I've been writing so many sad things lately. :c
Lyrics are quoted from Don't Wake Me, by Skillet.
Pairing is USCan, with some mentioned FrUK.
Lucid dreaming and maladaptive daydreaming disorder are referenced in this story, but you don't have to know what they are to understand the plot.
Contains the general weirdness that is my brain.
If It's You I'm Dreaming Of
(then I don't want to wake up)
Matthew Williams is a rather lonely boy who hides behind books or, if one is not present, his bangs and wiry glasses. Thin and lanky, he's thirteen and doesn't really mind keeping to himself.
He's picking a book up from the dusty shelf of a bookstore when his life changes.
The clerk is a gentle old man who stands next to him, telling him of his personal favorites, until Matthew quietly interrupts, "This one. What's this one about?" The book looks old, worn. The front is faded leather and lacks a title.
The man glances down at the book, and a smile crinkles his face. "My own mother used to read me that book when I was young."
Curious, Matthew opens the cover, eyes scanning the first few paragraphs. "What's it about?" he queries. He doesn't know why, but he feels quite drawn to the book.
"It's a short story, you see," the clerk says, flipping a few pages for him, "about a hero named Alfred F. Jones."
Matthew can't help but quirk a smile, amused, at the grainy illustration of a man on a horse. He laughs softly. "A cowboy?"
"It's yours, if you'd like it. I think... I think you'll find it most captivating."
"I couldn't-" Matthew protests meekly, but the old man insists, and a few minutes later, the young blond finds himself walking out of the store with the book in hand. By the time he gets home, he's four pages into the book, having started reading on the way to his house.
His older brother Arthur peers out from the kitchen. "You're just in time, Matthew," he says with a thickly accented voice. Since he returned from his studies in England, he's been speaking with a heavy British accent. Matthew finds it a little fitting for him. "Dinner's ready."
Matthew bites back a grimace, stepping into the dining room with his book in hand. "Actually, I bought some snacks on the way home, so I'm not really hungry."
"Eating's an important part of your day, you know." Arthur starts setting the table for the two of them. "You're not going to be able to live off on Goldfish crackers and Gatorade."
Matthew sighs over-exaggeratedly and takes his place on the table.
Arthur narrows his eyes at him.
In a few seconds, they're both laughing.
Matthew (grudgingly) eats dinner, reading his book in between bites.
. . .
It ends abruptly.
Alfred is last seen riding into a small town. The last few sentences read:
As dawn breaks and they birds start to rouse, lifting off into the sky, Alfred adjusts his hat and walks through the town's welcoming gate. A smile stretches across his face as he catches sight of something in the distance-
It cuts off there. Matthew flips back to the last few pages and re-reads - maybe he's not getting something - only to come to the same ending.
He examines the crest of the book, looking for any signs of the last page having been ripped off, but when he runs his fingers down it, it feels smooth. He finally leans back in his chair, staring at the blank page, perplexed.
What does Alfred see?
. . .
The next day, he mounts his bike and rides to the bookstore, intent on getting the full story from the old man. There's something in him - he's not quite sure what, but it's there - that urges him to find out how Alfred's story ends.
He must find out how it ends.
And so that urgency eventually leads him to pumping his legs at full speed, skidding harshly and nearly vaulting forward when he finally stops at the edge of the sidewalk.
Matthew slips off his bike, only to glance up at a sign that read in big letters, CLOSED.
He knocks on one of the windows, but inside, the store is dark and there's no sign of the clerk. He sits on the steps in front of the shop and waits for him to arrive. Eventually, someone passes him and says, "You're out of luck, kid. They're closing that store."
"Wh-Why?" Matthew sputters, eyes widening in surprise.
"But I buy from here."
"You must have been the only one who did."
Matthew bites his lip, grips his book, and forces himself to go home.
. . .
Arthur, clad in dress shirt and some loose pants that look like they've been thrown on haphazardly, enters their house, the keys rattling as he locks the door. He glances around, silent, and waits for a sign that Matthew is milling around.
