Knives looked over at Vash. Then he took in the two women with him and he blinked blue eyes once and twice. Who were they? Vash he knew, sure, even though his brother looked a bit older and a bit beaten up, but otherwise it was his twin for sure. But these two women, who were they? One of them looked a bit like Rem, but the other was a mystery to him. She looked a bit like… He cocked his head to the side and everyone watched him in rapt attention. The blond, she followed his look and tilted her head to the side as if he were looking into a mirror, the same blue eyes and blond hair, only a female version of himself. His mouth dropped open.
Vash and Meryl looked at each other. "Do you think he suffered brain damage?"
"I'm not sure," Vash responded and he placed a hand on Knives' shoulder. "Are you okay, Knives?"
Eyes widened and Vash's jaw dropped. "Uh, Knives, are you okay?"
Finally his blue eyes turned to Vash's and he blinked. "Why didn't you tell me that Tessla was visiting?" He smiled and reached out, grabbed the blond into a bear hug and gave her a squeeze. "It's so nice that you came to visit when I wasn't feeling good! You're the best big sister ever!"
"Uh… Mr. Vash?" The blond said in Knives' shoulder. "Who's Tessla?"
Vash frowned, "Our older sister," he said after a moment and gently pried Knives away from her.
The dark haired woman frowned, "Uh, Knives, you should be careful of straining yourself, you've been through a lot and your wounds need to heal."
Knives nodded, "Yes, yes, of course, Rem." He lay back down on the bed and smiled up at Rem, Tessla and Vash. It was good to be home.
Meryl pulled Milly and Vash out into the hallway as soon as Knives had fallen asleep. "Just what was that?"
"It was kind of cute if you ask me," Milly said with a smile. "I didn't know your brother was so nice."
"He isn't nice," Meryl barked. "Don't you remember what happened in Carcasas? He killed all of those people and wrote his name in blood on that monument! He's evil! The only reason that he's not dead is because Vash is too kindhearted to kill him! But he sent all of those people after Vash and we nearly got killed ourselves…"
Vash held a hand up to Meryl's lips and she stopped speaking. He nodded to Milly, "Did you tell her what I told you?" Meryl shook her head no and his aqua eyes fell on Milly. The little insurance girl felt jealous, for some reason Vash had started to pay Milly more attention than he did to her since he'd returned with Knives over his shoulder. He had plopped Knives down in his bed, dressed his wounds, and fell promptly asleep in Milly's room. It didn't make any sense! She started to turn red until Vash finally lifted his hand from her mouth.
"What does it matter if Milly knows what you are? You said Knives is safe…"
The gunman nodded, "He is safe. But you must know that because of what we are… Our powers cause us memory loss. We've got to step lightly around him from now on, that means never mentioning what happened."
"He's got amnesia?" Meryl said skeptically. "So how permanent is it or am I going to wake up in a pool of blood one day soon?" She crossed her arms over her chest and looked up at the tall gunman. Sure, maybe he was willing to believe that Knives could change suddenly over a matter of days but there was no way she'd believe a cold blooded killer could become a kitten.
Milly frowned, "Meryl… Mr. Knives doesn't seem like that at all. He seems pretty sweet to me."
"It's because he remembers things as they were 130 years ago," Vash said quietly. He set a hand on Milly's arm, "He was sweet then… He's my brother, and I'd like to keep him like this for as long as I can. Can you help?"
"What about me?" Meryl asked. Vash and Milly looked at Meryl and she frowned, "Come on, I took care of you when you were hurt. You liked my soup." She pouted. It hurt that he didn't trust her with the job, sure, Milly believed Knives could change, but she didn't know what he was capable of. Her eyes drooped and Vash grabbed her suddenly and hugged her.
"Thank you Meryl." The insurance girl blushed. Now we're talking. It was about time he actually paid her a moment's attention, especially since she still hadn't had a moment to spare to tell him how she felt, and she had started to wonder if he even had any feelings at all for her. She hadn't even been sure he would have come back to them at all, but she was glad he did. Vash pulled away from her and smiled, "I'm glad you're willing to help Knives because he's going to think that you're our mother." He wrapped an arm around Milly, "And you're my sis."
Milly clapped her hands, "This is going to be so much fun! I get to be a big sister!"
Meryl opened her mouth to speak and then closed it again. Dammit, how am I going to get any time to tell him what I feel if I have to pretend to be his MOTHER? She sighed and shook her head, "Okay Vash, as long as he isn't going to try to kill us I'll do it. But… You're going to have to tell us more about this Tessla. I'm still not quite sure…"
Vash grabbed her hand, "Alright then Rem, let's get started, we should get Knives something to eat." He pulled her into the kitchen, leaving Meryl only a moment to glance over her shoulder at Milly who had already pushed her way into the bedroom. Oh yeah, she's never been a big sister before. Milly's going to enjoy this too much.
