All right. This one-shot's quite special. Quite special. If you don't like guy/guy stuff, there's nothing real bad here, but you might be a bit offended somewhere along the line. So, eheheh. Yeah. And this does take place after the series, although I don't believe nothing that earth-shattering is spoiled in this fic, so yes. Enjoy!
The tall, blonde-haired Plant strolled down the long, dusty street of a small town, the name of which is inconsequential. He watched a group of children play a game in the streets, laughing and whooping like there was no tomorrow. The Plant let a smile spread over his face as he watched the carefree human children enjoy the freedoms that youth brought. He lifted his face and welcomed the sun to shine over him as it wished. Its bright light was a warm reminder of the fact that although he had toiled and trudged through many years of pain, suffering and all the trappings of Hell, he was still alive.
The man felt as if his heart would burst if he did not yell out with joy, proclaiming his vitality and life to the world. He wanted to run to the children and give them each a rib-cracking hug. He wanted to give away all of his money to any of the nearby residents of the town. Instead, the jubilant man settled for a silent, private party involving only himself and a large box of donuts.
After finishing his victory snack, the Plant stood up to return to his home. He walked down the warm, desert street as his long, red coat swirled around his legs while the wind brushed over it playfully. His black-gloved hand reached up and pushed his sunglasses up on his nose from the position they had slid down to.
Suddenly, a shooting pain broke into his skull and pounded upon the barriers of his mind. Sorrow, rage, and despair screamed in his mind as he fell to his knees in the sandy earth, clutching his head in pain and shock. His brain reeled in endless agony as he fought to recover from the mental onslaught that crashed over the shores of his mind and rolled over his consciousness, a mental tsunami. He distantly felt a small hand touch his shoulder and a young voice speak to him but he could not afford to be distracted from his immense mental war. He was in a struggle not for his life, but for his mind. If he gave in to the mental anguish that threatened to flood his very being, he knew that he could never recover. The terror and rage would consume his mind and leave only an empty shell behind and echoes of what had burned it out.
Dimly, through the blazing pain of his warring mind, he wondered who, or what, could have projected thoughts of such intensity outward, with no regard to anyone nearby who might have possessed telepathic abilities and so fallen prey to their horrid emotions.
He finally won over the mental onslaught and stumbled to his feet, shaking his head to try to clear his foggy mind. He saw a child with bright, wide eyes staring at him and, through a cotton-filled mouth, he mumbled, "I'm all right. I'm all right." He knew however, that he said it only to try to convince himself of that lie. He took off his sunglasses and wiped a hand over his face, wishing that the howling in his mind would cease.
Then, as he saw a crowd gathered around a failing, writhing body on the ground across the street, he realized that the horrible, inhuman noises were not coming from his mind. The blonde-haired Plant froze as the nonsensical words that were ripped from the individual's throat came clear in his mind. "Rem! Rem Saverem! Why did you go, Rem? Why? Rem! Rem!" He felt nauseous as he stumbled over to the crowd, pushing through the mass of people to reach the person they gathered around.
The pale, sweaty face that lay staring upward was unfamiliar to the Plant, though it tickled his mind and tantalizing whispers promised that he did know the being. He studied the prone form, noting that it was a young male, bearing a short crop of dirty blonde hair that had a small group of strands grown out at the nape of the neck and tied together by a small piece of string. The small clump of hair was thrown to the side of the head and the man estimated it probably reached down to the end of the boy's shoulder-blades when he stood erect. The youth's wails had died down and now were mere whimpers as his wide, unseeing eyes gazed up at an unseen figure. The orbs were a deep, rich blue that spoke of a strong empathy with others. He was clothed in a loose-fitting tan shirt and dark brown slacks that were held up by a black belt. He had large, black, leather boots on and in his right hand he clutched a small object.
The blonde-haired man was about to reach over and pry open his hand to discover what he held in it when a voice startled him out of his studious reverie. "Do you know this kid?" a harsh, gravelly voice demanded of him. The man looked up and his soft gaze met the searching eyes of the sheriff of the town.
The emerald-eyed man waited for a moment, then answered hesitantly, "He is my cousin."
