Wolfwood stopped running when the sound of shattering glass reached his ears, shifting his path to follow the sound. It led him to an open back door of a deserted bar, and inside was a brightly silver weapon lying on the floor.
Risa tsked, shaking her head as she walked around Vash, circled him like a virture. "I warned you...Knives is a heartless killer... and now he took from you the ones who meant the most."
Vash wrapped his arms tightly around himself, shaking with effort to contain the cries of pain that threatened to rip his soul apart. He tried to tune out Risa's voice, but the effort was too much. Knives... the girls... Risa. She did it. Because of her they all
died. Was she coming to finish him, or to continue tormenting what was left of Vash the Stampede? He looked up to her, eyes strained and nearly bloodshot, and whimpered. "Leave... leave me alone."
Wolfwood examined the gun, instinctively knowing it was Vash's, wondering why it laid abandoned like this. He heard voices outside, jerking his head up as he crept to the front doorway. He switched guns, letting the revolver rest in the holster while he drew his pistol. Outside was the outlaw... talking to an unfamiliar woman. He sneered when it becomes apparent the lady was the cause of Vash's distress.
"I have to thank you. You spared me the trouble of killing your brother myself. I really am grateful." Risa stated, smriking down at Vash.
Vash's feet scraped at the ground in a feeble, half-hearted attempt to get away from this terrible woman who destroyed so much. There was nothing left now, and he was alone because of her. He looks up at Risa, shaking his head. "I didn't do that for you."
Risa grins, taking delight in the turn of events. "But still... you did it. It's ok, Vash, you're not alone. I'll be there for you."
Wolfwood fired the pistol at the damned woman, cursing her with every breath for the torture she was putting Vash though. He wished he had gotten here sooner, to prevent all this. "Vash!"
Vash winced at the sound of rapid fire, cowering in the sand as if he was expecting the bullets to rain down on him from Risa. He didn't hear Wolfwood's shout, too busy shutting out the world and the horrible things it held.
Risa collapsed, and Wolfwood rushed past the fallen woman, kneeling next to Vash. The guy was a mess, looking as if he went on a permanent vacation to hell. He laid a hand on the guy's shoulder. "Vash... it's ok. It'll be ok. Just relax."
Vash scrambled away from Wolfwood once he felt someone touching him, still panicky and tense. He looked from Risa to the priest, eyes
frantically searching for an answer. Was she using his thoughts of Wolfwood against him! "How dare you... these are my memories! You
can't use them for your sick pleasures!"
Wolfwood stared, confused at Vash's reaction. What was going through the noodlehead's brain? He stepped closer, reaching out a hand to the plant. "Vash... what are you talking about?"
Vash rose to his feet, quickly backing away from Wolfwood. He looked around, searching for an avenue of escape from this place, and ran down an alleyway. He had to get away and find a place to be alone, and handle the confused grief that had overcome him with the deaths of Milly, Meryl and Knives. This was too much, and he needed a place where he could think clearly for even two seconds.
Wolfwood stayed behind, frowning deeply with concern but pushes thoughts of following him out of his mind for now. The priest turned to Risa, giving her a furious glare. "What... what did you do to him!?"
Risa held her wound, gaping incredulously at the newcomer. "Who are you!?"
Wolfwood gripped the punisher tighter, reaching into his jacket to pull out his sunglasses. The wind whipped around them, getting fiercer as if responding to the priest's coolly disguised vehemence. "I'm his friend."
Risa grunted, spitting at his feet. "I give him what he deserved."
"And what was that?"
Risa grinned sadistically, her mind turning with the possibilities of dealing more damage to the younger plant. "I showed him everything that he feared, and I'd do it again! Would you like some as well, preacher?"
Wolfwood showed no expression, not even frowning as he raises the punisher. Was this really the road he was willing to take? "You enjoy hurting people... I can't let you continue."
Risa stood, blood flowing down her dress from the multiple wounds she received from both Vash and Wolfwood, making her look even more of a psychopath. "Yes, and how do you plan to stop me?"
Wolfwood faltered, torn between protecting Vash and the people he cared about, and breaking his vow to himself. There had to be another way, but he just couldn't see it. But, Vash's sanity was on the line, that much was apparent, and he wasn't about to let anything happen to his friend. The reason he came back was for him. "Please... don't do this. There's no reason to."
Risa reached into a large pocket on her skirt, and whipped out the twin revolver. She aimed the dark barrel at Wolfwood in a spilt second, and fired.
Wolfwood staggered back, taken off guard by the woman's speed and the intense pain in his midsection. He reacted, seeing her finger still on the trigger and not willing to be killed a second time. With a defeated scowl he shot the woman through the heart. Silence chased away the echo of gunfire, and Wolfwood staggered to gather himself again. The injury hurt like hell, with blood already soaking into the black jacket, but it was barely visible. It wasn't serious, at least not yet, and Vash was more important right now. Shaking his head, he stood up straight and follows the plant to the ally where he disappeared. "Vash?"
Vash had tucked himself into a shaded corner, hoping the dark armor would hide him from these demons that quarreled in the street. Every gunshot made him shut his eyes tighter and tighter, and he screamed silently for everything to stop. Now he cowered, shaking as he wished for everything to be right again. "... go away, go... go away..."
Wolfwood suppressed a grunt, forcing himself to ignore the pain as he sat beside the outlaw. "Vash... It's over. She's gone. She won't hurt you again."
Vash hid himself the best he could, feeling strangely vulnerable without the flowing red coat. Why did he cast it away so carelessly! He continued to weep, the girl's deaths replaying in his mind over and over. "I didn't want them to die. Why did they come? I told them not to come! I should have stayed and protected them..."
