Blue, white, red flashing lights.
Shouts. Chatter. Oh God, the chatter. The crowd. The panicked stares, the anxiety, the fear, the concern.
Cool metal against hot skin. The smooth seat in the back of a cop car. His life was about to be over. Panic lined his throat. The apathy dripped down the back of his mouth to coat the panic. And then the panic filled his mouth with an ugly taste and he swallowed, coating the apathy. And the worry, the worry, the worry. A body being yanked from his grasp, a blanket thrown over hunched shoulders. “That thing. Is it one of Dad’s secrets?”
Matthew— where’s Matthew? WHERE’S MY BROTHER?
Get in if you know what’s good for you!
Fuck you, I want my brother!
Just go fuck yourself.
A boy was dead. Another might as well have been dead. Where was the albino night horror? Where was Gansey? Blue? He’d just seen them—
He’d never forget
He couldn’t forget
Kavinsky’s face appeared in front of him, fire in the reflections of his sunglasses. It was there that Ronan first saw the world burn.
⫷⫷⫷⫷⫷⫷ ❖ ⫸⫸⫸⫸⫸⫸
Metal glinted. Young men panted in the humid, summer air. Gnats, flies, mosquitos, and bees buzzed. A raven cawed.
Claaang! Huff. Clang!
“Gonna have to try harder than that, Parrish—”
“Maybe if you talked less, you would’ve scored a hit by now.”
“Maybe if you’d worn more clothes, I’d be less distracted.”
Adam Parrish grinned in spite of the sweat trickling like slow-moving rivers down the sides of his face. He wiped his forehead with the back of his free hand before bringing it back to clutch the hilt. Ronan darted forward, feinted, and swung. Adam neatly parried, bare feet squishing through the mud. When the swords met, Opal cheered something nonsensical by throwing up a bunch of grass she’d picked. The sweet smell of o-zone perforated the thick air.
Adam didn’t have time to recover, however, as Ronan whirled around and thrust again. He anticipated Adam’s block, ducked as Adam leapt backwards to fade but then dashed forward again. Ronan sloppily parried the blow and Adam allowed his sword to shed before moving in for another attack. It was the quickness of his movements that left Ronan breathless.
Ronan doubled backwards out of harm’s way and bent over his knees.
“Time out?” Adam asked.
Ronan spat on the ground.
With a quick inhale, Ronan swung himself upright and back into Adam’s personal space. Their swords clashed and clanged brightly in the sun’s rays. When their swords met, making an X formation between them, Ronan felt that Adam’s footing was slipping in the mud. It would be so easy to shove him back and deliver a blow - perhaps the final blow.
But when Ronan saw Adam gazing at him from between the swords, saw how bright his eyes were, how flushed he was, how his hair was plastered against the side of his face…
Risking definite beheading, Ronan leaned in and kissed him on the lips.
It wasn’t long after that that Adam dragged Ronan over to an only slightly less muddy area and shoved him onto the ground. Swords fell heavily to the dirt. Pants were yanked over hips and asses. There were pleas and begs and curses of a dark sort. Kisses and bites on the back of the neck. Hands frenzied between legs.
And then Ronan and Adam spilled onto their backs on the ground beside each other and stared into the rapidly greying skies. Adam’s fingers found Ronan’s and everything inside Ronan became still and intrinsic. Somewhere in the brush nearby Opal and Chainsaw were playing their own feral sort of game, something like hide and seek but with glitter and random pieces of shiny metal and string and out-of-place driftwood Opal had found around the Barns.
Ronan felt Adam’s heartbeat in his fingertips.
Thunder rumbled in the distance. The sun fought to remain in view but eventually, it was swallowed up by storm clouds.
Fingers loosely hooked within each other’s, Adam and Ronan eventually meandered back towards the main property and up the steps onto the porch of the farmhouse. They faced each other, their palms lightly pressed together and waltzed a little across the porch. Ronan leaned in and pecked Adam’s lips.
“I’ll drive with you to the boundary?”
“You’ll get wet.”
Ronan pressed his lips into Adam’s again, briefly tasting mud and sweat and the heat of Adam’s breath. “You’d fucking like that.”
Adam’s laugh was soft and airy and the corners of his lips twitched into a smirk. “I gotta shower. No, you can’t join me. You’ll make me late.”
As he disappeared into the house, Ronan called after him, “Boyd doesn’t seem to care!”
“I do though!”
While Adam showered and got ready for work, Ronan discarded his own muddy clothes. He wet a paper towel at the kitchen sink and rubbed his face with it, feeling a shiver run through him despite the heat. He then went to wipe down the swords.
It was unnecessary actually.
The swords were not regular weapons. In fact, they’d been manifested through a variety of dreams. Some time ago, Ronan had brought back a piece of a dream - an impossibility. An inevitability. Something painful to stare at, something that warranted being stared at. Over the past couple of months, Ronan had experimented with this again - not bringing forward general things like hand creams and motorcycles that never needed refuelling or boars that floated overhead or cats with hands - but rather with dream material itself. Gansey called it “the madness” when Ronan brought it up again. Adam agreed that this was an apt name. Ronan, who was tired of falling apart, had decided to only bring forth pieces of madness from his most joyous dreams and destroy any that came from nightmares. He was going to create something wonderful and divine, something useful, something fun, something—
It was the fabric of dreams themselves. Or the metal. Or the atomic structure. Ronan didn’t know. Sometimes, he brought back big pieces that looked like sky or moss or space or when you examine a piece of cloth under an intense microscope or maybe the cell of an organism or—
And sometimes he brought back smaller pieces, barely an ounce, sometimes no bigger, no more real, no more permanent than a snowflake.
He created a mold and he poured the dreams into it. Just like he’d intended, the dreams filled the mold and over time - could have been minutes or maybe a day - under the right kind of light - a bit of moon, a bit of sun - they began to solidify. Ronan lifted out the first sword and held it up to be drenched in thunder. It absorbed the sound down to the hilt. When lightning flashed, the sword glinted with a victorious joy. The madness made the sword a further inevitability. This sword was gifted to Adam though ‘gifted’ wasn’t an accurate word because when Adam took the hilt, the sword became a part of him, like the roots of trees, like the Earth, like Lindenmere, like timelessness. Adam had grinned such a wide grin of boyish delight, something he rarely wore.
