The boy who gave away his birthday Each night he must
be carried through artificial tunnels and dream recurrent dreams.
Just as the ties recur beneath his train, these underlie
his rushing brain. He does not dare look out the window,
for the third rail, the unbroken draught of poison,
runs there beside him. He regards it as a disease
he has inherited the susceptibility to. He has to keep
his hands in his pockets, as others must wear mufflers.

Elizabeth Bishop, The Man-Moth

~

Christopher Walker was the sort to go on adventures. He didn't mean to make everybody worried, it was just fun to explore. So if there was a man singing a song on the pavement with a hat on the ground to catch coins, Chris would go over, curious to see what kind of coins they were, and what songs the man could sing, and what shops lined the pavement.

His mother would chase after him and sometimes scold him, but not always. Chris thought she might secretly love the way he was curious.

He had black hair like his father, about whom Christopher knew nothing save for the fact his hair had been black. There was a white streak that flopped into his eyes that nobody could explain, because his father's hair had been black and his mother's hair was red and his uncle Jed's hair was light brown.

He was very bored, because being a curious eleven year old does not make sitting on a train for hours very interesting.

"I'm bored. Are we there yet?"

Rose Walker, who looked too young to have a son as old as Christopher, sighed, and rummaged through her bag to find something to amuse him.

"Want a Pez?" she asked in desperation.

"Are they orange flavored?"

"No, mint."

"No thanks." Chris sighed, looking out the window.

"How about..." Rose's voice paused as her eyes widened in surprise. "I don't remember packing this."

She drew out a small silver cigarette lighter shaped like a heart.

"Cool!" Chris leaned over, interested. "Can I look at it?"

"I suppose so." Rose didn't sound very sure of herself. "But be careful of the flame."

Christopher amused himself with the lighter for quite some time, opening it and closing it again, watching the heart break and re-form and break again. Then, growing tired of this, he lit the little flame inside and stared into the hungry orange lick.

Just for a moment, it seemed to stare back at him with cruel, gold, smirking eyes, topped with black hair streaked white, like Chris'. His own eyes widened and he dropped the lighter in surprise. The flame singed his sneaker before clicking off.

"Oh Chris, I warned you to be careful." Rose chided in a tired voice. They were traveling to be with her mother, who was very sick and very probably dying. Rose hated the limbo-time waiting for people to get well or die. Bedside vigils were all right, so long as it was obvious beforehand how the whole thing was going to end.

Chris thought about the face in the flame for the rest of the journey. While the train stopped and uncle Jed drove them to the house and they unpacked and then went to see Grandma, all he did was ponder.

They took turns sitting over the next few days, Rose and Jed. Chris explored, running around and finding lots of interesting things. Sometimes he too sat beside the gravely ill woman.

He was doing so one night, playing with a length of wire he'd found, shaping it into different things. A heart, a sword (only it didn't make a very good sword, because it was only wire), a ring. He was thinking about what to bend it into next when a young woman sat down beside him.

"Hullo. Who're you?" Chris asked the woman. She smiled.

"I'm her aunt."

"Really? You don't look old enough. Then, nobody in my family looks their proper age." he mused. "I like your necklace thingy."

"Thankyou." the woman smiled. "It's called an ankh."

"Can I bend my wire into it? I'm making different things."

"If you like."

They sat in silence for a little while as Chris bent his wire into an ankh. Then he spoke again.

"My grandmother's going to die, isn't she?"

The young woman nodded.

"Huh." Chris tried to decide what he thought of that. "I expect my mother will be a bit sad about that."

"Perhaps. But her life will go on, nonetheless."

"Yeah, I guess it will. Are you really her aunt?"

"Yes."

"Only I think you might not be. I think you might be somebody else, who comes when people die."

"Can't I be her aunt and somebody else at the same time?" the woman asked with a smile.

"Yeah, I guess." Chris said for a second time, smiling too. "If you're her aunt though, doesn't that mean you're my great-great-aunt?"

The woman's smile got wider. "Yes, I suppose."

