A/N: Sequel to A Loan Shark's Tale (any missing information here can be found in all the prequel series). Written for The Review Lounge, Too Fall 2015 Green Room. The challenge is Colliding Dimensions.
For (semi) fandom blind readers, compare the appearance of Brandon/Grave and Mika from Gungrave with Legato and Meryl from Trigun respectively. Yasuhiro Nightow is the creator of both series.
All disclaimers apply.
It's just a myth, Brandon had always thought. Vash the Stampede is just a character from the folklore about how humans react when they have used up the natural resources on Earth and how pacifism can prevail in that era.
However, Norton had convinced Brandon that the spiky-haired man was real, not just a fictional character who had a lot of articles in the Internet. He had shown him the photo of Vash - a blond man in a red trench coat - dashing out of a wormhole. The background of this incident seemed familiar; it had plenty of lights and a number of men in white coats. Moreover, Brandon recognized a few of the scientists at the setting; he had spared them when he destroyed Millennion's research facility about a year ago.
As a newcomer to the town, Vash certainly wouldn't have the money to spend on food and shelter. It became why, despite the fact that Millennion's loan shark department didn't have to work during winter, Norton forced Brandon to carry out his duty as a predatory moneylender. Brandon simply obeyed Norton, though, because working would benefit Millennion, the organization that helped fund his life support.
Now, he stayed inside his chilly little office. With a cup of hot chocolate in his hand, he walked towards the ripped sofa on which Mika sat. Sure, she had had his greatcoat wrapping around her petite body, but Brandon believed she still needed more warmth to enjoy her time in this lousy workroom. A TV did exist, but a shivering and sneezing Mika wouldn't be in the mood to watch something.
Brandon usually wouldn't bring Mika to work, as his angry victims might hurt her to get their revenge on him. He did bring a pistol all the time, but one gun couldn't possibly incapacitate a swarm of furious civilians so quickly that they wouldn't manage to lay a single finger on Mika. It became why Norton's suggestion, before he decided to deploy some Millennion guardsmen around Brandon's office, had fallen into deaf ears.
The reasoning behind Norton's suggestion, though, sounded silly at first, but since sketches of the folklore's characters were available on the Internet, Brandon thought it was logical. Vash had a friend who looked like Mika with dark blue hair, so he would feel more secure here. In addition, that feeling of safety would make him trust Brandon; if Brandon didn't have white hair and a patch of pale skin covering his lost left eye, Vash would surely mistake him for his enemy.
Smiling, he put the cup of hot chocolate down on the table in front of Mika. The soft thump prompted her to stop looking at the TV screen and pay attention to the smoky brown liquid.
"Thanks." Her extended arm went out of the makeshift shawl to grab the cup. Sipping on the hot chocolate, she asked, "Let's watch the TV together while we wait for Mr. Vash?"
Brandon nodded as he sat beside Mika.
The current TV program about Ötzi the Iceman grabbed Brandon's interest. The show provided explanations about how ice and snow preserved the man's corpse for centuries, which at the same time, confirmed Brandon's reason of liking winter. As he had assumed, cold weather inhibited the microbial growth on his flesh. The weather here might not be as freezing as the one Ötzi faced as he climbed the Alps, but it could still sedate those pesky germs.
Knock, knock, knock.
Brandon walked towards the door and opened it, revealing his long-awaited prey. The blond spiky hair and red trench coat matched the man's broom-like hairstyle and flowing crimson outfit in the photograph of the lab incident.
However, Vash sure didn't know sneezing manners. Leaning back, he inhaled intermittently; meanwhile, Brandon didn't see a handkerchief in the man's hand or his other attempts to cover his mouth and nose.
Quickly, Brandon stepped aside to avoid the rain of saliva. Germs must've infested the air around him by now.
"What a cold place," Vash complained, rubbing his nose. "The fluffy white thing out there chills." He looked at Brandon, but as he did, his cyan eyes widened in shock. "Legato?"
"I am Brandon Heat," Brandon quickly said, smiling.
Vash laughed. "I thought you were him, just with white hair, a missing arm, and a patch of skin hiding your...lost eye? Oh, well. But you're weird. You don't seem to feel cold despite wearing just a loose t-shirt and pants." He stepped in, still looking at Brandon. "How can I borrow money?"
Brandon pointed at his own chest with a thumb.
"So, you're the moneylender." Vash closed the door. "Where can we talk about our business?"
Brandon turned around and before walking towards his desk, he wagged his hand. Vash followed him at that signal, but the sound of Vash's shoes hitting the rickety wooden floor soon faded.
"Hello, young lady," Vash suddenly spoke. "Do you have a family member working in an insurance company?"
