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Disclaimer: There’s a reason it’s called fan fiction, people. I don’t own Wolfwood, Vash or much anything else. So please, don’t sue me.

Note: PLEASE REVIEW!! I crave feedback, analyze my work, take it apart, question my motives; my skills as a writer, just tell me what you think! (::sniff:: Yes, I know I’m pathetic :P )

Those Who Seek

By Xenagirl70 

            Dawn came to the planet Gunsmoke in much the same manner as everything else did, quick and harsh. Even as the first daggers of sunlight stabbed into the sand, the scream of a small child punched through the early morning stillness.

            The staccato clap of leather-shod feet on concrete rang out in response. Nicholas D. Wolfwood vaulted with surprising agility over the rusty iron railing of the hotel’s front steps; the Cross Punisher balanced over one shoulder. He hit the ground running and sprinted off towards the scream’s origin, panting around the battered and unlit cigarette pursed between his lips. “Breakfast,” he’d explained to Vash after the sleepy-eyed blonde complained of his chain-smoking habit from the relative safety of the shower.

            As he pounded down the street, Wolfwood thanked God that he’d gotten up so early, even if it had been with the selfish intention to get his fair share of the hotel’s limited water supply for guest use. Generosity got old extremely fast when one hadn’t bathed in a week.

            The scream came again, filled with a fresh sense of urgency. ‘Almost there!’ he thought. A new shriek followed by the unmistakable sounds of gunfire echoed through the boxy stucco buildings of the city. A second round and a third in fast succession rose above the keening wail of terror.

            On either side of the street heads poked though the partially open doors; eyes peered out from between curtains. A few brave ones moved to stand on their front porches, shotguns loaded. A few stupid ones trotted out into the street.

            Nicholas’ mind went cold and blank as he skidded to a stop, shoving the Cross Punisher through the cheap wooden door from behind which the horrible sounds of the last minute had issued. The door splintered and broke; giving way to a scene that made his heart freeze. A chubby, mousy-haired woman lay sprawled in a widening pool of her own blood. A little girl cowered in a corner, her arms flung protectively over her head. A man, pot-bellied and unshaven, glared back at the priest in the doorway. A revolver balanced in the man’s left hand swung around to point at Wolfwood’s chest.

            The Cross Punisher was free of its protective canvas and open in an instant. With a flick of his wrist he stood, a pistol aimed in reciprocation. Though his arm was rock steady, the rest of Wolfwood’s body trembled with the force of his emotion.

            A slow smile that could only be described as evil spread across the man’s face but before Nicholas could gauge his intentions a fourth shot blasted out. The little girl’s sobs stopped abruptly as she crumpled to the floor like a wet piece of paper. One tiny hand flopped lifelessly beside her mother’s, their outstretched fingers centimeters from each other’s comforting touch.

            Time blurred into eternity. Wolfwood’s eyes widened in shock. His jaw clenched. The dilapidated cigarette fell from nerveless lips. With a roar he squeezed the trigger, but the crack of gunfire came instead from an open window as agony ripped though his shoulder. When Nicholas glanced up a second later, it was to see the fat man slump to the ground, clutching his leg. ‘Vash then,’ Nicholas thought without surprise, sweating from the pain.

            “Millie, don’t look!” Meryl warned from the doorway behind him.

            “Mr.  Priest, are you alright?” the big girl’s voice called in genuine concern. She was always genuine.

            Vash was clumsily climbing though the window, but all Nicholas heard was silence. The silence of the dead. Clicking the safety on, he returned his revolver to its place in the Cross Punisher and moved forward to kneel beside the woman and her daughter. The knees of his pants were instantly soaked in their cooling blood, making the fabric stick sickeningly to his skin. His arm went blissfully numb as his other hand reached to feel for a pulse. There was none. Both of them were dead.

            He could have saved the child, if only he hadn’t hesitated. Damn! He closed the girl’s eyes. They had been hazel, filled with flecks of green and gold, now flat and lifeless. Whispering a prayer he pulled the unresisting bodies onto their backs, arranging them side-by-side. ‘To hell with the authorities and their investigations,’ he thought vehemently.

Nicholas slowly became aware of voices as time reinserted itself into reality. They were all around him now. Meryl was alternately growling at Vash and the local sheriff while attempting to comfort Millie. Millie was clinging to her petite partner and sobbing her gentle heart out for people she had never met, let alone seen alive. Meanwhile, Vash was patiently lecturing the now handcuffed murder on the virtues of love and peace.

            Then, with a shouted curse, the man lunged forward. His hungry hands reached for the sheriff’s gun belt. Sighing almost inaudibly, Vash planted the heel of his boot in the man’s temple.

            Nicholas rose wordlessly to his feet, shoving his way past a sweating deputy who had been given the task of dragging the unconscious killer off to jail. Wolfwood snatched up the Cross Punisher from where it had slumped against one wall; and nearly dropped it. Pain flowered in his shoulder; his had reflexively clenching into a fist. He would never get accustomed to being shot. It simply wasn’t the kind of thing that got easier with practice. Angrily he picked the weapon up, cradling the crossbeam in the crook of his left arm and strode outside and into the shadow cast by the building. The onlookers from before were shaking their heads and calling to their neighbors as they returned to their lives feeling completely unaffected.

