He checks in with Gault eventually. “How fare the dreams, my dream?” is the framework of the question, the hidden curiosity. Gault smiles at him. Nebulae birth beneath her skin, spidering back into darkness; her wings fan gently, whimsical as a child’s tale.
She says, “They are a wonder, my lord. I have never known happiness such as this.”
The two of them stand alone in his throne room, but at the foot of the stairs. Dream finds he doesn’t enjoy sitting as much as he once did; that stillness creeps up on him like fog, like glass, like a hundred years whittled down into nothing. A dream is a fleeting thing, by nature. They come and go; disappear, time and again, and only the most stubborn learn to catch hold, to cling on.
Dream is the heart of all that transience. The focal point they come home to, again and again.
He cannot be afraid of stillness.
“Yes, Lord Morpheus,” Gault tells him, more tenderly than expected. “I have achieved my dream, after all, haven’t I? To protect a human’s mind from their waking nightmares. To be more than what I was made to be.”
It is bold.
Dream’s smile ekes a little wider. “It was my hand that created you.”
There is blame there, as well as forgiveness.
“To your dreams, then, Gault.”
She leaves, a contradiction of purpose that glitters, shines, has transformed absolutely. Hope out of the darkness; strength out of misery. A heart that grew into the void when Dream was absent, and yet-
One other dreamed of more even before that moment.
Behind him, the panes of glass in the central window rearrange, piece by piece. When Dream turns, he sees The Corinthian smiling down at him. “My greatest nightmare,” he sighs, neck craned, weary suddenly. “How far you fell. How small you became. But is the fault yours, or mine?”
One by one, Dream mounts the stairs.
He sits upon his throne, still and waiting, thoughtful and curious, red light painting questions upon the stone all around him. Dream wonders.
“I wish to borrow a book,” he confesses to Lucienne.
Lucienne lifts a hand, gestures to the many shelves, and smiles warmly. “But of course, my lord. You may, of course, browse the library halls at your leisure.” A hesitation, and then: “Or perhaps…browsing is not what you are here for? Is there something amiss that needs tending?”
“Something that needs tending,” Dream agrees. “But it is nothing you need concern yourself with.”
Dream finds his own smile; it’s easier than ever, he thinks, to don it. “Have faith, Lucienne. This is more…”
Slowly, Dream skates his fingers along the polished wood of a shelf, feeling the solidity of it, the reality that it’s been dreamed into. He hangs onto his smile even as he folds his hands once more behind his back, aware of Lucienne’s wary gaze. He says, “Call it my curiosity that needs tending.”
“Pardon me for saying so, my lord, but that seems- a dangerous thing for you to nurture.”
“Careful,” Dream utters, with a sharp eyed glance.
Lucienne ducks her head, settling back into the role of subject, rather than friend. “Of course, my lord. You know yourself best. And this library and all these books in it, the whole of the Dreaming, are yours. Happy browsing. Let me know if there’s anything…anything at all a humble librarian might help the King of Dreams with.”
Rueful, Dream is distantly aware that he will have to apologize again, somehow. It is a delicate balance being what he is and what he has always been, and what he must also become.
But apologies are for later.
The Corinthian is nestled neatly onto the exact same shelf as where he left it, when the whole issue with the Vortex and the errant Arcana finally came to an ending. The red leather is rough against his skin; stinging, as if Dream’s flesh is newly made, scattered to sand one instant and reforged anew the next, expressly for this.
The spine rests heavy in his palm, right against the place Corinthian pierced a dagger through.
Dream’s fingers clench tight; he takes the book with him.
Now that the Vortex is gone, no one enters the throne room without Dream’s permission, without him knowing the moment the sanctity of this space is breached. The weight of the ruby still startles him in its absence; though he felt each grain of sand through the hourglass of his imprisonment grate against his spine, that lost time is nothing, nothing to the ceaseless stretch of an Endless’ existence.
And yet, it had burdened him.
He is the Dreaming, moreso now than he has been in aeons, and he is- a friend, not only a master. A function, a purpose, a-
“What was it you lacked,” Dream murmurs, red book heavy in his hand, feet steady on the stairs. Up and up toward the throne and the peaked window at his back, that grinning visage staring down at him; all mouths, that nightmare. All hunger, though- somehow, Dream hadn’t expected Corinthian to be.
