"And Feathers All Around Page 2"
By Susan

         "Reasonable!" She tried to yell but had to stop and cough, forgetting how raw her throat was. She continued in a hoarse whisper. "I will have you know that I am without a doubt the most reasonable of women!"
         He lifted an eyebrow.
         "I am. Ask anyone!"
         He looked around.
         No, not now you idiot!"
         He set her down next to a chair and she dropped into it, for the moment all vigor drained from her. Numbly she stared at the table, vaguely aware as Vash got up and went into the kitchen. She could hear him opening cupboards and clinking dishes. She sincerely hoped he was not going to make her another cup of tea. She was going to have to ask Milly exactly what kind of tea that was.
         She lifted her eyes to scan the room she was in. She vaguely recognized it as the one she rented. Great galloping sandballs! What had she been thinking? This must be costing her through the nose. One room next time, one room she resolved firmly. It's not like she was made of double dollars, or... turning in a bounty. In revenge for the awful tea, she entertained herself as she imagined turning Vash in to collect the reward or maybe the hotel would consider an even trade. Her head was beginning to throb and her stomach hurt. Must he bang everything around so loudly! Yes, definitely an even trade. Even her eyelashes were beginning to ache. Just when she thought she couldn't take it another second it faded away. What an odd way for a headache to behave. Not that she was complaining. Her head felt lopsided as well, no not exactly, it felt... she couldn't put her finger on it, her mind felt too numb and foggy. She sat there, feeling the tide of pain blossom in her temples and fade, back and forth. Even her emotions were swinging like a pendulum. First she desperately wanted for Vash to come and give her a hug, the next she wanted to slug him. What was wrong with her? She sighed with relief as the pain had receded. It was at that moment Vash slid a plate of food under her surprised nose.
         "Thank you but no thank you, I'm not..." Then the incredible delicious smell wove a seductive spell under her nose. She grabbed a fork and knife and attacked with a ravenous appetite gone mad. The next thing she knew she heard the clinking of her fork scraping the plate. She blinked. The food was gone. Had she actually eaten that fast? And why was she feeling this odd sensation? She was feeling lethargic and sluggish again.
         Out of the corner of her eyes she saw Vash's arm place a glass of juice beside her. She tried to reach for it but her arm felt like it belonged to someone else. She could see the glass. She wanted the glass. Her arm was pointed in the right direction of the glass but her hand felt useless, unable to grasp. She felt tears prickle at the corners of her eyes. Why was her body acting so contrary to her wishes? Vash must have sensed her distress and picked up the glass and put it in her hand and then wrapped his long fingers around her smaller ones. He squatted down beside her chair and helped her, guiding the juice to her dry waiting mouth. She felt grateful as the liquid slid down her throat and thought, magnanimously, that Vash wasn't so bad and decided not to trade him in after all. When she finished, he gently gook the glass from her hand and placed it back on the table.
         He stood up and moved his chair closer to hers and sat down facing her side as she numbly gazed at the table top trying to gather her thoughts. Under his intense gaze she began to feel uncomfortable and fidgety. That disconnected feeling was retreating, resembling a weird emotional and physical tide she had no control over. She looked down at the edge of the table, absentmindedly twirling the fringe of the tablecloth around her fingers. But something besides just her was different. She could feel it like she had felt the headache earlier. A flush was traveling up her face. She wanted to blurt out, "What!" but a reluctance filled her. If he was human she would have thought a difficult relational discussion was in the offing, but after he had made such a federal case about not being human that couldn't be it. He had made it plain that he thought of her as a burden, a hindrance to his movements, and a encumbrance to his wanderings. He didn't want to be responsible for her welfare, what if she got hurt? Hmmph! He would probably just be relieved if she and Milly were recalled she thought with a bitter twist of her lips. She had taken that frightening step of opening up her heart and telling him she loved him now and forever. Of late she thought she had detected a caring on his part. She must have just read him wrong. He pointed out all the differences, she was human, he wasn't blah, blah, blah. She didn't know him well enough, she should go on with life. She was a friend that he appreciated and was grateful for but he couldn't love anyone right now nor was he able to. Yes, he had cleared up any misconceptions she may have let herself be deluded with. Her cheeks flamed even warmer than before as she felt the shame of exposing herself to someone totally indifferent to her existence, even disdainful of her feelings for him. Well, that was it Mr. High and Mighty Typhoon! He could take his spiky-headed airs of superiority right back to where.... well, wherever! She felt that hot prickling in her eyes again and ordered her tear ducts to desist and stand down. I refuse to cry in front of him again! He doesn't get the privilege! Still, she pondered, something felt out of whack here she just couldn't put her finger on it and that bothered her to no little end. Well no one could accuse Meryl Stryfe of being a coward! She squared her shoulders and turned in her chair to face him, staring firmly right back into his eyes. Lilac returning aqua, gaze for gaze.
