Disclaimer and Notes: Trigun belongs to the honorable Yasuhiro Nightow, whom I think is a dynamite artist and writer.
This story could probably fit into either the anime or manga universes, though I'm pretty much having the anime universe in mind as I'm writing this (despite having just picked up a copy of Trigun Maximum 8 from my lovely local comic shop and having read it straight through. It was awesome, awesome, awesome. Anyway…)
This story is set sometime during Vash's "wandering years" – Post-July, but before meeting up with Milly, Meryl and Wolfwood.
Town names – my general homage to Arizona, state of my birth. "Show Low" is a town in Arizona. "Maricopa" is the county I used to live in.
Thanks goes out to SailorLillithchan, who, helped me with ideas as I was writing, and to my beta readers, TeaRoses and Knight of the New Moon.
This is dedicated to anyone and everyone who has ever shared their lives with cats.
The suns were setting behind him. Their light painted the rock cleft he was sheltering near a vibrant orange. He was twenty iles from the last town he'd visited and at least thirty to where he was going. Vash sighed and opened a tin of salmon. The only bread he had to spread it on was stale. He was dusty, tired, and he reeked of his own sweat. He listened to the sounds of the wind and of the desert insects coming out to play their mating songs in the evening cool.
He heard a strange, soft sound. "Mew."
"Who's there?" he said, scrambling in the sand, suddenly on the defensive. He'd thought he was alone. He had been sure that he was alone.
He saw a small black shape padding across the sand towards him.
It was a kitten, a tiny kitten with fur as black as coal. There was not a spot of color or of white on the animal. Its fur was scruffy, evidencing the presence of parasites. It sniffed at Vash cautiously, curiously. He could see its ribs through its skin.
"Hello, little guy," Vash said. "You're hungry, aren't you?"
The cat was obviously starving. Vash wondered if it had been abandoned out here or if it was just lost. The kitten looked to be about four or five months old. It could have been feral. The little animal approached him easily, however. He set down his open tin of salmon. "You can have it," he said. "You need it more than I do. Besides, I have more."
The cat scrambled back at his approach. He set the tin down. The cat cautiously approached again, sniffing, craning its neck. It sniffed the salmon, and then ate it. The hungry animal took huge, gulping bites, almost inhaling the food. Vash watched it for a few moments before retrieving another can of salmon from his bag. He watched as the kitten licked the edges of the tin clean. He offered his second can of salmon and the cat ate half of it.
The kitten sat and looked up at him serenely, licking its whiskers.
"I've always liked cats," Vash said. "When I was growing up, I was around cats. Captain Joey had a pet cat. She was black, like you." He smiled. "I suppose you might be descended from her? I mean… if she survived the Fall…"
He remembered, briefly, all the time he'd spent searching for Rem, without telling Knives, questioning people in the refugee towns built by the survivors in the early days, looking through whatever records he could find. He shook his head.
"I suppose… there were other cats on other ships. I mean… there are a lot of cats around, and dogs… cattle, pigs… It's just that, you look so much like Joey's cat. Except smaller, I mean, she was an adult cat, and pretty fat, and you're just a skinny little kitten."
The cat licked its paws and washed behind its ears.
"What am I doing?" Vash sighed. "I'm talking to a cat!"
The kitten looked up to him again. Vash supposed it might be a look of gratitude. He took back the tin of remaining salmon and spread it on a crust of bread to make a salmon sandwich. Not a very good one, as the bread was stale, but he didn't have much else with him. The general store in the last town had been out of most of its supplies, particularly in the way of things that traveled well.
"You'd better go on now. I don't have anything else to give you."
As if on command, the kitten scampered away, back over the sands.
Vash awakened the next morning, just before the suns rose. The first things he was aware of were the soreness of his back muscles from sleeping on the hard ground, and the need to pee. He felt something warm tickling his ear. He turned his head and got a snoot full of black fur. There was a kitten sleeping next to his neck, in the crook of his shoulder. He rose. The kitten scampered. It sat a few feet away and looked at him.
"Ugh," Vash said as he sat up, scratching the sand out of his hair. He felt the tiny niggling of fleas. "Great…."
The kitten scratched behind its ear. "You're back," Vash said with a rueful smile. "You should go on now. I have to go."
