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Holding Pattern

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Two months before George finally flies to Florida, London is covered in sand. It's blown in from the Sahara, painting skies orange sepia and the streets with a grit that crunches under foot and collects in secret corners of the city.

It isn't supposed to be here, it belongs in another part of the world. George feels much the same.

Before the sand, in a brief, bright moment that lasted only weeks, George's friends had blown in too. It had been a taste, a tangible idea of what life might be like once he finally got to where he belongs.

When it's over, his loneliness settles on him again, heavy and unyielding. The contrast, between having them with him and not, almost makes it worse.

"You'll be here soon," Dream says.

His voice is clear, the crackle of their early calls almost eliminated by the acquisition of better microphones, higher quality speakers. Dream could almost be in the room.

He isn't though, and George has never been more aware of it.

"As soon as you get it you can just fly out," Dream says.

Months ago George might have considered that ridiculous, that he would forgo the proper planning of his departure as soon as his visa is granted, but now he knows it's the only appropriate response. A swift exit is the only way he'll get himself out of this holding pattern, not here or there, caught in between like sand on the wind.

"Oh yeah? You going to pay for my ticket, Dream?" George says.

Dream chuckles, more of a hum than it is a true laugh. "Don't be an idiot. You know I will."

And here George laughs, moves them on to a different subject. That's part of the pattern too, drift too close only to pull away at the last second. It's difficult to say why, after everything, he still does that, but he does.

On some level he knows how Dream feels, how he feels in return, but he can never be sure. Not from this distance. He knows that this holding pattern will need to break one way or another, but in comparison to that, packing up his entire life in a couple of days and leaving the country forever seems entirely manageable.

-

Karl says he's touchier than he'd anticipated. He says it on stream, that people have an idea of George as not a tactile person, George doesn't know where they got that impression.

People make assumptions based on very little evidence. They've seen him, mostly, on screen alone - because he always is, isn't he? - or with people he wouldn't be inclined to be all that touchy with.

Until this year they'd never seen him in the frame with anyone he might reach out for.

Even then, he doesn't give the camera everything. At this point, he's not sure if he's a private person or he just enjoys having secrets but either way strangers don't get access to every part of him. Some parts are just for him, for his friends, for the people he wants to touch.

"All I know is I got the first George hug," Sapnap says in a group call when the subject comes up.

How these things become topics of conversation George doesn't know, but if there's a way to one up each other they're going to take it. George interactions are just the way they're doing that today.

"Actually," Quackity says, with his personal brand of maniacal glee. "I did."

"Well," Karl says, and then leaves a pause for George to anticipate what's coming next.

"Karl," George says, too quiet to really be a warning.

Dream still hasn't said anything.

"I got the first George kiss."

There's a beat - and then.

"What?" Dream says it like he always says it, played up, exaggerated. But George can read the edges, the actual stunned exclamation of it.

"Oh Dream's a little jealous," Quackity says. "Karl got to kiss his Gogy and he didn't."

There's more high pitched laughter and George switches windows.

It wasn't actually that big of a deal, he types. I was a bit drunk and you know what Karl's like.

Alright, Dream types back, voice disappearing once again from the conversation still happening in his headset. Nobody asked.

This is what they do. They speak in jokes and memes and let their true thoughts bleed through into the cracks that only they can read. Like sand in dusty corners, hidden but intrusive. George knows the space between Dream's words, the things he doesn't say. He can hear the change in pitch from hours and hours of practice. He's had days of calls, nights of Dream's voice floating to him across an ocean and through a speaker until George has become fluent in a language that doesn't have a name.

And so the joke is all they get, the subject drops, the conversation moves on. Dream tells an audience of thousands he's jealous before he'll ever admit it to George with any sincerity. Earnestness isn't a flavour they're comfortable with.

Most of the time they don't need it. He and Dream weave their words around their meaning and somehow manage to know each other anyway. Through and through; all the parts they have access to.

So once George is free of all this torturous distance, once Dream is within arm's reach, and they're out of this perpetual stasis, surely it will only get easier.

