The funny thing is that it’s a dream about being in bed.
Hardly anything particularly salacious, at least (this time, anyway) – Hob dreams he’s sprawled out on his back, naked, warm and cozy in the bedclothes against the storm lashing the windows outside, waiting for someone. He’s not sure who, or where they’re coming back from, but he’s sure they’ll be back soon.
The doorknob turns slowly, the door opens, and he can feel himself smiling as his friend – Morpheus, his name is Morpheus – walks in and drips rain onto the carpet. “You’re late,” he says.
“Am I?” Morpheus says, looking oddly confused.
“Nah,” Hob says, “still raining.”
“Ah.” There’s something odd about his voice this time that Hob can’t quite figure out, but before he can think about it too much Morpheus takes his trenchcoat off and hangs it on the back of the door, sits at the edge of the bed to remove his boots, and anything that gets him closer to naked and in this bed is far more important right now.
There’s a pause, after both the boots are off, like he’s at a loss for what to do next, somehow. “You are, however,” Hob says, moving so he can sit up behind him, put his hands underneath the black t-shirt and onto the bare skin of his stomach, put his mouth next to his ear, “definitely overdressed, but I’m more than willing to help you out with that, if you like.”
The skin underneath his hands is colder than he was expecting, colder than it usually is, but he figures that’s probably the rain’s fault just as a bolt of lightning flashes outside, thunder booming almost immediately after. “Storm must be nearly on top of us now,” he says, pointlessly, and then decides to put his mouth to better use, kissing the exposed skin of Morpheus’ neck and shoulders until he can get to what’s waiting under the fabric. Not like he minds waiting, after all.
A few seconds later the skin beneath his lips is gone, but there’s a hand in his hair, gentle, tugging carefully until he’s looking at Morpheus’ face again. “Hob Gadling,” Morpheus says, strangely formal, still with that peculiar tone to his voice. “Do we do this often?”
This close, he can see that the lovely blue eyes he’s so fond of are black, today, but not normal black, and not like the black of a shark’s eyes, either; more like the blackness of space, somehow. Hob thinks he might see a star in each eye.
Then he processes what Morpheus just asked him, and a number of things that have been tapping at his brain abruptly slot together, and he realizes.
“Oh shit,” he says, eyes wide. And then, “oh fuck,” as he’s scooting backwards as quick as he can, “sorry, sorry, I’m sorry,” because what else can you say when you realize, oh, that’s not just a version of your friend that your brain conjured up, that’s your actual friend, the anthropomorphic personification of dreams, in your actual dream. The dream where you’re naked and waiting for him to come be naked with you.
“Hob,” Morpheus starts, reaching a hand out in his direction –
And then suddenly Hob’s awake, sprawled in his own bed at home, staring at the ceiling; he can feel himself panting. After a few seconds, he fumbles around until he can reach his mobile and shut the damn alarm off. He goes back to staring at the ceiling – no chance of falling back asleep with the amount of adrenaline that just got dumped into his system, he’s sure – until he’s got his breath back. Then he sighs, just once, and gets up. He’s got a class in an hour and a half, and there’s no sense in dwelling, is there.
Seven hours later sees him to the end of his last class for the day. He’s done a pretty good job of not dwelling, if he says so himself – he’s only thought about it, oh, two or four times an hour all day. Not too bad all things considered.
It’s funny – having been around so long does a good job of putting a lot of things in perspective, for sure, but there’s approaching my wife just ran off with the butcher with a healthy sense of perspective and then there’s approaching I think I just ruined things with the one friend I’ve had for almost six and a half centuries with a healthy sense of perspective. This, Hob feels, should qualify as a special case.
(He’s tried to remind himself a few times that the last time he thought he’d ruined things he’d been wrong, after all. Granted, he didn’t find that out for thirty years, but that’s something else he’s trying not to think about.)
A few students ask him questions on the way out, the same three or four as usual. He’s always painfully aware when he does the survey classes that most of the people in the room are there because they have to be, but every semester he can tell a few of them are there because they want to be. They’re usually the ones that show up in the smaller classes, later, with opinions and ideas – they’re the ones he enjoys teaching.
