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a better place or just a better way to fall

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Declan had once said that Ronan was almost tolerable when he was behind the wheel of a car. Ronan had replied that Declan was never tolerable, ever, and then Matthew had asked why couldn't they all just get along, like he was practicing to be Miss America.

Declan has never been right about anything, and especially has never been right about Ronan, but he's less wrong about this than he is about most things. Ronan feels at home when he's driving, feels the way that the parade of guidance counselors and spiritual leaders and child therapists he'd been subjected to in his youth would probably describe as "centered" or "in control" or "his best self" or some crap like that.

He's not being his best self right now.

No one is their best self on Venice Boulevard at six o'clock on a Friday, but Ronan is used to the crawling pace of traffic and the asshole who cuts across two lanes to swerve into the In-N-Out drive-thru and the omnipresent construction crews that some genius in city planning thinks won't be in the way at the height of rush hour.

No, what really gets to him is the way that Adam's pulled out his cell phone to respond to some jag-off lawyer email, even though they're on their way to dinner with Gansey and the witch-woman, even though it puts that horrible bleak hopeless expression on his face.

Ronan is starting to get used to Adam working at every hour of the day and night. He's starting to get used to Adam's horrible bleak hopeless expression.

That's what kills him.

Adam has a pretty good tunnel vision, mostly, which disguises the fact that he's shit at multi-tasking. If Ronan can be sufficiently distracting, Adam will have to stop working. Fortunately for Ronan, distracting is just another word for annoying, and -- well, ask Declan if Ronan is any good at being annoying.

He starts by rolling all of the windows in the car all the way down, but they aren't moving, so it's not like there's a lot of wind or noise. Adam frowns and gropes absently for the window crank, but gives up when his fingers brush against the BMW's smooth interior. And, okay, it's kind of adorable that he's so out of it that he thinks he's in his ancient Mustang, except wherever he is that isn't in the car with Ronan, it's clearly somewhere awful.

Ronan leans on the horn, a steady five second burst and another three quick blasts to follow. A chorus of angry drivers responds: honk -- blart -- eeyyyhhh --

Adam doesn't even blink.

For anyone else this would be when Ronan resorted to physical force -- two chances is more than fair -- but this is Adam. He can muster up a little class.

He turns the volume dial on the radio -- not all the way; he's keeping that in reserve -- and yells over Axl Rose's high-pitched wailing, "What are you reading?" Like he doesn't already know what Adam is reading, like he doesn't already know how much Adam hates people who interrupt him while he's reading to ask him what he's reading.

That earns him a cold hard look. Adam is proud of that stare, and deservedly so. It's terrifying, to most people; but Ronan's playing with a different rule book. Adam looked up from his phone. That counts as a win.

Ronan doesn't turn the radio down, or look away from Adam -- they're crawling, they'd be going faster if they got out and walked -- and instead of backing down he asks, like he's absolutely dying to know, "anything interesting?"

"Email." Adam's good at that, too, like he's good at everything. He can answer a question without giving away any more information than absolutely required. Sometimes he and Ronan speak a dozen words over the course of an entire night, because there's nothing else that needs to be said. Sometimes those are Ronan's favorite nights.

But this isn't that kind of conversation, and Adam proves it by looking pointedly back at his phone. Leave it alone, Lynch.

Ronan does not leave it alone.

"Are we meeting Gansey at the restaurant or picking him up?" Ronan turns up the radio another notch.

Adam looks at him again, not answering; his jaw works as he bites back a comment.

He looks back at his phone.

Fine. This is why Ronan left room for escalation. He turns the radio up again.

"Is Sargent coming? Her schedule is so weird." Ronan has Sargent's schedule committed to memory. She's currently one-up on him in their completely unofficial, we-will-deny-this-is-happening-to-our-dying-breaths rivalry, and Ronan needs to know what days she has an early morning class so he can call her several times in the night in the hopes of screwing up her sleep. "Why the fuck does anyone need that much school? It doesn't take four years to learn how to lie. What's the rest of the time spent on, dressing like posers? Or are you just supposed to know that before you go to law school -- "

Adam smacks the power button on the radio. The sudden cessation of noise echoes in Ronan's ears.

"Could you keep it down for one second?"

"No." Ronan flips the radio back on. "I'm listening to that," though if he cared that the grass was green or the girls were pretty he'd be in the wrong town and definitely in the wrong life.

Adam shut off the radio again. "Goddammit, Ronan, I can't hear you."

Ronan rolls his eyes. "Jesus, what are you, deaf?"

Traffic rolls to a complete stop again, which means Ronan looks over in time to get a perfect view of Adam's reaction.

Face bone white. Hands clenched into fists. Phone dropped to the floor of the car -- that doesn't feel like a win anymore.

Ronan says, "Holy shit," but he's thinking, no. He's thinking, he can't be.

He's thinking, -- right?

The silence rings in his ears. He misses Axl's nasal pleas to go home.

Adam says, "Just drive."

Ronan's foot is heavy on the brake. His eyes are fixed squarely on Adam's face: clouded over in fury, fury like pain, fury like someone hitting too close to a weak spot. Fury like he struck Adam a real blow, except it can't be --

"There's no fucking way you're deaf."

"Drive the car, Lynch."

Someone honks at him. Probably traffic is moving; probably Ronan is now the asshole who is holding up everyone's already godawful commute.

Ronan is just fine with being the asshole, thanks, except about this, because there is no way in hell Adam can be deaf. Right? Unless he's been bullshitting every time he complains about Ronan's taste in music, which admittedly does sound like something Adam is capable of doing, but --

"You're not deaf."

"Just drive the goddamn car."

"No."

Adam locks eyes with him, then, and if Ronan can tell when Adam's fury is hiding something real, then Adam can tell when Ronan is digging his heels in and not backing down.

Adam says, "Half."

More honking.

"What does half-deaf mean?"

Adam looks forward, out the windshield, like he's seeing something out there that isn't Los Angeles. "I'm deaf in one ear."

Ronan's stupid fucking mouth opens and asks, "which ear?"

Adam shuts his eyes, breathes, and then in one quick motion unbuckles his seat belt, opens his door, and gets out of the car.

The door slams shut.

"Shit."

Ronan steps on the gas and jerks the wheel hard, ditches the car in the first empty stretch of curb he can find. It's a twenty-minute zone. This is the point where Adam would tell him that he's going to get a ticket, and Ronan would reply that the city could shove its parking tickets up its ass, and Adam would say that there were several anatomical realities that made that impossible.

But instead Adam's walking, fast, alone, away from Ronan.

At the last second Ronan remembers Adam's phone, on the floor under the passenger seat, and scoops it up before running after him.

"You should go to dinner," Adam says, cold and clipped. "Gansey's going to be waiting."

"Right, because it's not like we're in the middle of anything."

"We're done talking about this."

"How can we be done when you haven't told me anything."

Adam doesn't answer.

It doesn't take long to get back to the apartment; they hadn't gotten very far. Things never take that long, to fall apart around Ronan.

They're up the stairs and through the door and Adam still doesn't answer; he hangs his keys up on the hook like he's coming home at the end of a totally normal day. Ronan shuts the door behind him and Adam finally turns to face him.

Adam is pissed.

Ronan has bounced off of the edges of Adam's anger enough times to know the general shape of it. It's never put him off; he understands it. Trusts it, even. He and Adam share that demon.

But this is the first time he's seen the full awakened force of that anger, and just because he was prepared for it doesn't mean he doesn't hate it, doesn't mean he doesn't ache for how much Adam is clearly hurting. Doesn't mean he doesn't feel his own monstrous anger stirring.

"Fine," Adam starts. "We're talking, so talk."

"You're the one who stormed out of my car."

"Some people would take that as a hint."

"If you're counting on hints then you don't get to be pissed off that people are surprised when you drop a fucking revelation on them."

"Excuse me for not knowing how to bring it up. 'Apropos of nothing, I'm hearing impaired.'" His face goes blotchy red with shame. Ronan would bet that he hasn't owned up to that often. Maybe ever. "There hasn't really been a good time."

"Guess what? Now's the time."

Adam stares at him. He's breathing hard, like he's been running flat out.

"I'm deaf in one ear. Happy?"