"I have another great-great-aunt. She's really old, but sometimes we go visit her. She's not really my great-great-aunt, actually, but a long time ago Grandma was adopted so me and my mother and uncle Jed have these extra people in our family. When we go visit her I play in her garden. There's baby ducks, sometimes."

"You can come play in my garden, if you like." the woman offered. Chris though about it, then shook his head.

"No, thankyou. I think my mother would be really, really sad then."

The young woman nodded in agreement. "Well, what would you like instead? Great-great-aunts should give their great-grand-nephews something, after all."

Chris screwed up his face, thinking.

"Could I maybe visit you sometime? Not to stay forever, but to visit maybe? I like exploring new places."

"I'm sorry Chris, but once somebody visits me, they can't come back." she explained apologetically. "But I could come visit you. Would that be ok instead?"

"Yeah." Chris nodded.

"Peachy! If you need me, just make an ankh out of wire and I'll come soon as I can. I gotta go now, but it was nice to meet you." the young woman grinned. Chris smiled back, and then, when she had gone, went to tell his mother and his uncle Jed that the bedside vigil was over.

~

Life went on, just like Chris' great-great-aunt had promised it would. He didn't exactly forget what had happened, but he didn't think about it either, not for almost a year.

Then, accidentally, he stepped on a nest of snake's eggs while he was exploring. Feeling guilty, he hunted around for some wire to make an ankh, but found none, so instead he just stood there and felt bad.

"Hey Chris, what's up?" A voice came from behind him. He turned, and there she was, just as she had been.

"I tried to make an ankh, but there wasn't any wire."

"That's ok." she smiled. Chris had forgotten how nice her smile was. "I heard anyway."

"What should I call you?... Not the D word." Chris added hastily.

"Great-great-aunt is a bit of a mouthful. What about just Auntie? I like being an aunt."

"All right, Auntie."

"So what's the problem?"

"I crushed these snake eggs. Can you do anything?"

"What exactly would you like me to do?"

Chris shrugged. "I don't know. I just feel bad."

Auntie smiled and sat down cross-legged on the ground.

"You don't have many friends, do you Chris?"

"No." he admitted, sitting beside her.

"Would you like to meet my little sister? Kids love her."

"I'm not a kid." he objected resentfully.

"Of course you're not." she kept a straight face. "But would you like to meet her?"

"Ok." Chris shrugged.

"All right, follow me." Auntie held out her hand. Chris looked at it warily. "Don't worry, I'm not taking you forever."

She led him to a field a little bit away from the crushed eggs.

"Sister? I have a friend for you if you want to come meet him." she said to the air.

"A friend? A friendly friend for me? I like friends." someone said. Chris looked around but couldn't find her.

"He has to be able to see you." Auntie said gently.

"I was thinking we could play hide and seek. I was going to hide inside a drop of rain and make him find me but now I've told so I won't hide there at all." the invisible person said.

"Why don't you hide here?" her older sister suggested.

"All right." a girl about Chris' age appeared in the air, dressed in a bright green shirt that reached her knees and one blue sock, with curls of all different colors on her head. "I know you, only I don't." she informed him. "You're the baby of the baby of the baby of dee ee um ess ess eye ee arr."

"Nearly, Del." Auntie said, beckoning for the girl to land on the ground. "This is Chris. Would you like to be his friend?"

"Um. If he promises not to laugh at me. If he laughs at me I'll make it so his fingers all turn into worms inside his head and all he'll ever eat again is sugar and grass."

"I promise not to laugh at you." Chris said seriously.

"Oh! Then we can play on the upside up down no um maybe it was just down upside down of the floor and it will be wonderful." she laughed and spun around in the air. Chris started laughing too. The girl was infectious.

"I'll leave you two then. And play nice, Del. He can't go to the bottom of the ocean or through a needle's eye, all right?" Chris' aunt said before she left. The girl continued to float.

"I can't get up there." Chris said patiently.

"I'll come down down down down down whoops too far." smiling sheepishly, Del extricated her feet and ankles from the ground. "Since I'm not supposed to play with you under the sea or in a needle's eye we can play here if you like and do a dance?"

Chris barely had the chance to answer before he was pulled around and found the air filled with butterflies and fish.