Wolfwood frowned, again wondering what Vash was rambling about. He didn't see any deaths, other then the red-haired plant, whom he killed himself. "Vash, no one is dead. It was a lie. Please believe me..."
Vash turned a wide eye to Wolfwood, pupil contracted into a tiny sphere of
green and black. This memory was talking to him, as if it was real. How could he tell what was real and what wasn't! He felt Meryl's
blood soak into the gloves, watched as Milly's brains scattered over the sand, and witnessed Knives' last breath. Now an image of Wolfwood kneeled before him, begging him to... do what? He watches the priest, thoughts colliding as he thinks of what to do.
Wolfwood felt a tug at his heart, never expecting to see Vash in such a state. He couldn't begin to imagine what pain the other guy felt right now... but what did he see? "Vash... I'm so sorry. If only I'd gotten here sooner. If only..." He sighed, leaning against the wall, gazing into the thin strip of blue up above even as he felt his blood trickling out of his body. "I... don't know how it happened, but I came back. I swear... I nearly yelled myself voiceless begging to be allowed back. I swore to God to give up smoking, even, but I never expected to actually be heard..."
Vash didn't follow Wolfwood's gaze, his eyes fixated on the ground where fresh blood was dripping into the sand. Bright red, not dark... the plant became aware of the priest's injury, and looked up at him. Illusions could bleed, but if they did it did not smell of sweating iron. He reached out to Wolfwood, hand still shaking, and gently laid a few fingers on the beat-up tan leather of the man's shoe. It felt real. It resisted and gave with his touch, and felt warmed by the sun's rays.
Wolfwood paused in his musings when he feels the other man finger his clothes, lowering his gaze to look him over. Vash seemed to coming out of the shell what's-her-name put him in, and he shifted to his knees. "Vash?"
Vash remained in the corner, but he had stopped trembling so badly and now watched the priest with a blinking, but empty, gaze. The normally bright, vibrant color of his eyes had dulled, as if the life was sucked out of them, but they were focused on Wolfwood. He still didn't know what to think. How could an illusion seem so real? Still, people did not come back from the dead!
Wolfwood hesitated uncertainly, but reached out and rested his hands on the plant's shoulder in a comforting gesture. "Vash... Believe it's me... I'm here and I'm staying."
Vash didn't withdraw from Wolfwood's touch this time, probing the feeling. Through the armor he could feel something... a pulse, however faint. He knew an illusion could not dupe his senses like that, and for once turned his gaze to Wolfwood as if he were a real person. How could this be! Wolfwood died! Vash buried him after finding him slumped over on the church floor, amidst a pool of drying blood. In that abandoned town, he dug a grave and lay the priest in it. Milly cried... Meryl was silent, and he was trying to remain strong for them. Even though Wolfwood aimed a gun at him, he forgave the priest and wished he would come back. Now he had, and... what? He didn't believe it. "How?"
Wolfwood shrugged slightly, not knowing the answer himself except God deemed it acceptable to make an exception. "You needed me... I needed you... I wasn't done here and wasn't willing to stay away."
Vash pulled back his hand, lying on the ground as he gazed over Wolfwood with a discerning eye. "You're hurt."
Wolfwood gulped, reminded of that little detail even though he still felt the pain. "Not as bad as you."
Vash sat up, clinging sand looking out of place on the armor's black and blue coloring, and forced himself to stand. The blonde's cheeks were still damp with tears that had fallen, and he looked exhausted from what had happened. Disconnected, but there was a faint glimmer of concern in his eyes. Wolfwood's injury had helped him see what was real, to come out of shell shock, and now he was determined to get it taken care of. "You should lay down."
Wolfwood covered the wound to quench the bleeding, which didn't seem to be stopping. "If you have a pair of tweezers, I can remove the bullet."
Vash reached behind to unclip a small leather pouch, hanging from the holster wrapped around his waist. He handed it to Wolfwood, silently watching the man. He was real... by god he was real. The plant wondered what the future held for Wolfwood. Where he would go, and what he would do. Did he intend on staying with him, or leaving to continue the path of an assassin? The two men had unresolved issues, but now was not the time to address them.
Wolfwood clenched his teeth, prepared for the pain to increase tenfold as he carefully maneuvers the metal tool around his innards. A pained hiss escapes him, and he paused to collect himself. This one practice he hated, since it was self-performed, and he rarely had the money for a simple painkiller. He grunted, pushing those thoughts aside as he concentrated on the task. Finding the hidden bullet, he gently pulls it out with a heavy exhale and tossed it to the ground. "It never gets any easier..."
Vash glanced briefly to the lead slug, to make sure it was not a hollow point or loaded with something far sinister. Poison, lead powder, arsenic... he placed no limit on how far Knives would go to kill a human. "It never does."
Wolfwood shivered, again placing pressure on the wound, leaning back on the wall as he looked up to the outlaw. "So... who was she?"
Vash sighed, kneeling on the ground. He didn't want to speak the woman's name; didn't want to envision her face or the things she and her sister did. "Risa."
Wolfwood nodded, thinking of the now dead woman lying in the streets. He had to wonder, briefly, if he made another mistake. "I'm sorry."
Vash shuddered, quickly repressing the nervous reaction. He was a wreck, and was trying to bury it all over again. "You did nothing. If you hadn't killed her..."
Wolfwood nodded distractedly, not so sure of himself. And yet... "Heh. Great way to start a new life. But I would have done it again if it would have spared any pain."
Vash tried to change the subject, not wanting to dwell any longer on what happened by Risa's sadistic hand. "We should get going."
