If Adam were to describe his childhood aspirations in a word, he’d call them “nebulous” - big, but unspecific.
When he was young, he’d filled his head with dreams and visions of “doctor, lawyer, engineer, politician, Wall Street financial analyst,” anything and everything that was smart and prestigious and made money, anything and everything that demanded respect, anything and everything that could have gotten him out of the shitty trailer he’d been forced to call home for the first eighteen years of his life. It was a coping mechanism as much as it was a legitimate dream - a vision to work towards, something, anything to distract him, the pot of gold at the end of the world’s dustiest, shittiest rainbow.
Perhaps it was the lack of specificity that did him in, spending all his time holding open as many doors to prosperity as his body would physically let him without fully committing to any of them. He convinced himself he was working for his future, for himself, that he was taking his time to figure himself out even as he turned down opportunity after opportunity, teaching positions and internships and research positions alike. His friends and professors and his academic advisors and potential employers came to him with the same question, over and over, ad nauseam: “What do you want to do with your life?” He hated that question, as was his nature - he hated all questions he found no answer to.
It’s not as if he couldn’t have succeeded as a vaguely successful if nonspecific young professional - he came close, at least. He’d certainly made the grades. And picked the right degree. And gotten into the right schools. And talked to the right people. By the time he’d turned twenty three, he’d stood a semester’s worth of work away from graduating a year early with a master’s degree in electrical engineering from Harvard, and the apex of all of his dreams and more rose slowly over the horizon like the sunrise on the dawn of a brand new chapter called the rest of Adam’s life.
And then something went horribly wrong and now he’s a Minecraft YouTuber.
“Beautiflystan22, thanks so much for the 500 bits,” says Adam as he starts lining the outer part of the house with smooth stone slabs, the beginning of a roof. If he’s honest, streaming is probably his least favorite part of what he does - he’s always been terrible at multitasking, he’s even worse at any form of performance art, and streaming involves both of those things to some extent: playing the game while interacting with fans, putting on a show while reading the donation messages and monitoring chat, maintaining the delicate balance between gameplay and commentary - it’s hard and exhausting work, and Adam kind of hates it, but his fans love it, it gives him a chance to interact with the community he’s built, and, frankly, it pulls a lot of money. So he dutifully sets up his microphone and sits down to stream his vaguely shitty Minecraft survival world every Thursday evening at 7:00 p.m. PST (and make sure you subscribe to his YouTube channel and follow him on Twitter and all of his other social media accounts so you don’t miss any important announcements and buy his merch and blah blah blah -)
He tries not to sigh directly into his microphone. It’s nearing the end of his allotted four hours of stream time, and he’s starting to feel the exhaustion set into his bones. When he was in college, he’d stay up for hours on end mining and farming and crafting and building and exploring, but there’s something about doing stuff for money that sucks the fun out of everything. He vaguely remembers reading something to that effect in his Intro to Philosophy class, some nonsense about the alienation of labor, probably the unit about Marx - or was it Engels? Kropotkin? Whatever - he’s way too tired for this socialism thing.
His computer dings again, playing the little donation notification jingle. “Tanner_Martin24, thank you so much for the donation,” he pauses to read the message. “‘I love your stream so much, I like to watch it while I do my homework, keep up the good work’, aw, thank you,” he says, surprised at how much he genuinely means it. It’s moments like these that make his streams bearable. He’d done the same too when he was younger - on nights when pressure and fear and homework and studying and dealing with his father became too much for him to bear, he’d sit around with a textbook open on his lap and mooch off of his neighbor’s WiFi to watch his favorite YouTubers play Spleef or review mods on the shitty, second hand laptop he’d bought. The thought that there are others out there doing the same thing, except they’re watching him - it makes his head spin at times.
He goes back to his chest room to grab some more slabs for the roof. Roofs have always been his least favorite part of building. If he wasn’t streaming, he’d cheese it and turn on creative mode, but he’d done that one time in the past and his chat had spent the hour after roasting him to hell and back for it, so now he’s stuck making tiny platforms out of dirt and wood and whatever other random blocks he has in his inventory for him to stand on as he builds.
His computer dings again. “Oh wow,” he says, “coxy_normus69, thanks so much for the -” he cuts himself off and lets his head fall onto the keyboard with a loud clack as he realises exactly what he’d said out loud. He can see, out of the corner of his eye, his chat going absolutely wild.
He’s grateful for his platform. He’s grateful for his platform. He’s grateful for his platform -
Most of the time, he’s grateful for his platform.
“So,” Gansey turns to look at him over his sizable plate of fried seafood, “how is the Minecrafter-ing going?”
Adam gives Blue a look instead of responding. She shrugs. “He’s cute,” she justifies, reaching over to pat Gansey’s hand indulgently. Gansey beams at her.
“‘The Minecrafter-ing’ is fine,” says Adam. “How is ‘the historian-ing’ going?”
“Good,” says Gansey, his face quirking downwards into a frown, ‘but I don’t think ‘the historian-ing’ is the proper way to refer to my current occupation.”
“No, Gansey, it was a joke.” Gansey blinks at him, clearly not understanding. “You know, because you referred to my job as ‘the Minecrafter-ing’ and that’s also not the - you know what, never mind,” he cuts himself off at the completely blank expression on Gansey’s face.
Blue scoffs at him. “Very smooth,” she says, lifting her cup to her mouth to take a sip of her lemonade.
Adam kicks at her underneath the table. “Whatever,” he says. “How’s your SkyBlock playthrough going?”
“Going fine,” Blue responds, curt, swirling her drink in her hand. “What about you? What have you been up to recently?”
Adam huffs out a sigh, letting his head drop to rest his chin on his hand. “I’ve been working on that compact efficient auto-smelt auto-sorting system for my next video,” he says, using his free hand to shovel fries into his waiting mouth. “I’m trying to come up with something that won’t take a stupid amount of iron and also won’t look ugly as all hell.”
Blue nods. “Ok. What else?”
“I’m about halfway done with that new custom map I’ve been making.” he says around his fries.
Blue’s eyes twitch. “Cool,” she says. “Anything else?”
Adam blinks. “I’ve...been streaming my survival world?”
“And?” says Blue, watching him expectantly.
Adam darts his eyes around him, as if he can find what she’s looking for in between the folds of the worn leather seats of the booth they were crammed in. “I’m trying to come up with a new idea for a video? I guess? I was thinking I might make an airborne minecart transportation system that can launch you through the air with TNT -”
“Adam,” she interrupts him, “this is the first time in literal months I’ve managed to drag you away from your computer and out of that shitty man-cave you call an apartment. Can we please not talk about Minecraft?” She sets her drink down carelessly, letting some of the bright pink lemonade spill over the edge of her cup. “It makes me feel like one of those gamer nerd people.”
“You have a Minecraft Let’s Play YouTube channel,” Adam points out.
“Ugh, I know that, I just don’t want to have to admit it out loud in public,” Blue curls defensively in on herself, pressing her body closer to Gansey’s in the process. “I’m not a gamer nerd like you.”
“Hey,” says Adam. He kicks at her more. “I’m not a gamer nerd.”
“You have a Redstone Tutorial channel. You literally named yourself ‘The Redstone Magician,’” says Blue. “That’s like double the nerd. It’s gamer nerd and smart-person nerd at the same time.”
“I’m not a nerd,” Adam says primly. “I’m just using Minecraft as an outlet for my intellectual curiosity and desire to innovate. Or something.”
“That’s nerd speak for being a nerd.”
“I’m not a nerd. I’m just - well educated,” says Adam. “I have a master’s degree in electrical engineering. I went to Harvard. I’m a very accomplished, perfectly normal, non-nerd, non-gamer person.”
“You play Minecraft for a living,” says Blue.
Adam frowns. “So do you.”
Blue throws her hands up, nearly knocking her drink from the table. “Whatever!” she says. “So I’m a nerd too. At least I go outside every once in a while,” she gives him a pointed look with the last statement.
Adam rubs the salty remains of the fries off of his hands with the towel in front of him. “I go outside,” he says. “I’m outside right now.”
“And I had to literally drag you here.”
“So what?” says Adam after he realizes he has no rebuttal. “So I stay inside more. What’s the big deal? I’m - an introvert. Or something.”
Blue drains the rest of her drink. “You’re a workaholic is what you are,” she says, pointing a finger at him from around her now empty glass. “Honestly, with your sleep schedule, I’m surprised you haven’t keeled over dead.”
I’m not going to keel over,” says Adam, rolling his eyes. “I’ve worked a lot harder than this before.”
“That’s not a good thing,” says Blue.
“It means I have a good work ethic,” says Adam. “That is a good thing.”
“It’s really not.”
“It is in this economy.”
Blue scoffs at him. “Are you seriously trying to tell me that there’s nothing wrong with the way you’re living right now?”
“What could be wrong with it?” Adam asks.
“Come on, Adam,” she says. “There’s no way you’re actually ok with spending the rest of your life inside playing Minecraft 24/7.”
“Well -” Adam flounders. “I like Minecraft. It’s a good job. It pays well,” he says. “It’s fun, the community is really nice, and I can set my own work hours -”
“Yes! You can! And you set them to 24/7!” she responds. “When was the last time you just - went out, without talking or thinking about work?”
“I -” he cuts himself off. He sets his fork down, a chunk of fried catfish still attached to its pointy end. He doesn’t know the answer to that question. “Right now?” he tries.
“You were literally just talking about work,” she points out.
“Ok, so I’m passionate about my job and I talk about it a lot, whatever,” says Adam. “What’s the problem?”
“What if you want to have a conversation with an actual normal person who doesn’t know anything about Minecraft?”
“I’m sure I can make small talk,” says Adam dismissively. “I managed to trick enough old white people into liking me to get into Harvard’s EE graduate program. Small talk is easy.”
Blue narrows her eyes tiredly at Adam. “Why do I not believe you?”
“Look,” says Adam. “Maybe I don’t go outside that much anymore. So what? I’m not a recluse. I have plenty of friends.” He gestures to her across the table. “I have you! And - Gansey!”
“Oh!” Gansey sits up suddenly. “You called my occupation ‘the historian-ing’ specifically because it was incorrect! Because I called your job ‘the Minecrafter-ing,’ and that’s also not the appropriate -” he cuts himself off, turning to beam at Adam. “I get it now!”
Blue raises her eyebrows at him.
Adam sighs and falls back in his seat, his body sinking into the lumpy, uneven leather beneath him. “Yes. That’s right. You got it. Great job, Gansey,” he says.
He’s screwing with the command blocks in his custom map when he gets a Discord call from Henry.
“Adam!” says Henry as soon he picks up, as bombastic and loud over the vaguely shitty call quality of Adam’s old phone as he is in real life. “Are you busy?”
“Yes,” says Adam.
“Great!” Henry responds, loudly, and directly into his ear. “I wanted to ask a favor of you.”
Adam sets his phone down and puts Discord on speaker so he can pretend to listen to Henry while he works. “Ok, what’s up?”
“I’m glad you asked!” says Henry, sounding like he’s gearing up for a long and winding pitch of a long and dumb idea, and Adam is already tired. He’s spent the better part of the last three or so hours trying to get this bridge to blow itself up when the player crosses halfway through it, but the explosion effects aren’t syncing up with the actual blocks falling away and only half the bridge gets destroyed and every time he tests it he has to rollback the half of the bridge that got destroyed and he is so, so tempted to just throw some TNT under it and string it up with tripwire, but that would be lazy, and Adam Parrish is not lazy. So he continues screwing with the commands and tunes the hell out of whatever it is that Henry is saying.
This turns out to work very well right up until Henry says “so you’ll do it, right?” and Adam looks up at his phone and realizes that he has absolutely no clue what the hell Henry is asking of him.
“Of course,” says Adam, his “oh shit I zoned out in the middle of class and now the teacher is talking to me fuck fuck fuck” instincts kicking in. And then his “rational human being brain” catches up. “Wait, what?”
“So glad you’ve agreed!” says Henry. “I’ll send you more details over email.”
“Wait, wait, hang on -” Adam tabs out of his game right as his bridge destroys itself for the twelfth time that hour (though the explosion effects were correctly synchronized this time). “Henry, I’m sorry, I honestly have no clue what you were talking about.”
“Oh, I know,” says Henry without skipping a beat. “I figured that out when I started talking about my broken relationship with my parents and you didn’t say anything.”
“Oh,” says Adam. “Wait, if you knew I wasn’t paying attention, why didn’t you say something?”
“I knew I could get you to consent out of pure instinct if I let you zone out for long enough,” says Henry, as casually flippant as ever. “And anyway, it was kind of nice to vent to someone about my family problems.”
Adam groans and rubs at his itching eyes with his hands, resigning himself to whatever it is that Henry has planned for him. “Ok,” he says, “can you give me the tl;dr version of whatever it is you’re subjecting me to?”
“I’m planning a joint charity stream in about a month,” says Henry. “We’re going to have a team building contest.”
“Wait, that actually doesn’t sound horrible,” says Adam. “Why did you have to trick me into agreeing?”
“Who else am I going to rant to about my parents?”
Adam rolls his eyes. “What charity specifically are you going for?”
Henry hums on the other end of the line. “I was thinking I could integrate it in with the contest part.” Adam hears the clack of Henry’s keyboard as he types something out. “You know, something where each team represents a charity, and the winner is whoever secures the most donations. Sounds fun, right?”
“Sounds - interesting at least.” Adam frowns. “Who gets to choose which team represents which charity?”
“I don’t know, I was planning on just letting the teams figure it out themselves,” says Henry. “Why? Is there a charity you wanted specifically?”
“Yeah,” says Adam quietly. “Prevent Child Abuse America.”
The sounds of Henry’s keyboard stops. “Oh,” he says, lacking all of his earlier ostentatiousness. “That’s - not what I was expecting, to be honest.”
“Yeah, well,” says Adam. He turns back to look at the exploded bridge, still half visible through the buttons of the pause screen. “I’m full of surprises I guess.”
“I guess you are,” Henry agrees. He pauses. Adam can hear him considering his next words. “It goes without saying at this point, I suppose, but if I ask questions -”
“I will hang up on you,” Adam confirms.
“Ok, well, that’s settled, then,” says Henry smoothly, and then the typing resumes. “I’ll make a note of your preference. Keep an eye on your inbox for an email with more info. Stream should be in about a week or so, so keep your schedule open.”
“Will do,” says Adam. He tabs back into Minecraft. “I’ve got to get back to work,” he says, and unpauses his game.
“Don’t you always,” Henry responds, and then he hangs up.
He gets a phone call that evening, not that he’s surprised. They come like clockwork, like the cycles of the moon, constantly shifting, yes, but still constant. He used to answer them, delicately fending off the questions and demands and accusations, forcing his voice to remain steady, even as his hands shook with the effort. Now, he doesn’t. He gives his best effort to stay so busy as to have an excuse, as to not have time to pick up the phone, the flimsiest of shields for his guilty conscience. But the calls have a way of finding him when he conspicuously has nothing to do in ways he can’t ignore, worming their way through his busy schedule and notification-laden phone to burrow themselves straight into the back of his head like some evil alien tapeworm from a horror movie. Not that it matters - he still never picks up the phone.
The number is unassigned to a contact, but Adam recognizes it anyway, the Virginia area code flashing across the screen, burning itself into his eyes. His phone says Grantsville, but he knows it’s wrong - he knows what town it’s really from, the small, sleepy, cloying atmosphere, quiet in its complacency, the summer air alight with fireflies and the muddy scent of stagnation, rotting like bruises on skin. His hands curl up reflexively, the tips of his fingers rubbing against his thumb as if to rid themselves of the dust that had always gotten caught underneath his nails.
“I could just block them,” he says to himself. “It would be so easy. I could pick up the phone and hit the block button right now.”
The phone rings itself out. He doesn’t touch it.
Adam has never been good at owning up to his mistakes.
Not that he’s full of himself, or anything. If nothing else, Adam Parrish has always tried to be honest with himself about his flaws. He has a tendency to overwork himself, he can be distant to those he wants to keep closest to him, he’s too reliant on himself, and he’s a stubborn, selfish, prideful bastard at heart.
Of course, just knowing those things consciously does nothing to stop him from being a stubborn selfish prideful bastard, meaning that when he does something impulsive and winds up in over his head (say, for example, if he downloads Tinder just to prove that Blue is wrong and he’s more than capable of going out and having fun, thank you very much), he’s more likely than not to just stick it out through sheer grit, because his parents might have raised a disfunctional piece of shit with a deep and acute fear of intimacy, horrible, horrible childhood trauma, and the inability to look people directly in the eyes without having a nervous breakdown, but they didn’t raise no fucking quitter.
So it’s only when he finds himself sitting across from the girl he matched with on Tinder who chuckles awkwardly as he fidgets his fingers together into a tangled mess underneath the table of the fanciest restaurant he’s bothered to drag himself to in the last twenty five years of his miserable existence that he’s forced to admit that Blue is right, actually, and he has no clue how to make small talk.
“So,” says the girl across from him (Tiffany. He thinks. Shit, that’s bad.) “What do you do for a living?”
Fuck thinks Adam. “Well,” he says out loud, “I’m - a YouTuber, I guess.”
“Really?” says (Tana? Tasha? The girl), surprised. She brightens a bit, sitting forward in her chair. “That’s interesting. What kind of YouTuber?”
Adam blinks. “What do you mean, ‘what kind of YouTuber?’”
“You know,” she says, tilting her head and making a vague and unhelpful gesture with her hand. “Do you do Vlogs, or comedy, or podcasts - like, what kind of videos do you make?”
“Oh,” says Adam, starting to sweat a bit. “Well, I guess I do - video gaming videos.” He digs his hand into his leg, as if he can reach inside of himself and rip out the part of him that just said that out loud on a date.
“Oh. Video games,” she says. “That’s - cool. What video game?”
He desperately clamps down on the sigh that’s threatening to escape out through his mouth. “Minecraft,” he admits quietly, half hoping she won’t hear him.
“Minecraft,” she repeats, nodding slowly and awkwardly at him. “I think my little brother plays that game.”
“Oh - you have a little brother?” Adam asks, desperately trying to steer the conversation anywhere and everywhere that isn’t about the fact that he plays Minecraft for a living. “How old is he?”
She smiles at him, though she refuses to meet his eyes. “Well,” she says slowly, “he’s seven.”
“Cool,” says Adam, dragging the word out through his gritted teeth.
He makes it all the way back to his living room before he collapses onto the couch and presses his face against the cushions, muffling his groan of frustration into the old leather.
