Spiders and Butterflies
All disclaimers apply.
It wasn't the first time. It wouldn't be the last. But they continued, on and on and on, searching for a clear reconciliation that never seemed forthcoming. They weren't the first to do it. However, perhaps they were the first to be able to look at it from a detached perspective, to actually proclaim that they were the observers more than they were the participants in the never-ending mystery known as life and morality.
And, especially, humanity.
The room was dim, lit only by a set of fat candles that had been burning for quite awhile, if the pool of wax surrounding each on the table offered any indication. Shadows battled with wavering light, inconsistantly manipulated by the movements of the room's only two occupants. A glass chess set of surprising quality rested on the tabletop, glittering strangely in the candlelight.
Long fingers sheathed in black leather moved towards a frosted knight, hesitated a moment, and then, drew back to rest on the table.
Another hand, resting opposite near the clear glass pieces, thumped equally long fingers against the wooden surface with impatience.
The black-gloved hand moved forward once again, this time reaching for a frosted pawn. But before contact could be made, it drew back for the second time.
On the other side, the opponant gave an audible sigh, and the rhythm of the tapping fingers grew in speed.
Finally, the owner of the gloved hand reached for a rook and slowly moved it to another square, waiting there for a moment in indecision before finally releasing the piece and drawing away.
"Your move," Vash announced softly.
Knives continued to thump the surface of the table, studying his twin with a skeptical expression. "Took you long enough." His chilly blue eyes narrowed slightly. "You would think you were planning an elaborate strategy for battle instead of playing a simple game of chess."
Vash shrugged. "Who's to say chess isn't an elaborate battle strategy?"
A thin, mocking smirk touched his brother's lips. "Your Milly is capable of playing it. When she becomes an army general, I'll sprout thomas appendages."
Rolling his eyes, Vash sat back and decided he wouldn't bother correcting his twin on his reference to Milly as if she were some type of owned object. That was how Knives referred to every human, using terms like "it" "female and/or male" and "the species". And people to whom Vash was close, such as Meryl and Milly, were simply known as "his." As if they were pets. Most times Vash reprimanded the other Plant, but every once in awhile, he let it go. Dehumanizing people was how Knives coped with their constant presence, and better he thought of them as pets rather than target practice. In his own bizarre way, Knives was making progress.
After three years, it was either progress or regression. Vash didn't think the latter was possible, considering how far gone his brother had been after their final, uproarious fight with each other. But better not to test the theory.
"You really should learn some patience, Knives," Vash pointed out. He watched his brother carelessly wrap his fingers around a knight and move it to another square with seemingly no consideration of the board. "If I could wait a year for you, you can wait a few minutes for me."
Icy eyes flicked up briefly, reflecting the candlelight. "I was actually doing something worthwhile," Knives remarked languidly. "Gods know what you were doing, sitting there with that intense look of concentration for ten minutes. Probably trying to remember which pieces were yours to move."
Vash ignored the insult to his intelligence--not uncommon, coming from his twin--and paid more attention to what his next move would be. He did take the time to comment, though. "If you spent less time trying to get a rise out of me and more paying attention to your moves," he said quietly, "you wouldn't be losing your knight right now."
And with that, he used his own frosted knight to clear Knives's transparent one from the field.
The fairer Plant, however, seemed unconcerned with the loss. He merely sat back and crossed his arms, considering the board. Then he smiled again, the same sinuous smile that seemed the only one he could manage anymore. "Your strategy is . . . flawed, Vash," he observed. "You're so unwilling to sacrifice your pawns."
"If I don't have to, why should I?" the more golden Plant countered.
"You begin losing the important pieces. Look. Your queen is gone, and you've lost both bishops and a rook. Your king is already in imminent danger. And yet most of your pawns stand untouched. Ultimately, far more useless than the pieces you've lost."
Vash shrugged yet again. "That's for me to decide."
