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vanitas vanitatum, omnia (pro Adam)

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Later, when Gansey’s calls become too frequent and too annoying for Ronan to ignore and he finally manages to get ahold of him, Ronan tells him that it was a decision born out of his irrepressible need to create discord, to sow chaos upon the masses, to take every possible opportunity he has to do something insane just to throw his friends for a loop, because he is Ronan fucking Lynch, a man unbound, and he is living his life to the fullest at all times now, no longer restrained by the chains of what is and isn’t “consistent with his usual behavior.”

(If Adam were the one asking, and if it was a late night, a calm, quiet night spent in each other's arms on the border of asleep and awake and Adam gave him his patented Adam™ look, the soft one, the one that’s a little coy, the one that’s somehow still earnest and genuine and precious and loving, he might admit that he was a little bit bored. That, maybe, the life he’d envisioned for himself here at the Barns was turning out to be just a little more monotonous than he’d like. That there’s only so many times he can get the eggs from the chickens and the milk from the cows and feed the stray cats that hang around his back porch and water his cozy little fucking garden and go to the farmer’s market to sell his shit to a bunch of pretentious new age hippie looking douchebags and middle aged wine moms before it starts to get dull.

And if Adam threatened him at gunpoint to “tell him the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” or else he’s going to ”shoot Ronan’s dick off and then dump him and take full time custody of Opal with no visitation,” and if the stars align above him just right, and if the lunar cycle is in just the right phase, and if Mercury is in retrograde and Venus is in reverse cowgirl or whatever the fuck, and if the Lord God Almighty himself manifests a miracle by reaching his hand down Ronan’s fucking throat to physically pry the truth from his cold, unyielding heart, then Ronan might admit that he was feeling lonely. That, sometimes, late at night, when his work is done for the day, when Opal has finally stopped eating dirt and gone to sleep, when he lies, recumbent on his bed that feels too big and too empty and holds his pillow that no longer smells of Adam, he can feel the claws of isolation sink into him like a dagger, and the urge to see his friends, even if only on the tiny screen of his phone, overwhelms him.

But, of course, the secret that Ronan Lynch is going to take to his grave is that, actually, it was none of those things. The true impetus, known only to him and whichever FBI agent is stuck monitoring his internet activity is that on April 13 at 2:54 pm, Adam Parrish posted a picture to his Instagram, a candid where he had clearly only seen the photographer mid-photograph and quickly struck a pose, making a lazy peace sign with his hands as he lounged in one of Harvard’s carefully manicured fields of grass, books and notes strewn about him, his hair blowing in the wind, glistening underneath the golden sun above him, caught laughing, his eyes alight with mirth, and Ronan -

Ronan hit the sign up button, compelled by forces beyond the comprehension of his fragile mortal ken, because no picture, no person so ethereal and radiant and beautiful can go unliked and unfollowed on Instagram, apparently.)

“Are you sure, Ronan?” Gansey asks, his voice managing to sound exasperated through the crackling of the shitty microphone on his phone. “I find it hard to believe that even you could do something like this just because it was unpredictable.

“Then clearly you don’t know me as well as you fucking think you do,” says Ronan, examining his array of coffee mugs to figure out which one would be best for an aesthetic morning coffee picture.

“Ok, but really,” Gansey’s voice tightens, sounding strained. “Are you sure you’re not having a crisis?”

Ronan rolls his eyes. “For the last fucking time, Dick, I’m fine,” he says for the fourth time before 9:00 am. He turns to look out the window, concerned. If he waits much longer, the sun is going to rise higher in the sky, and the lighting is going to get all messed up. “Look, I’m actually kind of busy right now. Can I, like, fucking call you back later, or something?”

“I don’t know, Ronan,” says Gansey, sounding testy, “can you call me back later?”

Ronan sighs. “If I promise to call you back later, will you fucking leave me alone and stop bothering me about my Instagram account?”

He can practically hear Gansey trying to decide whether or not he believes him. “Alright,” he says, finally, after a moment of hesitation, “I’ll leave you to your own devices. For the moment, at least. I expect a call by this evening.”

“There’s a shocker,” says Ronan. “You’re actually going to hang up? You sure you’re not going to drive all the way up to the Barns and crawl up my ass to control me like a human flesh puppet -”

“Goodbye, Ronan,” says Gansey, and then he hangs up on him.

Ronan selects an otherwise unassuming clay mug, a neutral, almost blue-ish gray thing that’s slightly asymmetrical, not bright enough to be considered colorful, but still in clear contrast to the warm, earthy tones of his dark cherry wood breakfast table. Opal stares at him judgmentally as he pours coffee and cream into it and goes about arranging it, placing it artfully in the center of the light spilling through his open window.

“The hell are you looking at,” he asks, glancing back over at her.

“The folly of humanity,” she says, and then she puts her fist in her mouth and starts sucking on it.

“Fuck off,” says Ronan, trying to angle his body so he can take a picture of it from above without getting his shadow in the shot. “Go eat some sticks or something.”

 


 

The day after he makes his Instagram, he wakes up to find that he has 19 text messages, 8 missed calls, and 2 voicemails from Gansey.

So he calls Adam first.

“Why the fuck does Dick keep trying to call me?” he asks in lieu of an actual greeting, annoyed.

“Oh, that. That might be my fault,” Adam admits. “I told him you made an Instagram and followed me with it and he went - you know. A little off the walls.”

“‘A little’?” asks Ronan, scrolling down to look at the messages he’d received last night.

“You can’t really blame him,” Ronan hears Adam shifting on the other end of the call, like he’s moving into a more comfortable position. “You’re using your phone. Willingly. That’s gotta be, like, a sign of the apocalypse, or something.”

“I use my phone all the time,” Ronan protests. “I call you, like, every day.”

Adam pauses before he responds. “That’s actually a good point. Why am I exempt from your technology ban?”

“I love you more than I hate using my phone,” says Ronan.

“Aw,” says Adam, “that’s actually really sweet. You know. In a fucked up Luddite demon child sort of way.”

“Fucking duh,” says Ronan, “I’m always sweet.”

“Right, of course,” says Adam, somehow sounding completely sarcastic and completely genuine at the same time. “Well, now that you’ve joined practically the rest of our generation on Instagram, what are you going to do with your new account?”

“I don’t fucking know,” says Ronan. “You tell me. What do people do with Instagram?”

“Create, commodify, and market a specific aesthetic of their daily lives for the sake of consumption and profit to survive in the late capitalist hellscape we call the modern American economy.”

“What the fuck?”

“That’s what Blue says, anyway.”

“No, I meant it like a serious question,” says Ronan. “What the fuck do people use this shit for?”

“I don’t know,” says Adam. “They post pictures? Videos?”

“Pictures and videos of what?”

“Of whatever you want,” says Adam.

“...that’s it?” says Ronan. “Just upload whatever the fuck you feel like for other random strangers to see on the internet?”

