Disclaimer and Notes: Trigun does not belong to me. Vash the Stampede is the creation of the honorable Yasuhiro Nightow, and I am making no money from this, nor do I wish to. This is just one of my brain-burps, written for personal entertainment – and hopefully it will be entertaining to you dear readers. The basic idea of this fic came to me as something of a "dual-plotbunny." I wish to modify the situation and use it in a scene in one of my original pieces. I hope that I shall not be accused of being unoriginal for that, as I really got the basic idea to use jointly. I suppose I could call this fanfic practice for writing that scene, except that the original character I want to use the situation with is so different in personality from Vash. Oh, well.

COST OF LIVING

There was no sound that Vash the Stampede liked better than the sound of a beating heart. It was an affirmation of life and there was nothing he found more beautiful, more comforting, or more relieving. He tried to ignore his own as he felt blood rushing through the veins in his neck and pounding in his head. He listened and felt carefully for the heartbeat of the man he'd just shot.

"H-hey!" the man protested with breath that stank of bourbon and unbrushed teeth. "What'cha doin'? What'cha doin', punk?"

"Stay still!" Vash commanded, holding his hands out toward the man, ready to restrain him. "You're going to hurt yourself worse!"

"What's your deal, man?" the man sputtered, "You shot me an' now you're tryin' to help me. I was just tryin' to kill you! What the hell?" The man twisted and writhed, stirring the dust on the ground around him. He acted like he was trying to get to his feet but couldn't command his body to work correctly. As it was, the bloody patch on his shirt grew and became darker.

Damn, damn, damn! Vash thought. Stupid, stupid, stupid! How could I make such a stupid mistake? All this blood. He might die! He really might die! What do I do? Dammit! If he'd only hold still, I might be able to get a good look at his wound.

Vash felt his heart beating fast and the pounding in his head made it feel like his brain was going to explode. His mouth was dry and he felt cold sweat in his gloves. Panic gripped his guts and twisted them into tight, painful knots. "J… Just stay still," he told his would-be assassin. "Please, trust me."

"Who the hell are you?" the man demanded. "I though you were Vash the bloody St-"

"Hold still!"

Vash peeled back the man's dingy, blood-soaked shirt. Ragged skin glistened and red greeted Vash's eyes, raw like flesh in a butcher shop window. Blood welled up dark from deep within the still-living body, oozing and spilling out onto the ground.

Vash had been sitting in a bar called Phil's, relaxing at a table with his back against a wall, sipping an off-brand whiskey on the rocks. He hadn't seen trouble in a long time and this was such a quiet, peaceful little town. It was mid-afternoon and only a few barflies were hanging around Phil's. The rest of the men in town had better things to do, for money did not grow on the corpse-weeds. Here were the unemployed men and wanderers, like him.


As peaceful as it was, Vash had noticed a certain ambivalence in the town. There was a Plant here, just a single Plant, hung among the twisted remains of a rusted Project SEEDS spaceship, and this is why the town was here. She was alone but she was strong and, as far as he could tell, she was the only reason why this town was here at all. All around the area were sandstone formations and endless dunes. If a place could be called the middle of nowhere, this was it. Perhaps it was why the town was called "Nothing." He could read it on the faces of the men and women here and from what he could hear of murmured conversations, everyone in this place seemed to feel trapped. Everyone here was as hard as the desert. People were fiercely devoted to their personal property and their livelihoods. Even the children were primarily interested in protecting their territory. Vash hadn't found many children here willing to play with him. On this planet, many hearts were dry, but he hadn't been in a town quite like Nothing in a while. Everyone's souls seemed to more parched here than in most towns. The people were withdrawn and eyed him with suspicion because he was an outsider, but they even seemed to be suspicious of one another. Most relationships that were not familial seemed to be purely economic.

A paunchy man in a large-brimmed black hat had entered the bar. He'd turned to the bartender to order. "Shot of tequila, barkeep, cheap but none of that Plant-piss." he said. He then immediately turned to Vash. The way the man paused and stared told Vash to run, or to reach for his gun – or, if feasible, try to work out a negotiation. Sure enough, the man cried out and reached for his hip. The way he moved told Vash that he'd already been drinking.

"Vash the St-Stampede!" he shouted.

Phil's echoed with the collective squeak of chairs and stools scraping against the floor as the barflies rose from their seats. Only two of them were armed, and they held their hands up. Vash also held his hands up. The paunchy man pointed a pistol at him, a pistol that looked like an antique.

"Now, now," Vash said. "Are you so sure? Maybe we can talk this over."

The drunk shivered, "No way, man! You're him! It says so on tha' wanted poster! Es your face! Gonna get your bounty, need it. Hold still an' die!"