Ronan forged a second sword and this one was placed on the roof of the old observatory in the mountains. The madness absorbed the essence of the sun and when night fell, it drank from the stars, too. This blade was darker, like onyx or obsidian. It glowed with a similar victorious joy as the first but in a more determined way, a more rooted-to-the-ground sort of way.
This sword of light became Ronan’s.
As Ronan let his fingers glide along the blade, the sword hummed at him in a melody he couldn’t place. The blades never needed actual cleaning. And the blades could cut or not cut. Ronan had leftover madness, too, that could be spread thin and shaped into something seemingly indestructible, something reflective and holographic, something that absorbed all light or vanquished it entirely—
Ronan wasn’t a consistently prayerful person but he did pray that night, the night of the creation of the madness. He wondered, as he wondered all the time, if he was working against God’s will, if he was using his abilities too much, if he was —
“I knew you’d be naked.” Adam’s voice cut through his thoughts. “Heads up.” He tossed Ronan a robe, which Ronan put on with intentional slowness. “Oh come on, I don’t have the time.” There was a smile in his voice though and Ronan finally tied the robe shut and the two of them marched out into the rain towards where Adam parked the motorcycle Ronan had dreamt him. They kept it beneath a small awning, and under a wrap even though, much like the swords, it repelled most dirt after a while.
As Adam was donning his helmet and securing his leather jacket, as they were saying good-bye, the rain stopped and the clouds parted again. A quick, Virginia dowsing.
Tamquam… alter idem.
A bare hand slipped from a gloved one and then…
Adam was gone.
He’ll be back. It’s only a six hour shift. He’ll be back.
He always comes back.
Opal came chittering out of the woods and Ronan, grateful for the distraction, scooped her up. She pattered on about something in the woods, probably involving dirt.
As they neared the farmhouse, Ronan set her down and she scampered off.
“Not too far!” he called after her.
The farmhouse was a gentle white with a wrap-around porch. It was nestled within a grove of trees and brush at the end of a really long, winding driveway. Google Earth didn’t have street view up here and for that, Ronan was glad. The Barns was four hundred acres, more or less, of rolling hills and forest. But really, the core of it was just the small cluster of buildings - the farmhouse, a couple of actual barns, a small warehouse, a couple sheds and animal coops.
Ronan slowed down as he approached his childhood home.
Something inside him went dangerously still.
There, in the mud, fresh as can be, were boot prints.
They were heading in the direction of the porch…
Adam and Ronan had both donned boots and headed out; Ronan could see their own prints walking away from the house.
Heart racing, Ronan followed the boot prints up the steps and onto the porch. They went through the front door.
They went through the front door. Someone had entered the farmhouse in the time it took for Adam and Ronan to drive to the boundary and say their good-byes and—
Ronan gingerly opened the screen door and immediately, his hand went for the fire poker he kept just inside, nestled in a little corner. He swung it up and, crouching a little, he made way into the house. He didn’t see Chainsaw or anything else alive . The boot prints, which were a little smaller than Adam and Ronan’s sizes, abruptly ended in the middle of the foyer, like the person vanished into thin air or…
…took off their fucking shoes, Ronan thought nastily. His lips curled into an unvoiced snarl. He was bristling.
He checked all the downstairs rooms, the living room, the kitchen, the dining room, the first study, the guest room, the bathroom, the closets and pantry… He checked underneath tables and behind curtains, even when hiding in such places were impossible given the amount of space available. He made his way upstairs, avoiding the three stairs that creaked, sidestepping to avoid creakiness on other stairs. Ronan paused at the top, nearly breathless with anticipation. He listened.
Not a sound but perhaps his own heart beat.
He checked his parent’s room, which still remained untouched, unspoiled, except for the messy duvet that Ronan sometimes crawled under when everything inside his head seemed too big and loud and angry. He checked the other guest room. He checked the second study. He checked Declan’s old room and Matthew’s.
As he headed towards his room, Ronan glanced up at the attic entrance. He had no interest in going up there and it didn’t seem like anyone had fiddled with the handle but he didn’t rule it out.
Gritting his teeth, he nudged his door open and raised the fire poker.
Nothing under the bed. Nothing in the closet. Nothing lurking in the dresser or behind anything else.
Ronan sat down on the edge of the bed. The blankets were still rumpled. He needed a shower. He was sweating. He was cold. He should check the attic. He didn’t want to check the attic. He slumped back onto the bed, earning himself a little hiss as one of his teeny dragons crawled out from under the blankets and spat a weak flame in his direction. The dragon’s tail, which had been swishing back and forth in annoyance, unfortunately caught flame and the dragon sulkily extinguished it before crawling resentfully under a pillow.
Eventually, Ronan made his way back downstairs.
He grabbed a sponge and a bucket to begin cleaning up the boot prints. He didn’t want them there when Adam came home. He wondered if he should snap a picture. He considered calling Declan. Gansey would insist on calling the police — actually, no, Gansey was no longer as proper as he used to be, he wouldn’t suggest the police. Not there at the Barns. They’d been there once already and it had been a nightmare within thirty nightmares within three hundred nightmares. Gansey knew better.
Ronan snatched his cell phone from the kitchen counter and snapped a picture of the remaining prints before wiping them away.
As he came to the front door, he went still again.
Ice trickled down his spine.
There was another set of boot prints of the same size and shape, freshly made, leading away from the house.
Whoever had been inside the house… had been inside the house and left…while Ronan had been checking the rooms.
How the FUCK
A little piece of paper shifted in the breeze near the steps. Ronan grabbed for it.
In big blocky letters, the paper said:
⫷⫷⫷⫷⫷⫷ ❖ ⫸⫸⫸⫸⫸⫸
“Sounds like a bitch and a half.” Ronan angled the papers towards him, scanning the harried writing before him. “So, you still wanna be a Masshole?”
The corners of Adam’s lips twitched. “It was my first choice. Now I’m on my second chance.” A cat with tawny fur leapt onto the table and began to shuffle some of Adam’s papers.
“Oh come on, not now—” Adam grabbed the papers out of handcat’s grasp. Handcat sat heavily on his rump, purring as Adam reluctantly gave him chin rubs. He met Ronan’s gaze. “I think there are ways you could still move in with me.”
Ronan was quiet for a while.
“Do you really want to leave Virginia so badly?”
It was something that had been on his mind for a long time, something that he’d only mentioned once before though the answer hadn’t been satisfactory.
