OVERALL WARNINGS: Homosexuality, heterosexuality, physical and mental abuse, violence, sexual acts, angst, some swearing.
Special thanks to mechante fille and Rinna for beta reading and to Drkuro, OwhatofTomorow, Tomomi, Nicole, Roxanne, and septemnox for fanart! (Fanart links can be found in my profile.)
The Sandman's Kiss
I should have known I was a lost cause the first time I met you, my first day on the job. I know things will never be the way they used to be, but I hoped ... hoped that you might let me live in the past for just a moment. I miss you so much. If only I had been there for you. It's all my fault, and you're the one who suffered the most.
Well, anyway, enough of that, right? Hmh, it's ironic—this is just the kind of story I'm sure you would have loved.
Night-time covered the land like a warm blanket, heaven's candles snuffed out to provide a sheer expanse of midnight blue overhead. Only the moon provided a strong beacon of light—save for the occasional streetlamp that cast a dull glow to the pavement and the tiny dots of seasonal lights that lined various bushes and houses—and it sent shimmers of silver reflecting off the planes of new-fallen snow. It was Christmas Eve and children were nestled all snug in their beds awaiting visions of dancing sugar-plums to arrive and the calm of sleep to hurry the approach of Christmas morning.
Caspar decided that he very much disliked sugar-plums, particularly the dancing variety. It was cold out and the wind danced restlessly about, stirring up the falling snowflakes before they fell to the ground to form a sheet of sheer white. Caspar could feel neither the windy chill nor the snowflakes; as he held out his hand to catch a drifting one, it passed through his palm and continued on its harried path with its fellows. His gaze lingered on his palm, which looked as solid and tangible as could be, but the fact remained that the snowflake had passed through him as if he were a mirage.
It was altogether a disconcerting feeling, but they had told him that he would get used to it soon enough. In the meantime, he had a job to do—and, boy, what a job it was.
It irked him that little children, awestruck, asked their parents how Saint Nicholas could possibly deliver presents to all the world's children in one evening—never once did he hear mention of how difficult his job must be. Spreading sleep and dreams to most of the world's population every single night was by far a more difficult task, but never did he hear children asking about the Sandman. Pfft, children today. They just didn't make them like they used to.
And Caspar himself was just discovering how difficult and tiring being the Sandman really was, given that it was his first day (or night, as the case may be) on the job—or so he had been told.
His grip tightened on the fist-sized leather pouch he had been given and he glanced up, his eyes falling on the old, rundown house in front of him. He'd lost count of how many houses or other such living places that he had visited already, but he knew there were still many more to go. After all, it was always night-time somewhere—something told him that he would be begging for an assistant in no time.
The house was just another stop on his route, but, peering at the squat building, the boy felt an odd chill of foreboding run through him. The roof was peaked with mounds of snow gathered on the overhangs and icicles dangling from the gutters. A clean driveway ran up to the right side of the house where it ended at a pile of shoveled snow and three beat-up metal garbage cans. A little concrete path, not quite so tidy, connected the narrow street to the small stone porch that stepped up to a worn wooden door.
Several bushes lined the front of the house, obviously having not been pruned for a while given their misshapen state, and they too, like everything else, were covered in a fine layer of snow. Unlike the other houses on the block, each of which looked about as run-down at this one did, the house that Caspar stood in front of had no decorations whatsoever to spread the holiday cheer. No lights dangled from the gutters to keep the icicles company, nor were any draped across the cloud-like bushes or the sickly looking evergreen that subsisted in a corner of the front yard. The door was barren without a wreath or bells, and no friendly lawn ornaments waited to trip unsuspecting visitors.
Now, the lack of decoration wasn't very notable in itself—many people did not celebrate Christmas or simply did not decorate for it—but it was, rather, the very feeling of anti-holiday cheer he felt floating around the house that gave his thoughts pause. Caspar began to wonder if he had managed to uncover a modern-day Scrooge.
Regardless, he had a job to do. Time to deliver those annoying little dancing sugared fruits to whatever child—or, perhaps, adult—inhabited the house. Heaving a sigh, the blonde boy set off along the front path, pointing the toes of his bare feet down towards the ground as he glided several inches above the concrete. Upon reaching the tiny porch that ended the lazily-winding path, Caspar drifted up to the door and glanced from left to right.
Two windows stared back at him, both darkened, and he noted the presence of frost on the outside glass. Jack had been by here already, he surmised—now, why couldn't he have gotten that job? Half the year would have been vacation time, and the rest of it would only require that he breathe a little on glass surfaces as he passed.
His lips pursed, Caspar stared at the wooden surface in front of him before he extended a hand and watched it pass right through the door. They had told him that, existing between two worlds as he was presently, he could not physically affect things … for the time being. They had made it obvious that, by using some trick they would teach him eventually, he could make himself tangible, though not visible or audible, to this world—which essentially translated to them not yet trusting him not to royally screw things up with such a talent.
