Vash sat at the table by the window, carefully measuring powder into the spent .45 caliber shells he'd managed to collect. He hated to leave brass lying around, so he made it his policy to pick them up and re-use them if he could. Sometimes he was too busy running for his life to stop for them, but in the last week, his hectic life had been slower than usual.
A little over a week ago, Vash had managed to defeat his brother at long last. Afterwards, he'd brought an unconscious Knives back to the little town where he'd left his friends, the two ladies from the Bernardelli Insurance Society. They'd welcomed him back to the little house they'd been renting, and after a few tense question-and-answer sessions, the three of them tried to fall back into an easy routine, much as they had when they'd been traveling together.
The women worked during the day, Meryl as a waitress and Milly on the well crew, and Vash stayed at home to look after Knives. He was still unconscious, so Vash had put him up on the living room couch. In many ways, Vash was grateful for some time to prepare for his awakening. At the same time, the women would be getting reassigned soon enough, and moving might be easier if Knives were up and about.
Vash sighed. It was Catch 22, like so many things were where Knives was concerned. The peace he knew now might be fleeting, like the sunlight that streamed through the window.
Vash let his eyes follow the wide sunbeam down to the floor, where his friends sat together in the patch of bright warmth it provided. Meryl was surrounded by a remarkably large circle of derringer parts, and Milly was carefully fitting scrap metal together to make stungun ammunition. The girls had done gun maintenance together once a week for as long as he'd known them. Milly called it "chore time", her guileless nature rendering even deadly weaponry innocuous.
Deadly... Vash found his thoughts wandering in an unpleasant direction. It had been like that for weeks. He'd be thinking of something, like lunch, or mucking out the stable, and suddenly he'd be there again, his gun pressed against the blue-haired man's temple.
He'd gone over what had happened a million times since then, trying in vain to find some way that he could have saved both Legato and the girls. Meryl had said that there hadn't been a perfect solution, in those difficult days right after the killing... and it was certainly true that Vash hadn't been able to find one at the time, with Legato's mental voice and the screams of his friends ringing in his ears.
Even so, hadn't Rem said that there was *always* a way?
Vash shut his eyes and leaned back in his chair, feeling deeply puzzled. No matter how he tried, he couldn't reconcile what he'd done with his own beliefs. He'd failed, killed... and yet, because of that failure, his friends still lived. He watched them, laughing and talking softly as they worked. Thinking about what might have happened to them - what almost happened - made him sick in a way that was entirely different from his natural reaction to killing.
The other day, he'd felt that revulsion again, but it had been different then, too. They'd been out taking the Thomases for a ride, and Meryl's favorite steed had put a foot in a stingworm nest and fallen. He'd been worried for Meryl, but she'd been thrown clear, and ended up with nothing more than a few bruises.
The Thomas, however, had been badly hurt. It had broken its right leg in the worst possible manner - not high up on the solid thighbone, but close to its foot, where three smaller bones came together to allow the lower leg to swivel. The poor beast couldn't stand, and kept bleating and kicking helplessly in the dust.
Meryl had looked shaken, but grim, as she walked over to have a look at the Thomas's wounded leg. It calmed slightly for her, enough to allow her to probe the broken leg gently with her fingers. The Thomas gave a mournful little cry when she did so, but Vash was surprised to see that it didn't try to strike her with its clublike tail.
When she was done examining the leg, Meryl had sat beside the Thomas, stroking its facemask gently. He could see unshed tears in her eyes, and he caught a snatch of that song she liked, the same one that Rem always sang. He remembered thinking that it was kind of her to sing for it, that maybe she could stay and keep it company while he and Milly brought help.
Before he could react, Meryl'd pressed one of her derringers against the tender spot behind her Thomas's facemask and pulled the trigger back, firing both barrels. The animal had made a sort of sighing sound as it fell onto its side, dead before it hit the ground.
Vash had emptied his lunch onto the sand, Rem's voice sounding in his mind. "No one has the right to take the life of another". Once he'd recovered enough to move once more, he'd gone over to where the girls stood. Milly's arm was around her partner's shoulders, and the warning look in those green eyes stopped Vash from saying something he might regret.
Later that day, he'd confronted Meryl about it. "I don't understand. Why'd you kill it?" he'd asked, trying to find an answer in her eyes.
"You have to, Vash-san," she'd said wearily. "When it breaks a leg in that spot, a Thomas'll never walk again. So, you shoot it."
"No," he'd cried, thumping the table with his palm. She jumped at that, and he felt badly for it, but continued. "There has to be a way to help it, there just has to be!"
Meryl shook her head. "There isn't. I'm sorry..."
He'd opened his mouth to argue, but Milly's voice came from behind him before he could speak. "Senpai's right, Vash-san. It's only right to kill it. It can't be anything anymore, not even to itself."
Sometimes, Vash found that Milly could put everything into perspective in a simple way, and after that, the argument was effectively over. It had been like that, then, and the three of them had drifted off to different rooms without another word.
Looking back, what had happened to the Thomas was another thing that confused Vash. Try as he might, he couldn't blame Meryl for what she'd done. In many ways, that killing had been a kindness greater than his own blind attempt to preserve life would have been.
It was strange... Meryl had killed, and yet she'd refused to fight when the inhabitants of this town were ready to kill Vash. She'd stood them down, and in doing so, had brought him out of the deep depression he'd been in. It had been so much like when Rem had confronted Rowan near the airlock; for a moment, his deja vu had been so strong that he'd been there on the SEEDs ship once more in his mind, seeing someone else where Meryl stood.
But Meryl wasn't Rem. Rem would never have killed the Thomas. She would have tried to heal it, given her own life for it if necessary, even though it would have been impossible. A part of him still believed anything of Rem Saverem, still trusted that she could work a miracle in the face of any odds... but he was beginning to understand, now, that there were other kinds of miracles.
He sat there at the table, thinking of how the poor Thomas's thrashing kicked up the sand, and the way Legato's cold yellow eyes had begged him for death. Vash had wanted so much to fight for Love and Peace then, had searched desperately for Rem's miracle.
He hadn't found it.
At the same time, Meryl and Milly still lived. All the people Legato had controlled went home in the end, and rebuilt their town together. In the end, even Legato himself had found his desired end.
Perhaps, in the end, he'd made things right? He wanted to say that it was impossible to do good by killing, and yet he'd seen it happen.
Vash sat at the table for a long time, thinking. Hours, maybe, until the girls collected their guns and walked away, the shorter one tossing him a concerned look as she went. He did not respond, and sat even longer than that, until the room grew almost lightless and the tiny sawbugs in the streets began to sing their song to the moons.
At last, he stood, gazing out the window at the peaceful little town square, his eyes coming to rest on the well that Milly'd helped to dig.
He'd fight for Love and Peace; that much could never change. As he looked out over what his sacrifices had preserved, he renewed that vow, swearing it on his mother's memory. When he was finished, he reluctantly made another. In more than a hundred thirty years, he'd never sworn anything that hadn't come from Rem, but he did so now.
If killing could be an act of love...
If killing could bring peace, sometimes...
Vash would never kill in vain. Even the thought of killing made him ill, and he wanted nothing more than to let his gun rest forever. Even so, if the time came once more when Rem's solution could not be found, he swore that he'd use that gun, if there was no other choice. He'd find his own miracle.
Sometimes, the battles in question were too important to lose.
"A punishment to some, to some a gift, and to many a favor."