At least, that's what he thinks.

-

George would never admit how distressing it is that his fluency in Dream begins and ends at words on a page, a voice in his ear. That faced with a very real, very touchable Dream, he begins to lose that well-won comprehension he's so often relied upon.

Dream becomes… confusing.

The first few weeks in Florida pass in a blur. An arm slung around his shoulders, Sapnap's friendly rough housing, the tips of Dream's fingers grazing the ends of his as he passes him home cooked food. George doesn't reach out, he can't. The first time he tries he freezes, standing in an airport, hesitant for the hug he'd thought he'd run into. Dream moves first, a palm connecting with his shoulder blade.

"Can I?" he asks, and despite the quality of the microphone, the amount George had paid for his very expensive headset so that Dream's voice came through crisp and undisturbed, Dream's voice still sounds different in person.

"Yes," George says - because he can't say no to Dream. To this. Even if the moment Dream's arms encircle his body he feels like he might split apart, a rush of relief and 'finally' balled up and threatening to spill out.

He can't reach out, he lets Dream make the first move, but once he follows Dream's lead it's easier. He can fall in step, keep pace, but however much he might want to, he cannot be the one to give direction.

Maybe Karl is wrong. Maybe George is wrong. Maybe everyone else is right and George isn't as tactile as he'd thought, because when it comes to Dream - Dream, who it should be easier with, not harder - George cannot make himself reach a hand across the distance.

Over the following weeks they learn what it is to exist in physical space, and George feels as though it is an exam he is bound to fail.

It's an adjustment. Another holding pattern while they come to terms with this new reality. Maybe it's the face thing. Because Dream has a nice face and George had never seen it before getting here, so unlike when he met Sapnap. There's an added element that he's trying to get used to.

Seeing Sapnap in real life was like turning up the brightness on an already good television screen. A little more vivid, more real, but still the same guy he'd been used to on the other side of his computer monitor. Dream feels like a new experience every time George catches sight of him, a stranger who is anything but, like seeing colours for the first time. Which is ironic, considering.

He just needs time. He is sand blown in from somewhere far off and he needs a few moments to settle into the crevasses of this new situation.

It's not like everything is brand new, just moulded around new confines. Day-long phone calls are replaced with comfortable silences in the same room, doors are left open and they wander between spaces freely instead of in and out of discord calls, they joke and they laugh but now they can high five and hug and - in Sapnap's case - land friendly punches on George's bicep. George is glowing with the realisation that his friends are here, that the lost, lonely feeling he'd had in London is shrugged off, discarded, no longer of use.

George can never be lonely again because his friends are still right here, always.

"Move, dude," Sapnap says, shoving him bodily with his hip while he tries to move past George in the kitchen.

George sidesteps, ricocheting off the solid wall of Sapnap's frame, the insistent, presuming pushes that he dolls out without hesitation. As he does, he collides with Dream, his cheek pressed into the curve of his shoulder, warm and solid and flexing as his hand comes up to steady George, fingers curled around his waist.

"Whoa," Dream says. "Careful."

George looks up and Dream looks down, and George is close enough to see the barely-there lines at the corner of Dream's eyes, the flecks of light and dark in his irises. He can't see the colour the way he should be able to, but he knows that there's both green and yellow in there.

A breath gets caught, under his ribs, in the back of his mouth.

George clears his throat, steps hurriedly out of Dream's space and reminds himself that it's fine that it feels different with Dream to how it does with Sapnap. That he and Sapnap have spent time together before, he and Dream haven't.

And Dream keeps doing it - reaching out when George hesitates. Meeting him in doorways with a casual hand on his lower back, flopping down beside him on George's bed when George won't get up. He swipes George's hair off his forehead with the backs of his knuckles and pulls him into hugs even though it takes George a full three seconds before he raises his arms to join in.

George feels like he's one step behind in learning this set of rules, this piece of Dream's communication style, when he'd been so fluent before.

