Hello everyone! I've never written in this section before, but I like to keep my work of a multivariate nature. That, and I've had this little idea stewing in my mind since about sometime mid-July. Why didn't I start it until now? Because, I was working on other stuff, and I limit myself to three stories at once. Now that I'm below quota, I can start another one! Wee! Okay, this is supposed to start about five years after the series ended as a kind of continuation of events. There may be flashbacks, as I have been called the "memory ho" by my loving imouto and fellow writer, Jade. But in that case, I'll be nice enough to try not to make you really confused by said flashbacks. Also, later on there are some…um…yeah, intimate scenes, but it's all well within an R rating, so I'll change the rating when the time comes. Anou…I should get this show on the road, shouldn't I? Okay, here goes…
Take My Hand
It's a damn cold night
Trying to figure out this life
Won't you take me by the hand,
Take me somewhere new.
I don't know who you are
But I'm with you…
-Avril Lavigne, I'm With You
My name is Meryl Stryfe. Despite what you might have heard to the contrary, I'm a completely ordinary woman. I work at a completely ordinary job at a top-notch insurance company. I work in claims, risk prevention, and various tedious clerical tasks. I live in a nice apartment only ten blocks from my workplace and five blocks from the nearest grocery store. I have many ordinary colleagues, not as many friends as most, but I get by. I grew up in a normal family with two parents and two older brothers who I was never particularly close to. I lived my last thirty years like a perfectly ordinary woman would, going to school, meeting people and learning about myself and others. Overall, anyone looking over my complete life history would agree that there was nothing about it that could be said to be remarkable or at all out of the ordinary.
Well, that is if you just forget that Humanoid Typhoon assignment, but that was years ago. I mean, what's the point of dredging up that particular event? It didn't make me out of the ordinary, it just made my life seem more interesting to others. But it wasn't as exciting as they make it out to be. Seriously, if you do some investigation you'll find that even though I did technically spend over a year with the notorious outlaw, the first human ever to be declared an act of God, I was never killed (obviously) or even hurt seriously. There might have been the occasional tight spot, but people always seem to think that Vash the Stampede was after my blood.
That always makes me laugh, the idea of Vash as some cold-blooded killer. I know it shouldn't be funny, but if you knew him, you'd understand. He might have had a $60,000,000,000 bounty on his head, and I admit that he was capable of being dangerous, but I never felt I had anything to fear from that man. He isn't what you might expect. I get a feeling that he's something more than the rest of us. He's so misunderstood, yet any child that meets him will tell you immediately that Vash is a good man. That's why I like children. They trust their feelings, whereas their adult counterparts place too much trust in what they've been told to think. Anyone can see that Vash is a good, kind man. Kinder than most anyone else I've ever known, but with the worst luck I've ever seen as well.
I understand that I'm praising him far more than you should expect, but I can't help the fact that I'm biased. That man wheedled his way inside of me, and I can't help but wonder where he is now and hope that he's finally found some of the peace he so deserved. I worry sometimes that something might have happened to him, but I doubt it. In my experience, nothing was capable of killing that man. I oftentimes wonder if he is actually immortal. That might begin to explain why no matter how dire the situation, he never died. Or maybe with his bad luck, he has just as strong a mix of good luck. Who knows?
Anyway, the fact of the matter is that I went for thirty years of my life depending only on myself. I may have been in the occasional tight spot, but overall, I could handle my perfectly ordinary life on my own, as any ordinary woman could. The thing of it was that every now and then I'd feel like something was missing. Perhaps my life was so simple I had too much time to think about how it could have been more complicated. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, is it? Plenty of people live their lives thinking of many other things besides whether or not they're out of coffee, when they need to finish the newest set of paperwork, and how early they should go to bed to be sure they don't sleep in too late. I like to have everything neat and organized, wholly predictable and relying only on myself, no variables. But sometimes, I wonder if I'm really living my life or hiding from it.
And one day, I received an answer, though it was not a simple explanation as I could have hoped. These things are never that easy. My answer came in the form of a ragged man I glimpsed in a back alley on my way home from work one fateful day.