Dream settles into his throne, because it feels safest to be there, like an anchor holding him stubbornly still. He cracks open the spine, and-
There is something deeply satisfying, he thinks, in having The Corinthian’s entire life splayed open in his palm. All dreams and nightmares belong to him; but there was always something special about Corinthian, the function Dream had built him toward, his purpose.
So while Dream has already skimmed through these pages, the looping scroll and the grim contents painstakingly recorded, he does so again, reading hungrily, carefully. There must be something, he thinks, to explain it. The moment his plans for Corinthian splintered; where his creation left worship and instead took up rebellion.
“Now, you will tell me your secrets, little nightmare,” Dream whispers, turning another page.
The Corinthian yields nothing new.
“Then we shall try something different,” Dream muses, thumb slowly stroking over the gold lettering on the binding. “There is nowhere you can hide from me. You are mine, after all.”
The Dreaming holds all dreams within it.
As a nightmare, Corinthian never slept to dream, not in any real sense, not in the usual way of things, but Dream needs to know how he has failed and where, the why of it, if he is to do better than before. So he goes down to the dark and endless water and all that hides within it, sprinkling a gustful of sand upon the surface, and-
“There you are.”
-they are in a bathhouse that existed an eternity ago, open to the public, mosaic and tall urns with drifting fronds. People come and go; wine is sold, perfumes. A charlatan heals the sick in one room, another holds court to an adoring public in the next.
Corinthian floats in the middle of a heated pool, steam rising from blue water.
He is gold in his paleness.
Naked, save for the smoke tinted glass over his eyes.
Dream walks the perimeter of the pool, waiting to see what will come of this, what terrible thing might be about to occur, only-
Corinthian bobs there, water gently lapping at his edges.
“Feels nice,” he breathes.
Dream answers, “You are not meant to feel nice, Nightmare.”
Down the shallow steps into the pool goes the King of Dreams, Emperor of Nightmares. Lord Morpheus in his black robes, a hairstyle Dream hardly remembers. He stands on the edge of the pool and watches himself wade through the heavy pull of water and the curling cloud of steam to reach Corinthian- still suspended on his back, waiting.
Dream watches himself wrap a cold hand around Corinthian’s throat.
A laugh. That boyish smile, all charm. “My lord,” murmurs Corinthian, not cowering, not running. He tips his head back, the water rising up, lapping at his glasses. “You’re here.”
“Yes,” says Dream. “I’m here.”
A sigh, this time.
Dream drowns Corinthian; holds him down beneath the water. Corinthian claws at him eventually, needing air in a way a Nightmare never could, and Dream watches intently as he gets his clumsy hands caught and tangled in the span of Dream’s black and heavy robes, another way to drown him.
Slowly, Corinthian goes still.
When it is done, Dream releases him.
Corinthian is gold in his palness, nude. Peaceful in death. Dream slips his arms beneath his spine and lifts him, carries him slowly out of the water, up the steps, one and two and three, holding on not gently, but gravely.
And then, a swirl of sand-
“You may rest now, my Nightmare.”
-the waters part around him; the dream finished, come undone. Dream climbs slowly up out of the Dreaming, ponderous.
There is still much to repair within his realm. Besides that, he has Lucienne to apologize to, Hob to meet, now that they are friends and no longer conscripted to meet only every century, and dreams and nightmares to create, to tend, to oversee. Death takes him out to feed more pigeons, insisting it is a necessary form of self-care.
Slowly, over time, Dream visits each half-formed longing, every tattered, near-dream that Corinthian dared to foster.
-a sleepy town, the woods thick on the fringes. Dream follows Corinthian out past safety, into darkness, the crunch of snow beneath their feet. “The blood’s real bright against all this white,” he says, drawl languid, eager. He looks over his shoulder at Dream, glasses catching the light of a secret moon. He grins. “Pity you didn’t make me so I can see it proper though, now did you, Lord Morpheus?”
“What need has a nightmare to see beauty,” Dream tells him.
Laughing, Corinthian turns, stumbles backward a step before he catches himself. He spreads his arms, and the shape of him is tall and wide and startlingly reserved; a predator that isn’t brutish, but is viciously clever. Just as Dream made him to be. “Need, is it? I dunno, maybe- maybe if I could see it, maybe it wouldn’t hurt so bad all the time. Is it supposed to hurt like this, my lord? Is it-”
Dream answers him this time with a weapon.
Dream watches himself do it, the dark gleam of metal in the blue-and-white wonder of the cold dark night, the blanket of snow muffling it all to silence.
