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moving away doesn't mean moving on

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“Riley wants me to go to a QSA meeting tonight,” Adam said as soon as Ronan picked up, “but I don’t know if I want to.”

Even though Ronan always told Adam that he didn’t need to worry about waking him up, Adam still felt a pang of guilt at the obviously sleepy drag to Ronan’s voice—he’d worked late, not that he’d usually be up before ten anyway. “Dunno what that is, Parrish.”

“Oh.” Again, a twist in his chest that he’d done something wrong, acting as if Ronan should be familiar with these little Harvard details. “Right. Queer Students and Allies.”

“I mean, it is what you are,” Ronan replied simply. “Why don’t you want to?”

Chewing the inside of his lip, Adam sighed. “I don’t know. I don’t really—hang on.” He held the phone to his chest as he sneezed twice toward his shoulder. “Ugh. I don’t really feel —I just feel like me, you know?” Pausing to sniffle—the air was cooling as September came to an end, a sudden change that he’d been ill prepared for—Adam rubbed his nose with his fist and went on, “I don’t care about words and talking about all this. I like who I like, but it’s not a big deal to me. Does that make sense?”

Finally, after a tired pause and another yawn, Ronan replied, “I think you should go, and if everyone sucks, you can leave.” Early-morning Ronan didn’t mince words. “And there’s probably food. Rainbow cupcakes or some shit.”

He had a decent point. Even though Adam’s scholarship covered his meal plan, he was still making the most of the free food situation at club meetings and visiting professor lectures. “Ice cream where the only toppings are rainbow sprinkles or M&Ms or gummy bears?”

“Jesus Christ , what kind of psychopath is putting gummy bears on ice cream?”

Adam shrugged. “Harvard kids, I—” He barely had enough time to turn away from the phone as he sneezed two more times. “Sorry—”

“Are you sick?”

Somehow, it hadn’t occurred to Adam, even though all the signs were there. “Yeah, probably. Everyone in the suite’s been sick, I thought I’d dodged it.”

“I take back what I said.” Ronan’s voice was clearer, and now Adam could hear him starting to go about his morning routine: Ronan going down the stairs, Ronan filling the kettle. “Don’t go tonight. Drink some orange juice and go to bed early before you get worse.” A metallic clank: Ronan setting a pan on the stove for eggs. “I know you’re not sleeping enough.”

Choosing to ignore the instructions, Adam asked, “And how’s that?”

“You reply to my messages at like, one AM.” Adam couldn’t argue with that. He heard the fridge at the Barns open, close, a drawer open and slam shut. “I don’t like being so far away from you when you’re sick.”

“You don’t like being far away from me, ever,” Adam corrected with a little smile, then added in a softer voice, “I’ll be okay, promise.” He pressed the bridge of his nose to ward off another sneeze, perfectly timed to undermine his point. “It’s just a cold.”

Ronan took a deep breath in, then let it out right against the mouthpiece so Adam had to pull away from the sound. “Okay,” Ronan said. “Just—take care of yourself, okay?”

“I will.” By this point, Adam had been standing outside his building for a solid minute—he needed to go inside, to get the book he’d forgotten for his next class, but couldn’t bear to leave with Ronan sounding so concerned. “I’ll call you if anything changes, okay?” Ronan made a sound of agreement. “Talk to you soon.”

It was clear that Ronan wasn’t entirely comforted by this promise, but there was only so much Adam could do. “Talk to you soon.” Ronan’s voice was small. “Feel better.”

Adam stayed at the meeting just long enough to eat his rainbow-frosted cookie and decide that he was not interested in coming to the next meeting. He had no desire to share his nonexistent coming out story or listen to people talk about horrible parents who kicked them out or wonderful parents who brought them to pride parades. The topic of the current meeting wasn’t particularly interesting to him, either: “Gay Disney,” where people played clips of movies from their childhoods that Adam had never seen. Riley seemed to be enjoying himself and had started chatting with another person seated next to them, so Adam didn’t feel terrible about slipping out early.

