"Gunsmoke & Feathers Alternate Universe"
"Part 8 Into the Future" Part 3

By Ricki, Susan, and Catherine

****This chapter is rated PG-13****
Chapter 6 is up! Sorry it's taken so long, this one has been quite the doozy! Done Done Done!! YAY!!!^_^

Chapter 5
Anybody Home?
          It was too quiet, and Vash knew almost at once his brother wasn’t in the half-sunken scout ship. Knives’ hideout was about half the size of one of the SEEDS ships, originally intended to act as a landing ship when the crew found a suitable planet. Having all the necessary supplies for a small army in case they found another sentient species, Knives used it to equip his personal war. Vash knew this place well; he’d been here for a year as Knives made their guns… The long colts were supposed to be a catalyst for their powers, although both of them had long since grown past needing them for that reason. He wasn’t even sure if Knives even had his anymore. Not when he could call upon the powers within, with the help of their sisters, he had almost limitless power to use as he pleased.
          Meryl clung to his arm as she caught her breath from running the final distance of silent desert to this towering wreckage. There was no one to be seen anywhere. Vash swore internally, why was Legato here if Knives wasn’t? He started thinking about going back to help Milly and then shook his head, the big girl would take care of herself, and if she didn’t… Well, he knew that Wolfwood would wake up before she got too battered… At least, he hoped. Vash had seen the priest take a lot more than a punch in the stomach, and he was partially convinced that Nicholas was faking unconsciousness.
          A tug at his arm and Vash looked down at the little insurance girl. She was looking up at the towering ship as they stood in the shadow cast by the twin suns. “Are we at the right place? There isn’t anyone here.”
          Vash nodded slowly, “We’re in the right place. Knives however, has always been very solitary. I doubt only a few humans have ever been here…” He pushed his sunglasses up his nose and looked up at the ship. There were multiple sensors on the outside; he could see little red lights blinking as they recorded the exterior of the ship. But the cameras were on automatic; they didn’t follow the couple as they went to the entrance Knives showed him when they first came here years ago. A beep sounded as they approached and the door slid open.
          “He knows we’re here doesn’t he?” Meryl said, looking up at him a bit worried before taking a breath, “Or is this just an automatic door?”
          Shaking his head, Vash said, “He’s not here, but someone is. I’d like to find out who. We’ve come this far…” His response was a series of quick nods as Meryl took his hand and they went from the warm desert into the cool interior of the ship. Apparently the systems were active, Vash felt the hairs stand up on the back of his neck and Meryl shivered beside him. The door slid shut behind them and Vash jumped. He shook his head, trying to remember this ship from so many years ago, but Knives had changed his sanctuary since, he didn’t remember so much automation. There were two doors, both of which he’d seen Knives enter and exit, but before they had to make a decision which to use, the left one slid open with a pneumatic hiss.
          “I’m thinking they want us to go that way,” Meryl said. She released Vash’s hand and digging under her cape, pulled out her derringers. Vash followed suit, taking the safety off his colt and checking to make sure the barrel was loaded. “Are you sure he isn’t here? Maybe we should go back and help Milly…”
          “No, we need answers, and if Knives has them, they’ll be here with him or without. I don’t know where he is…” Vash didn’t add, which bothers me too. But he was fairly sure that if this game were one of Knives’ than he’d be arrogant enough to put his signature on it rather than hiding behind the scenes. He nodded toward the door and taking lead, went through the entrance with Meryl close by. The ship was silent except for the sound of their footsteps and breathing.
          A hallway stretched up to a stairwell and Vash took them one at a time, keeping Meryl near him as they ascended five stories. At the top of the stairs another door opened into a long ramped hall leading deeper into the ship. Yet another door opened at the end and Meryl shook her head, “This is familiar,” she said. Vash looked down at her now that they could walk next to one another in wide hall. “When I met your mother… She led Milly and I through a series of hallways like this.”
          Vash felt a chill down his spine, just the mention of a mother that wasn’t Rem… “It is possible Legato retrieved the memories from you when…” He trailed off and Meryl just nodded. They both had no idea what might have been lost during her mind rape, and he knew Meryl still suffered amnesia when it came to one large chunk of her memory.
          They continued to walk down the hall to the next doorway, which opened to a huge cavernous room. This room looked like it was made for plants, but there were none now. Far up above they could see the sky, the top half of the ship had broken long ago letting in sunshine. Unlike the other hallways, this room was dusty from the open roof and a single pair of footprints spoiled the dust on the catwalk. Meryl bent down, “These were recent,” she said after a moment. Vash nodded and watched her place her derringer down next to the print. “Male, about six foot tall, young from the length of the stride, probably around your physical age…” She shivered and picked up her gun again. “I hope you’re right about Knives not being here…”
          Continuing on silently, the next rooms, hallways and stairs were uneventful and quiet. It was almost anti-climatic for both of them to be lead through this maze. There were no soldiers, no Gung-ho Guns, not a soul breathing within the huge hull of the ship. No footsteps, no servants, not a sound of machinery, no warning alarms going off, just silence and endless walking. Vash was pretty sure they were almost to the top of the ship now, perhaps just a few more stories. Next to him Meryl was out of breath. He was amazed she never said a word of complaint, just kept following along after him as they climbed nearly fifty stories. Knives probably doesn’t need security, just because by the time anyone got to him they’d be too tired to do anything after all of these stairs! He chuckled to himself but Meryl didn’t notice as she heaved a sigh and continued into a narrow hallway ahead of him.
          This hallway had only one door at the end and it remained shut as they approached it. Meryl took a deep breath and turned to Vash. “Should we knock?”
          Vash took off his sunglasses and put them in his coat. He had a feeling he wouldn’t need them in here, and he motioned for Meryl to stand behind him. She complied. Holding his gun in his left hand, Vash lifted his right to knock. There was a deep hollow metallic sound in response to his fist and finally the door opened.
          With a gasp, Vash looked on in amazement at the room before them. Half of the room was lined in windows overlooking the desert; one of the moons was visible in the daylight. A luxurious red carpet spread wall to wall, a huge wooden desk was positioned in the center of the room with a wingback leather chair behind it. But it wasn’t the desk or the carpeting that attracted the eyes, it was the huge plant globe behind the desk Vash first saw.
          “It’s…” Meryl opened her mouth but even she couldn’t speak as she came into the room behind him. They both stared up at the contents of the huge globe… There was a plant angel, in all of her glory, glowing iridescently, and long white hair turning to feathers that swept the bottom of the globe. Elegant pointed ears crested the sides of her head, her eyes were pupil-less, completely white, and Vash had a feeling she was blind, but he could tell she was looking at them as they entered. She looked beautiful, lips spread into a strange smile, hands clasped in front of her. Vash thought she looked like a matron… And as he looked at her he realized he knew her.

Un-engagement of the Engaged

          Nicholas cradled Milly in his arms, eyeing Knives suspiciously, but the plant wasn’t moving from his spot. He’d only met Vash’s brother a few times but every single time he felt that the only reason he wasn’t crushed like a bug at his feet was because Knives found some use for him. Even now the cool blue eyes looking down upon him felt like that of a buzzard watching a small rodent dying of thirst, waiting for it to die before gorging itself. Under other circumstances it might have sent shivers down his spine, but he had to be strong for Milly, she was completely out, bleeding, and desperately he wished they hadn’t left Shin behind… The boy could have healed his love within moments, but it was a few hours back to the orphanage, and he doubted that Knives would allow the trip to save her.
          And still the plant stood there watching as blood soaked into Wolfwood’s pants where he cradled Milly. “Hold on Honey…” He gritted his teeth, and looked up at his enemy, “Don’t just stand there, do something! If you want her so bad, don’t let her die!”
          A frown formed on Knives’ face and his eyes narrowed. Suddenly there was movement behind him and Nicholas looked up at a man who approached. He remembered seeing him moments before Knives came down the sand dune but the silver-haired youth remained upon the hill until now. Without a word he kneeled down in front of Nicholas and Milly, and Wolfwood looked at this strange man, he wasn’t a Gung-ho Gun… “Who are you?”
          “We’ll have time to talk later,” the young man said in return, looking over Milly with a calm expression. He didn’t seem the least worried about Milly’s condition and he even took time to brush a stray bang from his eyes, which were unlike any the priest ever saw, even Legato’s yellow eyes weren’t like this, one violet and one aqua… “Sit her up,” the man said, and Nicholas complied reluctantly, hoping he wasn’t hurting Milly doing so.
          Reaching out a hand, Nicholas watched him put his hands upon Milly’s scratched arm and leg and closed his eyes. He bowed his head, and then a moment later pulled away. The man stood again, turned to Knives and said, “She’s healed. But I’ve left her unconscious.”
          Knives nodded, “Good. We will return to the ship.” Finally the plant moved forward, and he reached down to take a hold of Milly.
          “NO! Don’t you touch her!” Wolfwood spat, but he realized all too suddenly that he couldn’t move to interfere with Knives. Here he thought Milly made it so that Knives could no longer control him… He gritted his teeth, about the only thing he still had control of, and watched as Knives picked Milly up like a sack of potatoes and lifted her over his shoulder.
          “Bring him with you,” Knives said, and with long strides disappeared over the hill toward his hideout. Wolfwood was helpless, unable to move, cussing at himself… Why can’t I help her? Why did we get so far if this is it? All of this fighting, for what?! God! God! Is this punishment? He could feel tears fall down his cheeks even though he couldn’t move his hands to wipe them away.
          The young man stood nearby, his shadow falling across Nicholas’ face. “Those tears will do you no good…” With strong arms, much stronger than a skinny youth his age should have, he lifted Wolfwood from the ground and set him on his feet. He reached down and brushed the dirt from his jacket and legs and pulled the handkerchief Wolfwood kept in his coat pocket out and wiped his face carefully. Nicholas watched this in amazement, unable to do anything about his sprucing and the young man looked down at the little embroidery upon the cloth. “Did Milly give this to you?” He carefully folded it and returned it to the priest’s pocket. “You can speak.”
          “Yes,” Wolfwood spat. “What are you going to do with her?”
          “I’m not doing anything with her, but I believe Knives has other plans.” With that, the man lifted Wolfwood into his arms and swung the priest over his shoulder as Knives had done with Milly. Nicholas was amazed at his strength and started to wonder if this was the rumored thirteenth Gung-ho Gun… “I’m not one of those freaks, ” the silver-haired man said, reading Nicholas’ mind. “No offense… I’m here to help you.”
          “Help?” Nicholas croaked. “Help? How is this helping? You just let Knives take my fiancée!” He desperately wanted to struggle, to do something… “Arg!” He screamed in frustration. “Let me go and I’ll kill him! I’ll go save her myself!”
          His only response from the young man was a shrug of his shoulders. Going over to the cross punisher, he swung it over his other shoulder and moved to follow Knives. They crested the hill, but all Nicholas could see was the shadow they made on the sand. Sand, everywhere… He could feel every step as they slid down the dunes then climbing up again and continued on in this manner for some time. Wolfwood remembered his only trip to Knives’ headquarters. There wasn’t a soul there; apparently Knives did not like human company. However, he hired the Gung-ho Guns personally, and Evergreen brought him to the crashed ship to meet Knives for the first time. Wolfwood thought he was going to die. Every single part of his body quivered in front of this ultimate evil. He vowed from that time to be a part of the PWS in name only and turned his entire life around from that point on. And then… Then Evergreen showed up and took him to Knives the second time, right outside of December City. You will follow my brother from now on as guide and babysitter. Wolfwood was absolutely baffled that Knives had a brother, and took his time finding Vash, the Humanoid Typhoon who destroyed July City…
          “We’re almost there,” the man said quietly. Nicholas didn’t bother to respond. He knew that there was no need since he was helpless… Then, without a word, the young man set the cross punisher down on the ground and set Wolfwood on his feet as well. Nicholas looked at him curiously. “I’ll give you use of your limbs again, as long as you promise not to use them until the right time…”
          “I told you, I am helping you! Don’t tell me you have memory loss…” A smile crossed his face and Nicholas realized the expression was familiar, but he wasn’t sure from where. “Knives is too preoccupied to notice that he’s lost his control over you, and this time it will be permanent… But I can’t have you going in with guns blazing or all of your friends will be in danger.” That smile turned dark and the young man’s eyes went upwards, probably toward the ship, Nicholas thought. As the priest looked at his expression, he suddenly realized where he’d seen it before… Vash. This kid, although with long gray hair and the strange eyes, looked so much like the Stampede, that it surprised him he hadn’t seen the resemblance before this moment.
          “Just who are you?”
          Before answering, the young man returned his attention to Wolfwood. He raised his hand to Nicholas’ forehead and a fraction of a second later the priest felt control return to him. He twitched his fingers, but was careful not to move too much in case they were being watched. “I come from the future.” He smiled and lifted his hands in front of him, “You don’t have to say it; I know it sounds crazy.”
          “Not really,” Wolfwood returned. “And you’re a plant aren’t you?”
          The man shook his head, “No, I’m human, at least mostly. I’m Jonas… Wolfwood,” he said. “I guess you could say I’m your great, great grandson…”
          “No kidding…” The priest just stared at him. “But you look like…”
          “Vash?” Jonas nodded, “He’s my grandfather on my mother’s side. You don’t seem too shocked about this.” His lip curled slightly, “You must have seen some pretty crazy things…”
          Nicholas just stared at him. Wait a sec… That means… Wait, what exactly does that mean? If Vash is his grandfather and I’m his great grandfather then… But I’m not Vash’s father! Which would mean… “You mean my grandson marries Vash’s daughter?”
          Jonas waved a hand, “We don’t have time for you to figure out the family tree. You have to get in there and save your fiancée and the others…” He turned and picked up the cross punisher and then reached for Wolfwood.
          “Hold on! Wait a second, I can walk now…”
          “If you do than Knives will know I freed you,” Jonas responded. “I asked you if you’d stay still…” He just stared at him with those strange eyes and Nicholas shrugged. Allowing himself to be dumped over Jonas’ shoulder again, he sighed and watched the sand change to rock as they came up to the ship. But this time his mind was going over everything…
          “Hey Squirt,” Wolfwood said after a moment, Jonas missed a step, and then continued on. “If you’re from the future than that means everything works out, doesn’t it?”
          Jonas sighed a very long and sorrowful sound. “Let’s just say it doesn’t work out for the best… Otherwise I wouldn’t be here.” Suddenly darkness fell over them and Wolfwood knew they were in the shadow of the ship, and he shivered even in the desert heat.