"Spare some change, miss?" a dirty looking man asked me as I left the Bernadelli Insurance Company building. I barely heard him, not even pausing to check my pockets as I walked past, but as I continued to move past the buildings in the busy town I lived in, I felt a bit guilty for passing him by so apathetically. I didn't want to go back, but I promised myself to find change for the next homeless person I saw. It wasn't fair for me to assume that they wouldn't spend it on food, as so many others did. How many men like that starved because of uncaring strangers? I could spare a few coins easily. And I know that's what Milly would do. I may be her superior at work, but I often find myself admiring Milly's way of looking at things, at living her life with such pure goodness, and I wish to model myself after her at times.
As I continued walking, thinking over these things and reaching in my purse to tentatively feel around for the coins I knew weighted the bottom down, I caught a glimpse of movement just off the side of the street. It seemed to be a man, wrapped in a tattered length of cloth, moving into the depths of the alley between two buildings I was approaching. Normally, I would have thought nothing of it. It isn't safe for a small woman such as myself to go poking in dark alleys, no matter how many guns I hide under my cloak. But there was something about the way he moved, a glimpse of recognition snapped through me, and though I couldn't place it, I was sure I knew this man. Besides that, I was busy basking in guilt from the earlier bypassed panhandler, and I felt that I could make it up with this man. Anyways, I do carry guns, so it wasn't as though I was being completely stupid about it. And it bothered me to think I would know anyone who was living so pathetically. I needed to see this man and be sure it was a mistake.
So when I reached the alley, I moved into it, though I saw no one at first. After a few yards, I made out a bit of movement and saw that the man was huddled in the back of the alley, looking as though he was trying to get some sleep. I moved hesitantly toward him, not feeling afraid, but feeling a bit foolish for following him into the dimly lit alley. It was getting dark out, after all, and it wasn't exactly the smartest thing I could do. And yet…I wasn't afraid at all that he'd hurt me. I was more afraid that he'd scold me for following him. Silly, isn't it?
"Excuse me sir?" I spoke softly, then realizing that he probably couldn't hear me, I raised my voice a bit, trying to sound confident. "Sir, do you need some help?" He didn't answer me, but he looked up, and my heart nearly broke from the look on his face. He looked as though he had lost everything he ever cared about, and somehow, those red-rimmed green eyes seemed so familiar… "Do I know you? I'm sorry, but I just feel like…I've seen you somewhere before…" I couldn't stop myself from moving forward, leaning down to get a closer look at this man who seemed as though he was about to cry, and I caught a brief flash of recognition in his eyes. So I did know him, and apparently he knew me as well. But who was he?
"Insurance girl?" his voice was little more than a weak croak, but it was enough for me. I suddenly had a flash of a man in my memories. A very different man, one who was always smiling and helping others, seemingly never needing help himself. But could this helpless lump of humanity be the kind man I remembered?
"Vash? Is that you?" my voice cracked a bit, much to my dismay, but now that I think of it, I doubt he really minded. I mean, at least I was wearing clean clothes. I also seemed to be living comfortably whereas he was obviously not as fortunate. I don't think he could really fairly call me out for sounding a bit foolish. Besides that, he looked so surprised that I knew his name, that I recognized him, that I'm sure he wasn't worry about how smooth I sounded. "It is, isn't it?"
"I don't…use that name anymore." He sighed, looking down from my own gaze, his eyes wandering over the filthy ground he was resting on. Something bad must have happened to him since the last time I saw him, but with poor Vash, who knew what it could be? I sighed, making up my mind at that moment to not leave him there thinking that he was alone in the world and looking like the most pathetic being in all existence.
"That's what I've always called you though." I told him, hunching down in an attempt to face him. "Listen, do you want to come with me? I can't just...leave you here."
"Don't waste your time feeling guilty about where I've gotten myself." Vash continued to avoid looking at me, and I suspected from the hitch in his tone that he was crying. "It's not your responsibility."
"I never said it was." I rolled my eyes. I'd forgotten how impossible he could be. "Vash, I haven't seen you for nearly five years. We're friends, right?" I didn't give him time to answer, but I noted that I had his attention, as he was casting me unsure glances. "Well, I think that as your friend, I have the responsibility to invite you to come visit me and catch up on old times. You wouldn't say no to that, would you?"