Wolfwood used the wall to support himself as he stood, lifting the punisher to his shoulder. He smiles, pushing thoughts of Risa out of his mind and replaces it with Milly's smiling face. "Yeah... I bet the girls are waiting."
Vash diverted his gaze, Milly and Meryl's blood-soaked bodies appearing every time he closed his eyes. He kept his mouth shut, thinking this was not the time to dash Wolfwood's dreams into hell. "Maybe." The outlaw started walking in the direction he came from, a little more worn down and beat up than when he arrived. Once again the plant had no purpose, but now it wasn't because he was seeking one of his own... it was because everyone who made a difference had died. After a while he pulled out a small metal canteen from a hidden pocket, unscrewing the cap and drank. The spicy, smoky flavor of old whiskey singed his throat.
Wolfwood trudged through the soft sand, losing track of how far they've gone with each step. Both the suns had set, but the moons kept the desert as illuminated as the day. At least it wasn't so hot anymore. Hopefully they'd reach town before the sunrise again. Wolfwood had been so intent on leaving the silent town he forgotten he didn't have any water and he doubted Vash had enough for a second person. It just wasn't his day. "Oi... So, how far is our destination?"
Vash stopped at the crest of a dune, in the face of a rising moon that illuminated his form. Such sights gave way to rumors and tales of the ghostly man who raped the desert and its child towns, leaving a trail of destruction and blood wherever he tread. Right now Vash didn't care as he gazed toward Aridan, its lights still too far to make out against the sandy landscape. He looks back towards Wolfwood, remembering the man was injured, and sighs. "We'll take a break."
Wolfwood stopped halfway up the dune, following Vash. He was hungry, but again, realized he had no food. He silently vowed to prepare himself better when traveling out in the desert. The priest gratefully sat down, catching his breath as he gazes into the night sky. "I hate the desert."
"You wouldn't say that if you realized it was the lesser of many evils." Vash tossed him a second canteen, barely larger than the first. "Drink."
"I'm not thirsty." Wolfwood caught the canteen, climbing further up the dune to place in at Vash's feet. "Besides, it's yours. I'll just sit and suffer with my stupidity."
Vash snorted, nudging it back towards Wolfwood. "You lost blood, and haven't had anything to drink since we left town. Take it."
"What about you? I don't think you have another since you weren't expecting a companion until you reached the other town."
Vash shook the canteen of whiskey to show he wasn't going without liquid, even if it was alcohol. He was almost borderline intoxicated, drunkenness staved off by overbearing depression that wouldn't allow him to forget what had happened over the past several weeks. "I wasn't expecting to come back, either. Not once I saw how deranged she had become."
Wolfwood frowned, wondering what just happened between him and the woman, but refrained from asking. He lifted the canteen, thirst overcoming his protest and he drank freely. "Ah! You'd never expect water to taste so good. Why don't you sit down? You look like you could use a break too."
Vash gazed off into the distance again, not paying attention to the priest's words. The running winds of day had given in to a still night, making everything seem... needlessly peaceful. He knew it was all a lie. The outlaw sighed, almost forlorn, before tipping the canteen end-up and taking another drawn-out swig of whiskey.
Wolfwood saved half of the water for Vash, or for later considering the outlaw's state of mind. He stood again, handing the canteen back to the other man before walking across the dune. "Well, thanks for the water. Let's get going... I want to get back to the girls as soon as possible."
Vash felt his stomach doing flips again, and knew he couldn't hold this from Wolfwood any longer. "They're dead."
Wolfwood froze, turning back to the plant with an incredulous stare. "What?"
"They're dead. I told them to stay in Aridan, but they didn't. None of them." Vash lowered himself to the sand, almost toppling backwards. "Meryl showed up first. She begged to stay, to help me... and she was shot." He swallowed, even though his mouth felt dry. "She died in my arms. Then... then Milly saw what happened, and she shot herself. She felt abandoned, as if Meryl wanted to die. Then...HE appeared. Knives shot Meryl, and as he was preparing to shoot me... I killed him." The broken outlaw wipes away a fresh tear, letting it dry on the black leather of his gloves.
Wolfwood shook his head, his mind refusing to even consider what Vash was saying. "No... it's not true. Milly would never kill herself! They're not dead!"
Vash pounded a fist into the sand, kicking up a puff of dust. Why wouldn't Wolfwood understand! "They're dead! Dead! They died because of me!" He dropped the canteen, hands covering his face. "I-I couldn't protect them. I'm sorry."
"If they were dead I would have seen them! There was nothing!" Wolfwood paused, Risa's words entering his mind. Her... it was her! "No... it was a lie. Risa was trying to break you...by showing you your worst nightmares. She admitted it."
Vash kept his emotions contained, or so he tried. He shook his head, again not knowing what to believe... what he saw, or what Wolfwood heard? "I felt her die. She bled in my arms, Wolfwood. Her blood... was everywhere. There was nothing I could do to save her. Or Milly, or Knives."
Wolfwood shuddered, the air around him seemingly getting even colder. "No...I refuse to believe they are dead. They are alive unless I see a body."
"I don't know why you didn't see them! They were right there... in the street." Vash pulled up his legs, hugging them close. "I'm sorry you came back for nothing. She would have liked to see you again."
Wolfwood rushed back to Vash, grabbing him by the shoulders and shaking him gently. "Vash! What you saw wasn't real. It was Risa! There... were... no... bodies!"