And then the last student pauses when he gets to the front of the line, the two of them the only people left in the room, and Hob sighs and closes his eyes briefly. When he opens them, Morpheus is still there, black long-sleeved shirt, black jeans, black boots – are those Doc Martens? good grief – making him look enough like the rest of the barely-not-children Hob teaches that he hadn’t realized the truth until a few minutes ago.
(He almost wishes Morpheus had been gone when he’d opened his eyes, but he also knows it’s better to just deal with this now than to let it fester.)
He raises his eyebrows; when Morpheus continues to fail to say anything, he just shrugs. “This room’s gonna turn into a chemistry lecture in about fifteen minutes,” he says, instead of any of the things he’s thought about saying. “My office isn’t far from here, if you want to come with?”
Morpheus just nods, so Hob shrugs again, grabs his laptop case and heads out the door. The few minutes it takes to walk to his office are spent in silence, which suits him just fine – honestly this conversation probably won’t take fifteen minutes, might not even take five, but it’s also not a conversation he wants to have anywhere but somewhere private, and can’t imagine Morpheus would disagree.
“Hob!” someone calls from just outside his door, just before he closes it; when he opens it back up instead of shutting it all the way, one of the literature professors whose office is a few doors down is standing in front of him. “I’m glad I caught you!” she says, and then leans past him to look at Morpheus, straightens back up, and says, “I can see you’re busy, I’m sorry, I just didn’t want to forget to double-check – we’re still on for Tuesday, right?”
Tuesday. Yes. “Absolutely,” he tells her, nodding. “Was there any particular portion you wanted me to read this time, or …”
“Oh, just pick your favorite,” she says. “But now I think I’m running late. See you then!” And she disappears down the hall.
Ford, that’s her name, not that it does him any good now. Hannah Ford. He closes the door completely this time, and when he turns Morpheus almost looks curious. “Hob?”
“Oh, well, you know.” He shrugs again. Then he realizes he’s been doing that a lot the past few minutes and just sits down behind his desk to hide the sigh. “Every so often it’s nice to hear people calling me the name I still wake up expecting to be called.”
After a moment Morpheus nods, once. Another moment later: “Still on?”
“She teaches Middle English literature. Sometimes if I don’t have a conflict she asks me to come and read something from The Canterbury Tales aloud to her students so they can get a real idea what it sounded like.” He laughs at himself, just a bit. “My own fault, I guess – someone challenged me to recite something from memory at some faculty do once, and she told me the next day I’m the only one she’d ever heard who sounds like they’re having a conversation, not just reading from something.”
“A consequence of having spoken it from birth, I would guess,” Morpheus says, smiling slightly.
He smiles back, helpless not to. “Not that I can tell her that, but yeah.”
Then silence falls, again. The butterflies he’s been steadfastly ignoring for the last few minutes get worse. He can see those lovely blue eyes looking at him.
“Look –” he says, and then realizes he doesn’t know where to go from there.
“You never answered my question,” Morpheus says, a few seconds later. “This morning, not just now.”
Oh. Do we do this often? That question. “Why did you sound different this morning?” he asks, instead, because he doesn’t actually want to answer the question, and because he is curious.
For a few seconds Morpheus just looks at him, and Hob wonders if he’s just going to get up and leave, hopes he won’t. “My voice is different in the Dreaming than it is in the waking world,” is the answer he gives, eventually. “It is unlike you to answer a question with a question.”
“... yes,” Hob says, finally, “we do. We have.” He stares at his laptop case, sitting in the middle of his desk. “Not in, oh, a few months? Not since you’ve been free,” he says, suddenly understanding.
He’d started dreaming about his friend with near-alarming frequency after he got stood up. Thought he got stood up. At first the dreams had been rehashes of their fight, over and over again, but eventually the fight had evolved: things he wished he’d said, things he’d wished he hadn’t said, things he wished his friend had said in return. Ways he wished that night had turned out, instead of how it actually had turned out. He tried not to think about them when he was awake; not like any of it made a difference, after all.
Then he’d had an intensely vivid sex dream featuring said friend and woken up harder than he’d been in years and figured he might as well be honest with himself, at the very least. Even if it didn’t make a difference.