He'll pick it up, he's sure he will. The flipped-over sensation in his stomach will settle, the hard beat of his heart will calm, he'll stop feeling stunned with the shape of Dream's face whenever he looks at it. He'll get used to him, sometime soon, he just has to.

He just needs time.

-

Time gives him nothing but more questions. One day things are the way he's come to understand them - Dream rushing into his space easily with George unable to reciprocate - and the next they're entirely different.

And it's all George's fault.

It's late in the evening, an almost-full moon glinting off the rippling water of the pool. He's been here a month and the chirp of crickets has just started, hidden in the long, wide grasses, buzzing in the fragrant, warm air. George is sitting outside, for no particular reason other than he wants to listen to the sound.

"You okay?"

Dream is standing at the open sliding door. He's wearing sweatpants and a shirt with a sports thing George doesn't recognise. His feet are bare against the tiles surrounding the pool, making his way over to where George is perched on a lounge chair.

"Yeah," George says.

It's peaceful here, warm, but he still shivers as Dream sits down next to him. The heady scent of his cologne - almost worn off from when he'd put it on that morning - drifts into George's head and he feels a little dizzy.

"You look sad," Dream says.

George smiles. "I'm not," he says. "I'm really, really not."

"Are you happy?"

George tips his head to the side, reflects on his situation, thinks back a month to his tiny London flat, so, so far away from where he wanted to be. Yes, he's sand, on the wind or sifting through an hourglass with no idea of his final destination, but at least he isn't stuck.

"Am I happy?" George says. "What kind of question is that, idiot?"

"I told you," Dream says, in a tone that refuses to join in with George's attempts to lighten the heavy mood into something lighter. "You look sad."

"Well," George says, dramatically spreading his hands wide, unwilling to give up the levity. "I'm not. See? I'm completely normal."

He grins, shows teeth, leans forward just a bit with spread hands, gesturing wildly. And that's when it goes wrong.

That's when George realises why he's been holding back from Dream, why his heart races when he's near him. Really, he should have worked it out a lot sooner.

Dream reaches for George's palm, covering it with his own. There's rough skin on the pads at the base of his fingers, the ridges on his palm well defined, but he's warm and the span of it envelopes George's completely.

The smile vanishes, George swallows. What the hell?

"George," Dream says, quiet. Expectant. Reading him, the spaces where the sand sits. "Come on."

"I—" George starts, but can't continue.

He can see what happens next. He can form the picture of leaning in to kiss him, warm breath ghosting over his lips before they make contact. He can't conjure how it would exactly feel, that's a feat beyond even his vivid imagination. But the thought that he could is enough to send a flush to his cheeks, warm under the humid Florida air.

"You've been so far away," Dream says.

"I'm right here," George says, but even as it says it, it tastes like a lie.

He hasn't been here. George has crossed an ocean, stood six feet apart and been the furthest away from Dream he's ever been.

How can Dream stand this? How is he so calm as he holds George's hand and looks at him like he can see through to the very depths of him? George feels like he might set on fire.

"George," Dream says again. And it's just his name, a repetition, the same voice and the same tone and yet, there are the spaces.

George is concentrating, trying to recall the translation he used to be so sure of.

And then George is drawing his hand back, too quickly and too late to prevent the twist of Dream's face into hurt. He just needs a moment to gather himself, to figure out how to navigate this. It's a lot, a giant leap across a huge cavern, and George is scared of falling.

There are no words. There are never words, not when he needs them. He doesn't know how to do this.

"Okay," Dream says, as if replying to a conversation George wasn't aware they were having.

George puts his tongue behind his teeth, swipes as if searching for the right words that might be hidden there and coming up short.

Dream retreats, more space between them, more things he's saying without words that George can't decipher. George wants to reach for him, to pull him back down and against him and forget that this happened. But he's already gone, already too far away.

It's his fault.

-

It continues to be his fault. When Dream keeps his distance over the next few days, when he refuses to read the gaps in what George is saying and just understand. Why can't he?

