"I wasn't supposed to die like this!"

Fire is a painful thing for the body to handle. Nerves don't take well to the extremes of heat and searing flame. Fortunately for me, it wasn't real fire; only searing pain that felt like white hot flames due to dozens of red hot pieces of lead.

The vibrant light from the windows seemed oddly out of place. I always thought I'd die in the darkness, not questioning my life decisions, and bleed out in stubborn silence. But to bleed to death in the light, questioning every deed I have ever done, wondering if I could have done as he has and saved myself somewhere down the line...

I wasn't supposed to die like this.

I was an orphan, born and bred to be what I am. Well, bred anyway. I've learned to rely on myself, my instincts, my intuition, and, God help me, it was my only way of life. So when did I need the approval of others? Those women... That man...

"Is it fair to ask forgiveness?"

I'm not jaded enough to believe what I've done has been right. It's only convenient to think it was just. There's no man who has ever been sinless, at least there I can take comfort. No, not even him...

My fingers have gone numb and with a surge of fear I have never felt before in my mortal flesh, I know I'm about to die. I don't even have the strength to hold my head up any longer. My vision's gone blurry, and my eyes rest on the puddles of blood that now stain the elegant carpet. I laugh as my eyes fall closed for the last time; even the pools of my blood start to look like his jacket.

---

Apparently forgiveness was too much to ask for. Heaven isn't supposed to hurt like this. This must be Hell.

"Wolfwood?" A soft whispered voice breathes into my ear. Surely it is Hell, because that voice could never be this close to me willingly; not without the blare of gunfire ringing around us. It has to be a demon waiting to feed on my anguish.

Insistent hands with nimble fingers are tugging at me. A fresh stab of pain tears across my stomach and burns its way up my chest. I try not to gasp, unwilling to give the evil creature any pleasure in my pain.

The hands pull away, apparently I was unsuccessful. Cool fingers touch my face, cross my forehead and stroke my cheeks.

"Sorry, sorry, sorry..." The same hushed voice, the tone is apologetic. The mantra continues quick and breathless, the volume decreasing until there is nothing. The fingers pause on my cheek at the same moment, I can feel them quivering just slightly.

I try to say something, I'm too confused about what's happening to lay silent. Between the dryness of my throat and the coating of old blood I can only croak.

"Oh!" It was a soft exclamation, as though they weren't expecting me to be awake.

I try to speak again after swallowing painfully several times, but I do no better. The fingers are roaming on my face again and they stop at my chin. A calloused palm covers my lips and the warm breath is on my ear again.

"It's okay. You're still badly hurt, just go back to sleep." Sleeping... so I'm not in Hell. I'm not dead. Maybe there is a God who listens to peon's like me.

The hand on my face and the breath in my ear remain. I'm tempted to turn my head, just to see what would happen, but I hurt too much to dare. Lips graze my ear as silent words are spoken. The palm is lifted until only fingertips remain but they, too, disappear after a moment.

I'm disappointed. I shouldn't be, but I can't help it in my condition. I'm still surprised to be alive, and for now that knowledge is enough.

---

Slanted light falling into my eyes is making my head pound. At least the room is quiet. Last night's events are a hazy distant memory, I'm pretty sure I've only dreamt them.

"Mr. Priest! You're awake!"

Millie... I squint into the light and offer up a grimaced smile. She seems pleased enough. The bags she carries are set on the table and before long the bed dips beside me where she sits.

"Meryl said you looked a bit better, but I didn't get the chance to check this morning." Millie smiled brightly and checks over my bandages. They are an odd reminder of the hands from last night, but they aren't the same. "You've been unconscious for days!"

I'm not entirely surprised. You're body tends to shut down after being riddled with holes.

"Have you seen Mr. Vash yet?"

I know my eyes widen in surprise, surely she doesn't know. I shake my head.

"Oh," She frowns a bit but perks up again. "Well, he's been prowling outside your door every night. It's like he's a guard dog, isn't that cute?"

"Yea," I croak, unconsciously looking toward the doorway. Pacing there every night. I can almost see the fluttering of his coat as he turns. Sounds like the self-sacrificing bastard.

"I'll go make you something to eat, okay?"

Before I even have the chance to nod she's up and out of the room with her bags again. I wonder what the view from that high up could be like.

My eyes are heavy, my body hurts, I just want to sleep.

---

I wake up violently later that night. My stomach is unsettled and with growing panic I realize I'm about to be sick. Of course there's no one around. I curse them all. But I take it back as soon as I think it.

Oh, God.

