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Second Sight

Chapter Text

 

Can I see with second sight?

Can I really shine the light on?

In my dreams it turns out right.

~~

Steve always told people that he and Richard met in a dream. People would laugh or dismiss the notion and Richard would give the group a small, unreadable smile--unreadable only because it could be read so many ways. And then they’d ask Richard where he and Steve met--because wasn’t it so odd those two had found each other in the first place?--and Richard’s smile would grow a bit (and maybe he’d laugh here, depending on the group, he’d laugh a soft, warm laugh) before he would say, “It was the grocery store, wasn’t it Steve?”

Steve would groan and hold his head in his hands. “No, Richard--”

“We were in the dairy isle! You were buying mozzarella cheese.”

The rest of the party then would ask--“Is that really how you to met? What a strange way for two people to become friends.” Although, they mused to themselves, Richard and Steve really made an odd set to begin with.

Steve, although refined in his looks, was rather loose minded and, on top of that, a talker. He said whatever he was thinking and it was nearly impossible to get him to shut up. If you got him to finally stop talking, he might just start singing. His mouth wasn’t that much of a problem, not unless he had something important in his head. He had to say it, he couldn’t keep it to himself. That was when it became very much a problem. People wouldn’t let him get too close because of this, they didn’t want their life to be an open book, and Steve seemed like the sort of fellow who would open books and not be able to close them. But Steve was endlessly fascinated by people. He needed to be around people, he needed to talk to them, he needed to know them. He needed to not be shut off from other people--a day by himself was a day that would drive him completely bonkers.

And then there was Richard, with a soft nose and a soft face and soft voice. He never said more than he needed to (unless he was with only one other person, a person he trusted). All of his words were precise, calculated. Not that he couldn't be loud and boisterous, but those moments were reserved. They were reserved for the right place, for the right people. People regarded him like he was wise, like he knew what he was doing (and most of the time he did). He didn’t seem to know many people, not like Steve did, but he didn’t seem to want to get to know many people either. It wasn’t that he was unpleasant company to be with, he just didn’t appear to need people to feel fulfilled. Or maybe he just didn’t know how to get close to people.

Maybe that was it, people thought. Steve was always trying to get close to people and Richard didn’t know how to. And the two opposites attracted. Maybe that was how they became friends.

Richard said, “Steve was buying mozzarella cheese. I asked him if he was making a pizza.”

The rest of the party couldn’t imagine Richard saying that to a complete stranger, and Steve let out a frustrated noise when he said that. “No you didn’t! You asked me--well.” He stopped. “You asked me if I was making a pizza first, yes...”

“And then you invited me over for pizza,” Richard said, a tiny smile on his face, a twinkle in his eye.

“It went down something like that, yes,” Steve admitted kind of reluctantly. “But not exactly!”

“Mozzarella cheese,” Richard said softly. “What a silly thing to bring two people together.” And Steve would roll his eyes and say, “That’s not why we became friends, you goof.” And he’d try to say more, but the rest of the party, satisfied with Richard’s answer, would change the subject.

“That’s not how we met,” Steve would grumble under his breath to Richard. “It wasn’t mozzarella cheese that brought us together.”

Richard would just smile, keeping his eyes on the others, looking fully engaged in their conversation, and whisper to Steve, “I know.”

Chapter Text

You walked into my life out of nowhere

So why believe you?

If I could hold the rules in my hand

Games that you play, I'd play with you

Then the doubt in my mind maybe left behind

I'd love you then

(No matter how high)

I'll catch the fall

 

~~

 

Richard had been intending to buy some milk when he first saw him in real life.

He gasped and slowed down, walking slowly down the aisle, looking at the man picking out cheese intently. It couldn’t be him, because he was just a dream person. A person Richard made up, a friend he didn’t have that he made up for himself. He tried to shake the resemblance off, passing by the man. As he did, the man looked up from the cheese he had been examining. They made eye contact, and Richard stopped--the man seemed just as surprised to see him as Richard did.

Unsure what to do, Richard said, “You’re buying mozzarella cheese.” It wasn’t a question.

The man stared at him hard in a sort of shock. “You’re Richard!!” he shouted.

Richard stared back at him uncomfortably. “Steve...?” he asked timidly. He didn’t want to be wrong.

Steve laughed breathlessly, as if he couldn’t believe it was happening. “Richard,” he repeated again. “Oh my God. Yes, it’s me, it’s Steve...” He trailed off, baffled.

“You’re real, then,” Richard said kind of quietly.

“Of course I’m real!” Steve said. Then he paused and said, “I’m real,” again, in a firmer voice. “We just happened to meet in dreams. But we’re both real people!” He grinned goofily at the thought.

And there it was. He’d brought up dreams. Richard hesitated before saying anything. “But... dreams aren’t usually... Dreams are an individual experience, I thought. Do we... share dreams?”

“Last night was dolphins,” Steve said.

“Last night was dolphins,” Richard said, looking at him incredulously. “Unless I’m still sleeping?”

Steve shook his head. “This isn’t a dream. I know dreams. They feel different than this, you know?”

“Yes,” Richard answered. He did know. He knew exactly.

“Listen, I can’t believe this is happening... Do you want to come over for pizza? I usually have leftovers, it should be enough for two.”

“I would love too,” Richard agreed, the astonishment that any of this could be happening still very clear in his voice.

“Great!” Steve said. “So do you prefer pepperoni or sausage?”

 

~~

 

Steve’s flat was strangely empty. The walls were undecorated and piles of boxes could be found in every room. Steve opened the door and flipped a light on. “Well, here we are,” he said, his voice echoing in the mostly empty space. “I just moved in,” he explained, setting down his groceries on a cheap plastic table. “Kind of incredible, huh?” Richard blinked. “Oh, not the flat,” Steve laughed. “Though that’s kind of incredible too.” He smiled at the space in a sort of awe. He turned back and faced Richard. “No, I’m talking about you. That’s what’s so incredible. I move here and almost immediately…”

Richard shook his head. “This is incredible.” He sat down on a stool by the table. “Where did you live before this Steve? Who... who are you outside of dreams?”

“No one, really,” Steve said with a little smile. “I bet you’re someone. I bet you have friends and family and a whole life outside of dreams...”

Richard blinked. “Well sure. You don’t?”

Steve shook his head. “Not really...”

Richard bit his lip. “Oh. I’m sorry to hear that.”

Steve paled. “No, don’t be! Why don’t you tell me about your life while I make the pizza?”

“Alright,” Richard agreed, and Steve got out the ingredients and started preparing the pizza. “Where do you want me to start?”

“From the beginning,” Steve said. And so Richard did.

He told Steve about his childhood. He spent most of his early years with his nose in a book, not really making friends with the other kids. He was an average student in school, doing pretty well in math and in music, but he dropped out of music because of the teacher. School itself had never been of much interest to him. The one thing he really enjoyed during his grammar school days was playing on his school’s tennis team. But he couldn’t see any way for tennis to become a career instead of a hobby, so he decided a job as a banker seemed fine. The idea didn’t appeal to him more or less than anything else, it only seemed achievable. He went to college for finance. That was where he met Suzy.

For once, someone meant something. The real world wasn’t dreary nonsense. Suzy was an arts student--planning to pursue a career in music. Her voice was beautiful. She was beautiful. Richard felt himself being dragged back into music again. And dragged into something else.

“I was in love,” Richard sighed. “For the first time. And... probably the last.”

“Oh,” Steve said, putting the pizza in the oven. He turned around to Richard, his face confused. “Are you two still together or...?”

“No! No... Not anymore. Not for a long time.” Richard sighed again.

“Then why did you say you’ll never fall in love again?” Steve said sadly.

“Oh--well, there’s no one I’d fall in love with. I know everyone already Steve. They’re all friends or coworkers. None of them I could ever think of like that...”

“Oh...” Steve said. “Well. I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright.” Beep! The alarm Steve had set on the oven went off, the pizza was done. “Do you have anyone you love, Steve?”

“I think,” Steve said, taking the pizza out of the oven. “I don’t know. I really don’t know anymore...”

“Love is complicated,” Richard agreed. Steve brought both of them a plate with pizza on it and sat down next to him at the table.

“Yeah.” Steve took a bite of his pizza. “You’re really Richard then? I... Well, it sounds silly, but I mostly thought I made you up.”

Richard gave a small, somewhat uncomfortable frown. “I thought the same thing. Which is silly,” he added quickly, “that I would think up a person like you. Because I don’t know many people--like you. Loud and friendly and... I don't know... Reachable?” He laughed.

“You think I’m reachable?” Steve smiled.

“Very. Most people are terrifying to talk to.” Richard smiled back at Steve, and then looked at his pizza and frowned. “Could I have a fork with this?”

Steve laughed. “Sure!” He got up and tossed Richard a fork from the kitchen, which Richard barely caught. “Pizza with a fork is a sin, though.”

“I guess I’m a sinner then,” Richard said dryly, cutting off the front tip of his pizza and eating it with his fork. “It’s too hot to eat it otherwise, though.”

