space for employees to take mental health breaks."

"Jesus Christ," he mutters in disgust.

"You know, maybe you should stay here for a while. You could use it."

"I'm not a psycho, I don't need a mental health break."

"Right, you just show up at my workplace uninvited for no reason, that's such a healthy and sane action."

"I'm developing my interpersonal relationships," he says in a snappy tone, and oh no, he just had to notice the self-care checklist that's on the wall, even Blue thinks that one's stupid. "What could I possibly have to do that's more important than that."

When all else fails, go for the personal attack. "You don't have a job, do you."

"I don't need a job."

Blue rolls her eyes.

"What, you think that's disgusting? Gansey's got a fuckton more money than I do, but he's fine because he puts on a tie for eight hours a day?"

"I didn't say Gansey's wealth wasn't also offensive."

"You're really gonna call your boyfriend disgusting?" Ronan demands. It's impossible to win with him. Shame on Blue for forgetting that for two entire seconds.

"No," she says, dragging her words out long, "because I don't have a boyfriend, because Gansey and I are just dating."

"What the fuck does that mean?"

"It means we're getting to know each other," but he still looks confused. Great. Gansey won't call anything dating and Ronan won't allow anything less than total commitment. Are they only capable of being normal if you average them out? Is that what Gansey sees in him, a personality counterweight?

"The universe shoved you at him at a billion miles an hour," Ronan says, "what the fuck do you need to know?"

Whether he's hiding any more nasty surprises like you.

Blue bites her lip.

"I'd like to know why you're here," she says. "If you're trying to apologize you're doing a pretty bad job."

"Apologize for what," like he doesn't already know, like his sullenness isn't an admission.

"The other night," she snaps.

"What about the other night," he snaps back at her, but the anger gives way to bitterness. "You got to hang out with Gansey, what else do you need?"

She blinks.

Nothing's any different than before. Ronan hasn't apologized, or admitted that there's anything to apologize for. He hasn't shown her any respect or given any sign that's something he's willing to ever give her.

But she shuts her eyes and opens her eyes and somehow she's able to look at him different than before. Not enough that she can see the Ronan that Gansey sees; she still can't imagine what that looks like. But before there'd been an asshole who went out of his way to make her miserable, and now there's Ronan in his big empty house, terrified of losing Gansey, and -- that, she gets. Her pros and cons list comes to mind and suddenly it's a joke, not funny but pathetic, that she thought she could logic Gansey away. She doesn't know if she'll keep him, or for how long, but if someone tried to take him away from her she'd fight, too.

Of course, I have to put up with Ronan is still there on the cons side of the list, but it carries less weight than it used to. He's just a guy who wants to hold onto his best friend, she gets that. She gets it, but she doesn't have to relate to it, because she's in no danger of having Adam taken away from her.

"Fine, you're right," she admits, and enjoys the surprise on Ronan's face. Catching him off-guard is much more fun than killing him with kindness. "Gansey is my boyfriend, are you happy now?"

"You're just going to decide that without asking him?"

"I figured you were speaking on his behalf."

Ronan scowls. "Leave me out of your relationship, creep."

"You crashed my workday to yell at me for not defining my relationship the way you wanted me to," she points out. Ronan just looks at her: yeah, and? "Unless the reason you're here is because you have too much free time. We're always looking for volunteers."

"What, you want me to stand on a street corner and yell at people to sign petitions?"

Blue snorts. "You'd be pretty effective."

"Get the fuck out of the vote."

"You're supposed to get out the vote, not get out of the vote."

"So I'd yell at Republicans."

She has to admit, that's a pretty nice mental image. "Exactly. But first you should sign our community wall." She gestures at the chalkboard, full of hearts and smiley faces and positive words of encouragement.

He takes a step back in revulsion. "You've gotta be fucking kidding me."

She picks up a piece of chalk and hands it to him. "Just write your name, it's not hard."

He takes the chalk from her and draws a penis, right in the middle of the board. It overlaps with a message that'd been left by the director of one of their sister organizations, right where she couldn't erase one without erasing the other.

He hands back the piece of chalk and looks her dead in the eyes, clearly waiting for her to yell at him for being inappropriate.

Blue doesn't really like that director, anyway.

"Wow," she tells him, voice flat, "way to be phallocentric."

"Hey," Ronan says, smiling in a way that isn't quite mean. "You can't tell a gay guy not to love dick, that's homophobic."

Blue smiles back at him in a way that's not quite sarcastic.

-

"You're out late," Adam says when she lets herself into the apartment.

"I was on a date." Gansey had taken her to see a play at a little hole in the wall theater she'd never heard of, which made her suspicious that he'd googled date ideas for alternative chicks, but no, it turns out he supports the theater because he believes in having a space for independent artists to produce their work. His name was printed on the back of the program as one of Our Donors. She wasn't sure how she felt about that.

Then the play had started and she'd decided that what she felt was embarrassment, for everyone in the theater, because the play sucked. Gansey clearly thought so, and clearly felt responsible. He'd made a few awkward stabs at conversation after the show, it was very earnest, that was first-time playwright, until she said I can tell, it was awful, and then they'd had to laugh about it. They'd laughed about a lot of things. She completely forgot it was a work night.

"Cactus guy?" Adam guesses. "What's that make, three dates?"

"Five."

"Sounds like it's getting serious."

She sets her fingertips lightly on the table. Adam's on the couch, all the way across the room. She hasn't made it far past the front door. "It is."

He grins at her. Not big or open, but it's still a lot, from Adam. "Congrats."

Blue says, "he's my soulmate."

The smile vanishes off Adam's face. His shoulders drop, already exhausted with what a disappointment she is. "Blue, come on. You're supposed to be rational."

"I am being rational," she tells him. "You're the one who's judging him without knowing anything about him."

"You just met him, how much do you know about him?"

"I know as much now as I did ten seconds ago, when you were happy for me."

"Ten seconds ago I thought you had met someone you liked, not jumped into an arranged marriage."

"I'm not married to him." There's already too much irritation in her voice, but noticing that doesn't help. It makes her more irritated. "He's just my boyfriend."

"What do you think happens next? Now that he's your boyfriend. Do you really think you're going to leave him?"

The contempt in his words slams into her, makes her raise her voice over the thud of her own anxious pulse. "I think that I get to decide what happens, not you."

"You're not making a decision," he says. "You're letting it be made for you."

"Right, I didn't make the choice you would have, so clearly I'm being stupid." Adam rolls his eyes, dismissive, but doesn't actually contradict her, of course I don't think you're stupid, Blue -- "If you're going to be pissy anyway, you might as well know. My soulmate is friends with your soulmate."

There's a very long moment before he reacts, tense and drawn out and horrible, except when it's over Blue misses it. That was the last moment that it was just her and Adam. Now it's her and Adam and this thing that she did to him.

"What the hell did you do?"

She stands her ground. "I went back to the coffee shop."

"Why?"

"You should know who is he."

"It doesn't matter who he is!"

"Of course it matters," she says. "You don't have to fall in love with him but his words are on you -- "

"His words are fuck off," Adam snarls. "If you're going to say that they matter then you could take a hint."

"What if he came after you?" Blue says, voice calm and level and rational, damn you, Adam. "If he just showed up in your life and you didn't know anything about him? Would you rather he sneak up on you?"

"Stop pretending any of this is for my benefit." He stands up, but doesn't actually move anywhere; not willing to get any closer to her but not willing to let her put him at a disadvantage any longer. "This is about you, deciding you know better than me about my own life."

"But you know my life better than I do," she challenges him, "is that it."

"When you're acting like this, yeah, I think I do."

Her skin is searing hot, but her voice is ice cold. That shouldn't be possible. Maybe it isn't. Maybe it's someone else who says, "his name is Ronan Lynch."

He doesn't accept it right away, like it isn't sinking in, like he is still, somehow, giving her the benefit of the doubt.

He gets it in the end. She doesn't need him to make excuses for her.

"Goddammit, Blue, I didn't want to know that."

"He's a person," she says. "I've met him. We can't just pretend he doesn't exist."

"That's exactly what I wanted to do and you knew that." He pauses to choose his words, which means one of two things, with Adam, in a fight. Either the fight is about to end, or it's about to get much, much worse. "My fault for being surprised. You only care what other people want if you've decided they deserve it. God forbid you respect someone who doesn't agree with you."

Blue holds her breath. It makes her feel dizzy, and sick, and overheated. It's too much on top of how she's tearing up, furious, and it's the only thing that is stopping her from spitting out every terrible thought she's ever had about Adam.

She holds her breath until she can't anymore, and then she turns around and leaves.

-

Gansey picks up after the first ring.

"Blue! Is it proper etiquette to call so soon after a date?"

Her throat is shut tight and she's hot and cold and shaking with how mad she is. She can't speak. She has nothing she can say to that kind voice in her ear.

"Blue? Are you there?"

Anyone else would assume this was a pocket dial. Not Gansey. He's concerned at the lack of response. She's making him worry about her.

She forces out the first words she can think of. "Can I come over? To your place?"

"Of course, I'll text you the address." His concern has not lessened at all. "Or do you need a ride? I can come get you."

She could use a walk to the train station to cool down. She's not fit for company yet. "No, I can get there myself, I just -- " I can't stay at Adam's, I don't want to deal with my roommate, I need to crash somewhere, but more than any of those, "I just want to see you."

"Well," Gansey says, "I want to see you too."

"Well, good," she says. "Because I'm on my way."

The two voices chase each other around and around in her head the whole way there -- God forbid you respect someone -- Is it proper etiquette -- You're supposed to be rational -- I want to see you, too --

It isn't until she's knocking on the door to Gansey's house -- a strange rundown wreck of a building -- that she thinks, you had a fight with Adam and your first instinct was to call Gansey, what does that mean?

There's movement on the other side of the door.

It means that you called Gansey, she tells herself firmly.

He opens the door.

She was right. She did want to see him.

"Blue, hello." He changed out of his theater clothes, into sweatpants and a t-shirt so faded she almost can't tell it says YALE on the front. He looks cozy. No matter how someone touched him, it would be comfortable. "Come on in."

"Thanks." She steps in without noticing anything about the inside of the house. "I know it's late."

"Nothing to worry about," he says. "I have a touch of insomnia anyway."

She heads in the direction that he gestures toward. "That sounds like something worth worrying about."

"That's the funny thing about insomnia. Worrying about it makes it worse."

She looks over her shoulder to respond and almost trips stepping on -- a paintbrush, it turns out, lying on the floor for some reason. Gansey apologizes behind her, I'm sorry, the place is a mess, and mess is putting it mildly. The living room is an eclectic madhouse of books and crafting supplies and weathered old furniture, and she stands in the middle of it without moving because it's so perfectly Gansey, her Gansey.

"Blue, are you all right?"

She says, "I just had a huge fight with Adam."

"I'm sorry to hear that." He does sound sorry, in a careful and practiced sort of way. She thinks that maybe that's the sort of thing you'd practice saying if you didn't trust yourself to get it right by yourself. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"No. I'm going to anyway." She moves a stack of old records off of the couch so there's enough room for two people. "Sit with me?"

He hovers. "I was going to offer you a beverage."

"I don't want one."

He sits next to her. His arm is resting along the top of the couch so his whole body is turned in toward her, but he's not close enough that they actually touch. She wonders if that was deliberate, if he was looking for just the right balance between being supportive and giving her space, or if that's a compromise he makes instinctively.

"I told him about you," she says. "He knew I was dating someone, but he thought...I let him think that you were just someone I met, not my soulmate. I kept that a secret from him." She breathes out. "I lied."

"I'm sure you had your reasons."

"I did. I knew he was going to overreact and that's exactly what happened." She feels the heat of the argument trickling back into her face. "He immediately assumed that you were a horrible mistake and that I wasn't capable of figuring that out for myself. Like I can't make a judgment call on my own."

"I will confirm that you are more than capable of making judgment calls," Gansey says. She shoots him a glare that someone else earned. "By which I mean, I trust your ability to make your own decisions, and surely someone who knows you better than I do would have the same trust in you. Which suggests that Adam wasn't thinking very objectively."

"He wasn't wrong, though." Her energy drains away again. She can't stay mad when someone is agreeing with her and telling her she was right, not when she wasn't. "I didn't make a good decision when I went behind his back to find Ronan."

"I'm selfishly glad that you did." Gansey looks thoughtful. "One could argue that our meeting means that you had to find Ronan, although I'm not philosophically comfortable with the lack of agency that grants any of us."

"I'm not going to blame fate. It was my decision, even if it was a bad one." And it was a bad one, but if she hadn't done it... "I don't actually regret it."

"I don't, either," Gansey says softly.

"I do wish I hadn't thrown it in his face tonight." She sighs. On the way here she'd seen Adam's anger everywhere she looked. Now all she can see is the hurt and the betrayal he'd had before the anger. "Sometimes he just pisses me off so much that even when I know he has a point I can't make myself apologize."

"I know precisely what you mean," and that isn't rehearsed sympathy, that's just the truth. "I've had those exact arguments with Ronan more times than I can count."

They've never actually talked about this other strange connection they have, not even when Gansey asked her to meet Ronan. They both know about it, but -- it had never felt like the right time, maybe, or she hadn't wanted it to be the right time.

She thinks they have used up the amount of time they got to spend not talking about it.

"Are we sure they're soulmates?" she asks him. "Because I don't see how that works without them driving each other insane."

"I suppose it's possible that the words could be a coincidence," Gansey says, without any real confidence. "It doesn't seem likely, given the words in question..."

Blue snorts. "Oh, I fully believe this will not be the only time Ronan introduces himself to someone by saying fuck off."

Gansey looks horrified. "He didn't." He covers his face. "Who am I fooling, of course he did. Ronan."

"You didn't know?"

"I inferred that he had said something less than complimentary," and that is by far the stuffiest voice she has ever heard him use. It makes her grin, for a moment.

"Do you know if -- I mean, does Ronan even care about soulmates?"

Gansey lowers his hand back to his knee, pulling himself together. Blue thinks that, on its own, is the answer.

"Ronan is the most romantic person I know," Gansey says. "His parents were soulmates, they were -- like a fairy tale, like an old movie, like the kind of relationship you tell yourself real people don't have, except they did."

It would be impossible to miss that past tense, even if she hadn't seen the mausoleum Ronan called a home. "What happened?"

"There was an accident." The words come out slowly, dredged up from some place that's hard to reach. "When we were teenagers. His father was killed instantly. His mother has been in a persistent vegetative state ever since. It was -- a hard time for him."

"No kidding," she breathes out.

"No, of course, it would've been for anyone. But Ronan was so close with his parents. Having them taken away...It shook his faith in life, I think. Or in himself. He'd always wanted what they had, and then they passed -- his father passed -- anyway. He made some bad decisions. He started dating this total bastard," the sharp bite of anger falls out of nowhere, startling her. She's not sure she's heard Gansey swear before. "Which just led to more trouble, he almost got arrested once that I know of -- "

"This is the most romantic person you know?"

"He has some rough edges that he didn't have before," Gansey admits. "But he's put himself back together a lot since then. He feels things very deeply. He cares for his people. And -- he never stopped wanting that relationship."

Blue twists her hands together. "Adam doesn't even want me to date my soulmate. He hates the whole concept. His parents were not like a fairy tale."

Gansey collapses back against the couch with a sigh. "God, what a mess. I don't suppose you have any strong philosophical objections to finance workers or Ivy League grads that I should know about."

"Yes to both," she says, "and I look forward to telling you about them at length."

"Is that so?"

"It is so," she says in a mock-serious voice. Gansey smiles at her. "But first I want to kiss you."

The smile disappears. She likes the expression that takes its place, too.

"Oh," Gansey says, trying to regain his footing and not coming anywhere close. "Well, yes, then. You should do that."

She puts a hand on the side of his face and kisses him, once very quickly and then once very slowly, lingering in it until he joins her, until he leans in close, until his arm slides down off the couch and draws a tight circle around her.

Chapter Text

The guest room is stacked too high with books to actually function as a room for a guest. Gansey insists that she sleep in his room, I'm going to be up for hours anyway. She starts to argue that she can sleep on the couch, but then she has the thought Adam always asks me which one I want and she can't dredge up the energy. She takes the bed and lets him sleep in the living room.

She's expecting him to still be asleep when she gets up the next morning, if he really stayed up so late, but he's in the kitchen before her, pouring a enormous mug of drip coffee.

"Morning." His voice is rough and sleepy.

"Morning." She gets close enough to kiss him but decides on a whim that she'd rather ruffle his hair. It's all smooshed on one side.

He hands her the coffee that he poured for himself and gets another mug out of the cupboard. She takes the empty one away from him and hands him back his coffee. He accepts it automatically and then blinks down at it like he can't figure out where this cup of warm brown liquid appeared from.

She asks him "do you mind if I borrow some clothes?"

That does not help him process what's happening. She likes how confusion looks on him. "No? You're welcome to them. I can't imagine they'll fit."

"I can't imagine anyone who knows me will be surprised to see me in oversized menswear."

"By all means, then." He remembers that coffee is for drinking and makes the most of this discovery.

She reuses her skirt from the day before -- Gansey's pants would need serious modification before she could get away with them -- but she fishes a shirt out of his closet and buttons it up over her bra. She grabs a pair of his boxers and slides them on.

It's going to be annoying to carry around her dirty clothes all day. She balls up her underwear in yesterday's shirt and sticks them in his hamper, pictures him blushing when he stumbles over them doing laundry. Is that too much? She hopes not. She's seen his underwear. And it's not like he'll be seeing her in them.

She uses the bathroom; when she steps out, the door to Gansey's bedroom is shut. She heads to the kitchen and searches for any actual food. She finds a lot of coffee beans.

"You look wonderful."

Blue turns away from the freezer (frozen vegetables with old sell-by dates and even more coffee for some reason) to smile at Gansey. "Thanks. I'd like to say you too, but you look like you're going off to exploit the working class."

He smiles. "I suppose you warned me this was coming."

"I promised you objections, it would be irresponsible to not deliver. I'm not some soulless business major with no integrity."

"Technically, neither was I," Gansey says. "I didn't intend to wind up in finance."

"How did you?"

He pauses before he answers. "I realize that what I'm about to say isn't going to help my case."

Blue smirks. She definitely wants to make him tell her now. "Oh?"

"My father got me this job after I quit grad school."

Oh yeah. That is somehow what she wanted to hear and also the worst possible thing he could have said. "You're really bragging that nepotism is better than majoring in business?"

"No, but it's more accurate."

She shakes her head. "So what were you in grad school for?"

"I was pursuing a PhD in archaeology," Gansey says. "We were excavating an old Roman settlement in Wales -- I was more interested in the late middle ages, but that was my advisor's passion, the Romans, and anyway it's all the same kind of critical thought. That's the important thing to learn."

That...isn't what Blue was expecting. In three seconds he sounded more excited about an excavation that was someone else's passion project than he'd ever sounded about his job. She wouldn't have said that he was bored with his work, exactly; he has a mind that can find interest in anything. But that isn't where his heart is, and it occurs to her that Gansey with his admiration of romanticism should be where his heart is.

"What changed?"

He looks down at his coffee cup like he's scrying. "Two years ago I almost died."

It drops on her too suddenly for her to have any emotions about it. "What?" She wonders if she heard him wrong.

"The semester was ending," Gansey says, "so the archaeology department organized a picnic and a hike to celebrate -- that was something of a joke," and Blue is definitely lost if anything about this moment is supposed to be funny. "You know, 'don't we get enough trudging through the wilderness and eating off the ground already?' Anyway. There was a stream not too far from the trail, and I wanted to wash my hands, I'd gotten some kind of sap on them somehow. So I stepped of the trail, which of course you aren't supposed to do. But I thought, I'll be careful, and I'm not going very far."

Dread sinks deeper into Blue's gut the longer that he talks. It doesn't matter that everything he's describing is benign. That makes it worse.

"Gansey," she says, when he pauses and doesn't start up again. "Where is this story going?"

"I was careful to look where I stepped on the way out," he says. "But then I could hear people laughing, and I wanted to rejoin the conversation, and after all I'd just been through that way. I wasn't thinking of it as dangerous. And I guess it wouldn't have been, except I stepped on a hornet's nest and I am very allergic to bee stings."

"No," Blue says.

"Yes," but he says it sort of absently, by reflex. "It wasn't the first time I'd been stung, but it was the worst, by a lot. I survived -- obviously -- but I had a stay in the hospital, and even after I was discharged I wasn't quite myself. I took some time off school to recover. The plan was that I'd return in time for the next dig, but when the time came I...froze. I thought about being out at the site, miles and miles from any hospital, and I couldn't do it. I was too afraid to go back to my life."

"Gansey, that's awful." She takes his hand and squeezes it. He looks surprised for the second time this morning: where did this thing that I'm holding come from?

"It some ways it was very lucky," he says. "We were near the trail head. And the trail itself was still in town, we hadn't gone anywhere remote. It wasn't supposed to be a strenuous hike, my advisor was not in the best of health. They were able to get me to an ambulance and then to a hospital in record time. The doctors told me that if it had been another minute there wouldn't have been anything they could do for me. So I was really quite fortunate."

"Fortunate -- " Blue makes herself stop arguing. "Where's your Epipen?"

"Er -- oh. I have one in the car."

"What if you got stung right now?"

"Inside of my house?"

"I'm serious," she says, "you need to get the one in your car and keep it on you."

"I think it's expired."

"Then you're going to get a new one and carry it with you all the time. And get one for me. And one for Ronan."

"Ronan already has one," Gansey says, like that is the first thing she's said that he understood.

Blue can't believe she's being out-soulmated by a guy who pretended he couldn't remember her name for half a night. "Fine, then you can keep that one at your desk at work."

"I doubt that I'm going to be stung by a bee in an office tower."

"But what if you are?"

"Blue." He says her name in a gentle way. She absolutely hates the way that makes her feel. "If I get stung again I'll be dead before the Epipen could make a difference."

"You don't know that."

"It's likely."

"You don't know that."

"I've made my peace with it."

"Well I haven't and I'm not going to! You just told me that you could die at any second and you don't even care and I'm not supposed to care either?" She hears the words as they leave her mouth and she thinks oh, no. No, this is too much. No, this isn't rational.

She lets go of Gansey and takes a step toward the door.

"Blue." He reaches for her with her name only; he hasn't moved since he told her how his life ended. "Please don't leave like this."

She returns to the table.

Gansey takes her hand in exactly the same way she'd been holding his earlier, copying the amount of touch she'd initiated, like he figured that was how much she'd want. It isn't. She throws herself forward and presses her face against his stupid tie and wraps her arms around his waist.

He puts his arms around her shoulders. "I'll get one, okay? I'll get one if it makes you feel better, I'll get ten."

She thinks about saying no. He's allowed to make his own decisions. She wouldn't let him dictate her medical choices or her risk tolerance, and she doesn't need him to do things just to make her feel better, she can take care of herself.

But she really does want him to have one, and she's fiercely, selfishly happy at the idea that he would do something just to make her feel better and for no other reason at all.

"Don't get ten, there's a shortage." She sniffs. "Get one. For me."

-

It was an intense, weird night followed by an intense, weird morning; her afternoon cuts her some slack and isn't intense or weird, but hours after leaving Gansey's house she's still rattled. She does what she normally does when she has an off-day. She texts Adam.

Agree or disagree: today sucks

Adam takes the third option. He doesn't respond.

She gives him an hour after his shift is over, just in case, but she already knows he's seen it. He can't check his phone while he's working, but he checks it during his breaks. He could have responded, if he wanted to.

He picks up when she calls. That's something.

"Busy day at the shop?" she asks.

"Yeah."

"Anything interesting?" She couldn't care less about the inner workings of cars, but she wants to hear his voice. It's not an olive branch by itself, but it's something to build a conversation on, so that she can get to a place where she can try to make things right. For that she would happily listen to ten minutes about transmission fluid.

Adam doesn't take it. "Not really."

"Sounds like you need to do something fun, then," Blue says. "Game night?"

"Tonight's not good for me."

"What about tomorrow?"

"I don't know. I'm working a long shift tomorrow, I'll probably be tired."

"Okay." She doesn't push it anymore. She's already pushed it as far as feels safe, and it's gotten her so little. "Let me know when's a good time, when you know?"

"Yeah, sure. I'll talk to you then." He hangs up. She hadn't really meant that as the end of the conversation.

He texts her the next day, right when she's wondering if she's allowed to text him first.

Monday?

That's sooner than she's expected him to offer. She decides that's a good sign.

Yup, and she almost follows it with another text, is it okay if I crash at your place after. She hasn't had to ask in ages, they've both just known she was welcome at Adam's place. She doesn't want to have to ask now, so she doesn't.

It's a pretty standard night. Adam makes dinner and Blue brings dessert. They play a few board games, skipping over the ones that start the most heated arguments about rules, but then again they mostly don't play those together anyway. Blue has learned her lesson about Munchkin.

She waits, the whole night, for Adam to bring up the topic of soulmates. She'd sprung the conversation on him the first time, and she doesn't want to force him through that again; she owes it to him to let him frame the conversation the way he wants it to.

But he keeps not mentioning it, and while she gets that -- it's not like their record on having hard conversations about their relationship is so great -- she doesn't think that's going to work this time. Talking about their break up didn't matter, in a way, because they both understood and agreed on the end result: we're not dating anymore but we're not losing each other either. They have no agreement on what they're supposed to do about this.

"I missed talking to you the last few days," she says in a lull in the conversation, while Adam studies the board and plans his next move.

He keeps his eyes on the table. "Work's been busy," which could be an excuse, "and I needed some space," which isn't.

"Are you avoiding me because of Ronan?"

"He doesn't have an effect on my decisions," Adam says, "since I don't know him."

Yeah, she really believes that, it's super convincing. "Are you avoiding me because of Gansey?"

He looks up from the table and frowns. "Who?"

"My boyfriend." Had she really not told Adam his name? He's missed so much. She has missed him so much.

"You call him Gan Zee?"

"He goes by his last name."

"Why," Adam asks, judgmental in just the way that she loves to be with him. She grins.

"Because he's ridiculous, you have no idea," she starts.

"I don't." Adam draws a card off the deck and reads it. "I'll take your word for it."

"Are you mad at me for dating him?"

"Date whoever you want, Blue," he says. "Just let me do the same."

That was never the argument. That wasn't why she'd done any of it, and this is the problem with letting Adam frame the conversation. She either has to argue with him about how they're going to argue, or -- or she can let him be right, since the end is the same, however she has to get there.

"I will," she says. "You get to make your own decisions, Adam, that's what I want for you."

"Good." Adam moves his token to exactly the space that she was hoping he wouldn't. "Because I'm about to win this."

She checks her hand but nope, it's still garbage. "Yeah, fine. Best out of three?"

-

Ronan was a dipshit when he was a teenager.

All teenagers are dipshits, but Ronan really doubled down on saying and doing the absolute stupidest thing he could think of in any situation. It's kind of insane that he's still alive. It's really insane that the one thing he did right, the one thing that wasn't an attempt to hurt himself or anyone else, is the reason he's stuck in the same pew as Declan.

"The lawyer said you haven't signed the paperwork yet."

"I did." He'd signed on the line meant for Declan.

"The second set of paperwork. Real estate transfers take forever on their own, you don't need to intentionally drag out the process."

Ronan tunes him out, stares at his missal like if he tries hard enough he can see through the pages to the end, spoiler alert, Jesus dies. He made a promise, mass every Sunday, and he's not going to break it now, but fuck he wishes he was somewhere else.

"Have you put any thought into this at all?"

"No," Ronan snaps, "my pretty little head is completely empty."

"You have to do something with the house," Declan says. "Ten years is long enough. Fix it up or sell it."

"I don't have to do anything with it," Ronan reminds him, "it's mine."

"Not if you don't sign the paperwork."

"Do you really have to do this right now?" Matthew whispers at them. "The usher's glaring at us, he's scary."

Ronan breaks away from his brothers after mass. Matthew is distracted by the donuts and coffee outside the church, because he never really internalized I'm an adult and can buy my own junk food whenever I want, and Declan is distracted by his distraction. It almost works; he manages to sneak a good ten feet away before they notice.

"Where are you headed?" Declan asks, loud enough Ronan can hear him, polite enough that it sounds like a question instead of a scolding.

"Have plans," he says, over his shoulder, not slowing down. Declan can't chase after him in front of half the congregation.

"Tell Gansey I said hi." Like all of Declan's best attacks, it doesn't sound like an attack, but the message is clearly I know that there's only one person you could possibly have plans with, loser.

He doesn't have plans, exactly, but Gansey had said he'd be home all weekend and Ronan could stop by, so he does that.

Gansey takes one look at him and says "how's Declan?"

"One hundred percent pure dick weed, what else is new." Ronan throws himself into a chair and puts his feet on the table.

"I held out hope once that spending enough time with your brother would help you find common ground with him." Gansey clears away the papers closest to Ronan's boots. "Or at least build up an immunity."

"You can't be immune to dick weed."

"Then maybe limiting your exposure is the best course of action."

"If you can make him get lost, go for it."

"You're never going to do a very effective job of getting rid of him if you show up to the same place every Sunday."

Ronan shifts, nudging a different stack of paper. He doesn't want to talk about that. He didn't come here for advice. "I figure one of these weeks he's going to burst into flames when he steps inside the church."

Gansey makes a face to show that he is not amused. Like he can complain, this whole bitch session has sucked. Ronan blames it on Sargent. Gansey can't be assed to care about Ronan's problems anymore because all of his attention is focused on his girlfriend. Although to be fair, as tiny as she is, you'd have to focus on her at all times just to be sure you didn't accidentally step on her and squish her. Which would be so tragic if it happened. Ronan shifts his feet again and sends a coaster flying.

-

Since it's Sargent's fault that Gansey sucks now, she should have to suffer for it, too.

"You're getting really passionate about the environment, huh." This time she skips right over being surprised to see him at her office and goes straight for the sarcasm.

"Fuck no," Ronan says. "The climate's boring, let's change that shit up."

She rolls her eyes. He wonders if that's the thing the universe locked in on, it saw her I'm not going to laugh because you don't deserve it face and Gansey's I'm hurt at how much you disappoint me face and though, yeah, these are two people who should have kids together.

"I've never said this to anyone before, but I'm glad you're not politically active. Do not become more involved in your community. You're already doing exactly as much as you should be doing."

"Oh yeah, that's me, I'm a fucking blessing."

"Since you're not here to fundraise for your super PAC or learn about eco-friendly housing -- " he gags; she keeps talking. Rude. "Why are you here?"

"What do you know about housing?"

"Huh?"

"You live in some shitty apartment."

She stares at him, intense. "Let me be clear. You are not. Allowed. To show up at my apartment."

"Like I wanna have a sleepover with you."

"Then why do you know where I live."

"I don't." He hates explaining himself, but she's still staring at him, so he does it anyway, ugh, he is way to nice to her. "It wasn't such a fucking leap to guess that the communist doesn't have rent money for anything nicer than a shitty apartment." She makes that I'm letting it go but you're still wrong face again. "So where do you get off telling people what to do with their houses?"

"I don't have to own a car to know how to drive one."

"Why would you not own a car?" he demands.

She turns her eyes up to the ceiling and holds her hands up, a prayer for patience that looks awfully familiar; Ronan's gotten that from a lot of people. "Okay, one, they're expensive, two, they're bad for the environment, three, upkeep is a lot of work, four, we have a robust system of public transportation, five, it was a metaphor. You don't learn the principles of low-impact home design from owning a house, you learn them by, you know, learning."

"Okay, if you've learned so much," Ronan says. "Bitch at me about my home."

"Honestly, it could be worse," she says, slow at first, but when he doesn't interrupt she keeps rolling. "Trees close to the house help cool it and keep AC use low, that's good. LED lights are good too. You didn't have a thousand electronics plugged in and unnecessarily charging all over the place. There's about a thousand things you should be doing, starting with getting new windows, which you probably want anyway since one of them is cracked," wait, shit, one of the windows is broken, why is he learning this from his arch-nemesis, "but it's really not as much of a disaster as it could be since, you know, it belongs to you."

He takes a swipe at her, lazily, but she easily avoids it.

"Okay, whatever," he says. "I guess you're allowed to keep seeing Gansey -- "

"Yeah, because that was at stake here."

" -- but I still say fuck the environment. Screw the whales, melt the icebergs, kill the bees." He can't really tell, because it's not a huge reaction, but he thinks that knocked her off-balance. He can't resist the urge to push again. "When are you and Gansey getting hitched?"

That topples her right over. Her jaw drops and her mouth hangs open, fuck, the last time Ronan got a reaction like that, something was on fire.

"What?"

