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The Leaves Dream Now (Sandman, Morpheus)


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Don’t you imagine the leaves dream now
How comfortable it will be to touch
The earth instead of the
Nothingness of the air and the endless
Freshets of wind? …
And don’t you hear
The goldenrod whispering goodbye
~ Mary Oliver, Song for Autumn


Morpheus inhales deeply of the night air as it curls softly around him. It cools the heat of his skin, soothing, reminding him he is free. Still, he feels hollow as a reed and he cannot tell the cause. Perhaps some of his essence lingers in the basement darkness, held in the remains of the sphere. A wave of dizziness makes his head go light and he closes his eyes against it. He takes another breath - fresh air, not stale. His feet are planted firm on wood boards, not cold crystal. His coat hem brushes his calves–he is clothed, no longer stripped bare before one and all.

“You should wait, my Lord,” Lucienne’s voice carries over waves lapping the pier, though she speaks quietly. “Rest more. Retrieve your tools. Then return.”

“You presume to decree what I may or may not do?” Morpheus looks back at her, anger kindling in the center of his chest, steadying him, honing his focus. Apparently grown bold in his absence, she has reached out as though to take hold of his arm, to physically restrain him. He steps back, increasing the distance between them.

She sighs, puts her hand in the pocket of her waistcoat. “Of course not.” No matter how sharp her tone, her expression stays studiously neutral. “I merely point out that you are… not at your best. Your project can wait.”

“I am decades late to our appointed meeting. He has waited long enough.” Morpheus doesn’t consider the roots of his urgency. Refuses to entertain the passing thought that she might speak truth. His entire body aches with exhaustion, alternately shivering and sweating. He pushes the sensations away, refusing to bend to the damnable weakness. “I will make him wait no longer.”

He kneels at the end of the dock and gazes into the ink dark water. Stars shine above, reflect in the water below, whirl and wheel, and he goes dazed, giddy with their bright cold light and swirls, slides, falls into stars, into water, into the cold currents of liminal space between Dreaming and Waking.

He falls. The currents push him, pull him, set him spinning, tumbling, down and down. Tendrils trail icy over his hair, his coat, his hands, grasping but not quite holding him. Focus, he must focus on where-when-who, else he may end up off course and lost. He tenses against the cold, closes his eyes to see, WhiteHorse-Now-Hob. Only what he desires, nothing more. His concentration narrows. He sees, currents shift to his will, he straightens and arrow-plummets.

Morpheus stumbles as he coalesces, staggered by solid ground. Wind stirs his hair, slides cold fingers down the back of his neck. He shivers, and not simply due to the chill air. The White Horse is shuttered. Enclosed in a sheet metal fence. Windows boarded over. Graffiti splashed across the walls. Like so much else it is tainted by his absence. Without his touch, keeping it a place for the two of them through the centuries, the protections crumbled. Too late. He is long too late. And where is Hob?

A playbill flutters against the fence and Morpheus blinks as he registers. the red painted words right in front of his face. The New Inn. An arrow, pointing right. He tenses against the urge to walk faster, to hope - after all, what are the chances? Their agreement broken, meeting place desolate - his own precipitous departure at their last meeting - why would Hob return? He walks slowly, but still follows the arrows. He must know.

He pauses as he turns a corner and The New Inn comes into sight. It is not a replica of the old, yet there is something of the same substance in it. Sun spills oblique between gathering clouds. It slants across the front of the pub, reflecting from the windows so he cannot see inside. Dusk pools beneath surrounding trees; shadows congregate between buildings. The air smells faintly of fallen apples, sweet and fermented. Rotting. Leaves, crimson, gold, umber rustle dryly above his head. Wrong pub, wrong hour, wrong season, wrong year.

A headache begins to throb behind his eyes, tightening around his forehead, and he gives in to the urge to rub his temples, then pinch the bridge of his nose. Travel to the waking world cost more strength than he has yet regained. He ignores the need gnawing at him. Merely a physical result of his imprisonment, nothing more. He cannot change what is past, his mistakes, his failure - but he can make amends.

