There was something unsettling about the portrait. Adam's whole face was twisted up in that way when he was thinking too hard about a problem, a wrinkle between his brow, as his brain overanalyzed why—why was it unsettling?
Maybe it was because it looked so terrifyingly like Aurora Lynch, except in the eyes where she stared, unfeeling, back at Adam. Maybe it was the stillness of the pose, much like Aurora had been before she was left in Cabeswater to live until she died. Maybe it was the fact that the person in this painting was not actually Aurora Lynch. Someone like her, someone who was supposed to be her. Adam couldn't seem to wrap his mind around Aurora being this person. That was not how it worked to him.
Maybe it was what this portrait did. Another dream thing from another dreamer. If a picture was worth a thousand words, this particular picture was worth a hundred times that. Adam had to glance away to Ronan. Sprawling out on the floating couch in the dream barn felt appropriate for what they were about to do. Adam could feel the residual energy leaking out of everything around them.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Adam asked. He asked before when they decided to take the painting out here to investigate its properties. But Adam was nothing if not thorough, confirming and consenting every step of the way. He placed a hand on Ronan's leg.
"I also don't have to be here. I don't like that idea, you should have an anchor in there, but I would understand. No explanation needed."
Ronan scoffed and toed off his boots, one at a time. They thumped to the ground below as they fell off the floating couch. He wasn’t in the world’s best mood to start with, but the looming presence of the painting that turns out really wasn’t his mother didn’t help.
He hadn’t talked about that yet though. Not with anyone but Matthew. A part of him knew that even if Declan was right and Mór Ó Corra was Declan's mother, it didn’t really change anything. Aurora had raised him. Niall was still - maybe, probably - his father? But Ronan suspected it changed something for Declan. Maybe everything. And that stung somewhere deep that Ronan couldn’t scratch.
But that shit was not why they were here. Ronan stopped scowling at the painting and laid his head down in Adam’s lap. “Yeah I wanna fucking do this,” he grunted. “And no I don’t want to do this without you. I’ve been in there alone and it’s depressing as shit, even when I start changing things. We’re stronger together anyway,” he said plainly, like it was a universal truth no one could deny.
We're stronger together was a good mantra. How many times had he said the same thing to Ronan before? He smiled, a private pleasure at knowing that no matter what, they would be better together. When Adam allowed himself to think about it, how stupid he wasto believe they could be any other way.
"You're really selling me on this, depressing as shit. Can't wait," Adam said, tucking his balled up hoodie under Ronan's head, and smoothing a hand unconsciously over the top of his head. This wasn't going to work if Ronan wasn't relaxed a little. It hadn't escaped Adam's notice that Ronan had seemed more than simply distracted and tense about the portrait.
Adam continued to run his fingers over different parts of Ronan: his head, his cheek, the side of his neck, across his chest. At some point Adam took one of Ronan's hands and brought it to his mouth to kiss his knuckles. "I've been researching—" Adam gave Ronan a teasing look that said don't be a shithead, "—pressure points for sleeping. In case you have to do it fast."
His thumb brushed against one, on the side of Ronan's wrist. "You can tell me it's bullshit if it doesn't work."
“It’s an Irish beach? Might be the only chance you get to see one for all we know.” Ronan offered, looking up at Adam from his new position. It was tempting to say fuck this and just let Adam rub his head for awhile, enjoy the quiet of the barn before Opal figured out they were up to something and came scrambling in from God knows where. But Ronan prided himself on not being a coward.
He didn’t have much trouble falling asleep to dream these days. There was something about having that purpose that made it different than just regular sleep. But he didn’t mind the extra help. He stretched his arms up to curl around Adam’s back and legs respectively.
“Give me what you got.” Ronan closed his eyes and waited for the press of Adam’s fingers but it was almost like it didn’t happen, he was dumped so easily into the dream. The grey waves crashed against the rocky beach and hope felt far away. He was alone. “Really wish I knew what you were thinking with this one, Dad,” he murmured.
Adam had only started to press his fingers into Ronan's pulse before he saw that sleep had claimed him. He allowed himself one split second of concern, before he moved the bowl of water onto Ronan's chest, and took to his own efforts of scrying. Adam blinked, blinked again slower, until he wasn't blinking at all.
