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dream a little dream of me

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It’s tradition in Joyce’s family for all the children to be baptized in the convent her ancestors helped build. For two hundred years, every single baby in the family has received its name and god’s blessing there and even if she doesn’t believe in god all that much, she does believe in family. In tradition.

And she doesn’t care about the massacre that happened there a few years ago. Humans do bad things to each other, no matter where. She knows her history and she knows that every fistful of soil she has ever stepped on has soaked up human blood at some point or another.

History is built on murder.

And Buffy is getting baptized in St. Mary’s Convent in Maryland, even if Hank grumbles around the airplane fare for a month straight.

That’s it.

+

Walls.

Floor.

Ceiling.

Darkness.

Walls. Floor. Ceiling. Darkness.

Walls. Floor. Ceiling. Darkness.

Steps in the distance, living things passing outside the cage.

Brief flickers of souls, the first in years.

Walls. Floor. Ceiling. Darkness.

And then -

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“Mommy,” Buffy asks, curled around Mr. Gordo. “Can you sing to me?”

Joyce sighs, rubs her temples. Her baby’s sick, but so is she and she just knows singing will set off another coughing fit and that way, neither of them will get any sleep tonight.

“Not tonight, baby. Mommy’s not feeling well, either. Tomorrow, okay?”

For a moment, the little girl pouts, but then she nods, yawning. Her cheeks are red and ruddy with fever, but she’s quiet. A real trooper.

“Can the man sing to me?”

Joyce’s heart stops. “What man?”

“The man made of light? He hums sometimes when I sleep. He’s in my dreams.”

And it starts beating again. “You dream of a man made of light?”

A nod.

“What’s his name?”

Buffy shrugs. “Don’t know. He’s not very nice, sometimes. But he makes pretty music.”

“Okay, baby,” Joyce declares. It’s too late for in depth analysis of the imaginary friends of her five-year-old. She needs a Tylenol and a bed. “He can sing to you. Sleep tight. I love you.”

Buffy beams and closes her eyes. A moment later her rattling breaths even out.

By morning, Joyce has forgotten all about the not nice man made of light.

+

Walls. Floor. Ceiling.

Nothing else. Not ever anything else, no light, no shade, no color. No noise, no smell, no sensation.

Walls. Floor. Ceiling.

Darkness.

And then -

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It takes Buffy until she’s twelve years old to figure out that normal people don’t dream of powerful, angry, resentful and strangely tender beings of light and rage every time they close their eyes.

“Why me?” she asks him, the very next night, fists set on slim hips, frowning at him. She stopped being afraid a long time ago. He can’t hurt her. Not with more than words.

He grins, or at least gives that impression. It’s hard to say, without a human body. Then he surges forward and wraps himself around her like a vine, his light blinding her, his heat scorching her. She bats at him and lets the pain ebb. It’s not real anyway.

Call it a family tradition, he hisspers in his ear and then orders, dream me a city.

Buffy sighs, rolls her eyes, and obeys.

+

The first time the little squirming thing appears in the cage, he doesn’t know what to do with it. Doesn’t, in fact, believe it’s anything but a figment of his imagination. He’s been down here for eons untold. He’s hallucinated a time or two.

But then it comes back, again and again and again. It starts crawling on pudgy hands and feet, starts drooling and pawing at his grace whenever it comes within range and the first time he gets careless and lets it get too close, it screams as he burns its skin.

That’s when he realizes the little mud monkey is real.

And somehow, it’s inside his cage.

He prods it, pokes it, holds it upside down as it screams and screams and screams until its lungs seize and it batters at him with tiny fists.

He considers killing it. It’s annoying.

But it’s also not wallsfloorceilingdarkness.

It’s color, shade, noise, sensation.

It’s real.

He puts it back on the ground, watches it squirm onto its belly, hiccup and then calm itself. He nudges it. It yelps and starts crawling again for a while before curling up into a ball and going to sleep.

He expects it to disappear, but instead, shades start to appear around it. Tall, wide ones. Tree. Those are trees! He has forgotten trees! And grass and a blanket under its little body.

It’s dreaming!

The little mud monkey is dreaming itself into his cage.

More than that, it’s dreaming its world into his cage.

+

It learns to walk and starts running around.

It learns to talk and insists it’s a ‘she’.

It starts telling him stories.

It dreams him fairs and schools and libraries with blank books, things it calls movies and series.

It prattles incessantly and he finds himself answering.

And then -

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She’s fifteen, she says, and he laughs at her self-importance at living for only just a moment. But then, how long do monkeys live? Even if they lived to see a thousand, they’d still be less than a heartbeat.

She’s fifteen and her dreams change.

There is blood in them now, and screams and terror and he feels satisfied, because this, this is what the monkeys are really like.

This is what they do.

+

The first time she dreams her own blood into his cage, he rages for hours and hours and doesn’t know why.

+

Buffy doesn’t talk about it anymore. That place, with the man made of light.

But she still dreams about him.

For a while, the dreams of him share space with the dreams of other slayers, of their violent deaths, but always, always, she returns to him, to his curt orders and careless insults.

