I do not own any aspect of Trigun, that honor belongs to the great
Spoilers: All of the manga up through volume 10.
A/N: This a mangaverse story that takes place in volume 3, between chapter 6 and 7 (in the Dark Horse English release the page numbers are 162 and 163 respectively). With the "Eye of Michael" revelations in later volumes, I always wondered why Wolfwood looked so roughed up after his battle with Gray the Ninelives, even walking around with an IV. So, the following is where that thought led me. I hope it meets your approval :)
Do Young Priests Dream of Sacrificial Lambs?
The shrill electronic noise mistakenly led Vash's awakening mind to place him back on the doomed SEEDS mother ship. He brought a hand to his face. The cold prosthetic arm snapped languid senses to attention, while bleary eyes worked hard to focus on a metallic ceiling. The man known as the humanoid typhoon, the only person to be officially designated a localized natural disaster, quickly realized that the room was not actually spinning. His surrounds were indeed that of a colony ship medical bay, yet they showed signs of age and alterations that were themselves familiar. Vash recognized the unique pattern of vents and seams above his head. It was a design he had memorized through painful repetition. The most recent cause happened to be a battle with an old friend who'd proclaimed himself a puppet master. That bruised flesh and soul was still fresh enough to smart.
The ship may have tumbled from the sky a long time ago, but that did not stop the vertigo from increasing as Vash dragged himself back to consciousness. He swung his legs out of the hospital bed and bare feet made contact with the chilly hydrocarbon-impregnated alloy floor. Despite this attempt at entrapment, which most would call preservation, the metal was oxidizing. This damage wasn't yet visible to the naked eye, but Vash sensed it as clearly as the heat being pulled from his skin to warm the floor.
The room was a swarming mass of subatomic particles in their little packages of matter at its simplest bonding, separating and spinning into differentiation between liquid and solid, air and wall, flesh and bone. The massive amounts of sensory input were dizzying and new, but at the same time his unpracticed brain handled it with little strain. Vash knew instinctively that it was his plant biology fighting the sedative "nurse" Jessica had given him as a sleep aid, dragging him to awareness as it emerged from exile. He was awake – truly awake – and viewing the atomic components around him as mere ingredients that only needed a requisite amount of buzzing, skin-tickling energy to be made, remade, chained, and layered into anything.
Vash clutched a mattress edge and closed his eyes, sifting fingers through tousled blond and black locks with a calming, deep breath. The electronic cacophony was roughly straight ahead from where he sat on the bed's left side. Despite their harshness, these bio-monitor noises were basically meant to only elicit attention, not alert anyone within earshot to impending death. Maybe some leads were just tangled. But the methodical beeping had picked up considerable speed, and was augmented by a warning tone which sounded when a preset limit had been breached. Vash turned his attention to the biological system it was safeguarding and began to walk gingerly in that direction.
There was no response within the darkened clinic. Vash halted close to the complaining monitor and tentatively touched a shoulder belonging to the body hunched next to the bed it should have been lying in. He planned to inquire again, but was only able to manage a gasp under the sensory onslaught that smashed into his brain with the physical contact.
Nicholas D. Wolfwood, the living oxymoron of both gunman and priest, had waged a gruesome battle with the all too aptly named "Gray the Ninelives", and had even needed a little help from the Bernardelli Insurance duo to finish the fight. He was lucky to have come away from that encounter with broken ribs as the worst of his injuries. Actually, Vash's awakened senses told him it was more than just good fortune. His plant-ness could discern subtle differences in osseous chemistry and structure that would lead to a more robust skeleton. The muscle mass attached to it was within normal human limits, but high for Wolfwood's build and stature. This, and a more developed cerebellum, all explained how the priest was able to wield his punishing cross so effectively. Unfortunately, his abnormal biology had not been able to stop the infection from surfacing. The medical staff had surmised that Wolfwood was exposed to the microbe ravaging his system through his messy encounter with the Gung-Ho Gun, and that perhaps it was even an immunological element of the monster's collective "body". The latter hypothesis was supported by its virulence and the harsh medicine, usually reserved for drug-resistant pathogens, being administered in the highest dosage anyone dared use. There had been some confusion surrounding the infection's atypical emergence and progression. Vash, however, knew why.
