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Wilbur huffed impatiently as he scoured L'manburg's reserves, flipping open the next chest on the wall in front of him. The insides were a mess, full of junk like gunpowder and wool and rotten flesh, and after rummaging through for another few seconds he closed it with a none-too-quiet thunk. The last ten or so chests he'd opened had been similarly mismanaged and useless, one or two empty altogether, and Wilbur bit back an impatient sigh.

 

"Looking for something?"

 

The voice behind him made him jump, hands slamming on the polished wooden lid of the chest in front of him. A new wave of annoyance had him bringing his hand to his face with a deep sigh.

 

"What do you want, Dream?"

 

Even if it weren't from the voice, it was obvious enough that it could only be his masked rival-menace-fellow leader (?) that had invaded his quarters. No one in L'manburg would interrupt him in his house without sparing the decency of knocking, first, and pretty much no one at all could manage to sneak into a room without making a sound. Wilbur turned around; sure enough, a glaring green cloak and porcelain white mask stared at him with that same, perpetual smile. He was decked to the nines with enchanted netherite, too - how on earth did the man manage to be so blasted silent?

 

"Aw, come on," Dream's voice was lilting, and Wilbur was sure that beneath the mask a lopsided smirk would have matched it. "What's with the attitude?"

 

"I really don't have the time for this today, Dream."

 

Wilbur reached for the next chest, groaning as it once again came up empty. Who was left to chest management? Things were never this bad when Eret was in charge of organization, and he was sure that Tubbo wouldn't have let it get this bad, either. Tommy, on the other hand-

 

The thought of the two youngest citizens of his country had him moving to the next chest with renewed fervor. Focus, Wilbur. This chest, at least, wasn't empty, but he wasn't sure that being filled to the brim with useless knick-knacks made it much better. Why was it this hard to get a few bloody pieces of iron?

 

"Well, I guess I'll be going then," Dream said, but a hint of humor belied the insincerity of his words. It was the kind of tone that he'd pair with a cocky smirk and a raised eyebrow, one he'd use to shout 'come and get me' with a strength pot hidden behind his back. The strange, song-like quality of his next words only confirmed Wilbur's suspicions. "I guess you don't want to hear about the couple of strays I found in my territory, then-"

 

"What did you do to them?"

 

Wilbur's voice dropped, low and dangerous, and his hand tightened around the only weapon he had on him. Dream's face, obscured by the mask, was expressionless as ever, but Wilbur imagined that he was looking at him with more than a hint of disbelief.

 

"Is that a stone axe?"

 

"Dream." Wilbur kept his tone unwavering, even though he knew his display of intimidation, if you could even call it that, was little more than posturing. As relaxed as Dream appeared, there was no time where the man wasn't prepared for battle, and Wilbur would bet the whole of L'manburg and his life that there was a whole arsenal of enchanted weapons, at least 10 gaps, a half-stack of steak, and a dozen enderpearls in the man's inventory at the moment, never mind whatever additional potions and tools he had hidden under his cloak. He'd seen this man laugh off a half-dozen skilled fighters with enchanted gear with little more than a set of iron armor, a diamond axe, and a shield; Wilbur would hardly be able to land a hit before Dream sent him respawning in the other room. He tightened his grip around the handle, anyways. "I'm not asking."

 

"You know, if you hit someone with that grip, you're probably going to hurt your wrist or something-"

 

" Dream. "

 

"Oh relax, will you?" Dream huffed in frustration, leaning back against the wall. "Geez, what kind of person do you think I am?"

 

"I'm not sure." This was the truth; Wilbur knew who Dream was, technically, knew he was deadly in battle, knew that he liked stupid jokes and made crazy jumps like they were nothing, but the man had hardly ever dropped the mask (literal and otherwise) around him. He didn't know what made him tick (except, apparently, declaring independence from his land), didn't know what set him at ease, didn't know what had him laughing one moment and attacking a task (and attacking was the right word here, he was sure) with a scary degree of determination the next. And most importantly, he didn't know what he'd do to a pair of defenseless enemies on his land, children or otherwise.

 

"We're in peacetime , Wilbur," his voice was drawling and sarcastic, covering up whatever true feelings that might have been hidden beneath it. "I may not be a history nerd like you are, but I'm pretty sure that attacking in peacetime is what qualifies as what may be called a 'dick move.'"

 

"And you, Dream, are the king of said 'dick moves,'" Wilbur couldn't help sniping back, trying not to roll his eyes. "So you see my predicament, here."