~

"Did you have fun?" his mother asked when he got home. For a moment Chris thought he'd been found out, that she knew about Del. Then he realised she was just asking about his exploring.

"Yes." he answered simply, going to bed. He still had fish scales in his hair.

"Are you bored of me?" Del's voice asked as he was trying to fall asleep. "I don't know how you could be, because I'm seldom boring. Seldom means almost never, except when it doesn't want to. Then it can mean chocolate, maybe. But it seldom does. Oooh, there, I said it again."

"I'm not bored of you, Del. I'm just tired." Chris yawned.

"Are you going to visit my brother, then? In your dreams where you go when you fall asleep?"

"I don't know your brother." Chris admitted.

"I could go visit him too and we could play some more while you have a sleep!" Del sounded extremely proud of her idea.

"Um... ok." Chris didn't know what he was getting himself into but there didn't seem to be any way to avoid it. Del seemed to have gone away again, so he settled down to sleep, remembering for the first time in a year the strange, unsettling moment with his mother's lighter on the train.

~

"I'm standing in my gallery holding your sigil but it got sort of squashed a bit because I tried to make it a water pistol."

"What is it, sister?"

"Can I visit you? My new friend see aitch arr eye ess is going to fall sleep soon and I want to play some more with him. I spelt his name right because he taught me how without making up new letters or anything. If you don't know how to spell you can call him Chris."

"You can come visit if you like." Dream said with a small smile. Delirium let out a yelp of happiness and showered glitter over the whole room, grinning up at her older brother.

"Thankyou." she skipped happily through the room, her hair changing hues as she did.

Dream leant against the wall and watched her wander off. He liked it when his youngest sibling visited. He felt as if her overabundance of color could seep into him a little when she was near, more brightness and life than just the small emerald that broke the whiteness of his form.

Following her into the throne room, Dream found her talking to a very bewildered looking boy of about twelve years old, with black hair and pale grey eyes.

"This is my friend." Delirium explained. "Who is named Chris." she turned and addressed the boy. "That's Dream. He's my older brother but not my oldest brother. Once I went on an adventure with him but it wasn't really him, only sort of."

"Um. Ok." Chris decided the easiest thing to do would be to agree. "Pleased to meet you, uh, Dream."

"Likewise." Dream smiled slightly at the boy who was then pulled away by Delirium to play a game nobody would ever fully understand, save for her.

About an hour later, as Dream sat in his throne thinking, he noticed a movement on the edge of his vision and looked up to see Chris, standing in the corner, watching him.

"Del said she had to go find the bits of a song she'd forgotten." Chris explained. "So I came to see what you were doing, but I didn't want to interrupt."

"You didn't disturb me." Dream assured the boy. "Why don't you come sit by me and tell me about your life, Christopher?"

Chris sat down beside the throne and talked about how he loved to explore things, and go on adventures, and the snake's eggs that he'd accidentally crushed and then felt so bad about. Then he paused, and after working up a little courage asked, "What did Del mean, about going on an adventure with you, but it was only sort of you?"

"My sister has a great fear of change in the world around her. She goes through so many alterations herself she needs constants as a reference point. Even thirteen years later, she's still coming to terms with a substantial change I went through."

"Oh." Chris thought about that, then asked another question. "What were you thinking about, when I came in just now? Before you noticed I was there?"

"Love." Dream answered. "I gave a man imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit a dream of his long-lost lover and it made me think of how, before the substantial change I told you of, love was my constant undoing. I have decided not to indulge in it again."

"Probably a good idea." agreed Chris, who didn't think much of romance at all. "It'll leave you more time to do useful things like fishing. My uncle Jed taught me how to do that last summer."

"I confess, I have never been fishing." said Dream.

"Oh, well, I can show you, if you like." offered Chris, and the two of them were quite suddenly at the edge of a pond, and Chris explained the activity best he could.

They sat, fishing and talking until Delirium, having rediscovered her song, joined them and turned all the fish they'd caught into little moons made of cheese.

