heatwaves

Chapter 4: Mirage

Summary:

Beginning to gain hope after visiting a special place, Dream extends an invitation.


Beneath the purple haze of an early morning sky, traffic lights silently flick from red to green. The road is quiet, and empty, and peppered with loose asphalt. The blue numbers on Dream’s stereo read 7:04.

His car frame shudders as he accelerates through the intersection.

He isn’t sure how long he’s been driving; it was dark when he’d stumbled down his driveway, dropped his keys on the concrete, and clambered into his seat. Now, a hint of sun slowly transforms the clouds above him into faint pink streaks. Stray vehicles begin to join his solemn trek across the barren streets with every passing minute.

Dream clenches his leather steering wheel. He’d been tossing and turning in the black molasses trap that is his room for so long, micro-analyzing every word he’s said to George in the entirety of their friendship, that he had to leave. He had to. To go somewhere, anywhere, away from his computer and digital life and his ridiculous madness.

He started driving aimlessly for the first hour or so, but once a location had settled on his shoulders, he knew it was inevitable.

His phone maps the way for him silently.

He tries to ignore the deep-seated embarrassment that gnaws at him every time his car slows. The murmurs and callous language that had fallen from his mouth reattach themselves into his mind—why, why hadn’t he stopped himself last night? He’d been flooded with hormones that made him feel like he was thirteen again, desperately clearing the browser history on his mother’s laptop before she came home.

It’s not as if they haven’t had close calls before, because they have, but the sheer strength of it hasn’t existed until now. The way George’s words seemed so genuine, the way Dream felt like he could take every slight breath that passed through the phone and run with it until it brought them both to a dangerous place. It was hardly anything, but in Dream’s idea of their strange friendship, it was more than enough to warrant a minor meltdown.

His foot presses on the gas pedal forcefully. Self control is what he needs now.

He turns, chest tightening as the sandy horizon comes into view. Does impulsively driving across the state with a dangerously low fuel gauge count as self control?

He pulls to a stop, and steps out of the car. The keys jangle faintly in his hand while his hoodie hangs limp in the other. A breeze brushes against the back of his neck, carrying sea salt and nostalgia.

He moves into the sand.

It’s been over thirteen years since he’s been back here, in person, and the lagoon looks different than he remembers. The murky water is now a dull green, and the shore is cluttered by beach chairs and trash cans. He glances at his shoes, nudging a stray cigarette butt on the ground. A strange feeling creeps down his spine—emptiness? Closure? He can’t tell.

He surveys the beach quietly, stepping over small dunes and crab shells, remembering the excited shrieks and playful games he’d been surrounded by here as a child. The feel of a strong warm hand in his, the sound of his mother’s gentle voice. Sunscreen, and mason jars, and jelly-fish hunting.

He lowers himself to the ground. When had this place become so ugly; in the waking world, and in his heart?

It’s pretty, George had said in his dream.

Because of you.

The early morning sun lifts over the horizon with careful grace. Dream brushes his fingertips over his nose and mouth instinctively. His skin is soft and smooth, yet still untouchable. A dull ache pains beneath his ribcage—how long has he been alone like this?

He lifts his head, and looks back at the line of swaying trees. He finds himself wishing George would emerge from them, as he did in his horrifying dream.

Is this place the last time he felt whole?

His back falls into the sand with a heavy thump. The sky shifts above him, and he blinks blearily. It’d be a rational idea for him to head home, soon. Yet a sinking weight tugs on his limbs, longing to rest for a moment in the dusk light. He’s been up for what feels like decades, constantly fighting tooth and nail against every thought that clambers into his brain.

He wants the anger to subside. He wants to feel without it slowly becoming more laced with hurt.

The world darkens as his eyelids flutter shut.

Just for a moment, he thinks, just for now.

He naps for two and a half hours.

The loud ringing of his phone startles him awake, and he sits up immediately. He sees the water before him, feels the sand gripping to his skin, and panic begins to rise in his throat. He grasps at his phone with a shaky hand.

“H-hello?” He glances around rapidly. When he catches sight of the small children splashing in the lagoon, families crowded on the shore, and wary strangers casting him concerned looks, he stills.

He’s safe, this is real.

“Dream,” Sapnap says. “Hey.”

Dream rotates his wrists slowly. He can detect the hint of a sunburn forming from his poor judgement.

“What—uh, why did you call?” The sun beats down on his neck as he gingerly brushes off the sand from his arms.

