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WARNING: If you haven't read the warning on the index page, go back and read it. If you don't, and you don't like what you find here, don't come crying to me.
Title: Alike in Ignorance

Author: Eleanor K.

Fandom: Sandman

Pairing: Dream/Desire, Dream/Hob Gadling (sort of)

Rating: R

Posted: 2 Jan 2004

Spoilers: The Doll's House, minor for Dream Country

Email: emungere@gmail.com

Disclaimer: Sandman belongs to the fantabulous Neil Gaiman and not in any way to me. Also, the first two lines of dialogue between Dream and Hob are snitched from canon. Title stolen from Alexander Pope's "Essay on Man."

Warnings: Incest, sort of. Depending on how you view the Endless.

Notes: Much thanks to Chrissy for betaing and to Skrip for looking up various and sundry odd facts for me.

This was written for the Yuletide secret santa project.

..___..


The waitress clicks up to my table in three-inch heels. Who ever heard of a waitress wearing heels? But they all do here. Maybe it's part of the dress code. God knows people have done more painful things for money before now.

"Same again," I tell her.

She smells of hairspray and of liquor and generally as if she'd go up in flames if you lit a match anywhere near her. She picks up my empty glass and clicks away with it. I've been drinking Perrier so far. If he doesn't show up soon, I'm switching to beer.

I scrape a match across one of the bar's lurid matchbooks--shiny black with neon red lettering--and light up. It's just before that first puff that I remember I don't smoke any more and grind it out. The ashtray already holds three unsmoked cigarettes, bent and torn across their middles, guts spilling out onto cut glass. Little flecks of dried brown plant material should not be that tempting. The way I feel right now, I could scoop it up and *chew* it.

Picked the wrong damn week to quit smoking. And it's not as if I didn't know this was coming. Just couldn't handle the image of myself sitting alone, smoking fag after fag, fingers drumming on the table, that I've-got-a-date head twitch toward the door every twenty seconds.

So I'm not smoking. And it's been a good five minutes since I last looked at the door.

***

Desire stands in shadows. Smoke twists around it like vines climbing to the sky in stop-motion photography, remembered visions of jerky growth in ancient days, ancient rites. Maenads with bloody lips and a bloody desire for their god. Standing beside Dream in a darkness thick with the scent of blood and wine, watching as the worshippers of Dionysus stumbled between their two realms.

Delirium danced with them, but Dream and Desire watched together in silence as deep as the night. Desire, restless, sought to join the dance. Its brother's hand, cool and calming on its bared shoulder was reason enough to stay where it was.

Such things ended long ago, and Dream no longer speaks to Desire. But he will speak to a mere mortal on this unremarkable London night as if the two of them are friends, as if this will end any better than it did with Nada.

Well. Maybe a little better. Desire smiles. It could hardly end worse.

Smoke rings tremble in the air and drift toward Hob Gadling. Desire watches him light and crush out another cigarette.

***

He won't show up this time. It was stupid of me to say what I did. Blab your fool mouth off in haste, repent in leisure and all that.

The waitress stops by to pick up the last Perrier with taloned hands. Her nails are bubblegum pink.

"You look like you got stood up."

"Beer this time."

She shrugs, rolls her eyes, and leaves. Stood up. Hah. She can forget her tip.

I find myself with another cigarette in my hand. I don't even remember lighting this one. How long has it been? Ten minutes, fifteen? I take another quick glance at the door.

It's opening just as I focus on it. A hint of damp air crawls in from the street, and a tall man steps through wearing a dark coat. A woman rises to greet him, and he takes off his hat to reveal orange-red hair.

Too many people in this city wear dark coats.

He'll be wearing black or purple, or both. It's what he always wears, always in the fashion of times, though the fashions sit on him like Armani on a beggar, or rags on a king. More like that last, really.

After that play, I figured him for the king of Faerie for a while, old Oberon himself. But it didn't scan, as Kit Marlowe would have said. Not that I've known so many of the fair folk personally, but he struck me as too serious for that. And the gold he used to pay the inn keeper stayed good and solid the next day, or I would have heard about it.

I look back down and run my finger over an old cigarette burn in the plastic surface of the table. He's not late, as such. We never set a time for these things, and I did show up pretty bloody early, I guess. Can't get up and take a piss, either, for fear of missing him.

Yeah, I'm a sad piece of work tonight.

