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Talk some sense to me

Chapter Text

Adam hated the administrative offices in Harvard.

They were in the basement; low ceilings, beige walls and raggedy furniture. A musky smell hung over the waiting room and none of the magazines were published in the last decade. It was like the grandeur of the upstairs never quite reached the lower levels.

The worst part was a person was rarely invited down here for good news.

The actual worst part was the staff.

They knew they'd been shucked off, knew they'd been thrown away, knew they didn't get nearly as many perks as the upstairs did, and so they were not the most helpful, not the most efficient, definitely not the fastest people at doing their jobs.

Adam felt for them, he did. He'd worked enough crappy service jobs, not to mention spending the better part of the last year as an underpaid intern in one of the top tech startups in Boston, but even his patience was running thin; his appointment was meant to be at half two and it was now a quarter to four. It was his day off. He was bored and hungry and worried. He just wanted to know why he was there.

He'd glanced up from his book and the secretary smiled. "Any time now."

"No problem." He was absurdly proud of how not sarcastic the words sounded. "Do you know how long?"

She shrugged. "Any time now."

He nodded and just managed to prevent the eye roll that was aching to be released from behind his eyelids. The buzz of his phone distracted him and he grinned when Ronan's name popped up.

The text was brief as always. "Done yet, Parrish?"

Adam smirked and typed a reply. "Still waiting."

He ignored the nerves crawling up his spine. The letter he'd received a week prior had given him very little information; a date, a time and a demand for a meeting to discuss changes to his upcoming scholarship.

His phone buzzed again. "They're probably giving you more money. Reread all those fucking references and decided to make you king of the nerds."

"Adam Parrish?"

Adam stood and nodded, tucking his phone away and smiling. He didn't waste words replying since he was the only person waiting.

The small, squat woman turned around on thick heels, without waiting for him to show signs of following. The bun holding back her grey hair looked too tight to be comfortable. He looked away from her tweed suit; the skirt and jacket looked rough and made his skin itch. The dim hallway she was leading him down had chairs and a heavy looking photocopier, plastic rubbish bins and a desk with three legs lining the walls. The threadbare carpet caught under his runners. The office they entered was even dimmer. The small windows barely let in any natural light and it was filled by harsh overhead fluorescents.

The dull panic sitting in Adam's stomach moved up and started a ratataptaptaptap beat against his ribs. He sat on the chair she pointed to, wincing as it squeaked when he put his full weight onto it.

"So, Adam Parrish." She shuffled some pages on her desk and typed quickly on her laptop. The clack of the keys echoed around the room. "Graduated with a first in Finance and Accounting, worked a Harvard sponsored internship with the intention of entering into our MBA on a full-ride scholarship. Is that correct?"

"Yes, m'dam. I got a letter about my scholarship last week."

She nodded, eyes on the screen. "Okay, so I've a bit of bad news. They've changed the terms of the MBA scholarship. You still get the course paid for, but unfortunately, unless you're married or a single parent, we can no longer support you in your housing or food."

Adam swallowed when the contents of his stomach hit the back of his tongue. He rubbed his damp palms on his tense thighs,mind racing. There was no way he could afford accommodation and food for two years. The course was too intense to work part time and study and he'd already gutted his saving doing the barely paid internship for the last twelve months. He swallowed and almost winced at how loud it was.

"Is there any reason for the changes?" He hated how hoarse his voice was.

"The college decided to move their support to people who needed the money more." She shook her head, eyes still on the computer scene. "I can see you probably do need the extra maintenance but unfortunately my hands are tied."

"How long do you need to be married for? Only I just recently got engaged, and if we skipped the fuss and were married before the course started, could I still avail of the support?" Adam had no real clue what he even saying. He just knew without the scholarship the MBA was gone and his future was bleaker without it. No one even looked at CV's anymore unless they had a master's on them. "My fiance was planning on moving up with me since I'd applied for off campus living."

"Well, congratulations Mr Parrish." She typed some more and the tapping speed matched his heartbeat. "You marked the box as single on your application."

"Yes, m'dam. I'm use to being on my own and I guess it was just habit." He almost winced again at how weak it sounded. "It took awhile for me and my fiance to sort ourselves out... It was complicated," he said with a huff and hoped his red cheeks looked like they were from his embarrassment at the mistake and from his complicated relationship status. "He was a high school boyfriend," he lied. "And I guess it took us a bit longer than it should have." He forced out a laugh. "Ronan only proposed last month actually. Ring is in the shop getting sized." He held up his bare hand and grinned like he was thinking of a fond memory instead of the roaring in his ears.

He'd said Ronan.
Ronan Lynch.
Ronan Niall Lynch.
Ronan Niall his best friend who he'd had an almost unbearable crush on since forever Lynch.
Fuck.

She smiled and giggled. "Oh that's so sweet. Let me see what I can do." She started typing again.

Adam stared down at his empty hand. Ronan would never agree to this. He didn't lie. He would never… fuck fuck fuck

"Okay, it'll have to be a bit of a quick turnaround. I'll need a new form with the wedding certificate by next week so that I can get you in under the wire. Will that be possible?"

He nodded his head so fast, he felt his brain shake. "Absolutely, we were planning on a small wedding anyway, so we can have a civil service and just throw a party later on." He grinned, hoping it didn't look as strained as it felt. "Neither of us are romantic."

She laughed. "I'm so glad. I've had to deliver this news to fifteen students so far from a multitude of courses and most have had to defer. Some good news was needed."

"Glad to be of service, m'dam."

The printer whirled to life behind her, and she spun around in the chair, catching the paper as it was spat out. "You won't need to fill out the entire form again. No more essays."

He laughed.

"Just the first few pages and an attached original copy of your marriage certificate." She turned and handed him the paper. "So let's say we meet back here on Monday and get you all sorted."

Five days. He had five days to convince his best friend to marry him, and then, they actually had to go through with it.

"Thank you so much for your help," he managed. "I really appreciate it."

She waved off his thanks. "Oh, you've made my week." She walked him to the door. "Have a lovely wedding," she said before saying goodbye and shutting the office door.

Fuck.

Chapter Text

Ronan stared at the letter in his hand. He'd read it so many times, he'd already committed the words to memory. The thick paper was soft beneath his skin. It even smelled fancy. He clenched it between his fingers and the crinkle echoed around the quiet room. He read it again sure there'd been some sort of mistake.

Dear Mr Lynch,

We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted to our Latin and Theology masters program.

Due to your exceptional grades, and that thesis, we would like to offer you a technology grant in support of your studies.

We will be in contact soon with registration and fee information.

Warm regards,
Damien Smith
Harvard Admission officer

He'd got in.

He'd actually fucking got in.

Slumping back onto the couch, he stared at the dust motes floating in messy patterns. None of this was meant to happen. Getting his GED was only to shut Declan-and-his-snide-remarks up. Ronan had gotten sick of the little comments constantly being dropped.

Always about how all your friends are in college and getting degrees and what are you doing, Ronan. You didn't even finish high school.

Always ignoring the fact that Ronan had made the farm profitable within the first year, had ten employees and a hundred head of cattle. He packaged his own product for fuck sake and distributed it across five states

Still, Declan would not leave it alone.

And then Gansey jumped on the bandwagon pulling Blue and Cheng along with him. He wasn't shitty like Dec was. No. He just encouraged. Gently. Kindly. Constantly.

Ronan needed them all to shut the fuck up. Only Noah and Adam had his back.

But then getting his GED was easier than he thought it would be, and when he got his diploma in the post, it wasn't about the others anymore. He didn't even bother telling them. Their opinions faded away as he crouched on the floor by his front door, clutching this piece of paper that should have meant nothing but meant something. The short burst of pride he'd felt at the accomplishment made him feel good in a way he hadn't in far too long. Suddenly, he was looking at his life and seeing everything he could achieve.

The online bachelor degree in Latin and Ancient Classics was more to fill his evenings. Turns out living alone in the middle of nowhere when all your friends were in college was boring as fuck. Even his monthly visits to Adam did little to curb his loneliness.

It helped the degree was nothing Declan would ever approve of. Business, accounting or finance. Something useful, Ronan. Latin and Ancient Classics was about as niche as he could find and he fucking loved it. He'd been devoted to Latin for as long as he could remember, studying it with a fever he could never quite rid himself of, and after years of living with Gansey, it would be hard for anyone not to pick up some interest in the maybe true stories of the past.

When Adam had started talking about doing an MBA, Ronan had applied to Harvard's master program on a whim. He didn't think he could handle two more years so far away from him; his best friend, his secret crush, the man he'd been in love with for eight years.

Nope. Fuck no. Just his best friend.

And then he'd actually fucking got in.

"Fuck," he muttered to the empty room. He'd have to tell everyone now. Tell them he had a GED and a degree. Tell them he was going to Harvard. "Fuck."

The buzzing of his phone dragged him back to the sitting room. He rolled his head over and stared down at the screen. It was only because it was Adam's name on the screen that he picked up. He still let it ring for a full minute before he accepted the call. "So how much extra money did they give ya, man?"

Adam heaved out a sigh. "They cut my scholarship. No housing or food."

"Jesus fuck, Parrish." He sprang forward, elbows on his knees and shoulders tense. "Fuck. You okay?"

"Yeah, I think I've figured out a solution." He took a thready breath. "But I sorta need your help."

Ronan's heart sped up at how upset he sounded. "Fucking anything." It had taken them so long to get to the point that Adam was comfortable coming to Ronan when he needed something that Ronan was yet to say no to him. "Seriously, Parrish. Fucking anything."

Adam huffed out a laugh. "Maybe wait until you hear what it is first."

Ronan hummed but he'd already decided. He knew better than to expect Adam to ask for money. Never money.

"Lynch." He took a shuddering breath. "I need you to marry me."

Ronan's first reaction was to laugh but the seriousness in Adam's voice made the noise dry in his throat. It was a long moment before Ronan remembered how to talk. The room shrunk down to the stream of sunlight warming the back of his neck and the phone growing slippy in his dampening palm.

When he failed to find any words, Adam continued, "They'll give me my accommodation and food budget if I'm married, or a single parent, and since I'm in no rush to adopt a kid…" He let the sentence hang with a barely-there smile in his voice. "And I was on the spot, sitting in this tiny office. I panicked and said we were high school boyfriends."

Ronan let out a bitter laugh. The one time he'd kissed Adam was on his eighteenth birthday and it had ended with a very uncomfortable talk on his porch about how Adam was leaving soon and didn't want to ruin the friendship.

Trudging through those memories was always painful and by the time he'd pulled himself out, he realised Adam was still talking.

"...And just recently got back together and got engaged. Told her the ring is getting sized so we'd need rings and a marriage license by Monday. God, that's so soon."

"Gansey could sort it," Ronan found himself answering. The line went silent. "Parrish?"

"You'd do it? You'd marry me?"

His voice was so small and meek, it made Ronan's skin crawl. Every now and again the damage Robert Parrish had done to his son was too fucking clear. He looked down at the letter in his hand, was about to open his mouth and tell Adam that he'd be going to Harvard that fall anyway, and yes he'd marry him, fake or not, when Adam started talking again.

"Look I know Harvard isn't your thing, education isn't your thing, and you wouldn't be caught dead in Harvard's hallowed halls," he said, mimicking Ronan. "And I know leaving the farm is not easy. It's a big commitment, two years with me, and it needs to be done before Monday, but-" he paused. "Fuck. It's too much, man. It's too big an ask."

Ronan looked at the paper in his hand and swallowed down his disappointment. Even Adam didn't think he was good enough for college. Adam who'd supported him every step of the way with the farm, helped him draft business plans and tender grants and work out a payroll system. Adam who'd stood up for him when everyone but Noah was on his back about his decisions. Supported him. Believed in him. Except even he thought Harvard wasn't for Ronan.

Fuck.

"I'll go back and tell her I'm going to defer. Work for the year, save up. I'll get some entry level job. The money won't be much but if I live cheap…"

"Adam," Ronan interrupted. "Shut up." He tucked his disappointment away. Right beside the part of him that was still heartbroken by Adam's rejection all those years ago. "I'll do it."

"You'll do it?" Adam whispered.

"Of course I'll do it, man. Don't worry about the farm. Pauline is trained up and ready to become full time manager. She practically runs the place. I just do the heavy lifting."

He'd been doing half days for the last year to concentrate on his final year in college. They'd already discussed her taking over if Ronan left for the masters. He'd made plans for his future. Even if everyone, including his best friend, doubted him.

"You'll do it?" Adam whispered again.

"Just point me towards the dotted line," he replied, rubbing a suddenly shaking hand down his face. Technically it wasn't a lie if he believed in the marriage. "I'll call Gansey. Get him to sort it with his lawyers. Are you coming down here or will I come up to you?"

"Fuck." He sounded awestruck. "l dunno."

"I'll come up to you. Closer to Gansey. We'll get it sorted by tomorrow night." The beat of the pulse in his throat was painful. "I'll leave first thing and be up by dinner tomorrow." It'd be a long drive to do in one day but worth it to see Adam. "I'll text you when I'm close."

Before he could hang up, Adam called his name. "Ronan? Thanks." The line went dead.

Ronan stared at his phone for a very long time before he managed to calm his breathing and the traitorous excitement bubbling in his stomach. He knew it meant nothing, but the thought Adam had called him for this favour, and no one else, made him hope. He pushed that bastard emotion aside and dialled Gansey's number. This was not some romantic thing. It was a way for Adam to get his degree.

"Fucking remember that," he muttered to himself as he listened to the dial-tone.

"Ronan, hello."

"Dick."

"What did I do to deserve a call from you?"

Ronan snorted. "You sound more and more like a congressman every day."

"I'm hanging up now."

"Adam and I are getting married. Can your lawyer sort out a marriage license by tomorrow and maybe book us into a civil ceremony? It needs to be done before Monday." He tapped his fingers on the back of his phone. Silence. "Gansey, you still there?"

Gansey spluttered and laughed. "Ha ha Ronan. Very funny. Why are you really calling?"

"Do I sound like I'm fucking joking? Can you do it or not?"

"Ronan."

He fucking hated when Gansey used that tone of voice. "Yes or no, Dick?"

"Why are you doing this?"

"They cut his scholarship money. He needs to get married so he can get his full ride."

Gansey was quiet for a minute. "I meant why are you doing this to yourself?"

Hot embarrassment flooded his face and he was suddenly thrilled Gansey was hours away. "Yes or no, Dick?"

"I'll sort it out. Will you be up tomorrow? We should do dinner." There was a barely hidden tone that told him Gansey was going to try and talk them out of it. Probably with back up. It was confirmed when he said, "I'll invite everyone. We'll make a party of it."

"Sure, man. I'm heading first thing. Just gotta get the farm covered and pack up some clothes." He stared down at the letter and decided to send off the acceptance email before he left. A fissure of excitement shot through him. "Don't tell Dec."

"Obviously, Ronan. I'm not an idiot."

"Sure, man. Whatever you need to tell yourself. I'll see ya in a bit."

***

The drive gave Ronan time to freak out, regret all his life choices, calm down, and then freak out all over again. After a few hours of this, he threw his EDM up to full volume and forced all thoughts from his head. Speeding up the highway cleared the last of the tension from his body. By the time he pulled up outside of Adam's dorm, his nerves had been packed away so deeply he doubted they'd even re-emerge for the ceremony.

Adam was waiting on the sidewalk when he parked. Ronan ignored the little skip his heart did with casual practice. He wanted to get out, pull Adam close and hug the fucking life out of him, wanted to breath Adam in and feel his perfect warmth again. Instead, he nodded hello and watched as he walked around the hood of the car.

"Hey," Adam said as he climbed in. "Regretting your decision yet?" He was wearing loose jeans and a navy t-shirt that made his eyes too bright and made Ronan's tongue feel fat and useless. "Lynch, that was a joke."

Shaking off the want pulsing through him, he smiled like a blade. "Ha fucking ha, Parrish. Wanna hear another joke?" At Adam's nod, he continued, "Gansey is getting the whole gang together to convince us this is a bad idea."

Adam's long, elegant fingers tapped the door. "And do you think they'll manage it?"

"No faith in me?" Sometimes he wished he could sit Adam down and tell him in great details all the ways he was loved. Not just by Ronan but by all of their friends. "I said I'd marry you and I'll fucking marry you." He pulled away from the curb and merged into traffic. "You've done enough for me these last few years. This'll clear those last fifteen favours I owe you."

"Ronan…"

"Adam, shut up. We're doing this. Don't make this dinner five against one. If you're gonna be my husband-" he paused, pushing away the thrill of the word. "Ya gotta have my back."

"Lynch, when have I ever not had your back?"

Ronan felt a reckless thrill at the words. "Fucking exactly. Remember that when we're in front of the inquisition."

***

The restaurant Gansey had chosen was reminiscent of Nino's in that it served Italian food. Nothing else was the same. It was clearly aimed at working professionals instead of high school students, and it was a lot more expensive. Lowlights and candles lit the dark room. Wine bottles lined one wall. The rest were cold stone flickering in the glow. Ronan followed the waiter to their table in the back.

Noah stood when they arrived and stared at Ronan. "Well?"

Ronan nodded, a small pleased grin playing on his lips.

"Fuck yes." Noah ran over and jumped into Ronan's arms. "Wooooooo yeah." The waiter stepped back, an amused smile on his face. Gansey and Henry stared, mouths hanging open.

"Noah, get the fuck off." He dumped him in an unholy heap on the floor and ignored the shout of indignation. "C'mon, man. It's nothing."

When he glanced over, Adam was staring, eyebrows drawn together. Ronan shrugged. "I dunno, man. It's Noah."

"Hey," Noah huffed, standing up and patting down his clothes. "I'm just excited for your news."

Ronan shot him a look.

"I mean the wedding news. Obviously."

Henry laughed. "Yes. How exciting our resident will-they-won't-they have finally decided they will." He clapped his hands at Ronan's look of horror. "Oh, shut up. I know you're just best friends." The quotation marks he made with his hands ruined his point.

Ronan considered punching him. He didn't dare look at Adam.

Gansey cleared his throat. "How about we all sit? Blue is on her way."

Rubbing the back of his neck, wondering if everyone knew about his feelings, he sat and hid his shaking hands under the table. Noah plonked down beside him, and Adam sat on his other side, shooting him a quick look he didn't have time to decipher, before being pulled into conversation with Henry and Gansey.

"When did ya find out, man?" Noah whispered.

Checking the others definitely weren't listening, he answered, "Just today."

"This is so amazing. When are ya gonna tell everyone?" Noah scratched his cheek, highlighting the dull scar that never faded. When Ronan didn't answer, he glared at him. "You are going to tell them, right?"

Ronan shrugged and looked down at the menu. Nothing looked appealing when his stomach was churning.

"You have to tell them," he hissed. "This secret is killing me, and you know, this is a big fucking deal."

Ronan ignored him, feigning interest in the cutlery. He'd been found out by Noah halfway through his second year; stressed from approaching exams and too many assignments, he'd ranted to him for over an hour when Noah had called in unexpectedly.

Noah did that from time to time. Appeared as if by magic. Like he knew when someone needed him. He'd almost died their senior year. A jealous ex had lured him to the forest and tried to beat his skull in, had almost shot Gansey that same night. Adam had talked Whelk down, tried to save him too, but he was too far gone and he'd turned the gun on himself.

Ronan still woke up from nightmares where one of them didn't survive. Noah wandered now; had followed Gansey, Henry and Blue on their cross country trip, had dropped out of three colleges so far and was living and working with Henry in his mam's antique business.

He claimed he had to live life to the fullest since he'd gotten a second chance, but Ronan knew grief, and it was obvious Noah was still grieving everything he'd lost that stupid fucking night. Some days Noah lost himself, disappearing into something like a ghost, and other days, he was like this, the Noah of before.

Noah was still staring at him and he shrugged again. "I'll tell ya later, okay?"

With a final glare, he nodded and jumped to his feet. "Blue, my favourite!" He swooped down and picked her up by the waist. "It's been too long. Leave Gansey and come live with me and Henry in sin."

Henry chuckled. "Technically they're living in sin too."

"Hetero sin. We've got double the sin because we're not married and we're not straight."

"But we're also not together."

"I'm working on that. Obviously."

Henry rolled his eyes with a huff of laughter. Only Ronan noticed the pink glow on his cheeks.

"Can you put me down now?"Blue asked as Noah reamed off everything he'd done that day. "I'd like to say hello to my boyfriend." She kissed his forehead as he lowered her back to the ground. "It's good to see you too but you are aware we live five minutes from each other, right?"

Noah put his hand to his head and swooned into his seat. "It is too far for my weak heart."

"You okay?" Adam asked suddenly, close enough Ronan felt his breath graze her earlobe.

