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but I will hold on hope

I'll know my name as it's called again


&our little life is rounded with a sleep, we are such stuff as dreams are made on
tpuel;dr puella_nerdii
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But Then I Shall Know Even As Also I Am Known (Baccano!/Sandman, Vino/Corinthian)
This piece is subtitled "Fuck You Creative Writing Seminar," as I think I've broken pretty much all of the unofficial rules for that class here. So I don't want to write mainstream fiction. So take it up with the Corinthian and Vino.

Title: But Then I Shall Know Even As Also I Am Known
Author: puella_nerdii
Rating: R
Warnings: Violence. I am not kidding here.
Wordcount: ~3100
Prompt: Crossover: Baccano!/Sandman - Vino/the Corinthian - violence - the American Dream
A/N: late. ack.


America dreams.

The Corinthian can still sense their presence here in the waking world; the eyes he wears are rarely equipped for such sights, but he has other senses, other instincts attuned to these things. America dreams of roaring cars belching black smoke, of laughter and lipstick and liquor and lingering kisses, of the scent of newly-minted money. America dreams of bread, of starving bellies filled and amber waves of grain rolling over the West again, of men leaping from the top floors of office buildings so their bereaved widows can collect money from their deaths. America dreams of iron and gunpowder and blood, well-kept gardens and clean houses and laughing children. And there are older dreams under those, echoes of hunts and starlight and ice. America’s dreams are incongruous, but America wraps itself in the patchwork fabric of them and sews new dreams over the threadbare ones. America always looks for new dreams.

The Corinthian is an old dream, but no less powerful for it.

He walks the dust-choked roads, trailed by eddies of grit and smoke. Cars pass him, laden with thin-faced refugees seeking greenery, seeking water, seeking anything but this, the sight of human enterprise crumbled to thin powder, the ashes of dreams. Sometimes they slow when they pass him. Often they don’t. Sometimes they offer him whatever space they can afford to create in their half-rusted cars. Often they can’t create any. Sometimes he rides with them until the next intersection, the next town, the next state. Sometimes when he leaves, he leaves them alive. Often he doesn’t. Those whose eyes reflect emptiness, hunger—he samples them occasionally, watches the dust gather and thicken and billow until it swallows everything in sight. Taking their sight from them is a mercy, an escape. He is not an escape. He is a dream, but he is not an escape.

He develops a taste for young men, or boys on the verge of becoming such, thumbs hooked in their suspenders and an incongruous spring in their step. The Corinthian lures them in with surprising ease—they detect what he is, or some of them do, if not the full magnitude of it—and wonders if they seek death because nothing else holds any promise. Or perhaps it’s the excitement, the thrill of danger and at last (again) escape, the safety at the end all the dearer for it. He picks grit-worn hotels where the staff shuffles around bleary-eyed, and barely needs to nudge their attention away from him and his targets. They don’t know what to make of him, and perhaps it is a facet of the American character that they then choose to disregard what they don’t understand, to ignore what his presence might signify. He can’t fault them for their ignorance. There are no men like him, and not many dreams like him, either. Someday, though. He envisions it, a race of nightmares rising from the ash of this land.

The Corinthian doesn’t say such things to the boys, not at first. He masks two of his mouths with sunglasses, quells their questions with kisses from the third. The feel of solid flesh under his fingers, the way he traces the boys’ pulses, the slick warmth of their blood is substantial, quite literally so. He possesses his favorites, the boys with unbowed heads and unbroken spines, but for most, he only requires their eyes. It isn’t difficult to subdue them. They’ve grown thin, their muscles tired and worn, and he needs only wrap his arm around their throats and flex his bicep against their windpipes to crush the breath from them, feel the movement stutter and choke and dissipate. Their limbs twitch and thrash before they yield to unconsciousness; the Corinthian pins them close and twists their arms behind their backs to keep them from breaking free. He binds them after unconsciousness takes over, tightens the ropes until red pinpricks break out under their skin, and gags them with whatever’s handy: tape, a sock, their discarded underpants, the blade of his knife.