Adam set his pen down thoughtfully. He wasn’t defensive though Ronan would have allowed cruelty because he knew the question had been cruel. “Are you really so hellbent on staying in Virginia? There’s a whole world open to us. We could… we could move to Australia, if we wanted. Once we—”
“—figure out the ley line problem,” Ronan finished. “You sound like Sargent. Or Dick. Or Cheng.” He paused. “Where on this fucking planet are they these days anyway?”
Adam sighed and filled in an answer to a question on the paper before him before answering. “Last I checked, they were in Kariba, Zimbabwe.”
Adam, not looking up, said mildly, “You wouldn’t want to visit Africa?”
The words no fucking way were on the edges of Ronan’s lips before he actually took half a second to think about them. He wasn’t actually opposed to going to Africa. He wasn’t opposed to leaving the Barns… at least, temporarily… to go anywhere in the world. But he was afraid, really, to explore and sure, part of it was the ley lines, the blackness that seeped from his eyes like ritualistic tears, that bled from his ears and nose and mouth, that greasy slick that rose up inside him, threatening to suffocate him—
Sure, that was part of it.
But, impossibly, the nightwash wasn’t all of it.
It was that Ronan didn’t know what he’d do in Africa. Or Asia. Or South America. Or Europe or even in Washington D.C. He’d told Declan and Adam at different points that he’d wanted to be a farmer and there had been a certain charm to that, yes, but it gradually fizzled. He didn’t understand how his father had set up the estate. He didn’t know tax law. He didn’t know how to do what adults were supposed to do.
It was all just another inevitability.
Ronan had, instead, handed all the paperwork over to Adam who’d looked over it throughout one night in exasperation. Seemed like Niall Lynch hadn’t really known how to handle an estate either, especially not a dreamt one. Adam had made copies of the documents, but altered names and locations and descriptions, and let a Harvard buddy of his - Gillian, maybe, or Eliott, or maybe Dayne or Zayne or whatever the other guy’s name was, someone Adam had met later on - look over the papers and they, too, had been stumped. This buddy, who went to Wharton and majored in corporate and estate law, had handed the documents back to Adam weeks later with a shake of their head, saying they had no idea how anything in the paperwork was legit. Then they’d asked if this was a purely hypothetical situation and when Adam nodded, this buddy of his went on a rant about how much was wrong with it.
Ronan was afraid of what that meant.
And within that fear came the awful, obstinate refusal to leave the Barns property for too long - months, for example. It was as though he didn’t trust the property to not be found, to not be repossessed - or possessed? Since it had never belonged to anyone before? - by banks.
And a million other things.
The Barns was their safe place, their safe haven, their place to dream and be whoever they wanted to be together.
But Adam’s unvoiced statement was right: it was no place to grow as a human.
Or rather, it was currently unfit for growth and the process to make it fit was out of their skill range.
Ronan was doomed to remain trapped at the Barns for the rest of his life. As a child, he would have found this delightful. As an adult, he felt the weight of it. Pretty, whimsical, safe cages were still cages after all.
And he flatly refused to place that weight upon Adam’s shoulders, too - at least, not all of it. He wouldn’t hold Adam back, no matter what .
At some point, Adam excused himself from the table to run upstairs and grab a textbook. Ronan had just come back from a restless drive at breakneck speeds and he glanced down at the spread of papers on the table. Intern applications, grad school pamphlets, summer assignments, tax documents and bank statements. Something glinted from between the papers, a silvery corner stuck out.
Interested piqued, Ronan nudged the silvery paper out from underneath the other papers and when he did, his mouth went dry.
It was cardstock with silver edges.
It was a memorial card.
Ronan had seen it before because he’d kept one for months after… but it had become so crumpled in his wallet that he eventually burnt it to a crisp. Just sat in his BMW on one of the hundreds of unpaved roads in or near Henrietta… and stared at the face on the card until his fingers burned and he dropped the remnants out the window.
But this one was pristine. Brand new.
The face stared at him, those black eyes threatening to rip him apart.
He silently read the name on the card, over, and over, and over.
He let his eyes gaze over the name written in a Cyrillic alphabet just below it.
He let his eyes rove over the poem below that, a poem also written with a Cyrillic alphabet.
Ronan hadn’t gone to the funeral but he’d heard a little about it. With all his elitism, Gansey had attended. It was mostly out of courtesy probably, or maybe there was a little guilt. Ronan couldn’t hold himself together for a funeral. Not after Matthew—
Ronan was about to drop the card onto the top of Adam’s papers so Ronan could confront him but Adam came rushing down the stairs just then, two textbooks under one arm, and his other hand holding up a shiny pair of handcuffs. Ronan pocketed the memorial card.
“New toy?” Adam asked, with an eyebrow raise. “I thought rope was more your style.”
Adam’s expression dropped into pensiveness. “That’s what I’d figured. But these were upstairs.”
“They’re not mine.”
Adam tossed them onto the table. “They’re not mine, Lynch. They were on my pillow on our bed.”
Ronan felt that same shiver down his spine that he’d felt when he’d seen the boot prints several weeks earlier. “I don’t own handcuffs, Parrish .” Adam settled back into his chair and shrugged.
“Maybe Opal got into something she shouldn’t have.”
It was a weak statement and Adam didn’t seem like he believed it either.
“They’re not mine.”
A muscle in Adam’s jaw twitched. He stared hard at Ronan for a second or two before turning his gaze to the papers on the table. “I don’t really have time for more mysteries right now. It’s bad enough that I’ve been feeling some slight disturbances in the ley line again.”
Ronan took the cuffs. The cold of the metal clashed with the heat of his guilt and shame. “What kind of disturbances?”
Deflated, Adam shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve just been taking drives between work to fix areas that are weak. Usually, it’s just turning over a stone or moving a small log. But the fix is temporary. I’ll let you know when I have more information.”
The shame burnt in Ronan’s throat. He was struggling to speak so he said nothing. The air was stifling. He stalked out of the dining room and into the kitchen and leaned over the sink trying to get a hold on his breathing.
The note with the boot prints.
The memorial card.
Ronan had dealt with a lot of ghosts in his short lifespan.
He wasn’t ready to deal with the ghost of Joseph Kavinsky.