“I wanted to talk to you. Actually, do you want to switch to Discord? I’m in the middle of a round.” He hears the jumbled clicking of Sapnap’s keyboard.

Dream rises to his feet, muscles groaning in protest. “I can’t.”

“Why not?” Sapnap asks.

“Um.” Dream shakes off his hoodie. “I’m in Miami.”

The clicking stops. “What? Why?”

“It was an accident,” he says.

Sapnap falls silent.

“...You drove, like, four hours on accident?”

“Three and a half,” Dream corrects. He feels ridiculous. “Don’t make fun of me.”

“I’m not making fun of you,” Sapnap says, “this is exactly why I called. You’ve been weird lately.”

He frowns. It hasn’t been that long. “Lately?”

“Yeah, man. For a while now, but I really...really didn’t want to make it anybody’s business unless I had to, y’know?” Sapnap clears his throat. “I guess the past few days have changed that. You seem extra weird.”

Dream passes a family that stares at him as he walks by. “Trust me, I know.”

“Okay, well.” Sapnap’s voice softens, “You know you can talk to me, right? I know you’re kind of closer to George these days, but I’m still here.”

His heart pangs. “Of course I know that. I love you, dude.” He stops at his car, and leans against the driver’s side door. “I hope you know that even if we get kind of busy and don’t talk as much as we used to, it doesn’t mean we’re not close anymore. And as for me and George, I...that’s the problem. George. I think. I’m not sure.”

“George?” Sapnap reiterates, confused.

“George,” Dream confesses, laced with isolated warmth and gentle sorrow. He squeezes his keys in his palm, the metal ridges digging into his flesh.

“Oh.”

“Yeah,” he says. “I—I don’t really know what to do.”

Sapnap clears his throat, “I mean, I’m glad that you told me. I’m sure that wasn’t easy. But...he cares about you a lot, man. Like a lot, a lot.”

“Exactly. I feel like a creep.” Dream looks out at the water, children building sandcastles where he’d wrestled himself to death once or twice. “It’s all because of that stupid dream.”

“The beach one you were talking about?” Sapnap asks. “What happened?”

Dream laughs stiffly. “Guess.”

“I think I know,” Sapnap says.

“Then guess, dude, don’t make me say it.”

“Well I don’t want to say it! What if I’m wrong?”

They both become silent. Dream sighs.

“I kissed him, Sapnap,” he mutters, “like, really kissed him. When I woke up I thought that was the end of it, y’know? People have weird dreams like that all the time. But then what I felt just...didn’t go away.” He kicks a lone piece of gravel with his shoe. “It’s still not going away.”

“Maybe it’s worth more than that to you, then.” Sapnap takes a pause, and continues with caution in his voice, “Also, I don’t think it all came from nowhere.”

He frowns. “What do you mean?”

“I’m saying that you probably, I don’t know, had these feelings for him before,” Sapnap says.

Feelings. “Um.”

“Sorry, was that not—,”

“No, no, don’t worry about it.” Dream swallows. “Maybe you have a point. Either way, I’m in this shit now. How do I get out?”

“Do you want out?” Sapnap asks.

“I—,” Dream falters, not expecting the word yes to get caught in his throat. “I want him."

Sapnap coughs awkwardly.

Dream turns red. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine, just something to get used to. Have you...talked to him, about how you feel?”

“I can’t do that, he’d freak out. You know how he gets even when I’m joking,” Dream says.

“You do get under his skin,” Sapnap says, “not in a gross way, though. If he had a real problem with it he’d ask you to stop.”

Dream scoffs. “Seriously? This is George. He hates confrontation.”

“Dunno. He seems fine confronting you.” He hears Sapnap’s lips smack a few times.

“That doesn’t mean anything—wait.” He pauses to listen. “Are you eating?”

Sapnap chews. “Yes.”

“In the middle of my super emotional conversation?”

“It’s my lunch.”

“It’s so loud, Sapnap. What is that, taffy?” His nose scrunches in disgust.

“Peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” Sapnap corrects. “Have you eaten anything today?”

He rolls his eyes. “No. Don’t mom me.”

“I will. You’re talking to me about boy trouble, so I qualify. Eat something.”

“I’m not hungry,” Dream says.

Sapnap makes a noise of disbelief. “It’s a really sweet peanut-almond mix, with strawberry jam, on rye bread. Toasted.”