The sheriff looked at him for a long minute and, after glancing around at the crowd as if for confirmation, then nodded. "All right. Get him out of here. And be sure to warn him that any future outbursts such as this won't be tolerated." The man understood what the sheriff thought. No one here was going to claim the boy, so he might as well dump the problem off on someone who was willing to take it. The youth was no kin of his and so nothing would ride on his conscious about this incident and whether or not he had made a good choice.
The man sighed and shook his head slightly as he picked up the boy, slinging the limp body over his strong shoulder. Sometimes humans could really amaze him with the way their minds worked. He looked down at the youth's face and was reminded he had more important things to worry about than the moral integrity of the common man.
The red-coated figure trudged heavily down the hallway of his house, moving delicately so as not to accidentally harm the teenager he was carrying. Reaching the door of his bedroom, he moved inside and put the youth down on his bed. He pulled the blankets over the prone form, checked to see that youth was still unconscious, and then exited the room. His feet carried him a ways down the hall and he opened the door to another room. He quietly cracked open the door to check on the room's occupant. Inside, a pale-blonde Plant, seemingly asleep, was stretched out on the bed, his body swathed in bandages.
He began to close the door once more but an authoritative voice stopped him. "Vash, you brought someone here."
The Plant sighed and walked into the room, looking down at his brother. "Yeah, I did."
"Why? You know I do not like the company of humans. I am not even vaguely amused by their occupation of the same breathing space as I." The pale-blonde gave his brother a calculating look, his glacial eyes easily piercing through Vash's torn mental armor, bending the other Plant to his will.
Vash sighed again and rubbed his aching head, muttering, "I heard the boy… he was calling out Rem's name…"
His brother's eyes sparked and Knives visibly perked up. "And you intend to discover how this human knows the bitch?" Vash winced but nodded. Knives smiled and weakly lifted up a hand to gesture his brother away. Vash gladly complied.
Closing the door silently behind him, he returned to his own room and the mystery boy he had found. The youth's face was pale and shiny with a film of sweat but his eyes blinked once as the man watched from a small chair by the side of the bed. They blinked again and focused on the ceiling. The boy's smooth forehead creased slightly as he realized that he did not recognize his surroundings. He weakly propped himself up on his elbows and looked at the man. His mouth parted and he croaked out a strangled syllable before his voice failed him. The teen sat up on the bed, licked his lips and tried again. "Where am I?"
"My home." At the look on the boy's face, Vash hurried to explain. "You see, you were collapsed out on the town street and no one was going to claim you, you seemed to be in quite a bit of distress, so I volunteered to take care of you. I was afraid the sheriff was going to throw you in the jail for disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace and…" Vash pulled a small bottle out of one of the many pockets in his jacket and displayed it between his thumb and forefinger so that the youth could see it clearly, "minor drug abuse."
The boy's body stiffened and he clenched his empty fist. "You bastard! Give them back!"
Vash shook a finger at the youth. "Ah, ah, ah! I will not tolerate such language from the mouth of such a young person." The boy grimaced at that statement and Vash continued, "Now tell me where I can find your parents so I can inform them of your illicit activities."
The boy stared at Vash for a few moments, his face a mask of stone, before he broke out into a grin and threw his head back, roaring with laughter. He weakly pounded his fist on the nearby wall as he howled his amusement to the world. Vash sat in shocked silence, wondering what he said that had been so delightful
"I'm so sorry." The boy spluttered, wiping a tear from his eye, "It's just I have not heard something quite so enjoyable in many years." He cleared his throat. "I believe I shall explain: my parents…" he seemed to search for the right words, "are dead. They have been for a long time. I'm entirely on my own and I am perfectly happy that way."
"You're living without your parents? But you're so young!" Vash protested.
The boy waved the topic away with the fluttering of one of his hands. He looked Vash straight into his eyes and growled, "What's your name?"
Vash got a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. His mind whispered to him that he knew the boy, something about him was familiar, but it also told him to be careful with his name. Vash cleared his throat once and answered, readily prepared for such a question, "Eriks."
The boy smiled but it was a humorless expression. He answered with a single word. "Bullshit."
Vash shrugged. "Take it or leave it. It's your choice. You asked for a name and I gave you one."