"If that were the whole story you wouldn't be upset."

"I'm upset because you're a jerk."

"You knew that already." There has to be a story. "What happened?"

"I hit my head," he says. "When I was seventeen. Damage to the inner ear caused by traumatic brain injury."

Adam is not as convincing as he thinks he is.

"Okay." Ronan's voice is harsh and nasty. "So, now you lie to me. Great."

Adam snaps. "My dad punched me in the face. I hit my head on the stairs of the fucking trailer we lived in and I concussed myself so bad I couldn't stand up. He thought I was faking and he left me out there. One of the neighbors called the cops because she thought I'd died. So, sorry I didn't want to talk about it."

Ronan doesn't say anything. He can't say anything, can't do anything, he can't even think. He is nothing but horror, horror and regret.

Silence is not the right response. If there even is a right response.

Adam turns away from him and says, "just -- go."

Ronan goes.

He stops just long enough to set Adam's phone down. The plastic case makes a little clack against the windowsill.

-

Ronan's on a film this week, day shoots mostly, the kind of schedule that would normally mean he sees a lot of Adam.

He doesn't.

Adam tries not to stay at the office past seven if he knows Ronan will be around the apartment; even if it means that he ends up working on Ronan's couch, he still comes home in the evenings and raises his blinds to let Ronan know he's in.

He doesn't.

Ronan walks his living room a thousand times, thinks about putting up a sign every time he passes the window.

He doesn't.

He settles for leaving his own blinds up, his light on. A blatant invitation for Adam to come by.

He doesn't.

-

Adam has never avoided him, not even when he sort of thought Ronan might be a serial killer. Even during that awful last week before Adam figured out they were dating, he'd still come to Ronan when he needed him. Ronan would like to think that Adam doesn't need him now, but it's much easier to picture him hurt and lonely and bleeding out his soul over law reviews at his busted-ass dining table and still keeping Ronan away because -- because he can. Because Ronan wouldn't actually help. Because nothing would help.

Three nights after Ronan had abruptly cancelled on dinner with Gansey and The Devil, he's standing at his window, tossing Chainsaw outside so he can go to a night shoot. It's too early for Adam to be home, even on a good night. He checks the window anyway. It still hurts to see the blinds down.

He writes on a single piece of paper and sticks it in the window: Chainsaw misses you, and then he goes to the set and blows a dozen takes in a row, keeps freaking out when he puts his headphones on and the world around him goes completely silent.

When he comes home that night, lugging his sound equipment up the stairs, there's a sign in Adam's window.

I miss "Chainsaw" too.

He doesn't stop to turn his lights off before he's running up the stairs to Adam's apartment.

The paranoid bastard left his door unlocked when he went to bed, and that hurts like their whole fight all over again. Ronan locks the door behind him and steps around the room to the bed.

Adam's lying on his back. He never can sleep on his back. Ronan lies down next to him, an inch between their arms like the ocean separating the continents.

Adam is so tense that it hurts to look at him; he doesn't want to talk about this, and Ronan doesn't want to make him. Adam has read Ronan's warning labels and caution tape and KEEP OFF THE UNRESOLVED EMOTIONAL TRAUMA signs, has gracefully given Ronan space when he needs it. Ronan wants to do the same for him, but he can't, not if it means leaving this open for him to step in and hurt Adam a second time. Once is too many.

"That wasn't the only time."

"No."

"The cops arrested him."

"They did," Adam says. "It didn't take."

There's a whole lifetime of stories there, not just Adam's past but his future too, years he hasn't lived yet: criminal law. Ronan's a fucking idiot, and he'd be madder at himself for missing this, except the rage is awake and hungry and it already has its eyes on its prey.

"I'm going to kill him."

"Please don't murder my father."

"He deserves -- "

"Ronan." His voice is something he has never heard before, completely flat and wooden and emotionless, and Ronan hates it. "I don't like violence."

Ronan shuts his eyes. Lives in that second, in how utterly useless and disgusting he feels, that the only thing he can think of makes the situation worse.

"I don't know what to do," he admits.

Adam sighs. "Go to sleep."

Ronan rolls on to his side, nudges Adam's shoulder with his nose until Adam turns over onto his side, too. Sometimes Adam has to be pushed and prodded into things. Ronan hopes like hell that this was one of those times and not that he's broken something that can't be fixed.

Adam says, quietly, "I'm sorry."

Ronan buries his face in Adam's neck. "Don't." He promises himself that this will be the last time he ever hears Adam apologize about this. Promises that he'll find some way of making this better.

He doesn't promise that he won't hurt Adam's father, given a chance. He doesn't make promises he has no intention of keeping.

He isn't going to be able to sleep for hours, but he breathes deep and regular all the same, presses his chest to Adam's back, curls an arm around him to keep him close. Eventually, after too long, Adam's breathing syncs up with his and he falls asleep.

-

It's the left ear, he thinks. Adam walks on Ronan's right in crowds, in unfamiliar locations, uses Ronan as a buffer against anyone approaching on his deaf side. Sits on Ronan's left in restaurants, on the couch, while rolling his eyes at Gansey. Keeps Ronan where he can hear him better, when he has the choice.

But he can't do that in Ronan's car. He has to turn to face Ronan, sometimes, and Ronan had always thought Adam just liked watching him drive.

They're meeting Gansey and his demon-woman at a museum on a Saturday, because what else would a bunch of twenty-somethings be doing on a Saturday in Tinseltown, when Ronan tosses the keys to the Mustang at Adam.

Adam jangles them, a question: what am I supposed to do with these?

"You drive," Ronan says.

"You love driving," Adam points out.

Ronan shrugs. "Maybe I want to get wasted."

Adam is not impressed.

"Your intention," and it's a complete deadpan, and Ronan loves that voice at least as much as he loves driving, "is to rage at the Getty Villa?"

"Why not?" Ronan says. "Call it a bacchanalia, that would go with the theme."

Adam huffs, not quite a laugh, but he's watching Ronan with something thoughtful in his eyes.

Ronan may not be as convincing as he thinks he is, either.

Adam reaches out and brushes his thumb across Ronan's cheek. Ronan had noticed that before, that Adam always moved with intention, that every point of physical contact was carefully weighed and considered like he was afraid of getting it wrong; but it never broke his heart before.

Ronan catches Adam's wrist, gently, presses his lips against the palm of his hand.

"We should go," Adam says.

Ronan breathes, and feels Adam's pulse against his fingers, and fixes this moment of time into his mind.

"Yeah," he says, and releases Adam's hand. "Let's go."

Chapter Text

"The guy at the bar is checking you out."

Ronan scowls. He hadn't wanted to come to this stupid party in the first place, had only caved because Noah had asked him to and saying no to Noah is like drop-kicking a baby bird. And did that pay off? No, because Noah got hauled off to talk cinemataaahgraphy with a bunch of other pretentious camera nerds. Which leaves Ronan to celebrate the premiere of a movie he'd never pay to see, surrounded by the crew members that he hates the most, which is to say, all of them. And now the one person who's supposed to be distracting him from his annoyance is talking bullshit.

"You don't need to point out every guy who checks me out."

Adam shrugs. "You wouldn't notice if I didn't."

Which is true and not the point. Ronan is terrible at noticing when guys are interested in him, which is one of the reasons he always dates assholes; assholes are, at least, not shy about making their interest known. He only picks up on the most obvious moves, like someone asking him for sex, or buying him a bottle of vodka and lying about being his boyfriend, or writing their phone number on a coaster and sticking into his pocket. That last guy had done that in front of Adam, for fuck's sake. Adam had thought it was funny, had laughed behind his back and told Blue all about. He hadn't seemed jealous. Ronan would say that Adam doesn't get jealous, except that he always, unfailingly, points out to Ronan when someone is checking him out.

"I don't want to notice," Ronan says. "I don't get why you do." He looks around the party -- Noah's got to be here somewhere, or if he really is gone then he won't notice if Ronan leaves early.

He isn't waiting for Adam to explain himself. Adam doesn't come with explanations. If you can't figure him out you don't deserve him.

"Don't worry about it," Adam says. "I'm just being petty."

Ronan looks at him out of the corner of his eye. Adam is staring down at his drink.

"That's when I like you best."