"Married," he explains. "Matrimony, tying the knot, settling down -- "

"I know what married means!"

"Then what's the problem?"

"Just because you're so poorly socialized you think you can come bug me whenever you feel like it -- " Ronan gives her his most charming and therefore least frequently used smile. She returns it with a scowl. "That doesn't mean that no one else has boundaries or common sense."

"What are you holding out for?" Ronan asks. "Does he have to get new windows before you put a ring on it?"

"I don't have a, a checklist he has to complete, that's not how that works!" She squints at him in suspicion. "You can't be serious. You're not serious, are you?"

He's maybe half-serious, but he smirks like all he's doing is fucking with her. "No, c'mon, tell me how it works for the kids who got properly socialized."

She's still suspicious. He gives her a little go on gesture.

"It's just -- we're not ready, geez, we're not even close to being ready. We don't know each other that well, we don't know how we'd handle tough situations. We haven't traveled together, we haven't lived together -- "

"Sounds like a checklist to me."

"He hasn't met my family, he's barely met any of my friends -- "

The smile drops off Ronan's face. Sargent isn't the one off-balance, now, and it isn't fun when it's happening to him.

"But he's met some of them?" Ronan asks.

Sargent turns it around in her head a few times before she comes out with it. "We got coffee with Adam on Saturday."

Saturday.

He'd seen Gansey the very next morning and Gansey hadn't said anything.

Gansey got to spend time with Ronan's soulmate, and Ronan didn't even get to know it happened.

"I thought he was going to tell you," Sargent says.

"What," Ronan snarls, "was he supposed to catch me up on all the gossip? Something really interesting happen that you wanted to fill me in on afterwards?"

"No, we just bought coffee," she says, obnoxiously matter of fact. "The whole thing was probably fifteen minutes, it wasn't a big deal, except he kept it a secret and that makes it a big deal, why would he do that?" She's asking the question to herself, not Ronan, trying to manage the situation for him.

"You're the one that just blew it," he snaps at her, "don't complain that Gansey fucked up. You're not too good for him just because he's not perfect."

"Wow. That is a wild accusation, I'm literally too confused to be mad about it." It's one of those literallys that Gansey hates, because it isn't true. She's still mad. "All I'm saying is that I don't want to get between the two of you, and if he'd handled this differently, then I wouldn't be right now. It's not like you want me to get in the middle of your relationship with Gansey, either, why are you biting my head off about it?"

"This isn't about my relationship with Gansey," Ronan says.

Sargent inhales, and holds her breath, and exhales. There. That's what it looks like, when she's actually not mad anymore.

"Look," she said, voice low and soft, and if Ronan thought that was for his sake he'd break something, but mostly she just sounds too tired to be loud or sharp anymore. "It isn't because of you, okay? It's not personal. Adam has never wanted to meet his soulmate, he decided that back before I even knew him."

"Great, his parents were a shitshow so I gotta suffer."

She goes very, very quiet for a very, very long moment.

"Why would you say that?"

"The only reason anyone decides they hate soulmates when they're still a zygote is because their parents are soulmates and they suck."

She shakes her head, but they both know he's right. "This isn't any of my business, I'm done talking to you about it now."

"Right, because you only fuck with other people's business when you want to and not when they ask you to."

She flinches. Her eyes shut tight and do not open.

He pushes himself away from the wall and toward the door. That was the whole point, wasn't it, come here and punish her for taking Gansey's attention.

Except Ronan's done a lot of dipshit things over the years and there's no point in pretending that he can't recognize one more. It's the same as every other one of his fuck ups: there's a gaping wound right through the middle of him and every second he spends with Sargent is a chance to drag his claws across it. He never did learn how to let something heal if he could hurt himself with it, first.

Chapter Text

Blue didn't think Adam would agree to meet Gansey right away. She brought it up as casually as possible, we're going to check out a museum that's near your place, I thought we could grab coffee with you first if you're free. Nothing too demanding, nothing where getting a no would be a big deal.

He said yes.

Maybe arguing, acknowledging that there was a reason he didn't want to meet Blue's boyfriend, would be too much engagement with the whole Gansey-soulmate-Ronan problem. Maybe he wanted to make it no big deal, in which case, mission accomplished; coffee was nothing. Half of the conversation was about what kinds of drinks everyone was going to order and the other half was figuring out a day and time that all three of them were free to do something more substantial. There was only a little time carved out in the middle for Adam to blab to Gansey about how Blue doesn't like coffee.

It took a while to pin Adam down on a specific plan. She couldn't really tell whether he was cooperating or just pretending too.

They go see a movie later in the week. Blue took it as a good sign that Adam was willing to spend that much time together, but in retrospect it might not have meant anything; you don't spend that much time interacting with the people you're with when you go see a movie. They do hang out for a few minutes in front of the theater afterwards, but then Adam yawns and says he has an early morning. Blue can't think of a way to drag the conversation out longer. She'd spent the movie wishing Gansey had picked something less pretentious, and worrying that Adam was judging him for his choice, and wondering does Ronan know about tonight, are you going to tell him, should I not have told him. It was too bad the movie had subtitles. If it was in English she might have been able to retain some of it.

She follows Gansey to the parking lot. There had been no discussion about who she was staying with that night, even though Adam's apartment is just around the corner.

"I think that went well," Gansey says with a determined kind of cheer, chin up, lads, and victory will be ours! "It's a bit hard to tell. Is he always slow to warm up to people?"

Blue asks, abrupt, "Why didn't you tell Ronan that you met Adam?"

He looks over at her. His hand slips off the door handle without unlocking the car. He starts to ask her a question, but the answer must come to him on its own, because he just says "damn," in a mild tone of voice. "That's less than ideal. When did you talk to Ronan?"

"He came to see me at work."

"When?" Gansey asks, and more perplexed, "why?"

"He does that sometimes," Blue says, dismissive. "Why didn't you tell him?"

"This is a painful subject for him. I don't want to make it any more painful than it has to be."

"It's not actually your place to manage his feelings for him."

"No," he says, too stubborn to convince her that he believes it, "but I can manage how careful I am with my own actions. Telling him that I'd met Adam when I didn't have anything else to say about it would've just been lording it over him. I thought once I got to know Adam a little better, then it would be worth mentioning."

She gets that. After all, she decided not to tell Adam about Gansey until it was worth it.

"If you're going to keep secrets from Ronan until you've made Adam your friend, you're going to be lying to him for a long time."

"So Adam is always slow to warm up to people? Or is it me?"

"It's both," Blue says, "you're a tough sell." Gansey's heart crumples in front of her eyes. "You were a tough sell for me, too," she reminds him.

"And we know that worked out."

"It's working, anyway, it's a work in progress. It's not like I'm ready to marry you."

"Dear God, I should hope not." It occurs to him to be embarrassed. "That was an excessive amount of vehemence, wasn't it?"

A wave of fondness washes over her. She can remember that she's annoyed with him, but she doesn't really feel it. "You need to tell me when you do things that affect me or our friends."

"I'm sorry that I put you in an uncomfortable position."

"You did, yeah, but also you should tell me because we can't be a team if I don't know what you're doing."

"Are we a team?"

"We'd better be, that's the whole point."

"Do you think that's what it means?" Gansey asks. "Is that why we were matched, so that we would be a team?"

"I meant that's the whole point of dating someone, I hate that thing where guys treat their girlfriends like the enemy." She thinks about it. "The whole...'this is the person you're going to love the most in the world,' that always felt kind of weird to me. I'm pretty sure I'm the person my mom loves the most in the world, no offense, Calla and Persephone. But...the three of them are a team, yeah. Is that what you think?"

"I don't have a firm opinion. I didn't really give it much thought before you." For some stupid reason she blushes, as though the idea that her boyfriend and soulmate thinks about her is astonishing. "My mother told me that it's about needing the other person."

"Don't take this the wrong way, Gansey," she says, butterflies or no butterflies. "I don't need you. I've done fine so far." She almost points out and so have you, but she's afraid of pushing him too far away from the hypothetical. She's not ready for him to say I do need you. "Does that mean that people without soulmates don't need anyone?"

"I can think of one person I know without a match and yes, he is about the most self-sufficient man I've ever met."

The most self-sufficient person Blue knows is Adam. "I don't buy it."

"Well, I like the team concept either way. It's like our lives have become a group project."

Blue gags. "Have you ever been on a group project?"

He grins at her with more attitude than she's ever seen from him. It's practically a smirk. Who knew his face could do that? "What do you think an excavation is?"

"Ugh, you actually believe in people, don't you."

"Yes, and so do you," he says. "Or you wouldn't work for a non-profit."

"We wouldn't need to have non-profits if people didn't suck."

"I don't believe you believe that. I call bullshit." That deserves a comeback, but she's too amused and surprised and delightfully offended to think of one, and then he kisses her and changes the subject. "I had a thought about teamwork. Pub trivia. Do you think Adam would be interested?"

"In showing off how smart he is, yes. In hanging out in a crowded bar for a couple of hours, no."

"Is the limiting factor the crowd, the bar, or the couple of hours?"

"The crowd," Blue says. "And the couple of hours in the bar, he doesn't drink much. He'll tag along for a round sometimes when my office goes to happy hour."

Gansey's eyes widen. "Do I get to go to office happy hour?"

She snorts. "Let's tackle one problem at a time."

-

The third of what Blue secretly thinks of as Gansey and Adam's dates is his trivia suggestion and her happy hour suggestion put together, minus the trivia and the happy hour. So, three people at a bar. It's another 'least big deal possible' and Gansey still looks thrilled they pulled it off.

As soon as Blue and Adam get their drinks they swap and take a sip, even though they already know what's going to happen.

"That's disgusting," Adam tells her.

"Yours is disgusting."

"At least mine isn't made with peanut butter." He swaps back for his own drink. "That's not even a beer."

"Sure it is." She points at the menu. "Says so right there."

"Technically, he's right." Gansey looked a little sad while they were performing their you have shitty taste ritual, but the chance to educate someone cheers him right back up again. "Under traditional German law, beer can only have four ingredients."

Adam snorts. "Oh, yeah, Blue's very concerned with following purity laws."

"No," Blue says, loud and stern. "No, I am not allowing this, I put my foot down. You two are not allowed to be beer guys together."

Adam looks over her head, which is not hard to do, but he makes a whole point about doing it. "Blue dated a home brewer, now she has a grudge."

"I don't have a grudge. Guys who are obsessed with beer just suck, objectively."

"Uh-huh," Adam says. "Same as guys who do crossfit, or guys who surf, or guys who play fantasy football -- "

"Guys who golf," Gansey offers.

"There's a thousand good reasons to hate golf."

"If hating golf is just about your eco-principles then why do you hate mini golf so much?" Adam asks.

Gansey asks, "you hate mini golf?"

Adam mouths 'she's bad at it'.

Blue realizes, with horror, that they are going to bond with each other by making fun of her.

"You hate just as many stupid things as I do," she tells Adam.

"I never said I didn't." He nods at Gansey. "I'm surprised she didn't make you change when she saw that shirt."

Gansey checks that he's still wearing his aquamarine abomination. "What's wrong with my shirt?"

"He has to ask? Don't tell me you like polo shirts now," Adam says to Blue.

"I'm picking my battles." She doesn't want to get into the old Republican money headache right now. "He drives a muscle car."

Of course Adam doesn't have the decency to be scandalized by that. "Yeah? What kind?"

"'73 Camaro."

"Red?"

"Hm? No, it's orange."

Adam nods, accepting that answer. "I just rebuilt the transmission on one of those," and oh, he was worried that Gansey had been a customer at his shop. Which would be weird, although the fact that he easily could have been doesn't make it much better. "You ever have any problems with yours?"

"It would be easier to say what I haven't had problems with."

"So what haven't you had problems with?"

Gansey has to consider this. So, it wasn't actually easier to say. "The rear view mirror."

"Yeah but you've got those huge blind spots."

"Just so you know," Blue interrupts, "car guys are even more insufferable than beer guys."

"We could go back to making fun of you," Adam says, entirely without shame.

She scowls and taps her fingernail on her beer glass. Her useless boys. "Ask him about that sound your car makes when you're turning," she orders Gansey.

The conversation moves on from cars eventually. Adam talks more than he drinks; it takes him a while to finish his one beer and call it a night.

-

Blue feels pretty good about dinner. Adam and Gansey have got along better and hung out longer each time they've seen each other. It really is like dating, although come to think of it she and Gansey hadn't done that part right; their first date was way too long, but she hadn't really felt like ending it any earlier than she did. And she and Gansey are working fine even though they didn't start off right, so there's no reason that Adam and Gansey will have any problems. Except of course for the part where they're not actually dating each other.

Why couldn't the men in her life just handle things like normal, competent adults, then she wouldn't need to think these kinds of thoughts.

Gansey calls in their dinner order and goes to pick up the food, so he isn't home when Adam arrives. Blue lets him in, shows him into the living room.

"Huh," he says. "Not what I was expecting."

"Yeah, you get a lot of that with Gansey." She peers with great interest at the dish in his hands. "Is that dessert?"

"Didn't want to show up empty handed."

He passes it off to her. She heads for the kitchen, pulling the tinfoil off to peek at it, and then comes to a dead stop ten feet from the table.

Adam's footsteps are moving down the hallway. He doesn't see her choke up at the sight of the pecan pie; she already knows it's Persephone's recipe, which means she knows exactly how long Adam spent making this, how much time he was willing to put into making this a good night.

"How are there even more books back here," he calls back to her, "isn't every book in the world already in the living room?"

Blue swallows. She is not going to display weakness because of a baked good. "There were more of them an hour ago. He tidied up before company arrived."

Adam returns, having peered through each of the open doors. Gansey returns not long after with the food.

"You didn't have to," he says when he sees the pie.

"Of course I did."

Gansey pauses and takes another stab at it, "thank you, it looks wonderful," and Adam pauses too, tilts his head like maybe he's noticing that Gansey heard how that was wrong and tried to get it right. Blue rummages through the food containers and asks what everyone wants.

Dinner goes fine. There's a bit of a rough moment when Adam mentions the course he's taking online; Gansey gets too excited and asks a half a dozen questions about it at once, not knowing that Adam has said as much about the subject as he wants to.

He changes course when he realizes, though, asks Blue a related-but-different question and segues into a new topic. He has to channel some new, slicker version of himself to pull that off, but he gets rid of politician's son Gansey once the conversation has safely moved on, so she doesn't worry about it. She just acknowledges it, one brush of her fingers over the back of his hand. Eventually Adam's shoulders come down and he stops looking so wary of every word coming out of Gansey's mouth.

Gansey likes the pie. Adam accepts his praise with suspicious humility. Blue takes some credit since her aunt is the one who taught him how to bake.

"Did you learn how to bake, too?" Gansey asks.

Adam smirks. Yeah, that oh, it was nothing, really was completely fake. "You haven't seen Blue in a kitchen yet, have you."

"You can't cook?"

"I can cook enough to feed myself."

"It's all right, I can't cook either." He considers this. "I suppose ideally one of us would."

"Complementary strengths," Adam agrees. "But there's other things you're good at that Blue isn't."

"Like what?" Blue demands. It is interesting that this time he's making fun of her by praising Gansey. But then, Adam isn't close enough to Gansey to make fun of him like this.

"He can get things off of high shelves."

"Ha."

"He's a better driver than you," Adam says.

"You've never been in a car with him."

"And yet I'm still right."

"Okay, that's one thing Gansey can do that I can't."

"Two."

"Being tall is not a skill."

"Can you spell?" he asks Gansey.

"Spell what?"

"Anything."

"Yes?" Gansey answers. "Can't everyone?"

"You'd think so."

"That doesn't count," Blue says. "Gansey just uses words that no one knows so they can't tell if he spelled it right or not."

Adam grins, not buying that argument at all. "Any good at math?"

Gansey is relieved to understand the question this time. "Yes, actually."

"There you go," Adam nods at Blue, "now you have someone who can figure out the tip for you."

"If we paid service workers a living wage we wouldn't need to tip."

"The real reason you want to reform society," he says, "so that you don't need to do mental arithmetic."

"That's a good enough reason. Have you run out of things I'm bad at yet?"

"I've known you since high school," Adam reminds her, and looks back at Gansey. "Do you have any musical talent?"

"I'm afraid not." He smiles at her, awfully cheerful about being bad at something. "I can carry a tune, but I can't do much more than pick out notes on a piano, and I never managed to wrap my head around musical theory. Ronan says I'm a lost cause, he's completely given up on me."

Blue's eyes shoot across the table. Adam has locked down, no expression of any kind on his face, when a second ago he'd been smiling.

"We don't need to talk about that," she says to both of them.

"Don't we?" Adam asks. His voice is soft. It's much nastier, when he does than, then when he's loud. "I've got to give you credit for being honest. I thought for sure you'd try to make him sound patient and compassionate."

Gansey's mouth flattens out into an unhappy line. "I was exaggerating about one minor incident, that is not meant to be a referendum on his character. Anything can sound bad out of context."

"I have the context, thanks."

There is a moment of stillness, and then Gansey, who Blue has so often seen accommodate and apologize and adjust, stands strong and refuses to budge. "As a matter of fact, you don't. You've spent one moment in his company."

"I've spent every day of my life with his short-temper and his aggression and his lack of lack of concern for other people." Adam flicks his gaze over to Blue and back, so fast it cuts her. "I thought at least I'd find some concern here."

"You're being unfair."

"People aren't fair when you gang up on them." Adam stands up. "Good night, Blue," and he's out the door before anyone can say anything else.

Gansey gets to his feet but doesn't know what to do once he's there.

Blue sighs, and then she grabs Adam's plate, where his slice of pie is sitting mostly untouched.

"I'm sorry," Gansey says. "I made a mess out of it."

"It was going to happen sooner or later." She heads for the counter.

"I didn't mean to upset him."

"He was upset already." She opens drawers at random until she finds his aluminum foil. "You were upset already."

"Was I? I was trying to keep an even keel."

"Yeah, you were." She rips off a sheet and looks up at him. "Are you happy when Ronan is upset?"

"No, of course not."

"Then you're upset right now. I'm upset, I need Adam to be happy. Or at least not miserable, if we want to set achievable goals." She makes a face as she wraps up the pie. "And now I think I care if Ronan is miserable, too, why did you have to introduce me to him?"

"I wouldn't want to hog all of the fun of knowing Ronan Lynch."

Blue pops up on tiptoes and kisses him on the cheek. So what if she can't reach high shelves? That's what counters are for, and she's tall enough for this. "Leave the light on for me."

"What are you going to say to him?"

"No idea."

-

Adam is still waiting at the bus stop when she gets there. Public transportation has many wonderful benefits, but makes it easy to storm off is not one off them.

He starts to say something. She already knows, if not what it is, that it isn't anything she wants to hear, so she shoves the pie at him. He can't exactly be chilly and hurtful with a foil-wrapped dessert in his face.

"You didn't get to eat any."

He takes it out of her hands. "You think you can blackmail me with my own pie?"

"I'm not trying to blackmail you with anything," she says. "I have actually known you for longer than ten minutes, so I know that's impossible."

"You should tell your soulmate that."

"Gansey isn't trying to blackmail you, either."

"Of course he is." Adam's anger had lessened, a little, but it comes roaring right back. "He's on Ronan's side."

"There aren't sides here."

"There are," he says, "and no one's on mine."

"I am," Blue says, because it has to be said, even if Adam isn't going to accept it. "You know why Gansey brought up Ronan?"

"So he could prove to me I'm wrong."

"Because Ronan is his friend, and when you're friends with someone you talk about them. I talk about you all the time! It's hard to avoid it when someone's important to you." She doesn't get any reaction off him, like he doesn't relate to the point she's making. "Or maybe you have that much self-control that you can avoid talking about the people you love, but the rest of us don't."

"Of course. I'm heartless, so it must be easy for me to turn off my feelings."

Blue presses her hands to the side of her face. "Why does everything I say sound as bad as possible to you?"

Adam shrugs, looking down at his hands, not at her.

"I'm sorry," she says. "I didn't want to call you heartless. I didn't mean that, and I didn't mean this, I didn't mean for any of this to happen. I just -- I'm sad and I'm confused and I don't know what to do anymore." She wishes suddenly that Gansey had come with her, even though Adam wouldn't listen to him. She's gotten used to how easy it is to tell Gansey what she wants, when she knows that he'll listen, that even if she can't get it she will at least be heard. It feels like if Gansey were here she'd be able to tell what she wants now.

"We can go back to pretending he doesn't exist," she says, quiet. "I know that's what you wanted. It was just -- it was hard for me, but this way is hard for you and that's my fault. So I'll do whatever makes it easier for you. I can't make Gansey stop caring about him, and I can't let you talk about him like that in front of Gansey, but I can talk to Gansey so we stop rubbing it in your face that he exists."

Adam doesn't say anything. He toys with the aluminum foil, running his thumb over one corner like he's trying to flatten out all of the creases.

Headlights spill across the sidewalk. Blue half-turns, worried it's the bus, come before they're ready for it, but it's just a car.

"What was the plan?" Adam asks.

"What plan?"

"Whatever Gansey was going to say next, his sales pitch. However he was going to trick me into meeting him. What was it?"

"There wasn't any plan," Blue says with a touch of desperation. "Gansey really just loves him."

"Fine. Then figure one out."

"Figure out..." It stops being a question, but she can't make it a statement.

"I'll meet him. But that's it," Adam says. "I'm just going to meet him. He'll get over me after that."

Chapter Text

Ronan gets the sense that Gansey planned this meeting out like it was the invasion of Normandy or some shit, which is really a lot of work for "four people eat take out." At one point there was talk of going out somewhere, a museum or a gallery or an aquarium, but the plan changed; Ronan thought, oh, Adam doesn't want to do this in front of people.

Gansey offered to host. Ronan refused. He wanted his soulmate to see his home, and he wanted to see his soulmate in his home, except, fuck, now he's looking around it trying to tell if it really looks as bad as Gansey pretends that he doesn't think it does. He still hasn't replaced the burned out light bulb.

Gansey and Sargent show up early, apparently so Gansey can spend an entire hour telling Ronan just be yourself, this is going to go well, you'll be fine.

"I know that," Ronan tells him. "If you don't have anything useful to say then shut it."

"That, right there," Sargent says. "Get all that shit out now, don't you dare snap at Adam."

"Yeah, thanks for that fucking etiquette lesson, what else you got?"

"Don't raise your voice at him."

"I think he knows that, Blue," Gansey says.

Ronan puts a hand to his ear, did you hear something? "Sorry, was that useful? No? Then shut it."

Gansey sighs and then sneaks around dusting behind Ronan's back while Sargent lectures him -- don't offer to pay for anything, don't try to get him drunk, don't ask about his family. Ronan wishes any of her decrees started with a word other than don't.

The doorbell rings at exactly seven o'clock.

Ronan's entire body freezes.

Gansey goes to get the door, since no one else does. There's a sound of it opening somewhere very far away.

"Adam! Did you find the place okay?"

"Yeah, it's right off the red line." Ronan's stomach tries to switch places with his lungs. He's heard the word charming echo in his mind a thousand times, but it was the scorn that was burned into his brain. He hadn't really remembered what Adam's voice sounded like. He hadn't really known, from one word. "Ask Blue, she'll explain what that means."

"I do understand the concept of public transportation. We're just in here," and fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck, Ronan isn't ready, but that doesn't matter; their footsteps are getting closer down the hall and there's no getting away. Ronan doesn't want to get away, even though this is going to kill him. A moment later Gansey comes back into the room, and behind him --

Ronan hadn't gotten a good look at Adam that day. If he didn't have Adam's word on his skin, if Adam didn't have his, he never would have got one. No, more than that, he'd needed Gansey and Sargent to have each other's words, too, so that they could drag this second chance to him. It took four people being touched by the hand of God for Ronan to notice Adam and that's all the proof that anyone could ever need that Ronan is a fucking moron, because Adam is the most gorgeous person he's ever seen.

How did I miss you?

Adam looks him over at the same time. Ronan has no idea what he's thinking; he's attractive, but maybe he's not Adam's type. Adam could be annoyed or disappointed or turned on for all he can tell, and oh shit, why did he have to think about Adam being turned on. His face heats up. Adam can see his face heat up.

"Adam," Gansey says, "you remember my friend, Ronan." Sargent, standing near the wall behind them, smacks her hand over her face so hard that Ronan hears it.

Adam nods. He doesn't say anything -- and what would he say, it's nice to see you again? It isn't. Ronan's known for weeks that this is the last thing Adam wants to do. Maybe Adam should just say that, I wish I weren't here, and at least it wouldn't be silent anymore. He suddenly misses the way that Sargent barged into his house her first time over and started touching all his shit. He'd had a billion things he wasn't allowed to do that time, too, but at least she gave him something to react to.

But, fuck it, someone needs to be honest? That's always been his role.

"Yeah, I'm that asshole that yelled at you in front of a coffee shop," he says. Gansey looks like he wants to slap himself in the face, too. That kind of response always makes Ronan double down. "And you're the asshole that walked away."

"I remember." No clue from his voice or his face or those clear cold eyes of his how he feels about that. Just a fact. He remembers Ronan.

It's enough to squeeze his heart flat.

"Cool." Ronan nods. "You like pizza or just douchebag hipster coffee?"

"I like pizza," Adam says, which is the tiniest revelation in all of history, and by the time their food has arrived Ronan is pathetically grateful for even that scrap of information. Adam takes part in the conversation but doesn't share, everything he says impersonal and routine. Ronan doesn't know how to get information out of somebody even when they want to give it; he mostly wishes he knew less about people. And even if he did know how to make first date small talk, it's not like he could ask so what's your deal in front of Sargent, who's probably thought up twenty more things Ronan can't do tonight, or in front of Gansey, who is directing the conversation with more of that military precision.

"Oh, Adam, did I mention," Gansey says, pretending that he doesn't know everything he's said and everything he's going to say for the rest of the night. "I took the Camaro into the shop, and you were right, the joints in the suspension needed to be replaced."

"I think I also said and it's not worth doing, you should think about selling it."

"Why?" Ronan demands, too confrontational; he's excited to have something to say and his energy only knows a couple of ways to express itself. "The Camaro's great."

Adam doesn't look put off at being challenged. He doesn't look like Ronan had any kind of effect on his mood at all. "Diminishing returns."

"Ronan is also a car enthusiast," Gansey tells him. "You have that in common."

Adam taps on the bottle in front of him that he hasn't touched all night. He doesn't need Gansey to tell him that he has something in common with Ronan. They've had something in common this whole time and Adam is hellbent on ignoring it. Ronan wants to shake Gansey for this clumsy attempt at connection, and he also wants to grab at whatever he can get.

"What do you drive?" he asks Adam.

"I don't own a car."

Right, fuck, he took the bus here. Why is Ronan such a fucking idiot.

Gansey explains, "Adam is a mechanic."

"That stupid," Ronan says. "That's like -- babysitting someone else's kids when you don't have any of your own."

"I think that's called teaching," Adam says. "Or just babysitting."

Ronan scowls at his condescension, although he did start it by calling Adam stupid, which why the fuck did he do that. The gorgeous man in front of him is a mechanic, that's cool and interesting and sexy and exciting, he could have said one of those.

Except he couldn't have, because the corner of Adam's mouth turned down when Gansey mentioned it, like he hates that Ronan knows what his job is, the most basic piece of information adults share about themselves.

"Which is a much worse job than working on cars." Sargent steps in to fill the silence. Ronan can't bother to fight her for it. "And I say this as someone who can't stand cars."

"Which would be worse," Gansey asks, "teaching or babysitting?"

"Both!"

"You were a babysitter for three years," Adam reminds her.

"And it was awful."

Ronan scoffs at her. "Babysitting's easy, you just take the kid outside and make them run around until they're too tired to pull any shit."

"Who trusted you with a child?" Sargent scoffs back.

"I have a little brother."

"You also have an older brother." She looks pointedly at Gansey. "Am I right in thinking Declan was the brains of that operation?"

"First of all, fuck you." Ronan counts on his fingers, laying out his talking points. "Second of all, fuck Declan. If he was actually any good at watching us I wouldn't have a tattoo."

Adam gives off a shadow of a reaction. Is he confused about that? Is he, oh fuck please, curious?

Whatever it is, it isn't enough for him to ask.

Sargent says, "I never got the point of your tattoo."

"You've never seen the damn thing."

"I've seen part of it," she argues. "Why get a tattoo people can only see part of? Put it somewhere you can show off or somewhere you can hide it. Somewhere people can kind of see it defeats the purpose."

"What do you know, where's your ink?"

"Nowhere you get to see."

Gansey blushes. He also, horrifyingly, smiles, in a tiny way like he's trying to suppress it. Ronan wants to vomit. He throws it in Gansey's face, "your girlfriend's not scared of needles, what's your excuse?"

"I'm not afraid," Gansey says, still bright red. "I just don't have anything I want to commit to with that level of permanence. What about you, Adam, do you have any tattoos?"

"No."

"He thought about getting one when I did," Sargent says. "It was -- ugh, I can't remember, what was it going to say?"

"Perfer et obdura," Adam murmurs, searing three more words across Ronan's soul to haunt him in quiet moments.

Swallowing around his heart thudding in his throat, Ronan says, "dolor hic tibi proderit olim."

Adam falls completely still. There's no expression. There's nothing.

Gansey says, apparently just so that someone will be saying something, "Ronan was the top of our class in Latin every year."

Adam doesn't respond, not even in that way he's been doing all night, where his reply glances off of Ronan, turns the conversation away from him without engaging with him first. He's just -- gone, entirely, and Ronan aches at having chased him off, again.

"You were the top of your class?" Sargent asks in scornful disbelief.

"Just in Latin," Ronan bites at her, "Jesus, Gansey, way to make me sound like a fucking nerd."

"That's worse," Sargent tells him. "You picked one class to be good at and it was Latin."

"School was boring as fuck, who gives a shit about being good at it?"

"That is one perspective," Gansey says, "although one that I wish you had expressed less frequently to our teachers. Adam, you and Blue went to high school together, right?"

"Yes," Adam says, still not looking at any of them. "I was valedictorian," because of fucking course that's Ronan's luck.

"We took real classes though," Sargent explains to Ronan. "Not Latin."

Ronan says, to Adam, "you picked some up somewhere."

Adam shrugs, one tiny concession.

He becomes even more removed from the conversation after that, only speaking when Sargent or Gansey ask him a direct question. Ronan thinks about asking him something, but he can't think of anything that would be okay. His head is pounding and all the shit Sargent told him to avoid is all muddled up with everything he wants to ask until he can't remember which is which. He doesn't want to get it wrong. He doesn't want to hear the silence if he asks Adam a direct question and Adam says nothing.

This was a bad idea. When Adam wasn't around, Ronan didn't have to see him acting so guarded and distant. He just didn't get to see him at all, and that's a worse idea. As much as it hurts, Ronan knows which one of those he chooses, so when Gansey suggests they get together again in a few days Ronan doesn't hesitate before he nods.

"Sounds good," Sargent says.

Adam says "sure," eyes on the still-full bottle he's peeling the label off of, like he doesn't know or care that everyone was hanging on his answer.

"There's an event at the park this weekend," Gansey says, "live music, it's a fundraiser for something, I forget what. Does that interest the group?"

"Depends what they're raising funds for," Sargent responds.

"I'm sure it's some worthy cause. What do you say, Adam, does Saturday work for you?"

"No." Ronan is abrupt, too abrupt for answering a question that wasn't directed at him. Even Adam looks at him for that, although there's no expression on his face when he does. "I'm busy Saturday."

Gansey fumbles his response. It's not his fault; he knows that there isn't much that Ronan would stand him up for, or at least there wasn't before Gansey traded him for Sarge, and he knows that Ronan wouldn't miss another chance to see Adam if he didn't have to.

Ronan can actually see the moment that Gansey figures it out. He wishes Gansey didn't know his mother's birthday.

"Some other time, then," Gansey says, forcing confidence, "we'll figure it out. I'll explore what other events are on offer."

Sargent's teasing him about that, but Ronan can't hear her. He doesn't want to be here anymore. He grabs a couple of dirty dishes off the table and takes them to the kitchen. Turns on the water without washing anything, just stares as it swirls down the drain for a while, and then he turns it off.

"We should go, if we're going to catch the bus," Sargent says, standing up and pulling on her jacket. Adam turns his gaze up toward her, offers Ronan a glimpse of his delicate profile. He's beautiful. Ronan doesn't know a single thing more about him than when he walked into the house. He turns the sink back on and lets the water drown out the sound of people leaving.

Gansey shows up at his shoulder at some point.

"I know tonight wasn't easy for you."

Ronan glares pure murder at him. "You don't know shit."