The cat stayed at the campsite while Vash dressed and made his breakfast – eggs he scavenged from the nest of some wild bird. He was very careful not to take the entire clutch, just two of them, and he apologized to them the whole time. The cat looked at him with her head cocked to one side.
"You're looking at me funny. I don't blame you."
"Aw, don't give me that look! If I keep feeding you, you won't be able to feed yourself! You'll just keep following me. I can't take care of you right now. I'm searching for someone."
"Listen. It's too dangerous for you to hang out with me. I can't have a pet. I have people after me. I'm wanted. You don't want to be hunted."
A large bird flew overhead. It was some kind of hawk or vulture, from what Vash could tell by looking at its wings against the sun. The kitten scurried for shelter underneath his duffle bag.
When he began walking toward the town of his destination, the little black kitten walked along behind him, her tail proudly in the air.
"No!" the gunman shouted. "You can't come with me! Go home! Shoo! Get!"
He chased the cat and waved his arms. The kitten ran away, only to resume following him as soon as he turned around and walked again.
"You can't come with me. Please. It's better for you to go."
Ten iles later, when he stopped for a rest, Vash gave up. He'd chased the cat. He'd spooked the cat. He'd even kicked sand at the cat. The kitten continued to follow him, her kinked little tail held up proudly. He sat down in the sand. To his surprise, the kitten walked right up to him and planted herself in his lap. She looked up to him and purred.
"Aw, man…" Vash whined. He gently petted the creature. She purred more loudly. She began licking his gloved fingers. "You're a determined little thing. I kept telling myself that the cuteness wouldn't work…"
He let out a long sigh. "I guess I'll call you Blackie."
When Vash arrived in Maricopa, Blackie was tucked comfortably inside his coat, purring against his chest. He thought about the implications of having a pet. He knew that cats did not live very long, especially in a harsh environment. The kitten had nowhere else to go. He decided that he'd do his best to give her a good long life.
The warmth against his chest was comforting, in a way that he'd not felt comfort for a very long time. He supposed it might have been a mistake to feed her, since she'd probably followed him because of it. Still, he couldn't have let her starve to death.
Vash stopped into the shop labeled "Bob's General Goods." He looked over the shelves. He winced when Blackie started kneading her claws into him.
"Something the matter, sir?" the shopkeeper asked.
"Er… no…nothing!" Vash replied with a forced grin. "Would you happen to have any pet food?" he asked.
"Yeah. Top shelf, to the right, in the back. Dog food, cat food, some sacks of thomas feed there on the bottom shelf."
"Do you carry… any sort of flea powder?"
"Yeah, in the back. I can get some out fer ya."
The shopkeeper shook his head. This young man had obviously just come in from the desert. He knew the type – poor, couldn't afford to feed themselves except on cheap pet food, hair riddled with sand fleas, crazy.
"Yeah, thanks. Sir? Do you happen to have any kind of… flea powder that wouldn't kill the fleas? I mean, something that would just make them go away, but not kill them."
The shopkeeper snorted and gave Vash one of the strangest looks possible. "You aren't serious, are you?" he questioned.
"Do you have anything like that?"
"Afraid not, son. Look, you can get rid of the fleas with a shower. They don't always drown. Probably still have 'em clingin' to her hair that way, too. Only way to get rid of 'em for sure is to kill 'em. Now, I got flea powder, take it or leave it."
"Um… thanks, sir. Just these cans of cat food will be fine."
The shopkeeper shook his head as Vash left.
"Definitely one of the crazy ones."
"Alright, Blackie. You're going to get a bath. I'm sure you've never had a bath before, so I'll try to make it easy on you."
Vash stood in the bathroom of his inn room, filling the plugged sink with warm water. Blackie was seated on the closed lid of the toilet. Vash gently lifted the kitten up. "Easy, girl. We gotta get you cleaned up. These fleas are eating you alive. You could die if we don't get them off you. Not sure I can use flea powder on a kitty so young, anyway, and fleas have the right to live, too, right? We'll get you cleaned up, and maybe they'll go away."
He placed Blackie gently into the warm water. She climbed his right arm like a tree trunk.
"Aie! Aie! Aie!" he screamed. "No, no, no, kitty! Come on! It's just water! It won't hurt you!"
