Chapter 1: Moon Jelly
Beads of sweat collect near his hairline. He tugs absently on the sticky plastic of his headphones, where they rest around his neck. The small light on the exterior blinks green.
"Dream?" He hears George say faintly.
"Wait, did he leave?" Sapnap asks.
"It says he's on the call, still." George's voice slowly grows closer. Dream begins to detach his eyes from the fan. "Dream?"
The concern in his voice makes Dream sit up. He pushes his headphones back on and wipes his face. "Yes, yes, hello, sorry. I zoned out for a sec." He blinks to register what's on his screen, seeing green grass blocks and Sapnap's avatar crouching in front of him. "Shoot, did you end the stream?" He quickly tabs out just in time to see George laugh.
"No, but I'm about to. Couldn't end it without you saying bye," George says. The small considerate act is enough to bloom a warmth in Dream's chest.
He smiles. "Oh, alright. Bye stream!"
"Bye!" Sapnap yells.
George waves to the camera. "Bye you guys, thank you so much. Also, pray for Dream's air conditioning."
"And my broken fan," Dream adds.
"Bye bye," George repeats, then disappears from Dream's view. This stream has ended. A familiar feeling creeps into Dream's chest whenever that message appears post-stream; disappointment clouded with confusion. Today, it is accompanied by trickles of regret.
He frowns. "Sorry I spent so much of your stream complaining about the weather," he says, clicking back to the server. Sapnap has placed an oak sign before him that reads: wee waa dream can't take the heat. He rolls his eyes and breaks it.
"It's fine, really. I just feel bad for you," George says. His avatar bounds over and starts placing doors on the ground. "Any idea when it'll be fixed?"
"Soon, I hope," Dream answers with a huff, opening and closing the doors to appease George. "I don't think I can take much more of this." They'd been playing for the past three hours, meaning Dream had been accumulating enough sweat in his boxers to stick to his chair for much longer than any man should. Physical comfort was a key component for him to stay mellow, and not much could distract him from itchy tags and blistering heat. Not much, that is, besides gaming. "Seeing you was nice, though, something about your cheerful face distracts me from my agony," he confesses, words leaving his mouth before he can attempt to filter. He cringes. What was that?
"Oh my god, shut up," George says. He sounds embarrassed.
Sapnap coos. "Maybe I should stream with my camera on too."
Dream laughs, running away from the two of them to ease his sudden spike in nervousness. "That would keep my attention."
"Oh yeah, are my streams not interesting enough for you Dream?" George says, flying after him.
"What?" Dream says, feeling a pang of guilt. "What makes you think that? I love your streams."
George continues to act offended. "If you loved them you wouldn't zone out randomly."
"I didn't mean to," Dream whines, which only makes the other two laugh. "I just got distracted by my misery, and tried to airbend a breeze in here."
"Yeah right," Sapnap says, "you couldn't have been doing just that for ten minutes."
"Ten minutes?" Dream repeats, bewildered. He didn't feel it had been that long; he was exploring the map and then clicked onto George's stream to see where he was, and of course George was smiling and yelling, but somehow so full of energy and spirit, and the hot air started to seep into Dream's soul—
"You were AFK for a while," George says, "we were still talking to you though and thought you'd muted yourself or something. Chat thought it was embarrassing."
"Oh," Dream says.
"Hold on, did you mean to mute yourself?" Sapnap asks, laughing as his own words leave his mouth. "Lil too excited watching George?"
Both Dream and George explode in disgusted yells. Good lord, Sapnap.
"Sapnap!" George sends a series of hits raining down onto his avatar. "You are so inappropriate off-stream."
"You're gross," Dream says with a laugh, but it's feeble and half-hearted. His pulse is rapidly drumming inside his skull. He is not lost to the strange dilemma of why he faded from their call for so long to stare at his George-less ceiling. Why did George have anything to do with it? Envy, perhaps, of his friend's ability to be wearing a hoodie in the middle of summer. He brushes it off. "It's true, though. George's face does get me excited."
George groans, making Sapnap and Dream laugh. "Now you're just trying to make me uncomfortable."
"Flustered, you mean," Dream inputs quickly.
"Okay, no, I'm sick of you two," George says, immediately exiting their server. "Consider this a rage quit."
GeorgeNotFound has left the game. Dream sends a :( into the chat.
"Noo, Georgie," Sapnap pleads.
"You did a great job today," Dream says, wholeheartedly. "I'm going to re-watch what I missed of it later." George laughs.
