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A Thing in Me Still Dreams of Trees (Sandman, Morpheus)


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Meanwhile I bend my heart toward lamentation
Where, as the times implore our true involvement,
The blades of every crisis point the way.
I would it were not so, but so it is.
~ Mary Oliver, A Dream of Trees


Time does not pass for the Endless as it does for humans. One would be forgiven, then, for supposing a century would pass as days, a mere ripple in the flow of ages. Sometimes it is so, but in the prison of quartz sphere and runes of power time dwindles, slows to a drip. The pause between breaths stretches like elastic. In this space of interminable waiting, Morpheus sits alone, severed from tools, power, self. He cannot touch the Dreaming no matter how he stretches. He is empty, bones hollow. Were there wind it would pass through him. He has pushed too far, given too much.

I have a castle waiting for me... I have a HOME, he had thought as the spell wrapped him, bound him tight and tight, pulled until he fell off course, drew him here instead of there. The words still float through his mind, though at times he wonders. Does he? Is there castle? Home? Anything beyond the sphere? The binding circle? The basement? There must be, because shades of memory speak of it… gates of ivory and horn, halls of marble, stained glass windows…  but he cannot reach anything, not with body, mind, nor soul. Alone, he waits.

Every so often, never with pattern or clear cause, a man – Roderick Burgess – appears before him, sometimes cajoling, sometimes demanding, words buzzing against his ears, his skin, like insects. Insects that have trapped him, him, in the glass. Burgess names himself Magus, but he is no great sorcerer, merely hedge-witch, his power merely lies in what he has stolen. It rankles, to be snared by one such as this. If he hadn’t been so damnably drained.

Only a single time does sound penetrate the fog enveloping him.  A rush of wings; he glances up, the whir echoing in his soul - hope. Sister… But no – the wings are smaller and from the darkness a raven’s form solidifies. Jessamy. Of course Jessamy. He unfolds limbs grown stiff and aching with a decade of immobility as his heart unfurls, not alone, he manages to stand. Stretches one hand to her as she beats against the globe with wings and beak. Tap-tap-tap-tap… it rings in his ears; his heart matches time. Freedom… He reaches within himself for any remnant of power to add to hers.

The gunshot is a thunder clap that cracks the world. A spray of ruby; a drift of feathers. Fractures shiver through him. Scalding tears slide down his cheeks unheeded. Gone she is gone, gone beyond, gone where he cannot reach, even had he all his power, his ruby his helm his sand he could not fix her bring her back she is gone, after all these years, all this time, and he can do nothing.

Rage suffuses him. With no outlet it doubles back on itself, a feedback loop that sets flames along his synapses. A scream rises in his throat like bile but he clenches his jaw and keeps it trapped behind his teeth. His muscles tense with the need to lash out, to beat his fists against unyielding crystal until it breaks or his bones do. He refuses to give Burgess satisfaction. He swallows frenzy until his blood, skin, soul blaze with it, a hard bright coal in the center of him. The air in the sphere burns with fury unspent.

He sinks back down, back into himself. Deep, and deeper still. Even as he withdraws, at the edges of his thoughts all of humanity’s voices clamor. To dream or be released from dreaming. Morpheus tries. Consumes his essence to spin what is needed. Though he gives all he can, leaving his body barely more than bone and sinew, his creations are vague, insubstantial. They warp and tear like cobwebs. He can do nothing. It is all out of balance. Out of his hands. The voices, so many voices, continue their pleas and he can neither aid nor silence them. They rise, a wave, a tsunami of sound and need and his thoughts wash out on their tide.

A bang vibrates the cage - pale ghost of gunshot - snapping him back to his body with a shudder. Ruby bursts against his eyelids as he blinks. No feathers, he tells himself. That was then, not now. He holds himself tight against shivering.

Burgess stands before him, wild eyed and shouting, “Speak to me! Speak! To! Me!” punctuating the words with blows of his cane.

Shatter, he thinks, wishes, tries to push. The crystal holds strong against the onslaught.

Alex touches his father’s shoulder. They exchange harsh words, grapple, and the elder Burgess, stricken, falls. As blood pools around his head, he speaks one last time. “You’re never getting out of there. Never.”

The word echoes through Morpheus, ringing his body like a bell. Never… never… never…

Alex reels from his father’s body; his gaze snags against Morpheus’s. Catches. Holds. Loss shocks Alex into a nebulous threshold space - not quite the waking world, nor yet the Dreaming. But enough, enough to spark a connection between them, tenuous though it is.

Alex, Morpheus beckons. Alex, who once offered freedom. Alex, who understands, maybe, what it is to be trapped. Alex, who can never speak his dreams aloud. Dreams of strong, calloused hands on his body, dreams of Paul.

Burgess studies him, not with hunger as his father had, but with awe-tinged curiosity. The bit of reverence affords Morpheus just enough energy to drag himself to his feet, to hold out a hand, ignoring the pain. For one moment, one elastic stretch of time Alex reaches back. The world tilts.

“What would your father say?” The guard’s demand slices between them. Connection breaks with an icicle snap. … never… never… Shards pierce Morpheus, freezing where before he burned.

Burgess blinks, turns. “I need to think.” He doesn’t look back.

Morpheus exhales and the air in the sphere grows cold, colder, until he feels his skin rimed with frost. Everything frozen. He slips away, into cold, into dark. Into nothing. Relief.

