This is my first Trigun fic, a Trigun/Sandman crossover. It's set about a month after the end of Trigun, and sometime after Morpheus' return to the Dreaming at the beginning of Sandman. Constructive criticism is welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I own neither Sandman nor Trigun, they belong to D.C. Comics and Gaiman, and to Young King Ours and Nightow respectively.
Other disclaimer: I am not Christian. As a matter of fact, I'm about as irreligious as it's possible to be. The Biblical references within have been secularized, and are more Gaiman's than God's - if you have a problem with them, please take it up with him.
This story is dedicated to Jaina and Kiri, for beta reading and general spiffyness.
Not a Revelation
Vash shut the door gently, leaning against it in weary contemplation. He could faintly hear the voices of the women from Bernardelli on the other side, amongst rustling papers and the rhythmic click of Meryl's precious Corona portable typewriter.
It had only been a month since their work with Vash had finished, but the girls were already knee-deep in a new assignment - something to do with insurance fraud and the local hotel. Vash liked the house they'd rented together, though at the work schedule the girls kept, they'd be moving again before too long. He liked the town, too, as it was a small, quiet place where no one would think to look for the Humanoid Typhoon. Still, he was plagued by a constant sense of unease.
Vash left the door and moved the short distance to his bed, sitting down heavily and placing his six-shooter on the little table beside it. He'd slept poorly as of late, waking two or three times a night in cold sweat. The reason why lay on a cot across from him, still oblivious to the world.
Time had healed Knives' physical wounds completely, almost as though they'd never been, but he had yet to move on his own, or even to stir in his coma. The only sign that he still lived was his soft, even breathing, and Vash was beginning to wonder if he would ever recover. The thought filled him with guilt - partly because he had done this to his brother, but mostly because, in his heart of hearts, he was beginning to wish that Knives would never wake.
Not that Vash wished death for his brother; though he hadn't dreamed of Rem since the fight in the oasis, he was still beholden to her ideals. Indeed, he felt as if he could truly call those ideals his own, now that he'd finally faced his brother. Still, it was hard for Vash to think about what needed to be done, and it would be so much easier if Knives were to be this way forever...
No. He couldn't keep ignoring reality, couldn't stay here, working days at the corner store and chatting with the girls at night, when all the while death slept on in his room. They would have to leave, he and his brother, so that the girls would be safe. He'd known this ever since he'd returned with Knives, but it had been too easy to look away from the unpleasant truth. Vash knew that if he stayed on his present course, he'd still be here when Knives awoke - and that was unacceptable. It was far too dangerous to allow his brother to wake surrounded by humans, especially humans Vash cared about.
Even so, Vash's heart gave a little twinge whenever he thought of leaving. He remembered before Augusta, and how her proud head had bowed in sadness when he'd left her then, so that he wouldn't have to see her pain. He'd seen it anyway, more clearly even than his own suffering. To see it again would be painful enough, but knowing that he could never come back, that she'd hurt like that forever...
Vash gave a choked little sob, and buried his face in his pillow, letting his tears flow freely. Meryl's voice came to him then, something funny she'd said once - "You're the easily deceived type who sleeps on a tear-soaked pillow." Somehow, it wasn't funny anymore, now that it was true. He cried for what seemed like ages, all the pain of the last few months rushing out of him at once, before finally drifting off into a sleep deeper than any he'd known in some time.
Even before Vash opened his eyes, he knew that he was no longer in his bed. He could feel moisture in the air, to an extent he hadn't known anywhere outside the recreation room on the Seeds ship, and a few errant rocks were digging into his back. He sat up and surveyed his surroundings.
He was sitting on a dirt path at the base of a high hill. Snatches of brown grasses dotted the edges of the path, and just beyond them, a few stone grave markers mouldered. As the path wound its way up the hill, the tombstones appeared with greater frequency, forming a full-blown graveyard that covered most of the hill in grey, decaying sameness.
At the crest of the hill stood a house - not just any house, but a tall, thin monstrosity of ancient wood and yellowing glass. It was an amalgamation of every stereotypical "haunted house" in every scary book Vash and Knives had had as children, and worst of all, it seemed to be looking at him. He blinked, trying to dispell the illusion, and looked again. No, it really was looking at him. The two windows on the third floor were knowing eyes, their shutters lending the house a half-lidded look.
