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The Dog Days (are over)

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His brown hair falls in front of his eyes, and when he pulls the long locks of hair behind his ears, he almost cannot recognize himself. A large scar is seen, and so are the dark shadows under his eyes. He will get a nose earing soon, it was one of the first things he wanted to do when they left.

But first, Dream will cut his hair. So, he is a little less recognizable, and so they will not get caught.

The Academy will find them, sooner or later. But Dream and he was the best of their classes. They made a promise a couple of years ago, that once they left, they would not have to return.

Dream returns with a pair of scissors he has found. He grimaces.

Gradually, the boy’s hair falls. They are both silent during the process, the only sound being the metal cutting into the matted hair, and Dream’s shoes against the marble flooring as he moves around to get the best angles to cut. If there was a sound from their small living room apartment, or outside their door, they would hear.

He did not spend six years (twelve for Dream) at The Academy for nothing.

Dream eventually places the scissors on the tabletop, after he has finished. The boy’s hair is significantly shorter, and his face is no longer covered. A bleach bottle is taken out. Soon, his hair will be blond.

The boy stares at his face afterward. He almost cannot recognize himself.

But he does. His name is Theseus - now Tommy, and he escaped The Academy. He is not safe.

He must continue. He must persist.

Theseus - Tommy - must survive.

 

 

 

 

 

Tommy can hold his breath for six minutes underwater. Seven at his best.

His life flashes between the minutes of drowning.

One minute. He faintly distinguishes a life before. He remembers a mother, a father. He remembers the feeling of love.

Two minutes. There are twenty-nine other children with him. He is told they are his new brothers and sisters. They are this family; he writes on rows until his fingers are numb.

Three minutes. He holds a knife for the first time and is now familiar with going to bed starving. He is taught that this is survival, and he must be three steps ahead to leap.

Four minutes. They learn to use guns and shoot blindfolded. They shout words in classrooms until the teachings are engraved into their souls. The siblings that cannot keep up are taken away. He does not see them again.

Five minutes. He notices the classroom, once of thirty students, now reduced to twenty. Sometimes, he can hear his brothers and sisters’ voices and see their smiles in his sleep. Their failure is his success. Flowers are planted by unmarked stone. Soon, they wilt.

Six minutes. He understands that he must not be a second behind or a step too late. He fights for himself, for his future. He fights to survive. He teaches himself to persist, to allow the memories of his dead siblings to be a reminder of a possible fate.

Seven minutes – and urging arms force him upwards from the water. He gasps for air and can no longer feel his heart.

Tommy drowns in his sleep. For longer than seven minutes. He drowns in the previous faces of his siblings and the blood, sweat, and cold tears of his past.

There is a boy with salt-colored eyes. His name is Finn, and he does not make it past the anechoic chamber. There is also Lucifer, a boy who had once shared a piece of bread with Tommy, who had died in his sleep. Two flowers had been planted for them.

Strong arms do not pull him up, this time, as he drowns. Tommy wakes himself up, gasping for breaths and his heart racing. He cannot panic; he is not weak he must remind himself.

Tommy stumbles out of bed, grabbing the doorframe. He clutches his stomach, where under his plain shirt is a litter of bruises and stitches. Dream stands in the kitchen, staring at the wall opposite him rather intently.

The two boys do not say anything, as Tommy sits down. They don’t need to, as Dream has heard him from the hallway. They are trapped inside their minds momentarily; Tommy burying his head in his arms while Dream just stares.

Dream is the first one to speak. “We can go explore the town if you would like today. I need to find a job.” Because the money he has stolen will last them a couple of months. If Tommy had followed every part of the plan, they would have collected more.

Tommy squeezes his eyes closed and wills himself to forget. “Sounds good,” he mutters under his breath.

“Tommy–” Dream’s voice turns soft. It is sudden and strange because Tommy is not used to a lack of harshness in his tone which was present at The Academy. “We’ll be okay. I promised you before, did I not?”

“You did,” Tommy nods his head, but he’s hesitant. “What time are we leaving?”

Fall results in colorful trees and cleaner air. Lighter skies, and preparation for the cold nights of Winter. It means layering, thick jackets, and long socks.

Tommy and Dream go to a local clothes store first. Tommy’s eyes dart around the unfamiliarity, whereas Dream’s experience allows them to reach the clothes aisle rather quickly. He tells him, of the one mission that occurred at the back of a Walmart.

Dream drops sweaters and shirts into the bags, glancing at Tommy for confirmation every so moment. He has only owned a pair of black shorts and a white shirt, accompanied by a dark-colored blazer. They’d also have a set of pajamas, and grey pants for the colder evenings.