George has failed to interpret Dream but Dream has fallen short too. He should know that George would never push him to leave, he should know all the things bundled up in George's chest, the words he can't say, the silences he can't fill.

Why doesn't he?

He used to.

Everything has changed, and George doesn't want to go right back to when it felt easy, because that ease came with distance, it came with not seeing Dream's face every day. Not having him here.

But he might be able to, in a flimsy, insubstantial way. He might be able to just— borrow a bit of before.

He's in bed. Night time has fallen at the windows, midnight came and went some hours ago and the house is quiet but he knows Dream won't be asleep. He won't be, because George isn't, and anyway it's never mattered before.

"George?" Dream says when he answers the phone.

And there it is, his voice distorted by a phone line, the screen pressed against George's cheek, growing warm from the contact.

"Hi."

"Are you—" there's a shuffle, George can almost picture him trying to get out of bed. "What's happened?"

"Nothing," George assures him. "I'm fine."

Get back in bed, he thinks. Don't come here.

"You sound—" Dream starts, and then seems to think better of it. In fact, George knows that's exactly what happens.

"What?" George presses. "What do I sound like?"

"Far away," Dream says.

George laughs. He really can't help it, considering. "I'm here," he says.

"Are you?"

And George takes a breath, sand falling behind his eyelids. "Yes," he says. "I am. I just… I miss you, I think? If that makes sense."

Dream hums like it does, even though it doesn't.

"See," George says. "I understand you like this, it's everything else that's— "

"You don't understand me?" Dream says.

George groans, quietly, into the fabric of his pillow. "I don't know how to— I'm really shit at explaining stuff. You know this."

"I do know," Dream says. "I'm the Georgenotfound whisperer."

"That's why this is stupid," George tells him.

"What, calling me from inside our own house? Yeah, it's a bit stupid."

"That's not what I meant, idiot."

"What then?" Dream asks.

And Dream knows him, so he isn't really asking because he can't already tell. He just wants George to say it.

"I can't," George says. "I don't wanna say stuff. Don't make me."

"You called me, George," Dream points out.

"Because I thought it would be easier. Like, I'm used to this. I'm not used to your face."

"My face?"

"It's dumb."

"My face is dumb?"

"Yes."

Dream laughs at him. There's something missing from it, something lacking in the phone quality that reminds him of before, like back in his old silent flat, and the ghost of his old loneliness rears its ugly head. George hates it.

"Well," Dream says. There's the sound of him rolling over in bed, George has heard it a million times before but it only now occurs to him that it's happening mere feet away. He could see it if he wanted to. This house has open doors. "I'm sorry for my face. But, you called me and you don't want to say anything so I'm not sure what I can do here."

"Just, understand," George says.

"Understand what?"

"What I'm trying to tell you."

Dream falls silent, words neither in his phone or in his presence and it enrages George for some reason, sends him to his feet, phone gripped in his fist, still pressed to his ear. It propels him into the hall, across the corridor that separates their doors.

"You're such an idiot," George says. He's used his foot to open the door, hasn't kicked it, but sent it swinging with the side of his toes.

"What?" Dream says in his customary tone.

And there it is, coming through the phone seconds after George hears it from his own lips. There's a delay, a gap, and George is an idiot for wanting that when he could have it in real time.

He doesn't want the spaces in between the words, the edges of meaning. Whatever sand is collected there holds no interest for him anymore. George doesn't want any space at all.

"Oh my god," George says. He hangs up the phone, crosses the room in two strides and sinks a knee down on Dream's mattress.

His body rolls toward him with ease, bringing all that warmth and a face that George has grown far too fond of.

"You're an idiot," George tells him.

"Me?" Dream says.

"Yes. I can't believe you just stopped— You've been ignoring me."

"Not ignoring you," Dream says, in that tone he gets when he's pointing out a technicality.

"In some ways you were," George insists. He can do technicalities too.

"What ways?"

There's a glint in Dream's eyes. He isn't going to let it be easy for George. And maybe he shouldn't, given how George had acted by the pool. He isn't pulling away, he's here, he's just asking for George to give a little more than he is.