He feels a grumble in his stomach. “Goddammit.”

“Get food,” Sapnap says, “and go home, Jesus.”

Dream begrudgingly leans off the car and opens his door. “George doesn’t ‘confront’ me. It doesn’t mean anything,” he repeats. Waves of heat radiate from inside the vehicle, making him wince. He should have at least cracked a window or two when he’d parked—this is going to be a nightmare.

“Oh come on, Dream. He calls you out all the time to make you like, piss yourself or something.” Sapnap chuckles lightly.

“Yeah, but—oh my god, it’s too hot right now.” He lowers himself into the seat. “But that’s just him joking around. He’s not serious.” He tugs the door shut, immediately rolling down the windows once his keys are in the ignition. The air outside is a few degrees less hellish than inside his portable oven, but not enough to provide relief.

“Don’t you think that when you’re actually saying stuff, he just thinks you’re joking too?” Sapnap questions.

His fingers hastily shove at the air conditioning controls. A small, cool burst is all he needs. “I don’t understand what you’re trying to say.”

“That maybe he’s just mimicking you,” Sapnap says, “maybe he wants you, too.”

A blast of scorching air attacks his face from the dusty vents immediately, flooding the car with suffocating billows of heat. It smells like pain.

“Wh—” Dream coughs, smacking the vents sloppily, mind on fire. “What?”

“He said the other day that—”

The phone beeps twice.

“Sapnap? Sapnap?” Dream takes the phone from his sweaty face to stare at a black screen. Rapidly squeezing the home button, a dead battery signal faintly pops up.

He rests it on his thigh. Of course.

With the back of his hand, he wipes his forehead. He often forgets that Sapnap knows him too well.

He reaches for the cord and silently plugs in his phone. This is exactly why he’d avoided their conversation, knowing full well it would come around to him eventually. His heart races. Why should he believe him, anyway?

The hunger in his stomach prods at him politely. Glancing around the floor of his car, he realizes that when he’d manically left his house in the middle of the night, he hadn’t cared to bring his wallet. Or his drivers license.

He cranks the gear shift into drive in preparation of a miserable ride home.

Eventually, when the air conditioning has cooled to a tolerable degree, he sees his phone flash to life. He quickly routes his way home, and sets it down as his music unknowingly begins to shuffle.

From his busted speakers, he hears a few words begin to crackle through.

Road shimmer, wiggling the vision, heat heat waves...

He glares at the watery mirage on the sunny street ahead of him, and slams on the gas.

-

Nearly four hours later, he’s five slices deep in a large pepperoni pizza he’d desperately ordered half an hour away from his house. Patches is perched on the counter and waiting for the inevitable moment of weakness where he’ll give her a snack.

He’d tried to not think too much about what Sapnap said on his drive. It was easy to ignore, anyway, with the sweat pooling by his armpits and angry tailgating locals. But once he’d rolled into his driveway and peeled himself from the leather seat, a complicated elation set in.

Maybe he wants you too.

What kind of statement was that to say to someone in his situation? He rips up a piece of crust angrily. As if it wasn’t already bad enough.

His phone vibrates against his leg, and he sighs. Sapnap had texted him a few times but Dream isn’t sure if it’ll be a good idea to answer. Still, he wipes off the grease from one hand to check, dangling a piece of pizza in the other.

Hey, George sent, we haven’t really talked in like, a day. Is everything okay? Did I do something?

He immediately drops the slice and frantically begins to type back. No no no, of course not, I’ve just been

He pauses. How can he describe the last eighteen hours of his life?

—doing a lot of driving, so I haven’t been on my phone. I actually just got home.

Oh sorry, ignore my other text then, George says. Home from where?

Dream chews hesitantly. Miami.

How come?

His thumb hovers over the letters for a while until he responds. I don’t know how to explain it. I just had to clear my head.

That’s worrisome, George says.

Dream huffs. I have pizza now so it’s ok.

That’s good, George responds, how did you sleep?

On a beach, Dream types, then deletes it. I kind of—he aggressively hits the backspace button.

I didn’t, he confesses finally. He tries, and fails, to not think about the clipped breaths he’d heard leave George’s mouth the night before.

He picks a piece of pepperoni off the remaining slices and tosses it to Patches. She gently bends her head while chewing over the cold countertop. In the time it takes for George to reply, he’s grown antsy enough to give her another.

Why’s that? George asks.

Dream smirks. Why do you think, he sends too quickly.

