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By the time Adam is rolling up the gravelled driveway to the main house of the Barns, night has entirely enveloped day in a soft black veil. The sky is cloudless and clear, the moon nearly full and casting a gentle shine along the wood slats of the house. Crickets sing chirping harmonies from the tall grass hugging the path to the porch as Adam makes his way to the front door. He slips his key into the lock, twists, turns the doorknob, and lets himself in.

It’s summer, and Adam has a key to the front door of Ronan’s home. He drops his keyring and wallet into the little wicker basket sitting on the table by the door, where they belong.

The door slides shut behind him as he makes his way further into the house, rubbing a hand over his face. He’s tired, but not exhausted. This difference is new, and can be attributed to working only one job instead of three—and that only being out of personal desire rather than vital necessity. A full ride awaits him on the other side of summer, but despite that surety Adam Parrish is a man of contingency plans, and having a little extra never hurt.

So, one job, for security. Tiredness from a good day’s work that would melt away from eight solid hours of sleep, not bone-deep exhaustion that persisted no matter how he snatched at restfulness. This difference is earned; deserved.

The halls are still, the rooms dark. Adam peeks into the bedrooms, the living room, the kitchen, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone inside. The only signs of life he finds are dishes in the kitchen sink that weren’t there when he’d left out this morning.

He notices through the screen door leading out from the kitchen to the back porch that the porchlight is on. He pushes outside and looks around, but there’s no Ronan leaning against the railing; no Opal making the porchswing sway back and forth dangerously fast; not even Chainsaw hopping along the floorboards, nipping at insects.

Adam is ambling down the steps, wondering idly where everyone had gone, when he sees a dark form laying in the grass just outside the haloed reach of the porchlight. He starts walking toward it, expecting it’s one of the many dream creatures that wander the grounds.

Or maybe—though hopefully not—it’s Opal; she has a penchant to curl up in the grass and under bushes to nap, something Ronan tried to train her out of without much success. The bargain they ended up making was to allow Opal to furnish her room indoors with plants Ronan brought out of his dreams for her. They gave off a gentle, mystical glow that bathed over the walls, and sang softly to help her sleep. She was still sometimes found nested under a tree somewhere out in the fields, but the familiarity of dream plants and closer access to Ronan was slowly coercing her into sleeping inside.

In any case, the form sprawled out in the grass is not Opal, nor any other dream creature, but the dreamer himself.

Ronan lay on his back, head pillowed on his arms, legs crossed at the ankle. The reaching tendrils of porchlight and the white luminescence of the moon faintly illuminate his face; his eyes are closed, and there’s a smudge of dirt along his cheekbone. Wildflowers are pressed up against his neck.

Every whirring gear in Adam’s head slowly spins to a standstill, every thought hushing down into silence. A warm breeze shifts through the grass. Adam feels the day slip off him like water droplets sliding down his skin. All he’s left with is this: the mellow sighs of the fields around him and the moonlight caressing his boyfriend’s slumbering face. The air is quiet, quiet, quiet.

Carefully, carefully, Adam lowers himself to the ground by inches. He hardly dares to breathe as he shuffles into place beside Ronan, close enough to see his face though apart enough to avoid accidentally touching.

How badly Adam wants to touch him— but he’d rather Ronan keep sleeping, peacefully and calmly. His chest rises and falls on even breaths. Ronan claims to sleep easier recently, and Adam does believe him, given that he has spent most nights pressed into Ronan’s deadweight as he snores on through his dreams. But he’s also there when dreams give way to nightmares; not of the magical crow-monster sort, but the regular kind, made of memories rather forgotten. Adam is no stranger to the idea of good sleep as a commodity, so he would never intentionally deprive Ronan of it unless he felt he were in danger.

The problem that often arises, though, is that despite how quiet and courteous Adam tries to be around a sleeping Ronan, he seems to be incredibly attuned to Adam’s presence at all times. It’s not so bad on days when he has work early since Ronan wakes with the sun to head out into the fields, but getting up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom always turns into a fight with a clingy, half-asleep farmer.

Adam watches as Ronan drifts into consciousness in stages long-familiar to him: First his brow slants downward, his peaceful expression pressing into something like confusion at being awake. Then he takes in a breath through his nose, chest expanding grandly, reanimating from a dead sleep. His tongue peeks out to wet his lips, then teeth bring his bottom lip into his mouth. He stretches, pops his spine. His eyelids gradually flutter open.

