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it takes a village (or at least the neighborhood)

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Being a patient at your own ER was always embarrassing. Being a patient at your own ER for something stupid was absolutely mortifying. Adam had grown up lying about injuries, but there was no way to cover up the fact that he had been texting, walked straight past not one, but two ‘Wet Floor’ signs, and fallen in front of no fewer than six of his coworkers. Having to be helped into a wheelchair and brought to one of the exam rooms just served to (quite literally) add insult to injury. Kaylee, the new attending, had diagnosed him with an ankle sprain, but the fact that it wasn’t broken didn’t mean that it didn’t hurt like absolute hell--not that he’d let that show, of course.

“I can finish my shift,” he insisted, bringing his legs over the edge of the bed. Now that he had it wrapped and braced, it actually felt pretty good, but he hadn’t tried to walk since it happened. 

“Oh, really?” Kaylee said, one eyebrow raised. “I’m excited to see how this turns out.”

Putting his good foot on the floor first, Adam pushed himself off the bed and lowered the right one. The instant he tried to put any weight on it, though, he dropped back onto the stretcher, shaking his head. “Just--give me a second.”

“I’m pretty sure—”

“Actually--let’s see how I do with crutches.”

Kaylee shook her head. “Are you always this terrible of a patient?”

Thinking back to the numerous times he insisted he was fine when he really, really wasn’t (primarily the infamous pneumonia incident of junior year), Adam smiled sheepishly. “Yes.”

“Great. So. Here’s what we’re gonna do. I’m gonna have Miguel bring in a set of crutches, make sure you can get around on those without hurting yourself more, and then you’re going home.” She looked at him for approval, and Adam nodded. “Non-weightbearing today, then as tolerated. You know the drill, yeah?”

Adam sighed. “Yeah. Thank you.”

“You have someone who can look out for you at home?”

Technically, yes. Practically, not so much. Ronan had been sick for days, and caring for a ten-month-old wasn’t helping him recover any faster. Adam had adjusted his own schedule as best he could, but after taking so much time off when Opal was a newborn, he felt bad about straight-up calling out.  Not that it mattered now; the universe had forced his hand (or foot, as the case may be) into taking time off. “My husband is, unfortunately, very experienced in dealing with me as a patient.”

“God help him.” Smiling, Kaylee looked Adam up and down. “Unless you have any questions, I think you’re good to go once you’re set up with crutches.” Adam shook his head. “Alright. Don’t come back until you can at least get around the department. And keep your head out of your phone.”

“Will do.” Once Kaylee left, Adam leaned forward, head in his hands.  This was not a complication that he and Ronan needed right now, but they’d manage. The current issue, however, was how Adam was going to get home. It was his pedal foot that was injured, and the idea of putting pressure on it for the whole drive home didn’t sound pleasant or safe. Sure, he could have Ronan come pick him up, but that would likely involve waking up Opal from her nap and that was not a task to undertake lightly, especially since they’d been having issues with her sleep schedule recently. That left one other option; Adam took out his phone and dialed Blue.

“Hey, Adam,” she said, “What’s up?”

“So, everything’s fine, but I got into a little accident at work--”

Blue’s tone was sharp as she cut in, “I know that you do it because you think it’s reassuring, but anytime you start a sentence with ‘everything’s fine but’, it gives the distinct impression that everything is not fine.”

Sighing, Adam nodded. “Fair enough.”

“So are you actually okay?”

“Yes.” He proceeded to tell her the story, trying to make it sound a little less embarrassing than it actually was, and ended with, “And I was wondering if you’d be able to pick me up? Ronan’s not well and Opal—”

“First of all, you are the dumbest smart person I’ve ever met. An absolute caricature of a millennial.” Adam rolled his eyes, but then again, she wasn’t wrong. “Secondly, of course I’ll come get you. And I’ll do you one better--if you don’t mind waiting an extra twenty minutes or so, Gansey can come and we can bring your car back to the Barns.”

“That would be perfect.” Adam smiled. “You’re a lifesaver.”

He could practically hear her smile over the phone. “I know. See you in forty-five-ish minutes.”