Uncertain Dealings

         Meryl stared up at Lady Elf. She seemed to come out of her memories. Only something was different… She looked older, wary, something sad about her expression, and Meryl thought back to the first time she spoke with this creature that wanted to control the future and it was her eyes… “She’s blind,” Meryl whispered, Lady Elf had completely black eyes the first time she and Milly saw her, now they were completely white. “What’s happened?”
          Harsh times… Lady Elf said within their minds, coming to float nearer the glass where her son was standing in awe. Vash didn’t touch the glass, but almost, he was looking at her in curiosity and fear. You are mine, yes?
          Meryl stepped up next to them, “Don’t you recognize… Oh wait…” She put a hand to her mouth, “This is one of the twins you spoke to us about…”
          Grown? Full like the other? The plant seemed confused, her arms falling to her sides as she tried to see what she could not see. Is it now? When… The time… I have forgotten… Too much time upon this side… She shook her head and turned her blind eyes to look at Meryl. I spoke to you once, yes? There was another, yes?
          “Yes…” Meryl swallowed, this wasn’t the same plant that had been so serious about merging their two species, about saving them from some horrible enemy years down the road. She was now broken and confused… She glanced over at Vash, his eyes were wide, sad, and she grabbed for his arm and pulled him backwards. “Vash, can I talk to you for a second?”
          Vash nodded slowly and he backed up to follow her to the edge of the room, but didn’t peel his eyes off his mother for a few moments. Finally, when he was able to tear away from her blind stare, he looked down at Meryl. “I feel like I know her but… What did…”
          “Knives did something to her. She wasn’t like this Vash. She doesn’t belong in a globe like the others do…” Meryl glanced up at the plant, she was drooping, and as Lady Elf turned in her globe, she looked like a lonely goldfish. The back of her hair was gray, darkening to the tips… Meryl wrenched her eyes off of the plant, knowing suddenly that she was dying, but didn’t want Vash to turn and see what she saw… “It hurts to look at her…”
          “You feel pity for this creature?” A voice split the quiet air of the office. Vash and Meryl spun on their heals to see a man dressed in a white suit emerge from a door to the side. He had a pink shirt, dark hair and the build of Wolfwood. He shook his head, looking at Lady Elf, “She’s the Mother… She’s not to be pitied, our master has saved her from a horrible fate…” He smiled bizarrely.
          “Who are you?” Vash spit out, “What did Knives do to her?”
         The man shrugged slowly, “My name is Midvalley the Horn freak, one of the Gung-ho Guns, at your disposal.” He bowed before continuing, “ I would play for you, and I am a very talented musician… But the master has forbid it here in her presence unless she is in need of persuasion…. The Mother’s ears are quite sensitive you see, much more so than a human’s. She’s very exquisite, perfect, if you will. Knives finds her an amusing specimen.”
          “Damn it! You blinded her didn’t you?” Vash started to pull his gun but Midvalley lifted a finger.
          “None of that in here… You don’t want to hit the glass do you?” He walked up to Lady Elf’s globe and set his hand upon it. “You shouldn’t be here, however. The master will be very disappointed to have missed you.” He turned, “Take them to the holding cells.”
          Suddenly Meryl felt bony fingers wrap around her ankles and wrists, “Vash!” She hadn’t even heard them come in behind her, but two huge men grabbed her, around the waist now, lifting her up into the air, squeezing her painfully. “Ow, stop it! Let go you jerks!" As their hands wrapped around her arms and body Meryl could tell that there was something intrinsically very wrong about them. She knew they were not human but she wasn’t positive until she looked at them over her shoulder and saw glimpses of segmented arms and legs. Meryl couldn't hold back the shocked gasp. Empty eyes stared through her, eyes without the spark of life within.
          “I suppose you have not met Leonof’s puppets,” Midvalley laughed smoothly. Meryl didn’t bother to look at him as she turned to see Vash in a similar situation. This time she could see the attackers clearly. They were people-shaped puppets but all bony and naked. Holding onto Vash, fingers and appendages grabbing for his gun, taking it from him as Vash struggled. He was caught off guard but Meryl knew that he had to be much stronger than silly puppets! What was going on!
          “I can’t get them off me!” Vash gasped, “They…” He slumped forward suddenly and Meryl’s eyes went wide, a needle stuck out of the back of his neck.
          “Vash! Vash!” Meryl screamed and struggled in her captors’ hands, but it was no use she couldn't break free of their grasp. "Vash!" She wailed as they hauled the unconscious gunman out of the room. Frantically she struggled cursing her helplessness and inability to help her love. The puppets dragged her out the door that Midvalley entered; he followed the group even as she tried to wrench her arms out of the puppets’ grasp. Midvalley just followed along, she could hear his dress shoes tapping along the metal hallway. “Let me go! Where are they taking Vash! Get off of me!” Managing to free a hand she wrestled behind her for a derringer, “Stop!” She sent off a shot, blowing a hole in one of the puppet’s heads. It flinched and toppled to the floor only to be replaced by another a moment later. Swearing, Meryl turned the second shot on the only living person nearby, “Let me go!” The shot flew wide as a puppet grabbed for her wrist and ricocheted off the wall.
          Midvalley turned to look at her with a sneer, “So, the little one bites, does she? You’re no match for me. Strip her!” They dragged Meryl into a side room and forcefully removed all but her shirt and skirt. Her shoes, cloak, all of her weaponry were left behind as they dragged her back out of the room again. When they reached the end of the hallway and entered a new room, Midvalley waved a hand at the wall, “Chain her there, I want to play for her.”
          He disappeared out of Meryl’s sight for a moment, and when he reappeared he had a saxophone in his hands. Meryl felt her arms and legs chained to the wall, she was forced to stand, her arms over her head. After she struggled for a moment, finding herself unable to break free from the cold metal restraints, Midvalley waved the puppets away. “They’re very handy, but stupid otherwise. They have no souls, no brains, so a psychic cannot feel them and cannot control them.” The puppets disappeared after a moment and Midvalley lifted his sax. “This is Sylvia. She could kill you if I let her, but I’m under orders to leave you alive… However, as long as you still breathe, Knives will let me do whatever I please.”
          “You bastard! Let me go!”
          Midvalley placed his sax to his lips, which curled into a smile. “You and Sylvia will make beautiful music...”

Greenhouse Flowers

         Stretching his arms up over his head, Knives looked up toward the sky. The she-beast that he brought with him was heavier than he’d first expected, and with the lack of physical activity in recent years, he felt the strain from carrying her. Annoyed by the nuisance of this creature, he brought her directly to his greenhouse, a geoplant room he’d propagated after his return without Vash. Healing from the brutal wounds his brother inflicted on him was nearly impossible… For a time he was certain Vash had won this war… And then, one day as he floated within his globe, a voice spoke to him, gave him the power to heal again, and gave him the will to fight Vash once more. But it took years to find where this voice came from and who had saved him from certain death at the hands of his idiot brother.
          Knives gazed down at the still form of the human called Milly. She was monstrously large for a female of the species, far too powerful for her own good, and he had a connection to her he feared. When last he saw this creature, she and her small friend were at his mercy, completely under his control, the way he deemed. But now she was powerful enough to block his intensions and he cursed his own poor judgment. Vash had figured out how to break the ties upon the little one, and her proximity to Vash had only strengthened their powers. Now he could no longer reach either of them. This one however, this is the one the voice told him he should seek out years ago.
          But for years he could not find this creature, and only by chance did she appear in front of him with her telekinetic abilities, throwing him and Legato backward into the sand. Her sudden appearance caused him shock because he knew who she was. From that moment on he searched for a way to find out more, what was with this creature? How had she grown as powerful as his slave? The yellow-eyed one had become unstable, but this she-beast had become more comfortable in her powers, more stable, rather than falling into madness. It didn’t make sense to him. He opened an uncontrollable power within her that should have consumed her, dragged her into the pits of hell where his brother could do nothing, and yet! And yet! Here she was! Only one of his kind resided within her body, and she was comfortable with the plant that was poison to him!
          Damn her! He thought with displeasure, thinking of his mother within the globe. The bitch thought she was doing me a favor! Instead all she’s brought is my destruction! He paced away from the she-beast and threw his hands at a tree, indenting his palms into the bark. Blood trickled down the trunk. I found you, I saved you from those Serpentine creatures that wanted to kill you! I pulled you into this time and asked for your help to stop Vash! You’ve plotted my demise from the very beginning haven’t you? Knives pulled away from the tree and swung, looking back at the human who lay in the grass nearby. And all you said I had to do was find this thing and she would help me…
          “I should kill you,” he said, stalking over to the unconscious body and slamming his foot into her side. “You were created for me… And yet all you do is hinder me! My soldiers have fallen at your hands, you have become too powerful and I had to put down my strongest warrior…” He kicked her again and Milly started coughing. Knives backed away a step, eyebrows drawn taught.
          The she-beast grabbed at her side and sat up suddenly, eyes went wide as she looked around. Shocked, she looked up at him and she lifted a hand. “You can’t hurt me…” Suddenly she jerked, dropped her hand and clutched her side again, “Ow, ow, ow…”
          “Weak, pathetic creature,” Knives scoffed. “Your intensions are ill-founded. I’m not going to permanently damage you…” He crossed his arms over his chest and breathed in the air around him. “You do me no good alive, but less dead.”
          Milly released her side and fingered her shoulder where Legato slashed her, and then down to her leg, “I’m healed… How?”
          “I wished it,” Knives replied. “You are mine.”
          “I’m not anyone’s!” Milly spat, “Well, maybe Nicholas’… But definitely not yours!” She breathed out a ragged breath and then looked up at him. “What do you want with me? You can’t control me, I might not have felt you before but I know that you aren’t in my head either…”
          Knives breathed deeply, and turned, “I have brought you to my sanctuary.” He waved a hand at the plant life and knew she was taking in the scenery for the first time. When he turned he saw the awe in her blank expression. “You’ve never seen the like have you?”
          “Don’t change the subject…” The human said, and then bit her lip, “Actually I’ve seen a geoplant before because I grew up on a farm but this is the classiest one… You can grow daisies and pansies here can’t you?”
          Blue eyes falling on his captive and Knives hissed out a laugh, “You think of mere flowers? I can grow more than flowers here. With the power I hold I could change this entire planet into my own Eden!” He waved a hand at the landscape. This was what he planned for his sisters and brother, a utopia, a land of green and beauty where they could live in luxury and peace… “But I have to clear out the garbage before I can grow my garden!”
          “You mean humans,” Milly said slowly, looking down at her hands. “Why can’t you just live with us?”
          Knives turned on her, “Because your kind are arrogant, foolish, you destroy everything you come across… Even your own planet was wiped out because of humans!”
          “You don’t know that!”
          “I do,” Knives hissed, “We were sent to this miserable little planet to save this dying race after they destroyed the Earth. For a time I wondered if it might have not been redeemed, but I have seen the past and when your kind is wiped from the face of this planet as well, humans will be gone forever.” He watched the woman as she got to her feet, still holding a hand to her bruised side.
          “Why can’t you just be like Mr. Vash?” Milly said after a moment, eyes sad. “He’s wanted to live in peace with us… And he’s done a fine job of it until you stuck your nose into it!” She waved a free hand at him and rolled her eyes, “In fact he and Meryl are… Well, I suppose you wouldn’t understand.”
          Knives rushed her, grabbed her arms and hauled her into the air. “I understand full well that that she-demon has ruined my brother! Your kind has made him into a worthless fool rather than the powerful god-like being he could be!” Suddenly a pain in his wrists and Knives dropped the she-beast. He looked down at his hands; they were red with blood and blistered. “Burned?”
         Milly smoothed out her sleeves, one at a time, “Please don’t touch me Mr. Knives. I could do much worse, but I know that it would sadden Mr. Vash if I hurt you.” She looked at the handprints upon her coat and frowned, “Blood?”
         “Damn you beast!” Knives hissed, his face twisting with anger. “You think I don’t know what makes you a monster? It’s the same blood that boils within my own body…” He laughed, “You’re more plant than Legato became with all of the testing I did upon him! You have become a more perfect specimen, and I would love to dissect you to make an army.”
          “It wouldn’t do you any good,” she replied. “Because I won’t let you and I know that Nicholas, Meryl and Mr. Vash wouldn’t let you either.” Milly put her hands in her pockets, and after fishing in them for a moment she drew out a small item and extended her hand to him, “Here. I think you need this more than I do right now.” Knives, thoroughly confused by this woman took a step forward. Milly waved her hand at him, “Come on, it won’t bite. Sheesh, what a big ninny you are!”
         Taking the last steps forward he snatched the items from the she-beast’s hand and looked down at them. “What is this?”
          “Pudding, silly!” Milly smiled, and Knives looked at her. “You eat it,” Milly clarified, shaking her head. “Goodness, you didn’t learn much in all of this time did you? No wonder Mr. Vash and you don’t get along well…” She mocked opening the lid and putting the spoon in it, “Now come on, eat up before I take it back because I’m having second thoughts on giving it to you…”
         Knives growled in frustration and threw the pudding to the ground and stomped on it. The female opened her mouth to protest but Knives screamed, “TAKE HER OUT OF MY SIGHT!” A dozen of Leonof’s puppets swarmed from the trees down to the ground, clutching, grabbing, pulling at the she-beast’s clothing, and taking her by the arms and legs. Milly screamed and Knives laughed, “You can’t stop these can you?! You can’t control them!” He laughed as she was dragged from the geodome. When she was gone a sudden feeling came over him and he dropped to his knees.
         “What..?” He put a hand to his face, a tearing, ripping sensation screamed within his head. The plants… You’re on her side? He cursed the creatures within his own head and fought them back into silence. He laughed, “Pathetic…”
         Something squished under his leg and Knives put a hand below his knee and came out with the pudding Milly had given him. Flinging it from his body, he looked at the dark brown substance on his fingers that mingled with the blood from earlier. Putting a finger to his tongue, he frowned in confusion. It was sweet… Then spitting, he rose from the ground, “It’s too late for petty human endeavors. I have my pawns where I need them and I shall finish this!” He stormed from the geoplant. Knives felt it was time to confront the Mother about this repulsive human female.

