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if devotion is a river

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5.

“I don’t think we need this many boxes,” Blue J says hesitantly.

Throndir and Ephrim make identical noises of disagreement. Blue J glances between them until Ephrim shakes his head. “You always need twice as many boxes as you think you do,” he explains. “That’s the first rule of moving. You never have enough boxes.”

“I thought the first rule of moving was not to tell anyone you were moving until the lease was signed so that way you didn’t jinx it.”

Ephrim pauses. “How many rules have we told you?”

Blue J lifts a hand to start counting on their fingers. “One, you don’t tell anyone so you don’t jinx it. Two, you never try and move by yourself. That one was from Hadrian, he didn’t like your first rule.”

“Hadrian doesn’t like most of my rules,” Ephrim says, oddly cheerful. “I think he’ll agree with the box thing, though. That seems universal.”

“Right,” Blue J says, and decides not to mention Hadrian’s whole thing about minimalist packing and using the storage space you already have. That can come up another day. “Three, Dad gets final approval on all apartments. Four, but it’s not really about his approval, it’s about mine and Ben’s.”

Throndir frowns. “Is that a Hadrian rule or a Red Jack rule?”

“Red Jack rule.”

“What about my rules?” Red Jack says, voice booming in from the backyard. Blue J takes a moment to brace themself as he rounds the corner and sees the dining room, which Ephrim and Throndir have filled so completely with boxes that there’s no actual floor space to walk on.

“We went box hunting,” Throndir says brightly. “You know, raided a couple of grocery stores, things like that.”

The boxes are floor to ceiling. There are piles that are taller than Red Jack. Blue J can see him come to that realization himself, looking up at the highest boxes.

“Hm,” he rumbles, and props his hands on his hips. “Are you certain this will be enough?”

“Dad,” Blue J says in exasperation. “I don’t own that much stuff! And neither does Ben.”

Red Jack turns to give them a serious look, one eyebrow raised. “Always better to have more than you need, isn’t it?”

“Well, do you need these boxes?”

“I do not! I believe they’re all yours.”

“But I think you should keep them,” Blue J says, working to keep a straight face. “So that way you have more than you need, right?”

Red Jack’s face splits into a grin, and he laughs, so loudly that it fills the room and bounces off the cardboard. “Very wise,” he says, and Blue J grins back at him.



#

 

4.

By Benjamin’s estimate, he and his dad have been standing in front of the camp stoves for at least thirty minutes.

He should’ve seen this coming. His dad had handled everything so well so far that it was easy to forget how neurotic he got about the strangest things. And maybe Benjamin should’ve seen this coming when he’d insisted on being the one to help with the appliance shopping, but this is a whole new level of ridiculous.

“Dad,” Benjamin says carefully. “Do you need me to call Red Ja-”

“No, we can figure this out,” Hadrian says, voice firm. “I know a thing or two about camp stoves, you know that.”

“Yeah, but I’m-”

“Some people will swear by certain brands, but that’s not the way to go. You have to consider things like how big it is, how much it weighs, how fast it heats up-”

Dad-

“It’s best if they’re multipurpose-”

Benjamin heaves a sigh and turns to rest his hands on Hadrian’s shoulders. He’s taller than his dad, just by a couple inches. It still startles him some days that he has to look down, but he guesses that’s adulthood. Being taller than your parents and still somehow feeling small.

“Dad,” he says, forcing himself to be patient even though they’ve been looking at camp stoves for half an hour. “I love you.”

“I love you too,” Hadrian says automatically. He gives Benjamin a confused look. “Why-”

“And you helped us out a lot with picking out an apartment. You knew all the important things to ask about. Blue and I wouldn’t have found our place without you.”

“What are you-”

“I’m just reminding you that you’ve done a lot for us, so hopefully it doesn’t hurt your feelings when I say that you have no idea what you’re doing.”

“I know about camp stoves,” Hadrian says indignantly.

Benjamin smiles. “Blue J already has, like, two camp stoves, Dad. And we don’t need a camp stove for an apartment. There’s already a stove, and you know that because you’re the one who made sure all the wiring and appliances worked.”

“I did do that,” Hadrian murmurs.

“So I think we should call Red Jack to figure out things like… like toolboxes and appliances and whatever. Because he knows about those things.”