I struggle to roll on to my side at least. How great would it be to be saved from a blaze of gun fighting only to drown in my own vomit? My body hurts, damn it why do I have to do this alone? Ah, yes, because I've always been alone.

My stomach lurches and I manage to bite my tongue and force the last quarter turn out of my muscles until I lay precariously hanging on the edge of the bed. The bed groans with me and my stomach clenches again.

Bile and half digested salmon sandwiches are not a good combination. It doesn't spatter to the floor like I expected. My watering vision manages to make out the form of a dust bin just under my head. Huh, who would have thought?

"Feeling better?"

I manage not to jump and only roll my eyes up. There he is. Blue-green eyes are hidden behind those damned yellow circular lenses. I planned on making a smart-ass comeback, but my stomach has other ideas.

I lurch again, even dry heaving a couple of times and lay limp when its over. God, I must be a total mess.

A comforting hand is rubbing circles at the small of my back on the only exposed patch of skin between the bandages. I didn't even notice him sitting down by my hip. I'm tempted to pretend to be ill to see if he'll stay longer, but I won't.

"Only Millie could feed a sick man sandwiches," he smiles down, not really at me, and his hand pulls away. I'm only a little disappointed. "I'll ask Meryl to make some soup for you tomorrow."

"Thanks," I grunt, rolling painfully onto my back again. I get a stitch somewhere between my breastplate and organs and press my fist to it. It helps a little.

"Here," Vash stands and pushes his arms beneath the sheets. I know I stop breathing for a second as they wrap loosely around my waist and pull up. He bends and his face starts looming toward me. This has to be the strangest predicament I've ever been in. He looses one arm and tugs a discarded pillow from by my head and tucks it beneath the small of my back before lowering me to it. His arm stays for a moment longer than necessary.

He must have felt me staring because he pulls away quickly with a hollow laugh. "Is that better?" His voice has gone back to that low whisper. I nearly break out in gooseflesh. I nod, it is better.

"Good," he smiles again, that same empty one he usually gives away so easily.

He straightens the blankets with a quick tug and escapes into the hallway, closing the door softly behind him. I watch the silhouette of his boots from the crack under the door. He stands there for nearly five minutes before he slowly walks down the hall.

I wonder idly if I croaked out his name if he would come back. I clench my teeth and force myself back to sleep before I can try.

---

There was soup waiting for me as he promised. Meryl is a very good nurse. She changes my bandages with practiced ease, cleans my wounds with little extra pain, even cleans up the mess from last nights illness without so much as a grimace.

I actually manage to sit up today. The tall headboard with bunched blankets and stuffed pillows certainly help. My blanketed cross is leaning against the wall across from me. I don't think I'll be able to lift the damned thing again.

"How's the soup?"

I swallow the mouthful I have and smile disarmingly. "It's perfect."

Meryl blushes a little turns back to the laundry. "Do you think you could stomach some more? Or is that enough?"

My stomach roils at the thought of another full bowl. I set down the one I have on the window sill, it's still half full. "I think this will be plenty."

The sky is an unGodly shade of blue today. I stare up into it and let my mind drift, fruitless of any real thinking. I don't know how long I sat there like that, but I came awake when Meryl spoke again.

"Vash! Would you like something to eat?"

I turn my head slowly, catching the first glimpse of him from my peripheral vision. He looks exhausted.

"Sure, what are you having?" His voice is rough. I wonder if he's been up all night.

Meryl ladles out a bowl of soup and hands it to him with a stern look. "Soup. Now eat all of that."

"Aye Aye!" He salutes and goose steps to the table. He's such a shit.

Meryl returns to the laundry, folding sheets and shirts. He's now across from me, staring down at his food. He picks up the spoon and blows a little before eating. "How are you feeling?"

He didn't even look up at me. Ass. I turn back to the window, shrugging just a little. If he doesn't notice, it's not my fault. You're supposed to look at the people you talk to. Besides, even staring up into the sun hurts less than watching his detachment. I think he's angry with me. Even with the midnight sessions of concern. I don't know what to say to make things better.

He leaves minutes later, chair screeching on the unpolished floor and exits without another word. I can hear Meryl mumbling to herself as she picks up his dishes. I hope Millie comes by soon. Maybe we can talk about simple things and she can drag Meryl out of here so I can be alone for a while.

My wish is granted sooner than I thought, but not how I was hoping.

Gunfire, lots of it.

I can hear Millie crying out for help and Meryl is already a blur of white cape flying out of my doorway. Adrenaline and panic help to numb the pain. What do you know, I can still lift that damned cross after all.

It's a lot farther to the front door than it should have been. The weight of the crucifix is getting too heavy, I may have managed to drag it out into the sunlight, but I'll never be able to shoulder it.