"I seriously have to go. I'll talk to you soon," he says, a small sound emitting from Discord signifying he's left the call.
The feeling returns to Dream's chest—it's akin to the cold rush that follows when he removes his hands from a steaming coffee mug. Some nights after their friends have logged off for good, he'll do anything to avoid giving in and going to bed. Twitter, mini-games, coding, creating playlists. His favorite nights, though, are when George wakes up early enough to keep him company. Their conversations radiate with the warmth of both the Florida night and the English sunrise.
So whenever George jokingly becomes angry with him, Dream can't dispel the tiny tremor of worry that maybe he's gone too far. He doesn't like to mull over the thought of them really fighting; it would terrify him like nothing else. He knows George will call again tomorrow, and that he isn't nearly as upset as he lets on. Yet he still finds himself carefully watching the dot next to George's name switch from green to a pale grey.
"I think I'm gonna hop off too," Dream says to Sapnap.
After disconnecting, he swivels around in his chair to face his bed. The dark comforter has been kicked to the floor, sheets askew. The window above his bed is shut tight to keep out the humid air and insects, but he can see the soft orange streetlights in the distance.
He sighs and wishes for rain.
He remembers running barefoot on his neighborhood streets as a child when storms would roll in from the sea, splashing in gravelly puddles and letting the cool raindrops dampen his hair. That space was always euphoric—a brief temperance from the smoldering air, green palm trees swaying in the wind, the hint of thunder and lightning—but it feels so far from him now. Especially in this dreadful weather.
He turns off his computer and begrudgingly gets in bed. He's nearly grown accustomed to the dark when his phone vibrates, the notification lighting up the room. He squints.
A text from George.
I feel like this song is a good way for me to get back at you, it reads. Dream clicks on the link, opening his Spotify to a new 'Glass Animals' song.
"Heat Waves," he responds, smiling. Very funny.
He'll listen to that in the morning. As he sets his phone back on the nightstand, Dream finds himself warmed by the gesture, even though it was an insult on his behalf. George is a thoughtful guy. Nothing wrong with appreciating that. Not that Dream finds it unnerving that interacting with George has a direct correlation with his general contentment and moods; in fact, it isn't worth the overthinking.
Settled by his own logic, he allows his body to focus on sleep. He slips in and out of shadows, occasionally tossing and turning in irritation at the cotton sheets. The fabric clings to his dampened skin up to the moment he sluggishly kicks it away. Something clatters to the floor, but Dream rolls onto his side.
Eventually, the night cools enough for him to sink deeper, and deeper, until he turns his head from his soft, warm pillow to a cold pile of sand.
Confused, he grasps at the foundation beneath him only for the rocky grains to slip through his fingers.
He sits up rapidly, glancing at the beach now surrounding him. Although the image is narrow, he can tell there is a murky-purple lagoon lapping a few feet before him. The moon ripples across its ominous surface. The night is quiet; a taunting breeze brushing the back of his neck and bringing chills down his spine.
He looks down at his hands, seeing his bright sleeves pushed halfway up his forearms. Bright green.
A sinking feeling begins to rot in his stomach as the familiarity sets in. He's been here before. He shifts his head cautiously, realizing where the shadows at the edge of his vision are coming from, and raises a hand to gently graze the ceramic covering his face. He doesn't need a mirror to know what the mask looks like.
He pulls up his hood, tensing as he anticipates the next subject he'll recognize. At any moment, behind his right shoulder, a voice will call from the edge of the trees that'll say—
He freezes. That's—that's not right, it isn't supposed to be—
"George?" He asks quietly, turning around with caution. George stands a few feet behind him, goggles perched atop his head and an axe in his hand. He's looking around their location, dazed. The starry sky reflects itself on his lenses.
He walks across the sand towards Dream slowly. "Where...are we?"
"Um." Dream considers curling in on himself, but can't help fighting the comfort of honesty. "My head, I guess." He knows from experience that this place values integrity more than anything. Facing it head on, so to speak. He just doesn't know why he'd let George in here—it isn't safe.
"It's pretty," George says, sitting on the sand next to him.
Dream's heart aches faintly at his remark. Once, he'd thought it was pretty, too. He can't find the words to tell George that after so many years of frantically slipping on the sand, coughing up lung-fulls of the dark water, and running from the woods—it has become a thing of nightmares.
He stares at George. Can he feel the memories here?
"So this is..." George gestures around with his axe vaguely. "Florida?"