“What’s the point of pizza if you don’t burn your tongue?”

“The flavor? Actually enjoying eating it?” Richard said.

“Rubbish!” Steve said, and they both laughed.

“You can burn your tongue all you like,” Richard said, carefully cutting off another bit of pizza with the side of his fork. “But I won’t hear you complaining about it later.”

“Fine,” Steve said, taking a big bite of pizza. “Ah! Ow!”

 

~~

 

After that, it seemed like they were always together. People who knew Richard before swore he smiled more and even heard him laugh occasionally. He seemed--crazy as it was to think--more approachable. Who was this Steve guy anyways? Some sort of miracle worker, that was for sure... Miracle worker, or dangerous? Maybe he was using Richard. Maybe Richard had something he wanted, something other than friendship. It seemed unnatural that two people should become best friends so fast. But... Richard didn’t seem to have anything Steve would want. Still. They acted like they’d know each other for years now, not like week long acquaintances. It was terrifying to watch. Terrifying and delightful.

Chapter Text

So here it is

This corner of life where secrets hide

A place to stay for feelings brushed aside

Gathering here

In the cold of my winter

~~

The dream world and the real world started to bleed into each other.

They could still tell the difference, but they were always together, so the difference seemed not to matter anymore. The dreams became more real--reality became more dreamy. To be separated was utter pain and being with one another was bliss. Richard had never felt the same way with anyone else--Steve hadn’t either. But neither of them could quite tell if they were reading the other’s feelings right--so they just remained in bliss, neither confident enough to make a move.

The first time they kissed, it happened like an accident. It was in a dream, and it felt like a dream, too. Their faces were so close and they just slipped onto each other as if by accident but then they stayed there and it wasn't an accident anymore and it felt more like a teenager's dream about kissing than actually kissing and maybe that was because it was a dream.

Neither of them talked about it the next day.

~~

As soon as Steve had come into his life, he was gone.

They were planning to meet for lunch at a cafe Richard visited frequently and Steve had gone to once or twice since moving into town. Richard had sat down and waited. Half an hour. He went ahead and ordered his usual. He ate slowly once it arrived. An hour. He wasn’t hungry anymore, but he ordered dessert anyways. Hour and a half. He kept checking his watch. He payed his bill--only because the waiter had impatiently given him his check.

Five minutes to two hours, he was asked to leave.

Richard stared at the pavement, walking away from the cafe to his car. Had Steve just forgotten? That couldn’t be it--Steve wouldn’t miss a chance to go to lunch with anyone. Maybe that was it... Maybe other plans had come up. Maybe, Richard thought, trying to ignore the lump in his throat, there was someone he would rather have lunch with than him. Maybe he had done something wrong. Had he? Had he said something, done something that would make Steve mad at him? Make Steve not want to see him anymore?

There was the kiss.

But that had been nights ago! In a dream! They’d seen each other since then... And not talked about it... and Richard could hardly believe that Steve would just hide from him because of that. It was fine if he didn’t want to talk about it, if they were both just going to pretend it didn’t happen. But... to avoid Richard completely? It seemed petty and rude, not something Steve would do.

He didn’t hear from Steve for the rest of the day. He had hoped to come home to a message on his answering machine or a post it on the door... nothing. He tried calling Steve’s apartment, but the phone rang over. He left a brief message--“Hi, it’s Richard, call me back”--hanging up the phone, wondering what he’d done wrong.

~~

That night, he wasn’t in his dreams either.

Which was funny, but more than that heartbreaking. Steve was always in his dreams now. He called out his name a couple of times, but there was no response. This is going to be a long night.

He was dreaming he was in the countryside, a place he recognized. It was just two miles out of town, he and Suzy used to go there back when he was in school. It had been the last place he’d seen her, actually, before the split it off. And then they’d both just gone their own separate ways... Great, he thought, overwhelmed with memories of her. Suzy’s been gone for years now, and now Steve is too. Is this just the place for feeling lonely and heartbroken?

It didn’t look like a heartbreaking place. Richard was lying on a hill, green, soft grass tickling his face. More green, rolling hills were in the distance, just beyond a small pond. Birds could be chirping and the sky was a bright, brilliant blue. He could feel the heat from the sun on his face, warm, but not scorching. By all means, it should have been the perfect place, the sort of place that made you feel happy, filled your chest with a warm, soft feeling. But the combination of memories and sadness made it impossible for Richard to take any pleasure in his surroundings. He sighed and closed his eyes. If he tried hard enough, could he fall into a dreamless sleep?

After several minutes of the sun beating down on his eyelids, he concluded the answer was no. Richard forced himself to sit up and open his eyes. He felt sore, stiff, and numb. He didn’t want to be there. He didn’t want to be anywhere.

“Enjoy your nap?”

Richard jumped at the sound of someone else’s voice. “Steve?” he asked hopefully, looking around. Instead, his eyes found someone else sitting beside him. “S-Suzy?”

“She probably doesn’t look like this, anymore, Richard,” Suzy said with a shrug.

“Oh,” Richard said. “You’re some sort of dream version of Suzy?” He bit his lip. “Can I just make you go away then?” He swatted at her like she would vanish in a puff of smoke.

“Hey!” she yelped. “Sorry, sorry, just don’t hit me!” Suzy’s features faded away to reveal someone incredibly different. Her hair became starchy, bright red, and shoulder length, and her face sharpened, becoming more chiseled and masculine. Suzy--or whoever she--or he, maybe, Richard couldn’t tell anymore--sighed irritably. “Sorry. You were just thinking about her so clearly, I couldn’t help it. You and her went here a lot, I’m guessing?”

Richard ignored the stranger’s questions. “Who are you? What do you want?”

“I’m a friend of his. I figured you probably want some company.”

“A friend of whose?” Richard asked, although he was quite certain he already knew the answer.

“Steve’s, of course. You’ve probably noticed something's off about him, yeah?”

“Nothing’s wrong with him!” Richard said defensively. The stranger laughed.

“You’re awful good at ignoring things you don’t want to see, aren’t you, Richard?”

Richard didn’t answer the question. “Nothing is wrong with him.”

The stranger laughed at him again. “You’re going to ignore me calling you out on ignoring things? That’s rather frivolous. I’m trying to help you here.”

“By shapeshifting into my ex girlfriend?” Richard wasn’t one to shout, but he could tell he was raising his voice. This stranger put him on edge, and after what was easily the worst day in months, his patience was already paper thin.

“Calm down, calm down--I hardly even realized I was doing it. Let’s just start over, why don’t we?” The stranger waved a hand and a tea set appeared on a picnic blanket between them. “Hello, Richard, I’m Andonis, what’s your name?”

“You already know my name,” Richard said, eyeing the tea warily. “You just said it.” He watched as Andonis took a sip of tea. “How do you even know it? I’ve never met you before now...”

“Feels to me like we have, I’ve heard plenty about you. Richard this, Richard that. Steve never shuts up about you when you’re not around.”

Richard bit his lip. “Then why... why did he disappear? Do you know where he is? Is he... mad at me?”

Andonis smirked. “Aw, you’re really upset, aren’t you? He’s certainly not mad at you. He’s just stuck.” They shrugged.

“Stuck where?”

“Steve keeps a lot of things secret from you, doesn’t he? I suppose I can’t blame him, but he knows it’s all going to come out eventually.”

“What was going to come out? Stop being so cryptic!” Richard’s head hurt. He didn’t want to think Steve had been hiding things from him, and this strange Andonis only seemed to take pleasure in his confusion and hurt.

“Steve isn’t like you, Richard. Surely you’ve noticed that. A guy as friendly as him having no friends? You just happen to meet at the most ideal time? Right when he moves into town?”

“It was fate,” Richard said stubbornly. “And how do you know all of this...?”

Andonis smirked. “You could said I’m the reason he moved into town.”

“Wait, why? Can you just explain things in simple terms?”

Andonis gestured around. “You never wanted to come back here did you? And yet here you are. Dreams work in strange ways. They’re not stable, not like the world you’re from.”

“Where’s Steve?” Richard said urgently.

“You’ll find him,” they said assuredly. “Either that or he’ll get unstuck. His time is running out.”

“That sounds bad!”

A shrug. “His choices. Sure, it’s not good. But it’s his own fault.”

“But--”

“Don’t worry about him. Calm down and have a sip of tea.”

“I’m not going to calm down!” Richard was becoming increasingly frantic. “I want to see Steve!”

Andonis’ eyes flashed. “You really want to see Steve? Then fine.” Their features melted back again, their jawline becoming more round at the edges, their skin becoming paler. Their hair shrunk back and took on a burgundy tone. “Rather good impression, you think?” Andonis said, looking for Richard’s reaction expectantly. It really was peculiar to see someone else being Steve. It was Steve’s face, Steve’s body, but Steve smiled differently. Steve had a different gleam in his eyes. He wasn’t Steve. Just a cheap impression, meant to tick Richard off.

“That wasn’t what I meant.” Richard looked away, disgusted.