         He dropped his eyes first and Meryl wasn't quite sure why she felt a sense of smug triumph from that... or also, why a touch of disappointment. It's like I can't make up my mind. There is definitely something wrong with me, Think of something else. Hey, his hair is wet and falling down around his face. He looks good like that. She also took in how the light lay across his cheekbones, the line of his brow... No, no, stop it, don't go there, think of something besides that! She felt her cheeks growing red again and jerked her mind back to the last report she had written, was there anything she needed to add, besides the fact that he was so incredibly attractive that she just wanted to... NO! Not again! She felt a pinch and looked down at her hands to find one finger was entangled in the fringe. She darted a glance at him from under her lashes. Good, he didn't notice. She worked quietly but quickly trying to get her finger loose.
         He looked back up and she could feel his gaze and jerked her eyes back up just as her finger came free. She tried a smile that he returned and she wondered if his was just as fake as hers. But, if she wasn't mistaken, there was also a hint of uncertainty in his face. She watched as he leaned forward to place his elbows on his knees and tightly clasped his hands in front of him. He looked like a man who had something difficult to say. Meryl was beginning to feel a coldness and dread grip her heart. If this were a doctor's office she would be expecting the words, "You have six weeks to live." Nothing good ever came from this kind of silence. What was he going to tell her, that he was sending her away? Or that he was the one going away and leaving her behind? The worst thing she could think of was being separated from him. She couldn't help herself anymore, she would follow him and protect him. She didn't give a damn about dignity or self-respect. I would like to see him try and stop me, she thought sullenly. He didn't have to love her, just let her tag along. Maybe they could both forget she had said anything. (As if!) But, warring with that was also the desire to make him happy and if it truly meant that he would be happier for her to leave, then, could she, would she place his desires above hers? Which one would she choose? She winced, her heart was squeezing painfully.
         Unexpectedly he sat straight up interrupting her wandering thoughts. Now that she thought about it, he did seem on edge. She become aware of how his hands were clenched on his knees. Why he's as nervous as I am, she thought with a shock and felt her heart melt toward him even as a twinge of dread poked at her. I have had time to work through this and I feel just fine (liar) with what he is going to say and I can just spare us both another painful discussion. She would show him who was the mature one here, and it had nothing to do with how many years one had behind them!
         "I know what you're going to say."
         "You do?" He eyed her warily.
         "Yes I do. And it's okay."
         "It is?" Suspicion glinted in his eyes.
         "Yes. I want you to know that I have already come to a decision."
         "You have?" Good Lord, was he always this dense?
