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“Parrish? Is that you?”

Adam turns and just stares for a moment. It's been three years since they’ve seen each other - almost four since they’ve seen each other anywhere other than group gatherings - yet Adam's first thought is still that he looks good.

Now nearing 26, it's clear that the gradual softening that had been occurring while they were dating had continued. He has a full head of curls now, cascading over his head. His outfit, however - neat pants and a polo shirt - is one Adam suspects continues to be fairly unusual. It still somehow manages to flatter him.

“Lynch. Need some help finding your event?”

Ronan snorts. “You’d be talking about my workplace for the month, so I’d hope not."

“Really? Congratulations.”

Ronan grins and ducks his head, seeming to still be a bit shy about praise for his successes. He glances around and asks with poorly-masked uncertainty, “Do you want to get a bite to eat or something? We’re blocking the sidewalk.”

Adam blinks at him, surprised, then says, “Sure. There’s an affordable local place nearby if you want. The food’s pretty good. I don’t know how much you know about Arlington’s dining scene.”

“Surprisingly little considering I’ve been here five days a week recently. Sounds good, though.”

“So this is an art thing, right?” Adam asks as they walk.

“Yeah. A one-month thing in Alexandria. Open studio, so I do have to interact with the public, but it pretty much pays for itself.”

“What about Opal?”

“It's been an experiment, that's for sure,” Ronan says wryly. “I mean, she still pretty much lives in Cabeswater, but I think she misses me more than either of us expected. She knows how to use a phone at this point, at least.”

“What about you? Are you enjoying your - what is it called - visiting artist residency?”

Ronan shrugs. “Not for me. I might try to rent a place in Harrisonburg, where it's quieter.”

“Do you think you’d exhibit in the area, though? I'm sure it's good for sales.”

He might, Adam realizes, be appearing a bit too interested in whether or not Ronan will be returning to the city. The look Ronan gives him contributes to the feeling.

“Jesus, Parrish, what's with all the questions?”

“I’m sorry, would you rather I talk about the weather?”

Now this is familiar.

Ronan looks at him speculatively for a moment, and Adam has the unsettling feeling that even after all this time, Ronan knows what he's thinking.

“What about you?” Ronan asks. “What have you been doing while I'm somehow convincing people my weird artwork has value?”

“It has value,” Adam argues, unexpectedly managing to continue a fairly comfortable conversation. “I'm sure it's gotten better since I've last seen it, too.”

Ronan looks away, and Adam thinks he can see just a hint of a blush. He gives Ronan a respite by pushing ahead and opening the door to the diner.

“Better be careful with the compliments, Parrish. Someone might think you still have feelings for me.”

This time it's Adam's turn to look away as he sits down. He certainly still finds Ronan attractive. He looks at him and he remembers the times Ronan had kissed him like Adam was his oxygen, but he also remembers the way Ronan would idly kiss his fingers and sleepily wrap himself around Adam's back in the early-morning kitchen.

Shit.

“It wouldn't mean anything even if I did,” Adam comments with careful neutrality, trying to figure out why Ronan had chosen those words. “You're going to end your time here and I'm not going to see you until everyone meets up for Christmas, now that I have the money. And then not until everyone meets up on the Fourth.”

Ronan frowns and opens his mouth, but they're interrupted by the waitress. They take their menus. Ronan studies his with more dedication than is strictly necessary. Adam already knows what he's getting.

Ronan sets down his menu and runs a hand through his hair. “Look, Parrish, I never liked how we left things.” He sighs. “Fuck. Personal growth sucks.”

Despite his nerves, Adam huffs out a surprised laugh.

Ronan glances up, then away. “I'm not asking you out again or anything, just -” He swallows. “Look, we were friends first. We haven't been talking long, but it seems we still work that way.” He bites his lip, then asks, “What if I wanted to keep in touch?”

Adam stares at the table for a second. Truthfully, he’d missed being Ronan's friend too. Even before they were together, they’d bickered often but nonetheless developed a unique ability to understand each other.

“Yeah,” he says, then clears his throat. “I’d be okay with that.”

There's a pause, then Ronan asks, “So what about you? Are you engineering a fix to the world's problems?”

Adam shakes his head. “My team at my new job is technically engineering a fix to the DoD’s problems, but I'm just a junior engineer in the company.”

“That's badass, Parrish,” Ronan says with a sharp grin.

“Not really,” Adam disagrees, amused. “You’d definitely find it boring.”

Ronan raises an eyebrow. “What else, then? I assume you’ve got a thriving social life?”

“I do alright,” Adam defends. “Can't seem to have any luck in the romance department, but I’ve got a good group of friends.”

The waitress comes and sets down glasses of water before taking their orders.

“I’ll never be able to bring my boyfriends home,” Ronan drawls as she leaves. “What's your excuse?”

