Wolfwood found himself leaning forward, forcing Vash down, back onto his elbows, his red coat falling open and spilling across the bedclothes beneath him.

And Vash's arms, stronger than he remembered, pulling him down along with him as he fell.

They'd been here before, in another life, a scant few days ago, grappling on the sand in drunken horseplay.

He'd looked down at Vash the Stampede, and up at Vash the Stampede, he'd punched Vash the Stampede- the times were countless, innumerable. It occurred to him that numbers faded into greater and greater irrelevance with each reckless moment that passed.

Vash pulled his arms free of the red coat savagely, revealing straps and buckles of silver and dark-brown leather, the endless circuit of binding that formed his entire figure from wrist to ankle to neck.

The priest's hands were upon him at once, like baptism, roaming over the lashed-down contours of his body, his eyes darkly luminous in the half-light. Vash breathed in as Wolfwood worshipped the surface of his confinement, distant, as if through water.

He began to pull open the straps, one by one, releasing him.

Vash raised his eyebrows.

"Whatever happened to 'all things in moderation'?"

"Yeah, everything," murmured Wolfwood. "All things."

"I'm lost, Friend. You call this moderate?"

"All things in moderation," the priest reiterated, firmly, his fingers slowly, steadily working down the staggered line of buckles.

With each one Vash felt stabbing arousal, ever mounting, merciless.

"Especially moderation," Wolfwood added, pausing before freeing the last restraint, letting Vash's piecework suit of post-apocalyptic armor fall open to his waist.

The scars.

Wolfwood exhaled softly.

Like indelible hieroglyphs. Somehow he had forgotten- or merely misplaced- their existence.

They branded his skin, marring the smooth surface. They spanned like the lines on a roadmap. They crossed his chest and shoulders in nightmare barbed wire.

Vash looked at him mildly.

"You've seen them," he said. "Remember--"

"I've seen them," Wolfwood said quietly. "That doesn't make them hurt any less."

"They're vestiges," Vash said, smiling. "They don't hurt."

"Yeah they do," he said.

There was an abrupt surge of motion and he found himself on his back, with Vash hovering above.

"Let it go for once, friend."

Vash was looking down at him, soberly, his mouth slightly cloven.

Wolfwood felt his hands descend, unbuttoning his suit-jacket, fingers sliding under the edge of his white shirt, laying it open, exposing him. He felt crucified, and aroused.

Vash was deconstructing him.

"Do you know what to do?" he asked, without thinking.

"Nope," Vash said laconically, and lowered his mouth to Wolfwood's taut and electrified flesh, searing a line downward, downward, as the priest dug his palms into the mattress, respiring in sharp draws.

His belt was quickly finessed open, and Vash would have pushed his advantage further but Wolfwood managed to stay him. He bolted upright, an effortless command to the flat of his quivering stomach, and took the gunman by the back of the neck, pressing their mouths together.

Though there was no sound, he could feel Vash moaning around the invasion of his tongue, overwhelmed, and he kissed him harder, feeling his cock lurch against black broadcloth, demanding to be unfettered.

But no, he would deal with Vash first.

Wildly methodical, Wolfwood reached between them, stripping back the straps that crossed Vash at the thighs, seeking the destruction of the perpetual uniform, and it fell open like a trick, exposing the low ledge of his loins, less scarred, but no less arresting.

Vash was hard, his cock upthrust, the head hot and smooth as sheared velvet to the faintest brush of his hand.

He grasped it, and Vash blanched sensuously, his shoulders buckling back, fingers reaching out to grip the priest's shoulder.

"Christ," Wolfwood muttered, overwrought.

Had he dreamed of touching Vash the Stampede? Had he really? If pressed, he would have to say yes. But those waking dreams were amorphous and transient, nothing like what lay before him.

Dreams could not approximate the reality.

Reality was an odd, unfixed, malleable thing. It twisted like candy. One moment it was the cold, hard kiss of a gun against your temple, and in the next, the warm, unexpected breath of carnal life against your lips, consuming you entirely.

Or Vash the Stampede's hand at your waist, insistent, this time-

Wolfwood breathed out as the material peeled back from him, parted and gave way, and there was his cock, angled upward, the soft skin pulled tight over its broad and shuddering hunger.

Vash was silent, but decidedly unshy.

Wolfwood found his mouth dry as he looked at him- lips sullenly parted, eyes half-lidded, eyebrows arched into ardent gull wings.

"Tongari," the priest whispered. "Come here."

Vash moved toward him, and Wolfwood, impatient, caught him by his hips.

Wolfwood's hands were coarse, callused from sand, from weather, from dispersing mercy-

…and they could disperse mercy, Vash thought, shivering, seismic.

Even now it was diffusing over his flesh, emanating outward, radiant, from the roughened tips of Wolfwood's fingers.

He actually felt weak, for a transient instant, as the priest tightened his arms, crushing their bodies together. The pulse of blood in Wolfwood's loins was almost palpable to him, and he could hear the revolutions of his breath surging and receding, echoing like surf in his ears.

There was nothing quite like it in all of his memories.

It was a hung moment, out of time, and even years later he would be able to recall it so starkly that it couldn't be anything but permanent, scored into his consciousness with the heat of both suns.

With his hips flush against Wolfwood's, Vash was acutely aware of the true extent of the other man's desire, pressed between the warm walls of their bodies.

Emboldened, ardent, Vash met his gaze.

He saw them as they always were; infinite bookends, complementary, indispensable. And in the shifting weather of the priest's slate colored eyes, he saw something more.

