She is cleaning out the fish bowl when he calls.
She should perhaps have expected it, but the truth is that she has not been able to think about Dream without pain, and so she has tried not to think about Dream at all. Unsuccessfully, of course.
"Sister? I am standing in my gallery, and I hold your sigil in your hand. Will you see me?"
The fish she had been moving is still suspended midway from bowl to mug, its little orange body spasming frantically as it drowns in air. Death shakes herself and lowers the net quickly. The fish plops into the water and she feels its panic fade within seconds as it grows accustomed to its new location and its tissue-thin fins brush softly against those of its companion. The mug has Snoopy on the front. She likes Snoopy.
He had never understood that about her, of course. Snoopy, goldfish, floppy hats, hopscotch, rollercoasters: all the frivolous and ephemeral trappings of humanity in which she takes delight. She dragged him along to salsa clubs and amateur dramatics, to football games and children's parties, and he slouched along in her wake with an expression of polite - or sometimes irritable - incomprehension on his ivory coloured face. He knows - knew - that she takes genuine pleasure in these things, but he has never really understood it.
Although, perhaps, towards the end - but she will not think of this.
It's his voice. It will be his face under the startling tumble of white. Him. But - not him, as Delirium is not Delight, and Change is not Destruction. As Despair is no longer who she was in the beginning. She loves him, of course, because she is who she is. But it still pains her that Morpheus has gone - even knowing with perfect certainty that it was always inevitable, that it was in the end what he had wanted and needed so badly. Even knowing that this is a change no stranger than Spring succeeding Winter. Even knowing all that, it still stings her with a fierceness and immediacy she know only from her centennial forays into mortality. This is infinitely worse. She sorrowed at Despair's passing, as she sorrows at all endings great and small, but it did not cut her to the heart. Of all her siblings it has always been Dream to whom she has felt the closest, prickly and pig-headed as he is. Was.
She isn't sure when she started to cry, but she knows it won't be doing her eye liner any good. And she knows too that the tears are for herself, not for the stiff-necked brother who orchestrated his own ending, since bending was beyond him. She will miss him until the last star finally gutters in the sky.
He sounds lost now. Hurt, almost - and that won't do, that really can't be borne. She blows her nose noisily on a gaudy square of paisley-patterned cotton and turns to reply. Her makeup is perfect once more.
"Hey, Dream. What's up?" It is very nearly her usual breezy tone.
"Nothing is `up'," he replies, the phrase sounding endearingly awkward on his tongue, and she is surprised into a smile. "But I would visit you, if I may."
"Sure thing," she replies.
He appears slowly, a heat-haze of pallor gradually solidifying into the familiar form of a gawky, unfinished-looking man. The set of his shoulders, the sharpness of his cheek bones, the thoroughly inhuman eyes - everything remains the same. All quintessentially Morpheus. Only this unruly mass of Einstein-white hair sticking out at all angles, giving him the appearance of a day-old chick, is new. Only the uncertainty and softness of his mouth. She smiles at him, her new-old sibling, and makes a conscious effort to see him as himself, rather than as a catalogue of changes and constants.
She manages it for a moment, and his expression shifts from uncertainty into a hesitant smile that somehow hurts to look at. She turns away, and sees the smile falter.
"So how's tidying up the Dreaming coming along, then?" she asks, rolling back her sleeve and plunging her right hand into the murky water of the fishbowl. She withdraws a small ceramic `No Fishing' sign and sets it, dripping, upon the tabletop. Dream watches her curiously.
"Well, I think." His voice is measured. Polite. "I have restored all of that which was lost - saving only Fiddler's Green, who refused to be remade." She nods, remembering Gilbert with a smile. "In his place I have built a labyrinth of box wood and honeysuckle and sharp-thorned roses."
She wonders what Destiny will have to say about that. "Nice. What's it called?"
"Catchy. Ooh!" She stops what she is doing and bounces on her feet with sudden glee. "Does it have little goblin muppets? And a Bog of Eternal Stench?"
Dream blinks at her owlishly. It disarms her. "It does not have a Bog of Eternal Stench," he says. "Or goblin muppets." There is a little pause. "Do you think it should have them?" he asks, a shade of uncertainty in his tone. There is a tiny moment when she wants to hug him, and the impulse warms her voice when she replies.
"Sorry - just thinking about the David Bowie movie. Which I adored, but I guess you never saw. Um. I've got it on video somewhere, I think. D'you wanna watch it? It's fun. There are songs. I know there's a television in here somewhere."
"Not at this time. Thank you." He is looking around at the room with an expression of open fascination and it gives her a peculiar sensation to realise that it is all new to him.
She looks around her as if for the first time, and dimples into an involuntary smile. The glance she shoots him is all rueful apology. "Guess I could do with catching up on the housekeeping here too," she allows.
He has lifted a teddy bear from an over-stuffed armchair and is surveying it quizzically. Morpheus won it for her at a fun fair, she recalls, and suddenly she can almost smell the hotdogs and the cotton candy, can almost see again the expression of rigid dignity upon his face as he accepted the prize from the fat man at the coconut shy, after Death nagged him into having a go. He thought she wanted the teddy bear, and so he stood stiff-backed and pitched coloured balls at coconuts with brutal accuracy, quietly disregarding the glue which Marvin Hammerstein had so carefully applied to fix them into place. She had hoped - even knowing that it was hopeless - to surprise him into having fun. "I did not expect your domain to look so," he says, simply, staring at the bear. There is no recognition on his face. "But I find it -- charming."