“Pretty much,” says Adam. “It’s dumb, but it’s kind of fun.”

“How do I delete my account?” says Ronan.

“Oh come on, Ronan,” says Adam, sounding amused. “At the very least, it’s a good way to, say, keep up with friends who have moved very far away or aren’t around all the time anymore. That’s a fairly cogent reason to keep the app, right?”

“If you even suggest that I follow Cheng on Instagram, I’ll fucking run over my phone with my car and we’ll have to communicate using letters and postage.”

“That’s the great thing about Instagram,” says Adam. “You don’t have to follow Henry.”

“Can I block him?”

“If you can figure out which buttons to press to do that, then by all means,” says Adam. “That’s what’s cool. You can personalize the experience, so that you only see the things that you want to see.”

“How do I get my Instagram to only show pictures of your face?” Ronan asks, already opening the app.

There’s a pause before Adam responds. “I can’t decide if that’s sweet,” he says, “or creepy.”

“You’re the one out here posting pictures of your face,” says Ronan. “If you didn’t want me to look at them, you shouldn’t have posted them. It’s like leaving Opal unattended in front of a muddy puddle.”

“I don’t know whether to be offended that you’re comparing pictures of my face to a muddy puddle of water, or saddened by the fact that you’re using your seven-ish year old dream child as a baseline for your impulse control,” says Adam, sounding exasperated. “But do you see what I mean? Now you have another way to see into my life, even when you’re not here.”

Ronan groans. “Ok fine, I’ll keep the fucking app,” he says like a petulant child. “But I’m not posting any goddamn pictures.”

“That’s fine,” says Adam. “You don’t have to post anything.”

“There’s nothing around here to take pictures of anyway.” Ronan does a quick scan of his room. “What am I supposed to upload? A picture of my fucking dirty laundry?”

“Ronan,” says Adam in his I call bullshit voice, “I honestly can’t think of a place more aesthetically pleasing than the Barns.”

“You like the look of my dirty laundry that much?”

“You live on an old-style Virginia country ranch house that literally came out of someone’s dreams,” Adam points out. “You have, like, chickens and cows and stray cats. People eat that stuff up.”

“Who the fuck would want to look at a bunch of pictures of my house?”

“Well -” Adam cuts himself off just a little too quickly, clearly biting down on whatever was going to come out of his mouth next, the telltale sign that he wants something but doesn’t want to admit that he wants it.

“What were you going to say?” Ronan prompts, trying to gently tease it out of him.

“It’s just -” Adam stutters, sounding like he’s trying for casual and failing miserably at it. “I wouldn’t mind seeing pictures of the Barns, now and again.”

“You wouldn’t?”

“I’m pretty far away, you know,” says Adam, his voice soft. “I don’t exactly get to look that often anymore.”

“You want me to upload some pictures of the Barns?” asks Ronan.

“No,” says Adam, speaking far too quickly to be natural. Ronan can hear him squirm uncomfortably. “Of course not, it’s your account. You should post what you want on it. Or - you know. Not post.”

“And if I wanted to upload some pictures of the Barns,” Ronan suggests, “what would you think?”

There’s a moment of silence, where Ronan can physically imagine the gears turning in Adam’s head. “I wouldn’t be opposed,” he says, finally, “but you don’t have to if you don’t want to.”

“I -” Ronan’s response is cut off by a loud ding from Adam’s end of the call. “What was that?” he asks.

He hears the breath leave Adam in an involuntary sigh of relief. There’s more shuffling sounds from the other end as he pulls his phone from his ear to check the screen. “That was Gansey,” he says, “texting to tell me that you left him on read.”

“Tell him to suck his own dick,” says Ronan. He laughs at his own joke. “Heh. Dick.”

“Very funny,” says Adam. Ronan can practically hear his eyes rolling.

 


 

He waters his garden. He milks the cows. He feeds the chickens and takes their eggs. He sends the cows out to graze. He feeds the stray cats. He feeds Chainsaw. He feeds Opal. He sends Opal off to go play with the cats. He milks more of the cows. He checks the fences for holes.

It’s not until the evening, with the glow of sunset as his backdrop, that Ronan settles underneath a tree and pulls out his phone to film a video. He catches a shot of his cows lazily dawdling about the gently sloping hills of the pastures, picking at the spots of grass they haven’t already chewed clean, their tails and ears flicking about as they eat.

And then he’s run the fuck over by one of his calves.

“No, you slut - get off -” Ronan drops his phone to desperately fend off the attack as Milkshake the cow sits on his chest and repeatedly nuzzles her head into his poor, defenseless face. “You piece of shit, get the fuck off of me, leave me alone -”

And it’s that video that ends up being the first thing he uploads to his Instagram, captioned “I was fucking ASSAULTED.” He hashtags it too, just to prove that he knows what hashtags are, tagging it #animal #animalattack #cow #vicious.

His phone dings.

 

INSTAGRAM
fariya_khan commented: “Wow, what a bunch of cute cows (Smiling Face With Heart-Shaped Eyes )I love them!”

 

Huh. Ronan hadn’t realised that people would be sending him messages about his posts. He puts his phone back down.

It dings again.

 

INSTAGRAM
Zachinator96 commented: “did he just call that poor baby cow a slut (Face With Tears Of Joy )(Face With Tears Of Joy )(Face With Tears Of Joy )(Face With Tears Of Joy )lmao im dead”

 

Who are these people? Whatever. He has work to do. He’s got to get the cows back into their holding pens and make sure the chicken coop’s doors are closed and find Opal and probably give her a bath. He puts his phone back into his pocket, fully content to ignore them and go about his work.

His phone goes off the fucking rails.

Holy shit? He pulls his phone back out of his pocket and stares at it in horror as notification after notification fill his screen.

 

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liarriana commented: “(Pouting Face )DON’T CALL HIM A SLUT!!! HE JUST WANTS LOVE!!!! BABYY!!!!”

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xiajiefang commented: “look at...cow. lorge gril. she licc. i’m love her.”

 

What the actual fuck? thinks Ronan as he silences his phone.

 


 

He calls Adam again the next morning.

“You missed my call last night,” says Adam after he picks up.

“Oh, shit, you called?” asks Ronan guiltily. “Sorry, I didn’t hear it. I had to fucking silence my phone.”

“You can’t dodge Gansey’s calls forever, Ronan,” Adam admonishes him. “Why not just pick up once and be done with it?”

“Because that would be giving up,” says Ronan. “Also, it wasn’t because of Gansey calling me, it was because people on Instagram wouldn’t leave me alone.”

“‘People on Instagram’?” Adam parrots, sounding confused. “What do you mean?”

“I posted a video of my cows on Instagram -”

“Oh, you posted a video?” Adam asks, followed by the unmistakeable sound of him typing something on his laptop. “Hang on, I’ll go look at it.”

“- and now people won’t shut up about it,” Ronan finishes.