         "Milly and I will send in our request for a transfer," She held up a hand and began ticking off each finger. "We will wait for any further paychecks, catch up on any back reports, tie up any loose ends, wait for orders for our next assignment..." She ran out of fingers and started over again, ..."and then buy some first class tickets this time, and make our way back home. Then you," She chanced a look at him, she was a little concerned about him, he seemed sickly looking all of a sudden. "Mr. Vash the Stampede, will be a free man! Well, unless they send someone else out but really, that would take a while. In the meantime you could make yourself scarce so they couldn't find you..." She was rambling and she knew it but couldn't seem to stop herself, in fact, if she stopped she was pretty certain that she would start crying and she really didn't want to do that, especially in front of him. Though that open-mouthed stunned look on his face was really distracting. Speaking even more rapidly until the words were nearly tripping out of her mouth she continued, ".... but of course, I doubt you could keep out of trouble for any length of time, you just don't have it in you. So all the new Risk Prevention Agents would need to do is follow the fall out of your little escapades like we did..."
         "Meryl!" Vash interrupted. It suddenly occurred to her that he had called her by her name for the first time. If she hadn't known better she would have been tempted to turn around to look for this other "Meryl" he was speaking to. Yet at the same time that didn't seem quite right. What was that vague feeling that he had already left familiar ground to cross into new territory? She shook her head slightly. No matter. He had called all those other girls by their name but she was just "Insurance Girl." She still felt the sting of that. And now that she thought about it, it kind of pissed her off!
         She cocked an eyebrow at him and pretended to fan herself. "My my, you do know my name. What a surprise!" An annoyed expression crossed his face. He started again.
         "Be still my heart!"
         Vash slapped a hand over his face and scowled at her through his fingers while congratulating himself on keeping his temper. Slowly, he lowered his hand back to his knee, grasping it tightly but this time noticed that his legs were beginning to ache where he had been gripping them; if this kept up he was going to cut off the blood flow to his lower legs. Taking a deep breath and forcing his hands to relax, he wondered how to broach the subject.
         Three times in the space of...." She started mockingly.. Why was she reacting this way? Confusion was swiftly overcome by surprise when...
         Vash launched out of his chair grabbed her shoulders, hauled her to her feet shaking her and hissed in a low stern voice, "This is not a child's game!" That stung. What was happening to her? She was usually competent and in control. She was turning into some kind of shrew, and as much as she was embarrassed by her own behavior, she couldn't seem to stop herself. She closed her eyes to keep from looking into the bright aqua eyes burning holes into her soul.
         He stopped shaking her but his fingers still dug into her shoulders wrinkling the fabric under his tight grip. She wouldn't look at him. What kind of "You've got to stop following me but we can still be friends" speech was this? Why was he acting so angry? By rights she should be the angry one and here she was being impressively noble in letting him off the hook easy. She should be shaking his shoulders! She was becoming very confused, the signals were changing again and she wasn't sure what they were saying now. The fog was starting to roll back in and she was having trouble focusing.
         Something was occurring to Vash and he mentally kicked himself for not realizing earlier.
         In the interests of not wasting any more time than need be he didn't use her name again. He asked, " Do you even remember how you got here?"
         She wasn't expecting that question. She concentrated with a tilt of her head. Nothing. Maybe it would come to her if she just tried to jump start it.
         "I got here by... er, I came here when..." nothing, she still had nothing. She rummaged around her short term memory only to find it was acting more like a no-term memory. Well, she would show him how mature she was because she refused to lie or evade the question, just like a grown-up, mature, reasonable adult. Show his pissy plant self what one, Meryl Stryfe was made of. She pulled herself up straighter under fingers that were still digging in quite painfully she noted.
         "No, I don't remember...." She looked around. Now that she thought about it where were Milly and Wolfwood? She turned to look out the window to what little of the town she could see from her position. Nothing looked familiar. She was beginning to feel that panic rising again.
         "What is the last clear memory you have?"
         She thought a moment, relieved, yes, she could see it.

         He watched her anxiously. He could feel her rising distress as she realized she was in an unknown place, she didn't remember getting here or how she got here or why she was there.
         "Uh, I was in the post office.. oh yes, I had just bought some stamps and... and... there was a... then he.... eyes, ...." She trailed off as a look of horror crossed her face and she grabbed her head with both hands and screamed. He pulled her close wrapping his arms around her and rocking her gently as she sobbed into his chest.
