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Realistic Cruelty

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“What did you fear most, as a human?” Dream asks his raven, as he crafts a nightmare that is a creeping gloom, a mass of darkness. They are a beautiful creature, clad in tattered shadows that hang from their frame in gently flickering folds, and Dream is proud.

Matthew hops uneasily on the sand, cocking his head up at Dream. “What was I afraid of?” he asks, wary, and perhaps it should not warm something in Dream’s unbeating heart to hear the note of caution in his raven’s voice, but Matthew’s strange brand of loyalty, half fierce, half reluctant, is oddly endearing. Dream finds it endearing, at the very least. Mervyn, he is quite certain, does not feel the same way.

Dream begins to fashion a pair of eyes for his new nightmare, red irises set against jet-black sclera, and Matthew takes flight, coming to perch on his shoulder. It is not a familiarity any of his other ravens would ever have assumed was theirs to take, but it has become one of Matthew's favorite perches, and Dream… Dream has not had the heart to dissuade him from it.

In any case, the raven's weight is almost comforting, at this point.

Matthew ruffles his feathers. "I dunno, boss. The usual, I guess? Snakes, heights, dying, the IRS.” He pauses. “Don’t tell your sister I said dying, okay? She’s cool.”

“I believe she is accustomed to people fearing the Sunless Lands,” Dream assures his raven, and then pauses. “When did you have cause to meet my sister?”

Matthew’s caw is nervous, but his voice, when he speaks, is steady. “I don’t spend all my free time with Luce, you know. We, uh, ran into each other. She recognized me. Well, not me me, but my raven… ness. We chatted. About… stuff.”

“Stuff,” Dream repeats dryly. “And what might my raven have to discuss with Death?”

“If you’re worried, I wasn’t spilling realm secrets,” Matthew promises. And Dream… Dream believes him, even if the idea of his raven and his sister spending time together is still odd to him. “Anyway,” Matthew continues, “why did you want to know what I was afraid of? You’re not making a nightmare for me, are you?”

Dream chuckles under his breath and shakes his head. “No, Matthew. I do not intend to torment you with nightmares. I was simply curious. Not every nightmare must be as vicious as the Corinthian or complex as this specter. The simpler ones serve their purpose just as well.”

Matthew flutters his wings and caws again. “Speaking of the Corinthian,” he says, and it is perhaps the least subtle of segues, but it is effective. Dream’s focus shifts entirely, from a new nightmare to a much, much older one.

It has been weeks since he remade his wayward nightmare, since he took the Corinthian’s skull in his hands and reformed him, inch by beloved inch. In the process, he made the changes he deemed necessary (he does not think his nightmare will be quite so eager to bite the hand that feeds him, this time around), but he also chose to weave each of the Corinthian’s memories back into his mind.

Only time will tell if the decision he made was the correct one. And that uncertainty is part of why he asked Matthew to keep an eye on the nightmare.

“Is there a problem?” Dream asks, turning his head, and Matthew sighs before hopping off Dream’s shoulder, flapping his wings once or twice to soften his descent. He lands on the sand in front of Dream and shifts uneasily before cocking his head.

“It’s not a problem,” he says eventually. “Not like that, at least. But, uh, just… hear me out on this one?”

Frowning, Dream goes down to one knee in front of his raven. “I am listening, Matthew. Say what it is you have to say.”

“Right.” Matthew ruffles his feathers, huffing a breath. “Look, boss, unless you made him mopier on purpose or something, I just… I think he’s sad.”

Dream almost dismisses the thought out of hand. A nightmare, sad? It is preposterous. He should tell Matthew his concerns are unfounded, that nightmares are happy to fulfill their functions by design, that –

And then he remembers Gault, and her desire to become a dream, her dissatisfaction with being a nightmare. He remembers the agony etched on the Corinthian’s face in the last moments before Dream unmade him. And he thinks that, perhaps, he should heed Matthew’s warning.

