By Ricki & Susan

Sunset & S'mores
         The second sun was setting on the day. Vash shook his head sadly as he watched the last beams of sunlight lance over the horizon before fading into darkness. It had been another day of gun smoke and bullets. He wondered if he would ever have a life without either. He threw a glance over his shoulder at the two women who were talking in low tones, leaning towards each other with heads nearly touching. He turned back around as he heard steps crunching on the sand. Wolfwood came out from behind a huge boulder. He had been watching to make sure they had not been followed. Vash nodded. He had done it without being asked. Wolfwood had good instincts, they probably were what helped him survive this long, that and an amazing accuracy he had with a weapon that weighed more than he did.
         Wolfwood peered over Vash's shoulder at the girls so engrossed in their discussion they hadn't even finished their dinners that sat forgotten in their laps. He shook his head with a grin. Women. He returned his eyes to Vash's face and saw it. In the last rays of the setting sun, that smile, the real one, he had seen it more in this one day than the whole time they had all been together. He bounced a swift glance to the dark-haired woman. Even if she wasn't a friend, just for this one gift alone she would have been and he was thankful for that.
         He walked over to Vash and leaned against the rock. "Still at it I see." Vash nodded. "One would think from watching them that they had been separated years instead of days." He had always known they were close but… "What could they be talking about for such a long time?" Vash looked at Wolfwood's eyes as the priest glanced over to them and he smiled. There was a twinkle in his dark brown eyes that promised something mischievous. A cold wash of horror went through Vash, "Do you think Meryl could be telling Milly about me..?"
         "Of course she has." Wolfwood said, correctly interpreting the look on Vash's face. "Ah was she your first?" He grinned broadly, much to Vash's chagrin.

         "But... but..." Sputtered a flustered Vash, "I didn't tell you!"
         "No need…" Wolfwood chuckled. "They are better sisters than most blood relatives. They will always love each other and look out for each other. And part of that is sharing hearts and thoughts. I know Milly has already...er..." He wound down noticing Vash's eyes lighting on him in curiosity. He gulped and snapped his mouth shut. Oops, open mouth insert foot. He could still feel that inquiring stare and felt himself start to blush... Blush! Him!? He chose to look up at the darkening sky.
         "Sooooooo...." Vash rocked back and forth on his toes. Damn! It wasn't nearly so funny when the shoe was on the other foot! "Is there anything I should know about? You know, heart to heart and all that." There was laughter in Vash's voice.
         "No!" Wolfwood growled back and reached for a cigarette, which should be riiiiight...... With a realization of dread he began patting down all his pockets. No, this couldn't be! Somewhere… Ah, there was one and he pulled it out and lit it. Close call. "For your information, Mr. Stampede, ours is a relationship of utmost respect and courtesy."
         Vash sniffed, Yeah right, but then waved his hand in front of his face. "Let's switch places, the breeze is blowing that back in my face." To Vash's immense relief, Wolfwood walked around to his other side. Vash continued, "I think we should talk about the girls."
         "I thought we were..." Wolfwood pulled the cigarette from his mouth and extinguished it.
         "Not about that! I mean, maybe we should send them away, for their own safety of course."
         "Of course." Wolfwood replied noncommittally even as his heart lurched. Wolfwood knew Vash was right and it make logical sense, but he closed his eyes at the mere thought of being parted from Milly now that he knew she loved him too. But neither did he want her being shot at, chased, or threatened by all the characters that seemed to cross his path on a regular basis. He sighed as he blew out a puff of smoke. Then a thought struck him. "You know, we can come up with all sorts of plans but even you haven't been able to lose those two for long. And they do have minds of their own..." And then some, hoo boy! "And even if we could ditch them somewhere or make them leave, where exactly would they ever be safe? Remember who has an interest in them now, for whatever sick reason. If they left us we couldn't protect them."