         "It was... I couldn't... and then... but Milly, I do remember Milly landing in the middle of them. She flew over a hill and looked like the avenging angel on judgment day.. and then, I... I don't remember anything after that! It's dark. I don't... remember... I don't... want to remember!" He felt her shudder in the embrace of his arms. He held her until her sobs slowed and she stopped shivering. Finally he released his hold and put his hands back on her shoulders and held her back a pace.
         "Listen, what happened..." Careful, careful, don't use any scary words here. "Is that a very evil person entered your mind and did a lot of damage."
         Wet questioning lavender eyes turned up to him.
         Speaking softly she asked, "Is that why I feel like I'm about to go insane?"
         His sad eyes answered her question. She was feeling it, it was getting stronger too. He was bitterly aware of his deficiencies in this area. The barrier he had covered over that area would soon thin and be forced through and she would be sucked under to a different form of suicide. The mind could kill itself pulling the body down with it. It was a wonder she wasn't already dead. Yes, she had been in the process but any other human would have been dead on the spot. She had survived for this long trying to outrun the pain before it became intolerable.

         She blinked away tears and realized, There is something he is holding back. Normally she would have asked and demanded an answer. This time was different. All of her sanity was precariously balanced on a wobbly pinhead. She lowered her head in thought.

         He watched her face, saw the look and knew what she was thinking. They needed to hurry this along before the barrier came crashing down. He wasn't sure if she could handle the mental assault on her own if it did. His stomach tightened. She was in a much weaker mental and physical condition than when she had been attacked. Legato! His lip raised in a silent snarl, Damn him to all the fires of hell. He felt a crackling energy as his flesh tried to ripple but forced it back down.
         "Meryl" He whispered softly. She looked up at him with trusting eyes. "I'm sorry but we have to move on a little more quickly here."
         "Why? Do we need to leave?"
         "Uh, no." How to explain this, but gently. He didn't want to trigger anything just yet before they were ready for it.
         He glanced over to the chair and gestured for her to take a seat. He sat down in his, tense, waiting for her to make the decision to sit. He could see curiosity and a slight apprehension in the set of her shoulders and the way she carried her head. When she was finally seated and able to give him her full attention he tentatively brought up the subject.
         "Sometime in the early hours you tried to commit suicide and I found you and entered your mind without permission even if it was up to the door, but I was in a bit of a hurry...." He slowed to a halt. She was looking at him with shock filling her face, then outrage..."What! You are mistaken! I did no such thing!" Placing her fingers on her chest, "I'm not the type." She said with a lofty air. This was not going to be as easy as he had thought. Let's try this again.
         "When your body was shutting down, er, dying, I entered your mind because it was..."
         "You lie!" She spat out, eyes snapping.
         Why was she more offended concerning the suicide attempt than the unauthorized entry of her mind?
         This time he tried talking faster and little louder, "What I am trying to say is that I entered and I apologize for that. But what I did was to erect a barrier around the damaged area until it could be dealt with later. First I helped you survive....," he felt a muscle along his jaw start to twitch and as he saw her mouth begin to open in protest, quickly enunciated each word clearly, "Your suicide attempt." She had to accept the truth or else this was going to be much harder, if not next to impossible.
         "Why do you keep harping on this!" Now tears were streaming unnoticed down her cheeks. "I WOULD NEVER try to kill myself! Do you understand me? Never, so stop saying it!"
         He sat back dumbfounded. Of all the reactions he had expected this was not it. What in the world is going on here? Finally, without a word he pointed to the two empty bottles on the table.