And then he tilts his head and looks at Adam. This is always the final step to Ronan’s ritualistic waking; Adam is the first thing his eyes set upon. Adam knows, because his gaze is always already on Ronan’s face.

It takes a moment for Ronan to get his bearings, to realize he fell asleep in the yard behind his house, that it’s night, that Adam is laying across from him. Adam watches this information fill in the blanks in Ronan’s mind, too.

When Ronan finally seems to be fully awake and aware, the first thing he says in a soft, sleep-thick voice is, “Adam.”

Adam’s heart shudders fiercely in his chest, as it always does. The annoyances of the day are a long-forgotten memory. There is now only this: tallgrass tickling against his arms and his boyfriend’s mouth curving upward on a smile.

“Hi,” Adam says, and reaches across the small distance toward Ronan with a hand, no longer resisting touch without good reason to. Ronan meets him halfway, fingers curling around his wrist, and brings Adam’s palm to his mouth. A kiss, two. Then he puts Adam’s hand on his cheek, laying his own over it, keeping it there.

“How was work?” Ronan asks, his eyes slipping closed again. He’s rubbing his thumb along Adam’s knuckles.

“It was work,” Adam says blithely, neither bitter nor particularly pleased. “How ‘bout you? Where’s Opal?”

Ronan immediately lets out a harsh sigh, the breath skittering along Adam’s skin. Something happened—something with Opal, particularly something troublesome, which possibly explains her absence. Adam smiles, already anticipating a hilarious story of whatever mess Opal got into today.

Adam moves his hand from Ronan’s cheek down to his shoulder and shuffles along the grass until his head is on Ronan’s chest. Ronan’s arm comes up around him and pulls him even closer. “Alright,” Adam says as he finishes cozying in, “tell me.”

Ugh,” says Ronan, and he starts on a long tirade about how Opal had wanted to help him milk and wash the cows today and ended up spooking the whole herd into a stampede because she tried to ride on one. Adam’s amused snorts evolve into cackles evolve into a stitch in his side from laughing at the image of Opal chasing galloping cows across the fields. Ronan pinches Adam’s nose for being so entertained because it wasn’t fucking funny, Parrish, I had to spend a whole hour getting the damn things back where they belong but Adam can tell he’s smiling even if he can’t see his face.

“So where is she now?” Adam asks once Ronan’s finished griping and he’s calmed his guffaws into snickers.

“Last I checked, she was snuggled up with the herd out in the pasture.”

“After all that, they accepted her?”

“Guess so.”

“Must be the hooves,” Adam suggests.

“Probably,” Ronan agrees.

They lapse into a familiar quiet.

It’s Adam’s bad ear that’s pressed against Ronan’s chest, so he can’t hear Ronan’s heartbeat but he can still feel it, thrumming a steady rhythm all around him. His own pulse begins to fall into step, their breathing already matched up. The two of them so often exist separately that their frequencies can slip out of time, but it only ever takes a breath and a heartbeat to slide back into sync. It’s a familiar comfort, an ever present bassline threaded through the erratic and unpredictable song of his life, constant and sure.

Adam shifts so that he can look up at the sky, falling into the endless black spanning out above them. Stars glitter brightly against the smooth darkness. Adam had never really had any interest in the stars before; he hadn’t had the time to consider such an idle thing as the beauty of the night sky. Now he wondered if he would miss the infinite stretch of evening when he moved away to a place where noise and air pollution filled the space that stars previously occupied.

“Do you know any constellations?” he asks quietly. He thinks he can see the Little Dipper— or was it the Big Dipper? One of the brighter dots in the sky was Venus, though he didn’t know which one. That was about the extent of his stellar knowledge.

“I know every single damn one,” Ronan replies. “Night and I are old pals.” That made sense to Adam, though the thought of Ronan whiling away the hours he couldn’t sleep staring out into the maw of night is a lonely one. Ronan goes on, “There’s even one named after you.”

“Really?” says Adam. He certainly doesn’t know a lot about constellations, but he’s never heard of one named Adam or Parrish.

“Yeah, look.” Ronan puts the hand not curled around Adam’s shoulder into the air, pressing his pointer finger against the black. Adam watches intently as Ronan draws out a connection amongst the stars. He heaves a snort when the shape turns into something vaguely phallic.

“Nice,” Adam says, amused. “Thinking about my dick, huh?”