Vash withdrew for a second time that day, wishing he could disappear like after Augusta. Was everything a lie? How could it be? The blood looked and felt so real, dampening the sand and covering everything in shades of red. The screams, the accusations, the last gasping breaths... yet here was Wolfwood, a man he buried, saying it never happened. "...I don't know what to believe..."
Wolfwood sighed, berating himself for being so rough on the guy, after everything he'd been through. Still, he could not comprehend how the girls could be dead now. "It's ok Vash. Lets just go back." The priest rose to his feet, making his way down the dune until something caught, and he tumbled roughly to the base.
Vash barely noticed Wolfwood's fall as he went head over feet down the dune until hitting level sand. He looked at the priest before
following the footsteps back up the dune with his eyes, focusing on a thin piece of red metal. He blinked, curiosity overcoming hurt and he crawled over to it. The metal was smooth and well made, void of rust or cracks in paint. "Huh..."
Wolfwood groans, shifting his legs to fall forward one last time, finding himself on his back. Today definitely wasn't his day. "Dammit! That's the second time it's happened." He grunted as he sat up, glancing to Vash before feeling his waist again. 'Damn... I think I tore it open again...'
Vash looked down to Wolfwood, eyebrows furrowed with concern. "You better not die before we get to town!"
Wolfwood waved him off, climbing up the dune like a lizard to join his friend in determining what the object was. "I won't, I won't!"
Vash mumbled something to himself before pushing the metal object, surprised to feel it remain steadfast in the sand. Either it was
buried very deep, or it was attached to something much larger. He started to dig around the thin piece, scooping away handfuls of sand.
Wolfwood assisted in the digging, curiosity overcoming his irritation. After a few minutes, the tail end of looked to be an unusual type of motorcycle was unveiled. "That's unusual... I wonder if someone lost this or abandoned it."
Vash narrowed his eyes in thought, feeling the metal thing as he tries to remember where he saw it before. It seemed so familiar, the flowing lines and expertly crafted surfaces. Smooth, adorned with bright red, black and silver paint. The thing that tripped Wolfwood seemed to be a fin of sorts, mounted to a rear end with flattened exhaust pipes on either side. He could also see the sharp trailing edge of another fin, much longer than the first. He rubbed the back of his neck, blurred memories coming to mind with an uneasy sensation. "I've seen this before."
"Really? Where?" Wolfwood asked curiously.
Vash crouched on the balls of his feet, arms crossed over his knees. "A long time ago, on the ship. Before the Big Fall, I mean... when we were little. There was an old engineer who called us demons. Rem tried to convince him we were innocent, but... he said there were visions. Prophecies. He started building these... things, with wings and big engines and sloping hulls. They were big. I mean, from a kid's view they were big. One was red and long," Vash laid a hand on the back end, convinced this was what he saw, "And the other was shorter but with spikes on the bow, and white. There was a third, too, but I never saw it finished."
Wolfwood listened to him with wide-eyed fascination. It wasn't often one came across lost technology, and something so big as well. "Maybe the others are around here too." He jumped up, disappearing over the other side of the dune to look for hints of something else hidden under the sand. He didn't pay attention to where he was stepping, and again his foot caught on an unidentified object, gravity sending him forward and falling down the dune. "Dammiiittt!" The trip ended with him face down in the sand. "Ow."
Vash blinked, wondering what man could have such bad luck to fall three times in one day. "You better not bleed too much!"
Wolfwood pulled himself up, sputtering and spitting sand. "I'm trying! I don't know what's going on... My coordination is shot to hell."
"Won't be the only thing shot to hell if you're not careful." Vash got up and climbed down to Wolfwood's resting place, helping him up. "What did you fall on this time?"
Wolfwood grunted, getting to his feet with Vash's help and glared back at the side of the huge mound. A seemingly small object poked out, blending in with the color of the sand rather well. He pointed, hoping it was what he thought it might be. "Maybe one of the others? Do you recognize that color?"
Vash looked back at the thing, stooping next to it to carefully move sand away from it. "Tan... yes, almost burnt tan. And black!" The
plant stiffened, as memories flashed by in his mind's eye. "A cross..."
Wolfwood didn't pay attention to anything after the acknowledgement, excitedly digging around the object to reveal a wing, which upon
further investigation was attached to a large body. "Looks like we found number two."
Vash hurriedly dug around the craft's body, which was much wider than the red one. It had vents that ran along either side, and was adorned with chrome as the first. It had a single large engine instead of two, and the exhaust vent was much wider… almost wide enough to stand on. "Something doesn't feel right about this."
Wolfwood stroked the smooth metal of the craft, amazed and delighted by the sheer beauty. This was a lot better then any motorcycle. "Why? What could be wrong?"
Vash didn't touch the skeeter, something bothering him in the back of his mind. A nagging feeling, as if they were meant to find these lost relics. Maybe the terrible prophecy was true. "The third one. It has to be Knives'. This was supposed to happen... we were supposed to find them."
"So one of them belongs to you?" He glanced to the tan one, looking over the paint. "Curious... I wonder who this one belongs to. Was
the old man a lost sheep?"
Vash shook his head, getting up to walk back over the dune where the red skeeter lay, still in the sand. "That one is yours."
Wolfwood blinked, again staring up at the plant. "What? Are you certain?" He glanced to the flying motorcycle looking thing, running a hand on the bow. "Hmm... I could get used to this."
Vash turned and stared as the tan skeeter powered up, a low whine filling the air as solar panels turn the moonlight into energy. It rose out of the sand, antigravity pads holding it about a foot above the sloping dune, and a soft beep catches the two men's attention. "CRITICAL ENGINE FAILURE. PURGING SYSTEMS." The plant ducked as a great spray of sand shoots out from the exhaust, burying him within moments. The engine spits and sputters before clearing itself out, humming along contently.
