Ronan Lynch had clutched the dream object in his hand so tightly that his palm was rutted with deep pink lines by the time he woke. It was a little wet, too. His hands and face were clammy with the sticky sweat of uncomfortable sleep. A cobweb of phlegm in his throat blocked his speech. He shrugged himself onto his elbow, puzzling to make sense of his bearings. Ronan seemed to be curled up on the stained carpet of a dim home-theater room, where a sock, a pulverized can of Bud Light, and a soulless pair of white sunglasses scrutinized him from a leather recliner. The glasses belonged to Joseph Kavinsky, and hopefully so did the beer can. Kavinsky. Where was that skinny bastard? Was this his house that he had passed out in?
The Graywaren wiped his nose with the back of his hand and peered at his newest creation: a viciously black fire extinguisher the length of his ring finger and no wider than his flip-phone. Ronan tossed the extinguisher over and examined the sunglasses design stamped on the bottom. For a moment, he considered the possibility of the object belonging to Kavinsky, but then again, he felt an odd sameness with the extinguisher, like it was part of him. He had dreamed it. Only this time, he couldn't remember why he had brought this back. He shoved it into the pocket of his jeans.
He lifted himself, swaying as he sat up. Ronan felt like his head was one of Kavinsky's stereo speakers that had fallen victim to his blaring Bulgarian hip-hop songs, and now his temples pulsed. A silhouette appeared and slouched in the doorway.
"Morning, bitch," Kavinsky sighed, disinterested. He leapt onto the headrest of a recliner, strode over the three rows of expensive leather movie seats in his shoes, and jumped down so he was directly above the other boy.
Ronan gave Kavinsky a quick once over and stopped to smirk at him. Somehow, Kavinsky managed to be simultaneously wearing a pair of Gucci high tops more expensive than the Ganseys' household and a grin more ratchet than a six-dollar weave from Walmart. Ronan wondered for a moment if Kavinsky was in fact another dream anomaly.
Kavinsky raised an eyebrow. "What, Lynch?"
"Nothing. Did you spend your college trust on those shoes?" The other dream thief kicked him in the arm. Ronan shook his head and rubbed his eyes again for the eleventh time. "But really, man, where are we? Like how'd I end up on the floor?"
At this, Kavinsky took off his glasses and folded them in his jacket pocket. His voice dropped into an irresistible purr. "Oh, Lynch, you don't remember last night? God, Lynch, last night was great–you felt so good."
Ronan's gut fell out of a window and exploded on a concrete sidewalk 20 stories below. "The fuck? Did we actually…"
Kavinsky's mouth stayed stretched in an elastic smile for a few seconds longer. "No, stupid, you crashed really hard last night. We were dreaming stuff up, remember? You even dreamt up a pair of balls for Gansey."
Ronan cursed in relief. Of course. He had ditched Monmouth to prowl the lazy midnight side streets, the back roads bathed in fog. It hadn't him long to roll into Kavinsky's metal wolf pack in all of their pimped-out-white-trash mobster glory. A delinquent Bulgarian mafia. Stopped at a red light, Ronan was greeted by an assortment of massive car wings, custom grilles, open hoods that boasted tricked-out engines, six-speaker stereo systems that bulged out of trunks, apocalyptic paint jobs, black-lighted headlights, and Hondas that looked like they had been force fed steroids until their tires became swollen with size and their pistons hissed the whispery sneer of electric sex. And then the alpha wolf snaked its way next to him. A stallion of a Mitsubishi, flanked with two black knives painted onto either side. The marvelous, cunty little vehicle sneered a challenge at Ronan's BMW, and he almost forgot that it too was a dream object. Its creator rolled down his tinted window and grinned a madman's greeting. His white sunglasses had stared right into the space where Ronan's soul should've been.
"Hey, fuckboy." Kavinksy leaned out of the passenger side and spat.
"Am I supposed to respond to that?"
"Your babysitter finally let you out?" He decided to let the snide jab at Gansey pass.