Morpheus feels the thread that is Hob in the tapestry of the Dreaming, but he has not - dares not - follow it to be certain of Hob’s location or his mood. Doing so would be neither wise nor kind. At least he knows Hob has not yet sought his elder sister, wherever he is, whatever he feels. He blinks and the ruins of his throne room quake and fall once more, clink of broken glass echoes in his ears. If the very heart of the Dreaming could not survive his… absence, how much less something as ephemeral as friendship. He swallows against a burning in his throat. For the first time in more than seven hundred years he is uncertain of his reception. If, indeed, Hob is here at all. He would be well within his rights to be as far from this place as possible.

Another gust of wind rushes over him, a spatter of rain follows, and Morpheus realizes he delays. Tugging his coat tighter around himself and fisting his hands in his pockets he crosses to the Inn.

A bell chimes cheerfully as he opens the door. He steps over the threshold and a wave of sound and warmth washes over him. Though the room is relatively small, it feels cozy rather than crowded. People sit around small tables in groups of two or three, laughing and chattering. A couple of larger booths, both full, occupy the corners. Instead of the stale beer and cigarette smoke scent of the White Horse, there’s just a hint of woodsmoke from the fireplace overlaid with something savory simmering unseen in the kitchen. Music plays in the background, fiddles and pipes, an Irish folk tune he hasn’t heard in several hundred years.

He casts his gaze over the room, searching, barely able to draw full breath until he sees the familiar dark head bent over a scattering of papers and half-full pint of cider at one of the smaller tables, slightly set apart from the rest but closest to the fireplace. Here. He is here. Morpheus feels himself drawn forward, iron filings to magnet. He pauses by the empty chair, and Hob’s pen stills.

Slowly, much too slowly, Hob looks up. Morpheus wants to retreat back into shadow, into the Dreaming. He wants to let himself bask in the warmth of Hob’s presence. He wants to laugh, wants to cry, wants to sit perfectly still and listen to Hob tell him of every moment that has passed in the last hundred and thirty-three years. He wants to say nothing. He wants to say everything. He’s balanced on the edge.

Hob smiles, equal parts surprised and pleased. “You’re late.” Teasing. True.

Morpheus wants to fly, wants to fall. A small chuckle escapes. “It seems I owe you an apology. I’ve always heard it impolite to keep one’s friends waiting.” Because whatever else they might be, now or before or after, they are, have been, will be friends.

Welcome emanates from Hob’s entire countenance, no touch of recrimination, and Morpheus allows himself to take the seat across from his friend. “I am sorry,” he says. “If I could have come…” His throat closes and he can force no more words. Cannot bring himself to explain, to speak the truth. If he hadn’t been caught, severed from the Dreaming, from himself; if he hadn’t been powerless… There’s a hot prickling behind his eyes; he rubs his nose against a sudden urge to sneeze.

“What’s a decade or two in the span of centuries.” Hob shrugs. He offers grace, doesn’t ask questions. Instead he launches into the tale of how he became proprietor of the New Inn, from his discovery that the White Horse was to be demolished, to his decision that the town still needed a welcoming place, to his purchase of building and land, to the ribbon cutting ceremony. Never content to do one thing only, Hob tells of how he also became a professor, and shares stories from his classes, vignettes of his student’s lives. Tales of open mic nights and Sunday study sessions. He describes his students, and the pub’s regulars in enough detail that when Morpheus lets his focus expand he can see the web of connection Hob has made here shine bright in the Dreaming.

Hob describes changing technology and a changing world. Everything moving so much faster, everything so much louder and yet he meets it all with unbridled enthusiasm. Time passes and still there is much to learn, to know, to explore. To experience. The flow of his story, of his life, fills a need Morpheus hasn’t yet named. Hasn’t even recognized.

Finally, Hob raises his pint and discovers the glass empty. “I’m in need of another drink if I’m to keep talking. Can I get you anything?”

Morpheus shakes his head, words still beyond him. Tangled somewhere between throat and tongue. Trapped. They build like water behind a dam. But who do you care about? Who makes your heart sing? Are we truly friends?