Nightmares?

He thinks of the dark heat of his room, his calloused palm on his chest, George’s words ringing in his ears as his self-restraint thinned greatly. Resisting the searing force that wanted, more than anything, to drag his hand down across his stomach and disappear in the darkness below.

Something like that, he responds.

Sorry for keeping you up late, then, George says.

He mutters, “You have no idea.”

It’s fine, Dream texts, I liked hearing your voice.

A glowing confidence begins to trickle into his chest again. What is it about talking with George that always gives him a cradle of comfort? He makes me feel safe, he thinks. His cheeks flush, and he blames it on the humidity.

You’re just lonely, George responds.

Dream grins, raising his cup to his lips. Come be lonely with me.

Stop.

You keep giving me the opportunity, he texts happily, it’s almost like you secretly enjoy it.

It’s hot, George says.

Dream chokes on his water.

NOT, George sends frantically, not not not. It’s not. Oh my god.

A warm laugh escapes his lips. His head spins with flustered surprise and deep amusement. This is too good to be true.

Oh really? He sends.

George quickly answers. Shut up.

You think I’m hot?

Typos happen, Dream, George types in a manner Dream imagines is angry. He can picture his pinched brows, his nervous hands rubbing his face in embarrassment.

You didn’t deny it, he points out.

Do you not get many compliments? Is that why you’re so obsessed with this? George asks.

That’s really flattering for you to say especially since you haven’t seen me, he continues, setting down his phone to pack up the leftover pizza.

It vibrates against the spotted counter.

I’ve seen parts of you.

He raises his eyebrows. The words arch, draw back, and snap as he takes his shot: You wanna see more?

George says: yes.

The arrow lands right in his heart.

What do you want to see, he types slowly, breath becoming uneven. The light swoosh that signifies the text went through makes his skin crawl. He slides his phone away, busily clearing the pizza box and napkins.

He scoops Patches up anxiously. She doesn’t protest besides lightly hooking her claws into his shirt.

George texts him back.

You have nice hands, it says.

His breath escapes his body in a warm rush. The low fire within him roars to life. Are they joking anymore? This would be reasonable for George to mess with him about, as he and Sapnap had teased him relentlessly when their viewers ogled over his merch photos.

If only George knows how his hands tremble as he opens Snapchat. He aims the camera at his chest, capturing Patches and his supporting hand buried in her fur.

Here you go, he captions.

He presses send—knuckles, veins, and all. He can’t overthink this.

George opens it.

Goog has taken a screenshot.

Dream groans. He swipes into their Snapchat conversation and furiously types: You bitch.

I’m gonna leak this to the subs, George says. And not because of Patches.

Dream fights a smile. Yeah right.

Do you want to test me?

If you tweet that, Dream types, I’ll tweet screenshots of you calling me hot.

No one would believe that, George fires back.

Dream sends him a frowny face.

You rly live for validation, George texts.

Yes. Dream is setting Patches down onto the floor when genius strikes. He nervously types: Just admit it, George. I think you’re hot, why don’t you say it back?

George views the message, and hesitates before replying; I really dislike you right now.

I’m telling the truth.

You’re not, George replies.

His heart pounds. Send me a selfie. Prove me wrong.

When George doesn’t immediately begin typing back, Dream’s anxiety skyrockets. George and Sapnap send dumb photos to him all the time, often from cursed angles or covered with enlarged words. He’s never asked for it before, because it’s not something friends do.

A red square pops up on his screen, and he clicks on it.

His mouth runs dry.

George sent him a partial selfie, showing the lower half of his face beneath his eyes, with his hand near his chest flipping off the camera. Dream would normally crack a smile, or quickly respond—but his gaze rakes over George’s lips, the smooth shape of his jaw, the exposed skin on his neck. His cheeks are dusted pink, accompanied by light speckles that Dream knows are there but has hardly seen before.

It explodes in Dream’s chest all at once; how badly he wants to grab a fistful of George’s hoodie, kiss him senseless, and lower him to his knees. He could stroke his fingers across his ivory jaw. He could tilt his chin, have George look up at him with his dark, gleaming eyes. Run a thumb across his swollen lips. How easily would they part under his touch?

“Fuck.” Dream runs a hand through his hair. That is too far, too much. This is too much.

You’re too much, George had whispered, rosy-cheeked and breath hot.

"Nope,” he breathes, pocketing his phone and rushing to his bathroom. “Nope nope nope."