It’s delicate work, removing an eye without scratching it. Plucking eyes out with his hands ruins them, destroys their shape, sours the taste. He edges the flat of his knife between eyeball and socket and traces the curve in a clean slow stroke, severs the nerves and narrows his world down to the tiny almond-shapes wide with fright, monitors the rivulets of blood flowing down their cheeks but ignores the choked screams rising ragged from beneath him. They impede his focus. Vitreous humor coats his fingers and gathers under his nails when he pries their eyes free at last, and he watches them die with their own eyes.

Sometimes he kills them first—knife across the throat or wrists, straight seeping lines of red—and reads the impressions and afterimages on their corneas that their deaths leave behind. In his experience, they run something like this: despair no I have to get out no panic oh god the knife he’s going to fear fear stop stop why won’t you stop oh god no no no this isn’t real this is a dream wake up wake up this doesn’t happen not to me not here no please wake up—

He is a dream. This isn’t.

Dust seeps through the cracks in the windows and walls, congeals in the pooling blood and turns it into a rust-colored paste. If he smeared some of it on the roadways, it might look like mud, though that in and of itself would make the residents wonder; there is no water here. The clouds hang thick and dark in the sky, but they’re choked with dust, not rain.

Sometimes he disposes of the bodies carefully, buries them deep in the shifting dunes and waits for time to do its work. Sometimes he doesn’t. He thinks he prefers the latter method.

One day—he doesn’t have an exact date, as the days blend together in a haze of monotonous grey here—but one day, he finds himself at the Santa Fe Train Depot in Shawnee and purchases a ticket to La Grande Station in the city the line is named for. America dreams of the west, always has, and he decides to trace the path of that dream, see what lies beyond the horizon. Perhaps that’s what America dreams of most, the things just out of its grasp. At the station, he eats lukewarm apple pie with a burnt crust and hides his other meal behind his sunglasses, the eyes of a young Cherokee petty thief. The latter tastes better than the former.

Before he boards the train, the Corinthian finds three men huddled in an abandoned boxcar, hands and faces caked with dirt. He’ll need a fresh shirt, he realizes as he sinks his knife deep into the first one foolish enough to rush him, twists, lets the blood trickle down his arm and pool in the crook of his elbow.

“Why?” the last to die asks him, eyes bulging, teeth chattering.

The Corinthian reaches into the man’s gaping mouth and yanks on his tongue. “Because you’re not safe,” he says, and severs it.

Go west, says the America dream, and he supposes he’s part of that now.

***

The dinner served on the train is appetizing enough in its way, but it doesn’t sate him. His true feast will come later, he reasons as he walks to his compartment—no other occupants, not yet—and nods to one of the young conductors who brushes past him. A beautiful young man, auburn hair and a clear smile—

—and the coppery scent of blood hanging thick around him, clinging to his hair and soaked into his skin.

All three of the Corinthian’s mouths break into smiles. Well.

The young man half-turns, a bottle of red wine in his hand, and smiles—perfectly amiable, perfectly sincere, or the perfect illusion of it. “Do you need help with anything, sir?”

The Corinthian walks closer, rests his hand on the young man’s upper arm, murmurs approval at the muscle swelling there. “I think I’m going to have fun,” he says.

The young man grips his wrist with steel-strong fingers, doesn’t move to pry the Corinthian’s hand loose. “Please call me if you need anything.”

“And what should I call you?” the Corinthian asks.

The young man’s smile broadens. “I have a lot of names.”

“As do I.” He leans in, his lips almost touching the shell of the young man’s ear, and murmurs, “The Corinthian.”

The young man says nothing at first, parts his lips in an appreciative “oh.” “If you’re the Corinthian, then I’m Vino.”

Vino. The name conjures up an image, a blood-drenched corpse with mangled strips of flesh where its face used to be.

“Or maybe,” the young man continues, his voice a hot whisper, “I’ll be Rail Tracer.”

The Corinthian chuckles softly. “Another monster of legend,” albeit a more recent one, but though new dreams might not have the weight of tradition behind them, they’re still infused and giddy with the energy of creation, and it’s tantalizing. “How did you come by that name?”