George groans, flopping forward to press his forehead to Dream's shoulder. Dream slides his fingers into the hair at his nape, gentle enough to make him shiver.

"You weren't touching me," George says. "You stopped."

Even to his own ears he sounds spoiled. Like his favourite toy had been taken away and he's whining at the loss.

"Is that what you want?" Dream asks, fingers dragging with deliberate tension across the first few bumps of his spine. "For me to touch you?"

George doesn't need to be fluent in Dream to understand that. He doesn't need to have spent all the time studying him, because it's brazen, laid out for George to take if he can only be brave enough.

George doesn't do talking. He cannot elaborate on all the ways that he wants Dream to touch him, cannot put into words the way he wants, needs, has to have Dream's hands on him. But he doesn't have to. Not for Dream, for him, for two people who understand the ins and outs of each other all the way down, but just forgot how for a while.

It would be easy for him to follow Dream's lead, but that isn't the point is it? Yes, Dream had stopped touching him but only because George had been the one to pull away. He never made any strides in the first place.

George is bad with words. He's even worse when Dream isn't picking up the slack, it seems. But what he can do, what he knows, is this.

George pulls away to look Dream in the eyes. Dream's hand stills, his tongue darts out to wet his bottom lip. He looks nervous, George realises. Maybe he can read him after all.

"Dream," George says. "I'm going to touch you now, okay?"

A breath hisses from between Dream's lips as George presses fingertips to the side of his neck. His fingers scrabble on the back of George's shirt and George likes him like this, rendered speechless, shivering under his hands.

"Okay, Dream?" George repeats, unable to hide the smirk.

He knows it's okay. But if Dream is going to make him say things then he's going to return the favour.

"Yes," Dream says. "Yes. George. Please."

And George likes that punctuation, the breathy gasp, gaps between words filled with wanting him in return. Maybe he isn't as fluent as he has always thought, maybe those spaces have always been filled with Dream wanting him.

It's easier than he expected, to climb into Dream's lap, to perch a knee either side of his hips and sink down into his arms.

Dream's mouth parts, the shiny pink inside exposed, the edge of his teeth. He looks incredulous; disbelief painting his features in a soft flush.

"Dream," George says, his name a replacement for entire paragraphs of things he cannot bring himself to say.

Dream tips his head back, exposing his throat, and George puts his mouth there. Finally.

His skin is warm, soft, and the scent of him floods George's nostrils. His pulse point flutters under George's ministrations, a low rumble vibrating through him.

Dream's arm goes around his waist, a strong forearm in the dip of his spine, holding him close.

This isn't a holding pattern anymore, but a pattern of holding. George wants to be fluent in this too.

He loops his arms over Dream's shoulders, threading his fingers into the curls of hair at the nape of Dream's neck. His lips map a path up the column of his throat and over the jut of his jaw.

"George," Dream breathes, their mouths separated by a hair.

"Don't," George says. "Just--"

He pushes their lips together, Dream's parting underneath him immediately. Hungrily. And George is greedy for it, slipping his tongue inside and rolling his hips to find Dream's waiting hardness beneath him.

He lets out a noise then, a small whimper, and Dream holds him tighter, devours him a little bit.

"I want--" Dream gasps between kisses.

"Yeah," George says. "Me too. I think… for a while."

They look each other in the eyes and the heat in Dream's gaze is so much better than anything he's ever seen. Being this close to him, feeling his heat, the responsiveness of his body, George wonders why the hell he hadn't done this sooner.

This isn't difficult, this is reaching across a cavern, it's sinking into a space he should always occupy. Beside Dream, with him, always.

"Yeah," Dream nods. His hips twitch, pulling them together with a breathless noise. "For so long, George. You have no idea. I thought I-- You make me crazy."

George can't help but grin, grinding his hips down until Dream's eyes flutter shut. "Really, Dream?"

Dream nods, and George kisses him again because he can.

