- People always assume that the afterlife is a release. The bad guys get thrown in Hell for their just desserts, and the good guys get to spend the rest of eternity strumming harps atop fluffy little clouds and polishing their halos. Get real. It's just a continuation of the struggle. WxM, VxM–

Disclaimer: I do not own Trigun, any of it's characters, or it's plotlines. They are entirely the property of Yasuhiro Nightow-sama. However, I am currently scheming to acquire a pair of Vash sunglasses to wear with my Vash t-shirt (It has his wanted poster on the back!) in addition to my DVD box set and graphic novel collection. And Vash-kun keychain! That's of vital importance. - Or, this chapters mangled, obscure reference to some side-story in Laura Hillenbrand's Seabiscuit.

Chapter 3: In Which There are More Fortunate Circumstances (Depending on Your Point of View), There is Much Contemplating, And a Fair Amount of Anger

Wolfwood decided to live a little. Alright. That really wasn't the best colloquialism for the situation. But it had already been ascertained that old habits die hard, so give the poor guy a break. His butt had been getting a bit sore with all that sitting on rocks in unmoving contemplation. Against his best wishes, that small selfish part of his mind betrayed him, and his surroundings, catering to it, conjured up that navy blue, overstuffed, chenille armchair he had always wanted. Hell, it even had matching throw pillows.

I'm being selfish. I do not deserve such comfort. This is atonement for my sins. I am in Heaven as my punishment, not to enjoy the luxuries it offers.

But the chair beckoned.

I am not worthy of enjoyment. My sins are too heavy.

It looked so soft… and squooshy… and fuzzy…

What would Vash think if he saw me sitting in this thing? Yeah, it's navy blue, but it's chenille. That was a sobering thought.

Oh, so fuzzy…

I bet that damn cat would probably pop out of nowhere and claw up my leg. Physical limitations never seemed to stop it before.

Matching throw pillows…

This is weakness. Human weakness. I must overcome it…

Fluffy… overstuffed… it even smelled faintly of that fabric softener his mother used to use when he was a child.

He glanced over to his alternative. The rock glared at him. You have a bony, boyish butt. Sit on something else that cares, it seemed to say.

Oh, to hell with it.

Once again, attack of the colloquialisms that no longer really worked. But he sat down nevertheless, settling into the plushness, savoring it. The chair even seemed to be heated.

What he wasn't expecting was what happened next.

- - - - -

Damn it. Damn it all. Unfortunate things seemed to happen to his friends. Let's do a tally, shall we? One dead. One possibly dead, definitely kidnapped, and definitely in mortal danger. One, well, I don't know where the other one is.

Every fiber of Vash's being screamed for action. To run until he could run no more. Hijack a car and simply drive. To slug someone. Violence. The usually comforting weight at his hip was far too much a source of temptation. The loss of what little he had in this world, the one steady thing he could count on was slowly driving back the pacifist into a primitive, animalistic state. El Diablo. The devil, as he had once been called. How appropriate.

Everything about the gunslinger was intense. His skills, his generosity, his kindness, his forgiveness. Unfortunately, while he was slow to anger, once aroused it was not exempt.

Images of the short girl danced on the inside of his eyelids. That quiet night on the cliff. A pot of stew simmering on a stove. Asleep on the porch, novel falling from her grasp. The look on her face when he returned with his brother slung over his shoulder. Chasing him and yelling, the look on her face not unpleasant, both laughing. A box of donuts left on the counter after she declared he was on a diet. And in between what few pleasant memories he had had in his long life, the bloodied cloak flickered, mocking him. Mocking the mere thought that he could ever achieve happiness.

He slowly withdrew one of Meryl's derringers from his holster, regarding his tired face in its metallic surface. Distorted in the makeshift mirror, a monster, it's aqua eyes filled with unreleased rage, it stared back at him, it gaze unfearing and chilling him to his core. A perfect metaphor. Everyone that touches me suffers. What else could I be? I'm certainly not human.

But no matter what he wished, what he longed to do, he could not.