He lifts his head up to stare out of his window at the twinkling lights of all the other windows in the city - the view was a huge part of the reason he chose this apartment. There’s something about it that he loves, despite the shitty insulation and the deafening construction and the constant squall of traffic below - if Adam had to guess, he’d say that it’s completely different from the room he’d grown up in, urban and polished and shining. It reminds him of how far away he is from the small town he’d been forced to call home, of how far he’s come.
“God,” he says to himself. He lays back down and presses the palms of his hands against his eyes until he can see stars against the back of his eyelids. “God. I hate Minecraft.”
When the Build Battle Charity Clash!™ finally comes around, he ends up on team PCAA with no one that he’s particularly familiar with, which is fine by him, because it means no one will ask him questions about why he chose PCAA, and anyway, the only other person who’s participating that Adam is particularly familiar with is Blue, and Blue’s idea of decorating is to try to recreate a Picasso using cobblestone and whatever colors of wool she manages to get her hands on.
The downside of building in a group with people that he’s unfamiliar with is that the quality of builds made by the other participating members of his group are - variable, to say the least. Which is why he’s frankly less than surprised when he turns away from the nice paved street he’s been building and finds himself face to face with a misshapen lump of dirt with a door attached to the front.
“What is this?” he says, already tired. He punches at the dirt with his blocky hand, just for added effect. “Who built this?”
“Me,” says a voice on the other end of the call, gruff and masculine. Someone comes out of the entrance and starts punching back at him, though Henry’d (smartly) disabled PVP, so nothing actually happens. “What the fuck is up?”
“This looks like garbage,” says Adam, frank.
“Excuse me the fuck?” says the guy, his little generic blocky avatar crouching repeatedly as he speaks.
“Magician!” their third build partner, Ghost admonishes him. “There’s no need to be mean to others to get - actually, you know what, I agree, this looks like garbage,” he says as he comes close enough to see what it is exactly that Adam is looking at.
”Excuse me the fuck?” the guy repeats, louder this time. “My build looks very fucking beautiful, thank you very much.”
“It’s a pile of dirt with a door on it,” says Adam. He can only hope that his current skin sufficiently reflects how deadpan his face is in real life.
“I happen to think dirt looks very fucking beautiful,” he says. To emphasize his point, he pulls some dirt out of his inventory and starts adding it to the side of his house, somehow simultaneously making it lumpier and more cube-like. Adam hazards a glance at the inside through the open door - it’s only two blocks tall with no torches or any form of light and, like the rest of the house, is made completely out of dirt.
“Have you ever even built anything before, like, ever?” asks Adam, only half sarcastic.
“Fucking duh,” says the guy - Dreamer420, Adam amends, reading his username with a roll of the eyes. “I build shit all the time.”
He’s heard of him before, Adam realises, TheDreamer420 - a passing message in a Slate article about modern gamer culture, a half-hearted glance at a New York Times Op-Ed about evil, nefarious video game streamers infecting the minds of young innocent children with their violent video games and heinous weed jokes - though, and Adam really could have sworn -
“Do you even play Minecraft?” Adam asks him. “Aren’t you a Fortnite streamer?”
“Fuck yeah I am!” says Dreamer. He doesn’t even have a skin, Adam realizes, his sprite still stuck on the default female texture. “So what?”
“So why are you here?” Adam asks tiredly. “This is a Minecraft stream.”
“I’m raising money for charity, duh,” Dreamer replies. “You know, for the - SPCA, or whatever.”
“They’re literally not the same thing,” Adam points out. “The SPCA is a charity that focuses on preventing animal abuse, and the PCAA is -” he cuts himself off with a sigh. “Whatever, look, can you just build something that fits with the rest of the town?”
“What if I don’t want to?” says Dreamer. “What if I want to be unique?”
“That’s not unique, that’s a pile of dirt.”
“Do you see any other piles of dirt around here?”
Adam reaches up to massage his temples.
“Come on,” he says, “can you at least try a little? I get that this is meant to be a fun stream, but this is still a competition. And it’s for charity.”
“I am trying though,” says Dreamer, sounding completely serious.
Adam takes another look at his dirt mound. “...can you try harder?”
“The fuck is this?” says Dreamer. “I thought Minecraft was supposed to be about building whatever we wanted?”
“Then why the fuck can’t I build dirt?!”
“You can build whatever you want on your singleplayer world,” he says, “but if you’re going to be building in our town, you have to at least try to match the aesthetic.”
“The fuck? Who died and left you in charge?” says Dreamer angrily. “Why should I listen to anything you say?”
Adam sighs - this argument clearly isn’t going anywhere. He mentally prepares himself to force the next word out of his mouth. “Please?”
Dreamer sighs back, overdramatically and directly into his microphone, his headphones crackling with static. “Well,” he says, slowly, dragging the word out sarcastically, “since you asked so nicely, Mr. Magician.”
Adam decides to just ignore the obvious sarcasm. In fact, he decides to just ignore Dreamer entirely from now on. “Stop cussing on my stream,” he says, and then he leaves to go back to building.
His “ignore Dreamer” plan works fairly well until he finishes building a cute little bell tower in the center of the town and then hops around to the back side of it and finds it completely covered in dirt.
“Dreamer,” he says, plopping himself in front of Dreamer’s avatar to stop him from placing anymore dirt, “why are you covering my tower with dirt?”
“I’m following your fucking instructions,” he responds.
“This is literally the opposite of what I asked you to do,” says Adam tiredly.
“Uh - no it’s not,” says Dreamer. “You said to build something that will fit in with the rest of the town.”
“I did say that, yes,” admits Adam.
“So I’m going to make my build fit in with the rest of the town by making the town fit in with my build,” says Dreamer. “You know. With dirt.” And then he places another block of dirt in front of him, just for good measure.
Adam takes a deep, deep breath, positioning his face far away from his microphone so it won’t pick up the sound. “That’s not what I meant,” he says.
“Tough,” says Dreamer. “Should have been more specific.”
“You’re purposefully misinterpreting my words,” says Adam. “I really couldn’t have been more clear about what I meant.”
“And I couldn’t have been more clear about not giving a shit.”
“Can you please just be, like, less of an asshole?”
“I don’t know, can you be less of a fun-sucking shit-gibbon?”
Adam lifts his fingers away from his keyboard to massage his temples, which turns out to be a mistake, because in the time it takes him to raise his hands off of his keyboard and bring them to his head, Dreamer manages to trap him inside of a dirt prison.
This time Adam doesn’t even bother trying to hide his sigh from his microphone. “Really?” he says. “You’re just going to bury me under dirt?”
“I think it’s an overall improvement,” says Dreamer. “Now when people come to our town, they won’t have the fucking joy physically siphoned out of their lifeless corpses by you anymore.”
“You know I’m not really trapped,” Adam points out. “I can just punch my way out of here.”
“Good fucking luck, I have like four stacks of dirt,” says Dreamer, and sure enough, Adam can hear the sound of more dirt being placed down on top of him.
Despite his best efforts, Adam can feel his frustration start to grow. “Look, Dreamer,” he says emphatically, completely fed up now. “I don’t know what kind of stupid joke you think you’re pulling, but I’ve had enough. The PCAA is a serious organization that works to improve the lives of children all across America, and when you signed up for this event, you agreed to represent them. You could stand to take this at least a little more seriously -”
“Blah, blah, blah,” Ronan interrupts him. Adam hears the telltale click of flint and steel, the sound of something being lit on fire. “It’s fucking Minecraft. Get a real job.”
“What do you mean get a real job?!” says Adam angrily. “You’re a professional Fortnite streamer -”
The worst part is that despite the fact that their town ends up looking like the set of a Mad Max movie except with cubes, Adam’s team ends up winning.
“Welcome back, everyone,” says Henry, now that they’re back in the big group call from before. “And a warm congratulations to today’s winners, team PCAA!”
“Get fucked, losers!” says Dreamer with all the grace and class and charm of an armed grenade, flailing his blocky arm in the direction of the crowd as his stupid skinless avatar sits in the middle of the first place pedestal. “Dirt confirmed best Minecraft block, @ me on Twitter, shitheads!”
“Thank you so much for joining us!” says Ghost, his voice bright, somehow completely unruffled despite spending the last four hours with his teammates literally at each other's cuboidal throats. “And thank you to all of our generous donors! I love you all! Mwah!”
“I blame you for this,” he hears Blue say relatively quietly among the cacophony of other voices in the call, her avatar standing to Adam’s left on top of the third place pedestal. Somehow, Adam knows that she’s talking to him and not either of her two teammates.
Adam grimaces, his hands subconsciously forming fists at his side.
“Dirt fucking sucks,” he says, loudly so as to be heard over the other voices in the call. “And Fortnite is a plague.”
“The fuck did you say?!” Dreamer shouts at him.
When he checks Twitter the next day, he’s somewhat alarmed to find that his mentions are, to say the least, crowded.
If Adam’s honest, he actually hates Twitter. It doesn’t display tweets in chronological order, he hates that his likes are public, and the character limit means that he’s unable to post anything with any level of nuance or thought at all. But all the articles he’d read about “content creator engagement” and “viewer interaction” and “cross platform uploading’ had mentioned a Twitter, so he’d dutifully created one, and he diligently checks it at least once a week, if nothing else but to see whatever Blue is screaming about on any particular day.
He finds the source of this week’s discourse-du-jour quickly: a newly posted YouTube video titled “I PWN THEREDSTONEMAGICIAN BY BUILDING A MANSION USING ONLY DIRT??!!111?? *NOT CLICKBAIT* Minecraft Let’s Play Part 1” by TheDreamer420. And by finds it, he means everyone and their fucking mother dm’d it to him, as if he could have missed the way that Dreamer himself @’d him in the tweet releasing the video.
Adam clicks on it, of course.
“What’s up motherfuckers, fatherfuckers, and all you other nonbinary parent fuckers out there,” Dreamer starts off his video, and Adam can already see this is not going to go well because he’s managed to spawn himself on a sandy island with not a single tree on it and no other land for as far as Adam can see. “Now that this video is demonetized, let’s play Minecraft.”
And then Adam is forced to sit and waste ten minutes of his life watching Dreamer fill his inventory with as much dirt as he can collect with his fists before he inevitably dies from a combination of starvation and a fall from a height of, like, five blocks.
“God damnit,” says Dreamer, after a zombie kills him for the third time in the past four-ish minutes. “Why is this game so fucking hard?” and Adam has long since abandoned any attempt of getting anything productive done for the rest of the forty minute video, instead leaning forward in his chair to stare uncomprehendingly at the trainwreck currently displayed on his computer screen. There’s something horribly mesmerizing in watching someone badly play his favorite video game, like a car crash or a tornado sucking up a house: it’s terrible in a way that forces Adam to keep watching despite the collective screams of protest of every single last one of the cells in his eyeballs.
The video culminates as Dreamer slowly but surely manages to build a haphazard, misshapen monstrosity of a multi-storied house out of dirt and sand. It’s an ugly, asymmetrical thing, as lumpy as it is chaotic, and it’s exactly the sort of thing he would expect Dreamer to build if left to his own devices.
“Get fucked!” Dreamer yells into the sky, proud and triumphant, his avatar standing at the apex of his oeuvre, punching defiantly at the sun as if to challenge God himself to a fistfight. “I’m the greatest Minecraft player on this fucking planet! TheRedstoneMagician can suck my fucking dick!”
And then he jumps off the roof and dies from the fall damage, and the video immediately ends.
Adam sighs and presses his fingers against the bridge of his nose. There’s a way he can respond to this that is mature and graceful, a way that will create a future where Adam can go back to peacefully making his redstone tutorial videos without having to worry about starting YouTube beef with a fucking Fortnite streamer. There is a world out there where he and Dreamer can peacefully coexist, possibly even one where they won’t even have to interact. All Adam has to do is be measured and considerate in his response.
And then he remembers that, actually, he’s a petty ass bitch.
“Quick tip!” he types into the comment box. “Try being less bad.” And then he hits the comment button and leans back in his chair to sip his coffee as if he’d brewed it from Dreamer’s tears.
He comes prepared for his next date. He makes a list of potential conversation topics and quizzes himself on them like they’re interview questions. He practices telling funny stories about school and his childhood in a mirror until they no longer sound depressing and traumatic. He binges the first three seasons of Brooklyn99, half of The Office, most of The Good Place, and all of Stranger Things. He reads more Game of Thrones hot takes than he can be bothered to count. He checks all of the latest results and upcoming matches for most of the sports he can think of off the top of his head (except for golf, because if he has to stoop to talking about golf, then the date is just not worth it). At this point, he’s more prepared for this date than he was for his fucking GMAT.
“So,” says his date (Tad, he remembers his date’s name this time, it’s Tad), leaning forward across the table at him, “what do you do for a living?”
Fuck, thinks Adam.
“Well,” he says, struggling to keep the smile on his face from cracking, “I’m - uh, I’m an electrical engineer.” Technically true, even if he hasn’t electrically engineered anything for the past year and a half. He still has the degree (and the crippling student debt), so it still counts.
Tad hums appreciatively. “Really?” he says. “That’s pretty impressive. My little sister is getting her degree in EE right now.”
“Oh, that’s cool,” says Adam. “Where’s she going to school?”
“MIT,” he says. “And yourself?”
“I got my bachelor’s at Yale,” says Adam, “and my master’s at Harvard.”
Just whistles, low and flighty. “Yale and Harvard, huh,” he says, sounding impressed, and Adam has never been more grateful that he bothered to go to college. “You must be pretty smart.”
“Oh - no, no, I wouldn’t say anything like that,” says Adam, sheepishly brushing at his hair with his fingers. “I just - tried really hard I guess.”
Tad laughs. “Hard worker, huh? I can appreciate that,” he says, smiling over the table at him.
“Something like that, I guess,” says Adam, smiling back. For just a moment, he lets himself believe that this date might actually go well, for once.
“So what kind of engineering work do you do?” asks Tad.
Fuck, thinks Adam.
“Oh,” he says out loud. “Well - I - that is to say - I’m - I guess you could say I’m an independent contractor at the moment.” This one’s a stretch at best. He technically does have a contract with Twitch - he hit “I agree” on the little box for the terms and agreements when he made his account. That’s a contract.
“Oh,” says Tad, looking confused. “That’s - interesting. I can’t imagine it would be hard to start a regular career with a masters from Harvard. How come you didn’t get a regular job?”
“I tried it,” says Adam. “It just - wasn’t for me, I suppose.”
Tad hum’s appreciatively. “I get it,” he says. “Jobs can suck.”
“Tell me about it,” says Adam with a roll of his eyes, and this one is completely, 100% genuine. Jobs can, in fact, suck.
Tad laughs. “So,” he says, “what company do you do contract work for?”
Godamnit, thinks Adam.
“Well,” says Adam, carefully considering his words. “I do it for this website called Twitch.” He tries to suppress his urge to visibly cringe when letting the word Twitch come out of his mouth.
“‘Twitch?’” says Tad. “I feel like I’ve heard that name before.”
“It’s one of Amazon’s child companies,” Adam tacks on quickly.
“Twitch...Twitch...” Tad snaps his fingers. “Oh! It’s the big - the video game one, right? The one with the Ninja guy!”
“Ninja’s not even on the platform anymore,” says Adam under his breath.
“Wow, that’s really interesting!” says Tad. “Do you have to work with all the video gamer people directly?”
“Well - I - in a sense of the word, yes?” says Adam.
Tad cringes. “Oof,” he says, “sounds like a nightmare, being surrounded by people like that all the time.”
“Oh,” Adam recoils, surprised. “What do you mean by that?”
“You know,” says Tad, though Adam doesn’t really know. “Just, you know, people who are obsessed with video games or play them for a living.”
“What about them?” says Adam.
Tad scoffs. “Have you met one of them? They’re so annoying.”
“Oh,” says Adam.
“All they talk about is video games, you know?” he groans. “It’s exhausting. It’s like they spend so much time playing video games that they forget to have a fucking personality.”
“Oh,” says Adam.
“Like, I’m all for people having their own interests or whatever but -” he gestures outward, as if to express the magnitutude of his annoyance, “- I don’t want to just sit around and talk about fucking - I don’t know, Minecraft all day, you know?”
“Oh,” says Adam, keeping his face neutral. “Oh. W-well. I wouldn’t know about any of that stuff.”
This time, he manages to make it all the way to his bed before he crumples into a sad, socially inept pile of flesh and bones.
“Goddamnit,” he moans listlessly into his pillow as he cradles it against his face.
He and Blue don’t play Hypixel as much as they used to. All of the game modes have long since gotten repetitive, they’ve already unlocked virtually everything on their shared SkyBlock already, and, ironically, both of them are far too busy with their Minecraft YouTube careers to casually play Minecraft anymore. But Adam was feeling nostalgic and Blue was on Discord and not particularly busy, and so they find themselves in the lobby for a team build battle for the first time in months.
“So,” says Blue, deftly ignoring the person in chat spamming “IS THAT THE REAL xXLilyBlueXx?!!!1111!!???” as she and Adam wait for the lobby to fill up, “I saw you the other day.”
“Oh?” says Adam. The last time he’d seen Blue was their dinner at the seafood place, and that had been at least a solid week or two ago. “What do you mean?”
“Me and Gansey were out eating crepes on Sunday,” Blue elaborates, “and we saw you go into one of the restaurants on Sixth Street.”
“Sunday?” asks Adam innocently in the small, blissful moment before he remembers about his date. “Oh. Sunday.”
“That - sounded less than excited,” says Blue tentatively.
“It was - a less than exciting day, yes,” Adam admits.
There’s a pause before Blue responds. “Are you going to elaborate on that?”
“I’d rather not,” says Adam. “And I’d really prefer it if you didn’t ask.”
“Well now I have to ask. What happened on Sunday?” says Blue. Adam silently prays for the room to fill up and the game to start so they won’t have to talk about this anymore. No such luck. God continues to ignore him.
He sighs. “I - went out.”
“Out?” Blue parrots back at him.
“On a date,” he mutters, half hoping she’ll mishear him.
She hears him perfectly, of course, because God hates him. ”On a date!?”
“Yes, Blue,” he responds, safe in the knowledge that she won’t be able to see him roll his eyes. “A date.”
“No one you know,” says Adam dismissively. “Just some guy I matched with on Tinder.”
“You use Tinder -”
“Can you stop shouting?” says Adam, exasperated. “I’d like to keep my one remaining ear, please.”
