"Gunsmoke & Feathers Alternate Universe"
"Part 8 Into the Future" Part 4

By Ricki, Susan, and Catherine

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

Academy Days

          On the fifteenth of the month, the academy closed for the summer. Meryl could remember how thrilled she was to finally have a few months of rest from studying and researching for her training exams. It also marked the day she was high enough rank to finally get into the military library to research her parents’ deaths. Very few people knew what branch they joined shortly after the academy, but Matthew met Samantha there and they were married and started a family only a year later.
          Meryl never considered herself an army brat because they never moved and didn’t live on base, but she did follow in her parents’ footsteps, joining the space fleet right out of high school. It had taken four years of study to get high enough rank to get clearance for the fifth floor of the Space Academy Intelligence HQ to finally research the murders of both her parents… Even though officially it was ruled as a double suicide, Meryl never believed it for a second.
          Meryl stretched as she walked down the sunny sidewalk, smiling to herself as she looked across the huge lawn to the library, “Soon,” she said to herself. The pass was only for the week they had off between semesters: Monday morning through the week so she had to wait the weekend first.
          But before that, she had the trip from campus to the little café on the other side of town. The place was named Café Toulant and even with the slightly strange name it was a pleasant little place to get coffee and a pastry, sit with one’s guitar and relax the day away. They had open mic night twice a week and Meryl had often played for the little crowd in the shop. That would have been Meryl’s goal if not for the fact that Milly was waiting for her; just off her shift working part time to pay off academy bills. Unlike Meryl, whose family left her a considerable fortune, Milly’s family was overly large and fairly middle class. In fact, if it hadn’t been for their friendship, Meryl figured Milly would have remained on the hydroponics farm with her parents.
          Meryl stepped into the café where Milly sat in a frilly pink apron holding a simple platform dish filled with her favorite dessert: pudding with a spoonful of whipped cream on top. She looked like a doll, which was something Meryl knew she would never get used to. Usually Milly fit the tomboy cliché down to suspenders and hip boots if given the chance. But city life had a strange way of making girls into women, if only for practicality of looks only. She looked up with the spoon in her mouth, pulling it out slowly, before smiling brightly, “So, did you get it?”
          Nodding, Meryl waved at one of the waiters and ordered a grand vanilla latte, before sitting down across from Milly to wait for her drink. “I got it. The pass is good starting Monday for five days.”
          “You think it will be enough time?” Milly held up her spoon, examining for missed pudding.
          “It’s all the time I have before spring semester starts,” Meryl said, leaning onto the armrest of the couch, glancing around at the various customers. One of the cute guys from her English class sat at a table nearby talking to some girl, she sighed, her attention returning to Milly. “I know you were thinking about going to the beach on Beta Three this week but…”
          “That’s okay! Actually I wish I could come with you but Electrical Physiology gave me trouble…” She frowned, “I don’t get all that mumbo-jumbo power outsourcing stuff, if it works why fiddle with it I say!” She smiled, “At least you passed and won’t have to spend all summer studying like I do.”
          Meryl nodded. “Yes, but just barely. Alien technology is still too experimental. I’m not even sure why the academy is putting the plants into their ships. Technically I don’t even think they know where the Snakes received this technology in the first place.” She shook her head, “But that’s not what is important right now, Milly. It’s discovering what happened to my parents. You might not be able to come into the records room yourself, but I’ll need you at night to help me sort through information.”
          “Of course, Meryl.”
          The waiter brought her drink and after a sip of her latte, Meryl sat back on the chair and crossed her legs, left over right. “But we have two days before we can start, so what do you say we take Sweetness back to the farm to see your folks?”
          Milly dropped her spoon, “You really mean it Meryl?” She clapped her hands together and nearly lunged over the table to give Meryl a hug when she got the confirmation nod. She just missed tipping over both their snacks, but when her pudding was in jeopardy she backed up and settled for clapping instead. “Home sweet home, here we come!”
          Gathering attention of the tables around them, Meryl motioned for Milly to sit and resumed her plan, “We’ll leave tonight. Can you pack by eight?”
          “Of course!” Milly started to dig in her apron and pulled out her satellite cell and started fiddling with it, “I’d better call Ma and Pa so they know we’re coming.”
          Meryl smiled, “I’ll go to the garage. Sweetness was getting a tune-up.” She stood, finished her latte and set the cup in the tray. “Meet me at the apartment in an hour okay?”

