Disclaimer:  Um… what was I supposed to say?  Something… about them… not being mine?  Oh well, you figure it out.

A/N:  Just an idea I had.  I know it's a little dark and angst-y without my usual healthy dose of humor… but I thought I'd try something different.

No More Dreams

She awoke sheathed in sweat, heart pounding heavily in her chest, breath raspy in her own ears, and the only movements under the heavy veil of night, hers.  But it was not fear that made her blood rush so warmly through her veins, adding that flushed hue to the encasing skin.

There was mild surprise.  She would have thought even these dreams would fade, as all others had, when time and reality had taken their toll on her fragile dreamer's soul.  She stared out into the blackness of the room with unseeing eyes.  The afterimage of intimate caresses lingering on her too-sensitive flesh, the echo of unheard whispers still ringing in her ears.

Rolling onto her side, she squeezed her eyes shut tight. She would have cried, but the tears had stopped coming a long time ago.  Even the dreamer's death could produce only so much pain before the numbness set in and shut the floodgates for good.  But every once in a while, a crack would appear in the barrier, letting a little bit of the old agony trickle through, before she could mend it closed once more.

She took a deep, steadying breath, letting the tension seep from her body.  There was no sense lingering on these thoughts; the dreams came and went as they saw fit, but her waking moments were hers to do with as she pleased.

Eyes reopening, she sat up, pushing aside tangled sheets.  Bare feet fell to the carpet, seeking out her slippers, while her hands drawing forth the light robe, standing as she pulled it on over the baggy t-shirt that served as her nightdress and tied it shut.

Fingers raked through her chocolate hair, no more than chin-length now, but beautiful still in a different way.  The disturbed strands fell back, obediently, into their natural mold.  The change had been refreshing, and functional in cutting time out of her daily grooming routine.  Hairbrushes had little purpose now but to clutter her bathroom drawer, when a few strokes of her fingers could do the job just as well.

Yet, it wasn't sensibility that had made her cut it, rather defiance.  Though she still didn't know who she was defying with the act.  When she walked through the front door of her home that late spring afternoon, her father had greeted her with a slight frown, then muttered something about how she would be beautiful no matter how she chose to wear her hair.  Her stepmother had looked on approvingly, her own tastes running in a similar vein.

Needless to say, Sarah had been crestfallen.  Only Toby had regarded her negatively, his curious blue eyes taking in the sudden change for a moment before he stuck his lower lip in that petulant manner of his and boldly declared, "I don't like it."  But Toby had little affection for any changes that occurred without his prior consultation—such was the nature of being three years old and irreparably spoiled.

Maybe still, there was someone out there who shared his sentiment.

Shaking herself from her thoughts, Sarah followed the beckoning beam of the hallway light, blinking her eyes to adjust as she passed through her doorway and toward the stairs.  Into the kitchen, grabbing a glass from the cupboard, she poured herself a glass of some magenta juice.  Artificially flavored anyway, so what difference did it make which fruits were drawn on the container?

Twelve o'clock and her parents were still out for the night.  Leaving Sarah to put Toby to bed by eight, though it took another half hour before she could settle him down to the point where she could leave the room with confidence enough that he would not soon follow.  By ten thirty her own eyelids had grown heavy, and after finishing off the last of her biology homework, she tossed the books aside, crawling into the comfort of her beds to enjoy the oblivion of sleep.

Until the dreams had begun.

Dreams that had haunted with their bittersweet aftertaste, running course over the span of the last three years.  Sometime she went months on end without disturbance, and at other times still, days turned to weeks, and weeks added upon each other as the nightly barrage continued.  And it had all started with thirteen hours.  A carelessly uttered remark.

It was not that she held regrets.  Or if she held them, they had little to do with her own words or actions on that day.  She had done as she believed was right, and little reason has she had to believe she should do otherwise.

Those were not her regrets.

Perhaps her truest, greatest regret was that once upon a time she had dreamt at all.  Dreamt of love and magic and her fairytale ending.  Dreamt herself right into her own trap, setting herself up for the harsh reality of truth—that no such things existed.

Even before her venture into the Labyrinth, she should have known that.  It had stared her hard in the face for years before.  Her parents didn't love her.  Not her father, who fulfilled his role in that heart-absent manner of his, and definitely not her mother, who, in a good year, managed a card through the mail on her birthday, and one on Christmas.  Her stepmother, she barely tolerated her, and only that for her husband's sake.

And she herself, when she wished away Toby to the goblins, hadn't loved him, her own brother.

Hadn't.  Did she now?

Sarah sighed, finishing her juice and placing the empty glass in the sink.  Then leaving the kitchen—no need to turn off the light because she hadn't turned it on—she made her way back up the stairs.

Sarah Williams didn't believe in love, plain and simple.  And what use was believing, anyway?  If it truly did exist, it would be there, regardless of where you chose to place your faith, and if it didn't… well, then there was no reason to concern yourself with the whole mess.

She continued through the light-stained hallway, past her own room, to Toby's.  Quietly brushing open the half-closed door, she stepped inside and gazed upon the sleeping figure lying in the bed.  The hallway light leaked in, illumination spreading on the face of the young boy.  He seemed like an angel, with his golden curls and full cheeks, lips pursed delicately in his sleep.  To bad the same couldn't be said when he was awake.

She frowned slightly, thinking upon the hell he put her through whenever she found herself cornered into yet another night of babysitting.  He was as active as any child his age, but without the benefit of discipline handed down by parents.  Most of the time he was simply left in Sarah's care, but whenever she tried to instill in him anything that went against his natural instincts, she was rewarded with his catchall rebuttal:  "You're not my mom!"