He hears the the video he posted, distorted by the shitty quality of his phone speakers, the strange but familiar bird songs and distant mooing in the background of Adam’s end of the call. “Oh wow, Ronan, this is a nice video -” followed by his own voice cursing as he’s violently attacked by a calf the size of a medium dog. “Oh my god -” Adam’s words get cut off as he bursts into laughter.

“Thanks for the fucking concern about my safety,” says Ronan.

“Was that Milkshake?” asks Adam, and Ronan’s heart does something very, very strange upon finding out that Adam knows his cows by name and can tell them apart.

“Yeah,” says Ronan. “She’s getting bigger. And heavier.”

“Aww,” Adam coos at him. Ronan rolls his eyes. “That was so cute - wait this has 60,000 views?”

“60,000?!” says Ronan, incredulous.

“Hang on a second -” Ronan hears more typing sounds. “Oh my god, you already have 1,500 followers?”

“1,500 - how many people use this fucking app?” He’s pretty sure he hasn’t even met 1,500 people in real life.

“Holy shit, if your posts keep going like this, you might actually become Instagram famous,” says Adam.

“What the fuck does that even mean?” asks Ronan, still completely lost.

Adam pauses.

“You know,” he says, considerate, “in the grand scheme of things? Not much, to be honest.”

 


 

He’s distracted from cooking dinner by the relentless sounds a cat who is apparently very fucking pissed, for some reason.

It’s the brown tabby, the one with the faded stripes that remind him of the color of Adam’s hair. Now that Ronan has come outside to feed at him, it’s planted itself primly in front of the back door, its tail folded politely on top of his paws as if it hadn’t just spent the last screaming like a fucking mother in labor.

“What the fuck do you want, huh?” says Ronan. The cat flicks his ears at him, tilting its head at Ronan. “Are you hungry? Is that it?” He reaches down to pet its ears, but it shies away from him, bounding just out of his reach to the border of his porch and the stairwell leading to the rest of the yard.

He sighs and places a bowl of food out for it. Immediately, it springs forward and starts chewing on the crunchy kibble. Ronan huffs out an annoyed breath and turns around to go back inside.

The cat screaming starts again before he can so much as peal a carrot.

He goes back outside to see what the problem is. The bowl is still mostly full. “What the fuck?” says Ronan to the cat, except the cat’s not listening to him, it’s gone back to eating. Ronan rolls his eyes and steps back inside.

The screaming starts a third time.

“The hell is your problem?” says Ronan to the cat, who had immediately gone back to eating the moment Ronan stepped back outside. Ronan sighs, and resigns himself to watching a cat fucking eat, apparently, because that’s a thing he needs to do now. “You need me to fucking babysit you or something?” he asks. The cat, obviously says nothing, only continues to tear into his food.

Ronan watches quietly as he finishes his meal and bounds back into the distance.

 


 

Declan drops by for a “surprise visit,” except it’s not a surprise for either of them. Ronan knows about it because Declan texted him to tell him that he was going to come by and nag him, and Declan knows that Ronan knows about it because Ronan still hasn’t figured out how to turn off read receipts.

Of course, that’s not going to stop Ronan from acting huffy and inconvenienced when he opens the door to find his older brother’s scowling face.

“I’m busy,” he says, instead of an actual greeting, because he’s polite like that.

Declan just narrows his eyes at him. “Not too busy to make an Instagram, apparently,” he says, because of course Ronan can’t take a fucking shit around here without Declan somehow finding out about it. He steps past Ronan and into the entryway, bumping into Ronan’s shoulder in the process.

“Alright” says Ronan, shutting the door behind Declan. As much as he wants to spite him by leaving it open, the last time he let a moth inside, Opal tried to eat it, and he’s not planning on going through that again. “Let’s hear it.”

“Hear what?” says Declan.

“You know,” says Ronan rolling his eyes. “The whole ‘what you’re doing is dangerous, what if someone finds out who or where you are or figures out about your abilities,’ or something.”

“I would be impressed that you knew what I was going to say,” says Declan, “if I wasn’t annoyed that you knew it was dangerous and did it anyway.”

“I’m in to fucking street racing,” Ronan points out.

“I don’t know how I always forget that,” says Declan. “Why is you having an Instagram even a thing? That was, like, the one thing I thought I would never have to worry about.”

“I don’t know,” says Ronan defensively. “I just felt like making one, is that a fucking crime now?”

Declan groans. “This has something to do with Parrish, doesn’t it?”

Ronan bristles. “The hell is that supposed to mean?”

“Don’t look so offended,” says Declan, “it just means I’m not stupid. If you’re doing this because Parrish wanted you to, I know better than to waste my breath trying to talk you out of it.”

Ronan bristles even more. “And what the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“It means the little shit has you wrapped around his fucking finger,” says Declan, rolling his eyes. “I’m pretty sure if he told you he didn’t want to touch the floor ever again, you’d spend the rest of your life crawling on your hands and knees so he could step on you instead.”

“So what I’m hearing is that you’re going to let me keep my Instagram,” he says instead of refuting Declan’s accusation.

Declan holds up his finger. “One condition.”

“Ok?”

“You have to follow me back.”

“What the fuck, no,” says Ronan.

Declan looks at him and, to Ronan’s horror, plops himself down on top of the couch.

“What are you doing?” says Ronan.

“I’m in town for a couple of days,” says Declan, pulling out his phone. “Thought I might crash here for a bit.”

“What?” says Ronan.

“I’m in town for a couple of days -” Declan starts to repeat himself, looking far too smug for Ronan’s liking..

“Nonononono,” interrupts Ronan, “you hate it here, remember? It smells like cow shit, and the chickens are too loud, and it brings up all your deeply repressed daddy issues, and I’m here.”

Declan distractedly swipes at his phone with his finger. “It’s not so bad every once in a while. I won’t have to pay for a hotel room, for one. And I don’t get to see this place this place that often anymore. Though -” he spares Ronan a glance, “ - I might just change my mind if a certain Instagram account who posts pictures of this place follows me back -

“I’m not that stupid,” says Ronan, “I know you don’t need me to follow you to see the pictures I post.”

“Is it sad that I’m actually impressed that you knew that?”

“Why the fuck do you even want me to follow you anyway?” asks Ronan.

Declan shrugs. “It’s another way for me to bother you if I need something,” he says, “and who knows? It might be helpful for my political career if my little brother is Instagram famous.”

“I hated every word that just came out of your mouth,” says Ronan.

Declan lifts his feet and plants them right on the center of the coffee table. He turns and makes eye contact with Ronan.

“Ok fine, I’ll follow you back,” says Ronan, throwing his hands up in annoyance. “Can you leave me the fuck alone now?”

Declan gives him an expectant look.

“What, right now?”

He raises an eyebrow at him.

Ronan groans, and pulls out his phone to opens his Instagram app. It doesn’t help that Declan is on the first page of his “Discover People” list. He jams the follow button with as much force as his fingers can muster, huffing petulantly.