The body beneath his hand was racing. He could feel aberrations in the brain stem and limbic system which suggested anomalous homeostasis tendencies. It was a body built for living hard, living fast, and as a consequence – living short. The offending microbe, native to a host enhanced to facilitate nine acting as one, had found a new home when Wolfwood's rising metabolism created a favorable environment during its normal healing process. The infection actually rode the acceleration. It was possible that the priest's flesh could gain the upper hand on its own, overrun the intruders or accelerate past their optimal habitat. But it could also enter a deadly spiral, which would end when even his unusual biology couldn't sustain the pace or compensate for the necessary self-cannibalization, effectively burning itself out. The plant part of Vash resonated sympathetically, and from this commiseration came a sharp pang of concern linked to Wolfwood's full head of completely jet-black hair. These worries were quickly diagnosed as self-imposed, and didn't register long enough to spark contemplation over his own dark locks. Its assessment of the priest's situation was still spot on though. His friend was racing towards a total system collapse.
The muscles beneath Vash's fingers tensed.
"Wolfwood ...", he whispered, and the man raised his head.
The glazed eyes that stared back were not looking at Vash or even through him. Wet heat radiated from Wolfwood's skin, and a pounding heart shook his form into a constant quiver. He moaned, head dropping as his back curled into a tighter arch. Vash's mind spun with the sudden metabolic spike. The addition of aggressive medication meant Wolfwood's body would most likely win its battle against the infection. That is, if it would give the intravenous drug a chance to work.
The priest's hands clenched, one of them clawing into a disheveled pile of cloth that Vash realized was the clergyman's jacket. Had he been trying to retrieve something? A cigarette? A peripheral glance turned up nothing of that sort, only a discarded test tube, or maybe a syringe vial, glinting from under the bed in the low light. Wolfwood panted, leaning heavily into his arms as the systemic acceleration leveled out. Where the IV intruded into his left forearm the skin twitched with thwarted healing, and he snapped the other hand around to dig at the tubing. Vash quickly intervened, but being gravely ill hadn't weakened Wolfwood in the slightest.
"No! Stop! Stop it!"
And the priest did ...
... Feathers ... Vash saw their wispy whiteness and felt something soft, but not as soft as the fluffy plumes, tickle his chin. He looked down in high noon glare to see Wolfwood's suit-garbed body crouched into his chest, the man's silky black locks ruffling against Vash's neck in a dry breeze. However, in actuality he was sitting on the medical bay floor, cradling a limp priest sprawled out on the oxidizing metal in a sweaty hospital gown. Vash realized his plant awareness had performed as commanded, reaching into Wolfwood's brain and inducing the muscle atonia which stops one from acting out dreams. But it had also triggered the associated REM sleep, and inserted itself into the mental landscape.
A brain operates and communicates via chemicals and energy, as well as being made up of atoms like everything else. All the plant in him had to do was analyze what needed changing to get the desired result, and then expend the necessary energy to alter the specific atoms, molecules, energy pulses, etc. It was simple in principle, miraculous in execution – to see the forest as well as each individual leaf simultaneously, and orchestrate pushes on single leaves so that when seen from above a breeze appeared to be meandering through the groove. However extraordinary, his untrained abilities had literally stampeded to the rescue, sending waves of discord through a delicate neurological symphony.
When Vash realized he was affecting brain activity as well as reading it, he grew concerned and thought about reigning that part of himself in. He only wanted to help, but had unintentionally initiated something that possessed questionable therapeutic value, and at best seemed benignly disruptive. It was also just plain wrong to invade another's mind. But Wolfwood had given psychic form to his clumsy intrusion and that made the autonomous plant pause. So Vash stayed kneeling in the sand of a vast mindscape desert that could be nowhere or anywhere on Gunsmoke, embracing a huddled priest protectively with arms and wings.
Wings ... they sprouted out of his back majestically, but were not as tightly formed as a bird's. They more closely resembled those belonging to his sisters. His skin tone was lighter too, also closer to that of his confined siblings, and the pale locks that cascaded to his shoulders were studded with feathers. Did Wolfwood know what he was? Most likely not, at least not consciously.
The figure in his embrace stirred with a groan, fell back a short distance to sit on the ground, and looked up at him. It didn't take long for dark eyes to adjust to the brightness and settle into a cutting glare.
"What're you doing here, Spikey?"
Vash plopped unceremoniously unto his hindquarters and reached an arm overhead to scratch the back of his neck. "I really have no idea," he replied with a goofy smile on his face.