It's not that I think he wouldn't know exactly where I was and that I'd be back. It's more that I don't want to give him the chance to skip out on me.

Like he'd walk in and be relieved I was nowhere to be seen and take off again. God, I'm an idiot. He'll come or he won't. His kind don't make excuses. They don't need excuses.

He's not coming. I might as well pack it in and go home.

Rush of fabric and darkness and the scent of jasmine fading quickly into the air. I look up--and keep looking up. I always forget how tall he is.

Why did I think he'd bother to use the door?

"I... I wasn't sure you'd be coming." And I've got another damn cigarette in my hand, and I take a puff because what the fuck, right? He's here. He came.

"Really?" His voice is dark and low and thick. "I have always heard it was impolite to keep one's friends waiting. Would you like a drink?"

Would I like a drink he says, as if I haven't got a beer sitting in front of me. He actually hasn't noticed it, and that's pretty funny.

Dark eyes with light deep within them shift away from mine to take in the room. Awkward stance. He should always look awkward, built like he is, all long and skinny with too many sharp jutting bones too near the surface of his skin. He should, but he never does. Never until now. So yeah, nervous.

Which is almost enough to make me want to laugh, but god only knows how he'd take that.

"Have a seat. The waitress has been circling my table like some kind of vulture for the past hour. She'll be back soon."

He sits, folding up his coat around him like there's a lot more fabric to it than I can see. Now he glances at the beer bottle and blinks. Only once, and then he looks back at me.

"You have been here some time, I think."

"It's no problem. I would've waited longer."

He nods, a solemn bow of his head that looks more like a move in some ancient ritual than an acknowledgement. Pretty much everything he does has that look about it. I'm used to it, more or less.

Mostly less. But what the hell. He's here.

***

Desire steps smoothly between Sandra Talling and table five. Table five holds Hob Gadling and Dream of the Endless. This is not a normal night for Sandra, nor, if Desire has its way, a particularly good one.

"Excuse me...sir," Sandra decides after looking Desire up and down. "Can I help you?"

"You certainly can."

It just takes a touch, creamy pale skin on honey gold, fingers across this jaded little girl's face. Brown eyes hidden by blue contact lenses go wide, and painted lips part. Sandra says nothing. What, after all, can she say?

"You'd love to do me a favor, wouldn't you, Sandra?"

The girl nods. Her hand reaches out tentatively and settles on Desire's arm. Pink-nailed fingers stroke the skin, scratching just a little.

"Of course you would." Desire leans forward to whisper in her ear.

Sandra trembles at their proximity, but Desire has no doubt she will remember every word.

It's not much. Just a little mischief. Just a little entertainment. Just the beginnings of an idea planted in Hob Gadling's mind.

Desire can be subtle when it cares to be, no matter what Dream might say.

***

The waitress early-warning system, the crack of heels on tile, grows louder. She leans over us. Her smile looks a little drugged. Maybe she's been snorting something in the restroom. Wouldn't surprise me.

"So he finally showed up, huh? Is this your first date?"

I stare at her. She could not just have said that. She couldn't have. She didn't. I look across the table. He's watching me with a curious expression, head slightly tilted.

"We're not, I don't. Ah." I take a deep breath. "Two beers. Please."

"Is it like, a blind date? Cause, I mean, you two don't seem that much alike." She laughs. "You're all yuppie, and he's like a Metallica reject with that hair. Or maybe a flasher. Nice coat, mister. Anyway, point is, hard to imagine where you two might've met."

She smiles like it's a joke, but he isn't smiling. He never does, but right now he's not-smiling more than usual.

"Maybe we should just get the check." He inclines his head slightly, and I tug on the waitress's sleeve. "Hey. The check, please?"

"You shouldn't have made him wait so long," she says to him. "He looked like he was about ready to get up and leave."

"Hey! The check? This century?"

"Don't get your panties in a twist. Here." She slaps it down on the table. "Your boyfriend's not gonna be impressed with your manners if you keep that up, you know."

She walks off.

I rub my eyes with one hand and go to pick up the check with the other. He gets there first. His skin is cool and soft. Like flower petals. I don't think I've ever touched him before. Not like this.

I pull back quickly and end up with both hands wrapped around my glass, just to have somewhere to put them.

"I will attend to this," he says.

"You didn't even get anything to drink. That's all mine."