“Since when do you - date people?” says Blue, mercifully quieter than before.
Adam frowns. “I dated you,” he reminds her, “not that that went anywhere.”
“That was literally years ago, Adam,” Blue points out. “You haven’t dated anyone since then, have you?”
Can the queue please fill up already? “Not until recently, no,” he admits. He doesn’t admit that he downloaded the app just to prove Blue wrong and then proceeded to fail miserably. “I decided to get back into it, I guess.”
“Oh,” says Blue. “Ok. Thats - that’s cool.”
“...thanks? I think?” says Adam. The room remains relatively empty. The guy who’d been spamming earlier switched to repeatedly typing “COLLAB WITH ME PLOX!!!!” over and over again, varying the spelling and number of exclamation points just enough to make it past the anti-spam chat filters.
“So,” says Blue, “how was the date?”
“What?” says Adam.
“How did the date actually go?” says Blue. “Were they cute? Did you hit it off?”
Adam sighs, massaging at his temples. “I mean - I guess he was kind of cute?” he says, in a flacid attempt at positivity.
“Oh,” says Blue. “I take it the date didn’t go so well, then?”
“Sometimes I hate being a gamer,” says Adam, by way of explanation.
“What the fuck does that mean?” says Blue.
Adam sighs. “Let’s just say my date was - less than thrilled at the idea of dating someone with my occupation.”
“Oh, is that all?” says Blue.
Adam recoils, surprised. “What do you mean ‘is that all?’”
“I just thought it was going to be something actually horrible, like ‘they were a creepy stalker,’ or ‘they tried to roofie you,’ or ‘halfway through the date they recognized your voice and realized that you’re the Minecraft YouTuber their little brother watches religiously and they spend the rest of the date trying to get you to go home with them to meet their little brother and his friends,’ or something like that.”
“What?” says Adam. “Why was that such a specific -”
“Ok,” says Adam, “so it wasn’t that bad.” He pouts, annoyed. “But it still sucked.”
“Yeah,” says Blue. “Dating sucks. It’s the ‘terrifying ordeal of being known,’ or something like that.”
“Easy for you to say,” says Adam, trying halfheartedly to not sound too bitter. “You have a boyfriend.”
“I’m sure you’ll find someone eventually,” says Blue dismissively. “You’re cute-ish.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” says Adam sarcastically. “But I need more than looks to get people to date me.”
“Not on Tinder you don’t,” says Blue, which, ok - fair. “Real talk, though. Honestly? You’re not a bad catch. You’re smart, you’re hardworking, you shower regularly, and you’re not an incel. That’s pretty good for a white guy who plays video games all day.”
“People have other requirements for a date,” says Adam.
“Like not being a gamer, apparently,” says Adam, half under his breath.
“There’s a really easy solution for this, Adam,” says Blue, and Adam can hear her roll her eyes. “Just admit you’re super into video games on your profile. Then people who don’t want to date you won’t. Easy.”
“Sure,” says Adam, equally sarcastic. “Just eliminate literally all of my perspective dates off the bat. Why not.”
“Quit acting like gamers are oppressed,” says Blue. “There’s bound to be someone out there who’ll date you. I found Gansey.”
“No offense,” says Adam, “but I’m really not interested in dating Gansey.”
“Then don’t!” says Blue. “Look, Adam, the whole point of dating is to figure out which people you’ll be a good match for. If you and a date don’t hit it off, it just means that you guys weren’t a good match for each other. That’s it.”
Adam opens his mouth and then instantly closes it without saying anything. “Ok, fine,” he relents. “But it still sucks.”
“That’s life,” says Blue as the lobby finally starts to fill up with other players and the countdown to begin the game fills his screen.
“What’s life?” says Adam in response.
“It sucks,” says Blue as they load into the voting screen. “What are we voting? Solar system?”
“Let’s do banana,” says Adam, clicking on the banana button. “I think banana would be fun.”
“What’s up motherfuckers, fatherfuckers, and nonbinary parent fuckers alike,” Dreamer starts off his next video, “today, in addition to owning TheRedstoneMagician with my sick-ass Minecraft skills, I’m also stealing his brand. Fuck you.”
And then he turns around and Adam’s soul leaves his fucking body.
Calling Dreamer’s creation “a redstone machine” would be like calling the engineless, wheeless shell of a truck that’s violently careening down the side of a cliff and into a canyon “an aircraft.” Technically speaking, it meets the minimum requirements to be an aircraft: it is a man-made machine that is traveling at some speed through the air - except that using it will kill you and everyone around you, probably.
Dreamer’s build reaches similar levels of technical dysfunction in that just looking at it makes Adam wish he were dead, and that pretty much counts. The machine looks less like a machine and more like a jumbled, haphazard mix of redstone related blocks that were arranged completely at random until they managed to form the monstrosity currently assaulting Adam’s pupils. Repeaters and torches jut out towards nothing, serving no functional purpose that Adam can see. The redstone circuit itself is a tangled, confusing mess, wrapping around and looping over itself in several places. Several stray pistons had been clearly left over from earlier designs, abandoned at some point during the building process, pointing haphazardly and dangerously close to the circuitry, one accidental activation away from pushing the dirt next to it and breaking the machine entirely.
The clear centerpiece of the machine was a small one block sized ledge with a piston pointing at it, poised to push off whatever hapless mob found itself standing in front of it. Beneath the ledge was a pool of lava, ready to catch and consume whatever fell from above. The ledge was currently occupied by a single zombie, lovingly decorated with a dyed leather hat, and clearly labeled by the sign to its side: “TheRedstoneMagician --->”
“As many of you fuckers know, I participated in a charity stream a few weeks ago in which this bitch-ass motherfucker TheRedstoneMagician was very judgemental and rude to me because of my incredible dirt aesthetic,” says Dreamer. He pauses, presumably for dramatic effect. “So in response, I’m stealing his brand to own him on the fucking internet.”
“What the fuck,” says Adam.
Dreamer turns to punch at the machine with his blocky fists. “This is TheRedstoneMagician-Ass-Fucking-Lava-Dumping-Push-O-Matic,” he says. “And, yes, by the way, I’ve already filed for a fucking patent, so if you copy me, I’ll call my fucking lawyers.”
Adam can only stare in rapt horror.
Dreamer flies up towards the zombie. “Here we have -” he says, zooming into the zombie’s face, “- TheRedstoneMagician.” He flies down below to the foot of the machine, also punching at the pool of lava with his fists. “Here we have -” he says, zooming into the lava, “- some fucking lava. Now -” he flies back towards the end of the machine, where a lever was directly attached to the beginning of the circuit - if his engineering professors could see this, they’d have a stroke. “Let’s make some fucking magic happen.”
He pulls the lever.
Adam can only describe what happens next as somewhere between “the stupidest, most chaotic thing he’s ever had the displeasure of witnessing” and also “completely fucking predictible,” the worst part of it being that Dreamer’s nightmare machine actually almost manages to work. The machine somehow miraculously activates the piston (though judging by the way all of the wires start to flicker rapidly and uncontrollably and the way that every redstone torch in the build simultaneously and instantly burn out, Dreamer’s managed to accidentally create an infinitely looping clock in there somewhere).
Unfortunately for Dreamer and fortunately for Zombie-Adam, not all of the blocks between the pool of lava and the shelf had been completely removed, meaning that instead of falling and being incinerated, Zombie-Adam instead lands harmlessly on a bit of the wire that extended over the pool, whole and unburned, before it listlessly shuffles down and away from the machine towards the forest. Completely unruffled, Dreamer quickly rushes forward, spawns a zombie right next to the lava, and punches it in with his fist instead.
“Fuck yeah!” he shouts as Zombie-Adam II burns to a crisp and dies. “Take that, you shitty redstone bitch! That’s right! I stole your fucking brand! Get fucked!”
And then he wastes the next solid thirty seconds of Adam’s miserable, miserable life by flying around the pool, intermittently yelling cuss words and spawning more zombies before the video abruptly cuts, leaving him on a flashy end screen with loud techno-sounding music about squash and a suggestion for a Fortnite gameplay video.
Am I really this stupidly petty? thinks Adam to himself as he opens a new tab and finds the page to install the Epic Games Launcher. Am I seriously about to install and play fucking Fortnite because some stupid, immature piece of shit on the internet made a shitty YouTube video pushing a zombified representation of me into a pool of lava?
He has to very quickly tab out when Blue refuses to stop calling him on Discord.
“Please tell me I’m hallucinating,” says Blue as soon as he finally picks up.
“What?” says Adam, tabbing back in and hurriedly throwing up a wall behind him for cover.
“Why does Discord say that you’re playing Fortnite?” says Blue, sounding absolutely exhausted.
“Because I’m playing Fortnite,” says Adam.
“We can’t be friends anymore,” says Blue.
“That seems overly harsh and unnecessary,” says Adam. He’s distracted by his donation notification sound. “Mark_Terry99, thanks so much for the donation -”
“Holy shit,” Blue interrupts him. “Are you fucking streaming Fortnite?”
“Yep. I announced it on Twitter, didn’t you see?” says Adam. He peeks around the corner of his wall and snipes at the other player in the distance.
“Jesus Christ, I can’t believe this,” says Blue. “Why are you playing Fortnite?”
“Spite,” says Adam.
“Oh my God, Adam, please tell me this isn’t a part of your stupid feud with that one Fortnite guy.”
Adam says nothing.
Adam says nothing.
“Adam, I swear to fucking Jesus if you don’t respond to me right now -”
He gets another donation notification. “Pikapooka, thanks so much for the bits, I like your username, it’s very cute -”
“Ok, fine,” says Adam. “I’m playing Fortnite to spite Dreamer. Happy?”
“No,” says Blue.
“Well tough,” says Adam. He finally manages to kill the guy who’s been sniping at him and quickly starts running towards the safe area. “Because that’s just what’s happening now, whether you like it or not.”
“You know,” says Blue. Adam has to tab back out to turn her voice down so he can hear the game better. “When we met, I thought you were sensible.”
“You thought correct,” says Adam. “I’m very sensible.”
“You started Twitter beef with a Fortnite streamer,” says Blue.
“No, a Fortnite streamer started Twitter beef with me,” Adam corrects her. “And now I’m going to end it. By owning him.”
“This is by far the stupidest idea I think you’ve ever had,” says Blue. “And I’m counting the time you took your sleeping meds, realized you hadn’t finished editing your video for the week and drank a 5-Hour Energy, a Monster, and a liter bottle of Mountain Dew immediately afterwards.”
“You make fun of me for that one, but I finished editing my video on time,” says Adam.
“...actually, now that I think about it, I’m less surprised that you’re doing this than I was initially.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
Adam runs inside a house. “Listen,” he says defensively, popping open a chest and distractedly sorting through its contents. “Did you see that abomination he made in his last video? It was an affront to everything I learned in engineering school, I couldn’t just not respond -”
“You actually watch his videos?” says Blue.
“Obviously,” says Adam. “He @ me on Twitter, I had to at least look.”
“Why are men like this?” says Blue.
“Toxic masculinity?” Adam suggests.
“Don’t think you can distract me with the patriarchy, Adam,” says Blue. “This is still a categorically terrible idea.”
“Oh come on,” Adam responds. “What’s the point of all my internet clout if I can’t even use it to cancel someone for griefing me in Minecraft?”
“I regret ever dating you,” says Blue.
“Who are you to judge? You’ve started fights with people over organic Greek yogurt,” says Adam, rolling his eyes.
“Exactly! That’s exactly the problem!” says Blue, sounding exasperated. “I’m the most bull-headed, combative, and argumentative person I know! And even I can tell this is a stupid reason to get into a fight!”
“He @ me on Twitter, what else was I supposed to do?”
“Block him!” says Blue. “Just hit the block button, it’s right there -”
“That sounds like a coward’s plan,” says Adam.
“It sounds like a smart idea, which I erroneously thought you were capable of having every once in a while.”
Adam’s response is cut off by his donation sound. He pauses, quickly glancing over to read the donation message. His eyes stick to the sender, and he bursts out into a grin.
“Oh,” he says, trying his best to sound surprised, though he’s not actually that surprised at all. “Well. TheDreamer420.”
“Oh my God,” says Blue.
“Thank you so much for the donation!” he says, twisting his voice into the brightest, cheeriest, most acidic falsetto he can make. He pauses, as if to read the donation message. “‘Eat shit and die.’ Wow! That’s so kind of you, thanks!!”
“I hope you lose all of your subscribers,” says Blue.
“Me too,” Adam agrees, stepping outside of the house and running towards a hill in the distance. “We sincerely hope that you lose all of your subscribers -”
“I wasn’t talking to Dreamer, Adam,” says Blue, interrupting him.
“Rude,” Adam responds. “Whose side are you on?”
Blue groans. “Neither. I want literally nothing to do with any of this garbage.”
“It’s not garbage,” Adam insists, running towards some terrain for cover. “It’s the next step for my plan to remove Dreamer from the internet forever.”
“You have a plan?” says Blue, exasperated.
“When do I not have a plan,” says Adam, rolling his eyes.
“I don’t know whether it’s better or worse that you’ve actually thought this through and still arrived at the conclusion that this is a good idea.”
“Oh come on,” says Adam, “have a little faith. Since when have my plans ever gone wrong -”
- and then, as if on cue, he promptly gets sniped and dies, cutting his words off.
It takes Blue a moment to catch up to his stream lag - he can tell the exact moment she sees it by her loud burst of laughter. “Oh no,” she says, taking on a tone of voice reminiscent of a parent talking to a child that just shit themself. “You died? How sad. What a tragedy -”
“Oh, stuff it,” says Adam, hitting the return to lobby button.
His gaze is finally wrenched away from his computer screen by the ringing of his phone.
The last time she’d called, he’d been expecting it. This time, when he reads the number on the phone screen, it comes like a punch to the gut. He can feel his heart stutter at just the sight of the area code, those stupid three numbers flashing across his screen.
“What do you want?!” he demands of his phone. “Why can’t you just stop ringing? What do you want from me?!”
The phone, of course, just keeps ringing.
He unclenches his hands from where they’d subconsciously formed a fist. Quickly, before he could lose his nerve, he hits the button on the side to silence its ringing and flips it over to be face down.
He turns to the computer and resumes his editing, ignoring the trembling of his fingers.
Adam practically gives up on this date the moment he sees the venue his date has chosen, a sleek, shining club with flashing lights and muffled pounding music pouring out from its windows and doors like expensive and fruity margarita from a carelessly spilled cocktail glass. There’s absolutely no chance in hell that this person is going to hear the words “Minecraft YouTuber” come out of his mouth and agree to a second date.
“Well,” he says to himself, “at least I can drown my sorrows in alcohol afterwards,” and then he steps inside, waving his ID halfheartedly at the bored looking bouncer.
All things considered, he finds his date fairly quickly. He’s managed to land a table in the very corner of the club, a relatively secluded booth mostly out of the way of the rest of the action around them that Adam would have appreciated more if it didn’t have what was clearly a stripper pole attached to the front. He’s already ordered drinks for them apparently, two colorful glasses of something clearly alcoholic, one of which his date nurses as he lounges casually, looking at his phone.
His name is Ronan Lynch. That much Adam remembers from Tinder. All his description had said was “the dreamer,” which could have meant anything from “I’m a twenty five year old adult human male who still unironically shops at Hot Topic” to “I’m an asshole,” but his profile picture had looked cute, and the cow in his profile picture had looked even cuter, so he’d decided to give him a shot and swipe right anyway.
“Sorry I’m late,” says Adam, settling down into the seat across from him. “It took me a while to find this place.”
Ronan’s head jerks up at the sound of his voice. He fixes Adam with a strange look.
“Is something the matter?” says Adam.
“Your voice,” says Ronan, looking contemplative.
“What?” says Adam.
Ronan narrows his eyes at him. “Out of curiosity,” he says, “what do you do for a living?”
Adam nearly falls out of his chair. “Why do you ask?”
“I literally just fucking said,” says Ronan. “I’m curious. Is it not a good question to ask you?”
“Well,” says Adam hesitantly, “I wouldn’t say it’s a bad question necessarily.”
“Do you do something illegal?” Ronan asks, which Adam imagines is normally a bad sign for a first date, except Ronan looks strangely excited by the prospect.
“No, nothing illegal,” Adam half mumbles. “Just kind of - uncool, I guess.”
“Meaning?” Ronan prompts him.
Adam sighs. He might as well just get this out of the way and move on with his life.
“I’m a Minecraft YouTuber,” he says.
For a moment, Ronan stays completely still, his intense gaze locked directly onto Adam. And then, slowly, his face breaks into a feral grin, like he’s just realised something absolutely hilarious. “Really? Is that fucking right?” he says.
“If you’re going to make fun of me, can you at least order me more drinks first?” says Adam. Bad manners, but as far as he’s concerned, this date is basically already over, so he might as well get more tacky, overpriced alcohol out of it. He sips at his half-heartedly before nearly gagging at the cloying, overly sweet mesh of flavors desperately trying (and failing) to mask the burn of the liquor. “Not this drink, preferably.”
Ronan holds his hands up in surrender. “No making fun,” he says. “Like I said. I was just curious.”
“You and all of my other dates,” Adam whispers bitterly under his breath.
Ronan somehow hears him over the pounding bass. “This topic comes up often?”
Adam sighs. “Look, can we please talk about - literally anything else?”
Ronan gives him a funny look. “What? You don’t want to talk about Minecraft?”
That draws a laugh out of Ronan. “You know, for someone who plays Minecraft for a living,” he says, “you sure seem to hate Minecraft.”
“I don’t hate Minecraft,” says Adam, rolling his eyes. “It’s just - not a very good topic of conversation for a date.”
“Why not?” says Ronan.
“Because,” says Adam with a sigh, “it reminds my date that I play Minecraft for a living.”
Ronan shrugs. “So?”
“So they’ll -” Adam cuts himself off. He turns to look away from Ronan, staring at an unidentifiable stain on the wall. “They’ll think I’m like - a nerd. You’ll think I’m a nerd. Or something.”
“Why would I think that?” asks Ronan.
“You know why,” says Adam. “It’s Minecraft.”
“The fuck is wrong with Minecraft?”
“It’s not exactly the coolest thing in the world,” says Adam with a wince. He tentatively sips at his drink, just for the sake of getting more alcohol into his system.
Ronan gives him a funny look, carefully considering him over his glass. “You play Minecraft for a living, and you don’t even think it’s cool?”
“It doesn’t matter what I think,” says Adam, somewhat bitterly. “It matters what other people think.”