The siblings then go and buy shoes. “Pick anything you want, Tommy,” Dream says kindly. “I’ll be back soon.” It’s natural; communication. During their missions, communication was survival.

Tommy exhales and awkwardly shuffles by the rows of shoes to find a pair that he likes. He is used to the black tennis shoes he owns now, but a change would be nice.

(For a moment, he thinks of what shoes will help him run the fastest and will help him move around stealthily during missions. But he isn’t there anymore, he has to remind himself.

He has escaped. He is free.

It doesn’t feel that way, though.)

Dream returns, frowning when he notices Tommy hasn’t selected a pair. “I’ll help,” he offers. “You should be a size thirteen.”

Tommy finds a white pair of shoes with red stripes across the edges. He likes them. When he shows Dream, he grins. They pay and leave the store with a pile of bags that the older has offered to carry since Tommy’s arms are still bandaged from the aftermath of their escape.

They find themselves strolling by town, tall shops, and orange trees bringing newness to their lives. A reminder of what it is now, and what will be their future. Well, until they are found and must hide again.

“You can find a job,” Dream offers after a comfortable silence has passed. “Only if you want to.”

Tommy’s time will be spent in his apartment, staring at the walls. So, he nods his head, because anything is better than spending hours in space, he cannot call home just yet.

“What will happen?” Tommy says.

“What?” Dream glances at him.

He repeats his words. “What will happen after we are safe?” Because they are not safe yet. But there will be a time that comes when they will be.

“We will live,” Dream declares. Simple words: but Tommy realizes they won’t have to be reluctant when leaving the apartment, or hesitation when they must leave each other for a couple of hours. Tommy realizes they won’t have to survive anymore. They will be able to live.

The brothers end up at a park, surrounded by tough trees and a playground nearby with screaming children. They sit on a red bench, and Dream drops the bags by their feet.

The older boy nods towards the direction of the playground. “Go play.”

Tommy scowls. “I’m not a child, Dream.” He hasn’t been one since the age of ten.

“I’ll push you on the swings,” Dream chuckles again, earning a light punch by the younger. “I’m joking, I’m joking!”

Tommy sighs, and he finds himself relaxing. The Academy would be displeased. He’d be punished for being so light-minded around so many people, in public. They are taught to hold stoic faces and ignore vulnerability. 

“Breathe,” Dream says, next to him. Tommy must be shaking, then. Thinking about his past does that to him. “Breathe, Tommy. You don’t have to think about that place anymore.”

But he does. Because familiar faces still haunt him, and the burns of skin will always be a painful reminder of his past. The nights starving, the brothers he left behind, the lessons that will be forever engraved in his soul.

“See those kids over there?” Dream’s words are like arms that grab him from the water. It was him who pulled Tommy out of the water.

("You’re an idiot! You could have killed yourself!” Dream shouts at him the day afterward. “What have I told you, Theseus?”

“Five minutes. To count in my head.”

Dream sighs. “Promise me, you won’t do it again." Theseus stares at the new marks on his brother's skin, a result of tampering with Theseus' progress during the lesson. The Teachers would have shouted at the older boy, he was likely reprimanded by the Headmaster for pulling such a stunt. "Promise me, Theseus."

If it had been any other person, who’d assisted a student, they could have been killed. But Dream is Dream. He is an exception.

“I promise,” Theseus eventually says.)

“Yeah,” Tommy blinks, glancing at the group of boys who run around the field in front of them. They’re in the middle of a game of soccer and look around Tommy’s age.

“Join them,” Dream offers. “I won’t go anywhere.”

“Dream,” Tommy groans. “Please, don’t make me.”

He nudges the boy. “C’mon. I don’t have all day.”

Tommy groans again and stands up. He crosses his hands against his chest and glares at his brother. “I hate you.”

“I know you do. Give me your knife." The one strapped to his ankle. "You wouldn’t want to stab yourself when you run.”

Tommy hands the knife to Dream and sighs.

“Go easy on them, Tommy,” Because they both know Tommy is faster and can outrun most kids his age. Some lessons, they’d make them run until they collapsed. But this is not a lesson, this is a game.

“I hate you,” Tommy reminds his brother – so he doesn’t forget. He turns around and slowly jogs to one of the boys who stands to the side. For a moment, he wants to turn around and stay within the comforting presence of Dream, but he’s too far in and the short boy notices him approaching.

“Hey,” Tommy says uneasily. “Can I join?”

“Yeah, sure!” The boy is even shorter up close. His hair is the shade of Tommy’s before it was dyed. “I’m Tubbo, are you new around here?”