Forty-five-ish minutes turned out to be the perfect amount of time for Adam to figure out how to get around with crutches, change out of his scrubs, microwave and eat the lunch that he had missed due to the whole injury thing, and get to the main entrance of the hospital.  He’d only been sitting down for a few minutes when he saw the Camaro pull up. Even after all these years, it still made his heart flip-flop in his chest; it felt like youth, like belonging, like fighting and danger, like sitting in the backseat with Ronan’s legs thrown over his lap and having that moment of realization, that little ‘ oh ’ in the back of his mind. The Camaro was magical with memories--perhaps it was that magic that kept it running after all these years.

As much as Adam wanted to ride with Gansey, his ankle was at the point where any movement hurt, and he knew how poorly the old car fared on the bumpy roads out to their house. He maneuvered himself into the passenger seat of the BMW, allowing Gansey to help get his injured leg over the threshold before closing the door.  After making sure he was comfortable, Blue pulled out of the hospital lot, and the two fell into easy conversation. Adam hadn’t realized how long it had been since just the two of them hung out, and while he wished it were under better circumstances, it was nice to have her all to himself. The drive passed quickly--almost too quickly; Adam made a mental note to set up an actual time to see Blue--and they arrived at the Barns a little before three, with Gansey pulling up just as Blue was helping Adam out of the car. 

In retrospect, Adam should have called Ronan, or at least texted, to let him know that he was a) coming home early, and b) visibly injured.  It was just--once he’d decided that Ronan wouldn’t be able to come pick him up, he kind of...fell off Adam’s radar. He found himself heavily regretting this when Ronan showed up on the porch, his expression a shifting mix of exhausted, concerned, and furious as Adam was about to attempt the steps.

“Christ almighty, Parrish,” he said, zipping up his sweatshirt as he went down to meet him. Adam felt a squeeze in his chest at how sick Ronan still sounded, consonants muted and vowels oddly resonant with congestion; he didn’t need another thing going wrong on top of not feeling well. “What the hell happened?”

“Fell at work--I’ll tell you the whole story later.” Adam winced as he tried unsuccessfully to go up the first step without putting any weight on his right foot. He paused, focusing hard on where to put his crutch and how much weight to put on the railing, finally figuring out how to do it without losing his balance and crushing Blue, who had been spotting him from behind (although he doubted she’d be much help is he actually fell). 

Everyone had been quiet for the process, seemingly understanding that Adam needed to concentrate on ascending the four steps, so once he reached the landing everyone spoke at once. Blue asked if he wanted to take a break before going inside. Ronan demanded to know the details. And Gansey offered to reach out to the orthopedist who took care of Helen’s wrist a few years ago, because of course he did.

“Can we just go inside, please?” Adam said, pushing ahead.

Ronan went to open the door for him, spinning back to face the group before turning the knob. “Just--be quiet. She just fell asleep and we both need this nap to last as long as possible.”

Blue gave a thumbs-up from where she stood beside Adam, then stepped aside to allow him through the doorway.  Fortunately, Opal’s room was far enough away from the living room that they were able to converse at normal volume, which made it easier for everyone to coordinate the ways in which they were to fawn over Adam. Ronan interrogated him about the accident (appropriately roasting him for being careless) while Gansey helped gather things to prop his foot up and Blue retrieved an ice pack from the freezer. Finally, finally , once everyone was seated on the various chairs and couches, the attention turned from Adam to Ronan.

“Are you ill, Ronan?” Gansey asked, brow furrowed, “You look rather—”

“If you have any sense of self-preservation whatsoever, you won’t finish that sentence.” Chastened, Gansey closed this mouth and gave a quick nod.

In defense of Ronan’s growled reply, it had been a stupid question. He was in the chair closest to Adam, legs drawn up beneath him and shoulders hunched forward, with the hood of his sweatshirt pulled up. There was a box of tissues wedged in between his hip and the arm of the chair, a half-drunk bottle of blue Gatorade just within arm’s reach on the floor, and a few different containers of medication on the end table.  Between the pink irritation at the tip of his nose, his frequent, thick sniffling, and the way he was breathing through dry, parted lips, all it took was a glance at Ronan to tell that he was miserable. 

Adam twisted enough from his position that he was able to extend an arm toward Ronan. Linking fingers with him, Ronan gave an apologetic smile, then turned to Gansey. “Sorry. It’s been a week.” He paused, ducked his face below the collar of his sweatshirt to cover a painful-sounding sneeze, then clarified, “Meaning it’s been like, a week ,” stressing the last word. Gesturing to his face, he added, “This has been going on for closer to two.”