The airborne hand comes down to flick Adam’s forehead. “No, it’s ‘cause you’re a dick.”

“Yeah, I got that incredibly nuanced insult, thanks.”

“No prob.”

Adam thinks that’s going to be the end of it, but Ronan puts his hand back up and starts connecting stars again, this time naming them as he goes. Adam had been right about the Little Dipper, at least. He tries desperately to burn the names and locations into his mind so he can find them later when he’s in some big city, to remember the way Ronan’s voice felt vibrating against him as he pointed out Orion’s Belt, Gemini, Aquarius.

Adam sighs, a little melancholy, and he says, “I like the stars.” He means I like that you’re giving this to me. He curls a hand into Ronan’s shirt, tethering.

“Uh,” says Ronan, lowering his hand, “yeah, they’re cool.”

Ronan knows he missed something in between his naming the constellations and Adam’s seemingly random statement. Adam can tell he knows. But Ronan doesn’t know how to ask about that gap, and Adam doesn’t know how to tell him the bridge connecting those moments is the fact that he’ll miss laying in itchy, bug-infested grass with his weirdly knowledgeable farmer boyfriend.

Instead, Adam says, “Tell me something you like.”

And Ronan, predictably, says, “What?”

Adam flips around and crosses his arms on top of Ronan’s chest, resting his chin there and looking his weirdly knowledgable, now very confused farmer boyfriend in the face. “I said I like the stars,” Adam explains, “so now you say something you like.” It’s such a childish request, this game of trading simple statements such as I like the stars, but now that he’s asked Adam finds that he really wants to know what Ronan would say.

“Parrish…” says Ronan, sounding dubious and looking hesitant. Asking Ronan Lynch to pull working cars and living creatures out his dreams is an easier task than getting him to indulge in silly, pointless things. Adam wonders if it’s just self-conscious embarrassment or something deeper and harder to get over.

“C’mon,”  Adam presses lightly. “It can be anything.”

Ronan’s hands come to rest on Adam’s back, and he asks, “Anything?” When Adam nods, he says, “Okay,” and then says, absolutely unsurprisingly, “I like when you leave me alone.”

Adam rolls his eyes, grinning all the same. He thinks for a moment, and then abruptly remembers the cow story from earlier and laughs out brightly, “I like Opal.”

He feels Ronan’s fingers flex against him, pressing hard into his back for a moment. Ronan closes his eyes, takes a breath, opens them. Adam raises his eyebrows in question, but Ronan shakes his head. He says, “I like Opal, too.”

“You can’t say the same thing as me.”

“There’s rules?” he scoffs, sounding hilariously offended

“Can’t have a game without rules,” Adam points out. He huffs a little laugh when Ronan rolls his eyes.

“Alright, fuck, fine. Then…” He trails off, fishing around for something to say. Adam waits patiently, soothed by Ronan’s hands rubbing up and down his back. Finally Ronan goes, “Oh,” like he realized something obvious, and finishes, “I like the Barns.”

Adam figures he should have expected that. It makes him sort of melt all the same. He leans forward to press a kiss to Ronan’s cheek, saying softly against his skin, “Me too.”

When he leans back, Ronan grumbles, “Can’t say the same thing,”  but his eyes are cast away and Adam can just barely make out the faint blush fanning along his nose.

“I know, I know,” Adam allows good-naturedly, pressing a smile into Ronan’s neck. “Okay, I like…”

They continue trading favorite things for a while — Adam’s roadtrip pictures from Blue, Gansey, and Cheng for Ronan’s early mornings in the fields, Ronan’s memories of Aurora for Adam’s of Persephone. The deeper into night they get, the drowsier they become, and eventually they completely lose thread of the game, their answers becoming fragmented and nonsensical.

Adam’s eyes are closed, the edges of consciousness blurred. Ronan’s chest is so warm, his arms are so warm, Adam is just warm all over and throughout and he’s drifting drifting drifting…

“S’your turn,” Ronan mumbles, a step from dreams himself.

Adam hums dully. “I like…” he mutters, “sleep.”

Ronan goes uh-huh, pressing his nose into Adam’s hair.

And Adam distractedly says, “Your turn…” even as he’s sliding farther away from being awake.

And Ronan sighs, “You.”

And Adam says, “Yeah,” and Ronan replies Right and Adam lets sleep-haze overtake him…

Then his eyes snap open and he says, “Wait.”

And he jolts upward and he demands, “What?”

