No More Yielding But a Dream

by Tenshi

I never may believe
These antic fables, nor these fairy toys.
Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover and the poet
Are of imagination all compact:
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold…
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.

A Midsummer Night's Dream, V.i.

It was not yet dawn in England when something stirred in the shadows of William Twining's empty dormitory room, and a purple whorl of pulsing light bloomed once and subsided. When it was gone, Dantalion stood beside the window, William's unconscious body cradled in his arms. Somewhere out in the fog-bound countryside a lark trilled and then stopped, as though appalled by its own presumption. Quiet closed over the little school like deep water, engulfing, unnatural. The clock on William's mantelpiece ticked once and then ceased; the watery light creeping across the rug reached the edge of the floorboards but no further.

Sytry and Camio had both offered to return William home. It was no demonic machination on their parts, but rather a consideration that Dantalion would almost be inclined to call kindness. They had been through a great deal together in the long months of their mortal masquerade. Perhaps a total lack of camaraderie would have been more strange than the kind of reserved warmth that had developed in place of their hellish rivalries. It was not unlike the affection between the school chums they had pretended to be.

But even in their offering, they knew Dantalion would refuse. Lamia, who had brought William to Hell in the first place, knew better than to even ask. It did not matter that Dantalion was still battered and bleeding, that his cloak was in tatters and his face drawn in pain. Dantalion would take William home. None other.

He allowed himself only the smallest wince as he lowered William to the bed, remembering too clearly the pain of bedrock slamming into his spine. It would be days yet before the damage Solomon gave him healed. He would bear the marks of the battle long after the denizens of the little school woke with no memory of Dantalion Huber, of Sytry Cartwright, of a bespectacled Head Boy named Nathan Caxton. They would remember instead Isaac winning the culture festival with his little tea stand, they would remember the production of Hamlet going off without a hitch. Mycroft Swallow had made a fine King Claudius, and he would put on his black-edged mourning brooch in memory of a father killed in a carriage accident. The demons and all they had done would be washed away like a chalk drawing in the rain.

With two exceptions.

In the school chapel, Heaven's light still pulsed with a tenacious potency. There would be no undoing what had been done there, but Dantalion was oddly confident they would have no trouble from that end, not yet. Though Uriel had best watch his step, Dantalion thought, sliding William out of his coat. Heaven had cast out angels for far lighter offenses than being overly fond of humans. One more wing and Sytry would have a new fallen brother.

William was another matter. There had been some argument about the issue, brief and heated. Beelzebub had thought it best to have William forget as well, but Astaroth had scoffed at the idea. William, ignorant of his past life and recent adventures, would be an easy target for low-level demons hoping to raise their rank. She did not look at Gilles as she said so, but she did not need to. The young nephilim was white to the lips with humiliation as he helped a nearly-annihilated Baalberith to his feet.

Besides all that, Samael put in, with his opaque, amused smile, Are any of us even capable of it?

No one said so, but they all knew the answer was no. William would remember them, but no one would know what he was talking about. Uriel would remember them but not speak of it. It would have to do.

And deep down in places undisturbed for millennia, Dantalion was content with that. It was hardly perfect. The blank lack of recognition on William's face was something which he had almost gotten used to, but to hear Who are you? in Solomon's cold voice had almost undone him. For an instant Dantalion had thought Solomon and William both would be lost to him forever. But William would not forget him again, and he was safe. Reverently, Dantalion slipped Solomon's ring into the breast pocket of William's jacket. For now, it was enough.

Dantalion drew the quilts up to William's chin; he stirred uneasily. A half-murmur, a frown between his eyebrows. Dantalion bent over him and smoothed it away with a chaste kiss on his brow. William sank back into slumber, and Dantalion stepped back into the shadows.

Camio and Sytry were waiting in the foggy courtyard.

"It was just difficult, that's all I'm saying." Sytry sounded put-out, his voice ringing unnaturally in the time-frozen air. "There were so many, and they were so very fond of me--"

"You took longer over Isaac than you did the others put together." Camio's knowing smile crept up his face, narrowing his eyes. "A long farewell?"

"Be quiet, you," Sytry snapped, and busied himself with the tin of biscuits he'd stolen from the headmaster's office.

"All done?" Camio asked as Dantalion approached, his boots silent on the paving-stones. Even the water in the fountain was unmoving, arrested in mid-cascade.

"All done. Though I don't envy William the bewildered looks he's going to get when he asks about us tomorrow."

"He'll sort it all out fast enough," Sytry said, rooting around for another biscuit. "He's got Solomon's wisdom, after all."

Camio sighed, his gaze lingering on the old stone buildings. "I'm actually going to miss the old dump," he said. "And I was really looking forward to the summer holiday, too. Though I won't be sorry about the food."

"We'll be back." It wasn't just an empty promise in Dantalion's voice, he knew it as surely as he knew the lines of his seal. William has only to call for us, and we will come to him. "But we should go. Time will resume shortly, and to be honest, I feel like hell."

Camio actually laughed at that, a helpless little note of mirth. "Then let us get back to Hell, my comrades, where we so thoroughly belong."

As the portal opened to accept them, Dantalion thought of something Astaroth had said to him, not very long ago. Sometimes pursuit isn't enough. Sometimes you have to pull away. Dantalion looked up at William's darkened window, and smiled. I'll give you a little taste of such longings, William, he thought, as the tendrils of black energy tore open a passage for the three demons. A tiny sample of my centuries of yearning for you. And when you can stand it no longer, and your heart calls out to me, I'll come to you. Come to you with open arms, and never let you go.

The school courtyard was empty. The lark resumed its morning serenade, the fountain burbled into its bowl, and in his tidy prefect's bedroom, William Twining opened his eyes.


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