Wolfwood blinked, staring from the vehicle to the plant, and walked over to brush sand off Vash. "You ok?"
Vash grunted, digging out of the small pile. He shakes like a dog, sand falling from his hair and armor. "I don't think it likes me."
Wolfwood shielded himself from the flying sand, chuckling loudly. "I think you're being overly sensitive." He climbed on the seat of the skeeter, looking over the handles before twisting them forward. The skeeter jumped, racing across the desert in sudden burst of speed, moving up another dune and flying over the crest. Wolfwood nearly shrieked when he became airborne, leaning backward a little too much and falling off the back end of the craft, soft sand breaking his fall.
Vash gaped when Wolfwood goes flying, chasing after the man and machine. "Are you intent on dying!"
Wolfwood groaned, wrapping an arm around his waist as he sits, taking a few minutes to catch his breath. He gritted his teeth, repositioning the makeshift bandage to stop the bleeding again. "I swear I'm catching your bad luck!"
Vash raced up to Wolfwood, looking the priest over. The black jacket had a dark spot that was growing around the wound, worrying him. "You should lay down and let me take care of that."
Wolfwood sighed, lying down in the sand despite his reluctance. "It's not that serious..."
Vash unbuttoned the jacket, pulling back one of the sides to reveal the wound. It wasn't deep, and the bullet removed earlier, but the round had left mangled flesh and poorly clotted blood in its wake. The guns were so destructive... He did not regret casting it aside back in Enells. He unbuckled one of the holsters around his waist, slipping the spare bullets into a pocket before wrapping it tightly around the wound. He knew it would stop the bleeding within minutes, but still wished there was a faster way to get into town… and a doctor. "You better not have come back just to die again."
Wolfwood smiled to reassure Vash. "I don't intend to die. Trust me. It just... hurts."
"Come on. We need to get you into town." Vash stated quietly, not so convinced.
Wolfwood gestured to the skeeter, both the one hovering a few feet away, and the red one. "Those go pretty fast." He had to admit to himself getting to town sooner was sounding good, to eat and sleep in a real bed. He was starting to feel very drained.
Vash looked over to the craft, still unsure if they were safe enough to use. He lifted Wolfwood and walked him over to the larger skeeter, setting him on the seat. He felt torn; worried that Wolfwood may die, even though they had many unsettled issues between them.
Wolfwood nudged Vash, noticing the look on the man's face. "Hey, I'll be alright."
Vash drifted back to the red skeeter without a word. He powered it up the same way Wolfwood did, by laying a hand on the bow, and waited for the engines to clear before climbing on. He didn't want to admit being glad that Wolfwood had returned, and how afraid he was of having to bury the man again in just a few short hours.
Wolfwood followed the man as he walks, going slower this time and circled the red skeeter as Vash studied the controls. He chuckled to himself, lost in his own private joke of orbiting the plant.
Vash glanced over the computer console with interest, accessing various screens and subroutines to figure out what this craft was capable of. After nearly ten minutes of silence, he lifted his head to see Wolfwood puttering around and blinked. "Why do I feel like a third sun?"
Wolfwood chuckled, doubling over but preventing himself from falling off again as he laughed hysterically.
Vash rolled his eyes, although in his heart there was a feeling of joy at hearing Wolfwood's laughter again. He turned back at the screen, setting which readouts to be displayed, before leaning back. The seat was comfortable, as if made for him. Carefully, he reached up and grabs hold of the handlebars, feeling their grips yield to his fingers, and twisted them forward. The plant is rewarded with immediate response, the skeeter taking off over the dune like a racing wind. He shrieked and was out of sight, hidden by rolling
Wolfwood stared at the spot Vash was seconds ago, before revving the engine and following. It didn't take long to fall behind, even after maxing out his engines. "Vash! Wait!"
Vash continued to shriek wildly, the skeeter quickly passing 100 iles per hour before he let go of the dual throttles. The engines started to wind down, moving forward with inertia before it settled to a slow halt. The outlaw gripped the machine's dual tail fins for dear life, thinking this couldn't be much worse than a bucking Thomas. "Gahh...
Wolfwood continued until he catches sight of Vash again, slowing down to hover beside the man. "Are you ok? Don't go so fast!
Vash was wide eyed, and refused to let go of the striking red fins. "I am NOT using this... thing!"
Wolfwood waved him off, patting his own skeeter. "Hey, relax. It's ok... You just have to get used to it. Give it another chance?"
Vash gradually settled down, sitting on the padded leather seat again. He thwaped the fuel tank, pointing a disciplinary finger at the craft. "Don't do that again!" He grabs hold of the throttles again, gently twisting them forward. The skeeter powered up its engines a
second time, this time moving forward at a more relaxed pace.
Wolfwood rodes beside Vash, enjoying the wind the speed of the skeeters created. They would get to town in no time.
Wolfwood slid off the skeeter after parking it discreetly in an alley, stumbling out into the main street as Vash parked his. It was close to eight at night now, still early enough for some stores to be open, as well as the hotel and hospital. He sighed, sitting on the ground to regain some strength, the thought of a soft bed becoming more and more appealing. "That was fun..."
Vash stumbled off clumsily, tired and beaten from the past few days events. His body and mind were exhausted and worn, and it showed with every misplaced step. He rubbed his eyes, fighting to stay awake, and pushed the skeeter into the same alleyway, silently.
Wolfwood yawned, sighing deeply again as he lowerd himself into the sand, as if lying down under blankets. He let his eyes drift shut, feeling himself sink closer and closer to sleep. Yes... this was nice...