~

"Tomorrow I will introduce you to one of my other brothers or sisters." Delirium promised. When Chris woke up, it had been to find her sitting atop his wardrobe. "Maybe Destiny. He has a book with everything written in it, but some things aren't written in it. But he says that anything in his book isn't true. But I know better." she whispered conspiratorially. "Or maybe Despair."

"I... I think I've seen her, almost, before." Chris said, pondering it as he said it. "I think she's sometimes on the other side of my uncle Jed's mirror."

"Yes, he has dark corners in him." Delirium screwed her face up, looking slightly sad for a moment. "Or maybe Dream."

"I met Dream already." Chris reminded her. "When I was asleep."

"Oh, well, you can meet him again." Delirium said breezily. "I do that sometimes, meet people again. People you meet again lots are called friends. We're friends already, but if we meet lots we'll be friends twice and then I will have two friends." she laughed and clapped her hands and disappeared. Chris scratched his head and climbed out of bed, wondering when she'd turn up next.

~

Chris saw a lot of Delirium and her older brother Dream over the next five years. He never met the rest of the family, or saw the oldest sister again, but nearly every night would find himself back in the Dreaming. Accompanied, more often than not, by Del, in one of her strange costumes.

One night, exactly five years and three days after his first visit, Chris sat in the heart of the Dreaming and watched Del play hopscotch without any squares. She was dressed in net stockings, a pink tutu and a fez.

"I have spent muchly time here in the last one two three four five years. My realm looks sort of like here now but sort of not. It is for people who never ever want to leave here, so I made it a bit like here." she explained.

"Is that true?" Dream asked.

"Well, my realm is for me and I never ever want to leave here, so yes. Here is where Chris-my-friend and Dream-my-brother are. Look! I won my hopscotch game!"

"That's nice, Del." Chris smiled. He was a thin boy of seventeen now, with a delicate face his mother said could break hearts. It did break hearts, of every girl at his high school, but boys what have grown up playing with Delirium and talking to Dream don't notice the girls at school who are in love with them.

"You seem distracted tonight." Dream commented. "It is a strange soul indeed who can daydream in the Dreaming."

"Strange soul? Me?" Chris said with sarcastic surprise, smiling his easy smile. "Whatever would give you that idea, Dream King? There is nothing strange at all about a boy who receives a gift of a paper monkey who sings from Lady Delirium on his sixteenth birthday."

"Would you like another for your birthday that's soon?" Delirium asked. "Only I don't think it's fair you've got so many when I don't have a single one."

"You can have mine, if you like." Chris offered.

"Will I have a party? With hats and bubbles?"

"If you want."

"Hurray!" Delirium's fez gave off sparkles. "How old am I going to be?"

"Well, it's an eighteenth birthday I've given you, but I don't see why you can't be any age you like."

This confounded her for a few seconds. "Dream? Should I be eighteen like Chris was going to be? But it will be my first birthday, so perhaps I should be one."

"That's a choice you have to make for yourself." her brother answered.

"But if I'm one I might only get one present. So I should be a million!" Delirium gave no sign she'd heard Dream. "Or all the numbers at once, that sounds sensible."

"Are we invited to the party?" Chris asked, shifting into a more comfortable position where he sat. He was dressed, as always, in black jeans and a grey t-shirt. He didn't know why it was always those clothes, and on occasion Delirium would rant at the lack of color in both him and her brother, but there it was.

"Yes." Del nodded.

"What would you like as a present, then?"

"You don't have to get me anything, Chris, because you've already given me a birthday and that's even better than a paper monkey."

"What about me?" Dream asked. Delirium screwed her face up in thought.

"I would like a doggie, but I already have one of them. I would like a friend, but I have one of them as well. I would like a birthday, but my friend has given me one. Um. Could I have a duck that's really a snail that's really an apple with little orange spots on it?"

"Of course." Dream handed his little sister the gift she'd asked for.

"Now I have two presents, a birthday and a duck-snail-apple. I'm going to go have my party now so I will see you and you next time." And with that, she was gone.

"Are you intending to stay seventeen for another year or simply turn eighteen without a birthday?" Dream asked. Chris could never tell if he was joking or not.

"I thought I might skip eighteen altogether and go straight to my next birthday, actually."

"You would give Delirium a year of your life?"