Vino, or Rail Tracer, or a thousand other aliases, turns the question around. “How did you get yours?”

“The mode of behavior, primarily,” he says, tightens his grip on Vino, pulls him closer; Vino steps into the touch, permits him to do it. The scent of blood in the air thickens, nearly solidifies. “Though the Bible verse has something to do with it, I’m sure. Or,” he amends, “I have something to do with the Bible verse.”

“Do you believe in God, then?”

“I believe in myself.

Vino laughs. “So do I.”

***

The Corinthian has no need for sleep. He was its creature once, but he is a nightmare of a different kind now, a presence that cannot be dismissed as a flight of the imagination, a trick of the shadows. He leans his head against the worn leather seat and listens, smells.

The tang of copper curls through the air, followed by the thin wet sound of flesh tearing. He slides the door of his compartment open, pads out into the hallway past the rows of doors bolted tight against the forces stalking the train tonight. His eye-mouths laugh at the sight, a laugh that is more hiss than voice; wood and metal can’t ward him away, no, not him nor any of his kind.

Perhaps America looks ever westward, towards the sun, so it doesn’t have to contemplate the shadows trailing behind it.

Someone locked the door separating his car from the next. The laugh he gives at that is more fully voiced. He twists the handle, and the door shudders and yields, admits him access to the scene he’d hoped to see.

Vino wipes the back of his hand across his forehead, leaves a trail of gore smeared on his skin. His shoes squelch in the soaked carpet as he cuts a path through the bodies sprawled out beneath him, their mangled limbs askew, their faces gaping featureless sores leaking blood in place of tears. The heel of Vino’s once-white shoe comes down hard on one man’s outstretched hand with a snap and a crunch; he grinds his heel once, twice, rearranges the structure of the corpse’s hand and pulps it before he moves on. Blood paints his fair skin, veils his features and transforms them into a grinning red mask, congealing gore clinging to his eyelashes.

“Why?” the Corinthian asks. Inquires, to be precise.

Vino’s smile flashes white, white embedded in crimson. “Because I willed it.”

A thin layer of dust stirs from the floorboards when the Corinthian moves, sticks to the blood coating his shoes. From dust I made you, and to dust you shall return. Vino slides his hand up the Corinthian’s neck, trails blood in the wake of his fingers, and his mouth tastes sharp and sour when the Corinthian kisses him, rubs his tongue across Vino’s to absorb the taste and crushes their lips together until Vino’s pulse makes his lips throb with it.

“Who shall it be next?” The Corinthian needs specify no further.

“Everyone in this car needs to die,” Vino says, and among their kind that is justification enough. If there are further motivations, further desires, they remain unspoken. The Corinthian will take this for what it is, or what he thinks it is, and Vino, he’s certain, will do the same.

“Do you want to take turns?” he asks. “I’ve developed an admiration for your work.”

Vino tilts his head to the side, considering. “You’re very old,” he says.

The Corinthian removes his sunglasses, and his eye-mouths answer, “Yes.”

“I’ve never seen anyone like you before.” He smiles. “Unless I count myself. Are there many of you?”

“Yes. And no.” The Corinthian reaches forward, taps Vino’s chest, splays his fingers across where his heart would be. “I lurk here. Even when I’m denied, I’m here. Because I am what matters. I, and you, and the other ones like us. They flee the shadows, but we provide no escape.”

“Is that what they expect me to be?” Vino asks.

“Yes.”

“Then I’ll do it,” he says. “It’s who I can be, or part of it. I can be everything. But right now, I’ll be that. I’ll be Rail Tracer.”

The Corinthian draws in a slow breath, takes in air stained with the last gasps of dying men.

***

Blood arcs through the air, flies through the open compartment doors and spatters against the leather seats, and the Corinthian understands Vino’s name: the stains on the green fabric are the same shade of burgundy he associates with good red wine.