Unfortunately, Adam's beginning to worry that part of the answer is that he’s still hung up on his ex, but instead, he wryly replies, “It seems I have some lingering psychological issues.”

“I’ll drink to that,” Ronan declares, raising his glass of water.

 


 

“What are you wearing?”

“You lost the right to ask me that when we broke up, Parrish,” Ronan snarks.

Adam rolls his eyes. “Shut up.”

I am painting instead of drawing right now, so I'm wearing something over my shirt. You are showing up at my studio with no prior warning.”

“The fact that I asked where you were would imply that I wanted to check it out.”

“Yes. An hour before you showed up.”

“I’ve been here longer than that, actually. I was checking out other studios.”

“Have you suddenly developed a fascination with the fine arts, then?” Ronan asks sardonically.

“Not really,” Adam replies easily, an exchange reminiscent of many they'd previously had.

“You're blocking the light,” Ronan says after a pause.

“So do a lot of visitors, I imagine,” Adam responds as he moves. “Is this Cabeswater?”

“Basically.”

That probably meant the scene was from a dream.

The painting does have a dream-like quality to it. It’s full of soft edges and warm scenery like most good dreams are. Adam feels a sudden longing to experience the forest again.

He walks around the room. It's clearly a shared studio - Ronan's artwork is abundantly obvious, but not the only pieces represented.

He sees a painting of a night horror. It's realistic enough that he's immediately frightened and repulsed until he sees that it’s looking at what seems to be a very ugly baby night horror. He shakes his head, amused. Ronan’s methods of coming to terms with his nightmares could never be described as entirely typical, but the painting is a new one.

The next is a drawing of a dirty-haired Opal who looks like she hasn’t seen a human being in a bit too long.

He moves on to a depiction of a pristine stream running uphill, gold flecks shining off the bottom. “These are great, Ronan.”

“Mm,” Ronan responds distractedly, sounding vaguely pleased.

Adam knows that tone. Ronan won’t be capable of conversation until he finishes whatever detail he’s fixated on.

It turns out to not matter all that much because Adam becomes caught up in another section of wall. This one, far from being depictions of fantastical landscapes, focuses on the human element of Ronan’s life.

Ronan has - probably wisely - made the decision not to explicitly exhibit the fact that Blue, Henry, and Gansey are all in a relationship, but they’re all there in the drawings. Laughing, dancing, spraying each other with hoses in the summer. There’s Matthew, even Declan. Ronan’s relationship with his older brother has clearly continued to evolve since Adam had last seen them together. Somehow, Adam manages to see in the drawing that Ronan’s feelings about his brother are still complicated but overall positive. He snorts at a drawing of Calla - it would seem their relationship is good-natured but still antagonistic.

"Excuse me,” says one of the two women who had recently entered the room, “Were you one of the artists doing the Artists-in-Marketplace residency in Harrisonburg last year?”

Ronan looks up, blinking in surprise. “Yeah.”

“What a strange coincidence. Marcy and I are trying to see all of the art galleries in Virginia. We were there last summer. I believe I was considering buying one of your pieces. Would you mind telling me what’s for sale?”

Ronan glances at his painting, but responds, “I’d be happy to.”

It seems Adam finds it just as fascinating as he had before when Ronan chooses to use the social skills acquired through his acquaintance with Gansey’s family.

Adam studies a drawing - a print, technically, as all of the drawings are. He’s only half-listening to the prices, but what he hears surprises him. Ronan's prices have been raised quite a bit since Adam last heard them when Ronan had been selling the occasional piece online with the urging of his friends. He supposes it’s warranted since it turns out Ronan has done at least one residency before now. This one is definitely more competitive than one in Harrisonburg, too, and certainly busier.

Even a small print would be much more expensive than any other decoration he’s bought. Not that he’s in the habit of buying expensive decorations. He gets a decent salary even as a junior engineer, but scholarships alone couldn’t pay for his master’s degree. He still has student loans to repay.

 


 

From: Ronan
Want to meet up sometime soon Opals asking questions I dont have answers to

To: Ronan
Sure. We should probably meet up in a park or something if she wants to talk over the phone, though. Not a good idea to do that among general public.

 


 

“Adam!” Opal exclaims.

“Hi, Opal,” Adam says nervously. “I'm, um, sorry.”

“What?”

“I know I broke up with Ronan, but that doesn't mean I had to stop talking to you.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Ronan bite his lip.

He technically hadn't had to stop talking to Ronan, either.

\But that was probably for the best.

“Yeah,” Opal says. “That was shitty.”

“Opal,” Ronan reprimands.

“Don't fucking swear,” Opal completes. “I know.”

Adam laughs.

“Brat,” Ronan mutters, but Adam sees Ronan looking at him out of the corner of his eye. When he glances over at Ronan, Ronan is looking down at the phone. Adam can’t shake the feeling he’s seen Ronan do this before.

“Are you coming to see me soon?”

