Disclaimer: Characters, yada yada, not mine, Gaiman's, the usual stuff, all that.

Historian's note: takes place shortly after Dream unmakes the Corinthian in "The Doll's House". Where do dreams go where their die…?



At the edges of nowhere he stood, looking down at the mists, the ever- present mists, looking down as they cleared and turned sleek and transparent until they were gone and he could see Hell.

At the edges he stood and smiled, a big, fairly toothy smile, as nowhere faded into somewhere and he grew warm. And the Pearly Gates stood before him, as he always knew they would, and he could stop shivering from the cold and felt it replaced by fear. And he still smiled.

He stood there, after all, at the ultimate somewhere. He could feel the biting wind of nowhere on his back, chilling him to no end. His white hair flowed and ruffled and would have fallen into his eyes, but they blew it away stubbornly back into the wind.

At the Pearly Gates the Corinthian stood, and below him Hell called and burned and thundered, and though he felt its pull on a soul it justly owned, he made no move and just stood there and smiled.

Big smile, toothy smile, three of them.

The gates opened slowly with the gentlest sound of the screech that make the gates of heaven, as to remind one that Heaven does not open easily, and sometimes, one must force one's way in. And while he sneered and winced away from the being that emerged, he made no attack, no offensive move, and his quick nightmare's mind was already racing. Force one's way in, force one's way in…

So he looked down at Hell with its burning pits, its rivers of blood and seas of tears, he studied the jagged edges of the mountains. He did not like the place. It radiated moist, steaming heat upward and he felt cold.

He smiled and the Angel looked at him. It studied him quietly. He stared at it, stared at its eyes. He was frightened, was cold, was angry, and the least he could do… was smile.

And the Angel spoke in a voice that didn't ring like a golden bell, because for all their vaunted beauty golden bells make an unpleasant sound, and one would do well to remember that. No, the voice was like the first words a mother says to her newborn child; and as metaphors go, it is a good one. It spoke his name but once and the Corinthian fell to his knees, knowing the voice; he had heard it in dreams. Many times he heard it – and as for what the dreamer hearing it would do, when in the Corinthian's world of nightmare, that alone was enough to fell him. And as it did, he kept smiling.

"Rise, little Dream-Being." The Angel said.

He did.

"Nightmare-Being," he corrected lightly.

He was so frightened. He smiled.

"How can I be here?" he asked. "How can I still exist? My creator unmade me. I am no mortal being. I have no soul to enter this place." And with these words, his gaze flicked unconsciously downward.

"You are a fine creation." The Angel intoned, slowly, the voice like streaming water and like things you cannot compare. "Your creator chose to let whatever soul of his he put in you go free."

The Corinthian gritted his teeth. Downward his gaze went, and though he tried, he could not tear it away, or else, which frightened him more, he was not trying. "My gratitude knows no bounds." he mumbled.

"You stand accused of crimes, little Dream-Being," the Angel said, its expression affixed and unchanging. The Corinthian wondered if it ever smiled. His face was beginning to hurt.

As the heavenly being spoke-droned, listing in its divine monotone voice the dead, the wounded, the scarred, whatever pain he inflicted knowingly or otherwise, he gradually lost interest. He knew; he knew well. And he did not feel regret.

Down he looked, down at Hell, spread out before him so he could see every detail. Know what awaits you, he thought, and was frightened. So strange was that feeling – ah, fear, to think he used to indulge in it. It seemed much different when not in the victims' eyes.

He stopped smiling now.

He focused his attention on a lone rock slab, where a naked woman stood and screamed out and cried. A large earth-skinned demon was beating her down and her bones broke only to mend and break again. She screamed out words he could hear. She screamed. "No please, I didn't mean… I didn't mean to kill him… please, I had to… couldn't call the police… couldn't tell anyone… had to kill him, had to stop the pain. Please, I didn't mean…" She was so frightened…

His eyes narrowed and his heart wrenched as the Angel droned on behind him, and the screams and the heavenly babbling mixed together so pleasantly and in such a fitting manner.

It wasn't *fair*.

"Corinthian…" The Angel said mildly.

He turned, he looked back.

"Yes, I did all that," he said. Simply.

"And have you no regret? No reason why this gate should let you through?" Was it only his imagination or were the Angel's eyes actually avoiding the place down below?

Inspiration struck him, a kind, sudden thing. "Would you blame a wolf," he asked of the Angel, his gaze on the woman beneath, "for preying on the sheep? Would you condemn a hunter for the pursuit of his prey?" He asked. Confidence filled him and he looked the Angel dead in its eyes. He did not want to end on a rock slab. "I am the hunter, and they are my prey. I do as I must of the facts of my existence. It is… in my nature."

"In your nature." The Angel echoed.

The Corinthian nodded, and his gaze again trailed down. A young boy – perhaps twelve – pulled at his own hand. The muscles were tensed beyond belief, and yet he kept pulling as something his hand clenched so tightly. "I don't want that. Why won't I let go??" The boy cried out, and pulled, and pulled again. The staring, almost entranced nightmare thought he ought to find it beautiful, yet the wind on his back threw him back to the here and the now. He was so afraid. 'All these humans, torturing themselves…'

"Then, as for your nature," the Angel said suddenly, making him jump, turn abruptly. "What is your nature, little Dream-Being, do you know?"

He knew well, did he not? He knew well, knew what was meant to be his nature. He did not ponder that, instead tried to think of how the woman, how the boy, how they all felt standing here knowing what they did, knowing what will be done to them. Torturing themselves, he knew not how many truly deserved that. The wind from nowhere made him tremble as did the thought of all these who felt it before and will feel it yet. He was so frightened…

"A dark mirror," the Angel said, and the Corinthian knew all the words that come next. A… "Dark face, a shadow, everything about humanity that it is afraid to confront."

'Yes, that's me', he thought, with despair.

Dark mirror… damn it, it was so abstract. Was the dark mirror reflecting what made the woman let herself be abused and then choose the worst way out? Or what made the boy hold on to the things he stole? Was it… 'Was it… me?'

The wind chilled him to no end, and he was frightened, and the Pearly Gates stood and seemed all but welcoming. He considered… he looked. He looked down through the mists. All these humans and their retribution… why won't they just *live*?

"A dark mirror?"

He looked up at the Angel, and with one broad gesture, indicated all of Hell, with its vast plains and its towering rock slabs, with the rivers of blood and the seas of tears, the rapists of little girls and killers of pregnant women, and the torturers and the tortured and these who were both. "Tell me… do you truly think humanity *needs* a dark mirror?"

He did not see a change in the Angel's face – perhaps a slight one. No anger or amazement… perhaps relief.

"You have no place here," it said, glancing at the Pearly Gates, "and to Hell I cannot send you."

The Corinthian shuddered. Would he be here forever now, in the cold…?

Then from out of the mists of nowhere there emerged something new, and he saw the blue-green globe shine like a gemstone, all the people running about their lives. Many would end here, for better of worse, the time down there, that is what was so precious, so little, so ill spent…

"To earth, then," the Angel said, nodding, in contempt of a sort. "To Earth."

A wild wind engulfed him and he was swept down, torn through nowhere on his way to the lively jewel below. As the air blew and whistled about him he felt himself change, even knowing how, as dreamstuff transformed to flesh and blood and bone, true eyes forming with a gush of pain, even as he changed, body and mind, with no recognition he looked at the awaiting world eagerly. And he smiled all the way down.



~~End~~