Brandon shifted his gaze to the couch, where Vash stood beside a blinking and gawking Mika.
"Are you related to a girl from an insurance company?"
"Relation? Insurance company? Brandon is the only person I have in my family." Mika's arm sneaked out of Brandon's coat to grab the cup of hot chocolate in front of her. "My name is Mika Asagi."
Returning his attention to Brandon, Vash muttered with a contorted face, "I wonder why you all look similar to the people I know." He shrugged and sighed. "But I bet nobody knows why."
Brandon sat on his chair and held up a paper with a wall of text and a stamp. He waved it, making some rustling sounds to draw Vash's attention.
"I almost forgot." Vash grinned, strolling towards Brandon's desk with his hands in his coat pockets. "I'm here for business." Sitting on the chair in front of Brandon, Vash cast a glare at the open window behind him. "Close the window. It's cold, you know? I don't understand how you can stand such weather."
Brandon sat still. Vash didn't need to know why he enjoyed the winter wind; revealing his condition as a reanimated corpse - Ötzi's mummy equivalent in terms of cold resistance - would spook Vash and ruin the business.
"Fine, but expect a sneeze or two." Vash nabbed the sheet of paper and read it for a moment. "Reading this hurts my head." He lowered the paper to look at Brandon. "Anyway, how much should I borrow? Give me some suggestions."
"If you are frugal," Brandon answered, "you'll spend, at most, three-hundred thousand yules per day. If you ever want to start your own business here, I'd recommend an initial capital of around one million yules."
Vash flapped the sheet of paper. "I'm not a businessman."
"How can you pay off your debt then? I don't lend money without an interest rate."
"I can find a way."
Brandon picked up a pen from the pencil cup at the edge of the table.
"Eh, not so fast." Vash put the paper back on the table. "Tell me the interest rate."
"It depends on how much you borrow and when do you plan to pay off the debt."
"If I borrow two million yules from you and plan to pay off the debt three days later, how much will you charge?"
"One-hundred percent per day."
"What? That's ridiculous!" Vash screamed, standing up and leaning forward. "You loan shark! I'm gonna find another moneylender if ya don't lower the interest rate!"
Brandon snickered. "Nobody will lend you money unless you have an identity card." Grinning, he took several bundles of money out of his pants pocket and slammed them onto the table. "Besides, you can borrow up to five million yules here. And you'll get the money in cash immediately after you've signed the letter. You can't find such a service out there."
Sitting down, Vash sighed. "Okay, you win. I can live with two million yules and will pay off my debt in three days."
Brandon pulled the paper back to his view and noted down the amount of money and the number of days Vash had mentioned. After writing a "100%" at the interest rate section, he signed at the bottom of the letter as the moneylender. He then pushed the document to Vash and handed him the pen.
Vash grabbed the paper and the pen, and suddenly, he inquired aloud, "It has to be my real name?"
"My name is very long, you know? It's Valentinez Alkalinella Xifax Sicidabohertz Gumbigobilla Blue Stradivari Talentrent Pierre Andrei-"
"Vash the Stampede," Brandon calmly corrected with a confident smile.
"Bah, you're a creepy loan shark. You know my name." Scowling, Vash placed the paper on the desk and wrote down his name. After leaving his signature at the bottom of the document right beside Brandon's, he shoved it back to Brandon. "Okay, this is all I have to do to get the money, right? No worries. I'll try to pay you back ASAP. The longer I wait, the more likely that I'll die because of the absurd interest rate."
Vash didn't keep his promise. Three days - exactly seventy-two hours since the transaction - had passed, but he hadn't shown up to pay off his debt.
Time to hunt him down. Brandon didn't need his address, though, since Vash didn't have one and Millennion agents were all over the town. He only needed a phone call from Norton to locate that broom head.
However, despite the convenience provided by a mobile phone, Brandon chose to stay in his office instead of his trailer. His workroom might lack the adjustable room temperature like his trailer and wouldn't make Mika comfortable, but it was closer to Vash's possible location. Judging from Vash's personality, Brandon could tell that the spiky-haired guy was an outgoing person. He must be roaming around the shopping district, which lay only several yards away from Brandon's moneylender office.
Because Norton hadn't called, Brandon would spend his spare time accompanying Mika. Sitting beside her on the ripped couch, with his teeth and only hand, he wrapped her in his greatcoat to protect her from the frigid wind. To help his business as per Norton's suggestion, Brandon had dragged the kid into his shoddy office and robbed the comfort she was supposed to have, so unless he wanted to let the guilt of mistreating a child torment him, he'd better not let her catch a cold.