Ronan startles away from the edge of sleep, arms reflexively tightening around Adam’s waist in an instinctive desire to protect before he comes back to himself and relaxes. “What?” he echoes.

“What did you just say?”

“What?” Ronan says again.

“For your turn,” Adam clarifies. “What did you say?”

Ronan makes a face, eyes narrowed and lip curled like he doesn’t know what Adam’s talking about—and then his expression clears as he very obviously remembers. His gaze skitters away from Adam’s as he quite blatantly lies, “Nothing.”

“That was definitely not nothing.”

“You were asleep, like, two seconds ago,” Ronan replies evasively.

Ronan,” Adam sighs wearily. He puts a hand against Ronan’s face and gently turns it toward him. Ronan reluctantly meets his eyes. “I’m deaf, remember? I know what nothing sounds like.” Ronan’s brow scrunches up guiltily; Adam shakes his head in dismissal. His heart, so recently lulling into dormancy, now flutters violently in his chest. He says, “Please tell me.”

Ronan’s mouth twists into a hard line, like that’ll keep the truth from spilling out. Adam looks down at him imploringly. He has to know he heard right. He has to hear it again.

He wants to hear it again.

He wants to know it as a solid, tangible truth. Not implied, or assumed, or guessed.

Ronan, again, closes his eyes. Adam wonders for a ridiculous, desperate second if he’s going to escape into his dreamscape haven, but he knows Ronan would never abandon him like that.

Adam waits.

Ronan takes in breath.

Adam waits.

Ronan lets it out.

Adam waits.

Ronan opens his eyes, and takes Adam’s face in his hands, and he doesn’t look away when he whispers, “I said you.”

Adam Parrish, man of careful schedules and measured planning, will one day learn he can never anticipate the way Ronan Lynch makes him feel. Emotions are a hard thing to grasp and even harder to plan for. He thought he knew what he wanted to say when this moment came, but now the moment is here, and he’s completely fucking lost.

“It’s you,” Ronan is saying for some reason that Adam can’t fathom.“You’re my thing. The thing I— like.” He takes in another shuddering breath and presses on, “I like you.”

Adam’s throat has closed up. Ronan stares at him, clearly waiting for some kind of response. He wants to give one. He physically cannot.

“I mean, Jesus, Adam,” Ronan continues, eyes wide and expression harried, as though he’s also confused as to why he’s still speaking, “I thought it was pretty obvious, why do— Like, yeah, I like you, clearly I fucking like you a whole Goddamn lot. You have a key to my house, you have a key to my car, a key to my— And Opal— Christ and Mary, Adam Parrish. I like you. Happy? Holy shit.” Ronan’s hands fall from Adam’s face and cover his own. “Holy fuck,” Ronan reiterates, voice muffled.

“Yeah, I am.”

“You are what?” Ronan snaps. Adam doesn’t take his temper personally since he can feel  how Ronan is trembling minutely beneath him.

“I’m happy,” Adam says, his voice weirdly distorted and thin. He wonders at the way those words feel coming from his mouth, in his voice, knowing that it’s not a partial truth but an unshakable fact. It’s a strange weight sitting in the air between them — strange, but not unwelcome, so he lets himself say it another time: “I’m happy.”

Ronan’s face emerges from behind his fingers. He stares up at Adam for a long moment, expression complex but edging on something like concern. Eventually he breathes, “You’re crying.”

“Am I?” Adam touches fingertips to his eye. They come back wet. “Oh,” Adam says, rubbing his sleeve at his cheek, “yeah, looks like it.” No matter how much he swipes at his damp skin, more tears seem to materialize from nothing and pour down his face in an endless waterfall. At some point, Ronan sits up and brings Adam with him. Ronan brushes the grass and flowers and dirt from Adam’s clothes and hair, and Adam sits there and lets him as he cries. He can’t remember the last time he cried so much when the feeling within him wasn’t dark and lead-heavy, but instead this light and glowing thing that was pushing up his throat and through his eyes. Had he ever?

Time fades into the warm night air, and eventually Adam’s relentless sobbing tapers into sniffles. Ronan, who had been silently observing with clearly no hint at what to do, starts, “Are you…” only to trail off, unsure. Adam thinks the end of that question is either okay? or done?

Either way, the answer is, “Yes.” He clears his throat, letting the last few tears trickle down. He pulls his legs around so he’s sitting cross-legged across from Ronan. “That’s— I mean, that was the first time you ever, like—” He sniffs loudly, lets out a watery laugh. “Told me that, out loud, so plainly.”