         She followed the direction of his finger. A quick glance back at him with a slight puckered frown between her brows before she looked at the booze bottle, not seeming to be impressed by the fact that it was empty. She reached for the medicine bottle and as she read the label her face drained of color. She shot a look at the bedroom door and what memory she had of the shower came back to her in a flash. She wobbled on her chair making Vash wonder if she was going to fall out of it. He tensed, just in case, but she was able to right herself. She stared off into the distance and he waited, wondering impatiently if he should risk breaking into her reverie. The pill bottle slipped from her nerveless fingers. He caught it and set it on the table.

         It was true. "I did, didn't I?" She whispered, more to herself than for any kind of answer from him.
         "He just nodded though he doubted she noticed.
         "Why?" She looked at him through her confusion and answered her own question. "Because of... of what... he did?" He nodded again. She sat up straight and startled him by saying, "Well, what are you doing just sitting there all glum-like, get in here and do something about it!"
         "??" And stared.
         "What do I need to do to help you?"
         "Huh?" He was still churning over the contradiction she was. She had been about to rip off his head about telling her about the attempt to take her life, but not over this. What next? The shocker that she was plant-born herself? He shook his head slowly trying to clear his thoughts.
         "First you are in an all-fire hurry and now you just sit there! What's the matter with you!" Her eyes were dark now but he saw the creeping uncertainly of the unknown she was barely keeping control of.
         Wiping his hands on his leather pants he said thoughtfully, "Well first you need to get comfortable..." He broke off as she stood up and with unsteady steps walked toward the bedroom. "Where are you going?"
         She said over her shoulder, "I'M going to get more comfortable. That chair is okay for eating breakfast but one thing it is not and that is comfortable" And continued through the door. He stared after her.
         "Well!?" she called back to him. He wondered if the saying "where fools and angels fear to tread" would be applicable now.

         Slightly stunned and somewhat apprehensive, he slowly walked into the room to find she was already lying on the bed, hands folded over her stomach. She lifted one to pat the empty space beside her as he stood there doubtfully. "Coming?"
         "Uh.." He wasn't feeling too sure about this. She saw his hesitation remarked, "Oh don't get your hopes up! If you want to be uncomfortable you can sit on a chair or on the floor."
         He chose the floor.
         "Here!" and a pillow plopped in his lap. Feeling not a little ridiculous he shoved it under him and sat cross-legged wiggling to find that perfect position. Curse it, this wasn't going to work. Finally he rocked himself up on his knees beside the bed and leaned his arms on the mattress. That's as far as he was going.
         Clearing his throat he informed her, "I am going to place my fingers on your temple and you will feel my presence, like being together in a room..."
         ".. or bed.." He colored. She grinned, it was fun having the upper hand for a change.
         "... instead" He ignored her and went on, "it will be like we are in a room inside your head."
         "Okay." Now that she had decided she felt a calm fill her. She wanted to be her old self. The revelation that she had tried to do herself harm had shaken her to the core of her being. She looked over at Vash, with his warm concerned eyes and gave him a small smile with a thumbs up gesture, then straightened her head and closed her eyes.
         Vash hesitated a moment before reaching over and gently placing his two fingers on her temple. He felt himself being gathered into a concentrated form that rose up from his center pulling fiery blue lightening into a ball of energy for the transfer. He left himself, lifting slowly at first and then gaining speed, flowed up to his shoulder and then down his arm, racing to fingers and fingertips only slowing again at the resistance of the gate of another mind. He halted and sent out a questing "Meryl?" Nothing, but a door opened to him and he took that as permission to enter. He called again. Silence. Oh well. Maybe she was further in. He took a step in a direction that seemed "down" to him. He didn't have a chance to take another when the force of a wildcat of fury began buffeting him spinning him sideways. What the hell!
         It was fast, incredibly fast, slamming into him from one direction and then another without hardly a pause between attacks. Instead of fighting back, he focused and saw that it was comparable to having a guard at the front door, a primitive essence rising up to protect her from invasion. He concentrated, caught it and was grieved to see the injuries sustained from Legato's rape and pillage. He lowered it to a sleeping state and it faded away. He looked around him, he was in a lighted place but on the edges all was shadowed in a shroud of darkness.