The priest continued to frown with his eyes, never letting them stray from their target as he reached into his coat, pulled out a cigarette, and placed it between his lips. Wolfwood dropped his gaze briefly to shield the necessary fire from the light breeze, but practice makes perfect and it was only seconds later that he came up with the end glowing. Vash watched as the clergyman leaned back, balancing his outstretched smoking arm on a bent knee, and exhaled milky breath.
"How'd I know you were going to say something like that?"
Vash shrugged, still smiling like an idiot. Wolfwood took another drag from his cigarette, dark orbs stubborn in their attempts to cut into the mirroring lighter ones. He stared at his companion much longer than the usual pause between nicotine-laced breaths, and finally broke the contest, his head left hanging between slumped shoulders.
"I knew the Almighty had a sense of humor, but I never thought it was this twisted." Wolfwood looked up, chin resting on an arm spanning both knees. The other elbow was pressed to his cheek, leaving the smoldering cigarette pointing into the sky. "I guess I deserve to have you as a guardian angel."
With that, Wolfwood rose to his feet and strode out of the protective semicircle of feathers. He pulled a pair of sunglasses out of his jacket, and after slipping them on, shoved both hands absently into the front pockets of his black slacks. Wolfwood stood there for some time, his hair and white shirt lapels flapping in the desert wind, appearing to study the horizon. Vash watched from his sandy seat and attempted to corral feathery locks behind his ears. He ducked behind the wing facing the wind and something caught his eye. The sky-blue irises focused on age-darkened cloth, held snugly in place around his calf by a stark black band and its dull metal closure. Vash cocked his head to the side and noticed a similar arrangement on his thigh, and when he straightened to an erect spine, the sight encompassed his entire body. He frowned slightly with thought before looking up, but was not surprised to see Wolfwood already some distance away, the naked punisher's cross slung on his back and gleaming in the harsh sunlight.
"Yo, Spikey, you coming?"
"Where're we going?"
The priest stopped and looked over his shoulder, the shrinking butt still glowing from the corner of his mouth. "New Calvary."
Vash stood up and followed after Wolfwood. The midday suns overpowered his pale, unprotected eyes, so he positioned one of the wings to shade his face. The new appendages were actually quite useful – too bad they weren't real. Wolfwood didn't look back as they traveled, or inquire if Vash was still there. Though he did occasionally stop, which allowed the distance between them to shorten. At first Vash thought that Wolfwood was delaying on purpose, and then he saw the priest stumble.
"Wolfwood? Are you okay?" There was no reply, and the bent figure on the horizon didn't move. Vash picked up his pace, even gliding a little bit on his wings. He landed lightly behind his friend, whose knees and hands were still in the sand, the punishing cross splayed across his back.
"No need to get all worried," Wolfwood answered with a shaky voice. "Can't a guy take a break?"
He shrugged the weapon off his shoulders and flopped into a seated position, legs crossed and fumbling for a cigarette. Vash settled nearby, noticing that Wolfwood looked a bit paler than before and that a fine tremor laced his smoking arm. The body back in the medical bay, with its sheen of new sweat, was experiencing another metabolic spike. This one was a lot less violent than the first because of the sleep paralysis, but that was unnerving in and of itself. Vash's face screwed itself in concentration under the shade of his wings. How much was Wolfwood aware of the battle raging in his body? How much did he allow himself to know?
"Have I grown a second nose or something?"
"What?" Vash replied with a small start.
"You're staring at me with an odd look on your face."
"Sorry," Vash said as he turned his head away, nestling his chin into the crook of an arm perched on his knees. "I was just thinking."
Wolfwood huffed as he took a final drag from his cigarette. "You think too much, you know that?" He rose and swung the cross onto his back. "Come on, let's get going again."
It was some time before they crested a dune like so many others preceding it, and Vash spied a town, if you could call it that. It was actually more like the abandoned husk of a burgeoning community that had shed and moved elsewhere, leaving the now useless cast-off to the mercy of the elements. Bleak storefront windows stared out onto the dusty main thoroughfare. They looked to Vash a little too much like the hollow eyes of the lost – or the dead. He continued to study the weathered facades as he walked, looking for some sign of life, and nearly bumped into a stationary Wolfwood. The priest had already staked his cross into the loose sand and was lounging against it impatiently.
"I need to deal with some business." Dark eyes peeked over lowered sunglasses. "You stay here and keep out of trouble."