Hob hesitates for a moment, eyeing him carefully before moving away to the bar. The shadow of a frown hovers between his brows and his apprehension prickles Morpheus’s awareness. An ephemeral image - not true daydream, more half-formed worry - slips past the barriers Morpheus has erected between them and flashes across his awareness. it’s an image of himself dissipating like smoke as Hob turns away, disappearing as though he had never been. Unreachable for innumerable years, possibly this time never to return. A well-worn fear Hob has turned in his thoughts, year upon year. Loss, of the only one who has witnessed his life across the centuries.

Guilt mingles with exhaustion and his headache grips Morpheus like a fist. Though he’s close to the fire, he shudders with a chill and sneezes, once then again and again, hard fast paroxysms he cannot stifle against the back of his wrist, though he tries. They leave him blinking and bleary.

“Was that you?” Hob asks, glancing at Morpheus over his shoulder.

“I’m afraid so,” he admits. “My apologies,” His breath wavers, the sensation urgent, needful, and he manages to create a handkerchief only at the very last moment. “Hiihhisssh!  Hihisssh! …” He snags a breath, two, but is overcome again. “Ht’issshhh!” Morpheus raises his head from the fabric to find a steaming mug in front of him, and Hob gazing at him with mingling amusement and concern.

“God bless you. Two apologies in one meeting; a record.” Hob raises a brow, pushes the mug slightly closer and holds out a tissue. “You know, humanity has moved on in the past century or so - from wiping our noses on our sleeves, to germy cloths we stick in our pockets, to tissues which we can use once and throw away.”

Morpheus’s lips twitch. “Indeed. Impressive.” Inclining his head slightly in acknowledgement, he takes the tissue and the mug, closing his hands around the porcelain. The steam smells of cinnamon and clove, honey and a good, strong, whiskey. Though he neither hungers nor thirsts, he sips. The drink is sweet laced with spice and eases the pain in his throat. Warmth curls in his stomach. Maybe from the alcohol, maybe for the fact that Hob gifted it to him.

Morpheus drinks again, studying Hob intently in turn. He nearly glows with contentment, simple pleasure in being in this place at this moment. He carries himself with ease and confidence - he plays scholar now, but his body is still that of a warrior. Clearly the intervening years have, on balance, been kind to him. Though he looks near as young as he did when they first met, there are fine lines crinkling in the corners of his lips, a few grey hairs scattered in the brown, a weight of wisdom hard won. Even still, questions lurk behind Hob’s eyes.

Silence slips into the space between them, tension crackles, barometric pressure falling before a storm. Hob cants forward and before he can stop himself, Morpheus leans back. “Do you still wish to live?” He asks because he always asks. He asks because he doesn’t wish Hob to ask. He asks because he still wonders, cannot quite believe, that Hob would choose this.

“Is that the question you want to ask me? After all this time? You know my answer - yes. In the best of life, in the worst of life, yes. Always yes. Tell me, Stranger - what is it you truly wish to know?” He doesn’t move, either closer or away, just waits perfectly still, as though to do otherwise might startle Morpheus, send him away again.

“I… I wish…” the word tastes strange on his tongue, piquant and sweet, sparks and candy floss. The odd juxtaposition puts him in mind of his little sister. That and the way the edges of the room, the edges of his thoughts undulate, unsettling. He drinks again, an excuse for his lapse into silence, feeling Hob watching him with those warm, brown eyes that are so unbearably kind. He wishes Hob would turn his gaze away, look anywhere else, because it fills him with wishes he doesn’t know how to speak into existence, tiny bursts of fantasy that flash through his thoughts. I wish I hadn’t been forced to miss our meeting- I wish I hadn’t been so weak- I wish I hadn’t let myself get taken- I wish I knew how to fix this- I wish I took more time, gathered my pieces, shored up my power- I wish I knew you, more of you, all of you, not just glimpses century by century…

He sniffs, steam and alcohol working against him to tease free another set of sneezes even as he tries to stave them off. He presses a crooked finger under his nose to no avail. “Pardon,” he manages to say before ducking into his sleeve, completely forgetting the tissue in the suddenness of the need. “H-h… Ihd’shht!Hih-shht!....” He teeters, breathless, waiting, wanting but the third sneeze dangles just out of reach. He sniffs, sniffs again, but can neither find release nor relief.

“Bless you?” Hob says, a ghost of laughter in the question.

