Title: Peacetimes and Pastorals
Author: Tiamat's Child
Fandom: Historical Real People and Sandman
Characters: Sassoon and Death, Sassoon/Owen
Summary: Sassoon, the lady Death, and her brother Dream's library.
Peacetimes and Pastorals
One night, long after the war, Sassoon dreams of a vast library. It stretches out into the tangled logic of dreams, and he knows that no matter how long he stays he will never see it all, much less read it all. It's far too vast and grand.
He can't find the librarian, though he desperately wants to ask what would be best to read first. He wanders up and down the aisles, searching, but finds nothing but ladders and looming bookshelves that give the feeling of being enclosed in a cave of printed leather. It's a comforting sensation, but he is still off balance, and still doesn't know where to start.
Eventually he comes across a girl standing on a ladder, a book in her hand and a stocking sliding down her ankle. She is dressed all in black, the clothing practical and pretty. A silver symbol - which Sassoon thinks he should know, but cannot recognize - swings freely from her neck.
A girl clad all in mourning, Sassoon's mind supplies, though he cannot even begin to place the quotation's provence. He smiles at her, the expression feeling sad as it tugs across his face. "Hello," he says.
"Hello," she says, "Fancy seeing you again here."
"What?" he asks, because he's certain he's never seen her before, and his mind is oddly befuddled.
She laughs, and jumps from the ladder, which suddenly seems much smaller than it did while she stood on it. "Of course, you never did really see me, did you now? He saw me, even though I'm not sure just what he saw or how much he understood of the seeing."
Sassoon shudders, and blinks back the urge to cry, though he does not know why he suddenly feels overwhelmed by a grief that he had thought he had managed to hide enough to live with, nor why this girl, with her confusing comments, should make him think of Owen.
"Who?" he asks, even as a part of him long trained to self preservation tells him no, stop, this is nothing you ever want to know.
"Wilfred," she says, "Who else?"
"Well, Robert was always a possibility," he answers, coloring his tone with sarcasm in an attempt to hide the oddly fresh pain such a casual discussion of his friend is causing, though for the life of him he cannot understand why the reaction is so strong. All of that was years ago.
She laughs. "As if Robert would ever look! He's far too busy seeing my siblings, Siegfried. He's made sure there's no room for me in his mind."
"I wish I were not so present in your mind. It's hardly healthy."
"I know," he says, as he realizes who he's speaking to, and feels his face lift into bewilderment. Whyever would she talk to him?
She sighs. "I know. I love you."
"Why?" he asks, annoyed suddenly, and wondering why he is even standing here. The whole thing is mad, and he's had his fill of madness.
"Because," she says, and smiles, "Because you're you, and I'm me, and that's more than enough reason."
He isn't sure of that, but they always say it's a bad idea to play chess with Death, and the same probably applies to arguing with her. So he holds his tongue and nods.
"Besides," she says, "I've always liked your taste in clothes." She grins, a sweet, happy expression that is perfectly at home on her face, though completely out of step with all popular conceptions of her. Of course, her gender is also out of step with most most popular conceptions of her, so he doubts most people would be all that thrown by the smile. They probably wouldn't have any more room to be thrown in. "Do you know where you are?"
He shakes his head. She nods and steps back up the ladder, apparently looking for something. "This is my brother's library," she says, "All the books ever thought of are here. All the fleeting fancies, daydreams, plot lines that could never be finished, work whose completion was impossible because of the author's death or illness... There's a sequel to Moby Dick around here somewhere, and the play that Shakespeare kept trying to write and never could, and a record of the prophecies of Hulduh that was never actually set down on paper - or parchment, rather, pardon... But what I'm looking for - Ah, here it is." She plucks a book from the shelf and hands it to Sassoon.
Peacetimes and Pastorals, the cover reads, Wilfred Owen.
He swallows hard and holds the book harder. It's bound in a dark red leather - so like Owen - and feels warm and pleasant in his hands. The weight is just right.
"A book for better times," Death says, "He always hoped he'd have occasion to write it. Most of it needs going over, but it's good. Read it. He'd want you to. We both know that."
Sassoon only half hears her, for he's already discovered the dedication. To my dear S.S. It hurts and makes him smile at the same time, and all he wants is to be alone to wallow in the conflicting tangles of emotion.
He looks up again and Death is gone, vanished down some other aisle. He's grateful.
There's a stool backed against one of the bookcases. He takes it and settles down to read. The stool is wobbly, and he has to balance himself carefully to keep it from tilting worryingly under him. The shelves dig into his back as he leans against them. The whole of the sensations serve as a ground, reminding him of long days spend hiding from the world in the comforting silence of libraries.
He needs it. His hands waver a trifle as he turns the pages, and he has to brush tears from his cheeks to keep them from spotting the print. It's not that there's anything particularly sad about the poems themselves. They are about peace, and joy, and memory, and growing things, and love. So very like Owen.
So very like Owen, and Sassoon wishes so desperately that there had been time, that Owen had been able to write this book, that they had had a chance to try to stay together. He's never been able to entirely believe that Owen would have stayed if had lived, but he knows that he has no reason to think it wouldn't have worked, other than his own irrational fears. He would have done his best to make it worth Owen's while to stay. He would have done anything.
And Owen... Owen might have written this or something like it, warm and alive and full of praise. Even the almost embarrassing sweetness of the verses - which would have mellowed as Owen revised them, it generally did - is good, is Owen. And he's never forgotten, but sometimes the memory of being aware just how much he'd do for Owen - how much he loves Owen - is simply that, a memory, and then there are times, like now, when it is still a very real piece of who he presently is.
He wishes there was something he could do to make this a book Owen had really written. But there isn't a thing in his power that could help. What's done is done, and it was never his to decide anyway.
He quietly reads, and reads again, and again, until he is certain he will never forget a word of any line. He is the only one who will know. He has to remember.
When he wakes there is salt on his cheeks, and all he can recall is the feel of the poems, the way their rhythm ran, and the careful, warm weight of them.
All the words are gone.