When Adam fell into the dream, it was far more abrupt than his usual methods. It was as if the portrait's power was making everything as excruciating as possible. There was no way to find comfort, no quick grab for solace against the somber mood that washed over his body like the water on the shore. Even Ronan was far away, and barefoot against the rocky sand made the trek toward him painful. But Adam wasn't about to give up—the portrait couldn't compare to the lonesomeness Adam had dealt himself for years.
As he reached Ronan, Adam placed a hand on the small of his back: a point of contact, a reminder that Adam would ground him, hold him from drifting into the melancholy tide. Alone on this dreary coastline, he could understand how rapidly the depressing environment could suffocate a person. But they weren't alone, they were together. "I'm here," Adam said, squinting into the dark gunmetal sky.
"If this is what the Irish beach has to offer, I don't mind skipping out," Adam said, taking hold of Ronan's hand now, fingers lacing tightly together. Adam was quiet, contemplative, before he said, "This feels wrong. Like experiencing someone else's grief."
The first time Ronan had come here, Bryde had been whispering in his mind. Well, talking annoyingly actually. He let himself sink into it a bit first this time. Really swam around in the longing and loneliness the dream invoked. Then Adam’s touch and voice pulled him back to himself. He’d wanted to see what the dream might be hiding, but letting it roll over him probably wasn’t the best way.
He breathed in and exhaled, reaching for Adam and threading their fingers together. “I don’t think it’s this dreary but it’s not like Ireland is known for its beaches.” Turning his gaze back out towards the water, he spoke more like a drill sergeant. “Alright, cut this shit out. Give us a normal beach on a nice day. Don’t fucking boil us under the sun either.”
He didn’t need to speak the words, but it helped. The water changed from grey to blue and the sky along with it. Distant seagull cries brightened from hungry to satisfied. And the rocks beneath their feet softened to stones that were well weathered by the sea. It wasn’t perfect, because changing another dreamer’s dream wasn’t easy, but it was better.
Adam's expression was hardline and all seriousness. He waited patiently as the dream shifted to something warmer, less depressing, but he couldn't seem to shake the feeling that scratched at the back of his skull. The dark mood would always be there, because this wasn't technically Ronan's dream, but it was hard to hang on to that sadness with the clear sky above them.
He tipped his head up, to squint into the sun, waiting for a sign. When none came, he eyed Ronan's profile, before getting to work. "So what are we looking for?" Adam asked. While still holding Ronan's hand, he scooped up a handful of sand with his other. He was starting his own investigation of the dream, as the Magician.
"Your dad dreamt a painting—or painted it." Adam didn't want to assume. "Of your mom. And gave it properties of a sad Irish beach. Who would want that? Why did he want that?" He was ruminating out loud, stating the facts and the most pressing questions.
"You have control over it, but is that because you're the greywaren or because you're a Lynch?" Adam let the sand fall through the fingers, seeing a few of the grey rocks from before mixed in. A mostly complete dream switch. Adam worried. "Promise me you'll never dream with this nearby without someone. I made a mistake in suggesting you could do it alone."
Ronan set aside the questions he couldn’t answer for the moment and zeroed in on the last bit. He lifted their linked hands to nip at Adam’s knuckle. “Way to sound like you don’t have faith in my skills, Parrish.”
It wasn’t said with any real malice, but there was a tinge of real hurt under the joke. It didn’t matter that he knew Adam was right. He was too tense to be a hundred percent reasonable. Still, he squeezed Adam’s hand before he let go to crouch in the sand and run his fingers through it. The image of the dark lady flashed in his mind’s eye, where it sat back in the dream barn with their unmoving bodies. He picked up a rock and flung it out into the ocean.
“Turns out it’s not my mom. It’s some lady named Mór Ó Corra.” He looked at Adam, his expression cool on the surface and a storm underneath. “Matthew says Declan told him that’s his real mother.”
"It has nothing to do with your skill, " Adam corrected, watching Ronan with a hint of a smile as he gave teasing affection. "It has everything to do with what it does. I want you safe." And that was that, no argument to be made. Or, well, no argument Ronan could win in Adam's mind. He would protect him in any way he could.
