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What Stays and What Fades Away

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“What are you doing over here,” Adam hissed, clutching his mostly-empty champagne glass.

“I’m standing,” Ronan indicated the wall behind him.

“Yeah, I see that. It wouldn’t kill you to make nice with these people for, like - five minutes, would it? God, you just have to stand here and … and glower at everyone?”

“Honestly, what is it to you? Am I making you look bad in front of these assholes? They’re terrible.”

“You don’t know that.”

“They don’t even know Gansey at all, and they’re stuck-up as hell, and they’re shitty to Blue. And I think we’re all better off if we stay out of each other’s way. You told me to stay out of trouble and that is what I am fucking doing.”

“All right, fine,” Adam sighed, patting his pocket again to remind himself of his carefully folded index card.

Honestly, what else should he have expected? Ronan Lynch at a high society Richmond wedding? Of course it was going to be a tense peace at best.

“Yo. Best man,” Henry greeted Adam with a clap to his shoulder. “I hear it’s almost time for speeches.”

“Oh. Awesome,” Adam blanched, shrinking back beside Ronan against the wall.

“You’ll be great! Adam, you’re all glowing, lately, do you know?” Henry tipped his glass toward Adam with a grin. “It’s rude to outshine the bride on her wedding day.”

“This is not her real wedding day,” Ronan growled, bending his knee and kicking his foot back up against the wall.

“Right. Of course. Well. How are you, though, is what I obviously meant,” Henry continued smoothly.

“Me?” Adam made a face. “Well, um. I have to give a speech in front of everyone soon which is kind of terrifying. And Ronan is being a shit, because of course. And Blue keeps self-righteously correcting people about my bisexuality for some reason? But, yeah. Fine, otherwise? God. I think I might throw up. How are you.”

“I’m good! I wish I could’ve brought Wispy, but I don’t know if this is an appropriate occasion.”

From the corner of his eye, Adam caught Ronan mouthing the name Wispy in disbelief.

“I should - I should go back and find Blue,” Adam closed his eyes for a second, trying to push down the dread.

“Right. I’ll tell her you’re on your way. Nice to see you, Lynch.”

“Cheng.”

“You seriously can’t say like two words even to Henry?” Adam muttered after they were somewhat alone again. “Why are you still like this, oh my God. I know you have to deal with people when you go the damn farmer’s market and the art galleries, like real actual people, I know you must have social skills buried in there somewhere but you can’t even-”

“Adam. For fuck’s sake. You’re gonna be fine,” Ronan reached out and grabbed his hand, squeezing it insistently. “Just breathe.”

Adam held on tight and focused on expanding his chest, not his stomach. Inhale, exhale. Deep breaths. Ronan’s lips were on his cheek.

“You’ve given speeches before, for way more people. You’re fine.”

“You know it’s really annoying that you somehow found a way to be best man without actually being called that, right? So you don’t have to do this?”

“I know. Come on.”

 


 

“Hi, everyone. Um. Good evening,” Adam raised his voice and hoped it wouldn’t sound too shaky. On his right, Ronan was knocking a fork noisily against his water glass to get people to shut up. On his left, Blue was settling herself back onto her draped chair at the head table, reaching out to squeeze at Adam’s hand for a moment. Gansey and Henry were on the far side of Blue.

“I just wanted to say a few words about - about my two best friends. Blue and Gansey. Yeah, thanks,” Adam nodded at the claps and shouts of acknowledgment. He slid the index card cheat sheet out of his pocket and set it on the table in front of him, just in case. The little bullet points were neat and reassuring.

“You all probably know that these two have been in love for a long time,” he launched in, holding the microphone awkwardly and fixing his gaze on his friends. “Pretty much ever since any of us can remember. And they’ve done pretty well, even though the first time they met was a little bit of a … well let’s say a disaster, huh, Gans?”

Gansey’s grin was wide as he waved to acknowledge this and laughed broadly, and the crowd seemed to take this as a sign that they could laugh, too.