Vash secured the skeeters, covering them with bits of canvas, sheets and whatever else he could find to safeguard their latest find. He exhaled deeply, glancing to Wolfwood... and gaped when the man seemed to be asleep. Was he stupid enough to close his eyes with an injury like that! "Wolfwood?"
Wolfwood barely grunted in response, paying no heed to whoever disturbed his nap. He was just taking break. No harm in that.
Vash grew worried, wondering how much blood the priest had lost. He kneeled down, lifting away one side of the jacket to see his wound. It had stopped bleeding, but did not look any better. "You need to see a doctor."
Wolfwood opened one eye to peer at Vash, responding in a quiet tone. "Not gonna die. Just tired."
"Get up. Please... you need to see a doctor. You are still bleeding internally." Vash wanted to beg, but the spectacle might attract
too much attention. The thought of burying Wolfwood in the sand was too disturbing, and he was also too tired to get up and carry
Wolfwood inside if he still didn't want go.
Wolfwood breathed deeply, opening the other eye and getting up again. "Alright... Alright... I still gotta see the girls."
Vash felt a new wave of sadness, knowing there was nothing for them in this town. He rubbed the back of his neck, heading off to the hotel. He needed to sleep, even if the nightmares would be painful.
Wolfwood didn't notice Vash's deviation, heading straight the hospital, avoiding the staff in the main lobby to look in the individual rooms. After a couple minutes he located the girls, and smiled broadly. He knew they couldn't have been dead. He grinned even as Milly and Meryl stared at him in shock, and then noticed The girls return the stare, shocked at the sudden visit, and then noticed the patient in the bed. "WHAT THE HELL!?"
Vash blinked, looking toward the hospital. "Was that...? No, couldn't have been." He entered into the hotel, eager to find a quiet room.
Meryl rose from the chair, not knowing what to believe quite yet, but not doubting what she saw. She prodded the priest's shoulder, then his chest, and his forehead. "You're real."
Wolfwood lifted an eyebrow, a little weirded out by Meryl's treatment. "Yeah... I know it's strange but God granted me a second chance at life. I'm back."
Milly came closer, tears forming in her eyes as she realized it wasn't a delusion. "Oh... Mr. Wolfwood... It's really you..." She jumped forward, wrapping her arms around him and drawing him into a tight embrace.
Wolfwood wheezed, not having enough air to grunt in pain. He was glad to see her again, but she was going to suffocate him if she wasn't careful! "Milly... can't breathe…"
Milly dropped him immediately, a little sheepish at her unknowing intensity. "Oh. I'm sorry. Are you ok? How'd you come back?"
Wolfwood relaxed, trying not to show how much pain the hug caused. "I came back from Enells, with Vash." He looks backward, realizing he had entered the hospital alone. "And I have no idea where he disappeared to..."
"I'll find him. You two stay here." Meryl rushed out of the room, both to locate the missing outlaw and give Milly and Wolfwood a chance to talk alone. She searches the usual places; the bar, the bakery, and the dry cleaners. Finally, she asks around at the hotel, and is directed to a room on the second floor. She knocks gently, opening the door when she gets no response, and sees the man sound asleep on the bed. She smiles faintly at seeing him again, and makes herself comfortable at his bedside.
Vash slept uneasily for the next several hours, tossing and turning as evil illusions and strange things entered his dreams. He was
confused, even in sleep, and only settled down after Meryl started pacing. Oddly enough, the noise she made comforted the sleeping
outlaw, reassuring him that the nightmares were nothing more than wisps of bad memories. After a while, he crackd open an eye and
stared into the sheet that covered him from head to toe. He was hopelessly tangled, managing to get it wrapped around his midsection,
arms and legs. Only one of his feet was visible, a white sock with a hole for the big toe. He listened to Meryl pace, her rhythmic sounds giving the distressed plant's mind something to focus on. Minutes later, he peered out from underneath the sheet with a dull green-gray eye, watching her walk back and forth.
Meryl noticed the slightly emerged plant on her way back to the bed, stopping in her tracks before returning his side. "Vash... you're
awake! Are you ok? Do you need anything?"
Vash watched her silently, motionless, as if he were staring through her. Was he still dreaming? Meryl looked so alive, her face pink and colorful instead of white and cold. The way he had seen her in Enells... this dream was wonderful, but making him depressed again.
He pulled the sheet back over his head, waiting for reality to come back.
Meryl frowned, reaching over to lay a hand on Vash's chest. "Vash... It's ok. It's me, Meryl. I... heard about what happened in Enells. It's ok, Milly and I are just fine."
Vash shuddered under her touch, so delicate and warm, and the lines between reality and illusion blur again.
Meryl ripped the sheets away from his face, pressing her hand to his cheek. "Listen to me... feel this. This is real, I'm alive. You believe that, don't you?"
Vash shut his eyes tightly, trying not to break down again. "I don't know what to believe. I want to, I just don't know!"
Meryl cringed at the pain in his voice, but remained strong. "Oh Vash... Do you trust me? Do you trust what I would say?"
"I...I want to. I want to think what happened wasn't real. I want to know you are alive." Vash whimpered.
"Knives is still in his coma. We stayed here, like you told us. We were worried about you... but we stayed. The doctor can confirm it, if you need." Meryl suppressed a sigh, her worry increasing with each minute. "We saw Wolfwood last night."
Vash forced himself to sit up, still feeling confused and vulnerable, but he knew no matter what was true or false he couldn't hide in a bed forever. He looked to Meryl, still appearing tired after sleeping through the night, and never thought he would be so happy to see her as he was now. "You mean... he's alive, too?" What he thought was a dream – the clergyman finding him, and travelling together back to Aridan – could it all have been real?