Vash detested negotiations breakdowns like this. He had dodged the single shot fired and heard the distinctive sound of it hitting the plastered wall. The two other armed men in the bar had drawn their weapons. As quick as lightning, as he rolled, Vash had drawn his silver gun and fired two shots that knocked the guns out of their hands. They looked on in utter surprise, then one instant later wrung their hands in pain.

"Ey, man! Hold still! I'll make it quick, I promise!" The drunken would-be bounty hunter called out as he shifted his weight and aimed for Vash's head with a shaky hand.

Vash ducked, dodged and made it outside into the street. The man in the wide-brimmed hat pursued him and people in the street stared, or ran, depending upon their proximity to the action. The man pursued him and fired. There were people all around. This wasn't good. Vash decided to return fire, only a warning shot. Maybe he'd scare the guy off him. The man struck Vash as the kind of guy whom he could scare off with a skilled graze. Thus far the guy was a lousy shot. Looking back now, Vash realized what a terrible idea it was as everything at that point had just gone to Hell.

Vash had pulled the trigger and at the same time tripped on a depression in the street. He watched helplessly, falling, as his assailant fell, a small amount of blood issuing in a fine impact-spray into the air. The man dropped his gun and moaned. His warm, dark blood pooled and spread on his shirt and spilled onto his belt. It dripped onto the ground as he fell. Vash scrambled to his feet and rushed to him.


So, now, here he was, inspecting the man's wound and trying to help him hold onto life. The guy had finally stopped moving, but was, to Vash's relief, still breathing and his heartbeat was still there. Vash caught a glimpse of his face. It was sweaty and full of fear.

"I'm not gonna let you die, pal," Vash assured. It was clear that the man did not understand what was going on, why the Humanoid Typhoon was trying to help him, a would-be assassin, but this was common. No one expected kindness from a demon, after all. Vash's gloved fingers traced the wound and the man winced. People were gathered all around, in a circle. Vash ignored them, focused on trying to assess the extent of the damage he'd caused. Beneath blood, dark, rich and crimson, a tiny glimmer of metal caught the light.

It was bad, this was very, very bad. Vash knew he couldn't try to dig or to cut it out without possibly rupturing vital blood vessels, or rupturing the man's bowel. He knew a fair share of medicine, particularly "battlefield surgery," which he'd practiced many times, mostly on himself when it was necessary. Many of the scars on his body were due to initial wounding, but more than a fair share were the result of his own slapdash efforts to keep himself alive. This was beyond his knowledge. He wasn't going to risk trying.

"Doctor!" he cried out anxiously, on the verge of complete panic. Now was not the time to lose his composure. "Is there a doctor around? Somebody get a doctor! Now!"

A murmur went through the crowd. A man shouted and waved his hand. "I'm a doctor!" he said. "Town doctor! Heard the gunfire, came right away!"

The man wove through the crowd. He wore a typical white doctor's coat and he was bald with two shocks of gray hair at his temples. "Doctor Billingsworth, at your service," he said breathlessly. "Who's hurt?"

"This man!" Vash nearly yelped. "I… I shot him… I didn't mean to, he was shooting at me. I don't want him to die! Help him, please!"

Vash knelt by the man; Dr. Billingsworth stood and looked down. "I cannot treat this man," he said.

"What?" Vash asked, incredulous. Never before had he encountered anyone unwilling to give medical attention to someone in need. "Why not?"

"It's just Benito. Town drunk. I can't treat him. No money and no insurance to speak of. My office doesn't treat people like him."

"So you're just going to let him die?!" Panic was rising in Vash's heart again, stronger than before. He could not believe what this doctor was saying. How could a doctor, a man sworn to heal and to help deny a dying man a chance at life? He stared up at Dr. Billingsworth, confusion and shock written all over his face.

"He's just a drunk. A thief, a drunk… this town'd be better off without him. I'd say you just preformed us a service."

"What about your Hippocratic oath? What is wrong with you? You're a doctor, you're supposed to help everybody, regardless of who they are!" Vash practically screamed at the man, instinctually knowing that he'd probably make his point if he was loud about it.

"He never took the oath," a stranger said. A tall man stepped out of the crowd. "Couldn't get a licensed doctor out here, only Billingsworth. He's good, but he's not official." The man turned his attention toward the unofficial doctor and shouted to him. "Doc, come on, just treat him."

"No," Dr. Billingsworth replied. "He'll never be able to pay me. Probably'll steal half my office, too. Let him heal on his own."

"What if I pay for him, Doc?" Vash offered.

"Do you have the money?" Billingsworth asked.

Vash slid his hands into his pockets, knowing already that he did not have much there at the moment. He felt around and discovered two double-dollars, which he pathetically offered. Billingsworth gave a dismissive snort. "I know I really can't pay his bill right now," Vash pleaded, "but I'll get more money, trust me. I have friends who can get me money very quickly."

"How can I trust you? I don't know you. You're an outsider. You know nothing of this town. You do not realize the nature of the man whose life you're pleading for." Billingsworth's voice was as hard as tempered steel and Vash knew that he was losing this battle.

