At quarter to twelve, Gadling enters the pub, which once, so very long ago, was an inn. He's spent the entire morning telling himself that he's just passing through, by coincidence, and needs a drink. That this day is just like any other, nothing special, unusual, or out of the ordinary. He's not hopeful. He refuses to be.
Someone has redecorated yet again. The place is all stainless steel, black leather, and fibreglass. Stylish, they call it. Sterile, Gadling thinks.
He slumps into a chair, and orders a pint from a passing waitress. As he waits for his drink, he can't help but reflect on the past century. He has acquired much wealth, and married again. Lost again, mourned again. He has lived. He hasn't liked it very much. It's hard to hide immortality in this new age of great and wondrously invasive technology.
The waitress brings him his drink, and he takes a sip.
Four pints later, his face is pressed into the crook of his elbow, and he's mumbling to an empty mug.
"Stupid o' me, bein' 'ere. Thinking that that miserable, sodding—"
Hearing a quiet rustling, the whisper of cloth on cloth, he raises his head as a figure in white slides into the seat across from him. "I apologize for my lateness, Robert Gadling," says the newcomer.
"You! You? You're, uh, you're not…"
"I… recall that we have met here previously, a number of times?" The smooth, quiet voice rises hesitantly on the last words, tinged with self-doubt, and perhaps even fearing, just a little, that some kind of mistake has been made.
Gadling reaches out, and clumsily pats at the other's shoulder. He doesn't think that he's ever done this before, touched the other, and if he has, the moment has long been forgotten. The fabric is soft, the flesh beneath colder than a human's, yet very real, and as alive as it has ever been. More than anything else, it's reassuring.
"Dream, you bastard, it is you," says Gadling, grinning drunkenly.
Dream nods, and slowly, barely, he smiles back.