Morpheus attempts a scowl, but something shifts and he’s suddenly wrenched forward with the missing third. “Huh’RIshoo!” It scrapes his throat, uncomfortably loud even muffled as it is.

Concern flashes over Hob’s expression, almost too quick to catch before he smooths it back to light good humor. “What’s that? You wish to be somewhere away from this crowd, somewhere quiet with such luxurious amenities as a lumpy sofa, an unlimited supply of the good tissues, and perhaps some cold medicine that won’t actually cure you but will at least get you high enough that you forget how shit you feel? Well you’re in luck, mate. My flat is just above, and has all that and a bottle of whiskey better than anything they serve in this dive.”

Morpheus obliges him with the edge of a smile. “Perhaps you’d better speak to the proprietor about his choice of whiskey.”

“Perhaps I had.” Hob actually laughs but then goes serious. “Come, Stranger, will you not join me?”

The invitation feels like an open hand, extended. Morpheous allows himself to imagine for a moment taking the offering, following Hob upstairs into a space that is unmistakably his. Imagines himself welcomed despite his absence, his distance, his failures. He imagines a possibility that will never be. Because he knows what will happen, should he give in to the desire. Knows the path that will follow, and what’s worse, knows the ending of the path.

He should take his leave, return to his realm and his duty left so long untended. Rebuild from the ruins. He has the answer he came for; he has offered his apology to Hob. He should walk away from this… this temptation. But he cannot keep himself from longing for another way.

As Morpheus wavers, torn between yearning and experience, between exhaustion and duty, Hob gathers his papers, pockets his pen, pushes back from the table, and stands. “You don’t need to stay long. Just a drink and a bit of quiet, until the storm clears?”

Lightning flashes in the window beside them, a roll of thunder follows, loud enough to be heard over the music. Tree branches toss wind-lashed, leaves flurry, swirl to the ground and something brittle and dry cracks in Morpheus’s chest. The thought of going out into the driving rain, getting soaked before traversing the liminal lands, sends a chill catpawing up his spine and he shivers, blows his nose. “Very well. For a brief time.”

Hob grins, glint of triumph in his eyes, then gone. He calls a farewell to the bartender and waves to a couple of patrons as he passes. “Picked a fine day to visit, middle of a storm. Several decades late as you already are, you might have waited for nicer weather.” Both teasing and not, he leads Morpheus through the pub and up a dark stairwell. The treads creak under Hob’s feet, but remain silent at Morpheus’s passing.

Another brilliant flash and in the span between light and sound, Morpheus doubts. Does he dare trust this man enough to be in a place of his dominion, at his request? Does he truly believe that were Hob to understand the extent of both his usual power and current vulnerability that Hob would not take advantage? When others had done so for less?

Thunder cracks, wind whines at the window. Hob manages to unlock the door without dropping either his papers or the rest of the pint he’d brought with him. Light spills from the doorway, enticing. “Make yourself comfortable; I’m just going to put these away.” Hob toes off his shoes, then heads down the hall. “And please ignore the mess, it’s the maid’s century off,” he adds over his shoulder, sounding not at all concerned about what Morpheus might think. Unable to resist, finally, a place of shelter from the storm, Morpheus crosses the threshold.

Despite Hob’s warning, there is little disarray in the living room. While a jacket is tossed over the back of a chair, the coffee table is covered with student essays, scholarly journals, and a couple of mostly empty mugs, and the couch holds a rumpled blanket, a bed pillow and more student essays, the atmosphere is comfortable. Lived in. The radiator clicks and hisses, rain rattles on the roof, and as he rifles through cabinets, Hob hums one of the songs that had been playing in the pub below, slightly off key.

Morpheus finds himself drawn to one of Hob’s bookshelves, to see what storytellers he has chosen to bring with him. First editions press close to pulp fiction, shelved by some plan known only to Hob. Text books and poetry. Walt Whitman and Oscar Wilde, Audre Lorde and Octavia Butler, Adrienne Rich and Michel Foucault. He runs his finger along the spines, slides a book free and flips it open, letting the words flow through him - November, no one comes./ But I come, trying/ to breathe that word/ into the well’s ear/ which should make the leaves fly up/ like a green jet… They taste of deep red wine, dark chocolate, of frost and snowfall.