Declan smirks at him, his phone dinging with the notification. “Nice talk,” he says, and then he gets up and starts walking towards the front door.

“I’m blocking you as soon as you leave,” yells Ronan at his retreating figure.

“If you block me, I’ll park my car in the living room,” Declan calls back.

“Goddamnit,” says Ronan, under his breath.

 


 

He starts posting regularly, just pictures of things that he thinks Adam might like to see. The chickens by the light of the morning sun. His vegetable garden covered in dew. The stray cats at feeding time. More of his cows. The sunset. Chainsaw. A snail that Opal found stuck to the side of a chair on the back patio.

Adam leaves comments on all of them. He reads every single one multiple times, imagines Adam saying them out loud, sounding out his voice in his head, lilting and teasing and soft until he’s overwhelmed by the hollow, empty feeling of isolation pooling in his stomach.

He’s feeding the chickens with Opal, one of the few moments where she’s concious and not actively making a horrible mess around her at the same time, when he decides to take a video on a whim.

“Say hi to the camera, Opal,” he says, pointing his phone down at her as the hens swarm around her feet.

“Kerah,” says Opal, loudly, and directly at the chickens beneath her. The chickens cluck back. “Kerah -” and then her voice cuts off as Cluckold the chicken steals her hat off of her head and tucks it into her nest, revealing the frumpy mess of her hair. Ronan manages to stop recording right as Opal lets out the loudest, shrillest, most ear piercing shriek he’s ever heard.

“We’ll get you a new hat,” says Ronan, later, as he uploads the video and Opal sulks in the corner.

 


 

“Wait, so you just never got the hat back?” Adam asks.

Ronan shrugs before he remembers that Adam’s not here and can’t see him. “It’s fucking Cluckold,” he says by way of explanation. “If she decides something’s a part of her nest, it’s a part of her fucking nest, and that’s that.”

“So instead of helping your distraught sort of daughter and getting her hat back, you video taped her suffering and put it on Instagram?” Adam asks. It would be a lot more effective if Ronan couldn’t hear him trying not to laugh.

“Yep,” he says, distractedly clicking through Zumiez’s online catalogue of beanies. “Do you think Opal would want a blue beanie or a pink beanie?”

“I think she wants her old beanie back,” says Adam.

“That thing’s fucking gone from this world,” says Ronan. “It’s trapped underneath twelve and a half pounds of pure, unadulterated grade-A attack poultry.”

“Then get her the blue one.”

“It’s Rick and Morty themed.”

“Get her the pink one.” Ronan clicks on the pastel pink beanie and hits the ”ADD TO MY BAG” button. “It’s a shame, though,” Adam continues, “I think a video of you being attacked by a feral hen would have gotten a lot of views.”

Ronan rolls his eyes and hits the checkout button. “I doubt you would want to see my face get clawed off by a fucking hen.”

“I wouldn’t,” says Adam, “but a whole lot of other people might.”

“I’m not uploading things I think other people want to see, I’m uploading things I think you want to see,” Ronan responds. He’s so busy trying to enter in his credit card number that he misses the skip of the beat, the pause where Adam says nothing.

“This entire time, you’ve been uploading things for me?” he says after a moment, his voice coming out soft and breathy.

“Duh. I thought that was obvious.” He frowns. “Am I doing a shitty job?”

“No. No! Well - no -” Adam stutters. “Of course not.”

“I’m hearing a ‘but’,” says Ronan.

Adam sighs. “There is,” he says slowly, “one thing I think you missed.”

Ronan looks around at the empty water bottles and dirty laundry strewn about his room, as if he could find whatever Adam was talking about here. “What,” says Ronan, confused, “do you want more pictures of the cats?”

“It’s not the cats,” says Adam, in his fake patient voice.

“Is it the chickens?”

“No.”

“The cows?”

“No.”

“Then what the fuck is it?” says Ronan. He scours his brain, trying to think of something, anything that Adam could be missing. “Is it having a functional water heater?”

“I mean, I do miss that,” admits Adam.

“Do you want me to take a picture of the water heater?”

“What? No!”

“Then what the fuck -”

“It’s you, idiot!” says Adam, finally.

“Oh,” he says. “Wait, what?”

“There aren’t any pictures of you on your Instagram,” Adam explains.

“Why would you need a picture of me,” he says stupidly before he can stop himself. “You know what I look like.”

He only realises how badly he fucked up when he hears Adam inhale shakily before speaking again. “Yes. You’re right,” he says. “Of course I know what you look like. Ignore me. It was just - I just - I was just being silly.”

Oh shit thinks Ronan. He quickly tries to backtrack. “Hang on, Adam -”

“Did you fix that hole in your fence?” says Adam, before Ronan can so much as finish saying his name.

 


 

He takes a picture, that evening, one hand holding the camera out in front of him and the other making a peace sign as the arm it’s attached to wraps gently around the neck of one Milkshake the cow. As if sensing that she’s on camera, she tilts her head to give the phone a view of her face at an angle and licks his exposed collarbone. He sticks his own tongue out to match her expression.

He captions it "We’ve made peace" and hashtags it too, #forgive and forget #cow #animal #beasts. He stares at it, for a moment after he’s posted it, his face caked in dirt and red with sunburn, and he wonders which part it is, exactly, that Adam is missing.

The comments start almost instantly after he posts it.

 

_savanas_ Is that the slut cow (Face With Tears Of Joy )(Face With Tears Of Joy )(Face With Tears Of Joy )
ali.cesarre01 Aww, so cute!!
betterbietteonit WTF HE’S HOT????!???

 

He rolls his eyes and closes his phone to get back to work.

 


 

He does actually call Gansey back, as promised, because he’s not a liar, damnit.

“Ronan, hello,” says Gansey, already sounding annoyed for some reason.

“What?” says Ronan. “I called you back like I said I would, what’s the problem now?”

“I see that,” says Gansey. “I also see your latest Instagram post.”

“What the fuck about it?”

“You posted a picture of coffee captioned -” he pauses, presumably to read the caption, “- ‘My morning cup’ at exactly 8:43 am.”

“Ok?”

“8:43 am,” Gansey repeats. “Precisely four minutes after the end of our phone call.”

“Yeah, sounds right,” says Ronan. He pauses to examine the chip on his nail he’d acquired earlier that day, an unfortunate casualty of the fence repair process. “So what?”

“Ronan, you told me you were busy!”

“I was busy.”

“You were posting on Instagram!” says Gansey.

“Yeah,” says Ronan. “I was busy taking a picture to post on Instagram.”

“That’s not - Ronan.”

“What?”

Gansey sighs. “Why do you insist on going out of your way to avoid my calls?”

“Don’t pretend like you’re special,” says Ronan. “I avoid everyone’s fucking calls.”

There’s a pause before Gansey responds. “You pick up for Adam,” he says, somehow managing to pout with only his voice.