“Blue and Gansey were so clearly in love with each other. Even back then, when we were all teenagers. In fact, uh - you might say they’re so perfectly matched that it was - it was actually fate that brought them together. That destiny, you know - they were destined to be together. And you wouldn’t be wrong. They knew right away that it was true love.”

Adam was speaking directly to Gansey and Blue, now, and it helped calm him to kind of pretend that the crowd wasn’t there. He could see them both smiling now, their eyes sparkling with the secret Adam had hidden away in his words, just for them.

The crowd was really digging the whole destiny thing, though, breaking out into ahhs.

“Now I personally don’t usually, uh … describe it that way. As fate,” Adam plowed ahead - he couldn’t tell if he was going too fast. Was he doing the nervous talking? He glanced at Ronan, who was completely zeroed in on him, attentively and calmly. Confidently. Adam took another breath.

“I don’t actually believe in destiny. It sounds nice, I know. But Blue and Gansey are much more than that.”

The crowd had gone rather quiet again.

“I think that true love is not really about fate, or stars aligning. It is more about choice. And that is a different kind of magic, one that - that Blue and Gansey can teach all of us about. It’s the magic of choosing each other every day, all the time, again and again. You know, continually deciding that of all the people out there, this one is yours, this one is your center, and you're going to do the work it takes to protect and care for that. And these two, they prove that all the time. They have chosen each other today, and they will choose each other tomorrow. And I think that’s more romantic than fate any day. Growing and learning together, learning how to be stronger together.”

“Gansey once told me,” Adam switched the microphone to his other hand - his palm was sweating. “That he tried to count, one time, he tried to - to see how many times during one day that he thought I can’t wait to tell Blue about this thing that’s happening right now. He tried, and he lost count, of course. Because it happens so often. That’s always his first instinct - I can’t wait to tell Blue. And she’s the same way, with him. And even though they’ve been going to different schools, living an hour apart, they still make each other a priority. They’ve been through a lot together, and now they are stronger than ever. They are home, to each other. And that’s why it’s such a privilege to - to stand here today and toast them with you.”

“I still remember when Gansey told me he was in love. Years ago, he helped me understand that love was a real thing,” Adam glanced back so he could see Ronan’s face again, just to steady himself. “Blue and Gansey are always teaching me more about love, about what it really looks like. They've influenced me to seek it out in my own life, that it's not always easy, but it is ... so worth it. These two are evidence of that. Always coming back to each other.”

He’d expected Blue to be the one to start crying. But it was actually Gansey wiping at his eyes. Blue was just grinning outrageously, beaming proudly at Adam.

“So, um. Here’s to choosing true love in your own way, no matter what destiny has to say about it. And here’s to Blue and Gansey.” Adam raised his glass for everyone to follow suit.

As they all chanted To Blue and Gansey, Adam leaned over to clink their glasses and whispered, “Excelsior.”

  


 

Toward the end of the night, when there were only a dozen or so people left at the reception, Adam loosened his bowtie and closed his eyes for a minute, leaning back against Ronan’s shoulder.

Ronan had caught him and pulled him onto his lap at one of the round tables by the stage. Blue and Gansey were on the dance floor with Henry and Luke and some of Blue’s friends from Baltimore, so Adam didn’t mind retreating into his boyfriend’s arms for a little while. Everything was under control out there. 

“Ronan?”

“Hmm.”

“I don’t know if this is a weird time to ask this, but, like …” Adam hesitated, peering down into the bottom of his champagne glass. “Would you ever want something like this? Marriage? Wedding ceremony? That whole thing?”

“Jesus, Parrish. You ask a hell of a question sometimes.”

“I know, I - um. Sorry, we can talk about it later.”

“I wouldn’t want it like this,” Ronan snaked an arm around Adam’s waist and nodded toward the mostly empty hotel ballroom. “Stuffy-ass party with people I barely know making small talk and whatever.”

“Well, yeah. I get that.”

“But if you’re asking if I’d want the marriage part at all? Then … yeah. I would. I would want to make it official. Like, in a church with vows and shit, yeah.”

