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A Little Cold, A Little Numb

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Dream isn’t used to being touched gently. Actually, Dream isn’t used to being touched at all. His family has always been a little distant, never the type for hugs or “I love you”s, and now Dream lives alone, except for his cat. Mostly, he’s fine. A little cold, a little numb, prone to hugging a pillow at night. This is how everyone feels though, isn’t it? Everyone who isn’t happily partnered off to someone they see every day? A little cold, right? A little numb? So Dream doesn’t worry about it. He spends his days on his work, turning into the funny, loud, lovable version of himself that his fans are acquainted with, editing videos tirelessly, leaning into his computer setup. He spends his nights staring at movies without really watching them, idly tugging at locks of his own hair or running his thumb up and down the inside of his arm. Mostly, he’s fine. He doesn’t really think about it --

until he meets George in person for the first time.

Dream knows George, knows how he works, knows what to expect from him. Or he thinks he does, but when Dream wanders, jet-lagged, up to their agreed-upon meeting spot and George runs right into his arms, he doesn’t know what to do. George is warm and somehow familiar, even though they’ve never actually been in the same room before. Dream feels like he’s been struck by lightning, in the best way possible. Then Wilbur is laughing and George is pulling away much too soon. He stands back to get a better look at Dream and the first words out of his mouth --

“Good Lord, Clay, I knew you were tall, but this is unfair!”

And then Dream is laughing too, they’re all laughing. It starts during that trip -- George, whether he means to or not, starts to thaw Dream out. He rests his head on Dream’s shoulder and playfully musses up his hair. He doesn’t usually initiate hugs, but he always accepts them, and God, if his head doesn’t fit perfectly under Dream’s chin. It’s almost too much, Dream doesn’t know what to do with that much affection from one person. As much as he was always the affectionate one in front of the fans, it’s different when it’s in person. He could beg George to say “I love you” all day and all night, but as soon as that boy hugs him from behind, he’s done for.

Dream doesn’t realize the difference it makes until he has to catch his flight home. He gets back to his dark, empty apartment and tries to talk himself into being happy. Instead, he’s cold. It’s Florida in July and he’s cold. He feels it deep down, under his skin, between his ribs and behind his eyes. It’s tiring. But this is what he’s used to, isn’t it? Mostly he’s fine. Isn’t he? There’s no reason anything should be different now. He tries to ignore it, to deny that it’s happening, tries harder than he would ever care to admit. It’s too late. He’s melting.

Still, he won’t admit anything, even to himself, until he sees George again. This time, it’s George’s turn to visit. Dream meets him at the airport and something in him is stirring before he even lays eyes on his friend. Something he’s been trying to quiet down is waking up, making noise. It almost hurts and doesn’t know why. Standing there by the car, hands in his pockets, shifting his weight from foot to foot -- he’s on edge, jittery. The ache in his chest is inexplicable until George comes through the revolving door and scans the crowd of people waiting for friends and family. Dream starts walking to him and his eyes flash recognition and then suddenly Dream is running and then he’s spinning George around and they’re both laughing and the ache is gone. Or maybe it’s worse. Dream’s not sure.

Later, luggage piles up at Dream’s apartment. The sun is down and the humming of crickets can be heard through the window screen. There’s a movie on and for once, Dream is really watching it. Well, he and George are making fun of it, but it’s still one hell of a step up from his usual routine. When the laughter fizzles out, they’re left in an easy, comfortable silence. It’s something they’re good at, just existing quietly together. When Sapnap or Bad or any of their other friends are around, no one’s ever quiet, but sometimes, just now and again, Dream and George manage to slip into gentle silences that feel unreasonably intimate. George is the one to break this one.

“Are your shoulders all right?”

It catches Dream a little off guard.

“I -- last I checked, yeah? They’re still attached, aren’t they?”

George snorts at that and shakes his head.

“I’ve never really noticed it before, but they always look tense. Your carry yourself like your whole back hurts,” he says.

Dream has to think about this for a second. His back does hurt. It’s tight and full of knots, but he’s used to it. He’s used to a lot of things. Now that George mentions it --

“Now that you mention it...”

Dream sits up and rolls his shoulders, trying to stretch. They are tight.

“Geez, you can literally see it,” George chides.

“It’s from carrying you and Sap in every single game --” Dream jokes.

George hits him with a pillow, cutting him off. When they’re done laughing and hurling comebacks at each other, George looks Dream up and down with a gaze so soft it hurts.

“What?” Dream asks, suddenly self-conscious.

“Will you let me help?”

“You’re gonna rub my shoulders?” Dream says, covering the ache returning to his chest with sarcasm.

“I was just going to dislocate one of them and see if it helped, but I like your idea better,” George teases.

It’s easier this way, making light of it. Dream isn’t sure he could handle it if it wasn’t half-joking.

“C’mere,” George directs, motioning to the carpeted floor in front of him.

Dream hesitates, but does as he’s told, sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of George, his back to the couch, his back and shoulders at a better angle for his friend’s hands.

“Can you --?”

George tugs gently at the hood of Dream’s hoodie. It takes him a moment, but he gets it.

“Take it off?”

George nods. Slowly, Dream pulls his hoodie off, revealing a plain, green tank top underneath. Despite his unwillingness to be on camera, he’s never been self-conscious about his body around George before. There’s a first time for everything. Dream faces forward and wills himself to be brave. He’s not used to being touched gently, but then again, a proper massage isn’t gentle. This will be painful. He can do painful.

Then George’s hands are on his bare shoulders and he crumbles. Because of course George is gentle, even as he grimaces over the knots under his slender fingers. He works slowly, coaxing the knots to unwind, soothing the tight spots with his thumbs. Dream gasps when he touches a particularly sore spot and George murmurs apologies so sweet that Dream is too stunned to think about how tense he is for a good few minutes. When his shoulders start feeling looser, George moves on, working careful hands across his back, lower and lower, finding more and more hurt as he goes.

Through it all, Dream is silent except for the occasional involuntary noise -- a gasp or soft whimper of pain or a sigh of relief as he feels his muscles relax under George’s touch. Every minute, he thinks he’ll start sobbing if it keeps going, but at the same time, he never wants it to stop. He could live right there, sitting on the floor of his apartment, George’s hands on him, forever.

It does stop, though, eventually. George smoothes his hands over Dream’s shoulders one last time, and sits back.

“There,” he says, “Done.”

Dream turns to face him, half somewhere else.

“Better?” George asks.

Dream tries to compose himself.

“I --”

He stops himself, tries again.

“I had no idea. I was so used to it...”

George shrugs.

“You can be used to a lot of things that hurt you. It doesn’t mean they don’t hurt,” he says.

And he doesn’t mean anything by it, probably. He doesn’t mean anything at all. But Dream holds onto those words like they mean everything because in that moment, they do. He doesn’t have to be a little cold, a little numb. Not around George. In a daze, he climbs back up onto the couch. The first movie has long-since ended and a second one is playing through in the background. Dream hadn’t even noticed. He looks at his hoodie, discarded on the floor and shivers in spite of himself. George looks away from the movie.

“Are you cold?”

Dream shrugs.

“I...”

He trails off. All at once, George lays back onto him, his back fitted snugly against Dream’s chest, snuggled down a little so his head fits perfectly under Dream’s chin. Dream is perfectly still for a moment, disbelieving. After a moment, he tentatively wraps his arms around George, like his skin might burn. It doesn’t. It’s just warm. And God, Dream hurts for warmth. They stay like that, Dream slowly relaxing into George, letting himself have this, letting himself melt.

Dream isn’t used to being touched gently, but maybe he could be, with a little practice.