"Nevertheless." He reaches inside his coat and pauses. "You may pay next time, if it is important."

"It's...something people do. So they won't burden each other."

"Something people do." He places a few bills on the table with care that suggests the action isn't exactly familiar. "Yes. I suppose it is." He looks at me. "I'm afraid I wouldn't know."

I know he's not human. I know. But. It's not often he reminds me of it.

"Let's get out of here, huh? Before she comes back."

He rises, and his grace is back. I'm the one who's awkward as we walk out the door into the chill of the streets. Why did she have to go and say that shit? I wasn't thinking about him like that. I wasn't.

He pauses just outside the door, glancing back inside.

"Her words disturbed you."

"It doesn't matter. She didn't mean anything by it. Come on. Where are we going?"

We start walking again.

"I do not know. Where do you wish to go?"

I speed up a little from our aimless wandering pace and push the walk button at the corner.

"We'll go to my place, okay? I've got better beer than what they serve there anyway."

***

Desire crosses its arms and leans back against the wall. It saw that look on Dream's face. Apart from being screwed out of a tip by Hob Gadling, Sandra's dreams tonight will likely not be pleasant. Desire's brother is a vengeful creature, and this mortal seems dear to him.

How can that be? Desire doesn't know, and so it skirts the edges of Dream's consciousness, careful to stay hidden. No desire should feel so alien. What Dream felt for Nada was understandable and, with a little nudge, destructive. Beautiful.

Desire doesn't believe in the cool, clean purity that Dream wants this friendship to fit into. Dream doesn't have friends. In the end, all want is messy. And Dream does want this.

This is the first time in ten thousand years Dream has let himself truly set foot within Desire's domain. This is a different Dream than the one imprisoned for three quarters of a century. He is changed in ways that Desire didn't believe were possible.

So Desire sends Sandra back to her work--maybe the girl will dream of golden eyes and moonlight skin instead of the horrors hidden in her own mind--and steps sideways through matter and distance.

***

We've always stayed in the pub. Walking with him is a first. I thought more people would notice us--him, really--but no one does. Maybe he doesn't want them to.

Then again, there aren't that many people on the street, which is odd when I think about it. Friday night and all. Not that late. But no, he's got nothing to do with that. I can't blame him for everything.

I turn up my collar against a chill that's probably got more to do with my thoughts than with the weather. The city's damp and dreary tonight, but not cold enough to account for the prickles walking up and down my spine.

I've never thought of him like that. Dreams don't count.

He glides along at my side, and we catch up to a pair of guys with their hands in each other's back pockets. If I didn't know better, I'd think someone was trying to give me ideas.

"So what have you been doing for the last hundred years?"

Same question he always asks if I don't start talking soon enough to suit him. I'm damned if I know why he cares.

"Trade for a while, like usual. But recently computers. Got in on the ground floor, you might say."

He nods, and I ramble on. He only stops me once to ask what a computer is.

It's not a long walk, but it's still enough for me to tell him pretty much everything. Everything interesting, anyway. So by the time I'm unlocking my front door, I'm ready to ask him the question I've been sitting on since he showed up.

"Take a seat. I'll get the beer." I pause. "Beer okay? I've got orange juice and red wine and--" And do I ever feel like an idiot right now, 'cause I'm betting he could wave his hand and champagne and naked serving girls would appear in the middle of my living room, and here I am offering him orange juice.

He just nods. "Beer will be...fine."

And he sits on the couch, folding his coat around him.

"You want me to take that?"

"Take what?"

"Your coat. You want me to hang your coat up? It's a little warm in here."

He blinks and looks down at himself. "No. That will not be necessary."

"Okay."

So off I go to the kitchen to get the beer. When I come back, the coat is nowhere in sight.

I set the beer down on two coasters on the coffee table and sit beside him on the couch.

"Can I ask you a question?"

"You may."

"The sleepy sickness...all those people falling asleep and not waking up... What was that about? I had some pretty damn weird dreams during that." I almost stop and leave it at that. But. Well, I never could leave well enough alone. "I ask because a lot of those dreams were about you."

He sits back and clasps his hands across his stomach. His spiked hair falls forward into his face. I can't see his eyes.

"What sort of dreams?"

"Nightmares. I was trapped somewhere, and I couldn't get out. Then I'd realize I wasn't really me, I was you. And then usually I'd wake up."

"Usually?"