His brother leaned forward to rest his elbows on the table, rested his chin on his interlaced fingers. Though his gaze was focused on the board, he continued speaking to his twin. "Always more sympathetic to the weaker of the set, Brother."
A blonde eyebrow arched over clear green eyes. "And just what is that supposed to mean?"
"If you don't know, there's even less substance within that spiky skull than I thought."
The other Plant knew exactly what his twin brother meant. He just didn't know if he was prepared to get into it right then and there. The evening had started so peaceful, so easygoing and uneventful. It seemed unnecessary to ruin it. But, as usual, he couldn't resist giving in to the old argument between them--yet again. Driven, perhaps, by the futile hope that he might actually pound sense in to the paler blonde head of his sibling.
"Define 'weaker'," he challenged easily.
He was prepared for the cool retorting challenge in the gaze across from his before it dropped back down to the board. "Smaller," Knives replied. "Restricted. Doomed to a short existance by the use of the more enlightened. Tools by sheer definition."
"Restricted in some ways can mean freedom in others," Vash retorted calmly. "Enlightenment is a matter of perspective. A short existance living is better than an eternity doing nothing but existing." A small smile. "And tools, by definition, aren't capable of thinking for themselves."
Knives tightened his intertwined fingers in irritation, but otherwise revealed no emotion. "Tell that to one of your pets the next time they decide to exploit one of our brothers or sisters for their own selfish needs."
"Selfish?" Vash had heard it before, but he still didn't understand how anyone could make the accusation. "They have to live, Knives."
"And our kin have no right to live?"
"They can all live together."
"One is living off the other. That is not co-dependancy. That is parasitical. And parasites do nothing except spread disease and destruction."
"Even 'parasites' have the right to live."
"Not at the expense of those who do not leech off others." Knives reached out to move one of his pawns forward. "Kill the parasites, the hosts are infinitely better for it. Kill the hosts, and the parasites will die anyway. You might as well save the hosts."
Vash released an exasperated sigh. "Why not save them both?"
"Then one will suffer while the other thrives, with no right to the privalege," his brother retaliated. He raised eyes that were like chips of turquoise stone to meet those like cool, green grass. "Your move."
"Yeah, yeah." Vash shifted in his seat with the creak of the leather than made up his bodysuit and studied the board. He found he couldn't concentrate as much on the pieces as on his twin's words. Metaphorical debates such as these always threw him off his game, and Knives knew it. But it wasn't lack of confidence in his stance that made him hesitate; it was trying to find a way to defeat his brother's cold-blooded logic that served to be the greater challenge.
The best way to combat cold was with heat, and remove the detachment. And so, Vash looked up and smiled at his opponant. "How can you possibly think of Meryl and Milly--not to mention Nicky--as parasites?" he wondered with some measure of amusement. "They always give more than they recieve. Especially to us."
A faint frown crossed Knives's sculptured face; it was, perhaps, the most expression he had shown the entire game. "Your pets have never given me anything other than an ever-increasing headache. Especially your Wolfwood's little spawn."
His smile growing, Vash considered his playing pieces while summoning up a mental image of Nicholas D. Wolfwood, Jr. The three-year-old was the spitting image of his father and determined to make "Uncle Knives" learn to like him. Knives had come close to dismembering the child--literally--on several occasions, but Nicky had his mother's unfailing good humor and kept trying, much to the Plant's irritation.
Not only had Knives had been thinking about the child, as well, he had also caught his twin's thoughts, and his frown suddenly deepened, followed by a decidedly disgusted snort. "Disgusting," he muttered. He looked up sharply. "You think fondly of them, Vash, so it seems simple not to compare them to parasites. But many leeches aren't below feeding off each other, either. You've been forced to deal with such creatures yourself many times."
Again, Vash shrugged, feigning more calm than he felt at this new turn in the argument. "They don't have the right to hurt or kill others. But I don't have the right to kill them in return," he said simply.
"If you and those like you, Vash, of all people, don't have the right, then who does?" the fairer Plant demanded.