Fingers traced the lines in his tattoo. Ronan’s breathing, which had been hitched, agitated, began to slow. His pulse fluttered as a non-drowsy drowsiness overtook him. He could feel the dream drug seeping through his veins, circling organs, rubbing its way into muscle aches and pains, drowning bruises and drowning anguish. He was being dunked in an ocean but where the nothingness consumed everything that ate of him, instead of himself. Water, or something like water, rushed into his lungs, but instead of causing his insides to burn with suffocation, he was filled with a lightness and a joy and a lust that had no words.
Kavinsky was there with him, deep below the ocean surface. It was as though he and Ronan were drowning in slow motion. Without the pain. He didn’t have his sunglasses. He was just large, deep-set eyes, razor cheek bones, lips that always seemed one muscle movement away from a sneer. They were close. And then Ronan felt a hand between his legs and he leaned forward, his forehead pressed into Kavinsky’s shoulder. The hand moved faster, more urgently, and Ronan’s breath came out in a soft stream of bubbles. He wasn’t sure if he was feeling the heat from Kavinsky’s body or imagining it. It didn’t matter because the heat was building inside of him and Kavinsky’s hand was skilled and thorough and firm and—
Ronan bolted upright. Something clattered to the hardwood floor. He threw aside the blanket, feeling the cool air turn his skin to gooseflesh. The front of his briefs were wet. The clock on his nightstand read: 6:21 A.M. Adam’s space was cool to the touch, which meant he’d left for work a while ago, probably his warehouse job. Ronan put his head in his hands.
Why the hell was this coming up now?
He should tell Adam.
The note. The card. The cuffs.
No. There was no point in worrying Adam about ghosts of the past. Kavinsky was dead. It wasn’t his fault. Memories of the dragon diving through Kavinsky’s thin form—
Sirens— [MATTHEW! Please—]
[Ronan, please just—]
Don’t go. Please don’t go, Ronan. It wasn’t your fault.
His family won’t want to see you.
Family? Family? What family? Prokopenko was dead. Kavinsky’s father was dead, his mother constantly doped up, no siblings to speak of— The Dream Pack didn’t care—
Lights, flashing lights
[ MATTHEW! Where the fuck is my brother? WHERE THE FUCK IS MY BROTHER?! ]
Ronan’s head pounded. It was nothing. It was nothing. It was nothing. Just processing of old unresolved traumas and horrors. That sounded like something Parrish would say.
No point in bringing it up.
Kavinsky was dead.
So was Cabeswater.
So was everything that had to do with him.
It was over. It was done.
Ronan shook himself. He was being watched. He turned around. For a moment, large dark eyes made his heart skip a beat but the feeling was fleeting. Opal was peering around the door jamb at him. He playfully threw a shoe at her but the throw went wide and missed her by several feet.
“I’m fine.” He did not sound fine.
She blinked at him.
“I’m fine,” he repeated. “I’ll see you downstairs for breakfast.” When she still didn’t move, he added, “Scram.” She finally darted away and Ronan sighed. When he stood to stretch, his foot sent something skittering across the floor.
Ronan’s eyes fell upon the object. His veins turned to ice. He bent down to pick it up - Kavinsky’s glasses. One lens was cracked. Water droplets stubbornly clung to the dark lenses. Ronan stared at them, seeing his own fear-induced anger reflected within them. He thumbed a water droplet and, without thinking, brought his thumb to his lips.
No fucking way.
It wasn’t a dream object.
It had none of the feelings of Lindenmere.
Ronan hadn’t been all that accurate when he thought Cabeswater was dead.
Cabeswater was not actually dead.
It had simply been reborn.
Kavinsky though… Kavinsky was definitely dead.
So why was he filled with so much doubt…
He was dead . Ronan had watched it happen. About a dozen or so other people had seen it happen. Blue, Gansey… Several people had had their cell phones raised, recording. And later, when Ronan went on youtube to try to find videos of the incident, he’d only come across one. It wasn’t high quality, like it had come from a Nokia, and it had been hard to distinguish what was going on, especially if you hadn’t been there. But Ronan had recognised the fiery reds of Kavinsky’s dragon and the trailblazing blinding white of the albino night horror. The video ended when the dragon dove towards Kavinsky, who was only a shadow in the footage. Ronan must have watched the video a thousand times.
The next day, the video was gone. Taken down. Ronan had tried everything.
But no one said anything to him. Declan said he didn’t know anything. Blue and Gansey tiptoed around him. Adam had come forth once, demanding to know what happened, but Ronan had shut him down and Adam had shrugged and changed the subject.
Ronan turned the glasses over in his hands.
Gritting his teeth, he went around the bed, grabbed a towel, and headed to the bathroom to shower.
Summer nights in Virginia were Ronan Lynch’s glory. They were hot, humid, sometimes buzzing with bugs and the electricity of an oncoming heat storm. Once upon a time, these nights had been reserved solely for street racing and drinking. Nights that used to sometimes end with him sleeping on floor of Adam’s tragic apartment at St. Agnes. Now, Adam lived with him, and things had progressed exactly as Ronan had hoped, and St. Agnes was only a weekend memory. Except for when he needed to confess. Or ask for guidance without curious eyes.
It was one of those nights. A night of convolution and contradiction and all that craziness that sometimes crawled through the crevices of one’s brain and turned all thoughts into internal battles against each other. Honestly, Ronan didn’t really know what he was doing at St. Agnes. He hadn’t been there in forever for confession. And he hadn’t been there after hours in… a long time.
It wasn’t that late. Not even midnight yet. Adam was doing an overnight shift somewhere, probably the overnight stocking shift at Safeway in Culpeper. He wouldn’t be home till around 8 AM most likely.
The church smelled of smoke and hickory and brass. It was stark, quiet, save for the creaks and groans that come with old buildings and St. Agnes was one of the oldest still standing in Henrietta. Ronan preferred sitting in the second or third pew so he could lean on the back of the pew ahead of him and bow his head and steeple his fingers, which he did.
His prayers were often mixes of Latin and English; Latin for as much as he could and then English for the parts that were beyond his schooling.
He didn’t know when he drifted off.
Adam slid into the pew next to him. Ronan blinked blearily at him.
“I’m fine,” he said, an automated response. “I just needed to clear my head.”
Adam gazed at him but said nothing, simply touched his hands. Ronan took one of those hands and put the fingers to his lips. He wanted to tell Adam about everything that was in his head. The familiar guilt that rose up from Kavinsky’s death. All the questions Ronan had. Even the remnants of desire, dying embers of a wildfire. Ronan kissed Adam’s fingers and felt that thrill: he could do this before God. God did not hate him for loving Adam. God might disdain Ronan’s dreaming, but He hadn’t exactly done anything about it… yet.
