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Except in Dreams

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Lucien woke from memories of murder and the whisper of a raven’s wings. In that hazy golden moment between slumber and wakefulness, his ears echoed with faint screams and screeching birds, and then he was awake and remembered nothing. Still, it took him a second to remember how his hands worked as he reached for his glasses.

Those who reside in the Dreaming don’t themselves dream.

A quick bath later, he opened his wardrobe to find that all of his jackets had transmuted overnight into deep, rich jewel tones, from the rather muted shades he normally wore. Those within the palace of Morpheus were generally immune to the changing landscape of the Dreaming (as long as they weren’t active players in the dream), but there were sometimes small changes like this. Either that, or the Fashion Thing was on a new rampage.

The Dreaming wasn’t a good place for someone with too many control issues. At least for anyone who wasn’t Lord Morpheus.

Lucien took a deep breath and decided that plum went well with his complexion. It also fit rather nicely, he thought, after he just happened to catch a glimpse of himself in the standing oval mirror that had also appeared in the corner of his room.

“Niiiice,” said the spirit of the mirror.

“You think so?” Lucien asked, turning sideways and tugging his vest into place.

“Not exactly the fairest of them all, but you’ll do.” The spirit made a kissy noise, and vanished.

He had a small kitchen in his suite where he could prepare simple meals, but lately he had been taking breakfast in the palace dining room. He rose early, so usually he ate in relative solitude. However, since Nuala had taken over the housekeeping, she was often there as well, making sure there was plenty of food, that what should be hot was hot, and what should be cold was cold, and that everything else was just as it should be.

It was a change of habit, for Lucien, who traditionally was more solitary than sociable, but with Lord Morpheus returned, there were new dreams waking every day -- and more than a few nightmares, although they were seldom convivial. Since Lucien’s current duties gave him responsibilities beyond the library itself, he felt it behooved him to make appearances. The food was much better, after all, and it made him feel more a part of what went on in the palace.

And there was Nuala.

This morning, however, the only other creatures in the room were Mervyn, who looked as if he’d been there all night, and a small black and white cat who was clearly intent on eating his entire body weight in tuna. The cat spared Lucien a brief look, as if to say, “What do you have to eat?” before going back to his fish.

Mervyn didn’t even do that. His pumpkin head looked a little past ripe, and when Lucien wished him a good morning, the only reaction was a further slump of Mervyn’s shoulders. Lucien shook his head, tsking, and went over to the buffet.

Today, the dining hall resembled a Norse great hall, with stout wooden beams, rough-hewn tables and benches, and a tree growing at one end up into the light. Food covered tables down along one side, and taking up a plate, Lucien surveyed his choices.

One of the other aspects of eating in the dining room was the variety, a variety you could never really predict. There were the usual breakfast items, if by “usual” one meant “usual for a wide spectrum of time periods and cultures” and included eggs from Alicanto to Zinna-zu birds, as well as meats from creatures living, extinct, and imaginary, and expanded your notion of breakfast to include second breakfast, brunch, lunch, tea (afternoon and high), dinner, and supper, and kept in mind what those meals meant for creatures that were also largely imaginary. The denizens of the castle, and often the extended Dreaming, were never on consistent schedules.

Lucien generally went for a traditional full breakfast, with fruit to start, and this morning there was a bowl of sumerands, with their lush blue skins and milk-white flesh that tasted of flowers and stars. It was his favorite fruit, and rare even for the Dreaming. Taramis must have gone shopping in dreams and hit it lucky. Lucien never even tried to understand how different people having different dreams could sometimes dream up the same foods that never existed, but Tamaris had a gift for finding the rarest, choicest things. Lucien did often wonder how dreamers woke to remember the man slipping through the background of their dreams, with his dramatic appearance and a shopping basket on his arm.

In the end, he had a handful of sumerands, poached chicken eggs and ping feng bacon, with mushrooms and tomato, ending with a piece of toast with ginger marmalade. As he finished, replete, and took a final cup of tea, Mervyn finally stirred and looked at him with a bleary, half-collapsed eye.

“Rough night?” Lucien asked. “You look a bit worse for the wear.”