"I think she'll have more fun with it than I would."

~

So time passed, as time does, and Chris' mother and uncle gave him presents on the same day of the year they always gave him presents. This time, though, he knew it wasn't really his birthday. Or maybe it was, but not his eighteenth at any rate.

His uncle gave him a book of how to decipher dreams, telling him that since he always had his head in the clouds he might as well have a guidebook.

"It says here if you dream of flying it means you're thinking about sex." Chris read out. His mother smiled.

"I once said that to somebody, and they replied 'then what does it mean when you dream of having sex?'."

Chris smiled in return, and then thought about what she had said. It sounded like the sort of thing Dream might say, but he couldn't ask his mother if it had indeed been Dream who'd said it. There are just some questions that can't be asked.

Chris spent the day that wasn't his eighteenth birthday reading the silly book that claimed to know the secrets of dreams.

~

"Do you feel any older?" Dream asked him that night. Delirium was off somewhere, still celebrating her birthday, so it was just the two of them.

"Nobody ever does on their birthday." Chris explained. "And today's not even my birthday."

"It might be that today is your nineteenth birthday, in which case you've aged a year in a day and should feel at least slightly older."

"Maybe I do." Chris shrugged. "But only slightly."

The two of them sat together, in the heart of the Dreaming, and talked of unimportant things. At once stage, to emphasise a point he was trying to make, Chris stretched his arms wide, and his fingertips brushed against Dream's arm lightly. Dream's skin was both warmer and softer than Chris would have expected. They both shifted a little after that, not further apart but closer, as if hoping it might happen again.

It occurred to Chris, quite suddenly, that at some point over the last years he had fallen in love with the Dream King, and the Dream King had fallen in love with him. He felt as if this knowledge should be more surprising than it was, but the sensation was like finally seeing an optical illusion in a picture. Nothing had really changed except the focus, all that had altered was the perspective.

~

More time passed, as time does, and Chris continued to be oblivious to the world around him, and spend his sleeping hours playing with Delirium and talking to Dream.

But since his realization, the dynamic of the whole situation had shifted a little. Del complained on three occasions that there were hungry colors in the air. Often she would suddenly remember a reason to be somewhere else, and leave the two of them alone to talk of unimportant things.

Chris was happy in the life he had, but, like Delirium's colors, he was hungry.

Then it was his nineteenth, or maybe (from another perspective) twentieth birthday, and Chris wondered if he'd always feel like he was two ages at once.

He received a car from his mother, who had once promised him his own vehicle when he reached eighteen but had clean forgotten until now, and some money from his uncle, and a paper banana that just appeared out of nowhere at the end of his bed. He gave it to the paper monkey.

"Thanks for your present, Del." Chris said that night, as she braided her hair into rainbows.

"I haven't given it to you yet. It's a surprise, which means nobody knows what it is except me, because I thought of it."

"Oh." Chris was surprised. Delirium, if she noticed this, gave no sign.

"I can't give it to you until the full moon, because it's a werewolf puppy and it needs a full moon to work properly. Now it's not a surprise anymore."

"Don't worry, I promise to forget what it is before you give it to me."

"Can you do that? I wish I could forget things whenever I wanted to. I would forget all the sad things that happen and keep all the good things. Or maybe I would forget all the good things and keep the sad things. Um. I don't know." she looked worried for a moment, then brightened. "I'll go turn the puppy into something different so you can be surprised even if you don't forget." wandering away, Delirium began to sing a song about strawberries.

"Did you send the paper banana, then?" Chris asked Dream.

"Yes."

"The monkey liked it."

"I'm glad." Dream smiled, and walked over to the small flight of stairs Chris stood on, watching the chaos Delirium always left in her wake re-form into something closer to logic.

"There was a Bugs Bunny movie on TV today, narrated by Orson Welles. I thought that was kinda sad."

"Why?"

"Well, he was such a hot shit when he was young. Citizen Kane, all that stuff. The Third Man. And what does he end up doing for the rest of his life? Narrating Bugs Bunny movies."

"Potential is wasted every moment. At least he achieved a few flashes of brilliance in his life." Dream pointed out.