“I know a lot about camp stoves,” Hadrian says again, but he’s smiling now. He lifts his hands to cover Benjamin’s on his shoulders and leaves them there, resting peacefully. “That was very diplomatic of you, you know that?”

Benjamin shrugs and flips his hands so he can squeeze his dad’s, then brings his arms back to his sides. “I just wanted to make sure you knew where I was coming from.”

“Diplomatic,” Hadrian repeats. “Call Red Jack, I’m sure he’ll have plenty to say about this.”

“He always does,” Benjamin mutters, and Hadrian snorts. “Can we wander around while we wait for him to call back?”

“Of course.” Hadrian pauses. “Do you remember when you were little, and your mom and I would come to appliance stores, and you always wanted to-”

“Look at the lightbulbs.” Benjamin smiles. He knows that he must’ve been young then, four or five years old, but he still remembers thinking that it was the most important thing in the world to go see the lightbulbs with his parents. There were so many, and they all looked so pretty to his tiny child brain. Hell, they still do. “Do you wanna walk around the lights for a little while? I can call Red Jack later.”

Hadrian smiles. “I’d love to,” he says, and it’s strange and adult and sad and warm in ways that Benjamin understands, even though he almost wishes he didn’t.

 

#

 

3.

“What about that one?”

“It’s too… modern-looking.”

“Modern-looking?” Blue J repeats. “Do we need a classic sofa?”

“I mean, I don’t think so,” Benjamin admits. “But that one’s just weird.”

“It’s an Ikea, everything is weird.”

“Yeah, but it doesn’t look comfortable.”

“What do you have against this couch?”

“Why are you so invested in this couch?”

Blue J sighs. “Okay, time out,” they say. “Let’s go sit down for a minute.”

“Time out,” Benjamin agrees, relieved. Blue J flashes them a smile and wraps a hand around his arm. “Are we going to sit on the ugly couch?”

“Yes we are, I’m proving a point.”

Benjamin groans exaggeratedly, but he lets Blue J pull him over to the ugly modernist couch. He hates Ikea. He wanted to go to a secondhand store, but Blue J likes Ikea, and he loves Blue J, so here they are, sitting on a truly hideous angular sofa.

“Okay,” Blue J says. Their hands flutter nervously for a second, like they’re not sure where to put them, so Benjamin automatically reaches out and takes them in his own. They smile at him, shy and grateful. “Hi.”

“Hi,” Benjamin says. “This is weird, right?”

Blue J laughs, a startled, nervous laugh bubbling out of their mouth. “It’s super weird!”

“We’re shopping for furniture for our apartment.”

“Where we’re going to live by ourselves!”

“We’re arguing about couches in Ikea.”

“In Ikea, ” Blue J echoes, and leans forward to rest their forehead on Ben’s shoulder. He immediately dips his head down to kiss their hair. “I told you this couch was comfortable.”

“It’s alright,” Benjamin admits. “But I’d rather have better than alright.”

“We can keep looking for something better than alright.”

“And if I think something is alright but you think it’s incredible, you tell me that you think it’s incredible, because an incredible overrides an alright.”

Blue J lifts their head to give Benjamin a serious look, which is only slightly undercut by the sparkle in their eyes. “Ben, this couch is the new love of my life.”

He nods gravely. “If you say so. We should see if it comes in other colors, though.”

“What color did you have in mind?”

“Neon orange,” Benjamin says, with a straight face that collapses as soon as Blue J starts laughing. He grins at them. “What? It’s a choice-”

“Can you imagine,” Blue J gasps, “your parents walking into our apartment and seeing a neon orange sofa? And your dad trying to act like he loves it?”

“Can you imagine your parents? Ephrim-”

“Ephrim!” Blue J collapses back against the couch, giggling maniacally. They lift their hands to cover their face, apparently forgetting that Benjamin is holding both their hands, so it ends with his palms pressed against their cheeks. “Oh my god, he’d kill us.”

Benjamin nods. “So we should get neon green instead?”

Blue J makes a face at him. Benjamin just smiles and pulls Blue J in to kiss them, quick and sweet, because he can. When he pulls back, Blue J is smiling at him, and he smiles back.

“So,” he says. “Ready to keep looking at couches?”