“I figured it wasn’t.” Richard could hear Andonis taking another sip of tea. “He’ll be okay, you know.”

“No,” Richard said sharply. “I don’t know that. You’ve just made me even more concerned, if anything.”

Andonis didn’t say anything for a moment. “It’s your favorite type of tea, you know,” they finally settled on.

“How do you know my favorite type of tea?” Richard shouted, standing up.

“I--”

“I’m done!” Richard cut him off. Whether it was mind reading or Steve, he didn’t really want to know. “I’m done!” He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “I’m going to wake up now.”

“Okay,” Andonis said, an apparent lack of care in their voice.

“I’m waking up! I’m waking up!!” Richard opened his eyes. For a split second he saw Steve’s face... No, Andonis’ impression of Steve’s face, before he woke up with a start.

~~

It was three in the morning, but he didn’t go back to sleep.

Chapter Text

I see the signs night and day

It’s funny how it gets to you

You may believe love will stay

But it lets you down and slips away  

~~

The first few weeks of college were hard for Richard. The chilled, September wind blew through his hair. He had finally found the time to go to the school’s tennis court. Much to his disappointment, there hadn’t been anyone there, waiting for a tennis partner. He didn’t know anyone yet. He had a roommate, but Richard was too nervous to ask him to play tennis. He had been hoping there’d be someone else here in the same situation as him. He bounced a bright green ball against the pavement and caught it again. He was silly to assume he’d have such luck.

He tried playing tennis with himself (which only made him feel more pathetic) for about 20 minutes before he decided it was time to go. He went over to his backpack and started to put away his racket, when suddenly he felt a tap on the the shoulder. He jumped and looked up to come face to face with a girl he’d only ever seen once, at orientation. She gave him a bright, big smile and giggled.

“You look awful lonely,” she commented.

Richard nodded, frantically trying to think of what to say. “D-do you like tennis?”

“If you get me a racket, I’ll play a game with you,” she said with a smile. “Someone skip out on you?”

“N-no, I just don’t know anyone, really...” he said and then shook his head. “I’ll--I have two rackets, so um, yes, I can get one for you.” He bent down to his backpack to grab his rackets again. His head spun. He knew making new friends was going to be hard, but now that someone was here, in front of him, it seemed near impossible. Picking up the racket, he realized he’d really messed introductions up. I didn’t even ask her name! he thought in a panic. He took a deep breath before standing up again.

“So... hi,” he said awkwardly, handing the racket to her. “I’m sorry, I didn’t ask you your name. I--I’m Richard.” He hoped he sounded calm, and not panicked like he really felt.

She smiled at him sweetly and took the racket. “Hello Richard, I’m Suzy.”

After that, college got better. He spent more and more time with Suzy. He couldn’t help but feel attracted to her, her smile, her laugh, the way her eyes lit up when she talked about something she felt passionate about. He stop dreaming of Steve when he started thinking about Suzy. Just about her, before either of them were even dating. He didn’t even notice Steve was gone at first. And then it briefly occurred to him and by that time it didn’t matter. For the first time in his life he had convinced himself he in love. It was something he’d never felt before. It washed out all other feelings.

He forgot about Steve completely for those years. He and Suzy seemed to be such a good pair. She was bold and fun and exciting. He was quiet and smart and somethings couldn’t believe she was paying so much attention to him. She told him she felt the same way. All in all, there was certainly nothing wrong about their relationship.

Looking back on it, it wasn’t like there was anything right with it either. There was never really anything that held the two of them together. They both liked music. They both liked tennis, or maybe that was just Suzy pretending to enjoy Richard’s favorite things for the sake of their relationship. Richard knew he had done the same.

Still, it hadn’t been fun when she cut it off. Of course it was her that cut it off. Richard would’ve never said anything was wrong with them. He liked things the way they were, he liked pretending things weren’t kind of falling apart, that him and Suzy weren’t slowly drifting away from each other.

Suzy wouldn’t have been able to ignore problems. She’d tried confronting Richard about such problems before, but Richard was terrible at confrontation. Finally everything piled up enough for her to say she was done. She was constantly moving, ever changing, like a crashing river. Richard was like a small pond the river flowed through briefly. Even the streams that came off of his body of water couldn’t keep up with her. While he liked to pretend she wasn’t moving on, she was done pretending that wasn’t the case.

She drove him out to the edge of the town, out to the hills where they frequently picnicked or watched the stars. She said it was time for a talk about their relationship. That she was willing to talk it over, that she didn’t want it to end.

In the end, Richard hadn’t been able to give her enough reasons to stay. She ended up storming off, she got so upset with him. She left Richard on the hill, bewildered and sad. When he got up to find her, she was gone. She’d driven off in her car. He sat on the hill a while longer, dumbfounded. “You can’t just ignore things you don’t want to deal with, Richard!” she’d shouted at him. The birds chirped in the nearby trees. “Hard remembering why I even loved you in the first place.” He finally got up from the hill. He walked the two miles back to the city and then used a telephone to call Rob, his roommate, to pick him up.

“You alright?” Rob asked when he finally arrived.

“Fine,” Richard responded, not knowing what else to say.

“How’d you get stranded in the first place? Weren’t you and Suzy hanging out this afternoon?”

Richard shrugged. Suzy’s words kept running through his head. He couldn’t seem to forget the last things she had said to him.

“Goodbye, Richard. I really thought we could work it out. I wanted to. But... I don’t need this anymore. I don’t need you anymore.”

And then she had just walked out of his life.

~~


That night, for the first time in years, he dreamt of Steve.

Chapter Text

Chances worth taking

Who knows what’s waiting?

Devils may come for you

Who wins in real life?

No one can answer

~~

“I’ll see you tomorrow night, Steve,” Richard said with a tiny smile.

“See you!” Steve said. He returned home. Richard was his only consistent friend. The rest of them just flitted in and out of his life. Although he had to admit that it was odd, every day Richard disappeared every day for the exact same amount of time. He was a guy with a schedule. Steve could appreciate that. Him, he didn’t have anything to schedule his life around (except for Richard). Thankfully, he was passionate enough about exploring and meeting new people that he was able to keep himself busy when he wasn’t with Richard.

Before Richard was in his life, he had no sense of time. How could he? The sun was always shining, the world was always a bright, shining place of adventures. Anything could happen and anything would happen. It was easy to lose yourself in something or to get lost. What seemed like hours could be minutes or days. But once Richard was in his life, Steve made sure to find him and see him for the same amount of time every day. It was strange--he could always tell when Richard was close. He could sense him, in a way, his feet carried himself, and there Richard was. They were like two magnets, impossibly attracted to each other.

And then Richard stopped turning up.

The first time it happened Steve wasn’t too worried. That happened sometimes. But then a week past. And a month.

The light in the world seemed kind of dulled. Adventuring didn’t seem quite as fun. People didn’t seem as interesting as before. Steve found himself feeling, for the first time in his life, sad... Sad without an end. He spent his time moping around. The sun seemed like a pain. People seemed like an annoyance. Why did they try to talk to him? It’s not like they could console him. Still, some of them tried. One of Steve’s friends, Andonis, tried very hard, much to Steve’s surprise. Andonis was usually an unreliable person, but they seemed genuinely concerned about Steve. Eventually, Steve broke and told them about Richard. Once he finished his story, Andonis responded with a long whistle.

“Steven, do you know what you’ve done?”

“What?” Steve said dully.

“You’ve made a friend with someone from reality.”

Steve stared at him for a moment letting the words sink in. “What?” he finally asked, confused.

Andonis rolled their eyes. “Don’t act so green! We’re not like most people, Steve, haven’t you realized that?”

“No...” Steve said

Andonis gave him a look of exasperation. “Oh, of course you haven’t. Here, how about this: don’t you ever wonder where people go when they disappear?”

“Adventuring? Or... home?”

Andonis shook their head. “Steve, you naive little thing. They go home. But... in a different way. Have you ever heard the word ‘sleep’ before, Steve?”

“No,” he admitted, feeling kind of ashamed. Andonis had a way of making him feel stupid.  

“What about ‘dream?’ Surely you’ve heard that word before.

“Well yeah, I’ve heard it! Isn’t it like... Something unbelievable? Crazy or cool?” He bit his lip. “I don’t know what it means exactly...”

“A dream is what you do when you sleep, Steve. Well, not you. You don’t sleep... because you are a dream.”

Steve looked at him for a moment and then shook his head. “I don’t get it.”

“Everyday, Richard closes his eyes. When he does, he comes here. He is in a state called ‘dreaming.’ The rest of the time, he’s in a different place. A place we can’t get to.”

“I didn’t know there were places we couldn’t go... How does he get there?”

“He doesn’t exist here like we do, Steve. To him, we’re not real.”

“Not real?” Steve was upset, but more than that, confused. “How can we not be real? I see him every day... or I used to at least.”

“Oh, we’re very much real to ourselves,” Andonis reassured him. “But to your friend? Not so much. How long has it been since you saw him last?”

“A month... I think.” Without Richard, Steve had gone back to having no sense of time.