Blue frowned. “Do you all need us to do anything? We can stick around to look after Opal so you can both get some rest.”

“Don’t you have to teach tonight?” The only reason Adam remembered that Blue had figure drawing course on Wednesday nights was because he had deliberately rearranged his work schedule in order to attend the one time that she’d goaded Gansey into being a model. It had been an interesting experience, mainly in that Adam realized that drawing was not remotely easy, and that he’d never actually seen Gansey naked. It certainly hadn’t been a bad experience, however.

Waving her hand, she shrugged. “I can just have one of my seniors lead--they all know the drill.”

Adam was hesitant. “I mean, she’s sleeping now, so I don’t know if--”

“At least let us do some stuff around the house,” Gansey pushed, “Surely there must be cooking or laundry or something we can take off your plate?”

Ronan tilted his head in deference to Adam. “You can’t really cook if you can’t stand, and I shouldn’t even think about touching anyone else’s food for a few more days.” 

“I just figured we’d eat takeout for the foreseeable future.”

Holding up a hand, palm out in a ‘stop’ gesture, Gansey stood. “Absolutely not. I’ll run out for groceries, unless, Blue, you’d prefer—”

“All yours,” Blue replied, “I’m more than happy to be on baby standby.”

And so it was decided. Gansey put together a shopping list and headed out, and Adam couldn’t help but be a little embarrassed at how eighteen-year-old him would have reacted to this.  Blue helped Ronan to his feet and walked him to the bedroom--he was a little unsteady, and Adam called after him to finish his Gatorade, and preferably some water after that. The last thing the day needed was a head injury. Once Ronan was settled in bed with noise-cancelling headphones on (“If you can’t hear her crying, you can’t get up to deal with her when you have been explicitly told not to,” Adam heard Blue saying), she came back to the living room and sat on the floor near Adam. 

“He looks awful,” she said plainly, tilting her head in the approximate direction of the upstairs.

“I know. He’s had some sinus shit going on for a while, but it finally got to the point where he needed antibiotics, so things should start getting better soon.” He sighed. “I picked literally the worst time to do something stupid like this.”

Reaching over, Blue gently punched his shoulder. “None of that.” She scooted closer so that she was leaning against the couch at the level of Adam’s hips, looking up at him.  “You can call us when you need help, you know. Both our schedules are really flexible and we’re just down the road.”

Rationally, Adam knew that. But his immediate reaction was, “We should be able to handle this by now,” spoken softly, with a touch of shame.

Blue put her hand on Adam’s. “Hey,” she replied in an equally sincere tone, “Don’t be an idiot about this.”

At this, Adam had to laugh, moving his hand to lace fingers with her. It was funny, sometimes, to think about the fact that they had dated. It felt like more than just time that separated them from the experience--it was like they were completely different people then. The essential parts of them hadn’t changed, of course, but now, stripped of their adolescent hangups and insecurities and unknowns, it felt like the adult Adam and Blue had never been anything but friends. But every now and then something like this would happen and he would remember that in some small way, she had seen parts of him that the others hadn’t, parts that his little teenage heart had let slip into her hands.

“I’m in my thirties--pretty sure that I’m gonna be an idiot about stuff like this for the rest of my life. I’m set in my ways.”

“You’re an old man.”

“Ancient.”

Blue rested her head against the couch cushion, smiling. “Seriously, though, is there anything around the house you need me to do?”

After pausing to think for a second--yes, there was laundry, and washing those damn baby bottle nipples, and would asking them to vacuum be too much, because there were perpetually Cheerios on the kitchen floor—

“No--getting to talk to another adult is like, so amazing in and of itself. Tell me about your life, or like, anything that isn’t baby-related.”

“Ah.” Grinning, Blue pulled out her phone. “I’ve been meaning to text you pictures from my portraiture class because I’ve had an absolutely wild group this semester.” She proceeded to show him photos of various works, ranging from photorealistic pencil drawings to a portrait where the subject looked like they were made of jelly beans. The conversation was comfortable, relaxing. He got updates on everyone at Fox Way, on their most recent trip to DC, and how Gansey was starting to get into geocaching; Adam had never heard of it, but as soon as Blue explained that it involved using GPS to go on little scavenger hunts, it was obvious that Gansey would be into it. Once he was in hiking shape again, she offered, Adam could come along with them. 