“Nope,” Blue J says, and leans to rest their head back on Benjamin’s shoulder. “We’re gonna stay here for a few minutes, because I want to. And then we’re going to keep looking at couches, and then get weird Swedish candy.”

“Good,” Benjamin says, and leans to rest his cheek against the top of Blue J’s head. “I love you.”

Blue J grabs one of Benjamin’s hands and squeezes it. “Love you too.”

 

#

 

2.

Rosana levels a serious look at Blue J. “This is the most important thing I have to teach you, do you understand?”

“Yes ma’am,” Blue J says. “Thank you for doing this, by the way.”

She waves a hand at them. “It was a good idea, give yourself credit. There’s nobody I trust my son with more than you.”

“Including Hadrian?”

“Yes,” Rosana says tartly, and Blue J laughs. “That’s why I had Benjamin get him out of the house.”

Blue J smiles. Benjamin and Hadrian are shopping for tools and appliances and things like that. It’s their third trip this week; this time they’re bringing Ephrim, because he has a way of getting salespeople to be honest about things like product quality and good deals. Blue J is going with them on the final trip tomorrow, the one where they’re actually going to buy the things they need for the apartment, but they’d managed to escape today’s.

And technically, this was Benjamin’s idea, even though he doesn’t know it. He’d mentioned a few days ago that he was going to miss his mom’s cooking, especially her mac and cheese. Blue J’s no professional cook - out of the two of them, Benjamin is the better cook, even though he thinks it’s stressful - but they want to get this right for him. It’ll be a nice surprise one day.

“Well, we have some peace and quiet,” they say cheerfully. “So let’s get cooking.”

“Oh, no,” Rosana says, and takes a step back. “You’re cooking. I’m guiding.”

“What? But-”

“You need to actually do all the steps yourself. That’s how you learn to cook, not by helping me cook.”

Blue J looks hesitantly at the fridge, then the stove, then at her. “Rosana, I don’t want to light your stove on fire.”

“I don’t want you to light my stove on fire,” she answers easily. “That’s why I’m here - well, not that specifically, but to supervise and guide. But you have to do this yourself, J.”

“Are you mom-ing me again?”

“Every day, sweetheart.”

Blue J smiles at her, mostly a reflex. They’ve always had Red Jack, of course, and Throndir and Ephrim are sort of like additional dads, but Rosana has always been the closest thing they had to a mom. She’s always been so kind to them. And even if Blue J doesn’t hold the same love for her mac and cheese recipe that Benjamin does, this still feels significant. She’s passing down a tradition. It makes Blue J feel important, somehow.

“Okay,” they say. “I’m assuming that we start with macaroni, right?”

Rosana freezes, mouth forming an O for a split second. “Shit,” she whispers. “I forgot to buy macaroni.”

Blue J stares, not sure if they should laugh or say something. “Do we… have time to get some?”

“Oh, absolutely.” Rosans exhales and recovers enough to shoot Blue J a sly grin. “That’s step one to any recipe. You have to make sure you actually do the prep work.”

“It feels like we’re talking about more than just a recipe.”

“Recipes are good metaphors. Come on, I need to pick up some other groceries anyways.”

Blue J grins. Now when they surprise Ben with his mom’s mac and cheese, they’ll have a good story to go with it.

 

#

 

1.

The morning of the move is, to say the absolute least, chaos.

But it’s controlled chaos, because Hadrian puts a concerted effort into making a game plan. Obviously, there’s only so much he can do, but he knows what everyone here is good at. This plan plays to everyone’s strengths: he and Red Jack are moving furniture, Rosana and Blue J are setting up the kitchen, Benjamin is setting up personal effects, and Ephrim and Throndir are their team for emergency Target runs for things they forgot.

Everyone seems relieved that there’s a plan. Or, at least, Hadrian hopes they’re relieved. Mostly, he’s just trying to focus on the task at hand instead of actually thinking about what that task is.

“Things seem to be going well,” Red Jack remarks during their third trip up the stairs. This time they’re maneuvering a coffee table, a really solid oak table that Ben and Blue found at a Goodwill or something. It’s not too heavy to move, but it’s on the awkward side, and Hadrian is so focused on moving the table that it takes him a minute to realize that Red Jack is expecting an answer.

“Uh, yeah,” he huffs out, shifting his grip on the table. “They found a pretty good place, right?”

