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not to put too fine a point on it

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Declan goes on the date, because what damn choice does he have? He and Jordan agreed they'd stay friends, and twelve months later he thinks they've actually figured out how to do that, but it isn't secure enough he likes to make her angry. And his relationship with Ronan is never secure enough to risk angering him if there's any way around it. Pissing off both of them at the same time is a colossally stupid and self-destructive thing to do, which is unfortunate, since that's exactly what "getting in a fight with Hennessy" does.

Jordan will take his side if Hennessy starts it, usually. That hasn't made Hennessy abandon her mission of giving Declan an ex-girlfriend's and a little brother's worth of grief combined. It's just made her smarter about it. She no longer blatantly sets out to ruin his day, but always leaves an element of plausible deniability, that it was a nice gesture that just somehow went wrong. Calling her out about it only makes him the bad guy in their siblings' eyes. He has to treat every expression of friendship from her as though it's being made in good faith, when he already knows it isn't.

So when Hennessy offers to set him up on a blind date, he doesn't pretend to be busy or invent a new boyfriend to get out of it. He asks for the details and grimly resigns himself to an insufferable evening with some street racer or kleptomaniac or musician that she knows he'll hate.

He gets to the restaurant early to get a sense of what he's in for. It's a classy little joint with candles on the tables and French on the menu. He orders a glass of wine at the bar and wishes he was at a sketchy dive with sticky floors. At least then he'd know what the joke was.

Someone says "Declan?" so he steels himself and turns around.

"Yes?" It's more of a question than he meant. The man addressing him is clean-shaven and appropriately dressed and doesn't have a single facial tattoo. "Adam?"

"Yeah," he says, and then "that's me," pushing the conversation along when that doesn't get a response.

He doesn't look like someone Hennessy would have set him up with. He looks like someone Declan would have picked out for himself. That only makes him more suspicious.

"Nice to meet you," Declan lies.

The hostess shows them over to their table, and he quietly detaches from himself, watches from the outside as he and Adam make small talk about the wine, and the food, and the muted classical music playing through the restaurant. He uses just enough focus that the conversation flows naturally and his politician's smile doesn't waver, and puts the rest of it into the question of what insult or injury Adam is meant to inflict on him.

It's a question that Declan gets further away from answering the more they talk.

Adam is well-read and well-spoken and halfway through the same book Declan's had on his nightstand for a month; the goal isn't to make Declan sit through an evening of banal opinions on mindless entertainment. He asks Declan questions, instead of babbling endlessly about himself, but doesn't pry about anything too personal, or even ask about his family. He accepts a salad with the wrong dressing from the waiter without making a scene. He mentions a degree and then a job title that Declan knows just enough about engineering to be impressed with, so he's intelligent along at least one axis, and given the reputation of the company he works for, also hardworking and reliable, at least professionally. Most likely he's a workaholic, but Declan can't judge, and anyway that's too convoluted to be the joke. Hennessy doesn't want him to be depressed a year from now when a relationship he'd gotten invested in implodes because of a fundamental incompatibility; she wants him to be embarrassed, tonight, so she can laugh about it tomorrow.

The problem lingers, unresolved, but he gives it less and less attention as dinner goes on. Adam's current project at work is fascinating, at least to the extent that Declan can follow, which is pretty far; he has a flair for explaining complicated ideas, and a habit of gesturing with his hands when he's making a point.

They move on from Adam's field of expertise to Declan's. He might get a little carried away, but -- he never gets to talk about work outside of work. Even when they were together, Jordan would plead "artist" after a few minutes to get out of hearing any more. Ronan fakes snoring. Matthew does too, if he doesn't literally fall asleep.

Adam doesn't work in the law or appear to know much about the tax code, but he listens attentively while Declan talks about it. He even asks questions like he's trying to keep the conversation going, not just shut it down as fast as possible because everyone knows it's the single most tiresome subject in the world.

"Oh, hell," Declan interrupts himself, irritated and relieved and out loud, just to complete the loss of dignity.

Adam raises an eyebrow. He doesn't ask a question. That would mean he was interested in an explanation, which would mean giving Declan credit for having one.