"Sometimes there was this old guy, with a face like a funhouse mirror. That's it. I mean, I've had worse nightmares. I just wondered if..."

If. I don't really know, even now, what I wondered. He's not going to help me out; that's pretty clear. The almost-question is just going to hang there.

Fine.

"I just wondered if you were okay. That's all."

"No." He shifts forward to pick up his beer bottle and roll it between his hands. "I was not...okay," he says, finally.

"But...you are now. Right?"

"Yes." Silence, for long enough that I'm thinking it's time to change the subject, and then he speaks again. "I was held captive for a time."

"I had those dreams for seventy-five years, off and on."

"Yes."

I drain my beer and don't ask any more questions. I'm not sure I want to know.

***

Desire stands outside in the rain and sees through walls. Plaster and brick and metal is all glass, so thin it could break at a sharp breath. Everything about Desire is sharp.

It watches its brother with slitted eyes and leans against a lamp post. Water oozes from heavy clouds and fails to fall onto Desire's skin.

Nothing can come of this. There is no point to this vigil. Everything hinges now on the dream vortex. Anything Desire does tonight will be no more than mischief.

Desire smiles to itself. There is nothing wrong with mischief. Nothing wrong with a little push. Dream would disagree, but Dream is always so very serious.

***

"Want another one?" I wave the bottle in my hand at his empty one.

"I do not. Thank you."

"No problem." I have to brace my hand against the wall when I stand. The room's moving. It shouldn't be doing that, I'm pretty sure. Am I drunk? I haven't had that much, have I? I don't feel drunk.

There's two bottles on the kitchen counter, plus the one in my hand is three. That's not enough to get me drunk, not by half. But the room is still moving and things are sort of blurred in a familiar way.

I leave the beer I got up for in the fridge and go back out to sit beside him.

"So are you going to tell me?" My voice is a bit blurry, too.

"Tell you what?"

"You know. About what you said."

"You wish to know of my captivity."

"Yeah. I guess. I do, yeah."

He's quiet for a long time.

"No. I will not speak of that."

"Well, then what will you speak of? I've known you for five hundred years, and I don't even know your name, man!"

"Is it that important?"

His head is tilted toward me, curiosity like a deep light in his eyes.

"Yeah..." My voice has gone from blurry to slurred, and I can't seem to do anything about it. "Names're important..."

You know, I think there really is a light in his eyes. Like... Like looking into deep water. Black, dark, thick with depth and age...with something shining at the bottom. And I want to know what it is. I'm sure suddenly that's the clue I need to figure him out. If I could just see that light in him...

So I lean closer. One hand I brace on the back of the couch, and the other slips and finds purchase on something smooth and warm. It takes me a few seconds to realize it's his knee. My hand is on his knee.

I look up at him, and curiosity is still the only thing showing on his face.

I'm not--

I can't--

I don't--

But I'm leaning toward him anyway, and it's not that I don't want to because I can't remember ever wanting anything so much, but--

His fingers are cool on my face. Maybe my face is hot. It feels hot. Feels like I'm flushed. Or blushing. I can't say I want this to stop, but there's something--wrong.

He's so close that I think our lips will meet any second. His skin smells like jasmine, and his eyes *are* deep. You hear about falling into people's eyes, but these eyes make me think of dropping through the freefall of space and never, ever landing. The light is from stars that died millenia ago, and... And I'm scared.

"I just wanted to know your name," I whisper.

He looks at me--into me--a second longer. He leans in until his hair brushes my face. It's clingy and soft and sticks to my cheek.

"Dream," he says.

The last thing I see is his dead-star eyes looking at me with concern and something that might be anger. I hope he's not angry with me.

***

"I stand in my gallery, sister-brother, and I hold your sigil. Will you come?"

Dream's words reach Desire as a faint pull. It still stands on a London street and watches the scarlet thread of want wind through Hob Gadling's dreams.

This should be boring, but somehow it's not. Desire didn't mean for the seed planted in Hob's mind to bloom in his dreams, but it has. Maybe it was the way he was sent to sleep, or maybe Desire's touch was stronger than it was meant to be, or maybe there was already something there. It's impossible to say.

The mortal dreams, and Desire watches, but turns at its brother's voice.

"Why don't you come to me, big brother? We can talk just as well here."

"Do you fear to enter my realm, Desire?"

"Everyone fears the power you hold in the Dreaming. Am I so arrogant that I should not?"

