Title: Ever Happily, Chapter 4
Summary: Barnabas understands Delirium, which is never a good sign. Maybe it would have been only a matter of time until he ended up hers.
Author's Note: I imagine that the Endless must sometimes get tangled up into each others' realms. I also imagine that Death might get curious about mortal customs. I imagine a lot of things; that's why I'm a fanfiction writer.
Time passes. Time is undifferentiated here in the wellspring of insanity, time roars in like a tidal wave that crashes up and on and through. Barnabas has learned to listen to his own heartbeat, and he uses it as a sort of clock during the hours that burst like butterflies from cocoons. Now it is thundering, pounding against his ribs as he runs, throwing himself around corners in merry pursuit of a flitting white dream.
The colorscape falls away beneath him, dipping and rolling into chasms as though eager to join in the game. Barnabas lets his tongue loll out to slap against the side of his face in the wind of his flight, he revels in the feeling of his ears whipping back (how long has it been since he's had a proper chase?). As he reaches the summit of the next hill he lets himself slip, tumbling down in a shower of anthracite pebbles to catch his ethereal quarry gently in his mouth.
He stands slowly, carefully, mindful of his teeth as the dream beats and flutters feebly against his jaws. His fangs press gently into a soft body, which is in the squirming shape of a giant maggot, and the taste on his tongue is that of a pigeon he once ate in Paris. As he starts making his way back up the slope, a passing fancy whispers to him that his prey is a drunk-dream and that if he bites too hard on it, it will puncture and deflate in a rush of sulfurous air. Barnabas has no reason to disbelieve this, so he loosens his bite a little more.
As he gains the hilltop the world around him explodes into sudden applause. Delirium is standing before him without warning, throwing up her hands and singing a song that seems to be "my doggie is so clever, he caught Dream's little white worm," and then a flock of disembodied hands swoops in, clapping wildly, and Barnabas manages to cock one front leg into an awkward sort of bow.
A shimmering takes shape in the air beside Delirium, a patch of dislocation that is different from the normal shimmering. It becomes vaguely man-shaped, and solidifies into a drear silhouette that Delirium greets with a squeal of glee and Barnabas welcomes with a joyful dream-muffled bark.
Morpheus is clad in formal mercury-embossed regalia, flowing robes, and his insectoid helm of office. He holds up a finger to quiet his psychedelic relation and her horde of hands. His hands fumble at the back of the helmet, lifting it from his head, and by the time it clears his eyes the formal robes are gone and instead he's dressed in a simple gray t-shirt and jeans. The helmet itself, with its bubble-curved eyes of red glass, has become a soccer ball cradled against one bony white forearm.
"My dear sister" Dream intones, and bows (he never merely speaks, he always drones or intones; he has no choice, his very voice is hollow and rattling with deep brass-bass timbres).
Delirium squeals at being so greeted and throws her arms around her brother (and a little bit through), planting a great wet multicolored kiss on his cheek. It remains burned there for a moment as the blue embers in Dream's eyes leap into crackling flame and swirl confusedly, but then he blinks and shakes his head and the madness subsides (though his disheveled hair might be a bit more disheveled than before).
He turns now to Barnabas, greeting him with the same formal bow and solemnly intoned, "Friend dog." Bent over, he holds out his hand expectantly, and Barnabas drops the fat white dream into Dream's thin white fingers. It instantly becomes small, and as Dream straightens up he tucks it into a back pocket of his jeans, shifting the soccer ball to rest on his hip.
"Delirium," he begins, then hesitates, looking perplexed, then starts again. "Delirium – Del – have you… have you been to see our older sister, of late?"
"Oh! She's nice!" Delirium squawks, through a bird-beak that swells and subsides over her mouth. "she gave me a frog once and i said why cause i can make frogs, but hers was green and it went CrOaK cRoAk and it didn't POP when i poked it and she said this ones real, and i tried to feed it fireflies, or maybe flying fire, I forget, and it died. So I made it alive again but I don't have it any more because now I have my doggie," and she points to the empty space a foot to Barnabas' left.
"Yes," Dream answers patiently, "but have you visited her lately?"
"Not lately!" Delirium chirps, indignant. "Earlily, not lately!"
Dream seems satisfied with this answer and Delirium appears to have lost interest, so it is left to Barnabas to ask the salient question; "Why do you ask?"
"Hmm?" Dream looks surprised at having been thus questioned, but raises the soccer ball in a ready answer. "Because our oldest sister has invited me to engage in a meaningless mortal game, and I wondered if perhaps yourself or Delirium had a hand in it… or a paw," he amends hastily, as Delirium proudly sticks out her hands for his inspection and he realizes that they are furry and four-fingered.