“He’s probably been dreaming in some other plane. Or he’s been having dreamless sleep.”

“Dreamless sleep?” Steve’s grasp on both the idea of dreams and sleep wasn’t very strong yet, and the implications of a “dreamless sleep” were unclear to him. “Is Richard upset with me?

Andonis shrugged. “How should I know? I know even less about him than you do.”

“Oh...”

“Just forget about him, right? You’ll make more friends. He can’t be all that great.”

“Right,” Steve said, not sounding convinced. “Right.”

“C’mon,” Andonis said. “Let’s go exploring.”

~~

Steve was smiling again.

Richard seemed like a faint memory, not a bad one, but certainly not one he wanted to dwell on. He had new friends now, none as close as Richard had been, certainly, but he was exploring again. He was laughing again. Time was a blurred thing Steve had completely lost track of it. In short, things were good. They were like they’d been before he had met Richard.

Come to think of it, Steve couldn’t really remember a time in his life without Richard up until the recent years. He shook his head. He was not going think of it. But lately, memories of Richard seemed to be coming back. He kept having this feeling that if he turned around, Richard would be there.

“Hey.” Richard’s voice, which he had almost forgotten, now echoed inside of his head. “Hey, Steve.” He couldn’t convince himself he wasn’t going crazy. He closed his eyes, trying to get rid of this voices. He couldn’t believe himself. After so long of letting Richard go, he was being haunted again. He just wanted Richard’s voice out of his head!

“Steve. Steve!”

Steve opened his eyes. When he did, Richard was standing right in front of him. “Steve,” he said, his brow furrowed, his voice full of concern. “Are you alright?”

“Richard!” Steve gasped. Either he had completely lost it or Richard had really come back. “Richard, is that really you?”

Richard gave him a weird look and a small smile. “Of course its me.”

“Where did you go? What happened?” Steve attacked him in a hug. “Never mind, that doesn’t matter. I’m so glad to see you again!”

Richard laughed softly. “I can tell!” he said with a smile.

“I missed you so much!” Steve said, not letting go of Richard.

“I...” Richard stopped. “It’s nice to see you Steve.”

“C’mon!” Steve said, taking his hand. “Let’s go exploring!”

~~

“He came back?” Andonis said.

“Yeah,” Steve said, gushing. “I really couldn’t believe it, Andonis! He’s back!”

“For now,” Andonis said dryly.

“For now?” Steve frowned. “He really wouldn’t disappear again, would he?”

“It’s hard to say, Steve,” Andonis said casually, looking at their nails. “He’s from reality. He’s not bound to always come back to our plane. He thinks of us as dreams.”

Steve frowned. “But... I mean, I think we are dreams, right? But we’re real too. He knows that, right?”

“He probably thinks he made you up,” Andonis said dryly.

“I”m my own person! How would he not know that?”

“I don’t know, Steve!” Andonis snapped. “He’s from reality. He doesn’t work like us.”

“Why can’t I visit him in reality?” Steve whined. “I need to prove to him that I’m real, I want him to think of me as...”

“As what?”

Steve reddened. “As someone that could be a friend. Not someone he made up...”

“You know...” Andonis said as though the thought had just occurred to them, “It is possible to go to reality. It wouldn’t last forever, though, and it would require some great effort...”

“Really?” Steve’s face lit up, and he started firing questions at Andonis as fast as he could. “How? What would it require?”

Andonis bit their lip. “Do you really want to know?”

“Of course! I need to... I have to...”

“It will be risky,” Andonis warned.

“I’m willing to take the risk,” Steve said confidently.

Andonis raised what would’ve been an eyebrow on anyone else. “Alright then. Follow me.”

~~

Steve wasn’t used to places like this. He hardly knew a place like this could exist--a place where you couldn’t see the sun, where the air reeked of something sour. “Where are we, Andonis?” he whispered, and his voice echoed across the dark, slimy walls. Andonis had lead him to a familiar place, a building he frequently visited to meet new people, but after taking a few confusing turns, going through a couple of doors that had always been locked when Steve had tried them before, and stumbling down a long flight of stairs, Steve wasn’t in a familiar place at all.

“Never been here before, huh?” Andonis said with a mean smirk. “There’s a whole world underneath our feet, Steven, I’m surprised you never realized it. On the other hand, you didn’t know what dreams were before, so--”

“Is this some sort of passageway to reality?” Steve cut them off.

“No...” Andonis said, taking him down another set of stairs. “But it’s a passageway to the person who can get you to reality.”

“People live down here?” Steve cried out in disbelief.

“Oh yes,” Andonis said. “But if we’re dreams, well, then they’re nightmares.”

“Andonis,” Steve said gently, “I didn’t know what a dream is, what’s a nightmare?”

They reached a metal, rusted door, and Andonis pulled an equally rusty key out of their pocket. “You’ll see,” they hummed, inserting the key and unlocking the door. They pushed it open and Steve gasped.

Andonis seemed to have opened the door to an entire city. Buildings stretched out as far as Steve could see, dark, grimy buildings, cobblestone streets connecting them all together, like a strange, beaded river across the cityscape. Dim streetlights were set up at what seemed to be random across the streets. Andonis stepped forward and Steve followed behind them timidly.

For a world where Steve and Andonis weren’t supposed to fit into, (which assuredly, Steve did not feel like he belonged) Andonis seemed extremely comfortable on the streets. They lead Steve forward, seeming to be a different person. They took on a different attitude, a darker one, almost sinister. “Where are we going?” Steve whispered timidly as the passed by a person on the street. The person scowled at Steve as he passed, and he gulped.

“Just to a friend of mine,” Andonis said. “You’ll like her.”

“Will I?” Steve said, wondering if he could like anything in this weird, underground world. Everything so far had just made him feel vaguely uncomfortable.

Andonis laughed. “I guess there’s a possibility you won’t. But she holds the key for getting to reality. So I expect you to be on your best behavior,” they teased.

They lead Steve down more streets, and Steve found himself feeling more and more offput by the city. Everything was wrong here. It was grimy, not clean, the people all wore a scowl on their face, not a smile, and there was a certain dreary feeling in the air that wouldn’t go away no matter what you did. Steve didn’t understand it. How could everyone be so sad? The only time he could remember feeling even a little bit as bad as how this whole city felt was when Richard disappeared. The city radiated that feeling, just multiplied by ten or fifteen times. “I don’t think I like nightmares,” Steve muttered to Andonis as Andonis lead him off onto a side street.

“Not really your vibe,” Andonis agreed.

“How did you find out this place? How can you even stand to be here?” Steve asked, simply lost at how anyone would want to spend time there.

“My mother was born here,” Andonis replied simply. “It’s in my blood.”

“Oh.”

“Yep,” Andonis said and they stopped in front of a door and knocked twice. They turned to Steve. “This is her place.”

Steve took in the grey, drab, imposing building. “It’s... nice,” he said, obviously lying.

Andonis smirked. “She wouldn’t like hearing that. She likes thinking it’s a terrifying building. I always point out that buildings in themselves aren’t very scary--”

“No no,” Steve said quickly. “It is rather scary....”

“What’s scary?”

A woman stood in the doorway. Her wavy, white hair hung just past her shoulders and she was wearing a dark, lacy gown. “Who’s your friend, Andi?” she asked, giving him a red smile, her lips being the only thing with even a slight color on her pale face.

“This is none other than Steve,” Andonis said, holding Steve by the shoulders so he wouldn’t visibly shrink back from the woman, which he seemed very close to doing.

“Oh, Steve!” The woman’s face lit up. “Your little friend who’s so attached to a fellow from reality?”

Steve looked at Andonis questionly. “You told her about me?”

“They tell me about everything, sweet,” the woman purred.

“Steve, this is Sylvia Batt,” Andonis said, smiling at her.

“Nice to meet you,” Steve said with a jolt after Andonis pinched his shoulders.

“Won’t you both come in?” Sylvia asked, stepping aside so they could come into her home. Steve didn’t want to step foot in the building, but pushed in by Andonis, he made his way across the threshold.

“Why’d you bring Steve with you, love?” Sylvia asked, taking Andonis by the arm, leading the two of them into what appeared to be a living room of sorts. “Not that I mind meeting your friends, of course. But... I’m guessing you didn’t just bring him here for a little visit.”

Andonis comfortably took a seat on the sofa, kicking their feet up onto a coffee table. “Afraid you’re right, Sylvie. We’re not just here for a little visit. You remember Steve’s friend from reality, of course.”

“Of course,” Sylvia said, looking over at Steve. “You can have a seat, sweet. You don’t have to stand.”

“R-right,” Steve said, taking a seat in a chair that so closely resembled a grotesque creature he was half afraid it would come to life and eat him. He looked around the room. It somewhat resembled a living room in the way that you could sit in it and talk in it, but everything seemed to be slightly lurid. He tried to find something nice to focus on, and his eyes eventually landed on a cage covered by a white sheet. Little chirping noises seemed to be coming from inside. He smiled a bit at Sylvia. “You have birds?”