“Adam’s sucked my dick, of course I pick up for him,” Ronan justifies, because that’s somehow less disgusting that the real reason, that he loves Adam enough to endure practically anything just to hear his voice.

“Gross,” says Gansey.

Ronan doesn’t respond. For a moment, he and Gansey sit in the call, perfectly silent.

“So are you actually going to say anything, or was this call just to bother me?”

“Oh,” says Gansey, sounding surprised. “Well I mean - I was going to ask more about your Instagram -”

“Don’t do that.”

“- but I figured it out. You’re posting things so Adam can see, aren’t you?” he asks, and it’s moments like these that Ronan remembers how perceptive Gansey can be at times.

“I’m actually genuinely impressed that you managed to figure that out on your own,” Ronan admits.

“It wasn’t that much of a leap in logic,” says Gansey. Ronan can practically hear him do his stupid I don’t want to admit that I live off of the validation of other people shrug. “There’s no other person that could make you willingly use your phone on a regular basis.”

“I’m going to take that as a compliment,” says Ronan. They fall back into another long, awkward silence.

“So how has your day been?” Gansey asks.

“I’m hanging up on you now,” Ronan responds.

“Wait! Don’t hang up! I -” Gansey cuts himself off with a sharp inhale.

“You what?” asks Ronan.

“No, no,” says Gansey, sounding less like he’s talking to Ronan and more like he’s talking to himself. “It’s not that important. I shouldn’t keep you. That would be rude.”

Ronan heaves a deep breath, preparing to physically force the next words out of his mouth. “Is something the matter, Dick?” he asks, the question grating against his mouth like sandpaper.

“No, no, I couldn’t possibly - it’s not that important - I just - do you think I’m clingy?” he asks.

Ronan doesn’t even hesitate. “Yes.”

“But you’re Ronan,” says Gansey with a dismissive sigh. “You think everyone is too clingy and nosy.”

“That’s not fucking true,” Ronan protests.

“You think everyone but Adam is too clingy and nosy,” he corrects himself.

“Chainsaw’s always been very fucking respectful of my boundaries,” says Ronan, sparing a glance at her little corner on his desk where she was making herself busy tearing the absolute shit out of the newspaper clippings he’d left lying around for her to play with.

Gansey groans. “How am I supposed to figure out whether or not I’m being normal about things if I only have you as my baseline control?”

“Gansey,” says Ronan, exasperated, “you texted me twenty times, called me like seven more times, and left me more than one fucking voicemail because I made an Instagram account. “There’s no fucking universe where that’s normal behavior.”

“Oh my God, you’re right,” says Gansey, sounding horrified. “I am clingy.”

“Water is fucking wet,” says Ronan. “Why do you even care so much? What’s the big deal”

“You know how I’m in California for that internship right now?” asks Gansey.

“No,” says Ronan, because he hadn’t known that, and he’s still not a liar, damnit.

“Obviously I couldn’t take Blue and Henry with me for all three months, that’s too long, they have their own lives to live,” Gansey continues as if Ronan hadn’t responded. “I know that. I respect that. They should be able to have their own lives and their own space away from me. And I’ve been trying not to inundate them with my calls but -” he cuts himself off to take in a somewhat shaky breath, “- but it’s so hard, Ronan, I miss them so much.”

Ronan desperately clamps down on the part of him that, horrifyingly, feels sympathy. “If you miss them, then call them,” he says, before he can do something crazy, like empathize with him because he knows how much it hurts to miss someone.

“I can’t,” says Gansey.

Ronan wants to scream. “Why not?”

“I don’t want to bother them!”

“You’re not going to fucking bother them,” says Ronan. “The only person you’re bothering with your phone calls is me, and you call me anyway.”

“How do I know I’m not bothering them?” Gansey ignores the second part of his statement.

Ronan sighs huffily. “Have they said that you’re bothering them?”

“No -”

“Then you’re not bothering them,” he concludes.

“But how do I know they’re not just not saying anything because they don’t want to be mean?” Gansey protests.

“Trust me,” says Ronan, half under his breath, “if that’s what was happening, they’d have definitely gotten fed up with this shit by now.”

“Ronan, this is serious.”

“I’m being serious -”

“I don’t want them to think I’m clingy! What if they start pushing me away?” and he sounds so genuinely worried that Ronan wants to throw up.

“Look,” Ronan starts, lowering his voice like he’s talking to a newborn calf. “Am I rude?”

“Well -” Gansey hesitates, “- I wouldn’t go so far as to say -”

”Dick.”

“- ok yes, fine, you’re very rude,” Gansey admits.

“Ok,” says Ronan. “Do you dislike me?”

“What?” asks Gansey, sounding affronted. ”No! Of course not, why would you think that?”

“You fucking said it yourself, I’m rude,” Ronan points out.

“Well - yes,” Gansey admits, “but that’s just a part of who you are. You wouldn’t be Ronan if you weren’t rude.”

“Exactly,” says Ronan. “It’s just like that.”

There’s another moment where neither of them say anything, Gansey clearly having been stunned into silence and Ronan too busy picking at his chipped nail to say anything else. “Huh,” says Gansey, sounding thoughtful. “Huh. I never thought of it that way.”

“Cool,” says Ronan, “you should call them so I can fucking stop talking to you. I’m hanging up so you can do that -”

“No - wait - don’t hang up yet, I -”

”What now?” snaps Ronan.

Gansey huffs out another breath. “No,” he says, “no, it’s fine. It’s not important. I’ve kept you for long enough.”

“What the fuck do you want?” asks Ronan, intentionally putting his microphone right next to his mouth.

“I mean -” Gansey exhales a bit as he starts to speak, stuttering over his words, “- it’s just - you know, we’ve been friends for such a long time, and I always like to think of you as my best friend - and I don’t mean to make it sound like I’m entitled to anything, of course not, you don’t owe me for being your friend, I’m your friend because I -”

”Spit it out before I fucking die of old age.”

“Please follow me back on Instagram.”

“Jesus fucking Christ,” says Ronan, lowering the phone from his head so he can open the app on his phone.

 


 

“By the way,” Ronan says Ronan in the middle of their call. He hears Adam’s questioning sound in response, soft and sleepy on the other end of the line. “What the fuck could someone theoretically do with a picture of my feet?”

“What - who - what?” asks Adam, suddenly much more awake sounding for some reason.

“Someone keeps offering to pay me money for pictures of my feet,” Ronan explains, “and I was wondering what they could use it for.”

“Someone’s trying to pay you money for feet pics?”

“Should I send them some?”

“No!” says Adam emphatically.

“Is this, like, fucking identity theft or something?” asks Ronan. “Can someone steal my identity with pictures of my feet?”

“I - they - look,” Adam stutters. “You know how there are people who are attracted to certain parts of the body for some reason? Like - you have that thing for my hands -”

“Oh, is this a sex thing?” says Ronan. “Is he horny for my feet?”

