The Sandman's Kiss
"I thought you said you didn't remember her?"
Alek jerked back and looked guiltily at Caspar. The raw expression was quickly swept over with a mask of annoyance, and Alek set down the pen with more force than necessary. "I don't," Alek said. "But she was important, too."
He had stopped calling his old self 'him,' but he wasn't ready to say 'I' yet, Caspar knew. At least he had stopped insisting Caspar call him Melchior, perhaps sensing how difficult it was for the elder Sandman not to call him Alek.
Alek's hand drifted to his Vial, twisting the small metal knob and spurring the second hand backward. His feet drifted above the floor now instead of touching it.
"Y'know, it's so not fair you got your Vial so soon. They didn't give me mine for years," Caspar pouted. Alek didn't seem sympathetic.
"And look what you did with it. Was there any rule you didn't break?"
"No," Caspar grinned. "But it was worth it for you. Besides, aren't you breaking a rule now?" He gestured to the piece of paper and the pen carefully arranged on the bed.
Caspar only got a dark look in return. Alek turned away sharply, no doubt about to disappear, but he stopped when Caspar's hand caught his own.
"I won't tell," Caspar said.
Alek looked back at him briefly, the vulnerability showing in his eyes even when he wouldn't allow it to shape his features. He ignored Caspar's smile. "Do what you want," he shrugged—which, Caspar was beginning to realize, was his way of expressing gratitude.
"Will do, love!" Caspar chirped, and some part of him felt pleased when Alek didn't protest the term of endearment.
"I'm done with my runs. I'm going back home."
"I'll come, t—"
"You will not. I know you've been following me for the past hour. Finish your duties, or I won't read to you anymore."
"Awww, but …."
"No. Finish and then come home." Caspar tried to look pitiful. Apparently, it worked somewhat, because Alek added hesitantly and with an undercurrent of embarrassment he was trying to hide, "I'll … be waiting, so ... hurry up."
With that, Alek extracted his hand and disappeared, leaving Caspar alone in Victoria's bedroom. Caspar grinned and looked at the piece of paper left on the bed that simply said, "Thank you, Tory."
Alek had made so much progress—and so had Caspar. Still, they were both so raw. Alek was still confused but unwilling to show it. He did seem certain of one thing, however: he would not tolerate Caspar's self-castigation and wallowing. On the second day, he saw Caspar looking at him in that way again, and he said sternly, "He would have forgiven you." They both knew what he meant, and Caspar didn't realize how much he had needed the forgiveness until it was given to him. It had helped. Of course, Caspar still blamed himself, but he no longer brooded. Instead, he compensated by being overly protective of Alek, which was made easier by the fact that they shared Caspar's quarters together.
Several months had passed in the Other World, longer in the mortal realm, since Alek had appeared. Together, they had begun feeling out their new relationship. It began awkwardly and slowly. Despite all his desires to grab the brunette and never let go, Caspar restrained himself. Alek had said they would "try," but he never said if he meant they would try to be business associates, friends, or lovers. Caspar hoped for all three. He didn't want to scare Alek, and he didn't want to force him into anything. Instead, he maintained physical proximity without actually resorting to contact. He spent all of his time in Alek's company, mostly under the pretense of training him, and Alek never really objected.
Unlike Caspar, Alek seemed to have an innate sense of how time worked in the Other World. Alek could tell, purely by intuition it seemed, when time was moving slower, faster, or frozen in comparison to the mortal realm. Perhaps it had something to do with his exposure to the Other World before his death; perhaps there was no real explanation. Equally strangely, Alek often used this knowledge to sleep during periods when time went unmoved. Despite sleep not being a necessity, Alek confessed once that he enjoyed it, although he would not admit the reason. He slept on the couch, curled in a small ball with his hands clutching his Vial. Caspar would watch him sometimes, and Alek caught him once or twice—Alek woke as soon as time began to move again, which Caspar had no way to sense. Life settled into a pattern. Alek grew more accustomed to his presence and maybe, Caspar hoped, even found some comfort in it. He enjoyed other mortal habits as well, such as eating and bathing and—to Caspar's delight—reading. Alek would read to him once in a while. Sitting close together on the couch, the Grimm Brothers' world spread out across their laps, Caspar felt a sense of happiness so overwhelming that he could think of little else than holding onto it forever, but part of him feared that if he clung too tightly, it would slip from him like his sand through his fingers. He feared, too, that one wrong move would make him lose his grip entirely.