“Thank you,” Dream says quietly, and Matthew caws brightly in response. “I will tend to this.”


He does not summon his nightmare to the palace, though he would be well within his rights to do so. The Corinthian has never responded particularly well to summons, and if Matthew is correct, Dream has no desire to exacerbate whatever issue is at hand.

When the Corinthian was in the waking world, Dream could not locate him. The waking world is not his – it does not bend to him, does not listen to him. It was not trying to hide the Corinthian, but it was not trying to help Dream find his wayward nightmare, either.

The Dreaming sings to its ruler, however, hiding nothing and no one. When Dream asks, his realm answers, eagerly guiding him towards his creation.

And Dream is careful. Quiet. He wraps himself in shadow like the nightmare he created and does not make a sound as he appears in a sparsely-furnished room. He wants to observe, to see what Matthew saw, before making himself known to the Corinthian.

Looking around the room, he sees his nightmare first, golden hair bright even in the room’s dim light – on his knees on the bare floor. His face is turned upwards, his hands slightly raised, as if pleading, and Dream is reminded of a night in 1916, of seeing the Corinthian kneeling in the glow of the headlights of an automobile, begging for mercy.

Dream has opened his mouth to ask the question poised on the tip of his tongue when he realizes that his nightmare is not alone. As he watches, a pale man clad in black approaches the kneeling nightmare, and the features are not exact, the construct not precise, but the sweeping black cloak and the shock of messy dark hair leave little doubt as to who, exactly, the apparition is a stand-in for.

His nightmare is adept at bending the Dreaming around him, at fashioning it to fit his needs. All the Major Arcana are. And the Corinthian will not risk imagining Dream, lest he get exactly that, but something a little to the left, a version of his master that is almost correct? That would not attract Dream’s attention, not unless he was already looking for it. And Dream has not looked in his nightmare’s direction in some time.

“You disappoint me, Corinthian,” the construct sneers, Dream’s words and Dream’s voice, but crueler and sharper than when Dream himself spoke them. Dream looks to his nightmare, expecting retaliation – surely this is the Corinthian’s way of fashioning a different ending to his story? Of winning, if only in fantasy?

But his nightmare does not lash out, does not bite back. His hands fall to his sides, fingers spasming, and he ducks his head as his throat works, as if he is swallowing around words that will not come. “I’m sorry,” he says eventually, his voice low and rough and cracked around the edges. A broken, wounded thing. “I’m sorry, just – just don’t go.”

The man in black huffs, clearly annoyed, but he comes close to the Corinthian and reaches out, tilting his chin up with a finger. The nightmare looks up, his eye-mouths hidden behind his dark glasses, and for a moment, Dream sees a ghost of a smile on his face. Hope, written out on his features, as clear as anything. Then the construct shifts, raises his arm, and unceremoniously backhands the Corinthian across the mouth.

The glasses go skittering across the floor, and Dream is halfway out of the shadows before he even realizes he is moving, fury hot and heavy in the pit of his stomach. But there is no one to be furious with – the construct is the Corinthian’s creation, the scene before Dream his nightmare’s doing. There is no one to punish, no dreamer to oust.

Dream clenches his jaw and waits.

The man in black chuckles under his breath as the Corinthian grimaces, baring bloody teeth. “I had such high hopes for you,” he says, and the casual disdain in his voice is so thick, so overwhelming, even Dream feels it, sliding down his spine like a cold wind. “I should have known better.”

The construct shakes his head and turns as if to leave, and the Corinthian makes a noise in his throat, something between a gasp and a sob. “Wait, please!”

The man in black hesitates at the sound of the Corinthian’s desperate plea, and Dream sees the cruel tilt to his mouth, sees the glint of intent in his eyes, and abruptly, he decides that is enough. There is only so much he can allow his creations to endure – even at their own hands. “Begone,” he commands flatly, and with a wave of his hand, the apparition dissipates into smoke and sand and nothingness, returning to the fabric of the Dreaming.

