Loooots of diiiiiirty Woooooolfwooooood spoooooilers, light shounen ai!
Churches are beautiful, they really are. I never noticed that until he came along, until he went on his way the way he did. And now I have this deep sense of peace when I come near a church, as if he could be there, as if...
Every town has one, even the smallest. Sometimes they have large stained glass crosses at the alter, sometimes there's not one pew left unscarred, but they're always there. It's strange how encountering one person can alter the course of destiny...
Knives would say that's my fault. Knives would say I should think for myself, that I shouldn't let them influence me with their petty morals and ideals- but at the same time, my thoughts should agree with his. He accuses me of faulty logic- but how can he say that...?
Churches. They've always made me think of him and what was never said between us. They make me wonder how I could have change things- but they also seem to whisper things, sometimes. If I listen I can hear him on the dusty nights, as I used to be able too.... I can't change things now. I've started over, but like the scars across my chest, there are things I'll never be able to forget or overcome- things I'll never want to.
The memory of Nicholas D. Wolfwood is one of those things.
The cross- that was the first thing he noticed as he stepped into the chapel. It wasn't much, but the figure beneath it was kneeling before it... Stone and massive, cold. Vash found no sympathies with the cross's countenance, no mercy or love emanated from the dead symbol of worship. The second thing he took in was the light that played across frosted windows and casted moony shadows across the floor, painting the interior with a thousand shades of gray and throwing dusty patterns over the church's only other occupant.
"Wolfwood?" His best friend was there, kneeling obediently. His jacket was already feathered with dust motes that slipped through the air in this abandoned town, the cloth-wrapped cross he always carried set before him, leaning on his shoulder. One black-sleeved arm was draped over it, his face resting against the coolness of his protection and defense, while the other hand lay palm up on the cold floor. Vash took a step foward, then stopped, staring downwards.
There were splotches, stains, all up the painted aisle between the rotting wooden pews. In places it bled into the deep red carpet, and in others it colored the tiles a sickly crimson- Vash felt something lodge in his throat, and suddenly he couldn't speak.
Walking forward had never been so hard before, courage had never been such a chore for the peaceful gunman. Death was something Vash could never get used to, but this...this slow, agonizing march up the aisle of a dead church to clasp the shoulder of a dead man-
Yes, he was dead.
For a moment nothing sank in. A wave of denial was quickly crushed back by the familiarity of death... Vash let himself slip to his knees as he stared at his friends' face- Wolfwood's eyes were closed, a thin smile on his lips- almost as if he would blink softly, murmer one last 'amen', then stand. But no- Vash reached out to his one free hand, and clasped it in his own, terrified and yet unable to deny it-
The flesh was warm, and worse-
His eyes trailed downwards to the cigarette that had fallen from his lips, landing next to a pool of blood- and it was smoking.
It was lit.
Vash closed his eyes and pulled the cooling hand up to his cheek, pressing it against his flesh. No. No. A few minutes sooner and that broken cigarette would still be pressed between the lips of his best friend, the only man who understood, the only person he could ever...ever... It was still glowing there on the floor, though it's owners light had been extinguished.
"I...I failed to save another life..."
"That's alright. Just be more careful next time."
Next time. This was the next time. And he had lost someone else.
He choked once, unable to stand it, and tears began slipping down his cheeks, soft and scared. Alone again.
"You smile like someone who's hurting inside, but smiles to keep it from showing."
"What the hell kind of churchman ARE you!? Haven't you ever heard of 'Thou shalt not kill!?'"
Vash wasn't sure exactly when he wrapped his arms around the other man, wasn't sure how he managed to hold Wolfwood against him, burying his face in the man's shaggy black hair. Later he would remember that the faint scent of smoke that clung to the priest, a slight hint of gunpowder and exhaust fumes. He would recall the cold feeling as blood seeped through his already red coat, the way Nicholas had felt pressed against his neck, the strange emptiness that had suddenly filled him when he realized that he would never hear that sarcastic laugh again... but not at that moment. Because nothing mattered at that moment, the world could go on turning, but it would change nothing.
Because Nicholas D. Wolfwood was dead.
The lone figure of Vash the Stampede was the only attendent of the funeral, the only figure that cried over a sandy grave at the base of a cliff, high in the hills surrounding the tiny forgotton town. He let his friend rest as far from the empty settlement as possible, out of sight of the monument in the center, smearing with his twin's bloody name. Vash found himself wishing that he could stay there in the dying light forever, holding onto the cross that Wolfwood had carried so easily, despite it's weight-
"...that's because it's so full of mercy...."
Mercy, huh? This kind of mercy? The silent mercy that death always carried in it's sweeping black wake? Vash felt tears in his eyes again, and he let himself slip down against the stony cliff face, burying his face in his hands. "I can't do this, Wolfwood, I can't..."
When one removed his shirt, there was metal crisscrossing his breast, chunks and gashes of puckered flesh twisting across one shoulder, ancient stich marks across the back of his hands. Reminders of fights that had been lost and won, of the way humans saw him, the fear in their eyes when he spoke his name.
They could be phyiscal, embarrassing deformities to be hidden away, or they could be mental- they could only show on those empty nights when he curled under thin brown blankets and tried to muffle his agonized sobs into the musty, smoke-scented pillow. Scars could cross his heart, wherever that was. If he even had one anymore.
Vash heaved the weighted cross over one shoulder, prepared to carry it with him as far as it needed to go, back to the girls. They didn't know, he realized, they would have to be told.