It seemed like they’d been talking for hours by the time Gansey got back, arms laden with enough food to keep their family fed for a week. Adam relocated to the kitchen and took a seat at the table while Blue and Gansey started making an enormous pot of Opal-suitable, non-spicy chili, and cornbread to go with it, and a lasagna for them to bake later in the week, and an apple pie, because why not? Opal woke up around four-thirty, and was content to sit in her highchair and play with a variety of toys while the others talked, until, of course, she wasn’t.

“It’ll take a few minutes for hers to cool, but dinner for grownups is ready.” Gansey said, scooping some chili into a shallow bowl and sticking it in the freezer drawer. “Should we wake Ronan, or…”

There was the sound of throat-clearing from the hallway, shortly followed by a rough, “‘m awake,” as Ronan made his way into the kitchen, blanket around his shoulders like a cape.

“That’s quite a fetching look on you,” Gansey commented, and Ronan rolled his eyes.

“It was either this or one of you coming upstairs to spoon-feed me like a Victorian child with tuberculosis.” Pressing a kiss to his fingertips, Ronan touched them to Opal’s head, smiling at her as she wriggled in her seat to look at him. He sat down beside Adam, dragged his chair as close to him as possible, and dropped his head on his husband’s shoulder. 

Raising an eyebrow, Blue dragged the words out as she said, “That is oddly specific.”

“You volunteering? Because I’ll go right back up those stairs.” The fact that his voice was absolutely wrecked did wonders for the deadpan delivery; Adam and Blue laughed, Gansey widened his eyes and tried to hide a smile, and Opal grinned because she was a baby and the people around her looked happy.

While Gansey dished out bowls for everyone and Blue filled glasses of water, Adam wormed an arm around Ronan and pulled them closer together. “How are you feeling?”

“Bad.” Ronan directed a little cough away from Adam. “I’m so ready for this to be over.”

“I know, babe.” He ran his fingertips over Ronan’s back, gently scratching wherever he could reach. “But you can pretend to be a consumptive Victorian child all day tomorrow and get some actual uninterrupted sleep.”

Ronan glanced down toward Adam’s leg. “Are you gonna be okay  looking after her?”

“I think so.” Adam didn’t say that he’d make it work even if it meant taking an ungodly amount of ibuprofen and just sucking up the pain.

Nodding, Ronan sat up as Gansey passed him a spoon and sat down opposite him. Blue handled feeding Opal, who was not doing a great job of using her spoon to actually eat, instead using it to pick up bits of beans or tomatoes and drop them on her tray.  Seeing as the batch had been made to cater to a ten-month-old’s palate, the adults passed around a shaker of chipotle powder, with Gansey giving a light dusting in accordance with his delicate upper-crust preferences, and Ronan putting an absolutely outrageous amount on in the hopes that he would actually taste something. This, of course, only resulted in him hurriedly leaving the table, back of his wrist pressed to his nose in an unsuccessful attempt to stave off a sneezing fit.

As Ronan trudged back to the table, index finger looped under the opening of a tissue box, Adam stopped him with a hand on his hip. “Blue and Gansey offered to spend the night.”

With a sniffle, Ronan shook his head. “You guys have done enough.”

Adam twisted his mouth to the side, eyebrows raised. “Ro--I will quite possibly fall to my death if I try to go upstairs, and you will quite possibly fall to your death if you don’t get a full night’s sleep for once.”

Covering his face with his hand, then sliding it down and off his chin, Ronan simply looked too tired to argue. “Alright. Thank you. We rearranged stuff upstairs, so Declan’s old room is the guest room.”

“Didn’t want Opal steeping in his vibes?” Blue smirked.

Ronan pointed to her, then sat back down. “Exactly.”

