Tears to Cry

She found him in between two buildings, fists clenched and pressed to the wall beside his head. His forehead rested gently on the rough clay, posture painfully stiff, and yet it seemed like the desert wind could send him crumpling to his knees without effort. She could feel his pain even from here, but she couldn't...couldn't bring herself to walk forward.

"I can't..." the words escaped his lips quickly as his fists clenched even tighter, his gaze flicking her way and then dropping again.

She couldn't run now. "It wasn't your fault," she said softly, "what happened...it wasn't your fault at all." Forcing one foot in front of another, she stepped into the shadowed space, reaching forward very slowly. He flinched violently at even the possibility of touch, moving away. His fists loosened and he looked at the now shaking hands in front of him.

"Blood," he said. "It's still warm but...she's dead. That little girl is dead. Isn't she?" No answer was needed. The girl had been about four years old, and had been following him religiously since he'd arrived here. She'd had huge eyes that blinked too much and a little pink bud of a mouth. Her hair had been the color of sand by an oasis, short and thick over her wide blue gaze. She'd made him sit her on his lap and she'd touch his nose and make funny noises, her chubby face brightening with a grin every time his did. Her laugh was like running water, refreshing down to one's core.

She'd been playing outside when the argument started.

Meryl had seen it all. She didn't know what started it, but a group of men had begun to fight in the town square, near the little well. They'd probably been drunk, but the strongest one had a teen by his neck, and Vash couldn't watch it happen without doing anything. He'd tried to help. The drunk man had madly pulled a gun out, all reason and restraint drowned in alcohol. He'd been ready to fire at Vash.

The little girl had not known what was going on. Thinking it was another one of Vash's games, she'd hidden in the shadows, and she pounced him just as the gun fired.

It had been god-awful timing, that was all.

He'd reached out instinctively to catch her as she threw herself at him, grinning, and the bullet had hit her between her shoulders and gone right through her and into Vash's side before stopping. He'd held her through all of that, held her even as he fell to his knees in the dust. She hadn't lived for long. Her wide eyes were even wider, small lips pursed with pain she shouldn't have had to feel.

From the sidelines, Meryl had watched. She hit the man's weapon from his hands with a shot from her Derringer, but she, too, had not been quick enough. The man, despite his state, had finally calmed, and surveyed the damage with wide eyes before running. Millie with her stungun had been the only thing that stopped him.

Meryl couldn't have moved if she wanted to. It was the most horrible thing she'd ever seen, Vash cradling that little baby in his arms as he bled and she bled; only she'd died in his arms...and he was alive. Trembling, he'd stood and walked over to Meryl, wordlessly, handing her the child. He'd desperately uttered an apology before he turned and ran faster than she could keep up with.

At last, she'd found him. Time had no meaning, but so little had passed since that time, and she couldn't make herself speak. He spoke first.

"Meryl." He turned to look at her, his eyes brimming with sorrow. "I can't."

Meryl stepped closer. "Can't what?" she whispered.

Vash shuddered and pressed himself closer against the wall. "I've seen it...over...and over again. Death. Little ones and older people, teenagers, infants... I've seen it so much that it breaks me in pieces, but..." His gaze stole hers desperately, viciously, seeking any kind of reassurance. "I can't cry. I can't cry for her! I...I can't..." He was shaking so badly, Meryl was surprised he was standing. She felt sick when she saw the slick, sticky trail down his side, down his boots, and onto the dust. His blood. He acted as if it wasn't there. His hands tightened into fists once again, the skin gripping to the rough stone to keep him standing.

What she saw in his eyes was terror.

"Why?" he asked her at last. "She was...a life. Why can't I feel?"

He could. He felt more than anyone she'd ever met, felt so strongly that one could drown in his emotions. "You will. You're in shock, Vash. You're bleeding very badly."

She stepped closer until she was inches from him, and she wrapped her arms around his back, trying not to shiver when she felt the warmth of his blood against her arms. "Come with me, Vash. You'll be okay, I promise you." He gasped in erratic breaths as she reached up and wiped a strand of hair from his face. "Come on. Your wound needs to be looked at. Follow me, Vash."

He shook his head. "Can't," he said. "Where—where is she?" The wind was cold enough, but it surprised her to see his teeth chattering. She grabbed one of his hands and held it tightly. All of him shook.

"She's...Millie took her. To the parents, I think. They'll get the doctor, to...to pronounce..." To pronounce her dead.

"The parents..." Vash twisted around. "Oh God...I have to tell them! I have to—apologize. What have I done?"

Meryl hugged him tighter, holding him there. "Don't! Millie will take care of that, Vash!"

He seemed ready to pull from her grasp, but his hands lost their grip on the wall and he fell, pulling her down with him so she was haphazardly on his lap and partly on the ground, still holding him tightly around the waist. His hands touched her arms gently and he leaned forward, wrapping his own arms over his chest as if to ward off a horrible wind. He blinked dry eyes and looked down into hers. "I didn't mean it to happen. She would have fallen...if I hadn't caught her. I didn't even...didn't think about it. I just reached out. And then...then he fired. Right through her chest..."

"I'm sorry, Vash." Meryl rested her face in Vash's arm.

"She was still smiling at me, then. For just a second, there was a hole in her chest, and she was smiling like she didn't feel it at all. But...she looked so betrayed, Meryl. I let her down."

Meryl shook her head violently. "No!" she said, her own voice cracking. "Don't you dare say anything like that. You didn't make anything happen."

Vash reached up to his neck and grasped a small, baby-fine silver chain, pulling mercilessly until it broke and fell into his hand. "This morning, she made me wear it. She said it was lucky." A shudder rolled through him and his voice broke completely, all his breath expelled in a body-wracking sob. Meryl held tighter, at first afraid to hold on and then terrified to let go of him.

She grabbed one of his hands with her own, and he held it, his grip bone-breakingly tight. He shook with more sobs, and Meryl leaned her face against his, feeling the saltwater warmth of a dam of tears that had finally broken.

His fear faded, replaced by agony and grief, and Meryl hated the whole damned world for making this man cry so brokenly. She held him until his body stilled in unconsciousness.

"There will always be tears to cry," she said softly, planting the slightest kiss on his cheek, like a mother would to a sleeping child. She tasted the tang of his tears as her own began to fall. "Don't you worry about that."

Author's Notes: Yikes. I was watching an AMV on Youtube, and after listening to the song, I couldn't open WordPad fast enough. I wrote this in like...thirty minutes; then I agonized over whether or not to scrap it for a week. Well, I hope you enjoyed reading this! I think Meryl's softer side is sweet, and despite her rough edges, she usually lets it show through when Vash really needs it. Reviews would be hugely appreciated. (pathetic puppy eyes) Please?