Now was the time for logical thought. If he wished to even give Meryl a small chance, he had to figure out where Knives had taken her. She surely wouldn't have long. Knives knew Vash all too well. His brother would surely tire of her before long, and undoubtedly knew that even if he killed the woman Vash would simply change his aim from rescue to retribution.

What would it matter? It would simply be another tally on the long list of things the once inseparable twins had between them.

A pair of grey eyes laughed at him. Okay, maybe a mile of tally's. He didn't really feel like admitting how much this hurt. How deep the pain went. It's all because of me. Meryl certainly doesn't deserve someone as dangerous, scarred… bloody, as me. I'm far too stained. Knives knew exactly where to hit where it hurt.

And that thought frightened him more than anything else.

- - - - -

Meryl was swimming in the warm darkness. Although something faintly sinister about it scared her, it was also comforting. An escape. But all too soon she felt it receding, the bright lights piercing. The familiar pain came back, the slice that laid her back open, her wrists where the ropes were cutting into them.

She felt somewhat woozy and lightheaded. I should probably be worried about this. I know I've lost a lot of blood. I've probably gone into shock. But my back doesn't hurt so much anymore…Silver lining to every cloud- right?

Her captor was sitting primly across the room, scrowling at a spot of blood on his white suit. Noticing that she had awoken, he strolled over casually. Feline. That's the word I'm looking for. Hungry.

"You're up. Good. We have things to discuss." He jerked her too her feet, leading her stumbling form over to the floor beside his chair, whereupon he let her collapse once more and he took his seat. Cool eyes regarded her own dull ones. "Now, why did you plead for that woman's life earlier?" He jerked his head towards the outside. She felt sick. Millie… "You have absolutely nothing to bargain with. You are but a pawn at my disposal." He calmly regarded her, bending down until he was almost level with the short girl. "You amuse me. But careful, I may tire of you too quickly for your liking. I can almost see why my brother was so enamored with you. Almost. It does not make it any less sickening, however."

She spat in his face. His face contorted in rage, the spittle glistening in the afternoon sunlight. Fingers enclosed her neck, her back cracking nauseatingly as he swung her like a rag doll, tossing her against the far wall, the plaster crumbling around her form as she slid onto towards the ground, her blood flowing anew onto the floor. She felt her leg give way underneath her as she fell, with a crack like a gunshot.

"Vash! You see how worthless they are! You have been contaminated! I shall make you see error of your ways!"

The blackness crept into the edges of her vision once more. She fought it, trying to keep awake. Not now dammit. If I pass out like this- I don't know if I'll wake up again…Maniacal laughter flowed about her, filling the room, echoing and reechoing in the deathly stillness as he screamed his intentions to the corpses. From before, it always seemed like there was a logical side to him, albeit a cruel one. He's no longer sane- is he? Vash, Vash, I need you… Help… "Vash… Knives… he's not the twin you once knew…" She murmured, and against her best wishes the darkness collapsed in upon her struggling mind once more.

- - - - -

Vash slammed about the house, utterly helpless. Gunsmoke, in comparison to some, was a rather small planet. But it was still far too large to search without a single clue and on a time limit. It was infuriating.

A small, weak voice echoed within the recesses of his mind. Vash… Knives… he's not the twin you once knew… "Meryl?" He looked wildly about, knowing it was in vain.

Something drew him to the hallway closet. Throwing open the doors, he was shocked to find his old duster, blatantly hanging there like it had been there for months. I left it out in the desert… His fingers stroked the tattered fabric haltingly, unwilling to believe that it was really there. But the threads were real enough beneath his fingers, as familiar as a second skin. The symbol of a past he wished he could have left behind. He shrugged it on, knowing what he would find.

Drawing the sandy gun out of the pocket, a small note fell to the floor. Picking it up with shaking fingers he read what it said.

Are you forgetting someone?


- - - - -

Wolfwood had spent what felt like an eternity in his "heaven". Weeks, months, years, it was all the same to him. He would never be content there, and it was just as well.