"You're Vash the Stampede." It was not a question; it was a fact.
"And what if I am?"
"I might kill you." The youth answered levelly.
"Well, then you should at least tell me your name."
"My name?" The boy smiled his humorless, icy smile once more. "Though it does not matter, the name I was given is Orestes."
Vash's brow furrowed. "That name sounds familiar…"
"I don't know why it would. Only five people, including myself, would have any idea of its origin in literature."
"It's from a book. Quite an old one too…" Vash's mind sped about, searching for the title that he knew was hidden somewhere in the dusty, cobwebbed corners of his mind. It came to him suddenly and he announced the title with a certain kind of pride, pleased that he had been able to remember it after so many years since he had studied the classical work, "The Odyssey by Homer."
The boy looked slightly surprised and he eyed Vash with renewed interest. "You must be Vash the Stampede then. You fit his description well enough and the last copy of that book was lost long ago. He is one of the few who would know of it, let alone be able to remember the name of a little mentioned character."
"I hope you're not after that bounty. You are aware that it was taken down a few weeks back, right?" After the final showdown with Knives, Milly and Meryl had returned to their headquarters and turned in their final report, which stated that he was dead along with his rival and there was no further danger to any more citizens. The Bernardelli Insurance Agency had in turn reported this to the authorities and, after a few days of debate, the bounty was removed.
"Only because you're supposed to be dead." Orestes' chilled expression made Vash shudder slightly.
"Well, I don't think anyone will believe you. They wish to think I am dead and so they will continue to think so until no one living recognizes the name of 'Vash the Stampede.'"
Orestes sighed, obviously bored. "Please, let us discuss something else. Since I do not intend to collect this bounty, posted or not, there is no further need to speak of it."
"In the street, you were calling out a name," Vash said hesitantly.
"Oh really? What was it?"
"Rem. Rem Saverem."
Orestes' face froze. "Oh really…"
"Yes. I was wondering who this person is." Vash fought to keep his voice neutral. He would not betray the emotional value of the name to this complete stranger.
Orestes laughed coldly. "Come on, Vash. You know who she was. Everyone on the SEEDS ship knew of Rem. After all, with a crew as small as five, you're bound to know one another."
Vash gaped at the youth. "Are you claiming to have been on the SEEDS ship?"
"Claiming? I do not claim. I state a fact. I was there, as were you and your twin brother, Knives. Don't look quite so startled, Vash." Orestes laughed at the green-eyed Plant's expression. "Rem told me all about you two when she came to visit me."
"If you were on board the ship, then why were Knives and I never informed of your presence?" Vash demanded. He felt a rising within himself as a vast wave of emotions called out that this boy was lying. There was no way that he could have been another passenger of the ship because that would mean that Rem had lied to Vash and Knives. And Vash would never accept that.
Orestes face fell into a glower and he rubbed his right hand's fingertips in his short hair unconsciously. "They did not want you two to associate with me," he muttered bitterly. "After all, I was imperfect."
"Imperfect?" Vash echoed in an inquiring tone as it dawned on him that this youth might be saying that he too, was a Plant. Vash kept that observation quietly to himself, however, and waited for the boy to say it himself.
"Yes, I was trash. Self-aware? Oh, yes. Quite. But trash all the same. If Steve had gotten his way, I would have been killed or 'put out of my misery' as he so quaintly said, as soon as their failed success had been discovered. But," if even possible, his voice dropped to an even more resentful level, "the ever-caring, ever-loving Rem had to intercede on my behalf and I was saved, only to be cast into a twenty-by-twenty foot room and kept there for the rest of my time on the ship. Sometimes I wonder if it would have been more pleasant to die…" He trailed off, his eyes fixed on the wall as he mused his private thoughts.
"But why did they not want you to associate with us? And what makes you 'imperfect'?"
"I'm defective! Look at me! I've not aged past sixteen! See this?" he pointed to his sandy-blonde hair with an expression of disgust. "It's a fucking rating."