The rest of dinner was uneventful, unless you counted Ronan getting more and more cuddly with Adam as an event. The two of them relocated to the living room while Blue and Gansey did bathtime and bedtime; Ronan helped Adam get comfortable and then curled back up in his chair, tugging a blanket over himself and putting on some History Channel show. Gansey and Blue came down a little after eight, with Gansey immediately starting to give animated commentary on the show (“I mean, technically they’re right, but that’s a gross oversimplification of the role of the musicians in a king’s court in that time period.”) Having them all there made the room feel more like home than usual, and Adam managed to forget, just for a little while, that his ankle was swollen and painful and definitely turning all sorts of gross colors beneath the brace and wrap.

Finally, after spending most of the previous hour drifting in and out of sleep or apologizing unnecessarily after pulling the blanket up to cover his sneezing, Ronan allowed himself to be wrangled upstairs for a shower and put to bed (something that Gansey was uniquely suited for, having done the same for a drunk teenage Ronan on multiple occasions) while Adam painstakingly changed into pajamas and re-settled himself on the couch for the night. He wasn’t sure how well he’d sleep in his current position, ankle high up on three throw pillows, but he certainly fell asleep easier knowing that if Opal needed anything, Blue and Gansey could handle it.

 


 

Thursday would be a good day, Adam decided when he woke up. His ankle was feeling better (although it was a bit numb from being elevated for so long; he’d actually slept through the night, without Ronan’s snoring or Opal’s crying waking him up) and Gansey was ever-so-quietly making breakfast, the unmistakable smell of French toast and coffee in the air. Pushing himself to a sitting position, he gingerly put weight on his right foot. It certainly didn’t feel good , and he couldn’t suppress a grimace as he tried to take a step, but at least he could actually limp around today. 

“I see you over there,” Gansey called, “I’m no expert, of course, but shouldn’t you still be using the crutches if you’re making that face when you walk?”

Begrudgingly, Adam nodded and sat back down, picking the crutches off the floor and making his way over to Gansey. “How was last night?”

“Fine. Didn’t wake up once.”

Adam shook his head. “Of course she decides to sleep through the night the one time we have someone here to look after her.”

“Blue and I were talking, actually,” Gansey said, dropping two slices of egg-soaked bread onto the griddle, “we both have some work we can’t get out of today, but we can come by again tonight if you’d like.”

Without actually considering it, Adam waved it off. “You guys are sweet, but I think we’ll be alright, though. I can get around well enough, and I imagine Ronan’ll be feeling better today.”

“You imagined correctly.” Adam jumped at Ronan’s voice in the hallway.

“Christ, Lynch, stop sneaking up on us like that.” He twisted in his chair to see Ronan come in, wearing one of Adam’s sweatshirts, hood up and cuffs tugged over his hands. He definitely looked better than he had in a while, but certainly didn’t look good.

Sighing dramatically, Ronan walked past Gansey to pour coffee for himself and Adam, then went to the table. “When Opal was a newborn you were all ‘Ronan, stop being so loud on the stairs’ and now you’re all ‘Ronan, be louder on the stairs.’ You’re an impossible man to please, Parrish.” He gave an actual smile before kissing Adam’s cheek. “How’s the ankle?”

“Fine.” Gansey shot a look at Adam, who begrudgingly amended, “Hurts, but I can at least walk on it now.”

“Good.” Clearly still waking up, Ronan sipped at his coffee while Gansey talked about the research he was doing with another professor over in Wales. He was a little more alert by the time Blue came down and plopped Opal into his lap. Bouncing her on his knee, Ronan smiled, looking happier than he had in days. “Good morning, baby girl.” Opal launched herself toward his chest, and he lifted her up so that her head rested on his shoulder, as he continued to talk in a gentle, singsong voice, “Are you gonna eat French toast all by yourself this morning, or are you gonna throw it on the floor so one of us has to do it?”

The answer, as it turned out, was the former, which allowed everyone to enjoy breakfast at the same time, without one of the adults having the side job of getting their hands sticky while handing off maple syrupy bits of toast to Opal. Once everything was cleaned up and put away, Blue and Gansey hovered in the kitchen, looking between Ronan and Adam. “I’m serious about coming back tonight,” Blue said, “Don’t be stupid and try to do everything yourself if you’re both feeling bad.”

Adam nodded once. “I’m sure we’ll be fine. You’ve done more than enough already.”

“Thank you guys so much,” Ronan said, with Opal once again on his lap. He leaned slightly to the side to be able to see her face. “Can you wave bye to Blue and Gansey?” With some assistance in the form of Ronan lifting her arm, she flapped her hand in their direction; they waved back before saying their goodbyes and heading out.