He turned and grinned at how Adam had to pull back to stop their lips touching. "Oh yeah, fucking peachy." He was sure Adam's eyes fell to his lips for just a moment but then he pushed it off as wishful thinking. "Just don't leave me alone at any time."

"I'll do my best. Anything for my fiancé."

"Shut the fuck up, Parrish."

Adam laugh was light and easy. Ronan wanted desperately to kiss the sound from his lips and swallow it down. He glared down at the menu instead.

Blue dropped into the seat Henry had been occupying beside Gansey. "Asshole."

Ronan smiled. "Maggot."

She grinned. "I hear congratulations are in order for you two idiots."

"Just being a good friend." Ronan smirked. "You should try it sometime."

"I could marry Adam but he asked you, and you know what, I think I'll also be a good friend by not offering my services." She smirked right back and made exaggerated eye motions between them. Luckily Gansey had Adam's attention again. "On the plus side, now we can all live in the same city again. Can't believe it only took Adam asking you to marry him for you to leave the precious farm."

"Declan will be so pleased."

Blue laughed long and loud. "And I know how you live your life to please your brother."

"Until my dying breath."

"Speaking of Declan," Gansey interrupted. "Now might be a good time to start your education again. You'll have so much free time."

Noah coughed suddenly, hacking up the water he was drinking and stepping on Ronan's foot in unadulterated glee. As much as he complained about secrets, there was nothing Noah loved more than knowing things the others didn't.

Henry rubbed him on the back. "Noah? You okay?"

"Went down the wrong way," he croaked, mischief shining in his eyes. "What will you do, Ro? With all that free time?"

"Get a job. Sleep. Fucked if I know."

"Ronan, I just think…" Gansey start again but was interrupted by the waiter coming to take their orders.

The subject had been forgetten by the time the drinks were delivered. Ronan sipped the whiskey he ordered and watched as Adam answered everyone's questions about the "marriage". He did not want to talk or answer or explain himself. He just wanted to sit beside Adam, their arms touching where they lay on the table, and pretend this was a real, and pretend Adam really wanted to marry him, and pretend this was an actual celebration with his friends.

This might be a worse idea than he was willing to admit.

He tuned out right around the part Gansey offered Adam money to make up the loss from the scholarship and told him to forget the whole wedding idea. Adam was arguing in a tired, stubborn way he always did when money was offered. Ronan pressed his arm tighter against Adam's skin in support and stared out at the restaurant. It was quiet for a Thursday night. The dim lights gave the impression of privacy to the few dates sitting at tables around them and a break for the people sitting alone. No one here would judge them or ask them questions. He desperately wished he was eating alone, or better, was on a date with Adam. Maybe after all this calmed down he could bring him here.

This was all just a way for Adam to get his degree, he reminded himself, tuning back into the hum of the conversation his friends were having.

"But what about a prenup?" Henry was asking, tapping his glass of wine. The red looked like blood in candlelight. "Shouldn't you consider it."

"Fuck off, Cheng."

Adam chewed his lip. "It's not a bad idea, Ronan. You have the farm and the business."

Ronan didn't bother replying. Just looked at his friends. "Is there anything else or can we drop it?" Concerned glances were shared but no one said anything else. "Great. Noah, tell us more about the old ladies you sell too."

Adam shot him a grateful look as the conversation moved on.

The rest of the night passed easily as they all caught up, far too long since they'd been together as a group, and it was only as they were settling the bill that Gansey brought it up again.

"My parents lawyer has it all sorted by the way. We'll meet you down the courthouse at three tomorrow."

"You all?"

"Come on, Ronan. You hardly thought we'd miss this," Henry said. "Plus, think about it, if there's ever any doubt, you'll have pictures and rings and friends to back you up."

"We can all be compliant in the fraud." Blue laughed. "I always wanted to break a few laws."

"It'll be a real marriage," Gansey said, sounding exasperated. "No one is committing fraud."

"And these two are already in… Ow, Ronan. Fuck."

When he was sure Noah wouldn't say anything else, Ronan took his foot back. "Fine. You can all come. But I'm not listening to shit from any of you, about me or Adam. I'll kick you the fuck out. Okay?"

They nodded their acquiesce.

"Great, it's been a long fucking day and I need some sleep so can Adam and I head back to the dorm now?"

"Nope," Noah said cheerfully. "You can't sleep together the night before your wedding. Adam can stay with Blue and Gansey. You can stay with us."

Ronan looked to Adam who shrugged. He was too tired to argue anymore. "Fine. Let's go to yours then."

***

Henry's snores were echoing around the apartment when Noah snuck out of his bedroom with a bottle of whiskey and two glasses.

"Stag party," he whisper-shouted. "Ronan, wake up."

"How could I be asleep with that fuck face snoring like a freight train?" The couch he was lying on was surprisingly comfortable but he'd learned to only expect the best where Henry was involved. "What are you doing?"

"Stag party, duh." Noah plopped down on his legs. "Jeez, you're uncomfortable. Call your legs home."

"You're sitting on my fucking legs, man."

"Yeah, maybe." He flicked on a lamp and shifted until Ronan pulled his legs free. "So, Harvard?"

He sat up, resting his legs on the coffee table and throwing his blanket over Noah. "It's not a big deal." Taking a glass, he pushed down the disappointment. "It's nothing."

"Fuck you, Ro. It's not nothing." He didn't stop pouring until the glass nearly overflowed. "This is amazing. Why are you playing this down?"

"Adam said…" He stared down at the amber liquid, swilling it around the glass, catching the overflow with his fingers. "He said education isn't for me."

"Well, have you given him any hint of your interest in education?"

"Fuck you."

"Thought so," he replied with too much smugness. "You have to tell him. You can't go through with this and not tell him."

Ronan took a sip of his whiskey, letting it rest in his mouth before he swallowed. He leaned his head back and looked at the ceiling. He liked the apartment; it was a lot of monochrome mixed with splashes of violent colour. It reminded him of Noah, yo-yoing between good and bad days. He took another drink. "This is good, where'd you, with your exceptionally bad taste, get it?"

"Henry." He laughed when Ronan's eyebrows shot up. "He may only drink cocktails with umbrellas but he has expensive tastes. This one's Irish, I think. Thought it was appropriate." Ronan felt rather than saw Noah's eyes on him. "Why are you doing this to yourself? He already rejected you once. You sure after two years living together, you'll even be able to walk away."

He hated the pang of hurt the words created but pushed it away. He'd made his decision. "That seems like future Ronan's problem," he replied, forcing a grin on his face. "Current Ronan is very happy with his decision."

"You know I hate when people talk about themselves in the third person."

He smirked. "Ronan knows."

"Asshole."

"Fuckface."

Noah snorted. "Well, I'll be here when it all goes to shit "

"Thanks, Noah." He topped up his whiskey. "This is a shitty stag party."

"Yeah, well a fake stag party for a fake marriage. Would video games improve it?"

"Yeah," Ronan agreed, sitting up. "Kicking your ass always improves my day."

Chapter Text

Adam woke in the spare room in Blue and Gansey's apartment and blinked sleep from his eyes, stomach twisting.

He was marrying Ronan today.

He was marrying Ronan today.

He refused to examine whether it was nerves or excitement making his skin tingle and his hands shake. He'd knew he'd lost his chance six years earlier. Ronan had kissed him, sitting on his bed, and Adam had known it was coming, and he'd wanted it to happen, and then, he'd panicked about his future, his family and his ability to love. It was months before he understood what the bubbling in his stomach and the lightning is his chest meant. What the the low-level calm he felt around Ronan all added up to.

He was in love with Ronan.

Not incapable of love like he'd feared.

But it'd been too late by then.

Fixing his and Ronan's friendship took months and he'd never risk it again. But Ronan had said yes, he always said yes, and maybe that meant something. Maybe he could tell… Adam shook the thought away before it could take root. Ronan was some of the only family he had. Nothing was worth losing that. When his alarm went off, he grabbed his phone, knocked it off and dialled Ronan’s number.

It always gave him a thrill that he was the only person Ronan would answer the phone to.

“Jesus Mary, Parrish. It’s early. The fuck you want?”

The sleep rough voice made goosebumps race across his skin. “Are you hungover?”

Ronan mumbled, voice muffled, and Adam heard the rustle of a blanket, before Ronan hissed. “Fuck the floor’s cold.” He coughed and swallowed something. “No, Parrish, I am not hungover. I am just slightly not not hungover. Noah threw me an impromptu stag party.”

“Lucky." Adam sat up and dug his toes into the plush grey carpet. "Gansey tried to make a budget with me.”

Ronan snorted “Dick nevers learns, does he?”

Adam hummed non-committedly.

“Parrish, question." The nerves in Ronan's voice prickled the back of Adam's neck. "You wearing a suit today? Because if we’re getting married, the least you can do is dress up.” The joke didn't quite land when Ronan's voice trembled just a bit.

Adam heard the toilet flush. “Seriously, man? While we’re on the phone?”

“Yup and now I’m getting naked because I’m about to have a shower.”

Adam closed his eyes and then opened them when his mind supplied him with images of Ronan naked. He’d only ever seen him in boxers but his too smart brain was only too happy to full in the blanks.

“Parrish? Suit or no suit?” Falling water echoed down the line. “Parrish?”

He swallowed. “Suit, I guess. More real that way.”

“Nothing fake about this." There was no tremble this time. "I’ll see you later, yeah?”

“By the altar, Lynch,” he said voice too rough as he heard clothes hitting the floor.

Ronan laughed. “By the altar.”

He was smiling as he hung up, stomach fluttering with butterflies. Biting the grin down, pushing aside the terrifying excitement, he dragged himself up and went for a shower, grateful he'd had the common sense to stop at his dorm room the night before and pick up two outfits; the nicest suit he owned and a more casual slacks and shirt.

Something thrilled in him that Ronan wanted to wear suits. Although Adam should've guessed considering he still went to church every Sunday dressed to the nines. The shower was pure luxury compared to his shared one on campus. He knew he was lucky that his internship was Harvard sponsored. It meant he got to stay in the dorm paying cheap rent for the year. Still didn't change the fact the water pressure sucked.

Blue whistled when he emerged from the spare bedroom. "Damn, Adam. Regretting breaking up with you all those years ago."

"Oh Jane, you do know how to make a man feel loved," Gansey snarked, but he had a grin on his face, and he dropped down to plant a kiss on her forehead. "You look good, Adam."

Adam shrugged and grabbed a piece of toast. "When do we have to leave?"

"Meeting them in an hour." Gansey glanced at his phone. "Lawyers sent over the license this morning. You just gotta sign on the dotted line."

Adam nodded, stomach churning. He dropped the half eaten toast back on his plate.

As if sensing weakness, Gansey pounced. "Are you sure about this? You don't have to go through with it. Blue and me will help you out. You can stay here rent free."

"And what about food? Transport? Books? What about bills? And the unpaid internship? I need the full scholarship."

"I can give…" He yelped and looked down at his leg. "Ow, Jane. Why?"

"Have you already forgotten the long conversation we had last night about how support and interference were two different things?" Blue's voice was kind but there was an edge of something Adam couldn't quite place. "Do you remember how we decided to allow our adult, grown up friends make their own adult grown up decisions? Remember we said we'd…" She gestured at him to finish the sentence.

"Support without interference," Gansey said with a grimace.

"I know it doesn't come natural, and you're coming from a good place, but leave it, okay? They know what they're doing."

Gansey nodded and said nothing else.

Adam stared at his toast and hoped to fuck Ronan knew what he was doing because he didn't have a clue.

***

The courthouse was much nicer and much more official than Adam thought it would be. The marble floors and mahogany walls were sending spikes of panic up his spine. He could feel Ronan's eyes on him as they stood around waiting for their turn.

“I’m going for a smoke. Parrish, you coming?” There was understanding in the look he shot Adam.

He nodded. “Sure, lets go.”

“Since when do you smoke?” Gansey asked incredulous, turning just a little bit red.

“Since now.”

He grabbed Adam by the sleeve and pulled him through the hallways, ignoring little shouts of annoyance when he pushed through the crowds. Hot summer air pressed down on them as Ronan led him to the side of the building.

"Smoking was the best you could come up with?"

Ronan leaned against the wall and examined Adam with hooded eyes. "Did you fucking see Gansey's face? Should have started using that years ago."

Adam rolled his eyes. "You look good, Lynch. Should wear suits more often."

"Yeah farming is all about clean lines and dark colours this winter." Ronan grasped his shoulder, forcing him to meet his eyes. "You okay? You look pale as fuck."

"I'm just…" He shook his head. "This is…" He shrugged. "I'm fine."

Ronan laughed and pulled him into a hug, slotting Adam's face into his neck and wrapping his arms around him. Touching like this only started a year ago, and even still, Adam could count the amount of hugs they'd had on one hand. Ronan rubbed his back in soothing circles until Adam let the tension fall from his shoulders and slumped into him.

His nose skimmed the soft skin of Ronan's neck and he inhaled deeply. The arms around him tightened. He clung to Ronan's suit jacket, letting his heat wash away his nerves and letting Ronan hold him up for just a little while.

Sometimes he was just so tired of fighting all the damn time.

Like he could read his mind, Ronan said, "I got ya, man. Any time you damn well need it."

He nodded, lips grazing Ronan's pulse point. It did something to him when he felt it stutter beneath his touch. "You ready?"

"Yeah, Parrish." He sounded breathless. "Let's go get married."

***

The officiant was a tall woman, business-like and efficient. She still managed a smile when she asked, "Do you want to say your own vows?"

Adam startled, glancing up at Ronan, unsure. They hadn't actually talked about vows.

Ronan's blue eyes skimmed his face and shrugged. "Guess I'll go first." He swallowed audibly and bit his lip, drawing Adam's attention to it. "When my parents died, it was like the whole world went dark and I was angry, so fucking angry. Everyone around me suffered because of it. I was crumbling, falling and I couldn't figure out how to make it stop. People kept telling me what to do. Kept telling me the right way to move forward and I couldn't…" He took a thready breath. "And then you arrived with steel in your bones and fire in your heart and the desperate need to survive, to succeed, to fucking live. You never told me how to get better. You never told me the right way to live. You let me be angry and pissed off and a fucking fuck up, and then, when I was ready, you helped me make something of myself-" Ronan paused, just taking him in and Adam had never quite felt so known. Even after all this time, Ronan still managed to shock him. "Adam, you've had my back since I was sixteen and I'm gonna spend however long you let me repaying the favour."

The sincerity in his voice made Adam's heart speed up. He had to look away for a second to steady his breathing. "Ronan, you're my family. I never thought I'd get a lov… a life like this. You saved me. More than once. But better than that, you let me save myself. You always let me save myself. You know when to back off and when to pull me closer. You know me better than anyone." He thought of the alley and the hug. He thought of how quickly Ronan had agreed to marry him. How whenever he called Ronan picked up. "I… I couldn't have done any of this without you."

Ronan huffed. "Yeah, you could."

"Shut up, it's my turn."

Laughter echoed through the room.

"Fine, maybe I could have done it without you, but the thing is, I never want to." Adam knew his fingers were shaking when he took Ronan's hand and he hoped Ronan didn't notice. "I never want to do it without you. So I'll keep letting you save me as long as you keep letting me save myself. For as long as you'll have me."

The rest of the ceremony was too quick, repeating phrases and putting on rings and holding hands. It seemed like barely any time had passed when the woman was saying, "I now pronounce you husband and husband. You may kiss each other."

Ronan's lips were rough, and gone too quickly, but still Adam's heart pounded against his ribs. He blinked his eyes open and stared into Ronan's blue ones. Neither of them said anything. Just took each other in.

The moment ended when Noah jumped onto Ronan's back and he fell into Adam chest with a grunt.

"You're both off the market, how devastating," he whined cheerfully over Ronan's shoulder. "Henry will never recover."

"Shut up, Czerny," Henry said from behind a giant camera. "Smile, will ya?"

Noah grabbed Adam into a hug, still clinging to Ronan's back and grinned. "Say married."

Adam looked at Ronan.

He was already looking back.

***

Monday morning found Adam back in the administrative office. Except this time Ronan was sitting beside him tapping a finger against his thigh and staring daggers at the secretary. They'd been waiting for over an hour.

"Are they having a fucking laugh, Parrish?"

The words were whispered so close to his ear, Adam had to force a shiver down. "It's just the way it is."

"You'd think Harvard would be better at customer service. I've better fucking customer service than this."

The secretary glanced up. "A few more minutes."

Ronan smirked. "Thanks."

Adam elbowed him in the side.

"Adam Parrish." The same woman from before in a startlingly similar tweed suit appeared at the doorway. "Welcome back. Oh, is this your new husband? Ronan, wasn't it?"

"Yes m'dam. This is my husband." He ignored the flutter in his stomach at the word. "We just wanted to drop off the papers you needed, make sure everything was okay."

"Brilliant. I've got your forms ready to go." She led them down the same corridor as before. "Let's get you all sorted out."

Chapter Text

Ronan was not thinking about the kiss.

He was not thinking about how Adam's fingers had tightened around his hand, or the meeting of rough skin against soft, of Adam's warmth leaning into him. He wasn't thinking of stubble and the crinkle of clothes and the heavy weight of words and rings. He ignored how solid Adam's chest had felt against his and how one of his legs had leaned in just a little bit to skim Ronan's thigh in the most distracting way. He wasn't thinking about his lower lip trapped between both of Adam's and the beatbeatbeat of his heart.

Mostly, he was not thinking about how he wanted to do it again.

Because, he wasn't thinking about the kiss.

Driving was usually a distraction, but today, the BMW filled with everything he needed for the move, things from home, anything he couldn't bear to be without, along with clothes and books he'd need for college, it seemed like nothing would stop the anticipation of seeing Adam again. He hadn't felt this way in a very long time, had forced all these feelings down after that first tragic misstep of a kiss, but of course the barely-there kiss was enough to remind him of everything he'd pushed down, and learned to ignore, in the interest of his friendship with Adam. It was almost a relief when his phone buzzed, interrupting the swirling thoughts.

Even if it was Declan.

He overtook the car in front of him, contemplating whether he had the energy to be a good brother and make polite conversation for three long rings. "Fuck it," he muttered when his thoughts strayed back to Adam's breathe ghosting his lips as they stared at each other. Fuck. He hit his Bluetooth and merged into another lane. "Dec, I'm driving so make it quick."

"Hello to you too." Snarky right of the bat. Never a good sign. Declan still liked to pretend civility was his common tongue. "Nice of you to pick up."

Ronan hummed in agreement, watching as the car in front of him crossed three lanes without an indicator, causing cars to break suddenly. "Fucking idiot."

"What?"

"Not you. Some asshole in front of me." Ronan hit the horn and cursed again. "What's up? Matthew okay?"

"He's fine, off gallivanting before he goes back to college. His flight doesn't get in until next week." It was nice that even Declan spoke about their little brother with unbridled fondness. "I was on to him last week. Apparently he's worldly now."

Ronan didn't say anything. He knew Dec hadn't called to talk about Matthew. So he just waited for whatever lecture he'd decided to give him this week.

The silence stretched on; the rustle of paper and the clink of a cup from Declan's end of the line. "So I was chatting with Gansey."

Ronan's laugh sounded more like a bark. "Have you now?" Spotting a rest stop, he pulled off the highway. He'd need coffee if he was going to survive this call. "And what does Dick have to say for himself?"

Declan sighed heavily. "Are you moving in with Adam? Have you actually left The Barns?"

"Driving up now." He pressed the button on the speaker and ordered. "Americano large and a large fries, thanks."

"Where are you?"

"McDonalds." He followed the cars and paid for his food. "Dec, what do want exactly?"

"What's going on with you and Adam?"

Using the coffee and chips as a distraction, he considered his reply. By the time he'd taken them off a bored-looking teenager, got them sitting in his two cup holders and parked, he still wasn't sure what to say. Declan and him were better than they'd ever been. Sometimes they got a beer together just because they missed each other. It was like a damn miracle. But one that was built on ever-shifting sands. It would take a long time for all that water to flow under the bridge. Declan wouldn't approve of what he was doing. Declan would fucking hate it, and as much as he tried to wind his brother up, it was rarely over real things anymore. It was mostly just stupid, easily fixed pranks and words no longer designed to puncture the skin. He didn't want to fight with Declan. Not anymore.

Ronan Lynch didn't lie. Everyone knew that. They just didn't realise that words were a thing Ronan knew how to wield with deadly accuracy.

He didn't lie but that didn't meant he always told the truth either.

"Did Gansey not tell you all the exciting news?"

"He was surprisingly mute," Dec replied.