Blackie affixed herself firmly upon Vash's shoulder. She scrambled with her back legs, digging into Vash's skin, scratching.
"Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah!"
The shopkeeper raised an eyebrow. That strange young man came into his shop again, looking twice as bedraggled as he had before.
Vash smiled a large, pained smile. "Some antiseptic and a jar of flea powder, please," he asked.
Altruism, after all, had its limits.
He gave Blackie the lightest dusting of powder possible, hoping the scent of it would drive the fleas to simply leave their walking apartment. He did the same to his own hair.
Blackie went with Vash everywhere. If he was not carrying her, she was following along behind him, tail held high and proud. She grew quickly, and even started to become a little pudgy, but she remained a very small cat.
He was staying in a town called Show Low when he stopped into a bar. He stepped through the double doors, his little kitty following at his heels. Standing in the bar room was a very large, strong, and mean looking dog. It was a black and white animal with a choke chain around its neck. It looked, to Vash, like it might be a Great Dane. He was not sure. He thought that breed had died out.
It uttered a loud, deep, throaty "WOOF!" Vash stepped back.
"Beauregard! Behave!" A man with a scruffy beard pulled on the dog's chain.
Vash moved to scoop up Blackie. Before he could reach her, she bounded over to the dog. "No, Blackie!" he yelped. He feared that the dog would eat her, or do something equally terrible.
The dog sniffed her. She lashed out both front paws and grabbed the larger animal's face.
"Beauregard?" the bearded man gasped.
"Blackie!" Vash exclaimed.
The dog lay down and let the cat climb on him. He rolled over and let Blackie jump onto his chest. The big, brutish hound barked soft little half-woofs and kicked his paws in the air. Beauregard's owner burst out laughing.
"That's some cat you got there, Mister. Don't worry 'bout Beauregard, he won't hurt 'er. He's nothin' but a big puppy dog."
"Is that right?" Vash asked with a broad smile.
"Brave little cat," the man remarked.
"Blackie! Hey!" Vash called. "That's rude!"
"Oh, don't worry about it!" the man said. He slapped Vash on the back. "I'll buy ya a beer."
Her name was Emily and she was the prettiest creature Vash ever did see. Well, besides the dozens of other beautiful women he'd find himself trying to get dates with in town after town after town. He knew where most of his problems in that area lay. He came on too strong. However, he never really bothered to try to tone himself down. Maybe it was just that, when he saw a pretty girl, he'd temporarily lose his mind.
Perhaps he was pushing them away, subconsciously. Vash considered that possibility, too. He was having surprising luck making small talk with Emily, but he expected it to end like it usually did – a rejection, maybe a slap to the face, even.
Blackie was crawling around under his coat. She liked to stay there, next to his body, for warmth. It was a cool day, winter in the western hemisphere.
"So, ya wanna get a coffee or something?"
Blackie popped out of the neck of his coat. "Nya!"
"Blackie!" Vash hissed. "Not a good time! Uh.. I'm sorry, Miss…"
"Oh!" Emily squealed. "A cat! Oh, she's so cute! May I hold her?"
Vash grinned nervously. "Sure."
He gently took Blackie out of his coat and handed her to Emily. "Her name's Blackie. I found her in the desert. She goes everywhere with me."
"Oh, that is so sweet!" Emily exclaimed, cooing over the cat. "She's very friendly."
"And tenacious," Vash added.
"You must be a sensitive guy."
"I… I get that a lot."
"Oh, I just love a man who loves cats! Sure, I'll go to dinner with you."
"Really? Really? Oh, really?"
"I live in the blue adobe house on the end of the block past Joe's. Pick me up at eight?"
"Yeah! Yeah! Sure thing!"
Once Emily had gone off to run her errands, Vash cuddled his cat. "Oh, you are some kind of good luck charm, Blackie!" he said. "Score!"
Dinner went well. Emily talked about her life with her mother and her grandfather in the little adobe house at the end of the block by Joe's Tavern. She and Vash went to Rachel's, a much classier establishment than Joe's. Emily's family raised thomas. Emily aspired to more, with dreams of leaving town, traveling the world.
Everything was going well, too well. For a few hours, Vash felt his loneliness abate. It had been years, literally years since he'd gotten a date. He'd flirted plenty, without success, and was generally too busy the rest of the time.
