Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by Yasuhiro Nightow, Yousuke Kuroda, Satoshi Nishimura, and various publishers including but not limited to Young King Comics, Madhouse and Pioneer Entertainment, and Victor Company of Japan. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

Posted by: Elspeth, A.K.A. Elspethdixon

Ships:  WxM and W+V (yes, both—note the "x" and "+").  My shipping preferences have become too strong to deny, and the subtext has finally emerged from the closet.

* Author's note: This fic contains a pretty fair-sized spoiler for episode 23, "Paradise."  Not the BIG spoiler, but a spoiler none-the-less. *

Crying over Spilt Coffee

            The mug was warm in his hands, almost hot, fragrant steam rising up from it to mingle with the haze of cigarette smoke in the room.  Millie made wonderful coffee.  It wasn't her fault that he couldn't swallow it past the lump in his throat.  The sandwiches were probably good too, but he wasn't hungry.  When he was worried or upset, he usually forgot to eat and chain smoked instead.  Chapel had probably been right about his having lost weight.  Chapel had probably been right about a lot of things.

            "It's not healthy to drown in each others' pain.  Kill him now, and end it."  The order seemed to hang in the smoke-filled air, ringing in his ears the way it had since Chapel had uttered it.  "As of now, you too, my friend, are a Gung Ho Gun."  Beautiful irony there.  The only true friends he had were Vash and the girls, and his own actions had probably already cost him Vash's friendship.  When had Vash's opinion begun to matter more than anyone else's, even his master's?  When had Vash's life become more important than anyone else's, even a child's, even his own?

            It had seemed so simple in the beginning.  Find Vash the Stampede, the infamous gunman, and guide him to Chapel's master.  Bring him in, and there would be money for the orphanage, and guaranteed protection for the children.  And maybe, maybe they would even have let him quit.  So he had taken the job, expecting to find a monster, the sort of conscienceless killer who merited a $$60,000,000 reward, someone easy to betray, easy to kill.  Someone who deserved it.  And instead, he'd found, found…

            I'm not drowning in pain, I'm drowning in blue-green eyes, in a soft voice and a gentle smile.  In a light that picks out every stain and shadow on my soul.  In guilt.

            "It's so strange," he whispered, staring into the half full mug.  Millie's silent presence still hung in the doorway, but he was speaking more to himself than to her.  To the ghost of an absent Vash.  Or maybe to God.  "Where did I go wrong?"  He blinked, eyes burning.  He would not cry.  Especially not in front of Millie.  She would be worried, would be upset, would think he was weak.  "You're a bad influence on me. "You've got me acting almost as goofy as you do.  Next thing you know, I'll be crying all the time and refusing to kill people."  His own words from few weeks ago drifted back to him, sounding bitterly ironic now.  Refusing to kill people.  Not him, never him.  He hadn't even hesitated a split second.

            The battle against tears was lost, and he put a hand to his face, trying to block the sight of them from Millie.  "I've always chosen the right path, haven't I?"  He could hear his voice cracking on the words, suddenly unsure if they were true, if they'd ever been true at all.  Maybe his path had always been wrong, twenty years of wrong decisions and sin, since the first time his finger had tightened on a trigger.  Seven was the age of reason, the beginning of moral responsibility.  A seven year-old was old enough to take communion, old enough to make confession, old enough to commit mortal sin.  Maybe he hadn't really been seven.  Maybe he'd been six.  Or maybe eight.  He'd never been entirely sure.

"Haven't I?" It was a whisper, muffled by the hand over his face, by the lump in his throat, by tears.  Millie never answered.  Instead, he heard her footsteps crossing the floor toward him, felt her arm going about his shoulders, pulling him toward her, felt a hand stroking his hair.  The coffee mug hit the floor, splashing its dark brown contents across the flagstones, and he clung to her, stifling the desire to simply sob uncontrollably into her shoulder.

He blinked, blinked again, trying to bring his traitorous eyes back under control.  The fabric against his cheek was soft, with softer flesh under it.  He was not going to sniffle.  People who sniffled sounded pathetic.  Vash certainly sounded pathetic when he sniffled.  When he… No!  Think about something else!