His nightmare’s head jerks up at the sound of Dream’s voice, and he flinches when he sees his master, the lines of his body sagging as he sinks back onto his heels. “Of course,” he mutters, and then laughs, a short, sharp, bitter sound. He reaches up, scrubbing the back of his hand across his mouth. “Do I want to know how much of that you saw?”

“Enough,” Dream replies, and the Corinthian grimaces, bloody teeth on display. He ducks his head, looking away, and Dream takes the opportunity to move closer, approaching his nightmare as the man in black intended to do. When he comes to a stop in front of him, though, he does not reach out, with intent to harm or otherwise. Instead, he sighs, quietly, and shakes his head.

“You know how to craft whatever dreamscapes you wish,” he murmurs, and the Corinthian’s jaw clenches at the words. “How to shape the Dreaming to fit your needs. So why is this what you have created for yourself?”

“Maybe this is what I deserve,” the Corinthian snaps, voice brittle with hurt, with rage, and then what he’s said seems to register with him. He winces, swallowing. “I… apologies, my Lord. But I’m not doing anything wrong.”

Oh, my nightmare, Dream thinks, as an ache blooms in his chest, true and sharp. “I know,” he says, quietly, and waits until the Corinthian drags his gaze back up to continue. “I came to check on you, little one, not chastise you.”

The Corinthian jerks as little one leaves Dream’s lips, an abrupt, full-body twitch. He collects himself quickly, reins in the involuntary reaction, as if he hopes to hide it from his master. As if it is possible to hide anything from Dream here, in his realm.

Perhaps he truly does believe he deserves what he wrought for himself, but Dream doubts that is what he wants.

Reaching out, Dream mimics the construct’s gesture, tilting his nightmare’s chin up with one gentle finger. The Corinthian does not resist him, though he keeps his eyes downcast, refusing to meet his master’s gaze, even as Dream drags his thumb over the nightmare’s bottom lip, smearing a drop of blood.

“You have had this fantasy more than once,” he murmurs, more idle observation than question, but the Corinthian still clenches his jaw, nodding tightly, careful not to pull his head out of Dream’s hand.

Slowly, Dream lets his touch drift upwards, dragging his fingers over the Corinthian’s cheek, where the man in black struck him. “Is that what you desire from me?” he asks, softly, watching as the Corinthian shivers again. “That sort of touch? That kind of cruelty?”

The Corinthian swallows, visibly bracing himself. “I want you,” he says, with only the faintest trace of a waver in his drawl. “And…” He pauses to huff a breath of bitter laughter. “And you’re not exactly fond of me, my Lord. That kind of cruelty seemed… realistic.”

The ache in Dream’s chest grows sharper, and he wants to deny the words – but he understands why his nightmare would think that. He makes a note to thank Matthew for seeing what he could not, and then refocuses his attention on the Corinthian entirely. Shifting, he raises his hand to card it through his nightmare’s hair, but the Corinthian flinches at the motion, the reaction instinctive, involuntary.

“My nightmare,” Dream murmurs, his voice so soft it is almost a whisper. “I have never wanted to harm you, little one.”

This time, the Corinthian makes a sound at the endearment, a half-sob, choked-off and broken. Dream allows himself to finish the motion, to push his fingers into his nightmare’s hair and gently caress the golden strands. The Corinthian shivers at the touch and pushes up into it, clearly eager, clearly needing it, and Dream…

Oh, Dream wants too.

He sinks down to one knee, his hand sliding down to cup the nape of his nightmare’s neck. “Tell me the rest of the fantasy,” he says, voice low and soft. “You asked him to stay. What would have happened if I had not interrupted?”

The Corinthian winces, turning his head away, but Dream catches him by the chin, drawing him back. “Unless,” he continues, just as gently, “that is no longer what you wish from me? No longer what you think you deserve?”

His nightmare draws in a rough, ragged breath, and turns his gaze up to Dream.

Please.”