"Show me then," George says. He says it like he says any other challenge. Beat the game, or I bet you can't-- whatever it is. George holds up the gauntlet and Dream picks it up and runs, skill and bravado and fire alight in his eyes.

He grips George around his waist, lifting him like he's nothing and depositing him down onto the bed, bracketing his other arm next to George's ear.

George lands with a oof, and Dream covers it with his mouth. He settles into the space between George's thighs easily, and George can't help but arch beneath him as their hips align.

They're both hard, both panting. George's fingers push under the thin fabric of Dream's shirt, wanting rid of the stupid sports logo and access to all the delicious golden skin beneath. He reads George silent pleas easily, their telepathy coming back online, and pulls the offending item of clothing up over his head.

"Yours too," Dream says. His palms skate up underneath George's own shirt, skimming the planes of his stomach, catching on a nipple as he strokes up to George's collarbone, dragging the shirt with him.

George is divested of it quickly, followed closely by his sweatpants and underwear, a little clumsy but successful after a few seconds of wrestling. And then he is bared before his best friend, Dream's eyes tracking all over, drinking him in.

"Not fair," he says.

Dream smirks down at him. "What isn't?"

George doesn't respond, simply reaches a hand out to tug at the waistband of Dream's shorts.

Should it be awkward to have your best friend pressed against you completely naked for the first time? George doesn't know what the usual reaction to it would be but as Dream shucks his shorts and he gets a glimpse of all of him, George's mouth waters and he can't help but want to touch him everywhere all at once.

It's like coming home, as cheesy as it sounds. George no longer feels like far-flung sands, but earth and ground and belonging. Because Dream is chuckling in his ear at how eager he is and the sound is so familiar that George can't even find it within himself to feel awkward, only like he should always have been hearing it this close, their bodies moulded together, closer to one person than two.

Dream is eager too, hot and hard and pressing into his hip. His broad body covers George so completely, a pleasant weight that George wants to sink beneath, cling to and never let go.

Dream rolls his hips and George moans. His legs spread a little wider and Dream grins into the side of his neck.

"Yeah," he says, his tone at least an octave lower than it had been before. "Like that."

George hooks his knee up and over Dream's hip, pulling their cocks into alignment. They both hiss at the contact and George can already feel the wet puddle of precome he's streaking across their stomachs. It's hot, wet, delicious with all the friction.

They could do more. A specific, acute focus, perhaps; hands, mouth, something. But George doesn't want to stop clawing at Dream's back for purchase, running his palms across his biceps, the strong arch of his flank, and Dream seems content to hook his hand into the crook of George's knee and pull them closer together.

"You feel good," Dream says into his ear, nipping at the lobe.

"Shut up," George says, words slipping away from him.

Dream hums, seeming to understand that George cannot deal with how deep and gorgeous his voice is, how the mere sound of it might be enough to send him over the edge.

George has had Dream's voice for years, far away and digitally converted, the manipulation of air on one side of the world translated by computers and sent into his ear. But now it's accompanied by hot breath ghosting over his skin, the slick slide of his mouth down the side of George's neck. It's lips grazing his collarbone, Dream's hips picking up speed, his skin blossoming purple under Deam's teeth.

"George," Dream says, not dissimilar to the ways he's said it before. "I… love you."

How stupid it is that it's the words that are getting to him most. They are the thing he's had longest, it's the touching that's new. And yet, perhaps, none of this is new; George wanting him like this, keening under his touch, perhaps the possibility of it has been an ever-present thing waiting in the wings. An inevitability.

Dream's love isn't new.

George drags Dream's face up to look at him, stares into his eyes for a few seconds and considers whether he needs to say the same in return. It's obvious, isn't it? He knew it from Dream without it being said, and Dream knows him too. It is sand, settled into their bones, surrounding them and rubbing them raw in all the best ways.

"Make me come, Dream," he says instead and Dream nods like all he'd been waiting for was the go-ahead.