Mervyn hacked, and coughed out a few pumpkin seeds. “The poker game got a little rowdy, too bad you had to miss it. Cain must have killed Abel five times over the course of the night, and Puck got into it with Kokopelli, although I think maybe they ended up in bed together.” Mervyn snickered, then clasped his hands to his head, moaning. “Although now I feel just about ready for the compost heap, is how I feel. If I look that bad, I better see about getting a new head.” He slumped back over with a squelch, just as Nuala came in to check on things.

“Good morning, Lucien,” she said quietly. “Thank you again for your help last night.”

“It was my pleasure,” he said nervously, looking over her shoulder to see if her remark registered on Mervyn’s sodden brain. “It was the least I could do.” And it had been a wonderful reason for missing the poker game, once he’d gotten wind of the guest list.

When Nuala had learned that the library contained not only books that had been written or completed only in dreams, but similar musical compositions, she urged Lucien to start a concert series, and then volunteered to manage it herself, with the help of a few of the more musically inclined dream creatures. The Fashion Thing was thrilled to help with the decorating, and with Nuala’s coaxing, Taramis outdid himself with his afternoon teas. The performances had become a favorite social occasion for those in the Dreaming.

They had already heard Lizst’s Paradiso, Mozart’s Concerto for double bass and orchestra, Beethoven’s Sonata for viola and piano in D major, and next week they had planned an evening performance of Puccini’s Turandot, as Puccini finished it. This afternoon’s performace was Mozart’s Requiem Mass in D minor, as completed by Mozart himself.

“The least you could have done is what most of the others do, which is nothing at all,” she said wryly, but without heat. In truth, there wasn’t a lot to do, since much of the setup had to wait until the day, in case rooms shifted.

Lucien felt that Nuala was fairly well settled in at the palace, now, but it had taken her quite a while to get used to being seen without her glamour, almost as long as it took her to move beyond resignation and fear at having been abandoned in the Dreaming to the realization that she actually enjoyed her new circumstances. Here, she had a place, and a job, and there were expectations of her beyond looking ethereally beautiful and dancing attendance on Titiania for hours on end -- although Lucien suspected that her current employment was in many ways much less wearing and tiresome than the faerie court had been.

Nuala nibbled on a few flower petals as she looked things over, then started clearing dirty dishes. Lucien stood to help, and she shooed him away. “You have plenty to do, I’m sure!”

Lucien calmly continued picking up dirty mugs and teacups and placing them on a handy tray. He almost saw the elderly cat that spooked and shot out from under the serving table. “Nothing that won’t wait, and I want to talk to Tamaris about carving a new head for Mervyn.”

“Well, all right,” she said, smiling. “You look quite handsome today, Lucien. Is that a new coat?”


The rest of his morning was spent doing the usual library tasks: sorting new acquisitions, reshelving books, answering questions, filing in the card catalog, and mostly petting the small, furry, insistent tabby cat that kept following him around and tucking her nose under his hand at every opportunity.

The library had grown again overnight, both upwards and outwards, and Lucien made a mental note to do some exploring and mapping on his next day off. Some of the changes he attributed to sections of the library returning that had gone missing during Lord Morpheus’s lengthy absence; other changes came through the sheer force of dreaming minds. If strong enough, they could cause lasting changes -- at least until the next dreamer came along.

The parts that were reappearing may have been hiding in remote parts of The Dreaming, or in the unconscious aspects of dreamers themselves, but now they were finding their way home, book by book, and bit by bit, Lucien himself was relaxing and feeling more secure, and less like he had failed to protect Lord Morpheus’s belongings.

He was one of the few residents who’d remained, and remained relatively unchanged, during Morpheus’s captivity. In the end he’d been reduced to sweeping up, sleeping in the corner of a tumbled-down room that sheltered him from the incessantly strange weather that took over in the Dream Lord’s absence, protecting the handful of books left to him, those brave enough to stay. Lucien had done his best to protect them during that unsettled time, after the words began to fade, but he had to admit that they hadn’t been safe; he’d encouraged them to find a hiding place that was more secure, and most of them had agreed. Now it was just a matter of finding them.

He’d made several tours of the remote provinces, tracking down a story here, a few books there, a whole room somewhere else; some had already settled into new homes, and he’d had to speak sternly to them about their responsibilities. It took a little while, but they’d finally reappeared, and they continued to pretend they’d never intended anything different. The latest discovery had been Cain’s, who’d recently found several sections of papyrus and cuneiform tablets hiding deep in the House of Secrets. Lucien had asked Mervyn to to go and figure out the best way to get them back where they belonged without damaging them further. The older texts were sometimes prone to forgetfulness and getting lost, so he couldn’t trust that they’d find their way back on their own.