Tommy nods his head stiffly.

“Makes sense,” Tubbo nods his head, and Tommy wants to know how he knows this fact. But he concludes the town is tight-nit, and Tubbo would have seen him around

“You can be on my team,” Tubbo says, after tying his shoelaces. He stands up and beckons Tommy to follow. He is briefly introduced to everyone, but Tubbo reassures him not to remember their names.

Tommy remembers every name. He is a former member of The Academy, after all.

The blond-haired boy soon finds out that the game isn’t as strict, and rule-ridden as he used to play. They mess around and shove each other over when someone gets a goal. Tubbo stays by him for a bit, laughing around and shouting. Tommy doesn’t know how to feel natural, feeling on edge throughout the game. He can’t concentrate, and his mind spins.

The ball then lands by his feet. “Tommy, over here!” Tubbo is across him, a few yards away, his arms waving in the air. A boy, his name is Fundy, charges towards Tommy to capture the ball off him.

Tommy takes a deep breath in and rushes forward. He dribbles the ball between his feet and outruns the ginger-haired boy who runs after him. Tommy then slows down, kicking the ball to Tubbo who sprints forward, dogging a taller boy. Tubbo kicks to ball back to Tommy, as they edge near the goal. Tommy doesn’t have to think twice about kicking to the left of the keeper. He can see how the goalie – Purpled (It’s a weird name, but he grew up with a boy named Sapnap, so it’s nothing he’s not used to) is edging towards the left, thinking he can read Tommy’s movements well. He can’t because the boy hides it well as he kicks.

He scores a goal. Tommy can hear Tubbo shout in the background, and a couple of guys rush to Tommy. He doesn’t grin, but he feels lighter.

(He’s still ready to push someone to the ground and attack someone who threatens.)

The game progresses not long after high fives and cheers of congratulations. Tommy finds himself in the background, not wanting to draw much attention to himself again. The game proceeds for twenty or so minutes, Tommy definitely does not find the seconds pass by in his head. As some of the boys start heading home, he turns to leave too, once he realizes Dream probably does not want to wait too long.

He knows Dream, doesn’t mind, though.

“You’re leaving!?” A voice calls after Tommy as he leaves the field. Tommy tenses for a second and turns to find Tubbo jogging after him.

“Um, yeah,” Tommy nods his head once Tubbo stands in front of him, once again. He nods his head at Dream who is watching them carefully with an indecipherable look in his eyes.

“You should join us another time,” Tubbo grins, combing his brown hair out of his eyes. “You’re cool, Tommy.”

“Thanks,” Tommy mutters, remembering what closeness meant. (Closeness was a connection. And connection meant death.

Dream was always an exception.)

“I’ll see you around, then,” Tubbo eventually says when Tommy doesn’t say anything else. “Bye!”

Tommy nods his head and turns around to meet Dream. For some reason, his brother is smiling.

“Are we going?” Tommy questions uncertainly.

“Oh – yeah,” He picks up the bags. “Did you have fun?”

Tommy doesn’t say anything, glancing away. He doesn’t like that he’s been the most vulnerable he has been in years. He doesn’t like how he’s changing so much.

They stop at a bakery near their apartment. Dream buys Tommy a chocolate bun and cream cheese bagel for himself. They enjoy their meal, as they return back, starting a short conversation.

Tommy doesn’t know he’ll get used to this. But Dream will help him, and together, they will.

 

 

 

 

 

His name is Dream and he escaped The Academy.

The wind ruffles his brown hair, and his tired eyes meet the sky.

Dream, a voice echoes in his dreams. When we leave, watch the stars with me.

One day, he will whisper the name that burns his frosted lips, back to him. But now, he can’t. Because his two best friends are still trapped, and the man will not stop until they are all free.

Dream watches his younger brother in the distance. A part of him is still a student at The Academy; watchful eyes calculating the distant figures and the potential harm that can be inflicted to his brother. He’ll devise a plan in seconds and execute it in a matter of moments.

But the other part of himself, the softer, more calm side, watches him with fondness and he is relieved because Tommy finally has a chance to be a kid. He won’t be able to go to school, nor will be able to attain the experiences that others will, and he will be forever burdened by moments of his past that no person should go through – but right now, him running through a field, careless and carefree, is enough.

One day he hopes that they all can enjoy a moment like this together. Of lightness, of no worry. He hopes for someday, his hand will be with his other, and his smile will match another. The four of them, against the world.

The wind picks up, and the orange and red leaves fly past him. Dream’s eyes dip closed, the sound of laugher sudden music to his ears.

Dream exhales.