"You want something."

"Just you."

"I think you have me," Vash managed.

"I will."

And then he was dipping unspeakably low, his mouth tracing unknown patterns past the warm, flat expanse of Vash's stomach, over the vaulted bones of his hip, across the delta of Vash's loins-

It was more of a shock than gunfire, that first descent.

Ripping, like a rocket, through him- but pleasurable, undeniable.

Wolfwood's mouth slipped over his cock like dark honey, devouring his secrets, finding his triggers. Tripping each switch.

Vash threw his head back, hands coming to rest on the priest, twining in the jagged blackness of his hair.

Taunting his flesh, Wolfwood consumed him with a reverence that suggested there might be devotion in his mercenary soul after all…

In the beginning, there was Knives, and it was good.

But it wasn't, not entirely, for though it always moved him, his brother's every touch was tempered by cruelty.

And he was driven from the Garden.

Yes, out into the unforgiving, all-encompassing embrace of granular silica. It was right, and horrible, and he froze, and burned and died every night. He was free, but alone, left to stir the embers of his memories.

And he was glad.

Yet what was this? In the periphery, this man- his head bowed, as if he prayed, but he did not- he languished, there, hands in the sand, cross at his back.

And Yo, he drawled, staggering, ascending: I'm the word and the way. I am mercy made.

And what particular mercy was this?

This is my body.

Blasphemous, beautiful, utter, complete.

Partake of my body.

Knives may well have been an angel. Avenging, one wing eternally dipped low in blood. The terrible might.

Vash was no angel. He had broken his own wings, defiant.

And Wolfwood was no priest.

Bless him.

And he loved him, best of all the creatures in the earth, sea and sky.

Vash shuddered at the sight of Nicholas on his knees before him in such indecent genuflection- his dark head bent, hair rumpled and glossy in the luster of the lantern light.

With every draw and strike of his mouth, the intricate muscles of his back jumped as if they were alive, and Vash realized it was surging, pushing him over the edge, and he didn't exactly want that, not yet, no-

"Nick," he whispered, "Hold off."

Wolfwood stopped immediately, pulling back, releasing his cock and making him blench at the sensation.

His reaction time, as usual, was flawless.

Cover me!

Flawless. Of course it was. Wasn't it always?

Wasn't he always?

Shoot! Don't shoot!

Responsive to his every need.

Softly chasing his breath, Vash looked at Wolfwood, who had risen upright on his knees to mirror him.

His eyes were turbulent, unfathomable. His hair was disheveled, storm-tossed by the ecstatic clutch of Vash's hands. His mouth was beautiful in its set, animated ever so slightly by the soft and ragged ellipses of his breath.

And his body-

Vash had not studied him, not strictly, in the hectic moments before. Now he took the chance offered by this lull, this break in their strange and vigorous passion, to really see the essence of Wolfwood, as a man, autonomous from the sleek and covert armor of his clothes.

Wolfwood was lean, like he was, yet somehow more ruthless in his build- a plane, a curve here or there that made him more substantial to the eye. His skin was tawny like deep sand, paler below the taut, low edges of his waist, where the sun wasn't privileged enough to venture, but still olive in tone.

A bizarre surge of rapture struck him, gazing at the diamond-like cut of Wolfwood's loins. A surge of living blood in his own.

It was beyond all comprehension, all cohesion. It lingered elusively in the realm of things for which there were no words.

Impulsively, Vash flexed his fingers outward, needing to touch him.

"Where's the naïve routine, Vash the Stampede?"

The careless composure of Wolfwood's voice was betrayed by his gaze, which fairly glowed- feverish, hedonic.

"Can't really pull that with you, now can I?" Vash said, steadily.

Wolfwood wanted him; he could see that much without trying. Perhaps he had always wanted him, and the urge had been obscured by the intricate complexities of the many ships-- friendship and hardship and marksmanship--

"You've been known to try."

Vash shook his head, firm with that odd resolve that surfaced every once in awhile, formidable as granite.

"We're beyond pulling punches, friend. We both know what happens next."

Vash's fingers- synthetic but sympathetic, tracing the sharp lines of his hipbone, the taut strength of the hollow where his leg intersected his body. Touching him brazenly, stroking the warm bronze of his skin.

Wolfwood closed his eyes, as a teacup tremor went through him.

"Not necessarily."

Vash put his hand on Wolfwood's cock, fingers circling around it for emphasis.

"Yes, it is. Fairly, really, very, extremely necessary."

"What are you doing?"

"What a stupid question," Vash said, artificially cheerful.

Wolfwood swore lightly under his breath.

He was so very close, Vash the Stampede, and his scent of lust and gunpowder.

"You ought to be careful," Wolfwood said quietly, reaching out for him once more, slowly pulling him closer.

"I'm always careful," Vash said, meeting his eyes. "You know that…"

"You don't even know what you're asking for."

"You really should know better," Vash answered, gravely abrupt. "You seem to think I grew up in a snow-globe wearing a tiara."

"Sometimes you act like it."

"You know better, Wolfwood."

There was no insolence in his tone.

Wolfwood's fingers seized, holding him, leaving marks.

The priest moved with obscene grace, swift and sure in his movements, telegraphing his intentions as he grasped Vash by the shoulders and pushed him ruthlessly down onto the bed.

"Ask, and ye shall receive," he murmured, his voice soft with promise, as if it were both an invocation and a warning.

"I want to receive, Nick," Vash said, calmly.