"No one does," Vash answered pointedly.
"Someone has to," Knives said just as pointedly.
A grin pulled at Vash's lips. "God, then."
Knives rolled his eyes. "Oh, don't even start. We'll be here for the rest of our immortal lives on that topic." He looked back at the board. "We'll also be here for the rest of the night if you don't hurry up and move."
"Patience is a virtue, Bro."
"And sloth is a sin, so move."
Still grinning, the "younger" brother reached for one of his knights and moved it in its L-shaped pattern across the board. "All right, God aside. No one has the right to take the life of another. And before you get into that whole predator-and-prey thing, people aren't cannibals, they don't eat each other, and don't have a need to kill in order to survive. So it doesn't factor in."
"Define 'cannibalism'." Knives used Vash's own beginning challenge against him with a slightly raised eyebrow. "Humans are, by their dual nature, both predators and prey. They have no choice but to devour each other in order to live. They don't literally have to tear the flesh from one another's bones to do so, either. Their lives are a constant whirlwind of sorrow and happiness. In order for one to be content, another must be in pain of some sort. It is impossible for all humans to exist with anything, or each other, without such a cycle."
"And Plants don't do the same?" Vash's tone was skeptical.
"They don't." The paler Plant leaned towards his brother, the light glinting in his eyes, increasing the intimacy of the moment. "Think of it, Vash. Those years we spent in the desert. While the humans killed one another over a cup of water, we needed nothing except each other. We, you and I, our siblings, we don't need to hurt in order to live. We don't need to hurt in order to be content."
Lifting eyes no longer soft as grass, but now nearly as hard as emerald, Vash studied his twin. "You hurt in order to be content," he stated quietly. "All the time."
Nothing changed in the other Plant's expression, but there was something as serpentine and sinister as his smile in his narrowed gaze. "Only until the parasites have been eliminated." His voice was soft, disturbing in its matter-of-fact tone. "Then I'll never have to hurt anything again. We could have a true Eden."
"A true Eden built on the blood of innocent people is not a paradise." Vash struggled to keep his voice even, but it was difficult. He wasn't a person meant to hold back his feelings, and it wasn't as if his brother couldn't feel his displeasure anyway, but he was still loathe to become emotional.
"Some sacrifices are necessary," Knives swept his hand out towards his three remaining pawns and almost full royal line in comparison with Vash's five pawns and dwindling royal line, "in order to ensure the greater good."
"But no one has the authority to decide what the greater good is, especially not us, Knives."
Knives smiled and chuckled softly. "Dear Brother; of course we do. That is why you and I are the players, and the pieces our tools." To further his point, he moved his bishop to another square.
How his brother could even maintain this argument was a mystery to Knives. Someone who had actually faced the sheer impossibility of trying to save opposite entities at the same time--of trying to preserve that which was close to one's heart, as opposed to that which was trying to destroy it--should have been able to understand. The very pets Vash valued to this day would not be alive if Vash hadn't made that crucial choice. Kill to protect. Kill to save.
Granted, Knives himself had manipulated the situation. But if not him, then someone else. Was he the only one here who was willing to admit the futility of attempting to save everyone? There simply was no logic in it.
"Life is not a chess game," Vash insisted. "And we are not gods."
"We are the closest thing to a savior this godforsaken world is ever going to see. Only gods, Vash, can decide who lives and who dies." A cold look came into the fairer Plant's expression. "And if we not gods, and no one has the right to kill, what gives you the right to decide who lives?"
Vash's brow furrowed in confusion, and his eyes narrowed. "What are you getting at?"
"Imagine. A victim is raped at gunpoint. Who are you to say the violator should live? A child is beaten nearly to death without mercy. What right have you to spare the one who did the beating? A psychotic maims random people, over and over again. What makes you so divine that you feel you can save the would-be killer?"
A feeling like cold stones being piled in his gut came over Vash, and he had forgotten about the chess game, which seemed all too futile now.