            "You smell nice."  Oh, that was a brilliant thing to say, Nicholas.  Hit on her while she's being nice to you, why don't you.

Blessedly, Millie ignored the comment.  Or maybe she blushed.  He didn't see. "Please, eat the sandwiches."

He pulled away slightly, looking up at her.  Soft brown hair framed huge, child-like blue eyes, sad and compassionate and shimmering with the tears he was determined not to shed.  She was beautiful in her own way, girl-like and oddly innocent.  He wondered if she knew that.

He raised a hand to her face, tracing the outline of one delicate cheekbone.  She reached up and caught his hand, but instead of removing it, simply held it, frozen in place, fingertips just touching her skin.

            "Will you eat them with me?"

            She didn't answer, but she smiled, and ran a hand of her own through his hair, then pulled him to his feet and put her arms around him again.  And that was answer enough. 

            He brought his own arms up around her and leaned forward to kiss her, first on the cheek, and then on the lips.  Only lightly, carefully, not wanting to scare her.  Just in case her embrace hadn't really meant what he thought it meant.  He barely had to bend his head in order to do so—she was almost as tall as he was.

            She kissed back a lot harder than he had expected her too, and a lot less innocently.  Obviously, he hadn't been mistaken.  Nice to know that not every decision of his was a mistake.  But still…

            "Are you sure?"  It was probably a silly question, especially considering that he was unbuttoning her duster when he asked it, and that his jacket was already on the floor, but if he'd waited another few minutes to ask, it might have been too late.

            Millie smiled.  "Mr. Priest, I'm not indecisive about everything."

            "Nicholas.  It's Nicholas."

            "Nicholas."  Another kiss.  Fingers unbuttoning his shirt.  "Have you ever been in love, Nicholas?"

            The question was like a dash of cold water.  She doesn't mean that she's in love with me, does she?  If she did, if she thought…  They would have to stop.  It wouldn't be fair.  He couldn't lead her on with false promises.  His fingers stopped what they were doing as he tried to formulate an answer.  The problem was, he didn't know the answer. "How do you tell the difference between loving someone and being in love with them?"

            "I don't know.  It's confusing, sometimes."  She caught his fingers again.  "Why did you stop?"

            "Millie, if you, if you and me… And you said…"

            "It was only a question.  You don't have to answer."  Her eyes were so blue, wide and blue and gentle, and infinitely understanding.  She brought his captured hand back up to her face.  "You don't owe me anything."  And then, in a barely audible whisper, "If you want, you can close your eyes and pretend I'm him."  She didn't say his name.  She didn't need to.

            "I don't want to think about him right now.  You're you, and that's enough."  He kissed her again, a long, slow kiss that made things burn inside of him.  Somehow, the two of them moved in to the abandoned house's bedroom, but he wasn't clear on exactly how, because all he was focusing on was scooping Millie up into his arms and laying her down on the sheets, and pulling open the fastenings on shirts and trousers.

            She was beautiful, oh so beautiful.  Everything he'd imagined and more.  Hot, smooth skin as soft as velvet, long, slender limbs with just the right amount of feminine softness, and surprisingly broad shoulders.  There was muscle underneath those smooth curves—not unexpected, considering the weight of that stungun she carried around.  Her fingers pressed with almost bruising strength against his arms, and little half-laughing sound she made as he began stringing a long chain of kissed down her throat and chest was like music.

            And yet… And yet… It was so right, so good, so comfortable and close and warm, but deep inside of him a little voice whispered that it was all wrong.  The skin beneath his hands should not be smooth, but seamed with scars.  The hair he tangled his fingers in should be shorter.  The join of neck and shoulder he buried his face in should smell not of sand and dust and woman, but of leather, gun oil, and the faintest hint of metal.  Stop it, Nicholas.  Stop.  Don't do this with her while thinking about him.  She deserves better.  You can't have him.  He doesn't want you.  Would want you even less if he knew.