The date is effectively over, once someone gives you a look like that. He could apologize, backtrack, try to save face, but it wouldn't accomplish much. Annoyed all over again at having to result to honesty, he says, "I just realized why our friends set us up."

"Because they thought we'd have a good time?" Adam says in the clear knowledge that that isn't it.

"I don't have that kind of relationship with Hennessy," Declan says. "Do you?"

"I've only met her a few times. We have a friend in common."

"Then I'm sorry to break this to you, but your friend thinks you're boring."

"Hm. I'm surprised." His words are in direct opposition to his tone.

"That she'd think that?"

"That you'd say it," he corrects Declan. "I thought you were more tactful than that."

"Well, one likes to make a good first impression." He drums his fingers on the stem of his wine glass twice before he's able to catch himself and stop fidgeting. "And I wanted to be careful until I'd gotten the lay of the land."

"Until you'd figured out what was wrong with me," Adam translates. "Which, just so I'm following, is that I'm boring?"

"I think she thinks that."

"But you don't," Adam continues, a pause between words like he's challenging Declan to object, no, actually, you are, which besides being tactless would be a lie. "So you came to the conclusion there wasn't something horribly wrong with me, and that's when you decided to stop trying to make a good impression?"

Declan takes a sip of his wine. It's as dry as Adam's voice. "Am I wrong? Do we have generous friends who care about our happiness?"

"No," he agrees. "I'm pretty sure this is an elaborate way for Blue to call me a class traitor."

"Because I'm rich? That's a little shortsighted on her part." He takes too much amusement from the expression Adam makes, the slight head tilt and narrowed eyes. It's as pointed as the eyebrow, but it does at least invite him to continue, even if it's already judged him. "If you'd liked me, then she'd have a member of the bourgeoisie hanging around all the time."

"Whereas Hennessy would be thrilled to be personally responsible for your happiness, if her plan backfired," Adam says. Declan snorts softly. "Why doesn't she like you?"

"I used to date her sister." He leaves Ronan out. It's enough of an answer for someone he's never going to see again. "Now, at the risk of sounding blunt -- "

"Oh, don't be tactful and boring again on my account," Adam drawls.

"I never stopped being boring, thank you," Declan says, and Adam smirks at him with one side of his mouth. "I'm pretty sure your salary is higher than mine."

"Probably." There's a gleam of irritation in his eyes that means definitely and he's annoyed about it being questioned. "It wouldn't be such a betrayal of my working class roots, if I only made a moderately obscene amount of money."

Declan gets the sense that Adam, like himself, is holding back more than he's sharing. It's still more than he'd ever expect for a first date, to either give or receive.

"Good," he says, "then you can pick up the check."

Adam had clearly been ready to be mad about whatever Declan said next, but he wasn't ready for that to be the next thing Declan said. His face goes through surprise and outrage before he wrangles it back under control. "Your upper crust ancestors won't roll over in their graves at you accepting charity from a peasant?"

"My father was a self-made conman, he'd be thrilled I was taking money out of someone else's pocket."

Adam's mouth flattens out into a thin, unreadable line. "Blue mentioned Hennessy has an art show this weekend," he says. Declan doesn't question the non sequitur. "Somehow I suspect you're not on the guest list."

"What gave me away?"

"Good. Then you can pay full price for our tickets."

"Are we going?" Together is the real question, but Declan doesn't give him the satisfaction of voicing it.

"Apparently Hennessy thinks I'm boring," Adam says. "I ought to give her a chance to confirm her opinion."

"Or change it."

He shrugs and picks his wine glass back up off the table. "You should finish what you were saying about the tax code. In case I want to talk about it with your friends."

Christ, Declan thinks, I cannot take him to that fucking show, because he can't take this sudden absurd fondness anywhere, someone will see it.

Except -- Adam's face shifts, the slightest bit, and now he's the man at the bar again, the one who didn't have any opinions about Declan or this date or much of anything. Declan hadn't realized the extent to which he fell for it. He's usually better at seeing through that sort of thing. He knows how to do it too, after all.

"Right," says the most buttoned up version of Declan. "Where was I," and Adam lets him collect his thoughts and share them.