Wounded Pride

         The suns were setting in the West, casting brilliant red rays across the desert. The moons were rising to the East; already the largest one called the “fifth moon” by the planet’s inhabitants could be seen above the horizon looming up brilliant and huge. However, no one watched this display of beauty, there were so few windows within Knives’ hideout that even the Gung-ho Guns found they needed to leave the ship from time to time to get out of the gloomy quarters. Those that stayed here more than a month found themselves a little bit crazier than they had originally been, but no one was quite sure whether it was from proximity to the free born plant, or from lack of life that even a desert planet produced.
          Jonas himself was thinking about the sunset as he and Wolfwood descended into the belly of the ship into the lower levels. He was given explicit directions to lock the priest within the dungeon with Grey the Ninelives, but Jonas had other plans for his ancestor. When they came down five stories below the surface where test-subjects howled in their cages, Jonas set Wolfwood down onto his feet again and handed over the cross punisher. “This is as far as I can go,” he said then. “Knives will expect me to go to him now.” He turned but Nicholas grabbed his arm.
          “Wait a second,” the priest said, and Jonas turned to him.
          “What is it?”
          The priest nodded to the surroundings, “Where would they have taken the girls? They aren’t down here are they?”
          Shaking his head, Jonas sighed, “No, I don’t think they would be down here. Knives puts those he wants to forget about down here…” He frowned, “You were one of his men, didn’t you learn anything of his habits?”
          “I’m afraid I spent more time with his brother,” Wolfwood replied. “Actually, I’m kinda glad. But wait, why are you working for him?”
          “I have my reasons,” Jonas said. “Depending on who Knives called in for this visit… The girls are probably with the Hornfreak.”
          Wolfwood’s eyes went dark, “Midvalley, eh… That’s not good.” He picked up his punisher and with a snap, unwrapped it, leaving the bindings upon the floor and balancing the huge gun on his shoulder. “Then they’ll be at the very top. I seem to remember there being an elevator…”
          Jonas nodded, “Yeah, it’s over this way.” He sighed and waved a hand at Wolfwood who followed him through the screaming and wailing creatures within the cages. “And don’t look at the cages… Just ignore them, we don’t have time to save everyone.” He knew from an intake of breath that Nicholas had disobeyed his orders, but the priest didn’t lose a step behind him and they climbed a set of stairs into a little alcove and he pressed a button in the wall. “This will take you up almost all the way.” He waited for Wolfwood to step into the elevator and reached in, pressed the correct button and stepped out.
          “Wait, how are you going…” The doors closed on Nicholas’ question and Jonas shook his head.
          “You mean how am I going to go upstairs? Fly of course…” He chuckled to himself and eagerly made his way back outside where the moons were rising brightly over the landscape. Jonas yawned and ran his fingers through his long hair, pulling the hair tie from it and smoothing it, retied the mess, thinking maybe he should get it cut the next time he went near the barbershop. Strange how long it had grown during the short step through time, normally it was cropped short around his head. After the second jump it was nearly down to his knees. His mother would have given him grief if she knew that he had let it out of control like that, but he kind of liked it.
          Reaching into the part of him that was normally kept hidden from prying eyes, his wings unfolded from his back. Jonas flapped them a moment, stretching the muscles, warming them up to be used. Unlike his relatives, he was not able to use his powers for more than healing, flight, long life and time-stepping, and he had a feeling the Mother’s departure from this planet would stop the later. For the most part, he was human, and that’s how he thought of himself… But he and his family were the only ones… He jumped into the air and caught the breeze with his wings, rising with the waning heat of the desert sand up to the top of the ship. It took only a few moments to set down outside the windows of Knives’ office. It was empty but for the occupant within the globe.
          Jonas? Her voice reached out to him and he put a finger up to the latch on the outside of the window and let himself into the office. Jonas my boy… What time are we?
          “We’re in the same time you were in before,” he said slowly. She was declining rapidly now and he had a feeling that within the night she would cease to be if something was not done to allow her to travel through time again… “Did he arrive to see you?”
         My boy… She nodded slowly and turned in her globe, I need to see my boys… They shall save us…
          “I’m starting to doubt that,” Jonas said, slumping into Knives’ chair and turning it to look up at the plant. A long time ago her kind was called Antressla but she was the last of her kind. The others on this planet were clones, having some of her memories, some of her powers, but they were helpless beings. Those of her species were killed in a war with a species he escaped from in his time travels… A hundred years from this time and they would overrun the planet, destroying all traces of humankind… Only the Mother came and pulled them out, pulled them away in order to change what she had started years ago. But she misjudged the time and sent him into the past. The others had it nearly as bad because Shin was reborn into the globe half-formed, and in her haste she wound up caught by Knives; trapped in the globe where he kept her like a bird in a cage. “You screwed up and now we’re paying for it,” he grumbled.
          No… My plan was well… Good, it was good. My boys and their mates… She looked at him, pressing her face and hands against the glass. Tell me about my twins, are they well?
          “Mother! You’ve forgotten it all already! I’m tired of telling you again and again… No, your twins are not okay…” He spat, standing to look up at her, angry. But then he sighed, there wasn’t anything he could do, the ties that kept her in her globe were produced by plant energy he himself did not possess, that only Knives or Vash could break. Turning, he wondered where the others were. A vague sound reached his ears down the hallway to the left, but he ignored it, trying to think about where Knives would take Vash… The plant room. He swallowed; the place gave him the creeps. Especially after having been locked there for five years as Knives’ personal pet… Or perhaps the cellblock, if the serum Knives created worked to block his brother’s powers…
          Please Jonas… Tell me, are you quite good… well, have you… I’ve forgotten. Our time is running out, Jonas. Please, you must… Jonas turned and looked up at the Mother, her hair was already darkening around her face, and it wouldn’t be long now. He bit his lip; it broke his heart to see her like this.
          “There’s nothing more I can do,” he said. “We just have to wait it out and see if good triumphs.” With a sigh, he spun in his chair and put his feet up on Knives’ desk, even as the automatic door to the right opened silently and the owner of the chair breezed in, anger radiating off his every movement.
          “You’re late,” Knives steamed. “And you don’t belong there!” He screamed suddenly. Jonas’ didn’t remove his feet from the desk, watching the plant with narrowed eyes.
          “The guy was heavy.”
          Knives came to the globe, cooing softly to the Mother, although she ignored him, her face turned to the windows. Jonas watched his boss wearily. This was one of his moods… He knew that it would blow over within a few moments, but what Knives did at these moments was of much concern. He was like a tornado, harmless to some, but full on destructive to anything in his path. In thirty seconds he could go from chuckling to enraged plant, knives and power emanating from his form. “Chapel has been dealt with?”
          “Sure,” Jonas replied, watching Knives’ cold blue eyes turn on him. “I took him to the dungeon just like you said.”
          “The beast was… uncooperative,” the plant said after a moment, turning from his mother and sitting down on the desk beside Jonas’ feet. “I sent her to the holding cells. I can’t bear to look at her. Human filth like that does not deserve to be in my presence… So why,” and with this, Knives looked up at the Mother. “Why does she think I should be with her? Why do the sisters within my head scream when I had her taken away?” He clutched his head and fell silent, eyes tortured, and Jonas didn’t move, waiting for what he might do next.
          Her powers are strong, yes? The Mother said behind them, and Jonas swung in the chair to see her pressed up against the glass. One of her moments of coherency no doubt, he wondered how many more she might have. She would make a fitting mate for you, my son. Take her, become one with the humans as I had made you to do… You and she, and your twin and his mate shall populate a world that will bring strength and hope… The fate of mankind rests upon destroying the final enemy…
          “LIAR!” Knives screamed, jumping up from the desk and pounding his fists against the glass. “Absurd creature! We were created so much more powerful! My pure blood runs true and strong!” He swung on Jonas and pointed at him, the young man scrambled from his chair, knowing it would be all too easy for Knives to unleash his full power on him rather than the plant within the globe. “Look what tainted blood can make of a creature! This human has our blood in him, look at how strong he is! Look at how weak he is in comparison! Do you truly believe, Mother, that this mixed blood can create a race that will defeat the enemy who destroyed our race?”
          The plant put her hands down on the glass, my son; you have forgotten Jonas, my dear boy, can do much more than you. He has learned to love, has learned to heal, and has learned to fly, to reach heights that only his kind can. Your children…
          “I will have no children! I will have no human in my sight that does not please me, does not bend to my will! They shall live as slaves if they live at all, they shall be like my warriors…” There were already blades forming around Knives’ left wrist, and Jonas backed away toward the door. He swallowed, his hand reaching backwards, trying to find the door. “I will kill them all like the bugs they are!”
          Suddenly, Knives turned his eyes on Jonas, and his scythes whipped out toward him… In a flash the young man fell back through the automatic door onto the ground, the blades slashed out above his head, taking off part of his ponytail, and then disappearing as the door closed swiftly behind him. Jonas’ breath caught in his throat, waiting for those blades to come ripping through the door after him, but after a few moments of silence, Knives didn’t follow. Releasing his breath, Jonas scrambled to his feet and pulled what remained of his ponytail out of the band. “Well, I guess I wanted to get it cut…” He smiled to himself as he turned down the hall, “I guess I don’t have to spend money on the barber after all.”

Unexpected Reunion

         Vash shivered, half naked, upon the cold metal floor of his cell. It was probably only a half hour since he had gained consciousness but he wasn’t sure how long he was here beforehand. Knives’ minions stripped him of all but his pants, leaving him some dignity, although he still couldn’t feel all of his fingers and toes, the sedative was wearing off only slowly. His brother was nearby, but not showing himself just yet. Cursing to himself for his stupidity, Vash wrapped his arms around him, trying to call upon his powers to free himself from his prison, but whatever it was that Knives used to drug him blocked them. Meryl… Where are you? His inner voice, he knew it would have been able to carry to her if it were working properly, even if she couldn’t respond to him without touching her, he would have known if she were okay.
          He’d screwed up but big time… Bringing the girls here, bringing them into danger, splitting their numbers… Falling right into Knives’ hands without a proper plan… How could he be so stupid? Vash put his face in his hands; they smelled metallic from touching the floor. Would Knives kill them all? Would he use them as his experiments? Where were Milly and Wolfwood? Were they okay? He wasn’t even sure if they had made it to the ship, and what happened to Legato? And every time he closed his eyes he saw those sightless orbs of the plant he was supposed to call mother staring back at him… She wasn’t at all as he had imagined her, and remembering her quaking, unsure words within his head, he felt a stirring in the pit of his stomach. He had already failed. Knives was going to win this one and there was nothing he could do…
          Sharp footsteps in the hallway broke him from his thoughts. Vash thought to stand but found his legs unwilling to comply so he waited for the footsteps to near, but they stopped before coming to his door and after a squeal of metal against metal the footsteps retreated again. “You big meanies!” A feminine voice broke the silence and Vash forced his legs to stand so he could peer out the bars of his cell.
          “Milly? Is that you?”
          “Mr. Vash?” A hand extended out into the hallway two cells down across the hall. “Oh no, they got you too? Where’s Meryl? And Nicholas, have you seen him?”
          Vash felt his legs give way under him, and only catching his hands on the bars did he manage to not hurt himself on his decent. He sighed, “No, they drugged me and I haven’t seen anyone since I woke up in this cell. What happened? Where’s Legato?” There was silence for a moment, and he heard a sobbing come from Milly’s cell. “Milly…”
          “It’s… He’s gone… And then I talked with Blondie…” He heard her grab the bars and rattle them. “I don’t know where Nicholas is, I don’t know what’s going to happen to me, and he… he stomped on my pudding!”
          A smile came over his lips but Vash made sure he didn’t laugh. Leave it to Milly to make a dark situation seem light with her ever-present pudding obsession. He put his numb fingers to his face, they were starting to tingle as the feeling returned, as painful as when he lost circulation from sitting on his butt too long. “I’m glad you’re okay.”
          “I’m cold… They took my coat.”
          “Same here,” Vash replied, pulling his legs up to his chest again, trying to conserve heat. Why did his brother have to air condition this ship? Did he hate the desert so much that he refused to enjoy the pleasures of sunshine and heat? He looked down at his hand, trying again to use his powers, but even though he was regaining his physical strength, his mental strength was still useless. Frowning, he looked over his shoulder, “Milly, can you use your powers?”
          There was a silent moment and then, “Oh yeah… I forgot.” A moment later there was a screeching of metal and a dejected looking Milly came walking down the hallway, her dress shirt was pulled out, half unbuttoned, her shoes gone, bare feet padding up to his cell. Vash felt his heart go out to her; she looked horrible, hair in shambles, bruises along the side of her face. She raised a hand to the bars, and with another grating of metal, the door wrenched open on its hinges. “What are we going to do, Mr. Vash?”
          Vash shifted, lifting a hand, “I can’t walk very well yet,” he said reluctantly, and the tall woman reached down and pulled him to his feet with a grimace. “Milly, what happened to you?”
          “Oh I’m fine,” Milly smiled but it was strained. “Knives didn’t appreciate the fact that he couldn’t control me… He had these strange,” while she spoke she motioned in the air, “puppet creatures, and they didn’t much care how they treated me, hard bony fingers, smacked me around as they searched my clothing for weapons… I couldn’t do anything to hurt them… Every time I broke a piece a new one took its place, they didn’t seem to be hurt no matter what I did…”
          “They’re the same ones who got me,” Vash said, holding himself up now fairly well although the needles stinging his legs made him want to drop to his knees again. “The puppets are controlled by someone… Without a gun or without knowing where the master is, I doubt that either of our abilities is very useful against them... Of course, in my present state, I’m not much of a use to you at all…” He took a step forward, and finding he could keep his balance, moved out into the hallway. “Did you pay attention to the path they took to bring you here?”
          Milly shook her head, “I followed for awhile but after I got knocked around a bit I got dizzy…” She reached a hand out to him and Vash took it. “I think he may have killed Nicholas…” She gasped and tried not to cry again but Vash knew that keeping it in was hard on her. “Legato was dead, but then Knives came and Nicholas came and held me but I haven’t seen him and I couldn’t protect him… I wanted to keep him safe, why couldn’t he have just stayed away?”
          Vash chuckled, and Milly’s blue eyes looked at him in shock. “Milly, you’re acting just like I was…” He pulled away, stumbled back and clutched his stomach, “Whatever it was Knives used on me…” Milly started forward, but Vash waved her away, a pain shot through his system, wracking his innards until he felt like throwing up, but then it subsided. His body was fighting the sedative, but he still didn’t have his powers back. “I’m fine,” he said to the worried woman standing in front of him. “We’ve got to do this together. Wolfwood knew that, that’s why he came after you, why I don’t think he would have gone down without a fight… He’s a stubborn man, Milly; we’ll both see him again, right? Right?”
          Receiving a weak nod, Vash smiled. “Both Wolfwood and Meryl are counting on us now. We can’t be weak and give up!” He put out his hand, palm down, “Are you with me?”
          The tall woman looked at Vash’s hand, and then up to his face before trusting out her hand to cover his. “I’m with you! Let’s get ‘em!”
          “But uh…”
          Vash frowned, “Yes Milly?”
          “Can we get something warm to wear first?”