“A church,” Adam said aloud, to process the thought.

“That’s what I’ve always wanted.”

“Yeah, I - that makes sense.”

“Okay, what, Adam. You sound freaked out.”

“No, I - I’m not, I just - I’ve never really thought about it much. Before Gansey told me he wanted to do this.”

“Bullshit. You and Grace talked about it.”

“Well, yeah, she thought it would be smart for tax purposes,” Adam smiled faintly, turned his head to rest his forehead against Ronan’s neck.

Ronan Lynch was just ... shockingly gorgeous in that fucking tuxedo. It was unacceptable. Adam had been with Gansey all morning, and Ronan had gone along with Blue to be ‘man of honor’ or whatever the fuck, and so Adam hadn’t even seen Ronan until five minutes before the wedding ceremony, and all the blood had basically gone straight out of his head.

“You don’t want it, then,” Ronan’s voice was much quieter.

“I didn’t say that. I didn’t. I just … I was never really sure if I believed in it. I didn’t really have the greatest role model for it. Growing up.”

He felt Ronan’s arms tighten around him, automatically.

“It doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want to, like … consider it. Someday. If I felt like it was a commitment I really wanted to make and I wanted to … I don’t know. Make it clear to the world with a ring, I think I would like that part. I guess I need to think about it some more.”

“Of course you do,” Ronan rolled his eyes.

“You know what? When I asked Cabeswater about it? About whether it would do some kind of wedding magic, or a binding ceremony? I saw some, uh. Interesting ideas it had about that.”

“The fuck do you mean by interesting.”

“Um,” Adam tried to hide his smile, but it was too late. “That the couple should be naked? And there should be like … literal bindings, maybe? Some drinking out of cups and, um. Communing? Perhaps under that waterfall on the side of the cliff?”

“Jesus Mary,” Ronan growled, squirming around in his chair, and Adam’s head fell back again. He hoped everyone else would be dancing and not paying attention to their little dark corner. “You’re such an asshole. Shit. Did you really need to do that right this second? Can we get the fuck out of here yet?”

“Soon.”

“God. Adam.”

“I was just trying to say that I like Cabeswater’s version better than this one,” Adam closed his eyes, because now the visuals were getting a little much. He could already picture the vines sliding around Ronan’s wrists, and - God. “I think I need to get up.”

“Hey,” Ronan stopped him before he could get too far away, grabbing at his hand. “Hey, you remember that time you … you asked me if I would dance with you?”

“Yeah,” Adam laughed, pulled at Ronan’s arm until they were both standing up again. “Yeah, I do.”

 


 

Almost a week later, after they’d sent Gansey and Blue off on their honeymoon to England, and Henry back to Stanford, things were settling down again into a pleasing routine for Adam. He’d begun a summer job clerking at a giant law firm on K Street, and it ran him ragged already, but in kind of an exciting way. Sure, he wasn’t exactly writing opening arguments yet, but he was at least in the same room with some big case files.

Sometimes he walked through the big box file room and read the names on the sides and imagined that they were his files, his cases. That he’d be in a courtroom just like the one he’d been in several years ago, the time Gansey and Ronan had shown up and surprised him.

But this time Adam would be on the attorney’s side of the table.

It was a Friday evening when he arrived back at the apartment. A little later than he’d promised Ronan, but still plenty of time to eat and vent and listen to Ronan fill him in on these farm foreman interviews he was now conducting in his typically intimidating and off-putting way. Adam still privately thought Ronan was just doing this to go through the motions, that he was never going to find someone good enough to satisfy him, to be the one to trust with watching over the Barns so Ronan could let go for a little while and just stay with Adam.

Adam was perfectly okay with it just being a pretense. He didn’t want to push anything, and he would certainly never ask Ronan to do it in the first place.

But it had been Ronan’s idea. He was the one driving back and forth all the time. And every “weekend” was drawn out just a little further, starting earlier and ending later, with Ronan sighing more and more about not wanting to go home and sleep by himself.