 

"You think so little of me? You wound me, Wilbur."

 

"As I should. Someone needs to bring down that ego of yours."

 

Dream mimed being stabbed, the bastard, and Wilbur didn't suppress the eye roll that came, this time.

 

"Seriously though, Dream," he drew himself up, axe still in hand. He was glad that he was taller than the other man, at least; an even taller Dream was a monstrosity that no one in the world wanted. "Where are Tommy and Tubbo."

 

Dream pulled himself up, as well, not quite losing the teasing aura that he never seemed to take off, but becoming more serious, at least. "They're at my place," he gestured with a flick of his wrist in the vague direction of the Embassy. "Found them when I was patrolling."

 

"Patrolling?"

 

Dream laughed. "Why'd you say it like that? Yeah, patrolling. You guys don't do that?"

 

Wilbur spluttered. "I mean, we have the area lit up," that wasn't really true, Tubbo had started the process of lighting up the place, and the docks he was working on were well lit enough, but the rest of the borders were a bit of a moot point. "And we have our wall. I didn't really see the need."

 

"Wow," Dream laughed, again. "You know, this is why it was so easy to plant explosives in the place, last time."

 

"Just move on, please," Wilbur managed, even as his face flushed uncomfortably in embarrassment. It was times like these that reminded him how inexperienced he was, as a leader, that despite the amount of historical knowledge he had, it could only go so far as far as practical application. Things that Wilbur completely overlooked or forgot or messed up, like chest organization and lighting up the area and patrols, Dream brushed off like they were obvious. And, his mind whispered dryly, keeping track of his own people. Stupid, he thought, mentally begging Dream to just keep talking. Stupid-

 

"Anyways, I was just doing patrol," there was a weird note in his voice, something that Wilbur would usually press harder against, but he was far too busy wrangling with his own inadequacy to bother verbally sparring, "And I found a couple of drenched kids in the middle of the woods being harassed by skeletons. I think they got lost, or something. You know the large patch of spruce behind Tommy's dirt shack? They were pretty far in the middle of it, dunno what they were doing. Anyways, I was going to bring them back to L'manchildburg-"

 

"It's L'manburg."

 

"-L'manchildburg, but my place was closer. I hope that isn't too much trouble."

 

Wilbur didn't quite know how to respond to that, so he settled on a stiff nod as he sank back down to sit on the nearest chest. His shoulders sagged at the knowledge that his two youngest citizens were safe, even if they were in the house of his enemy- wait-

 

"You brought them to your house?"

 

"Um, yeah? That's what I just said."

 

"You don't let anyone in your house."

 

Dream sighed, sounding frustrated. "It's not like I wanted to bring them there. It was just the easiest place to take them."

 

"Take me to them."

 

"What?"

 

Wilbur stood up, reaching to put on his armor. It was a bit beaten, but would hold for a journey to Dream's house perfectly fine, assuming they only got attacked by mobs and this wasn't some elaborate trap. He stared at the face of the other man, frustration rising at the detached smile that looked back at him. Could he trust him? His enemy?

 

"Take me to them." It was risky. Asking Dream to bring him to his house, somewhere even members of his own land were rarely allowed to enter? Making demands of the man whose gear and skill so sorely outmatched his own? Wilbur crossed his arms in front of him, hoping that it hid the slight tremor of his hands. "I want to see them."

 

Dream didn't respond for a moment, then two, black painted-on eyes staring unblinkingly, before he shrugged. "Ok. You ready to leave?"

 

"Um," Wilbur tried not to seem too shocked as he fumbled over his words. "I think so?"

 

"Cool. The rain's stopped, so it shouldn't too be too hard of a journey." His head cocked to the side. "Is that the best weapon you have?"

 

"I mean-"

 

"Of course it is. Where's the nearest crafting table?" Dream's head turned as he made a quick scan of the room, and was walking towards the table tucked in between two chests before Wilbur could get a word in. A moment later, he was thrusting a shiny new diamond sword, hilt first, towards his hands.

 

"Here."

 

"What?"

 

Wilbur looked disbelievingly at the pristine, unblemished weapon, then back up at Dream's mask.

 

"Take it. You're no good with an axe; it'll take a lot longer if you can't fight off mobs on the way." Dream waved the sword impatiently in front of him. "Come on. The sooner we leave, the better. Don't you want to see the two gremlins?"