Lost & Found

         It was one thing to remember the cold sterile interior of Knives’ hideout, but it was another to experience it first hand again. Nicholas leaned over his cross punisher as the elevator rose slowly to the top. I don’t remember it taking this long the last time; he thought to himself, watching the numbers change above the door, each one ticking up as he counted to ten. Somewhere in the back of his head he remembered there being at least fifty floors and even more if one counted the sublevels where Jonas first left him in the elevator. What was that boy thinking anyway? If he were a relative, why would he be working for Knives? Why was he betraying… No, that was a stupid question; Wolfwood knew why anyone would betray Knives, because in the end, Knives would betray everyone. He knew that very well himself the first moment he set eyes on Legato after his own betrayal; Knives used a person only so long as they served his purpose.
          But what of this young man with the plant-like powers? Knives would have torn him apart and used him as his own toy, wouldn’t he? So why was he out on his own, wandering around freely, healing the enemy? Nicholas shook his head; it was too much to think about at the moment, he first had to deal with finding Needle Noggin and the girls… Then there might be time to worry about this stranger that called himself family…
          Finally the elevator stopped. Wolfwood looked up at the number, it read forty-five, although he wasn’t sure if this was the top floor or not, it was the end of the line. Taking a breath, Nicholas waited for the doors to open. At first, all seemed quiet, he peered out from the door, his eyes falling on a camera scanning the hallway, but otherwise there was no movement.
          The moment he left the elevator, Wolfwood heard a scream and it tore at his soul. A dreadful horn played backup down at the end of the hall. Breaking into a run, he pinpointed where the sound was coming from and deciding not to knock first, Nicholas used his cross punisher as a battering ram, flinging the door open to reveal Midvalley, saxophone in hand, standing too close to a disheveled form hanging on the wall. The figure lifted its head, and he recognized her as the little insurance girl, but there was no sign of his fiancée or Vash. “Welcome to my concert,” Midvalley said, lowering the horn from his lips. “Traitor. You are not allowed in here!” He turned his horn toward Wolfwood, setting his fingers on his instrument. The plungers went down, “It doesn’t matter. I can deal with you first if you like.”
          Not in a mood to play with the Gung Ho Gun, Wolfwood let his finger twitch on the trigger and the punisher opened to reveal the machine gun. “I’ve come to get the girl,” he said determinedly with eyes narrowed. “Let her go.”
          “But I haven’t finished my song…” Midvalley lifted the sax to his lips, blowing a mind-numbing note that wracked Wolfwood’s frame, sending him backwards to crash against the wall his head striking it with a loud bang. Stars exploded behind his eyes and he could feel darkness gathering at the edge of his vision but fought through it. He couldn't black out now, not from one little knock from this sax-playing aficionado! “Sylvia is playing well today,” the Hornfreak cooed, his fingers gently caressing the polished brass of the saxophone. “I suppose we could go through a few more lines for you.”
          Still fighting the blackness at the edge of his vision, Wolfwood stood ready even as Midvalley blew another chord his way, the sound, although it could have rightly been played in front of an audience, was a destructive force. It tore through his brain, ripping it apart, causing him to wobble on his knees, even as he pulled up his cross punisher to block the sound. A trickle of blood ran over his lip and Wolfwood wiped his nose. “Are you okay, insurance girl?” Wolfwood said as Midvalley caught his breath.
          “Wolfwood!” Meryl screamed. Then her eyes went wide when the Hornfreak swung to face her again. Seeing him inhaling in preparation for the next note, in despair she cried out, “No! No more!”
          Wolfwood shoved off the wall to stand up straight and lifted his gun to point at Midvalley knowing he could easily kill the man, all he had to do was pull the machine gun trigger. Swearing when he couldn't bring himself to shoot, Nicholas realized that he didn’t want to kill him… There was too much death already… Damn it, when did I become so much like Needle Noggin? If I don’t do something the little girl will get it but…I told Milly that I couldn’t take another life… Is there a way to do this? Then an idea came to him and Wolfwood felt a smile come to his lips, it’s crazy, but it just might work! Judging the distance between him and the Hornfreak, he lifted his punisher into the air, and with all of his strength he heaved the cross at his opponent. Midvalley had only a moment of wide-eyed astonishment before the two hundred pound gun struck him. Slamming into the floor, Midvalley’s head hit with a dull thud, his sax went skidding across the room. The cross punisher wobbled on its end for a moment before topping over onto the floor.
          Nicholas lunged for his gun, lifting it off of the stunned Gung-ho Gun, turned the machine gun toward the corner where the sax lay. “You think you’re doing this all for Knives don’t you? You think he cares one ounce about you? Only when everything you love and cherish is ripped away from you will you know what it’s like to be one of Knives’ servants… It’s a hell worse than death.” He sent off a volley of bullets into the corner destroying the saxophone, turning it into an unusable heap of brass.
          “SILVIA!” Midvalley screamed, head bleeding, clambering over himself to the destroyed instrument. He turned cold eyes on Wolfwood, “I’ll kill you…”
          Wolfwood didn’t lower his gun, “You’re out-gunned, bleeding, and you know that between the two of us I’ve always been physically stronger. I understand now why Knives didn’t choose you to be Vash’s companion; you would have failed at saving him. No matter that you were one of the only other normal looking ones of our little army.” His finger was twitching, waiting for the Hornfreak to make a move, “I have an idea, I’m going to take my friend here and we’re going to leave.” His eyes fell on Meryl now, she didn’t look hurt, but Midvalley’s horn did as much inner damage as his cross punisher did outer… “You okay now, insurance girl?” Wolfwood was surprised at the worry he felt for her. He and the small girl didn't usually get along the greatest, but he had to admit after all they had been through together, they had slowly become friends.
          Meryl looked at him with a pained expression, “Better, now that you’re here. Could you get me down?”
          With a nod and one wary eye still on Midvalley he advanced toward Meryl. It appeared that the Hornfreak wasn't going to be causing any more trouble. He sat in the corner with blood running down his face, clutching his precious instrument to his chest like a lost love. Wolfwood unlocked Meryl’s wrists to the sound of his mournful crooning over his ruined instrument. At first he thought she had collapsed, the way she fell forward suddenly, but saw that her hands went swiftly to the cuffs on her ankles, freeing them as well. He almost sighed with relief, apparently the little girl was tougher than he thought. She stood up straight again with a scary gleam in her eye and asked, “Where’s Vash and Milly?”
          “Knives took Milly… I haven’t seen Vash.” He looked at Midvalley once more before nodding to Meryl and they both backed out of the room into the hallway. Meryl was looking at the fallen Gung-ho Gun, lavender eyes watching him nervously. “It’s okay,” Wolfwood said to her, “He won’t come after us.”
          “Are you sure?”
          “He’d sooner kill himself… That sax was his entire life, it’s sad really.” He nodded down the hall and they turned toward the elevator. “I think we should take this down to the ground and get you out of here to safety, then I’ll come back for the others.”
          Meryl shook her head, “Think again preacher man! I’m going with you.” Wolfwood gave her a skeptical expression, as he looked her over. Standing up as tall as she could, shoulders back and face determined, she stated emphatically, "You are not going to hog all the fun!" She crossed her arms in front of her chest in a display of extreme self-confidence, "Vash needs me." Then a with a soft smile at the priest, "He needs all his friends right now."
          “I doubt you’re in any condition…” He started as he tried to convince her.
          “Oh shut up!” Meryl snapped at him, losing her temper. She humped at him and then started, “I might be cut, bleeding, all of my weapons taken away, and I might not be as powerful as Milly or as strong as you, or as fast as Vash, but I need to be here! This all started with Milly and I, and it’s going to end that way. You and Vash are just our sidekicks… Haven’t you noticed that Milly and I can take care of ourselves?”
          She began to wave a finger at him, but got distracted by looking around the hallway. “Wait, this looks familiar,” frowning, she paced down the hall, then back again. “Follow me,” she said, waving a hand at him as they walked back down the hall toward the elevator, then made an abrupt turn right at the first hallway.
          Wolfwood frowned, Should I really be letting her lead the way? “What would Needle Noggin say if he caught me letting you stay…”
          “I’d probably say, ‘you’d better watch out for that girl, because if you cross her she can be mighty bitchy.”
          Wolfwood and Meryl stopped in their tracks, spun around and there, coming out of a door they had just passed was a half-naked Vash, and a disheveled Milly! Heart beating in his chest, Wolfwood ran to his love, pulling her into his arms said, “Are you really here? Are you okay?” He planted a kiss on her lips before she could even answer, and then pulling back, Milly was laughing.
          “I’m so much better now that we found you!” She laughed and Wolfwood caught a glance of Meryl running to jump into Vash’s arms, only for some reason the gunman was off-balance and they both fell to the floor. Wolfwood pulled back from Milly, and she turned her gaze as well.
          “Hey, Needle Noggin, you okay there?” Nicholas frowned; it wasn’t like Vash to get knocked over so easily, especially by the little insurance girl who hardly weighed a hundred pounds. She was holding onto him tighter than life itself, even as Vash wrapped his arms around her. He wasn’t able to sit up, looking at the priest with slightly ashamed eyes.
          “Something Knives gave me,” Vash responded softly, and Meryl pulled back, looking at him in concern. “I just got back to being able to walk… But I don’t have control of my powers yet.” He slowly sat up with Meryl’s help, and wrapped his arms around his love. Holding her tightly, he said, “Where’s Midvalley?”
          “Taken care of, according to this guy,” Meryl said, hitching her thumb at Wolfwood. He nodded slowly in response. “He saved me from that monster… But what about you? You…” The little insurance girl looked down at Vash’s scarred figure and blushed. “What happened to your clothes?”
          Milly moved in his arms, and Wolfwood looked down at her, catching a glimpse of parts he hadn’t seen before below her unbuttoned shirt. When she noticed where he was looking, she blushed and covered herself up, “They stripped us down when they locked us in the cages,” she explained, standing back from Nicholas in order to straighten up her appearance, buttoning up her shirt. Wolfwood was curious why she hadn’t done the same around Vash, but perhaps the gunman didn’t notice what a beautiful figure she had, how full her… Milly slapped his face playfully, “We don’t have time for your… Well…”
          “What about Knives?” Nicholas asked, tearing his eyes away from Milly now. Meryl helped Vash regain his feet, but the priest noticed he wasn’t letting her get very far away from him. Vash seemed to wobble on his feet from time to time, and put a hand on Meryl’s shoulder to steady him. This isn’t good, he thought to himself. We’re unarmed and the big guy isn’t in fighting form… “Where is he?”
          “I’m not sure,” Vash said, his eyes narrowing. “I’m worried… He separated us, took our weapons, and now he’s disappeared.” He shook his head, “I’m sorry, I’m not going to be of much use to you, Meryl…Whatever it was that Knives used on me, it’s not wearing off very quickly.”
          “You think he’s planning something?” Meryl asked, a tad worried. Nicholas had a feeling the little insurance girl felt as naked without her derringers as he would have without his punisher. In fact, all three of them were looking mighty out of sorts without weaponry. “And what if he uses the puppets again?”
          Waving a hand, Milly said, “Oh you won’t have to worry about them.” Everyone looked over at the tall insurance girl with curiosity. “As soon as Mr. Vash said they were controlled by someone I uh… Well…” Her head lowered to her chest, “Just… We won’t have to worry about him, okay?” No one said a word, and Wolfwood sighed. They had both done things they were ashamed of, and he was sure the list would grow before the ending came. He patted her shoulder reassuringly and she gave him a weak smile.
          Setting his punisher down on the floor, his fingers went over to the latch that opened the sides for the pistols he kept there. “Well, if Knives is planning anything, I think we’d best be armed.” He pulled out the only three guns he knew were fully loaded, and handed them to each of his companions. Vash automatically turned off the safety and cocked his, then watched as Meryl took to hers nearly as easily. Wolfwood turned to look at Milly as she held hers at arms’ distance.
          “Um… I’m not too good with…” She looked up at him, “I really don’t use guns with bullets. I think I’ll just use, you know,” Milly held up her free hand and waggled her fingers. Nicholas took back his pistol with chagrin. “Thank you,” she said, sounding relieved.
          “So what’s our plan, Mr. Typhoon?” Wolfwood said, turning to the scarred gunman. “We can’t just stand around here waiting for you to get better…”
          Vash nodded, “I know, but we need to find our things and then we need to get back to Knives’ office… There’s someone else I need to save.”
          “Who?” Milly asked the question on both their minds, but apparently the little insurance girl knew exactly what Vash was talking about.
          “I know the way back to Lady Elf,” she said, pointing down the hallway where they were first headed. “They left my things in a room near hers.” Meryl started walking, Vash at her side, while Wolfwood and Milly fell behind. The little insurance girl talked to Vash as they walked, but the only thing he caught was, “Even if I have to pull her out of that globe with my bare hands myself! Then I’ll strangle her for getting us into this mess in the first place!”
          Wolfwood turned to Milly in confusion, one hand going up to scratch his head. “Who’s she talking about?”