As he was shelving books, he distractedly noticed Abel sidle in through a side door, then head deep into the stacks, Goldie riding on his shoulder. Hiding from Cain, no doubt. It wouldn’t be the first time Abel had spent a morning in one of the farther recesses of the library, indulging himself in the kind of bookish pursuits that Cain labelled childish, or prurient -- sometimes referring to the same material. And the library was safer than Abel’s own House; sometimes the mystery was why Abel stayed in the House of Mystery at all.

Occasional dreamers wandered through, sometimes discovering a text that hadn’t been there until they looked for it. Lucien tried to maintain a strict policy of no checkouts for new materials, simply so he’d have time to catalog and anchor new works in the library, but it didn’t always work. Sometimes they faded away when the dreamer awoke; sometimes the dreamer carried them off deeper into the library, and Lucien couldn’t find them again. A sleek gray feline lady came strolling through at one point, looking for a choice patch of sunlight.

Mid-morning, Nuala appeared with Mervyn, looking raw and bit brighter orange than he’d been in quite some time. His new carving was very clean and nicely done, with a rakish slant to one eyebrow, but the fresher pumpkin left Mervyn a bit more sly and impish and bumptious even than usual, so Lucien handed his tasks over to a dreamer who had been assisting him in a recurring dream for several weeks. He’d confirmed earlier that there was a suitable room for the concert and put out the sign that indicated that the room was closed for an upcoming event. Now it was a matter of putting the tables and chairs in order, and providing a place for the socializing that took place before the performance started. They never had a large attendance, but they’d developed a faithful audience of fifteen to twenty regulars that was usually augmented by a few dreamers or other patrons who were drawn by the music.

They were ready in plenty of time, and Nuala greeted some of the early arrivals while the musicians tuned their instruments. Some of them were dreamers, as well; Lucien didn’t know whether the dreamers were musicians in their waking lives, or merely those who dreamed of being musicians, or how they knew the music for works that had never existed, but when he’d sought Lord Morpheus’s approval, the Dream Lord had smiled and told him to have a place ready whenever he wanted to have a concert, and the musicians would be available.

He’d wandered over to help himself to a cup of tea when he found Nuala at his elbow, her eyes wide and panicked.

“He came,” Nuala said through gritted teeth, trying to maintain a smile for those milling around the tea table.

“Who came?” Lucien asked in his normal, quiet voice.

“Lord Morpheus!” Nuala said in a whisper that was very much like a wail.

Lucien blinked, and looked down at her in bewilderment. “It is his library,” he said. “He does use it occasionally, and sometimes he seems rather fond of music. Is it a problem?”

“Lucien!” She groaned. “What if he, if he wants to talk to me? What am I supposed to say?”

“I suppose that depends on what it is he says first,” Lucien said. “It’s all going very well, Nuala. And we did ask his permission before we started, so I find it highly unlikely he’s going to disapprove.” He thought about that. “At least, no more than usual. And it was very nice outside this morning; I don’t think he’s in a bad mood.”

With a final whimper, Nuala straightened her shoulders and went back to her job. Lucien repressed a smile.

A few moments later, he saw Nuala talking with Morpheus, and while she kept her face turned down, and spoke so low that Lucien couldn’t hear her, she did manage to respond to him, and when the Lord of Dreams turned away to find his seat, the glow on Nuala’s face was almost painful to see. He turned away to see Cain smirking at him from the other side of the table.

“I didn’t know you cared for classical music,” Lucien said to him coldly.

Cain swallowed the sandwich he’d been chewing. “The food's good. Is that why you’re here, eh? For the music, is it?” he said, his tone arch and disbelieving.

“I supervise the library; it’s only proper that I be here, even if I didn’t care for the music.” Lucien turned away, but not quickly enough to miss Cain’s response.

“Oooo, ‘proper’, is it. I’d say propriety is exactly your problem,” Cain said, sniggering. “Moral rectitude...”