His hands shake as he flicks on the light and grasps the marble sink. In the mirror, his disheveled reflection drips with sweat and shame. Shadows fall over his eyes from the tension in his brow.

How did I get like this?

He turns on the faucet, cursing himself for letting something so small, so innocent, writhe under his skin and possess his mind.

He cups his palms under the cold stream, and splashes his face.

Was it innocent? Does George know what he’s doing?

His phone rattles again. Dream lifts the bottom of his shirt to dry his dripping jaw.

Did I prove you wrong, George asks.

Dream lets out a highly exasperated huff. No, he types, you most certainly did not.

Yeah right.

Always a joke. Never serious, never real, never honest.

He steps away from the sink, letting his back press against the cool tile walls. What can I do to make you believe me, he asks.

The pale light hovering over the mirror hums quietly. Droplets fall, rhythmically, into the sink drain. Dream’s pulse presses against the edges of his skull like clockwork.

Call me.

Dream’s eyes widen. Can he bear to hear George’s voice without sinking deeper into this tangled mess of warmth and want? His fingers still above the glowing screen, and he contemplates his self control. Their last call had sent him across Florida—what would this one do?

He dials George’s number immediately.

“You actually called,” George says once he’s picked up, and the sound of his words makes Dream melt.

“Of course,” he attempts to hide his fondness. “You told me to. I couldn’t say no.”

“How nice of you,” George replies, laughing lightly. “Simp.”

Dream’s eyes scrape the white ceiling nervously. “I’m the simp? You asked for pics of my hands earlier. That’s pretty embarrassing, George.”

“You asked for a selfie,” George counters. “Which one is worse?”

“Fair enough,” Dream says. He slides down to the fuzzy bathroom rug. “You could ask for one too, if you wanted.”

“I don’t want to force you,” George recites easily. “I’m happy with what I’ve seen so far.”

He smiles. “Oh really?”

“Mhm.”

“What if I could make you happier?” he presses, a dopey grin hanging off of his features.

George clicks his tongue. “Easy, tiger.”

Dream’s face grows warm. The air of the bathroom glides over the hum in his cheeks, as he dares to ask, “Is this going to become a nightly thing?”

“What do you mean?” George questions, but the edges are nervous. Knowing.

“These phone calls,” he says, unable to keep softness from his tone.

George hums, contemplatively. “Well, yeah. I mean, we’re on calls together all the time.”

Dream can feel the hot circulation brushing the back of his neck, the hair on his forearms; the exposed skin of his throat. His voice is low, “But this is different—just you and me. Right?”

He hates the way ′you and me’ falls from his lips, sounding like a secret.

He can nearly see it—George in his room, phone held to his ear, stilled by the subtle change in tone. How badly Dream wishes he could be there next to him, to see his face and know if any of their conversations are truly real.

“Yeah,” George murmurs. “It is.”

Dream’s eyes flutter shut in silent relief. The agreement blankets the space between them, words leap to the tip of his tongue, and he clenches his jaw to keep himself at bay.

“You know, you—uhm,” George stumbles, and clears his throat. “The way you talk to me is different when it’s just us, too.”

His grip on his phone tightens slightly. “Really?”

“Your voice is softer,” George explains quietly, “and bright. Like you’ve never been sad before.”

Dream’s eyes slowly open. He stares at the space between the stark counter and porcelain bowl before him, paralyzed by his nerves. His lips part in response—but for once, he doesn’t know what to say.

“And your laugh is so genuine. Even when I’ve not said anything funny, you still laugh, and the sound is just...infectious,” George says. “You have no idea how much it makes me smile.”

“I’m glad I can make you feel that way,” Dream breathes finally. Through the small window in the shower, he can hear wind swaying the palm trees in his backyard. He wishes, more than anything, that he could see George smile whenever he wanted; listen to him speak his name, face to face. “I should make more excuses to call you, then.”

“I’d like that,” George mutters.

Dream wraps a hand around his bicep, and squeezes. He can feel his pulse flaring beneath his fingertips. How much more of this can he take, before he combusts into a confetti of red desire? Or drags himself back to the steering wheel? Or, even worse, obtains a plane ticket?

“George,” he says, throat tight. “Can I ask you something?”

“Oh, sure.”

He lets the phone’s electronic hum fill their silence, for a moment. Then, he takes a breath.


“Would you want to come to Florida?”

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