A Pause to Refresh

         Even with the proximity to the blond killer, Milly felt relaxed having her friends back. Sure, Knives was around here somewhere, but the ship was big and so far he hadn’t come after them. Her side still hurt where he had kicked her, but otherwise he had not harmed her. It would have been easy for him to just do what plants did and blown her up or something, but instead he had tried talking to her. Knives did that a lot she noticed. He really wasn’t a fighter like Vash was, instead he preferred the non-aggressive way out… But then again, she hadn’t spent all that much time with him to really know for sure. Milly was pretty darn sure she didn’t want to spend any more time with him, and she was starting to wonder why they weren’t getting out of that ship right then and there instead of walking around looking for their belongings. She loved her duster but she was more than willing to buy a new one when she got away from Knives and his goons.
          Nicholas seemed to be feeling the same way as she as he kept a very tight hold onto her wrist as they walked. He had all of his belongings with him and knew the way out, but instead of arguing with the little insurance girl and the gunman, they continued down the hallway in silence. Milly let her bangs fall around her face as they walked, thinking about Leonof’s puppets. She sighed, and Nicholas glanced at her, but she shook off his glance and bent her head farther down. When Vash and she broke free of the prison cells, Vash was having trouble walking. From time to time he sunk to his knees, or settled against a wall to recuperate and during those moments, she found herself searching the interior of the ship with her powers. At first it was only to make sure there weren’t any enemies about, but with the third stop she had found in her mind’s eye a weak old presence somewhere near by. The puppet master… She could still feel the horrible bony fingers of those creepy puppets on her arms and legs, felt the bruises they left on her face.
          Slipping easily into his mind, she pulled at one chord and then another, until she broke something… Ashamed, she slid back into reality and Vash was looking at her with a concerned expression. She waved him off, but he knew what she had done even as she smiled gently and told him that she didn’t want any more unexpected surprises. He had agreed with her, but she could see in his eyes that he was very sad. It in turn made her feel embarrassed to have used her powers in such a way… Already she had done too much with her powers, powers she wasn’t even supposed to have… Vash reached out for her wrist and she looked at his hand, “You were given power for a reason, just as I was, so I won’t judge you on your actions," he said to her before continuing down the hall. “Besides, we may still have use for them yet.”
          Now, in the present, she felt somehow hollow inside. Sure, she could no longer hear Legato, but she knew that was because he was deceased. The powers that were given to her were only a cruel hoax that she was more than willing to give up now. It only created more suffering… Milly lifted her head and pushed her bangs from her eyes. She cast a smile to Nicholas and they continued on. Only the soft padding of bare feet and the sharp snap of Wolfwood’s loafers broke the silence as they followed Meryl to a small doorway tucked around a corner.
          “This is it,” Meryl said, she lifted the pistol Wolfwood gave her, and waved a hand in front of the panel that opened the door. It slid open, and she jumped into the doorway, gun out. “Okay, it’s clear.” Slipping into the door, she disappeared with Vash close behind her. Wolfwood and Milly followed to find a small sitting room with tables against one wall and benches on the other. On one table lay all of the confiscated weapons, and next to it a jumbled up pile of clothing. The room looked like it had been prepared for an inspection, the way all of the guns were emptied of their ammunition, which sat carefully to the side. Meryl’s fifty derringers took up the majority of this pile, although Milly’s stun gun took up nearly the other half. “Oh great,” Meryl said at seeing this display. “You know how long it’s going to take to put all of this in order?”
          “A half hour,” Milly said, smiling. She reached for her stun gun and the six darts. “We’ve timed you before, remember?” Taking her weapon over to one of the benches, she sat it on her lap and started loading the spring-hinged projectiles. Something bothered her about this… It was like… What was this? She had left the stun gun behind in the car, hadn’t she? Yes, she remembered leaving it in the back seat when she went off to fight Legato. She looked at it with unease. So why was it here? Glancing around at her friends, none of them seemed to be bothered by the appearance of her weapon.
          Nicholas came to sit next to her, a pile of her belongings in his arms. “I think I sorted everything out that was yours,” he said after a moment, putting them on the bench between them.
          “Thank you,” she said, looking up at him with a smile. She was feeling better now, but as her thoughts traveled to the past few hours’ events, things started to bother her. “Nicholas?”
          “Yes, Honey?”
          Milly glanced over her shoulder at Vash and Meryl who were now fully dressed. Vash was helping Meryl load her derringers, even though he seemed to be doing it wrong or something and she kept pushing him out of the way until he finally convinced her she needed the help or they would never get out of there. She had a feeling it had something to do with the way he kept lifting up her cape. Or maybe how his fingers fumbled when dealing with such tiny weapons. When she turned, she looked at her fiancé, “Nicholas, do you know what happened to me? I know I was bleeding and my leg was broken… And yet I’m fine now. And your leg too… Knives said it was because he wished it, but I’m confused.”
          With a scratch of his chin, Wolfwood leaned in and said, “There’s a pair of healers… I promised them I wouldn’t say anything but…” He smiled, “We’re back to full strength because of them.”
          “But…” Milly shook her head, “You can’t tell me who they are… But are they on our side or his?”
          “I’m not quite sure, but I think they’re on ours,” he said. “But after you passed out I asked him to heal you, and he did. I have a feeling he doesn’t want you dead either.”
          Nodding, Milly stood up, placing her stun gun beside her and started to tuck in her shirt. She’d buttoned it up, but hadn’t the will to straighten up her appearance otherwise. Carefully she finished with her shirt and took her suspenders in her hands and clipped them on the edge of her pants. It’s not like she really needed the suspenders to keep them from falling off her hips, but they did keep them from dragging in the dust at her shoes. Her tie was torn apart however, so she tossed that into a garbage can and pulled her coat on over her shoulders. With a sigh, she sat back down next to Wolfwood and leaned against him as she pulled on her shoes. He put an arm around her and set his forehead against her head. “You okay Big Girl?”
          “I guess… I’m just… I just can’t believe that anyone with a heart would want me to be with him…” Milly shivered and Nicholas’ arm tightened around her. She wrapped her hands in her coat and sat with them in her lap as she listened to the priest’s breathing in her ear, and Meryl and Vash loading the little derringers. After awhile the loading was complete and there was a series of snaps as they strapped them back into her cape. It took time, even with the gunman’s help; they were sitting there for at least fifteen minutes, just waiting, hearts beating in worried thumps. “Why hasn’t he noticed we’ve escaped?”
          Vash turned to look at them, “He knows we’re free of our cells, but we haven’t really escaped. As long as we’re here, we’re still in his prison.” The gunman left Meryl to the remainder of her task and sat down across from her. “We’ve got one more thing to do before we can leave, you know that right?”
          “It’s that ‘Lady Elf’ that the little girl, mentioned, right?”
          Meryl nodded, snapping the final derringer into her cape. “She was the one who started all of this. Knives has her in a globe in his office, and she’s dying…”
          The humanoid typhoon’s head snapped around to look at her. Milly wondered if he was surprised by this revelation, but by the way he nodded, he must have figured it out for himself. “You could say she’s my mother, so I’d like to help her out.”
          “But she,” Milly started, and then looked at her hands. They were scratched and dirty from fighting against the puppets. She took a deep breath and willed herself to stand again. “I’ll go to help her, but I’m not going to agree with her. Blondie is an evil man and no matter of pudding is going to bring him out of it. I know, because I’ve tried it already. I could never be with a man like that!” She thrust her hand at Nicholas and he took it with an amused expression, and then stood up next to her. “We’ll go in there, get her to do something about this big mistake that she’s made, and then we’re waltzing right out of here and going back to the orphanage where I’m going to drown all of the bad memories in pudding ala mode and mocha frosty crèmes!” She nodded once to confirm her convictions and then again to stop herself from fainting dead away on the spot with fear. Milly really didn’t want to see this Lady Elf person Meryl kept talking about… Because of what might happen… She might give me back my memories… And what will happen if I don’t like them, or I’m a different person because of them? Like Meryl? What if I… No, I won’t think about it, I can’t think about it, I’m me forever and ever amen!
          Nicholas squeezed her hand. “I second the motion.”
          “All right,” Vash said, picking his long colt from the table and cocking the trigger. “Let’s go pay my family a visit.”

The Littlest Plant

          The ship was just like it always was, just a bit emptier. An automated door let into the twin pathways of the ship, one to the stairway, the other to the elevator. His favorite way was the stairs but rarely did mother allow him to climb the steps, so today, it was his choice to take the winding stairs, halls, and wide passageways up into the ship to the room that his uncle kept for him. Of course, in the past it wasn’t his room, but it was right next door to the strange room that Jonas kept, so when Shin reached the fifteenth floor, he knocked on the door and it opened with a whoosh, and there was his brother, looking around the hallway, and then down to look at him. “Shin!”
          “Hi Jonas,” he said smiling. “I was hoping you’d be here.”
          Picking him up by his shirt collar, Jonas lifted Shin out of the hall, set him down in his room and closed the door behind them. “What in the world are you doing here?!” Jonas raised a hand, “No, wait, I know already, you wanted to be here…” He sighed and shook his head, “Squirt, you’re going to get yourself killed being here.”
          Shin frowned and dashed over to Jonas’ bed and plopped himself down on it. “What do you mean? You’ve been here all along and you’re just fine.” He turned around on the bed and watched as Jonas plodded over to stare down at him. His older brother was scary like that on occasions, staring at him with those weird two-colored eyes. He hadn’t been born that way, it happened later, during his stay here in the past, but Shin had a feeling Jonas might never tell him. “Your hair’s different,” he added, when Jonas didn’t speak again.
          “I cut it. It was about due anyway,” Jonas turned and shaking his head he walked over to his desk. His room was bare but for the bed and the desk, that’s why Shin always thought it was so weird. Back home he was a writer like their grandmother and he had books everywhere. Over at the desk he punched up a display that allowed him access into the ship’s security. “He’s no where nearby at least,” he started, and then turned. “You will stay here, no matter what you do, you hear me?”
          “But I wanted to see Uncle…”
          “He’s not like what you think! Knives is…” Jonas shook his head, jabbing a finger at the bed, “Stay right here. You can watch what’s going on in the monitor, but no matter what, I want you to stay. I have to go… The Mother… She’s…” He trailed off, sorrow in his eyes. “I don’t want anything to happen to you, Squirt, okay?”
          Shin nodded reluctantly, although he had his fingers crossed behind his back. “Okay Jonas.” He glanced over at the screen. Something was happening in the office… “Jonas, look!” His older brother turned suddenly, hands on either side of the monitor. Shin jumped up and ran over to peer underneath his armpit. “What’s going on Jonas, what are they doing in there?”
          “They’re going to get themselves…. Damn!” Jonas turned on his heel and dashed for the door, then swung and pointed to the bed. “STAY THERE.” Then without another word he left the room at a run. Shin returned to the monitor. All of his friends were there, in that room, but they didn’t see the office at the angle he did, otherwise they would have known that Uncle Knives was sitting in the high-backed chair. He bit his lip, glancing at the door.
          “I know you told me to stay put but…” Shin looked again at the screen. He swallowed. Jonas was right, this wasn’t the same uncle… Knives’ eyes were glowing, and his left hand was starting to feather and change into blades. “I just can’t stay here when my friends are in trouble!” Shin dashed from the room, skidding down the hallway to the elevator. He knew Jonas would be there within a matter of minutes, but he didn’t have wings like Jonas did… With a sigh, he pushed the buttons on the elevator, hoping upon hopes that he would get there in time.