It was rather annoying not being able to physically affect things. For instance, at a house he had visited earlier that had only had one inhabitant he needed to put to sleep, he had found the little girl not in her bed where she belonged but instead sitting on the couch by the fireplace in her living room, waiting for Santa in just her nightgown. That would have been a guaranteed way to get Caspar fired, if it was even possible: to have Saint Nick seen by a little girl because the Sandman had been afraid to put her to sleep for fear of her catching a cold. He had had no choice but to put her to sleep where she sat and hope that she would stay warm enough snuggling into the couch cushions.
Although, Caspar was fairly sure that the same intangibility, inaudibility, and invisibility rules applied to Saint Nicholas as well.
With a final glance about, the Sandman allowed himself to drift forward, passing through the door and into the darkened house as if it were but an illusion. It only took a second for his eyes to adjust to the minute difference in lighting, his excellent night-vision being one of the perks of his job, and he found himself standing (or rather, floating) in a hall that split off in several directions. To his left through a doorframe that lacked a door was a small living room with a TV and a couch—no Christmas tree, no stockings, no plate of cookies for Santa.
And that was another thing: did people leave food out for the Sandman when he made his rounds? No, of course not. And Caspar wasn't beyond stealing old Saint Nick's cookies and milk just to get a point across … that is, if he had known how to make himself tangible.
All in due time, the condescending Messenger's words echoed in his mind. Caspar really didn't like that guy and he was grateful that he wouldn't have to see him very often. The guy hadn't seemed especially amused with him when Caspar had referred to those he put to sleep as his "victims."
Putting aside his musings, the Sandman gave the living room a final look-over, his eyes narrowing as they fell upon the haphazardly strewn cans of beer that littered the floor before he continued on his way. Unlike Santa, he did not have some handy little list to work off of. He wasn't told who to put to sleep, when to put them to sleep, or whether to give them good dreams or bad. He wasn't told to deal his sand out only to children or only to adults, only to humans or only to animals—though, admittedly, most of those he put to sleep were human, and a majority were children.
Instead, Caspar had quickly discovered that he had some innate sense that led him towards those who needed his attention, almost like a mental tug of an intangible string that would lead him to his next destination. He had no idea why he was told to put some to sleep and not others, though it wasn't his place to question such things—too bad Caspar had never been one to mind his place.
The mental tug he felt for the soon-to-be-sleeper in this house, for he only felt one, was a bit different than it usually was—it felt warmer, for lack of a better word. His slender fingers toyed with the leather tie around his sand bag as he submitted to the insistent beckoning, allowing himself to drift through the air at a quicker pace. The hallway turned abruptly and Caspar veered right sharply, narrowly avoiding passing right through the small door at the end of the hall. The passage he turned into was short with a single door on the right wall, the same door from which a conscious mind summoned him.
Hesitating only a moment, the boy turned and, with an outstretched hand before him, passed right through the scuffed-up looking door. The room he had entered was very small, hardly large enough for the twin-sized bed and a small dresser to fit in. Everything was tidy and perfectly in order, giving it an impression of being unoccupied that was only ruined by the obvious run-down state of the furniture and walls. A small window was located above the side of the bed, and the moon would have shone through it had the heavy, dark sashes not been drawn, leaving the room in darkness.
Immediately, Caspar's eyes gravitated towards the small bed, its sheets drawn up and tucked in without so much as crease in them, but, more importantly, without a child wrapped up in them either. That was odd—the tug was definitely coming from this room. He frowned, folding his hands behind his head with the pouch dangling over his shoulder as he cast his gaze over the entire room. The child must be hiding, he concluded.
That was when he heard the singing. The Sandman turned slowly in midair to face the small closet door that took up the better part of one of the walls. It stared back at him, composed of dark wooden slits coated with thin layers of dust with its formerly brass-colored handle darkened to a dull brown. From that door, Caspar heard the faintest whisper of singing.
With a kick of his foot, the boy drifted forward, moving head-first into the barren closet. A coat or two was hung up on the horizontal bar at the top, but, for the most part, it was empty of clothing. The smell of must and mothballs filling his senses, Caspar stuck his head through one of the coats, where the sound was coming from—and found himself a few inches away from a figure huddled up in one corner. His breath caught in his throat as he watched the form rock itself back and forth, hugging its knees to its chest with its head buried in its arms. It was from this child that the singing came. The voice was high-pitched and young, though completely devoid of any emotion.
"You better watch out, you better not cry …" the small voice whispered in an eerie, slow way, sending irrational shivers running up Caspar's spine. "You better not pout m' tellin' you why … Santa Claus is coming to town."
The child paused, breathing slowly, and Caspar thought he saw the figure's shoulders shake ever so slightly. The song picked up once more, just as disturbing as before, "He's makin' a list, checkin' it twice, g-gonna find out who's naughty or nice …"
Abruptly, the child jerked his head up, and Caspar recoiled in surprise, feeling as though the strange child could see him, even though it was impossible. The figure was a boy, perhaps no more than seven or eight years old, with a mess of dark brown hair falling into his lost-waif, muted-green eyes. He was adorable, very thin with an aura of utter innocence—and a large, reddish purple bruise that stood out starkly against the pale skin of his cheeks. His pinkish lips were split as well, a trickle of blood dried along the cut, and a few tear marks down his cheeks completed the image. Caspar stared with horror, unconsciously reaching out a hand to the child.