“Seems like a shitty way to live your life,” says Ronan.
“Just letting other people decide what’s cool for you.” Ronan sips at his drink. “Just seems like it sucks.”
“It’s not exactly my modus-operandi,” says Adam defensively. “But as long as I’m dating other people, I have to care what other people think.”
“And ignore what you think?” says Ronan.
“I -” Adam splutters. “I’m not ignoring what I think.”
“Aren’t you?” says Ronan. “Because we’ve been having this conversation for a while, and I still have no clue what you think about Minecraft.”
“Obviously I think Minecraft is cool,” says Adam. He continues, this time speaking half under his breath with a roll of his eyes. “No one else does, though. That’s kind of the problem.”
“You don’t know that,” says Ronan, considerately swirling his drink around in his glass.
Adam pauses. “What?”
“You don’t know that,” Ronan repeats, the casual way he’s leaning back in his chair completely betrayed by the very intense gaze he’s fixing Adam with. “Maybe some people do think Minecraft is cool.”
Adam narrows his eyes. “And you’re telling me that you’re one of them?”
“Is that so hard to believe?”
“You took me to a nightclub for a first date,” says Adam, gesturing at the dancefloor as it’s periodically illuminated by multicolored flashing lights. “There’s no way in hell you’ve ever played Minecraft before.”
“Exactly,” says Ronan with a shrug. “I don’t know anything about Minecraft. Maybe it is cool.”
“You just fucking said you thought it was cool.”
“People like me don’t get to decide what’s cool,” says Adam. His face twists itself into a grimace, and he quickly downs the rest of his drink.
“Do I get to decide what’s cool?” says Ronan.
“Sure,” says Adam indulgently. “Why not?”
“Ok,” says Ronan. “Let me decide then.”
“What?” says Adam.
Ronan sets his drink down and leans forward in his chair, primly resting his chin on his hands. “Let me decide,” he says. “Tell me about Minecraft.”
“What?” says Adam.
Ronan snorts. “Tell me about Minecraft,” he repeats.
“Are you serious?” he asks, caught in his own disbelief. “You really want me to sit here in a nightclub and tell you about Minecraft?”
“Why not?” says Ronan, shrugging casually. He picks his glass back up. “I’m curious.”
“Are you sure?” says Adam.
“I’m sure,” says Ronan. “I want to know about it.”
“Jesus fucking Christ,” says Ronan, rolling his eyes, “how many times do I have to say yes?”
For a moment, all Adam can do is sit and stare, surprised. He turns his head to glance out the window, mildly surprised to find the sky has yet to fall. A bird quickly flutters past the window and lands on a nearby bush, pecking at something on the ground.
“Oh,” he says, his voice soft with bewilderment. Slowly, he sits forward in his chair and brings his hands reflectively up to his mouth, almost surprised to find them quirked upwards at their corners, the beginnings of a smile. “Oh,” he says, and like magic, the room around him blurs, the pounding music fades to a soft thrum in the back of his mind, time itself seems to slow as Ronan shifts forward, swirls his drink in his hand, and fixes him with his intense gaze, visibly rapt with attention. “Ok. Well. If you’re sure -”
He ends the night only slightly tipsy. Not so tipsy that he can’t stand on his own two feet without help, but tipsy enough to pretend that he can’t so he has an excuse to lean against Ronan and hold tightly to his arm while they walk together back to Adam’s apartment.
“Well,” says Adam, almost surprised at how fast they’d walked - he gently unhooks his arm from Ronan’s, reluctantly extricating himself from his grasp to gesture up apprehensively at the admittedly somewhat bougie looking visage of the building he calls home. “This is me.”
Ronan, of course, says nothing, just huffs at him. “Alright, Parrish,” he says, lazily sharp, like a knife resting haphazardly on the edge of a table. “I’ve brought you home, perfectly intact and unharmed, as promised.”
Adam laughs. “Yeah,” he says, breathless for some reason. “You have.”
“I’d say I fulfilled my obligations as your date for tonight,” he says, still grinning down at Adam. “Wouldn’t you?”
“Oh - yes - of course! I - I had a lot of fun. Though I feel kind of bad,” Adam laughs sheepishly, rubbing nervously at the back of his head. “I just - rambled about Minecraft the whole time. I didn’t really let you talk that much.”
Ronan’s grin softens. “Well, I guess next time we go out, you’ll have to let me ramble back about all of the shit I’m interested in.”
It takes Adam’s brain an embarrassingly long time to parse the words coming out of Ronan’s mouth. “Next time? Next time -” he cuts himself off and nods, maybe just a little too enthusiastically to be considered casual. “Of course! You - I can - text you about the details, I guess?”
Ronan does a little half scoff, but his smile stays firmly fixed to his mouth. “Sure,” he says, “you can text me whenever the fuck you want.”
“Ok,” says Adam.
“And about whatever the fuck you want,” Ronan adds.
“Ok,” Adam repeats.
“Even if it’s about Minecraft,” says Ronan with a tiny, soft little laugh at the end that makes Adam’s heart swell just a little.
“Ok,” says Adam again, nodding slower this time. “Ok. I’ll - I’ll text you.”
“Cool,” says Ronan.
“Cool,” says Adam.
“Cool,” says Ronan, shifting a bit on his feet.
Adam spends a solid couple seconds staring into Ronan’s eyes before he remembers that he’s supposed to go inside now. “Well,” he starts, breaking eye contact. He looks down at his hands, finds them fidgeting nervously with each other no more than a few inches away from where Ronan’s own hands lay resting in their pockets. He realises, for the first time, how close they’re standing to each other. “Great! I guess that’s -”
And then, before he can even register what’s happening, there’s another head in his space and a pair of lips, featherlight and soft to the touch, are pressing a kiss tenderly against his cheek.
Ronan pulls away from Adam, decidedly much redder than he had been just a moment before. “Cool,” he says quickly, before Adam can react, nodding somewhat awkwardly. “Text me.” And then he turns and speed walks down the street and away from Adam.
For a moment, all Adam can do is stand and stare uncomprehendingly ahead at the squall of traffic flowing down the street in front of him, his hand coming to rest gently against his cheek. And then his unconcious lizard brain kicks in and reminds him that his body has legs that work, and he turns and runs inside the building, past the lobby, up the stairs, down the hallway, around the copious amount of trash that his neighbor leaves on the floor, through his door, and straight onto the second hand couch in his living room where he can safely smash his face against the lumpy fabric pillow and scream directly into it.
“He kissed me,” he says to himself, his voice breathy and trembling as he lies face up on his couch and cradles his hand against the spot where Ronan’s lips had pressed themselves against his skin.
He’s just begun setting up the framework for his new minecart TNT-explosion powered transport system when he gets an email that lets him know that Dreamer has uploaded another episode of his Minecraft Let’s Play (because yes: he subscribed, and yes: he clicked the bell).
“What is up motherfuckers, fatherfuckers, and all you other nonbinary parent fuckers out there,” says Dreamer, “and no, I will not stop mentioning nonbinary parent fuckers, so shut the fuck up Aaron_Mercer24, go drink your own piss if you’re that mad about it. It’s time for Minecraft.”
To Dreamer’s credit, the world he’s managed to spawn himself into this time does look significantly more inhabitable than the last - there are actually trees near him now.
“Some of my lovely viewers have pointed out that trees are an essential part of the Minecraft experience,” Dreamer starts off. He punches at a tree repeatedly, just to get his point across. “Therefore, I have decided to create a new world that involves trees. F in chat for my sick ass dirt mansion.”
“F,” says Adam reflexively.
Dreamer walks up to the tree and punches the wood until it breaks. Instead of picking up the wood block, he spends a solid ten seconds staring at the now broken tree.
“What the fuck?” he says finally. “Why didn’t the tree fall down?”
“Oh my god,” says Adam.
“Am I lagging?” says Dreamer. “Why didn’t the tree fall down -” he pauses to punch another piece of wood. It also breaks. “What the fuck?”
“The trees don’t fall,” says Adam. “Wood isn’t affected by gravity - that’s not how Minecraft works -”
The video cuts. Dreamer stands in the middle of the forest, a good portion of which has now been completely destroyed. His inventory is filled with stacks of wood.
“Now that I have some fucking wood,” says Dreamer, “it’s time to start building.”
He’s cleared out a sizable chunk of land, a little alcove in the forest with a clear view of the bend of a nearby river. Sheep dawdle about on the other side of the riverbank, the white of their wool in contrast to the spots of flowers that dot the rolling plains. It’s a lovely spot to build, it really is, which means it’s a huge fucking tragedy when Dreamer turns around and says “let’s make a life-sized replica of my fucking dick.”
Adam leans back in his chair and groans directly into his hands. He quickly clicks off the tab, moving his Minecraft window to his second monitor - if he’s going to force himself to watch this, he’ll at least be productive while he’s doing it. He falls back into his solid, focused flow of work, tweaking the timing on his repeaters one by one to ensure that the explosion always happens in time with the bounce of the slime block and the push of the piston. Dreamer continues on in his ears, yelling something about Minecraft gravity making no sense, but he’s only half paying attention, having long since become accustomed to doing work while someone screams about Minecraft in the background.
What he’s not prepared for is a soft gasp, and the quiet “oh my God?” that comes out of Dreamer’s mouth and into his ears.
Adam pauses, glancing over at his other monitor to see Dreamer face to face with - a cow, of all things. It moos at him curiously, as cows are wont to do in Minecraft, before dawdling off, returning back to doing Minecraft cow things.
“Oh my God,” Dreamer repeats, sounding very soft and un-Dreamer like. “Hey, buddy, what’s your name?”
The cow, of course, does not respond.
“Are you - are you a girl cow? Can I milk you?” He opens his inventory, reaching into it to grab a bucket, placing it into his toolbar. He brings the bucket up his hand, as if holding it out to the cow.
And then he punches it.
“Oh shit!” says Dreamer as the cow flashes red and starts to run away from him, startled. “Oh fuck, oh God I didn’t mean to hit you - are you ok?” he says to the cow. The cow stares back at him, blank faced. “Why didn’t anyone tell me you could hit cows?! Fuck! This game is terrifying -” and just like that, he’s back to being Dreamer, and the moment’s gone.
Adam tunes out the rest of the video as best he can, though somehow he can’t quite fall back into the steady rhythm he’d had going before. He turns back to the other screen, still stuck paused on Dreamer’s ending card, pensive.
“Next time right click the cow,” Adam types out in the comment bar. He frowns at it considerately, Dreamer’s shocked, quiet gasp reverberating in his head. He reaches for his keyboard again, quickly typing the word “dumbass” at the end and hitting the post button.
He finds himself texting Ronan often, just little mundane things throughout the day. What he had for lunch - a picture of his streaming set up after he spilled Monster on it - a bird that perched on a tree branch in clear view of his window.
Ronan responds pretty fast - in terms of word count, his responses are almost empty, but he makes up for that with pictures of things around his farm - cows and chickens and stray cats. Adam screenshots a particular photo of a tabby curling itself around Ronan’s leg to use as wallpaper.
It feels weird, almost alien, to be looking forward to the sound of his phone.
“So,” says Blue casually, “how’s your beef with that Fortnite guy going?”
“You’re not going to distract me that easily,” Adam responds, deftly dodging backwards out of the way as Blue lunges forward, trying to take advantage of Adam’s confusion to get in a strike at the snow beneath him.
Blue growls. “Come on,” she says. “Just lose already so we can both move on with our lives.”
“Don’t get too ahead of yourself - you haven’t won yet,” says Adam. His chances of winning are fairly low - Blue is the uncontested Queen of Spleef for a reason - but he’ll be damned if he makes it easy for her. He strikes back, more cautiously than her earlier reckless offence, trying to cut off her angles of attack - for all her speed and skill, Adam knows how impatient she is. If he can stall the game out long enough, she’ll start playing recklessly and he might have a chance to -
“Seriously though,” says Blue as they circle around, taking jabs at the blocks around the other’s feet as they go. “Your comment on his last video was almost polite if you squinted at it.”
“You read that?” says Adam curiously. “I thought you wanted nothing to do with our internet feud.” He circles back, quickly jumps to a larger patch of snow and carves a large hole in the floor to block himself off from Blue again. He’s playing like a bitch, he knows, but if it can net him a win -
“You know when there’s a multi-car pileup on the side of the highway and everyone driving around it just reflexively slows down so they can see the wreckage?” says Blue. “Call it that. Also, are you planning on walking forward ever?”
“You first,” says Adam, neatly dodging backwards just as the block beneath his feet crumbles into snowballs. “Maybe I just felt like being vaguely polite if squinted at.”
“That doesn’t sound very Adam-like at all,” says Blue, carving a large chunk of space off the platform he’s standing on. Adam curses. “Normally you’re more of a ‘let the bastard burn in hell for ever having the gall to slight me’ sort of person, you know?”
“Dreamer was so sad and pathetic in the last video that I felt bad. It would have felt like punching down,” says Adam. It’s - almost true. If you squint.
“Excellent excuse. I almost bought it,” says Blue. She shaves off more of his platform before he has the chance to respond. “As if you’ve ever been averse to shady tactics to get your way.”
“I’m not that ruthless,” says Adam. “I like to keep it above the belt.”
“You’re telling me you’re stalling the game out to exploit my impatience and reckless nature and force me into making a risky play so you can capitalize off of it and cheese a win out from under my nose, but you’re not willing to leave a rude comment on some Fortnite shithead’s Minecraft YouTube video because you ‘felt bad’ that he sucked?” says Blue.
Adam quickly surges forward while she’s talking, trying to catch her by surprise. “Is that so hard to believe?”
“I’m offended you’d even think I’d buy that, even for a second,” Blue responds, neatly dodging backwards. “And cute attempt, by the way.”
“What do you even care if I’m not as vicious as usual?” says Adam. “Aren’t you the one who said this feud is stupid?”
“I did say that and I stand by my assertion,” says Blue, jabbing at the edges of his rapidly shrinking platform.
Adam growls. “Then why even bring it up? Shouldn’t you be glad I’ve seemingly turned over a new leaf?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” says Blue. “I’m exploiting your inability to multitask by distracting you with answering my questions so you won’t be able to form a plan to beat me.”
“Now who’s trying to exploit the other’s weakness?” says Adam.
“I never claimed to not be ruthless and unmerciful,” Blue responds. She lunges forward for half a second, cutting his platform by even more before nimbly dodging backwards out of the way. “I’m not a hypocrite like you.”
“Rude,” says Adam. He quickly darts forward, trying to get at some of the snow on her side. He’s only able to break a few blocks before she counters, and he has to back away. “Maybe I just wanted to be helpful.”
“Adam,” says Blue, her voice sounding annoyed. “I love you, but I also know who you are. You’re the most petty, contrarian asshole I’ve ever met in my life.” She whittles away more at his platform. Adam barely has enough room to move around. “There’s no way you did this because you felt like you wanted to be helpful.”
“Why not?” says Adam. “What if I’ve decided that you’re right?”
“Did you not hear the part where I told you I knew who you are?” says Blue. She quickly darts forwards as she speaks, demolishing virtually all that’s left of the platform Adam was standing on. “You’d sooner scoop your intestines out with a rusty spoon than admit defeat.”
“You’re exaggerating,” says Adam, carefully crouching on the last, tiny block of snow he finds himself on. “I’m not that bad.”
“Uh-huh,” says Blue. She stands ominously still on her side of the arena, gazing condescendingly down on Adam’s last refuge. “So are you going to forfeit?”
“Why would I do that?”
Blue hits him with a snowball.
“What?!” Adam protests as he plunges to his death in the lava below. “You can’t throw snowballs, that’s cheating -”
“Should have thought of that before you played like a little bitch,” Blue responds.
He meets Ronan again in front of the “surprise location” that had just been a suspicious looking address until Adam Googled it to make sure it wasn’t somewhere that was liable to get him kidnapped. It turned out to be one of those public pop-up art museums, the ones with the weird, almost surreal full room art installations that hipsters and Instagram influencers flock to like seagulls on a discarded bag of chips. It’s not normally somewhere that Adam would consider going on his own, but Ronan spent the entirety of their last date hiding in the corner of a nightclub behind a stripper pole listening to Adam talk about Minecraft, so honestly, Ronan could have proposed a dinner date in the sewer drain on Fifth Street that smells weirdly like rotten fish and Adam would have crawled into the gutter wearing his Sunday finest with a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of fucking Sauvignon Blanc.
Of course he’d never, ever admit that out loud, so when he meets Ronan outside where he had been casually leaning against a streetlight, all he says is “when you mentioned ‘the stuff that you’re interested in,’ this wasn’t exactly what I was picturing in my head.”
“Oh yeah?” says Ronan, glancing up at him, his face alight with mirth. “The fuck did you think I was interested in?”
“A Hot Topic?” says Adam.
Ronan rolls his eyes. “Fuck you,” he says, not bad naturedly. “I like - art and shit.”
“Ok,” says Adam.
“There’s nothing wrong with liking art and shit,” says Ronan.
“I’m not saying there is,” says Adam. “You just didn’t strike me as the type, that’s all.”
“The fuck does that mean?” says Ronan.
“It’s your style, you know?” says Adam. “You just seemed more like a mid-2000’s MySpace emo kind of guy, you know?”
“You’re a piece of shit,” says Ronan, rolling his eyes. “And you’re paying for dinner now.”
Adam blinks, surprised. “We’re getting dinner after this?” he says.
Ronan gives him a look. “I fucking hope so,” he says. “I’m starving, Jesus.”
Adam laughs. “Alright, alright,” he says. “I owe you for the drinks from last time anyway.”
“So judgemental,” Ronan mutters. “What the fuck do you mean I ‘don’t look like the type’ who likes art? Who wouldn’t like art?”
“You have a very unique aesthetic,” says Adam. “And frankly, when I think of trendy art museums, I think of some hipster who wears flannel and drinks raw water or something.”
Ronan huffs. “Yeah, well, I didn’t exactly peg you as ‘Professional Minecraft Streamer’ the minute we locked eyes either.”
“Fair,” says Adam. He glances down at their hands, slowly reaching over to place his hand inside Ronan’s, locking their fingers together, smiling faintly to himself at the surprised look on Ronan’s face, a slight tinge of red dusting his cheeks. “Come on,” he says breezily. “Tell me about art.”
“I don’t get it,” says Adam.
Ronan nods. “Me neither.”
“Looks cool though,” says Adam.