Dream kisses the tail end of the word from his nightmare’s lips, swallows down the soft, sweet sound the Corinthian makes against his mouth. As he deepens the kiss, licking the coppery taste of blood from the Corinthian’s mouth, his nightmare reaches up, tangling his fingers in the front of Dream’s coat. He uses it to try to pull his master closer, as if they were not already connected at the mouth, as if Dream’s hands were not already pressed to his nightmare’s skin. But Dream understands the want behind the gesture, the need.

Shifting, Dream drags a trail of kisses over the Corinthian’s cheek, leaving his nightmare panting in their wake. “Lie back for me,” he murmurs, and after a moment, when the Corinthian does not move, he ducks his head to scrape his teeth over the nightmare’s jaw, immediately soothing the sting with a kiss.

Still, the Corinthian gasps, tilting his head back to give his master more room, and Dream cannot help but smile. “I will give you what you need, little one,” he murmurs, lips moving against golden skin. “You only need to allow me. Will you do that?”

He feels his nightmare’s throat bob under his mouth as he swallows, and then, carefully, the Corinthian pulls away from him to lay back against the floor. The pale fabric of his clothing, the gold strands of his hair – it all stands out in sharp contrast against the dark wood, and for a moment Dream allows himself to just look, to take in the beautiful sight his nightmare makes.

It is only a moment, though. Then he follows his nightmare down, kneeling between thighs that spread to welcome him. The Corinthian welcomes him, clinging to him as Dream leans over him, covering him, arching into the kisses Dream drops along the column of his neck. As his nightmare’s desperate fingers paw at the folds of his coat, Dream considers pinning his hands above his head, considers denying him the ability to touch, to grab, to cling, if only for a little while – but it feels cruel, cruel in a way that Dream will not be. Not this time.

A blink of a thought, a shift of intent, and the clothing separating them fades into the Dreaming. Robbed of his handhold, the Corinthian reaches up and instead loops his arms around Dream’s shoulders, one hand anchoring itself in his hair, the other splayed against his back, just – touching. Holding Dream close.

Finally taking what he has denied himself, even in fantasy.

Dream smiles to himself, turning his head to capture his nightmare’s mouth in a kiss. The Corinthian moans against him, arching his back, and his fingers curl hard enough in Dream’s hair for him to feel the tug, the pressure, the pull.

And, oh, isn’t that a thought?

“Shh.” Dream hushes his nightmare gently, laying a trail of kisses down his neck. “Be still now. Let me have you.”

The Corinthian makes a sharp, choked-off sound, but he lets Dream kiss his way down over his collarbone, his chest, his stomach, fingers flexing and tightening in his hair the closer Dream’s mouth gets to his cock. “Shit,” he hisses under his breath, when Dream drags his teeth over the crease of his hip. “Shit, please, just –”

His plea dissolves into a moan when Dream sucks the head of his cock into his mouth, trails off into a soft little keen when Dream curls his hands around his hips and holds him down. It does not take much effort to keep his nightmare pinned, even when he tries to buck up, to chase the heat of his master’s mouth, allowing Dream to take his time. To sink down, slowly, while the tension in the Corinthian’s body ratchets higher and higher.

By the time the entire length of his nightmare’s cock is in his mouth, in his throat, the Corinthian’s thighs are shaking, and his grip on Dream’s hair has gone desperate. Sweet, broken little sounds fall from his mouth, panting moans that fill the air around them.

Dream hums softly, sweetly, and his nightmare jerks, back arching up off the floor. Dream glances up and admires the graceful curves of his body, the way sweat has begun to glint on his skin, and slowly pulls off, flicking his tongue over the head of the Corinthian’s cock just to see the way he twitches and gasps.

He presses a few idle kisses to the jut of his nightmare’s hip, to his thigh, to the thin skin stretched over his ribs, until the man underneath him tugs ineffectually at his hair.

“Dream,” he says, voice breathy and rough. “Please.”