Ronan felt a rush of gratitude for Blue. She was the only reason Gansey wouldn't have mentioned the latest development to Declan. Not that Gansey was untrustworthy; it was just nothing would stop him when he was on a mission to help his friends. Even if said friends didn't want or need his help.

When Ronan didn't reply, Declan continued, "Just said you were moving up. What's going on, Ro?" His voice had taken on older brother concern. "Seriously, man. Who's looking after the farm?"

The coffee burned going down but it grounded him. "Pauline, full-time. Look, it happened quickly. Adam needed a roommate. I needed a change."

"Yeah, okay."

Ronan could almost believe it was sincere except he knew his brother too well.

"So," Declan continued. "What are you gonna do up there?"

There it was; the needling tone laced with hidden but an oh-so-obvious agenda. "I'm gonna get bar work and waste another two years of my life. Gotta go. On a fucking schedule." He hung up before Declan responded with anything but irritated huffs.

***

Ronan was not thinking about the kiss.

He wasn’t thinking about the kiss because he was staring at the bedroom, the only bedroom in their new apartment.

There was one bed sitting in the afternoon light.

Like a damn beacon of how fucked up and in over his head Ronan was. He tried to remember how to breathe. Adam, the bastard, seemed completely unaffected by this development. He'd just shrugged and gone to investigate the rest of the apartment. Ronan listened as he opened presses and picked things up, the couch creaking as he tested it out and the buzz of the outdoors when he opened the windows.

The padding of Adam's runners on carpet was soothing as he walked back and leaned on the other side of the door from Ronan. "Lynch, what?"

Ronan pointed. Like maybe ha missed the obvious. "There's only one fucking bed, Parrish."

"Okay?" He shrugged, hair glinting in the same afternoon light as the bed, and lighting up like a whole different kind of beacon. "I'll sleep on the couch."

"Fuck off." He snorted. "That's stupider than me sleeping on the floor all those years in St. Agnes."

Adam stepped forward and dropped onto the mattress, bouncing a little. "You're the one who insisted on that Lynch. I wouldn't have had a problem sharing the mattress."

"The mattress was tiny."

"We'd have made it work." Adam shrugged, scratching the toe of his shoe into the carpet. "This mattress is bigger."

"Guess we'll just have to get used to sleeping beside each other then." Ignoring how his hands were shaking, he dumped the duffel and box he was carrying on the mattress as Adam stood up. "You got sheets?" He asked, but when he turned, Adam was gone. Ronan could hear him wandering around the sitting room. He swallowed away the trembling beat of his heart and followed him. "Parrish?"

He was sitting on the cheap couch in their tiny sitting room, staring at his hands. They were shaking. It took him a second to glance up at Ronan. "Thank you for all of this. You're just... rolling with the punches here."

He shrugged. "Married life, it's a fucking adventure."

"Fuck off, Lynch."

Ronan smirked and pulled him to his feet, focusing on his long fingers, and pulse points meeting, and dry skin scratching across his palm. "C'mon we get the bed sorted. I'm wrecked."

***

Dawn filtered through the blinds, casting low, warm light across Adam's back; sepia skin illuminated gold by the rising sun. Ronan stared, face half buried in his pillow. He desperately fought against the urge to drag his fingers across the freckles, trace them and figure out the map that made up Adam Parrish.

Ronan hated the soft want that he carried all the damn time. It was a gentle ache in his chest, enough to make him feel like he could tear up. Sometimes when Adam told him about things he'd done with other people, dates he'd been on or even just nights with college friends, the ache warmed his chest and hollowed him out all at once. He longed to be part of Adam's world, longed to be the one taking him on dates and going out with friends. When it'd been a few days and they hadn't spoken, Ronan's skin started getting tight, like jeans straight out of the dryer. He never recognised it, even after all this time, until he spoke to Adam, and his muscles loosened, and he ended up grounded in his own skin again.

He craved Adam.

He longed for him.

He ached for him.

Even when he was lying right beside him.

***

The lecture hall seemed even bigger since there was only fifteen of them. Chairs crawled up the black, disappearing into darkness. Ronan sat at the front to the left, space three seats wide on either side of him. He was glad he'd chosen heavy black boots, ripped jeans and a black t-shirt for today. He was pissed off about the nerves playing along his skin and they were armor from everyone around him. He played with the ring on his left hand, watching the others while carefully maintaining his I-don't-give-a-shit-don't-approach-me face. They seemed younger than him and Adam. Less experienced. Like their shoulders hadn't carried weights as heavy as they had. Ronan doodled ravens on his notebook. Last time he was in a classroom had been Aglionby. It hadn't been easy. Actually, it'd been a piece of shit. He pushed away the memories and watched the door swing open.

The lecturer was wearing tweed. Fucking tweed.

Ronan just about managed not to roll his eyes.

"Hello everyone, so lovely to meet you all. I'm Professor Jones. I won't be keeping you long today. This is just a brief introduction about the course and about you guys. So let's get started." He clapped his hands and pointed at Ronan. "How about you sir? Tell us a bit about yourself. Stand up there."

Refraining from walking out and managing not to roll his eyes, he stood. "Ronan Lynch."

"Ah, the infamous Ronan Lynch. I read your thesis. It was enlightening. If you haven't read Mr. Lynch's undergrad thesis, you are missing out."

He looked down at his boots until the older man stopped talking. He nodded and continued, "Just turned twenty five. Did my undergrad online in Latin and Ancient Classics. Where I wrote that thesis or whatever." He just managed to force back the curse. "Ran a farm for the past six years." He shrugged. "That's it."

A couple of people whispered at the back as he sat down. He kept his gaze straight and the tension from his shoulders. None of these people were worth his fucking time. He didn't care if they all looked down at him. Fuck them. The five bracelets around his wrist tasted of home as he chewed on them, listening to the others. He was right about the others; none of them had half the life experience him and Adam did. He could tell from the easy way they spoke and the rich cut of their clothes. They were rich kids passing time. Although, when he examined it, that was basically his reasoning too. Fuck him too then.

His phone buzzed in his pocket and he pulled it out, resting it on the table. A text from Adam lit up the screen. "You about?"

He checked the time. This shit show was meant to be over in ten. "I can make it to campus in twenty minutes?"

"Lunch? Student Union?"

"Sure, see you at twenty past one." He tucked his phone into his pocket and tuned back in as the lecturer wrapped up the class, handing out timetables and book lists.

"Great meeting you all. Can't wait to get into it."

Ronan packed up slowly, head down. Avoiding the curious gazes and whispered comments. Trying to remain invisible did nothing though.

"Hi, you're Ronan."

He looked up at a guy and a girl standing over him and nodded.

The girl swung her red hair over her shoulder and smiled. "I'm Jane. This is Paul. Is it true you wrote your whole thesis in Latin?"

"I included an English translation in case they couldn't understand." He packed up the last of his stuff, itching to be done with small talk.

"Holy shit, man." The guy was tall, slim and dark haired. He was studying Ronan like he'd hung the moon. "That's such a fucking mood."

Ronan stood, throwing his bag over his shoulders and shrugged. "I was studying Latin and Ancient Classics, how the fuck else would they've expected my thesis?"

They both laughed; Paul louder and longer. "Hey, you wanna grab lunch with us?"

"Can't," he replied, holding up his left hand. "Meeting my husband."

The smile dropped off both their faces.

"You're married?" The girl exclaimed. "Wow. Young."

Ronan shrugged. "I'll see ya next time."

***

The student union bar had high ceilings, low-lit booths and a jukebox that played whatever junk the populace decided to put on. Ronan sat on a stool, waiting for Adam and thought it wouldn't be the worst place to work. There were three people behind the bar; two bar staff dressed all in black and the manager. Ronan examined them for one moment, thought fuck it, and nodded to the guy in the shirt and waistcoat.

“What’s up, kid?” He was gruff, stubble on his harsh jawline and sleeves rolled up tattoo-covered forearms. “You’re not a student in those threads so job hunting?”

Ronan pushed away the sting that even strangers thought he wasn’t good enough for college and snorted. “Job hunting, yeah, but I’m also a fucking student.”

Bushy eyebrows shot up. “Harvard standards dropping?”

“Well, they let you work here so...”

Before he could kick himself, the man smiled and then laughed. “Yeah, you’ll do. I’m Walker.”

“Ronan Lynch.”

“Alright, Lynch. I’m looking for a part-time bouncer. The way you look, the muscles on ya, you’ll do. Past work?”

“Farming mostly.”

“Perfect. Means those muscles aren’t gym made and just for show. You’ll be useful carrying kegs at least. Got your timetable?” He glanced at it when Ronan handed it over. “Alright. You can work three to close on Monday, freshers night. It’ll be a good introduction to you. I’ll work around your schedule, can I keep this?”

“Yeah. No problem.”

“Great, bring your bank details and social security number on Monday. I’ll add you to the roster. Train you up behind bar too. Get you some extra hours.”

Ronan nodded. “That’d be great. Thanks, man.”

The man shrugged, listened to a customer request and started pulling a pint. “Saved me having to do interviews. See ya monday.” He was already gone by the time Ronan thought to thank him again.

He leaned his back on the bar, waiting Adam’s arrival. Maybe he could hide the fact he was studying from him, pretend he was just working. Technically, he didn’t need the money since the profits from the farm after all the overheads were pretty healthy, but he rarely spent the money anyway and this way he could just put them straight into savings. Not like his masters was going to have job offers knocking down his door.

When Adam walked through the door, Ronan breath stuttered and then caught. He was wearing dark slacks and a grey shirt, book bag slung across his broad chest and hair messy like he’d been running his hands through it. He smiled, bright and elastic, when he saw Ronan and claimed the stool beside him.

“How was your day?”

Ronan nodded towards Walker. “Got myself a job.”

“On campus? That’s brilliant. What does it pay?”

“Didn’t think to ask.” At Adam’s eye roll, he nudged him. “I still have the farm, Parrish. This is just a way to fill my time here.”

“You wouldn't think of…” He started and then stopped again.

Ronan's heart dropped. Not fucking Adam too. “Wouldn’t what?”

He shook his head. “It’s stupid. I was just going to suggest you could take some classes if you wanted. To keep you busy, but if you have a job, and I know how much you hated being stuck in a classroom.”

“Hated Aglionby. Never said I hated…” He trailed off, irritated that no one, strangers or closest friends, thought he could do this. “Don’t turn into Dick, Parrish. Let it go.”

“I’m not telling you what to do, Lynch. I just thought maybe since I’ve dragged you up here you could get something from it. You don’t have to be a stubborn ass all the damn time.”

“And not everyone needs a fucking college degree to prove their worth.”

Adam’s face fell and then shuttered. “You know what I have classes. I’ll see you later.” Be strolled across the bar, shoulders drawn in tight.

“Fuck,” Ronan muttered and chased after him, catching up outside and grabbing his arm. He hated how he saw the flinch before Adam covered it. “If this is our first fight as a married couple, do we get to have angry make up sex?”

Adam blushed and then burst out laughing. “Fuck off, Lynch." He pushed Ronan and grinned. "I’ll let ya buy me lunch instead.”

“Food when I fuck up. Wish you’d taught me that trick years ago.”

“Wouldn’t have accepted it years ago.” He nudged Ronan’s shoulder. “I didn’t mean… I know what you’ve achieved. I know how hard you’ve worked.”

Ronan swallowed. “I shouldn't have said that about your degree. You’re more than any degree. Sorry.”

“You have a shitty way of hitting people right where they hurt. Not every fight is a war. You don’t always have to go for the kill.” He kept walking when Ronan fell behind, stomach churning. “C’mon, Lynch,” he called back. “Luckily when it comes to you, I’m bulletproof.”

Chapter Text

"You'll have lectures full-time up until Christmas and then you'll split between your internship and lectures. Highest grades get first choice on internships just in case anyone wanted to imagine this course won't be competitive." The lecturer, tall, blond and blue-eyed, tapped his pen on the wooden stand. "Welcome evening. Wednesday. Eight pm sharp. It's not mandatory, but since networking is something you'll need to be good at, it's strongly suggested that you attend. Partners are welcome." He tapped the pen again and stared out at the twenty five students. The classroom they were in reminded Adam of Aglionby; navy carpet, dark mahogany walls and heating turned on too early in the year. "You all have your reading lists and timetables. The library is about to become your favorite place in the world."

Adam smirked down at his notebook. Since arriving two weeks ago, he'd spent every morning familiarising himself with the reading lists and the business section. Anticipation rumbled his heart. First days were his favorite time of the year. No essays or readings hanging over him. This year he didn't even have a job to distract him. He just had days and days of learning, of making sure he was top of the class, of working towards the dream that seemed more and more tangible as the days passed.

"That'll do for today.” Professor Tomlinson smiled; the shape of it did nothing to ease the nervous tension hanging over the room. “I'll see you here bright and early tomorrow morning when the real work starts."

Rustling papers and zipping bags filled the classroom. Adam finished making a note about internship, sat for one long moment letting the anticipation fill him up, before he packed away his bag. It was only half five and he was done for the day. Ronan's first shift for the SU wasn't finished until close. Prickling disappointment tugged at his heart. Already he recognised that he was becoming too used to having Ronan with him all the time again. It was like Aglionby all over again; Ronan everywhere. Except now instead of him lying on the floor, he was in bed with Adam. Sharing the bathroom. Cooking him dinner. Watching TV. If Adam thought this was a bad idea before, he knew it was now. He couldn't bring himself to regret it though because, for the moment at least, Ronan was everywhere.

Conversations weaved like threads around him; discussions of past colleges, degrees, work experience, family connections. He was used to it after his first degree but it still clawed at something deep in his gut, that faint echo of Robert Parrish telling him he was worth nothing. He pushed it back down with practiced ease. He’d done this once. He could do it a second time. He slung his bag across his shoulders and was already out the door before he considered that maybe he should try and make some friends. He glanced back, and then decided the welcome evening would be a fine time for him to make connections. Networking. The first time he’d been here his friends were made up of a random group of outcasts he’d collected throughout his first semester. None had been like the poised and together adults in his MBA.

He hated that he still felt older than them.

The canteen was mostly empty as he grabbed two sandwiches and a couple of bags of chips. He wandered over to the SU and hoped Ronan would be free. If not at least he’d brought him food. Like a good husband. He smirked at the thought.

Ronan sat on a stool at the door, checking ID’s and watching as students jumped around in sumo suits. Others were running up a track with a bungee jump tied to a harness on their waists. There were a lot of students lying on the grass verge by the bar, drinking beer and enjoying the last of the August sun. Adam leaned on the wall a little away from Ronan and watched as he scared underage students into giving up their fake ID’s.

A few minutes passed before Ronan glanced up and noticed him. He smiled, wide and electric. He waved a tattooed man over to him. Adam recognised a boss when he saw one; easy authority and confidence.

“You’re a natural, kid.” His voice was gruff like he smoked twenty a day and had no intention of giving it up. "No one has managed to get so many fakes on their first day."

“It’s all in the eyes," he said but Adam knew him well enough to hear the pride at the compliment. He nodded towards Adam. “Mind if I take a fifteen?”

“I was just coming out to tell you you were due one. That your boy?”

“Husband.” Adam didn’t think he imagined the pride in Ronan’s voice this time but he told himself he did. “See ya in a bit.” He knocked fists with the other bouncer, and strode over, sitting beside him. “How was class?”

“Mostly intro, nothing exciting." It was a lie but Ronan allowed it. He knew how much Adam appreciated first days. He rooted in his bag and pulled out the food he'd brought. "Here.”

Ronan had already taken his first bite when he asked, “What’s this for?”

“Bribe. I need you to come to a welcome evening with me on Wednesday and mingle.”

“I fucking hate you.” Ronan smirked, but he took another bite, so Adam didn’t believe him. “Fine. Do I need to wear a suit?”

“Shirt and slacks.”

“Jesus fuck, Parrish. You are lucky I love you.” The tips of his ears went red. “You ever do that?” He asked, nodding at the students being dragged back by the bungee cord.

Adam allowed him the change of subject although his pulse pounded in his wears. It was just an idiom, an expression, a friendship thing. Nothing more. Nothing more. Nothing more. He'd already destroyed his chance with Ronan. “Do I look like I've ever tried that?”

“You weren't always a boring college student, Parrish. I remember a time I could convince you do anything." He smirked around his sandwich. "I tried it earlier when they were setting up. Not as fun as the dolly but worth a shot.”

The screams of the students were starting to give him a headache. Sometimes one ear meant everything felt overloaded, too much for just one side of his brain. He winced when a group of boys walked past singing the Harvard fight song. Everyone was already drunk and planning on going for a long time yet. Ronan was watching him, concern drawing his eyebrows together and Adam forced a smile onto his face. “I’d rather be back on the dolly.”

“That can be arranged, you know.” He finished off his sandwich and Adam handed him the second one.

“I'm heading home now,” he said in response to the raised eyebrow.

With a shrug, Ronan kept eating. “You know I could get used to this. You bringing me food. Looking after me when I work.”

“I don’t have to work this year so…” He shrugged. “Plus you did it for me often enough back in high school.”

“Yeah, well,” he said with a mouth full of food. “I knew it would pay off eventually.”

Adam laughed. “Here. Eat the chips. You’re back in five minutes.”

“Not working for myself blows.”

“Did you even take breaks on the farm, Lynch?”

“Not the point, Parrish.”

Adam snorted. “Whatever. Do you want me to leave dinner out for you or are you gonna eat here?”

“I made dinner this morning after you left." Ronan scrunched up the rubbish and threw it into a trashcan. "Plate in the fridge for you to heat up when you get in.”

Adam stood too, ignoring the nagging disappointment of spending an evening alone when he could be with Ronan. “Now who’s looking after who?”

“It’s what we do, Parrish. It’s what we’ve always done.”

***
Adam hated networking.

He was good at it, knew now better than ever how to charm, and when to play up the southern charm, or the ivy league education, when to show how smart he was, or play down his intelligence to let the other person feel good. Being Gansey’s friend, four years of college and a year long internship meant he had honed his skills to a knife point. He could smile along with conversations about politics or poverty that made his skin crawl. He read enough news to be up to date when someone asked him what he thought about the the situation in the south or the the news from the west. He laughed at bad jokes and told a few of his own. He could smile until his cheeks hurt. He no longer fiddled with his tie or looked small and poor and uncomfortable. He knew now how to look like he belonged. Even in the rooms he should never have ended up in.

He still hated it.

Especially with Ronan beside him.

The man who didn’t lie was watching Adam with a contemplative look on his face. Like he was trying to solve a puzzle. It made Adam’s skin crawl that maybe Ronan was thinking badly of him for playing the room. It didn't help that Ronan looked good tonight in a dark shirt, tie and slacks tucked into heavy boots. The hint of his tattoo was there as always. He'd rolled up his sleeves and his forearms, taut with muscles, drew Adam's eyes over and over.

They welcome evening was being held in one of the older buildings. Tall ceilings arched above them, weighted down with heavy mahogany and too many sculptures. Paintings hung from the walls and the marble floor squeaked under too many shoes. The crowd was everything Ronan would hate about Harvard; rich, shallow and arrogant. Bitterly Adam realised he fit right in. This had been the goal since high school and it was only under the watchful eyes of Ronan that he thought maybe it wouldn't be worth it.

“You know Parrish? You’re pretty good at this.” Ronan said when they finished talking to an alumnus. Red splotches dyed his harsh cheekbones bright. “I mean Gansey is so…. Dick about it. But with you, it’s like putting on a fucking coat or something.”

“What? You don’t think I’m…” Adam paused, confused by the lack of hostility in Ronan's tone and not sure if he actually wanted to end that sentence.

“I’m just saying the coat looks good on you, alright man?” The smile stretching his lips would look dangerous to anyone who didn’t know Ronan as well as Adam did. "Take the fucking compliment."

“Alright, Lynch.” He linked their fingers together, pulse pounding in his wrist so hard he was sure Ronan would feel it. The tension fell from his shoulders when Ronan gripped his hand, palm to palm. Ronan being impressed by who he'd become warmed Adam in ways he would never be able to explain. "Thanks."

Ronan glanced down at their hands and squeezed. “All for show,” he whispered into Adam’s good ear. “Right, Parrish?”

Goosebumps sprinted across his skin. When he turned his head to reply, Ronan’s lips were so close, he could feel the heat of them. Adam swallowed, glancing down and back to Ronan’s widening eyes. He leaned in, wanting to close the distance, sure Ronan wanted him to since he wasn't moving away and...

“Adam Parrish. Ronan Lynch.”

They jolted apart, both breathing harder than they should be.

Ronan looked to the interloper, war turning his eyes almost navy. “Fucking what?”