"No," he admits, "I suppose I don't know. I would be happy to listen if you want to talk."

"I don't."

Gansey gives it a minute anyway, like Ronan will change his mind, and then he shuts off the water and puts the plates in the dishwasher.

"I'm sorry I asked about Saturday," he says. "I wasn't thinking. Would you like company? I can go with you."

Ronan does not want Gansey to come with him. Ronan wants Adam to come with him; he wants to have the life where he gets to introduce his soulmate to his mother, he wants his soulmate to want to be a part of his family, he wants his mother to be happy for him, he wants his mother to not spend another birthday lying silent and still in a hospital bed.

But that's not the world he lives in. He's never going to live in that world, and having Gansey come along would only remind him how far his life falls short of his dreams, so he just says "no."

-

Gansey pulls out his cell phone at the end of dinner and blatantly sends a text, without apologizing to her or Adam; it's so out of character that Blue's raised her eyebrows before she feels her phone buzz in her pocket.

She gives him a look -- really? -- and then checks on Adam. He's still doing his best impression of a deactivated robot. She doesn't think he noticed that Gansey just texted her. She doesn't think he would've noticed if Gansey had come right out and said whatever it was he wanted to say without being heard.

Can you please go home with Adam tonight? I need to speak with Lynch.

She chews on her lip. Splitting up so they can check on their friends isn't a bad idea, although she doubts it'll get them anywhere. But she came here with Gansey and she'd assumed she'd leave here with him, and Adam would have the same assumption. She doesn't know how to ask hey, Adam, want to let me hover over you and bug you about your emotions?

So she doesn't bother asking. "It's getting late, Adam, we should go if we're going to catch the bus." Adam blinks, and then nods, convinced by her tone that there's nothing to question, or else not present enough to notice anything is strange.

They ride the bus in silence. Blue knows better than to talk to Adam about personal feelings in a public place. She's not sure it's going to go so well in private, either.

"You didn't do a very good job chasing him off," she says once he's let them into the apartment. There's no point dancing around the subject, but if she asks how are you feeling or what did you think of him he'll just give some short non-answer and disengage. "Don't get me wrong, you were aloof and impossible to talk to, but you could have been way meaner to him."

Adam looks upset. "I wasn't trying to be mean to him."

"You weren't trying to be nice."

"I didn't think I needed to. We're all adults, Blue, he doesn't need me to take care of him. He doesn't need you to do it, either."

"Just because we don't need someone doesn't mean it's not nice to have someone," and oh, dammit, that sounds like Gansey. Does she believe in people? She hopes not. If she does then it's only fair Adam has to share her affliction.

"I said I would meet him and I did. I didn't say he could have me, because he can't."

"I know, I know, you've made that really clear," Blue says. "You know that friends are things that exist, right? Acquaintances? People who can talk for five minutes without four of them being silence? Wanting the guy to get over you is great, but is there some kind of plan for what happens after that? Because if you're trying to scare him off so bad you never have to see him again, you're going to have to start being way more repulsive."

Adam sighs. "What if we work our way up to five minutes?"

She wraps an arm around his neck and tugs him low enough she can perch her chin on his shoulder. "Setting realistic, achievable goals. Love it."

"Yeah, that's right." She can hear the bitter smile in his voice, and she squeezes him tighter. "Me and my modest ambitions."

-

Gansey's park fundraiser turns out to be for the humane society, so the three of them go without Ronan. Gansey apologizes for his absence, assuming that they miss him, or maybe just hoping they do.

Blue sprawls out on the grass on her back and really, truly misses Ronan; the music's all classical stuff she can't get into, and the conversation is all about acoustics. She is positive that if Ronan were here he would talk about something more interesting than sound waves.

"...good performance space," Gansey is saying. "Ronan used to sing there when he did music competitions."

"Hm," Adam says, non-committal. "What kind of music?"

"Traditional Irish fare, their father wanted them to cherish their heritage. He also learned the bagpipes." Blue makes a face. Maybe Ronan would be just as boring and into the auditory experience as Gansey. But probably not. She can't wait to make fun of him for playing the bagpipes.

"Hm," Adam says again. "I thought bagpipes were a Scottish thing," and he encourages Gansey to go into detail on the similarities and differences. It's precisely the kind of conversational tactic he used to do around her family, before he really knew them, the kind of thing she's seen him do in unfamiliar settings. He's on his best behavior, and it makes Blue sad to see. She doesn't want him to have to try. She just wants everyone she loves to love each other.

But they aren't there yet, and if Adam is putting in the effort of meeting Ronan, and letting Gansey talk to him about Ronan, and talking to Gansey even if it has to be about things that aren't Ronan, then she wants to give him a space where he can take a break. She never, ever wants Adam to have to try with her. So when Gansey isn't around she talks about all of the things they've always been able to talk about, Blue's job and Adam's classes and everyone that annoyed them that day. She lets it be their friendship the way it's always been.

And then one morning getting coffee on Adam's day off, he says, "you don't have to avoid talking about Gansey and Lynch."

"What do you mean?" Her story about the guy blasting music on the bus didn't have anything to do with either of them; it's not like she was leaving anything out.

"You haven't mentioned Gansey once all day," Adam says. "You don't even mention him when we're texting anymore. I don't need to you to humor me."

"I have interests besides my boyfriend," Blue says.

"Yesterday you texted me about laundry detergent. That's not an interest."

"Laundry is a part of life! Am I not supposed to talk about what's going on in my life? Am I not supposed to ask you about what's going on in yours?"

"You know what's going on in my life," he says, exasperated, "you made it happen."

"You not-dating somebody is not exactly news, Adam."

"Sorry that me being single is so boring for you."

"If I was calling you boring then I'd be saying I was boring for most of my life, too."

He frowns. Her heart sinks that this is going to turn into an argument.

Instead:

"Are you saying that you aren't boring?"

"I am fascinating. You are lucky to know me."

"If anything, it's being not single that makes you boring," Adam muses. "Gansey's not really a thrill a minute."

"You're the one who was talking to him about symphony conductors!" Blue fires back. "You're the boring one!"

His frown turns into a smirk, and it's pretty obvious that it was going to all along. She thinks he fooled me. She feels pretty good about that.

"You shouldn't stop yourself from talking about things for my sake," Adam says. "Tell me why you like him."

Oh, God. It would be easier if he had turned it into an argument. How do you describe Gansey to someone? She thought Adam was starting to figure him out on his own, that's the best way to understand him. The way he looks on paper isn't anything like him.

"Oh. Um. Gansey. Well, he's...honest," she says, remembering Persephone's advice, which had turned out to be spot on, like all of her advice. "He really just says what he means, but not in that way where people use that as an excuse to be bigots. He has really good intentions even if sometimes his execution is awful, he cares about everything and he's so smart even when he says the dumbest things. He...he's like walking out in the wilderness somewhere, and you're so focused on not getting lost or not tripping on anything, and then you see the view all at once, and you don't know where it came from, but it just makes you think, this is beautiful."

Her face is burning by the time she's done. That might not be a good enough answer for Adam but it is absolutely as much as she is going to say.

Adam asks, "did you just compare your boyfriend to a forest?"

"I was trying to be evocative."

"I'm really disturbed at the sexual implications of this metaphor, please don't go into anymore detail."

"You asked!"

"I didn't ask about Gansey," Adam says, "I know him. I asked why you like my soulmate."

Oh. That makes more sense. Adam does know Gansey; he doesn't know Ronan. But she thought he didn't want to, not any more than he had to. She thought he didn't want to use the word soulmate. And she hadn't really thought that she liked Ronan in a powerful, obvious enough way that Adam could tell, could say it as a fact, you like him.

Ronan isn't any easier to talk about than Gansey. He doesn't look too good on paper either.

"He pisses me off sometimes," she starts, acknowledging it before Adam can use it as a counter-argument. "And he can be really rude. But...I understand that, I guess. He's -- " lonely, she doesn't say, because that tastes too much like blackmail. "Hurt. He's gone through some things."

Adam says, very level, "we've all gone through some things."

She shrugs. "He's funny. He's a really good friend to Gansey. He surprises me a lot."

"Because your expectations for him are so low."

"No. Not just that, I mean, yeah. But he's also just a strange, weird guy that says things I'd never think of."

"And the weird makes up for the rude."

"It's not a one-for-one thing, that's not how people think about each other." She huffs. "You don't go 'Blue made me laugh three times today, so that's three times she can piss me off tomorrow.' It's more complicated than that."

"You're right," Adam agrees. "That's not how people think."

She says, "you surprise me a lot, you know."

"Is that such a plus?" he asks. "Me, Lynch, Gansey -- is it really such a good thing to be surprised by people?"

"Yeah." She points out, gently, "surprises can be good things, Adam."

"I like knowing where I stand."

She shakes her head a little. "And then, sometimes you don't surprise me."

-

Blue is nervous about the second night with Adam and Ronan. The first one hadn't been easy, and she doesn't think that Adam has built up any of those five minutes of conversation. The best thing about the night, the thing she's counting on, is that Gansey is going to be there to help her get through it, except he's been out of it from the moment that she showed up at his house.

"How was your day?" she asks him, once they're all sitting at the table and don't have dishing up food to keep them busy. "You seem distracted." It's nicer than saying what is going on with you today.

"My apologies," he says, still absent-minded. "It was fine. Stressful, but nothing I'm not used to."

Adam drums his fingers on the table. "Trouble in the halls of power?" His voice is mild. Blue hasn't heard him make fun of Gansey often, and this is a more sensitive topic than his taste in shirts.

"No, I just had a meeting with -- " Gansey stops. "A client I don't care for," but he darts his eyes over to Ronan, and Ronan catches him doing it.

"Something you want to say?" Ronan asks, daring him to say no, nothing of consequence, let's not get into that.

Gansey's not too susceptible to dares, but then, Ronan is really good at making them.

"I had a meeting with Kavinsky," Gansey says. Blue doesn't know what that means, except that Gansey already looks like he regrets it, and Ronan looks like he's planning a murder. "Senior," Gansey adds, which is clearly supposed to ease the tension and really, really doesn't.

"Why the fuck are you taking meetings with the Bulgarian mafia?" Ronan demands.

"You have zero evidence that he's involved in organized crime, and there's absolutely no reason to bring his ethnic background into your accusations."

Ronan rolls his eyes, which should make him look immature or petty, except he's still braced like any second he might have to jump up and hit someone. "He's a rich monster from Jersey, if he's not in organized crime it's because he can't pay anyone to spend time with him. That's who you want to hang out with?"

"That's who I encounter in the course of my work," Gansey says. "I choose to hang out with the people in this room."

"You choose to work at a job full of creeps. Isn't it illegal to get paid in stolen money?"

"That would be of greater concern if our clients engaged in criminal activity, which he doesn't."

"You weren't the one who dated his kid," Ronan snaps. "If you knew half the shit K and I used to get away with you'd have a fucking heart attack. That's not 'the cops are going easy on you because you're rich,' that's 'the cops are afraid to arrest you.'"

Blue needs to have a talk with Gansey about his choice of words. Bastard ex-boyfriend is what you call a guy who cheated on your friend. Son of an alleged criminal kingpin is the kind of thing that needs to be spelled out. She wishes that she'd pushed for more details, and she wishes this conversation weren't happening at all.

"I do know half the things you used to get away with," Gansey says. "I had to clean up for most of them. This is a terrible argument for your credentials as a character witness, by the way."

"You know he's evil," Ronan argues. "How does doing business with him not tell you your job is evil?"

Blue is torn. Because Ronan is right about his job -- she hates every time she hears Gansey talk about it, the way that his voice dulls as he smothers his unhappiness, or worse, the way that he turns into one of those other versions of himself so that he can talk about it without sounding miserable. But this isn't better, Gansey forced into defending his awful job because it's the only way to defend himself when Ronan attacks him in front of an audience.

"Do you want to have a conversation about the immorality of wealth?" Blue grins at Ronan wide, like she's hoping to stir up trouble. "Because you don't come off too good there, either."

Ronan, for better or worse, follows where the fight goes. "Hey, my dad made his money fair and square."

"No one can make that kind of money without exploiting other people, that's the point."

"Yeah, but everyone he exploited was rich, too."

Gansey takes a sip of wine. "Ronan's father was an art dealer," he says, to no one in particular, but a little bit less not to Adam than to anyone else. Blue feels unexpectedly annoyed with him. Adam hasn't chimed in once, has been staring down at his plate since Ronan's anger burst out, signalling I am not a part of this. She was the one talking to Ronan.

"You think that counts as fair and square?" she asks him.

"What, you got a problem with art?" he throws back. "I thought you hippie communists were all into that shit."

"Not the commodification of art that makes it inaccessible to the general population."

"You can find a way to hate anything." He sounds weirdly impressed.

"I guess there's something to be said for swindling rich people out of their money instead of poor people," Blue says with her own grudging respect.

"Sure is. That's trickle down economics, right?"

"It isn't," she says. "Why do you even know that phrase?"

Ronan grins at her, sharp. "That's the first thing they teach you at rich asshole school."

"The first thing they taught us was not to sign anything without showing it to a lawyer," Gansey says, deadpan, and takes control of the conversation before Blue's processed the fact he made a joke. "I did appreciate that Ronan's father was sometimes able to show us the pieces he was handling, it's a different experience seeing them outside of a museum -- which I do understand speaks to your point about elitism, Blue. Do you have much interest in art, Adam?"

"Sure," Adam says, sounding like he doesn't have an interest in anything. "Doesn't everyone? Is there really anyone who hates art?"

"I suppose then it's a matter of defining the term." Gansey keeps it rolling, manages to leave behind the uncomfortable start to the night and get Adam to talk. Blue's not as happy as she thinks she should be. Any conversation is better than no conversation, even if Gansey sounds rehearsed and Adam sounds indifferent. This is still progress, right? Especially when Adam and Ronan establish that they have the same taste in old movies.

"You like Hitchcock?" Adam asks Ronan a direct question, without any prompting; they're ten seconds closer to those five minutes. Ronan nods, because the question doesn't require a spoken answer or because he doesn't know how to speak words out loud to Adam. "Me too."

Of course, they sit there with no idea what to do with that information, but at least it's not as bad as the mute panic Adam had when Ronan finished his Latin.

"You know that he abused his actresses," Blue says. There is one thing they can always count on her for.

"You've mentioned," Adam says dryly.

"She hates everything, right?" Ronan asks. "It's not just me."

"Right." He looks back down at the table.

Adam insists on helping Gansey clean up after dinner. Blue would normally insist too, but that's a slippery slope to all of them clown car-ing themselves into Gansey's cubbyhole of a kitchen, so she wanders into the living room. Ronan beat her there; he's holding a bottle of port from Gansey's liquor cabinet like he's debating opening it.

Blue takes it out of his hands and puts it back down, but of course that convinces Ronan to pick it back up and start picking at the cork. Blue rolls her eyes and hands him a corkscrew. As long as he's opening it she wants to try it. The bottle looks old in an expensive way.

"Sorry you had to air all your dirty laundry in front of everyone." By everyone she means Adam, but she wants to be delicate.

"He doesn't give a shit about me," Ronan says bluntly. "Why should I give shit if he knows about my crappy ex. Why do you give a shit about any of it."

Would it really be so terrible for someone to let her be nice to them for two seconds -- "I just do," she snaps, "excuse me for trying to be compassionate!"

"Why the fuck would you be compassionate?" Ronan sounds honestly bewildered. Because -- well, it is sort of confusing. Trading insults with him was the best part of dinner; she thought that she'd make him feel better by coming over and being nice to him?

"I thought I had to suck up to you so you don't sic the Bulgarian mafia on me," she says, not hiding her laughter as well as she could. "Now that I know you're a loser I won't do it again."

"You're the loser. I don't need help to take you down." Ronan pulls out one of her hair clips, but he also hands her the first glass of port.

Chapter Text

Adam leaves Gansey's house soon after dinner; Ronan leaves not long after that. He doesn't stick around to drink his wine (which, from the expression on Gansey's face when he saw it open and before he decided I am going to let this go, really was old in an expensive way). For all that Ronan said he didn't care if Adam didn't care about him, he clearly only showed up for Adam, and he was clearly disappointed by what he got.

"I don't know what to make of tonight," Gansey frets. "What are you thinking?"

"I'm thinking about why you work in finance," Blue tells him.

He blinks, struggling to follow the change of subject. "What?"

"Ronan doesn't like it for you. I don't like it for you, and I wouldn't expect you to quit your job just because I said so, but you don't like it either. So why are you there?"

The corner of his mouth turns sharply downward. "The CEO owed my father a favor."

"That's how, that's not why," Blue points out. Gansey does not offer a why. "That's not what you went to school for."

"No, but there's not a lot that half a PhD in archaeology qualifies you for."

"There has to be something. It doesn't even need to pay a living wage. There's -- museums and things," she says, unsatisfied with her own imagination, "I don't know, but you know, you must have looked into it."

"No, Blue, I didn't."

"Why not?"

"Because I failed," he says, his voice suddenly plummeting into acid. "I failed at the path that I chose for myself, and then I failed at doing anything at all. I was a useless son of privilege, living off other people's money. I was everything you hate. And then my father found this position and offered it to me, so the least I can do is try not to fail my family as well as myself."

Blue's hands are shaking. She presses them against her thighs for support.

"Gansey," she says. "You didn't fail. You had a medical emergency."

"Of which everyone was understanding and accommodating. Arrangements were made. I could have gone back for the next dig, or the following semester, or the one after that. I simply didn't."

"You told me you were afraid."

"I shouldn't have been," he says. "It isn't rational. If I really think that medical intervention won't make a difference, then there's no reason to be scared of losing access to it."

"You can't honestly be mad at yourself for not being rational about this." She recognizes that stubborn look in his eyes, your complaint has been registered and dismissed. She likes it a lot better when the thing he's blindly defending is his best friend or his impractical muscle car or his mistaken belief that salmon is a color he's allowed to wear. "Fear isn't rational."

"Perhaps not," he whispers. "But I should be."

"It doesn't work like that, Gansey."

He doesn't acknowledge that she spoke. He's tensed up all over, like the wrong motion will send him falling off of some great height.

She reaches up to wrap one arm around his shoulders, and then the other. He's taller than her by enough that that tugs him down. He moves instinctively, leaning into her to shift his balance -- and that movement breaks something open, because he circles his arms around her, tight, and holds her close. He buries his face in her neck.

She kisses his temple. Her fingers dig into his back; she can't tell if that hurts him but she doesn't want to let go. He squeezes her harder.

"Have you ever told anyone that you felt like this?" she asks.

He slowly turns his face enough to speak. "I think Ronan has inferred some of it."

She believes that. She just doesn't think that's enough.

"Thank you for trusting me with this," she says. "But I want you to be able to talk to someone else about it, too. I want this to get better for you. I want you to be able to do things that you love."

"I thought you wanted me to keep myself alive."

"You can do both." She doesn't know how that's true, but she says it like it's true. It has to be true. "You don't have to pick between alive or happy."

"I'm not -- Blue, I'm happy."

"Really?"

Gansey doesn't answer.

-

Blue doesn't usually try to get lunch with Adam on days that he works; his breaks fall at unpredictable times, and often don't line up with when she's thinking about eating. But after her conversation with Gansey the night before, she wants to see someone that she likes. Someone she trusts.

Adam tells her about his morning while they walk a short distance to the park, which is really just one square block of grass, but it's nicer than eating in the garage with its entrenched smell of gasoline and even more entrenched macho culture. By the time they sit side-by-side at a bench with their food, the conversation has hit a lull. Adam doesn't rush to fill it. He's always been comfortable with silence, and she is, too, when it's with him, when it's not being used to hide something.

Today, it's hiding something.

She makes herself say, "have you ever thought about going to therapy?"

There's a woman walking a dog on the other side of the park. It's some kind of mutt. Blue tries to guess what breeds it might have come from; anything to keep from worrying about Gansey.

"Wow," Adam says, pure ice, so cold that Blue freezes. "You really gave up that fast on letting me do things my way. Three strikes and I'm crazy, huh?"

"I -- " She's reeling so hard that it takes work to stay on the bench, never mind figure out what the hell she's supposed to say back. "I would never call you crazy."

"No, you'd use some much nicer word to tell me there's something wrong with me." He puts his lunch back into its box, barely eaten. "I'm not pathological because I don't want to be with Lynch."

She'd been so preoccupied with Gansey's pain that she honestly forgot last night had been Adam and Ronan's second -- whatever she's supposed to call it. Not date, for sure. Interaction. Visit. Appointment. Of course that's all Adam can think about. He probably assumed that she asked him to lunch so she could interrogate him about it.

"I wasn't talking about you," she tells him, scrambling to do damage control. "I wasn't telling you there was something wrong with you. That's not what I said."

"Have you ever thought about therapy," Adam repeats in a damning monotone.

"I wanted your insight on therapy as a concept. I just -- I don't really know much about it, I wanted some advice."

"Right," Adam says with derision. "I guess you're thinking of going, is that it?"

She isn't, and she can't make him believe that she is. But she can't bring herself to tell Adam how shook up Gansey sounded yesterday, not when he's never even opened up to Ronan about it.

"Maybe I am," she says, confidence like a shield: what are you going to do, call me out? "Therapy isn't a bad thing, you know. Lots of people can benefit from talking about their patterns of behavior."

"Sure," Adam says, "you could talk about your habit of disregarding other people's boundaries."

She pinches her mouth shut. She knows why he said that. She doesn't have to retaliate.

"I could," she replies. "Then I could be as happy and well-adjusted as you are." She takes an enormous bite out of her sandwich before she can say anything else. Stares across the park at the ugly little dog peeing on a trashcan and chews ostentatiously, like that's the only thing that's happening right now.

She hears Adam's lunch box open. He doesn't say anything else, just goes back to eating. Neither of them says anything for the entirety of his lunch break. It doesn't do much to prove that neither of them needs therapy.

-

Ronan looks through the eye hole before he opens the door, but he makes a point of staring over Sargent's head and then turning his face down, like he couldn't tell where the knock had come from.

"Ha, ha," she says as she shoves her way past him and into the house.

"Rude," he calls after her. "You can't just invade my space."

"You showed up at my office the other day to show me a picture of a weird looking duck." She runs her hands along the wall as she walks, staring around her. She hasn't seen his rooms before, and apparently she really wanted to, fucking weirdo.

"I thought you'd like it."

"You could have just texted it to me."

"You can text pictures?" Ronan asks.

She squints over her shoulder at him, suspicious, and goes back to surveying the suite without bothering to figure out if he's fucking with her or not. Probably she just always assumes he is. That's not a bad idea.

So he's feeling pretty good about things until she asks "is Gansey always like this?"

His mood shoots down and his hackles jump up. How dare she complain about Gansey. How dare she complain to him about Gansey.

"Like what," he snarls, "too good for you?"

"I could say too patient with your bullshit if we want to talk about who doesn't deserve -- " she shuts her eyes and breathes, in slow and out fast. "Why do you do that?"

"That's who I am," he says. "Sorry it's not classy enough for you. It's good enough for Gansey, are you more elitist than he is?"

"How can you defend him and then turn around and insult him two seconds later?" she asks, exasperated.

Because he's been there. He's fucking earned it.

"It's not an insult," he says, snootily, "it's a statement of fact. He's the one with monogrammed hand towels."

Sargent was clearly working up speed to take another run at him, but that brings her to a screeching halt. "Oh, no," she says, horrified. "Tell me you made that up."

"What, the towel thing? Haven't you seen them?"

"No, I haven't seen -- oh my God, did he swap out his hand towels to make a better impression on me?" Ronan shrugs, you tell me. "Oh, no, no, I thought the salad forks were bad enough."

"Salad forks was all it took to screw with you? Because the Ganseys have a whole dining room in their mansion that's set up day and night with a dozen full place settings -- "

"No," she whimpers.

" -- three kinds of wine glasses -- "

"I don't want to believe you."

"Hey, at least it's after Labor Day," he says, his voice thick with fake consolation. "He won't break out the white pants until next summer."

"Why," she moans, and then she catches his eye. Her mouth twitches. Ronan's shoulders shake.

They both burst out laughing.

"He couldn't read the bus map the other day." Blue rubs her hands over her eyes like she's pushing back tears. "And then when I explained it to him he said that he was 'aghast' at the state of our public transportation. Aghast."

"Oh yeah, that's a real Gansey word," Ronan agrees. "Has he hit you with 'quixotic' yet?"

"No, but he did use 'sesquipedalian' the other day. About himself. He knows he's doing it! And he does it anyway!"

Ronan starts laughing again. There's a weird feeling gripping him, a little too giddy to be entirely harmless. By the time it passes, they've both collapsed onto the couch and are leaning against each other's shoulders. He feels -- still weird, but less manic. It's nice.

Blue asks, "why does he work there," which doesn't have anything to do with anything, except that it does.

"He couldn't live with being a rich guy who didn't do anything," Ronan tells her. "And then his parents got in his head about fucking respectability, like that was the same thing as doing shit."

She nods slowly, absorbing. "You know -- the bee sting incident?"

"Yeah, I remember the time that my best friend almost died." It comes out too heated for the moment they're in, but Blue isn't fazed, so it passes, leaving no trace.

"He's kind of screwed up about it, isn't he."

"We're all screwed up about shit."

She gives him a look he doesn't understand. That ought to be a threat, but he can't be bothered to take it like one. "Yeah. I guess so."

They fall silent for a while. That feels like another thing that should be threatening; it lets his mind dance around to old conversations. But not everything in his mind is dangerous, even if some days he feels like it is.

"Parrish ever make you watch any Hitchcock?" he asks.

Blue shrugs. "A little."

Ronan rolls his eyes. "Let me guess, Psycho and Vertigo."

"And Shadow of a Doubt," which is a weird choice, but whatever. He flips through his collection, throwing movie titles at Blue until she goes I don't think Adam likes that one, he said it's gimmicky, and as far as he's concerned that makes his choice for him. He doesn't deny it when Blue asks are you picking that one out of spite, just tells her, I can't hear ignorant people, shut up and get some culture.

-

It's weird waking up at Ronan's house.

It's one thing if she spends the night at Gansey's. She's been doing more of that lately, and with a pretty obvious purpose. But staying up so late with someone watching old movies that she falls asleep on their shoulder -- that's a thing that's supposed to happen at Adam's place.

Gansey wakes her up earlier than she wants to be up, calling her about getting brunch. If he's surprised that she's at Ronan's, he doesn't comment on it, just suggests they all go out together, table for three in what is becoming their awkward norm that makes hostesses hate them. She accepts his invitation on Ronan's behalf and then goes and kicks on the door to his bedroom until he wakes up cursing at her. She's exhausted from sleeping on his cute but impractical couch; he should have to be exhausted too.

Ronan doesn't have an extra toothbrush, or really anything in his bathrooms beyond soap, what, am I supposed to shampoo and condition my hair before I shave it all off, so getting clean and presentable is a challenge. She's frazzled enough from scrubbing toothpaste across her teeth with one finger that they're most of the way to the restaurant before it occurs to her to check her phone.

She yelps.

Gansey and Ronan both say something; Gansey sounds a lot nicer, but she's not paying much attention to either of them. She just hits dial, pick up pick up pick up, and when the phone does pick up she skips right over hello and goes straight for "Are you okay? What happened? Where are you right now?"

Adam answers only the last question. "Denny's."

"What? Why?"

"It's the only place that was open."

"Is that a joke?" she demands.

"As the person living the joke," he drawls, "I'd say yes, it's just not a funny one."

She breathes in a calming, soothing breath, or at least, that's the idea. It doesn't calm or soothe her. "Why didn't you call me? I would've come and got you."

"I knew you were going to make a big deal out of it."

"Then maybe that's a sign that this is a big deal!" She notices with a start that Gansey has pulled the car over to the side of the road. She doesn't know how that happened.

"If it is a big deal, it's mine to deal with."

"Oh, nice try," she says. "I'm coming over there."

"You don't have to."

"Of course I do. If you leave before I get there I'm going to sic my aunts on you."

Adam sighs. "I'm not going anywhere, Blue. I don't have anywhere to go."

"You -- " her throat closes up. She shakes her head. Get a grip, Sargent. "You're okay, right?"

"I'm fine," Adam promises her. He hangs up.

She lowers the phone to her lap and tries another slow inhale. It still sucks. Why do people acting like breathing is good for anything?

"Is everything okay?" Gansey asks.

"No," she says, short. "Can you drive me to Denny's?"

"Where does he live?"

Blue opens her eyes and glares into the rear view mirror. "The diner, Gansey, or are you too rich for diners?"

"Of course," he says softly. "I'm sorry."

"No, I'm sorry, I just -- " she rubs at her face. Her adrenaline has drained out of her, but she doesn't feel any better. "There was a fire in Adam's apartment building last night, and instead of calling me he's been sitting in a booth at Denny's since three in the morning."

Gansey says "I'm sorry" again, but this time it doesn't hurt to hear. He reaches back to hold her hand. She can't help catching a glimpse of Ronan when she takes it. He looks like he wishes he weren't in the car.

Gansey lets her out on the sidewalk in front of the diner. She bursts out of the car before they've come to a full stop.

The door jangles when she pushes it open. An employee tries to greet her and she says "no, sorry!" too loud and without paying attention to what she's responding to. She can already see Adam, sitting in a corner booth, looking as good as anyone does after spending a night in a Denny's. His face is tight and pale, except for dark smudges under his eyes, and he's wearing the worn out workout clothes she recognizes as his pajamas. The backpack he takes with him to class three nights a week is on the bench next to him. He's typing way at his laptop, like he's just here to work on a class assignment somewhere with refreshments and free wifi.

Blue throws herself into the booth next to him, almost knocking over his coffee mug as she violently hugs him.

"Oh my god, Adam, are you okay?"

"I'm fine, Blue, I'm fine." He has to say it a couple of times because she keeps asking.

"Yeah, now you are." She sniffs and pulls back enough that she can see his face. "Something could've happened to you."

"But it didn't."

"You smell like smoke," she says. "That's really scary, Adam."

He sighs and rubs the back of his head. "Yeah. I think the fire might've started in the next unit over. They didn't really know yet."

She hugs him again. "That's so close, crap, I'm so glad you're okay." She looks him over with a keen Sargent eye: critical, but just because we care. "You look exhausted."

"Thanks, Blue, that makes me feel better."

"You should get some sleep."

"They play fast and loose with the social contract at Denny's," Adam says, "but I think at the point I'm snoring the waitress does have to kick me out."

"Come over to my place," Blue says. "Crash there."

"I'm waiting for the fire department to clear the building."

"You can come back later. It'll still be there."

Adam smiles one of his bitter, unhappy smiles. "What's left of it, anyway."

"You sitting here isn't going to make a difference," she argues. "Just come over, you should've been over there already, you should've called me."

He looks back down at the screen of his laptop. "I didn't think you'd answer."

It hits her in the gut, one solid punch. She curls in on herself. She feels smaller than she is.

"Why wouldn't I answer?"

"It was the middle of the night," Adam says, all logic.

"You could've woken me up," she says. "If you called enough times. I would've noticed. I would've picked up for you."

The door to the diner jangles again. Blue watches Adam's eyes flick up and then back down to his laptop.

"I didn't need to call you a hundred times," he says, dismissive. "I had it under control."

Gansey approaches the table, Ronan following a few feet behind him. He moves like he's about to sit on the other side of the booth and then stops himself.

"Blue told us about what happened," Gansey says. Adam frowns, but keeps typing. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine." It doesn't sound so nice now as it did when Blue was hugging him. "It's not an emergency."

"Your apartment burned down!" Blue manages to keep her volume low, but just barely.

"Burned down, past tense," Adam emphasizes. "I'm not in it now. And we don't know the full extent of the damage yet."

"It's not going to get better while you're sitting here. Let's go to my place, you can take a nap."

"Right, your nit-picking roommate will love you having someone over."

"I'm allowed to have guests."

"And that's worth getting in a fight with the woman who pays half your rent."

"If the alternative is you living in a Denny's, it is," Blue says. "What if they come back and say yeah, it did burn down? What if the damage is too bad for you to go back to your apartment?"

Adam grimaces. There's no shock in it; this is a thought he's had before. Probably many, many times in the hours since he ran here for refuge. He's been thinking all night and all morning, what if my home is gone for good, and no part of the answer involved I will talk to Blue. He'd rather be here, alone, than ask her for help.

"If that happens," he says, each word carefully placed in the sentence, "I'll figure something out."

"I have a guest room," Gansey offers.

"Yes, you do," Adam replies.

Gansey leans back, away from the unexpected blast of cold air. He looks so surprised, at first; the hurt takes a moment to catch up. He doesn't understand what he did wrong, and Blue feels a hot defensive anger building up in her belly. All he wanted to do was help.