Millie will undoubtedly find some much nicer man, grow old with him and have a ton of kids. She deserves nothing less. And maybe when she passes on at a ripe, old age she could find it in her heart to forgive me for leaving her all alone. Just stop by once or twice and say a quick hello. That's all I can ever hope for. All I deserve. I told her I would come back… I broke my promise… Let her cry alone… I made her cry…

Legends and tales always speak of those who have passed on watching those that they have left behind from afar, occasionally saving them from such things as runaway trucks or a pack of racehorses coming at you at a full run, or simply providing some ghostly comfort.

It's a vain hope. A comfort for those still living. If only they knew how much those like him suffered when they were unable to do so.

Imagine his surprise when the object of his abject longing literally fell right into his lap.

- - - - -

Vash would recall what happened later with great reluctance, even many, many years later. He wouldn't even speak of it until twenty years later, and only then to explain the honorable fate of his daughter's namesake.

From a distance, December appeared totally normal. No smoking ruins, no giant craters, no rubble. It was simply a city, minding its own business. Vash surveyed it from a hill on the very outskirts, hiking from where the stolen car had run out of gas somewhere out in the desert. Damn, this coat is so fargin' hot…

The note had cleared everything up. He had only ever had a few things in the world that he cherished. Material possessions never really lasted all that long, so he tried not to get attached to them. They tended to get rather riddled with bullet holes rather quickly. He had no living family outside of Knives, and the other plants, he supposed. But he rather doubted that Knives' intention was to kill himself along with their sisters. That left the few humans he had ever let himself get close too.

If I really cherished them, I would have run off while they slept. See where it's gotten them? None the less, they were his friends. He hated to say it. By that simple action, they had effectively doomed themselves. He had thought Wolfwood would be able to take care of himself. No, that was wrong. Wolfwood had been able to take care of himself. It was Vash's mistake.

If he hadn't forced his own ideals upon him, he would still be alive right now. And Millie wouldn't have had to cry herself to sleep every night.

Millie and Meryl could take care of themselves too. Once again, Vash had grown too trusting. Millie had taken a little piece of his heart, with her innocence and craftiness by turns. A truly good person. She would never let anyone down.

And Meryl held a place all her own. He couldn't really deny it anymore. It felt as though ha piece of him had been physically ripped away when he found her cloak. Which, in fact, it had. He regretted more than anything that he had never told her.

Just as well. If this is what happened to his friends, what about a girlfriend? Assuming Meryl would ever have him, of course. Which was a fairly big "If".

However, he was digressing, as was the author. Vash inspected December from the crest of the hill. The note had told him what he needed to know. Knives already had one of his friends, and one was already dead by his hand. That left Millie, who of course was in December, seeking to volunteer at Nicolas' orphanage.

He was seeking to eliminate every human Vash had ever valued one by one. Rem had simply been the beginning.

The gunslinger crept into the town, following the main street. He had been here once before. Meryl had dragged him here, showing him like some thomas to her boss, to prove she had in fact been doing her job. His errand was not near so jovial now. Entering the city via Main Street, he knew the town square was just around the corner. The city was deserted, but obviously recently so. Laundry still flapped in the breeze on the lines outside the houses. Vash ran to catch a cup of coffee on a porch railing that threatened to be knocked over by a pair of pajamas, carefully setting it a bit farther away. However, something caught his eye, floating in the now cold beverage.

At first glance it was simply a couple of hapless flies, foolishly having tried to get a sugary drink and summarily drowning. Nothing that unusual, especially if the cup had been sitting there that long. However, upon closer inspection, it revealed not two flies, but one. One fly cut in half with surgical precision. Eyes widening, he dashed towards the corner that the square resided on the other side of, the empty, empty, empty, streets and houses suddenly taking on a far more macabre turn.

The sight that greeted him was something he would never forget.

The piles of bodies, haphazardly stacked and mangled.

The dried writing on the wall, spelling out a warning meant for him, something these people shouldn't have died for.

And in front of all the carnage was his loyal friend, placed so that she was leaning up against the fountain in the center of the square. It had undoubtedly the town's pride and joy in such a barren desert.

Even in death, her face stilled smiled.