Ronan nods again. “Hell yeah,” he says, grinning down at the mess of colorful dots splattered haphazardly against a white backdrop.
They’ve seen rainbow strings curling around rooms as they flow down from the ceiling, paintings of white squares hung on black walls, sculptures that might be people or might be amoeba’s at 10,000x magnification seen through a funhouse mirror, and Adam understands none of it, but Ronan’s face lights up with a wolfish grin at every single one of them, and he makes rude comments at all of the people taking selfies, and Adam nearly pisses himself laughing when Ronan suggests that one of the more “modern” representations of a person looked like “a character in one of those Japanese animes, except if they did PCP and then nutted too hard,” so all in all, not a bad date.
And then immediately after thinking that, he walks into the next room and steps on a Lego brick.
“Fuck -” he instantly crumples over, probably would have even fallen all the way down had Ronan not managed to catch his arm at the last second. He’s never regretted wearing thin, flat-soled shoes more. “What is this? Why are there so many Legos -”
He cuts himself off at the sight of the rest of the room.
Compared to the other pieces they’ve seen, the one in the room they’re currently inhabiting looks much less colorful. At the center of the room sits a single, long table, on top of which lays a stupidly large pile of white Lego bricks. A few budding structures loom over the top of the lego bricks: A winding staircase surrounding a pillar- towers and obelisks and pyramids - a beautifully crafted, intricate sky-scraper that must have been resting on something slanted as its top tilted slightly towards the side - all of them jutting out haphazardly from the sea of bricks.
Slowly, Adam approaches the title plaque.
Olafur Eliasson: The Cubic Structural Evolution Project
Followed by a slightly smaller sign:
Ronan follows closely behind him, stopping before the table to examine the slightly lopsided tower, poking it gently with his hand. “I don’t get it,” he says.
Adam says nothing, just continues looking at the mess of bricks before him. Quietly, he walks up besides Ronan to face the tower considerately - it’s almost the same height as him, rising proudly from the sea of chaos beneath it, almost as if in defiance. He thinks of the town he grew up in, of dirt roads and grease and sweat of Boyd’s repair shop, of the clang and crunch of gears at the factory.
“Parrish?” says Ronan.
Adam still says nothing. He reaches out, resting his fingertip on the top of the tower.
Ronan leans over to regard him curiously. “Hello?” he says.
Adam stays quiet.
Ronan waves his hand in front of his face. “Is anyone home in there -”
“I think I get it,” says Adam.
“Oh,” says Ronan. “Wait, what?”
“The exhibit,” Adam explains. “I think I get it - kind of.”
“Oh,” says Ronan, his eyebrows lifting. “Oh, shit, ok,” he says. “What does it mean then?”
Adam considerately picks up a Lego brick and weighs it in his hand. He reaches over with his other hand to grab another brick, the same size as the first one. Gently, he stacks the two bricks on top of each other before holding the finished product out to Ronan in offering. Ronan plucks it from his palm, holding it closely to his eyes as if that will help him see what it is that Adam is talking about. Adam can see the moment it hits him, his eyes widening with a jolt. Adam knows the feeling well - inspiration, like lightning, striking straight into the deepest recesses of his brain, flowing from nerve ending to nerve ending, dendrite to axon, the signal permeating through his body until the urge to create is so overwhelming as to be all consuming, all encompassing, enveloping him until the thought of anything else is -
Ronan picks up another brick, uncharacteristically quiet, and sets it on top of the other two.
“Woah,” he says.
“Yeah,” says Adam.
They say nothing for a moment, just stand together in a hipster art museum holding a stack of three Legos. Adam meets Ronan’s gaze from over the top of the bricks. He runs his fingers against his palm, trying to rid himself of the sweaty, clammy feeling he has all of a sudden.
“Want to build a fucking weed store?” says Ronan.
“They’re called dispensaries,” Adam corrects him, already reaching over to pick up more bricks.
He’s bumming around on Blue’s couch editing his latest video when he gets a little notification in the corner of his screen, a Twitter alert to let him know that Dreamer’s streaming - a fairly regular occurrence itself, but the game he’s streaming catches his eye - Minecraft.
Adam pauses, glancing at the clock to check his progress - he’s a couple hours behind his usual editing schedule, having taken the day off yesterday to hate-watch The Emoji Movie with Ronan. He probably doesn’t have time to watch Dreamer fail at Minecraft again, as tempting as it sounds -
Another notification - this time letting him know that Dreamer’s just @ him on Twitter.
Hm. He’s sure he can spare a few minutes.
He finishes his latest edit before quickly saving his current progress - he’s learned to always save before taking a break the hard way several times now. By the time he’s actually pulled his browser up and loaded Twitch, Dreamer’s already halfway through constructing -
Adam thinks it’s supposed to be a farm?
“Ok, so I hoe the dirt,” says Dreamer. “And then I plant - chat, what the fuck do you mean place water?!” says Dreamer angrily. “Why would I waste my time watering dirt that hasn’t even been seeded yet? It’s just going to make everything muddy!”
Adam scoffs. That’s...a surprisingly realistic concern, actually. Does Dreamer have a garden or something? Adam tries to imagine it, an angry videogame neck-beard screaming self-righteously at some limp aloe vera to “git gud” or something. He can’t help but laugh a bit at the thought.
“Ok fine,” says Dreamer eventually, “I’ll fucking water it.” He turns around and dumps the bucket of water on top of all the plowed ground, turning it back into dirt.
“See?!” says Dreamer angrily. “It just fucking turned back into dirt!”
“Blue!” Adam says. She looks up at him questioningly. “Come look at this.”
Blue takes an unimpressed glance at his screen, an equally unimpressed glance at him, and says “no.”
“He can’t even make a farm properly!” says Adam, angrily plowing forward anyway. “He’s on episode four of his Minecraft Let’s Play, and he still has no clue how to make a farm!”
“So he’s stupid,” says Blue, not even deigning to look away from her screen. “He’s a white guy who plays video games on the internet. Par for the course, as far as I’m concerned.”
“I’m going to type in his chat,” says Adam, reaching for his keyboard.
That gets Blue’s attention. “Adam, no!” she says. “I know what I said, like, literally a second ago, but I wasn’t including you in that group!”
Adam huffs. “I just want to make fun of him a little,” he says. “I’m not going to do anything drastic.”
“You’re going to start a Twitter firestorm!” protests Blue. “And I’m going to get caught up in it! Do you know how many messages I got from people at the start of your dumb feud?”
“I thought any exposure was good exposure for YouTubers?”
Blue glares at him. “If you somehow get me Gamergate-ed, I will castrate you.”
Adam pauses in his response just long enough for Dreamer to yell “what the fuck do you mean ‘plant the carrot’, you’re not supposed to just - plant an entire fucking carrot in the ground! You either fucking plant the tops or the seeds!”
He gestures emphatically at the computer. “You’re telling me I can’t make fun of that?”
“Yes,” says Blue, unimpressed. “That’s not even that unreasonable of an objection - he’s right, frankly. Who plants an entire carrot?”
“Minecraft players!” says Adam. “That’s just how Minecraft works!”
Blue shrugs. “He doesn’t know that,” she says. “It just means he’s not a nerd like us.”
“He’s a Fortnite streamer?!”
“Oh yeah, I forgot about that,” Blue concedes. “So - what then? He’s stupid? Again - par for the course here.”
“What good does that do me if I can’t tell him he’s stupid?” Adam demands.
Blue gives him a look. “Can we not start any very long, stupid, and pointless internet fights, please?” she says.
“The fight’s already started,” Adam points out.
“Can you end it then?” says Blue. “Come on, you were almost vaguely nice to him that one time. What happened?”
“I’ve strengthened my resolve.”
Blue sighs. “I need less male friends,” she says.
“Oh, please,” says Adam. “What’s the big deal if I want to own someone on the internet? What’s the problem?”
“The problem is that it’s dumb, immature drama, and a waste of time!” says Blue.
“It’s my time to waste,” says Adam, sniffing almost haughtily. “Aren’t you the one who said I needed more hobbies outside of Minecraft?”
Blue deadpans. “Antagonizing people is not a hobby.”
“Then how do you explain Boomers on Facebook?”
Blue groans, throwing herself backwards onto the couch. “Adam,” she says, “we’ve been friends for a really long time, and as much as I’m loath to admit it, I really do care about you.” She lifts her head up to glare at him. “So there’s no way in hell I’m going to let you do stupid shit like this.”
“But what if I want to do stupid shit?” says Adam.
“Enough!” says Blue. “No doing stupid things! Not as long as I’m here, and certainly not in my house.”
They pause in their conversation, Blue letting her head flop back down onto the ground. Adam huffs, turning back to look at Dreamer’s stream just in time for Dreamer to yell “wait, why the fuck did the wheat sprout instantly? Did I just put the seeds on top of the dirt? Why didn’t I bury it? Some birds are going to come fucking steal it! Who the fuck farms like this?!”
Adam turns to look at Blue. “But what if I’m not in your house?”
“Dear God,” says Blue.
He starts their next date off by nearly running Ronan over with a car.
In his defense, it’s mostly Ronan’s fault. Adam’s spent the past twenty minutes driving through a straight, wide country road with only fields of corn as background scenery, broken up by nothing but the occasional telephone pole, lost in thoughts of piercing blue eyes and callus-worn hands on his skin and the promise of meeting the cow in Ronan’s profile picture. He’s hardly prepared for Ronan to jump over the fence by the side of the road and run directly in front of him.
“Jesus Christ,” says Adam, quickly throwing his car into park and stepping outside. “Are you fucking insane?”
“‘Sup,” says Ronan.
Adam glares. “Do you have any idea how close I was to flattening you into vaguely edgy looking roadkill?”
“Seems like a pretty sweet date,” says Ronan, grinning cheekily.
“What?” says Adam.
“You know,” says Ronan teasingly. “You hit me with your car, and then you take me back to my house to avoid America’s predatory healthcare system, and then you feel bad and spend the next couple of days waiting on me hand and foot so I don’t sue your balls off -”
Adam kicks at his shins. “I hate you.”
Ronan laughs. He reaches forward and takes Adam’s hand in his own, and just like that, all of Adam’s annoyance melts away like butter.
“Welcome to The Barns,” says Ronan. “The finest ranch this side of the fucking Mississippi.”
Adam hazards a glance around him. If not for the fence separating Ronan’s property, Adam wouldn’t be able to tell where The Barns end and where the next ranch begins. He decides not to mention it out loud.
“I don’t see any cows,” he says instead.
Ronan rolls his eyes. “They’re all farther inside,” he says. “This place is kind of out of grass, don’t know if you’ve noticed.”
“How was I supposed to notice that?” says Adam. “I was too busy noticing you in time to not run you over.”
“Oh?” says Ronan. “Are you saying you find me distracting?”
“I regret not hitting you with the car when I had the chance,” says Adam in response.
Ronan grins wolfishly at him. “Come on,” he says. He casually hops right back over the fence, gesturing with his hand for Adam to follow him.
Adam glances at his car, and then back at Ronan. “Does your farm not have parking or something?”
“Just leave your car there,” says Ronan, waving him off casually. “The barn is on this side anyway.”
Adam locks the door. “If I get a ticket,” he says, “you’re paying for it.”
“It’s my property. If you get a ticket, I’ll throw hands with the fucking cop,” says Ronan. He pauses, looking thoughtful. “Actually, you know what, that sounds like a pretty sweet date too -”
“Ok,” says Adam quickly, before Ronan somehow gets them both arrested, “how about you show me your cows now.”
“Here,” says Ronan, dumping a pile of oats into Adam’s outstretched palms.
“Oh,” says Adam, cupping his hands to keep them from spilling out. “Do I just - hold it like this?”
Ronan looks at him confused. “I guess? How else would you hold it?”
“I don’t know,” says Adam. “I just want to make sure there isn’t some kind of special technique or something that I need to know.”
Ronan rolls his eyes. “My cows aren’t that stupid, Parrish,” he says. “Just hold the food - they can figure out how to get it into their fucking stomachs themselves.”
“I’m less worried about whether or not the oats will get into their stomachs and more interested in making sure my fingers don’t join them in there,” says Adam, deadpan.
“Oh my God, you baby,” says Ronan. “Just give them the fucking food, Jesus.” He opens the back door, leading Adam outside.
The cowpens are mostly empty - Ronan had mentioned that most of them were out grazing for food - but there were still a couple of cows left, lazily chilling inside the fences, their tails flicking about as they turn their curious gazes towards the two humans approaching them. Ronan stops in front of a smaller looking cow, reaching his hand out tentatively to give her a pat on the head.
“See? She’s nice,” he says, gesturing towards the cow with his hands. “She’s not going to fucking bite your hands off.”
“You’re not the one holding food,” Adam counters, but he steps forwards anyway. The cow must notice the food in his hands - she turns her head to face him, eyeing him with what he hopes is curiosity. He holds the oats out to her tentatively. She doesn’t even bother sniffing them, just scoots right over and starts eating straight out of his hands.
“See?” says Ronan. “Your fingers are fucking fine.”
Adam smiles. “She’s so sweet. What’s her name?”
“Bong Water,” says Ronan.
Adam turns back to look at the cow. “I am so sorry,” he says as earnestly as he can, looking directly into her big, adorable doe eyes as he speaks. The cow says nothing, obviously, only continues to eat the grain of off his surprisingly ticklish hand, blissfully unaware of her stupid-ass name.
“She’s a sweetheart,” says Ronan, fondness leaking into his voice. “And a fast fucking eater - she always comes back from grazing earlier than all the others. I figured she’d be here.”
“She’s such a nice cow,” says Adam. “Why would you name her Bong Water? What did she do to deserve this?”
“Be born when I was a twelve year old?”
Adam rolls his eyes. “Who let you name things when you were twelve?” he demands.
“I didn’t normally get to fucking name things,” says Ronan, frowning. “But Bong Water was the first cow I helped calve. So I got to name her.”
“That story would be a lot cuter if you hadn’t named her Bong Water,” says Adam.
Ronan snorts. “Trust me,” he says, “there’s nothing cute about a cow squeezing a slimy cow baby out of its fucking cow-coochie.”
“If you ever say the word ‘cow-coochie’ ever again, I will break up with you,” says Adam.
Ronan laughs. “I actually named her after her mother,” he says, smiling faintly. “Sort of.”
“What?” says Adam incredulously. “What’s her mother’s name?”
“Cabeswater,” says Ronan. He reaches out to gently run a hand down Bong Water’s side.
“Oh,” says Adam. “What does that mean?”
Ronan shrugs. “Dunno,” he says. “My dad named her.”
“Thank God for that,” says Adam. “I hope he names all the other cows too.”
“He used to,” says Ronan.
Adam gives him a look. “You named a cow Bong Water, and he still let you take over naming responsibilities?”
“He didn’t have much of a choice,” says Ronan quietly. “He’s dead.”
Adam stops. Bong Water finishes her meal, and steps back to lay down on the dirt.
“Oh,” says Adam. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
Ronan shrugs again. “It was a long time ago.” He huffs quietly and stares down at his feet, pensive in a way that looks unnatural on him.
Adam frowns. Morbidly, he has to wonder how he’d feel if his father were to die. Anger, maybe. Resignation - he’d probably have to go back, at least for the funeral. But grief? Remorse? It’s hard to imagine himself feeling anything so tender, even under the best of circumstances. Doing it for his father is almost unthinkable.
But then - there’s always been something, some secret, unknown force resting at the back of his head that he’s never been able to put words to. It’s - the thing that kept him quiet when his father hit him hard enough to lose hearing in his ear. The thing that holds him hostage at night, keeping him awake with memories of dust and trailers. The thing that writes the monthly checks to send off to Virginia. The thing that stops him from hitting the block button on his phone -
He doesn’t know what he’d feel. He doesn’t know what he’d do, either.
And then he realises that the absolute last thing he’d ever want to do is talk about it on a date with Ronan.
So Adam turns to the cow and says “I wasn’t talking to you.”
Ronan blinks at him. “What?”
“I wasn’t talking to you,” says Adam, “I was talking to the cows.”
“The cows?” says Ronan.
“They all have to be named by you now,” says Adam. He reaches forwards with his now empty hands, cupping Bong Water’s face in his palms. “My thoughts are with you in these trying times. Please give my condolences to your child, who will probably be named, like, Cumlord, or something.”
“Fuck you!” says Ronan. “I give my cows great names!”
“Uh-huh,” says Adam. He turns around, scanning the cowpen for any smaller, younger cows that might have been born recently enough to be named by Ronan. He points at one. “And what’s her name?”
“Peepee-Poopoo,” Ronan responds without a moment of hesitation.
Adam makes a big show of standing up and pulling out his phone. “I’m calling the SPCA,” he says. “This is animal abuse. PETA will hear all about this. Sarah McLachlan will sing odes to your cruelty -”
Ronan dumps a bunch of oats on his head, and Adam forgets everything about their parents.
Streaming with Henry was a mistake.
On paper, it sounded like a great idea. Adam has never been much of a performer, and he sometimes struggles to keep his stream from devolving into one of those “watch someone silently play a video game” type streams. Henry, in contrast, has trouble maintaining focus on the game, often making stupid mistakes while trying to hype his viewers up and keep his audience engaged. In theory, the two of them should compensate for each other’s weaknesses while playing into the other’s strengths, making for a tight, focused, and engaging streaming experience.
In practice, what actually happens is Adam playing fucking babysitter for three hours straight.
“Henry, can you please not dig straight down? You’re holding all of our diamonds.” says Adam, pressing the bridge of his nose with his fingers.
“Oh come on, Adam, lighten up! It’ll be fine -” and then the rest of Henry’s sentence is cut off by a scream of sheer terror and the sound of someone taking fall damage.
Adam quickly runs over to the hole. “Henry?!”
Henry whoops extremely loudly in response. “Half a heart, baby! Let’s go! I found a ravine!”
Adam sighs and turns Henry’s volume down. He places water to flow down the hole so he can safely drift downwards (because he, unlike Henry, is sensible). “At least let me hold the diamonds,” he pleads.
“Nope!” says Henry brightly. “Finders keepers - those were the rules we agreed to.”
“That was before I realised you were going to act like a suicidal maniac less than a block away from a ravine with lava at the bottom.”
“I don’t recall that clause being a part of the contract.”
“If those diamonds end up in that lava, I’m blocking you on Twitter.”
“Eager to start even more Twitter beef, are we - ooh, look, lapis!” says Henry, dashing forward and jumping directly over the lava. Adam can physically feel the ulcers forming in his stomach.