"No, you like when I'm mean," and he's not wrong. "This is self-pity."

"You're right. I don't like that."

Adam smiles at him, a crooked, half-formed expression. "If I remind you that you have options then you have to choose me again."

"That's -- "

"Stupid?" Adam suggests, when Ronan can't find the word. "Pathetic?"

"Fine," Ronan says. "That's okay. I choose you."

"You didn't even look at the guy at the bar."

"I don't need to."

"He'll be disappointed."

"He can deal."

That gets him the rest of Adam's smile, a light-hearted segue, "isn't your friend Noah supposed to be around here?" Sometimes Adam fakes happy in the hopes that it will inspire the real thing, and sometimes he fakes happy to disguise the fact that he's upset. It's a fine distinction, but Ronan think this isn't the kind of forced cheer that he needs to call out.

"He was," Ronan complains, "and then he vanished." Really, he doesn't see Noah anywhere, and he's checked the whole room except, as Adam pointed out, the bar. So he looks over his shoulder --

-- and freezes, because that's Henry Fucking Cheng, sipping on a bright green cocktail and giving Ronan a flirtatious little wave.

"We're leaving."

He oversells it: Adam goes on alert, sets his drink down and squares his shoulders. He thinks this guy is a stalker, Ronan's ex, some real threat.

Ronan feels a little bad about worrying him. But more than that he feels a flush run over him -- that Adam has his back, no questions asked.

He figures he'll make it up to Adam as soon as they get home, is looking forward to making it up to him, but before they get ten feet Cheng pops up in front of them, like his superpower is being wherever he isn't wanted, which it probably is.

"Ronan Lynch!"

Ronan sighs, tries to convey (to Cheng) that he doesn't want to be here, and (to Adam) that he doesn't actually mind being here. Life was simpler when he communicated by swearing and punching things.

"Cheng," he says. "Aren't you supposed to be in Silicon Valley doing whatever the fuck tech billionaires do?"

Cheng waves the comment off. Either that's fake or life's gotten even weirder than Ronan thought: Henry Cheng with modesty. "Oh, please, I am a tech multimillionaire only."

Ronan can just make out Adam's snort of disgust.

"Though my meager fortune does enable me to travel to glamorous events such as Hollywood premieres," Cheng continues.

"This is a million dollar horror movie," Ronan says. "The lead didn't even come to the afterparty."

"I may have received some misinformation with regard to glamorous Hollywood events," Cheng says. "But look at me, talking all about myself -- I am my own favorite subject, and yet I cannot pass up the opportunity to learn more about a dear old friend. What are you doing with yourself these days?"

"I'm a male escort."

Adam says, mild, "these jokes stop being funny when you open me up to prosecution."

"Nope. The punchline is getting you arrested."

Adam steals Ronan's beer and throws it in the nearest trash can.

"Hi," he says to Cheng. "Adam Parrish. I've never paid Ronan for sex."

Cheng does a sloppy two finger salute in Adam's direction, because sure, that's a way that human beings greet each other. Ronan had wondered, in some of the more introspective moments of his life, if maybe he'd gotten along so badly with Cheng because he resented someone else taking up Gansey's attention. Had decided that that was almost certainly part of it.

But man, the performative weirdness sure as shit doesn't help.

"Henry Cheng," he says, "as you may have gathered. Lynch and I attended boarding school together."

"Really," Adam says, for all the world like he didn't know that already. "So you'd be able to tell me all the embarrassing adolescent Ronan stories." That's retribution for the false alarm, but he earned it.

"Hm. While I would love nothing better than to embarrass Lynch in front of his gentleman caller, I'm afraid I cannot. He was distressingly cool and handsome even in the awkward teenage years."

"Well, damn," Adam says, "that's not fair."

"Such was the consensus on campus," Cheng says. "Tell me of yourself, Mr. Parrish. You worked on this film?"

"No, Ronan's the one in the industry. I'm just the arm candy."

"You're not arm candy," Ronan snaps, "you went to Stanford," because no one gets to put Adam down, especially not Adam.

"Only for my JD," but he's smirking, a glint of arrogance in his eyes that makes Ronan want to build wonders just to tear them back down again.

"You know," Cheng says, "I am considering investing some of my wealth in film production."

"Risky investment," Adam says.

"The risk is half the fun. And art is its own reward, particularly when you can surround yourself with fascinating people -- and how fortuitous that I should discover I already have a friend in the industry."

"Really," Ronan asks, "who's that?"

Cheng just smiles. He never had taken Ronan as personally as he should have. "Ah, Lynch, you have not changed at all."

Noah finally shows his damn face, and Ronan pawns Cheng off on him. They can talk about color palettes or do screen tests or whatever artists get up to at parties. He's getting out of here, him and Adam.

He's off-center enough that he doesn't pick up on anything odd. He can only halfway follow Adam's out loud thinking as he steers them out of the parking lot, even though Adam's stream of consciousness musings are usually his favorite.

"...might not amount to anything, anyway, I don't know how much follow through he has. He could get a taste of Hollywood and realize it's all drudgery and committees and give up on it. Though it's hard to imagine he's really as flighty as he seems if he and Gansey got along. If he does want to bankroll movies you could -- "

He doesn't immediately notice that Adam has trailed off; when he does he looks over to find him staring out through the windshield, resting his head against the window.

"What?"

"I was thinking about your career," Adam says, "and then I realized, you don't care."

Adam is so seldom wrong about him. Just as well, because it hurts like a bitch when he is. "I care."

"No, I know, I mean -- " Adam makes a frustrated noise. "You aren't concerned with advancement, you don't care about prestige, and you don't need more money. You like where you are and what you do," and he says that like it's magical, unicorn-rare, a miracle. "You don't need to exploit an old friendship just for the sake of climbing the ladder."

"Who would want to do that?"

Adam stares out the windshield.

Eventually he says, "let's talk about something else."

"I could tell you more shit about Cheng."

Adam groans. "It's bad enough I spent the whole conversation with his ex's stupid sonnet running through my head."

"Gansey would be so disappointed you think his sonnet is stupid."

"Disappointed, maybe, surprised, no." He taps on the window. "You know, I thought Gansey was straight for the longest time?"

"Yeah, well, so did Gansey."

"But not you?"

"No straight guy is that obsessed with Gilgamesh and the Knights of the Round Table and 'epic bonds of brotherhood'."

That gets him the laugh he's been going for. "Dear God."

"And then he had an 'erotic awakening' at crew practice -- "

"How can you have an erotic awakening at crew practice," Adam asks, "it's all spandex and shrinkage."

This has to be the first time in all of creation that someone's heart skipped a beat because of the phrase spandex and shrinkage. " -- which would have been a relief except then I had to hear all about his actual mancrushes and not just his historical ones."

"Oh, no." Adam covers his eyes with one hand. "I just had this mental image of Gansey as a teenager drawing hearts in his textbook around Abraham Lincoln."

Ronan sighs. "He had a picture of Neil deGrasse Tyson in his locker."

"I cannot believe," Adam says, "that you have never told me that before. You're the worst."

"No, I'm not," Ronan says. "I'm the greatest boyfriend of all time."

"I don't know about that," Adam says, like he's actually considering Ronan's merit, which is terrifying until he adds, "Gansey wrote a poem for Cheng."

"I could write you a poem," Ronan says. "There once was a boy from Nantucket -- "

"I'm not from Nantucket."

"No, but 'fuck it' doesn't rhyme with 'Virginia'."

"How rude of me to not conform my biography to a limerick," Adam says. "I guess that makes me the worst."

"No," Ronan says. "You're not."

He watches Adam until he sees him smile; a real smile, not forced, not faked, not hiding anything.

"Okay. I guess not."

Chapter Text

The kicker of the whole thing is that Adam knows about the ranch. He'd been to the ranch, when Aurora was -- away.

He knows Aurora went away. Knows that she's -- well, he knows that there's something to know. And he might have had a learning curve picking up Lynch-to-English translation, but he's pretty damn fluent by now.

"I figured your family would do something for the holidays." If it's a question, it's only because Adam's carefully not looking at him.

Ronan fiddles with the A/C. It's quieter than playing with the radio, and his hands are restless.

A blast of air hits him straight in his face. He forgot that the Mustang's A/C only does off and fuck you.