The candles Ronan had lit were starting to go dim; they cast dangerous shadows across the altar, across the apse.
Adam cupped Ronan’s hand and pulled it slowly towards him as he angled himself in the pew, one leg bent against the back of the pew, the other on the floor. He placed Ronan’s hand on his crotch and the thrill Ronan felt moments before turned into shock laced with shame laced with adrenaline.
“Parrish, this is…”
Adam’s eyes met his. In the fireflicker of the candlelight, his eyes glinted with a green neon stripe across the irises. “Shhhhhhh…”
Adam unzipped his pants and began to pull them down. Ronan’s veins ran hot.
It wasn’t long until they were naked. The wood was mildly cool against their skin. Jesus watched from the altar.
“Shhhhh,” was all Adam said. When he entered Ronan, it was pain and bliss and sin and atonement.
Adam wasn’t consistent and he pushed hard into Ronan, so hard that Ronan felt he was going to split into two. It reminded Ronan of when Adam had bad days and how sometimes the only reprieve was just taking Ronan hard and fast. Adam would collapse beside him and they’d kiss and cuddle until…
Until the pain of existence was manageable.
The bed rocked against the wall with every thrust. Ronan went to kiss Adam and reeled in shock. He was wearing the sunglasses - the cracked ones Kavinsky had worn—
His arms were spotted with tattoos—
His shirt was a muscle tee that hugged his body—
A body that wasn’t Adam’s—
Adam wasn’t Adam—
Ronan opened his mouth to protest, but all that came out was a groan of pleasure, and maybe a hiss that sounded something like fuck yes.
“Is this how you like it?” Kavinsky asked between pants. “You like him all rough and deep inside you? Like this?”
Ronan couldn’t tell if he was in shock, if he was awake or asleep, if he was drugged or sober, but it didn’t matter: his hands found Kavinsky’s shoulder blades, his legs wrapped around Kavinsky’s waist, his lips found Kavinsky’s lips. Kisses like barbed wire, blunted nails scraping red lines into skin, Kavinsky’s cock hitting something sweet inside Ronan. Keep going, keep going, keep going —
He came with a cry and bolted upright in bed.
He was home.
Adam was sitting up beside him, watching him with a raised eyebrow.
Ronan glanced away, his face hot. “It wasn’t—”
“I’m gonna…” Ronan nodded towards the bathroom. He didn’t finish what he was saying. And he didn’t undress before he jumped into the boiling spray. Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.
“Are you going to tell me what’s going on?”
Ronan shot Adam a scowl and finished hammering the nail into the board. A small, purple dragon nuzzled his ankle. “What’s to tell?”
“Perhaps why you’re suddenly dreaming about Joseph Kavinsky?”
There wasn’t a tone of accusation. Adam was using his factual, neutral, let’s-be-civil voice. Sometimes, this voice did everything it needed to do and calmed Ronan down. But sometimes, it just made Ronan angrier. This was neither of those.
“How do you know?”
“You said his name in your sleep. You’ve been saying it a lot lately, actually.”
You said his name. Not you moaned his name or you cried out his name. Was Adam aware of the sexual nature of the dreams? He had to be, right, sleeping next to him almost every night?
“What did I say about Joseph Kavinsky?”
Adam rolled his eyes and folded his arms over his chest. “You said he would only be brought up if—”
“ —if I needed to talk about him and I really fucking don’t.”
“Are you sure?”
Ronan hit the nail so hard, it went straight through the wood and caused a crack, which then caused Ronan to swear up and down. Adam waited patiently.
“Yeah, I’m fucking sure. It doesn’t matter anyway because Kavinsky’s dead.”
Ronan turned around sharply at that last question but Adam was nowhere to be seen. “...Parrish?” A chill ran through him. He fished out his phone. 6:21 PM. Adam was at Boyd’s. Adam had been at Boyd’s for the last hour, at least. What the fuck is happening to me?
He spent the next hour and a half wandering around the property, picking up rusted metal pieces and tossing them into a pile. When he was done with the metal, he took a wheelbarrow and began to gather up the miscellaneous pieces of chopped wood. He wheeled this over to the side of the house and neatly arranged the wood pieces atop the pieces leftover from last winter. Then he covered up the pile with a tarp. As he was returning the wheelbarrow to its proper resting spot, and giving Gasoline a last task as the sky turned lavender, Shitbox pulled up the driveway and parked. Adam got out, looking a little worse for wear. But his face broke into a smile when he saw Ronan coming towards him.
They embraced and Ronan kissed and nuzzled Adam’s neck, tasting sweat and remnants of gasoline.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered.
Adam raised an eyebrow. “For…?”
“What do you think?”
Adam a raised a brow, lips forming a partial smile. “Look, I’m glad you’re having satisfying sex dreams. Just don’t forget about me.”
Ronan frowned. “You’re not…”
“We’ve had this conversation, remember? I know you’re capable of dreaming whatever fantasies to life when you sleep. I’m not jealous of your dream creations.”
Well. Ronan wasn’t going to bring up Kavinsky if Adam didn’t.
But the peace was short-lived. As they waltzed up the stairs and entered the house, Adam went, “Whoa, what the hell?” the same time Ronan went, “what…the… fuck …”
Hundreds, thousands, of leather bracelets were scattered across the floor, the furniture, the countertops - the same leather bands that Ronan still wore.
“You need to tell me what’s going on.”
“Fuck all if I know.”
They didn’t talk about Kavinsky until the next day. Ronan needed space as he cleaned up the bracelets and Adam respected that as he helped. It was a tedious job - bracelets were stuck behind sofas, underneath chairs, wrapped around decorations, stuffed in the toaster, scattered throughout the fridge and freezer, including the large meat freezer in the basement. The upstairs was mostly untouched but there were bracelets in their bed, which made Ronan hot with rage. Whoever had done this had violated something deeply personal. It was one thing for invasion to be kept to nightmares and fantasies. It was another thing when…
…when people he loved also felt the effects, when people he loved were dragged into this shit with him. The shame was suffocating. The humiliation. The fucking embarrassment.
Ronan had stood on the porch and shouted into the muggy, Virginia air: “This is MY property and you aren’t fucking invited here!” He was going to say more, perhaps something about murder, but Adam had appeared at his side, slipped a hand into his and led him back inside. They ate a late dinner in bed while watching stupid videos on Ronan’s phone. Adam ended their night with a blowjob and fell asleep almost immediately.