“Jesus Christ,” he says. “Are you insane?”
“Clinically - no,” says Henry. “Though I’ve never been tested.
Adam rolls his eyes. “Christ,” he says. “You’re like Ronan if Ronan did speed.”
“Oh?” says Henry. “Who’s Ronan?”
“My boyf-” Adam realizes his mistake too late. He cuts himself off quickly, biting into his tongue almost hard enough to draw blood.
For one blissful, peaceful moment, Henry stops talking and stands still, probably the first time he’s done that all stream. And then he turns back towards him like a shark sensing blood in the water. “Your what?!”
“Nothing,” says Adam quickly.
“That wasn’t nothing,” says Henry, sounding downright predatory. “What was that you were going to say?”
“I wasn’t going to say anything,” says Adam. “Look, turn around, there’s some redstone over there -”
“I’m not that easily distracted,” says Henry. “I’m not a redstone freak like you.”
“Hey,” says Adam, frowning. “I’m not a redstone freak.”
Henry plows forward, ignoring Adam’s protests. “It sounded a lot like you were going to say your ‘boyfrie-’”
“My boy!” says Adam quickly before Henry can finish. “My boy, who is my friend. Who is...” he looks around desperately for some form of salvation. His eyes settle on his mug with a picture of a cartoon cat giving him the finger. “My cat. My boy who is my friend who is...my cat.”
“...uh-huh,” says Henry. “Your cat.”
“Adam,” says Henry slowly, “you don’t have a cat.”
“You don’t know that,” says Adam.
“I do know that,” says Henry. “I’ve been to your apartment, I think I would have noticed if you had a cat.”
“He was at the vet,” says Adam.
“I don’t need to share my cat’s personal life with you,” says Adam defensively. “That stuff’s protected under HIPAA - probably.”
“Riiiiigght,” says Henry sarcastically. “So what’s he like?”
“What do you mean?”
“Ronan. What’s he like?”
“You mean my cat?” says Adam, unperturbed - if repeating bald-faced and outrageous lies over and over again worked for Donald Trump, it’ll work for Adam too.
“Sure. Your - cat,” says Henry carefully. Adam can’t help but let his lips twinge into a smile. “What’s he like?”
“He’s very fluffy,” says Adam, keeping his voice even.
“Uh-huh, I see,” says Henry sagely. “Is he tall?”
Adam hums thoughtfully. In real life, Ronan’s got at least a couple inches on Adam. Though, of course, if he wants to lie -
“He’s the tiniest little boy I’ve ever met,” says Adam.
“How is he on a date?” says Henry.
Adam thinks back to Ronan stealing his cheap McDonald's fries and backwash-ing the shit out of his Coke.
“He’s very polite,” he says out loud.
Henry’s clearly not going to back off any time soon. “What’s his personality like?” he asks.
“He’s the kindest, sweetest boy ever,” says Adam without a hint of sarcasm.
Henry pauses. “...is he cute?”
“Of course he’s cute,” says Adam. “He’s a cat.”
Henry groans. “Come on, Adam!” he says. “How long are you going to keep up this charade?”
“I don’t know, how long are you going to keep harassing me?”
“Until my body gives in and I am claimed by the cold embrace of death!” says Henry, pounding his fist against his desk. “We all know you have a boyfriend, you admitted it - someone go back and clip that, he admitted it live on stream, I heard him -”
Adam sighs. If he wants to get Henry to shut up, there’s really only one thing to do. He gives a silent eulogy to the diamonds in Henry’s inventory and punches him off the cliff and down into the lava below.
It’s almost worth it, if nothing else for the moment of stunned silence on Henry’s end of the microphone, save for the sound of Henry’s Minecraft avatar catching on fire and burning to death. And then Henry opens his mouth again and says “ok, that one doesn’t count, you can’t block me on Twitter if you’re the one who pushed me into the lava.”
“Bet?” says Adam, already opening Twitter.
He gets a text from Ronan later that day, a photo of a pair of cow nostrils that are uncomfortably close to the camera and what looks suspiciously like a cow tongue covering the bottom half of the lense.
Ronan: bong water says hello
Adam sends back some heart-eye emojis. He smiles, knowing Ronan will think they’re for Bong Water.
Unfortunately, unlike Henry, Adam cannot distract Blue by dumping her off a cliff and waiting for her to die of lava burn wounds. He’s tempted, of course, but ultimately he figures he would miss Blue too much - and anyway, there aren’t even any good active volcanoes nearby.
“What the fuck?!” she says, when he finally gives in and finally gets in Discord with her.
Adam sighs. “Blue,” he tries, “it’s really not a big deal -”
“Since when? What happened? Are they cute? Who is it?” she demands instantly.
“Since, like, a couple weeks ago, we matched on Tinder, they’re - cute enough, I guess, and no one you know,” Adam answers without flinching. “Can we please not turn this into an interrogation session?”
“When and where do I get to meet them?”
Adam groans. “After we both die and in hell,” he says, letting his head fall onto the table in front of him. “Will you leave me alone now?”
“Adam!” Blue demands. “Why didn’t you tell me you had a boyfriend?”
“Because I knew you would do this,” says Adam, “and I didn’t really feel like dealing with it.”
“I demand a double date!” says Blue.
“What?” says Adam. “No! Don’t scare him off, I actually like this one.”
“Well now I definitely have to meet him,” says Blue. “A date you actually liked?”
“I’ve liked...two out of my past four dates,” says Adam. He doesn’t mention that one of those people is Blue herself. “Fifty percent isn’t bad. Especially for Tinder.”
“Jesus, I forgot you were using Tinder,” says Blue under her breath.
“See?” says Adam. “I’m completely desperate! The last thing I need is for you to scare off the only person so far who actually let me talk about Minecraft to him.”
“You talked to your date about Minecraft?” says Blue incredulously.
Adam groans. “Shut it, ok?” he says. “It’s not my fault - I literally verbatim asked him to talk about something else.”
“I can’t believe this person agreed to go on another date with you.”
“Don’t say it like that, don’t jinx this,” says Adam. “Good things are finally actually happening to me, Blue! I don’t want this to get screwed up.”
Blue scoffs at him in disbelief. “The whole Minecraft thing didn’t turn them off you, and you think somehow I will?”
“Let it be known that I have never once underestimated you,” says Adam in response.
“I will be lenient and choose to be flattered instead of insulted by that statement,” says Blue. “But that doesn’t mean I’m going to let you off the hook about your boyfriend.”
Adam groans. “What else is there to say? I met him on Tinder and I like him, so we’re dating.”
“We’re going on a double date, and if I don’t like him, I’ll remove his balls with a butter knife,” says Blue firmly.
“And you’re surprised I thought you would scare him off?”
“Think of it as a litmus test,” says Blue. “If he dies, he wasn’t worthy.”
Adam groans. “What are you, my mother?”
“You can’t blame me for being concerned, Adam,” says Blue. Adam can hear the frown in her voice. “I mean - how long has it been since you seriously dated someone?”
Adam pauses, trying to run the numbers in his head. “When did we break up again?”
Blue groans. “See?” she says. “How am I supposed to absolve myself of my lingering guilt over dumping your ass if I don’t at least set you up with someone nice?”
“Glad to know you’re doing this out of the kindness of your heart.”
“Don’t patronize me,” snaps Blue. “Come on. Tell me about Ronan - what’s he like?”
Adam sighs. “I don’t know,” he says. “I just like him. I don’t exactly analyze why.”
“Is he cute?”
“Is he respectful of your boundaries?”
Adam blinks. “I - guess so?”
“Is he a landlord?”
“Not unless you count dairy cows as tenants.”
“What are his thoughts on income inequality and the rapidly widening socio-economic gap between the wealthiest and poorest Americans?”
“Blue -” Adam cuts himself off with a groan. “How would I even know that? Who talks about economic inequality on a first date?”
“Me, because Gansey is a trust-fund baby.”
Adam huffs, exasperated. “Is there a point to these questions?”
Blue pauses before her next question, letting silence fall gently between them. “Is he...nice?”
“Oh, absolutely not,” says Adam without hesitation. If Ronan is nice, then Adam is open and honest about his feelings and past traumas. “He’s the most unrepentant asshole I’ve ever met in my life, like, by far.”
“...so remind me again why I’m not supposed to tear his balls off?” says Blue.
“I kind of like it,” says Adam quietly. “It’s - refreshing.”
“Hang on,” says Blue. Adam can hear rapidly typing on her end of the call. “I suddenly need to Google the symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome for no particular reason.”
“I’m serious!” says Adam. He sighs, massaging his temples with his fingertips - putting thoughts to Ronan that make coherent sense feels like it’ll require more brain cells than he currently has available. “I don’t - I just like him, ok? Isn’t that a good enough reason to date someone?”
“I don’t know, Adam,” says Blue softly. “I mean - I liked you.”
Adam sighs, falling back in his seat and letting his head roll back on top of the back of the chair he’s sitting. “...you know,” he says, “I really didn’t mean that as an actual question that needed an answer.”
“Oh, Adam,” says Blue. “This isn’t - look, can you guys just come get dinner with me and Gansey once? It’ll be my treat and everything - I just want to make sure he’s not, like, a Men’s Rights Activist or something gross like that.”
Adam laughs. “Ok,” he relents. “If it’ll get you off my back, sure.”
He’s laying down on his couch, idly scrolling through his Twitter feed when it occurs to him that he’s just agreed to put Ronan and Blue at the same table for an extended period of time.
He quickly pulls up Ronan’s contact to text him.
Adam: Quick question for no particular reason
Adam: What are your thoughts on the gender gap?
This time it takes Ronan a bit to respond - Adam can see the little dots indicating that Ronan is typing.
Ronan: what the fuck
They go to the aquarium for their next date, because it’s Adam’s turn to choose where they’re going, and while he’s a lot of things, original isn’t one of them.
It’s a nice date, generic location aside. The dim light filtering through the water gives everything a moody, atmospheric feel, the fish are all pretty and colorful, and one of the seals dropped a chunk of fish into the water and made an absolutely indescribable sound that Ronan spends the next fifteen minutes trying to recreate with his inferior human vocal cords, much to Adam’s mirth.
That’s the funny thing about being with Ronan - there are a million and one things that would drive Adam crazy if he were here alone, but with Ronan? He doesn’t even have time to imagine being annoyed. He’s too busy laughing at Ronan trying to imitate a penguin to register the nearly overwhelming fishy smell, or too busy fending Ronan’s thieving hands off with a spoon to care about the overinflated cost of the ice cream, and the feeling he gets from seeing all the loud, grabby children huddled around the “Pet the Stingray'' exhibit is nothing compared to the feeling he gets when he has to stop Ronan from trying to lick one. It’s absurd and funny and insane - Ronan feels so incongruous with real life that he has to be a dream.
So it hits him like a truck when he pulls out his phone to see the Virginia area code flashing across the screen.
“Parrish, look,” says Ronan from next to him, still oblivious to Adam’s shift in focus. “That fish looks like it has fucking balls on its head.”
Adam says nothing, only continues to stare at his phone.
Ronan turns to him, concerned. “Parrish?” he says. His voice sounds weird - far away, somehow, like he’s hearing it halfway submerged underneath a pool of water. His phone swims in his vision. He feels - numb. Disconnected, somehow, like the shock of seeing the phone number and Ronan occupy the same space dislodged his brain from inside his head. He vaguely registers someone grabbing his shoulders, hears a phone falling to the floor, sees a vaguely panicked face in front of his own. The sounds of the aquarium and Ronan’s voice bounce off his perception like water off a duck.
By the time he can form coherent thoughts again, he’s sitting on a bench outside next to the gift shop and Ronan is shaking him.
“Parrish?” he says, looking and sounding very concerned.
Adam blinks at him, disoriented. “Ronan?”
“Oh thank God,” says Ronan, pausing in his shaking. “I thought you were having a stroke or something.”
“Where are we?” says Adam, still disoriented.
“Near the giftshop,” Ronan responds. He holds up two fingers. “How many fingers am I holding up?”
“Two,” Adam responds.
Ronan sighs in relief. “Ok, great, it’s not a stroke.”
“That’s not even the stroke test,” says Adam.
Ronan wrinkles his nose. “If you’re sassing me, it’s definitely not a stroke.”
“What even happened?” says Adam. “Why are we outside -” and then he glances down at his phone and everything comes crashing back down on him, all at once.
“Oh shit,” says Ronan. “Are you having a stroke now?”
“Shut it,” Adam snaps. He quickly shoves his phone back into his pocket so he won’t have to look at the missed call notification anymore, his cheeks burning in shame. “I’m not having a stroke.”
Ronan reaches out to try to take his hands. Adam pulls them away instinctively.
“Adam,” says Ronan, uncharacteristically soft. Adam flinches - anger, screaming, arguing - he has a lot of experience with those. But he has no clue how to handle “soft”. “What happened back there?”
Adam says nothing.
“Who was that?” Ronan asks. “Who called you?”
Adam still says nothing. He rubs his fingertips against his palm, reflexively.
“...Adam,” Ronan repeats, like a dagger to his heart. Adam can tell from the look in his eyes that he’s not going to give this one up without some sort of answer. “Tell me what the fuck is going on.”
“I don’t have to tell you anything,” says Adam.
“No,” Ronan agrees, nodding slowly in concession. Adam can make out his reflection in Ronan’s eyes - not that he needs to. He can already see the weight of it all in the furrow of Ronan’s brow, the quirk of his lips, the slight tilt of his head - he must be seriously fucked up if he’s managed to worry Ronan. “You don’t.” Ronan continues. “But it’d be kind of nice if you did anyway.”
He sighs, closing his eyes. “...it was my mom,” he admits.
Ronan blinks. “Your mom?” he asks.
“...and you didn’t want to talk to her?”
“No,” says Adam, as firmly as he can get his voice to be. He braces his hand against his legs, forces his head upwards to stare at Ronan’s eyes. “And - I don’t want to talk about this either. I need you to drop this topic.” He doesn’t bother to say please - he hasn’t stooped that low yet.
For a moment, Ronan sits quietly on the bench next to him, silently considers him, his gaze evaluating. His eyes dart to Adam’s phone, still lodged in his left pocket, wedged inside the space between them.
Wordlessly, he gets up and walks away.
Adam ducks his head, ignoring the prickling, burning feeling at the corner of his eyes. He should have known Ronan would be too good to last - expecting someone to deal with his Minecraft addiction and his shitty emotional baggage is - too much, all at once. It just figures that his parents would be the dealbreaker - he’s spent so much of his life getting as far away from them as possible, putting as much distance between himself and that stupid, cloying town as he concievably could, only for it to come crashing down on top of him at the worst possible moment. He clenches his fist at his side, mentally preparing himself to get up and leave with whatever little shred of his pride and dignity he has left -
And then Ronan comes back and shoves, like, ten balloons into his hands.
Adam stares at them blankly, before shifting his gaze to Ronan, and then back at the balloons, because what the fuck. “...Ronan, what are these?”
“They’re fucking balloons,” says Ronan. “Did you go blind?” he asks, and if Adam were less befuddled, he’d probably be more concerned with the fact that that sounded like a genuine question.
“No,” Adam responds, “I mean, like - why?”
“...because they’re round and filled with air and they float?” says Ronan. “They’re - balloons. Is this a philosophy question? Because, I’ll be fucking honest, I don’t know shit about philosophy -”
“Why did you give me balloons, Ronan?” says Adam, exasperated.
Ronan shrugs. “I don’t fucking know. I thought it might make you feel better?”
Curiously, Adam reaches out and tugs on one of the strings, pulling the balloon down towards him to examine it. It’s bright red, with several cartoon fishes printed on it in multiple colors. The fish smiles back at him, the bright red text at the bottom of the balloon letting him know how “so-fish-ticated” he is.
He bursts into loud, uncontrollable laughter.
Ronan blinks at him confusedly. “Is laughter a symptom of having a stroke?”
He shoves Ronan. “Why would you think balloons would make me feel better?”
“The fuck do you want from me?” says Ronan. He gestures angrily at the gift shop. “I didn’t have much to work with here! It was either the balloons or the octopus plushie, and the octopus plushie costs, like, sixty fucking dollars.”
Adam gives him an incredulous look. “You thought I was having a stroke and you cheaped out on the cure? Aren’t you rich?”
Ronan frowns. “The ghost of my mother would have come back to Earth and flayed me if I spent more than a twenty on a fucking stuffed toy,” he says, and - ok, valid. Ronan reaches out with his hand, grasping for the strings of the balloons. “If you’re that mad about the balloons I’ll fucking return them.”
Adam jerks them away defensively. “No way,” he says. He takes the strings and starts tying them around his wrist. “I’m keeping these now.”
“What, you’re just going to carry them around for the rest of the day?” says Ronan.
“Yes,” says Adam stubbornly.
Ronan rolls his eyes. “Fine,” he says. He leans back, resting the back of his head on the bench, tilting his head upwards to stare at the sky. “You’re fucking wild.”
“You bought me balloons for having a panic attack, and you have the audacity to call me the wild one?” says Adam incredulously.
“What the fuck else was I supposed to do?” says Ronan. “I don’t know how to deal with panic attacks.”
“Me neither,” Adam admits, surprising himself.
Ronan only snorts in response. “Well,” he says, “I guess it can’t be that bad if you don’t know either.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” says Adam.
“It means you’re a fucking smartass,” says Ronan.
Adam rolls his eyes, shifting his gaze upwards in the process, just enough to catch sight of that Goddamn grinning fish again and he involuntarily huffs out a laugh. He glances at Ronan, faux casual and disinterested, all sharp angles and harsh lines trapped underneath the frumpled edges of a novelty Minecraft creeper t-shirt he wore just to piss Adam off, probably the only person on this planet who could watch him have a panic attack in front of a zebra fish exhibit and come out of it making Adam feel like the sane one.
He scoots over and leans his head down to rest on Ronan’s shoulder.
Ronan reaches out and wraps an arm around him without so much as blinking. Adam says nothing, clamping down hard on the choking feeling crawling up from the back of his throat. He takes his time, breathing in slowly and deeply, grounding himself on the feel of the smooth skin of a collarbone against his cheek. There’s a tattoo on the back of Ronan’s neck, Adam realises, black inky feathers just peeking out past his shirt’s collar in stark contrast to the bright green of his creeper t-shirt.
“You know,” Ronan mentions after a few minutes - just enough time for Adam to collect himself, but not quite enough time for Adam to get annoyed by the fact that Ronan is clearly not wearing any deodorant. “We never did get to see the jellyfish.”