Dream eases away only far enough that he can slide a hand between them and take George's cock in hand. His grip is firm, immediately finding the rhythm and speed that George likes. He doesn't know if that is the telepathy at work or just pure, dumb luck, but he appreciates it either way.

George fumbles to get his own hand in alongside, intending to find Dream's cock and return the favour. But Dream is a genius, honestly he always has been, always knows the best way to do things, so it doesn't surprise George to find that Dream manoeuvres them both, links their fingers and holds both of their cocks pressed between their palms.

There's a mingle of them both, skin on skin and sweat on sweat, a pulse that happens either from himself or from Dream he isn't sure when Dream shifts their joined hands upward and back down.

"Fuck," George says, squeezing his eyes shut. "That's-- yeah."

"I wasn't sure if--" Dream starts, and then George shifts his hips, thrusting into the space created by their hands and Dream has to cut himself off with a full-throated moan.

There aren't any words after that. No intelligible ones anyway. They find a rhythm, a grind, that's delicious in its slowness but sends George's muscles rigid and flooded with pleasure as it picks up. He's a little wild, definitely too loud, all hesitancy thrown out and abandoned as Dream drives them further and further toward the edge.

"I'm close," Dream tells him with the kind of consideration George would have forgotten.

"Me too," George says, nodding wildly, head thrashing. "Just keep… yeah like that."

Dream goes first, panting hot, wet air into George's neck, flooding in warm pulses over their joined fingers while he babbling nonsense against George's skin. The added slickness, a few more twists of Dream's hand, and George tumbles after, adding to the mess and digging his nails into Dream's shoulder blade.

He knows Dream is watching him as he falls apart, staring at him while he is most vulnerable, but he really couldn't care less. Let Dream have this part of him, let them turn each other inside out and upside down until they know everything there is to know in this way too. He wants Dream to have it, his rawest parts, the bits he wouldn't be able to express with words even if he tried.

When it's over, they breathe the same air, lips meeting over and over while their chests heave.

George feels boneless. He's pretty sure it has never been like this before, like the whole world has tilted and resettled in a new configuration. He's happy to bask in it for a moment, but all too soon Dream is shifting.

"Where are you going?" he says. It's normally the kind of thing he'd feel stupid for afterward, begging Dream to stay on a call, on a stream, craving him nearer all the time. But he doesn't regret it this time, he doesn't care at all.

"To clean us up," Dream says. He kisses George once and then retreats. "I'll be back."

True to his word, Dream comes back moments later with a wet cloth, still beautiful naked and seemingly with no intention to change that. He really is a vision, all Florida-tanned skin, lean muscles in some places, curves in others. George adores him.

He cleans George up with gentle hands, any awkwardness that should have been present entirely missing. It's a new dynamic, new places to explore in how they can interact with each other, the things George is allowed. But he's excited to find out what he can get away with.

When he's done, Dream tucks them both into bed. George is no help, content to be directed around and not have to do any of the work at all. He's lazy, sleepy from their exertion, turning on his side so that Dream can crowd up behind him, naked skin on naked skin.

The air conditioning means the room is cool, but it's cosy enough under Dream's blankets and George sinks into Dream's arms, into the sleep that's dragging him under.

"George," Dream says, after a while.

George is halfway to sleep, Dream's voice sounding far away even though he can feel it on the back of his neck. "Hm?"

"I don't wanna come across as really uncool here but, can I ask you something?"

George summons up energy from god-knows-where and turns. Dream keeps his arms around him, lifting only so that George can roll over before settling back across his ribs. His fingers stroke down the length of George's spine and he shivers.

"Ask me," George says.

"You won't like it."

George shakes his head, leans forward and kisses Dream with the kind of casual affection he wasn't sure he'd be capable of but finds comes far too easy.

He is a touchy person, when the situation is right. He's probably never going to be all over Dream in public, he's not one to want someone all over him when he's trying to play games or do something that requires focus, but right here, in the quiet safety of Dream's bed, he can touch without a care.

"Ask," he repeats.

"I just wanna know why you were being weird," Dream says.