The man in front of them looked vaguely familiar to Adam and it was only when he said Adam Parrish again in an almost breathless way that he realised it was Tad Carruthers of all people. Adam was quite certain by the warm looks Tad was sending his way that he still hadn’t realised that Adam didn’t like him.

The smile stretching his lips over too white teeth was far too bright. “Adam, how are you?”

Ronan shifted beside him and Adam gripped his hand a little tighter. “I’m fine, Tad. How are you?”

“Oh you know, in my second year of this blasted masters. What I was thinking let my granddad talk me into this, I just don’t know.”

Ronan snorted.

“And Ronan Lynch. Would never have thought I’d see the day you graced the halls of Harvard. Are you a stud...” His eyes dropped to their joined hands and he seemed to forget what he was trying to say.

“Married.” Ronan replied, showing Tad the ring. “Newlyweds actually.”

Tad choked on the drink he was sipping. “I didn’t realise you were… together.”

Adam was almost certain that was not how he was planning on finishing that sentence. “A while now. How have you been finding the course? Any tips?” He watched as Ronan’s eyes glazed over when Tad started discussing essays and the correct way to use quotations and which professors were the easiest markers. It was actually really good information to have and Adam found himself agreeing to meet Tad the following week for a coffee. As much as he didn’t like the man, having an ally who’d already done the first year would be helpful.

“Fucking coffee?" Ronan fiddled with his tie, clearly hating how tight it was knotted and yet refusing to open it. "I don’t know how you planning on spending even more time with the dullest man alive. Jesus Mary, that was the longest conversation of my life.”

A wave of fondness crashed over him. He leaned forward, removing Ronan’s hands from his tie and loosening it. He unbuttoned the top button, watching how Ronan’s throat convulsed and smiled. “Thanks, Lynch. I appreciate this.”

“No problem, Parrish.”

The words were sandpaper across Adam’s skin. “Why don’t you go grab some snacks, I’ll do a last circle of the room and we’ll leave?”

“Are you sure? Because I’m having a fucking great time.”

Adam laughed at the dry sarcasm. “Yeah, Lynch. I’m sure. Give me ten.”

They were quiet on the walk home. Leaves rustled above them and the moon tried to shine valiantly against the bright streetlights. Students whooped and cheered over near the SU. Ronan was staring at his feet, hands stuffed in his pockets, head freshly shaved and hooks of his tattoo crawling up his neck. Adam was trying not to look but sometimes it felt impossible to ignore the sirens call that was Ronan Lynch. He was thinking so hard, it was written across his face in the downturn of his lips, the muscle jumping in his jaw and the furled eyebrows. Adam didn't have to wait long for Ronan to talk.

“You know Carruthers had a crush on you when we were in school?”

Adam rolled his eyes. Ronan was convinced everyone had a crush on Adam in Aglionby. Even the straight ones, Parrish. “Fuck off, Lynch.”

“I know you only had eyes for our ever changing Latin teachers but he definitely did. Just… Be careful letting him too close." He scuffed his toes through some of the leaves that had fallen early. "I don’t trust him.”

“Jealous?” He made sure to keep his tone teasing but he hoped. He always hoped.

“Nah, I already married you." He took the hands closest to Adam from his pocket, rubbing the palm of it across his buzz cut. "He is, as always, one step behind me.”

Adam couldn’t identify the surge of emotion that hit him. He took Ronan’s hand, not caring there was no one to show off for or prove this to. The heat of Ronan’s hand calmed the boiling emotions. “Yeah, Lynch. You already got me.”

Ronan didn’t reply but Adam could see him in his peripheral looking between their joined hands and Adam’s face.

Chapter Text

Ronan woke alone. A quick feel of Adam's side of the bed told he'd been gone a while. He flipped onto his back and checked his phone. Half nine. Made sense. Adam's days ran nine to six. Ronan only had about twenty hours of lectures and tutorials a week. He’d found it strangely easy to settle into his routine; college in the mornings, study in the afternoons, and work in the evening. He didn’t see Adam as much as he’d like since they were on conflicting schedules, but no matter what time he got in at, Adam was up waiting with some sort of food. They always spent some time talking about their day, getting ready for bed together, crawling under the covers together and whispering in the dark about whatever stupid things popped into their heads.

If Ronan thought he’d had it bad before, he’d had no fucking idea. He wasn’t the same as he’d been in high school. He’d grown up, no longer eaten alive with grief and anger and self-hatred. Adam was different too, more open than he’d ever been before. More willing to rely on Ronan. Their tiny apartment, with its grey walls and dark couch, white shelves and too big TV, tiny kitchen and shitty bathroom, seemed like the safest place in the world for them to shuck off their armour and just be.

Ronan was completely and absolutely fucked.

At least, college was going better than he’d ever hoped. His grasp of latin and his uncompromising drive to keep learning it gave him a head start. Most of the others mostly only had the basics of translating down. Theology was the study of religion and something about his Catholic guilt translated into the same drive he had when learning latin. He was devouring texts and books, desperate to know everything he could. His first essay had been returned with an A+. It had killed him not to show it to Adam, not to be able to explain the pride and joy he’d felt having achieved something all on his own.

Adam still didn’t know, and even though their different schedules made it easier to hide it, Ronan hates it. He just couldn't get the words out. They sat half-formed in his throat.

Ignoring the surge of guilt, Ronan forced himself up and dressed. He had class at ten. He was out the door in fifteen minutes, toast hanging from his mouth and phone cradled between his ear and shoulder.

It rang three times before Noah answered. "The great Ronan Lynch deigning to ring little old me. What have I done to deserve such an honour."

"Shut up, Noah. You about today for lunch or what?” They’d started doing lunch a month after Ronan moved up. Every Thursday they spent an hour hanging out. Being close to his friends again warmed some cold, lonely place in him that he hadn’t even realised existed. “I want burritos.”

"Obviously. What time?"

"Two, usual place?"

"Can't wait."

Ronan hung up without replying, jogging to the BMW. He'd never tried to be on time for class in high school and the thought of how disgusted seventeen year old Ronan would be had him smirking all the way to campus.
***

Ronan slapped his paper down on the table in front of Noah. “Suck on that. A+. Highest in the class.”

“Here.” Noah pushed a burrito towards him and picked up the paper. “Is this in Latin, you absolute maniac?”

Ronan shrugged and unwrapped the food. “There’s an english translation in case they couldn’t understand it.”

“Who?”

“My lecturers.”

“What did he say when he gave it back?”

“Laughed a lot. Hired me for some translation work.”

“Fuck, you’re like Adam was in Aglionby. You’re the golden boy.”

“Fuck you. I’m a rebel.” He was smiling, pride shooting through him. Aglionby had never been right for him. Not once bit. College was different. They appreciated his shit-stirring, enjoyed the heated debates he brought up in class, wanted him to be argumentative and questions everything. He’d already been invited to join three separate study groups. “Anyway, I just wanted to tell someone.”

Noah’s face fell. “You still haven’t told him.”

“Fuck no, why would I?”

“Because it’s Adam and you’re Ronan and you should tell him.” He took a bite of his burrito and continued, “And because if he finds out about this from someone else, it’s gonna break his heart, you not trusting him.”

“I do trust him.”

“Just not with this?”

“Fuck you.”

Noah shrugged. Dark circles sat under his eyes and he was paler than usual. The bruise-like scar was more prominent on his cheekbone. “I just think you should tell him. I don’t understand why you haven’t.”

“It’s just…” Ronan shrugged, unable to express the empty part of him he’d never been able to replace after he’d lost his parents and then himself. Something in him had faded away and he was sure of who he was, he was, but it felt like it was built on unsteady scaffolding sometimes. Each comment from his teachers, his brothers, his friends, tore some more of it away. Learning had only become something he was good at in the last few years and he was already miles behind his friends. “I want to tell him… I do…” He shook his head and picked at a piece of chicken on his silver foil. “I can’t. The words won’t come.” He bit his bracelets, frustrated with himself. “It’s mine anyway and I don't have to fuicking tell anyone about it.”

Noah smiled, cheeks expanded with food. “I’m not pushing you, man. Just trying to starve off a disaster.”

“Thanks.” He bit his burrito and chewed slowly. “You okay, man? You look less than usual.”

“It’s nothing.” At Ronan’s glare, he said, “Nightmares. Couple flashbacks. Saw some kids skateboarding earlier, and it’s such a fucking thing, isn’t it? Because I fucking loved skateboarding, oh and you know, not having my face half smashed in.” He was breathing heavily.

Ronan knew better than to touch him. “I can go skateboarding with you if you want.”

“Wait, really?”

“It’s a trigger and we need to untrigger you. Check with you therapist, see what she says.”

“I might have a panic attack.”

“Oh, I’m fucking scared.” He rolled his eyes and kept his face blank and unimpressed, but inside his heart was hurtinghurtinghurting. “Remember we built that skate ramp at The Barns, and you fell, and broke your wrist, and mom had a fucking conniption?”

Noah laughed. It was weak, and scared, but it was a laugh. “Fuck. I haven’t thought about that in forever.” He took a thready breath. “Sometimes I wished I’d never met him.”

“If it helps Noah, I always wish you hadn’t met him.” He reached across the table and squeezed his hand. “Anything you need, man. You know that, right? Anything you need.”

“Thanks.” He wiped his eyes. “Now stop being a loser and eat your food.”

“Fuck off,” Ronan replied with a snarl, but he was grinning, and Noah was too, so he counted it as a win. “Tell old lady stories.”

Noah laughed this time. “Wait until I tell you about Mrs Doolove. Yes, that’s her actual name.”

***

Freshers week was actually two weeks long, and because it was the last Thursday, the SU was insane. Ronan was on the door with Paul the head bouncer, checking tickets and ID’s, signing in guests and stopping anyone who was too drunk. Summer warmth still carried on the air but the scent of beer and cigarettes was starting to give him a headache. Although it could have been the screaming freshmen and dudebros.

He was lost in a haze of concentration; ID, ticket, sign in book, repeat. Three hours left in his shift and he could not wait to crawl into bed with Adam.

“Lynch. Imagine seeing you here, fuckface.”

Ronan stiffened, shoulders tightening and hands in fists. “Kavinsky, long fucking time. Thought you were dead.”

“Hoped more like, am I right?” He wore a wife beater and dark jeans, a thick gold chain. The pale skin of his right arm thick with mottled scarring. It travelled the length of his arm, across his shoulder and up his neck, disappearing below the collar. “Miss me?”

Paul’s eyes were a heavy weight. Ronan took a deep, calming breath he’d learned from Noah and smiled. “Student ID?”

“Fuck no, I’m here with a friend.” He was bigger than Ronan remembered with a dangerous aura that made the people around him take a step back. Ronan had always known K’s dad was into something and now it looked like K was too. “Ah, here the fuckface is. Carruther, about fucking time.”

Tad walked up and smiled when he saw Ronan. “Lynch, how have you been? How’s marriage treating you?”

Kavinsky’s stared at him, eyes tracking down Ronan’s body in a way that was familiar and unwelcome. He stuttered on the ring. “Fuck me, Lynch. You get hitched. Who the fuck would want a fuck up like you? Gansey finally get you a leash?”

Ronan swallowed down the hot rage trailing over his skin like forest fires. “ID’s. Now.”

“Adam Parrish,” Tad answered, voice devoid of inflection. He handed him his student ID. “Apparently they were also dating in Aglionby.”

Ronan stared at him.

“I have my sources,” he replied to the look and pressed his ID into Ronan’s outstretched hand. “Do I need to sign him in somewhere?”

He handed him the sign-in sheet and gave the ID a glance. They were holding up the line but Ronan didn’t care. Unease settled over his skin like a sheen of light rain. He knew they hadn’t told Tad that detail. Hadn’t told anyone but the administrative department.

“Poor Boy?” K interrupted, handing Ronan his drivers licence. “And here I thought you were Gansey’s dog. Who fucking knew?” He took back his licence and leaned into Ronan. “Always thought it’d be me and you, Lynch.”

Ronan bristled and clamped down the urge to hit him. “K, back the fuck up. You cause any trouble tonight, either of you, and I’m banning you both.”

“I’m pretty certain you don’t have the authority,” Tad said, frowning as if insulted and handing back the sign in sheet. “I should really complain.”

“I’m pretty sure he does,” Paul replied. “Either get in or get out. You’re holding up the queue.”

K smiled his shark's grin and swaggered past them both. “See you soon, fuckface.”

It took a few minutes of mindless tasks to calm Ronan down. When he was sure he could talk without screaming, he picked up his walky. “Walker, you on radio?”

“Shoot.”

“Man, early twenties, white wife beater, thick gold chain, you see him?”

“Yup, he’s at the bar.”

“Keep your eye on him and make sure everyone else does too. Can’t be sure he’s dealing but he used to.”

“Will do, everyone here that?”

A round of affirmatives came back and Ronan relaxed slightly.

“You’re good at this, kid," Paul said, watching him with appraising eyes. "But if you need a minute, let me know.”

“Nah, I’m alright. Just a past I didn’t expect to come knocking. I’ll be grand.”

He managed to avoid seeing K and Tad for the rest of his shift. It was only when he was crawling into bed beside a sleeping Adam that it really hit him. He hadn’t thought about Kavinsky since he’d kidnapped Matthew on July fourth six years before. He’d gotten away with it; his dad had covered from him. All Ronan knew was he spent six months in a burns ward and then disappeared.

Ronan had hoped never to see him again.

It sat uneasily in his gut, the idea of Tad and K being friends, of Tad seeing the administrative records. He lay on his back, arms behind his head and stared at the ceiling. Worrying. Wondering.

“I can hear you thinking from here, Lynch,” Adam muttered, voice sleep-rough and slurred. “Go to sleep.” He rolled over and landed on his side, head bracketed on Ronan’s shoulder and arm slung across his chest. He tapped his head against Ronan’s arm until he wrapped it around his shoulders.

"Adam?" Ronan's heart was beating so hard he was sure Adam would feel it.

"Shush, it's fine. You're warm." Adam hummed. “Sleep. Be better in the morning.”

“Okay, Parrish,” he whispered, scared to break the spell of Adam’s body wrapped around his. “Night.”

He hummed again. “G'night.”

Ronan closed his eyes and listened to how Adam’s breathing evened out. He didn’t move, didn’t even shift. Just lay there and allowed himself to be held, letting the beat of Adam heart beneath his fingers wash away all the bad memories Kavinsky had stirred up. He fell asleep with his head buried in Adam’s hair.

Chapter Text

Sleep seeped away from Adam like water down a drain. Ronan’s warmth disappeared and cold air slipped under the blankets. Adam flopped onto his stomach, clinging to unconsciousness even as the light dragged him awake. Sleep would always be a precious commodity to him, hoarded like a dragon’s gold. Too long with too little made him greedy now that he had more time.

He could hear the hiss of bacon. Coffee scented the air. He thought maybe he smelt pancakes as well. Ronan was up early and had decided to make him breakfast. Something warm curled in behind his heart, settling there. It was too early and he was too in love to fight it. He dragged himself from the bed and went to shower. It took a long moment under the warm water for him to swallow down the words on his tongue and quiet the rhythm of his heart insisting he tell him tell him tell him. He spat them out with his mouthwash.

“It disgusts me that you brush your fucking teeth before you eat. I want you to know that,” Ronan greeted him when he sat on the stool at the kitchen counter. “You are going to ruin this perfectly decent breakfast I got up early to cook you.”

“Whatever, Lynch. Give me coffee please.”

Ronan handed him a cup with a smirk. He was dressed in faded bottoms and a loose sleeveless t-shirt. Muscles bunched along his arms. His bare feet tapped along the floor. The hooks of his tattoo looked softer in the early morning light.

Adam ached.

"Aren’t you a grumpy pants in the morning?” Ronan said after Adam had gulped down half the coffee, wincing at the aftertaste of his mouthwash.

“Grumpy pants?"Adam laughed. "Seriously?”

“Whatever, man. I’m fucking adorable.” He took a bite of bacon and chewed with his mouth open.

Adam threw a tea towel on him.

He caught it easily. “Rude.”

“What are you doing up so early anyway?” Light was barely streaming in the windows. Adam’s alarm wasn’t set to go off for another half an hour.

“Couldn’t sleep.” Ronan bit his lip, jaw tensing like he was trying to decide what to say. “I… I saw Kavinsky last night. It just brought up some bad memories, I guess. He just strolled up the the SU like he had all the time in the world.” The words fell from his lips like bullets; harsh and violent

Adam wasn’t the intended target though so he didn’t flinch back. “Did he do anything?”

“He was with Tad.”

“Okay?"

“Tad mentioned about us being high school boyfriends, and I didn’t fucking tell him that, did you?”

Adam shook his head.

“Fuck. Parrish, he’s going to rat us out. He’s going to fuck with you just because you weren’t fucking interested, the absolute prick. And with Kavinsky too. What the fuck is he doing with that fuckface?” Ronan was pacing the kitchen, and Adam knew he lost somewhere in the horrible fourth of july when he'd almost lost Matthew, and here in the present, worrying about Adam. “We have to… I dunno.... Do something....”

Adam approached him slowly; stepping in front of him and stopping his pacing with a gentle hand to his shoulder. “Ronan, it’s going to be okay. I promise. Kavinsky isn’t going anywhere near any of us. Don’t even worry about Tad. He was always a bit slow on the uptake and he never caught up with us.” Adam rubbed his hands down Ronan’s bare arms and pulled him into a hug. He fell into Adam’s chest, tucking his face into his neck. Adam felt as the tension left his body and Ronan allowed him to hold him up. “You’re okay. I’ve got you.”

“Fuck, K,” he muttered in his neck, breath heating Adam’s skin. “Fuck him and his fucking bullshit.”

Adam ran his hands up and down the lines of his back. “They’re not going to do shit to us. They didn’t manage in high school and they won’t manage now.”

“Okay, Parrish.” He tucked his head in for one last moment before stepping back and rubbing his face. “Sorry for ruining breakfast.

Adam laughed. “Fuck breakfast.”

“Cursing this early in the morning, Parrish? What would your fancy Harvard lecturers say?”

“Fuck Harvard.”

Ronan laughed bright and elastic. “Thanks, man.”

Adam shrugged. The laugh had been the goal and some of his worries evaporated with the sound. “Go shower, man. You stink and then finish your breakfast and go back to bed. I know you barely slept last night.” He smoothed out the skin beneath Ronan’s eyes before he could think to stop himself. It was soft under the rough pad of his fingertip. It made him ache when Ronan’s eye’s fluttered shut and he leaned forward. “I’ll heat up your food, okay?”

Ronan nodded without opening his eyes and shuffled off, exhaustion pulling his shoulders down in a weak curve.

Adam sat back down to eat his breakfast, listening to the noises in the bathroom; the rush of water and the break that he knew meant it was hitting Ronan’s skin. He focused on his breakfast after that. Ronan looked better when he returned in black bottoms and a bare chest. Adam handed him his heated up breakfast and fled to the bedroom to pack his bag for college and calm down the pulsing red of his face. He was just about to leave when Ronan followed him in and climbed into bed.

“You sure you have to leave? I sleep better when you’re here.”

Adam forced down the groan at that show of trust. “I wish I could, Lynch, believe me. But I gotta keep a clean record if I want to be number one in the class.”

“Of course you do, Parrish.” His face was buried into a pillow and his voice was heavy with sleep. “See, you tonight,” he mumbled.

“Bye, Lynch,” Adam replied and forced himself to leave the apartment.

***

When his phone buzzed as he was leaving the final lecture of the day, Adam assumed it was Ronan replying to the three messages he’d already sent checking in. The unfamiliar number jarred him for a second as he tried to figure out who could be ringing him, and whether it was a scam, and whether it was his dad finally deciding today was the day he wanted to contact him again. He forced all the latent fear and panic away, and swiped the green button anyway, chastising himself for the burst of anxiety playing with his heart.

“Hello?” He hated that his voice sounded hoarse and small.

“Adam? Hey, it’s Tad.” Over the crystal clear line, he was breathy. “I thought we could meet for coffee if you’re finished in class.”

Ronan’s face, lost and scared, flickered through his mind. Tad and Kavinsky had shaken him so much last night and Adam hated them for it. He kept his voice neutral when he replied, “Sure, Tad. Starbucks at half six suit?” Adam wanted to know what the hell he was up to and asking was always the easiest way to go about getting a straight answer. Especially from someone like Tad whose spine was made of daddy's money and soft living.

“Brilliant, perfect. I’ll see you in a bit.”

“Okay, Tad. Bye.” Adam hung up and pushed down the stinging anger. He would not lose control. He hated it hated it hated it. He would not become his father. He would protect Ronan though because Ronan deserved it. He thumbed through his contacts and called Gansey as a distraction. “Hey, man. You and the others about tomorrow? Thought it’d be nice to have you all over to the apartment. Eat pizza. Play games.”