There is none.
It strikes him odd; usually his younger brother is up by the time he's come home from work, making pancakes, or feeding the cat, or lazing around on the couch. But the clock reads 9:04 in the morning, and it seems that Matthew is still not awake.
Arthur unbuttons his stuffy suit and tosses it on the coat rack carelessly - the weather is much too hot for layers of clothing.
He's halfway up the stairs when Matthew appears, looking groggy and sleep-hazed.
"Arthur?" the younger boy slurs.
"Morning," Arthur greets curtly, passing his brother on the way up. "Did you sleep in?"
"...Are you sure?"
. . .
Matthew is more than fine.
He dreamed of desert, a railroad track, and a scorching sun glaring down on him - the typical western setting. He was, by some miracle, caught stuck in the middle of the track by his pants leg. The train rumbles closer, a lumbering monster steadily creeping in.
He could feel everything: the heat, the sweat prickling on his skin, the trembling of the ground as the train drew nearer.
The train shrieked its high-pitched whistle into the air-
(Matthew squeezed his eyes shut.)
-and sped past.
When he finally dared to exhale and open his eyes, he realized two things: he wasn't sitting on the tracks anymore, and there was someone holding him.
There was a flash of gold, and then
. . .
he woke up. The first thing he realized was it was just a dream. The second thing that dawned on his mind was that Alfred's name was just on the tip of his tongue.
Perturbed, albeit a little giddy from the dream, Matthew woke up late that morning.
Arthur gives him slightly worried glances; he waves it off with a soft smile.
Matthew is more than okay.
. . .
He dreams of Alfred more frequently, though not as frequently as he would, admittedly, like. But each time he does, he wakes up from that dream with a growing sense of longing. He sometimes wishes that he wouldn't wake up just yet.
The dreams vary. Sometimes he's meeting Alfred for the first time. Sometimes he's his accomplice for a chase. Sometimes it's the railroad track scene - Matthew doesn't mind that that one repeats just a little bit more than the others.
He doesn't mind being saved over and over.
. . .
"What's a boy like you doing in a place like this?"
He's sitting on a bar stool, surrounded by loud, shouting men. There's a stench of alcohol in the air, and Matthew figures they're drunk. He turns to whomever addressed him and says hesitantly, "I...I'm not quite sure."
The man has short blond hair, the glimmering shade seeming to morph every few seconds or so. Matthew tries to gauge his eye color, until the man abruptly faces him, revealing bright blue eyes.
A hat rests on the surface next to his arm.
Matthew tilts his head curiously and is wondering what that could possibly mean when the man leans in close and whispers, "Happy birthday."
. . .
Matthew jolts awake. He doesn't sit straight up like they do in the movies - his eyes just snap open, and he finds himself back under the covers, in his bedroom.
There's a rustle, and he immediately looks over to his right(some part of him hoping it might be Alfred, miraculously come to life).
It's just Arthur, frozen in the doorway with a small cake on his hand. "Ah, I suppose the surprise is ruined now," the sandy-haired blond grumbles to himself.
"You should be quieter next time," Matthew croaks, throat still a little dry from sleep. He's half joking and half serious. Maybe if Arthur hadn't woken him, he would have gotten to spend more time with Alfred.
Arthur chuckles slightly, carefully walking over and sitting on the edge of the covers. He offers the cake, a smile teasing at his lips. "Happy birthday."
The words strike a sense of familiarity in Matthew. He remembers the dream, the way Alfred - he's now certain it was Alfred - leaned in so close. It felt so real.
And he wouldn't admit this to anyone else, but he thinks that it was the best way to start off his birthday.
For the rest of the day, Matthew has a dazed smile on his lips.
. . .
Arthur is at work; Matthew takes the chance to visit the bookstore for the first time in two months. Guilt tugs at the pit of his stomach for not have coming to check on the status of the store more often, but he has been busy.