“Opal…” Ronan starts.

Mommy and Daddy don’t love each other like that anymore, Adam thinks sarcastically, then abruptly wonders if it’s 100% true. Ronan’s residency is nearly through and they’re three weeks into the tentative restarting of their friendship. They’ve seen each other a few times, and the feeling Adam had gotten when he had first seen Ronan hadn’t gotten better.

“I’ll be there when everyone meets up around Christmas this year.”

“You used to come home for Thanksgiving,” Opal says reproachfully.

Ronan visibly winces.

Adam looks down.

“I’m… I…” He takes a deep breath, shakes his head. “Opal, I haven’t - I haven’t seen you for years. Ronan and I aren’t together anymore. I’m not going to intrude on your life like that.”

“I want to see you.”

Adam shakes his head. He stands up and paces a few steps. He hasn’t felt like this in years.

The two of them always did bring out strong emotions in him.

“Opal, drop it,” Ronan orders.

“You miss him, too,” she says obstinately. Ronan closes his eyes, clenching his jaw. “Now.”

The phone hangs up.

“Parrish -” Ronan starts. His hand closes around Adam’s arm. Adam shakes it off solely by reflex. He hears Ronan step back.

Ronan clearly hadn’t expected Adam to turn around, because the vulnerability he sees on Ronan’s face causes him to flee, shame burning through him even as he moves.

Maybe he hasn't changed as much as he’d thought.

 


 

“Adam,” Blue greets over the phone.

“Blue.”

“What happened?” she asks. Adam can practically see the face she’s making.

“So, I saw Ronan again for the first time in years three weeks ago.”

Blue sighs. “Oh, Lynch.”

“It wasn’t his fault, actually.”

“Are you saying it was yours?”

Adam paces and explains, ending with “- and the look on his face, Blue -”

Blue pauses, then says, “I have never met two people that are such a good match and so good at screwing it up at the same time as you and Ronan.”

Adam blushes. “That isn’t helpful.”

Blue sighs again. “What do you want from this relationship, Adam?”

Adam runs a hand through his hair, frustrated, and collapses onto his couch. “I don’t know. We’ve only seen each other a couple times. Is it going to stop feeling like this every time we talk at some point or am I stuck like this? I mean, I want to talk to him, it’s just -”

Something seems to come over Blue, and she asks with amusement in her voice, “Adam Parrish, are you calling me for advice on boys?”

“I’m calling you for advice on Ronan. I feel like you must know him better than I do, by now.”

Blue hums. “He hasn’t changed that much. There was a... rough patch after you broke up, but he’s continued on the path towards expressing himself like a normal human being. He’s become kind of easy to read. Mostly it’s a good thing, but he's still as bluntly honest as ever.”

“IS THAT COCA-COLA?” Calla yells from somewhere in the house.

“Yes!” Blue calls back.

Adam pulls the phone away from his ear.

“TELL HIM HIM AND THE SNAKE ARE BOTH IDIOTS!”

“I think he can hear you!”

“ALSO HE NEEDS TO DO A READING ON THIS MESS!”

“I’ll do that,” Adam says.

“He’ll do that!”

“GOOD!”

Blue is between wildlife expeditions at the moment and spending time with her family, which is as noisy as usual.

“I think there’s three questions you need to ask. First: Do you still have feelings for him? I’m not saying in love with him, just would you still be interested in dating him if there was a guarantee you wouldn’t crash and burn later.”

Adam hesitates, then groans, kicking his feet up and over the arm of his couch. “Yes.”

“Okay. A lot of why you broke up was that your lives seem incompatible. That’s not necessarily true, though, is it? You’re capable of financially supporting yourself and if you do end up in it for the long haul, you have a fancy degree and by then you’d probably have some pretty good work experience, too, so you could get a closer job. It’d just be that it probably wouldn’t be as big of a job as you could potentially get in some megacity. You’d have to figure out if you’d be willing to make compromises if the two of you got back together.”

“You’re making a lot of assumptions.”

“I don’t think so. We both know Ronan’s a romantic at heart, as much as he tries to hide it.” Blue hesitates, then adds, “I still sometimes wonder if you’ve ended up being his ‘one and only’, as Gansey would say.”

“That’s a lot of pressure.” Truthfully, it’s more than a bit terrifying. 

"It’s not like there’s a long list of people Ronan can let in on all his secrets, though.”

Adam sighs. “Yeah.”

“I have a third question, but then I guess I’ll leave you to think: If you did reconnect with him and apologize but didn’t tell him about your feelings, would you be willing to live like that? We both know it'll only get worse the more time you spend with him.”

Adam rubs the spot between his eyes. “I know. Thanks.”

“Happy to help with your boy problems,” Blue quips, then hangs up the phone.

Adam shakes his head and stands to look for his cards.

 


 

To: Ronan
I’m sorry. Can we meet some time so I can say it in person?