"You have always been arrogant, sister-brother. I will come to you, then."

He is there, standing beside Desire. The rain falls on him and wets his hair. He doesn't seem to notice and doesn't bother to ward it off.

"He is not yours to meddle with, Desire."

"All the world is mine to meddle with. You know that."

"They are not your playthings. He is not your plaything."

"So protective. How unlike you, brother." Desire sees the warning on its brother's face and ignores it. "More like you to leave your lovers in Hell at the mercy of any demon--"

"Silence!"

Desire smiles with calculated sympathy. "Is the truth so very painful? How will this lover end up, I wonder?"

For a moment, Desire thinks there is pain in its near future, but Dream's raised hand falls, and he turns away.

"He is not my lover."

Desire laughs. The sound spreads out, thick and soft. People shiver, blocks away, and turn to each other with new purpose in their eyes.

"No? You've seen his dream. You sent him there."

"They choose their own dreams. Or their dreams choose them."

"So he chose to dream of you." Desire steps closer and slides a hand in the air over its brother's chest. "Is that so very shocking to you, brother?"

"I see your influence like a stain in his mind. Remove it."

"What will you give me if I do?"

"I do not play your games."

"You have played before, and you will play again. What will you give me?"

"You will do this, and I will give you nothing."

"Show me his dreams, brother." Desire steps closer, looking up at Dream's face. "That's all I ask."

"You know well enough where he wanders tonight."

"And with whom, yes. But I want to be there. I want to see. It's not so much to ask, is it? For my word that I will never touch him again?"

Dream looks at Desire, and Desire looks steadily back. Steady, steady, balanced on the knife's edge, singing with the surety of its brother's capitulation and freely unaware of what the night still holds.

Dream nods, one deep inclination of his head. "Very well."

***

His lips are cool on mine. I don't know how we got here. I don't know where here is. I don't care.

What's important is the way our mouths meet, the way he tastes like wine, the way his cloak settles over me, soft like black feathers. He was wearing a coat, wasn't he? But then it disappeared. And now we're someplace else, so maybe he doesn't need his coat, but if he doesn't need a coat, what does he need the cloak for?

Oh.

Because he's not wearing anything under it.

***

"Has anyone ever dreamed of you before, brother?"

Dream's eyes when he turns them on Desire are empty and far away. "Nada dreamed of me."

And even Desire can't come up with a reply that won't fall into those depths and be lost. Shifting, it watches as its brother in dream form bends Hob Gadling back and back and settles over him.

The real Dream, if reality has any meaning here, stands beside it and watches without reaction. He looks so distant that Desire dares to touch his arm. When that liberty gets no reprimand, it lets the hand move up over Dream's shoulder and down his chest.

"Take your hands from me." But Dream doesn't move, nor look away from the scene being acted out in front of them.

Desire only has the one hand on him, so it corrects that. One hand on Dream's chest, the other on his hip, stepping in front of him, stepping closer. Even that doesn't draw Dream's attention away from his pet mortal, but that's all right. It leaves Desire more time to play.

Its hands find their way under Dream's tight black shirt and press against soft skin, remembering nights of long ago, before Calliope, before...almost anything. Before anything important. Memories fade for Desire sooner, perhaps, than for others, but it remembers this.

Nights of blood and wine and flowers, green things crushed under their bodies, thrown together by mortals who walked in divine madness that spanned their realms. Few worlds ever saw the like of the Bacchante.

"Have you seen what you came to see? Are we done here?"

"I'll leave him alone." Desire leans against its brother, shocked to stillness when it is not pushed away.

"What do you want from me, Desire? I am weary this night."

And Dream does sound weary. Deeply tired beyond the ordinary melancholy of his tone. Desire shifts against him, closer, pushing. Angry. Dream has his mortal, has his family, has--as he always does--everything he could want. And yet he wants nothing, only mopes about as if he's something *special*, as if anyone *cares*.

"What do I want, Dream? You don't ask me what I want. I tell you what you want."

"It would not be wise to play with me tonight."

Wouldn't it? But Dream still hasn't moved to push Desire away, still hasn't taken his eyes from his mortal, though he is watching with such a far away look that he might be seeing something else entirely.

***

His cloak falls away. It settles between us and tickles my skin. It really is made of feathers. He drags it across my chest, bends closer, closer, and kisses my eyelids. First one. Then the other. Soft touch on thin, creased skin.