"You're still gonna race with those shades on? You're gonna need a pair of
Prescription glasses to actually beat me." Kavinsky revved his engine in response. Ronan jerked at the stick shift, leaned forward just a bit, and punched the gas pedal. Well, that was more of Kavinsky's deal–Ronan preferred to add gradual pressure, pressing enough to shoot past the initial traffic lights but not flooring it.
Ronan kicked Kavinsky's ass twice before he relented enough to let him win by a microscopic margin, and then he went against Prokopenko and a few of Kavinsky's alleged cousins from New Jersey.
It must have been around three in the morning, but vicious pleasure replaced the onset of sleepiness for Ronan. Kavinsky had offered some tips on dreaming up bigger objects (and an array of colorful pills to help him fall asleep like *that*), and Ronan had followed. From there, it was uncertain, but he was sure that there was some explanation as to why he was in Kavinsky's home theater room.
Using an armrest for support, the Graywaren yanked himself to his feet. Now his mind was a squealing tire, spinning, spinning. Kavinsky watched him expectantly but said nothing. "Dude, I feel like complete shit, and I drank less than you."
"Maybe you're not as Irish as you think when it comes to drinking."
Ronan's eyes and nose felt puffy and slick, like wet rubber. "Nah. I literally had just one beer." He pulled on a dark zip-up jacket, (from Nino's: Blue had shoved it in his face when she caught him walking around in the rain with nothing but a tank top. It wasn't because she was concerned for his health, she had explained, but because the absence of adequate clothing made him look like a menace to little children and society) but then he felt feverish and took it off. "It was probably those cheap pills you gave me."
Kavinsky took a moment to look pained. "Hey, I made those. They only do what they're meant to do."
"Whatever." Ronan wiped his nose with the back of his hand. "Fu–uh-uH-UH-UACHOO!" Really hot, Lynch. He glanced up, but Kavinsky wasn't smiling. Instead, his eyes were strangely sober. Ronan was taken aback by the fact that Kavinsky had irises–in his scarce moments without shades, Ronan had only been aware of two bullet holes set against the whites of his eyes. Muddy rings the hue of shaded moss scanned Ronan tentatively. Kavinsky adjusted the duckbill cap over his shock of gelled hair.
"Yeah, it wasn't my pills, man, I think you're just sick. And you dreamt up a shit-ton of stuff." Ronan glowered at him, but his pink nose rendered his glare unconvincing. Ronan dragged himself up with the support of a leather recliner. He tottered before facing Kavinsky.
"Whatever man, it was fun. Thanks. See you on the streets –"
"Whoa, whoa, Lynch." Kavinsky shouldered his way past Ronan and spread his arms out. "Where the hell are you going?"
"Back to Monmouth. If I don't at least pretend to do Latin homework, Adam will act hormonal and Gansey–"
"Fuck Gansey." Ronan raised an eyebrow. Kavinsky took such pleasure in putting those two words together. "And Pretty Boy too. Your face is as pink as that my little pony shit, and you're swaying."
The Graywaren rolled his eyes. "Man you don't think I've ever been hung over before?"
"I thought the Irish don't get hangovers."
"Whatever. Point is, mom, I'll be fine."
Kavinsky leaned on a recliner and became fascinated with his high tops. "Fine, Lynch. You're just gonna feel like crap and vomit all over one of Gansey's expensive polos. You have a cold and a fever, man. You need to sweat it out or hurl or something and lie down." Ronan didn't want to admit that Kavinsky was right. "So look. You either chill here while I snag some cough medicine or I tell Campbell Cocksucker III to call you a cab. And you know you don't want that."
Ronan swore a string of profanities that ultimately sounded more poetic than insulting. Kavinsky, raising his eyebrows, took a moment to be impressed.
Despite his initial protest, Ronan was grateful to sink onto the satin comforter of Kavinsky's parents' bed. Ronan had asked him why his parents hadn't forced him out of the house yet, but according to Kavinsky, they were always travelling. It made sense. Kavinsky tossed Ronan the remote for the flat-screen across the bed and indicated the entire room.