By the time he got back to his room, Adam just felt exhausted . After a quick shower, he tried to do some reading for psych, but ten minutes in his head was aching, a dull pain behind his forehead. He took a few ibuprofen and texted Ronan: Let the record show I’m going to bed now and not at 1 am.  

Seconds later, Ronan replied:  

sweet dreams
hope you feel better tomorrow

Sending a ‘sleep well’ of his own in reply, Adam snuggled into the covers and closed his eyes, asleep almost instantly.

Adam woke feeling decidedly worse; the headache was gone, but his nose was blocked and his throat was noticeably sore. Sitting up only made things worse, triggering a trio of sneezes that made his head throb anew. With a quiet whine, he drew his knees to his chest and rested his head on them, sniffling and rubbing his nose against the comforter. He felt cold—not the shivery kind of cold that came with a fever, but enough that the cool air on his back made him want to bundle right back up. 

Flopping down and huddling under the covers, Adam took his phone from atop the plastic set of drawers he used as a nightstand. Ronan had already sent him a text asking how he was feeling. Adam knew that any reply other than saying that he was miraculously better would be met with a worried call, and he was too fuzzy to manage a conversation just yet. He put his phone down and tried to remember if he had actual cold medicine around or just painkillers, finally settling on ‘no.’ The first thing Ronan would ask after hearing Adam’s voice was if he had taken anything, and honestly, Adam knew he needed to, even without his boyfriend reminding him.

After another half hour of drifting in and out of sleep, Adam finally got up, dressed to the absolute minimum level to still look respectable, and trekked to the dining hall for coffee, OJ, and oatmeal; nothing tasted right and his ears popped when he swallowed, but he managed, even taking a banana with him for later. One more stop for a package of some multi-symptom cold medicine and he was back in his room and in his PJs, waiting for the pills to kick in, sipping a mug of some orange herbal tea and sniffling from the steam.

Once he was feeling a little better—breathing easier, sneezing less, able to read his emails without his head swimming—he finally returned Ronan’s text: Definitely have a cold :/

Ronan called immediately. “Hey.” His voice was soft, like he was worried that speaking too loudly might hurt Adam. “Sorry you’re not feeling good.”

Truly, Adam had hoped to get away without having to speak today; he sounded awful, immediately evident that he couldn’t breathe through his nose at all. “Me, too. Been sniffling and sneezing all morning.”

“Poor thing.” The turn of phrase took Adam by surprise, gentle in a way that wasn’t characteristic of Ronan. It was something a parent might say to a child, a tenderness that Adam hadn’t known before. His chest felt warm, blooming with affection for his boyfriend. “Do you want me to come up?”

Adam laughed, then coughed when his breath caught. “I’m okay, baby. It’s nothing. I’m just being a complainer.”

“Still, I don’t like knowing you’re sick while I’m just fucking around down here.”

They’d had this discussion a few times, Adam trying to convince Ronan that working an honest-to-god full time job wasn’t ‘just fucking around.’ Ronan, somehow dead-set on putting himself down, had insisted that working on the ambulance involved a lot of sitting around, and working four twelve-hour shifts meant that he spent more time messing around at the Barns, but Adam wouldn’t have it. It seemed like Ronan’s way of saying he was lonely, but Adam didn’t know how to fix that from Cambridge. “Least this way I can’t get you sick, too.”

Adam could practically hear what Ronan was thinking, that it would be a small price to pay to look after Adam, but Ronan stayed silent instead. After a long pause—comfortable, of course, they didn’t always talk when they were on the phone—he asked, “Do you have class today?”

“Yeah.” Adam cleared his throat. “Psych at noon, probably just going to hang out here until—”

“You eat today?”


“Have you?”

Adam sneezed. “Ronan, I’m okay.”

“Well, you sound like shit.”