His hands mold my body against his. My heart's beating so fast. I want--

His touch.

His breath over my lips. He bends toward me again, and I lean up for the kiss.

***

Desire's arms circle Dream's waist now. It cranes its head to look back at the mortal, just in time to see dreamer and dream-lover disappear.

"You have seen. You will leave now."

"Where did you send him?"

"Away."

"Awake?"

"It is none of your concern."

"But I'm curious, brother. What did you do to this one?"

Dream takes Desire's shoulders in his pale hands with all the pressure of a storm before the first lightning strike. Mist rises from nothing and swirls around them. Desire tries to pull away and fails.

"It was a dream. Without your tampering, he will forget soon enough."

Their eyes meet and hold, and the light in Dream's flares and fades to nothing.

And then Dream is gone.

Desire is alone.

The mist is thicker now. Distant cries echo through it. Desire cannot tell from which direction they come. It takes a step forward and encounters tall grass, wet and lashing at its chest. Each breath brings in the scent of marshes, bogs, sloughs. Still water and decay.

It should take less than a thought to be home in the Threshold, but that thought won't come.

"Brother! Dream!"

No answer.

"Get back here, you treacherous, moon-faced-- Come back!" Again, there is no reply. Desire's next words are much quieter. "How dare you?" The whisper is stripped from its lips by a peevish wind. Silence. The creak and flow of water seeping through earth.

"Come back, brother. Come back..."

The only reply is the low-pitched sigh and moan of air passing across broken reeds. Dream is not coming back. Desire steps forward and feels the give of soft ground under its feet.

Every pace sinks Desire deeper into this unreality. The silence takes on an organic, listening quality that makes it want to retrace its steps, call out again...or keep quiet and hope to be overlooked. It can see nothing ahead and nothing behind.

Step after step gets Desire nowhere. It is cold and wet in a way that it would never permit in any other situation. Dream should not be doing this. It is contrary to every unspoken agreement the family has ever made.

Even a form shift is impossible. Dream is not called Lord Shaper for nothing. He shapes reality here, even the reality of others. Even of his family. Not fair. Not fair! The words want to ring out, but Desire does not speak. It stands still, goose bumps puckering its flesh for the first time in its memory.

A light appears in front of it, a soft ball of glowing whiteness in the gloom. Will-o'-the-wisp. It floats away, bobbing and tumbling through the dark air. Desire follows.

The thing is going in circles, Desire is sure. It wanders through mist and over sodden ground for...far too long. Time seems stretched here.

But eventually, the earth isn't wet any more, and then it isn't earth at all, but sand. The mist dissipates, and the stars are bright enough to see by.

There are more of them than ought to be possible. They crowd the sky from horizon to horizon. Their light picks out bright motes here and there in the dunes that wink at the sky.

This is no longer the Dreaming. It has the more solid flavor of the waking world. It would be easy now to return to the Threshold. But Desire walks onward, curious.

Sand shifts under its feet. Bare feet, it notices. Loose silk pants. No shirt. Desire stops on the crest of a dune, unsure whether it wrought these changes itself, or whether Dream had some hand in them. That thought is intriguing enough that it lets the changes stand.

Desire slides and skids down the dune. At the bottom is a pavilion that wasn't there a moment ago. Desire enters.

The walls are hung with scarlet and vermillion and gold. The floor is piled with silken rugs in eye-twisting patterns. Desire looks up. The top is transparent...or painted so skillfully with stars as to make it indistinguishable from the sky. Painted and set with diamonds, perhaps.

Turning at a hiss of sound, Desire sees Dream standing just inside. Sand drifts up around his feet.

"What are you doing here?" Dream asks.

"Just what I was about to ask you, brother. What *am* I doing here? You strand me in your realm and lead me here, strip me down--" Desire gestures at its lack of clothing, choosing to blame this for the moment on Dream. "And ask me to explain my presence? You're the one who should be offering explanations."

"I sent a guide to lead you from the dream. After your words tonight, I will not apologize for leaving you. You are free now. I ask again, what are you doing here? And that," Dream waves at the silk pants dipping low around Desire's hips, "is none of my doing."

"Well." Desire smiles and steps closer. "It must be mine, then. And yes, I could leave. So could you, o brother. What are you doing here?"

"The soft places require watching. They bleed into my realm. Anyone could wander in."

