A/N: First off, I don't own Trigun or any of the characters, the story, or setting, et cetera. Not mine, don't claim that it is.

Okay this is a present-tense, first-person POV by way of Wolfwood, and it takes place during the episode, "Alternative," right after all the kids have fallen asleep. In the English dub (quick, easy referencing) Wolfwood invites Vash for a drink. This is what transpires before morning.

Warning: MAJOR spoilers! Most smart cookies have figured it out by just around this time period but it still sucks to reveal half the game just before you were meant to learn what's going on. And, uh, you folks can misconstrue it all you want, but this isn't a yaoi fic. It's about comfort ^.^



"Come on, let's go have a drink."

He turns to me and smiles a little, bone-weary and eager to forget the fact.

He's still lying to me, whenever he smiles like that. At least, at me. I caught a glimpse of the genuine at dinner, and earlier, when the girls exploited the wonders of maternal instinct.

There is a back room in this shoddy shelter of stone and mud. The girls chose to sleep in the kitchen, closer to the children. So the back room is ours.

"You know who killed Brad, Vash?" I ask. He winces. Stupid bastard blames himself every time. "Leonov killed Brad." I light a cigarette, having moderately restrained myself around the kids. I no longer smoke for the buzz, really, just the taste of it.

He stands by the window, just a hole in the poor masonry, and grips the sill so hard that dust crumbles from the stone. "He didn't have to die."

"No," I agree, popping the top off of a bottle with the edge of the table. I hand it to him. "You could have. Would that make it any better?"

He stares into the night, at the fifth moon, at the dark redness of the hole he made in the cratered surface. I once heard a kid ask if it was bleeding. "If...if I had known..."

"You didn't." I open a bottle for myself and take a swig. It burns going down, reminds me of cat piss. Meryl bought it only because it was cheap and she doesn't drink. I take another. "Worrying about it isn't going to change anything. You'll drive yourself crazy with the guilt unless you accept that mistakes are made. It's human."

He sniffs. "Human. So the purpose of humanity is to self-destruct."

I don't need this. I don't need this at all. I trust him to be capable at the most chaotic of times, to astound me when he's comfortable. But guilt and bitterness mess with a person. The last thing I need is him making my job twice as hard.

He blinks a few times, takes off his glasses, and drinks from the bottle. He coughs at the cheap booze, rubs at his nose. And I smile.

The purpose of my invitation was to loosen him up a bit. To help him forget for a while before he implodes. It had worked once before, right after I'd taken Eriks away from Lena and her grandmother.

The guilt of the fifth moon incident had been bitingly fresh, then. We were staying at a rather dingy hotel with some of the last of my money, and I'd splurged on some pretty high-quality whiskey because I felt for him. He never has had much tolerance for alcohol.

He's taken another drink, had another coughing fit. I sit on the lone table, arms around my cross, my armory, my artillery cabinet.

"You must feel pretty at home here," he murmurs, abruptly changing the subject. "What with the children."

I wasn't expecting that. But I play into it. "It's not as nice as the church orphanage, but, yeah, it's familiar." I chuckle, taking a long draw and rubbing the cigarette out on the sole of my shoe. "It's a lot easier with the girls, though."

He sighs. "Yeah."

I drink again; he copies the motion. "Do it slow," I order, smiling at him. He never learns. "You'll never breathe right if you drink like that."

He recovers quickly from the bout of coughing this time. "How familiar?" he asks, turning to face me. I see nothing of him but the outline and shadow. "Do you get homesick?"

I snort and drain the bottle in one go. "Sometimes. But I've got companions this time." Damn it, I said too much again. He makes me want to talk to him. I can't stop the next sentence. "I concentrate on other things when it gets to be too much."

"Other things?"

I grin. His naiveté is annoyingly endearing. "In other words, I get shitfaced drunk. The next morning, I shake off the hangover and go about what I have to do."

"Alone?" He's set the bottle down and looks at me with genuine concern.

Don't pity me. For the love of God, don't pity me. "Sometimes there's someone with me." I force down thoughts of Chapel, my father. Knives. I don't know why they suddenly spring to mind. All my obligations. They're never far.

I look up. He had reached one hand toward me, trying to comfort. He jerks it back. The cross is my shield, the barrier between us. "Needlenoggin," I mutter.

"I'm not the one who needs it." I lean the cross against the table and stand, staring at him. I can't see much in the darkness, but then my eyes were never very good without light. I feel uncomfortable without a cigarette in my mouth, the smoke at least partially obscuring me from view. It's like being naked, especially in front of him.

It doesn't take much; it hadn't the first time. I let go of balance, teeter slowly backward, and he catches me. He holds me close to him, bends his head to rest on my hair. And I let him hold me, let his hands roam over me, let him know that he's done right by me. I'm alive, I'm whole, I'm here. I wonder if I'd let him do it if I weren't being paid. But there are days when I desperately want to make him happy, days where if he is not at least content I'm unsure whether he really is adamantly against suicide. His hands on me, comfort in sensual form but far from sex, are what I allow to prove at least one person touched by him has not yet died. I doubt he'd dare take similar liberties with someone else for fear they might be offended. But not good ol' Wolfwood; he's a holy man, you see.

I lie to him. Shamelessly. "See? Always here."

He kneels with me, collapses into me, puts his forehead on my shoulder. Somehow we've turned. I see tears on his cheeks in the light from the moons, let him lean me into the sill. I realize he holds me like he held Brad in the end. "I don't know who you are."

"I don't even know your real name, Stampede." I put one arm around his back and grab his bottle from the sill with the other, urging him to drink.

He turns away, though both arms are still around me. "Names don't matter."

His hair is soft. Soft like Milly's. But I put business before pleasure. She is unbelievably like him, could have been his sister. She surprises me more than he does, sometimes.

Milly is the hardest. Sometimes I almost tell her the truth, but that makes it easier to lie to the rest of them. She would stay even if I told her, though. If not for me, then for Meryl.

I wonder if Meryl knows how good she's got it with Milly. I wonder if Meryl knows how far Milly would go to be with her. To keep her safe, just like her big sister taught her. And Milly would stay, because Meryl would stay.

For him.

I wonder if he knows how much, how foolishly Meryl loves him. The "It's my job" excuse was worn through after the first time she nearly lost her life.

And Milly stands patiently by, making sure that if he doesn't save Meryl, she will.

Meryl and myself, in love with Vash and Milly. Maybe not just respectively.

He's passed out without even downing all of the contents of the bottle. I pull him up with me as I stand and lean him against the far wall. He shifts once, mutters incomprehensibly, and sinks back into silence.

I sprawl on the table, just looking at him.

I was ordered to protect him at all cost. To keep him safe, undamaged, alive.

And, I realize, they couldn't pay me to take this job.