"Please, sir," Vash said, his voice full of desperation. "I'll pay his bill."

"Money up front or no dice."

Dr. Billingsworth started walking away.

Benito groaned.

Vash's mind raced. No! No! He's gonna die! I really will have killed someone! I can't help him, and the doctor won't help him, what am I gonna do? Rem! Rem!

Vash stood. He drew his gun and fired a single shot at the doctor's feet. Dr. Billingsworth instantly froze. The outlaw set his face as hard as stone and stood very tall and rigid. He unloaded the now-empty clip from his revolver and put in another one. It was one of his special clips. No one would know that they were his rubber bullets.

"Stop right there!" he demanded of the doctor. He aimed for the center of his back, which became the center of the man's chest as he turned around. "You are going to treat this man. You are going to make sure he doesn't die and I am going to watch you."

"Why should I listen to you?" Dr. Billingsworth said. "You're begging me to save the life of a man you shot. Will you really shoot me if I don't? He'll die and I'll die and a thousand other people that I will not be around to treat! You're an outsider, I don't see why you care about a man you don't know, especially a man who was shooting at you. Will you really shoot me if I turn back around and walk away?"

"Yes." Vash replied casually.

"I don't think you will. You're crazy." The doctor might have been trying to call Vash's bluff, but the gunman could see that he was sweating a bit.

Vash stared straight ahead, his gaze unflinching. He spoke almost in a monotone. "Of course I'm crazy. I'm Vash the Stampede." He prayed that this intimidation would work. He felt sick, but his moral hang-ups about using his evil reputation were much less important that a man's life, so he had to put them on the shelf for now.

"Vash the Stampede!" rose in a murmur through the crowd. "Is he really?" Then, a boy wedged himself through the crowd holding a poster marked "ATTENTION" with a badly drawn sketch of Vash on it. Vash figured the kid had gotten it at the post office. The murmur turned into a roar, then a collective gasp. Vash scanned the crowd, his eyes and his lips hard, his gun steady. He again addressed the doctor.

"Are you going to help this man or not?"

"Y-yes, sir, right away sir," Dr. Billingsworth stammered as he walked back over and knelt down beside Benito. Vash noticed a wet patch grow on the doctor's trousers. He hated doing this. He felt like slime. He hated making people so afraid.

"Keep your hands steady," he said coolly.

The doctor inspected Benito's wound and retrieved a few items from his bag. Vash kept his gun aimed on the doctor, loaded with its rubber bullets. He kept his trigger finger steady. Even rubber bullets could be dangerous at close range and he did not want to slip. Vash kept his aim on the man's back, toward his side and well away from his head. As long as the doctor thought his life was in danger, Vash held the trump card. He watched the surgery, taking mental notes even as he maintained his façade of menace.

The doctor carefully extracted the bullet and cleaned the wound, sopping up blood with sterile bandages from his bag. Benito moaned in pain as Billingsworth carefully stitched him up. He gave the wounded man a piece of thick leather to chew on. Vash kept cool and steady. The doctor shouted out for two strong young men to retrieve a stretcher from his clinic.

Vash followed as Benito was taken to the town clinic. The crowd followed, curious about him and the events, but everyone gave him a wide berth. "He'll be fine," Dr. Billingsworth said. "You can put your gun away, Mr. The Stampede. I'm putting him on an antibiotic drip and all he needs is rest."

Vash lowered his gun, but kept it un-holstered, out at his side. He gave fierce looks to everyone in the clinic, everyone who was following. He did not want trouble. This was one of the few times he could use his infamy to his advantage. He hated it, but if it staved off trouble, it was what he had to do. He followed Benito to a clinic room and watched a nurse attend to him.

Benito remained conscious. He did not speak, but gave Vash a strange look. It was a look of utter confusion, of fear, and, perhaps, a little bit of gratitude. In the end, maybe, only a man whom the entire world wanted to see dead could care for a man considered worthless by everyone around him.

"Take care of this man," Vash said to the doctor and to the nurses. With that, he walked away, out of the clinic, down the street with people staring on. He grabbed his duffle bag at the bar and walked out of the town. No one followed him, not even the town sheriff. This was a town too small to deal with Vash the Stampede. As it was, everyone was grateful to be alive and was grateful that their town was still standing.

For his part, Vash camped near the town, unseen, for several days. He built no campfires, ate his food cold and spied upon the town when he got the chance. When he saw Benito limping about in the street, alive and apparently, at least somewhat well, he knew he could leave the area without blood on his hands. He wondered about the town, and about Benito. He wondered why Benito stayed. He wondered why anyone stayed, as there was not much love or joy here. He set his sights to the desert and to the next town over the horizon. He thought about the world and the cost of living in it.

END.

Shadsie, 2007