"Built into our genes, Vash, encoded into our very blood, a visible ranking of genetic purity and mental and physical power," Orestes snarled, his dark blue eyes blazing. "Those damn humans, tinkering with us like we're their one of their fucking machines! When they meddle with genes, they make sure they do everything right, down to the last fucking ribosome! And while they're at it, they add in a few organic instructions for physical identification, classification and evaluation. Makes me feel like a dog, one of their studs, culled out for unwanted qualities. If only I could have gotten my hands on the man who started this whole Plant business…" Orestes clenched his fists, his face reflecting and clearly communicating his rage and hate.
"What is this ranking system you speak of?" Vash asked, repelled by the youthful Plant, but curious at the same time.
"Our hair is one of them. The lighter the color, the more blonde the hair, the more power the individual has at his or her disposal. Of course, with this power comes some drawbacks, which the scientists were working on last I heard, but with power you can do near anything. Your brother Knives for example, he's the best of the three of us. If it came down to sheer mental force, he'd be able to kill both of us with barely a thought." Orestes lifted up a hand to silence Vash's sudden protests. "I know for a fact though that he cannot do this. Even after one hundred and thirty years of life, not one of the three of us can fully use our mental capacities to their limits. We probably will still not be able to in double that time, if we are still alive then.
"Take me though." Orestes shook his head, fingering his short, dirty-blonde hair again. "I cannot command my mental powers at will. Its presence flows and ebbs like the tides of an ocean. Well, from what I gather an ocean's tides do." He smiled slightly, sadly, at having used such a simile when he had never even seen an ocean. "I am afraid that I cannot even form a one-word message of telepathy. Quite pathetic really."
"But out on the streets-"
"Let me guess. I was projecting my emotions wildly, with no regard to anyone nearby and in such intensities that it could destroy one's mind," Orestes stated calmly.
"I thought so. It has happened before. Especially when I am on sand."
Orestes gestured to the bottle of pills Vash still held in his hand. "Sand. It's a flashback drug, one that allows you to access earlier memories. Usually I take it, intending to return to…" he trailed off and cleared his throat. "Well, anyway, about half of the time it takes the user to reliving one of the worse moments of their life."
"And yours is?"
"When Rem left me on the SEEDS ship, taking you and Knives to safety instead." Orestes' lip curled up and he glared at Vash. "It was so apparent how she loved you two. I was just a half-remembered pet, nothing more. Hell, she returned so she could save the humans. I watched her working at the consoles, muttering to herself about the many lives that depending on her actions. She never even once mentioned me."
"That doesn't mean that she wasn't thinking of you!" Vash protested.
"Not true. If Rem had been thinking of me, she would have noticed me standing in the doorway and told me to go get into an escape pod. But no! Those damn humans were the only thing on her mind at that time. I should have known she'd always choose her own kind over a genetic defect like me. I should have never let myself trust her."
"But Rem was a good person-"
"Yes, to her own kind and to you two, the successes."
Vash opened his mouth to protest once more but realized that it was a fruitless struggle. The youthful-looking Plant obviously was not going to change his mind. Vash decided to change the topic. "How did you survive the crash?"
"How did I survive?" Orestes looked at Vash blankly for a moment. "I… can't remember… When I heard the alarm going through the ship, I hacked through the computer system and, lucky for me, the security programs were malfunctioning and so I was able to open my cell's door through the system. I hurried to the bridge and the last thing I remember was standing in the doorway, watching Rem work the controls, and then… everything went black. When I regained consciousness, I was lying in the wreckage of the ship, bleeding from multiple wounds and Rem's battered corpse was lying a mere three feet away." Orestes blinked rapidly and rubbed at his eyes, muttering that he had an eyelash in his eye.
Vash felt his vision blur and he fought a flood of tears that was building up behind his eyes as he heard Orestes speak of the death of Rem. The first few decades after the crash, he had held out hopes that maybe she had survived and he would find her somewhere. Then he knew that there was no possibility she was still alive. If the crash had not claimed her life, old age had. He knew it had had to have occurred but it was such a difference to hear someone confirm when and how it had taken place.