Vino, or Rail Tracer, or both, snaps the shaking wrist of a portly man pointing a gun at him. “That won’t work,” he says, not unkindly. “I can’t die, after all.” He seizes the sides of the man’s head and wrenches it to the side, snaps his neck with a splintering sound and keeps going. Vertebrae grind and scrape together, crunch and creak until Vino releases the man, lets his corpse crash to the floor, its head flopping forward on the twisted stem of its neck.

“Runoratas,” Vino adds, shaking his head. “I thought by now they’d know better than to send their men against me. One car full of thugs isn’t nearly enough. Well,” he considers, “even if they packed every inch of the train with their men, it wouldn’t be enough.” He’s thoughtful, calm if not quite tranquil, smiling as he spreads a splash of blood across his sleeve. The Corinthian says nothing; Runorata is not nearly so interesting a name as Vino.

“Then you know the secret to avoiding death?”

Vino frowns. “It isn’t a secret, exactly. If you want to live forever, you don’t die. People make things more complicated than they actually are.”

“They’re too desperate for escape to see the way out that’s been there for them all along,” the Corinthian agrees, catches the silver of the moon on the blade of his knife. He tests the door to the compartment on his left and laughs; locks hold no power over him. Is the American dream so fragile, so frightened of the dark? He darts in the compartment, shrugs aside the bullets peppering his skin, seizes one man by the tie and draws him close, winds the silk of the tie around his fingers and listens to the sound of sweat sliding down the man’s skin. “Why are you always running?” he asks. The second man he leaves for now, leaves him gasping wordless shrieks.

“M—” His voice breaks. “Monster, let me—let me go—”

“No,” the Corinthian says—the man’s eyes hold nothing he hasn’t seen before, so he sighs and drives his blade through the right one, feels the tie jerk on his fingers as the man staggers backwards, claws at his face, sags. The Corinthian releases him, pulls out his blade and wipes the flat of his knife across the other man’s, his younger companion with fingers stiff and immobile around the trigger of his pistol. His eyes…

The Corinthian smiles a three-mouthed smile and plucks the gun from his fingers. Vino stands silhouetted in the compartment door, face masked by blood and shadow. “I’ll take one eye now,” he says, “and one after I’ve killed you.”

He traps the young man against the seat with his knee, grips his chin and holds his face steady as his knife descends, twists, navigates the bulge of his eyeballs; the young man closes his eyes, so the Corinthian’s knife tears through eyelid, parts it from the rest of his skin. The flap of flesh clings to his eye when the Corinthian pries it loose—and oh how the young man shrieks and moans and prays in a mangled mix of Italian and English. The Corinthian flicks the bit of skin away, discards it as he would a peel, and bites, bites, savors the sweet pop and the tangled rush of memory following it.

He inches his blade across the young man’s throat, listens to his screams gurgle and trickle away.

“Have you ever seen the world through someone else’s eyes?” he asks Vino.

“Why would I want to do that?” Vino asks. “My eyes are the only ones that see anything.”

“Then perhaps I should take them.”

“You won’t.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because I don’t want you to.”

“And the world does what you want it to?”

“Yes,” he says, and he is beautiful then, a beauty to make all ninety-six of the Corinthian’s teeth ache.

The Corinthian’s eye-mouths hiss with laughter, soft and slow. “The American dream,” he says. “You embody it.”

Vino’s mouth, when he tastes it again, is sweeter than blood, slicker than vitreous humor. The train rounds a corner, and he leans into the young man, presses him against the side of the doorframe and braces against him, slides a knee between his slender thighs. It’s a shame when he disentangles himself to pop the corpse’s other eye free, but he imagines himself looming nightmare-black in the man’s death sight and groans, swells. He extends his palm flat, the eyeball in the center of it. “Taste it,” he tells Vino.

“All right,” Vino says—to humor him? He brings the eye to his lips and licks it slowly, deliberately, curls his tongue around the surface the way another man’s might around an ice cream. He wipes the back of his hand across his lips, hands the eyeball back. “It’s bitter,” he says. “I think it’s more to your taste than it is to mine.”

The Corinthian bites, devours, tastes dust on the wind.

--

Note: Gaiman said he named the Corinthian after the mode of behavior; a Corinthian is another term for a rake or a rogue. The Bible verse is 1 Corinthians 13:12, and is quite telling: For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

“The American dream,” he says. “You embody it.”