He knew what that move would be, and yet he committed it anyway. At last, Caspar simply could take it no more. Some part of him still needed confirmation, needed to know that Alek was really there. His concession was small in comparison to the risk involved, but the hours and days and weeks of simply watching with no way to ease his yearning had at last overcome him. Alek was reading, his head bowed over the book and his pale fingers holding the pages flat, when Caspar reached out and touched his elbow. Alek stopped immediately, and Caspar recoiled.
"What?" Alek asked.
"I … " Caspar found nothing to say except the truth, "just wanted to touch you."
Alek blinked slowly. "Okay," he said, and began to read again. He didn't stop this time when Caspar tentatively covered Alek's hand with his own. The warmth sent a thrill through Caspar that settled into a peaceful sort of contentment deep in his belly.
After that, he was like a child who had learned the joys of speech: there was no stopping him. Caspar made contact a part of everyday life. The touches were small at first, mere brushes and taps, innocuous but lingering. When Alek seemed not to mind—except for expressing some annoyance when Caspar poked him for no apparent reason—Caspar lost all sense of caution. He held Alek's hand, greeted him with overly excited embraces, and generally fell back to his normal level of invading others' personal space. Alek did protest such familiarity on occasion, but he often allowed the behavior. It didn't seem to make him uncomfortable; he merely wanted his space sometimes. Caspar seemed disinclined to give it to him. Eventually, Alek grew accustomed to the elder Sandman's quirk, and, while he never initiated contact, he often tacitly invited it.
In his need to be closer to Alek, Caspar soon discovered first-hand that he was no longer the only one who had the power to manipulate dreams. It suddenly made sense why Alek loved sleeping; the dreams the brunette created were captivating. He created worlds, scenes, people, concrete fantasies through which he explored life again. Sometimes the dreams were entirely abstract; a calm, warm feeling seemed to be one of his favorites. Often, Caspar could tell he was not trying to create something but rather to recreate it—he was trying to remember his past. It was during one such dream that Caspar first intruded with his usual finesse, adding himself in without so much as a by-your-leave. Alek didn't notice at first, living inside a scene he couldn't seem to get past. The scene consisted solely of a darkness, a sense of containment, and a desire to be released.
The solution seemed simple to Caspar. He turned the key and pulled open the lid, greeting Alek with a wide, triumphant grin.
Alek was annoyed. He fled the dream immediately, and he wouldn't speak to him for several days. At last, while methodically slicing the twenty-second apple Caspar had stolen for him as an apology, he said almost offhandedly, "Why did you open the box?"
Caspar looked at him, startled by the sudden forgiveness. "The box?"
"In my dream. Why did you open it?"
Caspar thought back, remembering the dream but being unable to recall the presence of a box. He had merely wanted to free Alek; he hadn't really even considered what he had been trapped in. "I don't know," he said finally, "I just wanted to make you happier."
"You did it before …." Alek started, sounding confused.
"Um, no. That was the only time—"
"You did it before," Alek repeated with more conviction, ending the argument by curtly crunching on an apple slice. Caspar stared at him, at a loss, and nodded.
The progression was slow but seemed absolutely natural: they took to sleeping together platonically. Or, rather, Caspar invited himself to join many of Alek's naps. At first, Caspar tried to be as careful as possible about it, seating himself respectfully on the other end of the sofa, but the physical lines between them became less and less important as they shared dreams, something that seemed infinitely more intimate.
But none of that meant that Alek was willing to be Caspar's lover. He knew, of course, that Caspar loved him, as Caspar made no attempt to hide his emotions. Instead, he seemed to flaunt them. Alek, too, made no secret of the fact that he did not return the feeling—at least not yet, some hopeful part of Caspar whispered quietly to himself. To him, Alek would always be Alek. As much as was different was the same. Whether Alek thought the same was an entirely different matter, but Caspar loved Alek both for who he had been and who he was now.
The last great hurtle was posed when Caspar kissed Alek. It was inevitable, Caspar knew, but he wished he could have held out for a little longer to give Alek more time to adjust. It was too much, though, waking with Alek in his arms, the both of them muddled from sleep and pleasant dreams. Somehow his lips had just found Alek's, and Alek hadn't drawn away immediately. He had allowed the sleepy caress, and it was Caspar who broke it, jerking away when he realized what he had done.
"Sorry—" he started.
"… dreams," Alek murmured, opening his eyes. He looked puzzled.
Alek pulled away, rubbing his eyes and stretching a little. "Nothing." He held up a hand when Caspar started to speak again. "Don't apologize if you don't mean it."
Caspar shut his mouth.
"It's … okay," Alek said slowly, not quite looking at him. "Just—hey, stop grinning! I said that was okay. Just know where your bounds are, or I'll ask Valerian for reassignment."