Meryl nodded, gesturing to the door. "I think he may still be at the hospital. Do you want to see him?"
Vash returned the nod, looking down at himself. He needed a shower, and a change of clothes, first. He sighed, getting up and heads for the bathroom. "I'll see him later."
Meryl trailed Vash as he strolled down the street, entering the hospital to check on the people that lay inside. They met Milly in the hallway, and the taller woman grinned and waved. "Oh, hey! Great to see you again, Mr. Vash!"
Vash smiled a bit and returned the wave, glad to see Milly in high spirits. No doubt she was happy that Wolfwood was back... he hoped she wouldn't cry as much now. "Hey there, Milly. Feeling better?"
Milly nodded happily, looking down the hall at Knives room. "Yep. And you? Are you here to visit him?"
Vash looked around a little nervously, still uneasy about being in the same room as Knives. "Actually I was kind of here to see Wolfwood."
Milly gestured to a room down the hall. "He's in that one. He'll be glad to see you again. Do you need anything Mr.
"Uh, no thanks, Milly. I'll see you later, okay?" Vash passed the big girl and peered into Wolfwood's room, seeing the priest lying on a bed. He frowned, wondering if the guy would be okay. He walked inside, seeing he was asleep, and sighed. Vash quietly sat beside the bed, and prepared for a long wait.
Meryl peered in, looking from Vash to the sleeping priest. A smile formed on her face as a sense of mischievousness arose. "Hey, want any company?"
Vash glanced to the door and smiled when he saw Meryl's face poking in from the corridor. He was beginning to accept this as reality, and seeing the girls unharmed made him brighten more and more. Although, he found the way Meryl was clinging to him to be a little... odd. "Yea, I guess. Aren't you tired after watching me all night?"
"After all the excitement last night how could anyone sleep?" She strided to Wolfwood's bedside, looking him over from head to toe, before taking a marker out of her pocket and scribbling something on the priest's cheek. "There was a little problem last night, since the hospital was jammed when some bandits tried to hijack a caravan outside of town. The doctor wanted to put him in Knives's room."
Vash watched her, wondering what she was doing to the sleeping man. "Uh... did they?"
"They had to. But don't worry, nothing happened. Milly stayed with them until another bed become available. Do you want me to wake him up?" Without waiting for a response she flicked the priest's nose repeatedly, feeling like a child at play.
Vash stared, as if he couldn't believe what Meryl was doing. "Erm, shouldn't we... uh, maybe you shouldn't..."
Meryl glanced back at Vash while continuing her activity. "Hmm?" She paused when the priest lets out a snort, brushing away the annoyance with a hand before going still again.
Vash snickerd, the sensation almost unfamiliar to the plant. "Then again..." He reached over and flicked Wolfwood's ear, sniggering as
Wolfwood tried to wave away his disturbance.
Wolfwood grunted when the odd sensations continue to disturb him, finally opening one eye just enough to see what was going on. "Mm?"
Vash looked innocent, with legs crossed and hands folded on his lap. "Hm? I didn't do anything."
Meryl also discreetly backed away, pretending to be reading a magazine when Wolfwood looks her way.
Wolfwood grunted, turning back to Vash with partly open eyes and a weary look. "What's biting me?"
Vash shrugged innocently, feeling more like his old self. "The IV?"
Wolfwood sighed, drawing the blankets up to his chin. "Damn IV biting my ear."
Vash broke out into laughter, unable to hold it in any longer. His face turned beet red, and he fought to catch breath between sounds of hysterics.
Wolfwood quirked an eyebrow, not noticing Meryl joining in with the plant's mirthful laughter. "What... is wrong...with you?"
Vashs kept laughing, although it starts to take on a sorrowful tone. He grew quiet after a few moments, reaching up with a hand to wipe moisture from his eyes. They had taken on a hint of life, a brightening flicker of green that portrayed so many times the plant's
determination and will to never give up. He looked to Meryl and Wolfwood, smiling like he hadn't in months. "I thought, for a long
time, that everything would be lost. I'm glad we're all together again. It wasn't the same."
Meryl returned his smile, relieved that Vash was coming out of the doom and gloom mood he'd been in. "Yes... and it will stay that way. I was so worried about you..." She moved past the bed, laying a hand on Vash's shoulder and forgetting about the priest.
Vash gazes into her sparkling eyes, pulling Meryl in and embracing her tightly. He never felt so alone as in the past days, and having Meryl so close again made him realize just how fortunate he was to have such friends. Remembering the other person in the room, the outlaw snakes a hand away to find Wolfwood's on the bed and squeezes it tightly. No matter what their differences or unsettled issues may be, he was willing to forgive and forget. He wanted the priest to know he was welcome in their little traveling group.
Wolfwood returned the squeeze, a little surprised at the gesture but welcoming it none the less. He was worried about being accepted again by the plant and the girls as well after what happened in Tonim Town, but he was determined to stay by Vash's side even if the guy despised him. He was glad that it didn't come to that. "I died wishing for that."
Vash wished Milly was in the room, thinking it would complete their little moment. Maybe paradise wasn't a place for them... maybe this was it. 'I could live with that', he thought, and wondered what the future held for them. A couple of insurance ladies, a traveling priest, and a pacifist outlaw. "Wishing for what?"
Wolfwood breathed out, fighting the drugs the doctor gave him to stay awake a few minutes more. "Forgiveness... to... start a life with you...Milly... and Meryl."