WHAM.

This is me, dead, on the floor and squeaking. Yes. Yes.

Violent--poignant for that. Not a drop of blood used untowardly. Or vitreous humor, as the case may be. The Gaiman shows through (mostly in the paragraph-length alternation) but there's so much you in it, so much of that motion that pervades what you do... Just. Damn..

And then the social commentary just. Yes. It rings so true, disturbing and true, perverse. (Also, HA, to humor him.)

Whoever prompted this has got more and better than she asked for.

And this is me blushing.

Am glad I managed to acknowledge Gaiman without entirely losing my own voice -- it was a concern of mine, writing this, because he's so distinctive and powerful. And the social commentary. Yeah. I had to, because Claire is what the American dream wishes it could be: capable of anything, able to take on any shape, boundless self-confidence and unshakable egocentrism. (And yes, you caught "to humor." *grin* I REALLY ENJOY BEING PERVERSE.)

You are love. ♥

I... Oh god, I approve.

He is a dream. This isn’t. is my favourite line for some reason or other but overall, this is the best-written piece of fanfiction I've read in ages. And two of my beloved series, too! Like Corinthian and Vino would stick to any writing rules, duh.

I am bright red now. Just so you know. *grin* And yeah, I like that line a lot, and the variations on it that appear, the whole idea of dreams given shape and power over the real world.

You're entirely right, which was one of the reasons this was so fun to write -- the places you can go with these two, seriously. Just.

Oh my GOD this Corinthian. I don't know Baccano! but this Corinthian, this is the Corinthian I got fascinated and obsessed with when I first read Sandman, in all of his justified self-knowledge and amorality and hunger. He's terrifying and compelling. His fixations are catching.

AND. the social commentary, the real sense of place and time and the weird psychotic hysteria that is America dreaming of itself, violence and destruction and hope all mixed up. Loved it.

The Corinthian's always compelled me, too -- admittedly the second incarnation more than the first, partially because the second had such a great dynamic with Matthew. But yes, he knows what he is and what he has to do and he does it -- he and Vino have that in common, and that kind of assertion of will over the world draws me to both of them.

Yeah, the commentary. *grin* Baccano! is set primarily during the early nineteen-thirties in New York City, but Vino's been all over the country, and the Dust Bowl. I couldn't resist the Dust Bowl, because it's the kind of atmosphere that gives birth to dreams like this.

Thanks so much for reading.

You're reminding me that it's been far, far too long since I read Sandman. /Matthew/. <3.

But anyway, yes! Willful assertion, and the utter self-assurance that because they wish it, that is how the world is. Scary-compelling.

And the Dust Bowl is such a fantastic setting. Have you watched Carnivale, ever? It's one of the most effective uses of that setting I've seen.

I adore Matthew. He moves among these towering figures of myth and he's just so grounded and human and real. It's a great contrast, and he's a great character.

I haven't watched Carnivale, though it definitely looks intriguing -- my school library might have it? I don't get HBO, so I miss out on a lot of shows I think look neat but just can't access. And, well, I do like Ron D. Moore. Most of the time. Except when he goes utterly off his nut.

He is. And he does the loyalty thing which will get me every damn time, with Dream at the end.

The first season is worth it, for the aesthetic alone. You kind of have to -- how best to say. Let the plot happen? And not worry about it too much. But the aesthetic is incredible. Dust Bowl, carnival freaks, Tarot cards, corrupt priests, radio plays...

Love love love love love. Yes. So very, very yes. This amazingly awesome and true to both canons and. and. And there need to be more Sandman/Baccano! crossovers, don't there? I felt like something of American Gods was creeping in on the edges of this, too, which. Well, you take Neil Gaiman and cross it with Baccano and it makes sense that that could be one of the flavors that might emerge in the end, I think, especially with the angle you took with it. Which was awesome. It felt true to both canons, like I said, but it also brought something new to the table--created a new perspective (ahahaha perspective) on both--which is the ideal point of a crossover, I think.