"Sorry man, my room's a basically a crack house right now, but just try to not fuck up my parents' stuff, ok?"
Ronan grinned, sinking his shoulder blades into the decorative pillows so they whispered oof! when he fell into them. "Oh my goodness, Joseph Kavinsky, are you actually…ashamed of something for once?"
"I don't know, Lynch, are you ashamed that I fucked III before you could?"
Ronan snorted and itched the back of his scalp. When he glanced closely enough, he thought he could make out two rosy blotches on the gaunt spread of flesh over his cheeks. "Ouch. Hey, actually buy the meds, ok? No more of your knock-offs."
Kavinsky flicked out a ring of car keys from his pocket and spun it around his middle finger. "Oh Lynch," his voice simmered with sarcastic venom, "You know I love it when you talk doctor to me." Ronan held his gaze so long that he forgot that the serpentine eyes belonged to a body, like Kavinsky had dreamed them for himself. In the uncertain light from the half-draped windows, a shadow snaked from the ridge of his jaw down his slender neck and tattooed his collarbone in dark ink. The contrast rendered his skin metallic; Ronan wondered if the flesh on his collarbone would be cool and smooth to the touch and had an odd desire to find out. Then he mentally punched himself. You don't swing that way Ronan, do you?
The door clicked gently against the frame as he stepped out, and Ronan rolled out of the bed. He slogged into the bathroom and was baffled at how Kavinsky's parents had managed to attach a full-sized spa to their house. Bathroom? He thought, more like bathmansion. Slate counters spread across the left side, covered in an organized metropolis of lotions and colognes, an electric toothbrush and some real estate magazine with a heading in Russian letters. Kavinsky's parents were supposedly on a business trip in Moscow doing whatever the hell rich middle-aged members of the Bulgarian mafia did on vacation, but the place still seemed so…inhabited. Warm, like any other fully occupied home. Ronan could almost imagine Kavinsky dreaming up the tabloids and toothpaste tubes to fill the otherwise frigid space. To create even an outline of his parents, something concrete that would care if he pissed on it by being a cocaine-snorting douchebag. Under different circumstances, Ronan realized that he would've probably done the same thing. He was a dick because Niall Lynch was gone and his mom was imaginary; Kavinsky was a dick because his parents were alive and had spoiled him unreasonably.
Ronan turned to the faucet and was convinced that he had to be an experienced plumber to operate it, but after twisting a few knobs and dials, he coaxed out a generous spout of warm water. He ran his hands through it and splashed some on his cheeks until he felt his face un-scrunch and his eyes open. In the mirror, a re-hydrated Ronan practiced the lopsided sneer that stir fried his college counselor's brain and sent shivers down the pleasant, porch-lined streets of Henrietta. Almost there, but he wasn't sure if the shaded circles under his eyes deepened or lessened the effect of his smile.
He swatted the light switch and flopped back onto the oversize bed. He considered flipping on the TV but dismissed the idea. As he kicked off his shoes, an urgent chill reverberated through his arms. His fingers curled to absorb the smacking shock in his palms, and his throat clammed up with thick mucous. Ronan cursed as rhythmic surges drummed through his ears in nonsensical grumbles. Rattling in sync with the pulse in his ears, a tree branch beat against the window outside. Cabeswater, Ronan thought. Why was it trying to communicate with him now of all times? Quid est illud? What is it? Ronan thought, then croaked to the forest connected to his head.
Incuriam tuam, nostra miseria. Your carelessness, our suffering. Cabeswater answered, emphasizing "our" so Ronan knew that the hoarse rasp of many voices warped into one also referred to him. So the sudden fever wasn't just from a hangover or the allergies that lingered in the dregs of winter–he'd borrowed too much energy from Cabeswater. As his own stomach churned, the Graywaren imagined the tranquil ponds of the other-dimensional forest curdling into groundwater and draining out of the gnarled tree roots. He felt the suffocation of the fat lichens as they deflated into dry tufts.