Alek stood up with a huff and stalked off to the kitchen. The sound of pans banging followed.
Caspar, still grinning, collapsed back onto the couch and shouted, "I love you!"
The banging got louder, and Caspar couldn't help but chuckle.
Caspar finished his rounds as Alek had told him to, and he found the other boy, predictably, shuffling around in the kitchen. His fascination with mortal customs had led to an exponential increase in the amount of things—pots, pans, utensils, ingredients, cookbooks—in the kitchen. One of the cookbooks was spread out on the counter.
"Are you making that?" Caspar pointed to the picture on the left side of the cookbook, a pie with red filling.
"I don't like cherries," Alek said absently, shooing him away. "I'm making it with apples. Go take a shower. It'll be done when you get out."
Caspar obliged with a theatrical bow, heading off to the bathroom with a little kick in his step. Alek watched him go, rolling his eyes in a manner that he didn't entirely mean. He looked back to his pie, cooling in the oven, and opened the door to take it out. It had bubbled over somewhat, as he had been a little overenthusiastic in his filling. That filling almost ended up spread liberally on the floor when a knock on the door startled him into nearly dropping the pie.
"Jeez," Alek sighed, shaking a little as he slid the dish onto the counter. He closed the oven door a little too hard and rushed to the front door that connected to the living room. When he got there, he looked at it suspiciously. In all his time here, no one had ever knocked on the front doors. Valerian had visited a few times, but he had always just … well, appeared. Caspar and he always entered through the door in the closet.
The knock came again in a pert little trio of raps.
Alek opened the door and whatever he had been about to say died in his mouth. The knocker looked at him with a faint smile curving up her—no, his, judging by the distinctly flat chest—painted red lips. The visitor looked like a doll, all porcelain skin with delicate, pretty features. His hair fell in an artful mess to his ears, and he wore obscenely form-fitting leather pants and pointed, black boots. His clothing seemed to either match the black of his hair or the arresting, crimson red of his eyes and lips.
"Um …" Alek could feel his face getting hot, but he wasn't sure if he was embarrassed for himself for being so ineloquent or for his visitor for wearing such clothing.
"Sugar?" the visitor purred.
Alek stared, then realized suddenly that the visitor wanted a cup of sugar—how odd. "Uh, sure—" He turned to get the requested ingredient, but he stopped, surprised, when the visitor grabbed his hands and shook his head.
"No, for you."
Alek blinked as the strange man proceeded to pour sugar into his instinctively cupped hands. The visitor nodded and offered a wink as he disappeared around the corner.
Speechless, Alek shut the door with his foot and turned—only to find Caspar standing in the hall, dressed in only a towel and watching him. Alek cleared his throat. At least he was wearing a towel this time. That meant Alek had won their last argument—the one concerning the merits of modesty—after all.
"Who was that?" Alek asked, looking away.
Caspar smiled, glanced at the sugar in the brunette's hands, and gave his hair a final last drying rub with another towel. "The Boogieman," he answered simply.
Alek blinked, stopping halfway in his motion of pouring the sugar into the trashcan. "The Boogieman is a pretty boy in really tight leather pants?"
"Seems so," Caspar shrugged. Alek poured the rest of the sugar into the garbage, but he jerked back at the last moment, looking at the small cube of paper that had almost fallen out of his hands, buried as it had been under the mound of sugar.
"You thought he was pretty?" Caspar said suddenly, surprising Alek into clenching his hands around the paper.
"The Boogieman. You thought he was pretty?"
Alek felt the paper press into his palm. "Uh, I guess so." He looked uncomfortable as Caspar prowled closer.
"Mm, should I be jealous?"
"Caspar—" Alek started with a frown.
The elder Sandman held up his hand in surrender. "Oh, come on, I was just kidding. Besides, he's not half as pretty as you." This earned him a glare to match the frown. "And he's not a threat anyway; he has the hots for Val."
Alek rolled his eyes. "Go put on some clothes."
"Yes, love." Caspar winked and disappeared into the bedroom.
Alek made sure he was gone before uncurling his hand and carefully unfolding the paper. He wasn't sure why he hadn't told Caspar about it. Once unfolded, the slip of paper was crumpled, but the writing on it was neat and flowing. He scanned over it quickly, his eyebrows raising in degrees.
It was lovely to meet you! I would have stayed longer, as much as I would have liked to see Caspar in a towel, but I'm sure you're aware how jealous our silly lovers can get at times. My name is Lorne, and I am the Boogieman, as I know your sweet blonde has told you. Think of me as the counterpart to you and Caspar—you bring dreams, and I bring nightmares. I used to handle both, actually, before Caspar came along and relieved me of that boredom. I still stand in on occasion, when your golden boy decides to play hooky for too long. But I won't have to do that anymore now that you're here, right?