Chapter 6
Cruel Intentions
          The sky was black. Night fell suddenly during certain times of the year, unexpectedly, especially here, in this place. As soon as the last sun sunk below the mountains to the west the valley where the scout ship crashed was bathed in darkness. Two of the moons were full tonight, rising above the horizon, shining an eerie blue light into the dark office where Knives sat. He looked up at the plant, the being that created him, his mother, or whatever she was, a time traveler only he was lucky to have caught. It had taken him multiple attempts to keep her in this time. When she first talked to him in his hazy globe he didn’t even think she was real. Regretfully, if it had not been for the creature called Jonas, he wouldn’t have accomplished it.
          Shattered, broken, naked, the boy stumbled into his home, calling him “uncle” and asking for his help. At the offset Knives believed him to be a human being, but as he brought forth his powers to slay the insect, something peculiar happened; there was a response from Jonas. Feathers rose on his neck and back, and immediately Knives knew he had found something more precious than this strange creature that would appear to him within the plant globes. This was one of his kin, a plant free of restraints, just like he and Vash, only he differed in the way that he had human DNA. Human DNA! Incredulous, Knives studied Jonas until one evening where the boy, in pain, finally called forth the time traveler for help.
          Since that night, his mother remained within her bulb, withering away slowly. She told him of a plan she had for her twin sons, a plan that included the humans, erased memories, changed histories and a strange woman he was ordered to find upon the planet. Suddenly Knives lost interest in Jonas. The boy remained attached to him however and remained within the ship. Knives had a feeling it was because of “The Mother” as Jonas called her, and oftentimes he could be found sitting below her globe, conversing about a strange future in which plants fought a terrible war and were losing to the invaders. This talk of the future would die out the moment he knew Knives was in the room, and even when he was careful to tape the conversations, there was still much that he wished to learn. Midvalley helped a great deal in producing answers from the Mother. However, she grew weak very quickly after that, no doubt using her powers to heal herself.
          Knives frowned as he looked up at her. She was too weak to float, a crumpled pile of black feathers at the bottom of the glass. He frowned. He almost felt sorry for this creature, pitiful as she was, wishing for a future that would never come. A hand fluttered by the glass and she turned her blank eyes to him, looking through him. He breathed a sigh and leaned forward in his chair, flexing his left hand. “Do you think I’m cruel?” The Mother didn’t respond, she just kept staring at him. “I am.” He shook his head, staring at this creature, feeling the similar beings within him stir with pity for her. They seemed to ask him to help her, to stop her from dying, and something within him agreed with them. “I suppose I still have use for you.”
          Pressing his lips together, Knives looked down at his hand. Power came to it easily, flowing over his fingers with a cold light. Feathers and knives burst from his skin and he held his hand up to the glass. Closing his eyes he willed his palm to be a conduit for energy from the sisters he had recently absorbed. Perhaps he had taken too many this time, but the presence of Vash within the ship bothered him. With extra power he had done much, and could do so much more. They were all alive within him, writhing, screaming, and pleading, voiceless souls trying to become free. He pushed the energy out of his hand and into the plant within the globe.
          First she didn’t respond, weak and unable to move, her eyes unfocused upon him; she took what he gave her. Two of the sisters within him grew distant and their consciousnesses disappeared as their power was exhausted. When he started to pull a third out from his collection, the Mother screamed, her energy returned enough to lift up from the base of the glass, scrambling, clawing like an animal in a cage trying to escape from him.
          “Feeling better?” Knives chuckled, sitting back in his seat once again. The power still sizzled over his fingers and he looked at it in curiosity. “A human could not have done such a thing. Although perhaps that beastly one…” Frowning, his head snapped up and he swore under his breath. He had been too preoccupied with healing the plant within the globe to notice his visitors. My sisters… You distracted me, didn’t you? Vash and the others were coming into the room. Eyes narrowed, he concentrated on the minds nearby, not needing to see them to know they were there. One by one he reached fingers into their heads, and one by one he found them blocked by some unseen force. He knew that Vash had removed the receptors from the small one, the large female had blocked her own, but Chapel… Someone else had detached his. The beastly one could not have done it, and neither could his brother. Jonas, Knives thought angrily. Not only has he not destroyed this nuisance; he has also made him impervious to my powers!
          But there was still Vash… His powers were still quelled by the serum he created in order to stunt the Mother’s time traveling powers. Apparently it worked against those freeborn as well. "Stop where you are, Vash," he thought within his mind, and his brother complied. Yes, now this was an interesting side effect. Knives smiled at the reactions from within, angrily complaining. He turned in his chair and the small female gasped, taken off guard. She lifted her guns to aim at him, but found her wrists held down by Vash. “Very good brother,” Knives laughed, looking down at his left hand, retrieving the power and watching his fingers form once again in the place of feathers and knives. “No need to get violent just yet. I need to set up the board first.” His smile grew wider. “But you were never good at chess, were you?”


         Vash shivered. Within him something stirred and his skin crawled. He glanced at Meryl, but her hand was already on the door to Knives’ office. Then he looked over to Wolfwood, the priest cast him a worried glance that showed his unease. And then, they both turned to the big girl, her eyes were haunted from what she had done earlier, but when she focused again she smiled. “Something wrong, Mr. Vash? Nicholas?”
          “Can you feel Knives in here?” Nicholas hitched a thumb at the door and with the mention of the name Meryl’s hand came away from the door and she turned. Even with all of their weapons back, it was an unspoken worry that they all shared. The room was too small for all of them to fight, and even with the Gung-ho Guns out of the way, Vash was unsure they would find themselves at any kind of advantage. As much as he wanted to help his mother, there was still time to turn around and fight their way out again.
          The big girl looked haunted for a moment, or maybe it was just that she was thinking, he wasn’t sure. Meryl went up to her, “Well?”
          And then, almost as if a light was turned on, Milly smiled brightly, eyes closing the smile was so wide, “No, I don’t feel him at all.” As the others turned, Vash noticed as Milly cast him a glance. It was unmistakable… Knives was in this room just as he had thought. She lied. But he couldn’t figure out why she did it… And it was too late now; Meryl had already opened the door.
          How could he not know his brother was here, in this room, at this very moment, especially now? His heart beat fast with every step closer, the power radiating off of Knives was substantial enough to raise feathers along the back of his neck. Vash couldn’t stop them from forming. His powers were stubbornly unresponsive. But he didn’t allow the power to conquer him, didn’t let the fear that was pounding through his brain make him stop his forward movement. He was still an excellent gunman, and within the half hour his reflexes were returning to normal. It was the end, this is where everything would come to a final conclusion whether he was the winner or not. They were all with him, all of his friends, all of those that he held dear, they were here supporting him, and he would not fail them now… That’s why she lied, Vash realized suddenly, because if she had told the truth I would have made them turn around and leave to face him alone… And she knows I can’t face him alone… He felt gratitude toward Milly at that moment, but the feeling faded as a voice broke into his thoughts.
          "Stop where you are, Vash," the voice echoed through his head, and suddenly Vash could not move his legs. His eyes widened. Never before had Knives been able to control him, he’d never lost use of his own limbs, so how… The poison! Without my powers…Damn! This can’t be happening! Suddenly he found his hands on Meryl’s wrists, when had that happened? He couldn’t remember grabbing her, couldn’t remember what had happened for her to draw her derringers. Knives was sitting in his chair, hands crossed in front of him upon the desk. There was an amused expression on his face. “For my brother’s sake, I suggest you drop your weapons,” he said, addressing Milly and Wolfwood.
          “Mr. Vash?” Milly bit her lip as she turned to look at him, a sudden recognition came to her and to the priest’s as well, but Vash was unable to do anything but move his eyes. He tried yelling at them not to give in to Knives, but they complied with his brother, setting down stun gun and punisher. Meryl dropped her derringers to the floor. Vash saw her swallow, beads of sweat forming on her forehead as she strained to remove her wrists from his iron grasp. For once he wished he were not so strong… How had Knives managed to take control of him so easily? What was in that concoction to have done this? Vash wanted to swear, to cuss, to take control again, to do anything but move his eyes, but no matter of hoping allowed him to retrieve the power within him.
          “I know what you’re thinking,” Knives said, leaning forward. “The kind Revenant helped me out with this little magic potion, it was originally intended for our mother, but when he tried to use it on me I realized it must have had a similar effect on our physiology as well.” His blue eyes shone in the darkened room as he talked. “I hadn’t the chance to test it before now, but it has supplied some interesting results, don’t you agree, Brother?”
          “You…” Vash found he had control of his mouth, “Knives! This is between the two of us, let the others go and we’ll…”
          “No way!” Meryl hissed at him, “We’re just as much a part…”
          “You tell him Meryl!”
          “Sorry Needle Noggin but I’m not going anywhere…”
          “Silence!” Knives screamed. The room fell quiet. He stood from his seat and lifted his hand. Vash felt the power coming off of him and the feathers that raised on his back and neck shot down his arms. Gritting his teeth he fought back the angel arm that threatened to appear there, the same power that destroyed July City… Vash knew it was a losing battle, but the power subsided suddenly and Knives laughed, “I have full control over you now. Do not tempt me to use what little power you have left to destroy these humans you travel with.”
          Milly lifted a hand, “You…Mr. Vash wouldn’t do something like that!”
          Knives laughed, “Do you really think that he has any control?” He waved a hand and his eyes narrowed suddenly. Vash watched as he seemed to fight off some mental attack that Milly tried to make, but failing, she leaned back into Wolfwood’s arms and shook her head sadly. His brother was still laughing, “It’s too late! I’ve prepared for your attacks, it won’t do you any good.” Standing, his eyes focused on Meryl. “This one… Do you care for her, Brother?”
          Vash’s gaze turned to Meryl. She was looking up at him in a frightened curiosity, he wondered what she was thinking right then. Was she regretting her decision to stay with them instead of leaving the ship? Or was she glad to be there at that moment? The truth was, he would have rather had her here in danger than allow any of his last moments to be without her. Swallowing, he faced Knives again, “Yes, I do.”
          “Vash…” Meryl smiled without regard for the situation, then focused on Knives herself. “I love him too, so there!” She nodded to herself and as an afterthought, kissed Vash’s hands still holding her wrists tightly. “No matter what you do to him, what you make him do, I’ll always love him.”
          Tears came to Vash’s eyes and he looked down at his hands, willing them to let go, to let his love go, to do something rather than holding her so tightly… He couldn’t just stop and let his brother win! This was neither the time nor the place; he was not called a hero for nothing! Gritting his teeth, he tried to go inside, to tear away the strands that were keeping him powerless… But it was worthless, he couldn’t get into that place, no matter how he tried, instead of seeing something within when he closed his eyes he merely saw little speckles of stars like after rubbing his eyes too hard. There should be something there but in all attempts he failed, and he could hear Knives laughing at his feeble attempts to regain control. What could he do? Vash looked down at Meryl, “I love you.”
          “Disgusting,” Knives spat from where he stood. “Do you have so little regard for life that you’ll throw it away on some pathetic emotion?”
          “You don’t know anything about love!” Milly yelled at him, “Lady Elf! You haven’t been a very good mother to him! Your son should have known a lot more about life and love and… and… pudding!!” She shook a fist at the plant in the globe, and Vash’s eyes lifted to look at her. The plant looked… She actually looked a lot better than she had the last time he saw her. Her hair was mostly white again and her cheeks were less sunken, although her eyes remained blind, and they were downcast. His mother didn’t speak, only turned away in the glass and kept to the other side. He wondered if she regretted her decision to bring them into being… Her boys had caused more harm than good, at least, Vash couldn’t stop thinking about all of the trouble he had caused, Knives had caused, during their stay on this little planet. What good had they truly been to the welfare of the human race?
          “You’re wrong Knives, very wrong. Human emotions are more precious than all of the powers and control that you wish to have.” Scanning the expressions on his friend’s faces, he continued, “At one time you had emotions… I knew you loved Rem.”
          “SHUT UP!” Knives screamed suddenly, “Do not mention that woman’s name to me!” He settled again, his face red, but he calmed down almost instantly. “And yet you don’t come to me alone, you have help, are you afraid to face me? You call them friends but I can read your mind, you also consider them assets just as I consider those…”
          “Jonas!” Suddenly casting his eyes about, Vash caught movement from the side of the room where a silver haired fellow was stepping in through the window. Knives’ eyes were glowing furiously blue as the man came in… Vash’s mouth dropped open, he really did have wings, just like Meryl said! This kid… He didn’t have the long hair as Meryl mentioned, it came around his shoulders, wildly, but here he was, not just a story. Meryl was looking at him with an odd expression and she turned to look at Vash, “That’s him! Jonas! You’ve got to help us!”
          The young man shook his head and stood as near to Knives as he possibly could stand, although from the looks of it, Knives wasn’t very happy with him. To prove it, Knives hissed, “Jonas! What have you done?”
          Jonas shrugged his shoulders, “What of it, Uncle? I said I took the priest down to the basement, it’s not my problem that…”
          “And set him free of any mental tampering!” Knives lunged over the desk after the young man, but even with the distraction, Vash couldn’t manage to move his hands even one millimeter to try and get Meryl free. He glanced over at his friends; Wolfwood was almost ready to reach for his punisher, Milly was holding onto his arm tightly, both watching in nearly shocked horror as Knives wrapped his hands around Jonas’ neck. “You are my kin and yet you choose to disobey me as my brother! What mercies I have given you! What powers I have shown you! And yet you choose…”
          “You mean the way that you experimented on me? The way you kept me in that cage for five years?” Jonas breathed back, the hands on his throat starting to restrict his air. His eyes moved from looking at Knives to the door behind the others, “Squirt! What did I tell you?”
          “But Jonas!” Shin’s mouth was wide open as he looked in horror at Knives and Jonas. Vash frowned, looking at one boy and then the other… They looked… Goodness if they didn’t look like brothers! What was going on? Wait, how was Shin here in the first place? He must have followed them. Damn, Vash thought, I should have tied the kid down after the last time he ran off! “What are you doing, Uncle? Why… Why are you doing that to Jonas? Let him go please…” The boy started toward Knives, but Wolfwood grabbed him. “Hey, let go!”
          “Kid, if you aren’t careful you’ll get yourself killed too.”
          Knives was already starting to catch on as Vash had… “You are of the same breed…” He let Jonas go, the young man dropped to his knees trying to catch his breath again. “Where did you come from?”
          “We came…” Shin started, but Nicholas put his hand over the boy’s mouth. Vash looked at him in thanks, if he told Knives that he came from a plant in the SEEDS ship… “Let me go!” Shin struggled in Wolfwood’s grasp and Milly had to hold him back as well, “He won’t hurt me, what are you doing? Why are you being this way? Uncle! Uncle, please help me, they’re hurting me!”
          But Knives was confused, and it was starting to register as anger on his face. Vash knew when Knives didn’t know something it didn’t please him, and his hands were balling into fists. “Stop! Filthy little vermin! What right do you have to call me by that name!”
          Shin’s mouth dropped open, and he started to say something but Jonas cut him off, “He’s my brother, Knives. Leave him out of this. You’ll not get anything more from him than you have from me in these past five years.” Standing up now, he moved to place himself between Knives and Shin, his wings disappearing from his back as he regained control. Vash could still feel the power coming off of his brother, and knew that if Jonas was the same, he was probably feeling the same effects. But, just who were these children, and where did they come from really? His eyes fell on Lady Elf who was now looking down at them from her globe. You did this, didn’t you? Why did you bring innocent children into this mess?
          “Because we were all desperate,” Jonas said suddenly, his eyes falling on Vash. He looked sad suddenly, his weird eyes piercing into him. “But I’ll do whatever it takes to make things right, even if it means playing sides,” he turned to Knives again. “Leave Shin alone and I’ll do whatever you want. You want me to take him down to Ninelives, then I will… Whatever it is, just…”
          “SILENCE!” Knives screamed. He put a hand to his head, an odd gesture, he went back to his desk, leaning his hand against the top. The freeborn plant stood there for a moment, eyes closed in thought. Vash watched as emotion after emotion crashed over his features like waves. Something was going on… He wasn’t acting normal… “SILENCE I said!!”
          Meryl looked up at Vash, “I don’t think he’s talking to us anymore…”
          Vash nodded slowly, “I think you’re right.” He sighed, “But he’s got enough focus to keep me from moving…”
          “No more! I will hear no more of this!” Knives spun on his heel suddenly, his arm flashing out toward Jonas, “Secure the priest.” Jonas complied, much to Wolfwood’s dismay.
          “Hey, hands off! What in the world! Oh crap, don’t you even say…” He stopped moving suddenly, finding himself in the exact same position that Vash was in. “Kid, just what are you doing?”
          Jonas pulled Shin away from Wolfwood and held him in his arms. The boy’s eyes were wide as he watched Knives pacing now, back and forth in front of the desk. “That’s not him Jonas,” Shin was saying, “It’s not him, what’s wrong?”
          “I told you, Squirt, he’s not the same here.” He frowned, looking at Vash, “The plants within him are causing a revolt. The Mother is causing it I think… Within the last hour he has absorbed twenty more of the sisters… It’s not…” He sighed, shaking his head, backing up a step and pulling Shin with him. “I’m sorry, but we should go.”
          “No way!” Shin objected, he started to tear out of Jonas’ hands but it was no use. Something about his plant physiology gave him extra strength. “Please Miss Milly, do something, make Jonas stop…”
          Vash had almost forgotten about the tall insurance girl. She stood to the side, hand still on Nicholas’ arm, knowing he couldn’t move in return; her eyes remained pasted on Knives. He was silent now, fighting the inner demons. Vash wondered for a moment if she was trying to do something with her powers, but she turned to look at Shin when her name was mentioned. “I’m sorry Shin, but there’s nothing I can do.” Her expression was grave, and she pulled away from Wolfwood, “I…”
          “YOU!” Suddenly Knives was back to his senses, and he swung on Milly. “This is all because of you!” He lunged, Milly held up her hands in an attempt to hold him back but Knives was too fast; he grabbed her, hauled her around and slammed her into the desk. Then he flung himself on top of her, pinning her backwards, forcing his hand under her chin to look backwards at the plant above them. “Is THIS what you want?!” He was talking to their mother now.
          “Let her go!” Meryl was struggling again. “Damn it! Someone do something!”
          “It’s okay Meryl!” Milly said shrilly from where Knives was pressing his fingers into her throat. “I’m fine but please Mr. Knives, please get off of me!”
          “Your little tricks aren’t going to work on me this time.” He laughed insanely, looking at the plant above them. “This is what you wanted wasn’t it? For the two of us to join right? To become married to one another, to have our powers save this planet from whatever it is… Well, I don’t want your selfish fantasies coming true! I want power, but I want it to rule this planet for myself, to slaughter the humans that you so cherish!” He looked down at Milly now, “I’ll start by killing this one right in front of you.”
          “Milly!” Meryl screeched.
          “Milly!” Wolfwood echoed. “Let me go Jonas or I swear I’ll tell them the truth about you and Shin! I swear it, let me go so I can save her!” Vash caught his breath, what does he know that… How does he know anything about this young man? He frowned, waiting for Nicholas to continue, but the priest was suddenly silent.
          Jonas shook his head, “I’m sorry Old Man, but I can’t have you spilling the beans…this is up to her now…”
          “What? What do you mean?” Meryl said, her eyes flickering back and forth between her friends. “What’s up to whom, Lady Elf or Milly?” But her question went unanswered as Knives was calling his powers to his left hand, blades forming, coming closer to her at every moment. “MILLY! FIGHT HIM!” Meryl yelled, nearly climbing up Vash in an attempt to free herself, trying anything to get to her weapons so she could stop Knives.
          “I know what you came here for…” Knives said suddenly, the longest of the blades pressing up against Milly’s neck. “You wanted your memories back didn’t you? I could hear it in your mind when we met last, I could hear it through Legato’s mad ramblings before I killed him…” He licked his lips, “You want them back don’t you?”
          Milly shook her head, “No! No, not really, I just was kinda… I don’t really care because I have everything I need right here in the present!” She turned her head from one side and then to the other, trying to avoid looking at the large sharp scythe near her face. “Please, I don’t care about any of this anymore, just let us go and we’ll leave you alone…”
          “No!” Jonas yelled. All eyes turned on him and his head immediately dropped to his chest. Shin was scrambling in his arms again, his face covered by Jonas’ hand, not allowing him to speak. What’s going on with these two? What aren’t they telling us? Vash mused, it had something… No, what could it be?
          “I know how the little female regained her memories,” Knives spat. He leaned forward, his nose nearly touching Milly’s. To his left, Vash could see Nicholas’ face break out in beads of sweat. He swallowed as Knives took another look at the plant above him, “You wanted this most of all, didn’t you?” But Lady Elf’s eyes were not on him, they were on something else, distant; she still had not spoken a word… Or perhaps, Vash wondered, maybe I can’t hear her!
          “It’s okay, we don’t have to follow what she wanted you know because…” Milly started to ramble, and Knives covered her mouth with his own. Vash gasped, so did the others in the room.

