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Soul Searching

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"Everyone I touch dies!" Vash cried.

In the silence that followed, Wolfwood could almost hear his heart break. He could feel Vash's pain, his desperation.

He tried to imagine what it was like to be Vash: to not be able to harm a living being; to be so compassionate, so pure, so beautiful; to hurt so much. It was difficult. He himself had grown up with the gun, and death had been a part of him for as long as he could remember. Sooner or later, one way or another, life ended. That was the way things were, he could accept that. What he wasn't sure he could accept was the betrayal. That, too, had been a part of him all along. But he had never imagined he would love the man he had been sent here to betray. For he might not understand Vash the Stampede, might even disagree with him, but he also loved him. Sometimes Wolfwood didn't even understand himself.

Wolfwood did not want to continue that line of thought. What he wanted to do was to protect Vash, to shield him from the pain. He longed to hold the other man, to let him feel his warmth and strength, to allow him a moment's rest. In a moment of cynicism, he wondered to what extent this longing was born from his own guilt. Then he looked at Vash again and was taken in completely by the other's beauty. The delicate jaw line, the beautiful lips, so often smiling, the large green eyes one could get lost in, the wild blond hair - Wolfwood imagined running his hand through it, and then down Vash's cheek, as he gazed into his eyes and their lips came closer, ever so slowly, until they finally touched.

Something moved in the corner of Wolfwood's vision and the moment passed. Vash had risen and was walking away, and even the remote possibility of touching him was now fading quickly like a dream. Wolfwood briefly contemplated following but shook his head, deciding against it. The lie he was living was big enough, and bad enough, without adding to it.

***

Wolfwood was alone in his room, cleaning his gun. The mundane task he'd performed so many times since he was a child gave him a sense of calm and order. There was a soft tap on his door. He grunted a reply and heard the door open. When, after a moment, he didn't hear it close again, he looked up to find Vash leaning in the doorframe, grinning in that sweet sheepish way of his and holding up a bottle of whisky.

"You know," said the blond, "you've done this so many times, I thought it was my turn for a change."

To Wolfwood's surprise, Vash was already slurring his words slightly. The priest smiled at the memory of many a drunken night initiated by himself and waved the other man in. He watched him close the door quietly, walk across the room and throw himself on the bed. Wolfwood put his gun away carefully and got two glasses before he too slumped on the bed.

About half a bottle later, Vash was feeling positively merry and somewhat boisterous. He'd been relating a long and rather incoherent adventure of his for a while now, with Wolfwood watching him with a fascination which was slowly turning into arousal.

"And then," Vash was saying, "and then... I forgot." With that, the blond collapsed in giggles, rolled across the bed and ended up with his head in Wolfwood's lap, looking up at him and grinning.

Wolfwood's blue eyes met Vash's green ones, and the priest felt his heart skip a beat. Suddenly, he was aware that, should Vash move even a few inches, he would notice the hardness Wolfwood was struggling to conceal in his trousers. And then another thought occurred to him. It struck him like lightning: he truly and deeply loved Vash the Stampede. He suspected he'd known it for a while, but only now were the consequences of this becoming clear to him.

He didn't think he could live without Vash. Should anything happen that took the man away from him, should their friendship encounter some insurmountable obstacle, Wolfwood would surely die. But neither could he go on living like this. He had pretended long enough. He had lied long enough - to himself, to Vash, to everybody. At least this one time, Nicholas D. Wolfwood, Priest of the Church of the Gung-Ho-Guns, had to face the truth.

The choice was simple: act on his feelings for Vash, thus risking the loss of the other man's friendship, or continue to live in an intricate web of lied, which was becoming increasingly impossible to unravel and which was slowly killing him. He could not tell Vash the whole truth. He had the strange suspicion that the other man, in his endless purity and goodness - these qualities which sometimes combined to give the impression of naivety - would forgive him; but that would only make it worse, for Wolfwood did not feel worthy of such forgiveness. Yet, he could at least begin to unravel the web of lies. He could confess his real feelings for Vash.

Vash was still looking up at Wolfwood, drunkenness mixed with amusement and curiosity in his eyes.

"You look how I feel," he slurred, "and I feel dizzy. Dizzy and drunk."

Slowly, deliberately, the priest placed one finger over the other's lips.

"Shhh," he said. "I need to talk to you."

Vash couldn't suppress a giggle. "Tonight? In this state? Whatever it is, it will have to wait, or I won't remember it in the morning."

Wolfwood shook his head. "I don't think I'll have the courage to do this when I'm sober."

"Do what?"

With that, Wolfwood bent over Vash, one hand caressing gently the other man's cheek as their faces moved closer together until their lips finally met.