"Busy dreaming of me?" he imagines Alfred saying, and blushes despite the fact that the sidewalk is empty except for him.
The bookstore has been replaced by a coffeehouse. Matthew stares blankly up at the dull sign, then back down at his book. The last page still haunts him with its unfinished resolution.
Realization dawns that he may just never find out the ending.
. . .
The dreams become more recurrent, arriving at least every other day or so. Each one never fails to make him jolt awake with sweat dripping down the side of his face, breathing labored, and the want for more.
He visits the library to check out a book on lucid dreaming. As he leafs through the pages of the thick book, a spark of hope ignites within him - perhaps he might have found a way to stay in his little dream world just for a little while longer.
He finishes the book within the afternoon. Before he goes to sleep that night, he makes sure he thinks of Alfred.
. . .
There's a click, and then something cold and hard is pressed against his forehead. When he opens his eyes, he finds himself staring down the barrel of a gun.
A finger rests on the trigger, leading to an outstretched arm, to a broad shoulder, to a neck marred with scratches, to a chin with a stubble and steely green eyes partially covered by the brim of a tattered brown hat. His mouth moves and he nudges Matthew with the gun, but Matthew doesn't hear him.
He's standing behind the desk of what seems like an inn, the man standing on the opposing side.
Matthew tries to figure out a way to leap over the counter, run across the lobby, and then out the doors - while managing not to get shot.
The man nudges him again, motioning for the safe full of money he keeps behind him, and suddenly, Alfred seems to materialize out of nowhere, knocking the man aside easily. He goes down with a thump and a groan.
Alfred barely spares him a glance, turning immediately to Matthew, blue eyes shining with concern. "Are you hurt, Matthew?" he asks, cupping the younger blond's cheek with a gloved hand.
Matthew has barely sputtered, "H-How do you know my name?" when a gunshot rings out, and Alfred pitches forward. His body hits the surface of the counter.
Blood pools out from underneath him; Matthew looks down to find his hands coated in crimson.
He shrieks and shrieks and shrieks and
. . .
shrieks, coming back to reality so abruptly, throat raw, tears streaming down his face.
Arthur bursts into his room and takes him into his arms, presses his head into his chest, whispers, "Matthew, ssh, calm down, lad, calm down..."
His sobbing doesn't let up. "He's dead, Arthur, he's dead." He repeats those words desperately into the fabric of his brother's shirt. He clutches at the older boy's shoulders in a death grip so hard, his knuckles turn white.
"Who's dead, love?" Arthur rocks him back and forth slowly. He combs his fingers through Matthew's sweat-dampened hair, hushing him all the while. "No one's dead, Matthew. It was just a nightmare."
Tears still leaking out from his shut eyes, Matthew gives the barest shake of his head. "He's dead..."
. . .
Usually he's more enthusiastic, but he can honestly care less. The repercussions of the nightmare, although it happened a week ago, still linger in his thoughts.
He's just finished adjusting his shirt and walking out of the bathroom when he runs into Alfred.
"E-Eh?" he squeaks, almost falling backwards in utter shock. "A-A-Alfred?"
The other blond looks down at him, as if just noticing, before grinning. "Oh, if it isn't Matthew!" he says brightly, touching the tip of his hat in greeting.
Matthew blinks; Alfred disappears for a moment. Frantic, he wills the man to come back, and Alfred does so within the next second. "How are you here?" Matthew manages.
"I thought you wanted me here?" Alfred furrows his eyebrows in confusion. "Hate to break this to you, Matt, but you're just imagining me."
"B-But..." Matthew scrambles to find the right words: "You're here."
Alfred chuckles, moving closer, and he might have done more if Arthur doesn't suddenly open the door.
"Matthew?" The Englishman's voice is inquisitive and a little worried. "...Are you all right?"
His younger brother blinks, trying to recuperate from the strange encounter. "Y-Yes, Arthur... I'm fine." He means it. Somehow, he means it.