            "Millie."  He breathed her name, lips a fraction of an inch away from hers, and she smiled, and leaned her head down to close the gap, those crystal blue eyes shining with pleasure and understanding, no longer the least bit childlike.  And then her hands moved from his arms to somewhere else, and forgetting Vash was no longer quite so difficult.  In fact, it wasn't difficult at all.

^_~

            The room was dark when Millie woke up, lit only by a trace of moonlight shining in though the window.  Someone else's arm was a heavy weight across her chest, and someone else's legs were tangled with hers, and there was the very faint sound of someone snoring right next to her left ear.  The previous few hours came flooding back, and she began smiling, staring up at the cracked plaster ceiling and grinning in a way that she suspected might look a bit silly.  Nicholas.

            It had been so wonderful.  So nice, so, well, peaceful was not exactly the word.  All right, decidedly not the word.  But in a way, perhaps, it was.  For a just a few hours there had been no tension, no sadness, no pain, and everything had been happy.  They had been happy.  Why couldn't life be like that more often?

            "Your legs are like jewels," he had whispered to her, sliding his fingers up said jewels.  "And your navel is a rounded goblet, filled with wine,"—a kiss on her navel—"No, whiskey, I like that better.  And your stomach is a mound of wheat, and your breasts twin thomases, and your neck an ivory tower…" working his way up her body and back down.  She had started to giggle somewhere around "mound of wheat," and "twin thomases" had set her off completely.  "Where are you getting this?" she had demanded.  And he had quirked his eyebrows in a particularly sleazy looking way and refused to answer.  Or perhaps he'd gotten distracted.  Yes, distracted sounded about right.

            Millie smiled again in that undoubtedly silly-looking way and snuggled closer into the circle of Nicholas's arm, reveling in the comfortable, safe, feeling.  It's only for tonight, she reminded herself.  Only tonight, because he needed a friend.  But she so very much wanted it to be for longer.  Wanted it to the point of taking shameless advantage of someone obviously confused and hurting.  I ought to feel ashamed. I ought to have taken him to wherever Mr. Vash was and made the two of them apologize and make up. It's hurting them, fighting like this. But then she wouldn't have been able to kiss him, and feel his hands on her, and falls asleep in his arms.  And it hadn't exactly been a one-sided experience either.  Um, no, not one-sided at all.  

            She rolled her head sideways and inspected the sleeping face inches away from hers.  Long nose, slightly pointed chin, the beginnings of stubble, the silly little bits of hair that fell down in front of his ears…  He looked different asleep, without the cynical smile or cocky charm, without the loud voice and ever-present cigarette.  Younger; people always looked younger when they were asleep.  Miss Meryl looked like a little girl when she slept, though Millie would never in a million years have told her so, knowing the reaction she'd likely get.

            He looked tired, hints of circles creating shadows under those closed eyes—or maybe that was just the dim light.  This might be the first time in days that he'd gotten a shot at some decent sleep.  She traced the line of a black eyebrow with one finger, and he stirred slightly, coming partway awake.

            "Vash?"

            Not yours, Millie.  Handsome, kind, smooth-tongued, but never completely yours.

            "Yes, it's Vash," she whispered.  "Go back to sleep, Nick."

            Nick smiled, an oddly innocent expression she couldn't recall ever seeing before, and tightened his arm around her.  "Love you," he mumbled indistinctly, before his breathing deepened again and he returned to sleep.

            Millie fell asleep again as well, eventually.  But she lay awake for several minutes first, staring silently at the cracked plaster of the ceiling.  Next door, Meryl slept soundly, having given up waiting up for her.  Across the street, Vash lay awake worrying over shouted words and cold silence, and wished for Rem.  And in the kitchen, the sandwiches waited stale and dried out on a chipped white plate.  Untouched.

^_~

* Note: The endearments Nick used for Millie were from the Song of Solomon, possibly one of the best love poems ever written, and incidentally, located in the Old Testament right between Ecclesiastes and Isaiah.  I decided to expand on my scripture-quoting Nick from "SC&S." *

Thank you to everyone who read and reviewed "Scars, Cigarettes, & Scripture."