To Wolfwood's surprise and relief, Vash did not flinch, but gave in to the kiss. For a moment, the priest allowed himself to savour the other's softness, his taste and scent, before he moved slowly away again. He felt Vash's hand close over his own where it was still cupping the blond's cheek. Vash's eyes were wide now and full of questions. The priest searched them for disgust or rejection but found only acceptance.

"Do you remember what you said earlier?" Wolfwood asked, his voice raw in his throat. "That everyone you touch dies?"

Vash nodded.

"It's not true," Wolfwood said simply, and before the other could protest, he sealed his lips with another kiss.

They were lying next to each other on the bed now, kissing and caressing each other gently. Neither of them was in any hurry. They peeled each other's clothes off slowly, delighting in every inch of newly exposed skin. As the arousal slowly grew, so did the tenderness. Wolfwood, normally quick and aggressive, had never experienced anything like this. He found himself simply holding Vash for long moments, his lips only just touching the blond hair, murmuring sweet nothings into it. Vash's scent, a mixture of sweat and arousal along with something quite unique to the man, was intoxicating.

He felt Vash's hands glide over his naked skin, sometimes so gently he wasn't sure he was being touched at all. Vash's lips followed, and for a while the priest just lay there, enjoying the other man's caresses, watching his lips move over bare skin, further down. Vash looked up smiling, his eyes expressing love Wolfwood felt unworthy of.

He gathered up Vash in his arms again, pushing him gently into the pillows and bending over him for a tender kiss. His lips traced the delicate jawline all the way to Vash's earlobe, which he took gently between his teeth. He heard the other man gasp and smiled at the reaction, then slid one of his hands over Vash's naked, scarred torso.

"I love you," Wolfwood whispered into Vash's ear before slowly kissing a path down his neck, over his collar bone and down his chest. Vash was almost purring at this attention.

Every time Wolfwood's hands or lips passed over one of the multitude of scars on Vash's body, he felt his heart break a little bit more. What a terrible price this was to pay, and how much more terrible the scars on Vash's mind must be, he thought. Wolfwood wasn't sure he could even begin to understand why Vash was willing to take so much pain. And still, the man was beautiful, his body tall and slender with the muscles clearly defined under the scarred skin. The further down that gorgeous body Wolfwood slid, the more Vash writhed under him, almost whimpering at times. Hearing this increased Wolfwood's own arousal. He savoured the taste of Vash skin on his tongue, the scent of him as he moved further down. More than anything, he wanted to please Vash, to allow him release and, he almost dared not hope, to help him heal.

He felt Vash's hands caress his hair and took this as an encouragement to move further down, settling between the other man's legs. But then Vash tapped him gently on the shoulder, and Wolfwood looked up into those large green eyes.

"Come here," Vash whispered and pulled Wolfwood close to himself again. "I want to hold you, to feel your body against mine."

Wolfwood wrapped his arms around Vash's body. For a moment, he was uncertain. Had he gone too far? Too fast? He was about to apologise when Vash's lips found his own in a passionate kiss, the blond's fingers interlacing behind his head. Suddenly, there was no more doubt in Wolfwood's mind that Vash wanted this, as the other's tongue seemed to explore every corner of his mouth and their bodies were pressed even closer together. The priest savoured the taste and the texture of Vash's mouth, the softness of his body, his warmth. He wanted to stay like this forever.

When they drew apart for air, Wolfwood found Vash looking at him.

"I want us to do this together," Vash said simply, before pulling the priest close again.

Wolfwood felt the sting of tears in his eyes. He moved his hand through the other's blond hair, covering his face with little kisses. He felt Vash stroke his cheek, heard him whisper something sweet. They just held each other like that for a while, kissing gently, stroking each other, enjoying the other's presence.

As time passed, kisses became more passionate, caresses more urgent. Wolfwood felt Vash grind his hips against his body, as his hands seemed to be everywhere at once. Both men were moaning softly. As Vash's hands found the priest's erection, Wolfwood was surprised at the sound which escaped him. Soon, however, he lost all ability to reflect on that. His body responded instinctively, grinding itself against Vash. He felt hands stroke him and pull on his hair, lips kiss him, a tongue explore him, knew he was doing the same to Vash. He heard the other man's moans grow louder, as his own movements became more urgent. Suddenly, Wolfwood felt Vash biting his should, heard him whimper softly. He felt Vash's hot seed spill over his skin, and with a loud moan, holding on tightly to his lover, Wolfwood, too, exploded in orgasm.

For a while, they just held on to each other, waiting for their breathing to calm down, neither of them wanting to move away from the other. Wolfwood wondered what it would be like to wake up next to Vash. Suddenly he realised how much his life had changed. This was the man he had come here to betray. And now that man was lying in his arms, and Wolfwood knew that there was nothing he wouldn't do to protect Vash from harm.