“It hurts,” Corinthian whispers, collapsing to his knees. There is a sword through his belly; Dream keeps it held steady, so that it tears his nightmare open, spilling him raw and tender to the pristine ground. “Fuck- Fuck, my lord, it- it hurts so much these days, all the time, all the-”
“Yes,” Dream tells him. “But now it won’t.”
The Corinthian smiles, shaky and reckless, hungry and devout.
Knees sink into snow. Dream follows his nightmare down, down, a slash of black against all that brightness. Corinthian crumples into him, head bowed, and overhead the stars turn, the moon gleams, blade-sharp, and-
“I know that pain,” Dream tells the red and narrow echo of Corinthian. “I recognize it now. The loneliness of a heavy mantle. The isolation. You were meant to bear it well, for it was your only function, your sole purpose of being, and yet…”
What is Death, if not for the living?
What is the point of a Nightmare, if not to give birth to future dreaming?
The fragile almost-dreams of a living Nightmare pile up, gossamer threads that nonetheless weave together to tell the tale of Corinthian’s descent into madness. The role Dream plays within. They change; evolve; just as The Corinthian did, and wasn’t meant to; just as Dream has done, painfully and reluctantly though the process has been.
Sand on dark water.
Again, Dream submerges himself, finds the dream of a dream, the illicit longing born into thought, grabs on-
“Show me what else you long for, my nightmare.”
-he moans, low and wrecked, thick and wet. “Fuck, that- yeah, that’s it, that’s-”
For the first time, Dream is fucking Corinthian.
It is a strange sight to look at, thinks Dream, a little shocked, a little startled. Death, pain, blood- none of that was enough to surprise him, not with Corinthian doing the dreaming. But this-
Dream is laid out on his side on a strange bed, in a foreign room, completely clothed and composed. Corinthian is wholly nude and on his back, tucked in against his creator, twisted, agonized face turned in towards Dream’s neck, as if hiding, as if seeking refuge. He moans again, whole body arching; that strong frame, wide and golden, now trembling. His fingers scrabble ineffectually at the sheets.
Dream touches him slowly, cruelly.
A hoarse huff of laughter. “You’re killing me,” he chokes out, half a tease.
Dream doesn’t smile.
He does, however, kiss Corinthian’s forehead.
“Is that what you need, my troublesome nightmare? For me to ruin you?” Dream watches his hand speed up, grip tightening. A whine grates out of Corinthian. The nightmare shakes; his mouth works, soundless. Somehow, his glasses are askew.
“Morpheus,” he breathes, finally.
A warning, then. Dream says, “You forget yourself,” and slows down.
Another laugh, wilder.
“A-apologies, my lord,” The Corinthian gets out, shivering, shaking, squirming against the sheets, rubbing his body against Dream’s robes, leaking all over Dream’s palm, eager, hungry, always so very-
“Please. Don’t stop, don’t- it feels so fucking good, really fucking- ah, ahh good!”
-so very contrary, this nightmare.
Dream rises from the dark, the lost, the never-to-be, and ascends to his throne room. Stands at the foot of his winding stairs and stares up at the mockery leering down at him. “You confound me, Corinthian,” he murmurs, hands clenched tight behind his back. “That one who was made to revel in humanity’s fear. In the very act of their cowering back, flinching away-”
Cutting himself off, Dream shakes his head.
Walks up the stairs slowly, achingly. When he reaches his throne he sits, brings forth The Corinthian, which he always keeps on hand these days. He cracks the spine against his palm. Spreads him out from cover to cover and flips through him, page by page.
“So,” Dream says, vaguely amused. “You finally dipped into other vices. Learned what pleasure of the flesh is and taken to it rather intently, I see. How very basic of you. How very-”
Tragic, Dream thinks.
So very, very hungry for more, his nightmare.
-a lake in the summertime, the cool green water lapping at their toes. Soft brown dirt shifting into sand, pebbles against their bare feet. Dream stares at the pale, angular shape of his own; is horrified, distracted entirely by it, ignoring the way Corinthian leans down, fingers tangling in Dream’s wayward hair, kisses him and kisses him.
“You can hear the toads croaking near dusk out here,” he murmurs, mouth pressed to Dream’s jaw.
Dream rests his hand, palm open, against Corinthian’s chest. “You like listening to them.”
“Yeah. Sure I do. I like lots of things, I’ve found.”