"We're not."

"Hm." Again, not a question, because Adam is trying to give him room. Adam gets not wanting to talk about your family.

Fuck, Ronan hates putting his family in the same box as Adam's.

"Mom's traveling," Ronan says, because traveling sounds better than trying out another one of Matthew's hippie-dippie therapy resorts that no one except Matthew actually thinks will help.

He wonders how long he has until Adam switches to outright questions. He wonders if Adam will bother. He wonders if Adam won't just figure it out on his own.

"You could visit her," Adam says. "Or Declan," and Ronan scowls, because he and Declan get along best with a continent between them.

"You just want me to piss off so you can work through Christmas."

"Unfortunately, no," Adam says. "Gansey's already promised to kidnap me. His mother's renting out the Beverly Hills Hotel for a donor event."

"You're going to spend Christmas with a bunch of rich Republicans?"

"I'll spend Christmas with Blue, hiding in a closet while Gansey schmoozes with rich Republicans and pretends his soul isn't dying." Adam shrugs. "I survived last year; there are worse traditions."

"Better you than me."

"I hate to say it." Adam does not sound like someone who is delivering news that pains them. "But if you don't have other plans, Gansey is going to make you go, too."

"Fuck that. Jesus wasn't born so a bunch of pasty-ass bigots in suits can waste our time."

"Jesus hasn't been paying attention to my law firm," Adam mutters. Ronan gives him a look that reminds him that they Aren't Talking about Adam's job the same way they Aren't Talking about Ronan's mom.

He has a sinking feeling they're running out of time on one or the other or both of the unspoken promises at the foundation of their life together, and he has no idea what happens then.

"I'm not going to Gansey's mom's party." That much is definitive fact. Ronan has done his time at Gansey family events.

Adam drums his fingers on the steering wheel. "Blue and I will find a really big closet to hide in this year."

-

Adam doesn't really believe Ronan has it in him to plan a secret romantic getaway, which makes it a lot easier to plan a secret romantic getaway.

And, okay, he does ask Gansey for help, but he could have done it all on his own. If he'd realized the full extent to which Gansey was going to get gross and sappy and shit-you-not tearful about it, he would have. He could have found another way to block off five days in Adam's calendar without Gansey faking some scumbag-lawyer event. Probably. Maybe. Somehow.

The point is, Adam doesn't figure it out until Ronan is pulling in to long-term parking, even though Ronan had to pack for him and hide two suitcases in the trunk and steal his passport. He catches Adam completely off-guard. The look on his face is almost comical; his mouth actually falls open.

"Surprise," Ronan says, smug.

"If your goal was to not spend Christmas surrounded by rich old white people, you probably shouldn't have booked us a cruise," Adam argues, but there's no bite to it.

They spend five whole days drinking and sunbathing and trying to figure out how the hell two mostly-drunk grown-ass men are supposed to have sex in the tiny bed in their cabin.

It's the first vacation Ronan has ever gotten Adam to take with him, and it should have been perfect.

-

Ronan's mom returns to the ranch in February; he spends three days brooding about it to hide the fact that he already knows what he's going to do, and then he tells Adam he needs his help at the grocery store and jumps straight on the 10.

"Did you forget where the grocery store is?" Adam asks.

"No."

Adam doesn't ask, just stays silent in that sarcastic fucking way he has, and then they're through downtown and the signs start reading Pasadena, and Adam's still silent but he's not such an asshole about it.

He doesn't look over at the passenger seat until they're parked in front of the house, engine off and hand resting over the ignition. Adam is gripping the bar over the door so hard his nails are white. Of course he would think meeting the parents is the biggest scariest hurdle to jump.

"Mom's health isn't great," Ronan says.

There's no surprise from Adam. "What do I need to know?"

"She gets tired really easy. Can't move around the house that well." Fuck, he wishes that was all of it. "Her memory is shit."

Adam reaches over and rests his hand on top of Ronan's. "Okay." He runs a thumb over Ronan's wrist, so light it's only a phantom of a touch. "Let's go."

Aurora's on the porch to greet them by the time Ronan pulls himself out of the car. He realizes his hands are empty. As often as he visits, he still tries to bring something -- flowers, whatever tragic sugarless excuse for a dessert he can find that fits the doctors' dietary recommendations, a flash drive with his latest projects. She watches all of his movies, even the ones that are complete shit, even the ones that are soaked with gore, even the ones that are glorified-but-not-actually-glorified porn.

But today he didn't bring anything. Or not anything except Adam, which is to say, everything.

"Hi, mom."

"Ronan." Aurora presses a palm against his cheek, looks into his eyes. Her face is so fond and warm and beautiful that he feels something inside of him crack.

"Mom, I want to introduce you to my boyfriend."

Aurora turns away from him, loses none of the kindness. "Adam. It is a joy to meet you."

"Likewise, ma'am."

"Please, call me Aurora." She touches his face, too, taking in his measure. "Won't you come inside? I have some iced tea in the fridge."

"Thank you," Adam says, and as they take off their shoes in the hallway, "you have a lovely home."

"Oh, that's all thanks to the caretakers. I'm not much of a housekeeper these days," and the conversation continues, pleasantries that Ronan tunes out. He's too busy watching Adam, listening to Adam, because the South's coming through when he talks. Not a lot, not enough for anyone else to comment on. But Adam has beaten his accent into submission. He never slips up, and he almost never chooses to use it. When he does it's usually because he's mocking someone.

He's got all three things going in his brain at once, taking part in the conversation and watching Aurora for any sign of trouble and wondering what the hell Adam is up to, so it takes him a long time to figure out what's obvious in retrospect. To figure out that Adam is up to the same thing he is: Adam is looking out for his mother. He's just playing the Southern gentleman card to disguise the fact that he's doing it. Every time Aurora reaches for something, Adam beats her to it. When her glass is empty, he's already on his way to the kitchen. When she wants to show them the garden, he's got an arm out for her to hold before she's even up from her chair. And all of this from the same fucker who has stolen dozens of forks out of Ronan's hand while Ronan was right in the middle of eating.

"You should see the grounds, they're lovely this time of year," Aurora says. Which, no, nothing is lovely in February, even in Pasadena, except that Aurora sees beauty everywhere she looks. "Ronan, why don't you go ask your brother to join us?"

And just like that Ronan's heart splats on the ground at his feet.

"Mom," he says, "Matthew's in Ireland, remember?"

Aurora frowns; a cloud passing in front of the sun, casting shadows over the Earth.

"Oh," but she recovers, faster than Ronan ever has, turns to Adam, "my husband was from Ireland, you know."

Adam nods. Ronan is too tired and heartsick to remember if Adam did know that.

Aurora leads and Adam supports her and Ronan trails farther and farther behind. The ranch is beautiful, even in February, a sprawling Spanish colonial house on acres of land with a working farm kept running by a staff of full-time caretakers. Ronan hates every last inch of it.

By the time they return to the house Aurora is visibly weakened, walking slow and leaning on Adam's arm.

"I hate to ruin the fun," she says, smile bright and delicate, "but I think I need to lie down for a bit. Ronan, could you get my glasses for me? They're out on the porch."

Ronan nods, ducks out of the room before he has to say anything.

There aren't any glasses on the porch. He checks it over twice, and then he steps outside and kicks at the gravel driveway. Picks up a single pebble and hurls it as far across the lawn as he can.

He reenters through the front door, and there in the living room are a pair of reading glasses, neatly folded and resting on the arm of the chair Aurora had been sitting in all morning.

He digs his nails into his palms, as deep as they'll go, and then he picks up the glasses and walks down the hall to the master bedroom.

Before he gets there, he hears his mother's voice.

"Is my boy behaving himself?"

Ronan can imagine Adam perfectly, struggling against his instinctive rejection of sentimentality, his ingrained pessimism.

But he answers right away, completely sincere. "He's never been anything but good to me."

Ronan shuts his eyes and leans his back against the wall. Let the stupid ranch hold him up; he's done.

Who-knows-how-much-later Adam steps out of the bedroom, closes the door very softly behind him. He looks a question at Ronan.

Ronan shakes his head and walks toward the door. Adam reaches out just far enough that their hands brush as they pass.