Adam gives him a look. “You want to see...jellyfish?”
“They’re glowy and shit,” says Ronan, too casual and offhandedly to not be deliberate. “They have the - you know, the phospho-fuckery or whatever the fuck.”
“Phosphorescence,” Adam corrects him, standing up again. He reaches out for Ronan’s hand with one of his, wrapping his fingers firmly around Ronan’s palm. He surreptitiously uses the other hand to silence his phone.
Adam faintly remembers watching some think piece pretentious YouTube video essay a few years ago, some Vox video about how Minecraft moved past its boundaries as a game and transcended into a form of art in and of itself (and, of course, how creators have already successfully monetized that art form for profit, because capitalism).
He’d be hard pressed to describe himself as an artist. His fine arts education basically began and ended with the shitty macaroni art he’d made in the third grade. Even in highschool, he’d turned his nose up at the more creative extracurriculars, opting instead for classes meant to optimize his chances to get into a college - math and chemistry and physics and the like. Outside of school, he worked as a mechanic or did his homework - even within Minecraft itself, calling any of his builds “art” would be a major stretch. Nowadays his creativity is pretty much limited to his work with redstone.
But then, he’s always found some artistry in mechanics. If art is meant to make one feel things, then Adam has felt in gears and blueprints and circuits and diagrams. He remembers it vividly - the time he’d found an old discarded watch, took it apart and put it together again, piece by piece, over and over again until through some minor miracle he got it to tick - he’ll never forget it, faintly watching as the minute hand slowly circled from the half-faded seven to the eight - the startling realisation that he has the capacity to fix, to do, to make. There is some poetry inherent to synthesis, and Adam has always been a creator.
He has a terrible habit of generating his best ideas while frustratingly busy with something completely unrelated, so, like most of his builds, this one starts with some hasty scribbles made on the margins of a notebook he has on his desk while he’s stuck building an automatic smelting/sorting system. He has to put it off until later - he’s learned over the years that trying to take on more than one major project at a time is an invitation to burnout and a heart attack’s worth of caffeine.
But when it finally comes time to elaborate on his initial idea, Adam finds himself progressing far faster than he’d anticipated. Initial redstone diagrams are drawn, built, tested, iterated on, and scrapped, one cycle after another. TNT cannons are compared to firework launchers to flaming arrow gatlings to minecart railguns. He works with a fervor and passion that he’d long since thought lost to him, burned away in the grind of scheduled weekly videos perpetuated over the span multiple years of a YouTube career.
He suspects it’s because this build is personal.
He’d debated on whether or not to make a video response to Dreamer for all of about three seconds before he fell back on his usual mantra of being the pettiest, most vindictive motherfucker in any room that Blue is not currently occupying. He’ll be the first to admit that he’s being a little immature - but Dreamer pushed a zombified representation of him into a pool of lava and also simultaneously stole and bastardized his brand, so retribution will be swift and uncompromising.
He starts off by slowly modelling a rough human figure out of a mix of terracotta and concrete blocks. He’s never been particularly good at building or pixel art, and the process is made all the more difficult by the fact that the statue needs to be hollow and big enough to contain the redstone machinery he’s planned for it - he manages to get it done, though he has to settle for done over perfect. He goes to the back end of the statue and carves an opening large enough for his plans.
The redstone machinery comes next. He tests each part - individually first, and then all together to ensure they don’t interfere with each other, building only the redstone skeleton in a controlled, neutral environment. He wires them all up, adjusts repeaters and counts ticks to ensure that every single component will fire simultaneously from a single signal, and strings them up to a lever that he can trigger from a distance away.
And then, that being done, he inters the device into Dreamer’s blocky Minecraft torso.
The TNT cannons sit primed, ready to launch their payload straight out of Dreamer’s body, the catapulting blast purposefully delayed to ensure the TNT will blow up midair with a satisfying crash. He intersperses them with a couple of pistons and slime blocks that will periodically spice things up by throwing the occasional piece of gravel or sand, loaded from a cache of ammo stored within Dreamer’s torso. A handful dispensers sit right underneath them, primed with buckets of water and lava that will spill downwards, mixing to create a giant mess of cobblestone that will slowly emerge and grow and spread to the ground between Dreamer’s knees in a satisfying, visceral mound. He even manages to rig a couple horizontal firework cannons to launch through the small gaps between the dispensers, just for good measure and an extra pop of color.
He tests it once - twice - three times, just to be sure, saving the world between each iteration, records the results, analyses the footage over and over so he can tweak the timing on the blasts of TNT, the placement of water and lava, the colors of the fireworks, everything, again and again until it’s perfect. It is, by far, one of the largest, most ambitious Minecraft special effects projects he’s ever created. In many ways, it is his magnum opus, his chef d’oeuvre, the culmination of everything he’s learned in all his time in Harvard’s prestigious school of engineering synthesized with his countless hours playing Minecraft.
The only thing left to do now is record.
“Hey everyone. RedstoneMagician here! Welcome back to my channel,” says Adam. He turns around slowly, gradually revealing the full scale of his creation - a blocky representation of Dreamer420’s Fortnite avatar, pants pulled down, ass lifted high into the air and primed to launch.
He smiles, baring his teeth for his non-existent camera, and says with delight “this is TheDreamer420-Lava-Spewing-Ass-Chewing-Explosive-Diarrhea-O-Matic.”
Blue doesn’t even bother saying hello when he opens the door for her.
“I’m here to stage an intervention for you,” she says, “which is going to be kind of hard because you don’t actually have enough friends for me to effectively do that.”
“So that’s a good thing, then?” says Adam cheekily.
It’s technically Ronan’s turn to choose where they’re going this time, but he barely musters a shrug in protest when Adam suggests they sit inside and watch movies together. Perhaps he could somehow tell how tired Adam was - or more likely, Ronan just doesn’t mind indulging Adam his wishes.
If he’s honest, Adam’s not even sure what movie to watch, nor does he really care - he loads Netflix and throws up the first thing that strikes his fancy and then proceeds to ignore it entirely in lieu of sticking his face into the crook between Ronan’s head and shoulder where he can safely laugh at Ronan’s sarcastic running commentary. He doesn’t even bother changing out of his relatively thin pajamas, letting the sunlight pouring from the open window and the blanket around him and Ronan’s body keep him warm. He feels - strangely bubbly inside, still riding his post-video-posting high, pressed up against Ronan - it’s hard for him to imagine a better way to spend his day.
And then, as if sensing his thoughts, his phone starts ringing again.
In the corner of his vision, Ronan sighs, as quietly as a person like Ronan can possibly sigh and sets down the clam chowder he’d been eating before. Slowly, he shifts around the coffee table to turn the TV off before returning to his spot on the couch next to Adam, his hand coming to rest just short of Adam’s thigh, drifting barely a millimeter away from the fabric of Adam’s pajama pants. He looks lost - as lost as Adam feels.
And Adam feels - a lot. He’s - annoyed, because this date with Ronan is ruined. He’s angry that he’s letting all of this stupid stuff from his past get in the way of his life now. He’s scared of how he must look to Ronan now, small, vulnerable, hunched over on a faded old leather couch staring blankly at his phone as it rings itself out. He’s harassed, and upset, and ashamed, and selfish, and cruel, and disgusted with himself, and -
- tired. Most of all, he just feels so, so tired of this.
“Ronan,” says Adam, still not moving.
“Yeah?” says Ronan, his voice soft in a way that Adam hadn’t realized Ronan could be.
Adam waits, letting the phone ring itself out. The room goes silent again. His heart drums a steady rhythm, cutting through the hum of his air conditioner as it roars in his ears.
“I need you to do something for me,” says Adam.
He sees Ronan nod out of the corner of his eye. “Ok,” he says. “Anything.”
He reaches out and picks up his phone, stares at the notification for the Missed Call, the area code burning itself straight through his pupil, seeping into his brain like a poison. He can picture his mom in his head, thin lips pursed in annoyance, standing next to the counter waiting for him to pick up or to leave him a message.
He feels - so tired.
“I need you to block this number,” he says, holding his phone out to Ronan.
Silently, Ronan nods. He reaches out to take Adam’s phone. Adam nearly jumps at the light brush of Ronan’s fingers against his own. His grip is too tight - his hand shakes with the amount of force he’s exerting on his phone screen - but Ronan doesn’t say anything about it, only gently uncurls Adam’s fingers and extricates the phone from his grip.
He watches as Ronan quietly unlocks his phone, and - that’s right, he forgot that he’d given Ronan his password weeks ago when he’d requested for Ronan to play some music while he drove them down the freeway. He watches the back of Ronan’s hand, the shitty, last generation Galaxy he’d bought off a street vendor back in college, the first smartphone he’d ever owned, paid for with his own money - and he’d handed it and the password to Ronan without so much as a second thought. It’s always been like that, hasn’t it? An old hoodie here, a pair of sweatpants there, his airpods when Ronan’s had died, the key to his apartment - he gives himself to Ronan, piece by piece, without him even noticing. And in return, Ronan gives him -
“Ok,” says Ronan, setting his phone back down. “It’s blocked.”
The world tilts on its axis.
Slowly, without looking at it, Adam reaches out and puts his phone back in his pocket. He leans back on the couch, takes a deep breath, tries to recenter himself. He’d half hoped that he’d feel better after that. He should have known better than to hope.
It’s not a solution - they still have his address, can still find it firmly stamped to the return address of every check he sends them in the mail. And they have his email. And his Facebook and Twitter and even, God forbid, they could contact him through his YouTube channel or his Twitch or something, where everything is public and open for the world to see -
“Adam?” says Ronan, his voice soft.
Adam huffs out a shaky exhale. He forces those thoughts down, down to the back of his mind. His parents are still there, yes - but he is here - in his apartment wearing fuzzy slippers and pajama pants and curled up next to Ronan, his warmest blanket pooled around their feet. He shifts his gaze to look out the window, mildly surprised to find the sky still firmly locked in place, stubbornly refusing to fall. Soft, fluffy clouds drift past, peeking at him through the gaps between office buildings and skyscrapers. Somewhere beneath them, a bird sings.
He turns back to Ronan. “I want to do something,” he hears himself say.
“Do what?” says Ronan.
“Something,” repeats Adam. “Anything. Something - something crazy. Something wild. Anything.” Please, he doesn’t say.
Ronan doesn’t so much as blink. “Do you want to see how fast we can get a shopping cart to go in a Walmart parking lot?”
“God yes,” says Adam, already reaching for his keys.
He pulls his phone out later, after Ronan leaves to go back to his farm and his cows. His fingers hover over the button to access his block list - he has a strange urge to check to make sure the number is there.
He changes Ronan’s contact instead, from "Ronan" to "Ronan💖".
He lets Ronan choose where they’re going for their date to make up for last time, which means Adam has absolutely no clue where they’re going. The locations featured so far on Ronan’s “List of Places Acceptable to Take Adam To” have ranged from a lovely scenic pond in the corner of his property where they can have a nice mid afternoon picnic to a trap house dance club crammed into the back of a bodega with a suspiciously large number of furries. At this point, Adam doubts there’s any surprise left in his body.
Though he has to eat his words when, of all things, Ronan takes him window shopping.
“I don’t know how you did it,” says Adam, “but this is somehow the most surprising date location you’ve managed to pick yet.” He eyes the Holister store to his left suspiciously, as if the conventionally attractive, fashionable, and overenthusiastic young people in the poster advertising their Annual Spring Sale are going to jump out of the wall and stuff him into a bag.
Ronan gives him a look back. “This is an outlet mall.”
“I know!” says Adam. “Since when have you thought consumerism was an appropriate activity for a date?”
“I took you to a furry rave in a bodega cellar and you think I have standards for appropriate activities for dates?” says Ronan, which - ok, yeah, that’s fair. “It’s my little brother’s birthday soon. I have to buy him something.”
“Oh, so you’re just dragging me along on your errands?” says Adam, raising an eyebrow.
Ronan rolls his eyes. “Don’t be so whiny, God. Do I have to buy you a fucking snowcone or something?”
“How about a pretzel?”
Which is how they find themselves sandwiched between, like, four screaming children and a lady that’s apparently going through a very messy divorce in line for Auntie Anne’s.
Adam clicks his tongue. “We should have gone to Wetzel’s Pretzels.”
“I thought you wanted a pretzel, not salty cardboard,” says Ronan in response.
Adam rolls his eyes - he knows this song and dance. He turns around, fully prepared to call Ronan a pretzel elitist and start a long and pointless argument to distract him from the screaming children -
Except it’s interrupted when a kid in a Skylanders t-shirt walks right up to the store and screams “holy fuck, it’s TheDreamer420!”
Adam’s eyes snap up, quickly scanning around him for a gross neckbeard in a Fortnite T-shirt who looks like he hasn’t showered in the past month - but everyone in the store with them looks annoyingly normal. He turns back to look at the kid, trying to follow his gaze to ascertain where, exactly, he’d seen the most annoying person Adam’s ever met -
And then the kid runs forward and sticks himself to Ronan’s leg.
Adam short circuits.
“Oh, shit!” says Ronan, grinning. “You’re one of my fuckers?”
“Yeah!” says the kid excitedly. “I’m a motherfucker!”
Adam turns to look at the kid’s mom, bewildered. She shrugs, nonchalant.
“Holy fucking shit!” says the kid, drawing some dirty looks from everyone around them. The dad behind them with the screaming children struggles to cover their ears, glaring at them all the while. The kid continues, unperturbed. “I can’t believe I finally got to meet you!”
Ronan reaches down to ruffle his hair. “Well it’s nice to meet you too,” he says in response. “Nice t-shirt, by the way.”
The kid bounces up on his feet, quickly reaching into his pocket to pull out a phone. “Can you do the intro?”
Ronan laughs, rolling his eyes good naturedly, and says “what’s up motherfuckers, fatherfuckers, and all you other nonbinary parent fuckers out there,” and Adam has to take a step back before his brain starts coming out of his ears.
The kid laughs and says something about getting an autograph, though Adam has stopped paying attention to focus on standing shell shocked and staring at the wall horrified. He has to be dreaming - there’s no way that this isn’t some weird fever dream - clearly he shouldn’t have drank that Monster Energy fifteen minutes before he went to bed. He surreptitiously reaches down to try to pinch himself through the denim of the pants he’s wearing.
But instead of him waking up in a cold sweat on the floor like he expects, the kid just beams at Ronan, hoisting his newly signed backpack in the air.
“This is so cool!” he all but yells, smiling wildly in that way that only children (and Ronan) can smile, free of inhibition or self awareness or any sense of common decency. He turns back to look at Ronan. “I’m going to go show this to everyone!”
And then, just like that, he turns and bolts out of the store, holding his backpack aloft all the way, completely oblivious to the hollow shell of a human being named Adam Parrish left in his wake.
The kid’s mom sighs, looking put upon. She turns to face Ronan, giving him a somewhat conflicted look. “Sorry about that,” she says eventually.
Ronan waves her off. “It’s fine,” he says. “Call it payback for teaching him all those swear words.”
That seems to satisfy the mom - she turns and follows her son back out the entrance of the shop.
Adam turns to Ronan. “You’re TheDreamer420,” he says, still stunned.
Ronan him a look. “Yeah,” he says. He makes a “duh” gesture with his hands. “I know.”
“No, Ronan, you don’t - you don’t understand -” he stops himself. “Ronan, I’m TheRedstoneMagician.”
Ronan just nods. “Yeah,” he says, “I knew that too.”
“What do you mean you knew that too?”
“It was pretty obvious - you have a really distinctive voice,” says Ronan. He frowns. “Did you not know?”
“Oh,” says Ronan, frowning. “Well shit. I thought you knew.”
Adam gives him his best deadpan - which turns out to be a vaguely difficult face to make while his brain is melting. “How the fuck was I supposed to know that?”
“There are pictures of me online,” says Ronan defensively. “I thought you knew what I looked like, at least. And anyway, my Tinder profile did literally say ‘the dreamer’ on it.”
“What - but -” Adam sputters. “How was I supposed to draw that connection?”
“I didn’t think it’d be hard,” says Ronan. He frowns. “If anything, I’m kind of offended you didn’t recognize my voice.”
“You sound - different through your microphone,” Adam protests. “And it’s not like I was going to bother Googling your face - I just assumed you looked like a gross neckbeard who hasn’t seen the inside of a shower for the better part of a year.”
“Wow,” says Ronan. “You mean crudely stereotyping me based on my gender, race, and occupation didn’t paint an accurate picture of me in your head?”
“You don’t get to complain about that,” snaps Adam. “You’re a white male gamer, we’re both white male gamers, that’s not even -”
“Um, excuse me?” says the person behind the counter, cutting into their conversation. Adam stops, turning to look away from Ronan only to find that they’re at the front of the line and everyone in the Auntie Anne’s is staring at them. The cashier gives him a tight smile, strained around the corners in a way that definitely means something along the lines of I am not paid enough to deal with this. “Are you guys going to order anything?”
Adam grabs Ronan by the collar of his shirt and yanks him out of the store and into the little hallway in front of the bathroom.
“Hey - what the fuck?!” Ronan protests. “I wanted fucking cinnamon pretzels, we spent all that time waiting in line -”
“You lied to me,” says Adam, interrupting his whining.
Ronan recoils. “What?”
“You lied,” Adam repeats louder.
Ronan growls at him. “Adam, I didn’t lie, I -”
Adam jams his finger into Ronan’s chest accusingly, cutting him off. “You said you’d never played Minecraft before!”
Ronan stops. He blinks, bewildered. “What?”
“On our first date,” says Adam. “You said you’d never played Minecraft before! But the first episode of your Minecraft Let’s Play came out before that!”
For a second, Ronan seems stunned, completely unable to respond. And then he smirks, wolfish. “No, Parrish,” he says. “I said I didn’t know anything about Minecraft. That wasn’t a lie.”
Ronan scoffs. “You’ve seen my fucking Let’s Play,” he says. “I don’t know shit about Minecraft.”
“I - what -” Adam sputters. “That’s not what I meant!”
“Tough,” says Ronan. “Should have been more specific.”
“You’re purposefully misconstruing my - goddamnit, this isn’t important right now!” says Adam. “We’ve been dating for months now, and you didn’t think to mention our Twitter feud at least once?”
“Why would I?” says Ronan. “Like I said, I assumed you knew.”
“I can’t believe this,” says Adam. “You’re - I’m - I thought you were a farmer!”
“I can have more than one job,” says Ronan, somewhat defensively.