“Hmm?” She followed his gaze to the cage hanging from the ceiling and giggled. “No, sweet, those are bats.”

“Oh. Bats...” Steve bit his lip. “Of course.”

“Andi, are all your friends this funny?” she said, taking a seat next to them on the sofa.

“Not like Steve, no.”

Steve glared a bit at them. “I’ve never been a place like here, alright?”

“Oh, sweet...” Sylvia’s expression soften. “You’re probably awfully scared, aren’t you?”

“A little,” Steve admitted, disgruntled.

“How’d a cup of tea help?” Sylvia asked. Before Steve could answer the question, Sylvia raised a hand and three teacups floated in from the other room, encased in what appeared to be some sort of purple energy. One of the teacups landed in her hand, Andonis reached up and caught one, and one carefully landed on the table next to Steve. The cup steamed, smelling warm, sweet, and gingery. “Your favorite,” Sylvia smiled kindly at Steve.

Steve picked it up carefully and took a small sip. It was his favorite type of tea, the perfect temperature, exactly what he would’ve made himself. “Thank you,” he said, sounding surprised.

“Of course, sweet. So the reason you came all the way here has to do with your friend from reality, then?”

Steve paused. “Go on, tell her,” Andonis said. “She’s here to help.”

“I want to go to reality,” Steve said.

Sylvia’s eyes widened and she grinned. She turned to Andonis. “Is he asking for a portion of The Shining?”

“That’s why I brought him to you,” Andonis said, cuddling up against her. “He doesn’t care how it’s done, but I figured that was probably the easiest way.”

“Well... It won’t be easy ,” Sylvia said. “And you won’t be able to stay there for too long, Steve, sweet.”

“I just want to meet him in real life! For him to know I’m real too...”

“How long?” Sylvia said, flicking her fingers and summoning a piece of parchment and a pen. She started scribbling something down. “An hour? Two?”

Steve’s face fell. “An hour? I... I was hoping...”

Sylvia looked up. “A day?”

Steve reddened. “I was hoping for longer than that,” he admitted.

Sylvia pursed her lips and looked down at her paper. “I could do a week without seriously damaging you. But you’ll be like a fish out of water at the end of it--”

“A week sound fantastic,” he cut her off. “Um, but what do you mean, it’s as long as you can do without ‘damaging me?’”

“The Shining isn’t supposed to be a long period solution,” Sylvia said simply. “I can get it to work for a week. Longer than that and you might be half-dead once you make it back here."

Steve’s brow furrowed. “What is this ‘shining’ thing?”

Sylvia coughed. “It’s The Shining, sweet. And it’s a magical energy, a portal of sorts, that I created a few years back.” She smiled proudly. “Andi and I use it sometimes for fun.”

Steve turned to Andonis. “You’ve been to reality?!”

Andonis shrugged. “Yeah,” they said.

“And you never thought to mention it before?”

They rolled their eyes. “I didn’t think you’d get so obsessive over it. But I figure at this point it’s the only way to get you to shut up about this Richard bloke, so...”

Steve opened his mouth to protest, but Sylvia stepped in before him. “He sounds like a love, Steve, I’m sure it’s worth visiting reality to see him.” Whether or not she actually believed what she was saying was unclear. “Would you like to see how The Shining works?” she said with a smile.

“Sure!” Steve said gratefully.

Sylvia stood up from the couch, her gown sweeping across the floor. “It’s across the house,” she said, giving Andonis a kiss on the cheek when they stood up beside her. Steve blinked. He really couldn’t tell of Andonis and Sylvia were just good friends or more. “Come along,” Sylvia said, sweeping into a different room. Steve followed immediately behind and Andonis caught up with the others after they wiped the red mark Sylvia had left on their cheek with the back of their hand.

Sylvia lead them down a series of hallways (more hallways than Steve thought could reasonably fit into the building) until she finally came to a door that was slightly ajar, a warm light pouring out of it. “Here we are,” she said with a smile, pushing the door open all the way. Steve gasped.

A warm, giant light, a sphere of energy, sat in the middle of the room, stretching from the ceiling to the floor and what seemed like beyond both of those. There was a force in the room, a feeling, a power, and it washed over the observing trio. “This,” Sylvia said dramatically, “is The Shining.”

“Woah,” Steve said in a tiny voice. “How... how does it work?”

Sylvia walked over to the side of the room and picked up a crate. “I fill a crate with The Shining. Once it’s full, you step in the crate and seal it. It will take you anywhere you will to go, which, if reality is where you want to go, it will take you there.” Sylvia beamed, obviously impressed with herself. “The Shining will run out, and once it does it will pull you back into the crate and eventually transport you back to here, where it all started.”

“Seems simple enough,” Steve said, trying to sound like this was the sort of thing he dealt with often. In actuality, he was stunned by this crazy invention (magic?) Sylvia had.

“I’ll need to make a much bigger crate if you want a full week, though,” Sylvia said, raising an eyebrow. “Here.” She waved a hand and the paper she had been scribbling on early flew back into her palm. “I’ll need to make it... Twelve feet by twelve feet.” Andonis whistled.

“How long will that take?” Steve said. He was eager to get to reality as soon as possible.

“Depends on if you’ll help or not,” Sylvia said flatly. “I’m good at building, but not necessarily on that scale.”

“Are you saying you’re too dainty?” Andonis teased.

“Andi! It’s four meters on either side. I hardly think it’s reasonable to expect a lady to build it herself.”

“You’re right, my apologies,” they said with a laugh and a small roll of their eyes. “I can help too, of course.”

“I assumed you would, love,” Sylvia replied.

“So... when can we get started then?” Steve said somewhat impatiently. Sylvia laughed.

“I don’t see why we can’t get started right now,” she said with a smile.

~~

It took them a whole week to make the crate. Somehow Sylvia had a warehouse sized basement, which both she and Andonis tried to explain at the same time, Sylvia shouting “science” and Andonis shouting “magic.” This lead to the two of them laughing at each other and Andonis adoringly calling Sylvia a witch. All the time Steve wasn’t working on the crate he spent with Richard, and it took all of his self control not to tell Rich about the plan, about The Shining, about how he was coming to visit him soon. He’ll know soon enough , Steve told himself on repeat. Soon .

It took them a week to make the crate, and at the end of that week, Steve got in the crate, filled with The Shining. He quickly bade Sylvia and Andonis goodbye, thanking them for everything.

“See you in a week, sweet,” Sylvia said with a smile. Steve smiled back and lowered himself into the crate, feeling himself being consumed by The Shining. It seemed to permeate into his veins, feeling completely natural and unwelcome at the same time. I want to go to reality , he thought. I want to go to reality. I want to go to Richard ...

~~

The crate landed by a pond, right beyond some hills. Sylvia had constructed a door for him to exit the box and Steve was relieved to find that the crate had landed in a position where he could easily open the door. He did so and then closed the door behind himself, locking it. There was no civilization as far as Steve could see, which was all for the better. He didn’t need anyone messing around with The Shining. Sylvia said she’d never taken that much of The Shining away from its origin point. Not even she was sure what it would do in that amount. So, as Sylvia had requested him to do, Steve fastened the crate down to the ground with ropes, just for good measure. Now , he thought, to find out where I am ...

He walked over the nearby hills and found signs of civilization--a road, a real, paved road; a sign saying the city was just a mile away; and the skyline of the aforementioned city, the city Richard was in, where he would first meet Richard in reality...

He slung the backpack of essential things Sylvia had given him over his shoulder and started walking down the road. Soon.

Chapter Text

No easy road ahead

No plan that I’ve discovered

I hope you know I tried for you

~~

The green, rolling hills seemed to go on forever, the bright blue sky making the landscape look like a picture book, like a painting rather than real life. It was just about perfect. If only that eyesore wasn’t sitting at the bottom of the hill. It was a box. A giant box, about the height of two men standing on top of each other, covered in a tarp and held down with a thick rope.

It was unclear what the box was doing there. People on the rural side of town gossiped it was the city trying to expand again, reaching out, even miles across its limits, trying to take over their land. People from the city didn’t know about the box, or if they did, they didn’t care. It was probably some farming thing.

On the rural side of town, mothers told children to stay away from the box. That side of the hill was no longer a play area. Not until that god awful box was gone.

Some people tried to move the box. But it was twice their height and incredibly heavy--the box didn’t move an inch. Then a local man reported hearing something from inside the box. “A strange sort of wailing,” he said. “Scared the hell out of me. That damn box is haunted. It’s cursed! I’m not going over that hill again. Not until I can stand on top of it and see that the damn thing is gone.”

Soon children weren’t the only ones who didn’t venture over the hill. It was taboo--you went over the hill and touched that thing, who knew what would happen to you? The thought scared the people who knew about it. They stopped talking about the box, afraid the very mention of it could bring bad luck. That something , whatever it was, wailing inside of the box, would crawl it’s way out if you talked about it, if you discussed how horrible it was. And then they would be done for.