Using the crutches to push himself to his feet, Adam kissed the top of Ronan’s head.  He hadn’t been as diligent about buzzing his hair since he started feeling unwell, so the fuzz was just long enough that it tickled Adam’s nose. It made Adam smile; he wondered what it would be like if Ronan grew his hair out.  He’d never been able to tug on someone’s hair before--but that was a thought for another day. “Want to relocate to the living room?” 

Standing, Ronan went to set Opal on the rug while Adam carefully made his way over. As much as he wanted to play on the floor with them, Adam knew that it wasn’t going to be easy or comfortable; he stretched out on the couch with Ronan sitting close by while Opal stacked multicolored plastic rings. The three had a full conversation in Opal’s baby language, babbling and gesturing to each other.

“I think she’s talking about the stock market.”

“Ew, no, that’s some Declan bullshit. She’s talking about joining a union.”

“A baby union?”

Ronan looked to Opal intently. “Who’s my little union boss?”

“Your dad would be so proud.”

Opal laughed. 

Midmorning, Opal was starting to show signs of needing her nap, no longer entertained by toys or by her dads.  Ronan scooped her up and went upstairs, with Adam trailing behind, insistent on making sure that he could actually handle the stairs. Plus, he’d argued that the night of sleeping on the couch had earned him at least an hour of letting his back recover on their bed. Once Opal was in her crib, Ronan joined Adam in their bedroom, flopping down beside him and putting his head on the other’s chest. 

“I missed getting to cuddle with you last night,” he said, tracing his fingers over Adam’s bicep.

“Me too. Although there’s a distinct possibility that you would have kicked my ankle and I would have had to file for divorce.” Adam yelped as Ronan jabbed a finger into his ribs. “Are you gonna take a nap too?”

“Are you?” Lifting his head enough to make eye contact with Adam, Ronan looked like his answer was ‘yes’.

Adam shrugged. “Don’t know. But I am going to snuggle you, so roll over.” After nudging Ronan onto his side so that they were spooning, Adam put an arm around him and pressed his lips to the back of his neck. Ronan took Adam’s hand and kissed each of his fingers before murmuring an ‘I love you’ and wriggling back so that he was as close as possible to Adam.

They’d been together long enough that Adam knew when Ronan was sleeping and when he wasn’t, and after lying next to him for the better part of an hour, it was clear that he hadn’t slept for more than a few minutes here and there. Ronan kept shifting positions, moving his shoulders, curling and uncurling his legs. 

“Hey.” Freeing his hand, Adam scooted away and touched Ronan’s shoulder to roll him onto his back before pressing a palm to his forehead, then his cheek. “You’re doing that squirmy thing--you gettin’ a fever again?”

“I don’t think so? I just--” Ronan sighed. “I don’t feel good. Still.”

Adam propped himself up on one arm and ran the fingertips of the other hand down Ronan’s cheek, frowning. “Sorry, babe.” He sat up, maneuvering himself so that he was resting against the headboard. “Why don’t you drink something that isn’t coffee, throw on your headphones, and try to take a nap without me here to distract you?”

“But I like having you here to distract me.”

“And I like it when you’re feeling better.” 

Letting out a breath of laughter, Ronan smirked, then sat up. “Touché.” 

Just as they started downstairs, Opal woke up. With not insignificant effort, Adam got himself settled on the living room floor while Ronan handled diaper changing and bottle making, finally depositing Opal on the floor between Adam’s legs. He kissed both their foreheads, dug out a bottle of Pedialyte from the fridge for himself, and went back to bed. 

While Opal enjoyed her delicious baby formula, Adam read the physician assistant journal out loud to her; the pediatrician had said that hearing as many words as possible was important for development, and there were only so many times one could read Dr. Seuss’ ABCs. He refrained from showing her the particularly graphic images, although he was pretty sure that she was too young for gross surgical photos to be upsetting. Once she was done drinking, nothing could hold her attention besides the call of the open road--or, living room floor, more accurately.

Opal had been crawling for about a month and it seemed like she was getting faster every day. If Adam tossed one of her smaller, squishier toys to the other side of the rug, she’d go after it, then either try to toss it back or crawl over with it in hand.  It felt a little weird to essentially be playing fetch with a kid, but she liked it, and it was something that Adam could do without moving from his spot on the floor.

