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Comfort In

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“Adam, please come to the nurses’ station.”

Considering that Adam was in the process of explaining an ankle fracture to a very frightened camp counselor, whatever it was could wait. He continued to detail the next steps, starting with a surgical team consult and ending with, at the very least, casting and crutches, and at the most, surgery. The patient was halfway through a tearful question about if they’d be able to run ever again when there was a repeat page. “Adam Lynch, urgent call for you at the nurses’ station.”

It was an emergency room—most things were urgent, so the fact that this was explicitly stated struck him as a little odd.  Against his better judgement, he excused himself from the room and went over to one of the department coordinators. “I’m with a patient,” he said, trying to mask his annoyance, “What is it?”

“Someone named Blue is on line three. Says it can’t wait.”

Adam felt a little dizzy. His breath caught and the hearing in his good ear faded to a buzz. It wasn’t until the coordinator waved the receiver in front of him that he exhaled and took it, mumbled his thanks, and put the phone to his ear. “Blue?”

“Adam,” she sighed, clearly having been holding her own breath, “Hi. So, Ronan passed out when we were setting up the porch lights. He’s mostly okay, but—”

If it felt like Adam’s heart stopped earlier, it was doing the opposite now, his pulse pounding in his chest. “What do you mean, mostly okay?”

“He’s a little out of it and he’s got a pretty big cut on his forehead—Gansey’s trying to stop the bleeding. He won’t let us take him to the ER and I think it’s probably fine but—” Blue paused, and Adam heard Gansey’s voice in the background, and then Ronan talking over him. He couldn’t make out what they were saying, but Ronan didn’t sound too far off from his normal self. When Blue continued, her voice was oddly close, as if she had her hand cupped around the microphone. “Gansey’s just worried about—” She stopped, paused, and restarted, “I think we’d all feel better if you were here.”

Adam took a deep breath in and let it out through pursed lips. “I know. I can be home in twenty minutes. If anything changes, just call 911 and tell him I said he has to listen.”

“Alright.” Blue’s voice was surprisingly even, given the circumstances. “He’s okay, Adam. We’ve got him.”

“I know.”

“Drive safe. See you soon.”

Adam found one of the other PAs and signed out his cases to her (“Room five is a confirmed appy, waiting on surgery.”) in the midst of explaining (“His father used to get vagal episodes too, and he actually—”) and apologizing (“Again, I’m so sorry to push this all onto you.”) before finally being shooed to the staff room to gather his things.  He didn’t bother changing out of his scrubs, just grabbed his backpack and left the department, ducking into the supply room to grab a suture kit on the way out.  When he started driving, he felt relatively reassured by having heard Ronan on the phone, but with every mile he thought more and more about Niall and stepped harder on the gas in turn. What should have been a twenty-minute drive took fifteen, and he pulled into the driveway with a skid that Ronan probably would have appreciated. He found Blue waiting for him on the front steps, and she led Adam around to the backyard at a not-quite-run. 

The first thing he saw was Gansey sitting on the grass shirtless with Ronan’s head on his thighs. Gansey looked up when Adam and Blue approached, and attempted to smile at Adam before looking back toward Ronan and saying something. Immediately after, Ronan tried to sit up, and when Gansey eased him back down with a hand on his shoulder, Adam caught a glimpse of the cantaloupe-colored shirt that Gansey was pressing to Ronan’s forehead. Kneeling in front of them, Adam pressed his palm to Ronan’s blood-streaked cheek, finally letting out a sigh of relief when his husband opened his eyes. “Hey, Ro. How’re you feeling?”

Ronan pushed himself up on one arm, but again let himself be guided back down into Gansey’s lap. “I’m sorry they made you leave work for this,” he said, his eyes drifting closed, “I’ll be fine.”

“Well, next time, don’t go scaring everyone when I’m not here.” He tried to keep his tone light, partially to keep himself calm, but mostly to reassure Gansey, who was looking at Ronan in a wide-eyed stare. Adam reached for the balled-up polo shirt in Gansey’s hand. “Can I take a look?”

Gansey nodded and looked away, allowing Adam to lift the bloody makeshift bandage. Sure enough, there was a linear wound going right through Ronan’s eyebrow; Adam estimated it was about 3 centimeters. Apologizing quietly when Ronan inhaled with a sudden hiss, he pressed on either side of the laceration so that the edges came together, and then released them. “It’s not bleeding too much, but you’re gonna need stitches, babe.” Ronan groaned and started to protest, and Adam pressed the shirt back down. “We can go to the hospital or I can do it here, but I’m not gonna let your pretty face get messed up just because you’re being stubborn.”

“Aw, you think I’m pretty?” Ronan didn’t open his eyes, but his smirk was enough to get Adam to relax. It had been almost a half-hour since Ronan passed out and he was not just speaking clearly but joking around; if something terrible were going to happen, it would have occurred already.