Vash considered this for a moment, feeling uncomfortable under the house's gaze, and then started up the hill. The sight of this impossible building had brought with it a kind of unreality, and Vash was now sure that he was dreaming. Such lucid dreams were unusual for him, other than the one, but he knew that the best way to handle them was to cooperate. If his psyche had something to show him, he would see it through to the end.
Vash's walk to the top was quite uneventful, though the unsettling surroundings had him on his guard. He stood a moment before the door, examining the ornate iron handle, and then reached out to open it. An instant before he laid a hand on it, the door creaked open a few inches, and a man peered through.
He was short and quite fat, with thinning, dark hair and a small beard and mustache. He was dressed in a white shirt and red suit, but a bolo tie and scuffed brown boots lent his clothing a bit of a familiar touch, at least to Vash. Blue eyes regarded Vash for a second before the man spoke.
"Hello, V-vash. I've been, uh, w-waiting for you. C-c-come in, please", the man stuttered as he pushed the door open. Vash followed him inside, ducking as he did so to avoid a rather large cobweb that hung from the ceiling just inside.
The hallway they were in was short, leading into a large room that momentarily overwhelmed Vash. Assorted clutter covered almost every surface, save a few couches, a small coffee table, and one wall which featured the largest bookcase he'd ever seen. Vash couldn't even begin to identify most of the items the room held - here was a bladeless sword-hilt with a jewel in the pommel, there was an old paper umbrella with a few ragged holes in it. A long-handled brass hammer leaned against the bookcase, with a small wheeled suitcase at its side. There were more than a few skulls in the room, grinning from the bookcase shelves or lying forgotten under a chair. From the ceiling hung what looked like a stuffed crocodile, adorned with a few centuries' worth of dust and cobwebs.
"Please, sit down," Vash's host said, gesturing towards one of the room's overstuffed couches. "W-would you care for r-refreshments?"
"Water is fine," Vash replied, easing onto the couch. The man in the red suit fetched it for him and sat down on the couch across from him.
"Oh, where are my manners? M-my name is Abel. I'm the c-caretaker of this house," the man said, extending his hand. "The House of Secrets." Vash shook his hand and sat back on the couch, sipping his glass of water.
"You knew my name, but I don't know you," Vash said. "This is a dream, isn't it?"
Abel nodded. "Yes. That's m-my job. People come here in their sleep, to this house, and I t-tell them stories. Secret stories."
The outlaw hesitated for a second or two, and then spoke. "Er... do you have a secret for me?" he asked.
"Of course," was the answer. "This house h-holds everyone's secrets. I kept one of yours for many years, among others, but you t-t-told it to someone, so it isn't, hm, a secret anymore." Vash's eyes widened - this man knew his past, knew about his brother? About Rem? He opened his mouth to ask one of the thousand questions that came to mind, but Abel interrupted him.
"You told your friend that secret, but you're keeping another from her, hmm?"
Vash's mouth shut with an audible click. Forget his brother... Abel knew about that? He could feel his face heating up, so he looked away, focusing his attention on the arm of the couch. There was a little worn patch there, and he rested his hand on it, pondering fabric choice and upholstery repair. He was definitely not thinking of grey eyes, or of how fine it had been to hold her close and spin her in his arms...
After a while, Vash found that he could speak, provided his gaze stayed within a few inches' standard deviation of his hands, which had folded themselves carefully in his lap as part of a preemptive anti-fidget measure.
"You haven't... told her, have you?" he asked nervously, with a quick glance at his host. Abel looked rather offended.
"Of course not!" he exclaimed, sending more than a little spittle Vash's way. "It's my job to keep people's secrets, I don't go b-bl-bla... giving them away!" The fat man calmed down a bit, and added, "Secrets like that can be bad, though. Unh-h-healthy. Have you though of, um, telling her yourself?"