"Why are you being so difficult?" she asks Adam.

"Why are you hovering?" Adam throws back at her. "I'm not in trouble, this isn't a crisis. I'll just stay at a hotel for a while."

"Really," Blue asks. Adam's not the only one who can freeze his words solid. "What hotel?"

"I haven't decided yet." He holds her gaze, daring her to say you can't afford it in front of two trust fund babies. "I can figure it out on my own."

"Then why did you even text me?" Blue asks in frustration. "What do you want me to do?"

Adam sits perfectly still for a moment, and then he says, "nothing. I don't want anything from you."

She waits in case there's anything else, but there isn't. Why would there be? Adam has spoken, it isn't like he's going to retract it, even if he regrets it. "Okay, then." She stands up. "I'm glad you're safe. I'll leave you alone now."

She leaves. He makes no move to stop her.

She can hear Gansey walking behind her. She's not sure how she knows it's Gansey; he doesn't say anything. He doesn't do anything, not until she's been standing in front of the car for several moments without trying to get in it. Then he places one hand on her back, lightly, and her shoulders drop, the fight falling out of her in a rush.

He slides his hand along her back and around to her stomach, holding her from behind. "Adam is intelligent, and capable, and self-sufficient," he reminds her. "He's going to be fine."

"Yeah. He will." She picks up Gansey's free hand and puts that on her hip, so he's got both arms around her. He doesn't bother to ask why she's still upset if she knows that Adam is okay. "He doesn't want my help."

"Well, no," Gansey admits. "But I don't think that's strictly about you. He did want you to know. He told you about what happened."

"After," she points out. "He shouldn't have to wait for hours to get any support from his friends. And he wouldn't have to, except I screwed everything up, and now he doesn't trust me."

"He trusted you enough to reach out this morning. The two of you can build on that. Give it time."

She exhales in the way that used to make Calla chide her about sassing back. She hates having to give things time. "Can we just. Go back to your place? I don't feel like getting brunch anymore."

"Of course." Gansey unlocks the car. Blue falls into the passenger seat without thinking. He pulls his phone out and composes a text to Ronan, who is -- not anywhere in sight, actually. Maybe he'd slipped away while she wasn't paying attention. It wouldn't have been hard with how self-absorbed she is. Adam lost his apartment and she made it all about her.

"Can you tell me something?" she asks when he puts the phone down and starts the engine.

"Of course," but he doesn't actually do it. "What?"

"I don't know, just -- tell me about something you like. Wales, what's up with Wales?"

"Oh," he says, "yes, I'm quite fond of Wales," and she shuts her eyes as he drives, listening to him talk.

-

Adam turns his attention back to his laptop very deliberately as Blue walks out of the diner, signalling this is over before she's all the way gone. He doesn't give a shit that Ronan's still here.

"Don't be an idiot," Ronan says. Adam raises his eyes slowly, making it clear that he knows Ronan wants his attention and he'll keep him waiting for it as long as he feels like. "I don't blame you for not wanting to stay with Gansey, who needs front row seats to their fucking love fest, but you've seen my house. There's five bedrooms, I live in the nanny suite, we'd never even have to see each other."

Adam stares at him for a long moment before he speaks. "Why do you live in the nanny suite in your own house."

It fucking figures that Adam would finally express curiosity about something in his life, and it's not something he wants to get into. "Take it or don't."

"Pass."

Ronan shrugs, suit yourself, like he isn't crushed. "If it's that important to you to hurt Sargent's feelings, go for it. You're doing a great job so far."

His face goes a dull red, but he doesn't lash out with his anger. If it were Ronan, he'd think that the anger was just bouncing back at himself, but -- he doesn't know Adam. He doesn't know how to read Adam. Adam doesn't want him to know how to read him, and it's pretty rich for Ronan to call Adam out for hurting someone when Ronan is deliberately trying to get to him.

"Have fun in your hotel," he says, and turns around to leave. He's halfway to the door before he hears Adam say "Lynch."

Chapter Text

There's a hardware store a couple blocks away; five bucks and fifteen minutes later Ronan has an extra copy of his key.

He figures he'll hand it off and then peace out to find some way of getting home, since it looks like Gansey and Sargent ditched him, but when he gets back to the diner Adam is hanging up his phone, some complicated expression on his face.

"What," Ronan asks, "did your apartment get hit by lightning, too?"

"They've cleared the building," Adam says, humorless. Apparently his joke wasn't that funny. "I need to go grab some stuff."

"What kind of stuff?"

"Enough to get through the next few days. Clothes. Shoes." He smiles in an unpleasant way. Ronan can't picture what he looks like when he's happy. "Depends what survived."

"You need a second pair of hands, or you think there isn't that much shit left?"

Adam frowns. Ronan waits for the criticism, for the insult, waits to be told he's gone too far. "Fine" catches him so off-guard that Adam's already across the room settling his bill by the time he realizes that he's allowed to come along.

It's immediately obvious which way they're heading. Ronan can smell the smoke from the parking lot, and as soon as the building is in view his eyes jump right to it. He doesn't hold out much hope for Adam's belongings. Adam clearly doesn't, either.

That doesn't stop him from freezing once he actually sees the inside of his home.

It is the most thoroughly wrecked place Ronan has ever set foot in, and that's counting the shit-holes K used to hang out in that existed solely to be destroyed. It reeks of smoke. The ceiling's turned a grimy and depressing black. There's something that used to be a couch, but it and the wall it's collapsing in front of are so scorched that Ronan doesn't notice it at first; it just blends in, one big smear of ruins. What surprises him most is the way there are patches of damage scattered around the room between bits that look almost untouched, like the fire couldn't make up its mind where it wanted to go and just danced here and there on a whim.

Adam swallows, hard. His eyes dart around, taking note of every last thing in the room -- including Ronan, who is not being subtle enough about watching him. He turns away and walks further into the apartment, disappearing through a doorway.

Ronan manages to stop himself from following Adam, but that leaves him with no idea what the hell he is supposed to do. He thinks maybe he shouldn't look at anything, that that would be an invasion of privacy, but he can't fucking help it; it's not like Adam lives in a palatial mansion with some impersonal foyer Ronan could wait in. Although, when he does give in and trample all over Adam's privacy, there's a weird lack of personal details, even considering some of them might have gone up in smoke.

There's almost no frames in the living room, for art or for pictures. He finds one lying on its face on the floor, and when he picks it up and wipes soot off it, there's a younger Adam and a younger Blue, arms wrapped around each other and beaming at him in a way that hurts his head -- so that's what Adam looks like when he's happy.

As far as he can tell, that's the only photograph in the whole room. There was some kind of tapestry hanging on the wall, but it's toast; there's not enough left to tell what it used to be. When he peeks into the kitchen there's no tacky dishtowels or stack of dirty dishes or overflowing spice rack. It's like everything has a place that it belongs and it gets put there as soon as he's done with it, even though -- Ronan checks three times to be sure, not ready to believe -- there's no dishwasher. Who the fuck lives like that?

The most noticeable difference between Adam's apartment and a display unit with no one living in it, aside from one photograph, is the fact that Adam's apartment was recently on fire.

Adam steps out of what Ronan assumes is his bedroom. He shuts the door behind him and then stares at it for a second with a lost expression: why did I bother doing that. It takes up enough time that Ronan makes it back at the front door before Adam notices he moved.

He bring out of the bedroom a duffel bag and, bizarrely, a cardboard box; there's something wrong about the fact a cardboard box survived when the couch couldn't. Adam puts down the duffel and moves around the room, picking up things that are small enough to fit in the box and whole enough to be worth bothering with -- a couple potted plants, a phone charger that was stored neatly away in a box on the coffee table, a few books that pass his inspection. Most of them don't.

He goes to put one of the reject books back and the whole shelf wobbles. He freezes.

"Just break it," Ronan says. "Why do you need to be careful with it? It's all wrecked anyway."

Adam looks at him for a long moment and then looks back at the bookshelf, like he's debating the merits of the suggestion, which is the exact opposite of the point: he's just supposed to do something. Ronan's about to say forget it when Adam tenses up. A second later he throws what Ronan is ashamed to say is the most pathetic punch he's ever seen. Jesus Christ, he has to teach this boy a thing or two. A chunk of particle board gets knocked off, which feels more like a coincidence than something that Adam made happen with that weak bullshit.

It doesn't look like it helped. Adam looks just as mad as when they walked in.

"Red line?" Ronan asks.

"What?"

"Red line takes us to my place, right?"

"Yeah," Adam says, "right." He focuses on shutting the lid to the cardboard box, folding the flaps under each other. Ronan hefts up the duffel bag. It's only partially zipped, revealing a bunch of wadded up clothing. He drops the picture frame into the bag and zips it shut while Adam's not looking.

When they arrive at the house, Ronan lets them in through the front door, leads Adam to the kitchen and drops the duffel bag on the table.

"Kitchen," he points, "bathrooms down there, one bedroom there, the rest are on the second floor. Here." He grabs a bag of frozen peas out of the freezer and tosses them to Adam, who looks annoyed about having to catch it. He does put it over the back of his hand, though. He'd been flexing and clenching the whole way here, because when Ronan told him to break something he didn't take into account that Adam had no fucking idea how to break anything.

"My gym's not far from here," he says, trying to keep his voice gruff and emotionless. "I could take you boxing if you want to learn how to hit something for real."

"I don't." Adam slings the duffel bag over his shoulder; Ronan's role is finished. "Thank you for helping me with my things," he says, words laid out like dollar bills being counted; six, seven, eight, and we're even.

Ronan doesn't want to be even. He doesn't want Adam to pay him back. He wants to be allowed to do Adam a favor.

But if he can't do that there isn't much else to do but shrug and retreat back to his rooms. He does leave the connecting door between them unlocked on his side.

-

It takes Gansey five days to successfully confront him, including -- Ronan is not proud to admit it -- one time that he knocked on the door to Ronan's suite on and off for fifteen minutes while Ronan laid out of sight on the couch and refused to answer.

He should've just opened the fucking door. Gansey ambushes him outside St. Adelaide's on Sunday morning, which is insult on top of injury on top of a kick in the nuts. First he has to look at Declan's face for an hour, now this shit.

"We're not talking about this," he cuts Gansey off before he can start, hauling him out of earshot of his brothers.

"But -- "

"We're. Not. Talking. About. This."

Gansey calculates the odds in his head, whether he'll get what he wants or just push Ronan into avoiding him harder and being even more of an anti-social freak than he already is. "All right," he concedes, but even when he gives up, Gansey can't help but try. "Are you sure?"

Ronan glares. The other half of your soul is homeless, do you maybe just want to leave him to die on the streets because that'd be less awkward for you, what kind of fucking question is that.

"If you change your mind -- "

"I won't."

Declan arches an eyebrow when Gansey leaves and Ronan stalks back to where he ditched his brothers. "Should I be concerned?"

Ronan doesn't slow down, shoulder checks him in a fuck you on the way to the parking lot. He is sure as shit not talking to Declan about this, and not for the usual reasons. Usually there's no point in telling Declan anything because he won't understand it and he won't bother to try seeing Ronan's point of view. This time there's a horrible crawling certainty all over his skin that Declan would understand.

This is how Declan does shit: he lies without lying. Ronan gave Gansey the impression that he didn't want to talk about Adam living in the house because it wasn't up for debate. That was true. That also meant he didn't have to admit to Gansey that he'd already managed to get into a fight with Adam.

He mostly keeps out of the main house. That's what he does normally, and that was the deal when Adam agreed to stay, that they'd never have to see each other. But the kitchenette in his suite sucks, and as shitty of a home chef as he is, he still does occasionally want to use something better than a toaster oven and a hot plate.

He enters through the connecting door the day after Adam moved in. It isn't locked from Adam's side. He can't help feeling happy about that, that Adam hadn't locked him out, even if it was just that he didn't see the point when Ronan has a key to the front door.

He sticks a frozen pizza in the oven and then leans on the counter, waiting for it to be done. He stares out into space without really looking at anything. It takes him a while to realize that the thing he's not really looking at is the window Sargent had ambushed him with, the cracked one that was so bad for the environment.

Except --

He pushes off the counter and steps forward, leans in close so his face is just a couple inches away. It's almost invisible, but there's a piece of clear packing tape along the crack in the glass.

He reaches out and runs his fingers over it in disbelief. He didn't put it there. Blue had somehow noticed the crack before he did, but the window is more than three feet above the ground, so it's not like she could have done this.

There's a sick cold knot in his stomach like a bad omen. He paces up and down the kitchen but can't find anything else that's wrong. It doesn't mean shit; that could just be his fault, for not paying enough attention to notice when something changed.

He stalks into the living room. The stack of books by his father's favorite reading chair -- gone, and he scans all of the bookshelves until he finds them, shelved next to a photo of his parents on their wedding day. The burned out light bulb turns on when he flips the switch. The dust over his mother's pressed flowers, the ones Blue liked, is gone.

Something claws at his throat, panic that he can't explain, anger like finding a cell phone sitting on the kitchen table when it didn't belong there.

Footsteps on the stairwell: Adam gets about halfway down before he notices Ronan. He stops, but just for a second. "Hi."

"What did you do?" Ronan demands.

"Excuse me?"

"You dusted my house?"

"...Yes," Adam says slowly. "That is something I did, what's your question?"

"Why?"

"I got tired of sneezing," and then, even more slowly, "is that a problem?"

"Yes, that's a fucking problem!"

Adam frowns like he doesn't understand. When Ronan doesn't explain he frowns deeper, annoyance this time. "I can't stay here and not touch anything." His judgment is immediate and obvious. "I figured you had people stay over all the time if you're so cavalier about offering, but you don't, do you? It doesn't look like anyone's been in half of these rooms in years. Why did you even invite me if you don't want anyone to touch anything?"

"I invited you because Sargent looked like she was about to fucking cry," Ronan snaps. "Maybe you don't care about her, but I do."

"No," Adam says. "This is your house, and I'll respect whatever rules you want, although you might have bothered to tell me that I wasn't allowed to clean before I wasted my time on it. But I don't have to listen to insults based on what you think you know about my friendships, especially when you're wrong."

"Yeah, I guess I don't get it." He leans heavily into that fake agreement that made Declan want to knock his head off when they were kids. "Because it sure looks to me like you're pissed at her for giving a shit about you, but that can't be right."

"My apartment caught on fire in the middle of the night while I was inside of it, so forgive me if I didn't handle that situation with as much grace and gratitude as you think I should have," Adam says. "Too bad it wasn't something that was really worth blowing up at someone for, like running into them because you're not watching where you're going."

"Swearing at someone because you're in a bad mood isn't the same as deliberately punishing them for caring about you."

"The fact that you took your anger out on me isn't the justification that you think it is."

"Why not?" Ronan asks. "You just said that it was when you did it to Sargent."

Adam doesn't respond right away. Ronan would think he wasn't going to at all, except then why wouldn't he just leave? If he wanted the argument to be over, why didn't he make it be over?

He does end it, but not in the way Ronan's expecting.

"Fine," he says, flat. "Whatever you say. I won't touch anything else, sorry I made myself too much at home."

Then he leaves.

Ronan's soulmate just admitted that he was treating Ronan's house like his home. That shouldn't make him feel like dying. It should make him fucking ecstatic, ten thousand times more disgusting and insufferable than Gansey is every time he talks about Blue.

But Adam didn't really mean it. He's still an invader, even though Ronan invited him in. He has no intention of belonging here for real and he never did.

Ronan stands in the hallway staring at nothing for so long that his pizza fucking burns.

-

He stays out of the main house for the next few days. He only sees Adam in passing -- leaving the house the same time Ronan is coming back, sitting in the window reading one afternoon when Ronan goes for a drive, one time standing in the garden when Ronan looks outside, needing to see anything other than what's in front of his face.

The garden is one of those things he tries not to think about. He pays some guys to come by a couple times a week to make sure none of the plants completely dies, but it isn't enough. Anytime he looks at the garden his heart clenches up at how much worse it looks than when his mother took care of to it, at how much work he needs to do before he'd be okay with her seeing it again, at how soft and sympathetic the doctors' voices get when they tell him that isn't something he needs to worry about.

Adam is standing near one of the rose bushes. The roses really make Ronan feel like shit. They're his mother's favorite, and no amount of bullying ever gets the gardeners to do a good enough job on them.

Adam touches one of the pathetic drooping flowers. A couple of petals flutter off. He squats down and puts his hand on the ground like he wants to absorb the soil through his fingertips. Then he picks the petals up and turns back to the house -- which is when he notices Ronan watching him. They make eye contact. Adam drops the petals and goes back inside.

Ronan goes grocery shopping a couple days after their fight. He's just gotten back and is grabbing too many grocery bags at once when he hears someone approach.

"Do you want a hand?" Adam asks.

He almost says no like a brat and scoops up everything in one massive armload. But he can control his impulses, occasionally, after he's fucked up the same one enough times there's a mound of scar tissue around it.

"Sure."

Adam picks up the rest of the groceries and rests a hand on the trunk, waiting to get a nod before he closes it.

Ronan lets them in through his door. Adam doesn't comment on being in Ronan's space. He doesn't even look around, or not that Ronan notices. Maybe he gets an eyeful while Ronan has his face shoved in the mini-fridge and just keeps it to himself.

"I want to apologize," Adam says. "For the other day."

"Okay." Ronan shuts the fridge. "Go for it."

Adam blinks at him. "What?"

"You want to apologize, don't let me stop you."

Adam switches from I don't understand to I understand I just didn't expect anyone to have the balls. But he still says "I'm sorry," so maybe for once Ronan wasn't so far over the line.

"Cool." He's probably supposed to say sorry, too, but he thinks if he said that he'd have to say a bunch of other shit. He doesn't know how to say all that; he doesn't even know what all that is. So he grabs a beer out of the six pack he just bought and offers it to Adam. Belatedly remembers he's not supposed to try to get Adam drunk, and fuck it, why does he screw up every single thing he does? But also, fuck it, it's one beer, why does he need to stress about one beer?

"Maybe later," Adam says. "I was on my way out."

"Sure, later." He risk asking, "going to see Sargent?"

"No, I'm going to pick up some more stuff from my apartment. I finally got the smell of smoke out of my clothes, so," another one of those mean smiles of his, but not at Ronan's expense this time. "I'm ready for another salvage project."

"You good to carry that shit on the bus? Or you want to borrow the car?"

Adam doesn't answer for a long moment. Ronan keeps cool, like he isn't freaking the fuck out under the stress of waiting. It's not his turn to say anything, it's not his job to say anything, so he probably shouldn't say anything, right? In most situations not saying anything is the best decision of all. But fuck it's weird just standing here not talking when there's a question hanging in the air.

Adam finally says, "Okay. That would be helpful, thanks."

Ronan digs the keys out of his pocket and tosses them to him.

"I'll drive carefully," Adam promises.

"Hey, wreck it as bad as you want, but then it's on you to fix it."

"I'll be careful," Adam says again, extra reassurance, because after all Ronan doesn't know him well enough to know what his word is worth.

Ronan drinks until late and doesn't answer the door when Adam tries to return his keys. In the morning he finds them on the dining room table in the main house, next to a new six pack with a note on it, thanks.

He turns around and goes back to bed.

-

"You're at the wrong door."

"No I'm not," Sargent says, which is probably her answer to everything. That'd be her answer if someone said hey, you're Blue Sargent. "Open up before the food gets cold."

Ronan doesn't budge. "Parrish is in the main house."

"Yeah, I know," she says loud and slow, like he doesn't speak English. "You owe me another movie night, remember?"

He moves out of the way but keeps hassling her. "Since when?"

"You said that I needed to see more movies."

"I said you're a fucking disgrace, that doesn't mean I gotta educate you."

"If you aren't willing to help, don't criticize." She drops her takeout boxes on the coffee table and collapses onto the couch. "Get me a drink."

"Fuck no. You can't just show up and drink my beer."

"You're gonna eat my takeout."

"Says who? Are you going to force feed me?"

"Yeah, I really trust you with my hand that close to your mouth," she scoffs.

Ronan opens one beer, for himself, and wanders over to the DVD shelves.

"I want to watch something funny," Blue says, which is an order even if it doesn't sound like one. Maybe since everything she says is an order she has to change it up to keep it interesting.

He thinks about grabbing some Bergman to fuck with her, The Seventh Seal is right there, but he doesn't really feel like silence and allegory tonight. He he grabs Bringing Up Baby and tosses it at her. "Here, it's about a rude chick who ruins peoples lives for fun, you'll love it."

"Ha, ha," she says, but she gets up to put the disk in the player.

They watch the movie. He figures she'll crack sooner or later and say whatever she came over to say; until then he shovels down her demon takeout like it isn't so spicy his taste buds are crying. She picks up his beer when he sets it down and takes a sip, looking at him out of the corner of her eye in a deliberate challenge. If she's acting like she doesn't care about backwash he can't care either, so when she puts it down he picks it back up and drinks. They end up splitting one fucking beer the whole night like they're chickenshit twelve-year-olds.

Halfway through the movie he gets tired of waiting for her to break. "Why not hang out with Parrish?"

"I'd rather be here," she says easily, the attitude only slipping into her voice when she adds, "I know, I'm appalled too."

"Appalled, nice vocab word. Dick's really starting to rub off on you, huh?" She rolls her eyes at his innuendo. To be fair, it wasn't his best work.

"Adam doesn't want to see me right now," Blue admits.

Ronan snorts.

She cracks a smile. "I know, join the club, right?"

"Is that why you're here?" he asks. "You're going to tell me that everything's gonna be fine and he'll come around and we'll be super happy together?" And that's the real reason he's been avoiding talking about this with Gansey, isn't it; because he knows that Gansey will insist that it's going to work out, I know it, I have faith in you, and that doesn't make him feel bright or believed in anymore. It doesn't make him feel anything except gutted.

"No," Blue says. "I can't speak for him. I don't make predictions about what Adam will do. Or, when I do I regret it. But when he makes his mind up about something he makes it up all the way, and he's been sure about this for longer than I've known him. I'm sorry."

Ronan sits with that for a minute. It weirdly hurts less than Gansey's false hope. Now that he admits that, you don't get to have your soulmate, he can actually start treating the wound -- treating it like a Civil War soldier sawing his own leg off, maybe, but at least that way he isn't letting rot eat him from the inside out.

"You should be sorry," he tells her. "I'm trying to listen to the movie and you're talking all over it."

Blue laughs in that ugly snorting kind of way.

"What?" he asks, immediately suspicious of anything she thinks is that funny.

"Nothing, it's just -- " she bites her lip. "I was just thinking that Huxley reminds me of Gansey."

Ronan stares at her in complete and utter horror. "Why would you say that?"

"Why wouldn't I? Come on, 'a masterpiece of understatement,' I swear I've heard Gansey say those exact words."

"What the fuck, Sargent," Ronan moans, "you just ruined Cary Grant for me."

Blue laughs at him again. Bastard.

Chapter Text

Gansey texts him at ten in the morning. Ronan gets it at seven that night, when he hears the Camaro pulling into the driveway but doesn't hear anyone knocking at his door. He goes looking for an explanation and finds one, We're having dinner with Adam tonight, are you free to join? We thought we'd come to him so he doesn't have to travel.

Inviting him to his own house. Ronan has to admire Gansey's balls.

He isn't planning on going over -- they didn't bother waiting for an answer from him, so it's not like he's disrupting anyone's plans -- except then Blue throws the connecting door open.

"What the fuck, Sargent, you ever heard of knocking?"

She stares him dead in the eye and knocks on the open door.

"I could've been naked," he complains.

"Uh-huh," she says. "If you've made it this far in life without learning to lock the door when you're naked, you deserve to be embarrassed."

He leers at her. "I didn't say I'd be embarrassed about it."

"You should be." Her disapproval drops on him like an anvil. He smirks wider. "Now, unless you're planning on getting indecent in the next ten seconds -- "

"I'm never decent."

" -- come get food. Gansey won't start without you and it'll be weird if I'm the only one eating."

"Why are you always shoving food at me?" Ronan asks. "You have a problem."

"Maternal instinct," she says. "Which I didn't even think I had, but it turns out if someone is pathetic enough, I mean really, really pathetic, they spontaneously appear."

"Every woman's destined to be a mother? That's not very feminist of you," and he pushes past her into the main house before she can bite back. He's riding so high and smug on his success that he gets all the way to the kitchen before he remembers what's waiting for him there.

He pauses in the doorway, but Blue nudges him from behind and he has to walk the rest of the way in. Gansey's digging silverware out of a drawer. Next to him are some cartons of takeout food on the counter. Next to those is --

It's not a big deal, he tells himself. It's your roommate, it's Blue's friend, it's Gansey's latest mancrush, anything to keep from calling him soulmate. He can't use that word anymore, so he needs to find some other way of making sense out of the man in front of him. He's trying, but none of the words stick.

He thinks, it's Adam.

Adam looks up and gives him one tiny fraction of a smile, acknowledgement: oh, you're here. "Good timing, I was just trying to figure out how to split six spring rolls four ways."

"Aren't those just grass in a tube?"

"I guess I'm splitting them three ways, that's easier. Six divided by three is two," he says, in a condescending tone that freaks Ronan out before he realizes it's directed at Blue.

"I knew that!"

Adam smirks. That's not directed at Ronan, either, but that's fine; it's nice to know Adam can joke, even if he's not in on it.

They all dish up their food at the same time, lazy and chaotic and getting in each other's way. Blue pours half a container of curry into a bowl and then holds the rest out to Ronan. "Oh, you should try this," she says, casual. "It's my favorite."

He knows exactly what's going to happen when he eats that curry. No innocent person has ever been casual. But -- she challenged him. He can't back down.

"No one wants your molten lava, Blue," Adam says, "that's why you always have to get your own. Here." He pushes the carton in front of him closer to Ronan. "The pad thai is edible."

"Oh, wow, edible," Blue says. "What a stellar review, why would anyone turn that down?"

"Because they want to still have a tongue at the end of dinner."

Ronan's paralyzed too badly to listen to the two of them hassling each other. The thought Adam wants to feed him is bouncing around and around his brain, but that's way too fucking far to take this. The food means too much to him for him to accept it. Except there's no reason not to take it except that it's a big deal, and that means rejecting it is a big deal too. And then Blue's stupid gauntlet is still lying where she threw it.

He takes the carton from Blue and scoops up a massive forkful of noodles from Adam's dish, dumping them right into the curry.

"Just to be clear," Adam says, "presented with two options, your choice is to come up with a third, worse option. Like lateral thinking but instead of solving a problem you made a new one."

"You don't know it's worse."

"I'm pretty confident."

Ronan lifts the container up to his mouth and chugs some curry. Holy fuck, it's somehow even hotter than the last food Sargent sprang on him. How is that possible?

"It's good," he says, like his eyes aren't watering. "You wanna try?"

"I'll pass," Adam says dryly. "Thanks."

Sargent didn't even stick around to watch Ronan's self-flagellation. Rude. She's already sitting in the dining room. She puts her plate and her drink down in front of her and then frowns.

Gansey, halfway through sitting in the chair next to her, drops a spoon on the table by her bowl.

She says something to him. He smiles. She leans in to kiss him on the cheek.

It's the kind of thing other people aren't supposed to see -- not secret, not shameful or embarrassing like it absolutely would have been if Sargent walked in on him naked. It's just personal, and Ronan should probably leave it as something the two of them have to themselves.

But dammit, it's his house they're necking in.

He retches, loudly, "blecch."

Gansey jumps in his seat and turns red.

Blue flips Ronan off without looking at him and then tugs Gansey back in to kiss him on the mouth.

"Knock it off." Ronan carries his food to the dining room. "You're gonna make me sick."

"If that's enough to make you sick, you're just gonna have to be sick," Blue says.

"Cut him some slack," Adam says. Ronan's heart does not jump into overdrive about Adam coming to his defense. That would be stupid. "He's already making himself sick on your curry. He's playing on hard mode."

Conversation moves along; a lot of how was your day shit, completely boring except that Ronan's curious about what Adam has been doing in his house all day. He knows what Adam hasn't been doing; nothing's moved since their argument. But Adam must do something, and while the thought of him changing shit in the house is uncomfortable, the thought of him sitting in the house doing nothing in case Ronan yells at him about it later is also uncomfortable.

Adam says that he's been reading. Ronan manages to ask him what, but it's some book he's never heard of, so he can't do anything with that answer.

"I was supposed to work today." Adam makes a face. It's trying to be a smile but it sucks at it. "My shift got cancelled."

"Again?" Blue asks.

Adam shrugs.

"Day off," Ronan says. He's capable of having a conversation with his, his neighbor. He can do this. "That's pretty cool."

"Not really," Adam answers vaguely.

"Why not?"

"When I don't work, I don't get paid."

Okay, Ronan can make shitty conversation, great, that's such an improvement.

"You know, Adam," Gansey starts, "I've been meaning to ask you -- "

Blue frowns at him. It's a hell of a look. Ronan can practically hear it.

Gansey stalls out.

"Hm?" Adam prompts him, and Gansey gives himself a tiny little shake.

"I'm having trouble with the Camaro again," which might as well be glowing neon bright for how obviously it is not the thing he was about to say a minute ago. "If you have some time -- that you know of in advance, of course -- would you be willing to take a look at it?"

"Sure," Adam says, a little too amused.

They go back to how was your day talk. It's not even that bad. Blue has a lot of colorful commentary about the assholes on her bus.

Everyone else fights over getting to do the dishes after dinner. Ronan leaves them to it and sprawls out comfortably idle on the couch until Blue comes back and shoves his feet off it.

"Hey," he protests. "What gives?"

"I need to sit next to you."

He grins at her, crooked. "Aw, you like me that much?"

"I need to sit next to you for the game," she says, disgusted.

He hadn't noticed she had a box under her arm. It turns out to be some impossibly stupid card game about trying to get your partner to read your mind. Gansey and Ronan do pretty good, as a team, but Blue and Adam are better. Ronan says that's just because it's Sargent's game and so obviously she's cheating.

"Perhaps it's time we switched up the teams," Gansey suggests.

"You're going to make me play with Ronan?" Blue demands, and turns to him without waiting for an answer. "Look what you've done."

"What, are you too scared to be on my team?" he scoffs, so there's no way she can back out of it. They deal out a new game.

Blue and Ronan's team wins in half the time it had taken any other team all night.

Blue stares at the cards for a while, and Ronan stares at the cards for a while, and then Blue says "I think that's enough Codenames," and he agrees "that was too much, fuck." It doesn't occur to him until after the game's put away and Blue and Gansey are getting ready to leave, that no one had suggested he and Adam play as a team.

"Blue, have you seen -- " and she's handing Gansey his keys before he can even ask for them. "Thank you, you're marvelous."

"I know." She grins up at him.

Ronan clears his throat loudly, to remind them that there are two other people in this foyer and he is close enough to throw up on them.

They say good night and leave without pushing their luck.

Ronan locks the door behind them. When he turns around Adam is still leaning against the wall and -- watching him, with a kind of suppressed amusement on his face.

"So, they're a lot," Adam says.

"They're fucking ridiculous," Ronan replies.

Adam's amusement comes out of hiding, spreads across his face. "The other day they did that thing where they remember stuff for each other. You know, Gansey says what's that place I'm thinking of and Blue jumps right in with the name of some restaurant? I thought that was just something old couples did."

"Gansey's been old since he was born," Ronan says. "What's Sargent's excuse?"

"I honestly don't know." Adam pushes off from the wall and heads back for the kitchen. That doesn't feel like the end of a conversation, so Ronan drifts along behind him, not quite invited. Adam heads for the fridge and pulls a carton of ice cream out of the freezer. "I'd say that I'm surprised to see her get so sappy about a guy so fast, but, she's very...practical about being sappy about him."

"You mean she's got him on a short fucking leash," and Adam shrugs like you're not wrong. He scoops some ice cream into a bowl. "What do you think that was about? When she interrupted him."

"If I had to guess, I'd say that he was going to offer to help me find a better job," Adam says. "Maybe something at his firm."

Ronan blinks. He wouldn't have thought of that answer in a hundred years. He didn't know that Adam didn't like his job. But of course Adam wasn't satisfied with anything, and of course Gansey got to know something about him that Ronan didn't. And of course Gansey would try to help him in the clumsiest way possible.

"Right, because he loves his job so much, he should share the fun."

Adam laughs. Well, okay, it's one of those snort laughs, and kind of mean-spirited, but it's a laugh. That's -- good. That's something. If he can make Adam laugh, then maybe someday he can make friend stick in his head.

Someday, but not today.

Ronan snags the carton of ice cream. "Later."