Dream picks his way very carefully through a clutter of bunny slippers, splayed hardbacks (Lucien would have an apoplexy if he saw them, she realises with a pang of guilt), sheesha pipes, tarot cards, duelling foils, pages of sheet music, glossy magazines, spilled popcorn and all the other oddments scattered across her carpet, and looks from the Snoopy mug to the fishbowl with its greenish water.
"You mean a mess," she says, smiling. He shakes his head
Abruptly she recalls the bafflement on Orpheus's face when he had found his way to her kingdom. She wonders whether Dream remembers him at all. There is nothing to be gained from this way of thinking; she is picking at a scab which would heal easily enough if she just let it. Morpheus is gone, and that is the way of things. Dream of the Endless continues, and he is still her brother.
For a moment she finds she cannot breathe. This is what mortals feel, and although she knows that, has always known that, there is a difference between knowing it and feeling it.
He is still looking at the fishbowl, and she returns to her task, conscious all the while of his observation and finding herself uncomfortable with it. He is not Morpheus.
She tips the bowl and watches the water slosh into the sink which is not usually there. She rinses the bowl out twice, and then concentrates upon refilling it, instead of watching her brother investigate her home.
"Why do you do this?"
Clean water tumbles into the bowl, sweet and clear and new, and when it is full she sets it back in its place, then looks at it consideringly.
"It has to be changed," she says. There is a little pause. He nods, and steps carefully over a plastic scythe to replace the teddy bear on its patched throne before crossing to join her.
"This is a very small bowl," he says unexpectedly, running one slim fingertip around the thick glass rim. She looks at him askance. "I was once confined thus," he explains. "I -- did not enjoy it." His words are hesitant, although whether from fear of giving offence or from inability to recall, she cannot say.
"Well, duh," she says sharply, rolling her eyes. "But you, my dear, are Dream of the Endless. You were bound in a nutshell when you should have been king of infinite space. Kind of thing. These little guys are goldfish, and they have all the memory and intellect of - well, goldfish." Very carefully she tips the Snoopy mug and lowers it back into the water. The fish swirl out, gold scales glinting, tiny mouths agape. She picks up a little tub and sprinkles flakes of fish food onto the surface. The fish dart after it. "See? Happy. Not particularly bright, but happy." She returns the `No Fishing' sign carefully, and smiles. Dream watches it all, and she is surprised to see that he still looks slightly troubled. "It bothers you?" she asks again, looking at him more closely. He shrugs, and one corner of his mouth twitches a little.
"You think me foolish. I know that they do not suffer here, my sister, but still I can taste their small dreams. It gives me no pleasure to see any creature imprisoned so. Your pardon. I mean no criticism. This is your domain."
"My word, little brother," she says softly, really looking at him for the first time. "You have changed."
He shrugs, and looks away. "So I am told," he says, his tone unexpectedly dry, and she is surprised into a gurgle of laughter. It occurs to her to wonder, for the first time, whether this aspect of Dream will accrue names the way Morpheus did, and whether he will be any wiser with his heart. She realises that she is going to enjoy finding out.
"Take them," she says impulsively, picking up the bowl and passing it to him so hurriedly that water slops over the side and puddles on the floor. Dream's fingers are cool where they brush against hers and he looks startled for the first time since his arrival as he accepts the cumbersome gift. He cradles the bowl awkwardly against his narrow chest. His shirt is wet.
"You are giving them to me?"
"Call it a birthday present, or a welcome present, or something. I don't know. I'm not very good with pets, really - I think you'll look after them better than I do, Dream. Give them a fishpond, or a river, or an ocean or something." She knows a moment of uncertainty, and then the enormous smile that breaks out on his face tells her that this was the right thing to do.
"There are ponds in the Labyrinth," he tells her, peering into the bowl. He is still smiling. "Oh, not all of them are appropriate for small swimmers like these - the kraken would frighten them, mermaids would eat them at once. But there are quieter places, with green depths and interesting currents. Yes. I can carve a little space for their dreams."
He turns to go, and she finds herself unexpectedly sorry. "What was it you wanted to see me about?" she asks.
He glances back over his shoulder, his face half hidden by the chaos of hair, and for a moment he is quite still. "Nothing," he says at last. He turns again, so that he is facing her properly. There is a look on his face that she does not recognise. "Nothing specific. I was - lonely, I suppose." She doesn't have any idea what to say to that. "Matthew told me that the awkward silences would be the best part of our meeting, after the wake. In truth, it was not a comfortable meal."
"No. Well, we're never at our best at these big family gatherings, are we?" she says, remembering Despair's tentative kindness and Desire's brittle jibes. She had done her best to welcome him, and meant it sincerely, but still she had been painfully aware of who he was not.
"I am myself," he says, echoing her thought. "But I am also him. Or - he and I are both expressions of the same self. I remember some things. Wisps of things. I remember you." He shrugs, carefully, holding the glass bowl like something unspeakably precious. "I am not him, but - I should like us to be friends."
"So should I," she says, meaning it. His smile is dazzling.
"Then we shall make it so."