But of course Opal was at the Barns. That was the real complication.

Adam had spent his lunch hour looking for larger, two-bedroom apartments. The kind that he could only afford if Ronan pitched in and helped with rent. The kind with a room for him and Ronan, and one for Opal.

Maybe it was still a crazy daydream, but his lease would be up in two months, and he liked to be prepared for things. It was blissful and amazing having Ronan there so much. But Adam still missed the fuck out of Opal. He didn’t want her to have to leave the Barns, though, her beautiful new home all her own.

They just … they had a lot to figure out, still.

“Hey,” Adam called into the apartment, dropping his messenger bag as he locked the front door behind him. “Sorry I’m late. Got talking to my new boss.”

There was no answer, but Adam could hear … something. A dull kind of sound he couldn’t quite make out yet. It almost sounded like … like the cadence of polite conversation?

Adam hung his suit jacket in the hall closet and took a couple of tentative steps toward the kitchen. There were definitely voices coming from that direction. Ronan’s unmistakably deep one, and another higher-pitched-

Holy fucking shit.

Grace.

Adam stood there staring, too numb and queasy at the shock to do much else. Grace was sitting at the little kitchen island next to Ronan fucking Lynch, and they were drinking goddamn tea. Tea. And holy Jesus Adam was going to pass out.

It some kind of fucking nightmare come to life, Grace sitting there talking to Ronan, like in real life, like - oh, God, how had this even happened?

“Hey,” Ronan looked at him sharply; Adam wondered if it was clear externally how much he wanted to fall through the face of the Earth rather than take another step anywhere at all. “Grace had a box of your books.”

“They, um,” Grace ran a hand over her hair, smoothing it down in a modest, familiar way that cracked at Adam’s heart. “They weren’t labeled right. The box said it was cookbooks. But it’s full of your sociology books, and - and I think some notes from your thesis work.”

“Oh,” Adam forced his throat muscles to swallow. “Oh. You emailed me about this.”

“Yes,” she picked up the mug in front of her, glanced at it, and set it down again.

“God. Sorry. I - I forgot, I’m sorry, I remember now you said you could bring it by this weekend.”

“It’s all right. Nothing to be sorry for. Ronan was very sweet to sit with me while we waited.”

“Mm,” Adam looked over at Ronan, still feeling panicky about this. But the other two both seemed quite serene and calm, of course. Of course. The two of them having a fucking tea party in his kitchen like that was just completely normal-

“Well. I should really go. I didn’t mean to stay so long,” Grace set her mug on the edge of the sink, on the left-hand side, like she’d done before. Dirty dishes on the left, clean ones on the right.

“Um,” Adam mumbled. Ronan shot him a look behind her back, a glare that said get your shit together.

“Thanks for the tea, Ronan. It was good to meet you, finally.”

“You too,” Ronan got up and actually shook her fucking hand, holy God Adam was in some kind of fucking Twilight Zone.

Ronan stayed behind in the kitchen, rinsing things apparently at random. Adam left him there and walked with Grace to the front door. It wasn’t that far, really, but it felt endless.

“I’m sorry I dropped in like this. I should’ve waited to hear back from you,” Grace looked down at the floor. “To see if it was okay.”

“No, no, it’s fine. I’m sorry I …” Adam began, then trailed off, because what the hell was he getting at there? I’m sorry I broke up with you and ran straight back to the ex-boyfriend we both agreed was completely toxic and now he’s welcoming you to the apartment you picked out for us because clearly he’s already practically living here with me?

“Are you happy?” Grace picked up the conversation thread, which was good, since Adam had left it sort of flopping and dying.

“I … yes,” he admitted, his cheeks burning. “Yes. Are you … God, I want to ask if you’re okay but it sounds like the shittiest question in the world.”

“Actually, I am doing okay, Adam. It took some time, but I feel a lot steadier now. A lot more myself again. So I … this was a fear I needed to conquer. I might need to go home and cry about it a little more. But I will be all right. Ask Ronan, if you want to know more.”