Vash frowned. He'd almost forgotten for a moment, thinking of her... but there was no way he could tell her, not when he was going to be leaving in the morning. "I can't," he whimpered, his voice hitting some of the higher registers of misery, "she'd hate me! I can't tell her that and then just leave her, but I have to take my brother away, and-"
"Oh, that's right," Abel interrupted again. "That's why you're here! I, um, forgot." He stood abruptly and made a beeline for the corner opposite Vash, where a little wooden chest sat on the floor beside the bookcase. He produced a tiny brass key from his suit pocket and opened the box, rummaging about inside for a few minutes. The chest was only a few inches tall and perhaps a foot wide, yet a growing pile of its contents began to overshadow it as Abel tossed rejected items aside. Finally, Abel straightened and kicked the chest closed, waving something about in his hand.
"H-here it is," he said, handing the object to Vash. It was a jagged stone, a bit larger than Vash's hand, with a suspicious reddish-brown stain on one side. For some reason, it made him acutely uncomfortable, but Abel frowned when he made as if to put it down. "Keep that for a while," he instructed. "It'll make things more clear for you. Are you ready to hear a s-secret?" Vash nodded, and Abel began to speak.
"Once upon a time, in a land far from yours, two brothers once lived, side by side."
Vash was shocked at the sudden clarity in the man's voice - he'd gone from stuttering and hesitant to sonorous in an instant. As Abel spoke, the outlaw found it very easy to visualize the tale, almost as if he had been there himself.
"In those days, we - er, they - were the best of friends. Though their personalities and occupations could not have been more different, they went everywhere together, exploring the world in which they lived. The brothers were both exceedingly happy, for they were never truly alone, even when apart.
As time went by, however, the younger brother noticed a change in his companion. He could no longer trust the things his brother said, for the eldest was beginning to keep secrets behind his increasingly cold eyes.
This frightened the young man, and he tried his hardest to be kind to his brother - telling him jokes, letting him be first in everything they did, and begging his friend again and again to tell what was troubling him.
At first, the elder brother welcomed this kindness graciously, but before long the younger's friendly overtures were met with snarls and shouts, and in time, blows. He tried his best to accept these punishments, wishing the while that his brother would come to his senses, but things got worse and worse.
Before long, he became afraid of his brother, yet there was still love in his heart for the man. He could not bring himself to hate, not while the memory of happier times still lingered. He tried to run away for a time, but in the end he came back, unable to ignore the bond between them. So, he went on with life, still trying to accept the stranger his brother had become, and still suffering beneath the awful things that stranger did.
One day, after many years of angry silence and painful blows, the eldest brother called the youngest out to the field near their home. The tone of his voice froze his little brother's veins, and for a time, the youngest one paced back and forth in hiding, deathly afraid to answer that call. Many times he steeled himself to leave for good, or swore that he'd go and speak with his brother, and before too long he clutched his head in indecision.
In the end, he left his hiding place and went out to the field, intending to face what his brother had become. They fought, and when they were finished, nothing was ever the same between them again."
Vash blinked in confusion. Surely that wasn't the end of the tale? Sure, he already knew how it ended - Wolfwood had read a similar story to him once, out of a leather-bound book the priest kept. Even if he hadn't known it before, the stone he held told the story clearly enough. Still, he felt uncomfortable, as if the lack of closure was a black omen, and a shiver tickled his spine.
"Do y-you know the moral of the story, Vash?" the fat man asked, stuttering once more.
"Er, it's about murder, right? The first murder."
"N-no, not that moral. Your moral. What have you learned?"
Vash thought for a few minutes, turning the story over in his mind. It was more than a little familiar to him, and not just because of Wolfwood's book. When he'd held the stone, he'd seen the story - but the brothers had met in a green place in the desert, and the stone had been a black revolver.
"You're saying... that I was supposed to face my brother, right?" Vash asked. "I was supposed to take care of him, like Rem said. Why are you telling me this now, when I'm already finished?"
Abel frowned. "You think y-you've already been to the field? What you've done so far is j-just the easy part. You're still running away, Vash. You faced him once, but you're running from w-what your brother is."