Adam doesn't react fast enough, caught off-guard by how brazen the theft was. "That's mine."

"Yeah, and this whole property is mine. I get to levy taxes."

"Levy taxes," Adam repeats in disbelief.

"Yup. You can have what's left back tomorrow." He heads for the connecting door.

"I'd better!" he hears behind him, before he disappears back into the safety of his rooms.

-

Gansey uses ten times as many words as he needs to to ask will you come with me to visit my family this weekend; by the time he actually gets the question out Blue mainly agrees out of concern for how flustered he is. The actual reality of meeting her boyfriend's rich Republican parents is an afterthought.

"If they try to talk politics, I'll talk back," she warns him.

"Of that I have no doubt."

"What should I bring?"

"Nothing," he assures her, "you don't need to bring anything but yourself."

"Oh, yeah, that's garbage advice," Ronan says when she consults him about it. "You need a host gift. Dick wants to believe his family isn't the kind that would hold that shit against someone for the next decade, but they totally are."

"Thank you." She picks up a bar of soap and sniffs it. "I knew I could count on you for a real opinion."

"If you're counting on my opinions, they're gonna hold it against you for two decades." Ronan glares at a wind chime. He huffs, making the chimes sway gently and give off a faint pleasant tinkle. Somehow he makes even that look grouchy.

"At least you know them," Blue says. "I don't, but I know how to filter what you say through my Ronan lens to get the useful information out of it."

He looks at her in surprise. She thinks he looks a little touched. But it only lasts a second, and then he moves on to fondle wool sweaters at the next booth.

"First opinion for your lens," he says. "Everything here is tacky and ugly," and he either doesn't notice or doesn't care that the booth owner is standing three feet away.

"You say that like rich people don't love tacky ugly stuff."

Ronan shrugs, not willing to admit she has a point.

The next booth is all paintings of sunsets.

"This is wrong, right?" she asks.

"Maybe it's right-wrong," he says, in his fakest voice. "It's so ugly it's pretty."

"See, that was very helpful," Blue tells him. "Now I know I was right."

"You're not filtering shit," Ronan grumbles. "You're just taking anything I say as proof of whatever you were thinking already."

"Maybe I am. That's good too."

The next booth is dream catchers and bead work being sold by a white woman; Blue doesn't stop. This crafts fair is pretty hit or miss even by the standards of a crafts fair.

"I think you're kinda fucked on the whole gift thing," Ronan says when they give up on shopping and stop to scarf down some ice cream. "Just bring them a bottle of wine."

"I guarantee that Gansey's parents know more about wine than I do and buy much more expensive wine than I can afford," Blue says. "I can't bring them a shittier version of something that they already have. And rich people like you can afford to just throw money at a gift instead of putting any thought in it -- "

"Hey," Ronan says, offended, "I don't buy people gifts."

"But I don't have that option. So I need to get them something they don't have. Ideally something with some kind of meaning."

"Okay, I take it back," Ronan says. "If the meaning you're trying to get across is your son is banging a hippie, this is the perfect place to shop."

Blue steals his ice cream cone and licks it all over before holding it out to him again. He takes it and goes right on eating like nothing happened.

"They don't live here," she tells him. "But it's the place that their son lives. So something with local color, that would be something they wouldn't have but that anytime they looked at it, it would remind them of Gansey. That's the present, the thing itself doesn't matter as long as they don't hate it."

"You've put a lot of thought into this," he accuses her.

She shrugs. "I'm used to finding presents that don't cost much."

"Cheap ass."

"I didn't have a lot of choice. I grew up poor, same as Adam."

Ronan frowns at her; it's not the first time today that he's done it, but it's the first time that his shoulders have raised up and his whole body's gone tense. "Don't tell me shit like that."

She blinks at him, surprised. "What, I can't talk about my childhood?"

"You shouldn't," he snipes, "that shit's boring," but that isn't the point.

She says, "it's not a secret that Adam didn't have money growing up."

"He doesn't want me to know that," Ronan says. "He doesn't want me to know anything. So just fucking -- respect that, Jesus Christ."

Blue is rarely wordless, but right now she doesn't have anything she can say. Ronan Lynch is telling her that she isn't respectful enough, and half of her is outraged -- what does he know about being respectful -- but the rest of her can tell that yeah, if she's hearing it from Ronan, then it really is important.

He turns away from her to throw his ice cream in the trash, even though he's not done with it. He's so defensive that it feels like an attack. Maybe this is about respect for Adam. Or maybe it's about respect for Ronan, and how it must feel, for him, when the only things that he learns about his soulmate come from other people.

She says, in a drawl, "does this mean that we can't gossip about Gansey anymore?"

"Fuck no," Ronan answers. "What the fuck would we even talk about?"

"Yeah, we'd just have to stand here in silence with no one glaring at us because you're swearing in a public place full of families."

"Exactly. Think how fucking boring that would be."

-

Gansey's parents seem to be happy with the glass work Blue gives them. They thank her when she gives it to them -- which she expected regardless of how they felt -- but they place it prominently on the table throughout dinner, like they want her to see them appreciating it.

They make conversation with the easy charm of people who make conversation for a living, asking her about herself with interest but not enough intensity that it feels like an interrogation. The fact she works for an environmental non-profit doesn't get her a rant about how climate change is a hoax; instead they treat her like an authority on the subject and ask her questions like they're listening to the answers. When talk turns to someone she doesn't know or some old piece of family history, they take a moment to explain the context to her. There aren't any embarrassing baby photos of Gansey, although there is a professional family portrait hanging on the wall from when he's a toddler; that's somehow worse. His sister Helen tells a story about him getting her in trouble with her helicopter instructor which is funny without being in poor taste. Blue thinks that she might like Helen, someday.

And the whole night, sitting right next to her, is some Gansey that she's never met before. She thinks that she doesn't like him.

It clogs up her throat for half the drive home. He's her boyfriend; she's supposed to care about him. She does care about him, so much that it catches her by surprise sometimes, like pressing her fingers on a newly discovered bruise and suddenly her entire body is gasping because of something it didn't know existed a second ago. Shouldn't she like every side of him?

She watches his face changing as bars of light pass over him through the window, listens to the yacht rock turned low on the radio, and she thinks, no.

She can care about him without liking every single facet of him. Especially if, as she's suddenly sure, he doesn't like this facet of him, either.

"You didn't have a good time, did you," she asks.

"I did," he insists. "It was a lovely evening. I was maybe a little preoccupied. I wanted them to like you -- and they did. But I apologize if I wasn't very good company."

"Gansey, I don't need you to apologize. I just worry about you, when you go away like that."

"Did I?" he asks. "Go away, I mean."

"You didn't notice?"

"I was preoccupied," he repeats, softly. "I wanted you to like them."

"I tried to," Blue says. "And I'm going to keep trying. But it's hard. They're starting off at a disadvantage."

"I know that our circumstances, and their politics, are not terribly sympathetic," Gansey starts.

"There's that," she admits. "But I just can't stop thinking...they should have helped you, and they didn't. It's hard to forgive them for that."

They drive another mile before Gansey says, "I don't understand what you mean."

"When you were stung. You needed help and your family didn't give it to you."

"Of course they did," he says, confused. "They very literally supported me through it, they've always been where my money came from. And then my father even found me a job."

"That wasn't help. You were afraid to go back to your life. Someone who loves you should have helped you with the fear, not with finding you a life you didn't want."

A car passes them on the left, going dangerously fast. Their lights disappear off into the distance. The radio fades out from one Eagles song to something that Blue thinks might be the same Eagles song.

Gansey breathes in hard, and then flicks the turn signal on and pulls over to the shoulder.

"Is everything okay?" she asks, trying to peek at the dashboard; she can't see it from the passenger seat. He shifts the car into park and stares out the windshield with his hands on the steering wheel.

"Yes, fine," he says. "I just need to have a quick panic attack."

"What?" Blue asks in alarm. That's not a very Gansey kind of thing to joke about. Which means he isn't joking.

His eyes squeeze shut. His jaws, his face, his whole body tense up. He's either having a panic attack or having something close enough to one to worry about.

She worries for a split second, and then she gives herself a shake. This isn't her turn.

"Okay," she says with as much confidence as she can muster. "I'm glad you pulled over first, that was a good call."

He doesn't answer. No telling if she's helping, hurting, or having no effect; she just pushes on, because what choice is there?

"I'm going to turn the hazards on, just in case, but we're safe here. No one's going to hit us, and we're not going to crash, because you pulled over in time. We're good here."

He nods once, short.

"Is it okay if I touch you?"

Another short nod.

She takes his hand, threads his fingers through hers.

"I'm just making this up as I go along," she tells him. "So if there's something you want me to do you can tell me. Otherwise I'm going to keep going like this."

He squeezes her hand.

"Okay, I can keep doing this." She hopes so, anyway. She wonders if she should google panic attack, but she'd rather keep all of her attention on him. "I'm sure that this sucks a lot, but it's not forever. Most panic attacks are pretty short. I read that somewhere."

He breathes out and squeezes her hand again. He likes hearing her talk, or at least she hopes he does.

"I don't have a citation from a reputable source for that, but it's still true. And it's lucky we're in this car, right? Don't pretend this isn't your favorite place in the world, sitting in that driver's seat, I won't believe you. Maybe it'd be even more your favorite if we had Ronan in the backseat. Or would he get the front seat and I'd have to sit in the back? I know I have shorter legs than him but that doesn't feel fair that he always gets to sit in the front..."

She keeps going like that. Occasionally she gets hit with the thought what am I babbling about, like she's watching someone else and sneering at how clueless and useless they are, but she pushes through. This isn't her moment. Who cares if she's being stupid, if it helps.

Over time the grip on her hand loosens. Gansey's breathing gets deeper and less choppy. He slumps back in his seat. His eyes open, and he lets go of her hand entirely, scrubs at his face and sighs.

"That -- thank you, Blue," he says, his voice hoarse like he'd spent the last ten minutes shouting instead of dead silent. "I think it's passed."

"Are you sure?" The question she hadn't dared to ask pours out of her: "Are you okay?"

"I am...exhausted," he says. "I'm sorry, I don't trust myself to drive right now."

They're at least an hour from home. Blue doesn't know how to drive stick shift. She'd always scoffed at the idea, more macho car culture bullshit, but now she's aware of it as a useful skill that she doesn't possess. She promises to change that at some point in the future, but it doesn't solve anything in the moment.

"Stay right there, okay?"

He blinks at her, not comprehending. She pulls out her phone and does a search.

"There's a hotel off the next exit," she says. "Do you think you can get us that far? That's all you have to do. Then you can sleep."

He nods, and then once more like he knows he's doing it this time. "Yes, I can -- yes," and he puts the car back into gear, slowly merges back onto the freeway. She's glad that there's not many other cars on the road at this time of night.

Blue barely remembers checking into the hotel; Gansey moves like a dead person, and she's focused on helping him get around. As soon as they're in the room he collapses into the bed. She takes a hot shower to try to relax. It doesn't do much good. She crawls into bed next to him; that's more relaxing. She falls asleep.

They're both awkward and shy in the morning, like two strangers waking up in a hotel bed instead of a couple.

"I'm sorry," Gansey starts, falling back on manners like he always does when he's uncertain. "You shouldn't have needed to take care of me -- "

"Don't be sorry, I'm sorry," Blue says. "I shouldn't have brought all that up while you were driving."

"You didn't do anything wrong. You only asked a question."

"You reacted pretty hard for just being asked a question."

"Yes," Gansey admits. "I suppose I did."

She hugs her knees up to her chest. "That wasn't the first time that's happened, was it?"

"It's the first time that I lost control in front of someone."

"You were alone before?"

"No one had to take care of me before."

There's no real reason for her heart to break at that. Of course he'd've gone through this alone before. Of course he'd've thought that was the best way of going through it.

"You mean that you had no one to take care of you," she says.

"I had no one..." Gansey repeats, slowly. "Yes. That's -- that's not good, is it. I...oh dear Lord, I had a panic attack on the freeway." He grabs his hair in a fist, curling up tighter around himself. "Oh, God, I could have killed us both. That's bad."

Blue laughs. Or maybe she sobs. Hard to tell. "It's not great."

Gansey asks, "I need help, don't I?"

"It would make me feel better," she says, soft. "Yeah. I think it would make you feel better, too."

He nods a few times, like he doesn't know he's already done it. "I think I...I think I'll do that. Tomorrow, maybe. I'm tired again, I'm still tired."

Blue kisses his shoulder where it's pressed up against hers. "Go back to sleep."

He lies down obediently, only then asking, "What time is check out?"

"Don't worry about it." She lies down pressed up against his back, wraps an arm around his waist. "We'll pay for another day if we have to."

"Are you sure you don't mind?"

"I gave them your card," she tells him, "so yeah, I don't mind."

His chest moves once, a laugh too quiet to hear, and then he relaxes down against the bed and falls asleep.

-

Matthew, God bless him, sends him a text. Ronan reads it when it arrives, even though he's just woken up, because his phone make the burping sound that Matthew had programmed as his custom text alert. He did it as a joke, but Ronan kept it, because it was useful to know when he got a text from the one person he wanted to get texts from, and also because like fuck was he going to figure out how to change it.

hey if Declan is still there can you ask him if I left my charger in his car

He scrubs the sleep crap out of his eyes, but nope, that's still what it says.

He pecks out a response: wtf

like the car charger not the wall charger lol I didn't leave my wall charger in his car
I don't think so anyway

why would declan be here

Ronan learned just enough about how his phone works to teach it that Declan's name is not a proper noun.

isn't he? I thought he said he was going over there this morning

Ronan looks up from his phone to the clock on the wall. Eleven-thirty. Barely morning, fuck, and he's still staring at the clock when his phone burps again.

wait jk found my charger! It was in my shoe

He rolls out of bed and grabs his keys, dashes outside in the clothes he slept in. He's at the car in under thirty seconds.

Then he swears and runs back in through the front door.

Adam is in the kitchen, standing over the stove. Something smells, fuck, really good.

"You need to clear out," Ronan barks at him.

He raises an eyebrow. "Why?"

"My asshole brother is coming by. So unless you want to hang out with him -- "

"All right, I'm convinced." Adam turns off the stove.

He can't tell if he's getting fucked with. "Really."

"Yeah," Adam says. "If you think he's an asshole, I don't want to meet him."

Ronan -- doesn't know what the fuck to do with that. If Gansey had said it -- okay, Gansey wouldn't say it, but if he were the kind of person who said that, or if Sargent said it, or hell even if Declan had said it, he would have known what it meant. He would have understood exactly how much of it was them trying to insult him and how much of it was some fucked up kind of affection.

But there's no reason to think Adam meant it as anything other than what it sounded like, and that's a hell of a thing to smack a guy with when he's just trying to rescue you.

Adam rubs the back of his neck, like maybe he feels the awkwardness of the moment, too. "Yeah, thanks for warning me. Let me just grab a couple things." He grabs literally a couple of things, his wallet and his keys from a table in the foyer. He's done before Ronan can say bye, so they leave the house together. Ronan locks the door behind them.

Adam asks, "where were you thinking of going?"

He realizes -- Adam thinks he was inviting him to go somewhere with him. Which makes sense. Ronan is kicking him out of the house, and he doesn't have a car of his own; Ronan probably owes him a ride somewhere.

"I got some shit to drop off at the library," Ronan says. He's pretty sure there's still books in his backseat. He might've gotten rid of them at some point.

"Really?" Adam asks, like now he's the one who can't tell if he's getting fucked with.

"Yeah, really, why would I make that up?"

"Okay," Adam says. "That'd be good, I need to pick up a book for class."

They make their getaway without spotting Declan; once he's safe, Ronan is free to brood over whether he's supposed to make conversation or not.

Adam called him an asshole, which probably means he doesn't want to talk to him. But -- maybe it means the opposite. Ronan's called Sargent an asshole a hundred times, and at least half those times he didn't really mind talking to her.

What makes the decision for him is that same thought that's been with him since Bringing Up Baby -- he and Adam are going to be tied to each other for life, or at least until Sargent leaves Gansey's pathetic ass, which better be never. They need to learn how to talk to each other somehow.

"What class?" he asks.

"Hm?"

"What class do you need books for?"

"I'm taking a comparative literature class," Adam says.

"Of course you are." Ronan rolls his eyes in disgust. "Why do I have to be surrounded by fucking nerds?"

"If you want fewer nerds in your life, I don't think the public library is a good place to start."

"At least I don't take comp lit classes for fun," Ronan throws back at him.

"Gen ed," he says.

"Huh?"

"I'm not taking it for fun," he clarifies. "It fills my cultural analysis requirement."

"Requirement for what?"

"My bachelor's degree," he says, terse.

"Why do you care about that shit?" Ronan asks. "You know you're an adult, right? They can't force you to go to school anymore."

"No one's forcing me," Adam says. "I want it."

"Again. Why."

"Self-improvement, employability..." he trails off like he realizes that Ronan isn't convinced. "Stubbornness."

He snorts. That's half of a reason. "More like showing off."

"Yeah, at our age working on your bachelor's isn't showing off. I'm too old to be an undergrad."

"No one should be an undergrad," Ronan tells him. "It's always embarrassing. At least teenagers have the excuse that their brains don't work yet."

"I was also an undergrad when I was a teenager." Adam offers it up like an experiment, to see how Ronan will respond. God forbid Ronan not deliver.

"So what you're saying is you haven't learned anything in the last decade. You managed to escape college once and then you went back."

"I had to drop out," Adam says. "Financial hardship."

Ronan frowns, looking over his left shoulder before he merges lanes. "Is Sargent a dropout?"

"What?"

"I dropped out of high school. You left college. Gansey quit grad school. Is Sargent a drop out too?"

"No, she got her associate's and then her bachelor's. That ended up being a much smarter way to do it."

"Fuck. I can't believe Sargent is the most competent one out of all of us."

"Can't you?" Adam asks, bemused.

"Fine, I don't want to believe it. Are you happy now?"

Adam doesn't answer, but he smiles like he is, maybe, happy.

They don't talk while they hang out at the library, on account of it being a library. Ronan keeps seeing that smile flash in front of his eyes again, feels like he must be doing something right.

Chapter Text

Ronan sneaks into the main house a few days later.

He'd never actually returned the ice cream that he stole, just noticed one day that it was missing from his freezer. He was pretty sure he hadn't thrown it away, but maybe he'd started sleepwalking, that would be the sort of shit his life pulled on him, so he'd risked going into the main house long enough to check Adam's freezer and make sure. There it was, in all its pilfered glory, because Adam solved problems for himself.

It left him with a choice to make: he could figure out what the fuck the weird strong feelings he had about Adam sneaking around in his rooms were and how he could manage those feelings, or he could steal the ice cream back.

He stole it back, and now he had to keep sneaking into the main house every day or two to snag it after Adam steals it back from him.

This time he opens the freezer and recoils. Instead of the same cookie dough that's gone back and forth a half dozen times, there's a carton of dairy free vanilla, with -- he picks it up, outraged -- a note. Help yourself!

"Motherfucker," he swears.

This atrocity demands a response, but he's equal parts annoyed and impressed, and it makes it hard to think. He just stands there and seethes until water drips down his arm and makes him realize that he's been staring at the broken window while his hand goes numb from the cold.

He puts the phony garbage bullshit dessert back in the freezer and wanders into the living room. When Adam had first moved things around, Ronan had fixated on each individual change. The few times he's been in here since then he was usually distracted by Blue or Gansey or Adam. He's never stopped and looked at the room as a whole. It looks good. It looks so good that when he looks at the hallway, where half the frames on the wall are still covered in dust, or the kitchen, where the grout between tiles has turned a grimy gray color, or even just the connecting door to his suite, which squeaks so loud it's amazing that he'd been able to sneak in once, let alone multiple times -- well, he can't help but look at the rest of the house and feel like it could be better.

The usual shit surges up at that thought, possessiveness and worry and guilt, your house is good enough the way it is, this is all you have, who knows what'll happen if you start changing it, who knows what you'll be left with at the end of it, but -- maybe he could just do something small. Maybe he could just oil a couple of hinges so he doesn't have to listen to a fucking pterodactyl scream every time he opens the door. Nothing can go that bad from one tiny change.

His dad kept a toolbox in the basement. There'd probably be some WD-40 in there. He opens the door to the basement and flicks the light switch.

Nothing happens.

Of course not, because of course he'd have to walk around the basement in total darkness. Fine. Whatever gets this over with.

He makes it three steps down before something gives way under his foot and sends him plummeting down the stairs.

He groans. He hit his head and his ass on the way down. That's just not fair.

He tries sitting upright. The motion makes his head throb. He grits his teeth and does it anyway.

"Ronan?"

Fucking hell. Just when he really needed to be sneaky, Adam heard him.

A light lands on his eyes. He throws a hand up to cover them.

"Are you okay?" Adam's footsteps get slowly, carefully closer. It's an eternity before he actually reaches him.

"I'm fine."

"What happened?"

"I tried to go sledding down the staircase, what do you think happened?"

"That makes as much sense as you deciding to crawl around the basement in the dark."

"The light doesn't work," Ronan snaps.

"Of course not. God forbid you fix anything in the house."

"I was trying to fix some shit, okay? I was looking for the tool kit and I fell and smashed my fucking head."

There's a tense silence, and then Adam says, "sorry. I was startled and I handled it badly."

It doesn't do much to bring down the tension, but then, that's not the point. Adam's using manners to settle another debt and keep him at a distance. It makes Ronan feel worse than the stairs did, but what can he say, no, don't apologize to me, keep yelling at me, I'm glad you were scared?

"Sure. Thanks for checking on me and not just leaving me to die in a basement."

Adam asks, "do you need a hand up?"

"One way to find out." Ronan climbs to his feet. His body really doesn't like that; he tells it to shut up and heads for the stairs. Adam points his cell phone's flashlight at each step before Ronan puts a foot on it.

"Here," Adam says, when they're both in the above-world again, "let me see." He takes Ronan's chin in one hand. It's a good thing his body is too busy complaining about the fall. He doesn't want to know what kind of reaction it would have come up to Adam is touching my face if it had a second to think about it.

Adam tilts his face one way and then the other, eyes locked on his. "How does your head feel?"

"Bad," Ronan says in his most no duh voice.

"Do you have a headache?"

"Does throbbing count?"

"Do you feel like you're going to throw up?"

"If I have to keep standing here talking about my feelings, yeah."

"Okay." Adam drops his hand. "I'm going to be upstairs and I've got my phone on me. If it gets any worse let me know."

"It won't," but he has to call that out after Adam; he's already halfway up the stairs.

-

Ronan still feels shitty the next day. He figures he'll go out and do something that makes him feel better, or at least makes someone else feel worse, but he never makes it that far. He gets thrown off when he opens the front door and it doesn't squeak even a little bit.

He stands in the doorway for a while, weirded out, and then he goes to check the connecting door to the main house.

That one doesn't squeak either, even when he opens and shuts it a few times. Open. Shut. Open. Shut. Open, and this time Adam is standing on the other side of it; Ronan jumps.

"If you're trying to get some air circulating," Adam says, "a fan would be a lot more effective."

"Did you oil my doors while I was sleeping?" Ronan asks.

"You slept until noon. It wasn't hard to do."

"This is the creepiest thing I've ever seen and I dated a mobster." He shoves past him and into the main house.

"Not according to Gansey," Adam says.

"What, you trust him more than me?" Too late the answer occurs to him: yes, obviously Adam trusts Gansey more than him.

Adam shrugs. "Depends. Has Gansey cleaned the lint trap in his dryer anytime in the last decade?"

"What'd you go into my lint trap for?"

"I don't want to have two residences in a row burn down."

"What about nonconsecutive residences?"

"I have had as many residences burn down as I ever want to," Adam rephrases, before his expression goes serious. "You said you wanted to fix things up yesterday and then you didn't get to. I thought it would be okay if I helped. I didn't touch anything important. As far as I could tell," he tacks on awkwardly, like he realized that he has no idea what is or isn't important to Ronan.

At this point that doesn't even -- okay, it does hurt, but Ronan's tired of the fact that it hurts. He honestly can't give a shit. Adam looks more upset than Ronan feels, if he's reading Adam right, and he's sick of questioning his instincts; he just decides that he's right and Adam means what he thinks he means.

"You're fine, Parrish. You were right, I haven't been taking good care of the place."

"I could've asked first."

"For permission to make sure my house doesn't burn down?" Ronan snorts. "Yeah, what kind of asshole wouldn't get permission first."

Adam half-smiles, not relieved. "It's your home, burn it down if you want to."

"It's not mine, it's my family's." Ronan starts rummaging through cupboards to have something to do, except that means he's going to have to actually take something out or he'll look demented. He grabs a glass. "Everything my dad owned, it all got put in a trust when he died. We weren't allowed to sell or change or get rid of any of it for ten years."

"I have to believe that didn't include basic maintenance," Adam says. "And I have to believe that you knew that."

Ronan sticks his cup under the faucet and turns the water on. "It was easier to not change anything. I didn't want to change anything."

The glass is full. He turns the water off and takes a sip. It's water, it sucks, what was he expecting.

Adam asks, "when was ten years up?"

Ronan sets his cup down. "Couple months ago."

"I take it back. This place looks pretty good for ten years with no upkeep."

"My brothers lived here with me for a while," Ronan says. "It's just been the last few years..." he trails off. It's such a tangled huge mass now that he looks at it, all the things he hasn't been doing to take care of the house. All the things he hasn't been doing, period. "Fuck, I've done a really shitty job."

"You made it until yesterday without breaking anything, right?" Adam asks, like yesterday was some kind of low point. Like this is the worst his life has been in the last ten years.

Ronan grimaces. "I should probably look at that."

He opens the basement door. Adam reaches past him to flick the light switch. The light comes on.

Ronan looks at him.

"You have a stack of light bulbs in the pantry," he explains.

"Showoff." Ronan inspects the damage. It's pretty bad, although considering this could have killed him, it doesn't look bad enough. It's embarrassing. He should've been bested by something way more kickass. "Any ideas how we fix it?"

"Yes. We call a contractor."

"Come on, it can't be that hard to fix a few stairs. Did you find any lumber in the pantry?"

"If it was just a few stairs, I'd say go nuts, but look." He squats to pick up one of the broken pieces that he must have carried up from the basement floor, because Ronan sure as shit didn't try to clean up the murder basement. "The wood is rotten."

He says some more stuff that Ronan doesn't really catch. This whole time he thought he was keeping everything exactly the way it was, and the whole time it was rotting from the inside out.

He lets out a single bark of laughter.

Adam cuts off whatever he was saying. "Is something funny, or are you having a moment?"

"I'm always having a moment," Ronan says. "All right, I'll call your stupid contractor."

-

He didn't think about the fact that a contractor meant someone else in the house, another new person where there hadn't been any for so long, and this one is a stranger who touches things and talks like he knows Ronan's own fucking house better than Ronan does.

"Go back to your suite," Adam tells him.

Ronan crosses his arms. "Why should I."

"Because you're going to piss off the contractor if you keep stalking past the basement door and growling at him. You don't want someone who hates you to be in charge of building stairs that won't murder you."

"I don't growl," Ronan mutters.

Adam doesn't even bother to say who the fuck are you kidding. He just thinks it hard enough that Ronan can hear it.

"He's touching stuff," Ronan says. "In my house."

"Which is what you hired him to do."

"What if he breaks something?"

"Then you give him a bad review on yelp. I bet you could write a really colorful one."

"What if he steals something?"

"I'm going to be sitting right here working on a paper," Adam says. "He's not going to steal anything while I'm in the next room. Go away."

Ronan goes away and sulks in his rooms. He tries to put it out of his mind, someone else is in his house, but he can't. The most he can do is stop himself from going over and growling some more, and that's only possible when he thinks about Adam sitting at his table, keeping watch.

There's a knock on the connecting door. It's finally over, except no, it isn't, because the stranger tells him that the rot has spread to the surrounding area and he's going to have to bring a crew in to redo half the basement.

"Fuck that," Ronan spits out.

Adam raises his arm slightly, a let me handle this gesture. "Do you mind if we take a look?"

The contractor shows them down to the basement and points out a bunch of crap. Ronan refuses to see any of it. Adam pokes at it and asks questions and hms a lot.

"Look, if you boys want a second opinion, call someone else in," the contractor says. "They'll tell you the same thing."

"Can you give us a moment?" Adam asks politely, like this jerk hasn't inflicted horror after horror upon them: more people in his house. "You probably should get a second opinion," he says. Ronan's face must tell him how likely that is. "But I don't think you really need one if you don't want it. He sounds pretty on top of it from what I can tell."

"I don't want a second opinion," Ronan says. "I don't want a first opinion."

"Do you want it fixed?" Adam asks, like he's genuinely curious.

Ronan huffs. "Fine."

They go back to talk to the asshole with the toolbox. Ronan's ready to sign whatever it takes to get this over with, but Adam pours over the contract and asks the guy a hundred questions before he lets Ronan sign it.

-

The next day Adam tells Ronan try not to glare anyone to death while I'm at work, and even though it wasn't funny the first time he keeps making the same stupid joke every day when he leaves, smirking like he knows that annoys him.

Ronan spends a lot of time prowling around the ground floor of the main house, reminding the workers that he's here and he's annoyed. He keeps finding even more shit to be annoyed about -- the dripping faucet in the kitchen, the rust stains in the bathroom sinks, the flaking paint along one of the door jambs. It pisses him off to find so many of them, and it pisses him off that now he has shit to do to distract himself. Why can't God let him fume about strangers are in my house touching my things in peace.

He figures, with Adam's shitty sense of humor, that he'll think it's funny to watch Ronan's bad mood when he's home on his day off. Adam does spend a few minutes laughing-without-actually-laughing at him, but whatever they're doing in the basement is ten times louder than whatever they were doing before, and apparently that's enough to annoy Adam, too, because he's frowning the tenth time Ronan paces through the kitchen.

"Go somewhere," he says. "Get out of the house for a bit."

"Gansey's 'busy,'" Ronan says, suspicious, because he'd cancelled their coffee that morning with some weakass excuse about a doctor's appointment which was probably just code for hooking up with Sargent. In the middle of a workday. Does he even care about propriety.

"At least go outside."

"Why?"

"Because no one deserves to have this much hostility hovering over them while they're trying to do their job," Adam explains. "Also, it's nice out."

"Is not."

Adam shrugs and then gets up and goes outside himself, sits out on the grass with a book, leaning against one of the trees Blue said are good for the environment. It used to have a tire swing in it, Ronan remembers suddenly, Matthew's boyish laughter ringing in his ears. His parents took it down every winter to keep the ropes from rotting. After that last winter -- there was no one to put it back up. Ronan hadn't even thought about it, with everything else that had been lost.

He grabs a blanket out of the linen closet with a scowl and marches out to the backyard, throws it down like this is a picnic. He plans on being hostile to prove to Adam that he can do that outdoors just as well as indoors. He falls asleep instead.

The first thing he notices when he wakes up is that Adam isn't there.

Why would he be, he reminds himself, he doesn't have to be.

He sits up, putting his hand on the ground for support. It lands on something. He looks down and sees -- his cell phone, which he didn't bring outside with him.

"Oh, good," Adam says from the porch, who the fuck knows how much later. "If you weren't awake this time I was going to check for a pulse."

"I wasn't out that long." He rubs his eyes. "What time is it?"

"You tell me. You're the one holding a clock."

"This is a telephone, Parrish, not a clock."

"How are you so confident about being so wrong?" Adam asks, his amazement obvious enough that it has to be fake.

"I've never been wrong about anything in my life."

Adam snorts, smiling in some way that Ronan hasn't seen from him before.

There was a text on his screen. He reads it to have something to look at besides that smile.

"Gansey and Sargent want to hang out," he says. Gansey must have finished whatever he was really doing instead of going to see a doctor which, okay, it has been several hours.

"When?"

"Now," Ronan says. "They just assume I don't have plans."

"Yeah, they should have asked you if you had any good ditches to pass out in."

"Have you ever passed out in a ditch?" Ronan asks. "Maybe it's fucking amazing, you don't know."

"No, I can't claim to have your level of expertise in outdoor sleeping. Is it amazing?"

Ronan has never passed out in a ditch either -- not that he remembers -- but if this was Gansey, he'd pretend that he had just to see how scandalized he could make him. If this was Blue he'd pretend in order to see that I know you're joking and that's exactly as bad as if you'd done it face she makes.

If this was a friend of his, he'd play along -- so he plays along.

"Yup, like being cradled by the earth," he says. "Dirt on all sides, quiet and cozy."

"You just described lying in a grave," Adam tells him. "Did you have a goth phase?"

"Fuck no."