Ronan bolted upright, his heart hammering. His lungs clung to every shred of oxygen in the room as his breath shortened. He wasn't sure whether he was suffering with Cabeswater or whether this was some sort of threat. Either way, he suddenly felt mortal, responsible–a far cry away from his dream world of late night drag races. His dreams dictated his purpose and being while his daytime reality only owned so much of him. His existence here in Kavinsky's parents' room was only Ronan Lynch, a lean and angry-eyed vessel of flesh. But his presence in the universe of Cabeswater rendered him an impossibly intricate creature, whose actions permeated and affected all levels of his existence. His crap games with Kavinsky were tapping into something ancient and unfathomable. Shit! He thought, Kavinsky! Was he out there, trembling from the sudden shivers and pulsing? Galvanized by worry, Ronan shot out of bed and scrambled through his pockets for his car keys. Stupid. Why hadn't he just driven home when he had the chance? He imagined Kavinksy, sober and actually performing an act of kindness for another human being, crashed on the roadside or the floor of the pharmacy.
Shoeless, Ronan fought the electric pain and stammered to the door with keys in hand. He wrestled his front pocket for his phone and flipped up the cracked screen. He scrolled through his contacts, squinting at the battery through the dim lighting. "Damn," he hissed, "Motherfucker's only got one bar left." He thought of his cellphone like he thought of the cops–there whenever he didn't need it, malfunctional when he did. But still. Leaned on the door for support, he punched in Kavinsky's number. Once, he had kept Kavinsky under his contacts as "stonerB)", then "Joe Blows", and later "BOOTY CALL", but then decided it was pointless to suggest a connection with Kavinsky on a device he rarely even used.
He pressed the phone to his ear and was blindsided as the door shoved into his shoulder from the other side. Had an arm not shot out and snagged him, the stupid door would've sandwiched him. For the second time today, he looked up and met the spring-soil eyes of Joseph Kavinsky, who half-smiled in an attempt to recover from his own shock.
"That's cute, Lynch. Were you trying to sneak up on me?"
Ronan pulled his arm out of Kavinsky's grip. He was sure his face was still flushed Ferrari red or fluorescent purple. He probably resembled a cherry tomato with a malicious tattoo and a pissy attitude, but at the moment, he preferred to think about how tight Kavinsky had gripped his arm just now. The fuck, Ronan.
"Don't tell me you didn't feel it too, man. The whole seizure-suffocation thing and the trees." He scoured the other dream thief's face for any twitch of understanding, but Kavinsky was dumbfounded.
"Lynch, I don't know what fucking planet you're on, but either your fever has gotten worse or it's breaking."
Ronan cursed. Kavinsky was strangely collected; not a single twitch of venom tugged at his features. The coal needles of his eyebrows knit themselves symmetrically over his straight nose. Ronan found himself mesmerized by the shadows in the patchy light that sharpened the contours of Kavinsky's cheekbones and jaw, sort of like Adam. When he finally scraped enough sense to reply, his voice was dry.
"I'm talking about the dreaming, man. We're draining out our energy source to bring things back from our dreams like this."
The other boy rolled his eyes and lifted a white paper bag. "Whatever. Anyway," he brought his voice down to a simmer, "I got your weed." He was slightly undone by Ronan's glower and pursed his lips. "It was a joke."
Ronan let Kavinsky herd him back onto the parents' yacht of a bed. Kavinsky waved his hands around the bag and proceeded to rip the bag open little shred by little shred. He produced the usual arsenal of cold-killers: dayquils, chest rub, cough drops, gruesomely thick cough syrup, and even a pack of tissues. He accompanied each item he pulled with drawn-out ooohs and aahhs, which Ronan struggled to ignore. Ronan withered the tissues and cough drops with his gaze. "Excuse me, sir, this Kleenex pack doesn't match my socks, I'm afraid." He saw Kavinsky push out his lower lip. "So could you try to be a little more gay next time when you go sick-shopping?"