Dream cracks a smile. "Yeah, you finally made it," he teases softly. George's grin is bright enough to make him look away. "It's a lagoon I used to come to as a kid."
"You make it sound like that was lifetimes ago."
Something foreign and lost weighs on the tension in Dream's features, forgotten behind the ceramic. "Maybe," he says, "I've had multiple lives here."
George says nothing. He lifts a moon-soaked hand to point at the water. "Do you see those?"
Dream turns his head, and small glowing blobs appear near the shore. Their light blue color is stark against the darkness as they float idly.
"They're moon jellies," Dream says in disbelief. He's never seen them here before. The curling darkness steals all hint of life besides him, his beating heart, and occasional whispers in the wind.
George hums in approval. Dream looks at him again, grateful for the mask covering his own features. Pale moonlight makes George's skin glow a soft porcelain, pink lips pressed together in a delicate brush stroke.
The word bubbles up from deep in Dream's chest, winding into his bloodstream and landing gracefully in his head.
He wants to back away from it, to shove it deep down. But for once, it feels safe here, safe to admit it to himself without needing an air of humor to skate by on. Here, it isn't a joke.
"Why are we here?" George asks in a murmur, gaze lifting to face Dream. The word here hangs with a heavy lilt, as if he'd meant to say, what brought me? Who pulled me?
Was it you?
In his large brown eyes Dream can see the faded reflection of his sloppy black and white smile.
"I know why I'm here," Dream says carefully, "but I don't know why you are." A brief rustling of leaves and twigs behind them causes him to tense again. "It's dangerous here, George. We should go."
"Why? Don't you want to stay in this memory?"
Dream ignores the comment, and lightly wraps an arm around his shoulders to help him up. George doesn't try to stand. He keeps them rooted to the white shore with a confused frown.
"Nothing is going to hurt us when I'm here," he says.
Dream feels his face grow hot. "Knock it off. This is serious."
George looks at him earnestly. "I'm being serious."
Now that his arm is draped protectively over George's small frame, Dream becomes extremely aware of how close they are. He can sense George's body heat, watch his chest rise and fall, see the goosebumps on his neck. Dream's heart begins to pound. For how long has he wanted to meet him? To hear his voice in person? The fear inside him slowly begins to ebb away into fondness.
The moon jellies rapidly multiply until the lagoon is dappled blue, and gleaming.
George grins. "I told you it's pretty."
"Because of you," Dream says warmly. Even though George rolls his eyes, he means it. They laugh lightly at each other, glowing water and gentle sparks blooming as the moment passes.
George's gaze lingers on Dream for a few heartbeats, before letting go of his axe. He raises his hand to reach for the ceramic mask.
Dream freezes as his eyes follow the motion. His hood falls when George runs his fingers gently through his wavy hair—he can't remember the last time he let someone do this. It feels intimate. It feels terrifying. His eyes shut when George finds the metal clasp on the back of his head, he exhales when he feels the weight of the mask drop from his face.
The breeze is cold on his cheeks. He can smell the nearby saltwater. He opens his eyes, and sees twice as many stars as usual.
"How did you do that? I've never..." He looks at George, who is smiling softly.
"I know honesty is important to you," George says. His hand moves to gently touch Dream's cheekbone.
Dream reaches and delicately takes George's hand in his, slender knuckles and fingers sliding together with timid grace. He feels alive. He leans closer, studying George's eyes until he slips down, further, to his soft lips. His breath is trembling.
"And what if I kissed you right now?" He murmurs, heart racing. "How honest would that be?"
George's eyes grow wide. "I—well, Dream—you—" he stammers, giving Dream exactly what he needs to let go.
Their movements happen nearly all at once—the inclining of George's jaw, the slide of Dream's hand into his hair, the connection of their lips. The kiss is raw with emotion, and gentle. Hot embers rise from Dream's chest to heat his face. The soft presence of George's mouth against his own is surreal, as their senses collectively slip away into the dreamland. His hand rises to softly cup George's jaw. He pulls his face closer, breath hot, heart stuttering. Nervous energy quickly ebbs into a strong hearth of longing, as he kisses George again, and again, and again. George emits a soft noise that makes Dream melt. He can feel George's hands in his hair, then on his neck, then on his chest.
Dream pulls away to capture brief puffs of air. His chest rises and falls rapidly, as he looks at George's flushed cheeks and mouth kissed red. Because of him. A low feeling stirs in the space just below his ribcage, the first flickering of a dangerously hot flame. All of it, all of George, just for him.
Dream parts his lips to say something, anything—and promptly wakes up.