Orestes cleared his throat and continued. "I lay in the wreckage of that craft for a little over two years as I waited for my wounds to heal and my head to clear. Can you guess how much it hurt, after seeing all that, to have two whole fucking years with only that, my pain and the rest of my oh-so-short life to think about?" Vash chose not to answer and let the Plant rage on. "After I finally could walk, I wandered this barren planet of dust and grit, looking for…" he seemed to lose himself for a moment, his eyes searching the ceiling for an answer until he gave up with an exasperated sigh, "God, I didn't even know what I was searching for. I was just looking for something to live for. And you know what I found?" his voice lowered to a painful hiss. "I found nothing, Vash. Nothing at all. I had no family, I had no friends; I had nothing to tie me down to one place, but nothing to keep me going.
"I turned to salving my soul in the temporary bliss of alcohol and drugs, alternating with a few decade long periods of hibernation of a kind. Oh god, I can still remember the wild times I had." He closed his eyes for a moment, remembering. "I would get rip-roaring shit-faced and then take on the whole bar I was in, starting a whole brawl with me in the middle. The wounds and scars I got were nothing to me, just another dark reminder that I was alive." Orestes smiled sadly again, "During an attempt on my life, (my own attempt, I might add) I discovered out that it's impossible for our kind to overdose. Odd, huh?"
"You tried to kill yourself?" Vash was astounded. He began to have a tickling notion in his mind and he was beginning to believe the suggestion it was whispering to him.
"Multiple times, Vash, old boy. After all, I truly had nothing to live for." The young-looking man's smile changed to a wicked grin. "Nothing to live for, that is, until I heard about Knives and your little run-in at the city of July. I decided to track you two down and find out how you were getting along.
"Unfortunately, I was unable to locate either of you to speak to you face-to-face before you had your final showdown and were announced as dead. I was so extremely disappointed…"
"So you turned once more to your drugs?" Vash stared at the bottle of 'sand' and his distaste leaked into his voice, making it vehement, carrying undertones of disgust.
"They've been my only friends as of late." Orestes shook his head. "You would never understand, Vash."
"Orestes, earlier you mentioned your imperfections. What are they all?" Vash asked, trying to word the question neutrally.
Orestes replied by listing off his imperfect qualities as if he was reading them off of a scientific report. As Vash listened, he noticed the man's face was pale and waxy looking, making him look as if he was sick or recovering from an illness. "Defective aging process, uncontrollable latent physic abilities, aggressive tendencies, unstable mental condition, and insufficient replication drive."
Unstable mental condition, the words echoed in Vash's mind. 'He's insane,' Vash thought to himself. 'He's clinically and genetically insane.' Quickly, Vash searched for something else to talk about. "What's that 'insufficient replication drive' mean?"
"I have no idea actually," Orestes leaned back, breathing hard. His voice sounded light and far away, as though he was having a hard time forming the words. "It has something to do with the way we Plants reproduce. Nothing like humans, from what I know. Rem never explained it all to me. She kept promising to, but never got the chance." Suddenly, Orestes bent over and coughed violently into his hands, his eyes growing wide and fearful.
"Are you all right?" Vash reached over and tentatively touched the man's shoulder.
"Ahhhhh…" the man moaned, sliding down to lie full length on the bed, his eyes fixed straight above.
Vash shook the Plant and snapped his fingers in front of the sandy-blonde's face. "Orestes? Hey! Talk to me!" Vash was aware that he was starting to sound panicked but he had every right to be. The man was just lying there and not responding to any stimulus.
Then, the deep-blue eyed Plant's hands shot up to hold onto Vash's shoulders in a grip to rival even that of Death's, which apparently was knocking on Orestes' mental front door. He stared into Vash's rich, emerald gaze and mumbled something. Vash leaned closer to the man, putting his head just besides Orestes so that he could hear the other Plant better. However, what he heard from the sick Plant was not at all what he expected to hear:
"Vash the Stampede… my life has been one large cosmic joke except for one small, yet infinitely large, part: you. Ever since Rem first told me about you, I've been watching you. I used to hack into the computer systems and watch you through the ship's video surveillance cameras. I've been following you for the last ten years… since I heard about July… only God knows how many times I got close enough that I could have reached out and touched you, only to have you elude my grasp at the last possible moment."