“So do you just show up whenever someone’s having a dream about you? Is that how it works?” As good a question as any, especially when the aim of asking is twofold, gain information and also deflect, deflect.
“Few who know me as I truly am visit the Dreaming with any frequency,” Morpheus says. “I knew it was you.”
He’s not sure what else to say to that; he feels oddly touched, although he still can’t tell whether or not he should be.
“Do you regret it?”
“Which part, the part where for the last thirty years I’ve been having intimate dreams about the best friend I’ve had my whole life, or the part where I accidentally drew said friend into one of those dreams and now he knows about them?”
He hears a soft huff; when he glances up, the look on Morpheus’ face makes him think that would probably have been a laugh from someone else. “Either. Both.”
“I regret putting you in an awkward position,” Hob says, after thinking about it. “And if this turns out to be what ruins our friendship, then I’ll regret it. But otherwise … no, I don’t think I do.” He knows how Morpheus tastes where his neck meets his shoulders, now, knows how his skin feels underneath his shirt. He doesn’t think he’ll ever be able to regret that.
He’s back to looking at his laptop case when Morpheus speaks again, and the voice is so much closer than he was expecting that he can’t help but look up. “I was reminded, recently,” Morpheus says, perched on the edge of Hob’s desk, “that no one would classify you as mortal, these days.”
Is that relevant? For a second Hob wants to ask, but the way Morpheus is looking at him now he feels almost pinned in place, and he’s oddly loath to ruin that, so instead he just swallows, once, and stays otherwise still.
“You are one of my dearest friends,” Morpheus says, reaching out slowly, carefully, like he’s expecting to be pushed back, “and you say I am the best of yours.” His fingers tuck a few stray pieces of hair behind an ear, and then he’s cupping Hob’s face gently. “I would be more than that to you, Hob Gadling, if you would let me.”
At a loss for words for once in his life, Hob just turns his head slightly and kisses the palm of his hand, and watches as Morpheus starts to smile.
Then the moment shatters when someone knocks on his door.
“Office hours,” he says, making a face as he remembers. “Sorry, if I’d realized I would’ve –”
“No,” says Morpheus, briefly stroking a thumb across Hob’s cheekbone, “we can continue this tonight, if you would like.”
“I would like,” he says, reaching up to briefly cover the hand on his cheek with his own. “Out here, or …” What had he called it? “Or in the Dreaming?”
“Some things are more easily explained there,” Morpheus says. Hob stands, letting go of his hand with some regret. “I will find you when you dream.”
And then he’s gone – through the door and down the hall – and Hob supposes, as the student walks in and sets their stuff down, apologizing for interrupting and explaining the problem they’re having, that it’s time to set Morpheus aside, in his mind. For a few hours, anyway.
That night he’s sprawled on the same bed, back in that same room, same rain falling on the window. He recognizes bits and pieces of it, now he’s trying – this bed he remembers from, oh, two hundred or so years ago; the window he remembers from two houses ago. The fireplace he remembers from the house he grew up in. It’s a strange combination of things, sure, but on the other hand, well. No stranger than anything else that’s happened in his life.
Or even anything else that’s happened today, really, he thinks, watching the doorknob turn. This time when Morpheus steps into the room there’s no confusion, no hesitancy; there is a pause, before he turns to hang his trenchcoat up, but the look in his eyes – his black-as-night eyes, with tiny stars of light in them – tells Hob he’s just enjoying the view.
“Is this a storm you remember well?” he asks, once he’s taken his boots off, looking out the window. A bolt of lightning flashes, followed almost immediately by thunder booming in its wake.
Hob’s about to say no when something strikes him. “It rained like this once when I was a boy, I think. Storm went right over our house, it seemed like.” He closes his eyes just for a second, lost in a memory he’d nearly lost to time, and when he opens them Morpheus is leaning over him, smiling again.
“You will have the answers you seek. I swear it,” he says. “But I believe I interrupted something this morning.”
“Oh, well, you absolutely did,” Hob says, grinning back. He adds moves like a cat? to the list, along with voice? and eyes?
Then he leans up and meets his friend halfway, and he can feel the smile against his lips when they kiss.