         "Meryl! Where are you?" Disquiet was growing into full-blown worry. "I can help you but I need you to let me."
         A noise. He spun.
         There she was. Wow. He couldn't help it, his eyes traveled over her figure. She was an Amazon! She was nearly as tall as he was. Was this how she perceived herself? No wonder she kept walking from one dangerous situation into another. He held out a palm to her saying "Take my hand, we have to be touching for this." He could feel the sands of time running out. He hadn't counted on the automatic and instinctual human response to protect a wounded area at all costs. He wondered how many aspects of herself were being called up as reinforcements to protect her mind from a foreign virus perceived as a threat.
         She sneered and disappeared into the dark. "Dammit woman, come back here!" He started in the direction she had taken. He ground his teeth. They didn't have time for this! He could feel the toxic bleeding from the wounds starting to slip under his barrier.
         "What do you care!." She replied.
         Don't make me come in after you.." Because I am not really sure how to do that... he hoped she hadn't heard that part.
         Angry words tinged in bitterness were hurled at him, "You are just doing this because you 'don't want to lose any more friends'. Well boo hoo. Life is made of gain and loss! But, I'll make this easy for you," and she stated firmly, "We are NOT friends anymore. I hereby dissolve the relationship of the first party from the second party. I'll have my secretary send you the papers to sign in the morning. That legal enough for you? Now go away!"
         Through his teeth he said, "Meryl be reasonable..." He was beginning to think he was cursed! Why couldn't he avoid using that word?!
         BLOW SAND!
         What a sense of humor.
         "I will speak slooooooowly so you won't have to strain yourself. Gooo. Awaaaay! There, was that simple enough for you?"
         His eyes narrowed. Stubborn woman. His lips set in a grim line and he thought at her sarcasm dripping, "Come on out Meryl, surely you can spare a minute from your precious dying time."
         He heard a step behind him and whirled ready for anything, except that.... he stared... at himself. His eyes widened. He actually looked like that?! That's how she sees me?
         "No." came a distant reply, "As you are."
         "I don't look like that!"
         "That's only because you can't see yourself."
         Wait! She was trying to divert him. That was a good one but he turned away and started in the direction he knew her to be so taking a step.....
         ...into a green, lush meadow. He stopped and stared. What was this place? It wasn't a geoplant, it went on and on into the distance, rolling green hills on all sides and large old trees growing randomly, all over. Here and there he spied newly plowed ground . He could smell the heady mixture of freshly turned dirt - dirt... not sand! And the scent of wild flowers on the spring breeze that ruffled edges of his hair teasingly. He looked up to see... one sun! It was shining bright but so warm, a friendly life-giving orb hanging in the blue of the sky. It wasn't the harsh skin-searing ones he lived under. And clouds! Lots of them piling up in puffy billows to the edge of the sky. Then he noticed a sound he had never heard in his life. It didn't grow nearer but neither did it fade. It was a constant... bubbling sound. Curious, he turned and walked in the direction until he came to a sight that filled his being with mind-boggling amazement. A stream! He had seen pictures, he had read about great amounts of moving water but that paled in comparison to what he was seeing. It dazzled his mind and he was completely entranced watching the water part and twirl around the great rocks sticking up in the middle and the way the sunlight played a game of catch-me-if-you-can with the leaping water drops across the surface of the dancing stream. Mesmerized by the splash of water as it swirled and gurgled around stones and boulders, he was astounded to realize that water had a voice! Tears came to his eyes. He had never seen such a beautiful sight. He could stand here watching the sparking jewel drops flung into the air and drop... forever. He started. Bullet holes! She had done it again! He fumed, clever little minx! He spun on his heel and pushed himself through the scene with a sad ache. It was so beautiful, he didn't want to leave. Wait a minute. Where had Meryl experienced something like this? This wasn't a memory of something she had read or been told. She had actually been to this place. Mysterious, but knew he didn't have time for that right now.