Nuala waited until everyone else had quieted and found their seats, and then came to sit next to Lucien, in the chair he’d saved for her. Then the music began, and Lucien relaxed. He closed his eyes to better hear the subtleties of the music, letting it flow over him. He enjoyed all kinds of music, including that so-called “classical” music of which Mozart’s oeuvre was part. It didn’t take long for him to lose himself in the music, his surroundings fading entirely, and for a good portion of the performance, that was how he remained.

Until he gradually became aware of a rhythm that did not fit the fluid, classic pattern of the Requiem; it was a distant, irregular thumping, heavy and increasingly squelched-sounding. It wasn’t something that anyone else in the audience was likely to hear (yet), but he was highly-attuned to disturbances in his library, and once he’d focused on it, he could discern the pained, stifled groans that accompanied it, as well as the curses that were growing louder, and a squawking growing louder still.

Without opening his eyes, he pinched the bridge of his nose, and quietly said, “I’ll take care of it,” to Nuala. When he opened his eyes to stand, she was right behind him, but he gestured her to sit back down. “I know what it is,” he said in a quiet voice with centuries of speaking in libraries behind him. “I’ll handle it.”

He nearly tripped over an intent striped tom with white boots that was chasing the thin, elderly cat that hadn’t been there at breakfast. He hadn’t made it very much further when Goldie came flying at him, urgently screeching. He stopped when he saw Lucien, then grabbed Lucien’s jacket and tugged him along.

“Okay, Goldie, I’m coming. I don’t think there’s anything I can do, at this point, but I’ll stop him.” Goldie made a few mournful squeaks, then settled in the crook of Lucien's arm, cooing mournfully.

As Lucien drew near, there was more squelching, and less groaning. He found Cain hunched over Abel’s body, gasping for air, a thick, blood-covered volume clenched in both hands. Cain, startled by Lucien’s appearance, gave a feral growl and raised the book. Goldie flew at him, shrieking angrily, and Cain tried to bat him away.

The surrounding shelves and books were covered with blood spatters and brain matter, much of it already disappearing into the leather covers of the books. Lucien winced. At least it hadn’t happened where the most dangerous books were kept; feeding them a meal of this sort would have meant literary carnage.

“Give me that,” Lucien said in his firmist disciplinarian librarian’s voice. “That’s no way to treat a book. Or your brother,” he added hastily, almost as an afterthought. Cain killed Abel so often that it was kind of hard to get too upset about it. “And I told you the last time that if it happened again, I was revoking your library card, so hand that over, as well.”

He held out his hand, and Cain looked at him dejectedly, then dug in his pocket.

“And the book.”

Cain handed it over, along with a thin card. Lucien took the book gingerly, sighing, and pocketed the card.

“He made me do it! He did! LOOK at what he was looking at! I can prove it!” Cain tried to get the book back from Lucien, who was having none of it.

Lucien turned it over to see that it was the Liber Ivonis, by the dark wizard Eibon. “Why on earth would Abel want this, and how does it prove anything?” Lucien realized that he was buying into Cain’s distorted thinking. “And Abel doesn’t ask to be murdered every time he turns around, and you know it. The only person I can think of less violent than your brother is Eve.”

“It’s a book of spells!” Cain cried.

“Keep your voice down, you are in a library,” Lucien said, even though he knew it was futile.

“It has magical formulae, for killing unimaginable horrors! There! He was going to try and kill me!”

“And it would serve you right,” Lucien said firmly. “But I seriously doubt Abel was willing to risk the consequences -- nor, clearly, are you that unimagineable. Now be quiet, and go to your House.”

Cain opened his mouth, and Lucien raised a finger. “Not. One. More. Word. Go to your House, and don’t come out until you can behave yourself in public.”

Cain gave him a sulky look, then kicked Abel’s body one more time, eliciting a grunt that proved that Abel wasn’t quite dead yet.

Now,” Lucien said, and pointed towards the front of the library.

Cain went, his shoulders hunched, his hands dug into his pockets, kicking at the ground every few steps, muttering dire threats and curses he’d never have the courage to follow through on.

Lucien sighed, and pinched his nose again, then bent over Abel and checked for a pulse. It was thready, and he didn’t think Abel would last long.

“Fuh-father? Is that you, fuh-father?” Abel reached out blindly, and Lucien caught Abel’s hand in his.