Aurora is already asleep when he steps into the room. He sets her glasses down on the bedside table, switches off the reading lamp and pulls the curtains closed.

He can't get over how she looks -- dimmed, depleted. In his memories Aurora is serene and full of life, the one cool oasis of peace in a childhood of noise and motion and racing hearts. Now when she falls still, it's too easy to imagine that she'll never start again; when she's silent he worries that she's lost.

Ronan kisses her on the forehead and goes back out to the kitchen. Adam is washing dishes.

He sits at the table and the entire day crashes around him.

"Someday she's going to forget Dad," he says, "and I don't know what I'll do."

Adam shuts off the water. The kitchen is silent.

"You'll remind her."

Ronan breaks. He covers his face in his hands, rests his elbows on the table and just stops. Thinking, feeling, existing.

When he comes back down he can feel Adam's hands, one running along the short bristle of his hair, the other firmly gripping the back of his neck. They're damp from the sink, cool against his skin.

Ronan pushes away from the table, leans back in his chair. Adam lets go of his neck.

"Hey."

Ronan looks him in the eye, nods quickly: I'm back.

Adam studies his face. "You should go lie down."

Ronan is exhausted. "I don't need to."

"Go lie down or I'll kick your ass, Lynch."

He goes and lies down in the bedroom that used to be his. It doesn't look like his now, dusted and tidier than any place Ronan has ever called home. Sometimes when he crashes out here he leaves the room a mess on purpose, tears the bedding off and strews it around, upends drawers of guest pajamas and spare blankets. Every time he comes back, it's pristine again.

He's too tired right now to try to pretend he belongs here.

Ronan falls asleep. Dreams about walking through the house. Sometimes it's the ranch, sometimes it's his childhood home. He's looking for his mother, but every room he enters is empty, sunlit and faded like an old photograph.

When he wakes up and slips back into the kitchen, Adam lying on his back, head and torso hidden away under the sink. He's tapping one foot lightly on the ground, which probably means that he's humming, off-key and too quiet for Ronan to make out.

Ronan sits and runs his fingers over the engraved edges of the kitchen table and watches Adam's foot tap. He doesn't think about anything.

Adam emerges from under the sink. He pushes himself up until he's sitting on the floor, pulls his knees up to his chest. He looks at Ronan, and Ronan looks at him, and then he nods, like he's made a decision.

"What happened to make you move out of this house?"

Ronan shuts his eyes and breathes. He'd given up ages ago on anyone having all of the answers he needs. He doesn't know what to do sometimes, when Adam has the perfect question.

"Declan and Matthew ganged up on me. Some crap about how I was dwelling and it wasn't good for me." You've skipped right over grieving and straight to suicidal, and only Declan could make concern sound like selfishness and moral judgment, I'm not burying a brother, too. Matthew's far more earnest plea: Ronan, you're freaking me out. "Declan tried to force me to move back to the East Coast with him."

Adam snorts.

"I told him that I had my film career to think about."

"Why do I have a feeling that you got your first job in the industry the exact same day that Declan picked that fight with you?"

Ronan scowls, but he can't deny it. "I like my work."

"Of course you do, you get to create things and not talk to anyone and show off your arms," never mind that Adam is the one who is fixated on Ronan's arms, "but let's not pretend you find your brother convincing."

Ronan stares down at the kitchen table. "Mom agreed with him."

You deserve your own life, and no, I don't, and a brand new heartbreak on Aurora's face, worse than the funeral or the diagnosis because Ronan had been the one to put it there.

Adam stands up, rinses his hands. Watches the water drain. Apparently he's happy with what he sees, because he grabs a sponge and starts scrubbing the sink.

Suddenly the thought of Adam helping out around the house, around this house, is more than Ronan can bear.

"Would you knock that off?"

Adam looks over his shoulder. "Make me."

Ronan walks up behind Adam and wraps his arms around his waist. He wants to pull Adam away from the sink. Shove him against the wall. Drag him out of the house. Anything. But he's such a fucking wreck he doesn't trust himself to read the signals right.

Then Adam says, "bet you couldn't," and it's permission.

He hoists Adam up in his arms. Damn, a fireman's carry would have been easier, but there's no backing down now. Adam wraps an arm around his shoulders, hanging on. He's tense all over, like a cat torn between jumping out of your arms or scratching the hell out of you and then jumping out of your arms. But he turns his face in to Ronan's neck, presses his lips against his throat, and Ronan feels it with the beat of his pulse: this is okay, I'm okay.

He carries Adam back to the guest bedroom before Adam says, "You can put me down now."

Ronan takes one last step and drops Adam on the bed. "Good." He collapses onto the mattress next to him. "You're heavy."

Adam rolls onto his side. "Well, if you want a skinny little twink you can throw around, I have Henry Cheng's number."

Ronan scowls at him. "I don't want a skinny little twink. I want you."

Adam meets his eyes. Their faces are so close it's hard to keep him in focus, but neither of them moves away.

"What a coincidence," he says. "I want you, too."

Chapter Text

Adam has never come right out and said that Ronan is his first boyfriend, but there's a lot of things Adam hasn't said outright that they both know to be true: I hate my job, and I'm not actually a morning person even though I insist on waking up at fuck o'clock every day, and I love you. It doesn't matter; most of Ronan's exes were huge mistakes, so all things considered he thinks Adam's got the better end of it.

But he knows a lot of things about Adam that he's never had to be told, and he knows how heavy all that shit weighs on him, all the things he's envious of that he'd never admit to wanting.

So Ronan notices the carefully disinterested look on Adam's face when Cheng tells his way-too-goddamn-detailed story about getting caught making out in a movie theater in high school. (And of-fucking-course Cheng is the kind to kiss and tell and tell and tell. Ronan is really fucking dreading the inevitable day he pulls off his Gansey/Blue seduction.) Notices the way Adam laughs along but offers nothing when Blue talks about the kids who got suspended from her school for breaking into the library to have sex, not realizing there was a teacher conference that day. Gansey, thank God, would never gossip about teenage indiscretions, but he phrases it like that, too, "teenage indiscretions," which is almost as bad.

Ronan can't do anything about most of the scars from Adam's childhood -- he can't fix his ear, or get him to play hookie for a day without stressing the fuck out, and he's been explicitly forbidden from committing acts of violence against his father.

But shit, if Adam's jealous that he never gotten to fool around in high school? Ronan can do something about that.

"You drive," Ronan says, tossing him the keys. Adam raises an eyebrow, instantly suspicious; Ronan hadn't been drinking, and absent any mind-altering substances they're both possessive as fuck about their cars.

Ronan just raises an eyebrow back at him, mocking, and Adam shrugs: hey, it's your car, do what you want.

Ronan intends to.

They leave Cheng's Silver Lake bungalow late enough that the roads are dark and deserted: good. There's construction on the freeway, and Adam takes surface streets instead: even better. Ronan thinks ahead on the route they're taking, and then when they're halfway home he puts his hand on Adam's thigh.

Adam breathes in, but doesn't give any other sign that he noticed.

Game on.

Ronan trails his fingers up Adam's thigh, slowly, going slower and slower until he finally reaches his crotch. Runs his hand up and down Adam's fly -- nothing more than a light touch, teasing.

Adam's breathing's gotten heavier, but he's still collected, hands on the wheel and eyes front. He fucking turns on his blinker when he changes lanes, even, and God, Ronan wants him so badly.

He strokes faster, more pressure, until Adam swallows, hard, and flexes his hands on the steering wheel.

Ronan works open the button on Adam's jeans -- it takes him a couple of tries, left-handed -- and pulls the zipper down.

Adam caves.

"Ronan -- " His voice cracks.

Fuck, his timing is amazing; they're coming up on the park now. He tells Adam, "pull in here," and his voice isn't too steady either.

Adam does, no hesitation, but the look on his face is skeptical. Fair enough; technically the park is closed after sundown, but no one ever checks shit like that. Ronan had figured on a forty-sixty chance there'd be a drug deal going down in the parking lot, but they luck out. The place is deserted, dark, out of sight of the main road.

Adam pulls into the very furthest spot and parks the car.

His hands fall still.

"Turn off the engine."

Adam shuts his eyes. His right hand falls on the ignition and turns the car off.