Ronan’s insomnia hadn’t been as much of a problem since… Glendower. Since… that last summer when they were all together. Since Adam came home from Harvard. But when Ronan went to tuck his head into the pillow, he felt something hard and leathery beneath it and shakily pulled out another pair of bracelets. He could have sworn he and Adam had turned the bed inside out trying to find all the bracelets and remove them.
He didn’t sleep at all that night.
Adam didn’t wake up until noon and Ronan didn’t get out of bed until about the same time. He just lay awake, listening to Adam’s snores, letting them lull his racing heart.
“Do you want me to check first?” came Adam’s first groggy comment of the day.
Ronan scowled, sat up and threw a pillow at him. Adam laughed, a wheezy, throaty laugh that made Ronan toss another pillow at him, which gave him the desired effect of Adam laughing even more.
“Blow me,” Adam said.
When Ronan paused, Adam, still laughing, said, “No, I mean it. I’ve got a tent here.”
It was closer to 1 PM when they made it downstairs. Ronan sighed in relief.
No boot prints.
Maybe today would be a normal day.
Maybe last night was the last—
The temperature in the dining room must have dropped ten degrees.
When Ronan approached the dining room table, he saw what it was Adam was staring at.
It was the entirety of the Lynch Estate.
Not just the files Adam had, not just the Will, not just the bank statements and tax documents that had come with it. But tax audit notes from the IRS. Satellite images of the property over the years. Photos of Aurora. Photos of Niall. Boarding tickets. Arrest warrants. Traffic violations. Housing violations. Ronan saw his name, saw Matthew’s name, saw Declan’s name.
“There are seven housing corporations interested in this property,” Adam said, as he read over a file. He set it slowly back on the table. “Ronan, these are all just copies. Someone else has the originals.” He looked over at Ronan, saw a ghost. “The government knows something is fishy about this property, about your family. Look, they’re closing in on you. You can’t just make twenty million dollars appear out of nowhere and not find some way to … legitimize it.”
“To make it clean,” Ronan said quietly. “They think this is a money laundering scheme or something.”
“Satellite images,” Adam said, lifting them up and examining them. Several had pictures of the Barns so recent, Adam’s mess of a car could even be seen parked outside. “Over the last twenty years. These aren’t just Google Earth images. These are… These… Your father wouldn’t have known, I guess, to protect the Barns from such things and—”
“ —neither did I.” Ronan opened up a piece of lined paper that looked like it had been ripped out of a notebook.
In familiar, blocky writing, a sentence was written: “I know you, I’ve been inside your head, remember?”
Ronan dropped the paper to the table and Adam stared at it.
“He’s dead. We know he’s dead. There was a funeral.” Ronan felt the heat in his veins again and he had to sit.
“If he’s dead, then who’s doing this? And how are they able to get past the Barns security?”
“Or another dreamer.”
Ronan looked up sharply. “I don’t…”
Adam slid into the chair across from him. “Someone has been investigating you. And someone else wanted you to know you’re being investigated to… to make you feel threatened? To warn you? It doesn’t feel like a polite friendly warning to me though. It feels like blackmail, only we don’t know what the goal is, what they want in return.”
Ronan held up the note. “This is Kavinsky’s handwriting. He was always reminding me of how well he knew me because he’d… because we’d shared dreams.”
Adam flipped open the laptop that was on the table, the one he and Ronan shared for dealing with budgets and expenses. Adam typed in a few things and turned the laptop around to face Ronan. There it was: Joseph Kavinsky’s obituary, written by some relative of his in New Jersey, half in English, half in Cyrillic. It was brief. Almost angry in tone.
“You don’t look convinced.”
Ronan didn’t reply so Adam typed some more things into the search engine.
“He wasn’t buried in Henrietta,” he said. “He was buried in a cemetery in New Jersey.”
“Are you suggesting we graverob?”
Adam shrugged. “There was a funeral. There’s an obituary. There’s a damn family plot with his name on it. I’m checking his social media and he even has relatives and friends who posted about it. I can’t read everything because only half of it is in English; I’m assuming the rest is Bulgarian. But clearly everyone thinks he’s dead. Everyone but you.”
“I’ve been dreaming about him for a month.”
Adam stared. Ronan felt the weight of the confession.
“So, maybe you manifested a dream version out of some sense of misplaced guilt? Unresolved emotions from a traumatic situation?”
“No, I—” but Ronan couldn’t continue. What if Adam was right? The dream at St. Agnes… and he couldn’t ask Adam if he’d gone to St. Agnes because Adam had been working that night. He wouldn’t be able to provide any proof.
“You are going to tell me everything.”
“Fuck. Okay. Okay.” Ronan ran a hand over his scalp. “Last month—”
“No.” Adam’s voice was a knife that cut across his. “I want you to start with when Kavinsky figured out you were a dreamer.”
Ronan’s throat went dry. He hadn’t told anyone about all of that. He’d kept things simple and vague. When he was being questioned, his answers were plain, infallible. “Fine. All right.”
Ronan meandered down the driveway. Fireflies lit up fields, brushes and brambles, and tree canopies. If the trees didn’t canopy over the driveway, he knew he could look up and see all the stars. The night was clear and alive and calming. He was only being bitten up a little bit and only the smallest spots of sweat caused a shimmery gleam to appear upon his skin.
It was a long walk to the end of the private road to the edge of the Barns boundary but Ronan took it at an even pace. He didn’t want to build up too much of a sweat. In a way, something inside him told him he was delaying gratification in order to increase the gratification when it came. That something inside him knew him well because as he neared the end, his whole body was becoming super charged, like he’d drank enough liquor to get tipsy, like he took all the right drugs that made him ultra sensitive to the air, to the touch of the soft breeze that caressed the tree leaves and Ronan’s face. The heat inside him was growing, setting his veins and chest and groin on fire, but the kind of fire Ronan relished, the kind that caused all the right sorts of agony. One touch across the right piece of skin and Ronan would explode into a million burning stars.