Vash nodded and sat down on some sort of stone structure that may have been the base of a statue or fountain before the desert sand reclaimed it. The street had opened into a town square where the wind whipped and swirled. Vash sunk into the embrace of his wings, wrapping himself into a warm cocoon of feathers.
"Hey mister, what're you?"
Looking down, Vash spied small shoes and emerged from his fluffy nest just enough to meet the gaze of a lanky boy.
"A swan?" he responded meekly.
"Ugly duckling maybe," the child retorted with a smirk.
"Ow!" Vash clutched his chest and drew his face out dejectedly. "That hurts."
"Seriously mister, are you some sort of angel? Are you going to hurt us?"
Vash's face fell. "I thought all angels were good."
"No." The boy continued very matter-of-factly, "some angels come down to use us, punish us, while others come to help, like the ones in the bulbs. Are you for real?"
Vash nodded, not quite sure how to answer that one, and still trying to wrap his mind around the ramifications of the child's last statement. He was so lost in thought that he almost jumped when he felt tentative fingers graze a patch of wing, then grow bold enough to reach out and gently pet his feathery hair.
"I think you're one of the good ones."
Vash still didn't know how to respond as he stared straight into the child's earth-colored eyes. However, he wasn't given much of a chance to.
"Hey kid!" Wolfwood's voice rang out.
The hand pulled away and the boy slipped around the neglected fountain, stealing one glance back at Vash through a tousled mop of short black hair. The wind picked up a little, forcing Vash to squint his eyes against the flying dust, and when he opened them again the youth had disappeared and a dusty clergyman stood in his place.
"Don't give me that look," Wolfwood snapped. "I know that brat and he's nothing but trouble." He hefted the cross onto his back and walked away.
Vash followed silently, his mind ruminating over the child's words and Wolfwood's actions. He never treated children like that. What was going on? Vash had to keep telling himself that this was a dream, and not even his. However, nerve impulses are nerve impulses and he was getting pulled into the illusion. He could still sense his real body, but was concerned about disturbing the mental connection if he shifted more awareness to it.
His consciousness hadn't really invaded the priest's, not directly anyway. It was closer to bidirectional Morse code on steroids. He simultaneously read Wolfwood's brain waves and sparked synapses, essentially listening to the "taps" coming from his friend's skull and tapping back. Communicating via fired neurons was sort of like trying to paint a landscape in binary code. Vash's plant biology knew how to multitask this enormous burden innately, but it was similar to an action that is normally performed reflexively – things could easily fall apart if he applied more conscious control. Vash had allowed his mind to enter a trancelike state where he sort of "thought" in terms of Wolfwood's dream, and his plant nature handled the messy stuff, but semiconsciousness can easily lapse into something deeper. He was still ruminating over the whole situation when the priest fell again.
The bio-monitor back in the medical bay started cutting the air with harmonic discord again as the warning tone mixed for a third time with the incessant chirping. The stillness of Wolfwood's real body was broken by involuntary shivering, and the shallow puffs of air making up his already rapid breathing were more pronounced, laced with a tinge of effort. How many more systemic accelerations could he handle?
Vash wanted to do something – anything. His awakened biology gave him many options, but also an awareness of the dangers. Meddling in the affairs of a complex system like the human body involved not only the change itself, but all the actions and reactions that rippled from it. Throwing a few switches, or even billions of them, was elementary compared to trying to deal with the pathogen ravaging Wolfwood's flesh. Should the invaders be destroyed directly, or the body adjusted to deal with them? How should any resulting toxins be dealt with? Which areas should be purged first? How fast? One microscopic misstep could start a chain reaction resulting in the collapse of the system. Vash's roused abilities were untrained and the stakes high.
Back in the desert, Wolfwood still had knees in the sand and was breathing heavily when his companion reached him. Vash watched as the clergyman tried to get to his feet, only to collapse onto his side, the Punisher falling flat to the ground in a plume of displaced sand. The air around them stirred aggressively. Wolfwood started coughing as dust from a skirting sandstorm invaded his nose and mouth. Vash nestled as close as he dared and spread shielding wings around his friend. Wolfwood needed to do this himself, the alternatives were too risky, but there were things that could be accomplished through the avenues already opened.
"Thanks," Wolfwood said between coughing spasms.
"No problem," Vash replied softly.