Ronan unclicks his seat belt. The sound is impossibly loud without the engine, without any other noise but Adam's harsh breathing.

He reaches out and unclicks Adam's seat belt.

Adam turns and captures his mouth in a kiss, hard and deep and needy. Ronan kisses back, meets need with need. It takes him a few minutes and a wandering hand to realize that the seat belt is still half over Adam's body, and that reminds him that he has a job to do. Sloppy make outs are great, but that's not what he brought Adam here for.

He bites Adam's lip, hard, and when that makes him twist in his seat Ronan reaches down and pulls Adam's dick out through the opening in his briefs.

Adam groans, breaks off their kiss. He's halfway hard; it only takes a few strokes to get him all the way there.

Ronan kisses him one more time -- closed mouth, sweet, all very PG here -- and then leans over to wrap his lips around the head of Adam's cock.

Shit, but it's been a long time since he gave head in a car. He's starting to remember why adults with apartments and no curfews don't have sex in parking lots and movie theaters. The gear shift is digging into his shoulder and the angle sucks; he can't get his hand around Adam's shaft or take him nearly as far into his mouth as he wants to.

And none of that matters at all because Adam is moaning like it's the end of the world.

Fuck it. Breathing is optional. He leans further, takes Adam a little deeper, and then he starts working his head up and down.

Adam's talking the whole time, breathless nonsense, "fuck, Ronan, God, yes, more, yes, yes, oh." There are very few things in the world that can get Adam to shut his brain off, and this is far and away Ronan's favorite.

He gets his right hand up on Adam's thigh -- his left hand is stuck, useless, why the hell does anyone do this again? ("Ronan," and oh, right, that's why.) He runs his hand up Adam's leg, slow and gentle, and then he digs his fingertips hard into the fabric and drags his hand back down the length of his leg.

"Fuck." Adam pushes up into his mouth. On another occasion, he might push back, grip Adam's hips and pin him down, force him to take it on Ronan's terms -- that's a game they both enjoy. But tonight is about sloppy and desperate and imperfect, so Ronan just tilts his head to give Adam a better angle and ignores the fact that his neck really doesn't want to bend like that. It's worth it for the sound Adam makes, an honest to God whine.

All too soon Adam's resting his hand on the back of Ronan's neck, squeezing lightly. The message is clear, but this time he does push back, ignores the summons to break away. He wants to give Adam this, as fast and fierce and clumsy as he can, and also he doesn't want to clean jizz out of his upholstery.

So he just hums in the back of his throat and takes Adam deep again.

Adam gasps "bastard" right before he comes, and yeah, Ronan's pretty proud of himself for that.

Then he does sit up to kiss Adam, and Adam opens his mouth and tugs Ronan as close as they can manage in their awkward position. His hand drifts down from Ronan's shoulder, across his chest, down to the button on his jeans.

Ronan twines his fingers with Adam's and tugs his hand away.

Adam pulls back, confused. Ronan changed the script on him, and his default assumption when that happens is that he was on the wrong page, that he screwed up. Ronan still has hope that that's a scar that can be fixed someday.

But right now -- frantic teenage hookups are overrated. Ronan wants to take his time. He wants to sit with the taste of Adam's satisfaction on his tongue and the buzz of his own need under his skin, and then he wants to kiss and bite and stroke every last inch of Adam's body.

"Let's go home," he says, and there's a spark of understanding in Adam's eye as he starts the car.

-

Adam strips him slowly, so slowly, and that's really the hottest part, that Adam knows what he needs even when he didn't ask for it.

Okay, well, it's pretty hot the way that Adam's pushing his shirt up inch by inch, licking and nipping at his skin as it's exposed, but metaphorically, knowing your boyfriend gets you is pretty good.

He loses his erection at some point before they're fully naked, too turned on for too long. It lets him focus wholly on Adam, anyway, and he takes advantage of that, traces the shape of his shoulder blades with his tongue, scrapes his teeth on the bony knobs of his elbows, sucks an enormous hickey onto the inside of his right thigh.

"Ronan, Ronan, come on, please." It usually takes a lot more work to get Adam to say please. Although -- huh, Ronan has been pushing his buttons since they left Cheng's house. He's earned it, whatever he wants.

He pulls himself up on the bed next to Adam, takes his cues from the way Adam's body pushes against his. Lays out on his side and lets Adam fit them together, run his hands over him. Not as frantic as he'd've guessed from Adam's plea, more exploratory. They're both feeling patient tonight.

Pressure on his shoulder, and he obeys the unspoken command to roll onto his back, pulls Adam on top of him. Adam nips at his earlobe, licks so that his tongue just barely brushes against the inside of his ear.

Ronan shivers.

Adam begins a slow, thorough trek down Ronan's body. Lingers over his neck, because it drives Ronan wild; lingers over his nipples, because it doesn't do much for Ronan either way but Adam fucking loves it. Someday Ronan is going to get his nipples pierced just to see the look on Adam's face. Licks Ronan's belly button and runs his nose along the line of his abs and mouths at his hipbone, his other hipbone.

Just as Adam's reaching his destination -- and really, where else could he have been heading -- Ronna props himself up on his elbows and says, "not yet." Because he's not hard, but that would do it, Adam taking him into his mouth, and it's not quite right, somehow.

"Not yet?" Adam asks, "or not that?" and his grin turns absolutely filthy.

"Jesus." Adam doesn't always love getting fucked, but if he's offering, Ronan's not going to be rude and say no. "That, yeah."

His voice comes out ragged, and Adam hears it, smirks all the wider. That won't do; Ronan sits up and pulls Adam on top of him, kisses him and pinches his nipple until Adam's panting and on edge again.

"On your back." Ronan sounds more pulled together, but Adam takes his time stretching out on the bed. Fine, if he wants to make Ronan work for it, Ronan can play along.

Ronan reaches for the night stand; they're getting low on lube, but this will be enough. They ran out of condoms a couple of weeks ago and are currently locked in a game of chicken over who's going to buy more, which Adam knew. If he wants it bareback Ronan isn't going to refuse him.

He is going to make him wait for it, though. He settles between Adam's legs, runs his hands over knees and thighs and hips like that's all he's got on his mind. He has a great view of Adam's stomach and chest, can see every time his breath catches just as well as he can feel the muscles twitch under his skin.

He teases Adam, fucks him with one finger long after he's ready for two, pretends he can't hear Adam calling him a sadistic asshole. Focuses really intently on giving him a matching enormous hickey on his left thigh, because God forbid Ronan defile a work of art like Adam by ruining his symmetry.

But then a switch flips; no telling what it was exactly -- the sound of Adam's breath catching, the smell of sweat and pre-come, the press of his own cock hard against the mattress -- but suddenly Ronan looks up at Adam and thinks, now now now.

And then Adam is looking down at him, lips parted and eyes wide and dark. He scrambles for Ronan the same time Ronan scrambles for him, so that Adam ends up elbowing him in the face.

"Oh, Jesus, are you -- " and Ronan cuts him off because he's fine, he's fine, except for the fact that he's not kissing Adam right this second, so he kisses him and Adam laughs and kisses him back.

Adam settles over Ronan, straddling him. His cock rubs against Ronan's, and he groans, moves his hips so that they're grinding together, over and over. It feels amazing. It's almost a shame to stop, except that Ronan wants to be inside him, now now now --

Ronan breaks off kissing him, tries to focus on getting lined up right. Adam is very distracting, naked and needy and beautiful, and it doesn't help that he's touching Ronan's face, running his fingers over Ronan's cheekbone and kissing him softly in what Ronan honestly has trouble remembering is the same spot that Adam had just clocked him.

"Christ, can you drop it, Parrish, I'm fine."

"Right," Adam says, and how can someone be that sarcastic when they're that horny, "sorry that I care about you, I -- " and then his whole face transforms, eyes shut, mouth dropping open, "oh -- " as Ronan pushes the tip of his cock inside of Adam.

"What were you saying?" Ronan asks, aware that he sounds pretty damn goofy himself, breathless and not at all mocking. "You were saying something, come on -- "

Adam makes a wordless noise, rests two of his fingers against Ronan's mouth to shut him up. Ronan takes advantage of that, nips at his finger tips, kisses the palm of his hand, and all the while pushing slowly, very slowly, deeper inside of Adam.

