It was too hot.

It was always too hot, Vash thought, lying in another rickety inn bed in another small, dust-eaten town, staring at another ceiling. There was a fan rotating slowly in the ceiling (whumm whumm whumm), but it did little to stir the air into anything resembling a breeze. That was normal for a desert planet. It was always too hot, there was always sand in everything, and the fans never did any good. People shriveled and snarled in the heat until their hearts, too, became dry and full of nothing but dust. He remembered saying something like that once, in a dream.

Ordinarily, Vash had no problems sleeping in the heat. It was something you got used to, after something like two hundred years tramping far and wide across this ball of sand that called itself a planet, searching and at the same time running away. The problem was that it was humid tonight, too, and the air pressed damply in on his skin so that his sweat built up with nowhere to escape to, not when the air was already full of so much moisture. No matter how he shifted or turned in the bed the sheets quickly became damp and uncomfortable again, and finally he sighed and sat up, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed, careful not to disturb its other occupant.

Not the first time they had shared a bed, of course. Two men traveling together, not unusual that they share a room, if only to cut down on the costs. Not unusual that they share a bed either, since the inns around here were so cheap and the floors were hard and you always woke up covered with sand. So they shared the bed, and in the mornings one or the other would complain of feet and elbows and pillow-hogging, but it was still better than the floor. After a while it was because they enjoyed each others' company, and Vash had always hated sleeping alone, even after a hundred and fifty years. Wolfwood didn't seem to mind, and Vash tried to ignore the small part of him that said this wouldn't last forever.

The moonlight was pretty. It made the stifling heat seem more bearable, somehow, spilling liquid blue-and-silver with the faintest hint of red onto the ratty floorboards. Vash traced the light-pool with his eyes, looking at the enormous window-shape it threw on the floor and part of the wall, making it seem as if they were somehow underwater, or what he imagined being underwater must be like. Was it this light underwater? The sky was always bright at night, with five moons in the sky, and tonight three of them were full.

He was far too awake. Much more awake than the brilliant moonlight and the muggy atmosphere should have made him. He thought, for a moment, of leaving the inn and going elsewhere for target practice or gun exercises. It might tire him out and help him sleep, and if nothing else, a little training never went amiss. But if he left, Wolfwood would surely wake, and then he would curse and pull his pants on and go tramping about looking for Vash, and he would cuss him out when he found him and make him come back to bed.

"What the hell're you doin' awake?" came a sleepy murmur from the bed.

Damn. Wolfwood had craned his head up, just a little, and was looking at him through half-open eyes. "Nothing," Vash said cheerfully, smiling without thinking. He always smiled when there was nothing else to do, but he knew it'd been the wrong thing when Wolfwood narrowed his eyes at him. Wolfwood always saw through his smiles. "I was just thinking."

Wolfwood grunted sleepily and Vash saw his eyes dart at the clock, though whether he had the mental capacity to tell the time at the moment was hard to tell. If he had the mental capacity to tell Vash's smile, then surely he could see that the hour hand pointed at the three and the minute hand pointed to somewhere a little after the four--but maybe Wolfwood didn't need to think to tell when Vash was lying with his face.

"Too late t' think," Wolfwood muttered. Or, Vash thought, too early--but it depended on what way you looked at it. "Go t' sleep."

"Yes, mommy," Vash said in his best falsetto and obediently lay down again.

It was probably this last gesture that saved Vash from more verbal abuse. Wolfwood didn't touch Vash; it was too hot for touching. It was too hot for anything, Vash thought, including sleep, so he didn't close his eyes. Wolfwood wasn't looking at him. He wasn't looking at anything, because he had his eyes closed and was facing the ceiling, apparently intent on getting back to sleep. There was sweat on his skin too, and the sheets under and over him had to be damp, but he didn't seem to notice or care. Vash wondered why they bothered sleeping under sheets when they were already so hot. Maybe it was a concession to the vulnerability that comes with sleep.

"It's humid," Vash said out loud to the supposedly sleeping Wolfwood. He received no response, but he knew Wolfwood wasn't asleep. "I was thinking about that. It's weird that it's so humid, because that means there's water in the air. But it doesn't rain here, does it? You see clouds, sometimes, so that makes me think it must rain at least occasionally, but I haven't seen it rain. How does water get in the ground if it doesn't rain? Where does the water come from, and where does it go? I thought water was supposed to go in a cycle."

"Vash," Wolfwood said at last, sounding quite irritable. "Shut up."

"I'm sorry," Vash said in a small voice, although the expression on his face didn't look particularly hurt. "I just can't sleep."

Wolfwood said nothing for a long moment, and then he sighed. "Just don't think about it, Vash. What good is it gonna do, anyway? You can't make the water cycle or whatever you call it fix itself by wondering about it. Go to sleep."

"But--"

"Go to sleep."

Vash didn't go to sleep, but he didn't talk anymore, either. He watched Wolfwood's chest rise and fall in a steady, even rhythm, and he thought about the Plants. He thought about how, for all their longevity, they didn't last forever, and sometimes they got tired and needed to rest, and that was when people came to "fix" them. He thought about how, supposedly, it was the Plants who made it possible for humans to live here (maybe they were the ones who perpetuated the water cycle?), to keep the desert from eating their homes and lives and dreams. He thought about how the Plants must feel, and wondered if they had dreams of their own, and while he was thinking he fell asleep.

And then he dreamed of water.



Back