“It’s Lucien, Abel. Lie still, it will be over soon.”

“Wha-why does he hate me so, still, fuh-father?” Abel coughed up a bit of blood. "Whu-whut did I ever do to him..." He sighed as he drifted once more into death. “Muh-maybe this time there will be good dreams.”

Lucien didn't even look up to see if Death would come; everyone took Abel's death for granted, especially Death.

Goldie mrawked softly and sadly, and rubbed his head against Abel’s bloody cheek.

Lucien sighed, and tried to pull the blanket up over Abel’s head, but Goldie squawked indignantly. “Come along, Goldie, there’s nothing to be done until he revives.”

Goldie shook his head stubbornly, and sat there, petting Abel’s beard, letting off an occasional affectionate “arwk?”

Lucien left them together, and after quickly putting the damaged volume in a lockable box, found Mervyn having a cigarette outside with a large Maine Coon. The cat was lying on its back, all four feet in the air, and looked over at Lucien with idle interest.

“Concert over already?” Mervyn asked.

“No, not quite yet, but soon. I have a...a mess for you to clean up in the arcane book section.”

“The regular arcane book section, the rare arcane book section, the one where the books are chained down to keep them from leaping at you arcane book section, or the careful-or-they’ll-tie-your-guts-in-knots arcane book section?”

“The rare arcane book section.”

“Thank Oneiros. What kind of mess?” Mervyn didn’t show any signs of bestirring himself.


Mervyn pitched his cigarette down and stamped it out. “Cain at work again? That explains why he came shooting out of there like a nightmare chased by sunshine and lollipops.” He nudged the cat with his toe, and the cat curled around it in a mock attack.

Lucien nodded.

“What was it this time?” Mervyn grabbed hold of his leg with both hands and tried to get it back from the cat, but the cat was having none of it.

“Cain killed Abel in the library with one of the rare books,” Lucien said bitterly.

Mervyn looked at him for a long moment. The cat lost interest and wandered away. “So,” Mervyn finally said in a flat voice. “Cain killed Abel, in the library, with a book.” The laughter bubbled up in his voice and came snorting out, along with some loose strands of pumpkin and a seed or two. “Well, it’s not the classic candlestick or pipe wrench, but it’s still pretty damn funny.”

Lucien tried to keep a straight face, and said sternly. “It’s not funny, Mervyn. The book is damaged, Abel is dead--”

Unfortunately, the ridiculousness of the statement just set Mervyn off even harder. “So what else is new? Good to see you got your priorities right. Hee hee hee hee....”

The giggles were what finally got to Lucien. "Okay (heh heh), maybe it's a little (hee hee) funny, ha ha ha haaaa..." and they leaned on each other, cackling like a couple of drunk hens.

When they finally stopped, Lucien slapped Mervyn on the back. “You might want to get in there before all the blood dries,” he said, wiping his eyes. “And I need to see if the book is showing any dangerous tendencies. If you could put him on a tarp until he revives, I’d appreciate it.”

Mervyn snickered a couple more times, nodding, then made sure his leg was fastened securely and headed off to find his pail and mop.

Lucien went back inside and carefully opened the box and took out the damaged book. The blood and brain matter had mostly soaked into the human skin that covered the book; it was greasy to the touch, and he shook it firmly when it started trying to get into his head. “None of that, you.” He ignored the faint whine and looked over the spine of the book. It looked as if he’d been lucky; the bodily fluids had enabled the book to mostly heal itself, but it didn't seem to be developing any suspicious boils or orifices. Another day or so, it would be as uncanny and eldritch as it had been, but no moreso.

Mervyn walked by with his cleaning supplies and headed into the stacks, grumbling, an unlit cigarette in his mouth. Already his fresh head was looking more ripe, and he'd settled down to his ordinary level of crankiness and belligerence. Shortly after that, the concert reached its conclusion, and people and those who were not exactly people drifted by, talking in low tones about the music.

Lucien went to help Nuala clean up and found her gazingly adoringly up at Lord Morpheus, who absently patted her hand and told her it had been quite enjoyable, in his most gloomy and distracted tones. He nodded to Lucien as he left the room, and Lucien sighed as Nuala watched him leave, stars in her eyes. He didn’t say anything, just started stacking chairs for Mervyn to move later.

