“A hundred years, then?” Hob asks ruefully, when their drinks are empty.
His mysterious friend – Morpheus, he’d introduced himself as, though he’d amended a moment later, Call me Dream – gives him a long, enigmatic look over the mess of papers on the table. He seems like he’s trying to puzzle something out, though nothing shows on the perfect alabaster mask he calls a face. Hob can just feel it – the odd, finicky machinations of his thoughts – and the scrutiny makes him hot around the collar.
“We are friends,” Dream decides, after a long silence. “Friends meet each other more often than once a century, do they not?”
“Most,” Hob agrees, trying to tamp down his smile – trying not to seem too eager, too much like a dog gobbling at a bone. “But I mean – we’re not exactly your usual friends, are we?”
“Nonetheless.” Dream’s lips twitch, something that Hob has always recognized as a smile. “Whensoever you desire to see me, Hob Gadling, I shall be there.”
Hob spends three days riding high on that declaration of friendship, floating through lectures on fourteenth century poetry and seventeenth century politics and a review session on the works of Christopher Marlowe that he accidentally gives in Middle English and has to pass off as a primer for the final – a lie which sends his students into a despairing, apocalyptic frenzy thinking the exam is going to be much harder than it actually is – before he falls asleep in his office and has a sex dream.
It starts at one of those insufferable ton parties where Hob wasted most of the latter half of the 1780s. Two hundred people crammed in a ballroom which modern safety edicts would dictate could only hold fifty, candles on the walls and tobacco smoke in the air and everyone just this side of hot and sweaty, imprisoned in corsets and waistcoats and itchy powdered wigs. None of the faces are distinct; neither are the words – Hob’s conscious of the cadence of laughter but not the source of it, people brushing against him, jostling him. Someone on the other side of the ballroom calls his name – he turns to look, but before he can see who it is, there’s a delicate touch on the small of his back, and a cool, familiar voice murmurs right next to his ear, “Hob.”
They don’t walk – no one ever travels anywhere in a dream, Hob thinks, unless they’re trying and failing to run away, and maybe that has something to do with why his friend always seems to be appearing places – but the next thing Hob knows, they’re out in the crisp night on the balcony, and Hob is pushing Dream back against the cold stone wall.
“I must admit,” Dream says in the humid space between their faces – that deep, sleepy voice of his driving Hob wild – “this was not what I expected, when I said whensoever you desire.”
“Sh-sh-sh-shhh,” Hob hushes him. It’s rather rude of the dream-version of his friend to interrupt the proceedings like this, in his estimation. “This is my dream, isn’t it? So I’m the one who gets to decide when we stop to talk.”
“Fair enough,” Dream agrees, lips twitching.
“Good,” Hob says – or starts to say, but most of the word is lost in the wet press of their mouths.
Dream opens for him beautifully, his hands resting light on Hob’s shoulders. Hob has always thought his friend had a small mouth, like a woman, and to have him like this, he does feel more like a woman than a man – the tentative motion of his lips, the delicate bones of his skinny knees digging into Hob’s meatier flanks as he gets a good grip on him and hefts him up the wall.
Hob wants desperately to be out of his waistcoat and breeches, but he knows how bloody long these things take to put on and he knows they take just as long to get off – he’s not sure he can wait. Dream makes a soft, breathy sound, sucking on his tongue, his fingernails digging into the curve of Hob’s neck, the first real solid touch he’s let himself have, and it kicks a groan out of Hob’s chest that’s totally beyond his control – he's harder than he can ever remember being, out of his mind with it, and if he doesn’t get Dream horizontal soon so he can open him on his fingers, he’s going to –
Papers stick to Hob’s face as he lifts his head from the desk.
Retroactively, brain taking a second to come back online, he knows that it must’ve been a knock on his door that woke him. Office hours, he realizes. Fucking office hours.
He can’t talk to any students right now – he’s awake and alone and in the least opportune place possible, but he’s still a weak gust of wind away from coming.
“Office hours are cancelled!” he calls. “Come back tomorrow!”
Hob doesn’t wait to see if whoever it is knocks again – he lurches towards the window, leaning in his chair to pull the blinds on the quad, and a second later his hand is in his pants and he’s jerking his cock so furiously that it actually hurts when he comes. He hunches forward around the tight spasm of pleasure, his whole body shuddering, face hot with the sort of mortification he hasn’t felt in centuries – thinking of nothing but the taste of his friend’s mouth.
When his orgasm is finished with him, he sits there for a long, long minute, his hand cupped around the sticky mess of his softening cock, heart beating like a fever in his ears – and then says, “Well, shit.”
“It has been,” Dream says stiffly, the next time they meet in person, “quite some time, for me. Nearly ten thousand years, in fact.”