“Adam. I would love to. Do you want me to organise everyone else?”

“Thanks, that would help a lot. Turns out MBA’s are a lot more demanding than you’d think.”

Gansey laughed. “Almost like Harvard has a reputation to uphold.”

“Almost.” Adam grinned. “I’ll see about six tomorrow, yeah?” He hung up to Gansey’s goodbyes and dialled Ronan’s number. He arrived at the starbucks and waited outside until Ronan answered. “You’re not in work tomorrow night, right?”

“Fuck no. Walker can get fucked if he thinks I’m working weekends. Why?”

Adam could hear food sizzling in the background. “You cooking?”

“Dinner. You back soon? It’ll be ready by half seven.”

“I’ll be back by then. I’m meeting Tad.”

Ronan dropped something loud and clattering. “Fuck. Ow.” Rushing water followed. “Fuck. Well that’s ruined. Why the fuck are you meeting that prick?”

“Because if he thinks he can mess with you, he has another thing coming.”

“Been a while since I saw your protective streak, Parrish.”

“Yeah well, you’re pretty good at fighting your own battles but this is my fault and he can…” Adam cut off when he saw Tad walking up the street, waving for his attention like a puppy. “Hey Tad.” He laughed at the curses coming from Ronan’s end. “I promise I’ll be home for dinner, sweetie.” Tad was watching him, eyes taking in every detail. Adam wanted to hit him. “I love you too. I’ll show you how much when I get home.”

Tad’s eyes widened.

Ronan laughed, “Oh fuck you, Parrish. Be careful, you dick,” he said, hanging up, but Adam could hear the smile in his voice.

Adam tucked his phone away and smiled. “Sorry, still in the newlywed stage. Gansey thinks we’re disgusting.”

“Oh so Gansey knows?”

He quirked an eyebrow. “He was at the wedding? Everyone was.”

“Yeah, yes. Of course.” He held open the door. “What can I get you?”

“An americano. Small.” He thought about getting his own but the queue was long and the thought of making small talk with Tad was enough to set his teeth vibrating. “I’ll keep this table.”

While Tad got the coffee, Adam text Ronan about the others coming over tomorrow. He didn’t get a reply but he didn’t expect one either. Ronan answering the phone was a victory most days and he sounded way better than he had this morning. Heat raced across his skin again. Fuck K. Fuck Tad.

“Coffee and I got you a muffin. Figured you’d need the sugar after class. How you finding it so far?”

“Not so bad." He picked up his coffee and ignored the muffin. "I’m pretty on top of the readings and have done all the assignments so far. What about you? How’s second year?”

“So much more intense than first year. Definitely struggling a bit.” He went into a long winded description of his classes, mentioning some of the lecturers Adam already had. His knee was resting against Adam’s under the table, and no matter how many times Adam shifted, it somehow found its way back again. “SO you and Ronan, eh? How’d that come about?”

“Started in high school and here we are.” He played with his empty coffee cup. “You and Kavinsky? How’d that come about?”

Tad jerked and sloshed coffee down his hand. “You know about that?”

“Ronan told me.”

“Oh.”

Irritation flashed over Adam’s skin. “We’re married. We do tell each other things.”

Tad nodded. “Me and K, we’re just friends. He’s…” He shrugged. “He’s crazy about Ronan though.” The gleam in his eye eye made it seem like he thought this was new information. “Him and Ronan also had a thing in high school.”

Adam couldn’t help snorting. “No, Tad. No, they didn’t.”

“Honestly, I don’t know what Ronan told you. Maybe it was happening at the same time and he didn’t want you to know. I’d hate to think he was cheating on you but...”

“Alright, well, I’m out of here.” Adam stood, rage a boiling heat beneath his skin. He leaned forward and practiced his best Ronan impression. It was easier than imagining he looked like his dad. “I don’t know what you’re trying to do here, Tad, but this is my marriage you're talking about. Showing it some damn respect would be appreciated.” He took his bag and left before Tad could even reply.

***

“I hate him,” Adam shouted, slamming the apartment door. He threw his bag against the wall and gripped his hair with shaking hands. “The absolute nerve of him.”

Ronan stuck his head into the hall. “So the coffee date went well then?”

“It was not a date,” he ground out. “Like I would ever date him. I have you waiting at home and he implies, he implies…” He shook his head, trying to put some order on his thoughts and leaned against the grey wall. The lights were off in the hallway and the only illumination was from the kitchen. “Why would I ever choose him over you? How can he even think that would be something I’d do. You’re my husband. You’re my best friend.” He took a shuddering breath, hatinghatinghating how much control he’d lost. “Fuck.” Trembling fear raced under his skin at what he was revealing but the anger was more powerful.

“C’mere.” Ronan walked over to him, pulled him off the wall. He wrapped his arms around him and ran a hand up and down his back. “I made mac and cheese. Homemade. Extra, extra cheese.”

Adam smiled into his neck. “Sorry. I just… He’s such a prick is all.”

“Yeah, man. He is. But you’re home now. We can shut the world out and pretend it doesn’t exist for a few hours, yeah?”

“Yes,” he replied, pushing off him. “I’m gonna shower and get into my pjs.”

“Good. I’ll dish up dinner. I downloaded a bunch of terrible action movies. You get first pick.”

He paused at the doorway, knocking once on the doorjamb. “Lynch, thanks.”

Ronan shrugged and went back to the kitchen. “Hurry up or I’ll eat all your food.”

Adam was still smiling when he got into the shower.

Chapter Text

Darkness still drenched the bedroom when Ronan’s eyes snapped open.

He blinked and licked his lips, unsure what had woken him. Insomnia was still a frequent visitor, but he’d done a lot of work on his sleeping when he went to therapy a few years back, and it wasn’t nearly as bad. He blinked a few times to clear the last fuzzy remains of his dream- lying in the woods, trees whispering above him and the thick rot of autumn scenting the air, Adam's hand in his, easy light making him glow- and tried to figure out what had dragged him free.

Adam whimpered beside him.

He glanced over; Adam was curled up in a ball facing Ronan, his arms were crossed like he was waiting for an attack and his lips were trembling. He scrunched his eyebrows together and whimpered again. Tears gathered in his eyelashes, glinting in the moonlight.

“Shit.” Ronan reached out, scared and unsure. “Parrish,” he whispered. “Parrish, wake up.” He didn’t touch him. Just left his hand hovering in the air between them. “Adam.”

Adam gasped awake like he’d been punched, shooting up. His head swivelled back and forth for a few seconds before he took another uneasy breath. “He’s not here. He’s not here. He’s not here. I’m okay. I’m okay.” He drew his knees to his chest and wrapped his arms around them, resting his head on top of them and still mumbling. “I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay.”

“Adam?” Ronan lay a hand on his back but grabbed it back when Adam gave a full body flinch in response. “Are you okay, man?”

Adam turned, eyes wild and fearful. “Don’t tell them I get nightmares, okay?”

“Tell who?”

“The others?" The words were barely a whisper and he was still panting from the dream. "Please, Ronan.”

Ronan’s heart leapt when Adam said his name. “Why?”

“Because they finally stopped looking at me the way you’re looking at me now.”

“Parrish…” He tried to school whatever expression he was making off his face.

“I’m fine. I promise. It was just a nightmare. It was just a nightmare,” he repeated, loosening his muscles as he did. Almost as if he was unlocking some part of himself again. “Just, Lynch. Please.”

“I promise not to tell anyone. You can trust me.” He laid back down and opened his arms. “C’mere.”

Adam chewed on his bottom lip and wiped a rough hand over his glittering eyes. “You sure?”

“Cold, man. You make me warm.”

Like he was waiting for the confirmation, Adam fell into his arms and curled himself around Ronan’s body. “Will you…” He took Ronan’s hand and ran it through his hair like that was easier than saying the words.

When he took his hand away, Ronan kept repeating the motion. “Course, man. Anything for you.”

The next time Ronan woke up sunlight was streaming through the open curtains and Adam was gone. Sighing, he dragged himself from bad and wandered around the apartment. No Adam. Sighing again, he got into the shower and let the hot water drown out his thoughts for a few minutes. He’d hadn’t seen Adam that upset in a very long time. He didn’t really think he still had nightmares. Didn’t realise that he ever really suffered from them. Ronan was always the one waking them up when he stayed over in St. Agnes. He ran a hand over his head, noting it needed to be shaved again, and heaved out a breath.

Adam had trusted him with something real last night.

Ronan still hadn’t told him about college.

There was no reason for it. Not really. He knew he fucking should but the words wouldn’t fucking form. They sat in his throat, choking him until he gave up, and cracked some joke about modern education. He thumped his head against the cold tiles and let the hot water pour down the tight muscles on his back. Fuck it. Adam trusted him. He could trust Adam. He would trust Adam and he'd tell him. As soon as it got home.

“Fuck it,” he said spitting out the water that got into his mouth. “Fuck it.” He got out and dried himself off, nerves bubbling in his stomach like stew.

The front door slammed shut. “Lynch?”

“In the bathroom.”

“I bought coffee and bagels. Come get them before they get cold.”

He got dressed, tripping over his own discarded pjs and fell into the kitchen. He gave Adam the finger when he snorted in amusement and stole half a bagel from his plate.

“There are literally more bagels right there.”

"Yours taste better.” He smiled and chewed on the bagel. “Mmmmm stolen.”

“Asshole.”

“Why thank you, husband, I am.”

Adam threw a rolled up napkin at him.

“Do you want to talk about last night?” The easy atmosphere dissolved like dew in the morning heat. “Because there something I wanted to…”

“Can we not do this?” Adam took a sip of coffee and refused to meet Ronan’s eyes. “I know what you’re going to say; I should get therapy. I should talk to someone. Gansey has said it all. Can we just not?”

“Sure, Parrish." Frustrated, he tried again. "It’s just I have to tell…”

“You don’t have to tell anyone, Lynch. You promised.” Sunlight highlighted Adam’s sepia coloured skin. He looked furiocious and brave. “Lynch, I can trust you with this, right?”

Ronan swallowed away the desperate need to stride across the kitchen and press his lips to Adam’s. He swallowed down some coffee. “You can trust me, Adam. I won’t tell a soul and I won’t bring it up again.”

Something in Adam's posture went soft when Ronan used his name. “Okay, thanks. Okay.” He buttered another bagel with cream cheese and handed half of it to Ronan. “So, the rest of them will be here about six. I’m going to spend the day in the library. Do you want me to pick up food on my way back?”

“Nah, if I’m stuck here alone all day, I guess I can make something for everyone.”

“You trying to guilt me, Lynch?”

“Is it working, Parrish?”

“Nope.” He grinned and popped the last of the bagel into his mouth. “Not even a little bit.”

“Fuck you and fuck you very much.” He smiled at the glint of triumph in Adam’s eyes. “I’m doing a load of washing by the way. Throw your shit in the hall before you leave and I guess I’ll do yours too.”

“I know you loved me,” Adam said as he pushed away from the table. “Knew it.”

Ronan forced out a laugh that sounded fake even to his ears and kicked himself. He should have made Adam listen to him, hear what he was trying to say. Not that he tried very hard. Filling the sink with a rush of hot water, he tried not to slam the dishes together in frustration. It shouldn't be this hard to get the words out. Adam called a quick goodbye and the front door shut.

When he was sure the apartment was empty, he started muttering over the scrubbing. “Hi Parrish. I got my GED, degree and now I’m doing a masters. Oh, why didn’t I fucking trust you? Because I’m fucked and clearly suffering some kind of middle child inadequacy loser syndrome thing.” He washed the plates viciously, water sloping down the cupboards and his jeans. He thought about the fight in the SU, Adam apologising after Ronan had reacted so badly to the suggestion he take courses when he was already doing a damn masters. “What is your actually fucking problem?”

He didn't have an answer for himself.

It wasn’t like he was worth trusting; he slept beside Adam every night and pretended it was just friendship. Ronan had loved him from the moment he saw him on a dusty road in rural Virginia. It wasn’t Adam’s fault he never felt the same way. It wasn’t his fault Ronan insisted he tell him about different people he had dated, insisted they remained best friends because without Adam, Ronan’s life was a little more grey.

“Shit.”

He dragged his hand over his skull and laid his head down on the wet counter. He couldn’t fucking tell him. Adam would never get it. He wouldn't understand. Ronan would lose him and he couldn’t do that again. He'd almost lost him when he kissed him. Adam had gone weird and uncomfortable and they barely survived it. Ronan barely survived it. And sure more of the co-dependency had been talked out of him in therapy, but that just meant all that was left was love.

Too much fucking love.

“Shit,” he whispered to the empty apartment. “Shit.”

***

“Finally we get to see the apartment,” Henry cheered as he pushed past Ronan and into the hallway. “Oh, it’s small. Quaint almost.” He was dragging his fingers along the grey wall, staring in interest at the ugly art that came with the apartment.

“Shut up, Henry." Noah bumped his shoulder against Ronan's Ashe walked by. "Not all of us have rich parents to bankroll every one of our crazy fads.”

“Noah, I do not have fads. I have styles. I have moments. I create…”

Ronan tuned them out as Gansey arrived. “Dick.”

Gansey rolled his eyes and pumped his fist. “Good to see you too, Ronan. I like your place.”

“All Adam." He leaned back to let him past. "I just live here.”

Blue punched him in the shoulder and grinned. “Asshole.”

“Maggot.”

“How ya coping?” She was dressed in some sort of feathered and multicoloured monstrosity. He had to blink more that once to take it all in. "I made it," she said following his eyes. "Don't you love it?"

Ronan rolled his eyes. “Yes. I love it." He smirked. "And I'm coping fine. Piece of piss. Adam’s in the kitchen.”

“He’s not cooking, is he?”

“No, maggot. He’s just making sure nothing burns and that you all have alcohol. Now fuck off and get in there.” He shut the door and leaned against it for a minute, eyes shut. He felt the heat as Blue leaned beside him.

“Have you told him yet?”

Ronan choked, scared she somehow knew about college. “Tell him what?”

She was almost whispering when she replied, “That you’re madly in love with him?”

“Been there, done that.” He pushed off the door and took her hand. “We all know how that turned out. I made you cookies,” he said changing the subject.

“Bribery,” she muttered but allowed herself be pulled along by him. “Adam, how is the MBA treating you?” She asked when they stepped into the sitting room.

Adam, sitting on a kitchen seat, groaned and rolled his eyes.

“That bad?” She pulled him up into a hug. “Make sure Ronan is treating you well and making you all sorts of food.”

Noah laughed. “We all know Ronan is the only one who can cook in this relationship.”

Henry snorted.

“Friendship," Noah backtracked under Ronan's glare. "I meant friendship. Anyway, what's for dinner?”

Gansey, ignoring the conversation and perusing their bookshelves, tapped some of the spines in interest. “I didn’t know you were interested in Theology, Adam.”

He ducked into the kitchen and heard Adam explain those books were Ronan's. He checked the lasagna, and opened a bottle of red wine, half an ear out to make sure the conversation had moved on by the time he ducked out with glasses. “Who’s drinking?”

“I’ll have a glass before dinner but then I’ll have to stop. I drove,” Gansey answered and Ronan didn’t miss the considering look he was giving him.

“More for me,” Noah called and started pouring. "I mean us. All of us," he cackled as Henry and Blue protested.

Gansey cornered him in the kitchen while Ronan was dishing up dessert. “Those are college level books you’re reading, Ronan. Some of them are master's level. The Ancient Classics books; most of them I haven’t even read.”

“Do you have a point, Dick?" Ronan had been waiting for this all evening but he still felt a nervous tic bunching under his skin. "Or are you just stating facts about my reading collection?”

“So you’ve read them all?”

Ronan shrugged and scooped more ice cream into Adam’s bowl. “Top shelf is my current to be read pile. The rest I’ve read.”

“Look, I know we’ve had this conversation to death but I really think you’re wasting your talent. You are so smart…”

“Shut the fuck up, Gansey.” Ronan glanced over at the sitting room but no one was close enough to hear the conversation. “Look, not that it’s any of your fucking business, but I have my GED, I have a degree in fucking Latin and Ancient Classics, and I’m currently a fucking student in fucking Harvard getting my damn masters in Latin and Theology,” he whispered the words in a low angry voice, ignoring the dread bubbling in his stomach. Once he started he couldn't stop the truth falling from his lips. Yet he still couldn't tell Adam. Fuck. “So just fucking leave it for once, would you?”

“I don’t…" Gansey was staring at him, mouth hanging open and eyes wide. "Why didn’t you tell any of us?”

“Noah knows.”

“And Adam?”

Ronan shrugged. “Not yet.”

“Your brothers?”

“Fuck no and don’t you dare tell anyone. Not even Blue.”

“What?” Gansey shouted. "Are you joking? This is bad. Even for you."

Before he could reply, a fist tapped against the door jamb. “Everything okay?” Adam asked, staring between them, eyebrows drawn together.

The room behind him was silent.

“We’re fine, Adam. Sorry." Gansey replied, voice cheerful. Like he hadn't just been shouting at Ronan. "Have we decided on a game?”

Adam looked between them for another moment and shrugged. “Not yet. Think they’re more interested in getting drunk and watching youtube. Come back in when you’re ready.” It was phrased like a request but sounded like a order to stop fighting.

“We’ll talk about this tomorrow,” Gansey hissed before he followed Adam through the door.

“Fucking looking forward to it.” Ronan rolled his eyes and looked down at the dessert. “Fucking great.”

***

The cafe was every sort of hipster nightmare that Ronan had no interest in being part of. It was full of man-buns and oversized clothes, folk music played overhead and the specials board was full of concoctions he'd have to be paid to try. There were too many giant books and Mac computers. All status symbols. Ronan bit back his curses. Fucking hipsters.

Already irritated by the text summoning him at this godforsaken hour of noon, he fell into the seat across from Gansey, glared at him, and spread his long legs wide, kicking the chair opposite him. He slumped back, crossing his arms and tucking his chin into his jumper collar, because fuck Gansey and fuck alcohol and fuck Gansey again for making him have this conversation hungover.

“I ordered you coffee and some toast." Gansey examined him and Ronan felt seventeen again. "I figured you wouldn't be in the best mood.”

They’d stayed up drinking their way through all of Adam's and Ronan's alcohol while queuing up as many weird videos as they could find. Eventually Gansey had dragged everyone home about half five when Henry had suggested they start making their own youtube videos because we’re so funny, you guys. Well at least I am..

He sipped the coffee and chewed the stupid toast. It did help his protesting stomach. Not that he was telling Gansey that. “Ask what you’ve got to, man.”

“Why’d you lie to us?”

“I didn’t. I just never told you the truth.”

“Quite the distinction.” The coffee machine released steam in the background, burping and shouting in the din of the busy cafe. “Why wouldn’t you tell us?”

Ronan heard the unspoken question; why didn’t you tell me.? “I got my GED to piss off Dec. And then it arrived and…” He shrugged and grinned something sharp. “So I decided to do my degree online. You were on at me at that point and so were the others. Gansey, you have no fucking clue what you’re like when you want to get your way, when you think you’re fucking right. Between you and Dec, shit man. You’d have taken it from me. Made it about you.” As he said the words he knew it was true. “It wouldn’t be my degree anymore. It’d be how you convinced me to do a degree and how Dec disagrees with my subjects and how to keep me going and what are my grades and how am I affording it. I just wanted something that was mine. Just for a little while.”

Gansey was quiet, rubbing his thumb back and forth over his lip. Even in the cafe, Ronan could get a hint of mint from him. “I just wanted…”

“I know what you wanted,” Ronan hissed. “But this wasn’t about what you wanted. It was about what I wanted.”

“Why tell Noah?”

“He caught me during finals. Needed to rant. Plus it’s Noah.”

Gansey tilted his head.

“Noah would protect any secret I told him to death. He is… He’s Noah.”

Gansey grinned. “He’d still tease you about it.”

“Yeah, he’s made my life hell being the only one who knows.”

This made the smile drop from Gansey’s face. “Why not Adam?”

“He doesn’t think I’m smart enough. Wait,” he said to the storm that threatened Gansey’s face. “I don’t mean that. I mean he’s Adam and I’m just me.” He shrugged, hated feeling like all of his stupid fucking insecurities were written right there across his skin. “Nothing I do will stand up to what he’s already done. What does it matter if I get a degree when he’s after escaping his da and going Aglionby and getting a degree and… shit, man. He’s Adam. I didn’t know how to get the words out. I still don't.”

“You have to tell him. You have to tell everyone.” He leaned forward, face serious and Ronan had a sudden flash of Blue telling him all the different versions of Gansey. This was politician Gansey. “He trusts you the most of all of us. If he finds out without you telling him, from someone else, it’ll kill him to think you don’t trust him back.”