            He squinted at the sun, then at his watch. Ten minutes. It had only been ten minutes since he had jumped the rail of the hotel’s front stairs.

He wiped his hands clean on his thighs; the dark slacks were already ruined. He was just lighting a bent cigarette he had fished out of one breast pocket when Vash came to stand beside him. For a moment the humanoid typhoon simply stood there, saying nothing. Wolfwood didn’t even spare the blonde man a glance, but instead focused on the familiar buzz of tobacco smoke as it curled though his lungs.

            “Nick,” Vash’s voice was soft and thick. His mechanical hand reached out to touch his friend’s arm, but instead twitched against the coat sleeve.  “I’m sorry.”

            Nicholas turned to study the other man’s face. As usual the feared $$60 billion outlaw was crying, the turquoise eyes spilling over with unimaginable sadness and regret. Not for himself, but for the other people of the world. For the dead. For him, for Nicholas D. Wolfwood.

            “I know you wanted revenge, for their sakes,” he continued, still somehow managing to see the best in people. The sound of Millie blowing her nose inside the house nearly drowned out his words. “But,” he paused to wipe his eyes on the back of his sleeve and Wolfwood wrested control of the conversation.

              “You’re so fucking perfect! Even your pain is perfect!” He cried, throwing the half-smoked cigarette to the dust.

            He wanted Vash to say something, to accept or deny his accusation. Nicholas knew what he had said was unfair, but it didn’t matter. He shook his head. It mattered so much. He didn’t know what to think. Like getting shot, watching people die while you could have made a difference just didn’t get any easier. Especially when that person was a child. Vash continued to stand unmoving, weeping soundlessly.

            In that moment Nicholas wanted to hate the man next to him and once again angry words flooded to his lips. Instead he heaved a sigh and ran one bloodstained hand though his messy black hair. He looked and felt like a total wreck.

            “It was good that you didn’t kill him,” Vash said by way of completing his earlier sentence. He stood up straight and plastered on one of his fake smiles, the kind that only Wolfwood seemed to see through.

            Nicholas didn’t even bother to remind the gunman that it was Vash who had rescued the murdering bastard from his vengeance. No, the broom-head knew that. He was aware of things in a way that most people didn’t know existed.

His anger quickly deflating, Wolfwood found himself wallowing, exhausted in grief and self-loathing. A sick part of him was almost envious of the dead child still lying inside the house at his back; at least she had been innocent. Like Vash. But not him, he was alone, isolated by walls of violence and bitterness. He had lost his innocence so long ago it was sometimes hard for him to believe he was only in his thirties.

He must have been quiet for a long time because when he looked up at his friend’s face, the blonde man’s cheeks were dry, his eyes clear as he stared across the street at only something he could see, patiently waiting for Wolfwood to come to terms with himself. Abruptly Vash turned to face him and this time the hand brushed the now half-forgotten wound in his shoulder, making him grimace and suck in air around gritted teeth. “You’re still bleeding. We should take care of that,” grinned sheepishly, the beauty mark under his left eye suddenly hidden under the thick spread of auburn lashes. “Sorry for shooting you by the way.”

“Yeah. All right, no problem,” Wolfwood nodded. “I just want to do one thing first,” he added, once more entering the house. He barely felt the dry crunch of the remains of the door beneath his feet as he moved into the cool dryness of the front room.

Someone had laid a bed sheet over the bodies, but browning patches of blood had soaked through. Steeling himself, Nicholas dropped to crouch beside the shrouded forms and bowed his head. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. He wanted to say something more, he needed to, but no more words were able to surface from the dark depths of emotion. He felt for all the world like a broken Magic 8 Ball.

At a loss, he stood but something on the floor caught his eye. A row of glass figurines, animals and flowers had once stood on a shelf over a soot-filled fireplace, but a flailing arm or an angry fist had toppled most of them over. A tiny china ballerina, faded with age had fallen from the mantle to the brick of the hearth, shattering the delicate white legs. Picking it up, he turned to face Vash though his contemplative gaze never left the soft curves of the ballerina’s smiling face even as Millie and Meryl returned with the town coroner in tow.

“You’re so good at philosophy, so answer me this. Is life nothing more than this? A collection of broken nick-knacks?” He gestured at the row of toppled figurines.

“No,” came the soft reply. “Life is putting them back together.”

“Then what’s love?”

“A dab of glue to help patch things up!” Vash smiled so that Wolfwood couldn’t bear to look at him.

  Slipping the torso of the ballerina into one pocket, Nicholas moved towards the others. His knees gave out suddenly as the blood loss finally caught up with him, overcoming the fading effects of his combined anger and adrenaline. Vash simply stepped forward, catching the unconscious Wolfwood and lifting him easily in his arms.

  Millie retrieved the Cross Punisher from where it had fallen, though not before the loud thud had made everyone within hearing range cringe.