It would be easy to raise his voice, to tell Ronan that he wasn’t a child, that he didn’t need to be coddled and micromanaged like this, but Adam stopped himself. For all the shit that Adam had given Gansey about ‘wanting to have all his things in one place,’ he’d never really considered the fact that it was Ronan who had never lived anywhere other than a tiny corner of Virginia, who had always been within a short drive of everyone he loved. But now—now that Adam was at school and Gansey and Blue were off somewhere —the things Ronan loved weren’t anywhere nearby.

“I had breakfast before I called you, and I’ll get lunch on my way to class.” He kept his voice patient, even though it took more work than he expected. “Just gonna lay low in my room until then.”

On the other end of the line, Ronan let out a slow breath—Adam envisioned him nodding, pacing, trying to convince himself that Adam really was okay. Finally, Ronan spoke. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.” Doing his best not to sound as sick as he felt, Adam wiped his nose against his sleeve instead of sniffling. “It’s sweet.”

“Good, ‘cause I’m not gonna stop.” Ronan sounded a little lighter, and Adam breathed a laugh. “I’ll let you get back to work. Text me later?”

“Of course. Miss you.”

“Miss you.”

Miraculously, Adam made it through class without drawing too much attention to himself, although he did duck out ten minutes early when his runny nose meant he couldn’t stay quiet anymore. After, armed with a cup of tea and a packet of tissues, he went to the library; it wasn’t a great idea, but he knew that as soon as he got back to his room all he’d want to do was go to sleep. 

An hour into transcribing his notes, he crashed: head on keyboard, filling the page with strings of the letter H, snoring. That last part was what woke him—either with the sound or because he could barely breathe—coughing as he tried to get his bearings. A few people looked up, but no one said anything, all too busy with their own work, and Adam hastily packed to leave: notebook pages scrunched up, pens loose in his bag, tea forgotten in his rush.

Back in his room, shoes kicked off, Adam curled up on top of the covers. Yes, he was embarrassed, but mostly he just felt physically awful—his shoulders and back ached from sitting at the desk and sleeping in such a terrible position, his nose burned from rubbing it with tissues or his sleeve, and his headache was back in full force. He allowed himself a moment to mope, and when he felt himself drifting toward sleep, used every bit of energy he had left to take the nearby medication and change back into sweats. 

He fell asleep once the meds kicked in, easing his headache and helping him breathe a little easier, but it wasn’t good sleep. The congestion had upset his balance, and while it wasn’t too bad earlier—thank god, because the last thing he needed was to tip over after falling asleep in the library—it was enough to make his dreams unstable and dizzying. When he woke to the sound of his phone buzzing against his nightstand, he had to lie on his side for a long few seconds while his vision stabilized. It would be Ronan on the phone, he knew, but Adam also knew that he needed to be able to sound at least somewhat normal in order to keep Ronan calm.

“Hey, Ro—” Getting off to a great start, Adam had to clear his throat halfway through Ronan’s name. “Still wakin’ up.”

“Shit—I didn’t think you’d be asleep. I’ll call back later.”

“No, no.” Adam yawned, rubbing his eyes and nose with a fist. “Should get up anyway.”

“How’re you feeling?”

While he could try to hide it, could keep the call short and try to talk as little as possible, lying to Ronan—and this would be lying—felt wrong. “Bad. Had to leave class early ‘cause I couldn’t stop sneezing.” Ronan made a sympathetic sound and Adam nodded, sniffling. “Fell asleep at the library after.”

“Christ, Parrish.” Something changed in Ronan’s voice, an edge that wasn’t there before. “Do you have a fever?”

“Don’t feel feverish.” Even so, Adam pressed the back of his hand to his forehead, then his palm to his cheek. “No, I think I’m okay. Just really tired—gonna go back to bed an’ try to sleep it off.”

Adam heard the sound of the chair legs scraping across the floor, Ronan standing, probably to pace the kitchen while they talked. “I’m gonna come up there.”