“That they did.” Red Jack pauses and clears his throat. “It’s certainly going to be… strange, not having Blue J around the house. I don’t think I’ve fully grasped the strangeness of it yet.”

Oh, god, Red Jack is talking about his feelings. He’s talking about his feelings with Hadrian.

“It’s already weird,” he admits. “Rosana and I went through all of our kitchen stuff to give Benjamin extras of anything that we had, and now our kitchen feels empty. And we still live there!”

Red Jack smiles, sad and fleeting, before glancing away. “They take up space in ways we don’t realize, don’t they?”

Hadrian lets out a breath, partly out of exertion and partly because Red Jack is doing that thing he does where he cuts to the core of the situation. This whole moving thing is so strange because it’s incredible, it’s everything a parent could ask for, and at the same time it’s the last thing in the world that he wants.

“Hey,” he says awkwardly. Red Jack, who was trying to maneuver his end of the table through the stairwell door, looks back at him. “Rosana and I were thinking about going out for dinner after this. You know, letting Ben and Blue have their first night in their apartment by themselves. Did you three want to come with us? We can drink wine and tell stories about when the kids were babies, or something.” He pauses. Does Red Jack drink wine? “Or… drink beer, or whatever.”

“Hadrian,” Red Jack says, filled with some emotion that Hadrian can’t quite identify. “I accept.”

“Great,” Hadrian says. “Uh, we were just going to go to a Chili’s or something, but we can figure it out after we leave here. I’m pretty sure Ephrim wouldn’t go to a Chili’s.”

Red Jack doesn’t say anything, but his lips twitch into a smile that Hadrian is going to assume means he agrees. Neither of them say anything as they get the table down the hall and into the apartment, or as Benjamin directs them to set the coffee table in front of the TV. The kids got a couch at Ikea, which Hadrian is absolutely not going to help with. That’s a Throndir job, right there.

It takes a minute for him to make his way over to Rosana, but he does, wrapping his arms around her waist. “Hi.”

“Hi,” she says, surprised and pleased. “What’re you up to?”

“Red Jack and I were talking-” Rosana groans, but Hadrian keeps going. “And I think he’s going to have serious empty nest syndrome, so I invited him and the guys out to dinner tonight. I thought it might help all of us to spend some time forever.”

“Oh,” Rosana says. “I thought you were going to say that you got into some kind of macho competition.”

“We’re doing the manliest thing of all,” Hadrian says seriously. “Being fathers.”

She laughs lightly and turns to press a kiss to his mouth. It misses and lands on the side of his chin, but it makes him smile anyways. “That’s very sweet of you. I’d love to go out for dinner with the guys. But we’re going to need to figure out where to go, because Ephrim-”

“Would never set foot in a Chili’s,” Hadrian finishes. “Yeah, I know.”

He looks up to where Ephrim and Blue J are valiantly trying to set up the TV, then over to Red Jack and Throndir in a corner together. Throndir has one hand resting on Red Jack’s arm, and something about the gesture makes Hadrian smile. “We’ve got pretty good friends, huh?”

Rosana hums contentedly and leans back in his arms. “Yes, we do,” she murmurs. In a minute someone is going to make a joke about them spooning in the middle of the kitchen and Benjamin will call them gross, but for now Hadrian is content to stay here, like this.

 

#

 

0.

Benjamin drops the pizza box on the coffee table and then plops down on the floor next to Blue J. “First meal as a couple living together and it’s takeout.”

“We’ll have to cook tomorrow.” Blue J pauses. “Or, like, in a couple of days.”

Benjamin hums and drops his head onto Blue J’s shoulder. “We should’ve gotten that other couch.”

“Not to say I told you so, but-”

“But you told me so, yeah.”

“I absolutely did.”

Benjamin huffs out a laugh and presses an absent kiss against Blue J’s shoulder. “Hey, Blue?”

One of their arms slides around Ben’s waist, pulling him in closer. “Yeah?”

“We live together.” He lifts his head to look at them, eyes sweeping over their face like he’s trying to drink them in. “I live with you.”

“I live with you,” Blue J echoes. They smile, small and pleased, and lean in, just slightly. “That’s nice to say. I live with you, Benjamin. This is our apartment, all ours, just ours.”

“Music to my ears,” Benjamin whispers, and leans all the way in to kiss Blue J.