         And heard a child crying. He looked to the side and saw a young dark-haired girl sitting on the ground with her back to a great tree. Her knees were drawn up to her chest with her arms wrapped around tightly while she had her head resting on the tops of her knees. He could see her shoulders shaking with the force of her sobs as the anguish poured out of her.
         He started toward her before pulling up with an oath. He pushed that aside too. Damn but she was good. He was going to have to stop underestimating her. Concentrating, he pushed back at the illusions and found himself once again in the center of a lighted area surrounded by the darkness.
         Enough games. He sent out a tendril of energy into the dark and found her. Forgetting himself he said sharply "Get out here!"
         He snarled.
         "Or what? Are you going to SHOOT me Mr. Humanoid Typhoon?"
         He slapped a hand over his face and scrunched his eyes shut, resisting the urge to throttle her. She's enough to drive a man insane!
         "Fine, I'll just come over there then." But before he had taken a step a figure came out of the shadows toward him one hip at a time. His mouth dropped. The most endowed (in all the right places he might add) female he had ever laid eyes on sashayed slowly with exaggerated movements. She came toward him with hands on hips to stop several yards away. She gazed at him coyly from under thick lashes and winked at him.
         This time she had gone too far and seething with anger he threw out at her, "Is THAT what you think I want! Do you really believe that!?" The buxom damsel disappeared. She had miscalculated and overstepped her judgment. Reining in his anger , he said in a more controlled voice, "Nice try Meryl, but it won't work." He stalked to where he knew she was. He stopped, and sensed the pressure beginning to build up. It wouldn't be long now, he could feel the covering starting to thin and weaken. They didn't have much time left. He stopped at the edge of the region of the shadows and held up his palms pleading with her... sending her what he should given from the very first... his heart. It wasn't easy overcoming decades of conditioning and fear. It went out from him, a rising phoenix of fire and flew up, circled over his head and then turned in the direction where he knew she was hiding. It pierced the darkness so that the shadows receded from before him to show him... her... sitting with her back to him, arms wrapped around her knees. Waiting for the darkness to swallow her.
         Her head jerked up. "Vash?" Funny, he sounded close, like he was right next to her.
         "Go away, can't you see I'm busy!"
         He kneeled behind her and wrapped his long arms around her.
         She jerked as if bitten and tried to spin around. He held her gently but firmly as she squirmed in his grasp. "Vash you spiky-headed, donut -scarfing doofus, don't you have somewhere else to be?"
         Instead, he lifted her and turned her around to face him, strong fingers closed around her biceps like vise grips. She struggled, he was too close, too near and her pain was too raw . She had tried once before and been hurt, she wasn't going to be hurt and mocked again. Not this time.
         It was amazing how the mind could convey the reality of outside to correspond with the inside; he mused while he automatically twisted his hip to take the brunt of the blow from her knee.
         He looked down into her face; her eyes that beautiful shade of smoky lilac. He resisted the impulse to kiss her and focused on the problem at hand.
         "Meryl, I can help you if you let me."
         Realizing she wasn't going to be able to break his grip, she had ceased her struggles and with her head bent muttered, "Why should I want your help?"
         He shook her, exasperated. "Meryl, I wish I could take back those brainless words. I am sorry." Eyes tearing up, he whispered, "I am so sorry I hurt you." Pulling her closer he went on, "I was acting like a jerk and you have every reason to be angry with me..."
         She interrupted him, "No, you were right... different species and all that." Waving her hand vaguely. "I guess the old saying that says 'love conquers all' must be wrong." And tried to pull back from him.
         "No, Meryl it isn't! It's just... I've... Um, I have, er..."
         She looked up, interested, slightly hopeful, yet wary. And he felt himself caught in that gaze.