When he's as deep inside Adam as he can go, Adam puts his arms over Ronan's shoulder and presses his forehead against Ronan's and just -- stays like that, between need and fulfillment, still as statues, Eros in Repose. Then Adam shudders all over and starts to rock his hips, moving Ronan inside of him. Ronan sneaks kisses, quick little pecks, shy for all that he's inside Adam, for all that he can feel Adam's thighs trembling under his hands from lust or exertion or both.

He isn't expecting his orgasm, just finds that suddenly he's grabbing Adam that bit tighter, pushing up that last bit deeper. He tucks his head against Adam's chest and doesn't pull out, just starts stroking Adam.

It's too much, it's way too much; he's still sensitive and now Adam is tensing around him, jerking his hips forward, and Ronan can feel all of it all at once. He groans and lets himself be overwhelmed.

He's aware of it when Adam comes, thinks okay, good, but the better thing is when Adam settles down on his lap and stops moving so damn much and they can both catch their breath.

"You have the weirdest damn ways of showing that you care," Adam says.

"I was just horny," Ronan mutters.

Adam blows on his ear, wordless rebuttal, and lays his head down on Ronan's shoulder.

Chapter Text

Los Angeles doesn't have seasons: everyone knows that. Every asshole who just stepped off the bus on the Walk of Fame says and acts like they discovered a brand new piece of wisdom for the ages, even, so it's not like it's a surprise. And Ronan could care less about seasons, doesn't need a white Christmas or the leaves changing colors or whatever fucking Norman Rockwell idealized American existence he's supposedly missing out on. Fake plastic life with no weather is fine by him, though he could do without the ninety degree days in November.

The problem is sometimes he'll look around and realize that time's passed without him realizing it. That he was going about his life, visiting his mom and mocking his boyfriend and driving his car, and somehow it's been four years and everything's different. Blue's a real lawyer with opinions and a career that he grudgingly respects. Gansey's back in school because apparently the billion years he's already spent chasing degrees weren't enough. Cheng's made eight thousand movies, some of them pretty good, and now Ronan has to work on actual professional sets where they actually follow union guidelines and make a product that people actually want to see, which is disgusting. And Adam --

Adam is sitting in the passenger seat of Ronan's car, reading some jag-off lawyer email on his phone.

Ronan could really go for a blizzard right about now. It would suit his mood.

They're driving back from the Hills, from a long night out with a Gansey crowd that had eventually dwindled down to just the few of them. It should have been a nice night, it would have been a nice night, except that Adam had started drinking early and hadn't stopped, except that he'd barely eaten, except that he'd been drained before they even sat down to dinner. If they managed to coax some smiles and conversation out of him, it was all undone the second he got back to the car and pulled his phone out.

Ronan stops at a red light. "I wish you'd put your phone away."

Adam looks up, blinks a few times like he's realizing what Ronan said, and then flushes with guilt. "Sorry, I just need to send this one email. I know it's rude --

"I don't give a shit if you're rude," Ronan says. "I hate that you're working in the middle of the night."

"This is how trial prep is, you know that."

"Don't pretend like this is normal."

He makes a face. Agree to disagree. "Look, the trial will be over in a month and things will settle down. We can go on vacation. You can take me to Ireland," and that's a cheap trick, because he's wanted to take Adam to Ireland for four years and Adam knows this; Adam figures that Ronan will take this bribe to let him keep torturing himself.

"Right, and then you'll come back and there will be another trial and it'll be this all over again."

"They're not all this bad."

"So what? They're all bad. Why does shit have to be bad enough before you admit that you're miserable?"

"It's my job. It's work. It's not supposed to be fun."

"It's not supposed to kill you, either. For fuck's sake, you're defending an asshole who's up for domestic violence -- "

Adam flinches. "Don't. Don't judge me right now."

"I don't need to. You're judging yourself."

"I don't get to pick my cases," and Adam doesn't even notice he's arguing with himself at this point. "I'm not that senior. Maybe in a few years."

"A few more years? What happened to, this is just for now, what happened to I'm going to work for the prosecutor's office -- "

"It is," Adam snaps. "I am. Just not yet."

"Why not?"

"I swear to God, sometimes it's like we don't live on the same planet. I can't just show up and get a job whenever I want, if I can even get hired at all -- "

Ronan snorts, disbelieving.

Adam glares. " -- and I can't leave my job with nothing else lined up, I need something to fall back on."

"Fall back on? Is this seriously about money? We're doing fine. You're not going to starve," but Adam is already shaking his head, no, no, no.

"You don't understand. You don't know what it's like to have nothing. You've never been there and you never will be."

"Right, I won't, so you won't either."

"Your money does not constitute my safety net."

"Sure it does."

"It's not a safety net if someone else can take it away."

They drive in silence for a while. Adam rubs his hand over his mouth, like the words left a bad taste, like he wishes he hadn't said it.

But he had said it, which means for at least a moment he'd meant it.

Ronan tries to picture the kind of person who could do that -- who could see someone they loved, in trouble, and not do a thing to help. He can't even imagine it, and that's who Adam sees right now, driving the car.

Ronan asks, "Is that what you think of me?"

"No." Adam shuts his eyes, weary all over. "No, of course not."

Then quit.

He doesn't say it. He's never wanted to force Adam to do anything. And if he's sure that Adam would pick him over his stupid job, he's not sure that Adam would pick him over his principles, even a principle as stupid as it doesn't count unless I suffered for it.

They drive the rest of the way home in uneasy silence, get ready for bed quickly. Adam catches his eye in the bathroom mirror, kisses him when he's done brushing his teeth. Ronan returns the kiss once, then tangles his fingers in Adam's hair and turns his face away. He's had a lot of post-argument make up sex -- a lot of post-argument make up sex with Adam, even -- but he's not ready for that yet. He's not sure they had an argument, and if they did, he's not really sure it's over.

He presses his cheek against Adam's and breathes in the scent of him, red wine and exhaustion, and then he turns off the light and goes to bed.

Adam crawls in behind him, slips an arm around his waist tentatively. Ronan yanks his arm and pulls him too close. It isn't really comfortable, but then, Ronan isn't really tired.

He does wish he weren't such a light sleeper the next morning. Wishes just once he could sleep through Adam's alarm, that he didn't have to feel Adam kiss him on the shoulder before getting out of bed and grabbing his laptop off the nightstand.

But he doesn't sleep through it, so he rolls onto his back and decides that this calls for drastic measures.

-

"Is the witch in?"

Gansey steps away from the door. "You two haven't fooled anyone in years. You can stop pretending you hate each other now."

"Who's pretending?" Blue asks, stepping into the room from the kitchen. "Hello, Ronan, start any riots today?"

"What, and steal your thunder?"

Gansey throws his hands up in the air and leaves, shaking his head.

Ronan hands Blue a stack of papers. "I need a lawyer."

She doesn't so much as glance at them. "And you came to me instead of your literal in-house defense genius because...?"

"Not a criminal lawyer."

"Yeah, not sorry for assuming." Blue walks down the hall and Ronan follows her into her home office. "You know I practice environmental law, right?"

Ronan leans against the wall, staying on his feet as Blue perches on the edge of her desk chair. "I figure you know how to write."

"I'm just going to go ahead and give in now so I don't have to listen to how bad you are at asking for favors." She picks through the papers he gave her -- bank statements, investment portfolios, the deed to the house in Pasadena -- and makes a noise. "No one should have this much money. Offense fully intended."

"Take it up with my dad when you're dead."

"So what, you need a will drawn up? I have a friend who does estate -- "

"Prenup."

Blue sets the papers down on the desk.

"Does Adam know about this?"

"No," Ronan says, "because I'm going to have to trick him into it and I figure he'll take me more seriously if I have paperwork."

"Can't say you're wrong about that." Blue shifts her gaze back down to the papers. She sounds put out. Which is weird, because Gansey is right that they don't actually hate each other. He hadn't expected her to be annoyed that he wants to marry Adam. "Well, anything you inherited from your dad is your separate property. Community only applies to what you make after the marriage, or I guess after you started living together -- "

Understanding flickers across Ronan's mind.

"What the fuck, Sargent.