He only wished he could tell Emily his real name.
She offered him a dance. "Do you ever take off that coat?" she said as he held her.
"Sometimes…" he replied.
"I mean, it's stylish, but this is usually a suit and tie kind of place. You draw attention."
"Yeah, I get that a lot."
"I wonder," she sighed, "What it's like under the coat." She chuckled softly. "Are you hiding more cats in there?"
"Heh, heh, no… unless Blackie stowed away again without me knowing it."
Vash held Emily closer. He found his hands trailing down her body, lower, lower…"
"Above the waist," Emily whispered.
"Oh, oh.. sorry!"
The music played soft and low. Vash found himself not paying attention to what he was doing. He daydreamed about Emily by his side, on their travels. Sure, it would be dangerous for her, but she seemed like a brave girl, and… oh, she was beautiful. Oh, her hair smelled good. Oh, she was so soft! Couldn't he let himself go, for just one night, even? The world felt like it was melting away, his world, his worries, in her arms.
"Hey! Hands away from the bra!"
Just then, the unfortunate gunman tripped on a warped tile on the floor. He fell on top of Emily, knocking her to the floor. His face buried itself in her chest.
"Aaaaaieeeeee! Get offa me, you big pervert!"
Vash startled up. "No! It's not like that! Really!"
Though in the back of his mind, the fall and its result were not at all unpleasant.
"You! Go! Get out of my sight! I can't believe you!"
"But I haven't even picked up the check yet!"
The entire restaurant stared at him. Vash slumped his shoulders, sighed, and left.
"I suppose… it was for the best…." Vash said low, as he lay on his bed in the cold, lonely room at the Lion's Gate Inn. He stroked Blackie's back and rubbed behind her ears. She cuddled next to him and purred. The purring rumbled in his ears, like low thunder. Blackie gently nibbled on his finger. He drew his hand away for a moment when the feline discovered the metal bracers around his thumb and started to nibble on them. That hurt.
"She would have run away if she'd seen these," Vash sighed. Blackie curled up against his side, butting up against the particularly nasty web of scars there. "You aren't afraid at all, are you? You're just a cat."
Vash looked up at the moons outside the window. "You know… it was a good thing I tripped like that. It was a good thing that things didn't go further. I.. I'm afraid I might have hurt her."
The cat batted at a small white feather poking out of the skin of Vash's right arm. It was small. This wasn't anything to worry about. The Light was not coming. He could not feel it. This appeared to be just a random molt, something he'd get from time to time.
"Yes, you know why… You know what I am. You know, I think you might just know more about me than anyone on this planet."
"You're a cat. You can't talk to spread my secrets. I can confide in you. And you… won't run away. You're not the least bit afraid of who I am or what I am. Thank you, my friend."
Blackie climbed up upon his chest. She tucked her forepaws neatly beneath her body. She purred loud and long, almost as if she could not purr enough and had to force the purrs out of her small body. Vash looked into her serene green-yellow eyes, shining in the semi-darkness of the room. She licked his nose.
Vash smiled. He soon fell asleep, like he did most nights, with Blackie planted comfortably on his chest.
He awakened with the cat attempting to sleep on his face. "Mmfffph! Blackie! Get off!"
The cat jumped down from the bed. She watched Vash do his morning meditation and training. This morning was like most mornings.
Noises downstairs jolted Vash out of his routine. "Stay here, Blackie," he said to the cat as he bolted downstairs to the first floor.
The desk clerk was holding his hands up. A large man in black boots and a black cowboy hat was holding him at gunpoint. Two smaller men stood behind the gunman. The gunman turned around and grinned broadly.
"Ah, speak of the devil himself!" he laughed. He pointed his gun at Vash's chest. "You! You're coming with us!"
"Why, may I ask," Vash said politely, "do you have a gun trained on me? Why, may I ask, have you stormed into this hotel and bothered everyone? If I'm coming with you, I would like an answer."
"You are Vash the Stampede, aren't you?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Allow me to introduce myself. My name's Bill Grissom, 'Grisly' Bill Grissom to most. Now, we've been asking around town about you. You match all the descriptions."