Adam ignores him. “I’m dating Dreamer - I have Twitter beef with my own boyfriend - holy shit -” he recoils, lets his face fall into his hands. “I built a Minecraft statue of you shitting yourself!”
“Oh yeah, that was fucking hilarious,” says Ronan, smiling faintly. “And honestly kind of impressive. Reminded me of when Bong Water got BVD.”
“I - just - you’re a Fortnite streamer!” Adam freezes. Something clicks in his head, the last vestiges of his now fried brain giving him one last coherent thought, a realisation only just now dawning in him. “Holy shit! You’re a Fortnite streamer!”
“...yeah, I know,” says Ronan. “We’ve fucking established this.”
“You’re a gamer,” says Adam emphatically, lifting his head up to look at Ronan.
Ronan gives him a look back. “Are you just going to sit here and repeat things that are blatantly obvious?”
“I can’t believe this,” says Adam. “Do you know how much time I spent worried that you were going to think I’m a nerd?”
Ronan looks at him, confused. “But you are a nerd,” he says.
“I know!” says Adam. He feels strangely giddy all of a sudden, like someone poured champagne directly down his throat and it’s stuck bubbling away in his stomach. He turns to smile wildly at Ronan. “But so are you!”
“Hey,” says Ronan in protest, “I’m not a fucking nerd.”
“You’re a Fortnite streamer.”
“Yeah, but I’m not as obvious about that as you are with Minecraft.”
“I know!” says Adam. “That’s why I was so worried - I thought you were some really cool, really hot person who was totally out of my league.”
“Oh shit, you think I’m hot?”
“Yes, but that’s not the point.”
“Wait, wait, hang on,” says Ronan, “you said ‘used to’. Do you not think that anymore?”
“Of course not - well, ok, you’re still really hot,” Adam admits. “But otherwise, you’re actually a giant loser who starts Twitter beef with the first asshole who insults your favorite block in Minecraft!”
“Hey, none of that,” says Ronan. “If you’re going to be my boyfriend, you have to stan dirt, it’s a fucking requirement -”
“God!” says Adam, and then he grabs Ronan by the collar of his shirt and yanks him down to kiss him passionately.
“I still think you should have said something,” says Adam.
Adam feels Ronan’s head rolling over in the pillow, turning to look at him. “You’re still on that?”
“Yes,” says Adam. “It’s kind of a big deal.
Ronan sighs, rolling out of bed, dislodging Adam from where he was pressed up against his bare chest. Adam only feels mildly disappointed, to his eternal credit - even he has to admit they were starting to feel a little too sticky for his liking.
“If you’re going to be like that,” says Ronan, “I’m going to put my pants back on.”
“Put the sticks in the middle,” Adam instructs, “and then the wood on top - one in the middle, one on the side.”
There’s a momentary pause as Ronan follows his instructions. “Holy shit,” he says finally. “Is that how you craft hoes in this game?”
“I swear to God, Ronan,” Adam replies, rolling his eyes. “You have, like, seven episodes of a Minecraft Let’s Play, how did you not know how to craft a hoe?”
“I’ve just been spawning things in,” Ronan admits, completely blasé. “I didn’t feel like memorizing all those fucking recipes.”
“You have a recipe book,” says Adam exasperated.
“What?” says Ronan. “I do?”
“Open the inventory and hit the little book icon next to your crafting menu,” Adam instructs.
There’s another pause, filled only by the sound of Ronan’s mouse clicks and keyboard. “Holy shit!” he says after a moment. “There’s a fucking recipe book!”
Adam sighs exasperatedly. “You know what, I’ve changed my mind,” he says. “This is too much work, can we go back to being enemies on Twitter?”
“Nope,” says Ronan, popping the “p” sound at the end of the word. “You’re fucking stuck with me now. Also, why the fuck can’t I plant this melon?”
“Put it in your crafting menu to get seeds,” says Adam. His screen lights up with a donation notification. “UwU_BloopySticks_UwU, thank you so much for the bits -”
“What the fuck?!” Ronan interrupts him. “Why the fuck didn’t anyone in chat tell me you could make melon seeds, you fuckers are all completely useless -”
“Has anyone ever told you that you’re the worst streaming partner ever?”
“Multiple times, not that I give a shit,” says Ronan. Adam hears a creeper explosion in the distance. “Fuck! Also there’s another hole in our house.”
Adam sighs, quickly opening the chest nearby for more wood. All things considered, things aren’t going too terribly for their first time playing together. They have a fairly well established house to use as a base, neither of them have died in a ravine yet, and Ronan even has a halfway functional farm going on the side of the house by the river (even if he does get wrecked by creepers every other second). Every time he walks inside the vaguely shitty, lopsided wooden hut they call home and catches a glimpse of their beds right next to each other, his heart twists in a funny way that he desperately ignores - he’d never admit that out loud, obviously, and anyway, the effect is somewhat offset by the creeper explosion hole in the side of the wall. He throws half a stack of wood at Ronan’s feet and says “fix it yourself this time.”
“What? What kind of Minecraft boyfriend are you?” says Ronan, and throw that one on the list of absolutely stupid things that make his heart race for absolutely stupider reasons. “I’m trying to farm here!”
“You didn’t even know how to make a hoe,” says Adam, looking at the farm. “Speaking of, don’t put the rows of melon plants right next to each other, leave a space between them for the actual melon block.”
Adam sighs. “I’m going back to smelting things,” he says. “Please try not to get blown up anymore.”
“It’s not like I’m trying to get blown up here,” Ronan protests. “It’s not that easy.”
“Fine,” concedes Adam. “Finish up what you’re doing, we’ll go get you a cat.”
“There are cats in this game?”
“Ronan, Minecraft is a really big game with a lot of things in it,” says Adam. “You don’t have to make a comment every time you find something new.”
“I’m expressing my fucking joy at discovery!"
Adam sighs, annoyed, though he’s interrupted by his donation notification before he can seriously consider taking Ronan to a pool of lava and dumping him into it. “Bussdownthotiana_x, thank you so much for the donation of 500 bits -” he pauses to read the donation notification. “Yes, it’s official. The feud is over - we’re no longer at war with Dreamer.”
“Hell yeah,” says Ronan. “We’re fucking Minecraft boyfriends now -”
“Say that one more time and I’ll report your Twitch channel for harassment.”
“I’m literally bisexual.”
Ronan laughs. “Ok,” he says. “How the fuck do we get a cat?”
“Give me a second,” Adam responds. “I’ll go make a fishing rod.”
“Oh, shit, wait!” says Ronan suddenly. Adam stops in his tracks. “Hang on,” Ronan continues. “I have something to give to you.”
“Oh?” says Adam curiously. He walks back to the border of Ronan’s farm, careful not to accidentally step on any of his wheat, coming to a stop right in front of Ronan’s Minecraft avatar.
Ronan just sits and stares at him, doing nothing. “...how do I drop items out of my inventory again?”
Adam rolls his eyes. “Just click and drag it out of the inventory, like literally every other game with a functional inventory system -”
“Fuck off you piece of shit, I’m trying to be nice you!”
Adam laughs. Ronan must figure out the inventory system after that, because he finally looks up at Adam and throws -
- a bundle of poppies that land right at Adam’s feet.
“I got you some flowers,” he says, sounding almost sheepish.
“Oh,” says Adam softly in response. “Oh, Ronan -” he steps forward, tenderly regarding the red sprites floating awkwardly in the space in front of him. It occurs to him that this is probably the first time anyone has ever gotten him flowers.
He huffs out a breath, barely even caring that his microphone will be able to pick it up. “Thank you, Ronan.”
Ronan pauses for a moment before he responds. “...aren’t you going to pick them up?”
“Oh, my inventory is full,” says Adam.
“Goddamnit!” says Ronan. “This game fucking sucks!”
“Ok,” says Blue, pinching at the bridge of her nose, “let me get this straight.”
“It’s not straight,” says Ronan. Adam rolls his eyes.
“Let me get this gay,” amends Blue.
“Hey, Adam’s fucking bisexual, don’t -” Adam steps on his foot. Ronan doesn’t so much as flinch, the fucker.
Blue ignores him. “You’re telling me that the person you’ve been dating this entire time,” she says, “turned out to be that one Fortnite shit-bag that you started Twitter beef with?”
“I didn’t start the Twitter beef,” says Adam.
“Yeah, get it right,” says Ronan. “I started the fucking Twitter beef.”
“Please shut up,” says Adam. Ronan kicks him. Adam kicks him back. Ronan elbows him. Adam elbows him back. Ronan hip checks him. Adam steps on his foot again.
Blue looks more tired than Adam has ever seen her look in her life. “You know what?” she says. “I had this whole speech planned out about how this is even more stupid than your dumb Minecraft feud and that there’s literally no way on this God-forsaken Earth that this isn’t going to crash and burn horribly, but actually -” she gives them both a look. “You two are perfect for each other.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” says Adam.
“You’re just mad that I have a Minecraft boyfriend and you don’t,” says Ronan. Adam very deliberately makes his face look like he doesn’t have feelings about the phrase Minecraft boyfriend.
Across the table from them, sitting a little too close to Blue to be acceptable for a public restaurant, Gansey frowns. “Is there such a thing as a ‘Minecraft boyfriend?’”
“Yes,” says Ronan.
“He’s joking,” says Adam immediately.
“I’m being one hundred percent serious,” says Ronan. “First kisses are nothing compared to the moment when your Minecraft boyfriend finally lets you place your Minecraft bed right next to his in your base that you built together -”
“This is not how this dinner was supposed to go!” Blue protests. “I was supposed to be harassing you, not the other way around!”
“You’ve brought this upon yourself,” Adam informs her. He’d been against this idea from the start - as far as bad ideas go, putting Blue and Ronan at the same table together sounded like a recipe for getting kicked out of a restaurant. He reaches over and steals some of Ronan’s fries.
“How intriguing,” says Gansey. “I had no idea Minecraft could be such an...intimate experience.”
Adam jerks his head up, a plan forming in him. He turns his gaze innocently to look at Gansey, smiling faintly.
“Really?” he says, careful to keep his voice neutral. “That’s surprising.”
Judging from the dirty look Blue is giving him, she’s already caught on to him.
“Oh?” says Gansey innocently. “What do you mean by that?”
“I mean - Blue’s a professional Minecraft player, isn’t she?” says Adam twiddling his thumbs. “And yet you seem like you know nothing about Minecraft.”
“It’s called a healthy separation of interests, Adam,” Blue shoots back, eying him suspiciously.
“So you claim,” says Adam, smiling calmly. “But I bet Gansey talks to you all the time about history, doesn’t he?”
“Oh, of course! Blue is a wonderful listener!” says Gansey, brightening. “I am appreciative, of course - I’m aware history may not be her favorite thing in the world to talk about, so it’s very sweet of her to be so accommodating of me.” He leans over, letting his head bump into her. “It’s a part of why I love her so much.”
Ronan makes a gagging gesture from next to him. Adam bites down on his lip to keep from laughing.”Doesn’t that seem kind of unfair to you?” he says instead.
Blue continues trying to melt his head off with only the power of her stare. Gansey gives him a curious look.
“Unfair?” he says.
Adam twirls a strand of his hair with his fingers. “Why are you the only one who gets to talk about your interests?”
“Because he’s the only one who wants to, quit asking stupid questions.” Blue quickly interjects.
“No, no, hang on,” says Gansey, his face pensive. “Adam has a point.”
“What?” says Blue incredulously.
Adam smirks. “I just think couples should make an effort to learn about each other’s interests,” he says. He leans over, grabbing Ronan’s arm and pulling him closer. “I mean - just look at Ronan! He started playing Minecraft regularly, just for me.”
“Hey, that’s not fucking true, I only started playing to -” Ronan cuts his protests off, closing his mouth with a click. He hums. “Actually, shit, I guess that is kind of what happened.”
“Are you kidding me?” says Blue. “Are you seriously trying to peer pressure my boyfriend into playing Minecraft?”
“Is it seriously working?” says Ronan.
“You know,” says Gansey thoughtfully in response, “this Minecraft-ing thing sounds very intriguing. Maybe I should try it.”
Blue groans, letting her face fall into her hands. “Now look what you’ve done,” she says, glaring accusingly at Adam. “Gansey’s the only non-gamer I know, and you’ve just ruined him.”
“You should be fucking thanking us,” says Ronan, rolling his eyes. “We just got you a Minecraft boyfriend.”
“See?” says Adam, nodding at Ronan. “At least someone here appreciates my efforts.”
“Adam, I swear to God,” says Blue, looking harassed. “If you’ve managed to turn my boyfriend into a gamer, I’m going to spend all of our Hypixel Skyblock money on a flower minion.”
Adam hums. The menace of that threat is somewhat offset by the fact that it made him think of Ronan bringing him Minecraft flowers. He shrugs. “That’s fine - I’ll just sell more clay or something.”
Gansey frowns. “If it really makes you that uncomfortable, I won’t play Minecraft.”
“Yes!” Blue throws her hands up. “Thank you! Thank God! I’m so glad I’m dating someone who respects my boundaries.”
Adam says nothing, only waits.
“Still,” Gansey continues, “I do still feel quite guilty - I never realized how much more I talk about my interests than Blue does.” He sighs, looking troubled. “It just feels unfair. You already do so much for me...”
Blue gives Gansey a look. “This is going to bother you for the rest of forever, isn’t it.”
Gansey gives her a small guilty nod.
Blue groans. “Ok, fine!” she relents. “We can play Minecraft together!”
Gansey perks up, like a puppy that hears its own name. “Really?” he says. “Are you sure?”
“Don’t question me or I might actually change my mind.”
“Oh my! This is so exciting!” He pauses, turning to look at Blue, considerately. “How does one go about getting this ‘Minecraft’ thing -”
And Adam has nothing left to do but lean back into the shitty leather upholstery of the booth they’re sitting in and revel in his own genius.
“I can’t believe you made my boyfriend want to play Minecraft,” says Blue after Gansey gets up to use the bathroom.
That draws a laugh out of Adam. He graciously pretends not to notice all the people at the other tables around them shooting them vaguely confused looks, only smirks at Blue instead. “I think he’s being very sweet about it,” he says. “And here I thought only talking about Minecraft was supposed to make people not want to date you.”
Blue kicks him. “Shut up,” she says. “This is the absolute worst.”
It must be around 3 or 4 a.m. that Adam blinks himself awake.
He stirs uneasily, grumbling at being forced back into consciousness. He reaches out with his hand, gently probing around his bed, searching for whatever it is that’s intruded on his sleep. His outstretched palms find a warm body, smooth skin that he’s getting more and more familiar with by the day, strong, firm arms, his biggest, softest sweatpants that are still maybe slightly too small for the legs they’re stretched over - all well and good so far.
And then his hand smacks against what feels like a laptop keyboard.
His eyes snap open suddenly, though he quickly screws them back shut to protect against the harsh light that is currently pouring into his eyeballs, for some reason. He knees Ronan. “What the fuck?” he says.
Ronan blinks over at him. “Shit,” he says. “Did I wake you?”
“Yes?!” says Adam.
“Damnit,” says Ronan. “Sorry fuckers. Looks like I failed.”
Adam scoots closer, squinting through the light to look at what Ronan is doing on his computer at ass’o’clock in the morning. “What the fuck?” he reiterates. “Are you fucking streaming Fortnite?”
“Obviously,” says Ronan.
“Ronan, it’s 4 in the morning.”
Ronan glances back at his screen. “No it’s not, it’s 3:45 -”
“Turn your fucking stream off,” says Adam, exasparated.
“I can’t,” says Ronan. “I’m doing The Midnight Stream Challenge - or I mean, I was doing it until you fucking ruined it and woke up.”
“What?” says Adam.
“You know,” says Ronan. “Didn’t you hear about The Midnight Stream Challenge?”
Adam half-heartedly combs through his sleep-addled brain for just enough time to realise that, actually, he doesn’t give a shit. “I don’t care,” he says to Ronan. “Turn your stream off and go the fuck to sleep.”
“You’re cussing a lot,” Ronan notes. “Are you coming for my brand or something?”
Adam kicks him. Ronan kicks him back. Adam kicks him harder.
“Fuck off, Parrish,” Ronan protests. “I’m in the middle of a game right now.”
“I’m in the middle of trying to go the fuck to sleep!”
“Sorry for ya,” says Ronan, rolling his eyes. “But I promised my viewers a stream, so they’re going to get a fucking stream.”
Adam groans, falling backwards. He wracks his brain for something, anything that he could use to get Ronan to cut his stream short - he comes up empty, of course. For all of Ronan’s truant tendencies, apparently saying he’s going to stream and then not streaming counts as lying, which means he sticks to his schedules religiously. The room could be burning around them and Ronan would drag their router and his laptop into the hallway to keep going. Adam can’t imagine anything that could get Ronan to stop.
Hm. Well, actually -
“If you turn off your stream,” Adam tries, perfectly aware that Ronan’s mic will be able to pick up his voice from this distance, “I’ll suck your dick before I go back to sleep.”
It takes Ronan a few seconds to respond. “Well fuck,” he says, and Adam can see his chat starting to go batshit, “it’s been fun, fuckers, thanks for watching,” and then he unceremoniously shuts his laptop, shoves it off the side of the bed, and starts desperately wiggling out of his pants.
Adam laughs. “Someone’s eager,” he says, dry and sarcastic, even as he starts tugging at his own clothes.
Ronan pauses in pulling his underwear down to kick him. “Don’t you have something else to be doing with your mouth right now?”
“I hate this,” he responds with a sigh as he lifts his arms to take his shirt off.
“Don’t lie,” says Ronan, kicking his boxers to the floor with a swift sweep of his legs. “You love it.”
“Do I?” says Adam.
Ronan nudges him again. “You love me.”
“I do,” admits Adam, eyes rolling, hands reaching down to tug at his own pants. “I just don’t like to admit it around other people.”
Ronan laughs. “What?” he says, his voice teasing. “Are you ashamed of me or something?”
Adam scoffs in response, rolling over to straddle Ronan’s body with his own. He leans down, presses a kiss to Ronan’s collarbone, runs his hands down Ronan’s back where he knows his tattoo is. He can feel Ronan shiver in response, relishes in the feeling of Ronan’s body pressed against his own - even his sleep deprived brain has to admit that being awake right now isn’t the worst thing in the world.
“Obviously I’m ashamed,” he says into the crook of Ronan’s neck. “I mean, really, who actually wants to date a gamer?”`