"Well…it's not that I don't want to see you…" Vash was definitely wavering.
"I'll feed you." I added. "And if I recall, I have a box of half a dozen donuts at home…" I sighed for effect. "It'd be a shame if I had to eat them alone."
"Donuts?" his eyes sparked up at that, as I'd known they might. It seemed that some of the cheerful Vash I remembered was still inside this sad shell of a man. "Well, I don't want to be rude." He began to stand up as I followed suit, smiling excitedly. I probably looked a bit foolish, smiling like that, but if only Vash could see me, it didn't really matter that much.
"Of course not." I took his hand in my own on impulse, squeezing it reassuringly as I began out onto the street again. I could see the surprise on his face at my gesture, but I ignored it as I ignored the looks we received from many passers-by. A neatly dressed professional looking woman walking hand in hand with a ragged vagabond. What a sight we must have made, but I didn't care. I was too happy knowing that Vash was alive to care what strangers thought of me.
"Silly man." I smiled down at Vash where he'd fallen asleep in no time after making sure to devour all my donuts and an entire box of cereal. It looked as though I'd need to go shopping, especially if I could convince him to stay with me at least until he found his feet again. It wouldn't be a strain on me as much as it would relieve me to know that he was being taken care of. I had plenty of money to feed one foolish glutton and myself with no problems whatsoever. The question was whether or not he'd accept my help. In my experience, Vash wasn't so much a proud man as he was extremely selfless. He hated asking others for help.
Whether he'd stay or not, I could at least help him now. "Vash," I tugged at his arm gently to wake him so he could move from the table. There was no way I'd let him sleep in a chair all night, but I wouldn't carry him to the couch either. "Vash, wake up."
"Huh? Oh, I'm sorry." His voice was groggy as he yawned and stood, stumbling slightly as he was still half asleep. "I should go…"
"No, it's no problem. Why don't you sleep on the couch tonight?" I led him into the living room so that he could see the inviting piece of furniture. It had to appeal to him after sleeping on the cold ground for who knows how long. I hoped he wouldn't try to act tough and leave. "I'd feel a lot better knowing you were here than out there." I admitted, hoping that he'd stay at least for my sake.
"Um…well, if you really want, I guess I wouldn't mind staying tonight." He offered me a small smile, one of the few I'd seen from him that evening, and it reassured me even more. It hurt to see him looking so down and not knowing what was wrong, but I didn't want to pry. Forget the fact that he appeared out of nowhere for the first time in five years, I could deal with that. I didn't want to scare him off with unwanted questions, after all. If he had something important to say to me, he'd say it, wouldn't he?
"You'll tell him everything when he gets back, won't you Sempai?" Millie's voice rang in my head, a memory of a time that I had let slip by without saying what needed to be said. So maybe he wouldn't say anything to me, but I guess I would have earned it for not trusting him in the past. "I'll get you a blanket, then." I scurried out of the room, not wanting him to see the embarrassed blush staining my cheeks. Why the hell was I blushing? It was ridiculous. Just because I had left a few things unsaid so many years ago…
"He'll come back, Sempai. And this time, you won't let him leave, will you?" Millie's voice echoed again. I shook my head as I opened the closet, standing on tip-toe to reach an extra blanket I had stored at the top. I knew I let him leave last time, but it was hard. I couldn't say anything at all, and then one morning he was just gone, and so were all my chances. In the end, I'd found him again, though. But I couldn't help wondering, where had he been? I wondered where Knives was now. He'd been half dead when I first saw him, slung over his brother's shoulder, but I remembered him seeming well enough just before they disappeared together. Perhaps they'd had some kind of a falling out, and that was the reason for his current depression. I shook my head, clearing the questions that continued to appear in my mind as I returned to the living room, seeing Vash already fast asleep on the couch, his legs stretched over the arm of the piece of furniture, one arm flung carelessly over his chest, the other falling easily to the ground. I couldn't help but laugh at the sight.