She was going after a squeaky starfish when something out of Adam’s view caught her eye, and she took off toward the kitchen.  After giving her a few seconds to turn around--which she didn’t--Adam rolled onto his hands and knees, then pushed himself to his feet. Looping around the couch, he was going to try to gently turn Opal back in the direction, but froze when he noticed what was in front of her--a few Cheerios, surrounded by tiny ants. 

His heart raced when he saw that she was chewing something.

“Fuck,” he muttered, trying to kneel and wincing in the process. With his index finger, he tried to clear out Opal’s mouth, but she wouldn’t have it, proceeding to toothlessly bite him. After a few seconds of trying to get her to open her (surprisingly strong) jaw, Adam gave up and took her into one arm, using a nearby chair for support as he stood. He let out a gasp of pain as he hobbled back to the couch and sat Opal on his lap. He shouted up to Ronan for assistance, realizing a second later that at his own instruction, Ronan was wearing headphones designed to keep sounds like this out. 

Adam couldn’t be sure that she’d actually eaten a disgusting ant-covered Cheerio off the floor, but given the scene of the crime, it was highly probable.  Should he leave her in the living room and get, like, water? Something to eat? Shit. This was his fault, of course, if only he hadn’t been a dumbass and gotten injured in the stupidest way possible, or if he’d accepted Blue’s offer to do someone housekeeping stuff yesterday, or if he were just better at being a parent; what was he thinking, trying to do this? He’d grown up the way he’d grown up, and that couldn’t be changed, he should have known better he should have known better he should have known—

Opal reached her tiny hands out and grabbed Adam’s shirt, pulling on it so that he had no choice but to hold her to his chest. She made little fists into the fabric, chewed it so that when she let go, Adam could feel the spots of wetness on his skin. Cradling her head in one hand, the other on her back, he whispered apologies and love and tried to keep from falling back down the rabbit hole of panic.

His phone buzzed from where he’d left it on the coffee table, making Opal lift her head up from his shoulder and look.  It was only an email, but Adam realized that he had one means of recourse available. Keeping Opal on his lap, he reached over, grabbed the phone, and dialed Dr. Becker’s office. 

After trying to sound as calm as humanly possible as he spoke to the receptionist, he wasn’t surprised when she told him that the doctor was in with a patient. He hung up to wait for a call back, keeping Opal on his lap so as to avoid another floor-food incident. When the phone rang, he answered on the first ring, his phone already waiting in his palm. “Dr. Becker, thank you so much for calling back.”

“Of course. What can I do for you?”

Shame washed over Adam as he said simply, “I think Opal ate some ants, not the big ones, but those little tiny ones, and I--I wasn’t—” He tried to stammer out the rest of the sentence, but it turned into unintelligible sounds.

“Adam,” Dr. Becker said, her voice even as ever, “She’s fine. I promise you. Kids eat bugs all the time.”

He blinked, and all of a sudden it seemed obvious. “Oh. Okay. Thank you--sorry for taking up your—”

“Adam.” She was kind in her interruptions, and each time she used his name was a little life raft back to rationality. “This kind of worry isn’t like you, based on what I know about you so far.” There was a beat of pause before she went on, “How are things at home?”

That question was all it took. Adam dropped his head to his chest with a shuddering exhale, taking a second to gather himself before answering. “It’s been a rough week.”

“How so?”

In the back of his mind, he knew that these questions were, primarily, to make sure that Opal was safe and being looked out for, but the way Dr. Becker asked made him feel like he was her patient. “I got injured at work, and Ronan’s been sick, and it’s just—” He stopped, not quite sure where to go next: ‘It’s been hard’ or ‘we should be able to handle this’ or ‘I still feel like I’m making this up every day.’

“That’s a lot to deal with. Are you alright?”

He nodded. “Yeah, it’s just my ankle--I’ll be fine in a few days.”

“Mmm.” She hummed in agreement, or thought, or sympathy. “Is there someone who could help you out until then? You mentioned that you have friends in the area.”

Even though he knew that she had Opal’s chart open in front of her--how else would she remember Blue and Gansey, brought up at a routine visit months ago--it felt so personal to have her bring them up. Damn. If talking to Opal’s pediatrician made him feel so seen, or known--maybe it was time to go back to therapy. Just for a little while.