"Alright Knives, now I want to make sure you eat every drop of your soup, because Rem did a really good job cooking it." Milly set the tray onto Knives' lap and then sat down next to him. It was amazing how much he looked like Vash, except for the different hair and eyes. But the resemblance was uncanny. Even his voice was similar.
Knives smiled and grabbed his spoon, "Thanks Tess." Digging into the soup, Milly beamed down at him. It was just like having a little brother! No wonder her older sisters and brothers had been so nice to her, it was just so much fun having someone to look after. She leaned her head to the side and set it on a hand, just watching him eat. He was so simply enthralled by the soup and kept making little humming noises as he ate it.
"Uh, Tess?" Knives said around his spoon, "Do I have something on my face?" Knives pulled the spoon out of his mouth as Milly realized she had been staring at him. She shook her head and continued to smile.
"No Knives, I was just thinking how nice it was to have a younger brother."
"It's nothing new," he said after a moment, "You do have two of us."
Milly nodded, "That's right, I do."
"Are you ever going to introduce me to your fiancé?"
Suddenly Milly's expression dimmed. What? Was there more behind the story that Vash had told her and Meryl about Tessla and Rem? He had said she had died when she was only a year old, that they hadn't really even met her. But maybe if he remembered them as both being alive, then maybe he had created another life that filled in the blanks too? She leaned forward and plucked a stray noodle from Knives' chin. "What are you talking about?"
"Nicholas…" Knives said, swatting at her hand. He shoved another spoonful of soup into his mouth and added around the spoon, "You've been living with him, that's why you never visit anymore. So where is he? Why didn't he come to visit me too?"
Milly choked. Tears came to her eyes and she turned her head. Nicholas… She'd tried to quell the thoughts of his death even as she remembered how much she loved him. They had shared one brilliant moment in time and then his flame had been extinguished. Vash had said that it had been Knives' doing, that he had worked for Knives, but had chosen to disobey and had to be killed. But no, Knives couldn't have done this thing, not this sweet man who sat in the bed with a spoon in his mouth. Still, Nicholas was dead, buried, but never out of her mind. She loved him still.
Turning, Milly smiled at Knives, even though she could feel the tears slide down her cheeks. "Soon Knives, he's just been busy at the orphanage you know…" She stood and waved a hand toward him, "Finish eating and I'll go fix your dessert."
"Oh goody!" Knives said and continued eating as Milly slipped into the hallway. As soon as the door clicked shut behind her she fell to her knees and cried.
Vash looked out the window at the fifth moon. The crater was a dark scar on the quarter moon making it an imperfect crescent. He'd done that. Somehow he'd been born with this incredible power, and the man that slept nearby had that same terrible weapon tucked away in his arm. The only saving grace was that he didn't remember how to use it anymore.
His own powers had wiped his memory clean twice. It had taken years to recall what had happened to July City, and that was only during those few moments as his angel arm was called forth to put the hole in the moon. But then it had only taken a few weeks to remember everything again. Vash had control over his powers now. He wouldn't forget again.
But Knives had already had control over his power. Why had he forgotten everything if this was the case? Vash shook his head and turned to look at his sleeping brother. Knives hadn't felt pain before, he hadn't really experienced mental anguish but for the time when he had seen Tessla for the first time. It had been mental shock that had wiped Knives' memory. Vash wondered if this were the case now, why Knives didn't seem to know anything he had done.
Still, it didn't make sense. It shouldn't have taken him this long to remember. Milly's tears had subsided and she had told them what Knives had said to her about Wolfwood. Knives knew something. He had to. Was he just pretending to have forgotten or was it all real? No… Vash shook his head as he looked at his brother's chest rise and fall as he breathed. He promised Rem that he would save his brother, and there was no power leaking from him now, no mental anguish or hatred in his features. So no matter how good of a liar Knives might have been he couldn't have pulled that off, his mind was too open as he slept for anything to get past Vash's mental checks. Knives really had changed…
Vash looked back out the window toward the street. All of Knives' followers were dead now --every single one that could have come back to reclaim him. There was no one who knew Knives, no one in the town knew him as anyone but Vash's brother. The town's people had accepted both of them, even after everything that had happened before Vash left. When Vash returned without his coat and unarmed, they warmed up to him. No one would come after him for a bounty, Knives' men were gone, and things were finally starting to settle down into normality.