Ronan rubs the back of his shaved head, seeming bizarrely abashed. “Yeah, I know. I’m s—”

“No,” Adam cuts him off, putting up a hand, “stop, don’t— No. It’s just…” He looks down and smiles wanly; he feels more damn tears welling up. “It’s n-nice to hear.”

Ronan clasps his hands around Adam’s as he starts to cry again. After a couple minutes of concernedly watching Adam softly shake apart, he admits genially, “This isn’t really how I wanted to say it. Or, like, when, I guess.” And he sighs and says, “It’s not even true.”

Adam’s head snaps up, icy fear immediately pooling in his gut. “Huh?”

“No, no,” he corrects hastily, “I mean— Fuck, it’s true, I do like you, but it’s not— technically—” He stutters to a stop, breathes in, starts again: “It’s not the whole…” Stops. Starts: “Sweet fucking Lord.” Stops. Shakes his head to himself. Again: “Adam, listen…” Stops. Pauses. Adam listens, listens, listens, and all he hears is his own shallow, wet breathing, the grass whispering around them, a distant night owl calling in the distance. Still he listens and listens.

Then he hears: “I love you,” rounded out by a harshly breathed, “Shit.”

He can feel Ronan’s pulse pounding a cacophonous rhythm against his skin. Or maybe it’s Adam’s own. Or maybe it’s them both, linked together on that synchronous wavelength, so wholly intertwined that their heartlines are communing in the same exact language at the same precise time in the perfectly same tone.

Something poetic and magical and impossible is going on. Adam doesn’t know how he ever thought he would know what to do with this, this irrefutable knowing, this superficial inference being made real, supported by the way Ronan’s mouth held the thought and let it manifest. Adam feels a little lightheaded and a lot lighthearted.

He says, “Ronan.” He doesn’t know what should go after that, so he says it again: “Ronan.”

Ronan says, “Adam.” Then, “I know.” Then, “It’s okay.”

A third time, more urgently: “Ronan.”

“Yes, Adam.”

He realizes now what should go next, so he opens his mouth to let it out, only when he does, it’s gone. He tries again, reaches for it— but it slips away, like it was never close to his grasp at all.

“Adam, it’s okay,” Ronan repeats. “It’s fine, I don’t— Don’t force yourself to do anything.”

Adam shakes his head — at Ronan’s concern, at himself, at the evasiveness of things he desperately needs to get hold of. His lip trembles, but he’ll be damned if he cries again. Around it, he tries one more time, and comes up with something that’s almost there: “You’re my thing too,” he says quietly. “I like you.” It doesn’t feel quite right left like that, so he tacks on, “Okay?”

Ronan’s hands squeeze tight around his. “Yeah. Okay, good. I like you, too.”

“Yeah, you said that.”

“Right. Yeah.”

They lapse into an unfamiliar quiet. The air between them is buzzing with thought. Ronan is still holding Adam’s hands. Adam looks up from this to Ronan’s face and is startled to see silent tears rolling down his cheeks. Adam doesn’t say anything about it, or else he’ll start on his third time, which he really doesn’t want.

Instead he says, “You blasphemed a whole hell of a lot in that confession just now.”

Ronan meets his eyes, surprised. Then he snorts and starts to laugh, and Adam thinks Holy shit.

His lips can’t form the words, just yet. But they can demonstrate. He leans forward, and up, and kisses the laugh from Ronan’s mouth. Ronan’s hands again find his face, thumbing away the tear trails drying on his skin. When Ronan parts from him and presses their foreheads together, breathing into the space between them another I love you, Adam nods and leans in for a second kiss and maybe starts to cry again, or maybe Ronan does, and Adam thinks One day, one day. Ronan’s smile is genuine and without expectation, content with this and pleased with more. Adam wants to give him that more, one day, one day.

Ronan gets to his feet, dusting himself off as though he weren’t a farmer perpetually covered in the fruits of his labor, then helps Adam up too. He keeps hold of Adam’s hand and says, “Let’s go find the brat and get her to bed.” Together they start up through the hills, strolling under the pale moonlight.

And Adam knows, no matter how the physical distance may stretch between them in the future, waiting for him on the other side of it all will always be this: the comforting song of Henrietta trees rustling amidst the Barns and his boyfriend’s hand in his.