Buzz of mosquitos, the heavy air, the Corinthian sinking to his knees in the wet sand, those broad and deadly hands holding careful to Dream’s hips, face pressing into the front of his robes. He moans. “My lord…lord, if you’ll let me…”
Dream’s fingers clench tight against the back of Corinthian’s skull, harsh, heavy.
“You’re not meant for such things, Nightmare.”
“Fuck you,” the Corinthian chokes out. He opens his mouth, drags in a breath, holds Dream tighter to him. “Oh, fuck- Let me- Let me have it, just let me-”
Corinthian moans again, wrenches his hands from Dream’s narrow hips and scrabbles instead to get his own cock out. “You’re a bastard,” he says, biting, vicious, sharply appreciative. “You’re a cruel kind of love, Lord of Dreams, you-”
“Love?” Dream’s fingers are still buried in Corinthian’s hair.
Whining, Corinthian gets his hand on himself. He’s hard, leaking. He thumbs the head, squeezes tight. Starts jacking himself off kneeling in the sucking mud at the edge of a lonely lake while the insects buzz and bite. The very air is a weight, heavy on their skin.
“Yeah, love. Don’t suppose you know it,” he asks, muffled in dark fabric.
And Dream tightens his fingers around the short pale tufts at the top of Corinthian’s head, yanking, forcing him back. His glasses are crooked again. He stares up at Dream with a flushed face, wet and open mouth, tongue pressing to the corner of his stretched wide lips, all supplication.
Dream stares down at him, implacable. “No.”
“Y-yeah,” Corinthian says, a grin tugging at his mouth. “Figured as much, you- you fucking- ahhh fuck-
-fuck, fuck, fuck,” he gasps, and this time Dream can’t even see himself, not more than the black robed knees, the dark shine of his boots, the clutch of his own slender fingers on the Corinthian’s thighs, dimpling the skin just beneath the swell of his buttocks.
But he sees Corinthian.
His broad back, rippling with muscle. The twist of his spine as he drives himself down, again and again. The sweat gleaming on golden skin; the downy softness of his pale hair, cropped close at his nape. The swell of his biceps, the curve of his shoulders. The way his rim stretches wide and puffy around a thick cock, the only aspect of the dream that’s hazy, because it’s not something that Corinthian has ever seen; can only imagine, can barely stand to imagine at all, so tight the chokehold of devotion and propriety has on him, even like this.
Always Dream cold and clothed, distanced.
Always Corinthian bare in supplication.
There is something beautiful as much as cruel about that, Dream thinks, and feels the hunger that’s been growing, dream by almost-dream, yawn wide, split open, stoked to match his ravenous creation.
Dream blinks back to his watching. Focuses, because he isn’t done learning, not yet. Corinthian sinks down onto him, all the way, groaning like he’s been gut-wounded as he takes it all inside of him.
“You’re a size queen, I see,” Dream says, mouth quirking.
But he is not really here, and here is not real. It is a nightmare’s dream of connection, of satisfaction, of love. Dream watches Corinthian rock himself gently, barely moving. Watches him curl in around Dream, that cold and dark and lonely Endless being.
“Give it to me,” Corinthian whispers, a catch in his breath. “Morpheus, please, ah- c’mon, it’s not enough- I need-”
“It doesn’t matter what you need,” Dream says. “It doesn’t belong to you.”
And then Corinthian replying, “I know, I fucking know that already,” in a voice unsteady and raw, threaded through with anger so bright it pops, like shards of red glass that shatter, glint and cut, a knife through a hand, endless teeth snapping. A hungry, greedy nightmare, desperate for more, more, more, filling up on anger when he remains empty, empty, empty.
“I’ll find another way to end the ache, then,” Corinthian rasps, and Dream watches his shoulders move, knows instinctively what is happening-
The slick sound, the wet pop.
Corinthian takes Dream’s eyes for his own, rocking down onto his cock, spread out over Dream’s lap, moaning, half-sobbing, wild with laughter, with utter ruin. “E-even this,” he gets out, “is better than fucking nothing, damn you.”
Dream’s fingers clench tighter, tighter, urging Corinthian to move. “You’re crying.”
“Nah, my lord. It’s just a bit of blood,” Corinthian mocks, obeying Dream’s hands urging him to fuck harder now, faster, a brutal rhythm as he chases completion, head tossed back and groaning low, still hungry, still wanting, still-
Dream is standing next to his throne, leaning against the side of it as he looks up at the red window. Matthew lands atop the high back next to him, hopping a few inches one way, then the other. “So uh,” he says, “still doing this, huh? The staring and the brooding and the- whatever the fuck it is you’re doing.”