..but... no.... He couldn't say that outloud just yet- he would let the weapon on his back speak for him. For Nicholas. For both of them. He would set it in the doorway and let his orange tinted sunglasses hide the tears in his eyes-
But when he arrived, they already knew. Even when he opened the unlatched door, Millie was crying, curled into a pitiful ball at the foot of her bed. He walked across the room- the black haired girl expected him to speak, he knew- but he couldn't He just leaned the cross against the wall next to Wolfwood's bed, and turned, walking out to the porch and watching the suns die away into night. Leaning against the sandstone wall while tears fogged his glasses, alone in the desert heat.
They were hurting- but so was he.
After all...he had loved him, too...
Part of him dreaded this, and part of him embraced it. The girls were in their room, Millie asleep, Meryl sitting at her desk as if she wanted to type- though the clunky machine they carried with them sat silent and still, the paper blank.
Vash hadn't been near them since it happened. Yes, they needed some kind of support, but it couldn't come from him- not when his own sanity was hanging by threads. He could help them through anything but this- not this loss. It was too much his own.
The door opened easily, and Vash stepped into the silent room, letting the lock click behind him. Turning, he slipped the deadbolt into place and rested his forehead for a moment against the grainy, rough wood, steeling what courage he had left for this. The last goodbye that had to be said before he would move on.
He turned, and found it hard to breath as he crossed the room and sat himself down on the familier bed. The room was silent and empty, the windows foggy and cracked as they spread thin lines of black shadows across the worn floorboards. Vash reached under the bunk and pulled out a long bag, the luggage of one gunslinging priest, holding the bag in his arms for a moment before standing.
He couldn't stay here. This wasn't Wolfwood's lot in life. This was a closed hotel room in some damned town destroyed by a man who had no regard for human life- and the bag in his arms was almost sacred, when compared to that. The memory was sacred. The love was...sacred.
And so Vash the Stampede found himself at the cliff face, beneath three moons, sitting next to the grave of Nicholas D. Wolfwood.
As soon as he opened it the flimsy canvas bag a box of cigarettes slipped out, landing in the sand with a soft sigh. Vash's fingers were shaking as he leaned over to pick it up, reading the unfamilier brand name, feeling the wheels in his mind slow and stop as he stared for a small eternity. Fumbling slowly, he reached into the open box and pulled out a cigarette-
It was long, pristine, perfect. Vash felt tears running down his face as he looked at the object- Nicholas had been ever so addicted... The way he managed to look so threatening and so inviting at the same time with a thin cigarette pressed between his lips made Vash's silent tears rise into sobs, abnormally loud in the silent desert night.
And just like that he took the cigarette in his fingers and snapped it, until it was hanging at a precarious angle. Then he slipped in between his lips- unlit- and closed his eyes, waiting for the emptiness to subside into the dull throb it had become over the last few days.
When he was ready to continue, one moon had already set, and the sky was considerably darker. Vash slipped off the sunglasses he had been wearing all this time and placed them in his pocket before pulling the cording on the bag looser.
The second item in the bag surprised him. It was a small book, the cover dark green, with a gold cross stamped into it- and what's more, the cover was perfect, looking as though it had never been opened.
When Vash opened the book, he realized his mistake. What he had taken to be an untouched cover was really a lovingly oiled leather coat- the inside was different. He stared for a moment, overcome by the site of unfamilier handwritting naming the owner of the book- 'Nicholas D. Wolfwood' and below that was what Vash assumed to be the address of his orphanage in December. The next page was Genesis, and Vash's eyes widened at what he saw- scrawling text was in the cover of every page. Highlights and notations in red pen filled the margins, quotes were underlined, lessons defined by the reader. The entire book was like that...? He skimmed through the pages, noticing the cigarette burns in the corners, the questions penned occasionally below a favorite passage of teaching. It was strange that Wolfwood's handwriting was so alien to Vash, when everything else, from his clothes to his little half-smile to the words they never exhanged was haunting him...
"What the hell kind of churchman ARE you?!"
Vash scrubbed the salty tears from his eyes and was closing the book when a thin slip of paper fell from the back. Surprised, he reached down, unfolded it, and found himself staring at his own face, his grinning countenance mocking the pitiful state he was in at the moment. It was a wanted poster, the only vision of him that most humans ever managed to see.
"Vash the Stampede... Sixty billion double dollars...."
The wind brushed by, sending sand hissing along the hillside, bringing the wispy, thin clouds that only formed at night slipping across the moon. Vash eyed the slip tiredly, then noticed the scribbles beneath the photo- right under the dollar ammount on his head. After a momoent it was almost legible, and it wasn't halfhearted scribbles, it was writing...
'He makes his angels winds
His servants flames of fire.
Vash closed his eyes, remembering.
'I see how you live...how you choose to live...'
'I...I failed to save another life....'
'That's alright. Be more careful next time.'
And below that was scribbled in soft, almost loving letters-
'You are mine.'
Vash closed his eyes. "Sou da..." It was true. He would always belong to Nicholas. And Nicholas had known that- "He knew. He always knew."
The one in a red coat bowed his head, the moonlight showering the ground about him. Between his lips was an unlit cigarette, in his fingers an old, familier Bible, owned by the one he had loved, and lost.
"Knives..." Vash whispered into the night as the wind tugged against him, "You are all I have left...I will not lose you, too. I will never let you go."