Three crooked stairs to the clay packed ground. I shouldn't be sweating this much. The cross is dragging behind me, it's making a divot. They'll be able to follow me awfully easy with it; not that I'm going to be a hard target.

Finally, I can see them at the end of the alleyway. Meryl and Millie are behind several wooden barrels, peeking across the tops. There he is, red trench flapping--though my overheated skin doesn't feel a breeze. The edge of those irritating lenses flash in the afternoon sunlight. He's talking, but I can't hear it over my ragged breathing and pounding of my strained heart.

It's slow motion watching him get struck in the shoulder. His jacket blows backward and a spurt of crimson stains the wall behind him. I don't remember moving.

When I come back to myself I'm standing in front of him with the pungent smell of gunpowder clouding the air. I can feel the tatters of my bindings, the sting of sweat in reopened wounds. I manage to turn my gaze a fraction. What do you know, I can lift the damned thing.

Far to the front, there are two men laying, bleeding onto the parched earth. I'm partly relieved to see they are still breathing. At least Vash won't be angry at me for their deaths.

"It's okay," he says from behind. A gloved hand touches my arm, and as though it was its added weight to break me, my arm collapses. The gun snaps back together as it hits the ground. I only wish it was that easy to fix myself again. The ground is looming, oh, this is not going to feel good.

At least I was right about that.

I can barely hear Millie crying out over the rushing in my ears. Vash's face is hovering by mine, I would make fun of him for looking so upset, but I don't find the situation all that humorous myself. He pulls me across his shoulders and stands up.

I know he's trying to hurry without jostling me around too badly. The pain of the pressure of my sternum on his shoulder is almost too much. Thankfully they really weren't that far from our makeshift home.

I've been dumped unceremoniously by unruly Thomas's, pissed off women, and even a select few men; but it's never been as agonizing as falling onto that bed.

Meryl and Millie are already making new bandages, digging out antiseptic and fresh thread and needles. Vash is hovering by my head, looking torn between helping or getting in the way. At some point, he's taken off those ridiculous glasses.

His wavering blue-green gaze is unsettling. "You shouldn't have been out of bed."

"Sorry for saving your skin." I smile, but it's more of a grimace.

He opens his mouth to say something else, but Meryl pushes him out of the way and the moment is lost.

It's a long, aching time later before the women are done sewing up my old wounds and wrap me in enough cotton linen to make me a mummy. Finally, they finish and order me to stay put and rest. I had no intention of doing otherwise.

I didn't think he'd be back before nightfall, but he comes in only minutes after the women leave. He leans against the door and stares over at me with the worst blank expression I've ever seen. It hurts just to look at so I close my eyes and turn my head away.

"Why?"

I would be stupid to wonder what he was referring to. I take a bit of my own advice and look at him before I speak. For some reason the words stick. Huh, maybe that's why people don't look at each other.

"Some people say you're a devil," my voice is thick and foggy as I fight off unconsciousness, he doesn't seem to mind. He even smiles a little at my comment. "But I know better."

Vash pushes off of the door and walks with his slow elegance into the room, standing over the headboard and leaning on his crossed arms. It's even harder to talk to him when his face is only several inches from mine.

"You do, huh?" He smiles a little again, something with a bit of substance is in it.

"Yup," I feel my eyes drift shut and accept it. Since when did I live by rules? "You aren't a devil at all. Far from it."

It's quiet, but I can still feel his gaze boring into my head and feel his breath across my face. "So what am I?"

I open my eyes, staring fixedly up. "You're a fallen angel."

His eyes widen comically, apparently that wasn't what he was expecting. He grins suddenly, he thinks I'm joking. I'll be more than happy to disillusion him again.

"You have all the signs."

"Do I?" He sits up a bit and taps one long finger against his chin. "What signs are those?"

"You only do what is just. You never take a life. You even feel the pain of trying to be a mortal, even though you aren't." He looks very skeptical, his mouth quaking to hold back that same sloppy grin. "And you're too beautiful to be human."

I've struck a nerve. He's walking away with a rigid spine. But I didn't lie, so I'm not going to take it back by making it a joke. Vash stops at the door again, one hand resting on the knob. "You never really answered my question."

"Yes I did." I'm staring at his back, my eyes are dry and prickling, I don't dare blink yet. "You're just refusing to see it."

His shoulders slump. I don't know what I've said to make him that upset. I watch him leave again, such a swirl of brilliant color.

My eyes are relieved when I close them. Fuck it. Fuck him. Maybe things would have been easier if I had died.

---