Unfortunately, the book is dusty, and he is struck with the urge to sneeze. He’s still trying to find the tissue he’d stuck in one of his pockets when the first crests. He stifles it into silence with an effort. The next hits faster, and the third breaks free just enough to shudder his frame. “Hnxt!  H’ntxxsh!” He finally is able to blow his nose but instead of quelling the sensation, it only grows. He scrubs his nose roughly, which doesn’t help either. His breathing catches and he’s stuck in limbo, both wanting to sneeze again and fighting it.

“Thought I had a bit of Lemsip, but looks like I’m out.” Hob says, pulling Morpheus’s attention from his struggle. “Which isn’t much of a loss, honestly, considering it tastes like hot lemonade and does fuck all. Got paracetamol, though, if you’ve fever.”

“There… is no need; I am not ill.” Easier to claim this than explain the fullness of the situation. But speaking upsets the tenuous control he’s managed, he ducks into his sleeve again, and the sneezes convulse him.  Hihisssh!…Hih’isssh!  H-hissshih!”  He’s painfully aware of making both a liar and a spectacle of himself. If only he could stop sneezing long enough to return to the Dreaming.. “H-hih’Risshh! Isssh! Issshhuh!”  He stumbles slightly, off balance and out of breath. It takes him more than a moment to recover and realize Hob has a hand on his back, gentling him like a feral creature.

“Good gods, man. Bless you. Ill or no, something is wrong.” Hob’s hand is a star, burning against his skin.  Each point of contact a separate slice of pain, as though a festering wound lanced to release poison. He flinches away from the touch before he can stop himself - and regrets it immediately as Hob looks as though he’d been slapped.

“Perhaps there is. Something wrong,” he allows, permitting Hob to urge him onto the couch, this time without touch, and to settle on the other end, a respectable distance between their bodies. Morpheus draws his knees to his chest and wraps his arms around them, attempting to distract himself from the way his back still burns in the shape of Hob’s hand. A long silence falls, broken only by the rumble of the storm outside and the hiss of the radiator.

“I waited for you, you know.”  Hob says finally, sounding more subdued than Morpheus has heard since 1689. “All day.”

Morpheus glances at him, but his gaze is turned to the window, to the streaks of raindrops and distant flashing lightning.

“Every time the door opened, I startled. Must’ve looked half mad.” He snorts a laugh, at the memory. At himself. “Waited all night, too. After they kicked me out and closed up I loitered in the parking lot like a derelict.” He runs his hands through his hair, frowning slightly. “I was so sure you’d come, so sure I was right.” He sighs. “As the days passed… weeks… years… being right mattered less. And I was not so certain anymore.

“As time passed, I realized that I had hoped you were lonely,” he looks at Morpheus sidelong and his lips quirk, rueful. “I wouldn’t want you to feel so, truly. But I was and, like a fool, I hoped you might be as well. So I wouldn’t be alone in it.” Hob scrubs his hands over his face and somewhere a clock strikes the hour. “I spoke out of turn. I should not have done so. I, too, am sorry.”

“You have nothing for which to apologize, Hob Gadling. I would have come to you, were it possible. Unfortunately I was… detained.” The minute he speaks the words, he wants to take them back. He has no plan to explain his absence to Hob. He doesn’t wish to admit the truth, but even less does he wish to lie - so he had thought to say nothing. But he could not - could not - allow Hob to blame himself for Morpheus’s own failure.

“Detained? What do you mean?” Hob’s focus snaps to Morpheus and he resists the urge to look away. As though, like a child, not to see is to be unseen.

“I was held against my will. For some time.” Between one heartbeat and the next Hob’s living room wavers, goes dark, silent. Warmth bleeds away; he shivers. The world is muffled, closed behind crystal and magics. His skin crawls with the memory of eyes upon him, constantly watching. His breaths come short and sharp, seeking air he technically doesn’t need but still cannot get. He rubs a hand over his chest, then worries at the frayed edge of his sleeve. He’s coming unraveled.

Hob goes pale. “For fuck’s sake. How much time?”

Morpheus swallows, coughs carefully in his sleeve. “One hundred and thirty three years.” His voice rasps.