For the first time in his life Vash wondered if he might be able to drop the title gunman and just be Vash. Nothing else, just the goofy guy who went around playing with the local kids and took care of his twin brother. He wondered about getting a job, and maybe even asking Meryl out on a date… Vash smiled to himself, "Nah… She'd never go for it."
"Never go for what?"
Vash's head snapped toward his brother. Knives looked at him through clear blue eyes. "Oh Meryl…"
"You still haven't asked her out?"
"Uh…" Vash's mouth opened and closed, then he blinked. "What do you mean by 'still?'"
Knives pulled himself up in the bed and swung his legs off the side. Vash started to move to stop him, but his brother held up a hand. "I'm fine Vash, you know how fast we heal." He stood up, wobbled a moment, steadied himself and walked over to sit on the windowsill next to Vash. "You should ask her out, she likes you."
"How would you know?"
"She told me," Knives said, looking out the window toward the moon. "Sure is a pretty moon isn't it? The crater makes it look like it's laughing at us." He mocked a big grin and laughed before setting his hand on Vash's shoulder. "Brother, I want you to be happy. Don't worry about me. I can take care of myself; I'm a big boy now. Ask Meryl out and then marry her and have a dozen little children."
Vash smiled faintly, "You know that would never happen."
"Well, you never know. It's not like we'd ever been able to test the theory that we can't…" Knives pulled his arms to his chest and his eyes moved toward the moon again. "I wish I could find someone who loved me as much as Meryl loves you."
It was at that very moment, as Vash watched his brother that the thought occurred to him that he wasn't really sure whom they were talking about. The Meryl he knew was the woman Knives had been calling Rem for the last few days. For the moment it had been as if they were normal brothers, and it had felt so right… Vash stood up suddenly. "Knives…"
His twin turned to look at him, "Yes?"
Knives nodded, "I know she's not Rem," he said slowly. He lowered his head to look at his hands and breathed out a sigh. "And I know that Milly isn't Tessla…" Blue eyes lifted to look at his brother and they were starting to fill with tears, "I killed… She pretends that she's okay, but I know it's not, she knows what I did to Chapel. I can see it every time she comes to feed me."
Vash's expression was mingled shock and fury. What was going on?! Knives had his memory back and yet he hadn't… Had he even lost his memory to begin with? But how? How? He didn't have an ounce of anger in him, this wasn't the Knives he knew from a month ago who had been out to destroy the planet, no; it was someone else… It had to be. He'd always wished for his brother to be instantly changed but he didn't think it would actually happen… And now, here, in front of him, was this brother that he'd always wished to have, like a dream. "You've been lying to us."
"Only out of necessity!" Knives said suddenly, his eyes saddened. "I… I didn't remember at first… I really thought they were Rem and Tessla." Hands formed into fists and he curled them around his chest. "She looked at me with such tenderness. But then when Milly started to cry, I remembered, I knew he was dead and I knew I did it, I caused her pain…" He choked and put a hand to his face. "I, I don't understand it Vash, I…"
Closing his eyes, Vash listened to Knives cry, for the first time since he'd cried in front of Doctor Conrad all those years ago. He had wanted to save Knives for all of these years and yet, and yet… And yet he almost couldn't believe it. But, it was right in front of him, this was his brother, the one he knew existed behind that scary exterior, the one that could have destroyed the world. And this monster was crying, sobbing that he had hurt this girl he knew nothing about and hadn't met until he woke up a few days ago.
Vash sat down next to Knives and wrapped his arms around his brother. "Knives… I…"
"I did all of it didn't I? I killed all of those people…" He clutched his brother, the tears soaking through Vash's shirt. "You tried to stop me… I… I did it, I wanted to get back at them for something that none of them had any control over. I blamed them all. But you never blamed anyone. You never blamed me for killing them. Milly… She doesn't blame me for his death. Why?"
A tear rolled down his cheek and Vash said, "She forgave you."
Knives looked up at his brother. Their eyes met for a long moment until Knives managed to say, "Can I really be forgiven?"
Knives pushed the broom across the front porch in long strokes. The dust stretched out in all directions. This sandy planet had existed for millions of years before he had populated it, and he knew it would exist millions of years after as well. Time was catching up to its inhabitants. Two weeks had already passed since the night he realized he could be forgiven. It was a simple thing really, but something that lifted his spirit and exorcized his demons.
When nighttime set he often pondered his life with a heavy heart. He had been having these pangs for over a hundred years. He'd convinced himself that he'd been blameless. He had never taken a life directly, up until Evergreen… It had been the computer's doing when the ships crashed. It had been Vash who had wiped out July City. Legato had directed the Gung-Ho Guns into killing all of those people. He had remained clean… Even Evergreen, his power had killed him, never his own hands.