Panic burned through his chest. “He’s not going to find out because you’re not going to tell him,” he hissed.

“I’m not,” Gansey acquiesced. “But there are other people on campus that know he’s your husband and know you’re in lectures. Someone will tell him.”

Tad. Kavinsky. Anyone he worked with. “Shit.”

“Tell him, Ronan," Gansey urged. "It’s the right thing to do.”

Chapter Text

Before Adam knew it, September bled into October with wilting red and orange leaves, bare branches and too much rain. Sunsets burned through his lecture halls with golden beams that disappeared into navy gloom and dark shadows too early. Walking home meant the chill bite of air scented with the rot of autumn. Halloween came and went with Ronan's complaints,what the fuck is a sexy tree, Parrish? What the actual fuck?, and too many group assignments, why are they all so incompetent, Lynch? What the actual fuck?.

When he looked up next, Thanksgiving was only a week away, and he'd been married to Ronan for three months.

"Declan wants to come with Matthew."

Adam shut the front door. "What?"

"He wants them to come for Thanksgiving." Ronan's head disappeared back into the kitchen. "He doesn't know about, ya know, us. Married or whatever."

"So are they coming? I assumed they would." He dumped his bag under the coat rack, slipping off his shoes and coat. "But not gonna lie, no idea how to make a Thanksgiving dinner."

Ronan snorted; the sound echoing from the kitchen. "Yeah, Parrish. I'm aware. I have made dinner the last five years."

"You invited me to dinner," he said as he joined Ronan in the kitchen. "In fact, if I remember right, you insisted I come for Thanksgiving, because only losers spend the holidays alone."

Ronan squinted at the impression. "Fuck off."

"So are they coming or not?"

"I dunno, what do you think?"

Adam hopped up on the kitchen counter and stole a piece of carrot Ronan was chopping. "We've had dinner with them for the last seven years, so yeah I think they should come."

Ronan hid his smile into the chopping board, but Adam still saw it, and the expression warmed up the space under his ribs owned exclusively by his best friend. He stole another carrot, wincing when Ronan slapped his knuckles with the knife.

"Stop stealing my vegetables and go shower or something, you stink."

"Think you're smelling yourself there, jerk." Adam laughed, jumping off the counter and running to the bedroom with only Ronan's curses following him. He leaned against the closed door and grinned. He was screwed, but it felt so good, it almost wasn't worth complaining about.

***

"What the fuck is going on with you and my brother?" Declan asked, not bothering with niceties after Adam picked up his call. "And why the fuck did I have to hear about it from Tad Carrathers?"

Tad fucking Carrathers.

"What exactly did Tad say?" Adam asked carefully, closing his eyes and leaning his head back against the couch.

Ronan was out somewherenot here. Adam had arrived home early because of a cancelled lecture to an empty apartment and now Ronan wasn't returning his texts and he was bored. He should be reading ahead or planning his next paper but tomorrow was Thanksgiving. He was off for four days and he kinda just wanted to do nothing but order takeaway and watch movies with Ronan.

And then Declan had called.

Declan broke the heavy silence hanging between them. "He rang to congratulate me on my new brother in law."

"Oh." Shit.

"Oh? That's it?" Declan snorted in an uncanny imitation of Ronan. Adam did not inform of the resemblance. "I don't like being caught off guard like that, Adam."

Adam's heart was beating so fast, he could feel the strain of his pulse in his neck. "And what did you say?"

"I thanked him and moved the conversation on. I'm not an idiot. Networking without all the relevant information is something I'm practiced in." He huffed out an annoyed breath. "I figured the two of you had cooked up another stupid fucking mess."

"He's helping me out. My scholarship got changed and I needed to be married to get my housing and food support." Adam sighed. "I know it was stupid."

"Jesus Mary, Adam. You know we would've helped you out with that. You're practically family at this point."

Adam's stomach clenched pleasantly with the words. Tears filled his eyes and he swiped them away with the heel of his hand. "Declan…"

"Look, I don't care what shit my brother has gotten himself into this time, but fuck, Adam, don't screw him over again. Don't you fucking dare."

Adam swallowed on a suddenly dry throat. "I won't. I promise."

Silence stretched between them for a long moment. "I don't trust Carrathers."

"Me neither, Dec. Me neither."

Rustling paper and the tapping of a laptop echoed down the phone. "Me and Matthew will be over about noon tomorrow. Make sure there's pecan pie this year or Matthew said he's going to riot."

"Think Ronan already has it made. Just needs to be put in the oven." Adam ran a hand down his face. "Thanks for covering for us."

"What's family for? We'll see you both tomorrow." He tapped some papers and coughed. His voice was soft when he spoke again. "Please don't hurt him again, okay?"

He hung up before Adam could reply. He put his phone back on the coffee table and stared at the dark screen with againagainagain echoing is his thoughts.

***

Ronan's alarm went off at six am on Thanksgiving morning.

"Are you joking?" Adam flipped onto his stomach and moaned into his pillow. "Why are you doing this to me?"

Ronan ran a callused hand down his back, goosebumps tracing the touch. Adam fought away the shudder and buried his face further into the pillow to hide his blush.

"Because, man, there's cooking to be done. I'll get you coffeeeeee," he sang into Adam's ear. "Come help meeeeeeeeee?"

"Fine." Adam coughed, voice rough. "Bring the coffee to bed and I'll get up after to help."

"Fuck yes. I love Thanksgiving." Ronan jumped up, and bounced on the bed, before hitting Adam's head and leaving with a bright, elastic laugh. "Coffee coming up."

Adam groaned into his pillow and desperately tried to forget the feel of Ronan's hand on his back.

A few minutes later Ronan returned with coffee and a toasted bagel. "Don't say I never do anything for you."

Adam smiled at him over the rim of his cup. "I'll come help you cook soon."

"Great. Dinner is at two so we need to make sure everything's done before the others arrive."

"Dec called me yesterday."

Ronan froze. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"You got home late and you were tired. I just didn't want to add more stress." Adam ran a hand through his hair. "He knows about the marriage thing."

Ronan sat down heavily on the bottom of the bed. Hot coffee spilled into Adam's fingers and he had to stick them into his mouth to ease the burn. He didn't miss how Ronan's eyes followed the movement or how a pretty pink stain coloured his harsh cheekbones. Adam glanced down at his cup.

A voice sounded suspiciously like Declan whispered againagainagain. He took his fingers out of his mouth and wrapped them around the warm cup, gulping. Shit.

Ronan's voice was rough when he asked, "Who told him?"

"Fucking guess."

"Carrathers?"

Adam nodded.

"I'm getting really sick of this, Parrish. Really fucking sick of him butting in." Tension roped along his shoulders pulling them tight. The lines of his tattoos looked sharper in the dull light of the rising sun. "I bet K's behind it too."

"They're not gonna do anything to us, Ronan."

Like the magic word he knew it was, Ronan's name unlocked the tight muscles. "They're already doing something, Adam. They're already fucking with us."

He sounded so miserable that Adam put his cup down and scouted forward, wrapping his arm around his shoulders. "Lynch, it's Thanksgiving and your brother covered for us. That is a Thanksgiving miracle so stop moping and go make some damn pie. Matthew'll be pissed if there's no pecan pie. Dec said he was threatening to riot."

"No such thing as a Thanksgiving miracle, you loser." He nudged Adam's chest with his shoulder, and then stood suddenly, pulling Adam up with him. "Hey look, you're up. You can help me cook now."

Adam huffed out a laugh and grabbed his bagel. "C'mon then, Lynch. Tell me what to do."

***

Matthew plopped down on the couch and dropped his head onto Adam's shoulder. "I'm going to die."

"I did warn you not to eat the whole pie," Ronan called from the kitchen where him and Declan were washing the dishes and whispering furiously.

"You better be talking about my Christmas present in there."

"Oh fuck off, Matt," Declan laughed but even Adam could hear the strain in it.

Matthew glanced up at Adam where his head was still on his shoulder. "Should we intervene?"

"Nah, man. Let them talk it out. What do ya wanna watch?"

"Grinch."

"It's November."

Matthew poked his side. "Thanksgiving is over hence Christmas movies." He grabbed the remote off the couch and flopped back down on Adam's shoulder. "Make TV happen."

Adam laughed, well used to a comatose Matthew on the holidays. He switched on the TV and grabbed his phone to cast the Grinch onto the screen. Declan and Ronan appeared just as the movie was starting with beers. Ronan handed them out and paused the TV.

"Hey!"

"Matt, I gotta tell you something."

Adam's heart started pounding when he saw the serious look on both their faces. He played with a loose thread on the armrest of the couch, comforted by the easy heat of Matthew at his side.

Ronan leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and clasping his hands together. "Adam and me, we're married."

"Wait, what? Really?" Matthew jumped up, spilling beer everywhere. "Guys, this is amazing. I mean everyone saw it coming from a mile off because obviously." He gestured between the two of them with a bright smile.

Adam's heart sank, watching the flurry of emotions passing over Ronan's face. "Matt, wait, it's not like that. It's for my scholarship."

Matthew's face fell and Declan gave Adam a very significant look. He was pretty sure it meant don't screw him over either. He nodded and opened his mouth to explain but Ronan beat him to it.

"Kid, Adam needed my help, and what was I meant to do, not help him?"

"But Ronan what about…" He trailed off and glanced at Adam.

Ronan shrugged. "I'm fine, man. It's fine."

Something burned deep in Adam's gut and his eyes prickled. There was a whole conversation happening he could only allude to and he was pretty sure it was about him from before when he broke Ronan's heart. Shit.

"It's just until he finishes the MBA. Be grand."

Matthew shuffled on his feet for a few more seconds before he crashed back down beside Adam. He didn't put his head back on his shoulder and Adam tried not to miss it. "Alright, man. Once you're happy."

"Just…" Ronan ran his hand over his head. It was getting longer than Adam has seen it in awhile. "Look if anyone asks you, you gotta say it's real because people need to think it's real."

"You're asking me to lie?" Disbelief coloured his tone.

"Nah, man. We are married. It's not a lie."

Declan shrugged. "I've seen the license. They're married. It just like being trapped in a loveless marriage because it's not in love or anything ." Dec rolled his eyes.

Ronan pushed him roughly and Declan laughed. Adam's palms were suddenly damp.

Matthew tilted his head, considering his brothers with a smile playing on his lips. "Alright then. Seems pretty real to me." He dropped his head back onto Adam's shoulder.

Relief flooded through Adam at the contact. He was forgiven. Hopefully.

Matthew took a long gulp of beer and burped. "Can we watch the movie now?"

****

Hours later, Adam lay in bed listening to Declan and Matthew bicker in the sitting room over the blow up mattress versus the couch. Ronan walked in, closing the door and banging his head against it.

"I'm going to kill them both."

Adam huffed out a laugh. "Lynch. About what Matthew said."

Ronan shook his head, still leaning against the door with his back to Adam. "It's fine. It was nothing."

"I never apologised or explained."

The muscles in Ronan's back shifted. There was a low slit down the side of his vest and Adam watched his ribs move in fascination. He so badly wanted to run his fingers over them, learn their shape and place his lips on them.

"You don't have to explain. It's fine."

"Ronan…"

"Adam, don't." The words were rough with emotion. "We don't need to look at this again, okay?"

"Okay, man. Sorry."

Ronan banged his head against the door and pulled it open. "I'm gonna go brush my teeth."

"Okay," Adam whispered. He fell back onto the pillow and pushed his guilt away. Fuck.

Ronan took so long in the bathroom, Adam slipped to sleep before he even got back.

Chapter Text

Ronan was having a shitty week.

Work was crazy coming up to the Christmas break and if he had to watch another freshman wander around on Bambi legs in a santa hat, he was going to lose it. He'd three essays due in the last three weeks. It was getting harder and harder to keep the truth away from Adam. He'd almost bumped into him twice in the library. Adam's laser sharp focus was the only thing that stopped him noticing Ronan when he froze panicked at the sight of him.

Gansey hadn't shut up about telling Adam the truth. Conversations were getting more and more strained so he'd just stopped answering his calls and texts. He fucking hated letting Gansey down, even now, but the disappointed look was starting to creep into the bend of his eyebrows, and he couldn't fucking deal with it at the moment. Of course, Adam and Blue had noticed something was going on. Neither had asked yet but he could feel the inevitable conversation breathing down his neck.

That wasn't even mentioning the weird tension that hung between him and Adam since Thanksgiving. Adam kept looking at Ronan like he was a particularly difficult math problem that he was insistent on solving. The attention made Ronan hot and cold; hot because of how Adam looked when he was thinking, intense and unknowable, and cold, because Adam was going to figure out how Ronan still felt and decide he wasn't worth the fucking trouble.

He walked into the building on Friday night, last essay handed in, and only one shift left before Christmas break, fiddling with the keys on his keyring. He nodded at their neighbour as they checked the postbox and hit the button for the elevator. He paused when the door opened and swivelled around. When the fuck did they get a mailboxes? Were they always here?

He glanced down at the keys in his palm. There was a tiny one he'd never used. "We're fucking idiots."

He laughed and searched out their postbox, the one that hadn't been opened since they'd moved in almost four months before. Grabbing the mail, mostly leaflets for takeaways and other such junk, and called for the elevator again.

"Parrish, you'll never guess what I found out?"

A rough cough answered his shout. "What, Lynch?"

"You sound worse than this morning. Did you get your essay in?" Ronan dumped his bag, shucking off his coat and shoes, and joined Adam in the sitting room. "You look fucking rough, man." He dropped down on the couch and dragged Adam's feet into his lap.

"My body has quit. I got the essay in and then I died," Adam croaked out. "I feel horrible."

"You sound like fucking death." Ronan ran his hand up and down Adam's shin, stopping at his bare feet and rubbing them. "Want me to make my mom's soup?"

Adam buried his face into his cushion and pressed his legs down. "Don't stop." He groaned and fire spread over Ronan's skin. "I feel so shitty and that feels so good."

"Sure, man. Whatever you need."

Adam fell asleep about half an hour later with his feet still in Ronan's lap. He pulled a blanket off the back of the couch, covering him and carefully checked his temperature. Heat laced his skin. Each breath was accompanied by a wheeze and a stunted cough. Cursing, Ronan grabbed his keys and headed to the pharmacy, and then the supermarket, picking up medicine and what he needed to make his mom's chicken soup.

Ronan woke him a few hours later, propping him up and handing him the bowl of soup. "Here, man. Eat this and then you can have some medicine."

Adam sniffled, pale and red-nosed. He pouted and it was so adorable Ronan's stomach clenched. "Thanks," he croaked. "I'll clean up the kitchen."

"Fuck off, Parrish, and eat your soup." Ronan slipped back into the same position on the couch and pulled Adam's feet back onto his lap. "What do you wanna watch?"

"Don't care." He finished his soup and took the proffered medicine. "You don't have to look after me. I can…"

"Remember that time I got food poisoning and you kept me company in the bathroom for twelve hours while I puked?"

Adam smirked and nodded.

"Consider us even."

Adam nodded before breaking down into a coughing fit. He took a sip of water and lay back, breathing worse than before. "I should being doing some readings. Get started on next semester's work."

"Shut the fuck up Parrish and watch this moon landing documentary with me. They think it was a hoax, man. Fucking stupid." Without even thinking about it, he started rubbing Adam's feet again.

***

Blue stared at Ronan across the table, disapproval scrawled across her face. "Seriously, Ronan?"

"Gansey broke then?" They were in the same cafe as he'd gone to with Gansey, having another conversation he wasn't interested in.

"He couldn't keep a secret to save his life."

Ronan's heart dropped. "Did he tell Henry?"

"You should be more scared of him telling Adam, asshole." Blue took a sip of her coffee and stared at Ronan over the edge of the cup. "Henry knows too. Noah had apparently been previously informed."

"Jesus fuck." He ran both hands over his freshly shaved head, letting the bite ground him. "It's no one's fucking business. Jesus."

Blue rolled her eyes. "Oh fuck you. Ya wanna know the worst part of your little crusade of self sabotaging?"

Ronan flipped her the bird. "Fuck you, maggot."

"The worst part is," she continued, ignoring his shit as always. "Is that we'd have been fucking thrilled for you. We'd have celebrated with you. Cheered you the fuck on. But no, you had to take the hard path yet again."

He looked down to his coffee, shining black in the cafés lights. "You don't get it."

"Not feeling good enough? Yeah, Ronan, I think I fucking get it. Have you met my boyfriend's family?"

Ronan winched.

"I know you and Adam have this whole unrequited Shakespearean drama bullshit going on, but he's your best friend, and being the last to know is going to kill him."

Ronan finished his coffee and stared at her, unsure where to even start. As always, she was dressed like a lampshade. Not that he'd ever tell her that. She was wearing a lace top over three different tank tops, all different colours and lengths. Rips tore up the sleeves but she's pinned them together with high safety pins.

"None of you were even supposed to know." He let the sounds of the cafe wash over him. Tried to let the hiss of the coffee machine and the chatter of other patrons calm the panic clawing up his throat. Everyone but Adam fucking knew. "Not like I fucking told you and kept it from him," he reasoned, more to himself than for her. "Gansey just can't keep his mouth shut when he's trying to help."

He tapped the table and watched as a woman kissed her girlfriend hello at the table opposite them. Ronan had only even kissed Adam. Sometimes he thought he should go out and find someone but he just never worked up the energy to care. He gave everything to his friends, held the few he had clasped in his hands like a toddlers toys. Dating always seemed like an exercise in futility. Also it seemed exhausting.

When Adam talked about dating, it was all awkward conversations and long silences and extended time with strangers. Ronan thought it sounded like hell. Not just because it was Adam doing it with people that weren't him.

"He didn't mean to tell me. He was fretting."

"When is Gansey not fretting?"

She rolled her eyes. "It is his default setting."

"I'm going to tell him, I am. None of this was meant to happen." He scrubbed a hand over his face. "I got the letter and then he asked me to marry him and then it just went to shit."

"And the four years before that?"

Ronan shrugged. "When I did my GED, we weren't really talking, and then I dunno, it just didn't come up."

"Yeah, alright. That's convenient." Blue checked her phone and stood up. "I gotta go, asshole."

"Alright, maggot. Thanks for tricking me into coffee and a lecture."

Blue leaned over and kissed his forehead. "I'm really proud of you, Ronan. What you've done these last few years, what you've achieved, after how hard high school was." She scratched his head as she stood. "Adam will be proud too."

He brought his leather bracelets up to his mouth. "I will tell him. Just not yet."

She nodded and shrugged on her coat. "Alright, asshole. Love ya."

"See ya, maggot." He watched as she weaved through the tables and waved again just before she left. "Fuck." He rubbed the heels of his hands into eyes until he saw black. "Fuck."

***
Ronan prowled the edge of the dancefloor, listening to the talk on his earpiece and checking no trouble was kicking off in the crowd.

"Lynch, your old friend is here," Walker said into his ear. "The dodgy one you warned us about."

Ronan tapped the walkie talkie. "Kavinsky? Fucking great. Just keep your eyes on him."

Someone bumped into Ronan and he gently extracted himself, checking the girl wasn't too drunk as he did. Music pounded in the cramped space, vibrating up his legs and landing in his chest. He couldn't hear it properly with the speaker in one ear and an earplug in the other. Flashing lights made the bar a series of images; dancing couples, downing shots, shouting conversations, the exchange of a baggy.

Ronan stopped and watched the deal as it happened. When he was sure of what he'd seen, he radioed it in. "Drugs on the dancefloor, Walker. Gonna grab the dealer."

"Joey, back him up."

He strode across the floor and gripped the guy by his shoulder. "Out. Now." It was only when he turned the guy around, he realised it was K. "Should've fucking known. You're banned."

"Don't even fucking think about it, shithead," K growled.

Joey came up beside him and took the other arm. "Out. You're banned."

"Fuck you." K broke free, punching Joey so hard he hit the floor, and pushed Ronan up against the wall. "You fuck with my business, Lynch and I'll fuck with yours." He braced one arm against Ronan's chest and the other across his throat. Pressing gently, he slowly cut off Ronan's air supply. "Is this really the path you want to go down? Remember what I did to your brother." He leaned forward and Ronan gasped in a breath. "I can't wait to see what happens when I fuck up Parrish."

Ronan struggled, trying to break free, but Kavinsky had his legs trapped, and his arms caught. He gulped in a breath but it didn't get past the top of his throat. K increased the pressure just a little bit more. Panic surged over Ronan, hot and liquid.

He couldn't breathe. He couldn't breathe. He couldn't breathe.

They were in a darkened corner. Joey was still knocked out on the floor. Someone was calling his name, but the edges of his eyes were going dark, and his heart kept beating out his fear for adamadamadam.