Not talking about the box soon lead to not thinking about it. Pretty soon, everyone had forgotten about the box. And then maybe they’d stare at the hill and the thought of it would come back, but they’d push it away quickly. It wasn’t something they could understand or deal with. It was something they had to ignore. That was the best way to deal with a beast of that type--with the unknown, with something that threatened all they stood for. The best way to deal with it was to ignore it. To not be curious about it. And so they decided not to be.

The box kept wailing even when people couldn’t hear it.

~~

The box showed up in a dream.

The screaming, the wailing, it was there. It echoed across the darkness. The screaming wouldn’t stop. He had to be heard. He had to be heard. He was abandoned. They were both abandoned and no one could hear him. He didn’t even know if it was a dream anymore. He was so lost, so trapped between the two worlds, he never should’ve tried to cross over, it had all gone wrong, it had all gone wrong…

“Steve?”

The voice was so quiet at first he didn’t hear it. All he could hear was his own voice, all he could feel was his own pain, the Shining burning out, pulling him back…

“Steve! Steve !”

He stopped. “Richard?” He couldn’t see anything. Everything was dark. He couldn’t even see the Shining anymore. He wondered if he was back to the dream realm yet.

“Steve…” It was definitely Richard’s voice. He sounded lost, desperate. “Steve, where are you?”

“Richard!” he shouted back. “I’m here! I’m here.”

“Where is here?” In the dark, with no idea of reality or the dream plane, Richard seemed impossibly close and far away from him at the same time.

“I have no idea.” Steve laughed. “I have no idea! Are you sleeping, Richard? Or are you awake? What is this to you?” He laughed again. “I can’t tell anymore!! It’s all blurry to me now, I can’t tell the difference…”

“I’m asleep, Steve,” Richard said, sounding nervous. “We’re asleep.”

“I’m awake,” Steve said, feeling lightheaded and giddy. “I’m awake, Richard… I never was asleep.”

“What?”

“I’m not real!” The words ripped out of him like a starved animal. He laughed. “Richard! We’re not the same.” He was aware that he was crying but only barely. He wondered if Richard could tell.

It was awhile before Richard said anything. Finally, his voice barely audible, he asked, “What do you mean?”

Steve answered his question hysterically. “You live in one world when you’re awake! And a different one while you’re asleep! But--but I only live in one! I only live in your dream world…”

“That’s not true,” Richard said. “You have a life in the real world, we met in the real world…” He trailed off. “Steve, where did you go? Where are you? You were there and then you weren’t…”

“I just told you!” Steve reached his hand out, hoping to find Richard in the darkness. He felt so far away from everyone, he needed someone next to him, he needed to know Richard was there. But no matter how much he flailed his arms about, he couldn’t find Richard in the darkness. “I’m just a dream person! I’m not real, Richard!”

Richard didn’t reply for a long moment, and Steve was worried he had woken up, left Steve alone again, left him in the dark, in this strange limbo. After a long enough pause, Steve kept talking. He felt like he had to hear something, even if it was his own voice.

“My friend helped me cross over to your reality... I wanted so so badly to meet you, to prove to you I was real.” He paused, waiting for Richard only briefly before continuing. “They told me a week was risky, but I wanted more than a few hours with you. I guess that was selfish. I could’ve taken it slow and I wouldn’t be stuck in this weird limbo... instead, I misused the Shining and I’m... I’m trapped. I’m trapped Richard...”

He waited again. This time, to his relief, there came a reply. “Steve, I...” Richard’s voice sounded shaky. Steve could hear him taking a deep breath. “...what’s the Shining? And how can I get you unstuck?”

Steve smiled, holding his hand out again hopefully. This time, it caught ahold of something, Richard’s hand. “You... believe me then?”

“I met a person named Andonis,” Richard kind of blurted. “Your friend, I take it. They said a bunch of stuff that didn’t make sense to me then, but now...”

“You met Andonis?” Steve squeezed Richard’s hand. “When? Was Sylvia there too? Did they mention the Shining?”

“Steve, I still don’t know what the Shining is,” Richard said softly. “And I didn’t meet anyone named Sylvia. Is she another dream person?”

“Well... Not exactly.” Steve told Richard about going into the nightmare city with Andonis, meeting Sylvia, and discovering the Shining.

“Steve...” Richard said timidly. “You... you really shouldn’t have gone through all that risk to meet me in real life... And now look where you are!”

“It was worth it,” Steve disagreed. “Don’t you think it was worth it?”

“I’m worried about you now,” Richard said.

“But you think I’m real. That I’m not just a figment of my imagination.”

“I never had a big enough imagination for that to be true,” Richard said with a faint laugh. “Even before I meet you in the grocery store.”

“That’s not true,” Steve disagreed. “You’re so brilliant, you’ve probably met tons of dumb guys like me--”

“Steve!” Richard cut him off. “You figured out how to cross over from a dream world to reality. You’re not dumb.” He squeezed Steve’s hand. “At all. Now, how do I get you out of here?”

“You could try and see if you can talk to Andonis again,” Steve said, though the words left his mouth a little reluctantly. He knew Richard going to find Andonis meant he would leave him. And Steve would be alone again. In the dark.

Richard seemed to sense his unease. He squeezed Steve’s hand comfortingly. “We’ll get you out of here, okay?”

“Okay...”

Richard squeezed his hand again. “I promise. This is all going to be okay.” Steve wondered how the hell he sounded so calm.

“Right...” he said unsurely. “Of course it will. Um... Richard?”

“Yes?”

Steve paused and then sighed. “Never mind. Good luck finding Andonis.”

Richard squeezed his hand one last time. “I’ll see you soon.”

Then he let go of Steve’s hand.

Then he was gone.

~~


The box wasn’t wailing anymore. It was small and silent, even more frightening than before. There was something in the air--a sort of anticipation. The atmosphere felt thick with this feeling of waiting, the dreadful feeling of waiting for something with no sense of time. And it was terrifying.

Chapter Text

So you came

You came back for me

~~

“So,” Sylvia said, taking a sip of her tea. “Do you have any idea how your little friend Steve has been doing in reality? The Shining should be about used up, shouldn’t it?”

“Oh.” Andonis paused, feeling bad. They had failed to inform Sylvia of the state Steve was currently in, they had just hoped that the Shining would have return Steve back to the dream dimension. “I think he’s fine,” Andonis said with a shrug.

“He seemed rather passionate about that little fellow from reality,” Sylvia said, giggling into her tea.

“I guess,” Andonis said, staring into their own tea, waiting until Sylvia noticed their guilty expression. She could read them like a book, it wouldn’t take long.

“Andi?” she said, biting her lip. “What’s wrong, love?”

They didn’t look up at her. “I was going to check in on, Steve, you see, and I found him stuck. In this weird limbo. But I thought he’d be fine!” They tried desperately to excuse themselves. “I even visited Richard in a dream--he hadn’t seen Steve either, but I knew Steve would get unstuck!”

“He isn’t, is he?” Sylvia said kind of flatly.

“There’s something wrong with the Shining, Sylvia, don’t tell me you haven’t felt it, too,” Andonis said, carefully avoiding the question.

She pushed a strand of long, platinum hair behind her ear determinedly. “If something’s wrong with the Shining, I can fix it.”

“We don’t even know what’s wrong--” Andonis started to argue, but they were cut off by a knocking at Sylvia’s door. Her lips curled into a smile instantly.

“Oh my,” she said lightly. “I wonder who that could be.”

“Are you expecting someone?” Andonis said, confused.

“The Shining has never let me down before, love,” she said, walking down the hall from the parlor, Andonis following behind on her heel. “I’ll bet you a fully paid for meal at Tsuchiya’s that it’s your little friend, Steve.” Tsuchiya’s was Sylvia and Andonis's favorite fancy restaurant, and they were always arguing over who was going to pay the incredibly expensive bill at the end of the night.

Andonis frowned, unimpressed by Sylvia’s confidence. “Fine,” they said. “It’s a deal.”

Sylvia confidently pulled open the door, but instead of coming face to face with Steve, a pale, frightened man with black hair stood on the front doorstep instead. He looked even more panicked and confused upon seeing Sylvia, but relaxed considerably when he caught Andonis’s eyes. “Andonis!” he shouted. He glanced back at Sylvia. “Are you... the other one? Sarah?”

“It’s Sylvia, dear,” Sylvia said, obviously irritated. “What can I do for you?”

Sylvia expected Andonis to be rather smug, taunting her about the expensive dinner she would have to buy later, but they seemed much more concerned than smug. “Let him in, Sylvia,” they said, sounding urgent.

“No,” Sylvia said flatly. She didn’t cooperate well when she was in a bad mood. “I don’t just let strangers into my home.”

The man looked absolutely terrified when she said that. “I don’t mean harm!” he tried to convince her, stuttering out reasons for her to let him in. “A-Andonis knows who I am, and Steve said I could come to you--”

“Steve?” Sylvia cut him off.

This is Richard ,” Andonis hissed at her. “Steve’s friend?”

Sylvia’s eyes widened. “You made it all the way here to the nightmare realm by yourself, dear?”