"I should have known. 'Phase' would mean it was over."

"Don't start shit with me, Parrish." He types into his phone. "Sargent's on her way right now. You think she won't throw you under the bus when I ask her what embarrassing phase you went through in high school?"

"Right," Adam says, voice blank. "Blue's coming over."

"You think she won't narc on you?"

"I think she has a strong sense of loyalty, and this is exactly the kind of thing she'd ignore it for."

His phone buzzes. "Dick and Sargent say they're bringing food."

"Okay. Sure. That sounds good."

Ronan tears up some grass and throws it at him, not that it gets even halfway. "Nothing sounds good about Dick and Sargent, those are fucking gross words."

"It's like a cartoon character," Adam muses. "Dick N. Sargent."

"That's not a cartoon character, that's the worst porn star ever."

"I'm suddenly glad that Gansey is rich. He'll never be desperate enough to do porn, and thank God. That's the worst thing I can imagine finding on the internet."

Ronan collapses on the blanket again. "Now I'm really gonna ask Sargent to embarrass you," he warns Adam. "You fucking deserve it, that's the worst shit anyone's ever put in my head."

Adam doesn't respond. When Ronan looks, he's not there anymore.

Ronan gets up and splashes water on his face. Several hours sleeping on the grass isn't as refreshing as he made it sound.

Blue and Gansey arrive. They all go out to the yard to have an actual picnic on the blanket that no one bothered to pick up.

When the food's gone Adam spreads out on his back, puts his hands behind his head like a pillow and shuts his eyes. He mostly doesn't participate in the conversation, except to say well, it's not as good as a ditch, but it'll do when Gansey asks if he's comfortable. He doesn't even chime in when Blue delivers with the even more embarrassing than Ronan could ever have hoped for dirt that Adam's weird teenage phase was a psychic phase.

Ronan tries to ignore Adam ignoring them, but it keeps tugging at him. Adam's being less open and chatty now that Blue and Gansey are here than he'd been when it was just Ronan. There definitely has to be something wrong for that to happen. Fuck, Ronan hopes that Adam and Blue aren't fighting again. He's the dramatic problem child in the group, thank you very much, he doesn't need someone else fucking everyone up.

-

Blue runs into Ronan before she runs into Adam, standing in the driveway in front of the open hood of his car. It's an impressive image until she gets close enough to see that he's just poking at the engine with a wrench that even she can tell isn't meant for any of these parts.

"Car trouble?"

"What do you care," which means yes. "If you had a magic wand you'd wish for all cars to disappear."

"I would not," Blue says. "I know how those stories end, there'd be some kind of ironic twist. Like a bunch of people named 'Carr' would disappear, too."

"Anyone named car deserves to disappear." Ronan does something that makes a loud banging noise and almost certainly accomplishes nothing else.

"You know, Adam could probably give you a hand with that."

"Parrish can keep his hands to himself," Ronan retorts. "It's my car and I can take care of it."

"Sure you can," Blue says, utterly lacking in faith.

Ronan scowls and pokes around some more. His attention is on the engine, but he has an unsettled kind of attitude, like there's something that he actually feels bad about, so she sticks around, even though Adam is waiting for her.

"Hey," Ronan says, abrupt, "what if I did want to get the fuck out of the vote or whatever?"

"Do you?"

He shrugs.

"If you want to get involved, there's about a million different ways of helping. I'm making phone calls and texting people to check their voter registration status."

He glares at her over the engine. "Nothing on a phone counts for shit."

"Then give me something more to go off of than or whatever. What do you want to do? What are you passionate about?"

"Nothing, all right? We're not all good at caring about shit like you are."

Something in her heart clenches and then lets go in a rush at the idea that Ronan thinks she's good at caring. She's not so touched that she can't call bullshit on him, though. "You know what Gansey said, the first time I asked him about you?"

"That I've wasted my potential my whole life?" Ronan guesses.

"He said you're the most romantic person that he knows."

Now it's Ronan's turn to be unsettled. "If he was trying to hit on me, he should have said that to me, not to his girlfriend."

"You can't tell me that you don't care about anything," Blue continues. "I know you too well to fall for that. If you don't care then why did we have an hour-long argument about plaid flannel last week?"

"Because you were wrong."

"Because you care about stuff," she corrects him.

"Fine, you're right," he says. "I care too much and what's it fucking get me, nothing, so I don't care at all, okay? I don't have any fucking middle gears."

The front door of the house opens before she can respond. Ronan leans back over the engine as Adam walks over.

"Have you figured it out yet?" he asks.

"I was about to before you interrupted me," Ronan says. "Stop trying to win through sabotage."

"I don't fight dirty. I don't need to." He stands close enough to look over Ronan's shoulder. "I'll even give you a hint: you're wrong."

"That's not a hint, that's an insult."

"But I thought you didn't need a hint, since you're figuring it out on your own."

"I don't, I was just pointing out that you're wrong about words like you are about cars."

"I'll give you a real hint," Adam concedes. "The problem's not the timing belt."

Ronan shifts his wrench away from something that is almost certainly the timing belt. "I knew that."

Adam smirks at him. His eyes are still sparkling with laughter when he turns to Blue. "You want to go inside, or are you having too much fun with automobile maintenance?"

She takes a step toward the door without saying anything, follows him into the house. She looks back over her shoulder one time at Ronan, who's stubbornly poking at the timing belt again, who wants to care about things, who doesn't have any middle gears.

They get to the kitchen and Adam asks, "you want something to drink?"

Blue shatters. "What the FUCK was that!"

"What was what," Adam asks, but he's already gotten defensive, which makes her think that he does know, which means that it really is happening and she wasn't just imaging it.

"Do you think I can't tell when you're flirting with someone?"

He refuses to buckle, shoulders tense and chin high. "I was not flirting."

"You smiled at him."

"First you tell me I'm hurting his feelings by keeping my distance," Adam argues. "Now you say that I'm not allowed to smile?"

"Not like that!"

"I have been trying to figure out how to get along with him for weeks now, and you know why?" he asks. "Because of you. I met him because you wanted me to, I'm getting to know him because you think it's important, I moved into his house because you wanted me to have a place to live. I'm doing this for your sake, so you could at least have a little gratitude before you yell at me."

"I wanted you to find a way of coexisting with him," Blue snaps, "not get his hopes up so you can break his heart."

"He knows nothing's going to happen. No one is going to break their heart on me."

"Yeah, he does know that nothing's going to happen. You know what he told me? He wants to respect your wishes about how close the two of you are and how much he gets to know about you. That's where he's at right now. How much longer do you think that's going to last when you're laughing at inside jokes together? How much longer is he going to 'know' that nothing will happen when you're cooing in his ear?" He looks away with a speed that has to be from guilt. "He's my friend and I care about him."

Adam says, "I remember when I used to be your friend."

He doesn't sound mad about it. It's not something that he weaponized for the sake of an argument. It's just something that fell out of him when she broke him open.

She says, "you haven't been acting like it."

When he responds his voice has dropped to something low and weary. "You went behind my back, Blue. You lied to me."

"I did," she acknowledges. "And I apologized and I've tried to make it right and it's really hard when you won't tell me what you want. Do you even want me to make it up to you?"

"I can't tell you what I want because it isn't possible anymore," Adam says. "You put me in a position that I never wanted to be in. Nothing is ever going to be right for me again."

"So it shouldn't be right for me, either."

He stares at his hands, like they're fifteen again and he wants to find truth so badly he's searching for it on his own skin.

"I don't want that to be what I've been doing," he says. "I don't want to have been punishing you this whole time."

Blue doesn't want that to be true, either. "What did you think you were doing?"

"Surviving."

"Is Ronan really that dangerous?"

Adam sighs and hangs his head.

"He's a good person."

"I know," Adam says. "That doesn't make it any better."

"Well, I'm a good person too," Blue says, "and I'm going to help you survive, no matter what, does that make it better? I'm way tougher and scarier than Ronan, I've got you covered."

Adam half-smiles; the half that's missing is more obvious than the half that's there. "You're on my side, huh?"

"Yup."

"You know, that...that might make it better." He's still completely serious when he asks her, "promise me something?"

"Yeah?"

"Promise me you'll always tell me the truth. Even when you think I don't want to hear it. Even when it's bad."

She makes herself think about it before she responds. What would have happened if she'd told Adam she was going to look for his soulmate? He would have asked her not to, obviously, she knew that he would and that's why she didn't tell him. But if she had, and she'd gone along with what he wanted, would that mean she'd never have met Gansey? Or would she have met him some other way, because of destiny or fate or whatever the name is for that part of him that calls out to her, loud enough it could have lured her to an independent theater or a sculpture garden or a finance bro convention to find him? Would that mean Ronan would have entered their lives naturally, with no one to blame and none of this extra pain and hurt to weigh anyone down?

There's no way of knowing what would have happened. The only thing she knows is that way, whatever would have hurt and threatened Adam, it wouldn't have come from her.

"I promise," she says.

"Thank you."

She puts her head on his shoulder. "That's over now, right? I hate fighting with you."

"Me too."

"Okay. Let's just go back to how things were."

Adam shakes his head, just a tiny amount so he doesn't dislodge her. "They aren't the way they were. You have Gansey now."

"Is that such a bad thing?"

"No. He's a really good guy. But your life is different now."

"So?" she asks, forcing it to be bold and confident. Adam smiles at her. It isn't bold or confident, but it's there. "We made it through Henrietta and different college towns and that time you hooked up with Orla -- " that gets a more real, if also embarrassed, smile "-- we can make it through me having a boyfriend, geez."

"I thought we agreed to never talk about Orla."

"You pushed me to it."

He shakes his head. "That's not an excuse. Now are you going to help me with this or not?"

Blue lets him hand her the essay he wanted her to read over. It's amazing -- obviously -- and she tells him that, and then she digs down and thinks of some concrete notes when he tells her he was asking for assistance, not ass-kissing. They stay up late, talking about literature and life and the misery of gen ed classes. It feels like something she hasn't had since the nights of sitting on his couch complaining about her roommate.

Gansey texts her that he's a few minutes away from picking her up. She slowly gets ready to leave, reluctant to tear herself away.

"Blue," Adam says softly, when she's already at the door. "I'm sorry. I know the things I said hurt your feelings. I knew when I was saying them that they would."

She swallows. "Thank you for saying that." He nods. "I really am sorry, too. I shouldn't have gone behind your back. I knew it would hurt you but -- I thought I was right."

"I know." It hangs in the air like he's not quite done with it. "Blue, was I really flirting?"

Normally she wouldn't hesitate to call Adam out about a crush, but there's a fragile note in his voice like he's afraid to ask.

But he asked anyway, and she promised to tell him the truth.

"That's what it looked like to me, yeah. Maybe I'm wrong. But I think if you were, you'd know it. Right?"

"Yeah." He looks back down at his hands. "Right."

Chapter Text

Ronan is lying on his back with his eyes shut when Adam finds him. He isn't thinking anything. Isn't doing anything, except maybe noticing -- the stillness, finally intact again, the smell of recently dried paint, the solid press of concrete, cool even through his clothes.

The sound of the door swinging open, of feet stopping on the top step, of a body leaning against the door jamb, is just more information about the world around him, none of it out of place or cause for alarm.

"I get wanting to stand guard when the contractors were here," Adam says. "But do you have to keep watch now that they gone?"

"I need to check their work, don't I?"

"If you're worried that the concrete isn't set properly, you probably shouldn't roll around in it."

"I'm not afraid to get my hands dirty."

"Or your back, arms, and legs."

"And my ass," Ronan adds. "Don't say I don't go all in."

"I wouldn't."

He cracks an eye open. He hasn't seen much of Adam in the last day or two or ten, who's counting. Adam isn't avoiding him, as far as he can tell; when they run into each other on his way to the store or back from work, they talk, and hanging out with Gansey and Sargent isn't painfully awkward anymore. But Adam doesn't come looking for him, and nothing he says to Ronan really means that much.

"You've been down here for a while." Another meaningless Adam observation.

"I thought you were heading out," Ronan says. "Am I in the way?"

"My shift got cancelled again," which maybe explains why he's distracted now; he's bummed or pissed or freaking out about the money and trying not to show it. "And no, I'm not waiting for my turn to lurk around a basement, I don't have your vampire fantasies."

"I'd be a pretty shitty vampire to hang out in a basement in the suburbs."

"Yes, that was the other half of my insult." Ronan scowls at that. Adam smiles like a robot determining that that's the correct output for this input, not like he's amused or happy or even really paying attention to the conversation. "What's the verdict? Did they do a good job or not?"

Ronan huffs. "I thought if I laid here long enough something would fall on me. I guess they don't totally suck."

"How unfortunate."

"I could maybe have someone come do some more work," he tries out the words. They don't sound terrible, but they sound less terrible when he tacks on "at some point."

"Do you want more work done?"

"Sargent says my windows aren't green enough. I'm gonna put in stained glass."

"That's a lot of commitment for the sake of a joke."

Ronan shrugs. "Don't say I don't go all in."

Adam nods, then nods again like he doesn't notice he's already done that. He says, abruptly, "do you want to go somewhere?"

"The car's still fucked." Ronan's worked on it some in the last ten days. He managed to break the engine in a new way, and then he had to figure out how to put that back together. That left him with the original whatever was wrong, and then -- okay, then he'd started working on it less and less, because it wasn't as much fun after a few days of failure. It wasn't as much fun without Adam hanging around to do shit like walk up, say "huh, interesting" and leave without giving him any hint if that was a good interesting or a bad interesting.

He figures he's in for a condescending reminder that public transportation exists, and he's prepared to respond that public transportation isn't an acceptable substitute for jack shit.

Instead, Adam offers, "I could walk you through fixing it."

He'd wanted to do it himself, once Adam had implied that he couldn't, but he was tired of not having a car anymore. That would still be doing it himself, if Adam told him how to do it.

"Okay."

They get the car fixed up. Adam stays on topic, doesn't say much beyond explaining what Ronan needs to do next, not even to poke fun at him when he screws up. He wonders if they've retreated back to how things were before Adam moved in, interacting as little as possible, but he answers all of Ronan's questions without hesitation. He tells Ronan when he got something right. And he offered to do this in the first place, so they could go somewhere. Hell, the fact that he's not making fun of Ronan just means that he's giving him more respect than before. That's a good thing. This is good. This is an improvement.

By the time they finish with the engine, Ronan is covered in sweat and motor oil.

"You should wash up," Adam says.

Ronan doesn't care about getting clean, but maybe Adam wants an opportunity for a shower, too. Adam's gotten mussed despite having been mostly hands off. There's a smudge along his cheek that draws Ronan's eyes to the sharp angles and delicate lines of his face, that reminds him how good Adam is at with working with his hands, that makes it very hard to ignore the fact that Adam is beautiful.

"Yeah," Ronan says, "good idea."

He takes a shower, washes thoroughly to get all of the grease off and then just to kill time. He doesn't know what to do with Adam's not quite there attitude but -- he's not going to come up with any answers if he hasn't already, and fuck, Adam was the one who asked, so he returns to the house.

Adam's reading in the living room, but he puts the book down and turns his attention to Ronan as soon as he walks in.

"Where'd you want to go?"

"I was thinking of a place," Adam says, "but it's a bit of a drive."

"How much is a bit?"

Adam looks thoughtful. "Eighty miles?"

That's -- okay that's more than a bit, by about seventy fucking miles, but if Adam isn't going to say it, Ronan won't either.

"All right."

"You don't need to know what it is before you drive that far?" Something flicks across his face, Ronan can't say what, but he's not going to ask now.

"I want to test out your repairs. If you did a shitty job I'm going to find out."

"I didn't," Adam says. "And neither did you.'

They hit a little traffic getting out of the city, but then they're on some open country highway and Ronan steps on the gas and they fly along. Adam rolls his window down. The breeze whips through the car too loud for conversation. He shuts his eyes and tilts his head back, sunning himself like he isn't worried about anything.

It does occur to Ronan to wonder how he's supposed to know where they're going if Adam falls asleep, but Adam opens his eyes and straightens back up in his seat before it becomes an issue. Eventually he points and tells Ronan to pull over at a place that looks like half a dozen other places they've passed, some building that either used to be a barn or is pretending it was, with a handful of dusty trucks in the parking lot. Inside there's a tiny restaurant, barely more than a display case and a counter; the rest of the space is taken up with shelves and stands, fresh fruit and brand names he doesn't recognize and kitschy country-themed oven mitts for sale.

Adam orders some kind of sandwich without looking at the chalkboard menu. Ronan asks for the same. Once they have their food Adam leads them out of a side door to an eating area, then to the furthest picnic table from the road. He sits backwards on the bench with his back leaning against the table and legs stretched out in front of him. Ronan sits a couple feet down the bench. Like that, without the road or the barn or the truckers in sight, it's a nice view, fields stretching out and out until somewhere way in the distance they turn into mountains.

He takes a bite and then moans.

Adam gives him a smug look: you see why we drove eighty miles?

Ronan flips him off and then inhales his food in four bites. Adam takes his time, savoring it, because he wasn't ambushed with the best fucking sandwich in the entire world, fuck, who knew a sandwich could be this good?

"Blue and I found this place on accident," he says when he's done, wiping his hands with a napkin. Ronan forgot to grab any for himself; he rubs his hands on his pants. "I owned a total junker at the time. It's amazing we made it this far before we had to pull over, it was always breaking down."

"Is that how you learned to be a mechanic, just fixing up your shitty car?"

"Other way around," Adam says. "The experience as a mechanic gave me the confidence to buy a sketchy car."

"So where's it now?"

"Pounded flat in a scrapyard somewhere. I was overly confident."

"Right, it's not that sometimes shit just sucks. Obviously it's your fault."

Adam shakes his head and then looks off down the road, but not before Ronan sees his smile. "If you jump back on the highway and stay on it for another four hours, you hit my hometown."

"If we're going that far we're going to need to fill up the tank."

"We're not going that far."

"That's where Sargent's from too, right?"

He nods. "I used to drive out with her to visit her family. She didn't want to drive my car that far on her own in case something went wrong. We'd stop here as." He waves a hand in an unhelpful gesture. "Consolation for having to make the trip."

"For having to go that far," Ronan asks, "or for having to go there?"

Adam keeps staring down the road. "Both. I have a lot of bad memories of that town."

A lot of bad memories, and no mention of his own family. Ronan knew it was like that, or he would have if he'd thought about it. Blue had warned him ages ago not to ask Adam about his family. He hadn't really pictured Adam as being alone, though, maybe because Blue had always been there next to him, devoted and protective and fierce, as long as Ronan had known them. Or maybe it was just because he thought, for whatever their connection meant, that Adam was like him, and Ronan was --

-- Ronan was alone, too. He had his family, and also, he was alone.

Adam stands up from the table. Ronan scrambles to catch up, not sure how long he'd just been staring out across the fields like some dirty cow-fucker.

"I skipped Christmas with Blue's family last year," Adam is saying. "So I haven't gotten to stop here in a while. Thanks for indulging me."

"I shouldn't have," Ronan says. "You don't deserve rewards for keeping shit like this secret."

Adam looks over at him. He doesn't ask a question, but then he nods, like he got an answer anyway. "Go start the car, I'll be right there."

He hoofs it back to the shop without waiting for a response, so Ronan goes and starts the car. The open barn doors are big enough that Ronan can watch him pay for something at the counter. When he returns he has a paper bag that he tosses in the backseat. Ronan nudges it enough to see that there's some kind of green-and-red produce inside.

Adam swats at his hand, although he doesn't come anywhere close to making contact. "That's for later."

"We've got eighty miles to go, I can't have a snack?"

"No." Adam clicks his seat belt in. "Because if you eat the wrong part, it's poisonous."

"These fuckers just sold you poison weeds?" Ronan looks back at the barn with new respect.

"Mm-hm, small town America has a dark side."

"Sure it does, it's full of witches and man-eaters like Sargent's crew."

"Exactly."

Ronan raises an eyebrow. "You're not going to stand up for them?"

"I don't need to, they can defend themselves."

"Fine, then, defend yourself," he counters. "You really had a palm reading phase?"

"I read tarot cards."

"How is that better?"

"More versatile," Adam says, like that's obvious. "Although it's not as good for talking people into letting you hold their hand, if that's what you're going for."

Ronan's heart sputters, dies, and needs his stomach to kick it back to life. "Oh, so it was just a way of picking up babes?"

"No, because as you already figured out, most people aren't impressed by tarot cards. I learned because I wanted more control over life than I had."

"Isn't fortune telling all about fate? That's the opposite of being in control."

"I'd say that it matters who's doing the reading."

"If it changes based on who does it then you're not getting good answers."

"Maybe," he concedes. "Haven't you ever just needed answers though? Bad enough that at least half of an answer was something?"

Ronan stares at the road ahead. All of his questions were so huge that the answers would've been incomprehensible, so big all they could do was drown him.

"Not enough to sell my soul like a godless heathen," he says after they've passed a couple more giant-old-probably-fake-barn buildings.

"You're worried what God thinks about you?"

"I'm not going to show up to mass smelling like some pagan diety, that's fucking rude."

"Rude." Adam shakes his head, amused. "That's where you disappear to every Sunday?"

"I'm allowed to go places."

"You are, but usually you don't. It makes patterns pretty easy to spot. I thought Sunday was more time with Gansey but then he came over while you were out."

"Sunday is time with my brothers."

"Matthew and Declan, right?" When Ronan looks over Adam explains, "Gansey's mentioned them. So have you."

He doesn't remember doing that. "Has he mentioned that one of them is a human-sized turd?"

"Yes, because that's exactly how Gansey talks about people."

"Yeah," Ronan grins, "he should really watch his fucking language," and then he has to grip the steering wheel tight in both hands to stop from slapping himself across the face.

Adam just grins again, like he isn't thinking about Ronan's fucking language, branded somewhere on his skin.

Or maybe he is, because after another few miles, he asks, "What did you want at that age? If it wasn't answers."

Ronan says, "I wanted what I had." It sounds like I had what I wanted, and that was true, until it wasn't anymore.

Adam nods and looks out the window.

When they get back home Adam puts Ronan to work in the kitchen, making him wash and chop and grab things out of cupboards, like Ronan knows where or what a whisk is. He gets busy himself rolling out pie dough that Ronan figures he bought at a store, since he had it just sitting in the fridge, but then Adam accuses him of being the heathen, of course I make my own, I let it sit overnight. Which means he made it yesterday, before Ronan took him out to the middle of nowhere to buy poison pink rhubarb, which means -- he'd already planned to take a hundred and sixty mile round trip for vegetables? Or just that he was going to grab some crap at the supermarket until Ronan gave him a better opportunity.

He steals one of Adam's precisely cut strips of dough and eats it to distract himself. Adam complains about it throwing off his pattern, but whatever, it still looks fine. Ronan can't even tell anything's missing.

Adam pulls his book back out once the pie is in the oven, but he offers "you can put something on if you want" and Ronan wants to, if it means he has an excuse to stick around. He turns on the radio rather than have to go into his rooms to grab a movie; when he looks over later, Adam is nodding his head to the music, such a tiny gesture that he can't know that he's doing it. It's a bit of a shock when the timer goes off and Adam has to stand up to get the pie out of the oven.

It looks even better than when it went in, and it smells even better than that.

"Fuck yeah." Ronan grabs a fork and makes to stab at it.

Adam takes the fork away from him. "You need to let it cool, you're going to burn your mouth."

"Worth it." Ronan swipes a finger near the edge of the crust, where a little bit of filling has bubbled up through the gaps in the lattice top, and then sticks it in his mouth. It is too fucking hot, not that he'll admit it. "It's fine now if you're not chicken."

Adam looks at him for a long, weirdly intense second. Trying to shame Ronan for being a barbarian? He'd just make fun of him if that were it. Is he actually annoyed that Ronan molested his pie? Ronan is uncomfortably aware of the fact that his finger was just in his mouth and now it's right in front of his face which Adam is still looking at.

"Seriously," he says. "Just wait a minute, okay? It's almost ready."

He does wait a minute -- actually five -- until Adam says that it's okay to eat. It's more than okay, it's amazing, except that Ronan keeps poking at the burnt spot on the roof of his mouth.

-

His brain doesn't even pretend that it's going to let him sleep that night, just keeps running back and forth through the whole day, over and over again. Adam was quiet -- no, Adam was talkative. Adam was impersonal -- no, Adam was friendly. Adam was distant -- no, he was so much more present and open than Ronan expected or asked for -- except no, then he was distant again.

He throws the blankets off. It's late. Adam must be in bed by now. There's no harm in sneaking back into the main house to get another slice of pie. He doesn't even stop long enough to put on a shirt.

He rethinks some of those decisions when the light flicks on in the kitchen and he spins around to find Adam in the doorway.

"Shit. I thought you were upstairs. Sorry."

"I couldn't sleep," Adam says. "You're allowed to have pie, you don't need to apologize."

That's not what he was apologizing for, and Adam fucking knows it, and Ronan is very tired.

"You want to let me know what's going on in your head?" He puts down the pie and leans back against the counter, crossing his arms. "Because I can't tell on any given day if you're going to ignore me or invite me on a road trip."

Adam steps into the kitchen. Winds up near Ronan, standing at the sink, frowning at the dirty dishes Ronan hadn't let him wash because you made the pie, I'll clean up, yeah, really, some day.

"I don't know what to do with you, Ronan," he says. "The easiest way to fit you in my life was to keep you out of it entirely, but that didn't work. I tried to keep you on the fringes but that didn't work either. I needed to know if I could keep you as a friend."

"So today was an audition," Ronan says, heavy with judgment. Adam frowns but doesn't argue. "Did I get the part?"

"No."

It stings, even though he was half-expecting it. "Great. Thanks for clearing that up, Parrish. We can't be strangers and we can't be friends and we can't be fucking acquaintances, what the hell's even left?"

Adam doesn't react at first, and then he looks at Ronan -- not his face, but at the mark on his chest.

"Can I?"

Ronan nods. There's nothing else to do.

Adam reaches out and brushes his fingers over it. He's still frowning, but now it looks like concentration, like the faith of Thomas, not able to believe in something until he's put his hands on it for himself.

"I guess I never thought about what yours was like," he says. "This can't have been easy to wear, either."

Ronan tries to sound dismissive. His throat isn't working very well. "If anyone was stupid enough to fall for it, they figured out it was bullshit pretty fast."

"You are charming, though."

"Right, that's me. I'm effervescent."

"You are," Adam insists. "You capture people. They want to get caught in you."

His heart is pounding under Adam's fingers. His head is pounding, not quite able to believe any of this, either. "Can I see yours?"

Adam trails his hand back across the mark one more time before he drops it. He turns around and pulls his shirt off over his head.

The mark is on his back, running between his shoulder blades. The writing is spiky and jagged, all edges. Sharp enough to cut yourself on and strangely beautiful, like everything else about Adam.

Ronan traces the words with one finger. He pretends not to notice the uneven rise and fall of Adam's back.

"When I was eleven, my mother tried to scrub it off with a piece of steel wool." He's trying to sound matter-of-fact but he's falling so, so short. "It embarrassed her, I think. She always wanted everything in our family to look right. Don't let anyone see those disgusting words. Hide them. Hide your bruises. Don't cry where anyone can hear you. No one needs to know what your father does when he's angry."

Cold wells up in his stomach, seeping in slowly at first and then rising up through his lungs and his heart and into his mouth as he figures out what Adam is saying. He rests his hand flat against his back, like he's trying to warm the skin there, or trying to protect it, years too late.

"They were soulmates too," Adam continues. "It didn't mean they were happy. It didn't mean that they made each other better people. It just meant that they had someone who supported them no matter what they did."

"Adam," he starts, but he doesn't know what he's trying to say.

"My dad didn't mind it so much, that this was the mark I had." The words spill out of him faster. "It proved him right. You know, they just got saddled with a shitty kid, they weren't doing anything wrong, I was wrong. It wasn't their fault they didn't love me. No one could love me."

"He wasn't right about jack shit," Ronan says. "You're not unlovable, he's just a fucking monster."

"I know they were wrong. I didn't deserve it, no one deserves it." Adam breathes. "No one else deserves to have to deal with it."

"So you're just going to carry it by yourself, forever."

"It's my baggage. I can't ask someone else to carry it for me."

"You're not asking, Parrish, I'm offering." He says, "I'm not scared of it."

Adam is very quiet. "I am."

Ronan brushes his thumb in one small arc along Adam's back. "If it helps, I'm pretty fucked up too."

Adam laughs once, a strained and reluctant sound, and drops his head. "Maybe. I don't know. I don't know how any of this works anymore."

"You did before?"

"I thought I did. That happens to me a lot, finding out that I was wrong."

"Screw thinking," Ronan says. "What do you want?"

Adam doesn't answer.

Ronan bites his tongue and prays.

"I want tomorrow to be like today," Adam says. "I want to be hopeful instead of worried." He scrubs his hand across his face. "I want you to still be here when I figure out what the hell I want."

"I will be."

"You shouldn't have to make that promise."

"I'm not making it because I have to." He leans down and lightly kisses the space between his shoulder blades.

Adam tenses up. There's one frozen moment, just long enough for Ronan to re-feel every single emotion that he's ever felt in his life, and then Adam whirls around.

His eyes are full of longing.

"Adam -- "

Adam kisses him.

It's a clumsy thing, desperate and rushed. They bump noses and teeth and knees before they get it right. Ronan's not willing to stop for even a second to figure it out. There's a cymbal banging away inside of his chest, and each time that it goes off the thought crashes through him, is this real.

And incredibly, miraculously, it is. Adam's fingers curl around the back of his neck -- this is real. Adam inhales, sharp, and the sound buzzes in his ears -- this is real. He catches Adam's bottom lip between his teeth -- this is real. Adam's skin is warm under his hands as he runs them across his back, one low to keep him pulled close, one rising up to clutch at the space between his shoulder blades, the space that marks Adam as his, and Adam whimpers. He turns his face away, but just an inch. He kisses Ronan's cheek and Ronan still has his arms around him and this is all still real.

"This is what you want?" he asks.

"Yes," Adam says. "If I didn't want it everything would be easier."

"No logic right now," Ronan says. "You can't figure out what you can get until you know what you want."

"I want to not screw this up."

"Easy. I'm way more likely to screw up than you are."

"No, you're not. I have faith in you."

Ronan's arms drop; it's the most he can do to catch his hands on Adam's sides, to not let go of him entirely. He can't speak. Words don't exist.

Adam's eyes flick away but come right back. He lifts his chin up, determined. "I want to not be terrified of the way that you're looking at me right now."

Ronan asks, hoarse, "do you want me to stop?" with absolutely no idea how he'd do it.

"I think you should," Adam says, "but I don't want you to."

"Don't think about should right now." Ronan kisses him again, a light gentle kiss that lasts for a heartbeat or half the night. Adam sighs and drops his head down on Ronan's shoulder.

"I'm exhausted," he whispers. "I should..."

"Go to bed?" Ronan guesses.

"Yeah." He doesn't move.

"Okay. Let's go to bed."

Adam lifts his head up to make eye contact. He steps away from Ronan and then, gathering his courage, he reaches out and takes Ronan's hand, uses it to tug him forwards. Ronan walks after him up the stairs and down the hallway. He's too fucking amazed to speak or think or breathe, even, too blown away by Adam, for being afraid and doing it anyway.

Then they reach Adam's room.

He freezes in the doorway. Adam feels his hand fall away and turns, worry stirring back to life in his eyes like it never left.

"Ronan?"

He forces himself to speak. "This is where you've been sleeping?"

"Yeah. You didn't say which one to take, I didn't think it mattered." Adam only hesitates for a second before he says it. It isn't even a question. "This is your room."

Ronan jerks his head up and down once.

"Do you want me to move?"

"Why did you pick this one?"

Adam thinks it over like he wants to give Ronan the best answer he can. In the end he shrugs, not quite satisfied. "It just -- felt right."

Something inside of Ronan unravels so fast that it snaps. He kisses Adam again, ferocious. Adam's mouth opens to his instantly. He places his hands on his back again, digging his nails in this time, and shivers when Adam groans. Moves his hands down to Adam's sides and pushes him up against the wall of his room, Adam's room, their room, the room where Adam has been hiding in Ronan's life and his heart and his bed and that Ronan has no intention of ever letting him leave.

And then Adam puts a hand on his chest, right over the mark that he etched on Ronan before they ever met, and pushes him away.

Ronan nods, swallows hard and kisses his ear. For his own sake he doesn't care what he risks; for Adam, who is scared and is trying anyway, he can be careful.

"Okay," he says. "Let's go to sleep."