The Very First Angel

         When Knives’ lips broke away from her own, Milly wasn’t looking at Vash’s twin anymore. She wasn’t bent over onto the desk, nor was she in the office. Instead she was on her feet in a long sterile hallway, walking behind a tall man in a white coat with dark hair. He was so very tall she only came up to his waist. Who could be so tall? This wasn’t a member of the Nebraska family was it? Milly breathed in, smelling strange cleaning fluids, not the dusty old smell of the ship she was in previously. How had she gotten here? What was going on?
          “Okay girls, stay close to me now,” the older man said, looking over his shoulder and she saw he had a mustache and gray eyes. Milly looked around now to see who he was talking to and there was Meryl, holding her hand as they walked down a long ramp into a sterile white room. Meryl had to be five… Milly looked down at her feet, they were so small! Wait! This had to be a memory! Was this what had happened to Meryl when she kissed Mr. Vash for the first time? Had she remembered her past so abruptly that she got sucked into it? No, she was pretty sure Meryl would have told her something like that. Of course these were different circumstances. But why should she learn about this particular memory? And where was she?
          Ahead of them the man stopped and bent forward to kiss a woman with long black hair. “Sorry Samantha, the Thompsons asked if we could bring little Milly with Meryl since the harvest started…” Milly gasped, Samantha! So that’s Matthew! Meryl’s parents! I remember this now! Her memories flooded back into her and she remembered the circumstances, how she’d chased the chickens out of the pen as her family were harvesting the crop, how she nearly got run over by the tractor her father was driving from the field to the barn. Scared to death of his youngest getting hurt, he made a call to Meryl’s parents, and Mr. Stryfe came and picked her up. It happened on occasions. She remembered other times where Meryl came over for her parents to watch… Although she was pretty sure that Meryl didn’t like it as much as she did.
          The black haired woman smiled, “That’s okay. Hello Milly, have you come to see where we work?”
          Milly nodded and backed behind Meryl… She was actually… Shorter! That’s right, before this day she was shorter, much smaller, her family all called her a runt. Of course, Meryl was a year older than her, but not long afterwards Milly had a growth spurt. “Yes ma’am.”
          “Silly bean, that’s my mom, don’t be afraid,” Meryl said looking at her over her shoulder. “Hi mom, can we see the weird bird in the bowl again?”
          “Would you like to?” Samantha bent down to look at the girls. “I think she’d like to see you too.” She held out a hand to Meryl. “Let’s go right now.” Milly tagged along behind Meryl and her mother down the ramp and off to a little office off to the side that said STRYFE on the door. Underneath the name was HEAD OF PLANT RESEARCH. Milly’s eyes went wide… So this is the reason I’m remembering this! They… Oh yes! They did know about plants didn’t they? But… this must be the memory that Meryl couldn’t remember! I must tell her when this memory ends… Well, if it ends… Milly bit her lip; she wondered what was happening outside of her head. She hoped her friends were okay.
          Within the room was an aquarium with a feathery creature floating within. It was only about the size of the cage her rat lived in until it died… The creature brushed up against the glass, fluttering excitedly. Meryl dragged Milly over to it and put her fingers up to the glass.
          “Hi Ascie, how are you?”
          Milly’s mouth was wide open. “What kind of bird is it?”
          “It’s an alien bird,” Meryl said, looking for her mother’s agreement. “But it looks different than it did before.”
          “That’s because you’ve been petting her. She takes on… She starts to look like the people it likes most.” Samantha said. She came over to the aquarium. “Would you like to pet her again? And you too Milly?”
          Milly nodded slowly, “Does it bite?” She always loved animals, so it was a given she’d want to pet it, and for the time she let her memory take over. Her brain was working though, was this a plant? This little creature? It didn’t look like Lima Bean, and it didn’t look like the angels or Lady Elf…
          “No, she doesn’t bite.” Meryl was lifted up to stick her hand in a small opening. Ascie brushed up against her fingers and she giggled. “Now let Milly.”
          Meryl’s mother picked up Milly and reluctantly she put her hand in. The feathers were so soft she just wanted to keep petting it but suddenly Ascie made a strange sound and bit her. Milly started to cry and lifted her hand out of the glass enclosure. She cried and cried until Samantha calmed her down. It hurt so much! How could something so soft bite so hard! And there was something in that bite because she was starting to feel funny. “Well, that’s weird. She’s never done that before.” Meryl said pouting, probably realizing her mother wouldn’t let her pet it ever again. Milly’s hand stung from the bite and she started to feel warm, feverish. Her eyes widened as she looked at the plant before they hauled her off to the infirmary, the plant was gone. It had completely disappeared!
          “I wonder how this kind of exposure will affect her…” Samantha said to Meryl’s father a little while later as she sat in the infirmary. They said this on the other side of the curtain where Milly was sure they didn’t think she was listening. There was a sound of footsteps and soon she was left alone. Milly never heard the answer, but she started to wonder if being bit by that strange creature had somehow turned her into the big tall hulk of a woman she’d become, and also if that had given her some of her odd powers she had even before crashing onto Gunsmoke. Milly shook her head, for the moment she was content with the bowl of pudding someone had given her moments before and she was quietly eating away at it, trying to ignore the throbbing in her head. Who knew when she would be sucked back into the present again and lose this chance at yummy chocolate tapioca?
          But then, from the corner of her eye, someone nearby caught her attention. He ducked into the room, looking around with a frown on his face, eyes scanning his surroundings, taking everything in, but he didn’t seem to notice her at first. Milly’s eyes went wide as she suddenly recognized him. Blondie! What’s he doing here? Knives wasn’t paying her any mind as he walked through her memories. He didn’t look like his normal self, but not quite as young as Milly was in this memory either, he was maybe twelve or so. She stuck her spoon in her mouth, and with the bowl in hand, she crawled over to the edge of the bed. It was perhaps a bit too much for a four year old to accomplish, but she managed somehow without spilling the pudding. “Mr. Knives?”
          Suddenly blue eyes swung on her and Knives glared at her. Milly gulped, and then sputtered, choking on the spoon until she pulled it out of her mouth. “It’s you,” he growled, quickly bridging the distance between them. “What have you done to me? Where have you taken me you evil…” Before he could touch her, he looked down at her, realizing how tiny she was now, and for some odd reason, he stopped in his tracks. “You’re a toddler.”
          “I’m four!” Milly protested. She remembered having this argument with someone before, people always called her younger because of her height… Wonder if this is what Meryl goes through all the time? “I guess we’re in my mind or something. This is one of my memories.” She put the spoon back into the pudding and fished out another helping. “You’re kinda small too.”
          This revelation didn’t please Knives at all; he crossed his arms over his chest, frowning down on her. Although, at the moment he didn’t seem to possess any of his plant powers, so he really wasn’t all that scary. In fact, he was kinda cute. She blushed, remembering then that in the present they were probably still kissing. She turned an even darker shade of red and Milly stuck the spoon back in her mouth, swishing the pudding around over her tongue. Can’t think about him! I’m engaged! Sorry Nicholas! My heart is completely devoted to you and you only but if I’d met Knives before you when he was like this… She shook her head, what were these crazy things she was thinking about anyway? “What is that you’re eating?” Knives swallowed and Milly tilted her head to the side. Was he hungry or something? She giggled as he licked his lips.
          “You want some?”
          “No,” Knives replied. He turned his head to look at the curtain that blocked the other side of the room. “I don’t like this place. It makes me uncomfortable.”
          “It’s an infirmary. I was bit by some weird bird.” Milly held up her finger to Knives and he glanced at it out of the corner of his eye. “I think…” She said this around her spoon, this pudding was too good to just stop eating it during the conversation, “Lady Elf had a reason to bring us in here during this memory of mine. That’s why it hasn’t ended yet.”
          Knives’ head followed his eyes and an eyebrow rose. “A reason?”
          Nodding, Milly stuck the spoon into the pudding and took the band-aid off her finger. She held it up to Knives to look at. “See? A weird bird creature bit me, and I think that’s the reason I got all of my powers in the first place….” She put the band-aid back on, although she started to have problems and Knives reached down and grabbed her hand. Milly gasped, but he took the bandage off and after reaching for a new one at the bedside, replaced it. His hands were really warm, kind of like Wolfwood’s but… “Yah! Lemme go!” What’s with me?! These must be feelings… Oh, we really need to get out of here because I think Lady Elf is trying to kindle feelings… Eww!!
          Releasing his grasp on her hand, Knives jumped back. “What is it?”
          “You…” Milly held her hand to her chest, “You’re being nice.”
          “I…” Knives didn’t have a response to that. He frowned, then reached out and grabbed her pudding from her lap and grabbing the spoon, stuck it in his mouth.
          “WHA? My pudding!” Milly whined. “Give it back!”
          Knives laughed as he finished off the pudding. “There,” he tossed it onto the table near her bed and the spoon clattered around in the empty bowl. “Stupid thing, I don’t see why you’re so obsessed with something that simple.” He licked his lips again but Milly noticed he still had a smear of chocolate on his face. She wasn’t about to tell him though.
          Tears coming to her eyes, Milly pouted. “Well, you didn’t have to eat it all…” She looked up at him and rubbed her eyes, then snorted. Knives glanced down at her and shook his head. Milly pulled herself up to her knees and then stood up on the bed to look at him in the eyes. “You’re such a meanie! Why do you have to be this way anyway, huh? I think…” Knives grabbed her arms and hefted her into the air. Milly squirmed in his grasp, but she was too small.
          “What is it that you think?”
          Milly mustered everything she had, “I think that if you gave being human a try you would like it! What’s the use of having all of your powers when you don’t have anyone to protect with them? Human beings aren’t completely selfish you know, and if you were to ever just try being nice I think you’d find you like it.” Then she smiled devilishly and said, “Even though you’re inexperienced you’re a pretty good kisser and you could probably find a girlfriend really easily.”
          Knives dropped her to the bed. And suddenly the memory ended.
          Milly blinked and she could see Lady Elf looking down at her. “Hello again.” She said, and then her attention went to Knives who still had her pinned. He wasn’t moving and the light was gone out of his eyes as she looked up at him. With a sigh, she could still remember the pudding from her memory… In fact, she could still taste it. Licking her lips… No, it wasn’t just a memory, that was real pudding, and suddenly her attention fell on Knives. The pudding in her memory was on his face… Milly cautiously managed to lift one finger and tough his cheek. Knives didn’t move.
          “MILLY!” Meryl screamed suddenly. Milly jerked and her finger jammed into Knives’ nose. She pulled back suddenly but her attacker didn’t budge. Breathing a sigh, she raised her hand away from him and waved to Meryl.
          “It’s okay Meryl, I’m fine! He’s frozen or something…” She pursed her lips, at least she thought she was okay, she did a count of fingers and toes and ran a finger over the spot where Knives’ blades had previously dug into her neck but his powers had receded now and he had hardly scratched her. And still he didn’t move, and he was as heavy as a statue, his leg was digging into her thigh she realized and her foot was growing numb. “I wonder how long he’s going to stay like this, you’re awfully heavy Mr. Knives,” she said to him, trying to move her leg out from under his knee. And where did he get the pudding? She didn’t have time to think about something so trivial, she had to get away from him… “Um, Mr. Vash? Your brother isn’t moving… He’s kinda… Out of it.”
          Out of her vision she heard, “What did you do? How did you…” It was Shin, his voice sounded accusatory and Milly felt bad.
          “I didn’t do anything! Honest!” Milly replied abruptly, she really hadn’t, she’d just let him kiss her, Milly flushed, oh yeah they kissed… She suddenly felt really bad because her lips were supposed to be for one man and one man alone, but… “Nicholas! Is he okay?”
          “He’s okay…” Came the voice of Jonas. “Although he’s angry as hell and he’ll rip the room apart if I let him go right now.” Milly sighed. She wondered why the young man held Wolfwood back when he could have saved her, but something inside of her trusted Jonas. That intuition never failed her, even until now, and even as she looked up at the frozen Knives, she lost all her fear of him. Inside he was just a lost little boy. She felt almost sorry for him, even after everything he did, it was just for attention maybe… Milly took a breath and wiggled what she could of her body to get to a position where she could see her friends.
          “Can anyone move?” She put her hands up against Knives’ shoulders and gently pushed backwards but the plant wasn’t budging.
          She watched as Meryl struggled against Vash’s hold on her wrists, but after a moment both of them shook their heads. “Nope.” Milly stuck her tongue out and turned her blue eyes on Jonas. “Let Nicholas go Mr. Jonas.”
          “But…” The young man still held Shin in his arms, but the boy was as frozen stiff as Knives in shock. Milly wondered why Shin seemed so attached to Knives, but she figured that was a question for another time. She coughed and Jonas gave a frightened glance at the priest. “Miss Milly, he’s not very happy right now and…”
          “I want my fiancé!” Milly snapped. “LET HIM GO OR I WILL!” A sudden power burst from her and she watched all four free plants in the room shiver as feathers broke over their faces. Milly gasped and shrunk back, one of Knives fingers twitched… “I’m… I’m sorry. I… I hate this!” She felt tears come to her eyes and she buried her face in her hands. “Please, please, I just want Nicholas,” she sobbed. It was all too much, she wanted to be held, she wanted to go home, and she didn’t want these stupid powers anymore! It was all that stupid plant’s fault, why couldn’t she just be normal again? “Please Mr. Jonas…”