 

"How'd you know that I'm best with a sword?" Wilbur asked, pointedly ignoring the gremlin comment. It was kind of accurate, as much as he hated to agree with Dream. He wrapped his hand around the handle, testing the weight of the blade. It bore the surprising lightness of diamond tools, blade polished and glassy.

 

"It's pretty obvious; your grip and stance give it away." Dream's voice became a little more teasing. "And I've seen you sparring with Tommy before, too. Come on."

 

"Ok?" Wilbur didn't think it was very obvious at all, considering he still didn't know what weapon Dream specialized in (if he specialized in any of them at all), but he supposed that as someone that preferred verbal sparring more than the physical kind, that was to be expected. "Lead the way, then."

 

Dream moved to the door in two long strides, the noise of his footsteps somehow completely silent. How did he do that? He opened the door, once again without a sound, and looked back with what Wilbur guessed was a cheeky grin underneath the mask.

 

"Let's get going, then."

 

Wilbur suppressed a sigh at the sight of the darkness from outside the room, ever so often interrupted by the faint groans of a zombie. "Sure. Let's go."

 

The night greeted him with an immediate chill, and Wilbur shifted uncomfortably in his armor. As much as he loved his uniform and what it represented, wearing armor on top of the stiff coat and shirt always left him with more than a little discomfort. He couldn't help but envy the loose, draping material of Dream's cloak, resting on top of the dark armor. They made their way through L'manburg to the wooden path, Wilbur's footsteps uncomfortably loud as his boots crushed the grass. Dream, for his part, seemed perfectly at ease in the night, his usually ridiculous in-your-face cloak dimming to something a little more reasonable, mask reflecting the moonlight as he slinked through the shadows.

 

"You always seem so on edge," Wilbur managed to say, quietly, after Dream's head swiveled around to scan the area for the fifth time. The night was almost silent save for the rustle of the wind through grass and their footsteps. "What are you even looking for?"

 

Dream looked at him, the paleness of his mask seeming almost ghostly in the moonlight. "Old habits die hard, I guess." He punctuated the thought with a dry, wheezing chuckle. "Never hurts to be on guard though- watch out."

 

He stepped in front of Wilbur, shield held in front of him just in time to catch an arrow that bounced off the metal frame. "Stupid skeletons, he grumbled, before disappearing off the path and into the darkness. Wilbur strained his eyes to catch a glimpse of the other man, but he'd all but disappeared, the only thing betraying his location being the familiar rattling of an angry skeleton's bones and the occasional dull thunk. A few moments later, and Dream was back at his side, seemingly appearing from nowhere.

 

"Anyways, as I was saying," Dream gestured with his axe, casually waving it through the air. "I think it's just from habit. Manhunts are fun, but they really do mess with your paranoia. But then again, I guess you'd think the same for wars."

 

Wilbur nodded to concede the point as they made their way down the path, silently turning a familiar, prodding question in his mind, weighing the pros and cons of asking it. On the plus side, he'd get the answers to something he'd been wondering about for almost as long as he had been on the server. On the other hand, the question could send him to Dream's bad side, and even with his new sword he really didn't stand much of a chance in a fight, fair or otherwise.

 

A second of silence passed, then another, before he made his decision. Screw it.

 

"Why were you so opposed to L'manburg's independence, anyways?"

 

He regretted the question almost as soon as it left his mouth, especially when Dream stopped in the middle of the road, mask turning to look towards him painstakingly slow. Wilbur's muscles tensed, prepared to run if need be. Dream stared at him for a painfully long second, then another, before his mask swiveled back to look in front of them.

 

"I dunno." He chuckled, low and soft. "I guess I thought you were manipulating them."

 

This time, it was Wilbur that ended up stopped in his tracks as he looked disbelievingly at the other man. "What?"

 

"Hey, I know you weren't now," Dream raised his hands in front of him, sounding almost apologetic (?). "But I didn't know what you were going for when you declared independence. Like, look at this place." Dream gestured to the land as they climbed up the last stair on the path to the Embassy, it and the surrounding area coming into view. Wilbur grimaced at the wild array of towers and blocks scattered all over the landscape. "We were never really controlling, as far as what was allowed to happen here."

 

Dream shrugged, an easy fluid up-down of his shoulders, as he kept talking. "So when you came in, less than a week after joining the server claiming oppression and independence, I was more than a little skeptical. Even more so when Sapnap mentioned that the first thing you did was try and open a drug ring."

 

Wilbur laughed, embarrassed. "It was really just stealing supplies for potion brewing. I had to make it sound more exciting or Tommy never would've gone along with it."