The cold blue eyes of his sibling became more chilling, more ruthless, narrow and slicing into Vash's very soul. "Now, say the woman is your Meryl. The child is your Nick. A victim of the maiming is your Milly. And say, I am the perpetrator of all of those crimes." The eyes became the slits of a serpent. "What gives you the right to decide I should live? What gives you the right to try to save both spider and butterfly?"
The very thought of any of it was enough to make it difficult for Vash to speak, but, swallowing hard with determination, he managed to say what he needed to say anyway. "The right of every living thing to recieve another chance, Knives." His voice was surprisingly steady, even to him.
Knives's snakelike glare became a little more human in mild astonishment. He truly was amazed how much his brother clung to his feeble beliefs. "To offer chances is to assume change is possible. Sometimes hoping for change is futile."
Vash heaved a sigh, already tired. He sat back and rubbed his eyes tiredly. "So what do you want me to do, Knives? You want me to kill you? Kill the spider to save the butterfly?"
"That's assuming it would do any good. This world doesn't need me to kill and to destroy, Vash; the humans do enough of it as it is. Albeit," he added with a frightening little smile, "not on such a grade scale. But someday, they will. As they did to their own world before Gunsmoke. There is only one way to stop the futile cycle, Vash, and it is to destroy the spiders, all of the spiders."
His eyes glittering with a vision only he could truly appreciate, Knives smiled fully. "And the remaining butterflies, the Plants, can live in Paradise, never needing to wound in order to gain again. Only living."
Silence reigned for a long time. There was only the infintessimal sound of the candle wicks burning, slowly but surely melting the wax away, and the cold desert wind blowing through the night outside the oasis created by two beings who were Plants and yet not Plants, human and yet not human. Both and neither.
A soft, long, exhalation of breath escaped Vash's parted lips, causing the flame on one candle to dance frantically. He said nothing, sitting as still as a statue opposite his brother, who was just as still. The twins seemed so similar and yet vastly different in the dim illumination: One pale and graceful where the other was golden and angular, one fierce and cold where the other was caring and warm, one pair of emerald eyes to a pair of turquoise. But somewhere within the differences beat hearts of an equal size and shape. And somewhere beneath the opposite methods of living existed a similar desire: Peace. Happiness. Unity.
And finally, Vash found the words he needed.
"Have you ever heard the term 'hatred breeds more hatred'?" Vash asked his twin, so softly that the words might not have been possible to hear hadn't the world suddenly become deathly silent. "That's what's going to happen if you try to create Eden on a foundation of death. All you'll be doing is teaching our brothers and sisters how to hate, and how to kill. How long do you think it would take for them to think that murder is the best way to gain what they want, when contentment isn't so easy to access, humans or not?" Green eyes steadily held blue. "Did you know anything about hurting, or even want to hurt, before Steve?"
A sharp intake of breath, and Vash knew he had finally, finally, touched on something not yet frozen solid and made unreachable within his brother. And so, he continued to speak.
"Would you have killed the crew if Steve had accepted you? Both of us? If he had been kind, would you have hurt him anyway? Or were you just born with hatred inside of you?"
Knives brought his palm down on the table hard enough to make the flames flicker and the chess pieces jump, but not with enough force to make either fall. "He was a human!" he snapped in a voice that was almost a snarl. Of all topics his sibling could use against him--this one hurt worst of all. "Ignorant and murderous from the day he was spawned! He attacked me with no reason, made my life hell just because--"
"You weren't like him?" Vash finished gently. "Because he decided to judge you because you were different, by your race instead of your deeds?"
The double implication made the long-fingered hand just slammed into the table clench with rage. "The proof is in the history, Vash," Knives stated slowly, painstakingly, as if he were pulling teeth with each word. "Every single chance they recieved, humans destroyed. Every new land, every attempt at change, it didn't matter. They destroyed until there was nothing left, and they will do it again. It took the slightest nudge for me to convince a crew of closest friends to annihilate each other. It will happen here. All we can hope to do is start again with those who haven't been tainted."