“Ronan, no.” Putting his boyfriend on speaker, Adam curled into a tighter ball, pulling the covers close. “It’s okay, really. Just whining to you ‘cause I know you’ll listen.”

“You never sleep this much unless something’s wrong, and you sound miserable, and you’re a million miles away and—”

“Exactly why you shouldn’t come up here. I’ll be feeling better by the time you make the drive, and then you’ll just have to turn around.” 

“I’ll fly.”

Sighing, Adam coughed lightly into his pillow. “No, you won’t. You’re overreacting.”

There was something panicked to Ronan’s voice when he went on, “I can get a flight in a few hours, looks like, I wouldn’t be there in time for dinner but we could go to bed togeth—”

“Ronan, stop.” The edge in Adam’s voice surprised even him. “I don’t need you to come up here.”

There was silence on the other end of the line; the sound of Ronan’s footsteps had stopped. “Oh,” he said after a long, long moment. “Okay.”

God, Adam was too tired and too sick to deal with this. “Ronan, I didn’t—”

“It’s fine.”

“Look, I’m sorry.” When Ronan stayed quiet, Adam took a deep breath and weighed his words; he found them too light, not enough to tip the scales against Ronan’s silence. Softer, he went on, “If I were home, I’d get in bed and let you fuss over me, spoon-feed me soup, whatever you want.” Ronan made a quiet sound of acknowledgement. “But I’ve been taking care of myself for pretty much my entire life. I can handle this.”

Ronan stayed silent for a little longer, and when he spoke, his voice was low, almost hoarse. “You don’t not want me around?”

How those words made Adam’s heart break, how he ached for Ronan, alone in a big house. “Of course I want you here. But I can’t have you coming up to rescue me every time something goes slightly wrong.” He paused. “I love you and I miss you and if I could flip a switch and be home, I would.” Another pause, this time to sniffle against the cuff of his sweatshirt. “Say something, please?”

“I miss you.”

“I miss you, too.” Adam hated not being able to see Ronan—so much of his meaning was in his face, and this silent Ronan was impossible to interpret in any way other than folding inward, shutting down. “I’m turning on video.”

Ronan didn’t hesitate to pick up, and he looked almost as miserable as Adam felt; even though his face was schooled into a careful neutrality, it looked like he might cry if Adam said the wrong thing. At least when he spoke this time, his voice sounded better, and Adam thought he caught a flicker of a smile. “You look awful.”

“Thanks.” He’d managed to avoid looking in the mirror too much, but when he’d caught a glimpse of himself in the bathroom mirror after he left class it was obvious that he was ill: too pale, nose red, dark circles under his eyes. “There’s a reason I’m hiding out in my room.”

“Was psych it for you today?” Adam made a ‘yes’ sound, and Ronan put the phone down somewhere on the counter, giving Adam an upshot of his face. He set the kettle on the stove, then turned to get two mugs, holding them both up. “I’m making you tea.”

Laughing until it turned to coughing, Adam smiled once he caught his breath. “What kind?”

“Use your imagination. Do you have any there?”

“Think so.” Adam rolled his sore shoulders and got out of bed; he microwaved a mug of water and took a packet of Riley’s hibiscus tea in the common room cabinet. 

When both he and Ronan were done making their drinks, Ronan stuck his phone in his pocket, the video just occasional lights and wiggling patterns. “I’m bringing you up to bed,” he said. “We’re gonna have tea together and then we’re gonna take a nap.”

Adam pressed the heel of one hand against his eyes; he was still getting to know this soft side of Ronan, and in his uncomfortable state, it was almost too much to bear. “I’d like that a whole lot.”