Adam sighs. “Please never say those words in that sequence ever again."

 


 

He’s forced to go back outside when the sound of cat yowling gets too loud for him to ignore.

He finds the same brown tabby from before. “You again? Why can’t you just eat with the others and not be a pain in the ass?” he asks, even as he reaches over to grab the bag of cat food he keeps on the windowsill. He pours out a bowl and sets it down gently in front of him, plopping himself down to sit besides the bowl as the cat runs up and starts eating the kibble.

This time, when Ronan goes to pet it, it doesn’t immediately shy away, instead flicking its ears before allowing Ronan to gently stroke his hand accross its back as it eats.

“Bye, asshole!” says Ronan as it runs off again.

 


 

“This is an outrage!” Henry says the moment Ronan opens the door. “A travesty! A calamity! I won’t stand for this.”

“Then sit the fuck down,” says Ronan, and then he tries to close the door in his face.

Blue deftly blocks his attempt, sticking her shoe in the space between the door and the frame to keep it from closing. She pushes past him and into the foyer, Henry following close behind her.

Ronan rolls his eyes and closes the doors behind him.

“I demand an explanation for this tresspass!” says Henry, throwing his arms out dramatically.

“Me the fuck too,” says Ronan. “Why are you here?”

Henry jams his finger accusingly at Ronan’s face. “You have defiled the natural order of this world! Invaded my sacred sanctuary! Brought endless plague upon my house! Driven God from this world with your constant blasphemy! Destroyed my inner peace and sense of self worth -”

Ronan turns to look at Blue. “What the fuck is he talking about?”

“He’s mad because you have more followers on Instagram than he does,” she responds, barely glances up at him from her phone.

He turns back to Henry. “Die mad about it,” he says.

Henry bristles in a way that would be funny if it wasn’t so fucking annoying. “How dare you dismiss me!” he says, flailing wildly. “I am literally the most aesthetically pleasing member of our friend group, that’s my thing! I’m the pretty one! And now you’re encroaching on my territory -”

“I get why he’s here,” says Ronan, jamming his thumb in Henry’s direction while simultaneously ignoring whatever garbage came tumbling out of his mouth, “but why did you come?” he asks, gesturing at Blue.

“Don’t ignore me!” says Henry.

Blue ignores him. “Henry thought you might beat him up if he came alone.”

“Blue - don’t just tell him that -”

“That’s fair, I guess,” says Ronan, nodding sagely.

“I call on you for support only to find myself betrayed!” Henry gasps dramatically, looking at Blue now. “Stabbed in the back! Bendict Arnold-ed! I am in pain. Agony! Gansey would never have done this to me -”

“Well, Gansey’s not here,” says Blue with a growl. Ronan recognizes it instantly, the dark shadows under her eyes, her mouth quirked into a troubled frown. He’s sees it attached to his own face more often than not when he looks into a mirror nowadays. She gestured to Ronan with her hands. “And you dragged me here to this fucker’s house just so you could yell at him for having more followers on Instagram.”

“‘Sup,” says Ronan.

“How can I not be upset!” says Henry, throwing his arms out, nearly wacking Ronan in the face in the process. “My Instagram is, like, the only good thing I have going for me in my life -”

Blue steps on his foot.

“The second good thing going for me in my life,” he amends, somehow holding his pose.

Blue steps on his foot again, harder this time.

“What was that one for?” he asks.

“Gansey,” says Blue by way of explanation.

”Third good thing,” says Henry, cradling his foot in his hands. “And now it’s as good as gone! Ruined!” He sinks the rest of the way to the floor, curling up in a ball. “I am aging! The cracks are forming in my in virile, youthful body! I will never be beautiful again!”

“Do you at least have yogurt here?” Blue asks Ronan, looking exactly as dead inside as he feels.

“I am in despair!” Henry continues to yell from the floor. “All of my most dearly beloved people in the world have abandoned me in my time of desperate need!”

Ronan huffs out a sigh and rubs at his temples.

 


 

“I’m mad,” says Blue, holding her spoon at him like she’s going to try to stab him with it. “This is actually really good yogurt.”

“Fucking duh,” says Ronan, grabbing a spoonful for himself from where he’s seated across from her, in perfect view of the window to watch Henry try and fail to take a selfie with his cows. “You think I’m going to make subpar yogurt?”

Blue stops, the spoon already halfway to her mouth. “You made this yogurt?”

“What the hell else am I supposed to do with all the fucking milk,” says Ronan.

“You made this yogurt with the milk you got from your own herd of cows?”

“Why would I use milk from someone else’s herd?” asks Ronan defensively. “My herd’s closer. And better.”

“You made this yogurt with the milk you got from your own herd of cows, and you’re proud of it,” she says incredulously around a mouthful of his yogurt, looking at him as if she’s peronsally offended.

“Of course I’m proud,” says Ronan. “My herd makes the goddamn highest quality milk on this side of the United fucking States of America, I have a right to be proud. What about it?”

“How come you aren’t a mess right now?” she says, glaring at him. “Adam’s away at Harvard, isn’t he?”

“He is,” says Ronan. “So?”

“So how come you’re not, like, sad and alone or whatever? How come you’re over here - milking cows and making yogurt?”

“If my yogurt upsets you that much, I can fucking take it back,” says Ronan.

Blue glares at him and steals the rest of the bowl for herself. “I’m just saying,” she says. “You just seem like you have things together. You have a farm. You make dairy products. You’re Instagram famous.

“Your point?” says Ronan.

Blue shoves the rest of the yogurt into her mouth, and then glares down at it instead of looking at him. “Aren’t you -” she pauses, “- you know. Lonely?”

Ronan sighs, considering how genuinely he wants to answer her question before he remembers that he doesn’t lie. “I mean, I guess?” he says finally, also not looking at her. “Maybe a little.”

Blue groans. “This is awful,” she says, setting her spoon back into the now empty bowl with a clanking sound. “I’ve stooped to actually talking about my loneliness. With you of all people.” She sighs and buries her face into her hands. “This is the lowest point of my existence.”

“Tell me about it,” mutters Ronan.

“That’s exactly the problem!” she responds, her voice muffled by her palms. “I am telling you about it!”

“No one’s forcing you to talk,” Ronan points out. “Especially not to me. You have two whole ass boyfriends you can whine to instead, if you want.”

Blue huffs. “I can’t talk about this to them,” she says, lifting her head to roll her eyes at him.

“Why the fuck not?” says Ronan.

“Gansey’s not here -”

“You have a phone.”

“- and Henry is having a legitamate meltdown because you have more followers on Instagram than him,” says Blue.

“So?” says Ronan. “That’s not a reason.”

Blue groans, her face sinking down to rest in her hands again. “I don’t want Gansey to think that I can’t handle myself without him,” she admits, “and I don’t want Henry to think that I prefer Gansey to him.”