         Vash nodded. He had already thought of that but wanted to make sure his need for Meryl wasn't putting her in harm's way. Of course, she had been since the first time she had followed him. He grinned as he remembered the day he had "shot" her through the heart at the Schezar mansion. The threat of danger wouldn't stop this woman, she of the small stature to walk, not once, but twice into a hoard of menacing outlaws with just a box of donuts. He shook his head at the memory. No, his beloved Insurance Girl was stubbornly brave or was that bravely stubborn? He wasn't sure which.
         He smiled until he heard Wolfwood chuckling. He turned his head to look at him.
         Wolfwood explained, "You were thinking about her again weren't you?"
         Vash just nodded and asked, "Was it obvious?" He wondered if it was something he should worry about. Never having felt this way before, he wasn't sure if this was normal or not. Sure, he'd pranced after many a girl in his day, but the truth was, when it came right down to it he was just a flirt. He'd never even let them see him without his shirt on, little lone tell them what he really was… Meryl was different; he wanted now to allow her to know everything, even if that meant putting her in more danger. It was no use. No matter what he thought about, his thoughts always returned to her. A smile played over his face as he watched the first star appear in the sky.
         "Suites you... Your face was made for smiling." Wolfwood said quietly. "I don't know what it is about those two… Even though we can be faced with the unspeakable, the next moment they can make it all better." With a smile, the priest turned to look at the women again. "I think our minds have been made up for us. Someday we will come to another crossroads, and then we'll have to decide what to do. But until then…"
         "I suppose you are right," Vash replied. He looked up into the sky to watch the stars. "How did that go again..?" He said to himself quietly. "Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight…"
         Wolfwood's eyes turned back to Vash, "Where did you hear that?"
         "From someone, a long time ago," Vash replied. "And she always ended it by wishing for love and peace."
         "Then I'll add onto it," Wolfwood said. "I wish for paradise as well." He smiled and shivered, "Man, they'd better finish soon, because it's cold out here!"