Time passes. It must, because that is the nature of time, but Morpheus cannot tell how it moves. Fast? Slow? There is no difference. Perhaps it slides sideways. Diagonal. In this place there is no day, no night, no season. No sleep. No dreams. No Dreaming. He blinks and his eyelids sting. When he remembers to breathe, his lungs ache. Sometimes he burns; sometimes he freezes.

Doubt whispers. Perhaps there is no castle, no home. No raven. No - he knows the sound of wings, the feel of quicksilver heartbeat against his palm, the warmth of fire, dark eyes behind glasses.

Perhaps this cage is all there is. No - he calls to mind the gnarled branches of oak, susurrus of breeze through golden aspen leaves, scent of sage and lavender and wild roses, tickle of grass, dewdamp on bare feet as he walks Fiddler’s Green.

Perhaps he will never get out. Never be free. Never walk the Dreaming, but instead linger, encased until the end of time, alone but never unwatched. They all stare –  Burgess, his servants, even Paul on his rare forays to the basement. They want what he cannot give - dead sons, father’s love, weath, power, magics. But some, some want with a gaping voraciousness. Their gazes slide over Morpheus’s body like cold, damp fingers, reaching places only lovers dare touch, until his skin crawls and his stomach roils. He cannot cover his body, cannot hide.

Perhaps this shade of himself is all he is, all he will be, all he has ever been. He can find no argument for these doubts. So he waits and years and decades pass and maybe loop back and pass again and time laps the edges of the globe and he longs for dark-soft-warmth- home, home, home… and he wishes ceaselessly for the sound of wings.

Instead a blur of words through the barrier. “All I ever wanted was to be free of you… Surely you want that too. … I won't be coming down again.”

Then. O then. Such a small thing. One wheel scuffs across a rune. Blurs it. Breath catches in Morpheus’s lungs. The circle is broken. Paul nods, slightly, but raises no warning. The cell door clangs, but Morpheus barely notices, turning his entire focus to Fred.

Power returns at a trickle but sufficient to bring a yawn and nudge daydream to dream. Not Dreaming, not yet. Still, he can slide between worlds and sand is warm beneath his feet, hot in his palm like the fury no longer banked. He twists dream and gunshots crack, crystal globe cracks, Morpheus’s control cracks and he is Free. He weaves shadow and darkness into garb more befitting and strides Fred and Ernie’s sleeping thoughts like a path.

Roderick Burgess may be beyond his purview, but he barely has to stir his mind to reach Alex’s dreaming. He might not have known full damage he wrought with his inaction, still he made his choices and would suffer his consequences - dream without waking, a gift and a curse in equal measure.

As Morpheus, King of Dream and Nightmare, metes judgment, fury spills forth, releases a shockwave of his power returning and it tumbles him, tosses him, spits him onto the shores of the Dreaming, where he lays for some time in a tangle of limbs as his thoughts stray out of form and out of time and he feels himself scatter like stars across the sky.

A voice draws him back to form, to self. “Sir. Sir! Oh my goodness.”

Sand beneath him. Rushwash of waves just beyond. He gasps, his first deep breath in a century and has to swallow a cough as his lungs spasm. The air is cool, redolent of sea and salt, far preferable to the anodyne of the prison. He takes stock. Helm, sand, ruby all beyond his sight. Body aching with an exhaustion deeper than any he’s known. Skin hot, tight. Illness on the horizon and power at its lowest ebb.

Someone rolls him over, slowly. Carefully. It still hurts. “Sir. It’s me. It’s Lucienne.”

He manages to open his eyes. Her smile is a balm. She touches his hand, and he grasps her fingers, an anchor in waves of vertigo. “Lucienne.”

“You’re home, my lord,” she says, so gently.

The welcome in her voice brings a prickle of tears. “I am.” And she helps him to his feet.

His return is not one of ease. The damage done to the Dreaming is worse than he had imagined. Subjects gone, lands parched and cracking, castle crumbling. Is there nothing untouched by his imprisonment? He stands in the ruins of his hall and a laugh bubbles up in his throat and spills out suspiciously like a sob.

“Lucienne, what is the word for yearning for home when you are already there?” Echo of Delirium’s voice in his head. His lips curve and he almost longs for his little sister.


He sneezes once, twice, thrice, with a sound like leaves rustling. “Hiraeth,” he says, when he can.

“Indeed,” Lucienne says after a moment. “Are you-”

“Fine,” Morpheus bites off the word. Even so he can read the questions in her eyes as easily as if she spoke. Are you all right? Will you be able to fix all that has broken? Will you be able to right all that has gone wrong in your absence? Where have you been? How could you?

He has answers to none so he plants his feet, opening himself to the Dreaming and pulls. The Dreaming struggles to answer the need of its King - and the shards of glass and stone that surround him begin to rise. He pulls but it is attempting to draw water from a failing well. He refuses weakness, sets his mind on his desire - he will take what he needs to fix this one place, the heart of the Dreaming - he opens wider and pulls more insistently. To his consternation, the Dreaming pulls back; it is his duty as King to give himself for his realm, not the other way around. It is the order of things and he must bow to the rule of order and he does, of course he does, because he is Dream, the Dreaming is him and they are one and even together it is not enough. He trembles, the room quakes, and all fall down, glass, stone and body.

“You need rest, my lord. And food. And perhaps a bit more rest. Then you’ll be at full strength.”

“No.” He feels that horrible grating laugh rip from his throat. There is nowhere to rest, nothing to eat. Not until he fixes what he has torn asunder. He must have his tools. And for that, he must summon the Fates, though it take all he has and somewhat more beside. He will heal the Dreaming. He must.

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