A glamorous car was idling at the boundary, just on the outside, just out of range of the dream security. The car was a work of art but Ronan couldn’t process it, couldn’t name it. It was sleek curves and angry angles and glaring headlights. It was pearly or opalescent or maybe the colors shifted like the paint was holographic or iridescent. The tires were obnoxious and striped like those mint candies diners gave out. The passenger side door opened forward and then vertically and Ronan peered inside. The inside was a lot like the outside. The seats were unconventional, curved, like something one would see in fucking StarTrek. Ronan dropped gracelessly into the seat. It seemed to curve with his body, like it was molding itself to suit his needs. Ronan deliriously wondered if the car would take care of a certain need between his legs and then laughed out loud at his own stupidity.
“What’s so funny?”
Ronan looked over at the young man in the white muscle tee. He noticed that the young man had the same needs as Ronan and laughed at that, too.
Kavinsky shook his head in disgust.
“Nice car,” Ronan said.
Kavinsky grinned at that. “The perks of being able to dream anything you want in life, Lynch. Taking concept cars and turning them into reality… voila!” He drummed his hands on his knees as there was no steering wheel and laughed at himself before turning back to Ronan. He unbuttoned his pants and pulled out his penis, hard and almost painful to look at. Ronan turned away, swallowing.
“Damn, Lynch, is that how you greet an old friend? Give me some love, huh? I might return the favor.”
Ronan frowned. There was something he was supposed to be doing, someone he should be talking to… He glanced at Kavinsky’s crotch. Looked Kavinsky in the face. Had he always looked like that? Wasn’t this just a dream version? New and improved? Ronan glanced away again.
“Show me yours.”
Ronan made a derisive noise. But, without thinking about it, he obliged, pulling his penis through the slit in his boxers. He was bigger and thicker than Kavinsky but it didn’t matter. They weren’t competing. Not about that.
Kavinsky leaned towards him and Ronan bent in, too, to take the kiss but right before they kissed, Ronan felt a hand on the back of his neck urging him down. Ronan shifted onto his knees and again, felt the seat mold to his comfort. He leaned over the middle console and allowed Kavinsky to push his head down further. Ronan took his penis between his lips.
Kavinsky was crowing about something, alternating between bouts of “let me in, baby doll, let me in” and “fuck, your mouth belongs on my cock” and various iterations of both. He was going on about how good Ronan was, how much practice he must’ve had between Gansey and Parrish, how Ronan owed him this at the very least, how Ronan was such a good dog, how—
Kavinsky held Ronan’s head as he came, filling up Ronan’s mouth, causing him to sputter.
“Swallow it all, baby. There ya go. Drink it up. Suck me dry dry dry.”
When Ronan sat back up, he licked his lips. Something ugly curled in the pit of his stomach but it was at war with lust. Ronan wanted to do it again. He wanted to do more. He was so hard. He looked over at Kavinsky who stared back.
“No, I’m not helping you. Fuck outta here.”
“I said I might return the favor. Pay attention to the small print, Lynch.”
Ronan glowered but Kavinsky was unperturbed.
“Didja let me in?” Kavinsky asked.
Ronan frowned and then sat up. He was on the porch swing and the night was quiet.
What the fuck was all that—
His jaw felt sore and there was a strange taste lingering upon his tongue. He tried swallowing a few times but it stubbornly remained. Guilt bit at his insides. Parrish isn’t jealous of your dream fantasies; it’s okay, it’s okay… It wasn’t real, it wasn’t…
But the headlights appearing down the driveway were certainly real. Ronan jumped to his feet.
Shit Jesus Mary—
Kavinsky’s new car rolled into view and as it came closer, Ronan could make out the huge, glowing Mercedes logo on the front bumper, an odd clash with its futuristic design. Kavinsky parked and slipped out of the car, slick as oil. He was wearing that same muscle tea, those same jeans, only this time he donned a white suit jacket and those trademark white aviator glasses, the ones Ronan had a copy of upstairs. Strapped over one shoulder was a thick, white leather briefcase.
“Take one step further and I swear to everything you believe in, I will put a hole between your eyes.”
Adam had appeared silently at Ronan’s side and he was shouldering one of the dozens of rifles Niall Lynch had kept. Looking large and formidable, Chainsaw perched on the other shoulder.
Kavinsky smiled broadly, held out his arms, and said, “Then that would definitely make you guilty of murder and I don’t think that would be a good risk to take right now… now would it?”
“Parrish,” Ronan hissed.
Kavinsky approached them and Ronan felt satisfaction at Kavinsky’s reaction to getting mud on his shoes. He stopped several feet away from the bottom of the stairs and gazed up at them. “Y’know, I never woulda placed any bets on you, Parrish. Gansey is more his type, dontcha think?”
Adam snorted. “Gansey is everyone’s type. And I’m glad to hear I would have lost you money.”
Kavinsky tilted his head to the side. “I almost don’t believe you’re real. You two should make out and prove it to me.” His grin hid a level of maliciousness neither of them missed.
“Tell us what you want and I’ll reconsider shooting you.”
Kavinsky stepped onto the bottom stair. “I don’t believe that for even a teensy, tiny whittle second.” Another stair. “Besides, you’d upset your boyfriend.” The last stair. He took a few steps towards Adam and pressed himself against the end of the barrel. Held out his arms again. “Well? Whatchya waitin’ for, huh?” When Adam still didn’t lower the gun, Ronan put his hand on it and Adam finally stepped back. Chainsaw made a noise of disdain.
“Let’s go in, shall we?” Kavinsky continued, opening the screen door and allowing himself inside first. Adam and Ronan exchanged angry glances and then followed suit. Chainsaw flew up to a perch near the ceiling to watch. Kavinsky was holding the door open from inside and when Ronan passed him, he whispered, “Can you still taste me?” Then he patted Ronan’s face, laughed, and shut the door behind them.
Ronan grabbed a six pack of beer and set it on the table. He and Adam both grabbed one and snapped them open. Kavinsky eyed the alcohol distastefully and instead, lifted his briefcase onto the table. He pulled out a thick stack of papers and folders. In the dining room light, Ronan could get a clearer look at Kavinsky and he hardly resembled a phantom. His skin was less sallow than he'd remembered, like Kavinsky had actually achieved some healthy modicum of Vitamin D. His hair was thicker, fuller, glossier. He had more tattoos but Ronan couldn't see what they were. His eyes had a single streak of bright green in each iris.
“How are you alive?” Ronan blurted out.
Kavinsky shrugged. “That’s not really important.”
“Fucking hell it is! I saw you die. You had a fucking funeral, a fucking obit, a—”
“Oh yeah,” Kavinsky said. “Did you like the Memorial Card?”