 

"Even so, there were mundane potions and all that," Dream continued, tone light. "Which you better be keeping away from those two until they're of age, by the way. I do not want to see either of them drunk. They're hard enough to manage sober."

 

"Don't worry, Tommy's far too impatient for brewing and Tubbo's mature about that kind of thing." Wilbur suppressed a shudder at the thought of a drunk Tommy, and laughed. "And thanks for telling me about that. It's going to haunt my nightmares."

 

"It's my job," Dream replied. "But yeah, I didn't know what to make of you. I didn't know what your goals were, but that you seemed set on making your own country to oppose us, and that you seemed to have half of the people here completely and utterly convinced for your cause. I was worried, I guess, that you had plans to take over."

 

Wilbur burst into a series of disbelieving giggles. "Us? Take over? Do you see the state of our supplies?"

 

"Eret built your wall in two days. With both him and Tubbo, getting all of you enchanted netherite wasn’t nearly as inconceivable as you'd think. Put your side in equal gear as mine, and I really don't think there would have been a clear winner." Dream's voice dropped into something uncharacteristically serious, not quite angry, but tense. "And it would've turned it into a long war. I wasn't kidding about the manhunts, you know. I'd rather spare both of our sides from that much violence."

 

Wilbur's lips pressed together; as much as he wanted to refute Dream's points, there was a certain logic to it all. Dream was skilled in combat, but that came with an eternal preparedness and wariness that Wilbur hadn't quite seen in anyone else. And the manhunts, at least, were done for fun with the consent of both parties. A long war between L'manburg and DreamSMP would have brought much more violence an death on both sides. Respawns could heal the physical wounds after death, but the memories were much harder to erase. Still, there was something he didn't understand.

 

"Why would I want to take over, anyways?" Wilbur frowned. "And what did you think I'd do?"

 

"Again, I didn't know. I thought maybe power; if you had your own system of government, I wasn't sure I could ensure the same level of freedom that you claimed to be fighting for." Dream turned to look at him again, voice teasing again. "After all, you did say something about L'manburg not being a democracy."

 

"Ugh, that was a joke," he grumbled. "How do you know all of these things, anyways?"

 

"I have eyes and ears eve-ry-where," he sang, voice off-key and lilting. "I'm in de walls."

 

Wilbur shook his head, fighting to not let a smile on his face. "Whatever, green boy."

 

They kept walking in silence, before Dream spoke up again. "I was wrong, you know. I'm glad. You've been a great leader."

 

Wilbur scoffed. "Really?"

 

"Mmhm," Dream hummed in agreement. "I thought you created L'manburg to challenge me, but I was wrong. You just wanted to make something for you and your friends to unite under. I can respect that."

 

"Uh, thanks?" What else was he supposed to say? "I'm glad you don't see us as a threat anymore?"

 

"I still don't understand why you had to declare independence to do that, but oh well." Dream hummed under his breath softly as he walked, moving to climb off the path towards his house. "But you really have been a good leader. Those two look up to you a lot."

 

"Haha, very funny," Wilbur didn't really know what to say to that, except that he had no clue what he was doing. That he was flying blind, and that it would only be so long before he crashed. "I don't- how do you do it? Lead?"

 

Dream laughed, again. "Lead? You'll have to ask Eret. He's the king."

 

"I'd rather not talk to the traitor, thank you very much," Wilbur grumbled, reaching to grab a rock as he lowered himself down a ledge. Why did Dream put his house in the middle of a cliff? "Besides, Eret really just does his own thing. Everyone knows that you really hold the power."

 

"I'm really no leader," Dream shook his head. "I just look around the place, make sure things haven't gone to shit. Like a," he seemed to struggle to find the right comparison, pausing for several seconds. "Like a guard dog or something. Bark bark."

 

"And I thought Fundy was the furry."

 

"He is. Have you seen him?" Dream laughed. He laughed a lot, Wilbur noted, even at himself, which was…interesting. Not a bad interesting, or a good one. Just interesting. "But yeah. That's my job. I'm the community guard dog. I fight the bad guys, keep track of what's going on, bark at the occasional mailman."

 

"Who's the mailman?"

 

"Callahan, probably. What's he going to do? Bark back?" This had him laughing again, hard enough for the laughs to dissolve into breathless sounding wheezes, and Wilbur watched awkwardly as he struggled to compose himself only to start laughing again. "Sorry, sorry, bad joke. I have lots of those."