After Merrick – after – she finds a dark corner and goes to sleep and there he is, light and warmcolddark, a voice that makes her skull vibrate and an anger that makes her gut clench. It’s so familiar that she starts crying and once she’s started she can’t stop, just folds herself to the floor and sobs into her knees.

Tell me, he demands and for once, it’s almost entirely free of his usual mocking tone. It’s almost gentle. He almost sounds like Merrick.

She sobs harder.

“Why me?” she asks, her voice small and her eyes damp with tears and he presses himself against her back, feels her heart, her tiny little heart, the destiny thrumming in her veins and says, Dream me a forest.

+

Her screams are noise, her blood is heat, her rage is tangible. She lives and lives and burns, a brief flare in the darkness and he wants to grab her jaws and force them open, wants to pour himself down her throat, wants to fill her with light and grace, wants to make her last.

“Slayers die before eighteen,” she tells him, voice dry and sober, like she’s all sobbed out, and he hasn’t felt like this since the door slammed shut with one last glace at Michael’s sorrowful expression.

The world outside, the monkeys, all of Father’s creation, they cannot have her. She is his and he will burn it all to the ground to keep her because she is –

- she is.

Nothing else exists but her.

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In a way, she’s more fun like this.

She never understood before, why he burns to viciously. She never knew hate, or rage, or hardship.

She does now.

He has never whispered in the ear of any Eve, no matter what the stories say, but, well –

- she has always listened to him, if only because he was the only one who listened to her.

+

She stops coming.

She stops coming and it’s only silence and darkness again, walls, floor, ceiling.

Walls, floor, ceiling and it’s worse now, because he remembers trees and summer skies, remembers the thrill of battle and the scent of blood, remembers flowers and water and fire and light. He remembers existing.

He remembers her laughing, burning, crying, bleeding, screaming defiance, and he loved her for being, for all the shattered pieces of herself she left on his floor, the scabs of skin she scraped against the bars of his cage, for being as trapped as he is.

He roars, he batters, he rages.

She does not come.

+

“You know,” her voice echoes. He does not look up. He has hallucinated before. “I used to think you were an angel, when I was small.”

He knows. She had no filter before the age of seven.

“But then I thought, no way. No angel could ever be this much of a dick. But it makes sense now. Lucifer.”

He shudders at the name spoken aloud. It has been so long, so very long, since another soul knew enough to call him by any name, much less that one.

Lightbringer.

Light steps cross the room and she sits in front of him, legs tucked under. Her eyes are empty and her skin is waxy and deadened and underneath it, she shines like starlight.

You died.

“Yeah. Didn’t stick.”

You fell.

She snorts and reaches out a hand, touching him without even the slightest hint of discomfort left in her. He stopped burning her years ago, but he was still searing hot to her. Now, though. Now.

“Not exactly, but, yes. In a way. I guess that makes two of us, now.”

He lets himself surge and flow, lets himself envelop her like he would another of his kind, lets himself – she feels like home.

Her eyes close and she exhales, slowly, quietly. “My imaginary friend is the devil,” she whispers and where he was all rage after the fall – still is – she is only broken pieces.

It’s alright, he soothes, full of dark humor, my imaginary friend is a dead girl.

+

Light starts creeping in after the first few seals are broken. Cracks in the walls, the floor, the ceiling.

Cracks in the cage.

She doesn’t ask what’s happening. Doesn’t have to.

“What are you going to do?” she want to know instead, lying flat on her back, staring at a crack she says is shaped like a giraffe. She dreamed him one when he asked what that is.

He stops his wandering above her, blocks her view. Are you going to pitch humanity to me?

It’s been years – a split second to him – but already the light under her skin is almost completely faded.

“Would it work?”

They are flawed, broken things. Toys taking over the house.

She snorts at his use of her metaphors, her words, her concepts, shakes her head.

“We. Not they. We. I’m one of those flawed, broken things.”

He crouches low, watches his light reflected in her gaze. I know.

+

Sixty-six.

And then –

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Who is she? Nick asks, a whisper of a presence, more echo than soul, almost burnt out. A few more days, maybe only hours, and he’ll be gone forever.

“Who?” he asks out loud, staring at the empty crib that once meant so much to this shell.

Her, Nick thinks and there she is, a sobbing mess in a dark room, asking, “Why me?”

He had no answer then, just as he has no answer now.

“She fell,” he tells the dying soul, and that is all he knows to say. And yet –

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She looks less bright in the waking world, overshadowed by the sun, even if only just barely.

There are dark shadows under her eyes as she opens the door, and barely any grace left under her skin and he doesn’t know why he came.

She cocks her head to one side, looks at him and then looks and says, “I wondered if you’d come. Are you going to kill me now?”

He should. Because she loves this world as much as he hates it and he should, he should, he should.

When she was three, she dreamed him stars.

He raises his hand – he has hands now – and cups her jaw. He doesn’t force it open. Instead he marvels at the feeling of having skin, of experiencing touch. It’s so much less than grace touching grace, but it’s… solid.

“Let me in,” he says.

“Why me?” she asks. Again, again, again.

Because she was there. Because the universe doesn’t care.

“Let me in.”

And then –

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