"That looks comfortable." I breathed, not wanting to wake him, though I doubted an earthquake would get him up at this point. Still, I was quiet and careful as I took his boots off, setting them on the ground neatly next to each other. Having done that, I carefully scooped his stray arm off the floor, laying it across his chest with the other one. Finally, I spread the gray woolen blanket over his prone form. I noticed as I moved to put a pillow under his head that his mouth was slightly open, and he was making a faint breathing noise that was almost like snoring. I smiled, not being able to resist brushing his longish locks of hair out of his face, letting my hand rest momentarily on his dirty, unshaven cheek. Even like this, I could still see the charm he'd held for me five years ago. Perhaps I was still drawn to that boyish face, that childish innocence mixed with the wisdom of a man older than any I knew. Maybe it was something more than chance that brought me to him that day…
"Sleep well, Vash." I smiled down at him, still inches from him as I quickly debated whether or not to simply go to bed and just let the poor man alone. It seemed like a smart idea, but I hadn't seen him in so long…In the end, I settled for a quick kiss on his forehead, not caring that he was grimy from living on the streets. Having said my goodnights, I tiptoed to bed, feeling happier than I had for a long time.
"Good morning!" a cheerful voice called out as I entered the kitchen that morning, still in my pajamas, to see Vash standing over the stove, showered and in freshly washed clothes. I noted that the clothes were the same set he'd been wearing before, and he could definitely do with some new ones, but I didn't comment on their state of disrepair.
"You're in a good mood this morning." I smiled slightly, a bit surprised by his sudden change in mood, but not altogether put off by it. "Feeling better?" I immediately regretted my question as I saw his face fall from that artificially cheerful smile into a somber frown. "Vash…is something wrong?" I felt incredibly foolish. Of course he couldn't have cheered that immediately. It was nothing more than an act for my benefit. He shook his head, lifting the saucepan from the stove and carrying it to the table where two plates were waiting.
"I made breakfast." He told her, his voice obviously torn between his need to sound cheerful and his true feelings of sadness. It tore at my heart to see him like this, and I knew that no matter what objections he made, I had to make sure he stayed, at least until he was feeling better. Maybe if he simply talked about it…
"You didn't have to." I smiled at him warmly, looking at the bacon and eggs he scooped onto my plate, determined to be patient with him until he was ready to talk. "But thank you."
"I just wanted to do something, since you let me stay here last night." He shrugged. "I…um, I used your shower. Is that okay?"
"It's fine." I told him, feeling a bit hurt that he felt he needed to ask. What happened to him? "You look much better all cleaned up."
"I couldn't shave." He lowered his eyes, concentrating on his food.
"I noticed. And you need a haircut, don't you think?" I asked him carefully, hoping to use this opportunity to bring up the idea of him staying with me longer. "We could go into town today, if you want. I could get you a razor, and maybe some new clothes."
"You mean…like for here?" Vash looked around as though he hadn't realized before then that he was in my home. "I…don't need a place to stay." Sometimes, patience only takes you so far.
"Yes you do." I answered, trying to remain calm. If I fought him on this, he'd just leave and I might never see him again. "And I think it's best you stay here. After all, I still owe you."
"Owe me?" Vash looked extremely confused.
"Are you kidding? I'm not helpless, as you know, but the last time we were together, I seem to remember you saving Millie and myself more than once. It's only fair that I pay you back." I reasoned. "Besides, we're friends, aren't we?"
"Well…I don't want to get in your way." Vash shook his head, obviously giving up resistance.
"You won't be." I assured him. "So, after breakfast, would you like to go shopping with me?"
"I…I think I'd rather stay here." He admitted, looking extremely sheepish. "I…don't like being out there much."
"Why not?" I couldn't help but ask. I didn't want to pry, but it all seemed so unlike the Vash I remembered. "It's such a beautiful day."
"Um…I'm still an outlaw." Vash spoke, obviously lying. "So what if someone recognized me?"
"Alright." I sighed. If he wanted, he could keep his secrets, at least for now. It wasn't hurting me as much as it was obviously hurting him to keep it all in. "Why don't you do the dishes while I'm out then?" he agreed easily, not offering any complaint as I would have once expected from him. What happened to him? What had drained so much life from this man?
The End (Of Part 1, That Is)