When had that happened? When had Vash the Stampede with this boyish, almost naive way of his, won Wolfwood's heart? It didn't matter. What mattered was that as of this night everything had changed. Wolfwood knew now beyond doubt that Vash was the love of his life. He knew how difficult it would be to follow him on his path. He knew that he would try his best to shield him and support him, even to understand him. And he knew that Vash must never learn of the origins of Wolfwood, Priest of the Church of the Gung-Ho-Guns. He would still have to live a lie, but he could not bear the thought of the pain the truth would cause Vash.

"I love you," Vash whispered, half asleep.

Wolfwood brushed his forehead with a gentle kiss. "I love you too. I always will."

At this, Vash seemed to wake up. He propped himself up on one elbow and looked at Wolfwood.

"You shouldn't have done this, Nicholas," he said, suddenly serious.

"Why not?" Wolfwood asked, brushing his hair out of his face.

"I told you earlier. Everyone I touch dies."

"It's not true, Vash," Wolfwood replied. "You have saved so many."

Vash made as if to protest, but Wolfwood interrupted. "No, don't. Stop blaming yourself for things that are not your fault! You have done so much good, touched so many lives and made them better. You cannot save everyone, Vash. I know you won't stop trying, but at least stop being so hard on yourself."

"Nicholas, listen to me," said Vash. "I love you. But because I love you, you should leave. Go somewhere far away, where you will be safe, where you can open another orphanage, and forget that Vash the Stampede ever existed..."

Wolfwood took one of Vash's hands in his, interrupting. "Vash, I won't leave you. I can't promise you that I will always follow your path, that I'll do things your way. I wish I could, but I fear it is too late for me. But I will go with you. I will shield you where I can, comfort you when you need me and try not to inflict more pain on you than I already have. If you will have me, that is."

Vash started shaking his head but then stopped. He sighed. "I don't think it is too late for you. And I'll never stop trying to make you see that. For love..."

"And for peace," Wolfwood replied. He pulled Vash close again and soon fell asleep, content to be in his lover's arms.

Much later, though it was still dark, Wolfwood woke up again to find Vash propped up on an elbow, watching him.

"Are you afraid to sleep because you won't remember this in the morning?" he asked with a grin.

Vash laughed in reply and pulled Wolfwood close, kissing him tenderly on the lips. This time, they both slept.

***

Wolfwood couldn't remember when he'd last been in a real church. It was funny that this should be the first thought to occur to him now, as his blood stained the cold stone floor. He stopped in front of the altar, leaning heavily on his cross. He was dying.

He didn't want to die. There were so many things he still wanted to do. He wanted to make love to Vash again, to wake up with him, to sit in the sun with him on a hot summer day. He wanted to spend another night with Milly, talking about life and love, looking at the moons.

There were so many things he still wanted to say - to Vash, to Milly. So many things he had left unsaid, couldn't possibly ever say to his lover. This was why he had come here to die. If he couldn't tell Vash, he wanted at least to tell these cold stones.

He wanted to say that he had been a Gung-Ho-Gun. And that he had changed. He wanted to say that finally he understood. It had taken the death of a child to show him the truth. It had taken Milly's gentleness and patience to make him see. Now he really knew the beauty of Vash's soul; and the comparison with himself wasn't flattering. But somehow Vash had seen in him something worth saving, something worth of his love. That gave Wolfwood hope.

He wanted to tell Vash how he had touched his life, had brought happiness, had saved him. For although Wolfwood was dying, he was dying happy. His life had been filled with joy, it had had meaning. He had known love and forgiveness, gentleness and peace. What more could he want?

Wolfwood fell to his knees. "You keep saying that everyone you touch dies, Vash," he murmured. "And you will blame yourself for my death. I wish... I wish you could see that only through you did I finally know what life was. I am dying, and I wish I could see you one more time, for you are my life. I am dying, and my only wish is that you will dream of me."

Wolfwood felt hands touching him, strong arms picking him up and cradling him, the warmth of another body. He felt lips against his forehead, hot tears against his cheeks. He opened his eyes one last time to look into those of Vash. There was so much he still wanted to say, so much he regretted and wanted to ask forgiveness for. But he was too weak.

"For love," Wolfwood murmured.

"And for peace," Vash replied.

***

Vash didn't know how long he had knelt on the stone floor of the church cradling Wolfwood's body in his arms, sobbing uncontrollably. He thought he remembered Meryl's hand on his shoulder, but she seemed to have left again.

He looked up at the altar and then at Wolfwood's face again.

"You fool," he said finally. "Did you really think I didn't know? Did you think I hadn't forgiven you a long time ago? Oh, Nicholas, why? You didn't have to die!"

He placed one final kiss on Wolfwood's lips.

"For love. And for peace."