 

"I've noticed," Wilbur replied dryly, as they reached the shadowed ledge in the rock face that held the tunnel into Dream's house. He paused, remembering something that Dream just said. "Is that how you knew Tommy and Tubbo were missing?"

 

The slight hesitation before Dream answered said everything he needed to know.

 

"You really do keep track of everything, huh?"

 

"Guilty as charged," Dream sounded genuinely sheepish, his right arm reaching up to rub the back of his neck. "To be fair, I do patrol regularly, I just wouldn't have gone so far into the woods. I usually just check the main areas."

 

"How'd you even know they were missing? I didn't notice until after sundown."

 

"I didn't know they were missing, but I did know that they had headed off in that direction for something that Tommy wanted. Thought there might've been something wrong when the area was actually quiet for once."

 

Wilbur frowned, looking into the dark crawlspace carved in the mountain. "They were fine, right?"

 

"Oh yeah, they were fine. Just exhausted and hungry; I think they went farther than they expected and forgot to bring enough food. The rain didn't help any, of course." He pointed at the space. "Let's go in. It'll be better than standing here in the cold, at any rate."

 

They entered the crawlspace one at a time, pressed up uncomfortably against the stone walls until they reached the small, warm room inside. He slipped in after Dream, unable to help his sigh of relief at the sight of the two boys sleeping soundly on the small bed in the corner, awkwardly squashed against each other. There were two empty wooden bowls stacked on top of each other on the table next to them, and Wilbur shot Dream a questioning glance.

 

"I actually had some mushrooms lying around from my last Nether trip, can you believe it? Anyways, there was enough for some stew, which was probably a good thing. They were completely exhausted by the time we arrived. I got them to drink a bowl each before they fell asleep."

 

Dream walked over to rummage through his chests, and Wilbur walked over to the sleeping boys, smiling at the sight of them sleeping soundly. Tubbo's bangs flopped over his forehead, sleeping curled into himself, while Tommy slept on his back in a mess of long limbs twisted in the sheets. Neither of the two looked injured or uncomfortable besides the awkwardness of being squeezed on the same bed.

 

"Here," Wilbur looked back to where Dream was standing, holding two buckets of- milk? "Just if you want to make sure that I didn't like, drug them or anything." His tone was casual, but there was an undercurrent of quiet understanding underneath the words. Wilbur began to reach for them, only to hesitate.

 

"I trust you," he said, and for the first time he felt like he actually meant it. Dream might have been a cocky bastard, but he was a cocky protective bastard that knew the responsibility he was given, long before Wilbur understood what it all entailed. He had found Tommy and Tubbo, brought them back to his home, cared for them, and then informed Wilbur, all without any prompting. He wore the responsibility like his armor, so comfortably that it was easy to forget that it was there at all. So easy to forget its weight. He pushed back the two buckets, smiling.

 

"That's your first mistake," he said dryly, but his voice was inexplicably fond. "I'll leave them here; you can always just take them for later. Milk can be pretty useful in a pinch."

 

"Mmhm," Wilbur hummed noncommittally, eyes still trained on the two boys sleeping on the bed. "How'd you even get them to stay awake until they got here anyways?"

 

"I couldn't. They were asleep for like, half the journey. It was a pain."

 

"How'd you manage to bring them here? I can't imagine you carried them."

 

"I couldn’t carry them for long, of course," Wilbur laughed at Dream's dry voice, "so I ended up burning through like, ten pearls before we made it to my tunnels so we could boat the rest of the way. I had to use some pearls in the tunnels too because I didn't think they were really in the shape to swim. They're heavy , by the way. Next time this happens I'm making you carry Tommy."

 

"Oh come on, Mr. Manhunt Champion, you can't even carry a child?"

 

"He's literally an inch shorter than me, don't give me that."

 

"A sixteen year old gremlin is going to end up taller than you, you know."

 

"Ugh, don't remind me."

 

Wilbur laughed, waiting for sunrise, listening to Dream give an over-embellished recount of how he'd brought Tommy and Tubbo back from the forest, sneaking in jabs and ribs whenever he could. The wooden room was small and warm and cozy, Dream's voice blending with his as they talked over each other and debated and laughed, and when Tommy and Tubbo woke up and joined in with the ruckus with shouting and high-pitched giggles and dramatic, over-the-top bits, Wilbur thought it didn't matter, DreamSMP or L'manburg, leader or not, because this was warm, this was happy, this was safe.

 

This—whatever name you gave it, wherever the borders were drawn—this was home.