“I think it went very well, don’t you, Lucien? Did you enjoy it--” She broke off. “I forgot, you had to leave. Was everything okay?”

“More or less,” he said. As a faerie, Nuala had even less experience with death than your average denizen of the Dreaming, and she was so soft-hearted that Abel’s murders pained her, so Lucien didn’t mention the specifics. “Someone made a mess in the stacks, and Mervyn is cleaning it up. He’ll be by later to finish up here.”

She took him at his word and moved around the room, humming, gathering debris and tidying things for the kitchen staff to pick up. Looking down, he found a small bit of brain matter on his plum jacket. He sighed, wiped it off with a napkin, and continued stacking chairs.

The rest of his afternoon went much as his morning had. Mervyn passed back by, still grumbling. Three mice with dark glasses and canes went streaking by his desk cackling wildly a few minutes later, with all the cats in the world -- at least seven -- after them, and none of cats closer to catching the mice than a dream was to coming true.

Abel finally came staggering out of the stacks just before Lucien had planned to go find dinner, Goldie cooing encouragingly into his ear. He avoided Lucien’s gaze as he walked past the desk and out the door. The remaining blood had dried sufficiently that he left no noticeable footprints, but Lucien made a mental note to ask Mervyn to mop.

Lucien ate dinner alone, in a dining room that resembled a French bistro, albeit a bistro designed by Picasso, right down to the vividly-colored serving staff with all of their facial features on one side of their heads, or bodies so loosely-defined that you could hardly tell where their faces were. Ruthven joined him for dessert, and they had a nice chat about abstract aesthetics and the ethical nature of art. They took their leave about the time that their waiter’s face started to melt and slide like a Dali watch.

Generally, Lucien went back to the library in the evening. There was always more to do than he could keep up with, and someone was always asleep somewhere, waiting for dreams to dream. But he was restless, and a fluttering echo of birds’ wings shuddered through him and was gone before he quite knew it was there. Instead of heading to the library, he went outside for a walk in the grounds.

Maybe it was time for another trip through the dreamlands, to see what was new. There was always something new, new books to find, new entities to meet, new stories to hear. While the world was increasingly well-defined and documented and mapped outside the Dreaming, within dreams (waking and sleeping) the dreamers turned inward and spun new worlds full of whimsy and frippery and furbelow, worlds of cogs and steam, of monsters and magic, of mechanical men and warrior women, revery and nightmare -- Romance and Adventure as it never was and always will be. And as they dreamed, so went the Dreaming.

If nothing else, it was job security. And he could drop in on Fiddler’s Green for a day or two, that would be nice.

He walked until it was dark, circumnavigating a nightmare under construction in the maze, bypassing a pipe dream growing in the aviary; he tried to stay out of other people’s business. He almost ran into the Three in the churchyard where they were harvesting moonwort and burying a few bryony roots. Cynthia winked at him, grinning, but by the time he waved back, it was Mildred he was waving to. He didn't stop to talk.

Eventually he found himself on a small terrace that looked out over the courtyard, and the gate keepers, who were sleepily arguing over who would win in a fight, Ruthven or the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog. The wyvern and the griffin seemed to feel it was a pointless argument, that the Rabbit wouldn’t even have to try very hard, but the hippogriff stubbornly kept repeating, “But Ruthven is clever!” until his words faded into whuffling snores.

When Lucien turned to go in to his apartments, he realized that he was not alone on the terrace. The Lord of Dreams sat quietly in a corner next to the building, an orange and white cat in his lap; it looked like it had had cream spilled down the side of its face, and it was rubbing its head adoringly into the Dream Lord’s hand.

“Your pardon, my Lord, I did not see you there. I regret disturbing you,” Lucien said, bowing. “I’ll leave you to your solitude.”

“No, stay. I've had too much of solitude.” Morpheus waved him into another chair. “Have a glass of wine with me. One of the things I missed during my long confinement was our talks. My voice has grown rusty, and my manners rough, through long disuse.” He paused there, then Lucien saw the flare of a star in a sky-dark eye and the flash of white teeth. “‘As if they were not rough before’’ -- I can hear you thinking it from here, Lucien.” The affectionate amusement in his voice warmed Lucien immeasurably.

“I would never think of so insulting you, Lord. Your manners, as always, are as impeccable as you design them to be.”