"Hmmm." Chris nodded, understanding. "I hope when I look back on my life, I don't regret all the things I never did."

"You think Welles had regret?"

"Yeah, sure. There's that story that he once burst into tears because he'd been thinking of all the movies he'd never make."

"Regret is a waste of time." Dream said.

"No, I think regret is when people realise they've wasted all the time they've had." Chris argued, while in his head his mind cried 'do it, do it, do it now or you'll regret that you never did'.

So Chris leant over and very calmly, very slowly, kissed the king of dreams.

Dream tasted, to Chris, like kisses in dreams always did. Like smelling a flower from childhood you had forgotten, except that you'd always remembered it had a nice smell. The kiss was like catching the scent of that flower again after many years and finding that memory could never really capture the real experience.

Although the kiss began innocently enough, it was not a chaste brushing of lips. Their mouths pressed together, not to bruise or devour but to merge, to combine in something that was more than just two beings spending a moment together. Dream's hair, colorless and brittle, ensnared his fingers as Chris pressed their heads closer.

It struck Dream that although he was endless, and had existed since the beginning of time or at least approximately so, the child Daniel he had once been would not have been very much older than Chris, and had never kissed anybody. His hands slipped under the thing fabric of Chris' shirt, resting against the slightly sweaty skin of his back. Dream inhaled, smelling the young, clean, male smell of Chris, untainted by the drugs and alcohol so many boys his age used to meet Delirium.

On the verge of giving himself over to sensation, Dream caught the edge of another smell on Chris. The ghost of cigarette smoke and summer peaches, cloying and seductive.

Laughing a bitter, humorless laugh, Dream shoved Chris away and turned his back to the boy.

"What?" Chris asked, hurt and not understanding.

"Tell Desire I have no interest in playing its games." Dream said coldly, not turning. Before Chris could reply he woke up, his legs tangled in the bedsheet and his face wet with tears.

Sitting up and running a trembling hand though his hair, Chris looked around the darkened room. The flare of a match gave the shadows shape for only a second, but it was enough.

Chris jumped out of bed, pinning the intruder against the wall with such force two picture frames fell off their nails.

"Is that any way to treat your great-grandfather?" Desire asked in a mocking tone before taking a deep drag on the newly-lit cigarette.

"What gives you the right," Chris said through gritted teeth. "To use me as your pawn?"

"What, you expected me to ignore my blood kin? What sort of patriarch would I be then?"

Chris' only reply was to slam Desire against the wall, hard.

"If you must know, you gave me the right, you and my brother. When the two of you decided never to have anything to do with love I took it as a personal challenge." Desire smiled, and pushed Chris out of its way. "I'd say, in light of recent events, I won the challenge, wouldn't you?"

"Go to him and tell him I wasn't acting as your agent in some stupid game!" Chris raged, shouting. Desire laughed.

"But Christopher, my dear boy, you were."

Desire disappeared and Chris, furious and sick with anxiety, tried to go back to sleep. He tossed and turned for hours before he could let his body relax. He didn't dream, though, and the next thing he knew it was morning.

~

"Dream? I want to come and say something and if you don't let me I will be very cross."

"What is it, Delirium?"

"You're a smelly-faced meanie-pie and I hate you. No, not hate you, that other word that means I hate you for a while. Angry."

Dream sighed. "Come here if you want to talk to me, sister, don't just shout from realm to realm."

She appeared, glaring up at him. Both her eyes were green.

"I thought you'd changed. I thought you were nice and friendly now. We had fun with Chris and I was happy. It was - " Delirium paused, then spat the word out. "delightful. But you're just the same. When one of the twins wants to have fun by making you act like an idiot, you always do it! Chris didn't belong to the twins he didn't he didn't, but you've been mean to him, and he hasn't dreamed for a month and now he does belong to the twins, because Despair has her hook in his heart. You caused it, so you fix it."

Dream said nothing, and after a moment Delirium gave an exasperated snort and went back to her realm.

After standing in private thought for a little while longer Dream, too, vanished.