I thought you should know, since he has no intention of telling you, that it was Valerian who fought so determinedly for you to be reborn in this world. He sacrificed more than you will know. Don't let his cold ways fool you; he's really such a sap, sometimes. He named you both, you know. Caspar, too, was a mortal like you before his untimely death—and Valerian fought for him as he did for you. Maybe that's why he refuses to call you two by anything but your title. Maybe he doesn't know if he should call you Melchior or Alek? I've tried to tell him that calling you both "Sandman" could be confusing, but he just gets that pouty expression and tries to ignore me.
This is also an invitation, if you will, for you to visit me. The halls will guide you to me, and you certainly can't miss my door. It's the one with the bones. Come by any time you please. If you wish, I have a bit of information about your past life that Caspar wouldn't know. Of course, if you simply wish to forget things, I'll be happy to oblige you in that, too. It's just a shame to waste such pretty nightmares.
P.S. Also, for Caspar's information, I do not simply "have the hots for Valerian." I fuck him on a regular basis. (If he doesn't believe me, tell him you're both invited.)
Alek began to refold the note, but it disintegrated into sugar as he did. Brushing off yet another odd event in a sequence of odd events, he dumped the sugar in the trashcan with the rest. He glanced at the trashcan, thought about the note's contents, and decided that he would give the Boogieman a visit. He wasn't sure if he wanted to know more about his past, but having a friend might be nice. He would just pretend he hadn't read the postscript, as he wasn't sure his mind could handle that kind of mental imagery about his boss, of all people.
"Do I get pie now?"
Caspar walked into the kitchen, dressed in his usual attire, grin included. For some reason, Alek still didn't mention the note. He would mention it later, he knew, but now didn't feel like the right time.
They sat down and ate. Caspar talked through it all, of course, babbling about inane things with his mouth full of pie. Alek listened obligingly, still thinking about the Boogieman's words. Caspar was like Alek. Somehow, it didn't surprise him. He just wondered if Caspar knew, as he did, what his mortal life had been like.
They migrated to the couch afterward, full and content. They sat far apart at first, but Caspar closed the distance subtly until Alek found the other boy's arms wrapping around him as he murmured, "Read to me?" Caspar's fingers ghosted over the left side of Alek's chest where the scar from his bullet wound remained, as much of a reminder of his past life as Caspar's wrists were of his own.
"All right." Alek tried to pull away to reach for the storybook on the coffee table, but Caspar wouldn't let go.
"No. Tell me a story."
"You're like a child," Alek sighed. He thought a moment, then shook his head. "I don't know any stories."
"It stopped," Alek interrupted him, his eyes somewhat distant. Caspar understood: he meant the time. The time had stopped. Neither needed to ask about what followed; the appropriate response was obvious and routine. With a bit of wriggling and rearrangement of limbs, they lay coiled together on the couch.
Alek's eyes were closed as he prepared for a nap, and Caspar followed suit, letting himself drift off.
"Caspar?" Alek said suddenly.
"You're sure this isn't all a dream?"
Caspar laughed and stole a brief kiss, his eyes still closed. "Not unless someone's been stealing my job."
Soon, Caspar's breathing evened, and Alek's eyes slid open again. He stared at the other's face, thinking of the Boogieman's offer, and then he shut his eyes and cuddled closer. He could feel Caspar searching for him, urging him into sleep to join him, and he allowed himself to be pulled along. As the last grain of consciousness faded, a whisper fell off Alek's lips, "Sweet dreams, Sandman."
Author's Commentary: I can hardly believe this story is over. Sandman was written over three years and it shows, but it was all planned out from the beginning, and I stuck to that plan. While I admit the purpose of this story was more entertainment than anything, I did try to employ foreshadowing (up the wazoo), symbolism, motifs, and a theme or two. In the end, though, all I was really aiming for was a modern fairytale with a few bends and twists in it. I'm happy with it, despite all its flaws, if only because it's the first full story I've finished. Yes, there are loose ends. No, not everything is perfect for the characters. (I should warn you that I have a penchant for twist endings and/or imperfect happy endings. Most of my stories won't have them, of course, but I do love to write them.) No, not everything is explained fully. All of these things were done purposefully, for better or worse. I leave it to you to either piece together the (hopefully?) subtle hints or use your imagination.
That's all there is; The Sandman's Kiss is finished. I know it won't please some people, but I hope some people enjoyed it. Thank you to those who have left encouragements, opinions, fanworks, or just plain let me know they were reading over the years. Most of all, thank you for reading.