K was ripped off him, and Ronan fell, and kept falling when his knees went from under him. He landed on his hands, sucking in air through a tight throat. He forced himself up and grabbed the collar of Kavinsky's vest.

"You go near him and I'll fucking kill you."

K grinned. "Bring it, Lynch."

"Lynch, leave it." Walker pulled him off and shoved his finger in Kavinsky's face. "You're banned, dickhead, and you can wait in the office until I call the police, you fuck. Assult and drugs should land you a bit of time to think."

Ronan fell back against the wall, body weak and heavy. The world swooped below him and he closed his eyes against the movement.

"Ronan, you okay?"

He nodded, unable to talk with the tightness in his throat.

"Right. Hospital."

Ronan nodded, head throbbing. The movement made the dizziness worse. He blinked as his vision swam and went black. The world swooped, desperately trying to shake him free. He felt the smooth wall slip under his fingers. Felt his shoulder slam into something hard.

Barely felt it as the darkness claimed him.

Chapter Text

Adam walked fast enough that he was practically running but not quite so fast that the nurses he passed could tell him to slow down. The halls of the hospital were pale grey, looking so similar he'd already had to double back twice to find the right way. The women at the desk had told him that Ronan had been moved from the emergency room for further tests and Adam couldn't find him. He turned into what he hoped was the right corridor and strode towards the nurses station, glowing bright in the dim light.

It took the tired-looking nurse a second to notice him when he approached it. She glanced away from her computer and smiled. "How can I help you?"

"Sorry to bother you, m'dam." Adam's voice was rough, a cough itching up his throat. "I was told Ronan Lynch was brought up here for observation?"

"Certainly. Let me check." The nurse had soft brown eyes lined in creases and a mouth made for smiling. She ran a hand through her short grey hair and took a sip of coffee. "And you are?"

"Adam Parrish." He rooted out his ID and showed her. "His husband. They told me at reception he'd been brought up here."

She tapped at her keyboard and smiled again. "Here you are. You're his next of kin."

It wasn't a question so he didn't reply. Just about managed a tight smile. His head was pounding, each breath rattled in his chest and he couldn't seem to stop his hands from trembling.

"He's in room 302." She pointed down the corridor. "Last door on the right."

Adam stared down the darkened hallway, sudden fear biting at his heart. "Is he… Is he okay?"

"He's doing fine." She squeezed his wrist with delicate fingers. His ma would've called them piano fingers. "Just waiting for the doctor to see him. You'll probably be able to take him home tonight."

Adam nodded, blinking away unwanted tears. He took a deep breath but it caught in his throat and he spent the next five minutes heaving and coughing. He took the water she gave him and inhaled shakily, hating the wheeze that followed.

Prodding fingers felt his pulse and his forehead. "Oh dear, you're burning up."

"I'm okay, m'dam. I just need to see my… see Ronan."

She tightened her lips but gestured for him to follow her. "In there, dear. I think he's with the police at the moment but you should be fine to go in."

Adam thanked her and pushed the door open. Ronan sat on the bed, back to Adam, in a hospital gown that showed off the heavy black of his tattoo. It shone in the too-bright lights, flickering and changing because of Adam's watering eyes. Two policemen stood by the wall, listening as Ronan croaked out his story.

"Sir," said the younger of the two men. His blonde hair was mussed like he spent too much time running his fingers through it. "We just need the room for a few more minutes and then you can do your checks."

Ronan turned and Adam swallowed down the contents of his stomach. A thick band of red stretched across his throat and he was pale as death. Dark circles under his eyes made them hooded and sunken.

Adam stepped forward, hand already reaching out. "Jesus, Lynch. I thought you could box."

"Fuck you, Parrish. Kavinsky's clearly been working out."

"I've watched you lift 100 kilos without breaking a sweat."

One of Ronan's eyebrows quirked. "Have you now?"

"Sir, if you could wait outside until we're finished."

Ronan twirled around. "That's my husband, man. He stays." He tapped the bed beside Adam. "C'mon, I know you're freaking yourself the fuck out over there."

Adam practically fell across the room, ignoring how his pulse had sped up at how casually Ronan had called him his husband, and dropped in beside him, grabbing his hand. Just because he could.

"Okay, Ronan. If you can just run through the story one more time."

"I was on the edges of the dancefloor, checking for trouble, when I saw a deal taking place on the floor." His voice was rough and he kept swallowing like it hurt to talk. "I grabbed the dealer, turned out it was K. He knocked out Joey with a punch to his temple. Grabbed me, threw me against the wall and cut off my air supply."

Adam gulped and Ronan's grasp on his fingers tightened.

He cleared his throat a few times, the noise like a rusty engine. "He pinned me down and I couldn't escape. He threatened…" He swallowed and the grip on Adam's hand became almost painful. "He threatened Adam. I couldn't breathe and if Walker hadn't pulled him off me…" He shrugged. "Let's just say he'd no intention of stopping."

Adam cut off the noise he made, busying himself by grabbing a cup of water off the bedside table, and handing it to Ronan. "Drink."

Ronan's eyes searched his face. "You sound like shit, man."

"Yeah well, you're not gonna be winning any Irish music contests any time soon."

"Fuck you. My new voice is sexy."

Adam rolled his eyes, hoping Ronan didn't notice the heat staining his cheeks.

The dark haired policeman, clearly the older of the two with his tired eyes, salt and pepper beard, and messy uniform. "You have a history with this man?"

"Joseph Kavinsky," Adam answered, giving Ronan's voice a break. "He was in school with us. Kidnapped Ronan's little brother about six years ago. Locked him in the trunk of a car. Nearly killed him. Because Ronan wouldn't pay attention to him." He coughed, clearing his throat. Pain ratcheted through his ribs. "He's obsessed with Ronan, always has been."

The man scratched something down into his black notebook. "Why was nothing done back then?"

"Had the sheriff in his pocket." Adam scowled. "No one would listen to us. Wrote it off as a high school prank." Ronan was playing with his hand, running his fingers across his palm. It was doing things to Adam. "Will you be able to do anything this time?"

The two men exchanged a look and the older one finally spoke. "The suspect didn't have any drugs on him when he was arrested. We can try to get him for assault, but honestly, if he's as well connected as you say, it mightn't stick." Creases folded down the man's face. "We will do everything we can to get this to sentencing but we can't guarantee anything."

Ronan nodded. "Figures." He ran a hand over bloodshot eyes. "Are we done? I'd really like to go home."

"We can leave it for now. We have your number if we've any other questions. If you have any other trouble with the suspect, harassment or any contact really, give me a call." He held out his card.

Adam grabbed it. "Thanks for all your help."

"Have a good night. Try to get some rest."

After they left, Ronan slumped into Adam's chest like all his strings had been cut. Adam wrapped his arms around him, running up and down his back, soothing him like he knew Ronan liked. Ronan's fingers clutched at Adam's t-shirt, clinging to him like he was afraid he was going to disappear.

"I'm not going anywhere. You're alright. You're okay," he mumbled into his neck, curving his whole body over Ronan's to block out the world. "I got ya, Lynch."

A cough interrupted them. "Sorry. I need to do one final check before I let you go home."

Ronan nodded, hand still buried in Adam's stomach. He took a long rattling breath and pushed himself back up. "Doc, do me a favour, have a listen to this assholes lungs, will ya? I'm pretty sure he's got pneumonia or something."

"No problem," she smiled, crossing the room. Her black ponytail swung back and forth like a pendulum. She put her stethoscope in and played it on Adam's back. "Deep breath."

Glaring at Ronan, Adam did as he was told, barely hiding the wince at how loud the wheeze had gotten. He let the doctor check his temperature, blood pressure, ears and throats.

"You, sir, have one hell of a chest infection. I'm going to prescribe you some antibiotics, steroids, painkillers, because with a cough like that your ribs must be sore, and liquid ventalin to ease your breathing." She was writing a script as she spoke. "The ventalin might make you shake so if it gets too much, stop taking it. Try to stick it out for two days at least. It'll help."

"Yes m'dam."

She smiled softly and turned to Ronan. "Your films have come back clear, Mr Lynch. The swelling in your airways isn't anything too worrying and no serious damage occurred. I've included extra painkillers on the script there. You'll need to ice your throat and lots of rest. Soft food and liquid. Nothing too hot for a week."

Ronan nodded. "Thanks, Doc."

"You're free to go. Look after each other, you're both falling apart."

Adam laughed and it turned into a cough.

"Bedrest," she said, face stern with a hint of amusement. "Both of you."

Ronan pulled off the hospital gown as soon as she was gone. The red of his neck seemed worse against the pale skin of his chest. Dressed in black boxers, he seemed smaller, more fragile. He crossed his arms across his ribs, biceps clenching and shoulders tense.

"He's such a fucking asshole. Jesus Mary, the prick." He ran a shaking hand over his hand. "Fuck." He stared down at the floor, shrinking in the fluorescent lights. "I was so fucking scared," he whispered.

Adam stood and wrapped his arms around Ronan's larger frame, pressing his head into his shoulder and running his fingers along the nape of his neck. Ronan shuddered beneath him, tears wetting Adam's skin. "You're okay, man. I'm okay. Matthew's safe. K isn't getting anywhere near us."

It took a few minutes for Ronan to pull himself back together, to step back and wipe his eyes with the back of his hand. Adam ached with how young he looked.

He grabbed his clothes and handed them to Ronan. "Let's go home, man. We both need some sleep."

***
They woke the next day to a furious knocking on the door. Ronan groaned and shoved his head under his pillow. Smirking, Adam rolled out of bed, coughing and sniffling. His head was pounding. The relentless knocking was not helping.

He pulled the door open. "What?"

"The fuck happened to my brother last night?"

"Declan?" Adam stepped aside convinced he was still dreaming. "How'd you get here so early?"

"Red eye." Declan stepped into the light, eyes bloodshot and hair flat. Wrinkles laced his clothes, making him look more unkempt that Adam had ever seen him. "You're not the only next of kin Ronan has. Where is he?"

"Bed."

Adam waved his hand at the bedroom door and headed to the kitchen. He desperately needed some coffee. Shivering in his bare feet, he leaned against the counter, half listening to the furious whispering in the other room.

"He did fucking what? I'll kill him myself," Declan roared.

Adam poured three cups of coffee, adding cold water to Ronan's and walked back to the bedroom. He handed Dec a cup where he was leaning against the wall, gave one to Ronan and then climbed back into bed, swallowing against the creeping cough trying to shatter through him.

"Thanks," Ronan murmured. Dark bruises tattooed across his skin. "Dec, I told the police everything. So did Walker. There's nothing we can fucking do now but wait."

"He's a fucking prick. This is the second time he's messed with one of my brothers. I'm gonna kill him." Declan closed his eyes, visibly calming his breathing and blinked them open again. He watched the two of them for a few seconds, sipping his coffee. "So you two just share a bed all the time now?"

Ronan's ears burned red. "Used to do it in Aglionby too, man. It's not a big deal," he huffed.

"Sure, sure." Declan smirked. "What about Adam? Is he safe?"

Adam glanced up, eyebrows furrowed.

"Fuck, Adam. Don't look at me like that."

"Like what?"

Declan rolled his eyes. "Like me wondering if you're safe is such a strange thing."

"I'm fine, Dec." Adam wasn't sure when exactly the Lynch brothers had learned to read him so easily. "No one is going to touch me."

The two brothers stared at him, identical expressions on their angular faces, and Adam wondered if they were aware they were two sides of the same coin.

"Tad's been sniffing around for months, Parrish. I just got his boyfriend arrested." The words fell from Ronan heavy and exhausted. "You don't think they're gonna try and get back at us?"

Adam finished off his coffee and shivered in the cool air. "I think we'll deal with it when it happens. For now, we need to make sure your throat heals and my chest infection doesn't turn into pneumonia."

Declan snorted. "Give me your prescriptions. I'll sort it out. The two of you go back to sleep for a few hours. Where's the car keys?"

"Kitchen counter," Ronan murmured, already tucking his head back into his pillow. "Prescriptions are beside them. Will you make mom's soup?" He asked in a small voice. "Adam ate all of it."

"You made it for me, Lynch."

Declan rolled his eyes. "Yeah, man. I'll make soup. You want anything else?"

"Pancakes."

Declan snorted again.

Adam finished his coffee and lay down as well, chest tight and breaths wheezing. "Maybe get an ice pack for his throat. Otherwise it'll get worse."

"Sure, man." Declan pulled the curtains, darkening the room and helping ease the pain behind Adam's eyes. "Go back to sleep. I'll sort everything out."

Adam barely felt the soft hand in his hair as Declan fixed their blankets.

He woke alone, head stuffed up and chest aching every time he took a breath. He was sweating and shivering, damp sheets clinging to his skin. He dragged his heavy body up and sat at the edge of the bed, curling his toes into the soft carpet.

"Adam, you're up. I was just about to wake you," Dec said from the doorway. "I ran you a bath and put some menthol bath salts in. It'll help clear your head a bit. Mom used to do it for us."

Adam stared at him.

"Not that face again, man. I'm only here until tomorrow and I need to make sure you're both on the road to recovery by then." He strode over and pulled Adam up, holding him when his vision blackened. "Ronan's already acting like a little shit so I know he's feeling better. C'mon, bath."

The bathroom was steamed up, and smelled so good, the pain in his head eased. Declan handed him a bottle of water and left him be. The water was on the side of just too hot, but it felt almost heavenly when Adam lowered himself into it, letting the tension fall from his body.

The vapours loosened his chest, and after a few minutes, he could even breathe through his nose. He tipped his head under so only his mouth and nose were sticking out. Silence filled his ears, interrupted by the steady beat of his heart. He floated until his fingers were pruning and his skin pink. After, he got dressed in soft bottoms and a loose t-shirt, and joined the others in the sitting room.

Dec examined him when he came in, smiling like he'd passed a test. "Hungry?"

He nodded and fell into the couch beside Ronan. He shucked half his blanket over Adam and examined him. "You look less like death, man."

"You look like you lost a fight with your bench press."

"Does it make me look tough?"

"Makes you look like a loser."

A vicious smirk tugged at Ronan's lips. "Asshole."

Adam shrugged. "What are we watching?"

"Flat earthers doc."

"And I'm meant to be the nerd in this friendship."

Dec came back with a bowl of soup, bread and a lot of tablets. "We already watched a bunch of shit on the history of Latin. Trust me, you are not the biggest nerd in the room." He handed Adam the food. "Eat that. Take them. Go back to sleep. You sound like you've been smoking twenty a day for the last thirty years."

"Thanks." Adam couldn't remember the last time someone had looked after him when he was sick. It was always just him being miserable and cranky. That was the furthest thing away from how he felt now; safe and loved, warm and comfortable.

He finished his food, took his medicine, and then leaning his head on Ronan's shoulder, he went back to sleep.

Chapter Text

Declan was waiting for him when he crawled out of bed. Ronan took the proffered cup and sat on the stool, waiting. He sipped the coffee, staring at the dark liquid and watching the steam mushroom into wishful shapes.

"Are you going to tell him?"

Ronan's heart jumped. "Tell him what?"

"That you love him."

"Jesus Mary, shut the fuck up." He glanced towards the closed bedroom door and glared at his brother. "Are you trying to piss me off?"

Declan rolled his eyes and took a sip of his coffee. "The two of you are floating past each other like ships in the night." He took a thready breath. "Except you've fucking crashed, your sails are knotted together, and you're refusing to help each other out…" he paused, glaring at Ronan. "So you're both sinking to the bottom of the fucking ocean when you could just open your mouth and have a fucking conversation."

Ronan blinked. "What the fuck, man?"

"He loves you just as much as you love him for fuck sake." He slammed his cup down, splashing black coffee across the white counter. "This cold war you're caught in is getting less entertaining to watch by the fucking second."

"I don't think I've ever heard you curse this much in one conversation."

"You've never done anything as stupid as marrying the man you're in love with and NOT TELLING HIM."

Ronan's eyes snapped to the bedroom door. Silence fell throughout the apartment making his beating heart sound louder in his ears. Swallowing, he said, "I'm a student at Harvard."

Declan stared. "Excuse me?"

"I'm doing my masters in Latin and Theology. Adam doesn't know." He tapped his cup, agitated.

"You got into Harvard?"

"What? Like it's hard?"

"Seriously, legally blonde?"

Ronan grinned. "Noah made me watch it."

"Matthew made me," Dec conceded with a small grin. It fell off his face and smashed into pieces on the ground. "What the fuck?"

"It's your fault."

Declan raised one eyebrow.

"You wouldn't shut up about getting my GED. When I got it, I felt proud. So stupidly proud." He blinked away sudden tears. "I just kept going, got my degree and applied for the masters. All this wedding shit messed everything up. Adam…" He took a wet breath. "He doesn't think I can do it. He doesn't think…"

"That's bullshit, Ro." He walked over and gripped the back of Ronan's neck. "You are fucking Harvard material and Adam would be nothing but proud of you. I'm nothing but fucking proud of you." He pressed their foreheads together. "You are not the kid you were six years ago. You turned the farm around, you've apparently gotten a degree and got into Harvard. Mom and dad would be so proud."

Ronan screwed his eyes shut but it did little to stem the flow of tears. A thick band wrapped around his throat and he struggled to force air through it. "Thanks."

One more squeeze, and Declan pulled away, wiping his own face. "You gotta tell him. If Adam finds out before you do, it'll crush him."

"I know, man. I fucking know."

***

It took Adam another week to finally clear the chest infection; most of which Ronan spent forcing soup and medicine and liquids and blankets on him. He tried to pretend it wasn't the happiest he'd been in longer than he could remember. He'd gotten the last of his essays back and he had a perfect GPA, something he'd been able to brag about to Declan and Noah. Since Gansey couldn't keep a secret, he was told nothing. Christmas was coming which meant two full weeks of Adam. They were going to the Barns like they did every year.

The only downside was hearing K had been released on bail, and when he spoke to Walker, the older man didn't think the charges were going to stick. It was a heavy knot in his gut that he couldn't shake no matter what. He kept waking up, gasping, fingers around his throat, air stuck and refusing to reach his lungs. So far he'd managed not to wake Adam but the dark circles under his eyes and the jaw-breaking yawns were getting harder to hide.

It was two days before Christmas when they arrived at the Barns. Snow sprinkled the fields and blanketed the building. It twinkled in the morning light, glittering with winter magic. Fairy lights hung over the porch and a tree was all lit up in the sitting room window. Declan's rented car sat in the driveway and Ronan pulled up beside it.

Adam glanced over. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, course. Why wouldn't I be?"

"No reason." He stared up at the house. "It's nice to be home."

Ronan ignored how good it felt whenever Adam called the Barns home. "Yeah, it is."

"C'mon then. No point being morbid all day." He opened the door and let the chill air dilute the heat in the car. "Matthew is waiting."

"True."

It still took Ronan a minute to force himself from the safety of his dad's car. He ran his hands over the soft leather and watched Adam jog up the steps and greet his brothers.

He was going to tell him. Once they got over Christmas and New Year, when they got back up to the apartment and everything had finished with K, then he'd tell him. Decision made, he climbed from the car and greeted his brothers with a smile.

Matthew grasped his face and turned his head, face uncharacteristically serious. "Are you okay, Ro?"

"I'm fine. Honestly, kid. I'm fucking fine. Be more worried about Adam. He practically died of pneumonia."

Matthew spun on his heels and grabbed Adam. "Are you okay, pal? The two of you I swear. You'd fall apart without me and Dec. Get inside before you die."

Adam shot Ronan a betrayed look from under Matthew's arm as he was pulled in through the front door.

Ronan laughed and followed.

***

Christmas morning was a mess of wrapping paper and crappy presents. It was a tradition they'd started years before; the cheapest and worst present won. Matthew was the winner this time with four day old newspaper he scavenged from a bin.

It was quickly deposited in the bin as soon as the ugly half-burnt troll doll trophy was handed over from Declan, last year's winner with out of date lunch meats. They'd also been quickly dumped out.

No one bothered making dinner. Instead they ordered Chinese and watched Christmas movies and action movies and then Christmas action movies.

They crawled into bed on Christmas night, Adam curled up by the wall and Ronan on guard closest to the door. Darkness slinked through the room like a third member of their odd coupling. It was silent so long Ronan was sure Adam had fallen asleep when he flipped over and gripped Ronan's hand.

"You have a nightmare tonight, you wake me."

"Parrish…"

"Ronan, I'm serious. Promise me."

"Okay, Adam. I promise."

Chapter Text

New Year's in the Barns had included Gansey, Blue, Noah and Henry since they'd all left for college. It was sort of a tradition now that they each brought a different type of alcohol and everyone wore PJ's. The PJ's had started the year Matthew was hungover and needed both his PJ's and hair of the dog.