Vash cast a sideways glance at Wolfwood, one that told of forgiveness, friendship, and a will to challenge anything for the priest. He wondered what mettle a man had to be made of to do what Wolfwood did. To live such a path of life, to swear life and death for a single purpose, and then turn his back on it to do what was right. Truth was, Vash would have forgiven Wolfwood even if he fired that gun. He saw what life was about, and sacrificed his own to stand by it. "Now you don't have to wish."
Wolfwood smiled faintly, closing his eyes as the coziness of the soft bed beckons him. "Yeah...I'm fortunate, eh?"
"More so than you think." Vash sighed, although not sadly or meaningless as he had before. This was one of content, and a bit of surprise at how things had turned out. Now if only Knives would wake up...
Wolfwood nodded slightly, then stilled as he fell into a restful sleep once again.
Meryl shifted her gaze from the sleeping priest to the outlaw, looking curious. "Now... what's this about forgiving?"
Vash shrugged, as if he had no idea what Wolfwood had been talking about. "Oh, you know... everyone wants a little forgiveness."
Meryl eyeed him suspiciously, trying to intimidate it out of him. "And yet it seemed you knew exactly what he was talking about..."
"Hmm? Nah... nothing one guy to another wouldn't know about already. You know, I seek forgiveness, he seeks forgiveness..." Vash leaned back in the chair, folding his hands behind his head.
Meryl crosseed her arms, glaring down at him. "Vash... Did something happen between you two?"
Vash shook his head, thinking it wasn't really a lie. Something happened, but it was behind them now and didn't make a difference. "Nothing more than usual."
Meryl rolled her eyes, dropping the subject since she wouldn't get anywhere. "Well, whatever it was, it seems to be solved now...And Vash? There's something I need to talk to you about..."
Vash opened his eyes, glancing to Meryl quizzically. "Is this about the water tower I destroyed two weeks ago?"
Meryl shook her head, pulling up a chair across from Vash and sits down. "No. You know... I have come to think of you as friend, and I know you consider me the same. But for a while now I've felt something different..."
Vash paid full attention to Meryl, his heart beating faster as the look in her eyes changed. He noticed something different about her, starting with the day he woke from a gunshot-induced coma to find her watching him with concern and worry. Milly had been doing odd jobs around town, leaving Meryl to care for the injured outlaw. The way she watched him sleep, changed his bandages, and reassured him everything would be all right... it was a far step from the loud-mouthed hot-tempered woman who first mistook Descartes as the legendary gunman! The way she looked at him now... did she have feelings for him this whole time, and never admit to them? "Uh... huh?"
Meryl intertwined her fingers together nervously, afraid to say what she started to, but unable to keep it away any further. What if Vash didn't feel the same? Would she still have the nerve to travel with him? Would he even want her around. "You are so different then I first thought, a kind, gentle man, with a bit of silliness which I came to adore. What I'm saying is... I love you." She held her breath, looking away from him, tempting to bolt from the room before he could say anything. Before he could reject her.
Vash listened to her words, weak smile fading into an expression of bewilderment. Had she... confessed her love to him, that quickly? He stared at the floor, old wooden boards slatted together, and wondered. She wasn't the only one who had been keeping feelings secret. The outlaw felt differently toward her than even a few months ago, realizing how dedicated Meryl had become. She also had a sort of... grace, all her own, yet reminiscent of Rem and her resolve. Meryl had changed so much in the passing years, and he didn't know what to think. The gunman kept his thoughts hidden, or ignored them, preoccupied by what was happening around him. "Are... are you sure?"
Meryl nodded, finding the nerve to meet his gaze. "Yes. I've felt that way for a while but I never had the courage to admit it. But… it's ok if you don't feel the same. I don't want to make you uncomfortable..." The short girl stood, rubbing her arms as if to warm herself up and moved to the other side of Wolfwood's bed.
Vash remained in the chair, watching Meryl walk across the room. She looked lonely over there, as if preparing herself for rejection. Did she think he would consider nothing of her feelings? Or of the ones he now felt struggling to break free? The plant rose to his feet, walking to the bed's end and gazing down at Meryl. Could he say what was running through his mind, even now? "I... don't know."
Meryl winced, but hid it from the outlaw. Again was the uncertainty. Was there a possibility Vash would love her, given time for him to think things over, or was he just trying to sooth her emotions without breaking her heart? She couldn't tell which, and that made her feel worse. "It's ok." She looked over her shoulder at the man, giving him a fake smile. "Whatever happens... It'll be fine."
Vash shook his head, closing the distance between them. "That isn't what I mean. I don't know how to... put into words what I want to
say. I think the best thing to say for now, is..." His mouth became drier than the desert itself. "I love you, too."
Meryl widened her eyes in shock, too stunned to say anything now. She didn't expect this...she wanted it but ever had she actually expected to hear it from him. She shivered, feeling her legs turn to jelly as she leans forward and embraced him tightly. "Oh...Vash…"
Vash was almost knocked off balance, but wrapped his arms around Meryl just as she did. He sighed happily, feeling the ever-present loneliness finally starting to fade after a hundred and twenty years. It was a long time to be alone... he only hoped she would be with him for years to come.
"I'm happy. I'm so happy... Thank you..." She gazes into his eyes, her own shining with love, and smiling widely. The only sound in the room was their breathing, along with the priest's snoring but that didn't phase her at all. She gently tugged him down, standing on her toes as she lifted herself up to kiss him tenderly, drawing it out several seconds.
Vash bent over to her urging, although the kiss was quite a surprise. He did't pull back, instead leaning in and enjoying their moment of love.