“Seriously—ER or living room?” Without answering, because it went without saying, Ronan shifted positions so that he was kneeling in between Adam and Gansey.  He waited there for a minute or so, during which Adam watched for any sign that he might faint again. Once he was ready, he pushed himself to his feet and started toward the house, Adam and Gansey both positioned at either side. Once they were inside, Adam looked around for a suitable place to put Ronan, his gaze finally settling on the rarely-used dining room. “Blue,” he said, “Could you just—take everyone on the table and put it on the floor?”

Ronan stopped, and for a moment Adam was worried that he was going to pass out again but instead, he just looked at Adam and then to the table. “You’re fucking kidding.”

“I’m not gonna kneel on the floor and bend over you for twenty minutes in shitty lighting, asshole.” He was grateful for Niall’s carpentry skills when the table didn’t so much as creak when Ronan lay down on it. “Remember to sit down next time so you don’t split your face open and I won’t have to do this again.”

Wordlessly, Ronan flashed Adam the finger and closed his eyes. Leaving Gansey in one of the chairs, Adam went about assembling everything he needed: suture kit, pillow, towels, saline, gloves, the lamp from his desk. With the makeshift ER in place, he washed his hands and sat down beside Gansey. “Maybe you should wait in the living room.”

“We should probably get out of your hair anyway,” Blue said from the doorway, “Let him rest and all.”

As if hearing himself talked about like he wasn’t there brought him to full alertness, Ronan sat up and turned to her. “No—I’m not letting my being a dumbass ruin your heathen holiday.”

Everyone spoke at once, insisting that he wasn’t ruining anything and that celebrating the Solstice didn’t make someone a heathen and that he wasn’t a dumbass for passing out, but Adam knew it wouldn’t make a difference. “Alright.” He raised his voice over the commotion. “Why don’t you all stay for dinner, but we’ll call it an early night after that.” Blue and Gansey exchanged a glance and nodded. “But right now, everybody out.”

Once they were alone in the room, Adam set to work. It was oddly soothing, performing a task he’d done at least a hundred times, even on his husband. Trying to keep Ronan distracted from the paradoxically painful numbing injection, he asked softly, “So what happened, babe?”

“The usual bullshit.” Adam’s heart ached at just how tired he sounded; he was usually fatigued after a syncopal episode, but this was different, like he was exhausted by the sheer fact that it happened. “I was doing stuff outside all day, didn’t really drink anything. I was stringing up the lights with Gansey and then boom: nausea, tunnel vision, diaphoresis, on the ground.”

“It’s been a while. Over a year, I think.”

“Do you think I need to go back to the cardiologist?” 

Adam was grateful that the sterile drape covered Ronan’s eyes—he didn’t think he could bear to see the fear in his expression. Taking a slow, deep breath, he started the first suture as he weighed out his answer. “It certainly wouldn’t hurt. Get some peace of mind, at least.”

“Yeah.” Ronan nodded, cutting the movement abruptly short when Adam exclaimed in protest. “I’ll give him a call on Monday.”

It didn’t take Adam too long to finish, but by the time he tied off the sixth stitch, Ronan was asleep. Adam considered taking the opportunity to send Blue and Gansey home, but thought better of it. After peeling off the fenestrated drape and dabbing at the sutures with saline-soaked gauze, he squeezed Ronan’s shoulder, gently shushing him when he startled awake. Running the back of his fingers over Ronan’s cheek, Adam smiled. “All patched up. You wanna try walking to the living room?”

“Thanks.” Ronan accepted Adam’s hand and sat up, swinging his legs over the edge of the table. “Did you give me a cool scar?”

“Ha ha.” Helping Ronan to his feet, Adam guided him out of the dining room and into the kitchen, where Gansey was squishing ground beef into patties and Blue was chopping vegetables. They both looked up, their expressions momentarily shocked, then relieved.

Gansey quickly washed his hands and went over to them, pulling out a chair at the kitchen table for Ronan. “Fantastic work,” he commented, glancing up at Adam after crouching down to look at Ronan’s sutures. Then, to Ronan, he asked, “How are you feeling?”

“Like I smacked my head on a paving stone, Gansey.” Seeing Gansey stiffen at Ronan’s snarky response, Adam flicked Ronan’s shoulder. “But better now that I’m not bleeding into my eye.”

With a nod, Gansey stood up. “Good. Food will be ready soon—I’m going to start grilling in a minute.”

“I’m...just gonna sit here.”

“I’m gonna get you some Tylenol and then help Blue.” Adam leaned over and kissed the top of Ronan’s head before heading to the bathroom. After taking the bottle out of the medicine cabinet, he leaned on the sink basin and looked himself in the mirror. It was always nerve wracking when Adam had to balance his roles of both clinician and husband. He didn’t mind looking after Ronan when he was sick, but stitching his wounds on the dining room table was a line he’d hoped not to cross. The worst was over now, though, and Adam needed to put aside his work-self and turn back into someone celebrating the summer with his best friends.  At the very least, he needed to change out of his scrubs. 