Kavinsky fake curtsied. "Sure thing, princess."
Ronan scowled adjusted his left leg on the mattress. Something squished his thigh, and Ronan remembered the dream fire extinguisher. He coaxed it from his pocket, turned it over in his hand, and passed it to Kavinsky. "Here. I brought it back, but don't know why."
The drag racer scrutinized the object. "It's because I'm just so hot, right?" Ronan tilted his head. At the moment, while Kavinsky was as calm as a worn stone in a stream, Ronan couldn't imagine him going up in flames. Kavinsky was next to him, deeply manifested in his parents' bedroom. He seemed so real–Ronan didn't dare recognize his other vulnerability in the dream world, where was nothing more than a dark patch in a system of moving strobe lights he couldn't understand. He shook the thoughts off.
Kavinsky wiggled out of his hoodie before tossing Ronan the chest rub. He unscrewed the lid to the blue container and took a whiff of the clear goo inside. The stiff mint stabbed at his nostrils. Kavinsky watched Ronan's head jerk back while he wrinkled his nose like a remotely cuddly animal and grinned. "They said to put that on first. It just goes on your chest and your neck."
Ronan squinted at him. "That's convenient." Kavinsky was silent. Instead, his bare arms were folded and pressed against the thin cotton of his tank top. Not for the first time, Ronan explored the odd dips and grooves of the designs on his biceps with shameless eyes. Kavinsky reached out and poked Ronan's exposed collarbone.
"Oh yeah, and they said it would be better if you took your shirt off to put that cough stuff on." Ronan recoiled in false horror.
"Are you talking doctor, Joseph Kavinsky?" He hitched his fingertips onto the hem of his own tank top and shed it on the floor. He swabbed up a glob of the stuff and smeared over the contours of his chest and up his neck. The astringent eucalyptus scent threatened to corrupt his nose. In the afternoon clouds, his skin glistened with a balmy sheen. Meanwhile, the diamond stud in Kavinsky's earlobe glinted dully like lead. He was a gray scale sketch of some beautiful Slavic stoner dug up from hell like an exotic root and polished to look vaguely human. Ronan, chest rub still in hand, jabbed his fingers into the goo again and spread it across Kavinsky's t-shirt.
"Oops. Hopefully that wasn't as expensive as your shoes."
"Fucker." Kavinsky's cheeks colored just enough to make Ronan's heart kick itself. And as Kavinsky hoisted the striped garment above his head, Ronan closed the space between himself and the other dream thief and brushed his fingers against the dimples in Kavinsky's back.
"Hey," he protested, "What are you–" But Kavinsky's breath snagged on a burst of pleasure as Ronan pushed his feverish lips on the slope of his jaw, pausing to nip at his ear. Kavinsky tipped back his tattooed neck as Ronan continued his slow ministrations over the delicate flesh. For a moment, Kavinksy broke contact long enough to flop the other thief onto the mattress and clench the comforter in his colorless knuckles. Ronan hooked his fingers into the Kavinsky's ashen shock of hair as the Bulgarian mobster planted his own lips on the hot flesh of Ronan's chest. Kavinsky grazed his teeth over Ronan's throat and glanced up in time to catch Ronan's lidded eyes, pewter and blurred with a new craze. Under Kavinsky, his chest throbbed. He caught enough breath to form words.
"Just no lips, ok? I'm still fucking sick." He panted.
Kavinsky nodded his understanding. "Lynch, I don't care how hot you are," the other thief purred as his hand trailed the faint bulge of abs under Ronan's taut stomach, "You better not get me sick."
Trying to savor the growing heat that quivered off of Kavinsky, Ronan grinned. "I think I should have you take care of me more often." The two wasted no time tangling their arms into the grooves of each other's shoulder blades and hipbones, absorbing the friction of all that was real and tangible in the moment.