Gunsmoke could be very unwelcoming, particularly to humanoids, but even the harshest regions buzzed with their own kind of life. This was missing from the arid landscape of Wolfwood's mind. Everything seemed bleached out, empty, and now hostile. Despite the oppressive desert heat, there was an ethereal chill which made Vash want to hug himself. Is this how Wolfwood saw the world? Maybe a little humor would help. It was worth a try.
"If you wanted to stop you could've just said so," he chided with forced levity, hoping that Wolfwood didn't see through the weak act.
"Were you raised by sandworms? You're supposed to have sympathy for a fallen comrade!" was the priest's grumpy response. "Idiot," he whispered within a heavy sigh before trying to rise again.
Wolfwood lingered, brushing sand from his pants a little too long, obviously trying to hide unsteadiness. When Vash saw the wobble strengthen he purposefully slipped onto his behind, bringing one of his wings into a steadying position.
"Damn it, I'm beat." Wolfwood plopped down with his back against the offered wing, removing his sunglasses with a hooked finger and wiping the hand down a flushed face. He turned his head to meet Vash's gaze. "I need some food and a good night's sleep. I don't have these nifty things," a hand fluffed a few feathers, "and can't live on God's love alone. Like I've told you before, some of us just happen to be human." Wolfwood slipped the sunglasses back on and groaned as he leaned into getting up. "Well, let's get going ... it isn't much further now."
Vash watched with some amazement, reminding himself that it wasn't truly happening, as the priest traveled forward unaided with the heavy cross on his back, the strain obvious in every step. How unreal was it though? This world might be illusionary, but the pain existed on some level since the man was gravely ill, which meant that the will to overcome it had to be just as concrete. Then what could be said of the conversations? Were they feverish delusions, slumber babbling, or something more? These questions continued to nag Vash as they trudged through unchanging terrain towards an unknown destination.
Wolfwood was right. They were not walking long before a cross peeked above a large sand dune, piercing a tired sky moments from first sunset. The cross was attached to the pinnacle of a building, the structure of which looked roughly like a small church with wings on either side. A simple picket fence set everything apart from the surrounding barrenness. At first, Vash thought it was deserted, like the sad little town they visited earlier, but suddenly he noticed figures running about and fresh laundry being hung to billow in the evening breeze. As the two men approached, children closed the distance to greet them. They flooded around Vash, welcoming him and peppering the plant with questions.
"Can you fly?"
"Do all angels have blue eyes?"
Little hands reached out to pet soft feathers and a few boys even tried to climb onto his wings. Vash swung them gently, to the glee of all involved. He quickly became a living jungle gym. But when a girl started braiding his downy hair, Vash realized something was missing and turned to see Wolfwood hanging back, hands tucked behind him. Some of the children followed his gaze, and upon noticing the priest, their faces brightened the way only those of the young can.
"Look everyone! It's Nico-ni!"
Wolfwood chuckled and flashed a smile that was both extremely happy, and terribly sad. "I missed you guys, too."
More orphans came, all clamoring for attention. Some tried to hug his waist and he bent forward to thwart them, while others hopped excitedly with arms raised above their heads.
"Yes Nico-ni, carry us!"
"Sorry, Zuli," the priest said to the nearest reaching child. "I can't ..."
"Are you hiding something, big brother?" A little girl rushed to peek behind the clergyman. "A gift for us?"
Wolfwood backed away. "No Linda, please ..."
More children swarmed around him, and he was soon overwhelmed. That's when Vash caught a familiar scent which always clenched his stomach. A few of the figures who streamed behind Wolfwood ended up looking worried or a little frightened, but most were unnervingly calm, and some even wore cheerful grins.
"We can fix that, Nico-ni!"
"Yes big brother, come with us!"
Visual signs of the odor emerged first as smears of red upon bustling little bodies, mere snatches of morbid color on clothes, limbs, and even cheeks. As Wolfwood was pulled forward by a tide of children, Vash saw his hands glistening with new blood. It flowed freely from his palms and wicked down fingers crusty with older gore.
Wolfwood caught Vash's horrified stare and misinterpreted it, answering with a scowl, "Don't look at me that way. You know I've got blood on my hands. Did you think it wasn't there just because you couldn't see it?" The dark-haired man shook his head. "That's just like you, Spikey, only seeing what you want to see."
Vash didn't have a chance to respond, because the figures surrounding Wolfwood surged ahead faster. Individual orphans no longer existed, only a living river of discarded offspring, greater than anything the stout little building nearby could ever house. The companions were awash in a sea of bobbing heads. When Wolfwood had been carried some distance away Vash saw hands reach up to ease him into reclining. He was swallowed to the ground quickly, and disappeared from sight.