Everyone had agreed to get involved with the recovery.

So now instead of any type of drunken debauchery, it usually turned into them sitting on the couches and floor, drunk and tired, talking about all the stupid things college students talked about. It was Adam's favourite holiday tradition after the crappy-present-giving with Ronan and his brothers.

Sometimes he worried they'd only started it because he was broke those first few years of college but he didn't have it in him to care anymore since everyone seemed to love it so much. Christmas morning was always drenched in laughter and snark and grins.

He wouldn't change it for anything.

Laughter sprang up in the sitting room as he grabbed more mixers from the kitchen. He smiled down at his empty glass, letting the warmth of his friends fill him up. He picked up the bottles of soda and turned, smile growing at Ronan, standing in the doorway, watching him.

He knocked his fist on the door jamb. "Got any New Year's resolutions, Parrish?"

"Usual. Top of the class." He shrugged. "Best internship. Beating you at mario kart."

"Ha fucking ha." Ronan took a step forward. "Nothing, you know, personal?"

Adam put the bottles down and leaned back, watching him approach.

Ronan was all swagger, soft black bottoms shoved into heavy socks and baggy vest hanging low on prominent collarbones. Thick muscles corded across his shoulders and arms.

Adam swallowed on a suddenly dry throat.

Ronan's feet bumped against his bare toes. "Go on then, Parrish. Give me something real."

Adam swallowed again and smiled. "I'm gonna tell the truth more."

Ronan grinned something so soft and gentle Adam barely recognised it. "I think I'll do the same." He leaned in and brushed a quick kiss to Adam's cheek. "Think I probably have some things that need saying," he whispered as he pulled away.

The click of a camera forced Adam to look away from Ronan's blue, blue eyes. Without thinking, he ran his fingers over his cheek.

Henry was smiling in the doorway. "Perfect. You'd almost believe it was real. Almost believe you weren't faking it at all."

Adam's heart dropped and his eyes flashed to Ronan's face. A brittle smile had replaced the other one but he turned away too quickly for Adam to get a good look at the expression.

"Well fucking done, Cheng. Perfect fucking timing as per usual." He picked up the soda and tilted his head at Adam. "C'mon Parrish. Think Declan was talking about opening the whiskey."

Adam smiled, ignoring how his heart sunk at the idea it was all just a setup to get a picture.

***

Adam rolled out of bed on the first day of lectures, bitter at having to leave Ronan’s embrace. He wasn’t sure when they’d started spooning every night but he wasn’t going to bring it up if Ronan wasn’t. Waking up every morning with him wrapped around Adam's body, arms strong across his chest and legs tangled together was not a present he was willing to turn down.

He hadn’t had a nightmare in weeks and he was pretty sure Ronan had stopped having them as well. The dark bags under his eyes had faded over the break and the harsh paleness had coloured back to his usual pale skin. At least, he didn’t look half-dead anymore.

Adam showered and got dressed, making breakfast for both of them and leaving Ronan’s on a plate in the microwave like he always did. He double checked his bag, staring at the notebooks, still half-asleep and tried to decide how long he was willing to spend in the library after lectures. The apartment was dark in the January light, winter still clinging to the sun and refusing it an early rise. He yawned and his eyes watered. It seemed wrong to be so tired the first day back but they’d sat up late playing mario kart like idiots. He smirked to himself, remembering Ronan’s easy laughter when he won, and decided it was probably worth it.

“Adammmmmmm,” Ronan called, voice rough with sleep. “Bring me coffeeeeeeee.”

He poured another cup, carrying it into the bedroom and laughing at Lynch starfished on the bed. “Why are you awake so early?”

“You’re fucking loud.”

“Sure I am, Lynch.” He put the cup on the bedside table and sat down by Ronan’s hip. “What’s your plan for today?”

“Not sure. Not back to work until tomorrow.” Black ink shone in the glow from the hallway light. Adam wanted to trace it with his mouth. “I was thinking I could make you dinner tonight.”

“You always make me dinner.”

Ronan’s face was half-buried in a pillow and the one visible ear glowed red. “I know that, Parrish. I just thought first day back and all, I could make you a nice dinner.” He pushed himself up, resting on his elbows. “I have a thing I need to talk to you about. An important thing or whatever.”

“An important thing?” He ignored how his heart tripped over itself. “Like what?”

“Just a thing. Look. Just have dinner with me, okay? No fucking eating alone.”

“I’ll be home by eight,” he answered, suddenly breathless. “Do you want me to bring anything?”

“Nah, I’ll do all the hard work. As per fucking usual.”

Adam rolled his eyes and stood. Mostly to stop himself leaning over to steal a kiss. “Whatever you fucking say, Lynch. I’ll see you tonight.”

“Thanks for the coffee,” he murmured, head back in the pillows and eyes half-lidded as they tracked Adam’s movement. “I’ll see ya later, Adam.”

“Bye, Ronan.”

***
Adam pulled up his hood and trudged down the street, already missing the apartments heat. Cars lined the road, unable to move in rush hour traffic. Ice glittered on the grass and his breath mushroomed in front of him. He tried to focus on what lectures he had for the day but the ratatattat of his heart kept distracting him.

What exactly did Ronan want to tell him?

He’d been acting weird since Christmas; always close by and oddly attentive. The kiss on New Years Eve kept replaying, over and over; Ronan’s lips rough and warm against his cheek. He’d touched the skin the minute he pulled away, unable to help himself. Even now, his fingers itched to trace the mark that scorched each time he thought about it.

When Ronan kissed him all those years before, Adam hadn’t been ready. He’d been scared and brittle, learning to appreciate his new freedom from his parents, and so close to college he couldn’t bear it. There was no way he was going to stay in Henrietta, and at the time, Ronan had no interest in leaving. Logically, it had been the right decision.

That hadn’t stopped it breaking his heart.

Only it had taken him a long time to realise what had happened. He mostly focused on repairing his friendship with Ronan, assuming that was why he was so sad all the time. Only later, when he'd gotten into college and settled into the dorms, started seeing a therapist and comparing every date to Ronan, did he finally put it together.

He was in love with his best friend and he'd ruined his only chance with him.

Because Ronan had made it very clear that there was no going back. That his question had been answered that night. That he’d moved on. If not to other people, than to the farm. He’d insisted Adam tell him about dates, had offered advice and encouraged him to meet people, while still inviting Adam into his family and creating a support system separate from Gansey and the others.

Sometimes Matthew called him, just for a chat, pal.

Adam loved Ronan so much, he ached with it and he hoped, prayed, wished that maybe, maybe, maybe, tonight Ronan was going to tell him the same.

***

Tad was waiting for him outside of his last lecture.

Adam fought to keep his face blank. A frown pulled down Tad's usual smile and he kept glancing around as if waiting for someone else. When he saw Adam, he stalked forward, grabbing his wrist and pulling him down the hallway, away from the crowd and towards the quieter abandoned lecture halls.

Adam managed to stay calm but he wanted to shove Tad off and walk the opposite direction.

“We need to talk,” Tad growled over his shoulder as he led them into an old classroom. Dropping Adam’s hand, he leant against a desk and ran his fingers through his pale hair. “So?”

Adam smirked. “You kidnapped me, Tad. I was just living my life.”

“This isn’t funny, Adam. Ronan got K arrested.”

Heat flared at the bottom of Adam's spine but he pushed it away with easy practice. “I’m pretty certain K got himself arrested when he sold drugs on college property and then tried to murder Ronan.”

Tad crossed his arms. “He wasn’t selling drugs. He doesn’t do that anymore, and Lynch attacked him. He has a right to defend himself.”

“Is that what K told you?” With the door open, he could hear the chatter of students done for the day. God, he wanted to join them and leave this awkward conversation. “Because K is a liar.”

Tad blushed. "K is a good guy."

“Oh for fuc… You’re sleeping with him, aren’t you?”

“We’re together,” he replied with as much dignity as he could clearly muster. “And now he’s going to have to leave because his father is pissed off he got arrested, and that’s all your fault.”

Adam quirked an eyebrow.

“Why didn’t you tell Lynch to leave him alone? You knew K was… Whatever with him.”

“Obsessed with him?” Adam sighed and sat down on a desk. Rain battered the windows outside and he was suddenly exhausted by the conversation. Neither of these men had any reason to be so involved in his and Ronan’s life. “Look, Tad, I’m sorry your boyfriend is a drug-selling asshole, but it has nothing to do with me or Ronan, so how about you stay out of our lives and we’ll stay out of yours?”

Tad surged forward so suddenly Adam didn’t realise what he was planning to do until their lips met. It took a second of soft skin tracing his mouth before he shoved him away.

“What the fuck, man? I’m married.” He held his hand up in proof and then wiped it across his lips. “I’m done with your shit and with K’s. Stay the fuck away from me and stay the fuck away from Ronan. Pass that onto K as well.”

“Adam, come on. We both know the marriage is fake and you only did it to get your full scholarship.”

He froze, halfway to the door. “Excuse me?”

“It’s not hard to figure out. C’mon, I just want to be your friend, see if maybe the feelings go both ways.”

“Thought you were with K,” he replied, venom leaking from the words. He was so angry, he felt sick with it. “And in case you’ve forgotten again, asshole. I am married.”

“Sure, married.” Tad rolled his eyes and took another step forward. “C’mon, Adam,” he repeated. “Let’s just see where this goes.”

Anger was a stampede across his skin. “Tad, I’m going to say this one more time. I'm married, but in case that isn’t enough for you, even if I wasn’t, you would be the last person I would be interested in. Do not talk to me again. Lose my fucking number, man. Forget I ever existed.” He stalked from the room before Tad could reply.

The walk home did little to cool the pulse beneath his skin. It was only when he reached the lobby of his apartment block did he stop and do the breathing lessons he’d learned in therapy. The cool marble chilled the wet clothes sticking to his skin, and slowly, so slowly, he regained control of himself. When he reached for his keys, he realised his hands were shaking. Looking for a distraction, he opened the postbox and grabbed the letters inside. Seeing the Harvard logo on the top one, he ripped it open.

Dear Mr Lynch,

We are pleased to invite you to a lecture series on the theological importance of Latin in the seventeenth century. There are limited places and they are only offered to the top master students in the humanities discipline.

Please do let us know if you would be interested in claiming your seat.

Kind regards,
Jill Townsend
Harvard Administration Officer

He had to read the letter three times to understand what exactly it was telling him. He still wasn’t sure he totally believed it even as he dragged his lead-lined body across the lobby and up the stairs to their apartment.

Ronan was a student in Harvard.
He was a masters student.
He hadn’t told Adam.
He hadn’t told Adam.

Exhaustion seeped through him and he didn’t bother turning on the lights in the empty apartment. Just sat in the dark and tried to figure out what exactly he’d done to Ronan to lose so much trust.

The tears were surprisingly easy to ignore in the dull glow of streetlights spilling in the windows.

Chapter Text

Ronan was having a good fucking day.

He felt lighter than he had in months because today he was gonna tell Adam the truth. He was gonna cook a real fucking nice dinner and he was going to lay it all out. Not that he loved. Fuck no. So maybe not all out. But mostly. Mostly he telling him everything.

Adam didn't need to know the other stuff.

Ronan had already told him once and Adam had given him a perfectly fucking clear answer.

No thank you but please stay my friend.

He could do that; he'd been doing that for the last six years and now he was gonna share the last part. It was a secret, but it was Ronan's secret, and he refused to let the guilt overwhelm him. He was allowed to have his own things. Really the guilt was only because Adam was the last to know.

Ronan knew he'd be pissed about that. Probably the lying too. Which Ronan had technically only been doing by omission. He hadn't straight out lied to Adam. Just not told him everything. A fine line to thread, but Ronan was a master of twisting his actions until they were no longer a lie, until they'd gone through so many layers of rationalisation, they were practically truth.

He tried not to examine it too closely; how far he'd wandered off his own principled path he'd been insistent on threading since he was sixteen and his dad was dead and his mom was sick and suddenly all he wanted was to see the world in black and white.

The grey could fuck right off.

He pushed the thoughts away and finished taking down the last of his notes. The new semester meant new classes and he was dying to start the readings. Adam would get a kick out of that; Ronan being a nerd. Now that he’d made the decision, he couldn’t wait to get it all out in the open and share it with Adam. Share all the lectures and topics, bad professors and annoying group projects. He grinned as he stuffed his notebook into his bag.

“Ronan, don’t suppose you’re coming to the party tonight? You could bring the cute husband you never talk about.”

Ronan grinned up at Rosie. “We actually have plans this evening, but maybe next time, if I can drag him away from the library.”

“Yeah, absolutely. We’ll see you thursday for study group?”

“Make sure Jamie does the fucking readings this time, will ya? Sick of having to explain them to him.”

Rosie grinned. “Sad thing is I think he is doing them, he’s just an idiot.”

“Hey,” Jamie called from across the room. “Rude.”

“I’ll send you the address anyway. Just in case you change your mind.” she said, ignoring Jamie. “See ya later. C’mon, babe. I’m hungry.”

Rolling his eyes, Jamie followed her like a lost puppy.

Ronan smirked, checking the time on his phone. Loads of time to go to the supermarket and pick up food for tonight.

***

The apartment was dark when he got home.

He held the door open with his foot, balancing the two shopping bags in one hand while he pushed his keys back into his pocket with the other. He switched on the light with his elbow and kicked open the sitting room door. He jumped when he noticed Adam sitting in the couch, staring down at a piece of paper.

"Parrish, you okay? What's that?" He dropped the bags on the counter and flicked on the light.

Adam flinched. "Did you… Are you…" He cleared his throat. "Ronan, are you in college?"

Ronan's heart dropped and he took a step forward, pausing when Adam flinched again. "I was gonna tell you. Tonight."

"You were gonna tell me?" Disbelief soaked the words. "You woke up this morning and thought hey maybe I should tell my husband that I've been going to the same college as he is."

"I know it sounds like a line but I was. That's what dinner was."

Adam's face fell; eye hooded and mouth an upside down curve. "That's what the dinner was about? Not telling me…" He cut himself off. "Who else knows?"

"Dec and Matthew found out last month." Ronan turned away from the hurt on Adam's face and grabbed a kitchen chair. He sat down, unknotting his boots for something to do with his hands. "Noah knew first," he said into his knees. "He found out in the second year of my degree."

"Your degree?"

He shut his eyes for a second before looking up and nodded.

"Tell me everything." Adam bit his lip and shrugged. "I mean if you trust me enough."

Ronan winced. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and fought off the panic making his pulse surge. "I got my GED about six months after you guys. Mostly to get Declan and Gansey to shut the fuck up." He ran a shaking hand over his buzz cut. "It felt good and you guys were gone and I was still heartbro…" He cut himself off. "I was lonely and it felt good to fucking achieve something." He swallowed on his dry throat. "Jesus Mary, I need a fucking drink."

He got up, not bothering to switch the kitchen light on and grabbed two beers from the fridge. Pressing his head against the door, he focused on keeping his breathing slow. Adam's face was blank now, empty of any real emotion. He wasn't an expression he'd seen in a very long time and he despised himself for putting it there. Taking a shuddering breath, he pushed himself off the fridge.

Adam hadn't moved. He didn't react when Ronan put the beer on the coffee table in front of him. Putting space between them, he sat back down on the kitchen chair and took a long slug of beer.

"Adam? You okay?"

"You got a degree?"

Ronan nodded. "Latin and Ancient Classics. Finished it last year. Applied to Harvard…"

He couldn't tell him the only reason he'd applied to Harvard was because Adam was talking about going there and he couldn't take another two years away from him. It was too close to revealing he still had feelings for him and he couldn't go through that again. He fucking couldn't.

"Applied to Harvard on a whim I guess and I was gonna tell you but then the stuff with the scholarship happened and you said…" He took another sip of his drink, beer stinging cold. "You said…"

"I said what?"

"I dunno, man. I just felt like you thought I wasn't good enough and I couldn't. The words wouldn't come."

Adam grabbed the bottle but he didn't drink anything. "You thought I didn't think you were good enough?" The words fell like ice, smashing on the floor between them. "You applied to Harvard on a whim? Am I a joke to you? Is my fucking life a joke?" He hissed the words out, rolling the bottle between his palms. "Everything I've done, how hard I've worked to get here, and you decided on a whim. Jesus, Lynch."

Ronan swallowed. He'd never looked at it like that. He'd never meant it like that. "Fuck, Parrish. No. My degrees, my education, it was fucking mine. It was important to me. You of all people have to understand it. It was important to me and it was mine. I only told Gansey a couple of months ago."

"Gansey knows?"

Ronan shrugged.

"So that means Blue and Henry know. So I'm the last to know. Your best friend. Your fucking husband."

"Stop saying that. Fucking hell, Parrish. Shut the fuck up. I'm not your real husband."

If possible, Adam's face dropped even further. "Yeah. You're right. I've gotta go."

"Wait, Adam. What?"

"I'm going to go stay with Gansey and Blue for a while. Don't get up. I can't look at you right now."

Ronan stared down at his knees, not moving until he heard the front door quietly close.

***

Two weeks passed so slowly Ronan was pretty sure time had stopped just to fuck with him. He groaned when he woke, too early again, and rolled over, almost falling off the couch. He'd tried to sleep in the bed that first night but it smelled like Adam and he just couldn't.

He'd been on the couch ever since.

He pulled himself up, shaking off his hangover and throwing his covers onto the floor. He had three lectures and a ten hour shift to fill the day. He'd been working a lot lately, taking any shift he could to keep him out of the apartment. Squinting at his phone, eyes leaking with tiredness, he groaned again.

It was only six and his first lecture wasn't until twelve. Fuck. Library it was then. Not a lot of good had come from Adam leaving except his grades improving in a crazy way. Already top of the class, he was now top of the department. The success tasted like ash.

He showered, letting the too hot water undo some of the knots in his back, and had a quick breakfast. He was out the door by seven. When he pulled up to the library, he waited, as he'd done for the last two weeks, and watched.

Adam strolled across the square, coffee cup in one hand and phone in the other. He glowed in the early morning light, sepia skin warm with the rising skin. Tucking his phone into his pocket, he pulled out his student ID and pushed the door open with his shoulder.

Ronan ached ached ached.

Waiting a few more minutes to be sure Adam would be settled at his normal desk, Ronan left the BMW and went in to study.

***

Three weeks without a word and Ronan was pretty sure he was losing his mind. No one would tell him how Adam was. They were respecting his privacy and you should have told him sooner, pal and I warned you this would happen, Ronan and you sorta brought this on yourself, asshole and it'll be okay, man, he just needs some time.

When his phone vibrated on the third Friday without Adam, he barely even noticed. The queue was out the door, he'd been up since five and working since three. He wasn't finished until close, and if he had to deal with one more drunk freshman, he was gonna scream. It was only when it rang a second and third time, buzzing against his leg like an annoying gnat, that he finally sighed and pulled it out of his pocket.

Adam's name sat on his screen and he almost dropped it.

"Shit. Paul, I gotta take this, can you cover me for two minutes?" Paul glanced at the queue, and Ronan saw the no scrawled across his face, but before he could form the word, Ronan interrupted, "Please. Paul. Please."

Paul must have heard the desperation because he jerked his head in a nod. "Be quick."

His phone has stopped buzzing as he walked away from the crowd to the dark edge of the SU. He leaned against the wall, hidden in the shadows and held a shaking thumb over Adam's name. Before he could press it, the phone lit up and buzzed again, shouting Adam's name at him.

"Adam?"

"Hey." The word was cautious, heavy with a weight they'd never had between them before. "Are you free to talk?"

"I've got a few minutes."

Paper rustled at the other end of the line. "The academic office called. Someone reported me as frauding them. We've been called in for a meeting next week."

"Shit, Adam." He rubbed a hand down his face. "What do you need me to do?"

"I'm gonna have to move back in tonight and we'll talk properly tomorrow if you're about."

"I'll be home late tonight but off until three tomorrow." Silence stretched between them for so long, Ronan's heartbeat sped up. "Adam?"

"Yeah, I'm here. You don't usually work Saturdays."

Ronan wasn't sure what to say, but since he'd already decided to tell Adam the truth no matter what, he said, "Lot of hours to fill. Missed you."

Adam took a shuddering breath. "Lynch, I can't. Not now."

"Okay. Okay." He swallowed the lump in his throat. "I've been sleeping on the couch so you take the bed. I'll be home late."

"You've been sleeping…" He trailed off. "Okay, I'll see you in the morning."

"Bye, Adam."

"Bye, Lynch."

He took a long time for Ronan to tuck his phone away and go back to work.

Adam was coming home.