However, it had taken a far more sinister turn. He was at least slightly relieved to know that her death had at least been quick; the bullet hole at her temple had barely bled at all. But the force of it's impact had distorted her features, blowing everything out of proportion, the smile turning into something akin of a grimace. She had probably tried to help her sempai, and Knives was certainly not going to allow such a thing.

He walked up to her still form and closed her eyes.

The message read, THEIR END IS NEAR.

Tears ran down his cheeks as he sobbed silently, cursing the birds circling far above him in patterns far to complicated for him to ever comprehend.

- - - - -

Wolfwood stared at Millie.

Millie stared at Wolfwood.

Now here were two people who were certainly not expecting to see one another for awhile.

Two shades of blue met one another, dark and light, mixing and dancing together, their outlines blurred.

Millie slowly sank into her beloved's broad chest, closing her eyes as sobs shook her body, feeling his arms wrap around her and his own tears dampen her hair.

Am I so wrong as to feel so much joy at having her here? If I truly loved her, I would be devastated at her life being cut short like this. And yet… I don't think… I've ever been this happy before…

Nicolas… Sempai… Vash-san… I think I understand now, Nicolas, why you were so sad to leave so much undone… At least I have you…

- - - - -

A/N: Thank you so much for all the wonderful reviews, from: Crunchy Snape, LilBrokenDolly, Erin Elric, (who seems to have put me on every conceivable favorites list, grins, bows, and hugs) nania, and particularly, AINE OF KNOCKAINE, who was the only person to review on my first chapter, and also reviewed my little VxM one-shot from ages ago. Additional thanks to my shadow readers, Litrouke, who put me on their favorite list and must have forgotten to hit the review button, and Gouf The Troll, who decided to put me on story alert, so obviously they thought this much have been worth a second look. Muchas Gracias, Amigos! Virtual steak dinners served by babbling brooks for you all!

Well, I didn't leave too much of a cliffy there. I think I was being fairly kind. Believe me, there is a plot here, and you're going to be seeing more of it in the next chapter. Sorry this took so long, I kinda got distracted. I finally got my hands on a copy of Trigun Maximum #8, on my third bookstore run. Surely you lot can understand- right? You'll also notice I finally woke up and realized that in the manga Nicolas' name is not spelled with an "h" in it. If I have time I'll go back and correct it in previous chapters. I kinda doubt it though. Oh, and "fargin'" that's something my math teacher says all the time. I always wondered why Vash didn't get hot in that coat, and leather suit, in the desert.

Also, if you say nothing else in your reviews, could you at least comment if people are in character or not? A good OOC is good once in awhile, if it's a parody, (E.G. My personal favorite, Legato watching Martha Stuart while eating hot dogs and lounging in cookie monster boxers which just happen to match his hair.) but in something this serious I'm really going for IC people. I'm especially concerned about Wolfwood, he's been really hard, because he really had a change of heart just before he died, and is in a bit of a hard spot here.

Can't you all see Wolfwood in that armchair? He really is a pretty funny guy, and if I do one thing here, I want to make sure this doesn't get excessively grim before it ABSOLUTELY has to. Thus, the nonsense below.

Special Extra Scene!

In December:

Meryl: (wielding cattle- ahem, thomas, prod.) Vash, walk.

Vash: (eyes prod nervously) Y-y-yes ma'am! (runs)

Meryl: (narrows eyes, pushes button on remote that she has conjured out of nowhere) You're not going anywhere, tongari!

Vash: (runs into invisible fence and falls flat on back)

At the Office:

Vash: (glaring) I'm not cattle, short girl.

Meryl: (raises eyebrow) Really? (shocks)

Vash: GGAAHHH! (twitches) MERYL!

Meryl: Hey! You called me by my name! Good boy! (hugs)

Boss: (opens up Vash's mouth despite his protests) Fine piece of cattle you have here, Meryl. Been taking good care of it, I see. I believe a pay raise may be in order. Seems a bit ornery though. Have you tried barbed wire?

Meryl: (blushes) The silly thing ripped the seat of his pants out…

Vash: (twitch, twitch) "It?" "Thing?" C'mon, I may not be human, but REALLY…