Vash urgently tried to press towards where his friend submerged, but the human swells hindered him gingerly with their tightly packed forms and countless fingers. He could only hear noises, rusty screeches and something akin to a hammer against steel. Vash knew what was happening. Maybe he gleaned the information from Wolfwood's mind, or pieced it together on his own. Either way, even knowing, he still remained unprepared for the sight.
In some aspects what the children erected resembled the priest's weapon, but such similarities were few, and the rest corroded beyond recognition. Thick shackles of equally unkempt metal secured Wolfwood to this abused cross, which had been raised upside down so his feet were closest to the weary sky. Red from these heavens oozed overland as the second sun slipped beneath the horizon, heralding the first scream.
It was a cry that sliced painfully through the dreamscape. Vash knew who, the why took longer because of the earlier bleeding, and the crimson twilight tinting everything. He caught the subtle metallic shriek which preceded the second scream, and looked up to see the steel around Wolfwood's wrists leaking dark liquid. There was a wet spike jutting out of the weeping shackles, a grisly decoration missing from those restraints that were dry. Vash felt ill. He yelled the priest's name, throwing himself against the nearest bodies. He stopped counting the cries after four, since Wolfwood had run out of limbs and Vash didn't even want to think about what was being impaled.
"No, angel ..."
"It's okay, Mr. Angel, we're taking care of him."
Little hands grabbed pale flesh. The tide of orphans continued to flow sluggishly in the right direction, but no amount of struggling made it move any faster. Vash helplessly reached his mind back to the medical bay, knowing beforehand what he would find there. Wolfwood's flesh was in overdrive again, and there seemed to be no sign of it equalizing this time. Did the body affect the dream, or was it the other way around?
Finally the human river deposited Vash at the foot of the cross. There was blood everywhere. It flowed down the rusty vertical beam and dripped from the trave. Children played in a dark pool where the fluid collected. They splashed and giggled, smearing gore into designs on each other and particularly the plant's wings. Vash tried to trick his brain into believing it was all just red paint. But that fell apart when a small boy started fiddling with the priest's hair, combing blood in with dirty fingers and sculpting the coagulating mess with delicate focus. Wolfwood didn't respond to the caresses. His eyelids stayed screwed shut. Vash reminded himself that the rules for hypovolemic shock couldn't be applied to mental constructs. He was still unwilling to touch the pale upside-down face though, afraid of what he would, or would not, feel.
The clergyman opened his eyes. Their lucidness took Vash by surprise. "Looks like you get a second chance," he said with strain. "Finish this, take my life. I was wrong before. You won't become the devil, you'll come into your own. True angels always have at least one wing dripping with blood."
"No ..." Vash shook his head. He needed to pull Wolfwood out of this nightmare, but how? Was it better to work within the illusion or try to break it?
The priest lit up with anger. "I'm dying, you coward! Make it mean something!"
"You're the one making it meaningless by giving up!" Vash shouted back in frustration, mouth open to continue, when a child's bloody hand grasped his arm.
Under the surreal circumstances that hardly seemed unusual, but the gesture's urgency was new. Vash turned to see the boy from the abandoned village looking up at him, the priest's dark irises rimmed with panic-stricken white and housed in a much younger face. Why hadn't he recognized those eyes earlier?
"I don't want to die," the child choked, suffering from the same stigmata-like wounds afflicting his older self.
Before Vash could respond the small body was sucked into the orphan sea. He pushed after it. The mob offered little resistance, but Vash never caught even a glimpse of disheveled black hair, and soon spun around to find himself a number of yarz away from his crucified friend.
Dusk had come and the bleeding sky was aging, clotting into dirtier colors. In the waning light shadows lengthened and merged. This animate shade engulfed large patches of landscape before taking shape, congealing into anonymous figures whose features were largely unfocused. Details did occasionally coalesce for a second, but would dissolve into haze the next. Vash managed to catch the shape of a cross many times. Some of the black ghosts even appeared to be wielding weapons similar to the priest's characteristic Punisher.
This new wave of inky specters inundated the human waters. Ameboid darkness engulfed children, conscripting them into the growing ranks of phantoms. Vash tried to herd and lift some out of danger, but they slipped around him or wiggled out of his arms. The bloody pool also morphed, becoming the same creeping shade and solidifying around those playing there. As it swallowed them, the orphans reached out to the broken priest, planting sanguine kisses on his cheeks.