She scowls at him. "I don't write the laws. This isn't even my field."

"Don't be an idiot." Ronan shoves the stack of bank statements at her, sending them fluttering across her desk and over her lap. "I want Adam to have half of everything."

There's a brief look of surprise before Blue slaps a scowl back across her face. This time it's the familiar old fake hatred.

"Well, obviously, why didn't I get that, you only come in here talking about prenups and tricking people -- "

Ronan blurts out, "he's never going to let me give him anything," and then he looks away.

"So we'll trick him," Blue says, voice brisk and businesslike. "We'll throw in some language that all income is community property. He makes more money than you, that makes it sound like you're getting more out of it."

Ronan scowls at her. "I thought that was the case anyway."

"Yes, but we're making it sound like it's a concession," Blue says, slowly over-enunciating her words, and she's so wonderful that Ronan kind of wants to punch something. "That's where the tricking him part comes into it."

"I'm going to get you disbarred."

"Try it," Blue says. "My boyfriend will have you blacklisted, you'll never work in this town again."

"Yeah, but I'll have my sugar daddy to support me."

Blue shudders all over. "Oh, god, I'll write anything you want, just never use the words 'sugar daddy' again," and she makes a gagging noise for good measure.

By the time Gansey pokes his nose into the office and invites them to lunch (some weirdass paleo-vegan-recycled crap that Cheng's turned him on to; Ronan goes to lunch, but only to watch judgmentally) they've got a draft of a document put together. Blue offers to send it to someone who does this sort of thing for a living, to look it over and make sure it's legit. She says it like she's expecting Ronan to refuse, or at least argue.

He agrees, and bumps her shoulder on the way to lunch in a thank you sort of way. He's determined to do this thing right.

He has to repeat that to himself when the new lawyer calls and insists on meeting him. He has to repeat it again a whole bunch more times when it turns out the lawyer wants to talk him out of it. Ronan tunes him out, lets him talk himself hoarse, and then just says, "Nope."

The process is frustrating and annoying and takes a thousand times as long as he wants it to, and he sucks it up and waits. He's going to be methodical about this. He's going to prove that he thought this through, that he's trustworthy, that he's a good choice.

When he finally gets the updated document in the mail, he doesn't even have the space left in his head to be nervous. He's just relieved he can get on with it.

Adam comes home from work early that night, like the whole universe is tired of making Ronan wait.

He thinks about saying something, and then he think that there isn't anything he could say that Adam doesn't already know, so he hands him the envelope, "this came for you."

Adam takes it without looking at it. He's got his eyes fixed on Ronan, and his whole face is pale, defiant, like he expects Ronan to have a problem with whatever he's about to say next.

That's an expression that has come right before all of their worst arguments, but it's also the expression he'd had one lazy Saturday morning in bed, you know, we don't really need two apartments, and even earlier than that, vodka in the middle of the day, I told your friend Gansey that we're dating.

Ronan's timing is either complete shit or the best timing in the entire world.

Adam says, "So, I quit my job today."

Okay, he wasn't expecting that. "You quit?"

"I quit," Adam says again, and then makes a sound that's halfway to a laugh. "I was nailing down the last few items for trial and I just thought...I hate this. I don't want to be here, Ronan doesn't want me to be here, why am I here? So I quit." He scrubs his hands through his hair; he's completely forgotten about the envelope he's holding. "I don't know why it was so easy this time when it's always been so impossible. I just -- I couldn't stop thinking about it, everything that I want to do that I'm not doing. And then the next thing I knew I was at the mall looking at rings, and what the hell do I know about rings? I don't even know if you'd want to wear one. But I know -- I know that my life is better with you in it. And I know that sometimes I'm -- " he stops himself, shakes his head against whatever bit of self-doubt wanted to come out. "I think that you'd say your life is better with me in it, too."

Ronan looks at the envelope in Adam's hand. "You should open that."

Adam stares at him, and yeah, Ronan is a shithead to not at least say yes first. On the other hand, Ronan isn't the one who dragged his boyfriend on an emotional marathon with no fucking warning, so this is probably just proof they deserve each other.

Adam opens the envelope, takes the prenup out and glances at each page quickly before flipping back to the beginning to read it in detail: Whereas it is the intention of the undersigned parties Ronan Niall Lynch and Adam Parrish to marry --

It's a long-ass document for something that Ronan could sum up in one sentence, and a good chunk of it is borderline-hysterical legalese that amounts to I told my client this is stupid so don't blame me when it goes wrong. But it isn't long before Adam's finished.

He looks up.

"I can't sign this."

Ronan draws himself up for the argument.

"You're not getting your hands on my Mustang."

He might as well not have been speaking English. "What?"

Adam taps a spot on the page. "All assets at time of marriage -- that would include my car."

"Jesus Christ, Parrish, I'm not trying to steal your piece of shit car."

"She's a classic," Adam says, "and she's mine."

Ronan rolls his eyes. "Fine, we can add that, Parrish keeps his stupid piece of shit Mustang."

"You can keep your bougie asshole car if that makes you feel better," Adam offers, generous.

"Fine," Ronan says again, and unlike some people feels no need to defend his car's honor, since that's obvious to anyone with taste anyway.

And then it sinks in all over again. This isn't another stupid argument over whose car is better. This is important -- or no. This is important, and so were all of the stupid little arguments along the way, about cars and music and whether dirty laundry belongs on the floor and which sketchy little hole in the wall is the "good" burrito joint; those were all important, too.

"Is that really the only problem you have?"

Adam nods, slowly, and then a few more times like he's not sure it counted. "Yeah. The rest of it -- yeah. Everything's fine."

Ronan exhales a breath that he'd been holding for -- weeks, at least. Maybe years.

Adam steps toward him, raises a hand. Looks down, puzzled, and realizes that he's still holding the prenup. He laughs once and drops it as he throws his arms around Ronan's shoulders, forceful enough that Ronan rocks back half a step and wraps his own arms around Adam defensively.

"You never said," Adam mumbles, after an eternity of standing in the kitchen together. "If you wanted a ring."

Ronan thinks about it, and then he says, "I have a better idea."

-

"Race you," Adam says, gesturing to the pub ahead of them, around a curve in the road. "Loser buys?"

Ronan's legs are feeling the strain of walking through mud -- quaint, rustic countryside is a euphemism for we don't know what roads are, apparently -- but he's always down for a challenge. "You're on."

Adam sets off running without any further warning, but Ronan's after him a split second later and takes the lead, until Adam cuts a hundred feet off his path by sliding down an icy hill and half running, half falling through the front door of the pub.

"Jesus!" Ronan takes a second to be glad there's no one else around, because he's had his share of little old grannies glaring at him for his fucking language on this trip. He's still going to let Adam have it, grabs his elbow when he catches back up to him in the pub. "Fuck, Parrish, you scared the shit out of me."

Adam doesn't even pause from toweling water out of his hair with the end of his equally-drenched scarf. "You owe me a beer."

"I owe you a heart attack."

"Oh, no, you have given me so many heart attacks over the years, it isn't even close," but there's nothing bitter in his words. He's shining, beaming, frozen ears and soaked jeans and completely radiant.

The bartender nods a greeting at them as they takes seats; the place is practically empty. "You lads just beat the storm."

"Yeah," Adam says. "We have good timing."

"Is that an American accent I hear?"

"Los Angeles," Ronan drawls, "don't hold it against us."

The bartender raises an eyebrow. "And you left all that sunshine to come to Ireland in the dead of winter? I don't know about that timing of yours."

"No, I like it," Adam protests. "I like the rain."

The bartender moves off to pour their beers, sighs something about daft Americans. Ronan would blame that on Adam, but he's smiling like an idiot, too. He can't help it: it's the rain, and it's walking around Dublin with Matthew, and it's driving out to the countryside and showing Adam all the places his father had shown him when he was a kid. It's having no return ticket and making up their travel plans as they go. It's Cheng's observation "an engagement honeymoon, how decadent, I'm surprised I didn't think of the idea first." It's how happy all their friends are for them.

It's the fact that Adam looks at him and says, "I'm happy. Right now, I'm happy," and the fact that there's nothing in the world, nothing in himself, to stop him from reaching out for Adam.

"Yeah, me too."