“T-this is the nightmare realm?” Richard said, eyes widening, looking even more frightened than before.

“Aw, we’re scaring him, Andi,” Sylvia cooed. Andonis glared at Sylvia and she sighed and stepped out of the doorway. “Come in, Richard, sweet. I am curious of how you made it here all by yourself.”

“I wanted to see Andonis,” Richard said, still looking more than a little frightened. “I fell asleep trying very hard to find you two... Steve said you could help.”

Andonis perked up. “You’ve talked with Steve?”

Richard nodded. “He told me about the Shining, he said he was stuck, he said you two could help!” He stopped, realizing how frantic he sounded, taking a deep breath. “You can, right? You can help?”

Sylvia and Andonis didn’t say anything for a second, before Sylvia finally spoke. “Of course we can, sweet,” she said, trying to hide any uncertainty in her voice. “Would you like to come sit down?”

Richard nodded and nervously followed Sylvia and Andonis into the parlor. He uncomfortably sat down on the same grotesque chair Steve had sat in a week earlier. When he heard the bats chirping, he flinched. When Sylvia offered him a cup of tea, he turned her down, seemingly unsettled by the whole ordeal.

“You made the Shining, right?” he finally cautiously asked Sylvia, like he was talking to some sort of wild animal that might attack him at any moment.

Sylvia raised an eyebrow. This Richard fellow was easily spooked, it seemed. “I did,” she said with a nod, resting her head on Andonis’s shoulder.

“Witch,” Andonis said.

Scientist ,” she insisted.

“How are we going to get him unstuck?” Richard asked quickly and quietly. “You have to have some idea, he said you would...”

“Did Steve explain how the Shining worked to you, dear?” Richard shook his head no. “I filled up a crate with the Shining and sent it to reality with Steve in it... The crate should still be somewhere in your reality. Somewhere connected to you.” She paused. “Did you ever see a crate when Steve was visiting you in reality? Ever, at all?”

Richard shook his head. “There wasn’t any place that was really special to us at all...” he started. “Not any place where I saw a crate, at least--”

Andonis cut in. “I bet I know where it is,” they said. “You know the hill, Richard?”

Richard seemed to pale more at the thought of the hill, filled with its unpleasant memories. “Steve doesn’t know where that is...” he began softly.

“No, but it’s a place deeply tied to you,” Andonis said. “Perhaps more deeply than you realize. When I visited you in your dreams, it was your mind that choose that landscape. I’m not sure but it’s possible that’s where Steve is now.”

“I’ll take any lead,” Richard said reluctantly, but he didn’t look particularly pleased about it being on the hill Andonis had visited him in a dream, the hill Suzy had broken up with him on. “Should I try to find the crate in real life?”

“If you found it in reality, it’s possible that by interacting with it, the crate would get the push it needs to bring Steve back here,” Sylvia said with pursed lips. “I’m just not sure. It’s possible nothing would happen at all.”

“Do you have any better ideas?” Richard said desperately. Neither Sylvia or Andonis offered anything. “Let’s just try it,” Richard said, trying to not sound impatient.

“We might not be able to rescue him...” Sylvia mused to herself.

“D-don’t even say that!” Richard sputtered out. “He can’t die like that! He can’t die just because he wanted to meet me in real life!”

“I didn’t say he will, dear,” Sylvia said, a kind of sad demeanor coming over her. “I just don’t know what’s going to happen. I want us all to be prepared for the worst...”

“He won’t die,” Andonis said confidently, sounding mostly like they were trying to reassure themselves. “Not old Steve. He’s too resilient.”

“R-right!” Richard agreed with Andonis. “He won’t... He can’t...”

Sylvia stared at the other two for a second with sad, grey eyes, before taking a deep breath, snapping her fingers. A lab coat flew in from the other room, and she put it on, a new energy in her. “Richard, when you find the Shining in the real world, I’ll be monitoring it from my laboratory where the Shining is kept. I’ll be trying to pull the crate back, so if you can jostle it around, that would be great. It’s possible Steve has done something to the crate that’s keeping it tied down in reality.”

“Is it just going to disappear?” Richard said. “And what if I can’t find it?

“If you can’t find it, go back to sleep, sweet, and we’ll figure it out from there,” Sylvia said with a slight hint of irritation. “Now are we going to do this or are we not going to do this?”

“We’re going to do this,” Richard affirmed.

“Okay then, wake up!” Sylvia demanded.

“I can’t just--”

“Andi?” Sylvia gestured to Andonis, and they nodded. They paused for a moment before jumping forward and shaking Richard by the shoulders suddenly and violently. Richard let out a scream, opening his eyes.


~~

He woke up in a cold sweat. He took a few deep breaths, trying to calm himself down. The hill , he reminded himself. You have to go to the hill . He rolled over on his side, reading the digital clock on his bedside table. 5:30 AM. He groaned a bit and rubbed his temples. There was no point in going back to sleep now.

Ten minutes later he had gotten himself dressed and eaten a granola bar. He felt worn out, like he hadn’t slept in a long time, but he didn’t have the desire to go back to sleep He felt himself moving, almost automatically, out to his car, a broken down, used thing he’d gotten for as low as he could bargain. It wasn’t a pretty vehicle by any standards, but it would do the trick. He turned it on and started driving out to the countryside.

It was kind of strange, he figured, how he knew the exact route even though he hadn’t gone there in what now would be years. He didn’t even know if Suzy still lived in the city, he realized. And his roommate, Rob, Richard had some idea he had been planning to be an illustrator, but after they both graduated Richard never heard from him again. These were real people, people he knew existed, people he should’ve tried to hang on to, he supposed. But he didn’t, and now he was driving to the countryside to help someone from his dreams. He really had to be some form of delusional.

He parked at the side of the road--where he always had parked before. He’d forgotten how bumpy the little parking lot in the ditch was, but it wasn’t really a parking lot at all, just a flatter spot in the ditch off the highway he and Suzy had decided was their parking lot. He carefully steered his car down into the tall grass and gravel, and he wasn’t sure he’d be able to get the car back out of the ditch at the end of all of this. As he parked the car and turned the engine off, he began to worry. What if Steve wasn’t on the other side of the hill? What if he was stuck here and had to hitchhike into town? He didn’t have the money to buy a new car... What if he couldn’t find Steve at all? What if he had made up this whole scenario?

Somehow, despite his growing worries, Richard managed to make himself walk up to the top of the hill. It was annoyingly perfect outside, the sunrise making the sky picturesque, full of oranges and pinks and purples. Richard surveyed the other hills below him. There were the same trees that had been there years ago. There was a little pond where he and Suzy used to skip stones across the surface. And there, right in the center of it all, was something covered by a large, white tarp and ropes.

Richard ran down the hill. It couldn’t possibly be the crate Sylvia had described, could it? When he reached the large, tarp covered cube he knocked on its side a few times. It sounded like wood. Maybe, just maybe, the tarp had been the thing holding the box down into reality.

Richard started pulling away the tarp, struggling to undo the ropes that tied it to the crate. It wasn’t an easy task, the crate was just a little taller than he was. Eventually, he managed to get the robes untied from around the box and dragged the tarp off of it. Sure enough, clear as day, there was a crate, just a few inches shorter than him.

That was odd, he could’ve sworn it was just taller than him--

The box let out an unidentifiable noise.

Richard jumped back. “Steve? Hello? Steve?” he shouted nervously. The noise stopped.

“Who is it...?” a voice from deep within the box asked. Richard pressed his face up against the box to better communication.

“It’s me, Steve, it’s me,” he said. “Richard.”

“Richard?” Steve’s voice sounded unbearably far away even though Richard knew he had to be inside the crate.

“Steve, I found Andonis and Sylvia, we’re going to get you out of here, you’re going to be okay...”

“Richard...” Steve repeated his name again softly. “You came back. You’re really here...”

“Of course I came back!” Richard said almost indignantly. “Steve, you’re the only person in my life I’ve managed to hang onto all these years... I couldn’t just leave you! Trapped!”

“Right...” Steve said, laughing faintly. “I was just scared. I hate being here, Richard, I wish you were here with me, maybe it would be better then...”

“I’m right here, Steve,” Richard said gently. He found, oddly enough, he was now crouching to be ear level with the box.

“I’m not,” Steve said, his voice sounding even far away than before. “I’m in between, Richard, you know that. You’re... you’re not dreaming are you?”

“No,” Richard affirmed. The box was now about as tall as the height from his knees to the ground. Richard frowned nervously. “The crate is shrinking, Steve, it keeps getting smaller...” Steve said something in reply, but Richard couldn’t make out what he was saying. Richard picked up the crate and held it between his arms. “What was that, Steve? I-I can’t hear you!” He felt himself getting more and more frantic as he could feel the box getting a tiny bit smaller each moment it was in his arms. If Steve said anything in reply, Richard didn’t hear anything at all. “Is this what’s supposed to happen?!” he shouted. He could’ve sworn Sylvia said it would just disappear, not shrink. He started running back up the hill in desperation. Maybe if he could get the crate to his car, maybe he could... He didn’t know what, but he figured he could work it out as he went. The crate was now just a little bit larger than his head, and Richard felt dizzy and scared. Was this how Steve was going to die?