"Really? Because I'm registered at this hotel as Alex Saverem."
"Shut your trap! Show him your poster, Joseph!"
A wiry little man who was wearing an ammunition belt over his chest took a poster from his belt and pointed at it. It read "Wanted: Dead or Alive, $$60 Billion, Vash the Stampede" and had a perfect drawing of his likeness.
"Um… are you really sure?" Vash questioned. "I mean, that drawing was made by descriptions, no? And we all know how artists like to embellish things, maybe it's just a case of mistaken identity?"
In response, Grissom shot the wall behind his head. "Shut up! Are you going to come quietly, or is this gonna get bloody?"
"You see, um… fellas?" Vash said, nervously, holding his hands up. "I kinda sorta cannot do that. I've got too many things to do…"
Vash looked quickly to his right and to his left. Suddenly, he ducked and bolted. Grissom was a large man, a tall man, with quite a lot of space between his legs. He was blocking the hotel doorway. Vash dashed between his legs and out into the street.
Grissom spat, cursed and ran after him, followed by his men.
The raging gun battle that ensued was rather loud, rather dusty, and rather destructive. Several shop front signs and windows were shot up. Vash pushed several people to the ground to keep them out of the line of gunfire as he passed. He didn't return fire, for there were too many townspeople in the way, and he didn't want to hurt these two-bit bounty hunters if he could get away from them without it.
Also, there was the matter of putting these men at a disadvantage by getting them to spend all of their ammunition without wasting his. It was a strategy Vash had used many times. If they spent all of their bullets, he could usually scare people like this away with a quick warning shot or two. It was best not to show his skills until he had the advantage.
Grissom and his henchmen chased him around Show Low for two solid hours. Vash was getting tired, winded even, from dodging their fire, finding things to hide behind, and pushing innocents out of the way. He ducked out of the doorway of a hardware store and shot for Grissom, grazing his ear.
"You little smart-ass!" Grissom shouted.
Vash stood in the doorframe and stared at Grissom and his men with a gaze as hard as steel. Enough with the games. This was getting serious.
"You have one bullet left," Vash said. "Believe it or not, I've been counting. The makes of your guns… You only have one bullet left, Grissom. Your men are out of ammunition. I have five bullets left, and more in my pockets. If I have the need, I can reload my gun in five-point-five seconds. I aimed precisely for your ear. In case you haven't been following all the rumors that trail me, you should know that my bullets never miss. Do you really want to risk it?"
Grissom looked to Vash, and looked to his gun. "He's right, boss," one of the men, Johnny, said. "We ain't got nothin' left! Let's just give up!"
"But, he's just standing there!" Joseph, his ammunition belt now bare, protested. "You got one bullet boss! Looks like an easy shot! That's sixty billion double dollars right there! Just kill 'im and get it over with!"
Grissom grunted. He looked to Vash and to his own gun again. His eyes narrowed. "You defeated me this time, punk," he growled. "I don't take defeat easy! I will have my revenge! Your head is mine! Another time!"
Grissom turned to walk away. The bewildered and frightened townspeople peered out of their windows, wondering if it was safe to venture out yet. Vash watched him, and his men. He heard a familiar "Nyao!"
"Blackie?" he gasped as he looked down. "You're supposed to be back at the inn."
The cat stood at his heel. Grissom turned around. He smiled a wicked smile. Vash felt as though his heart stopped. Time moved in a blur. Grissom drew his gun and shot.
Blackie flew back. Blood stained the ground. Vash drew and shot. Grissom fell with a pained cry, clutching his right shoulder. "Boss! Boss!" his men exclaimed, rushing to his aid.
"Blackie?" Vash yelped. "Blackie? No… no…."
The young cat lay still. Her fur was stained with blood. There was a gaping hole in her side. Vash shivered and touched her. No movement, no breath. Grissom's men moved to apprehend Vash. They stood back when they saw his demon-glare.
Vash picked up Blackie. He held her bleeding form against his chest and stroked her. "Blackie," he whispered, "Blackie… No… don't leave? Please? You can't be… No… no… Blackie, I'm sorry, I'm so, sorry."
Just outside the town of Show Low, there is a grave in the desert. It is a tiny grave, easy to overlook. It is marked with a simple wooden cross – and an empty salmon tin.