"Thank you, Nico-ni!"
"Yes, thank you, big brother!"
One of the shadowy men approached Wolfwood. He was slightly more substantial than the rest and Vash could make out a neatly trimmed beard.
"I've come to thank you too, Nicholas, my prodigal son," the figure stated smoothly. "You were never able to break your attachment to them, so I decided to use that to my advantage." The specter grinned maliciously. "I couldn't have made them mine without your help."
The whole mindscape screamed. It was sound that wasn't sound, and when a dream shatters its own fuddled logic, there is definite cause for concern. The body back in the medical bay was at its limit. Having overtaken the infection, accelerated biological processes were now spiraling wildly out of control.
Vash lunged towards Wolfwood. The hands that tried to stop him were no longer gentle. Sharp fingers dug into flesh, yet Vash was well acquainted with pain. He used it to funnel his thoughts, blind himself to everything except the selected goal. He pulled limbs in tightly and charged ahead. Nails racked, shredding the creamy cloth that covered Vash's body and slashing the pale skin underneath. He tugged against the stinging purchase some had gained on his vulnerable wings. Stretching progressed to tearing, and then the occasional nauseating pop, which itself brought numbness bathed in searing agony. Unconsciousness loomed at the peripheries of his vision, but Vash used the tunneling to his advantage as he had done countless times before, and locked his gaze solidly on Wolfwood.
The plant readied untested abilities for use. What he had interpreted as constricting sight was actually a much larger problem. In this mental construct night was fast approaching. Everything it touched slid not just into darkness, but nothingness which held little promise of a sunrise. The probability was high that any intervention on Vash's part would only make a lethal outcome more likely, yet he couldn't just watch Wolfwood burn himself out, like the plant part of him was sensing happened to his sisters during those rumored "last runs".
Vash fell at the base of the cross and threw his ripped wings open, trying to conceal the void, specters, and lost children from his friend. He told himself that none of it was real and locked teeth against phantom pain. Outside of the nightmare, Wolfwood's breathing had turned ragged and his heart was beating so fast it skipped out of rhythm more often than not. The muscle was on the verge of a deadly arrhythmia.
"Wolfwood!" It was also a cry that transcended itself. Vash yelled in the dream and out, to the priest's befuddled mind, as well as every cell and atom making up his body.
Even for one outside of time, seconds dragged. The plant wasn't quite sure if he had directed the change, or just shocked the raging flesh out of its lethal course. Regardless, things started to slow down. Not completely, biology still needed to stay one step ahead of pathogen, but Vash knew the priest was out of danger.
The foreboding emptiness softened. It continued to spread, but beckoned warmly with the promise of deep sleep. As the cross was embraced by the dark it dissolved, and Vash carefully lowered Wolfwood to fading ground, cradling him with body and broken wings.
Wolfwood's eyelids opened with leaden effort. "Are they okay?" he asked.
"Yes." Since everything in the dreamscape had essentially been part of the priest, and he was now safe, Vash didn't consider that a lie.
Wolfwood seemed relieved, but the expression quickly turned into a frown. He weakly reached out to finger a crushed feather, avoiding the exposed bone nearby. "When I told you to bloody your wings, this isn't what I meant."
"Sorry." Vash wasn't.
"You never listen to me," Wolfwood said, then sighed. "No use bitching, I guess. I need some shuteye anyway. You mind watching over things? It being your job as my angel and all."
"Sure," Vash replied with a smile, though he knew it didn't reach his eyes. He thought Wolfwood was going to comment about that, but the priest had already closed his own.
Vash wanted to say something, to tell the priest that fear and hatred are mental traps, and struggling is not the same as fighting. But words escaped him, and now really wasn't the time anyway.
Wolfwood fell into a dreamless sleep, and Vash suddenly realized how tired he was. He yawned, nearly dislocating his real jaw. No longer tethered by psychic constructs, he was drifting back to himself. His plant-ness was floating back to where it hid as well, just out of mental reach. Vash wondered how much of this he would remember in the morning, how many memories it would take with it this time.
The plant lingered in Wolfwood's mind briefly while he still could, spreading senses out a bit. It was a body with no safeties. Vash wondered who had made all these changes to Wolfwood's biology. Odds were in favor of them being human, especially since the alterations carried the same mark many of their experiments did, including plants. Humans commonly considered it a failing of sorts when their bodies shut down to deal with such things as illness, injury, or fatigue. Thus, one of their trademark "improvements" was to allow everything to be pushed to the destructive limit, all energy expended to the last drop.