Ronan sighs, internally considering which words he can say to get her to leave faster. “Look it’s not that hard. Can you handle yourself without Gansey?”

She gives him a look. “Obviously I can, Lynch,” she says.

“Do you like Gansey more than Henry?”

“No!” she says, looking affronted.

“Then just tell them that,” says Ronan. “Then they won’t think it.”

Blue groans and falls back onto his couch. “Now I’m really mad,” she says. “That’s actually fairly solid advice.”

“Of course it is,” says Ronan. “Everything I say is perfectly fucking advisable. Obviously.”

“Ronan!” yells Henry from the back porch. “One of your cows tried to eat me!”

“You know, on any other day, I’d call you out on your bullshit,” says Blue, “but I’ll let it slide today.”

“This is Prada!” Henry yells again, this time running into the living room, clutching at his newly torn and muddy shirt. “And now it’s been soiled! Ruined! Desecrated!”

“Cry me a fucking river,” says Ronan.

Blue rolls her eyes. “You know what, Lynch?” she says, looking at Ronan thoughtfully, her eyes sweeping over him appraisingly. “You’re not that bad.”

Ronan almost wants to smile back at her. He makes his best disgusted face instead.

Henry points at him accusingly. “Do you know how much that shirt cost?! I have half a mind to take legal action against you for your gross negligence of - “

“Can you get the fuck out of my house already?” he says quickly, before he can feel anything mushy.

 


 

He eventually bribes them into leaving him alone with a gallon tub of yogurt and a picture taken together to go on his Instagram.

They crowd around his phone, Blue begrudgingly, Henry with an over the top duckface and a peace sign that somehow manages to be loud without making any noise. Ronan rolls his eyes and holds his phone in front of him, pressing the record button.

Henry’s duckface breaks into a decidedly more bemused expression. “Ronan, darling,” he says, tilting his head condescendingly, “I think you’re confused. This is meant to be a picture, not a video -” and then his words are cut off as Ronan shoves him ungracefully to the floor.

He stops the recording right after Henry’s indignant squawking and right in the middle of Blue’s loud, racous, snorting laughter, and then spends the next five minutes holding his phone out of Henry’s reach as he Googles how to tag someone on Instagram.

“I hate you,” Henry tells him with a huff after he successfully uploads the video. Blue laughs from her position curled up next to him.

Ronan dumps the tub of yogurt at their feet. “Right,” he says, “now get the fuck out.”

 


 

“Do you know what ‘bussy’ means?” asks Ronan, to start off their next phone conversation.

“I - why are you asking me this?” Adam responds, sounding confused.

Ronan pulls his phone away from his ear, putting in on speakerphone to open Instagram. “Someone keeps leaving these weird ass fucking comments saying -” he pauses to read one of the comments in question, “- ‘plow my bussy, farm daddy’ on all of the pictures with my face in them, and I have no clue what it means.”

“They said what?” asks Adam.

“‘Plow - my - bussy - farm - daddy’,” Ronan repeats, enunciating each word slowly and carefully.

“O - oh,” says Adam, his voice coming out somewhat clipped for some reason, like he’s forcing it to sound that way on purpose. “Actually, you know what Ronan, give me - give me just a second,” and then Ronan hears some rapid, frantic shuffling noises before someone starts howling with laughter, distant in the background of the call.

“What was that?” asks Ronan when Adam comes back.

“Nothing,” says Adam, a little too quickly. “You know, you can just Google things, you don’t have to call me at 8:00 am to ask me these questions.”

“Maybe I just like to hear the sound of your voice,” says Ronan.

“Is that what this is?” asks Adam, sounding tired all of a sudden. “Is this some elaborate ploy where you try to get me to say the words ‘plow my bussy, farm daddy’ into your ear? Is this for sex? Because you really could have just asked me, I probably would have.”

“I have no fucking clue what the words coming out of your mouth mean,” says Ronan.

“Oh my god, you’re actually being serious, aren’t you?” Ronan hears a flopping sound, like Adam had let his head fall back onto his pillow beneath him.

He lifts the top of his pants and looks down into them as if to check to see if he’s prepared. “I mean I don’t really get it, but if you wanted to have phone sex right now, I wouldn’t say no.”

Adam’s breath hitches. “Look, Ronan,” he says, his voice sounding clipped again, like it was being very carefully controlled. “All the person means is that - they, uh - they find you attractive.”

“Why do I get the feeling you’re not telling me the whole truth?”

“Because I get the feeling,” says Adam, sounding like he’s talking through his gritted teeth, “that if I explain all of what it means out loud and directly into your ear, you’re not going to let me leave my bed for at least another hour, and I have a class at nine.”

“Why do they have to say it like that, though?” asks Ronan. “Why can’t they just say, like, ‘you’re fucking attractive’ or something?”

Adam pauses before answering. “Is it bothering you?” he asks, sounding concerned all of a sudden.

“What?”

“You know,” says Adam, “people leaving weird, thirsty comments on your posts. Does it bother you?”

What the fuck does he mean by ‘thirsty’? “Not really,” says Ronan, still confused as fuck. “I mean - I think it’s weird, but I don’t really care what other people think. Why? Does it bother you?”

“I -” he has his answer immediately, in the way that Adam cuts himself off. “No, of course not.”

“So it does bother you,” says Ronan.

“No -”

“I can stop posting pictures of my face,” offers Ronan.

No! I -” he stutters. “Look, don’t worry about what I think, ok? You post what you want on your Instagram.”

“I’m not going to fucking post things that make you uncomfortable,” Ronan protests.

“They don’t make me uncomfortable.”

“You just said they made you uncomfortable -”

“I literally did not say that,” Adam interrupts him.

“But does it?” asks Ronan. “Does it make you uncomfortable?”

Adam takes a very, very deep breath. “Sometimes it bothers me a little,” he admits. “But I don’t want to be the type of person who tells their boyfriend what’s okay and what’s not ok to post. It’s your life, you should make the decisions.”

Ronan feels his heart stutter. “I’ll stop posting pictures of my face.”

“No - you really don’t have to,” says Adam.

“I can, it’s not like it’s a big deal -”

“You don’t need to.”

“If it fucking bothers you -”

“It doesn’t bother me that much.”

“I don’t want it to fucking bother you at all,” says Ronan. “Look, I can just stop, and we won’t have to talk about it any more -”

“It’s the highlight of my fucking day,” Adam interrupts him.

Ronan stops.

“What?” he asks, his voice much softer than it had been moments ago.

Adam sucks in a breath. “When I get the notification that you posted something and I open my app and it’s a new picture of you and you’re at the Barns and you’re with your cows or your chickens or Opal or something, it makes me happy because - because you always look so happy and I just - you just - I don’t get to see your face that often anymore, and I miss it, and yeah, I get kind of jealous when other people leave weird comments, but that’s just because I know you look so goddamn pretty, I can’t help but feel like -” he cuts himself off. Ronan hears what sounds like a person screaming as they’re being smothered by a pillow.