They drank their tea, chatting or just sitting comfortably, until Ronan had finished both his mugs and Adam had mostly finished his own. At Ronan’s urging, Adam had eaten his banana as well; truly, if he were on his own he probably wouldn’t have, and then ended up nauseated and dizzy a few hours later. Pulling the shades, Adam cozied down under his covers and propped the phone beside him on the pillow and Ronan did the same, giving the effect that they were in bed together. 

The change in position, always a problem, meant that Adam was back to sneezing, each time met with a quiet ‘bless you’ from Ronan. “You gonna be able to sleep like that?”

Adam nodded, rubbing his nose after a thick sniffle. “It’ll clear up.” He swallowed, grateful that his throat didn’t seem as sore now that he’d had the tea. “Are you gonna be able to sleep? It’s still early.”

“Dunno. I’ll stay with you until you do.” Ronan had a fond smile on his face, and Adam yearned for Ronan’s hand on his hip, lips on his forehead. “Wanna tell me about the meeting last night?”

Shaking his head, Adam was about to reply when his breath hitched and he muffled a sneeze into his pillow. “Later,” he said and, well beyond maintaining his dignity, wiped his nose on his cuff. “One fun fact, I guess Ursula from The Little Mermaid is based off some famous drag queen.”

Ronan snorted. “Well, that’s bizarre. Did they say anything about Aladdin? I had a huge crush on him as a kid and I’d love to know if I actually had a chance.”

Once Adam stopped laughing, then coughing, he and Ronan talked quietly, the kind of pillow talk they’d have at home. It didn’t take long for Ronan’s soft, familiar voice to bring Adam to the edge of sleep.

“Go to sleep,” Ronan whispered when Adam’s replies trickled down to nods and hums of acknowledgement. “Text me later?” Adam nodded again. “Sleep well.”

“You, too.”

Sick and exhausted and lulled to sleep by the sound of Ronan’s breathing, Adam was out in minutes.

Around seven, Adam woke up feeling about the same, and at seven-thirty, Ronan sent Adam soup, something salty and fragrant and brimming with vegetables and noodles and bits of chicken. Adam sent a picture of himself in the common room of the suite, plastic spoon in hand, with a string of hearts as the accompanying text. Doordash guy got to see me in my pjs , he texted after, so it’s only fair you get to see me too.

I was gonna ask him to spoon-feed you since I’m too far away, but I don’t want to get my account banned,” Ronan said as soon as Adam picked up—the call had come seconds after Adam sent his text.

“You know I was joking about that, right?” Setting the phone beside him, Adam sipped broth directly from the container. “This is amazing, by the way. Where’s it from?”

Ronan heaved a sigh. “Oh, good . The menu was super confusing. I’ll look up the name and text you, I can’t remember it.”

“Are you eating now, too?”

“Nah, I ate earlier, but figured you’d still be asleep.”

Sniffling, Adam replied, “You figured right. And I’m probably gonna get back in bed after this, just to stay comfy. Maybe put a movie on.”

“Let me know what you pick? I can watch it with you.”

They’d made the decision when Adam left for school that Ronan wouldn’t visit until his birthday, giving Adam about two and a half months to settle in and make his own life in Cambridge. This felt a little like cheating, spending most of the day together over the phone, but there was no harm in it; Adam didn’t trust anyone else to see him like this, and he’d spent enough time being sick and alone to last a lifetime. “Movie sounds good, ‘s long as you don’t mind me bein’ sneezy later.”

“Still?” Adam made a sound of assent, and Ronan sighed a sympathetic little ‘oh.’ “I’ll just mute you if it gets annoying.”

“Asshole.” Ever timely, Adam turned away from the phone and sneezed twice against his sleeve. “That was your fault,” he said through a laugh.

Ronan, laughing too, took a moment to respond. “Probably. Finish your dinner, I gotta pack for work tomorrow. Text me when you’re ready for a movie and bed, okay?”

“I will. See you soon.” Then, quickly, before Ronan could reply or hang up, “Thanks for taking care of me.”

“Thanks for letting me. Now eat your soup before it gets cold.”