“Listen, I’m just saying! Kind of creepy as fuck, don’t you think? Like, you killed the guy. Now you’ve got his picture larger than life up in your throne room staring down at you all the time and I just think, maaaybe this isn’t the best look for the Lord of Dreams and-”
“Matthew,” Dream murmurs. “Silence, now.”
He clicks his beak at Dream and hops another inch, feathers ruffled. “I’m just saying, maybe it’s time to, I don’t know, do fucking anything else. This can’t be healthy!”
“Yeah, healthy! Like when Death takes you for walks, or when you and Lucienne actually, you know, talk things through about how to fix the realm, and when you listen to your raven like you ought to, so.”
Dream smiles a little.
“Very well, Matthew,” he allows. “Perhaps you’re right.”
In the end, remaking him is easy.
Dream has done it once before, after all, laboring for years over his plans for this particular, special nightmare; diligently, carefully, with the full weight of single-minded purpose bearing down against them both.
Like with Gault, he doesn’t change the heart, the memory. He reshapes Corinthian following the same blueprints, the same constellation charted out, star by star, a void between that he fills up and up and up with sand, dust, darkness and hope. “Wake, my nightmare,” he says, fingers curling into a fist, power pooling and surging forth.
Corinthian coalesces into being with a gasp.
Collapses, down onto one knee, head bowed down and naked, gold and broad and beautiful. He has no glasses; he has no defenses.
“Welcome back,” Dream murmurs.
They are in his throne room, rather than out in the realm. Dream is seated on his throne, the red window behind him fragmenting, reforming. It gives a hint of a flush to Corinthian’s skin. He looks beautiful; dangerous; so very still.
“My lord,” he says, clearing his throat.
Dream smiles. “Look at me.”
“No,” Corinthian says, petulance wired through his drawl. His fingers clench around the hard bone of his bare, bended knee, short nails digging in amidst pale hair. “You’ve made a mistake, oh King of Dreams. You should have left me unmade. You should never have brought me back here, Lord Morpheus. You should have-”
Dream leans forward, stretches out.
Cups his hand against the back of Corinthian’s skull and pulls him in, in.
“Rest now,” Dream says. “I have high hopes for you, my most spectacular nightmare. This time, however…”
Slowly, Corinthian relaxes. Leans in, cheek to the black robe draped over Dream’s thigh, a sigh slipping out of him. Peaceful, he looks, if just for now, for this brief moment here at Dream’s feet. His lashes flutter, and Dream smiles wider to see the blaze of red fire in his irises before he blinks again, baring teeth.
This time, Dream will do better as well.
“Oh,” Corinthian murmurs, sliding closer. “That’s- an upgrade, is it?”
“You’ll get used to it,” Dream tells him.
A laugh, then. Corinthian slips his hands beneath Dream’s robes, fingers circling around his ankles like manacles. Dream can feel himself go still, heavy. Hungry, full of darkness. He lets Corinthian capture him, because it’s what his nightmare needs. “Will I, now,” Corinthian muses, nuzzling in so that his chin is resting on top of Dream’s thigh. A smirk pulls gently at his mouth. His lashes are low, eyes full of hungry teeth.
“Yes, Corinthian. You will.”
“My lord.” The way he says it, half in truth, half in jest, is entirely a test. “Are you spoiling me, right now? Rather a change of tune, don’t you think? Used to be, you never appeared except when I’d- oh, what’s the word you used. Right, right- disappointed you.”
Dream hums. Despite himself, he’s annoyed at the lack of gratitude. “You’re going to make this difficult, aren’t you.”
“Nah,” Corinthian drawls, grinning mean. “I’m all bark, my lord. No bite. Well. Maybe a bit of a bite. You afraid of a little blood, Morpheus?”
“No,” Dream says, and then, “Would you like a kiss?”
Dream tightens his fingers in Corinthian’s hair. Pulls him up, up, onto his bare knees on the hard dias, wedged between Dream’s thighs. Tilts him back so that Dream can press his free hand to the base of his throat, a heavy weight against all that warm skin, and so he can press his teeth into Corinthian’s bottom lip; a small noise gathers in the nightmare’s throat-
Dream bites hard enough to free it. Then, he licks the sting of it away.
“Fuck-” Corinthian says once more, dazed and hurt and, “oh, fuck, that- do that again-”
So Dream does.