Arthur looks hesitant. "I just heard you talking to someone, is all." Before Matthew can respond, he shakes his head. "Never mind, it must have been my imagination. Are you ready? You're going to be late if you wait any longer."
"I'm coming, I'm coming." Matthew follows him down the stairs and into the car.
Alfred sits in the back with him.
Matthew knows that Arthur will find it strange if he suddenly starts talking to air, so instead he leans on Alfred's shoulder, content with the silence. He smiles.
. . .
Arthur's eyes flicker to the rearview mirror. He sees his younger brother's head tilted slightly, as if propped on something, but there's no one next to him.
. . .
"You sit by yourself?" Alfred sits across him, hands folded under his chin, tone curious.
Matthew is sitting in the corner of the cafeteria. "There's no one else to sit with," he whispers, trying to look as normal as possible.
Alfred laughs loudly, and Matthew turns red. "You don't have to talk out loud, y'know," the blue-eyed man says.
Really? Matthew thinks, a little sarcastic, and Alfred says, "Yes, really."
Matthew gapes at him, eyes wide. "Did you just..."
"Start eating your lunch, Mattie." Alfred smiles teasingly. "Unless you'd like for me to feed you. Is that it, hm?"
"N-No!" Matthew feels his cheeks turn even warmer and he picks up his fork, starting to dig into his food.
He doesn't realize that someone's been watching him.
. . .
Gossip spreads like wildfire through the school.
. . .
The ropes are loosened around him and, just as the whistle of the train becomes deafening screech, a hand yanks him upwards painfully by the collar of his shirt. He finds himself in Alfred's arms.
This is his favorite dream.
"Stop getting in so much trouble," Alfred whispers against his neck, breath warm across his skin.
Matthew shivers. "I never did understand how you knew my name."
He feels a smile curve Alfred's lips. "I've saved you a hundred times, Mattie. Don't you think I'd know your name by now?"
. . .
"I think they think I'm insane," Matthew blurts out. He bites his lip and stares at the couch's cushion, feeling sheepish.
There's a brief glimmer of sunlight from the windows, and then Alfred is sitting across him. He's wearing his regular attire: a white, long-sleeved cotton shirt, suede pants, and brown leather boots. This time he's not wearing his hat, revealing tousled blond hair.
"I think you shouldn't care about what they think," he says.
Matthew cracks a smile.
The voice startles him out of his reverie. Arthur is standing at the end of the couch. Alfred is gone. "Oh." Matthew gives a small wave to his brother. "Hi, Arthur."
An troubled expression flashes across Arthur's face for a moment. "You've been sitting there for the past hour or so."
"...Have I?" Matthew, doubtful, searches around the room for a clock. When he can't find one in sight, he turns back to Arthur with a shrug. "I guess I lost track of time."
His brother studies him intently. Matthew meets his gaze levelly.
"If you say so," Arthur finally relents, but his voice is stiff and doesn't suggest that he's going to forget about this.
Matthew nods curtly, before getting up and leaving for his room, avoiding Arthur's eyes.
. . .
"I'm worried about him, Francis." Arthur grips the phone tightly, keeping his eyes on the clock. Any second, Matthew would be home. He doesn't want his younger brother hearing any of this conversation.
"I'm sure it's only a phase, cher," his boyfriend assures him. "Give him some time, I'm sure it'll pass."
"He's not eight," Arthur deadpans, "he's sixteen. This isn't just a phase."
"What if it is, and you're worrying over nothing?"
"...I'm considering getting him help."
Silence falls between them.
Arthur bites his lip; he knows that Francis absolutely adored Matthew, and if they had to predict that someone would become crazy one day, the soft-spoken blond would never be even a possibility.
But despite what they might have thought before, Arthur knows now that their perception was wrong. When he first overheard Matthew talking, as if someone else were in the room, he brushed it off. Nowadays, when he walks into the room and sees Matthew sitting there, still as stone, staring blankly ahead, guilt gnaws at him, because why hadn't he done something before?