As he stood up and stared at the water dispenser that lay further in front of him, he heard Mika say, "You don't need to make a cup of hot chocolate. I already feel warm this way."
Brandon shifted his attention to her with a raised eyebrow.
"We don't know if Mr. Norton will suddenly call you and ask us to go. We'll just waste a sachet of hot chocolate."
Mika was right about wasting the beverage, so Brandon replied with a nod and sat back down. As soon as he did, his mobile phone rang.
He picked it up. "Good afternoon."
"Brandon, Norton here. The scouts have located Vash the Stampede. He's across from your office, buying doughnuts from a hawker." A pause. "Do whatever it takes to make him pay off his debt, but don't kill him. Now, go." The call went out with a click.
Across from my office? Brandon stood up and walked towards the open window. Right, that broom head now walked away from the hawker with a bag of doughnuts. He should've headed here instead of that way.
As Brandon struck the window's ledge with his sound foot, he suggested, "Mika, go downstairs and ask Arnold to accompany you here or drive you around the town. I've spotted Vash."
"Won't you break your prosthesis if you jump out? We're on the second floor right now."
"I can manage." With that, Brandon flung himself out of the window. He rolled to make sure that his back would hit the ground first and avoid damaging his artificial leg.
He landed on the snowy earth with a loud boom. Quickly, he rolled to his side so that he would lie on his stomach. A thrust from his hand and healthy leg sent him back up, and when he turned to look at the hawker across his current position, he gasped. Vash stood in front of him with a half-eaten doughnut between his teeth.
"Hey, that's dangerous, you know?" Vash spoke in a muffled voice. "You may kill yourself. And go get a coat. A t-shirt can't protect you from the cold weather."
Brandon simply grabbed Vash by his collar and pulled him closer. "Pay up. Sixteen million yules."
"Sixteen million yules?" All of a sudden, Vash dropped his bag of doughnuts and slipped out of his trench coat. Running away from Brandon in only a leather armor, he waved a hand. "Ta ta for now."
Shaking his head whilst smirking, Brandon put down Vash's trench coat before chasing him. He certainly didn't know about Brandon's artificial leg and likely ran not to exploit his possible weakness, but it didn't matter. Brandon had practiced moving at various pace with that prosthesis for at least a year, so running was no big deal. Fortunately for him, Vash couldn't run too fast. Without the aid of his coat to insulate his body heat, he sneezed as he scurried with shaky limbs.
However, whether out of clumsiness or deliberation, Vash knocked down a few mailboxes and trash cans in the way, blocking Brandon's path with them. Scattered metal scraps, envelopes, and garbage were always the final result, but the obstacles' sacrifices sometimes did Vash a favor. If Brandon stepped on them with his synthetic foot, they would at least, trip him before shattering under his weight.
The pursuit came to a halt as Brandon and Vash reached the junction at the end of the pavement. Vash climbed the traffic light instead of taking a turn, likely because he knew that Brandon couldn't possibly catch him up there.
Hugging the snowy pole, Vash taunted, "Catch me if you can."
Without saying a word, Brandon leaned against the traffic light with a smile. He would pounce on Vash once he sneezed and fell.
Brandon's ears soon registered a loud "atchoo," prompting him to look up. But a small lump of snow came down instead of Vash. It struck him on his face, briefly obscuring his vision.
In an instant, Brandon wiped away the snow from his face. He stared at the extended pole of the traffic light, on which a shivering Vash stood with his arms wrapped around his slim body.
Brandon immediately took his pistol out of his belt holster and pointed it at Vash. A bullet to the knee should work.
"Hey, put that down!" Vash shouted.
Brandon fired his pistol, but the bullet hit nothing as Vash sidestepped. He dodged the projectile?
"That's not a toy!" Vash yelled again.
Another gunshot rang, but Vash jumped and sent the bullet ripping through the empty air. He dodged the projectile!
"Think of the birds!" As Vash's feet hit the pole, the snow covering it fell off in a small clump and crashed down on Brandon's face again.
Shaking his head rapidly to clear the snow from his face, Brandon grumbled, "Take the bullets for them then."
Vash scratched his head and looked around. "Eh? What?"
Brandon fired again, but Vash simply sidestepped. The bullet struck nothing.
"My bad." Vash laughed. "No birds."
If bullets didn't work, then Brandon would use brute force to catch him. After holstering his gun, he slammed his palm onto the pole.
"Mama!" As the traffic light nearly smashed into the zebra cross, Vash jumped off. "What a vandal." He waved a hand and ran away. "Bye!"
Screeches, curses, and honking horns exploded from somewhere near, but Brandon ignored them. He simply left the felled traffic light behind and crossed the street to pursue Vash again. If he had to run around the town to catch his prey, then so be it. Brandon had agreed to extort Vash for Millennion, so he had to make it do no matter what.