Dream feels a smile tug at the corners of his mouth. “My poor nightmare,” he croons. “Beautiful creature. I have you.”

And this time, when Dream swallows him down, the Corinthian sobs.

Hot and tight and wound under Dream’s hands, in his mouth, it does not take much more to push him over the edge. Dream sucks lazily, dragging his tongue along the underside of his nightmare’s cock, and when he sinks down again, nudging his nightmare into the tight clutch of his throat, that is it. The Corinthian comes with a cry, spilling hot and thick in Dream’s mouth.

Dream swallows around him, just to feel the way his nightmare trembles, oversensitive in the throes of his pleasure. Then, carefully, he pulls back, crawling his way back up his nightmare’s body to press a biting kiss against the hinge of his jaw.

The Corinthian is still panting, still shivering from the aftershocks of his orgasm, when Dream pushes into him.

And because he is of the Dreaming, because he is Dream’s, his body painlessly accommodates his master with no more than a whisper of intent from Dream himself. But painless does not mean his nightmare feels nothing at all.

The Corinthian screams, head thrown back, fingers clawing at the bare expanse of Dream’s back. His voice breaks, every muscle in his body tensing as Dream does not allow him to recover, to rest. “Fuck,” he croaks, voice wrecked, as if he were the one who had a cock down his throat. “Fuck, I can’t –”

“You can.” Dream punctuates his words with a snap of his hips, a groan climbing its way out of his own throat as his nightmare writhes underneath him. The Corinthian wraps around him, clings to him, burying his face in the crook of Dream’s neck, and Dream can feel the harsh, ragged little sobs that each movement tears from him, the tremors that wrack his nightmare’s body.

Overwhelmed, overstimulated, and still willing to take everything his master has to give.

Affection swells hard in Dream’s chest, and he slows his movements, one hand skimming down his nightmare’s side as the other curls gently around the back of his head, holding him close. “I have you,” he whispers, and the Corinthian shivers against him, cock jerking between them, still hard. “You are mine.”

He wraps his fingers around the Corinthian’s hip and holds him steady while he fucks him, letting his nightmare pant and moan and claw at his back and little more. Dream’s own pleasure builds, hot at the base of his spine, but it is little more than an afterthought – until his nightmare finds his words again.

“In me,” the Corinthian bites out, voice rough and harsh and broken. “Fuck, please, in me, I just –”

And Dream snarls at the thought of marking his creation in that way. The Corinthian trails off into a whimper, a high little whine, but he keens when Dream braces himself and starts to chase the peak of his own pleasure, fucking into the body beneath him with hard, sharp thrusts. The nightmare squirms, arching his back to rub his cock against the hard plane of Dream’s stomach, and when he comes for the second time, spilling between them and staining their skin, Dream follows him over the edge and spends himself inside his nightmare.

The pleasure is rolling, consuming, like a wave and a vise all at the same time. It shakes through him in pulses, each one weaker than the last, and with each moment a little more awareness returns to him, both of himself and of the Dreaming around him. Of his nightmare, and how they are pressed together.

A glimmer of intent, and the floor beneath the Corinthian fades, shifts, becomes a soft bed with clean sheets. His nightmare groans as he sinks into the mattress, though it takes him a moment to unwind his limbs from around his master and allow himself to lay back, to relax. Dream watches him for a moment, the haphazard splay of his limbs, the sweet, lax, content expression on his face, and enjoys the sight. For all his horror, his nightmare is beautiful, especially like this.

Leaning down, Dream brushes a kiss over the corner of one of his nightmare’s eye-mouths, making the Corinthian’s lips part in a silent gasp. Another kiss, pressed to those lips, has him relaxing again, so that Dream can slip out of him, lay down beside him.

Dream pulls his nightmare in close, tucking him in against his chest. One hand finds its way into the Corinthian’s hair while the other curls firmly around the small of his back, and Dream feels the moment the Corinthian goes all but limp against him, his face tucked firmly into the crook of Dream’s neck.