"Or out."

"As you say."

So proud, so stubborn. Even having set this up, Dream will never admit it. Desire doesn't care. It steps forward, chest to chest with its brother, bare skin against dark cotton. Dream's robe is simple and unbound, easy to part and push aside.

Bare skin against bare skin, and Dream wears nothing at all under the robe that now lies pooled at his feet. He does nothing as Desire runs hands and then nails over his back. He does nothing as Desire presses the lightest of kisses to the base of his throat.

Desire pauses then, wary, not quite fearful, or at least trying not to be. Dream is so predictable in almost every way that any surprise from him is unsettling, and tonight is a surprise.

His hand at Desire's waist is enough of a shock to make Desire take a step back--if Dream would allow that. He will not. His arm circles Desire's waist and pulls it close again.

Their lips meet, and there is no suppressing the sound of triumph that breaks from Desire's throat. Dream's only response is the deepening of their kiss and the cool hand slipping along Desire's spine.

Solid and immutable as stone, Dream lays them both down on embroidered pillows, hovering over Desire's body, propped up on his hands. Desire pulls him down. Their bodies fit together, the flat expanse of Dream's chest now mirroring Desire's, now cushioned by a softer shape.

Normally defined by its owner's whims or by the lusts of others, Desire's body changes now by the second, swiftly moving water over the streambed of its brother's form. Desire's course is changed, Dream's edges tumbled smooth. Curves and planes, yielding and surging forward, held steady against Dream's flesh.

It is different with family. Freer and more frightening. Dream's long fingers stroke Desire's neck, throat, chest, and push in through skin and muscle to caress its heart. Transient flesh passes through flesh as Desire enters and is entered.

Their bodies come together, and their minds twist and twine. Dream holds Desire in cool acceptance. Cool, but total. Every fault is acknowledged, every flaw seen and held close. There is no anger now, and distrust is set aside. Their minds slide against each other, pushing into secret places, thrilling Desire with a creeping pleasure.

Dream's physical body bucks up, jutting rock churning water to foam, piercing Desire's body and mind with pleasure so pure it is almost sickening. Bright, star-shattering and destructive, Desire is borne far on it, lost and drifting until Dream pulls it back.

It lies boneless in its brother's arms, wondering how long the truce will last.

"Until morning," Dream says, predicting the question or reading it through the bond that is not yet entirely dissolved. "The sun will wake us."

***

London looks almost clean at dawn, even with the grey sky. The sun is a hazy redness, barely visible through the clouds. I only woke up a few minutes ago.

I remember stuff I'm pretty sure didn't happen. I remember him kissing me. I remember letting him. I remember how his skin felt and how he smelled and how he tasted.

Was it a dream? It didn't feel like a dream. You'd think I'd be able to tell.

I'll see him again. At least I know that much now. I didn't blow our friendship with that stupid ultimatum. I doubt he'll explain, but I'll see him again. A century isn't so long once you get used to it. It's all in what you choose to dwell on, and I've gotten good at not dwelling.

Maybe in another hundred years, I won't even remember this. Or I'll remember it as one more mystery in a lifetime of them.

Maybe. Or maybe it won't be so easy to let go this time.

***

Dream's face is blood-washed by the red light of dawn. His eyes are closed. Perhaps he is asleep, or in that state which passes for sleep among the family. Desire watches and waits for the moment when they will admit to waking and part.

Dream opens his eyes.

Desire does not know what to expect from this morning.

"Are you leaving?" Dream asks.

"Are *you*?"

Dream's eyes are dark as he lays a hand on Desire's face. Desire almost flinches away from the touch.

"Calm yourself, sister-brother. I wish only to remind you of your promise."

"I'll leave him alone. I said I would."

"Good."

"I don't understand what you want from him."

"I want nothing from him."

"That's not true. I can feel it, you know."

Dream is silent long enough that Desire suspects the thing to do now is get up and leave. It ignores the feeling and settles more solidly against Dream's side.

"His friendship, then," Dream says, at last.

"You don't have friends."

"Nor do you."

Silence again. The red of dawn fades. The moon floats in an acid-blue sky, ever paler as the light grows.

Desire rolls away from Dream and stands. They look at each other a moment longer.

Then, with a thought, Desire is gone, back in the Threshold. However much he has changed, Dream will never explain himself. There's no point in asking.

-------
..end..
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