They were only disconnected for a moment, and Adam stayed in place, watching as Ronan threw the rock, obviously working through something. Adam wouldn't say he was always a patient person, but he had been with Ronan. The truth eventually came out when Adam gave Ronan the space to let it. That didn't always mean Adam liked what he heard.
He frowned at Mór Ó Corra—all the problems Adam had with the portrait were slotting into place. How unlike Aurora it was. How unsettling the aspects of the dream magic were. Adam's own dislike of Niall was growing as he attempted to lace together the reality: Aurora Lynch was dreamt to look like someone who existed. But it was the she's Declan's real mother part that caused Adam to just blurt out, "what the fuck?"
Adam seemed shocked at himself, and shook his head, stepping back toward Ronan. "Are you sure? Is he sure? I'm not saying Matthew is lying but how does Declan even—" Those were the wrong questions; Adam tried again. "How long have you been sitting with this?"
Ronan knew it probably wasn’t fair to throw this at Adam in the middle of a scrying session with a powerful dream object so close by, but he’d been tucking it away in the corner of his mind for days and no moment ever really seemed right. He brushed sand off his hands and shrugged.
“Matthew told me when we got the painting. I don’t know if it’s true. I don’t know if Declan even knows for sure, but he told Matthew and I don’t think…” His voice dried up and he shook his head. Anger welled up in his chest. Or maybe it was something else and anger was just the easiest emotion to deal with. Trust Declan to shake up his world without even being here.
“I don’t think he’d have told Matthew if he wasn’t mostly sure. I don’t know a whole fucking lot though,” he admitted. “Except that if it’s true, I didn’t really know my dad at all.”
Adam didn't like the feeling rising up inside of him. It was a war—it was always a war—when it came to how he felt about Niall Lynch and how Ronan saw him. Family was always a complicated matter, emotions tangled in nostalgia, but this was a new low for Niall. And Adam hated him for the doubt and uncertainty he could still drive through Ronan even years after being dead. It hadn't helped that his ghost had lingered months ago, causing all that grief and confusion to follow Ronan around like a stormcloud.
It was never ending. Adam bit the inside of his cheek from saying the first thing he wanted to, which was also hypocritical given his own parental circumstances.
"That's not your fault," Adam settled on. His hand ghosted over Ronan's arm, a gentle touch without being overwhelming. He could feel that tangled anger radiating off Ronan. "You can be pissed they didn't tell you. You can be pissed at your dad and Declan for lying, but that has nothing to do with you. It's not a failing on your part for not knowing."
Adam took a deep breath and looked out into the ocean. "Let's say it is true because Declan told Matthew. At least, he believes it enough to be true. You have this part of the information now, what do you want to do with it? It's on your terms, Ronan."
Ronan closed his eyes and snorted humorlessly. He appreciated how quickly Adam slid into his corner, how effortlessly. His feelings for Adam Parrish felt too big for a moment and they washed over the anger and helplessness, smoothing out the rough edges and letting him breathe.
“Fuck, I don’t know. What is there to do with it?” He kicked a few rocks across the sand. “I was a little shitty with Matty because he knew this whole time and didn’t say a damn thing, but I can’t even really stay mad. It’s the fucking Lynch way.” He threaded his hands behind his head and focused on the sky, willing the clouds to be fuller, heavy with rain. The kind of rain he’d given Lindemere. The kind that made you both happy and sad. He thought it might be easier to twist this melancholy dream if he didn’t completely change what it was and he was right.
The clouds reformed instantly and a gentle rain cascaded across the beach. He watched it soak into Adam’s shoulders and moved closer. “I know that just cause she was a copy of a person doesn’t mean she wasn’t her own person. I’m just…” Worried was the word at the tip of his tongue, but he swallowed it. “I just wanna know what Declan is thinking.”
Even before it happened, Adam expected the rain. It was almost as if he could sense the dream changing before it changed. A side-effect of dreamwalking, of their proximity, of how entangled they were with one another, or all of the above. Their magic tended to weave tighter together, like putting a puzzle together one piece at a time. They were closing in on the whole picture, and so Adam didn't fight it. He simply tipped his head up and let the rain soak him.
He was happy, he was sad, he was worried about Ronan.
