He first saw her in the dream of a monk in Budapest. She wasn't a person, then; the idea of her flickered and flared at the edges, and she sat quietly on a cloud as the monk made paper dolls. He had a pair of very shiny scissors, and he would snip the girls (for they were almost all girl-dolls) right from the sky and whisper secret words to them that gave them life. Each little sky girl looked up to him for instructions, a worried wisp of cloud sometimes drifting across her face, and he told them all the same thing: run. Survive.
Fat, despairing tears rolled down his cheeks, because however fast he cut and however perfect the dolls were, every one was caught and eaten by the great golden wolf that prowled savagely just a few feet away, and with each meal the wolf grew larger.
The girl on the cloud shivered, and pulled a length of cumulonimbus around herself. She was a blonde, a redhead, a brunette, she had hair that was raven-black and clipped short; she was about fourteen, about ten, a grown woman, about eleven-years-and-one-hundred-forty-two days; sometimes she was a boy. She was only a person in potentia, and this crisis of identity wasn't unusual in the unborn.
This was a parent's dream.
The Cheeseman sat beside her on her cloud and offered her a slice from his platter. Her hand as she took it was long-fingered, was pale, was brown-skinned, had nails that were bitten, had nails that were perfect and painted black and red and pastel colours. She ate her cheese in silence. When she was done, she asked for more.
"Why does he keep doing it if the wolf keeps eating them?" she asked, staring at the monk, who was still cutting, cutting, cutting, even though his fingers were bleeding badly. "Will he ever make one that gets away?"
"These will not protect you," was all the Cheeseman could think to say.
He walked through the dreams of the Slayer and the friend she had joined with. He gave them advice, and warnings, and for the most part he simply observed, unseen. The cloud-girl was there, standing in the sunshine beside an ice-cream truck. Still not a person, he surmised from the way the other children sometimes carelessly walked through her, but enough of an idea of one that she was a definite form, now, with straight long hair and big eyes. She waved when she saw him, but the messages he had to deliver were most important, on orders of the lord Morpheus himself, and he felt it too unprofessional to wave back. She shrugged and returned to a single-minded exploration of her frozen dessert.
But he paid especially close attention to the dream of the Slayer herself, because her kind were allowed dreams of prophecy, and the witch - the one less than two years from the border of Lady Death's realm, close enough that she was in its shadow - gave the girl a name.
The Cheeseman knew the value of names. He'd never had one himself, having only (as many little dreams did) a description, just like the Fashion Thing or the Many-Armed Beast That Slinks Under Staircases. But Dawn meant a sunrise, the beginning of a new day, and he approved.
He had a great deal of work to do in the dreams of some dairy farmers in Kansas, and it was several years before he encountered Dawn again. This was in the library, where he'd gone to ask Lucien his advice on approaching the Dream-King. His intention was to request an assistant, something like the borghal rantipole or another minor dream, because the farmers had small lives and large dreams, and they were very demanding of his time.
He came across Dawn in the stacks. She was wearing a long dress that would have looked quite common on a young girl in the Dreaming (few wanted to wander around in their pyjamas or nightgowns, and the Fashion Thing was better at fantastical outfits) except for the slits on each side of the torso and the matching cuts in her skin, wounds that looked too shallow to produce the blood that had pooled around her feet, almost to her ankles.
She was pulling books off the shelves that had never existed in the waking world; Resurrection for Dummies and Perform Darkest Magics With No Karmic Payback! and all the books Crowley would have written, if he'd possessed the talent in the waking world that he had in his dreams. And then she sobbed, hand flying to her mouth and the books scattering to the floor, and he realized she'd found her own author section.
These were the books she'd written in her dreams. Most were from her childhood, when she'd fantasised growing up an author, and it interested him to remember that she hadn't existed then, and that these novels were not only from dreams but from dreams of dreams. The thin volume she took from the shelf was called Why My Sister Is Stupid and I Wish She Would Just Die, by Dawn Summers, Aged 6 and a Half.