It was for this fact that he had never been able to kill Vash; the little voice in the back of his head told him simply that he couldn't do it. He wouldn't be able to blame anyone if he killed his brother. Knives knew that lying to himself would not bring back the only person he cared about. The first night his memory came back to him, the very first moment, he remembered Vash lying there on the ground, shot full of holes, still determined to save him. He who could not be saved.
Vash could have killed him. As he laid breathing in the dirt, pain washing over him, Vash didn't kill him. He let him live. And this was the life he could live. He had his brother, he had people who cared for him after everything he had done, and he had his demons, his memories of how much pain he had caused.
Now he had to admit that he was to blame. For all of it. But why? Why now? Why after all of these years had Vash finally been able to convince him of his error? He looked in Vash's eyes for the first time and saw how happy he was, how much in love he was with Meryl. Then he had seen that same look in Milly's eyes as he mentioned Wolfwood. Love. He hadn't contemplated the emotion before. He'd forced himself to ignore it, as something only a human would do. But now… Now he remembered.
Tears came to his eyes as Knives swept the sand off of the porch. He set the broom down and brought a handkerchief to his eyes. With a sigh, he leaned against the railing. The first time he had ever cried was because he realized how much it meant to someone that he loved Rem. Yes, he had loved her. She was as important to him as she had been to Vash. She had loved him so much that she had told them the entire truth about what had happened to Tessla, and with determination had admitted she'd never allow it to happen to either of them, ever. Bill Conrad had seen that love in Knives and he'd accepted it without question and it had made him so happy that it overflowed from his eyes.
That same emotion had brought tears to the eyes of everyone around him. But he couldn't understand it truly until he saw it in his brother's eyes, in Meryl's eyes, in Milly's. He'd caused so much pain when all they had wanted was peace… The same thing he too had hoped for them. Now, as he watched his brother look at Meryl with such affection, a different affection than he had for Rem… He couldn't do it. For the first time in his life, Knives wanted to share that peace with not only Vash but also those that Vash loved. He sniffled and blew his nose.
"You okay Knives?"
He turned to see Milly coming out onto the porch with a glass of lemonade. He blew his nose again and nodded, "Yes, yes, it's just the dust."
"I didn't know you had allergies," Milly said with a smile, holding out the glass for him. "I thought you might be thirsty so I brought you lemonade."
Knives took it and nodded, "Thank you Milly, I am very thirsty." He sighed and put the glass up to his lips as Milly pulled herself up onto the porch railing beside him. She hummed to herself as she looked out over the street.
"Do you think that Vash and Meryl are having a good time on their date?"
Pulling the glass from his lips, Knives nodded. "Uh huh." He set the glass down on the rail and leaned against it again. "It was about time if you ask me. Thought it would take me a month to convince him to finally ask her. And you saw her face…"
"She was really happy wasn't she?" Milly kicked her legs out and leaned out over the sidewalk. "I think they'll be really happy together. I'm glad."
Knives looked up at Milly and saw her blue eyes sparkling. She was perfect. He wanted to do something for her, for Wolfwood, for everyone he'd hurt. Closing his eyes, he sniffled again, he couldn't figure out what he could do… He'd helped Vash and Meryl, but there was no way to bring back the dead. Milly would never fall in love with another; he knew that, her heart was too pure. She would be faithful until her death. It made him sad, looking at her acting as if nothing was wrong in the entire world.
He opened his eyes and breathed in deeply. Milly looked down at him and smiled before taking a bigger breath and letting it out with a bursting, "Acchoo!" Taken off guard Milly's arms flew out, "Oh no!" Suddenly she was falling over backwards and Knives reached out, but too slow… Her head fell toward the sidewalk and then suddenly she stopped. Blue eyes looked at one another. "Uh, Knives?"
"You look like an angel," she said with a smile as she set her fingers on his arm. Knives opened his mouth to say something and then stopped and looked down, he hadn't been able to catch her… But his angel arm had. The feathers wrapped around her waist gently holding her inches from the ground. She giggled, "They tickle!"
Knives' mouth curled into a smile and he started to laugh. Of course… He did have something he could do. He could do it for all of them… Everyone on the planet. No one else could do it…
Meryl gaped out the window. Something wasn't right. She closed her eyes and set her head back down on the pillow. No, that couldn't be right, she must have been dreaming because for a split second there she thought she'd seen a forest out the window. With a shake of her head, she opened her eyes again and looked over at Vash sleeping soundly beside her.