“Over a century…” Hob’s voice is so low he might be talking only to himself.

“I do not measure time as you do.” Again he speaks without considering.

“You don’t…” Hob shakes his head, lurches to his feet. “I promised you whiskey and I get the sense I’m going to need it as well, momentarily.” He disappears around a corner, but his voice floats back with the sound of cabinets opening, a bottle being opened, liquid poured. “When did you get free? How?  Are you - ” He cuts himself off mid-question. “Of course you aren’t. Stupid to ask. Just… why?”

“A mistake. They expected - hoped for -  someone else. Desired something I could not give.”

Hob strides back, thrusts a glass into Morpheus’s hand. “A mistake? A mistake?” His tone is sharp with disbelief and his anger cuts at Morpheus. “A mistake is crossing the street against the light. Losing a glove. Forgetting an appointment. Kidnapping is not a mistake.”

“No, I suppose not.” Morpheus keeps his tone mild and Hob tosses back half of his drink in one go.

He calms himself with a visible effort, and when he sits on the couch again he’s nearer than before. Close enough that Morpheus can feel the heat of him. Can hear the faint thump of his heart. “What happened to you, my friend?”

Morpheus sips and the alcohol tastes of smoke and ash, dust and ruin, on his tongue. He has told no one the entirety of it. Not even Lucienne. Pieces, of course, she knows. She had mourned Jessamy as deeply as Morpheus himself. She knows better than any other the damage to the Dreaming. But there are things he cannot bring himself to burden her with. And things he is not certain he can speak aloud.

“Sharing wounds with another can help allow them to close,” Hob says. “Eleanor told me that, once upon a time. And I have unburdened my soul to you many times. Please, let me return the favor.” In his words echo the feel of welcome, of invitation, of grace offered freely, open palm and Morpheus finds himself helpless against it.

“To understand what befell me, you must know who, what, I am.”  He steels himself, unfolds, and allows his form to shift, to draw in shadows, to draw in cloud and stars. “I am Dream of the Endless,” he says and his voice carries the echo of thunder in the distance. “Lord of Dreams and Nightmares. In this aspect I am called Morpheus.

“In 1916 an occultist and his Order, in an ill-thought plot to summon and imprison my sister, Death, captured me, instead. Though had they captured her, they would yet fail - she does not return anyone from the Sunless Lands, even one who is most beloved, even when he is lost before his time. And she does not respond well to threat.” It’s a little easier, now that he’s begun. He tells of his exhaustion, returning home from a quest that had taxed him near beyond endurance, of being drawn off course and stolen away, of waking in the darkness, encircled in magic and quartz, cut off from dreams and the Dreaming. He tells of Jessamy’s death, ripped from her life so violently and how he could do nothing. He tells of being unable to reach his power, his magic, himself, how his kingdom fell to ruin and how he could do nothing. He tells of hearing the voices of panic and pain in the waking world, and how he could do nothing. He tells how the cries for succor echoed in his head, how they still do.

He talks until his voice wears thin, and thinner, to no more than a whisper, “I should have done something…” and then he falls silent. At some point Hob has laid one hand on Morpheus shoulder. This time the contact does not burn, but is a balm. Hob says nothing, but draws him close, and Morpheus leans his head on Hob’s shoulder. The radiator has clicked off. The worst of the storm has blown past. They just sit, and the quiet wraps around them like a quilt. Soft. Gentle.

At last Morpheus takes a breath and begins to draw himself together, carefully pulling scattered threads back to center, weaving his control in place. “Thank you, Hob Gadling. For your hospitality, and your kindness. I am in your debt.”

“Nonsense. We are friends. Friends don’t keep tally.” He allows Morpheus to sit up, to put distance between them again. “You don’t need to go.”

“It’s late,” Morpheus says as a clock chimes midnight. Even as he stands, he realizes he’s going to sneeze again. He curls in on himself, shivering. “Hihisssh!…Hih’isssh!  H-hissshih!” He’s still trying to decide if he’s done sneezing when he feels arms wrap around him. He stiffens, but then Hob begins to rub his back.

“Bless you. At least stay until the rain stops. You need rest.”

“Very well, just until the rain stops.”






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