He makes a call to a local counselor that night.
He just hopes he isn't too late.
. . .
"Don't you ever change clothes?" Matthew murmurs into Alfred's shirt. There's little space left in their position, pressed against each other on the armchair, but Matthew doesn't mind the closeness.
Alfred's hands run teasingly down the side of his arm. "Are you trying to suggest something?" He tugs at the hem of the other boy's shirt.
Matthew's face turns florid. "Of course not."
That incites a mirthful laugh from Alfred. But before he can respond, Arthur enters the room.
Like always, Alfred disappears and Matthew is left with disappoint and slight irritation towards his brother.
"What are you thinking of?" Arthur takes a seat next to him, where Alfred was. "You've been sitting here for some time now."
"Just wondering how this book might end," Matthew lies swiftly, gesturing to the worn object on the table.
Arthur hums thoughtfully, picking it up. He examines it, flipping through the pages quite carelessly (Matthew has to restrain himself from telling Arthur to be careful) before finally setting it back down again. "I remember this," he tells Matthew with an amused smile.
Matthew, surprised, straightens. "What do you mean?"
"We had a whole shelf full of books back in England," Arthur explains. "I remember Mum had this book." His emerald eyes glaze over for a few seconds as he recalls his childhood. "You weren't born back then. By the time you were, we'd already moved here."
"The book," Matthew says, feeling the excitement in his veins. "Do you still have the book?"
Arthur shoots him a bemused expression. "It's been almost twenty years. I'm not even sure if we brought it with us here."
"Oh." Matthew's shoulders slump, the energy draining out almost as quickly as it had come. "Okay."
"I'll try to look for it," Arthur offers, but Matthew just nods dejectedly. "...What's so special about that book, anyway?"
For a second, Matthew looks offended. Then he turns weary again and he answers: "Just wanted to know how it ends, that's all."
Arthur nods slowly. "I see," he says quietly.
"Did you need something?" Matthew asks, switching subjects. "Were you looking for me?" Part of him just wants Arthur to leave so he can see Alfred again. He feels guilty for thinking like this, but the want - the need - to be with Alfred is, admittedly, greater.
"Oh, yes." Arthur clears his throat. "I...I was worried about you, so I..."
As if on cue, there's a knock, and then a man in a white suit appears in the doorway of their living room. "Mr. Kirkland?" the young man inquires. "Are we ready to begin?"
Arthur turns to his brother to explain, but Matthew connects the dots before he can utter a single word. "Y-Yes, we are," Arthur says, voice wavering.
"Excellent. I'm assuming this is Matthew?" The counselor smiles at him, but Matthew doesn't smile back. "If you wouldn't mind, Mr. Kirkland, I'd like to be alone with Matthew for our first session."
On Arthur's way out of the room, Matthew shoots him a hurt look.
. . .
"Do you have 'black holes' in your memory, spots where you can't seem to remember what happened?"
"Do you constantly experience sudden changes of mood, from extreme happiness to depression?"
"Do you feel a need to seek and draw attention to yourself?"
"Do you hear voices, whether they're in your head, or coming from an unseen physical force?"
"Do you have bouts of fantasies in which things feel so real, yet they are not?"
. . .
The ropes lie in a twisted heap beside the horse's legs. Matthew settles onto the saddle, leaning against Alfred. "I'll never get tired of being saved by you."
Somehow, Alfred hears him through the roar of the train. "And I'll never get tired to saving you," he says, kissing the other's boy's neck.
"They think I'm crazy."
"I think you're perfect."
. . .
Matthew dreads Saturday afternoons. Each time the counselor comes into their house, he smiles, but Matthew can tell that the smile is fake.
"Why don't we begin today's session by recounting any outstanding events that might have happened within the past week." The counselor starts off every meeting with the same proposition. Matthew would always just shrug and tell him that it was mostly uneventful.