“Yeah, we do. They, uh, they actually came by yesterday--and offered to help out today.”

“Take them up on it,” she urged, gently. “It’ll be easier to take care of Opal once you’ve taken care of yourselves.”

“Okay. We will.” Adam looked down at Opal, who had been waiting with surprising patience throughout the call, and kissed her forehead. “Thank you for taking the time to speak with me.”

He could practically hear her smile. “My pleasure. And Adam?”

“Hm?”

“The next time she eats a bug--and there will be a next time--just think of it as protein.”

Adam laughed. “I will. Thanks again.”

Ending the call, he was about to drop his phone onto the couch beside him when he paused, then quickly texted Blue.


Hey--if your offer still stands to come over tonight, we’ll take you up on it.

He put the phone down, sighed, then lowered Opal to the floor. “Don’t tell Dad about this or he’ll never let me live it down.”

“Let you live what down?” Ronan said from behind him, enveloping him in a hug, his body warm against Adam’s.

Adam groaned. “I’m putting one of those cat collars with a bell on you, Lynch.”

“Freaky.” He kissed Adam’s cheek, then walked around the couch and sat down next to him, leaning over to ruffle Opal’s hair.  Turning away from Opal and Adam both, he muffled two--no, three sneezes into his sleeve. Angrily rubbing at his nose, which only served to trigger a few residual sneezes, he muttered, “Great. I’m at that part of this fucking thing.” He sniffled, brushed the cuff of his--well, Adam’s--sweatshirt against the bottom of his nose.  “But seriously, what’s going on?”

Letting out a long breath, Adam steeled himself for Ronan’s response. “Opal ate a bug and I called Dr. Becker.”

Sure enough, Ronan started to grin. “You called the pediatrician. Because she ate a beetle or something.”

“It was an ant,” Adam mumbled, looking down.

Ronan put a finger under Adam’s chin, tilting his head up to look him in the eye. “Dude. I ate a whole-ass energy bar made of cricket protein. Like, last week.”

“Ew.”

“Yeah, it was gross. K liked them.” Ronan combed his fingers through Adam’s hair. “I’m not actually making fun of you.” Adam raised an eyebrow. “Okay, maybe a little.”

Leaning forward, Adam rested his forehead in the curve of Ronan’s neck. “No, I deserve to be made fun of for this. I, uh, think I’m more stressed than I thought I was.”

“You think?”

“I asked Blue and Gansey to come back tonight.”

Starting to rub Adam’s back, Ronan nodded. “That sounds like a good idea.”

“How are you feeling, by the way?”

Ronan shrugged, bumping Adam’s head with his shoulder. “Still not great, but better. No fever.”

“Good.” Adam’s phone buzzed and he sat up to read Blue’s reply, tilting the screen so that Ronan could see the conversation.


Of course! :)
Does six work?
And we’ll handle dinner again

Perfect
Y’all are amazing

<3
See you later!


“We’re lucky to have them.” Ronan put a hand on Adam’s thigh and gave a gentle squeeze, then stood. “But, speaking of dinner, it’s just about time for lunch.”

“I’ll heat up leftovers from last night?” Adam offered.

Bending down to pick up Opal, Ronan nodded. “Sounds good.  I don’t know how much she’ll eat though--probably spoiled her appetite with all those ants.”

If it weren’t for the fact that he was holding their child, Adam would have pulled Ronan back down for a vengeful tickling. Instead he settled for flicking the closest part of his body, which happened to be his butt. “Jerk.”

Standing, Adam kissed Ronan’s cheek, then Opal’s forehead. Opal did her best to sloppily press her mouth to Adam’s cheek, not quite at the point where she could manage an actual kiss. After freeing one hand to point at his own cheek so that Opal could slobber on it as well, Ronan finished the circle with forehead kisses for her and Adam. “Alright,” he said, taking a step back, “Now that everyone has been appropriately kissed and/or drooled on: food time.”

Adam smiled, leaning over to pick up the crutches that he’d left resting against the nearby armchair. He might as well actually try to let his ankle heal, he thought. It wouldn’t be long before Opal was on her feet, and he needed to be able to keep up with her.