Orestes spasmodically pulled Vash close to him, clutching the red-coated former outlaw as if he was a lifeline sent from heaven. Vash fought every rising urge within himself that screamed that he should shove the man-boy away and run as fast as his feet would carry him. He wanted to stay, no; he had to stay and hear the rest of what Orestes had to say. Something beyond, something far more vast than his pitifully small self, demanded he do so. And so he continued to listen.
"Vash, there's something about you that I can't understand, yet it draws me closer to you with every breath I take. I can't keep myself away from you. I can't keep my thoughts off of you. Throughout all these long, hard years, you have been the only thing that has kept me sane. When I wanted to take my gun and blow my brains out, the thought of you kept my finger away from the trigger."
Vash felt the side of Orestes' face stretch into a smile and the dying man hissed tenderly into the blonde's ear. "As cliché as it might sound, Vash the Stampede… you are my everything." Orestes' smile widened, as if he recognized the absurdity of his statement.
Vash felt frozen in place. If the roof had fallen down that moment, he would have not have been able to move to take cover. His mind was moving through thick molasses, struggling with the comprehension of what the man, boy, Plant had just told him.
Dimly, the soft-eyed Plant was aware of Orestes rubbing his pale cheek against Vash's, taking a deep breath as he did so as if he was trying to breathe the blonde Plant's essence into himself. Orestes breathed out slowly into Vash's ear and whispered in a voice muted by approaching death, "Now I've finally touched you, body and soul. No mattered what now, from today until forever, I'll always be with you." Vash felt a cool, wet tongue slide over the edge of his ear, from the top where it connected to the skin to the earlobe where a soft mouth laid a feather light kiss on his lobe.
After a long moment, the arms gripping Vash's body grew slack and he gently pulled back from Orestes, looking at the pallid face for signs of life. Finding none, he reached out with a trembling hand and shut the open eyes of the dead Plant. Vash stood up and stared down at the prone body, Orestes' last words echoing in his mind. The man had known what he was talking about, that was for sure. Vash knew this day would haunt him forever, along with many other things in his past.
Vash heaved a great sigh and wrapped up the body in a white bed sheet as a tear traced its way down his burning cheek. He hefted the body up onto his shoulder and turned to exit the room. The day was still young. He had time to bury the man and be back in time to get Knives his dinner.
The sand blew along the top of the desert floor as the setting sun beat down on its shimmering surface. A slight tremor disturbed the sand and it shifted slightly. A hand suddenly clawed through to the air, bursting out of the desert floor like a whale leaping out of the ocean. The hand was soon joined by another, then a sandy-blonde head and, finally, a whole body.
Orestes lay himself down on the warm sand, gasping for air. He felt leeched and weakened, as though his vitality had been sucked out of him leaving him with nothing but air and his thoughts.
"Bastard just had to bury me," Orestes growled, running his hand through his hair to shake out any sand granules that might be lodged there. "He's obviously never seen the catatonic post-high state sand puts a user in. But, then again, Vash the Stampede isn't the sort of person who would have been exposed, or expose himself, to such things. " Orestes sat up and shook his head, a slight smile on his face. "I guess I should be glad he didn't bury me very deep or in a coffin."
With a sigh, he looked at the town where Vash had returned to. It was not too far away, just a couple iles distance. The Plant stood and took a step in that direction. Then he paused and stared at the town wistfully. "No," he mumbled, "no. It's better this way. He thinks I'm dead and so it will stay. I have touched him. That is enough…" Orestes turned and began walking in the opposite direction, away from the town and the man he loved more than his own life.
He paused and glanced back over his shoulder, a mischievous smile touching his lips as he licked them. "Enough, that is," he whispered as if Vash could hear him, "for now, my love."
This is quite an odd fic, if I say so myself. Even as the author, I wonder what the hell the meaning is and why I wrote it. I vaguely understand the main idea, well, *coughs* more like the last bit and Orestes' obsession for Vash, was thought up in protest against all the evil Mary Sues that have been cropping up lately. The rest of the story just kind of bloomed from there and grew on its own. My longest one-shot yet! Yeah! Anyway, I might write up a follow-up fic someday because Ore-chan's such a great character and I can't just let him leave like that. Well, if you liked it, review and say so! If you didn't, review and say so!! Hope you enjoyed it though! *grins* Later!