Morpheus laughed, a low, appreciative sound. “I think you give me too much credit.”

“I think you capable of great subtlety and charm, when you think it worth your while,” Lucien said fondly.

“And when it’s not?”

“Dreams must often forgo subtlety for candor to successfully convey their meaning.”

“A very nice way to call your lord and master insolent, if not blunt, I think.” Morpheus bowed his head slightly, acceding the point. “Would you care for the glass of wine I offered? It’s quite good. I think Taramis found it in the dream of an oenophile who dreamed of the vintage his grandfather put by on their small family vineyard. It tastes of memories of sunshine and love.”

“I would be honored.”

They were quiet while Morpheus poured Lucien’s glass, and Lucien took a deep, appreciate sniff of it before tasting it. It was rich, and mellow, with accents of laughter and a hot summer’s day.

“I missed you, too, my Lord,” Lucien said quietly, staring down into his glass. “The Dreaming--” He’d started to say that the Dreaming hadn’t been the same without him, but the statement was too ludicrous, too obvious, and he choked on it. The Dreaming wasn’t, without Dream. It had survived, but without Morpheus, it wasn’t the Dreaming.

“I know, Lucien. I am sorry. I... I won’t let it happen again.” Silence fell lightly between them, companionably, each lost to their own thoughts.

Every now and then Lucien wondered how much the Dream Lord influenced the Dreaming, and thereby the dreams, and how much the reverse was true. He couldn’t deny that while Morpheus was in captivity, the Dreaming had suffered, and decayed. Lucien believed himself to have barely survived, and he didn’t think he could do it again. And there was no denying that Dream's absence had had an impact beyond the dreaming: a handful of mortal souls had stopped dreaming entirely, while others had succumbed to perpetual dream, and yet others to a somnolent waking dream.

But the truth was that the vast majority of creatures had continued their waking and sleeping and presumably their dreaming without surcease. There had been no widespread madness -- at least no more so than usual, unless you counted the Corinthian's adventures. There had still been dreams; men had still had their fancies, their reveries, their wishful thinking. So what was it that was lost, when Dream was missing? And what had Dream lost? Because another thing Lucien couldn’t deny was that in some intangible, immeasurable way, Dream was different. Lucien wasn’t sure yet whether it was a change for the better, or the worse. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know.

What he did know was that all other things aside, Dream was necessary. Dream was intrinsic, requisite, essential -- and that’s where Lucien stopped. Dream was, and in being, was more than even Lucien, who perhaps had been closer to him than anyone but the Family, could fathom.

Bigger on the inside, as it were.

“Nuala seems to be making herself at home.”

Lucien shook off the shreds of his distraction. Enough philosophy. “She is, I believe. I think she enjoys having a purpose, and being of use.”

“The concert was excellent; I noticed that you didn’t stay?”

“Ah, yes, well, there was a bother in the library, and I didn’t want it to detract from the music.”

Morpheus nodded. “Cain, and Abel.”

“Yes, my Lord.” Lucien hesitated. “Why does he do it, sir? And why does Abel always allow it?”

Morpheus took a sip of wine before he answered. “Cain was the first to bring death; Abel was the first to suffer it -- at least in one story. They replicate the pattern of aggressor and victim through the ages, and I’m not sure either of them remembers why, anymore, or if it matters. Or if there ever was a reason.” He stared out over the courtyard. “Every family has patterns that are played out time and again, long after they stop working. It can take something drastic to change that, and even then, beings tend to fall back into old habits. Even pain can be comfortable, if it’s what you’re used to.”

Screams and wings, pain and feathers, snakes and fire and loneliness; a stream of consciousness flowed through Lucien and on along its way, and he realized that he was very, very tired. He stood, and bowed. “Thank you for the wine, Lord; it was indeed a very fine vintage.”

Dream nodded his head in acknowledgement and dismissal.

Lucien took a few steps, then stopped and looked back over his shoulder. “I’m glad you’re home, my Lord. Nothing was the same without you.”

It came out easily this time, as if something had changed in the interim since he hadn't said it before, and maybe it had. Maybe in him, maybe in the Dreaming.

The stars glinted again in Morpheus's eyes. “Good night, Lucien. May your memories be restful tonight.”

Dream is only the Lord of Dreams, and even he can’t escape his memories.