She sank to the floor, weeping, the book clutched to her chest. Not knowing what to say, he quietly left, and sent the fairy Nuala to try to comfort her, and Mervyn Pumpkinhead to mop up the little bit of the blood that hadn't been washed away by tears.
He was kept busy for another couple of years, even making an appearance in the fever dream of a vampire, trapped in a metal coffin beneath the ocean, who continually hallucinated a feast with his family where he was left to starve.
"The cheese remembers all," the Cheeseman advised, but wouldn't let him take any.
From time to time he would look in on Dawn. She dreamed of the usual teenage girl things, and quite often of her mother. There were the dreams of happier times, and those were good for all that they were bittersweet - but there were nightmares, too, or her mother tearing off her face to reveal the Slayer beneath, and beneath that a version of her mother that was twisted and wrong and said Dawnie Dawnie why did you bring me back when you could have torn up the picture Dawnie why...
Sometimes, though it was strictly forbidden, he chased the worst of the nightmares away, and when he could spare the time he gave her more pleasant dreams. They walked in Fiddler's Green, before it was destroyed, and she chattered about dreams she'd had where she was bigger than the universe, "or outside the universe, or maybe I was the universe? I dunno. Aren't dreams weird?" He listened to her talk, and said little, except when it was to offer advice, and when that advice was to do with cheese.
Then something unexpected happened, though he supposed that everything was written in the lord Destiny's book, so it wasn't unexpected everywhere. Thousands of girls became Slayers, all at once, and by the terms of an ancient compact all of them were to have the prophetic dreams. The King of Dreams (who by this time was no longer Morpheus) was displeased, but bound to the agreement. Several dreams were promoted, and many new ones were created. The Cheeseman was terribly busy, more than ever, and he supposed there was no hope of him getting an assistant now.
He visited the dream of the Slayer, the one who had stepped into Death's country twice and returned, and told her that even melted cheese could sometimes return. His duty fulfilled, he should have returned to the castle and awaited further orders. Instead, he leapt the little distance into the dream of her sister.
Dawn sat cross-legged on the dirt floor in the middle of the Colosseum-as-it-once-was, discussing linguistics with the Sumerian logoform for 'sky'. It bobbed around her, thick black lines flowing and reforming, thrilled to have somebody to talk to after so many years of being ignored by the dreamers and bullied by the Roman and Cyrillic and Katakana characters.
She laughed at something the sky said to her, and tickled it, and the Cheeseman might have smiled to himself before he left her alone.
In the end, she sought him out.
She was seated on the steps of the Dream-King's castle, petting the hippogriff as if he was a pup. It had been many many years since he had left her contentedly in the dream of the Roman hall, and she wasn't quite the girl she'd been then, or the great and elderly lady he was sure she had become. Her dress was green, and seemed nearly a part of her body, so that she glowed with it.
He thought her very beautiful.
"Hey," she said, standing to greet him. "I know you, don't I? Were you in my dreams? When I was a kid? I always thought I just made you up."
"I walk with the cheese," he said. She nodded, thoughtfully.
She ran down to him, and he realized then that she wasn't a dreamer; she must have died, or had reached the end of her life and instinctively tried to die because of that worrying mortality trend among humans. Except she wasn't human, not all of her...
"So, there was this goth girl," Dawn said. "She was cool and nice and everything, but she said I didn't belong in her country. And a man all in white said he was her brother, and that I could stay here instead."
The Cheeseman remembered his manners and offered her some cheese. She took a slice and ate it daintily, just as she had all those years ago, before she had been cut from the sky. "The cheese is the life," he said, and extended his hand.
You saw it, if you dreamed that night, or many nights after: a bright moon filling the sky of a million dreams, and if you looked closely enough, a flash of green that was the Key, waltzing on the lowest edge of the crescent, and a spark of silver that was her dancing partner's platter.
And just for an instant, as you woke, you might have been left with the absolute conviction that the moon really was made of cheese.