After leaving the Tylenol and a glass of water on the table for Ronan, Adam went upstairs, put his scrubs in the washing machine, and quickly showered, letting the stream of water pound some of the stress out of his shoulders. Aiming to be as comfortable as possible, he pulled on a pair of cargo shorts and was deciding on a t-shirt when he heard a metallic clang outside.  Looking out the window, he watched as Gansey, bare-chested, scrubbed the grill’s grate and turned the knob until the flame caught, then closed the cover and sat down on a nearby lawn chair, face in his hands. Adam thought about shouting down to him but instead grabbed a second shirt and went downstairs.

Passing through the kitchen, he found Blue reminiscing about the time in high school that she’d had her eyebrow split open while Ronan rested his head on his folded arms at the table. Kissing Ronan’s head again, Adam let himself out the back door and went around the house to where Gansey sat, his position unchanged. “Hey,” he said quietly, and Gansey sat up suddenly, wiping his eyes.

“Adam.” He gave the kind of smile that was meant to be reassuring but didn’t come close. “How is he, in your medical opinion?”

“He’ll be fine. Probably a little concussed, but nothing a few days at home won’t fix.” Adam handed Gansey the shirt and looked away as he put it on. “How are you ?”

Gansey choked out a sound that could have been a laugh under different circumstances. “Don’t worry about me.”

Adam dragged one of the other plastic chairs over and sat down next to Gansey. “Too late.”  They were silent for a moment, then Adam spoke again. “Is this about his dad?” 

Gansey nodded and Adam scooted his chair a little closer, resting his palm on the other’s back. “I wish you could have met him,” Gansey started. “He was so much like Ronan. And he was young and healthy and he died anyway. And maybe if someone had been there—” he swallowed, shaking his head. “What if it happens again, worse, and he’s alone?”

It was a thought that Adam had been able to avoid for the past few years. Sure, Ronan’s fainting episodes weren’t like seizures that came out of nowhere; there was always some sort of trigger. But that didn’t mean that he’d always have time to sit down. Niall had been on a ladder.

“I don’t know,” Adam admitted. He slid his hand across Gansey’s back to his upper arm and tugged him close. After a moment’s hesitation, Gansey rested his head on Adam’s shoulder.

Gansey and Adam had never been physically close; it just wasn’t a part of their friendship. They didn’t hug, which wasn’t out of the ordinary when they were teenagers, but when they grew up, they still greeted each other with a fistbump. It never struck Adam as strange until Ronan brought it up a few years back, and Adam had shrugged it off.  So many things about him could be explained away by the whole child abuse thing. Touch just wasn’t something in the cards for them.

From his current position, Adam couldn’t see Gansey’s face, but he knew the other was crying when he saw a few tears drip onto his lap. He just held him closer, shifting their positions so that Adam was twisted sideways in his chair, the plastic of the armrest digging into his ribs, and Gansey buried his face in Adam’s neck. “I was so scared, Adam,” he said in between sobs, voice ragged. “I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to him.”

Adam brought his free hand up to smooth over Gansey’s hair. “I know,” he whispered, “It scares me too.”

He wasn’t sure how long they stayed like that, but they both pulled back at Blue’s voice, yelling to ask if the burgers were ready yet. Gansey sniffled and dried his eyes again before calling back that it would just be a few more minutes. He smiled at Adam, still not entirely convincing, and walked to the grill, laying the patties on the grate. Adam came up behind him just as Gansey closed the cover, and put his arm around him again. Fidgeting with the spatula for a few seconds, Gansey finally turned to look at Adam. “I’m sorry for making this about me.”

“Dude, don’t worry about it.”

“No, no,” he waved a hand dismissively. “You’re supposed to—what was it? Right: comfort in, dump out?”

Furrowing his brow, Adam replied, “I’m sorry, what out?”

Gansey laughed—it was an honest-to-god laugh this time, and Adam was instantly relieved. “Maura was talking about it—when something bad happens, you’re supposed to comfort people closer to the event, and get support from people further out than you.”

“Yeah, well—” Adam paused. “I think that’s kind of bullshit, considering that you were there when it happened.”

“But you—”

“—deal with this sort of thing every day. And yeah, it’s different when it’s Ronan, but when’s the last time you had to do first aid on anyone?”

Considering it for a moment, Gansey nodded. “Fair enough.” He tilted his head to rest against Adam’s again. “Thank you.”

“Anytime.” Adam squeezed Gansey’s shoulder once and let go. “You gonna be okay if I head back inside to finish things up?”

Gansey nodded again. “I think so.” He paused, looking down. “Thanks for the shirt, by the way.”

“Shit—I gotta go throw some hydrogen peroxide on your other one.” 

“I, uh—” Gansey swallowed. “I know you’re gonna say that this is a rich people thing, but I think I’m just going to throw it out. I’m always going to think about—”

Adam cut him off. “For once, I’m not gonna argue with you about this.” 

With an honest-to-god laugh, Gansey shook his head. “That only took fifteen years.” Still smiling, he nodded toward the house. “Can you stall for me, before Blue decides I’m not responsible enough for grill duty?”

“I’ll try, but no promises.” Taking one last look at Gansey, eyes still a little puffy from crying, Adam turned back to the house. He could hear Ronan telling a work story, voice animated, and Blue laughing. The summer sun was starting to set, and Adam smiled. They’d all be okay.