They climb into the bed, which isn't really big enough for both of them. Adam tucks himself between Ronan and the wall, puts an arm around his waist and his head on his shoulder, and immediately passes out. Ronan can't sleep at all, just lies in the dark and listens to Adam breathing. He pleads, let me keep this, God, I know I already fucked this up, I know I don't have anything to bargain with, but if you let me keep this I'll take care of him until I die.

-

Ronan can't open his fucking eyes. Ronan can barely remember what eyes are. How is Adam making words, why is Adam making words, why doesn't Adam go back to sleep?

"Ronan, I can't get up unless you move your arm."

Ronan curls up tighter around him.

"God, this shouldn't be cute. Did you hear that? I hope you didn't hear that."

There's some rustling sounds, and then Ronan no longer has an Adam in his arms. Rude.

"I'm just going to the bathroom, okay? I'm going to take a shower."

Ronan rolls over and falls back asleep.

He's slightly more coherent the next time he hears Adam.

"Are you awake? I'm going to go make some breakfast. Ronan?"

"Hmmngh."

"I don't buy that you actually understood me."

Ronan summons up the strength of Hercules to enunciate the word "breakfast."

"Okay, I guess I was wrong." Adam laughs and kisses him on his back, between his shoulder blades. It's the same place that Ronan had kissed him last night, and that's way more important than sleep, but by the time he's rolled back over to catch him Adam is out of the room.

He swings his legs off the bed and is slammed with the familiarity of that moment, his bare feet landing on the thick gray carpet on his old bedroom floor. He doesn't chase right after Adam. Instead he looks around at the room he spent half his life in. It's exactly the way he left it when he moved into the nanny suite, and it isn't the same at all. There's dirty clothes on the chair right where he always left them, but they're not his worn out black jeans, they're every button up Adam wore in the last week. The desk is still hidden under stacks of books piled up in no real order, but they've been pushed close enough to make room for a laptop that has its own library book sitting on top of it. His bagpipes are slumped over on the same shelf they've been on since his last competition, and next to them is the picture of Adam and Blue that Ronan had salvaged from the fire.

He can't get out of bed until all of a sudden he can't stand to be in bed anymore. He has to find Adam; lucky for him that he knows just where to look.

He takes the stairs fast, but the carpet muffles his heavy footsteps. He hears Adam before he sees him.

"Ronan let me in," he's saying. "You must be Declan; the family resemblance is a lot stronger when you're frowning."

"And where is Ronan now?" Oh, fuck, that's definitely Declan; Ronan jumps the last three steps.

"Upstairs, I think. Do you want to leave a message?" Adam turns when Ronan emerges from the stairwell and into the kitchen, nods at him with a carefully neutral face. "Hey, your brother is here."

Ronan can see Declan and Ronan knows that Declan is his brother. There's no reason for Adam to say that, so he must be saying something else: he's your brother, I'm going to follow your lead on this. At least that's what Ronan hopes he means because he marches right over and kisses Adam, lightning fast.

"Go wait in the living room," he snaps at Declan. He kisses Adam again without waiting to see if Declan listened to him or not. This time it lasts long enough that Adam returns it, so Ronan can't have screwed up too badly.

"Morning," Adam says.

"Morning." Ronan brushes his thumb over Adam's cheek, where he'd had the smudge yesterday that Ronan had wanted so badly to rub off. "You should leave now."

"I'm getting mixed signals."

Ronan kisses him again. Adam gives him an unimpressed look that tells Ronan he's not clearing things up. It makes Ronan want to kiss him again. "I don't want you to leave. And I don't care if Declan knows about you, but we're probably going to have a fight about stupid family shit and that's not fun."

"Okay," Adam says. "I'll leave."

"You want to take the car?"

"Sure." He rubs his cheek against Ronan's. "Thanks."

Declan is in the living room, either out of fraternal cooperation or disgust at other people's affection. He's standing by the bookshelf when Ronan enters, putting something back down just too fast for Ronan to tell what he'd been holding.

"So hit me," Ronan says. "What did you come to bug me about this time?"

"Your choice." Declan holds up a thick manila envelope and drops it on the coffee table with a thud. "That's the transfer papers the attorneys have been hounding me for that you refuse to sign." He holds up a thinner envelope, because Jesus Christ he brought visual aids to help him chew Ronan out. "These are apartment listings and comps for selling the house. Up to you which one you open first."

"You can't force me to do shit," Ronan says.

"The first envelope is non-negotiable," Declan continues, ignoring him. "You've tied up everyone's time and finances for long enough, I'm staying right here until you've signed. The second one I'll leave to your discretion."

"Wow, there's one whole thing you're not going to force down my throat?"

"Be thankful. I wasn't going to give you a choice on either of them before I saw the place. If you're actually living in the house again and not just hiding in the annex so you don't touch anything, then there's no need to put it on the market."

"Why do you care so much what part of the house I live in?" Ronan demands. "What do you care what I do with any of it? You moved out of here fast enough."

"Waiting until I finished college to move out of my family home isn't actually 'fast.' It's the longest I could put off getting my own life."

"I have a life," Ronan snaps. "Just because I didn't throw all of you away to get it doesn't mean it's not good enough."

"I didn't throw any of you away," Declan says, irritatingly rational, "or I wouldn't be here now."

"Funny, I don't think that's what mom would say."

That hits. Ronan doesn't even feel good about it, fuck, why is any of this happening. He should still be cuddled up with Adam in bed. This is what comes from eating breakfast.

"She wouldn't say anything," Declan grinds out. "She can't."

"What the fuck do you know about it? You never even visit her."

"How could I, Ronan? You claimed that grief all for yourself and you've been hogging it for the last ten years like you were the only person who was suffering. The rest of us had to learn how to cope on our own, so don't criticize how we did that. At least we did cope."

"I can't criticize you? When have you ever stopped criticizing me?"

Declan's temper flares up.

Instead of lashing out, though, he reins it in.

"Today," he says, not as civil as he's going for but still, obviously, going for civil. "If you can tell me that you're doing better than you were, that you're taking care of the house and yourself, then I'll drop it."

What the hell is Ronan supposed to do if Declan slams on the brakes? Just keep gunning it and crash into him anyway? That's not a competition, that's just some jackass running a red light, what's the point of smashing Declan apart if he could just get rid of him and get Adam back and have breakfast?

He breathes out sharply through his nose. "I am. I'm good."

Declan nods and picks the skinny envelope back up, disappears it into a pocket.

"That one's still non-negotiable," he says, because it would be too much for him to pull the stick out of his ass. Whatever. He's taking baby steps.

Ronan drops to a seat on the floor in front of the coffee table, shirtless as the day he was born, and flips through Declan's stupid document. It's a hefty stack of paper; he helpfully put little sign here and initial here stickers on all the important bits. Ronan flips through every single page anyway, not so he can read them but just so he can stack them back up as messily as possible. Declan doesn't even bitch at him for it, which takes some of the fun out of it.

When Declan has everything -- it takes him a while to get the papers neat enough to fit back in the envelope, especially since he's pretending like he's not having any problem with it -- he heads for the door, but stops before he gets there.

"I forgot how good this place could look," he tells Ronan. "It's nice to be reminded."

"Yeah, that's why I did it," Ronan grumbles. "I know what a boner you get for nostalgia."

Declan looks back over his shoulder. "That was him, wasn't it? Your soulmate."

"How could you tell?"

"It makes sense."

Ronan makes a face. "What does that mean?"

Declan shrugs. "He seems like a bit of a dick."

-

"Gansey's not around?"

"No," Blue says, stepping out of the way to let Adam in. He'd asked her that over text, too, before he came over. It was hard to tell, from words on a screen, if the question was confrontational or not. She doesn't get a much better reading off of him in person. If he asked where Gansey was, or why she was here when the owner of the home wasn't, that might be a clue, but he doesn't. He barely acknowledges that she answered. He's out of it, and she doesn't know what it means or how to bring it up.

But since when is she afraid to ask him questions?

"Are you okay?"

"I made out with Ronan last night."

Blue comes grinding to a dead halt. We have encountered a delay, thank you for your patience. The train will resume moving shortly --

She says, "oh," because it's something to say.

Of course now Adam pays attention to the words coming out of her mouth. "That's it? Oh?"

"You're the one with the news! What else am I supposed to say?"

"I don't know, you always come up with opinions somehow."

"I'm not always this surprised."

"You're surprised?" Adam asks. "You're the one who told me I was flirting with him."

"I thought you'd stop, not make out with him."

"Is that what you think I should have done?"

"No. Not necessarily. Do you like him?"

Adam says, "Blue, he's wonderful," like it hurts him, and it hurts Blue too: wonderful Ronan is going to take her place in Adam's world, and if that means that Adam has one more person in his world then she's happy about it, she's thrilled, and also she wants to cry.

"You care about him," she says. Adam nods even though it wasn't a question. "And he cares about you." The corner of his mouth turns down. "You like your soulmate, that's not really a problem. Most people would be celebrating."

"You don't get it," he insists. "You've never understood how I felt about soulmates -- "

"And you never told me, did you?"

His mouth turns down further. "I didn't want you to understand," and that hurts too, because it reminds her all over, more than soulmarks or fate or Gansey or wonderful Ronan, that this is why Adam isn't hers. He never chose to be.

"Fine," she says. "But Ronan needs to understand, and if you aren't willing to do that, than you need to tell him so, now, and move out of that house."

Adam recoils like she's wounded him, but then he nods.

"Someday you're going to be really happy," Blue tells him.

He laughs a not very fun laugh. "Yeah. But right now I think -- "

She nods. Right now is strange and hard and scary. She reaches out for him and he wraps his arms around her, and they stretch out on Gansey's plush carpet, half propped up by the couch behind them. Blue buries her face in his shirt while Adam presses his nose against her hair and says nothing, like he knows how she's feeling. And he does, she realizes; he's already done this, said farewell to her in his heart and handed her over to Gansey without a word, because that kind of asshole sacrifice is just like Adam.

"I love you," Blue says. "Forever."

"Yeah. I love you forever."

Adam leaves. Blue washes her face and redoes her make up. Gansey still senses something's up when he returns home.

"Is everything all right?"

"Adam and Ronan are going to fall in love and be together for the rest of their lives and that's awesome and great and I'm happy for them."

He listens to her and then he says, "forgive me, but you don't sound happy."

She sighs. "Does it ever make you sad to think that Ronan was yours and now he's someone else's?"

"Yes, but less than you might think."

"Really?"

Gansey lowers himself onto the couch. Sets a coffee cup on the table beside him because apparently he doesn't have enough coffee in the house, he has to make up excuses to go out so he can buy more of it. She has the strange thought that this is the man she's counting on to make her feel better, and what's strange is that it's already working.

"Ronan is my best friend," he says. "What that means, for me, is that he's the first person that I think of. When things are bad, when things are good, I think of Ronan. It's been that way since we were boys. And I think that if you asked Ronan, and he weren't feeling puerile, he would say that I was his best friend, too. But I've never been the first person that he thinks of." He clasps his hands. "It's hard, coming in second to a ghost, and part of what's hard about it is that I know I'm not the person that suffers the most from it. I can't complain that -- that my friend hasn't always been the friend I wanted him to be, because he was in mourning. So if he's found a relationship where he can put someone alive first in his heart, then I really am happy for him. And if -- " he pauses, like he's just noticed that he's said all of this and he's looking around to check if anyone was listening or if he can pretend it didn't happen. Blue, of course, is listening. "If I can find someone who does that for me -- "

She takes pity on him and kisses him. "Thank you."

"Of course." He picks his coffee cup back up and notices that it's empty. "What would you like to do today, should we go out?"

"No, I think I just want to relax here. I still feel sort of -- "

"Blue?" he suggests.

She sticks her tongue out. "Sad. I want to sit in and mope about how change is hard for one more day before I move on."

Gansey says "oh," and Blue should have had more sympathy for Adam, that's an infuriating thing to hear on its own. "Would this be a bad time to mention that I met with Professor Mallory?"

"What?" She sits bolt upright. "No, yes, tell me everything, what did he say?"

"Everything? The man is quite long-winded when he gets going -- " and then Gansey doesn't get to say much of anything because Blue tackles him off of the couch.

Chapter Text

After Declan leaves, Ronan drifts around the house. His house now, officially, not his parents' and not some trust's.

It annoys him that Declan was right: the house looks better like this. He consoles himself that at least Declan was wrong about who fixed it up.

He spent a lot of time in the basement yesterday, and he's gotten familiar with the changes that Adam made on the first floor. He hasn't been upstairs since Adam moved in, though, aside from last night when he'd been distracted. He wanders up there now.

There's no sign that Adam's been in any of the rooms besides Ronan's bedroom and the bathroom across from it. He looks around anyway, peeks his head into Declan and Matthew's rooms briefly, pokes his head into his parents' room even more briefly. He sits in his dad's office for a few minutes, but that reminds him too much of paperwork and responsibility, so he moves on to the nursery.

It hadn't been a real nursery since Matthew got too old for a crib, but Ronan always thought of it that way, even though Declan, as a teenager, had started trying to call it the game room. The toys in the room had aged along with the three of them, stuffed animals swapped for Legos swapped for video games, but the wallpaper was the same safari animals it had always been. Declan had asked their parents a couple of times about changing it to something less childish; they'd asked the boys to agree on something to replace it with. They didn't. Matthew never settled on an opinion for more than a minute if he didn't have to, and this time Ronan didn't help him. He secretly liked that it looked the same way he remembered it being when he was little and used to check on Matthew while he was napping.

And then, of course, nothing in the house had changed.

He sits on the ground and leans back against the wall. He'd spent so much time in this room and somehow he'd never realized how ugly it was.

Adam finds him there when he gets home. "Did this depressing wallpaper sap your will to live?"

"This room's kind of creepy, isn't it?" Ronan asks.

"Spaces that used to have children and don't anymore are creepy, yeah."

Right. Because keeping the house the same didn't stop everything else from changing. None of them were kids anymore. No one needed a nursery. "Do you think that it's stupid that I live here?"

"It's your house," Adam says. "Where else would you live?"

"Be real. The first time you saw the place, what did you think?"

"I was angry that one person had this much real estate, I wouldn't call it stupid." He turns his attention away from the room and onto Ronan. "Is that what Declan wanted to talk about?"

He shuts his eyes and leans his head back against the wall. "My mom's in a coma," he says, blunt. "She isn't going to wake up."

It's quiet. He doesn't hear Adam sit down, just feels him press up against his side. "I'm sorry."

And just like that it's gone forever. No perfect welcoming his soulmate into his family. No moment where his mother got to tell Ronan how happy she was for him. Instead he had, shit, Declan and Adam sizing each other up while Ronan wasn't wearing a shirt.

Maybe that's going to be funny someday.

"Where've you been?" It comes out more accusatory than he meant.

Adam doesn't respond right away, like he's annoyed about the tone. Ronan doesn't rephrase it, just lets him make up his mind how to deal with it.

"I went to see Blue," he says. Not annoyed, actually. He sounds sort of fragile.

"Are you two friends again?"

"We never stopped being friends," he answers. "I know that she thinks I was mad at her. I was mad at her. But that wasn't all that it was." Ronan opens his eyes. Adam is looking intently across the room, too serious to actually be paying attention to the dancing giraffes and elephants in front of him. "She never understood how I felt about soulmates, or romance, or any of it. I didn't want her to understand. I don't want you to understand. I don't want anyone to know what it's like to be hurt by the person who ought to love you the most in the world."

"I'd never do that to you," Ronan promises.

"I know that," Adam says, frustrated. "I'm not afraid of what you'll do to me. I'm afraid of what I'll do to you." He glances over, but Ronan is too shocked stupid to say anything, and he only gives him a second before he twists away again. "Everything my parents did to me -- nature, nurture, either way I have the capacity for that inside of me."

"But -- you don't want to be like that," Ronan says, trying to follow his line of thought.

"No one wants to be like that. Do you think that my parents decided to abuse me? That's not how people think. They think that the things that they do are good, or necessary, or the only option that they have. I can try to be a better person than my parents, and maybe that will be enough. Or maybe not. That's a huge gamble to take already, just hoping that I don't hurt someone. And being my soulmate makes that person uniquely vulnerable."

"That's," Ronan starts, but there's too many words spinning around his head at once, tragic, infuriating, sweet, patronizing, breaking my heart. "Stupid."

Adam scowls. Ronan should not have defaulted to the first word he could get out of his mouth. "I've had my whole life to think about this. The best case scenario I could come up with was that the words meant that my soulmate wouldn't want to be with me, either."

"The best thing you could imagine was being unloved."

"Yes," Adam says, like Ronan has finally gotten it, except Ronan doesn't get any of this shit, thank you very much. "This is the worst case scenario. You believe in this, you value soulmates as a concept and you've been waiting for your soulmate, specifically, your whole life. This all means way too much to you."

"I don't see why it's a problem that I want to be with you."

"Because if I fail, if I lose that gamble and turn out like my parents, you aren't going to tell me to fuck off and leave. You'll stay, because you'll think that you have to, and you'll just -- let me become a monster." Bitterness slides into his voice. "Maybe I'll be really lucky and I'll turn you into a monster with me."

"Wow," Ronan says. "Don't trust me to make my own decisions or anything."

"You've wanted us to be together forever since before you knew me. You're not going to throw away that special fated magical relationship if it gets bad."

"Yeah, I'm not going to bolt at the first sign of trouble. That's called being a fucking grown up."

"I'm not talking about trouble," Adam says. "I'm talking about abuse. That's what scares me, Ronan, that if I ever hurt you, you wouldn't protect yourself, because you wouldn't even be able to admit that it was happening."

"Which would suck if it happened, but it isn't going to, so there's nothing to be scared of."

In a small voice, Adam says, "don't trivialize this."

"I'm not." Ronan takes his hand, cradles it in his lap and draws lines across it with his fingers. "This isn't a huge gamble that you have to take on your own, because it's not down to luck and it's not just you. We both get to make choices, and yeah, I can actually make the choice to leave if I need to. I mean, fuck, you've heard about my ex. You know that I can get out when things are bad."

Adam turns his hand over, so that Ronan's fingers skim across the inside of his wrist. He stares down at Adam's palm. It doesn't give him any answers. That's okay. He thinks he's good on answers, this time.

"The fact that you've been hurt before doesn't make this feel safer," Adam says.

"Don't think about it that way," Ronan says. "I don't."

"How am I supposed to think about it, then?"

He sucked is how Ronan usually thinks about K, but that doesn't really apply to this situation. The point isn't that K put him through hell, the point is that since he did go through hell he knows what to do when he gets there. It hurt like a bitch to leave someone the first time, and it'd hurt like a bitch to do it again, but he knows that he can do it.

There's a lot of things he knows how to do, now.

"I can live without you," Ronan says. "I've spent this whole time getting ready to do it. I'm not brainwashed into thinking that I have to be with you. I'm here because I want to be."

"This only started because you thought we had to be together," Adam says. "If I'd kept walking without saying anything you never would have noticed me."

"Maybe that's the point. Maybe the mark was just so I would look up from my own shit and see you once, because once I did I wouldn't want to look away." He thinks that's pretty poetic shit, but Adam doesn't look convinced. "Or maybe that's not the point, I don't know, maybe the universe wanted to teach me to grow a fucking filter. It doesn't matter why we met, anyway, your plan was never going to work."

"Because fate would find a way to force us together? You're not disproving my argument, Lynch."

"No," Ronan says. "Your plan was never going to work because there was no way you were going to go your whole life without anyone falling in love with you."

A spasm runs down Adam's arm. His hand twitches like he was going to snatch it back in toward himself. Ronan lets go of him, but Adam doesn't move.

"There's going to be someone who cares about you enough to take a risk on you, and then your whole isolationist thing is fucked anyway," he continues. "You can leave right now and it won't be me, but it'll be someone."

Adam shuts his eyes. "What if I want it to be you?"

Ronan shrugs. "Keep doing what you're doing."

He cracks his eyes open just enough to give him a who the fuck do you think you're kidding look. "Right, my great courtship techniques, like avoiding you, insulting your house, and picking fights with you."

"Yup. This judgmental thing you're doing right now really works for me, too."

Adam manages to keep the glare up for another second, and then it breaks. He rests his head on Ronan's shoulder and leans against him, smiling so wide Ronan can feel it.

-

When Ronan asks Gansey where they're meeting for coffee on Monday, Gansey texts him, come over to my house, I'm not going downtown today.

"Playing hookie?" Ronan guesses when he arrives. "For shame. Don't you care about increasing wealth inequality?"

"As a matter of fact, I don't," Gansey says. "I submitted my resignation last week."

Ronan freezes. "The fuck you did."

"I did," he insists. "I attempted to give two weeks' notice, but they said they'd rather I leave effective immediately. I guess they were concerned I'd steal trade secrets. Or maybe my work is just so insignificant they can dump it on someone else without a handoff."

"I don't care who your bosses take a dump on," Ronan says. "What do you mean you quit?"

"I'm not sure where the confusion lies. I recall someone telling me to do it. Loudly. And frequently. And once in the presence of several of my colleagues."

"Yeah, and it never worked then, so what -- " He figures it out. "Sargent put you up to this."

"She didn't put me up to anything," Gansey says, which means she totally did. Ronan fucking loves that tiny little imp. "She's simply been supportive as I worked through some things."

"Give credit where credit is due, Dick," Ronan says primly. "You don't have to sell her short just because she is short."

Gansey shakes his head, disengaging. "I understand that you have some news of your own?"

All of a sudden it's hard to get words out. His chest feels tight. "Yeah. Adam -- " Adam wants me, Adam sleeps in my bed, Adam took a chance on me, Adam let me touch him, Adam isn't going to get rid of me, Adam is going to keep me in his life, Adam is the other half of my soul and I don't have to pretend that he isn't anymore. "Yeah."

Gansey smiles at him. "Congratulations."

Ronan swallows and turns away. It's been a long time since he was congratulated for something.

"You see," Gansey says brightly, covering up for the wave of emotion washing through him. "I told you that this would work out, and it has."

"Chill," Ronan grumbles. "It's not like you had anything to do with it."

"I'd like to think that I helped."

"Nah, this is all Sargent's fault, too."

"You credit her over your boyfriend?" Gansey raises an eyebrow, but he doesn't spend very long being a smartass, he never does. "Although now I'm being presumptuous, aren't I," and Ronan has no idea what he's getting at. "Are the two of you dating, or are you boyfriends?"

"Why do you need to know that, perv," Ronan asks, and then the moment that he leaves Gansey's house he texts Adam wait shit fuck are you my boyfriend.

It's an agonizing hour before he gets a response. Stupid work day.

...yeah, this is Adam. Did you delete me from your phone?

i know it's you jerk i'm asking if your my jerk boyfriend or my jerk guy I'm dating

He realizes as soon as he sends it that Adam already answered the question. Adam didn't even understand the question because the answer was so obvious to him. It gives Ronan a warm dizzy light feeling in his stomach that doesn't go away for days, even when Adam shows the conversation to Blue and she laughs so hard that she cries.

-

Ronan sleeps with Adam in their room again, on a night that Adam comes home from work stressed and defeated and not consoled by anything except physical contact. It's definitely the right choice and Ronan doesn't regret it, but he does have to remind himself that it's the right choice and he doesn't regret it. It turns out that when Adam doesn't immediately crash from the exhaustion of dealing with emotions, he tosses and turns a lot, and Ronan's childhood bed is not big enough for two adult men if one of them can't lie still for two seconds, Jesus Christ, Parrish, are you trying to burrow a hole through the mattress.

A few nights later, Adam falls asleep on his shoulder watching movies in the dark. Ronan nudges him when the credits start to roll. "Film's over, Parrish. Fin."

"Put on another one," he mumbles.

"You'll just sleep through it like you slept through that one."

"Did not."

"Uh-huh, who was the killer?"

"The butler."

Ronan huffs. "That was a lucky guess."

"Mm." Adam nuzzles him, getting settled back in to fall asleep again. "Yup, that's me, lucky."

"If you're gonna drool you have to go to bed."

"I'm not going to drool."

"You should go to bed anyway," Ronan says. "Do you want to stay with me?"

"Yeah, that's why you should put on another movie."

"Do you want to stay in my room," he clarifies, except that's not very clear. "In the suite."

Adam sits upright. "Okay."

He realizes once they're in the room that Adam hasn't spent much time in the nanny suite; from the way that Adam looks around it, he's thinking the same thing. Ronan has a momentary panic about what a mess it is, and then he remembers exactly how bad a room can be without scaring Adam away and he gets over it.

He starts off spooning Adam, but he refuses to roll over every time that Adam does, so he just lies on his side and waits. When Adam finally settles he's facing Ronan and with an arm and a leg slung over him. It's not very comfortable for Ronan, but apparently it's comfortable for Adam, because he falls asleep like that.

"See, that's better than sleeping on a couch," Ronan says in the morning.

"When I'm asleep, sure," Adam says. "Now that I'm awake it's just as inconvenient. Call it a wash."

"What do you mean, inconvenient. Everything about being awake is inconvenient."

"It's just kinda ridiculous having to walk upstairs so that I can get dressed so that I can come back downstairs." Sure. Ronan breathing in his face all night isn't annoying but a couple stairs are. Adam has the weirdest hang ups.

"So grab all your shit," he suggests. "Keep it in here."

A lot of things have made Adam look anxious. Ronan doesn't like that this is one of them.

"Or don't," tacks on, to fill the silence.

"I'm sorry," Adam says. "I just can't."

"Then don't."

Adam looks like he's going to say something but then he drops it. He goes back to the main house. By the time he comes downstairs Ronan forgets there was more to it than that.

-

Adam's in the kitchen when Ronan gets home from coffee and shit talk at Gansey's place. He and Blue spent half an hour purging his wardrobe of his finance douche clothes. She hadn't let Ronan burn them in the backyard the way that he wanted to, some shit about how there are people who need clothes for interviews, the shirts can do some good to make up for their sins, blah blah blah. She did let him chop up one sacrificial tie with a pair of scissors. He picked one of the paisley ones.

It was a good morning, but it's immediately eclipsed by what he sees in the kitchen, because Adam is shirtless.

Adam doesn't go shirtless very often. Aside from the first night they kissed, Ronan's only seen glimpses of his chest and back. It's not like he can't guess why, the same jagged words that he's staring at now, but that just makes him appreciate the sight more.

He looks until he wants to touch, and then he comes up from behind Adam and wraps his arms around him, drops a kiss on the side of his neck.

Adam goes rigid in his arms. He thinks that's surprise, to start, but Adam doesn't relax. He stays frozen and stiff even after Ronan lets go of him and steps out of reach.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing," Adam lies.

"You froze. That's not nothing."

"You just startled me when you did that, that's all."

"So then tell me to stop."

"It's over now," Adam insists. "I'm fine."

"I'm not," Ronan says. "I want you to tell me when I do something that upsets you."

Adam checks out his face, calculating the odds he'll let this go. "All right. I don't like being touched when I'm not expecting it."

"Okay then, I won't do that," Ronan says. "Are you expecting it now?"

Adam says "yes," so Ronan wraps an arm around him, pulls him close until their foreheads touch. He runs his hand up Adam's back.

"You like it, don't you," Adam asks.

"Like what," Ronan replies, because he likes a whole lot of shit right now, it's hard to narrow it down.

"My mark."

Ronan sighs. Adam makes a little sound of annoyance and blows air back in his face.

"Yeah," Ronan says, after a short breathing in each other's faces war that ends in a stalemate. "I like your mark. I know it sucks for you, but I like seeing something of mine on you."

"I'm so used to it meaning something else," Adam says. "I don't really think of it as a part of you."

"Well, you can't see it anyway. I'm the one who gets to look at it, so my opinion is the one that counts."

Adam laughs and shakes his head. His nose bumps against Ronan's before he steps away.

"What are you making?" There's baking shit all over the counter, but it's still at the flour in a bowl stage, which isn't very enlightening. "Pie?"

"Cookies," Adam says. "Less chance of failure, I'm disappointed enough today."

Ronan frowns. Adam is not allowed to be disappointed while he's in Ronan's house, or ever, for that matter. "Why?"

"My old landlord called." Adam picks up a wooden spoon and mixes together the stuff in the bowl. "They're going to demolish the building instead of trying to repair. Probably so they can jack up the rent when it's done, but even if they don't, it'll still take months. I don't have anywhere to move back to."

Ronan never once considered the idea of Adam moving back to that depressing place. He's glad that all trace of it will be removed from the earth.

He hasn't considered Adam moving anywhere since the first time they kissed. "Why would you move?"

"That was my home," Adam says. "That's where I lived."

"And now you live here."

"I'm staying here," he corrects Ronan. "For now."

"For now," Ronan repeats. Heat creeps into his voice. "When does that end?"

"I don't know yet," he answers, irritatingly calm. "I haven't found anything in my price range."

"You've been looking at apartments." Adam raises an eyebrow at him, yeah, and? "You've been looking at apartments and you didn't even tell me."

"I was going to tell you once I had a plan."

"Why tell me at all? If I don't matter enough to know about it."

"Of course you matter."

"Then don't leave."

"I just need a place of my own for a while, I'm not leaving." Adam is starting to sound annoyed. It makes something in Ronan sing, yes, fight, win, and that makes something in him die.

"What," he says with derision, "you're really going to move out and then move back in later?"

"Yes, I hope so. If you'll let me come back, since that's starting to sound like something I need to worry about."

"Don't be stupid. Just stay."

"I'm not stupid," Adam snaps. "And the fact that I will be ready to live with you at some point doesn't mean that I have to be ready now."

"You already live with me and everything's fine. What the hell do you need to get ready for?"

"Everything's fine right now because we just started dating and there hasn't been time for anything to go wrong yet. It's not going to stay like that forever."

"Did your tarot cards tell you that?"

"It's a fact, Lynch. Things go wrong, and while we're figuring out how to deal with things that go wrong I need to have my own space."

"It's a fucking mansion." He throws his hand out in a wide, sweeping, look at how much I can provide for you gesture. "How much more space do you need?"

"That's not the same thing and you know it."

"I don't know anything," he says, just to be a brat. "I don't know why you'd waste a bunch of time and money just to get away from me."

Adam doesn't take that bait. Adam doesn't even look angry anymore. Adam just looks -- bad.

"Ronan, please let me do this in the way that makes me feel safe."

The fight vanishes from out of him like it was never there. The cold dead feeling remains.

"Fuck," he says. "Sorry. I'm an asshole."

Adam gives him a crooked, unhappy smile. "Little bit, sometimes." He puts the wooden spoon down and turns to lean against the counter next to Ronan. "I knew you weren't going to be happy about this. I wish I could have said it better."

"You said it fine, Parrish. I just didn't want to hear it."

"It's not about getting away from you or leaving you. You understand that, right?"

"I don't understand it," he says. "But if you say it I believe you."

"I like your house," Adam tells him. "I've liked living here with you. This has been an incredible, wonderful, joyful time for me. It's also been intense and stressful and unreal. I need to figure out how to live with you as a part of my life, in a sustainable way and not like some kind of vacation, and then I can live with you."

Ronan nods slowly. He's maybe starting to get it. "What are these places like? That you're looking at."

"I haven't gone to see any yet," Adam confesses. "I was hoping I could find something nearby but -- this neighborhood is so expensive."

"You want to stay nearby?"

"Of course I do," he says. "I'm not trying to get away from you, Ronan, I just need a place that's mine, first. Then we can work on having a place that's ours."

Adam is so sure; there's nothing for Ronan to do but wait. Jesus, he hates waiting. But at least what he's waiting for is worth it. At least he has Adam here now, where he can kiss him, and so he does. Adam tastes like relief.

"What if you had a roommate," Ronan asks after a while. "Would it still be too expensive?"

"Probably. And I'd probably get stuck with a jerk like Blue did."

"Get one anyway. I hate the thought of you being alone."

"I don't mind it," Adam says. "I'm used to it."

"You shouldn't be. You should always have someone around to care about you."

"Honestly, that sounds awful."

Ronan scowls at him. "That just proves you need it. People caring about you shouldn't be a fucking nightmare scenario."

"I don't need some random roommate to take care of me." Ronan is going to argue that's not what he said, but Adam runs a hand along his face and he forgets to. "You do such a good job at that." His hand slides around to the back of his neck, tugs him in for a kiss that turns into slow, lazy making out. By the time they're done, Ronan is hungry and Adam doesn't care so much about disappointment; they skip baking the cookies and eat the dough raw as soon as it's done.

"I'm sorry I can't stay here," Adam says. "But is there something else I can do?"

"What do you mean?"

"You're always asking me what I want or don't want," he points out. "Can't I ask you the same thing?"

Ronan runs his eyes up and down Adam's bare chest. "This is a pretty good start."