Worried, exhausted, and running a little bit too fast uphill, Richard tripped on his own feet and watched as the box flew out of his hands. He fell straight to the ground, and before he could get back up, he watched as the box shrunk from a crate about the size of his hand to something about the size of a strawberry. He made a desperate lurch for it, but before he could even extend his hand, the box was gone.

And just like that, Steve's ties to reality were cut. 

Chapter Text

Life’s always been good

Ever since we shaped our history

~~

He had an awful time falling asleep that night. He could get that imagery of the box shrinking down to nothing out of his head. It was possible that Steve was gone. And even though he was incredibly impatient to see if Steve was okay, he couldn’t seem to force himself to fall asleep. He’d lie down in bed, squeeze his eyes shut, try to force himself to drift off into a dream, but every time he started to drift off, an incredible chill would come over him and his eyes would shoot open again. He repeated this pattern over and over again until he ignored the bad feeling that came over him with his eyes closed and fell into a dreamless sleep.

Once he was asleep, it didn’t occur to him that he wasn’t dreaming. He was unconscious, resting, even peaceful. The bad feeling would only return once he woke up again.

The pattern of the dreamless sleep went on for days. Richard went on with his life, pretending nothing had changed. But his peers could tell, his coworkers, his friends, they all noticed Steve was gone.

“Should’ve figured that’d happen,” some of them said.

“I knew that Steve was trouble.”

“Poor Richard... fell half in love and then found himself alone.”

“Did Steve steal something from him? Rob him?”

“Must’ve done something. Richard had to have something he took.”

“Looks to me like he took any amount of happiness left in poor Richard.”

It did seem, to any outlooker, that Richard was lifeless. It wasn’t as though he was sad, more like he was a husk, without anything in him, no sadness, no happiness. He was as tired and purposeless as his own dreamless sleep, which he returned to night after night. He looked forward to nothing and tried to ignore what was behind him.

He spent six days like this, waking up to nothing, falling asleep to nothing. At the end of the sixth night, he lay down in bed, closing his eyes. There wasn’t a bad feeling when he tried to fall asleep anymore. There wasn’t really any feeling at all.

He felt himself being surrounded by darkness, he felt his conscious slipping away with him...

“Hey!”

Richard’s eyes flew open, someone was shaking him awake.

“Richard!” He was pulled into a hug before he could figure out who was hugging him. He felt panic coming over him.

“W-Who are you?!” he finally shouted. “How did you get out of my house? I--I can call the police!!” He pushed himself away from his attack-hugger and found himself face to face with a confused Steve.

“Richard... It’s me,” he said, sounding confused and a little upset.

Richard scrambled back from Steve, his eyes wide in disbelief. “Why are you in my room?” he asked incredulously. “What’s going on?!”

Steve laughed. “Richard, you’re asleep!”

Richard looked at him for a long moment, wondering if this was just a trick. He couldn’t possibly be dreaming again, he couldn’t be...

“I missed you,” Steve added shyly. “I’m all better now, too, although Sylvia said no trips to reality for awhile...”

The moment of hesitation was suddenly gone from Richard’s mind, disappearing with every sweet word Steve spoke. Richard jumped forward and hugged Steve in return. “I missed you too!” he said, trying to not sound too shook up. “I thought you were gone...”

Steve held him tightly, trying to hug the insecurities and fears out of Richard. “I was never going to be gone,” he promised. “I was just a little wonky once I got back here...”

“I can imagine,” Richard said, barking out a laugh. “You shrunk down to nothing...” He felt himself shaking a little bit, remembering that day.

Steve squeezed him again. “I’m not going to be gone anymore,” he said again. “Although, like I said, I might not be able to visit you in reality that much...”

“That’s okay!” Richard said, squeezing him back. “That’s okay, it’s all okay! As long as you’re not gone, as long I can see you...”

“Are just dreams enough?” Steve sounded worried. Before the incident with the Shining, Richard would’ve said no, he would’ve told himself Steve wasn’t a person of his own accord, he would’ve woken up from his dreams with a start. But now, he didn’t hesitate.

“You’re enough,” Richard corrected him with a smile, pressing their noses together. Steve smiled back at him and before either of them could think about it, they found themselves in a gentle kiss. It wasn’t clear who had moved towards the kiss first and it didn’t matter, it seemed to be a unanimous movement. This wasn’t like their first kiss, it wasn’t a messy thing they both pretended to forget the next day. This kiss was grounded in something--not reality, per say, but their own realization that they didn’t need dreams or reality to be together. This kiss was a promise.

From then on, they saw each other every night. That was the promise. And when they didn’t see each other, it meant that Steve was recuperating, that he had gone out of his way to visit Richard in reality for a day. Between the two of them, they didn’t need the confines of dreams and reality. They were grounded in each other, and it was all either of them needed.

Chapter Text

You're walking your way through me

With a smile I let you right in

It doesn't make life so easy

But don't let go

~~

The four sat down at a candlelit restaurant, the whole restaurant giving off a warm vibrant feeling. Dressed in his pajamas, Richard was incredibly out of place in the classy restaurant, his tablemates dressed up in suits and dress. His companions certainly weren’t judging Richard for being dressed down, though, they knew he really had no choice. Considering how hard it was to get a reservation at Tsuchiya’s, they really had no time to get Richard changed into something more suitable before going off to dinner once he finally fell asleep.

Steve smiled at Richard from across the table. Sure, they couldn’t always be together in reality, but it was delightful to see him in the dream world. He reached across the table and squeezed Richard’s hand. Richard smiled back at him.

“I reckon I’ll have the octopus,” Andonis said, a smug smile on their face. “With extra special sauce.”

“Oh, you wouldn’t,” Sylvia said with a glare. “Just because I’m paying for dinner...”

“It’s not my fault you lost the bet, Sylvie!” Andonis said with a singsong voice. “Do you think I should order an appetizer, too?”

“No!” Sylvia shrieked at them and Andonis cackled.

“I’m not very hungry,” Richard admitted softly.

“Aw, c’mon, Rich, you’ve got to eat something!” Steve said. “It’s Sylvia’s treat, after all.”

“I’m really not hungry,” he said again. “And I’m not a huge fan of fancy food.”

“Well, look, they have some non fancy items on the menu!” Steve said, leaning over the table and showing him the menu.

“Like what?” Richard asked. Navigating menus always made him rather dizzy.

“Well... Right here there’s pizza,” Steve said with a smile, pointing to an item on the menu.

“Oh!” Richard’s face brightened and the two shared a warm, knowing smile.

“Want to split it?” Steve said.

“Do you even need to ask?”

Steve smiled. “I guess not.”

The waiter came around the table and the four ordered their dishes--Sylvia ordering a vegetable noodle dish, Andonis ordering the octopus, and Steve ordering a pepperoni pizza for him and Richard.

“Pizza?” Andonis teased after they had taken their orders. “We’re at Tsuchiya’s! Why order pizza when you could have almost anything else?”

Some people are polite enough not to order the most expensive dish they sell here!” Sylvia said defensively, to which Steve laughed at.

“Exactly, Sylvia,” he said with a smile, giving Richard a knowing look. That wasn’t really it. It had been over pizza when Richard had really felt like he’d met Steve, it had been over pizza that Steve had gone out of his way to convince Richard he was his own person. For Andonis and Sylvia, it might just be bread, cheese, meat, and red sauce, but the two boys couldn’t help but remember more, those days where they struggled to understand what was going on, where they struggled to get onto the same level of understanding. And yet, here they were, perfectly in touch, three weeks later, sharing a pepperoni pizza again.

The waiter brought out the pizza and Richard asked for a fork. Andonis gave him a crazy look. “You’re kidding me, right?” Steve laughed.

“I don’t want to burn my tongue just because I’m in a dream!” Richard said defensively. “It might still sting when I wake up!”

“I don’t think a fork will help much with that...” Andonis pointed out.

“And if you did burn your tongue, I could whip you up something to get rid of that really easily!” Sylvia added.

“Aw, just leave him be,” Steve told the others with a small laugh. “Let him sin without being bothered.” Richard grumbled but didn’t stop cutting the tip of his pizza slice off with a fork and eating it daintily.

“We are at a fancy restaurant, you know,” he pointed out.

“I know, I know,” Steve said. “And I love your awful pizza-fork habits,” he added before taking a big, sloppy bite of his own pizza.

“Steve! You got tomato sauce all over your face!” Richard cried indignantly.

Steve swallowed and frowned. “And burned my tongue too, I think.”

“What did I tell you!”

“Oh, don’t worry, I can fix that when we get to my house later, Steve, dear,” Sylvia said reassuringly.

“Yeah, with your magic potions and all,” Andonis said, taking a bite of octopus.

“Science!” Sylvia insisted, but they all laughed. And life was good.