He doesn't tell him about the daydreams he has during school, nor the dreams he has at night.
. . .
By the tone of Arthur's voice, he knows that his brother is unhappy.
Matthew sighs, bracing himself for the reprimanding that was sure to come. He turns around from Alfred to look at Arthur. "What," he says bluntly.
"Your grades are slipping." In his hand, Arthur is holding his latest report card. "Two D's, two C's, and a B. Would you care to tell me why this is happening?" His eyes are cold.
Matthew doesn't want to talk about this right now. "No," he says through gritted teeth, and brushes past his brother, heading for his room.
"I just want to help you, Matthew!" Arthur calls after him. "But by acting like a spoiled brat, you're not helping, you're only prolonging this!"
"I'm not crazy!" Matthew finally blurts out. He whirls around, glaring at Arthur from the top of the stairs. Tears prickle at his eyes. "Of all people, you're not supposed to be the one telling me that! You're supposed to be my brother!" Then, before he can start crying, he spins on his heels and run for his room, slamming the door shut behind him.
Arthur sighs in defeat, slumping down on the staircase. He hadn't meant for things to escalate into an argument.
On the table, his copy of Matthew's book lies as what was supposed to be a surprise.
. . .
"Why don't we begin today's session by recounting any outstanding events that might have happened within the past week."
Matthew, eyes hooded and sunken, lifts his head to stare at his counselor. "I want to tell you something," he states plainly.
The counselor looks surprised. A smile, sickeningly pleasant, spreads across his mouth. "Go ahead then," he encourages.
For the next half an hour, Matthew finds himself talking about the book, the dreams, everything - he tells all of this, numb, to the stranger before him. He doesn't feel anything as the man triumphantly shakes his head, proclaiming, "I'm proud of you, Matthew."
He just doesn't want to be crazy any more.
. . .
Alfred's number of appearances start to decrease. Matthew isn't sure whether it's because he hasn't willed him to appear, or if it's because when he did, it was half-hearted.
Arthur can actually stand to look at him now. About a month after the counselor finally decided that they would only need to see each other bi-monthly, Arthur walks into Matthew's room with a book in hand. "I believe you wanted this," he says, setting the book on the bed.
Matthew is laying quietly underneath the covers.
When Arthur takes his leave and Matthew sits up, recognizing the cover of the leather cover of that book anywhere, he almost dives forward to grab it.
He wastes no time in flipping to the back to read that very last sentence.
A few moments later, the book slips out of his hands and falls to the floor.
. . .
A year passes.
Matthew graduates from high school and applies for several colleges. On his second try, he gets accepted, and on that fall, he finds himself starting towards a degree in medicine.
Alfred doesn't appear for his first day - not like he did for his first day of high school - nor does he appear the next day, or the next, or the next. Even though Matthew feels a terrible ache (a feeling he realizes is longing), he feels a sense of liberation.
After his first week, he spends his Saturday morning taking a walk down the same street he walked over five years ago. For the most part, the street looks similar - until he reaches the corner of the block.
The coffeehouse that replaced his beloved book store is still standing. He orders a cup of coffee and brings it outside with him, taking a seat on the curb. He stares off absent-mindedly into the distance where the cars pour in from a variety of places.
He doesn't know how long he sits there for, but eventually a shadow moves over him.
Matthew looks up, confused, only to find himself with a sight that makes his breath hitch and his heart skip a beat.
"Hey, are you okay?"
Bright blue eyes shine with concern.
His blond hair tousles gently in the wind.
Matthew falls in love again.
(And this time, he knows it's real.)
. . .
As dawn breaks and the birds start to rouse, lifting off into the sky, Alfred adjusts his hat and walks through the town's welcoming gate. A smile stretches across his face as he catches sight of something in the distance, a sight that brings warmth to his chest and a glow in his eyes.
His lover is sitting beside the road, head of golden hair bowed, hunched over a book.
For the first time in years, Alfred F. Jones is home.