But the boy wasn't looking at him; he was staring ahead into darkness, focused on the spot where the door would be. Slowly, the child's lips began to move again, "You better watch out, you better not cry," his quiet voice shook for a moment and Caspar watched, entranced as the child continued, "you better not pout I'm tellin' you why …"
The Sandman's heart was beating quickly in his chest, and as the young boy turned his head slightly, he swore those green eyes locked on his own. The childlike lips parted again, and the words that slipped past them were but faint, haunting whispers, "Santa Claus is coming .. to .. town …"
The door ripped off its hinged with a deafening crash, causing Caspar to cry out and tumble back through the air. The coats were thrown aside and a large hand invaded into the closet, roughly grabbing the child by his collar and literally hauling him to his feet. The boy didn't utter a sound as the large man, his face contorted with anger, suddenly threw the boy through the opened door and out into the hall. Propelled by momentum, the boy couldn't halt himself, stopping only when back hit the wall with a dull thunk and he collapsed to the carpeted floor in a crumpled heap.
The man stalked after him, reeking of alcohol and irrational fury. "You ungrateful little shit!" the man roared, stooping down to seize the boy by his collar again, dragging him to his feet. "You were talking to that bitch again today, weren't you! Weren't you!"
The child didn't answer; he merely stared blankly ahead, that same zoned-out look on his face that he had had while singing. Caspar, who had just managed to gather his wits, shot out of the closet like a bolt out of a crossbow. His eyes were wide, adrenaline rushing, and he found his mind running in circles as he saw the man shake the boy roughly, smacking his head against the wall several times and causing his teeth to clink together. What could he do, what could he do?!
Caspar wanted to cry out in frustration; he had never felt as helpless as he did at that moment. He couldn't yell for help, couldn't physically restrain the man … the only link to the mortal world that he had was his …
His eyes lit up as an idea struck him like a splash of water to his face, effectively awakening his senses. Darting forward into the hall, he literally tore at the tie to his leather bag, frantic as he saw the man grow further enraged, hoisting the child up by his shirt.
"It's all because of you—all because of—you worthless little bastard!" the man yelled unintelligibly, and, in a burst of anger, hurled the child to the floor, whipping about to face him with blazing eyes. The boy didn't move from where he had been thrown, and the passive behavior only served to enrage the man further.
Blood rushing in his ears, his vision wavering, Caspar sprung forward just as the man made another grab for the boy. The Sandman's arm shot out, his fingers loosening to spray the handful of shimmering sand into the man's face. The man stumbled back in mid-lunge, falling back against the wall as the excess amount of sand began to take effect. Caspar watched with wide, frightened eyes as the man gave a loud groan before he slumped up against the wall and slid to the floor, unmoving.
Over. It was over. He let out a shaky breath he hadn't been aware of holding, his entire form relaxing from the rigid pose it had been sustaining. His eyes drifted over to the child, widening a bit as he saw the boy on his feet. The child, looking slightly unsteady as he leaned against the wall for support, breathed deeply for several moments before glancing over at the prone figure of his father. Without so much as a change of expression, he turned and, unknowingly passing by a gawking Caspar, walked right into the room. The door shut quietly behind him.
Disturbed, Caspar glanced quickly between the sleeping man, who would undoubtedly be out for some time, given that Caspar had used a great deal more sand on him than necessary, and the small wooden door that stood closed before him. How could that boy just get up and walk away after something like that?
He could … if he were used to it.
Frowning, Caspar drifted back through the door, into the small, darkened room where he observed the child carefully pull back the worn sheets of his bed. Floating closer, the Sandmen watched him slip stiffly under the thin covers while still dressed in the baggy clothes that were badly wrinkled from their recent abuse. Shivering a little, the child lay on his back, staring up at the ceiling with half-lidded eyes and, for a moment, he looked like every other child … but in the next instant, his bruises and cuts shattered the image of innocence, and Caspar felt his heart break in response.
Hovering by the side of the bed, the Sandman looked down at the waif with compassion in his eyes—in a flash, he wanted nothing more than to protect the poor soul. But, for now … for now, all he could do was give the boy the sweet gift of slumber.
Dipping two curved fingers into his open pouch, Caspar drew them out laden with silvery grains of sand. His eyes followed the pass of his hand as he raised it above the boy's face, slowly sprinkling the sparkling granules into the eyes that seemed to stare right into his soul. With the sheets tucked under his chin, the boy blinked once lethargically before he closed his eyes completely and his thin form relaxed as sleep overtook him.
Once he stilled, Caspar leaned down over the sleeping figure, bending his head over the boy's own. Smiling sadly, the Sandman ghosted a hand over the boy's face and then placed a gentle kiss on each eyelid.
"Sweet dreams," he whispered quietly into the deaf night.