George knew this was coming. It's one thing to know each other inside and out, but a lot of that comes from the moments that George does offer him conversation. Maybe not all at once, maybe he has to eek out his feelings across hours of discord calls, but eventually Dream gets it all. The spaces, the gaps, buried in all of George's sand.

"It was just… different," George says.

"What? Me?"

"Yeah," George says, honestly. "And like, I dunno. I'm not exactly… warm."

Dream smirks on one side of his mouth and pulls George's body a bit closer. "Seem pretty hot to me."

George rolls his eyes. "Idiot." He says it like he always does but it's a revelation to find out how fond that is.

Dream kisses him, on the cheek, the tip of his nose, the corner of his mouth. He litters George with all the tiny pockets of affection, spreading it over him.

"Oh my god you're so annoying," George says, and he wriggles, pretending to try and get away from Dream's hold. But he's no match for Dream's strength, who keeps him pinned in place with one arm and a gaze full of what can only be love.

"Tell me," Dream says. "Come on, George. It's just me."

George sighs, mostly for effect. "Fine," he says, unable to stop smiling even though he's trying really hard. "I think I was just all… confused. By like, you. I mean, I know you're the same person and everything but also it was a lot. It felt different to Sapnap 'cus when he hugs me or, like, punches me or something, I didn't feel… well I didn't feel like I wanted to do what we just did with him."

"Good," Dream interrupts. "I should hope not."

George ignores him, and carries on. If he's getting this out he needs to push through and do it all in one go. "But you were just there, all nice looking with your face and stuff. And I think I am a touchy person - even though everyone thinks I'm not - but also only with people I like. And I…. fuck it. I really like you. So it was hard."

Dream laughs. "You don't need to sound so angry about it."

"I'm not," George says. "You know I'm shit at this stuff."

Dream lifts a hand and curves it to the edge of his jaw. "I know," he says. "But I'm not."

"No," George agrees. "You're not."

"So I'll be good at it for us," Dream says. "You love me. And I love you. And you got scared when you got here because you wanted to touch me but worried the minute you did you'd jump my bones and--"

"I take it back," George says, shaking his head as Dream giggles. "You're rubbish at it too."

Dream kisses him, gently, the hand on George's face guiding them together. George sighs, melts into his touch. It's like breathing now, easy and sweet and he never wants to stop.

"Something like that, though?" Dream says.

"Yeah," George agrees, lulled into comfort by the kisses. "Something like that."

"It was different for me too," Dream says. "I wanted to touch you too but I was so scared you didn't want me to. And it was weird, because I can usually tell what you're thinking but then you were here and it was… distracting. I couldn't tell if you were sad, or mad at me, or if I'd just gotten everything completely wrong."

"Not wrong," George offers.

"Well, I know that now," Dream smiles. "I have pretty solid evidence."

He runs a hand down George's arm and goosebumps erupt in its wake. George hooks a foot over Dream's ankle and pushes his head into the space between Dream's neck and shoulder. He likes it here, he's making it his mission to come back as often as Dream will let him. Maybe some times when he won't too, that would probably be fun.

"Well," George says. "I'm glad, because that's all you're getting."

"Oh," Dream says, an arm coming up around George's shoulders, settling into a position where they could both sleep if they choose. They probably won't, they'll stay up for each other even in the same time zone, the same space, the same bed. "Is that all?"

"What more do you want?" George says, knowing the answer immediately.

"I love you, George."

George isn't looking him in the eye. His eyes are closed, cradled against Dream's body, the warmth of it already seeping into his bones, making him sleepy. "M'not saying it," he mumbles.

"Come on, George. No one is listening."

George huffs a warm breath over Dream's bare collarbone and smiles. He likes making Dream work for it, but maybe, all things considered, he can give him this one. He drapes his arm over Dream's body, feeling the softness of his skin, the way his belly moves with each breath, and thinks of all the spaces he knows, all the ones he has left to learn and a lifetime to do it in. He touches Dream, and speaks for the first time without a need for translation.

"I love you too, Dream."