Hob is deep in his fourth beer – they’ve only been in the booth at the New Inn about ten minutes, but in the interest of his sanity he’s trying to power straight past drunk and brave to drunk and morose, so he doesn’t try to get handsy – so he misses the meaning of what Dream’s just said.
“Sorry?” he says, surfacing with foam on his lip. “What?”
Dream tenses infinitesimally – a lesser version of that prissy thing his shoulders did back in 1889, between when he took offense at Hob’s suggestion that they were friends and when he got up and walked out.
“I apologize,” he says, though from his tone it’s very clear that he is not sorry in any way whatsoever, and in fact thinks Hob should be the one apologizing. “I had assumed you would want the same things in the waking world that you did in the Dreaming.”
Hob’s brain scrambles to catch up. “Wait, you – that was you?”
“I am Dream,” his friend says, like that’s self-explanatory – which maybe it is. Definitely it is, if Hob hadn’t been so caught up in the joy of seeing him again to register it.
Something else clicks into place. “Has it really been ten thousand years since you had sex?”
A co-ed at the next table shoots him a look.
Dream shifts a bit in his seat, like a proud bird adjusting its feathers. “It ended badly. I have been – wary, to try again.”
“Define ‘badly,’” Hob says.
“There was a body count,” Dream tells him, “in the millions.”
Somewhere behind the perfect façade, the eyeliner and the haircut that belongs in a punk band from two decades ago, Hob can sense the sort of grief that all these normal people around them will never understand. Grief on the scale of geologic time – on the scale of plagues, famines, floods, extinction-level events. He tries to imagine living as long as he has without the comfort of warm, loving arms – fleeting as they might have been, lovers and friends and children, none of them staying but all of them beloved nonetheless – and he can’t. It’s like his mind comes up against a wall, sheer and faceless and a thousand feet high. All of life is other people.
And what has Dream had? Hob, for one day, every hundred years.
Hob, yesterday afternoon, shoving him roughly against a wall. Biting his mouth.
“Do you – ” he starts, then has to stop and swallow, so his heart doesn’t thrill its way right out of his throat. “Do you want the same things that I want? Because I do. I do want them, my friend.”
Dream’s gaze is guarded. “Perhaps not tonight,” he says, after a minute. “But I… perhaps another night. If you do not change your mind.”
“Never,” Hob says, knee-jerk. “I’ve changed my mind about a lot of things – you try sticking to your guns for six hundred years – but not this. Not you, duck.”
Most of the lonely night after that is spent cursing himself for the slip of the tongue – no one’s used duck as a term of endearment since that bloody skank Shakespeare died, and certainly not for a male friend with whom they’ve got no concrete romantic entanglement – tossing and turning in his small apartment above the bar. But it turns out he need not have worried, because shortly before dawn he’s drifting in and out of sleep, one leg flung bare over the side of the bed, twisted in the sweaty mess of his sheets, and then it’s 1974 and he’s got long hair and bellbottoms and someone’s backing him fast into the alley behind a raucous gay bar.
His shoulders slam against the wall, all the air shocking out of him.
Dream licks over his stubbly adam’s apple, arms slipping under Hob’s leather jacket as he rubs the long, sinewy length of his body against Hob's front, and demands imperiously – “Say it again.”
For a second, Hob doesn’t know what he’s talking about – and then he does. He takes Dream’s bony head in his hands, peppering kisses over the sharp lines of his cheeks, his long gothic eyelashes, and murmurs, “Duck, darling Dream, my love – “ laughing until he realizes that Dream is clinging to him, face tucked hard into the crook of his neck, shuddering.
Then Hob softens, all the mirth in his heart fading to turn deathly serious. He gathers Dream in his arms, his hand soothing over his hair, the delicate nape of his neck, the thin line of his back.
Dream is holding onto him with as much conviction as Hob has ever seen him do anything – the same determination he displayed when he marched out of the Inn a hundred and forty years ago. The thought makes Hob’s heart seize in his chest, before he reminds himself that things are different now – he knows his friend’s name, knows that he’s some sort of god of sleep, or dreams, and he knows that Dream hasn’t trusted anyone enough to go to bed with them in 10,000 years but would like to, maybe, with Hob.
“I am sorry,” Dream says, after some time. He doesn’t try to move away though – not that Hob would let him, if he tried. “This is your dream, my friend. It’s you who should choose the course of it.”
“I choose this,” Hob says, and holds him until the alarm wakes him up.
Two days later, Hob falls asleep under a tree in the quad, his battered copy of Rumi’s love poetry open on his chest, and finds himself half-dressed in the measly leather plates that once passed for armor for the poor, preparing to do battle at Agincourt.
