Adam has always made lists to get through life.
His assignments, his work shifts, the ups and downs of his bank balance, groceries ranked according to what he could afford this week and what he could afford if he picked up an extra shift, books to tell Gansey about, teachers to ask for college recommendations. He used to write them on napkins, receipts, old assignments. Once he’d even used Gansey’s cereal box trimmings during a particularly long night at Monmouth when he needed to organize his thoughts to calm himself down.
Now that he’s at Harvard and his immediate needs are met with a full scholarship and room and board, he splurges on a soft leather-bound journal to house his lists. Some of them haven’t changed — papers to be written, shifts at the Library, books to text Gansey about. But the longest list is new. He adds to it frequently. He reads it every night before he goes to sleep.
It’s his Ronan list.
Some entries are just a few words.
The soft skin behind his ear.
Some are solid blocks of text.
That afternoon in August when he spent the day mowing the hay in the back field. And he was in the kitchen washing the seeds and dust and sweat from his face. And he smelled so green when I hugged him. And his neck tasted salty.
Some make him laugh.
Squash One, Squash Two.
Some make his breaths shallow.
The way the black wings curl around his shoulders.
(Adam thinks Ronan’s shoulders deserve at least two entries.)
Some make his breath catch in his throat.
His mouth on my hip.
Some make him cry quietly into his pillow when his roommate isn’t there.
The way he kissed me goodbye after he drove me up here.
Some make him close his eyes, and sometimes he can’t open them for a while.
Tamquam Alter Idem.
He adds to the list when he misses Ronan, or when a stray daydream takes him during a boring lecture, or when he wakes gasping from dreams of black lines etched across warm muscle.
He reads the list before he goes to sleep every night. His ritual. He does it so often the journal falls open naturally to it.
Which is the only reason Ronan discovers it.
They’d finished dinner and Opal is telling Adam about a new stag in Lindenmere. She says he was skittish at first, but had approached her when she sat perfectly still and kept her eyes closed. His nose was like velvet.
“Velvet” Adam murmurs, smiling.
“Time for bed, kid,” Ronan calls over his shoulder. He’s standing at the sink rinsing their dishes. There’s no snarl in his voice like there used to be when he wanted Opal to give them some privacy. The two of them had grown even closer since Adam left – their already tight orbit getting even smaller without that third body. But when Adam returned home for Winter Break they easily pulled him right back into their gravity, as if no time had passed.
When he turns around to give her his “I mean it” stare he sees Adam writing something down in a book he’s brought back with him.
Opal makes a low growl, but stands and straightens the new Harvard sweatshirt Adam brought her (she’d chewed so many holes in the first one Ronan had made her stop wearing it). She throws her arms around his neck and squeezes until Adam coughs.
“Don’t kill him, for Christ’s sake,” Ronan mutters from the sink.
“Come on,” Adam says, rising, “I’ll tuck you in, and I’ll read you ONE story.”
Opal grins and runs up the stairs, Adam climbing slowly behind her, looking back and catching Ronan’s warm gaze.
Ronan finishes the dishes.
He sits back down at the kitchen table and closes his eyes. Adam is here. He tries to stay in the moment, to focus on the night ahead of them, the weeks ahead of them, but his mind races farther ahead to Adam climbing out of the BMW in Cambridge, and Ronan having to pull over just outside of the city because he can’t see through his tears.
He opens his eyes and looks down at the old tabletop, worn smooth with age. Adam has left his book. Ronan picks it up and lets it drop back to the table. He just needs something to do with his hands. He doesn’t expect it to open. But it opens easily, its spine deeply creased in one spot. Ronan doesn’t intend to read it. He respects Adam’s privacy (and he also assumes it’s something dull – assignment deadlines, problem sets, god knows what).
But he sees his name at the top of the page.
And if he leans forward just a bit, and tilts his head, he can read that page without actually touching it and he thinks that should count for something.
His breath catches in his throat. It’s one of Adam’s lists (Ronan knows all about how his boyfriend self-soothes) but it reads like a stream-of-consciousness love letter. To him.
Ronan swallows and feels tears in his eyes.
He doesn’t really understand how brilliant he is.
Or how beautiful.
His love for Opal.
His hands on my stomach.
When he brought me to The Barns that first time. Looking back I was already in love with him.
That time in the laundry room. Jesus.
He never lies.
His gentleness with Chainsaw. His gentleness with everyone he loves.
Waking up with him, the sun filtering through the curtains. His arms around me. Telling each other about our dreams quietly so Opal doesn’t wake up.
Coming home to him after college is finished.
Ronan stops himself from turning the page. He doesn’t have to. He closes the book softly and wipes his eyes.
Adam descends the stairs an hour later. Two stories became six. He’s never been good at saying no to her.
Ronan pulls him into his arms and kisses him softly.
“I love you,” Ronan whispers.
Adam smiles. He likes their “Tamquam Alter Idem” but this is better.
“I love you too. Can we go to bed?” Adam puts his head on Ronan’s shoulder.
Ronan kisses his ear in response and they climb the stairs.
Adam drops his bag on the floor and stares around his dorm room. It looks like his roommate hasn’t gotten back yet. He thinks of Ronan driving back to Virginia. The thought takes all the strength out of his body and he sits down on the bed.
Winter Break had been too short. And the specter of his leaving again had hung over them both.
But the time had been precious, and they had used it well – long drives through country roads; bundling up in blankets and sitting on the porch watching the deer; long, laughing dinners with Opal; nights in front of the fireplace after she’d gone to bed; lazy mornings when they reached for each other again and again.
Adam sighs. He reaches for his bag and pulls his journal out. He needs the list.
When he opens to the well-worn spot, a piece of paper falls out.
Your goddamned stubbornness.
That time you fixed my car and I couldn’t stop staring at you.
Adam takes a stuttering breath. Ronan.
When you’re tired and your accent slips out and it makes me want to carry you to bed like it’s fucking Gone With The Wind.
Adam gasps out a laugh.
When I first saw you pushing your bike up that hill, I prayed for you. I never told you that.
You’ve never tried to control me.
You worked for everything you achieved.
You’re not afraid of my Dreams.
Or my dreams.
You’ve learned to let me take care of you, and know it’s not weakness.
Your long fucking legs wrapped around me.
How giddy and stupid you get when you’re sleep-deprived, laughing at everything I say.
The fact that you’re a total marshmallow when it comes to Opal.
You always come back. And I will always be there when you do.
The list went on and on.
Adam lay back on the bed and read it again and again until his eyes closed.