The Dream Cages #12

"I just landed on my ass in a cow pasture," Ronan declared. "What the fuck do you do when you scry, man?"

Ronan knew he was being loud. He knew his anger was irrational. But anger was always first in line when he expressed himself. When he was sad, it came out as anger. When he was scared, it came out as anger. When he was relieved—and Jesus Mary was he relieved—it came out as anger.

Lucky for him Adam had learned to read the shades of his anger. The relief Ronan felt reflected back at him in Adam's expression.

"You want some grilled cheese?" Matthew asked from his station at the stove.

"Fuck no. What are you even doing here?"

Matthew shrugged, ever unperturbed. Ronan had forgotten to give him anger when he'd dreamed him. He'd kept it all for himself.

"And why is there death metal playing in the barn?" Ronan went on.

"I thought the cows would like some music," said Matthew. "And that's the only thing that boombox plays." He brought a plate of grilled cheese to the farmhouse table. "Soup coming right up."

"Don't bother," Ronan told him. He folded himself into a chair and grabbed a sandwich. Adam took a seat more slowly and showed no interest in the food.

"We need to get out of here," Adam said.

"You think I don't know that?"

"This isn't really the Barns."

"You think I don't know that?"

"What's it doing here? In Cabeswater?"

Ronan sighed and used his full mouth as an excuse to stall. But he couldn't chew forever. "I thought if maybe I fit this one over the real one... If I brought the dream world and the real world together..." He sighed again. He couldn't explain it. But it made perfect sense in his head.

Adam seemed to understand anyway. "Even if it worked," he said, and he had that careful tone Ronan hated because it was the tone that meant bad news was coming, "it wouldn't really achieve your goal of making them truly alive and independent. Would it?"

The final question was fake, Ronan knew. Because Adam already knew the answer to it. Ronan threw his back against the back of the chair, just to expend the energy his irritation gave him. "No. But it might work as a temporary measure until I can figure something else out."

Adam's mouth worked in a way that suggested he wanted to say something but was stopping himself. Fine. Good. Ronan didn't want to hear all the reasons it was a bad idea or wouldn't work.

Matthew set cups of tomato soup in front of each of them, spoons sticking out like garnish, then sat down and began to eat as placidly as the cows. Ronan watched him with a mixture of fondness and exasperation. "Why are you here?" he asked again.

"I don't know," said Matthew. "I figured I was dreaming. Am I?"

Ronan's brow furrowed, and he turned to Adam. "Why were you scrying? And what the hell is that place?"

Adam shook his head, not as negation but to indicate the questions caught him off guard. "I wasn't. And what place?"

"I tried to go where you go when you scry. Wait, you weren't? Then how are you here?"

"Jesus," said Adam. "And no, I was just reading a textbook. Then everything went... wrong. What do the numbers six and twenty mean to you?"

"Six two oh," said Ronan. "That's what the whatever in the scrying space said."

"It spoke to you?"

"Doesn't it to you?"

Matthew's gaze darted between them as he followed the conversation. "This dream is really kinda boring," he said. "But I like seeing you guys and being home." He got up and set his cup and spoon in the sink.

"Wash it out," Ronan told him, but Matthew was already pushing the screen door open.

"I cooked. You clean." He went out.

Ronan watched him go then turned back to Adam. "You're in the hospital." Adam jolted where he sat, and Ronan went on, "I got a call. You made me your emergency contact?"

Adam only stared.

"Gansey and Blue and Henry... Gansey's managing the doctors. I came in to find you. We thought you'd been scrying and got lost or something."

"My body is still...?"

"The doctor said you had no brain activity or whatever. But the rest of you is working."

Air rushed out of Adam. "Where are you?"

"In the hospital room."

Adam nodded thoughtfully. "I'm sorry," he finally said. "I don't know why Cabeswater snatched me. And I don't know how to get back."

Ronan looked over his shoulder out the screen door. He could see the green of the fields, smell the grass and livestock. "This isn't Cabeswater, not in the way we know it," he said, as much to remind himself as to inform. "This is the dream version of it. At some point it bleeds into the real world, but..." He turned back to Adam. "If you imagine them in layers, this one above the physical world..."

"Like you were saying, about slipping this one over the real thing."

Ronan loved that Adam understood him so quickly.

"So how do we line them up?" Adam asked.

"I don't know, I—"

And then, carried on the fresh, sweet air, came the sound of Matthew screaming.

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