Vash felt those who held and acted on this belief missed the point. It wasn't a weakness. The body was trying to give itself, and the soul it housed, a second chance. Everything blessed with life deserved that.
Wolfwood's first conscious thought was that his body felt like it had been run over by a humpback-class sandsteamer. Well, maybe just one from the orca class – the priest tentatively flexed a few muscles – no, definitely humpback. Wolfwood lapped at the bad taste in his mouth, and tried to ignore the characteristic stickiness of old sweat, as he willed stiff flesh to move. He always hated waking up from a healing sleep, but this one was definitely a doozy.
Knotted senses unraveled to the realization that there was something warm at his back. Wolfwood instinctively wanted to push closer and use the heat to loosen tight muscles, but when he glanced down his side and saw an arm that didn't belong to him, confusion curbed the desire. He propped himself up on an elbow and turned towards gentle snoring to see the humanoid typhoon. Wolfwood jerked upright, almost regretting the action when his mind swam and body shrieked pain.
"Spikey," the priest ground out loudly through clenched teeth.
Vash curled to bridge the empty space between them and mumbled, "Hmm?"
"What do you think you're doing, bonehead!?" Wolfwood shouted.
The plant raised his head and looked around. "Sleeping on the floor?" he responded drowsily. "Guess I fell out of bed." Vash blinked slumber out of his eyes. "Did you fall out of bed too?"
"Your bed is over there," the irate clergyman growled, swinging an arm out to point.
Vash glanced in that direction. "Heh ... maybe I was cold?" he answered with a sheepish smile.
Wolfwood wound up for a punch just as Vash fluidly rose and announced, "Well, time to get up!" He slipped towards the door. "I wonder what's for breakfast."
The priest fell forward when his fist only contacted air, the resulting dizziness making him clutch his head with a groan.
Vash turned at the noise and his lips curled into a soft frown. "You still don't look good," he said with concern. "Maybe you should get back into bed. I'll have Jessica bring you something."
The door slid shut, but hissed open shortly after.
"You might want to put on some pants," Vash added quickly.
Wolfwood glanced down at his lap as the door glided closed again, and with flushed cheeks jerked his hospital gown modestly into place.
"Spikey-haired bastard," he grumbled. "He could've at least told me where to get them."
Vash had been sporting some generic slacks that worked as pajamas as well as not. They were probably stashed around there somewhere, as a reward for when you got better. Nothing keeps a patient in bed more effectively than knowing you'll moon someone if you get up. The shapeless smock Wolfwood was wearing felt dank. He sniffed the cloth, finding it smelled like it had been donned during a week of hard travel.
The priest stood with a grunt, body still aching as if recovering from a nasty crucible. Wolfwood had experienced some strange "regen" dreams in the past, and only remembered bits and pieces of this one, but knew it took the cake. He couldn't shake a nagging sense that something unusual had transpired, besides what was normal for any Eye of Michael. Maybe that odd infection gave his body a run for its money. If so, he should of cracked open one of those vials. Wolfwood stretched his back. From the way his flesh was protesting he obviously hadn't downed one and simply forgotten the act.
One thing Wolfwood did recall were fragments of a reoccurring nightmare where he returned to the orphanage, but Vash had wiggled his way in this time. No wonder it was stormier than usual. Strangely, the disaster-prone gunman seemed more real than the shallow facsimile one expected in dreams. It was almost like he had been in Wolfwood's mind. The priest shook his head. That was just crazy.
How absurd was it though? Wolfwood recalled the locket Jessica had accidentally dropped and the haunting picture inside. He was definitely going to have a talk with that "Luida" person.
Wolfwood plunked down on the nearest bed, shoulders slumping into a heavy sigh.
God, he needed a cigarette.
A/N: Thank you for getting this far in my piece. It has been in the works a long time. I need to stop thinking while reading manga, so I don't get another story idea and tax my meager writing abilities more than I already have. In the interest of giving credit where credit is due, Wolfwood's "bloody wings" comments were inspired by an idea/line from "The Prophesy" (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0114194/quotes). I would also like to take this moment to thank the best beta ever for her endless help and support (bows reverently to Girl.Interpreted). If you have a second please leave a review, any and all feedback is greatly appreciated :)