"And we haven't been tainted?" Vash demanded. "You and I? You think we could maintain paradise for ourselves after giving damnation to everything else? You think we wouldn't give that taint to our brothers and sisters? They're pure right now, Knives. They're happy as they are."
Blue eyes flared with rage. "They don't know any better!" Knives snapped.
Green grew fierce in equal passion. "You can't make that decision for them!" Vash countered vehemently. "You can't decide who should be happy and who shouldn't any more than you have the right to dictate life and death! Everyone deserves a chance--"
"Some people shouldn't have it, and you know it!"
"And what, you can tell that just by looking? You can't tell me Nicky is guaranteed to be a murderer just by his species, for God's sake, Knives!"
Knives slammed both hands into the table, toppling the chess pieces, and got to his feet, his thin tether of icy reserve finally snapping. "Why not?" he demanded, eyes molten. "You can't convince a spider to spare a butterfly. It will kill it because that is all it knows how to do! You can save them both all you like, Vash, but there will be another web for that butterfly and another butterfly for that spider!"
"We are not spiders or butterflies, Knives!" Vash was on his feet as well, inches away from his twin's face, his gaze locked with his brother's as they battled for supremacy. Riotous emotions rippled out of their control, and they might kill each other any moment. "We aren't just instinct, we're thinking, feeling people! We are capable of recognizing our mistakes and making them right!"
"You CAN'T save them all!"
"You can't save anything by KILLING!"
And then, in unison: "But why won't you let me TRY?!"
They both froze.
The words spoken by two different voices at the exact same moment reverberated dully off the walls of the room. And as there had been sound only moments ago, there was now silence. It pressed down on the room's sole occupants like living weights, crushing anything they might have attempted to say next, deflating whatever rage they had left. For an endless moment, there was nothing except each other's breathing.
Slowly, they moved apart. Vash collapsed into his chair, falling forward and burying his face into his folded arms on the table and heaving a sigh so heavy and pained, it was a wonder he didn't simply fall apart from the act. Opposite him, Knives sat down as well, sitting back and crossing his arms tightly over his chest and staring silently at the floor.
They stayed like this for a long time.
Finally, in a voice like velvet sweeping over the solid stillness surrounding them, Knives said, "All I want is a world where you and I can be at peace, Vash. That is all I ever wanted."
Vash turned his head to rest on his arms as he stared across the room, at the darkened window reflecting the room back at him. "That's all I want, too," he murmured just as softly. "And we can have it, Knives. We can have it if you would just realize that we can't destroy in order to create it."
"We can never have it as long as there are those who would take it away."
Silence, again, longer than the last.
And then, Vash came out of his light doze and said, "Hey, Bro?"
Knives, who had been nearly dozing himself, focused his half-closed eyes on his sibling. "Hm?"
Lifting his head, the golden Plant gestured at the fallen chess pieces. "Want a rematch?" he asked with a grin.
A pause, and then the smallest of smiles tugged at the fairer Plant's lips. "Why bother? We both know I was going to win."
"Hardly. I was about a minute away from a checkmate."
"Not even in your delusions."
They glared at each other with friendly venom, and, as one, started rearranging the scattered pieces on the board in their proper places, starting over again from the beginning.
The two brothers played through the night and into the dawn of the next morning. Who won? That's anyone's guess. Maybe there couldn't be a definite winner because there was always the chance to clear the board and try again. Maybe there was a limit to how many chances one could recieve to do such a thing.
Whatever the outcome, it wasn't the first time, and it wouldn't be the last. And they would continue searching for understanding and acceptance from the other that never seemed forthcoming. They weren't the first to attempt to figure it out. They wouldn't be the last to find that there was no distance between a person and the search for peace and happiness, that the never-ending quest for such things had no easy solutions or absolute answers. Not for humans, not for Plants, not for anyone in between.
But if they could do nothing else, they could continue to try.