         Meryl wasn't sure what the look in Vash's eye was. She had never seen him look quite like this before. It made her feel just a little nervous. She cleared her throat and looked around as she felt something go out from her and wondered what it was. It had happened several times already. Unknowingly she had sent out a call for another aspect guardian. He had felt it this time and caught it before it could be answered. He gave her a shake. She broke off bewildered and looked up at him. He caught his breath, again with the jewel eyes! Why had he never noticed the depths and color of them, a silvery gray purple.
         He rubbed his forehead, what was it he was going to say? Oh yes, there it was. It was time to be honest with himself and with her. He knew this was a new step, a new horizon he had never traveled before. And it frightened him in a way he had not thought possible, yet at the same time, a longed for journey. Time to ante up. After the remarks he had made about her immaturity and youth, he couldn't be less honest than she had been. This was going to be painful. Through clenched teeth he said succinctly, "I have never been in love before."
         She looked up him gaping.... 130 years old and never been in love?
         "Meryl I need you... no more than that, I... love... you. I. Love. You."
         "Eh?" One side of her mouth twitched upward. "You what?"
         "I said, I LOVE YOU! What's the matter with your hearing woman!" He went to give her another shake when he saw the grin and she said, "I just wanted to hear you say it again." She was astonished with the wonder of his announcement. She had never dared to hope that he would return her full affections. She had hoped for a chance of a relationship in the future, but this... Indescribable joy flooded her. The words she had rehearsed in her heart for some time came flooding to the surface and she imbued them with every ounce of her being. The promise of love, tenderness and devotion today, tomorrow and forever, and the integrity of her commitment to him came pouring out in her words, "And Vash, for the record. I, Meryl Stryfe of the Bernadelli Insurance Company, Risk Prevention Agent, do swear love and life and unite soul and heart to one Vash the Stampede, also known as the Humanoid Typhoon from this day forth and forever! Sworn, done and deeded!"
         His turn to gape. And a rushing of the most incredible sweet joy that he had ever felt rose in a swell and he grabbed her up in his arms and swung her around and around before stopping to embrace her tightly to himself. Looking back deeply into her eyes, he swore his oath to her, "Meryl, I Vash the Stampede, do swear loyalty, arm, devotion and love to you and join with you heart and soul this day forth and forever!" He placed her on her feet and asked her, "Now then my beloved Insurance Girl, will you please for the love of God let me help you heal?"
         "No...." A gathering storm cloud threatened to settle on his brow.
         "Also for the love of Vash." She smiled up at him. The impertinence of the woman!
         He smiled one of his rare genuine smiles and gave it all to her to hold in her heart forever as he grabbed her up to his chest and leaned his head down and caught her return smile with his lips. She opened to him all the pain, all the moments of terror and wrenching fear of losing her sanity, and her life. From the first moment Legato had her snatched to the last when Milly came flying over the hill to rescue her to soundly thrash yellow eyes. Sharing with him every thing, from the incredible soul-killing shame and her still oozing hurt over Vash's rejection after finally building up the courage to tell him how she felt.
          He was humbled by her trust in him and poured out to her all of his respect, admiration, warmth, love and particularly right at the moment, a typhoon of passion for her. She caught it and swept it up within her and responded to his love and passion for her and matched it with a returning ardor of her own. She guided him and gave him total access to the place that another had tried to rip from her by force. Soon they were joining as lovers do but still linked in a bond of soul and mind in a place for the two of them to share, skin and soul, becoming a true union of one. And in the connection each felt the mind poison and toxins dissolving out as they reached the peak of passion and pleasure, holding onto one another, two halves found completeness together.
         Later, as they held on to one another the residue damage done by the malignant touch of a crazed mind was slowly knit together. Some healing would take time and love but now it wouldn't overpower her to drag her down into the forever dark. She could live through; she wasn't alone.
         In the resting contentment and ease of the afterglow, as they cradled one another in a tender embrace, they looked up to see the room....
         ...Filled with feathers floating all around.

Back to: "And Feathers All Around" Pt. 1

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