Also, I saw all of Baccano! for the first time a couple of weeks back, and then I reread Doll's House a few days ago, and I was struck with a sudden gleeful desire to see someone turn the Corinthian loose in Baccanoverse. This has hit the spot perfectly :3 although when I started to consider it seriously the first Baccano! character my mind gravitated towards, given the Corinthian and his hobbies, was Czes, but I suspect that's mostly because I'm a terrible person.

Thanks so much! And yes, there really should be more crossovers; I'd love to hear what all the respective immortals have to say to one another. I wouldn't be surprised at all to find American Gods creeping in with this, considering the subject matter, how a lot of this is about the American character and what remains constant and what doesn't. So glad you felt it was true to both canons -- and yes, crossovers should shed new light on both canons and recontextualize them, and I'm glad you think this succeeds in that.

HA no, Czes and the Corinthian really would be fascinating to see together, though if Czes thought Claire was bad...cue evil laughter, is all I'm saying.

On recontextualizing--particularly, this makes me wonder more about Claire--I don't know if you meant lines like the "American Dream" bit to imply anything strange, but it's got me picturing him pulling a Spider on someone in order to pull off the lucky-orphan-adopted-by-the-mafia thing xD

And, on the other side of the Corinthian--it also makes me wonder exactly what was happening with Gideon in this era. The images of the dust bowl put me in mind of the wasteland we see in The Wake where Fiddler's Green used to be...

hahaha w-well actually um. Haha.

Heh. You know, I can see Claire doing that! And now you've got me wondering, too -- you're right, the images are similar, and we know he was wandering around for part of this period, and I think the Dust Bowl might physically pain him but that would be so interesting...

*sporfle* CZES IS GOING TO HAVE NIGHTMARES FOR ALL ETERNITY.

Hints of American Gods + Baccano! (which just got licensed by Funi, they'd better not mess it up) + Sandman (which I still really need to read at some point, damnit) + the violence being so damn beautiful and perfect and poigniant + the Gaiman-esque style = me in a squeeing puddle on the ground.

Excellent job. :P

Thank you! And am glad I succeeded in making the violence more than, you know, eye-socket violation. Which it is, but there's more to it than that, or so I hoped when writing it.

(AND YES. READ SANDMAN. IT IS POWERFUL AND WONDERFUL AND A FORMATIVE EXPERIENCE. Or it was for me, anyway.)

There is ALWAYS more to it than the eye socket violation. :P

(I've read the series of short stories (literary) that various authors did for it. Should really try and lift the comics off my college friends. xD)

Break my kekkai, and then rip out my eye,
Then please, just let me die, and say we'll never part!


-- wait wrong canon, but the eyesocket violation is so CLAMP...

(You should! I like the short stories you're talking about, but The Sandman's a comic series for a reason -- the images and how they're arranged add so much to the story, and there are little visual tricks in the canon that I just ADORE, like how Morpheus is always drawn slightly differently depending on who's looking at him. It's great stuff.)

Vino frowns. “It isn’t a secret, exactly. If you want to live forever, you don’t die. People make things more complicated than they actually are.”

YES.

That was so perfectly Sandman (Hob <3) and yet so perfectly Vino, it's simply stunning.

One of my favourite anime crossed with one of my favourite... well, anything. I love you for this. And I will agree that the Gaiman really shines through here.

YAY you caught the Hob shoutout. And yes, it rings so true for Claire -- I have no problem envisioning him as a Sandman-style immortal. None at all.

And thanks so much -- this was a fun one to write, and I love paying tribute to Gaiman. He's had such an influence on me.

Oh. Em. Gee.

Wow, when I first read the description, I sorta raised my eyebrows and decided to read it just for the weirdness. The idea of a Baccano/Sandman crossover seemed so random at first, but then when I actually started reading... holy crap...

You definitely know what you are doing. I love love looooved it! Seriously, it was so dark and twisted, yet so normal for the both of them. Their characterization was spot on, the writing flowed, and the descriptions demanded vivid mental images that really really made this an amazing read.

Really, great job. I thoroughly enjoyed it. :)