What’s sharpest in his memory is the smell of it – the rank mud that had been trampled ankle-deep from healthy grass by the dreary passage of thousands of men and hundreds of horses on approach to the battlefield. He is miserable; he is damp with rain and weak from exhaustion; he is shivering in an open-walled tent with four dozen other serfs who have been pressed to service, some of whom do not even have the benefit of his leather armor or his shortsword, and he is afraid for the first time since he met that strange ethereal creature who he supposed was the devil in a tavern all those decades ago.
“Hob,” someone says softly.
His friend is kneeling in front of him, getting mud on his black frock. His thin, pale fingers light on Hob’s weary face. “Let me take you somewhere else,” he murmurs – his lips barely move when he’s talking, which Hob has always found endearing for some reason. “Somewhere better than this.”
“I’m not tapping out,” Hob rasps. It’s something people won’t say for several centuries – tapping out – but he’s not the same man who fought at Agincourt, and he hasn’t been for a long time. “Everyone has bad days.”
“Yes,” Dream agrees. “I’m not asking you that, Hob. I will never ask you that again. I’m asking you to come with me.”
Hob doesn’t nod so much as let his head fall forward, into Dream’s hands. He feels cool lips on the corner of his eye.
Then they’re back in the quad.
The sun is shining. Birds sing. Hob lies with his head pillowed on Dream’s lap, his book of poetry in Dream’s slender hands. There’s no one around. The edges of the grass, where a sidewalk and benches and buildings should be, gives way to a soft, warm light, and Hob understands that he’s still asleep.
“Seeing you heals me,” Dream reads, in his low, hypnotic voice. “That’s…apt.”
Hob takes the book from him, flipping through by memory until he finds what he’s looking for. “To love is – ” he starts, then stops, throat stopped up. It’s too much to presume. He’s learned his lesson before, making presumptions about this man. This godly, mysterious being.
But Dream threads his fingers in Hob’s hair, and says, “Go on.”
So Hob takes a breath, and goes on. “To love is human,” he reads. “To feel pain is human. Yet to still love despite the pain is pure angel.”
He cranes his neck to look up. Dream is staring past him at the grass, his eyes red and unfocused, and his hand is suddenly tight in Hob’s hair.
“Where did I come from and what am I supposed to be doing?” Hob recites, spur of the moment, from memory now. He’s not sure why, or why he chooses these lines – just that he wants his friend to stop looking like something inside him is tearing him apart with claws.
“I have – ” his voice breaks. “I have no idea, my love. My soul is from elsewhere, I am sure of that, and I intend to end up there.”
With you, he doesn’t say, but he’s sure Dream hears it anyways, since he leans over – careful, stately, like a swan bending its neck – and soothes a feather-light kiss to Hob’s forehead.
The next moment, he’s gone.
Dream would be a very odd sort of a person if indeed he were a person at all, so it probably shouldn’t be too surprising when he knocks on Hob’s door at two in the morning, standing stiffly, and says, “I should like to keep my clothes on.”
Hob blinks at him, rubbing sleep – and sand, hah – from his eyes. “Okay?” He’s not awake enough to realize he’s being propositioned, even half-naked and still sporting a semi from the dream he was just having. “Sure? In what context?”
Dream looks eminently uncomfortable.
“Oh,” Hob realizes, like getting hit with a ton of bricks. “Oh, fuck, of course! Yes – fuck – anything you want. Anything you need.”
Dream softens a bit. “I am not – breakable, Hob,” he says, but it sounds more like something he thinks he has to say than something he actually means. “I am of the Endless. You do not need to be careful with me.”
Hob has the sudden sense, looking at him, of a man who’s been buffeted since the dawn of time by gale-force winds from every direction – who no one has ever bothered to invite inside.
“Maybe I want to,” he returns, gentler than he's ever said anything. “Maybe I think you deserve it.”
His friend’s eyes are locked on his, very intense. Hob’s heart tries to leap out of his mouth like a frog, but he doesn’t let it.
“May I come in,” Dream says softly. It’s not really a question.
Hob says, “Yes,” anyways.
If Hob ever had to guess what Dream was like in bed, he probably would’ve said something like Stoic. Efficient. Devastating. Reserved. And maybe, if he were feeling uncharitable, a little selfish.
He would never have guessed this.
Greedy, needy hands, grasping Hob everywhere he can reach, so that it feels like Dream has a lot more than four limbs pulling Hob down to his willing body. Those quiet breathy sounds, the ones he made on that balcony, the ones that have been making Hob crazy every night since he first heard them, driving him like a draft horse to orgasm. He mouths over the ridge of Dream’s throat, his head thrown back on Hob’s pillows, and feels the way his friend’s legs spasm against his sides. He wants them to clamp on tighter – he wants to feel Dream’s heels digging into his back while he fucks him, while he watches his friend go out of his mind with pleasure, but in the last distant, sane corner of his mind he knows that would be too much too fast.