Now Delirium notices the ball, and lets out an ear-splitting shriek that lances needle-like past Dream's head. "Oh, a ball! I want to play with it! Can I play with the ball, Dream, can I please? I could throw it for my doggie to chase and it could go all runny runny runny on spiny centipided legs and my doggie only has four not-spiny ones but he would be faster and it would be fun! Oh, please, Dream, if I gave you cherry stones that said you were a kangaroo?"
"I believe the cherries go on top of the request," Dream replies, unperturbed. "And I am afraid I cannot give you the ball. I need it for our older sister's game, and it would be most inconvenient if it were to grow insect legs, or sprout horns, or fly away."
He bows again, deeply as any courtier paying respects to a queen. "I wish you well, my fair sister," he says solemnly, and he bows to Barnabas as well, "and I thank you, Messire Barnabas, for your service. Dreams occasionally wander into this realm, lost in the minds of their dreamers, and I hope I will be able to depend on your aid when this occurs in the future."
Barnabas opens his mouth to say something to the affirmative, but Dream is already fading, the checkered sphere spinning effortlessly on the tip of one finger. His voice echoes back from the distant shores of the Dreaming, low and musing; "Although, centipede legs may make the game more interesting…" and then he is gone.
Delirium is gone as well, and Barnabas turns his head to see her sulking in a corner she's constructed for the occasion. Her hair is hanging lank and damp, its color bleached away; her mouth is turned down into a pretty pout, and Barnabas can hear her muttering to herself, "… stupid mean old Dream, thinks he's all kingy and stuff and won't let me play with his buggy-ball, all laughing at me behind his face. Stupid Dream. I hate him. I hate you!" she shouts, and sticks her tongue out at where Dream had been standing a moment ago. Barnabas thinks about the neon kiss she gave Dream not two minutes ago and he shakes his head, his ears flopping to and fro with the motion.
Delirium's shout scares up a flock of revelations, which rise up from beyond a nearby putty-hill, cawing and cackling in alarm. Their cries fill the air (they're all out to get you, you're a god, you're a monster, the world's a machine) and Barnabas is so blinded by the noise that he doesn't see the one revelation, shaped like a toad or a toadstool, that breaks away from the flock. He blinks and can see again, but by then it's too late and the revelation is diving for him, it slips into one ear and into his brain and then it's far too late; he understands.
He understands how hate and love are nearly the same and of equal intensity; he understands that delirium (and Delirium, for that matter) is in large part just explosions of extreme emotion, love and hate without reason, without condition, cause, or cease. He's seen Delirium loathe people because they've spoken harshly or looked funny or denied her something; he's seen her deal out horrific punishments for imaginary crimes, without really even understanding what she was doing. He's also seen her fall in love on sight, collapse into admiration and adoration; he's seen her keep going back to those who despise her, he's seen her crawl back, a beaten puppy, to gaze adoringly up at the one who beat her. Barnabas understands that to be insane, to be Delirium, is to love madly without betrayal and to hate offhandedly, without guilt, and to do more of the former than of the latter. It's a weird sort of solidity in chaos, being sure that the only thing that will never change is the changingness of everything, including oneself.
Under the influence of the revelation roosting in his head, Barnabas realizes that Delirium loves Dream, loves him with unswerving devotion, because he's her family, and the love turned to hate for a minute but even now it's beginning to turn back. He understands that Delirium loves Death who is kind to her and Destiny who is indifferent; she loves Destruction who was gentle, and Desire who is cruel. Barnabas realizes that she loves him with that same puppyish love; and that he loved Destruction that way, immediately and irrevocably. He loves Delirium that way as well.
Canine devotion. Hadn't Destruction talked about that once? How dogs are supposed to be the epitome of unconditional love, love the hand that feeds you and the hand that beats you, the voice that praises and the voice that shouts, both equally and entirely?
To love blindly is obviously insane, and Barnabas realizes that maybe all dogs are a little bit Delirium's because of that capacity to love as wide as the universe and as thick as heart's blood. Maybe it was only a matter of time before he was drawn fully into Delirium's realm, pulled there by his adoration of Destruction (what can be more delirious than to adore an anthropomorphic personification of crumbling cities and bursting bombs?). And now Barnabas feels that same singular, lunatic dedication of dog to master; he feels it creeping up on him again, making him of a piece with the giraffes that explode like dynamite and the fishes that sing like stars.
He shakes himself vigorously, dislodging the squawking revelation, and pulls himself together. Even if insanity is no more than unchecked emotion tie-dyed, even if his canine devotion to his mistress is insane, those ideas and its implications can wait. Right now Delirium is making her own soccer ball out of cloud and stray obsessions, and Barnabas trots off to remind her that obsessions aren't solid enough to kick.
Someone's got to look out for her, after all.
Amen to that.
Morpheus will live on forever, in our hearts and in our dreams.
All hail Neil Gaiman.