“Oh,” he says. “Oh.”

“OhmygodIcan’tbelieveIsaidthatoutloud,” Adam says quickly, under his breath.

“Did you mean it?” says Ronan, his voice uncharacteristically soft as his heart lodges itself firmly into his throat. “Really?”

Adam groans. “Ronan, please don’t make that voice into my ear, I’m trying to get out of bed, not -” the muffled screaming sounds return. “Look,” says Adam, sounding out of breath for some reason, “I’m sorry Ronan, I really can’t do this right now, I have to hang up on you or I’m going to be late.”

“Oh,” says Ronan, his voice still soft. “Ok. I love you.”

“I love you too,” says Adam, sounding very, very strained.

 


 

He takes a selfie that afternoon laying down on a field of grass, smiling at his phone as he holds it above him. He’s happy. He thinks about Adam. It’s probably one of the nicer pictures he’s taken.

He captions it “I hope this brightens your day” and then posts it before going back to milking his cows. When he checks the comments later, it’s Adam’s that he sees first.

 

aparrish97 (Two Hearts )(Two Hearts )(Two Hearts )(Two Hearts )

 

And then of course, right beneath it:

 

daddyslittleslut69 god I want this man to milk me like a cow (Tired Face )(Ok Hand Sign ≊ Ok Hand)

 

“Goddamnit,” says Ronan to himself as he Googles how to delete comments.

 


 

The cat screaming begins again.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” says Ronan, stepping outside to see the tabby staring back up at him again. “Shut the fuck up, I’ll feed you, calm down.” He grabs the bowl and the food off the windowsill and pours some more out.

The cat doesn’t even bother trying to be coy anymore, just strolls up and lets Ronan pet him as he eats the kibble. Ronan sighs as he runs his hands over its soft fur, fully prepared to watch it disappear back into the evening air.

Instead, after it finishes its meal, it walks directly into his crossed legs, buts its head gently against his stomach and curls up in a ball.

Oh my god, thinks Ronan as he quickly but gently reaches for his phone to take a picture. He has just enough time to snap a hasty photo before it stretches its tiny little legs out and wanders off into the sunset like Ronan initially thought he would do, leaving him more than just a little shell shocked.

He posts it and captions it ”I’ve been blessed.”

 


 

He calls Adam later that night. He doesn’t pick up.

Huh, he thinks. He must be busy.

 


 

There’s a quiet, tender moment on the cusp of conciousness where he brings himself closer to Adam, buries his face in the crook of his neck and shoulder and breathes in his scent, clean and refreshing and everything that Ronan has missed these last couple months.

And then he wakes up.

”Jesus fucking Christ on a shit-cycle -” he shouts as he recoils away from Adam’s still sleeping body and directly onto the floor besides his bed. “Parrish?”

Adam groans and rolls over, clearly still half asleep. “Surprise,” he mutters as he resettles himself on his pillow, clearly reclaimed at some point from Ronan’s sleeping clutches. “I’m back early.”

“What the fuck?” says Ronan. He leans over the bed and pokes Adam’s cheek, just to make sure he’s not some sort of fever dream boyfriend-withdrawal induced hallucination.

That manages to wake Adam up. “What - who - where -” he flails, and then it’s his turn to fall out of their bed. “What’s going on? What’s the problem? What are you doing?”

“What am I doing?” asks Ronan incredulously. “What the fuck are you doing?”

Adam peels himself off of the floor to give him a look. “I’m trying to sleep, obviously,” he says, gesturing at the bed they had both just fallen out of.

“Why are you doing that here and not at college,” Ronan clarifies.

“Shit,” says Adam, as if just now remembering that he’s not supposed to be here right now. “I forgot. I’m surprising you.”

“What?” says Ronan.

Adam shrugs and lifts his hands up, shaking them in a sort of half hearted attempt at jazz hands. “Surprise?” he says. “None of my classes were doing anything important, so I came back here for the weekend.”

“That’s it?” says Ronan.

Adam blinks in surprise at him. “What do you mean ‘that’s it’?”

“Is someone dying?” asks Ronan.

“What? No,” responds Adam, giving him his what the fuck are you talking about look.

“Is someone sick?”

“No,” says Adam. “Is there a point to these questions?”

“Did your dorm get burned down in a fire?” asks Ronan.

“No.”

“An earthquake?”

“Nothings wrong!” says Adam exasperatedly. “I just wanted to come see you, ok?”

Ronan gives him a look. “You mean to tell me that you skipped class just to come see me?” he says.

Adam’s shoulders fall. So does his facial expression, actually. “Is that really so hard to believe?” he asks softly, his gaze meeting Ronan’s searchingly.

Ronan feels his breath leave him in a huff. He says nothing, only reaches over the bed to caress Adam’s cheek gently with his hand. “I mean,” he says, bringing his face closer so he can press his forehead against Adams. “Kinda yeah,” he says truthfully.

Adam sighs and lets his eyes fall closed. He places his hand on top of Ronan’s, cradling his hand against his cheek. “Well,” he says, eyes still closed, “I’m back.”

Ronan smiles.

 


 

They decide to eat their lunch outside on the back porch, because they’re adults and no one can tell them not to.

Ronan gingerly carries out the freshly baked mac and cheese, careful not to let the hot glass pan touch him. Adam follows him out slowly, balancing a pitcher of ice tea, two glasses, napkins, and utensils on top of a couple of plates, because making more than one trip is for losers, apparently.

“Oh,” says Adam, once they finish setting up the table, “who’s this?” and he points to the side of the porch.

Ronan follows his extended finger to find the tabby cat staring back at him. “Goddamnit,” he says. He gets up to grab the bag of food from the windowsill, except -

Except the cat doesn’t wait for him. It bounds forwards towards their table and starts curling itself around Adam’s legs.

“Oh my god,” says Adam as the cat passes between his ankles. “He’s so cute - oh no, I’m ticklish,” he says, and Ronan can see his legs twitching involuntarily as the cat’s soft fur brushes against them.

“Huh,” says Ronan. He sits back down. “I guess the little fucker likes you.”

“Aww, he’s so fluffy,” says Adam as he reaches down to pick up the cat. The cat meows loudly as his hands wrap themselves under its shoulders, but otherwise doesn’t protest as Adam lifts it up and gently plops it in his lap. It bats up lazily at Adam’s face from it’s place on his thighs. Adam laughs and brings his face close enough for the cat to bop him on the nose.

It’s the most adorable thing Ronan has ever seen in his life. He closes his eyes and lets the image bury itself deep in the back of his mind, Adam, alight with laughter and glowing on his back porch, dappled with sunlight, playing gently with the cat set on his lap.

“Oh,” says Adam, after the cat leaves them to go back to whatever it is that cats do in their spare time. “You should have taken a picture for your Instagram.”

Ronan shrugs. “Eh,” he says, “it’s whatever.”