         "You are never going to believe what Vash did…" Meryl whispered to Milly, her violet eyes falling on the dark figure of Vash just outside the circle of light from the campfire. She probably didn't have to whisper, but it felt good somehow, like she was back home having a sleep over and it was already past lights out.
         "Oh, I'll believe it," Milly replied, smiling. "But you can still tell me."
         Meryl shook her head and held out a closed hand. "Before… After Vash and I got into that fight… He told me some things, things that I would never have believed until he came and saved me. Milly, he's not human." Meryl didn't open her hand, but her eyes remained on it all the same. "Of course, I'm starting to wonder about you now as well… But Vash…"
         "We aren't the same," Milly said, looking over at Wolfwood. "But I don't think any of us are normal…"
         "No, I didn't mean that. I mean, he's not even a human being! At least I know the three of us are, no matter how strange you and Wolfwood may be…" Meryl looked up at Milly, hoping that she hadn't offended her friend, but Milly was just smiling knowingly down at her. "Vash, he's a… I don't even know how to say it…" She opened her hand to reveal a bright white feather. It glowed under the newly risen moon.
         Milly put a hand on Meryl's and closed her fingers around the feather. She lifted the feather from her friend's hand and held it into the moonlight. It sparkled as if it weren't a solid thing, but made of magic and moonbeams instead. Milly could see Mr. Vash past the feather and somewhere deep inside of her knowing place, the words came to her. "I know Meryl, he's a Plant." She gave the feather back to her friend, and Meryl closed her fingers around it once more.
         "How did you know?" Meryl drew her hand back to her and held it to her chest. She felt almost as if a precious secret had been denied her. Did everyone know? Had Vash shared his secret with Wolfwood and Milly before her? Were they just keeping it from her in case she would get hurt? Was that it? Meryl looked down at her hand. Maybe everything that had happened hadn't been as special as she thought it had been! Maybe it was just something he did every day! How many other women…
         "Me-ryl," Milly said suddenly, "I really don't know how I knew…" She tilted her head to the side, as she was apt to do when she was thinking hard. "In fact, I'm not sure why I just said what I did. But it makes sense somehow, after what happened when that Plant started to overload, and then on the Sand Steamer…" She smiled, "I'm sure you were the first one he's ever told about it. It's not something he'd just tell anyone." She looked up towards Vash, watching as he and Wolfwood talked. "In fact, I think there's a lot that you know that no one in a hundred years has known."
         "You really think so?"
         "I'm sure of it." She looked from Vash to Wolfwood, and then down at the fire. "I just wish Mr. Wolfwood would say the same to me…" Milly sighed to herself, thinking about how he had avoided all of her questions over the past few days. All she really knew about him was that he liked chocolate… And that he loved her.
         "Oh Milly," Meryl said, trying to comfort her friend. "It takes time… Some men…" She trailed off as Milly suddenly stood up.
         "Well, at least I have time! They aren't getting rid of us that easily!" Milly smiled down at her friend. "Whatever happens, you and me, we'll chase them down to the ends of the planet if we must!"
         Meryl stood, "That's right Milly, we will! Yeah!" She waved a fist into the air and gave Milly a high-five before her eyes slid over to Vash and Wolfwood who were now staring at them. Meryl lowered her hand and said, "Hey guys! Aren't you cold out there! Come back to the fire!"
         Wolfwood and Vash looked at each other and headed back towards the fire. Their faces glowed in the fire as they came into the circle of light. "So, what was that all about?" Wolfwood asked, looking around the fire for a place to sit. He picked a spot closest to Milly and was about to drag her down next to him when she jumped away. "Uh, Milly?"
         Milly stood next to Meryl and they both struck poses that were meant to be ones of determination. The poses looked a bit silly on the girls, but the boys weren't going to tell them. "We are agents of the Bernadelli Insurance Society, and it is our job to follow you wherever you go." Meryl pointed a finger towards Vash who looked a bit taken off guard. "That said, we are Risk Preventative agents and we will stop at nothing to make sure that you do not cause any more damage."
         "Which means," Milly continued for Meryl, "That no matter what you two are planning, we are not going to leave your sides just because you think it is dangerous! If you send us home we will come after you!" She giggled and winked at Wolfwood, "Of course, it's not just because of our jobs now…"
         "Mi-lly," Meryl intoned, but nodded agreement. "She's right, we can't leave you on your own to go get yourself killed by those maniacs. It doesn't matter what you are, you can still get killed." She held up Vash's feather into the firelight and said just to Vash, "It doesn't matter what you are…" With that, she dropped the feather into the flames and it disappeared instantly.
         The group remained silent a moment until Milly could stand it no more. "Okay! Boy do I have a surprise for you guys!" She wandered over to a box she had nearby and triumphantly produced something that only Meryl seemed to recognize.
         "Hey, isn't that..?" Meryl asked as she and Vash sat down next to one another.
         "Yes!" Milly said happily, "Apparently Mr. Gardine had a bit of a sweet tooth, and he was nice enough to leave us with all the makings for s'mores!"
         "S'mores?" Both men asked in unison.
         Milly and Meryl looked at them as if they had just crawled out from under a rock. "You've never heard of them?"
         "Afraid not…" Vash replied.
         "Ah! You'll like them!" Milly held up a box of graham crackers, a bag of marshmallows, and a couple chocolate bars. "They're so good that once you've had one, you'll ask for some more!" She giggled and came to sit next to Wolfwood, this time close enough to touch shoulders. "And if you don't, I have an extra chocolate bar for you." Milly prodded Wolfwood in the side and he laughed before wrapping his arm around her shoulder. She blushed, "I just knew I shouldn't have said that to you…" They both laughed as Vash and Meryl looked on.
         "So, what's with them?" Vash whispered to Meryl as they waited for Milly to pass out the marshmallows.
         "I think they had a good time while we were gone," Meryl replied, smiling at her friend. Vash's aqua eyes shown amber in the firelight as he looked inquiringly at Meryl. She looked at him and grabbed his hand in her own. "But I don't think it was nearly as good a time as we had…"
         "You'd probably be right," Vash said and kissed her on the cheek. And then it was her turn to blush and Meryl turned to look at her friend.
         "Okay Milly! Where's my marshmallow? We don't have all night you know!" She smiled at Vash and thought, yes, no matter what happens, we'll follow them to the ends of the planet.

Part 5 "Lost Childhood"

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