~

Despair stood in the centre of Chris' bedroom, watching the young man lie listlessly on his bed. Drip. Ripple. Drip. Ripple. Water fell from a leak in the ceiling down into a bucket on the floor.

Drip. Ripple. He was working up the enthusiasm to kill himself.

"Isn't it funny? Your first game with us and you've managed to fail utterly. Again." Despair said to her newly-arrived brother in her stale, airless voice.

"He isn't a game." Dream snapped, looking down at the despondent figure on the bed. "Why can't he see us?"

"You're too late, he's too far gone. His heart's too wounded to acknowledge you and few people ever see their Despair for what it really is. He can't see either of us."

"As long as you're here, I will stay."

"To guard him?" Despair scoffed.

"As a vigil."

The three of them in the room resembled a static image, there was little movement apart from the steady drip of the leaky roof. Despair, who had scraped a long gash in her thigh, standing at the end of the bed. Dream, standing on the far side of the room, noticed two picture frames that had fallen from their nails. The glass on one was broken, a jagged lightning-strike of a crack.

Chris, who couldn't see either of the room's other inhabitants, continued to watch the drip of the water. He could feel heavy Despair pressing in on him, and for a second imagined he could feel Dream nearby, the ache of a lost love compounding his unhappiness. None of them moved as the shadows deepened.

Finally, Chris sighed and sat up on the bed, reaching for a length of wire he'd bought just for this purpose. Bending it, twisting the soft metal into a loop and two lines.

"Hey Chris." a cheerful voice said.

"Hello Auntie." Chris greeted his guest.

"Wow, it's like a regular family reunion in here." she said, sitting down beside him. He looked at her quizzically, not understanding.

"Huh?"

"Well, I'm sure it doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out that Despair's here." Chris' aunt said, lifting her wild black hair off her neck. "And then there's my little brother, who never learns his lesson." she smiled an affectionate, slightly annoyed smile at Dream.

"Dream's here?" Chris was very surprised. "To gloat, I suppose. That he drove Desire's minion to suicide. Del can have my car, by the way. She'll like that."

"You're stupid, silly creatures, the pair of you!" with a shake of her head, she stood up. "Chris, you're not coming with me. So the two of you might as well start talking."

Crossing her arms, she perched on the edge of the desk, and looked back and forth between them.

Despair left the room quietly, stopping on her way to look in at Jed, but found that he was feeling good today, thanks to the new medication the doctor had given him.

Then she wandered, searching idly for people standing on the edge of her grey place. Her heart wasn't in it though, and eventually she went home.

Her twin was waiting, peering impatiently from its portrait, for her to return.

"You've heard, I suppose?" Desire asked curtly.

"Heard what?"

"Well, twenty minutes ago Del showed up, singing one song and dancing another, and laughed at me because I'd lost the game. She said she didn't even mind not having a car."

"How was she?" Despair asked, feeling a rat crawl down her arm.

"Raving. I haven't seen her that disconnected for years. But happy. I think she loves the mortal too."

Despair didn't answer. Desire's eyes narrowed.

"You wouldn't have sabotaged our victory, would you? Because it occurs to me that you aren't stupid, and surely would have realised giving the boy so much despair in such a short time would make him contact our elder sister."

"He lost his love." Despair pointed out.

"Oh, he's twenty years old. People that age lose their loves time and time again. Few consider suicide as a solution. You didn't answer my question."

"I did what it is my power to do. I gave him despair." Despair answered simply. Desire left, with a final, slightly annoyed, unsure, glance at its twin.

Despair had vowed to herself, once, that she was going to be kind to her new older brother. And if there was one thing she was in no hurry to do, it was lose another of her family. She'd done what it was in her power to do: she'd given Chris his despair, and if that had caused a chain of events that meant he'd seldom touch her realm again, then that was the concern of Destiny, and not her.

~

If you catch him,
hold up a flashlight to his eye. It's all dark pupil,
an entire night itself, whose haired horizon tightens
as he stares back, and closes up the eye. Then from the lids
one tear, his only possession, like the bee's sting, slips.
Slyly he palms it, and if you're not paying attention
he'll swallow it. However, if you watch, he'll hand it over,
cool as from underground springs and pure enough to drink.

~