“Yeah, I … okay. Thanks for - for returning my books.”

“You’re welcome. Take care of yourself, Adam,” she reached out to hug him, and he gasped a little at the frightening combination of guilt and relief it brought.

“You too, Grace.”

Adam stayed there for a good five minutes, leaning against the wall and holding his head and trying to let his emotions settle down. Then he trudged into the living room and sank down onto the futon.

Ronan gave him space for a while. Then he poked his head around the doorway and came over to sit down. He touched Adam’s shoulder, and that was it. Adam crawled over and got as close as he could, surrounded himself in Ronan’s touch and smell for a while, breathed him in and focused on this, on his present, his future.

“I thought maybe you’d forgotten your keys,” Ronan kissed his hair. “That’s why I answered the door. It was right around when you said you’d be home.”

“It’s okay. You didn’t do anything wrong. Christ, did you make her tea? Oh my God.”

“She was … yeah she was kinda surprised to see me. I felt like shit, I didn’t want her to cry. She’s, like … so fucking nice.”

“I know.”

“She remembered me from that graduation dinner I guess. She knew who I was, I mean. Right away.”

“Yeah,” Adam groaned. “I know she did. You were kind of a … um. A presence. You always have been. She knows who you are, believe me. Fuck, I am such an asshole.”

“A little bit, yeah. She was just trying to give you back your books and you never replied at all.”

Adam leaned back to rub at his eyes, digging his fingertips in until it hurt a little bit.

“Adam, look, it’s fine. It’s over with, okay? She still misses you but she’s doing better. She’s sorta seeing somebody, some poet dude with a guitar. She already likes him a lot.”

The surreal nature of this conversation was just too much to handle. Adam blinked over at Ronan to try and process even any of it.

For whatever reason, he could only grasp at one particularly jarring part.

“Grace is dating a musician?

“She said he’s soulful,” Ronan’s mouth quirked up.

“What the fuck, Ronan, this is the weirdest day of my life.”

“So … not counting, like … the day you sacrificed your hands and eyes to a magical forest, or day time you discovered our friend had actually been dead for seven years, or the day a bunch of animal skeletons came to life-”

“Yeah, yeah, point made, shut up.”

“She’s really smart, you know? I mean I know you always say that, but you don’t say how nice she is. She really changed my whole way of thinking about how to keep my art sales a separate business from anything that gets sold on the farm.”

“Oh my God.”

“Like do you think if I made her tea again she’d help me figure out how to price things?”

“Ronan, holy shit, you are not getting my ex-girlfriend to do your fucking QuickBooks, just stop. Stop.”

“Okay, okay, fine. Look, I have something to tell you. It’s important.”

“Does it have to do with Grace in any way whatsoever-”

“No! No, look. You know how you spent all that time with your magical forest friends and it was supposed to help me start dreaming again?”

“Yes,” Adam sighed shakily, pushing his hair out of his eyes. Cabeswater. He could focus on this.

Now that he really looked at Ronan, he could see a light there in his eyes. A badly-contained excitement. His knee was bouncing beside Adam’s, and he looked like he was going to burst any second.

“It worked. It’s working, Adam. I pulled something out.”

Adam’s breath caught, and he stared at his boyfriend, letting these words sink in. He imagined Ronan waking up in Adam’s bed, frozen and paralyzed for a few seconds, clutching a raven feather or a bit of ivy, and his heart picked up speed again.

“It worked?” Adam grabbed for his hand. “What did you get?”

Ronan’s lips curved into a grin, his dark lashes dropping as he looked down at their tangled fingers. He turned his hand slightly, so it was on top of Adam’s, and then reached toward his wrist as he tugged at one of his leather wristbands.

It was much newer than most of the others. Black with clean edges. Matching the one Adam had bought him back in February or so. Ronan pulled and twisted it, turned it around so Adam could see it better.

It was embossed with a big block letter H inside a shield. The Harvard logo.