“My nightmare,” Dream murmurs after a long moment, speaking into the mess of golden hair. “I am so far beyond fond of you, little one. You are precious to me. If I ever give you cause to doubt me, never doubt this.”

The Corinthian draws in a shaky breath, and after a moment, he nods, curling that much close to Dream. He feels small like this, vulnerable, so different from the nightmare Dream pulled from the waking world and yet, not so different at all.

The difference, perhaps, is less in the Corinthian, and more in Dream himself.

Dream does not keep track of how long they lay there together, quiet and still and comfortable. He enjoys having his nightmare close, close enough to feel the heat of his breath, the firm press of his body, and he is not eager to lose any of it. Especially not after he denied himself for so long. But after some time he shifts, pressing a kiss to soft blond hair. “I must return to the palace,” he murmurs. “And you, little one, you have duties to return to as well.”

His nightmare huffs a breath. “I don’t suppose arguing is going to get me anywhere, is it?” he asks dryly, and Dream stifles a laugh.

“No, I don’t believe it will.”

The Corinthian sighs, but he does not clutch at Dream as the king rises, calling the Dreaming around him to reform his garments. His nightmare does make a disgruntled sound as Dream does the same for him, though he quickly rises when Dream begins to turn away from the bed.

“Uh, will you be… checking in on me again, my Lord?”

The Corinthian’s voice is just uncertain enough to make something flare in Dream’s chest. He pauses, and then crosses the distance between them so he can tip his nightmare’s chin up, just enough to brush a kiss over his lips. His nightmare melts at the gentle affection, his hands coming up to curl in the material of Dream’s coat, half to drag his master closer, half to keep himself upright.

Dream smiles, brushing his thumb over the Corinthian’s cheek. “I would be remiss not to visit my favorite creation,” he murmurs, and he catches the moment the nightmare realizes exactly what he has said, and the weight behind it – his jaw goes slack as his grip on Dream’s coat goes white-knuckled and desperate, and the sound that leaves him is shaky and uneven.

“Right,” the Corinthian replies, his drawl weak and breathy, and Dream does not resist the urge to lean in and kiss him once more, soft and sweet.

Reluctantly, he pulls back, caressing his nightmare’s face as he draws away. “Farewell, little nightmare,” he says, and, more reluctantly than he would like to admit, he takes his leave of the Corinthian’s corner of the Dreaming.

The walk back to the palace will not be a short one, but it has been some time since Dream has simply strolled through his realm. He decides that he can afford the pleasure. He is, after all, the king. Who is there to stop him?

He has not been walking for long when a flutter of wings on the wind heralds his raven’s arrival. He does not look up, but Matthew does not wait for acknowledgement to land on his shoulder, a now-familiar weight.

“Hey, boss.”

Dream hums, the smallest of smiles gracing the corners of his mouth. “Matthew,” he murmurs. “Your warning about the Corinthian was much appreciated.”

Matthew ruffles his feathers, shifting his weight. “Uh, yeah, sure,” he says. “But – caw! – uh, next time you’re going to make a house call, maybe give your raven a head’s up? Especially if you have said raven tailing the nightmare you’re going to spend all night screwing?” Hurriedly, Matthew adds, “I mean, no judgment! He’s not my type, but you do you, dude. Uh, boss, I mean. Just – a warning, next time? Caw! Because now I have to go ask Luce if there’s a raven-safe way to bleach eyeballs, and I’d rather not have to do that twice, you know?”

Dream cannot help it. He laughs under his breath despite himself, though he softens the blow by reaching up to gently pet Matthew’s ruffled feathers, smoothing his fingers down the raven’s back. Matthew trills under the attention, and Dream chuckles again. “I am afraid even Lucienne may not be able to help you in that regard,” he says, and Matthew squawks indignantly. “But you have my sincerest apologies, my raven.”

And the apology takes Matthew by such surprise that, for the rest of the walk back to the palace, he does not utter a single caw.