He looked like a little boy, cuddled deep in the blankets, his hair falling around his face. Meryl had to admit that in moments like this she learned to love Vash all over again. Every single morning. She was happy now, settled in a house of their own. The town was about two hundred iles south of December. A good place to live, and it made them all very happy, even Knives. As she reached to pull a lock of hair from Vash's face he opened an aqua eye and looked up at her. "Good morning Sunshine."
"To you too," Meryl replied, kissing him on the cheek. She sighed happily and watched as Vash sat up in bed next to her. He was about to lean in to give her his morning kiss when his eyes focused on something outside of the window.
"What in the world?!"
Meryl slumped forward, "So it wasn't just my imagination was it?"
Vash climbed over her toward the window, "I'm not sure what you imagined Meryl, but if it was a forest of trees than I'm imagining it too." He crawled over her and threw open the window, even as Meryl turned to see that, yes, indeed, there was a forest outside of the window. The wind rustled through the trees as she got out of the bed to stand next to Vash.
"How could this happen?"
"I was about to ask you the same thing," Vash said, wrapping an arm around her and finally giving her the morning kiss. Then a sound outside of the window caught their attention and they looked at each other before leaning out the window together.
"Good morning Meryl. Good morning Vash!" Milly danced by the window with a group of children. She took a little girl by the arms and swung her around until she got dizzy and they fell into a pile. The other children took that as their cue to jump in as well and they formed a jumbled mess. From somewhere beneath the huddle Milly said, "Get up you sleepyheads and come play with us!"
Meryl opened her mouth, turned to look at Vash and then back at Milly as she climbed out of the pile of laughing children. "Milly, what's going on?"
"Isn't it wonderful?" Milly stood and dashed over to the window even as the children started to run through the trees. "The children woke me up this morning saying that Knives wanted to tell me something. So I got up and he was standing there in front of the orphanage with a potted plant in his hand." She nodded to herself and waved at them, "Come to the front porch…" She dashed away and Meryl scrambled past Vash and out of the house.
Vash stumbled behind her and stopped as they saw that their porch was now covered in potted plants. "Red geraniums!" Vash laughed and picked up one of the plants and thrust it toward Meryl. "I can't believe it, Rem's flower!" He picked up another and took a deep sniff before making a face, "Heh, doesn't really smell all that nice…"
Milly stood at the bottom of the porch, "Yeah, the whole town has them. I don't know where he got all the pots but goodness aren't they the most beautiful flowers?"
"Yes they are Milly, but what…" Meryl blinked, suddenly realizing that she had a front lawn with grass and trees now instead of a stretch of sand in every direction. "Where did all of this come from? And where's Knives?"
Holding up a hand, Milly smiled, "I was getting to that Meryl! See, after he handed me the flower he told me that he was going to leave." She put a hand to her mouth and her eyes grew sad, "I don't know where he is now because he told me to close my eyes. When I asked him why he said it was because he didn't want me to be sad, and even though I didn't understand I did. And when I opened them… The whole city was green." She waved a hand toward town, "Even from the top of the radio tower there isn't a patch of brown to be seen anywhere. I think he did it somehow."
Meryl looked up at Vash, hoping that somehow he'd be able to give her some explanation of how his brother had suddenly turned the whole world green overnight. But Vash was crying. Tears rolled down his cheeks, and scared, she wrapped her arms around his waist, "Vash?"
He set his arms around her, "I'm okay Meryl…" He hiccupped and smiled, "I… I knew we could do this but…" His brows furrowed suddenly, "Oh no…"
"What is it?" Meryl felt Vash's arms loosen around her as he turned to Milly.
"Where'd he go? Which direction did he go? If he were to use this much power…" Vash stumbled off the porch to grab Milly's shoulders. "His hair… What color was it?" Meryl dashed down after him and watched him look from side to side, as if trying to pick up on his scent.
Milly shook her head, "I don't know, I'm sorry, I did like he asked me to."
Vash sunk down into the grass and the two girls sat down on their knees around him. Meryl set a hand on Vash's back as he put his fingers into the green grass. "He's gone…"
Meryl blinked. "What do you mean by 'gone,' did he leave town?" She felt a hand on her arm and Meryl looked over at Milly. A single tear ran down her cheek.
"No Meryl, he's gone," Milly repeated for Vash. She smiled and looked toward the children from the orphanage where she'd been working for the past weeks in Wolfwood's honor. "He gave us a present before he left."
Vash nodded, sniffling, "Yes, he did." He wrapped an arm around Meryl, "But we gave him something first."
"What?" Meryl asked, tears coming to her own eyes as she watched her friends.