“How did you get past the dream security? How did you get in the house?”
“Oooohh-hoo-hoo! Is Parrish your guard dog, Lynch? What, have you been neutered?” Kavinsky swiped his tongue across his teeth. “All right, all right. Dream security. You call that security? Oh, baby girl, that was just a Tuesday for someone like me.” And then he pouted. “Until you changed something. You changed something recently and I couldn’t get in.”
Ronan shot Adam a look. “I didn’t change shit.”
“I did,” Adam said coldly. “You invaded our home.” Our home. Ronan felt dizzy hearing that, elated, overjoyed, much too happy for the current situation.
Kavinsky nodded emphatically. “Oh yeah, that I did.” He seemed proud of this. “Nice little life here you two set up. Too bad the government is getting all suspiiiiicious about it.”
Ronan almost launched himself across the table. “What did you do?!”
Kavinsky pushed himself away from Ronan’s hands. “Me? I didn’t do shit—”
“I don’t fucking believe you.”
“He didn’t,” Adam said. “You can tell he didn’t, Ronan. Some of the audits and notes and tax work goes back to when the Barns was first created. He built a house on property that was being contested by several developers and then one day, they disappeared. The developers stopped showing interest in the land even though they'd been feuding over it via the courts for a decade or more. There are incidents like that all throughout its history. I’m sure your father pissed off a whole lot of people and most of them were just moral enough to not resort to murder.”
“The boot prints were you?”
Kavinsky nodded. “Check.”
“The Memorial Card.”
Ronan snarled. “What was the purpose of the handcuffs? Wistful thinking?”
Kavinsky’s smirk matched Ronan’s snarl. “Oh, no, sweetheart, that wasn’t wistful thinking. Those were the cuffs the police used on you after I—” and he said this next part with a bit of theatrics, “ —faked my death through fire and flame. Oh, don’t look at me like that, man. You know how easily Henrietta cops are paid off; it didn’t take much effort.”
“Oh, that one should be easy. I made thousands of them a while ago and stuffed all the mistakes into a trash bag and shoved it in one of the junkyards. Turned out, no one ever got around to seeing what was in the bag.”
“How did you get the files on the Lynch affairs?” Adam inquired before Ronan could inject something nasty into the conversation. The conversation was also nasty enough without additional commentary.
Kavinsky winked. “I have my ways.”
“You’re going to tell us.”
Kavinsky was quiet for a long time, staring at Adam like he was sizing him up, gearing up for a fight. He rested his elbows on the table and said, “I’m a Kavinsky, Parrish. Where I come from, that means something. Where I come from, it earns me certain…privileges.”
“Even for a dead kid?”
Kavinsky leaned back. “Tsk, tsk. Cold, Parrish. Yes, even for a dead kid.”
“Why the fuck are you here?” That was Ronan.
“We finally arrive at the point! All right, dumbfucks, here’s the deal. Right in these papers.” He shoved the stack from his briefcase across the table. “You’ll need more than a single night to look through those.”
Adam took the stack and immediately began flipping through. “I don’t get it. Who cares about a bunch of CEOs and British Royalty?”
“You may not care about them but he does.” Kavinsky jabbed a thumb in Ronan’s direction. “You get me what I want and I’ll give you them.”
Kavinsky laughed, a little surprised this time. “Sounds like you and Lynch are overdue for some, uh, intrapersonal review sessions." The grin showed up again, smug, self-important, knowing. He slammed his fists ont he table and stood up. "This was too fucking boring for me and I’ve got places to be so think it over. I’ll give you seven days. Lynch, walk me to my car.” He grabbed his briefcase and was out the door before Adam or Ronan could protest. With a stream of curses, Ronan jogged after him.
“There’s more where this came from,” Kavinsky drawled after Ronan caught up to him. “You want to save the planet, don’t you?”
“Since when did you become an environmentalist?”
Kavinsky shrugged, pretended to be offended. “What, like I couldn’t do something nice for the world?” His following grin was sloppy, cocky, filled with toothy contradictions. Then, with surprising strength and agility, Kavinsky shoved Ronan into the hood of the Mercedes. Pain shot up one of Ronan’s wrists and he felt Kavinsky behind him. It would be so easy to shove Kavinsky off but Kavinsky began to grind himself against Ronan’s ass and Ronan was lit on fire yet again. He couldn’t stop the moan that escaped his lips as Kavinsky pinned his wrists to the iridescent metal, as Kavinsky rubbed his groin against Ronan’s ass.
It was all Ronan could do to keep himself from yanking down his boxers. He almost suffered a disappointed plea when Kavinsky pulled back, but then Kavinsky moved a hand along his inner thigh and up his boxer leg. No, he couldn't do this. Frustrated, full of teeth, Ronan shook Kavinsky's hand away.
“Do you want it?” Kavinsky whispered. "I'll fuck you right now. Why are you so easy these days? Back then, I couldn't do anything without drugging you."
"I'm not that much of a monster, Lynch. But you gotta admit, you've been begging for it since I showed up. Only now... your resistance has become so weak, it's really fucking pathetic. What happened, man? You want it, don't you?"
Ronan couldn’t answer. To answer would be to lie. He’d have to say no, he was with Adam. This wasn’t a dream. And he’d become the big liar he’d always been afraid of becoming. Kavinsky peered into Ronan's face, curious.
“One of these days, those cuffs will come in handy,” Kavinsky said.
“Get off me.”
“Not just yet.”
“Get the fuck off me.” Ronan pushed back and Kavinsky stumbled and Ronan faced him. “What the hell do you want from us?”
Kavinsky was right back up against him though, his abdomen pressed into Ronan’s, his hands on Ronan’s hips. And Ronan allowed it. The desire to fuck smashed the desire to fight to pieces.
“I am owed a lot in this world, Lynch. Help me get what I actually deserve and I will help you make the world a better place.” He leaned in, their lips less than inch apart. “I’ll even get you the protections you need to make this place safer, more legit in the eyes of the government of the United States of fucking America.” Kavinsky’s lips grazed Ronan’s jaw and then he was gone, lowering himself into the driver’s side of his car.
“What do you think you deserve?” Ronan demanded.
Kavinsky smiled, cheekbones razor sharp, eyes glinting dangerously. “Seven days. Save the dreamers, save the world.” He blew Ronan a mock kiss and then the door closed and he was revving out of the parking area and back down the driveway. Ronan watched until the lights disappeared.