Finding Strength

         Through gray eyes, Wolfwood had watched all of it. He wanted to scream, to fight, to cry, to do anything that would stop Knives from harming Milly, but Jonas had made it impossible for him. He couldn’t even blink, and his eyes were sore from staying open so long. It was as if he were sitting in the movie theater, and no matter how many times he screamed at the girl not to open the door to the ax murderer, she still did. But he wasn’t sitting in the little theater in December City even though he’d seen Knives’ face on the screen months ago. This was the real thing and Milly was in danger, she was hauled onto her back, horrified, unable to fight, and Knives kissed her, he was trying to take everything he had ever loved away from him. First the orphanage, and now Milly… No! I won’t let him take her!
          But he was forced to watch it all and he was getting angrier. How dare his own great grandson do this to him? How could Jonas switch sides so easily? Then a thought struck him, he’d done the same thing. He was Knives’ slave first before he became friends with Vash… It hit him like a bullet to the chest and his stomach dropped. His whole existence was for this moment, to get Vash to his brother and here they were. Was this the reason he was born? Would God strike him down now that his use was over? No! He screamed inwardly again, I have much more to do in my life! I have someone else to live for now, and it can’t end here because otherwise Jonas and Shin wouldn’t be here…
          Milly started to cry as she struggled under Knives. Nicholas’ heart ached. “Please, let me go to her…” He thought desperately to Jonas. The young man turned to look at him, only his green eye showed from under his long gray bangs. “I’ll let you go, but you have to promise me.”
          “What? Anything! Just let me go to Milly…” She was sobbing now, pounding her fists against Knives, shrieking. Meryl was yelling something and struggling, no one could move and he had a feeling even Jonas was glued to the spot in fear.
          “You can’t kill Knives, he’s all we have in the future.” The words struck a harsh chord in Wolfwood’s chest. Jonas let go of Shin and came to stand in front of him. The young boy shrunk back into the corner and curled up into a ball, his eyes constantly on Knives and Milly. The priest couldn’t see Milly anymore as Jonas stood in his view. Instead he looked into that one sad eye that looked so much like Vash’s. “I don’t know what will happen now that we’ve changed the past, but he’s the only father figure that Shin has known since he was born. I know you know what it’s like to have no family.”
          “Yeah, I do…” Wolfwood heard a sob from Milly again and he said, “Okay, I won’t do anything but get him off of her. Please…” Jonas took one last long look over at Shin, and then nodded and placed his finger to Nicholas’ forehead. Wolfwood felt control return to him as his eyes blinked sorely, they watered although he wasn’t sure if it was his own tears or his body’s reaction. He moved now, pushed Jonas out of the way and grabbed Knives by the shoulders. “I promised Jonas I wouldn’t hurt you…” With all of his strength he pulled at the still plant and with a final jerk pried Knives off of the desk. “Honey get moving!”
          Tears running down her cheeks, Milly scrambled out from under Knives and wobbled around on her feet, collapsing into his arms as he let Knives return to his position leaning onto the desk. He wrapped his arms around Milly, holding her tightly as she started to sob again. “I’m so sorry… I’m so sorry… It’s all my fault, if I hadn’t agreed to come along…” Her fingers dug into his lapels and she dragged him down onto the floor as she collapsed to her knees. He put his hands on her head, ran his fingers through her hair, patted her back, wanted to say something but words wouldn’t come to him. Wolfwood squeezed her tighter to him and he kissed her forehead, then her tear-stained face.
          “It’s okay, Honey.”
          “No, no it’s not! I… My memories, they came back to me and Knives…” She grasped his lapels so tightly her knuckles were white. “Don’t let me go, never let me go, I don’t want to leave you ever again.” He pulled her into his chest and felt tears roll down his own cheeks. He wanted to sob with her, but he knew he had to be strong for her. It wasn’t time to break down, Vash still needed them, and they still hadn’t solved the problem with Knives… He needed Milly too…
          “Milly, are you okay?” The little insurance girl called from nearby. “Nicholas, is she hurt? Did he hurt her?”
          Wolfwood shook his head, “She’s okay. Milly…” He put his fingers under her chin and looked at her blood-shot blue eyes. He didn’t want her to look like that ever again. He wanted the happy girl he first met years ago, the one who loved pudding and didn’t have a care in the world. He didn’t want to ever have her sad or angry or confused ever again, he wanted to make her happy for the rest of her life. It was this strength that would hold him. His real purpose on this planet was for Milly… He was meant to meet her and to make her happy, to protect her and keep her safe. No matter of fortune telling plant beings could stop him from believing that! No one could tell the future, even if they’d been there because they could always change the future to the way they wanted it. He believed that with every ounce of his being now. There could be peace, there could be hope, and there could be love. He’d had all three and he knew that as long as he was alive he’d strive to keep it that way.
          Kissing his love, he wiped the tears from her cheeks, “Milly, can you tell me what happened?”
          “I… I remember… But he was there…” Her words trailed off and at the same moment Wolfwood heard a gasp from Meryl and felt a dark shadow come over them. The priest raised his eyes to find Knives standing over them. His eyes were empty of any emotion, but they pierced into him like blades. He shuddered and he felt Milly tense. The room held its breath. “He’s… He’s awake, isn’t he?” Milly whispered.
          “Yeah,” Wolfwood replied. Knives just stood there staring at them. His lips pursed and he blinked, his eyes focusing again. “Not again… I won’t let you…”
          “I have no use for her,” Knives said, he turned his head, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand in a curious gesture. The plant looked down at his wrist and then spit off the side as he stepped around them, heading toward Vash and Meryl. Knives was mumbling something as he walked, something was wrong, even Nicholas knew that something drastic had changed during that exchange, even though he wasn’t sure what could be going on in the killer’s head.
          “Leave us alone!” Meryl yelled. Wolfwood turned to look at Knives as he walked up to his brother. Meryl was kicking her legs out, trying to reach Knives and hurt him any way she could, but he stayed out of range. “Damn you! Haven’t we played your game long enough?”
          Knives’ shoulders slumped forward and he grabbed for his head. “I know, I know… Shut up!” He fell to his knees in front of Vash and Meryl and Wolfwood’s eyes went wide. He turned to look at Milly, but she looked as confused as he did until something registered within her head.
          “Lady Elf… She’s… She’s in control now,” Milly whispered, “She’s telling him to return the memories Legato stole.”
          “You came here for something…” Knives’ head shot up and Meryl backed away from him, her eyes wide. “TELL ME WHAT YOU WANTED!”
          “I wanted to know where I came from!” Meryl shrieked. “I wanted answers! Why were we chosen? Why is this all happening to us? Why? You know something and we wanted to find out!” She heaved a breath, and stared at Knives in horror. Wolfwood let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. Boy, that little girl sure has guts talking to the crazy guy…
          Lifting his left hand, Knives extended it to Meryl. “Take it.”
          “No way…”
          “TAKE IT!”
          “NO!” Meryl screeched. “Vash!”
          The gunman was quiet this entire time, his eyes troubled but he nodded slowly. “It’s okay Meryl, I’m right here.”
          Meryl looked up at Vash with her violet eyes and her mouth dropped open.
          “It’s okay,” and with that, Vash suddenly released his grasp of the little girl. Knives simply held out his hand to her, and Meryl stood in the same spot, staring down at him. Wolfwood tightened his hold on Milly as they both waited to see what the insurance girl was going to do.
          “Take it Meryl,” Milly whispered, “If you want to know the truth,” she added. Her eyes were sad but she smiled at Wolfwood when he glanced at her. “It’s not a bad memory… Just…” Milly looked over her shoulder at Lady Elf. Nicholas turned to look too, the plant was pressed up to the glass, her eyes on Meryl and Knives now.
          “What is it?”
          Milly nodded to the plant, “Mr. Knives knows the whole truth now… And Lady Elf wants Meryl and Mr. Vash to know too.” Her eyes returned to him and she said, “She’s old and tired, but she wants to see us happy… She saw the beginning and she wants to see the end.” Milly sighed, and turned her head. Wolfwood watched as the little insurance girl stepped forward, Vash’s hand on her shoulder as she reached out to take Knives’ hand.

Chapter 6 Cont.
Into The Future: Part 2 (Back)

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