Daniel’s dreams were usually light, airy things. As iridescent and flighty as the man whose head they resided in. Alexander liked watching them, sometimes dipping a mental hand into the sunny pool of Daniel’s mind-it was always the perfect temperature, the kind that invites swimming- and giving it a lazy swirl. The images spun around lazily-an old church, a pub from his school days, his mother’s barely remembered face- then they settled into an iced over pond, a grey day in February and his little sister Hazel, finally well enough to venture out into the chill. Daniel took her hand and coaxed her out onto the ice, his voice soothing, his smile blinding. Alexander could feel that this wasn’t a memory but a wish, one that almost certainly would never come true. Either the girl was dead already-and from what he had seen in Daniel’s dreams on previous nights she had always been a step removed from the reaper’s clutches most of their childhood- or Daniel would be soon. The Shadow was closing in, circling around Alexander’s protections, waiting for the first hint of weakness in them. Soon, he thought at the primordial guardian, soon I’ll open all doors for you and let you come claim your lovely prize. When I am done with him, I will have need of your energies.
A cloud passed over the picturesque scene before him. Daniel looked up at the sky, hand tightening around Hazel’s small, frail one. Alexander grinned. “Speak of the devil.” Daniel glanced over at him, frowned when he couldn’t see what had drawn his attention. Then Hazel screamed, was yanked away from him, down, down into the icy depths of the pond. “Hazel!” He lunged for her, fingers brushing hers before he too was pulled away, held fast by blood red sinews that hung suspended from nowhere in the cold air. “Hazel! Let her go! I’m the one you want! I’m the one who took your damned orb!” He thrashed in his bonds, hair falling into his face, chest heaving with the effort to break free.
As lovely as Daniel was in his dreams, nothing could compare to how alluring he was in his nightmares.
“Danny, you were always so quick to come to my rescue. Or to try to.” The water frothed and boiled. Hazel floated out of it, changed, despoiled. Her hair was in lank clumps scattered across a pink and raw scalp, her skin the gray of corpses left too long in forgotten places. Her black lips parted in a smile, a trickle of blood ran down her chin. “You couldn’t save me all the time Danny. You couldn’t save me when it mattered, when it really mattered.”
“I tried.” He sobbed. “I tried so hard.”
She cocked her head to the side, listening to something far off. “You did. At first. Then when it became obvious to you that you would lose, that you couldn’t master death, you ran. Algeria, wasn’t it? They showed me where it was on a map, the nurses in the sanatorium that is.”
“I did it for you. Father was spending all his money on drink and whor...other things. I needed to work, the sanatorium was the best way to-“
“And it never occurred to you that the only reason I stayed alive for as long as I did was because I had you to live for?” Her eyes were hard, glittering things.
“You needed doctors.” Tears were running down his cheeks. How utterly exquisite.
“I needed my brother.” Her hand shot out, grabbed him by the throat. “But no worries, my pretty Danny. I hold no grudge. You’ll be with me here soon enough. It’s coming for you. For us. And nothing will keep it from its prey.”
A howl rent the night.
“Oh god please. Kill me! Kill me and be done with it! Be humane! Hazel! Haaazel!”
But she had released him, dancing into the lengthening shadows, giggling as she had never done in life-with unrestrained joy.
Daniel cowered in his bonds and the darkness reached for him.
He woke up with a cry, hands clutching his blankets to him. He wiped at his face, was startled when it came away wet. Tears. Not blood. For a moment he had feared his eyes were bleeding. What a strange thought…
A small cough alerted him that he was not alone in his chamber. He suppressed a sigh. “Alexander. Did I wake you again?”
“I was doing some research in my study when I heard you call out. Would you like some water?” The baron, not dressed for bed despite the late hour, turned to fill a cup from the pitcher Daniel kept by his desk.
Heard me. From another room that is down a hall and on the side furthest from my room. He shook his head. It didn’t do to think too closely on the baron’s actions or abilities. Maybe his hearing really was that keen, maybe he had been passing close to Daniel’s door on some errand and heard him- but every night? Could coincidence be that strong a creature? Stop it, he chastised himself. The man was doing him a favor. Putting him up and protecting him from an eldritch horror that wanted nothing more than to devour Daniel and probably his benefactor as well. He shouldn’t doubt the propriety of… He glanced up and saw that Alexander was paused in the act of setting the pitcher back on the stand by the desk, golden eyes danced with amusement and Daniel was left with the uncomfortable impression that the man could read his thoughts.
He reached out for the water with a shaking hand. The baron placed the glass into it, than curled his fingers around Daniel’s own, holding the cup steady while he took a small sip. Than another. The man didn’t seem to have any intention of letting go. “Thank you. I’ve had enough.”
“Will you sleep tonight, Daniel?” Long, boney fingers brushed a strand of hair from his face.
“I don’t think so. I’ll read some. Maybe try for a nap around dawn.”
“That won’t do. We have such a busy day tomorrow.”
Daniel suppressed a shudder, he didn’t want to think of tomorrow’s chores, not at night.
“I can bring my research notes in here. You seem to sleep better when someone is near.”
“Don’t you need your rest as well?”
“The old do not need as much sleep. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
Daniel knew that he should feel grateful that his friend was willing to do so much for him. It was discourteous to find the thought of the old man watching over him in his slumber…unsettling.
Daniel turned and twisted in his sheets, wrapping them tightly around his lithe form. Alexander glanced up from his journals to enjoy the scene in front of him. Daniel did make delightful poses. He longed to sketch the young man, but never gave into the temptation-too difficult to explain if and when Daniel stumbled over them. The boy poked his nose into everything in the castle, thank the dark gods that he wasn’t the brightest and didn't comprehend half of what he found. Daniel moaned, writhed.
“The shadow is persistent tonight, my friend. What delicious horrors is it making you witness?” Alexander closed his journal, marking his place with a finger. He rose to his feet and crossed the room to his young charge. “You won’t mind if I take a small peek.” His hand brushed over Daniel’s forehead, pushed aside his sweat dampened hair. He gently pushed in with his mental fingers…and jerked them back out again.
“I…was not expecting that. Daniel, you naughty, little thing.” He hadn't seen much, truthfully there hadn't been much to see, just fleeting impressions of heat and skin and sweat. It had been a very long time since Alexander could call himself flustered. He raked unsteady fingers through his hair and turned to leave the boy to his dreams, his presence for the night assuredly unwelcome and unneeded. When his hand closed around the doorknob he paused and looked back over his shoulder. Daniel had rolled over onto his stomach, his face hidden by an arm curled over his head. His night shirts were always too loose and a pale swath of shoulder and spine were exposed to the night air. The cold metal slid away from his fingertips. He slowly began to walk back towards the bed, one more look. It wasn’t like Daniel would ever know. And, well, it had been a very long time since the baron had taken an…interest in something of that nature.
He sat beside the young man, mentally shrugged and crawled over Daniel to lie beside him. Nothing wrong in comfort, was there? “Daniel, roll over. This will be easier if I can touch your-” He laid a hand on his charge’s shoulder and gently, so as not to wake him, turned him over. Daniel sighed in his sleep and threw an arm over Alexander’s chest. “Yes, well then. Very good.” He patted Daniel on the head and then slowly moved his arm under the young man’s head. He curled the young man almost protectively against himself. “One more time for the night.” He whispered. “Let me into your dreams.” Gnarled fingers pressed against a feverish temple, and his consciousness dived into darkness.