This time, however, the route was downhill for part of the way. For Brandon, though, he could take advantage of the slope with his resilient body. If he rolled down the ramp, maybe his artificial leg would break, but that massive boost in speed would enable him to catch up with Vash.
So he jumped into the air with a strong push from his sound leg. Curling himself into a ball, he wrapped his folded legs with his arm. Once his body crashed into the snowy pavement, he began rolling down the slope. Snow clung to his body as he moved down the ramp, turning him into a giant snowball.
"What are you doing? You'll hurt yourself!"
It took less than a minute until he crashed into Vash. Grabbing the back of Vash's neck and pulling him out of the mound of snow, Brandon raised his own head to glare at his captive.
Vash sneezed. "I have no money."
"That's why. Lend more money and start a business here."
"I'm not a businessman." Vash sighed. "Besides, your interest rate is absurd."
"I act according to the rules from my superiors."
Vash tried to crawl away from Brandon, but the tight grip stopped him. Frowning, he murmured, "Your superiors are crazy."
As he shoved Vash's face into the snow in a fit of rage, Brandon heard the droning sound of a car amidst the howling wind. Turning around, he saw Arnold driving his van to him with Mika and stopping it. Doors opened, they stepped out of the vehicle.
"Sir," Arnold began firmly, "Boss ordered you to release Mr. Vash and forget about his debt."
Brandon blinked. At the same time, Vash threw his hands in the air and let out a "hurray."
"You two caused a lot of mess. Imagine if Mr. Vash asks you for more time and you have to chase him again, Sir. You'll do more harm than good." Arnold hunched over. After shuffling his gloved hands through the snow, he held up a black suede shoe and a rubber foot. "First, you broke your prosthesis. Fixing it will cost you money. Meanwhile, you rely on Millennion to fund your medical expense, including the fee for prosthesis maintenance."
Eye widening, Brandon could feel his grip on Vash loosening. His artificial leg needed a repair, which was never a pleasant experience for Brandon. Aside from having to face Norton's wrath, he would have limited mobility for a few days.
"Second, you two knocked down and smashed a lot of stuff. Mailboxes, trash cans, and even a traffic light. The consequences of that? The pavement is a mess. The road, too. That won't be good for Millennion's publicity." Handing the shoe and the rubber foot to Mika, Arnold fished a bundle of money out of his pants pocket and walked towards Vash. "Anyway Mr. Vash, Boss gives you one million yules. You need it to survive here." A pause. "Remember to show up at the research facility next week. The scientists want to see you."
Vash stood up and took the money. "What? You mean, I can go home soon?"
"Great! I've had enough with this cold place." Vash turned around. "Um, where's my coat?"
"In the van. On another note, we don't take away the money you've borrowed from us. You need it."
Still lying on his stomach, Brandon looked at Vash walking past him and opened the car door. After a moment, he pulled away with his red trench coat in his hands.
"Thank you, guys. See ya next time." After slamming the door shut with an elbow, Vash left.
Sitting still in the car, Brandon looked down with a long face. Only if his stunt had earned him some money...
"Brandon, don't be sad," Mika suddenly said, hugging his arm. "Mr. Norton has no reason to scold you. Besides, I like it better if we can spend our holiday in the trailer together."
Brandon didn't react.
"In addition, if you know the folklore, you should be proud of catching that guy." Arnold snickered, steering the wheel. "Had you caught him in the era he came from, you would've become a billionaire. He has a huge bounty on his head there." He laughed. "If you're curious, step into the wormhole at Millennion's research facility. It'll bring you to where the last remain of humanity resides in the far future. Catch Vash the Stampede, and there you go."
"Also, Mr. Arnold told me that Mr. Vash is actually a dangerous person. He isn't only a gunslinger, but also a person with the power to destroy a city in a few seconds. But he always hides that scary side by being funny and helpful." Mika leaned back. "Huh? I think I sat on something."
Brandon looked to his side to see Mika moving forward and picking up the bundle of money and the piece of paper on her seat.
After staring at the paper for a few seconds, Mika lowered it and grinned. "It's from Mr. Vash!"
Brandon raised an eyebrow.
"Read this." Mika handed Brandon the piece of paper. "Mr. Vash doesn't mention his name there, but he's the only person who both borrows money from you and knows about your leg."
Brandon read the letter. "Use it to repair your broken prosthesis. Don't worry; I can survive with just the money I've borrowed from you. LOVE AND PEACE!"
After putting down the piece of paper beside him, Brandon smiled. "The next time I see him, I'll remember to thank him. I can't wait for that moment."