"No!" Vash shouted, standing up from the couch angrily. "Don't you see? I'll take care of him - we'll go someplace far away and-"
Abel waved his hand impatiently, interrupting once more. "What good will t-that do? It won't change who he is, who you are. What do you think would happen if a h-human found you there? If your poor mad b-brother heard another one of his p-precious Plants die?" Vash said nothing, so Abel stared him straight in the eyes. "What will happen if you die first, Vash?"
Vash found himself suddenly unable to stand, and collapsed back onto the couch, burying his face in his hands. He knew what would happen then. All his work and hurt would be wasted, and all the lives that had been lost would be for nothing.
"You must face him, Vash," the fat man said, placing a kind hand on his shoulder. "He won't ever get b-b-better if you keep running away."
"I can't," he whispered brokenly.
"Not by yourself," Abel agreed, cheerfully. "But then again, you don't have to."
Vash's head came up slowly, his eyes meeting Abel's for what seemed like a very long time. He felt something click inside his mind, the first inklings of an alternative he hadn't yet considered. So that was the moral of the story?
"Oh," he said weakly. Just then a door slammed somewhere in that strange house, and Abel winced at the sound.
"My b-brother is here, so I need to go. I'm, uh, g-glad you liked the story. C-come back anytime." the big man said. A shadow seemed to fall over him as he spoke, and voice grew resigned. Vash frowned and stood his ground, unnerved by the sudden change in the dream's tone.
When Vash made no move to leave, Abel sighed and continued, "You should go home now, Vash."
Before he could react, the house vanished, leaving the lingering sounds of awful violence in his ears. In time, even these faded, and Vash's sleep deepened into dreamless void.
When Vash awoke, one of the suns was already shining full-force into the window, bathing his bed and the floor in light. He blinked groggily and lay still for a while, trying in vain to hold on to his memory of last night's dream. It had been a strange one, and his muddled brain insisted that it was important to remember... but the spicy scent of Bernardelli Breakfast Burritos caught his attention, wiping the last traces of the dream from his conscious mind.
He sat up slowly, relishing the restful peace he was feeling. It had been so long since he'd slept properly, he'd almost forgotten what it was like. Vash gave a lazy stretch, and then folded his legs beneath him for his morning meditation. He wasn't more than two seconds into Peace and Love before a sound broke his concentration.
Knives had rolled onto his side, causing the cot to creak a bit. The unconscious Plant had curled into a fetal position, his face pinched with what might have been concentration or pain, if he were awake. It was the first time his brother had significantly moved in a month, and Vash hurried over to check his condition.
A hand on Knives' forehead revealed no fever, just a small amount of night sweat, and his breathing was as regular as it had been during his coma. After Knives was still for a few minutes, Vash relaxed a little. He didn't think that his brother was going to wake that day, but he might do so soon, and there were many preparations to make before he was up and about.
Yesterday, he'd been so sure about leaving, yet now he was equally sure that he should stay. Vash considered this, running a hand through his hair as he did so, and then adding "haircut" to his mental list of Things To Do. He hadn't been taking proper care of himself, but that would have to change if he was to have Knives to look after, too.
Still, first things first - Vash wanted a shower, a clean change of clothes, and breakfast. It smelt as if the girls had managed to find some good chile to go into the burritos, along with the usual egg and potato, and Vash had to fight not to drool. Food was something else he'd neglected, since in recent days even donuts had seemed to lose their flavor in the face of his worries.
Vash put thoughts of burritos and donuts behind him, as he grabbed his towel and soap. He was still more than a little leery of what his brother might do when he woke, but it no longer seemed like the doomsday scenario it had been before. He'd probably need the girls' help in order to pull it off without anyone dying, but it seemed possible.
With that thought in mind, Vash headed for the shower. If he got ready quickly, the three of them would have most of the day to get started. He had so much to tell them... especially Meryl, he thought to himself. This wouldn't be the day he could tell her how he felt - better to let that wait until his life was in some semblance of order.
Still, he found himself whistling as he walked, and a grin worked its way onto his face. His future was just beginning to take shape, and he had so much to look forward to.
"Dream is not a revelation. If a dream affords the dreamer some light on himself, it is not the person with closed eyes who makes the discovery but the person with open eyes lucid enough to fit thoughts together. Dream - a scintillating mirage surrounded by shadows - is essentially poetry." - Michel Leiris