Ten thousand years. Clothes on.
“I was naked, in my prison,” Dream offers, as if he can hear what Hob’s thinking. Maybe he can. Maybe that’s a perk of being one of the Endless. “For one hundred years. It was very cold. It was…an unpleasant way to be exposed.”
Hob’s heart breaks. He wants to ask where the hell Dream’s supposed family was during all this – this sister he talks about so affectionately – but right now he’s got a skittish animal in his bed and he’s not about to raise any topics that might scare him away.
“Got it,” he promises, “clothes stay on.”
Dream regards him thoughtfully. Hob’s lying on top of him, trying not to crush him, but somehow it feels like the other way around. Like Hob’s the one caught underneath.
“I would like you to fuck me now, Hob Gadling,” Dream says.
Hob breaks into a laugh. Can’t help it. “Okay,” he agrees. “I’ll do my best.”
It’s a tricky prospect, with all their clothes on – it’s mostly a question of hard, dedicated grinding, but Hob’s never been a quitter – in fact, he’s possibly the least-quittingest person ever to live – so he figures it out. A knee braced on the mattress, a change in angle, and the breathy sounds in the back of Dream’s throat turn to low, rumbling moans, the otherworldly timbre of his voice giving way to simple animal wanting. Hob’s been given no restrictions on hands under clothes, and he wants to feel Dream’s skin too badly not to chance it, so he does, sliding his hands beneath his shirt, up the emaciated line of his ribcage – Hob is going to have to somehow convince him to eat six or seven eggs in the morning, to get him back to welterweight. Dream’s breath stutters, and Hob feels it under his palms, the concave drum of Dream’s stomach, the fluttering kick of his heart in his chest.
Dream pulls at him, bucks against him, the thin line of his hard cock in black emo skinny jeans. Hob’s mouth waters with the need to suck him, but for now he contents himself with tongue, licking into Dream’s mouth, flattening him to the bed – to Hob’s bed – letting his friend squirm and moan and shake, never letting up in his rhythm even when Dream starts to tug hard at his hair, voice cracking as he begs, “Hob, Hob, Hob.”
“I’ve got you, duck,” Hob tells him, mouth pressed tight to his ear – and that’s it. Dream shouts, knees clenching hard to his sides, nails raking down Hob’s bare back as he drops hard into orgasm.
Hob smiles, kissing his gasping mouth – kissing his face as Dream fights his way through it. He’s all set to be patient and generous, because he figures he’d be pretty wrecked too if he hadn’t shared an orgasm for 10,000 years – but it’s not long before Dream’s back with the program.
In the blink of an eye, he flips them.
Hob oofs down on the bed, Dream straddling him. “Well,” he says, delighted. “If that’s how it’s going to be.”
Dream’s lips twitch. “That’s how it’s going to be.”
He strips Hob out of his sleep pants, finds the lube in the bedside table drawer, and sets about fucking Hob on his long pianist’s fingers so thoroughly and without mercy that Hob accuses him – as he drools on the pillow – of duplicity.
“I am Dream,” his friend returns, with the smug tone of a cat that has always and forever, from the beginning of time to the end of it, got the canary. “I may not have participated in much intercourse, but I have borne witness.”
“Guh,” Hob says into the pillow.
He comes once on Dream’s fingers, once on his long thin cock, and once more in his mouth – Hob is big enough and Dream’s mouth small enough that only the head fits, but it is so lovingly and skillfully attended that by the time his third orgasm dribbles out of him Hob is sobbing.
Dream slithers back up the bed, stretching out next to him like a cat. “If London is still standing come dawn,” he says, “perhaps we can keep doing this.”
“Perhaps,” Hob laughs, sweaty and flush with endorphins. “Perhaps. If you think I’m letting you get away, you’ve got another thing coming.”
Dream fixes him with a superior look. “I am – ”
“Yeah, yeah,” Hob says. “I know who you are. Now get back here.”
It is, he thinks as kisses his friend gently, taking the time to conduct a proper survey of his mouth, absolutely terrifying to love something that’s not going to disappear. This slate isn’t going to get wiped clean in seven decades, when his lover passes naturally of old age. Hob’s not going to have to fake his death and come back as his own heir – not for Dream’s sake, at least. If he fucks this up, he’s going to have to fix it. If Dream leaves, he’s going to have to go after him. Even though they’ve met like this more often in dreams than they have in the waking world, Dream is the realest relationship that Hob has ever had. He's the only thing Hob’s ever had that lasts.
Hob has seen wars won and lost, cities built and burned down, languages and cultures and erased by the slow erosion of time. Of all the men who have ever lived, he may be the only one who truly understands the value of something that lasts.