"I'm serious," he says, "I'd like to know these things. I want to be able to do things you want. Or at least not do things you don't want."

He really doesn't see what the big deal is. "If you do something I don't like I'll tell you."

"Is there anything you can think of?"

"I don't know, I don't have a lot of examples to draw from here. Don't use my car to sell drugs."

"I was more concerned with things that people who are not your weird ex would do, but fine. If it makes you feel better I promise not to join the mafia."

"I don't like -- mind games." Ronan stumbles over the thought, struggling to let it form when his instinct is to shove it away. "I don't want you to chase me down one day and then ignore me the next one. I just want to matter."

"You do," Adam says, soft. "I won't."

Ronan clears his throat. "I know. That's why I didn't bother telling you, okay?"

"Okay, I see what you mean."

He breathes, another thought taking shape somewhere bruised and sore. "There is one thing that I want you to do."

"Yeah," Adam says. "Just name it."

-

The nurse nods at Ronan before he's said anything, tells them they're good to go in. He recognizes her but he can't remember her name. He never remembers any of their damn names.

He spends the walk down the hallway freaking out, but he makes himself get a grip before he walks through the door. He doesn't want his mom to think that he's upset about visiting her.

"Hi, mom." He pulls a chair up to the bedside. Realizes he needs two chairs, but Adam's already got one, so he sits down. "I brought someone that I want you to meet."

"Hi, Ms. Lynch," Adam says. "My name is Adam. I'm Ronan's soulmate."

"Adam is a friend of Blue's," he explains to her.

"Oh, I didn't realize you know about Blue." He looks at Ronan.

"I tell her about Gansey all the time. Mom's always liked Gansey." He hadn't told her about Adam before. He doesn't like to tell her things that could upset her.

"Did you tell her about going with them to see that show the other day?" Adam asks, and he keeps on doing that, helping Ronan come up with things to talk to his mother about. He's warm and friendly and he never acts like it's dumb to talk to someone who doesn't respond. He takes on more of the conversation the longer that they're there; Ronan's freak out is coming back strong.

Before they leave, Adam says "I'm glad I could meet you, Ms. Lynch," and Ronan can barely get through his usual promise to come back soon.

The moment they get to the car he collapses into the driver seat and puts his hands on his face.

Adam doesn't say anything. He picks the keys up where Ronan dropped them in his lap, turns the car on without starting the engine and flips through the radio stations for a bit, with the volume on low. He stops on a thudding baseline of the music that Ronan likes and Adam calls chaotic garbage noise.

"We always went to mass as a family," Ronan says abruptly. "Sometimes dad was out of town, or sometimes one of us would stay home sick, but other than that it was a big deal. The only time I tried to skip was this one morning I had a fight with Declan, right before we were supposed to leave. I thought, there's no way that I'm going to get in a car with that asshole and then sit in a pew next to him and tell him peace be with you, fuck that shit. So I didn't go. I just went back to my room until I heard the car leave.

"I figured they were all gone, but when I came out my dad was still there. He told me, I know you're mad at him, that's fine, families get mad at each other. But they stick together anyway. They don't toss out tradition when they're mad, because that's what gets them through the hard times, is all the other times they stuck together, so what do you say we go catch up with the rest of our family. I said okay. I didn't really buy what he was saying, but he said it like it was important and I listened to him when he said important things. I listened to him all the time. So if he wanted me to go sit next to Declan, fine, I'd go sit next to Declan."

He must've gotten quiet for a while, because Adam mentions, careful and light like poking something with a stick to see if it'll move, "Weren't you late at that point? Did you have to sneak into the church?"

"Lynches don't sneak."

Adam nods his head to the side, yeah, that checks out.

"I said I'd drive home with Declan and Matthew after mass," Ronan picks the story back up. "Because I figured that would make dad happy, real family sticking together shit. Mom said she'd go with dad, they were going to stop and do some errands on the way. We got home before them, but they were running errands, so that was fine. When they weren't home in time for lunch Declan texted them, but we figured they'd be back soon. It didn't start getting weird for another hour or two.

"Matthew was playing a video game, some loud fucking thing with the volume all the way up, and he kept pausing it to check his phone. There'd be all these gunshots and explosions and shit, and then it'd get real quiet, and then there'd be explosions again. He gave up on it after a while. None of us were doing anything at that point, we were all just in the same room telling each other to check our phones every two seconds. I couldn't sit still so I just kept pacing, even though it drove Declan nuts. I didn't want to leave the room. It felt like that thing my dad was talking about, that a family needed to stick together.

"They weren't home by dinner time. We hadn't made dinner, anyway. Declan was too busy calling people. I don't even know how the fuck he knew that many people to call, it was like he had a phone number for every person our parents had ever met, and when he ran out of those he started calling the cops and the hospitals. He did leave the room for that part, I think he didn't want to freak Matty out. He was like -- a zombie, just staring and not doing anything. I don't know if he even noticed Declan was on the phone, he was freaking me out, I didn't know what the fuck was going on with him." He breathes out, something that's almost a laugh except it's completely different. "It's so stupid, but I remember that I had to piss but I didn't want to leave the room even for a second. I thought I had to be there in case something happened. What was going to happen? Nothing was happening, that was the whole problem. And then Declan came back in and said we had to drive to the hospital."

Adam picks the stick back up, poke, poke, can you move on your own or do you need me to carry you. "It was a car accident?"

"Trucker fell asleep at the wheel," Ronan says. "In the middle of the day, how do you fucking fall asleep in the middle of the day -- "

Adam squeezes his hand. He didn't notice that Adam was holding it.

"Dad never made it to the hospital. I mean they brought him there, but he was already -- but they just put him in the, the basement. They let Declan go see him because someone had to identify him. They wouldn't let all of us go. Matty was crying at that point, he didn't stop crying the whole night and he didn't let go of me. They wouldn't let us see mom, either, they were still working on her. They said they didn't know if she was going to make it or not. So I promised God, if she lived then I would go to mass every week and stick together with the family like I was supposed to."

"And you have," Adam points out.

"Yeah." Ronan rubs his eyes with his free hand. "It's not like there's anything else I can do for her."

"You visit her."

He shrugs. "They don't know if she can hear us. But if she can't then it doesn't matter if I try, and if she can but no one talks to her -- "

"You don't have to justify yourself, Ronan."

"Declan would say I have to. He thinks I'm just drawing it out. He wants to rip her off like a fucking band-aid he can throw away."

"Maybe," Adam says. "Or maybe Declan uses distance to protect himself."

His anger drains steadily away. "Yeah. I guess he does." Adam watches him, but that's all Ronan's got, he's fucking wrung out.

"I can't imagine the courage it took you to share this with me," Adam says. "But I appreciate that you did."

Ronan says, helpless, "I wanted you to meet her."

Adam squeezes his hand again. Ronan lets go and dries his face off so he can start the car and get them home already.

"I can't return the gesture." Adam's looking out the window, now, when he hadn't flinched away from Ronan's grief. "My parents..." He shakes his head. "I haven't spoken to them in years."

"Good," Ronan says, vicious.

"That's not even why. I wish it were," and his voice takes on a hint of fierceness. "I wish I'd just walked away then. I wish the abuse had been enough to make me say no, I deserve better than this."

He can't think what gets worse than that. "What happened?"

"I worked all through high school," Adam says. "Saving up for college. Even though I was studying like mad to keep my grades up and I was exhausted all of the time. I wanted to get out of there more than I wanted rest. The grades weren't enough, the money wasn't enough, I needed both of them to get away. To be better than I was. But I didn't have both of them, in the end. My parents found out how much I had saved up. All that money that I could've been spending on the family..."

"They stole it?"

"My father said I lost the right to it by lying to them."

"But you fucking earned it."

"And then I lost it," Adam says, like it's that simple. "I never -- I've never told anyone about that. Blue thinks I just didn't have enough."

Oh. This is Adam trying to balance the scales. Ronan introduced him to his mother and Adam doesn't have a mother worth meeting, so he's offering up something else instead. It's a very Adam thing to do. Every time before, he's done it to push Ronan away, I don't owe you, you don't owe me, let's keep it that way. This time, Ronan took a step forward into the space between them and Adam took a step forward, too.

He reaches across to take Adam's hand. Adam's eyebrows scrunch together in a tiny frown, like he's concentrating intently on rubbing his thumb against Ronan's skin. While he's focused on that, Ronan asks, "you didn't have anyone else?"

"I had Blue," Adam says easily. "She's always been the person that I stuck together with. And there was her family," he adds. "I spent a lot of time with them in high school. I think, if I had asked, they would have taken me in. But I never asked."

"Do I get to meet them?"

"I think that would go really poorly," Adam says with utter sincerity. "We should do that sometime."

Chapter Text

Sargent doesn't wait for him to invite her into the house, just barges in once the door is open.

"I can't do it," she rants. "I can't listen to another minute of talk about research paper abstracts. They're only a paragraph long! How can he talk about them for an hour?"

"Just think," Ronan tells her. "Gansey's program hasn't actually started yet. It's going to get worse than this."

Her lips pinch together. She looks like a duck. "Why did I think that talking to you would help?"

"Fuck if I know. Want to go pet goats?"

"Yeah, okay."

They're the only adults at the petting zoo who don't have a couple of kids in tow, but they're also the only adults that look like they're having any fun, so who gives a shit. They buy handfuls of food pellets and try to coerce animals into hanging out near them. Ronan thinks they'd have better luck if Blue wasn't still complaining about what a history nerd Gansey is. She's not loud about it, but probably even sheep find that shit boring.

"So Gansey's a loser," Ronan says after a fat brown bunny hops away to suck up to some stupid toddler. "What do you expect? Everyone you hang out with is a loser."

"I'm not going to let you call Adam a loser."

"He's dating a loser, that makes him a loser."

"I'm not going to let you call yourself a loser, either."

"Sure about that? I went to prep school."

Her expression wavers.

"I got an award at prep school," he goads her. "For academic excellence."

"You did not."

"Top of my class in Latin, remember?"

She gags. "Is that why you have a mansion, to store all of your old prep school Latin trophies?"

"I didn't accept it," he says, insulted. "I just said I got it, you think I sat through some circle jerk award ceremony?"

She nods, like the thing Ronan just said makes her feel better about life. It's freaky. He's not supposed to make people feel better about life. He turns away from her and chucks a food pellet at a pig. The pig goes right on ignoring him.

"That's not why I have a mansion, you know."

"I know," she says. "You have it because of intergenerational wealth and personal spite."

"Exactly." He chews on his lip. "I'm starting to wonder if spite doesn't solve everything, though."

She mock-gasps. "Heresy!"

"I know, but -- " he makes a frustrated sound. "It's not meant for one person. There should really be a family there."

"A family," Blue repeats.

"Yeah. You know. A bunch of kids and shit."

"You want to fill your house with a bunch of kids." Her voice is flat, but when he glances at her she looks freaked out. "You didn't tell Adam that, did you?"

What does she -- oh, Jesus Christ.

Well, if she's going to ask him that, with those bugged out eyes, then she deserves what she gets.

"Of course I did," he tells her. "He's going to be their father, too."

"He said that." She sounds like broken robot. Today is awesome.

Ronan tilts his head like he's considering. "Well, he's concerned about not having enough time for a family, with work and school, so I'm going to be the stay-at-home dad."

"Right, you're prepared to sacrifice your promising career to raise your children." Blue heaps on more judgment with every word. "Or you could just wait until Adam finishes his degree and also you actually know each other."

"But the sooner we start the more we can have. I want to have at least six or seven."

Blue stares at him so long that his eyes start to dry out -- he's not going to blink if she doesn't.

"You're fucking with me," she says. The woman next to them tugs her kid off to the other side of the pen, scandalized.

"Of course I'm fucking with you, how did you fall for that? Isn't the whole point of you that you have common sense?"

"How should I know what you consider common sense. You thought I was going to marry Gansey after a month. For all I know you do think you and Adam are ready to have kids."

"I'm romantic, I'm not an idiot."

"Good, because I can already tell your kids are going to be a handful. I need time to mentally prepare for that." She huffs. "How did we even get on this subject? Did you just decide you had to scare the daylights out of me?"

"You scared the daylights out of yourself. All I said was my house was too big for one person, I didn't think that was a goddamn controversy."

It probably is fair for her to ask how this came up; he sprung it on her out of nowhere. But -- the subject's been on his mind a lot lately, and it's hard to ignore for good. He can't talk about it with Declan or Matthew, because conversations about the house end up being about their parents. He can't talk about it with Adam, because conversations about the house end up being about their relationship. He can't talk about it with Gansey, because conversations about the house end up being conversations about his health and happiness.

None of those are wrong, even if they're not shit people ever need to talk to each other about, but sometimes he needs a conversation about his house to be about his fucking house, and he figures that Blue "I like your trees but change your windows" Sargent might actually let him talk about his fucking house.

"I just don't know what to do with it," he continues.

"Do you care?" She tilts her head, issuing a challenge. "Leaving aside from the obnoxiousness of you having six bedrooms when there's a housing crisis. As long as it doesn't get so rundown it collapses, does it really matter to you if the place sits empty?"

A goat butts its head against his thigh. He uses the distraction to buy some time.

"I'm not really doing right by it." He ruffles the goat's ears. The dumb thing tries to bite his hand. "I was happy growing up there, and that's what it's for, right? It's supposed to have people who're happy. People who appreciate it."

"You think it should have a family living in it, but you're not ready to start one yourself," Blue summarizes. "And again, thank God for that. So it'd have to be someone else's family."

"I don't want to sell it."

"You could rent it out."

He sneers. "What, put it up on AirBnB for rich assholes to get shitfaced in?"

"That's not what I meant. Trust me, I know that being the rich asshole is your job."

"Then what did you mean?"

"I've got an idea," she says, "but I need to talk to some people. I'll let you know."

He blinks at her, outraged. She fails to express any remorse.

"You'll let me know about my house."

"I'll tell you as soon as I stop having a heart attack about the six or seven children you're adopting tomorrow."

"Adopting?" Ronan makes puppy dog eyes at her. He hasn't done that to anyone in ages; good to know he still can. "You mean you don't want to be their mom?"

Blue like hisses I am not going to have your baby, Ronan Lynch so fiercely it scares away the miniature horse that was nosing at his hand. Worth it.

-

"I thought all of my clothes were the worst," Gansey teases her when she emerges from the bedroom in the morning.

His old college t-shirt is just the right amount of worn out for maximum comfort, but she's not going to tell him that. It'll make it more suspicious when it goes missing. "If you buy enough clothes some of them will be okay on accident." She opens the fridge. Three flavors of yogurt in her favorite brand. She picks one at random. "Isn't there some law about that?"

"Law of large numbers, maybe." He's distracted, peering at a book on the table in front of him. She drops into the chair next to him.

"What's that?"

"An atlas."

Only Gansey would think that answered a question instead of creating a new one. "You know, they have maps online. Very easy to use. And they don't try to tell you that Yugoslavia is still a country."

"My atlas is not that outdated. I only bought it a few years ago."

"That's worse. Why would you buy an atlas when you have the internet?"

"You can't flip through the internet." Gansey riffles some pages, illustrating his point, and then stops on a random one. "France?"

"No."

"You haven't been or you don't want to?"

"Haven't been, don't want to right now. What's next?"

He flips to another page at random. "Argentina?"

"No and yes."

"Georgia?"

"You don't mean the state, do you?"

"No."

"Then no."

After a couple more rounds she starts writing them down to track everywhere she's traveled and everywhere he's traveled -- her list is a lot shorter than his -- and everywhere that they want to travel. Those lists are pretty much even, with some overlap that spreads as they go, now that you mention it, I do want to go to Australia, until they basically have one long list.

"We didn't so much whittle down the options as build them up," Gansey observes, a little helpless.

"We only have a month to get ready, that does the whittling for us." She taps her pen on the page. Gansey has six weeks before his classes start, a period of unemployment he insists on referring to as his garden leave despite that being inaccurate and, more to the point, very douchey. "Nowhere we'd need to get shots for. Nowhere we'd need special equipment for. Nowhere that jet lag is going to knock us out for a whole day." She crosses off places she thinks wouldn't work and puts a question mark by others to check on them.

Gansey mentions, like he just now thought of it, "you haven't been to Wales."

"And you have, and you're going to be there again soon," Blue reminds him, "so you should pick something else."

"But I haven't been there with you. I want to share what I love about it with you."

A warm flush crosses her face. "We can leave it on the maybe list for now." She adds Wales, with the same careful handwriting she's been using all morning. Everything feels a little special right now, even just her yogurt breakfast and Gansey's old school shirt. It's probably Ronan's fault for pulling that stupid prank the other day about having kids, but she keeps thinking about relationship milestones.

Marriage is still way down the line as far as she's concerned. And it's not like are we travel compatible is the biggest factor. But...she's excited to see how they handle it.

"A respectable short list," Gansey declares, after she's picked off all the ones that aren't feasible, and then a couple others on a whim. "Should we research?"

"We could research and debate," she suggests, "or we could pull one out of a hat."

"Let fate decide?" he asks. "That's an idea. Fate has done well by us so far."

A smile spreads across her face. She feels warm, and soft, and then embarrassed when there's a knock on the door and she remembers that there are other people in the world besides her sappy boyfriend.

"I've got it," she says, and opens the door to find Adam on the welcome mat. He looks surprised to see her, although to be fair, she's surprised to see him, too.

"Hey, is Gansey around?" and she was wrong; that's not surprise when he speaks, it's nerves. "I wanted to talk to him."

Gansey tells Adam to come in and sets him up in the living room. While he pops back into the kitchen to grab refreshments, like he has a compulsion to do, Blue asks Adam, "do you two need a minute?"

Adam shakes his head. "No, you can stay."

"What brings you here?" Gansey asks, after Adam has told them I'm doing fine, thanks and sipped his coffee, thus proving Gansey is a good host.

He puts the mug down and rests his hands by his sides, where they almost look casual.

"Ronan and I have been talking," he says. "We think that it'd be best if I moved out of his place until we're more established as a couple."

Blue has a suspicion that we think means I think; calculating the appropriate amount of intimacy for a given moment doesn't exactly sound like Ronan. It sounds -- pretty smart though, once she thinks about it, not that Adam asked for her opinion.

Gansey looks like he's going to offer his opinion whether or not it's asked for, but he resists temptation. "Where are you moving? Is there anything we can do to help?"

"Actually," Adam starts. "Ronan thought that you might still be willing to let me stay here." Oh, no wonder this is hard for him to say. He's taking someone's advice about asking someone for help. Blue is absurdly, achingly proud of him. "I can pay rent," he offers quickly.

"Please don't," Gansey says. "I'd have to declare it on my taxes and I can't be bothered."

Blue bursts out laughing before Adam can respond, which is probably for the best.

"Where did financial advisor Gansey come from?" she demands when she catches her breath. "Didn't we get rid of him along with that paisley tie? Should I have let Ronan burn your suits after all, is that what it takes to purge him from this house?" By the time she's done Adam is smiling.

"I just meant we could figure out some system for Adam to contribute to the house that won't complicate my tax returns."

"So you wouldn't mind?" Adam asks. "Having me live here? Long-term?"

"Of course I don't mind," Gansey says. "I wouldn't have extended the invitation if I didn't mean it."

"Thanks." Adam picks the coffee cup back up, like he needs something to do with his hands. "I know I wasn't very polite the first time you offered. I appreciate the second chance."

"As I recall, you were having an astoundingly terrible morning at the time. No one could hold that against you." He means that, too; he can't imagine how someone would hold a grudge over something like that. Blue brushes the back of her hand against his, letting some of the fondness she feels flow back toward him. He smiles at her and turns back to Adam. "And, come to think of it, this solves a problem we've been discussing."

"Yeah?"

"We're going out of town in a couple of weeks," Gansey explains. "If you're here you can keep an eye on the house."

"Plus, Gansey's going to be traveling a lot, once he's back at school," Blue adds.

Adam raises an eyebrow at her. "I figured you'd be here for that."

She sighs. "I still have half a year on my lease."

"You could sublet the place -- oh no, you can't, because you have the worse roommate ever."

"Yeah, I know. Why are you bringing it up when I'm the one who has to live with her?"

"It wouldn't be as funny if it was happening to me."

Gansey either ignores or doesn't notice their sniping. "I've never really understood why the two of you didn't live together."

There's a long complicated answer, made of all of the times that they were living in different cities, that their leases didn't line up, that they couldn't find a big enough place, that it just didn't work out; but there's also a very simple answer that's just as true. "He hates having roommates."

Adam smiles at her, crooked. "I never wanted to be that close to anyone." It's not an apology, because neither of them need to apologize for it, but it's -- an acknowledgement, maybe, of the times there was more distance between them than she'd have liked.

She smiles back at him, crooked.

"Then I'm honored that you would choose to live with me," Gansey tells him.

"You're important to Blue. And you're important to Ronan," Adam says. "I figure you should be important to me, too."

-

Gansey is less honored about being Adam's roommate when he and Blue kick him out of the house the night that Adam moves in.

"We're obviously going to gossip about you," Blue tells him. "We can't do that if you're in the next room."

He looks so lost. "You can't?"

"No. Go stay with Ronan."

"All right." Gansey leaves.

Adam asks, "do you think he realizes that he didn't take anything with him?"

"I think he'll figure it out sometime between an hour from now and tomorrow morning."

He snorts. "You've got him trained to jump when you say jump."

"I don't have him trained, he's not a dog. He just doesn't feel the need to argue about every tiny little thing."

"Since when do you not want to argue about every tiny little thing?"

"Since I started spending time with an actual grown up," Blue says, aloof.

"Is 'Gansey is an actual grown up' supposed to be gossip, because it's really boring."

"Oh, no, I just said that to get rid of him. I don't have any gossip about Gansey. What would that even be?"

Adam smirks. "Maybe he arranges his books by Dewey Decimal instead of Library of Congress."

"What a scandal." Blue snorts. "You know, if you really want gossip, we could talk about your boyfriend." She lowers her voice. "Have you tapped that yet?"

"Did you just turn twelve years old?" Adam complains. "How did you go from praising Gansey's maturity to using the phrase tapped that?"

Blue is unapologetic. "We have to do something. It's a sleepover and your hair's too short for braiding."

"I'll let you paint my nails if you never use that phrase again."

"Really?"

He shrugs. "I'll have to take it off before my next shift at the garage, but sure, why not."

Blue thinks she might have left some nail polish around the house somewhere, but they don't manage to find any. They get distracted by Gansey's record collection, which for some reason is stored in the same closet as his spare towels and sheets, what Blue would normally call a linen closet except the records take up more space than the linens.

They flip through the collection, pulling out the weirdest records -- bands so obscure they might be cool if they weren't also forty years old, folk music with scribbles on the liner notes, comedy routines that aged poorly, one terrifying British children's entertainer. They keep swapping out the record that's playing for whatever new oddity they find, listening to minute-long snippets of miscellaneous sound, until they finally decide to look for music they actually want to listen to. Adam suggests the Beatles. Blue suggests not the Beatles. They compromise on the Rolling Stones.

Blue discovers some eyeliner in the master bathroom. Adam shuts his eyes and lets her give him a rock and roll makeover. She takes his chin to turn his face to a better angle.

"You know," she says, "Ronan asked me when Gansey and I were getting married."

"When?"

"We're not. Oh, you mean when he asked? Way too early. Around the time you met Gansey."

"Not having been there, I can't say for certain," Adam observes in a mild tone, "but I think maybe he was fucking with you."

"Yeah, probably," she admits. "It's hard to tell with him. I feel like even when he's joking he kind of means it, too."

"Are you trying to say that he convinced you to elope with Gansey?"

"No, God, Ronan is a bad influence on you."

Adam frowns. Blue pulls the eyeliner back so she doesn't mess it up while his face is all scrunched. "Hey, I was messing with you since way before he showed up."

"Which is not something you should brag about."

He smirks at her before he relaxes and lets her go back to applying the makeup. "What are you trying to say, if it isn't about you and Gansey?"

"If Ronan thinks, at least a little bit, that Gansey and I should've gotten married after a month, there's probably a little bit of him that thinks you should be married already."

"I know."

"You know?"

Adam blinks his eyes open, one bare, one lined. She went heavier than she meant to, but it still looks good on him. It's been a source of envy and enjoyment for her over the years that very few things make Adam look less than good.

"I know," he says again. "He's not very subtle."

"Are you okay with that?"

"Do I have a choice? I can't control how he feels. I can barely control what I know about how he feels. At least I want to know as much as I can, anyway."

"It makes me worry for you sometimes," Blue says. "That you'll feel trapped."

"Well, if you'll notice, I haven't married him," Adam points out.

"Oh, I'm not worried that he'll force you to do something you don't want to, I've known you long enough to know how hard that is." Adam nods at her, thank you for noticing that I'm stubborn nuisance. "I also know how easy it is for you to blame yourself for doing what you need to do. That's what I worry about."

Adam thinks that through before he responds.

"I have my moments," he starts slowly. "I'm not going to say I never worry about it. But all I can do is be honest with him about what I need, and he's never tried to rush me. And -- "

"And what?" she prompts when he doesn't finish.

He shuts his eyes. "You should do the other one, I feel uneven."

She dips the brush to freshen up the eyeliner before she starts on his left eye. "All right, but if you don't tell me what you're thinking I'm gonna go full goth on you. You'll be washing it off for days."

He smiles. "Sometimes I like how serious he is about us," he confesses. "It's...reassuring. I might take a long time to get there, but I know that there will be something there when I do."

She blinks her eyes a few times, suddenly choked up. She wasn't expecting this kind of warmth and hope from him. She's never really expecting it, from him. "Ugh." She sniffs. "If you keep talking like that, you're going to have to redo my makeup next."

"Don't think I won't," he dares her, but then his voice softens again. "It means a lot to me that you care about Ronan this much."

"I care about you, too," she reminds him.

"I know. I can be happy about two things."

She leans back, capping the eyeliner. "There. You're beautiful."

"Just what I've always wanted," he deadpans. "Have we satisfied the boy talk requirements for the evening? I want your advice on how to deal with Gansey's academic mania. The semester hasn't even started and he's offered to help me with my history papers three times."

"Decoy subject," she responds immediately. "Once he starts talking about something he's interested in you cannot stop him, but sometimes you can redirect him onto something else he's also interested in. Or something that you're interested in that he wants to learn about."

They brainstorm a list of suitable decoys, from internal combustion engines to transcendentalism to whoever the hell that creepy children's entertainer from the record closet is -- they maybe get sillier and less focused as the night goes on, but that's fine.

There's a moment where Adam examines his face in the mirror, and when Blue asks if he likes it, he just kisses the top of her head and says thanks; that's even better.

-

"Hey, man," the barista at Gansey's stupid coffee shop says. "Haven't seen you in a while."

Ronan stares him dead in the eye. "That's because I hate this place."

"Oh, yeah, same. What can I get you?"

"Bucket of coffee." He jerks his thumb to point at Gansey. "And whatever he orders, make it shitty."

"Uh." The barista stares between him and Gansey, who is two feet away and definitely heard that. "I can't really...do that..."

"Please disregard my friend, he's joking."

"I'm not joking." Ronan shoves a twenty in the tip jar. The barista ponders his commitment to professional ethics.

Gansey sighs and holds up two twenties before he puts them in the tip jar. "A cappuccino, just a normal cappuccino, please," and once they've paid and stepped away from the counter, he asks Ronan, "must you really make my life harder than it already is?"

"You're a millionaire dating your true love and going to school for your dream job."

That brings him up short. "All right," he says after some consideration. "That does put my complaints about being forced out of my home last night into perspective."

"That's all I had to say to make you shut up?"

That's not exactly fair. Gansey hadn't spent that much of the night complaining, although he'd gone through another round of it this morning when he had to borrow clean clothes from Ronan and then spent fifteen minutes despairing over the state of his closet. And yet somehow Ronan is the gay one.

They pick up their drinks and hunker down at a table in the corner.

"You raise an excellent point," Gansey says.

That can't be right. "I do?"

"Yes. My life is full of good things, and that's what I should focus on."

Ronan's eyes narrow. "What's wrong? Are you dying?"

"No. I just said that nothing was wrong."

"You said you were going to focus on the good things, which people only say when there's shitty things."

"There aren't any," Gansey insists, and when Ronan glares, he changes it to, "there aren't any that you don't already know about."

"But you left that job."

"The job was really just a symptom." He turns his cup around in a slow circle. "I've been seeing a therapist about why I left grad school." He sighs. "By which I mean, I'm seeing a therapist to talk about the way that my near death experience has negatively impacted my life." He makes a face. "She says that I need to stop understating my trauma, but it just feels so self-important..."

"Right, you were just dead for a minute," Ronan mocks him, "that's not worth talking about."

"I can't decide if your attitude right now is refreshing or callous. Are you trying to be supportive?"

"No duh I'm being supportive, you're going through shit." Ronan squirms in his chair. He doesn't actually know how to be supportive. "So you -- lie on a couch and talk about your mom, and that helps?"

"It might if I were a Far Side character," Gansey says dryly. "You have an antiquated understanding of therapy."

"Since when do you think antiquated is bad?"

"I don't cling to outdated modes when there are more effective modern alternatives."

Ronan glares the glare of a man who has seen Gansey's record collection.

"Not always," Gansey corrects himself.

"'Not always'," Ronan mimics. "You think I don't know shit? You don't know shit, you probably thought Freud was still cool until you started therapy."

"Since when do you have opinion about Freud?"

"Blame Sargent, her opinions are contagious. This whole therapy thing is her fault too, isn't it?"

"If you mean that she encouraged me to take better care of myself, then yes, that's her fault."

Ronan shakes his head. "What a dick move."

"And yet evicting me from my own residence with no warning, that you sympathize with."

"Why do you complain so much about getting to spend time with me? You're going to hurt my feeling. Do you want me to be lonely?"

"I want to have unfettered access to my own underwear," Gansey says. "If you and Blue are so determined to have company, perhaps she should come stay with you."

"She could, but it'd be pretty fucking rude of her to kick out my tenants."

Gansey's mouth drops open before he's finished figuring out what to say. "You're. Going to rent it out? The house?"

Ronan taps his coffee cup on the table. He hasn't drunk very much yet; there's enough left in the cup that some splashes over.

"The trust was dissolved," he says abruptly. "I can do whatever I want with it."

"Of course you can. I didn't realize this was what you wanted."

"Yeah, well, your bossy soulmate nagged me into it."

"She hates...all of those words."

"If she wants to throw down she knows where to find me."

"I hadn't realized she had such sway over you." Gansey considers. "I guess the two of you have gotten pretty close -- "

Ronan mutters, "she has to be close in order to be a pain in my ass."

" -- but how did it even came up?"

He shrugs. There had been a few different conversations with Blue before they'd really settled on it. But there had also been conversations with Adam, too, and with Declan, and with Gansey, even if he didn't realize it because they weren't the kind of thing that would feel important to someone else. Weren't the kind of thing that would be important to someone who didn't have to dig themselves out of ten years of decay.

"I asked her for advice," he says. "That's how fucking weird life is now."

"That is fairly weird," Gansey agrees. "What did she say?"

"She hooked me up with that women's shelter she volunteers at. They're gonna help me rent it to families who need somewhere cheap to stay."

Gansey smiles, small but warm. "Oh, that's admirable."

Ronan makes a face. When he had told Adam about the plan, Adam had gone very quiet and still and then asked are you doing this because of me. He'd eased a little bit when Ronan had said no but warned him, it might not be as rewarding as you think; he didn't fully relax until Ronan said when do I ever do anything for the reward.

"Yeah, maybe."

"Where are you going to stay?" he asks. "Once you have your tenants."

"In the suite with the connecting door locked. That's the whole point of it, it only has to be part of the house if I want it to be."

"There is that." Gansey sips his cappuccino like he isn't building up to something. "What does Declan think?"

Ronan makes another face. "He's fine with it." He's not sure how true that is. Declan hadn't argued or agreed, had just treated it like a done decision that Ronan was informing him of instead of something that he had a stake in. Which he doesn't, but that's never stopped him from cramming his opinion down Ronan's throat before. His bland acceptance left Ronan twitchy and paranoid. "But I still want to do it anyway."

"Then I wish you luck in your endeavors." Gansey holds up his nearly empty coffee cup for a toast. Ronan rolls his eyes but humors him, to get it over with. "You're going to be a landlord, that's a strange thought. And stranger to think that Blue was the one who put you up to it, she doesn't have the highest esteem for landlords."

"She needs someone else to be her nemesis since you're not a robber baron anymore. When the hell do your classes start, anyway?" he asks, to get Gansey off the subject, and to see the way that Gansey's eyes light up as he talks about the future.

Chapter Text

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."