Spotting his favorite teddy bear, Mister Rags, lying on the floor next to the bed, Sarah stooped down to retrieve it.  Then she returned it to its rightful place, in the crook of Toby's right arm, where, upon contact, his grip tightened around the poor bear's neck.  Mister Rags looked like he might be meeting an early demise in the form of a decapitation.

Sarah sighed, not for the first time that night, and brushed her cool fingers over the fine strands of corn silk falling over his forehead.

"Wasn't it worth it?"

She froze, fingers halfway through their motion, and the very blood in her veins seemed to have stilled within her.

"Aren't you going to turn around?"  The cool accented voice sounded almost detached, none of the customary amusement to be found.

"Why?  There's nothing there I want to see," she returned, voice indifferent, and all bodily functions resuming as normal.  It was that sudden instant of surprise that had done her in, but now as the reality of her situation filtered through, she found that shock required too much energy to sustain.  Energy that she either didn't have, or couldn't spare.

A soft laugh sounded behind her, and she couldn't resist it.  She had to turn around.

He wasn't as close as she'd thought.  Lounging against the far wall, regal and blasé, both in that single gesture, body swathed in darkness.  The shadows beckoned to the blacks of his clothes, not so very different from those he had worn on their first meeting, except less formal… more relaxed.  Little adornment, and no looming cape, but the rest was almost the same.

A casual look for a quiet night visitation.

She stepped away from the bed, moving so that she stood between him and her brother, though the gesture was less protective than instinctive.  "Lose your way and stop for directions?" she asked.

No fear, no outrage, no temper tantrums.  If he came looking for a fight, he would be sorely disappointed, for Sarah had no fight left in her.

Smiling a smile that would once have sent a shiver down her spine, but not now.  She had grown too used to the cold.  "No, I came where I intended to be."

She said nothing, watching him quietly as he watched her, taking in all the details of his feature, his expression, maybe gauge his intention.  Finally, not finding whatever it was she might have been looking for, she glanced away, over her shoulder at the still form of her brother.  He slept on, peaceful and oblivious to whatever this was that was going on around him.

"Don't worry about the child," the voice drew her attention back to the figure before her.  "I've ensured he won't be awakened by us."

She watched him push himself away from the wall and walk toward her.  Slowly, in a deliberate, predictable path, as if giving her the opportunity to move away if she so chose.  She didn't.  When he stood before her, she met his gaze, tilting back her head slightly to manage the feat.  Nothing wavered in her eyes; not fear, not anger; not even anticipation.  And as his gloved hand drifted toward her head, fingering the short strands of chestnut, she didn't pull away.

"Have you found everything that you were looking for in this world?"

He had to already know the answer to that question. It was written plainly in her eyes, in the despondency with which she regarded life and everything around her.  How even the sparks of that old fire appeared to have been quelled.  He had to know that what she sought was never here to be found.

It was a cruel, cold world, and Sarah had finally learned the truth.

"Why are you here?"  Whispering, not for Toby's sake, but because the night, the darkness required such obeisance.

For a moment he answered nothing, just gazed intently into her upturned face, his own palely magnificent in return.  "To offer you the same deal I presented two years ago."

She watched him too, expression as unreadable as his own, unwilling or incapable of bending before him.

"I have no dreams for you to offer me," she replied, turning away.  She walked back to the side of the bed, fixing the blanket that had been pushed aside in evidence of an earlier instant of restlessness.

"Not true."  His voice came from right behind her, soft and whispering on the bared back of her neck.  He had followed her progress, though she had not heard his steps.  "There is that one dream."  Emphasizing his words, leather-tipped fingers found their way through the flaps of the robe, reaching under the hem of her baggy cotton shirt.  Gliding in a feather-light motion, sending delicious shivers along her flesh.

Instead of pushing away his hand, as she might have once done, Sarah stepped aside, putting the required distance between them.  Her eyes were cold as she regarded him, but not vehement, nor outraged.

"This isn't love," she told him.  Let there be no such illusions between them.  She was not the naïve young romantic she had once been.

He shrugged eloquently, taking back his hand as if the break of contact had been his choice, not hers.  "Does it have to be?"

She didn't answer, just stared at him with eyes that gleamed like dull emeralds in the heavy darkness.  The light from the hallway hit her from the back, offering a softness to the dark strands that haloed her face, but the shadows lent him their support, keeping him tucked within their folds.

"Give me the child," he said, echoing the words she had once spoken.  Gently demanding, his tone offering all that he would not put into speech.

Sarah turned her gaze back to the small figure lying in the bed, unperturbed by all that carried on in the room.  Blond hair fell in soft waves, framing a round face of cherubic proportions.  His hand was curled in a tight fist, resting mere inches from the slightly parted red lips, the gentle rise and fall of his narrow chest the only indication that sleep was all that kept this body stationary.

His parents had never truly loved him.  They had entrusted his care to the sister who resented his very existence.

She hadn't loved him… before.  Did she now?

"Take him."  She turned, from them both, the short curtain of hair twirling with her.  Creating, in that movement, the impression of a passion that was not truly there.

There was no such thing as love.

Not here.

A hand landed on her shoulder, moved caressingly to her head.  Voice, supple and seductive in her ear, "It's best for all."

She nodded in acquiescence, not trusting herself to speak over the lump that had somehow appeared in her throat.  Tears burned her eyes and fell, for the first time in a long time.  She leaned back, her body taking comfort in the contact, even if her heart would not be so easily consoled.

Not here.  But maybe somewhere else.