"You can take the information and try to find who to blame, you can try to solve the question: who is Mór Ó Corra? Why did your dad do this? Causa latet, vis est notissima.." Adam sighed, before adding, softer, "Or you can just leave it alone. Stew in it, I don't know. It's a lot, Ronan." He wasn't pitying, but he wasn't going to pretend that finding out your whole family wasn't what you were expecting wasn't gutting.
Adam took Ronan's hand again, kissed his knuckles, repeating the gesture from before they started this dream. Water ran down his face, through his hair, but his thoughtful expression never wavered. "I can only guess what Declan is thinking, but are you going to be okay with not knowing? Unless he shows up here, and you confront him, we're stuck with only this portrait and a lot of questions you might not have answered right away."
“I’ve looked up the name. I didn’t lead anywhere.” Ronan should probably have felt guilty about the rain, but it was a dream and it was something he could control. It sang quietly in his blood, if he listened closely enough. He let a few defused rays of sunlight peek through the clouds. They did nothing to warm Ronan’s skin but they caressed Adam’s damp face lovingly.
Bending his father’s dream to his whim was better than booze. It didn’t reveal anything different about the dream though. No secrets hidden away. Nothing only the greywaren could find.
Ronan frowned. "I’ll be fine. Can’t fucking do anything about it. Non omnia possumus omnes," he said, with a lazy, humorless smile. “Let’s just…” He nodded at Adam and stepped into his space, touching Adam’s wrist in an aimless caress. “Can you tap into Cabeswater and see if you get anything here that I’m not sensing?”
Adam's gaze was assessing, his eyes roaming over Ronan's expression, on the way he concentrated on the dream, and how easily between one breath the small details shifted. Watching Ronan dream as an outside observer was different when he could see it play out in real time. Adam would never stop being in awe, and as Ronan's casual touch drew Adam in, he couldn't seem to move away after that.
He rolled his eyes fondly at the Latin, murmuring his own cheeky response, " "Tu vigilas mecum," before he closed his eyes against the gentle request.
Reaching for Cabeswater was easy. Adam's fingers danced against the underside of Ronan's wrist, tapping in the rhythm of his pulse. The forest bloomed warmth behind Adam's chest, before dropping down and out into the dream, using Adam as a conduit between one magic and the next. It didn't last long though, and when Adam opened his eyes again, he noticed a few unnatural leaves floating to the shore in the tide.
"Cabeswater doesn't like it here," Adam said. "It doesn't like seeing you sad." He supposed that was also his influence. He didn't like seeing Ronan sad either. "Underneath it's still more of this, endless. If Niall left anyone anything to discover, it's not where I can see. But I won't stop trying." Adam leaned in to kiss Ronan's cheek; he wanted this to go better. "I'm sorry."
Ronan watched his magician in much the same awestruck way as Adam had watched his dreamer. Adam very nearly glowed. Even if they hadn’t been touching, Ronan thought he’d have felt the movement of magic, the bond with Cabeswater swelling beneath the seams. Things had felt stronger this time with Adam’s bond to the forest, whether that was because of Vallo or their own closeness or all of the above, it was impossible to ignore the way their magic danced together, especially in dreams.
It made Ronan feel known.
“Shut up,” he said fondly, turning his head to kiss the corner of Adam’s mouth. “I didn’t expect much. But since the will was a test…” He shrugged and squinted out over the sea. It seemed he would always be haunted by his father’s choices. Whatever. He was tired of thinking about Niall Lynch for the moment. He wanted to think about nothing but Adam Parrish. His expression warmed and he stepped away, pulling up at the hem of his wet shirt as he moved.
“Wanna skinny dip in the rain before we go?” he smirked.
"Everything could be a test," Adam said, finishing the thought. "I know." Another reason to have strong feelings against Ronan's father—he couldn't make things easy. Losing a parent never would be, but the layers to his deception continued to run deep. As if his stranglehold on Ronan would never loosen. It felt destined to choke him, and Adam wasn't going to allow it.
But even the bad mood of the dreamt painting couldn't keep Adam from smiling as he watched Ronan pull his shirt off. Adam followed Ronan's lead, grabbing the back collar of his and yanking it over his head. "I thought you'd never ask," Adam said, tossing his shirt into the sand and chasing after Ronan toward the ocean.