          Two hours later, Milly let herself into the apartment; a bit worried that Meryl may have left without her. It wasn’t exactly her fault she was late because she got lost. Stupid city with so many roads and so many buses, and how was she to know the bus she normally rode had been commissioned for an out of town trip? It wasn’t until the first half hour anyone realized she wasn’t with the group, and another half hour of arguing until they decided to stop and let her off so she could catch a train back home. So two hours later she got to the apartment and Meryl was sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee and going through paperwork. She glanced up as Milly walked in embarrassed. “You want some tea? The water is still hot.”
          “Sorry I’m late…” Milly started, reaching for her favorite teapot in the little kitchenette. “I got on the wrong bus again.”
          Meryl nodded, “I know. I told you an hour but I meant three so you’re actually early. Sweetness is being fueled so we don’t have to be at the hangar for awhile.” She smiled, “How’d your parents take the news?”
          Milly perked up immediately, “They’re already getting the spare room ready and little big brother said he can’t wait to see you,” she added the last because her brother always fancied Meryl and Milly always secretly hoped she might have Meryl as another sister someday. Of course, as she thought that, Meryl was making gagging noises and Milly realized she had a different take on the situation.
          “Hasn’t he married yet?” Meryl started shuffling papers; a sure sign of irritation. “He’s got to be about twenty-four now, isn’t he?”
          “He does have a girlfriend but she was enlisted last week so he may never see her again. Donald is taking over the organic division of the farm from Pa next year so he’s pretty well off… But when he asked Kaitie to marry him she refused and joined the Solar Army…” Milly frowned. “Do you think we’ll be shipped off planet when the second strike starts? I know Sweetness is part of the experimental fleet but if things get worse with the Snakes…”
          Meryl looked up at Milly as she put the tenth sucrose tablet into her teacup. They were now forming a column in the center of her cup. Milly was usually proud at the amount of sugar she could dissolve into an ordinary cup of tea, but this time her thoughts were elsewhere. She really didn’t want to go to war, didn’t really want to be in the academy at all… But she knew Meryl needed her and her family knew that too, even though her mother was sorely disappointed she wasn’t married and having children yet. “You can always quit and go home…”
          “Wait! I wasn’t saying that at all…” Milly’s tea splattered the table as the sucrose tablets and spoon clattered with her sudden movement. “I’d never leave all this behind after I’ve worked so hard to get here… and the professor for Electrical Physiology said if I took Plant Theory this summer I can catch up to you again…”
          Laughing, Meryl caught Milly off-guard and she wiped the tears from her eyes, “It’s okay Milly! I was just joking with you. We girls must stick together! Even if we do go to war I wouldn’t have anyone else as my navigator!”
          Milly relaxed and started mopping up the tea, taking a sip and adding milk now for good measure. “I’m glad Meryl, but I’m still kind of scared of the Snakes…from the pictures…”
          “They’re humanoid Milly, not like they’re really monsters with claws and fangs like they portray them in those comics you read. The only reason they’re called Snakes is because of their slitted eyes, their camouflage capabilities, and the shape of their ships. But otherwise without their technology they’re just like us.” Meryl started shuffling her papers into her bag as she added, “And within a few years we’ll have all of their technology and will surpass them, beat them at their own game. Don’t you worry, as long as we’re at the head of the technology research, they’ll never send us out into battle.”
          “I guess if you say so,” Milly wasn’t entirely convinced but she smiled anyway. “It would be really great if we could win this war so we could go back to Earth again. I remember when we were kids…” Meryl wasn’t paying attention and Milly sighed. “Well, then maybe we could both get boyfriends too.”
          Meryl cast a glance over her shoulder as she stood from the table. “I’m too picky to find a boyfriend, and so are you.”
          “I’m not that picky,” Milly said, sipping her tea and thinking about the tall, dark and lanky fellow she saw around campus. He had the most perfect Roman nose she’d ever seen… “And neither are you. I saw you ogling Henry at the coffee shop earlier. He doesn’t have any brains though, why just the other day he spilled coffee in a girl’s lap and she broke up with him… He didn’t even follow her out when she left!” She shook her spoon at Meryl, continuing, “Every guy should know that if he makes a girl angry he needs to follow her… Like in the story books where the prince battles dragons and thorns and blindness all to find the woman he loves. You just have to find a guy who can be your knight in shining armor.”
          “Yeah, but guys aren’t like that in real life.” Meryl pushed back her chair and picked up her things, walking into the kitchen. “They always give up the moment they’re uncomfortable.” Milly glanced up as Meryl leaned her head around the corner, “You can quote me on this Milly, the first man who will follow me to the ends of the planet… I’ll marry him.”
          Milly smiled, “I’ll remember that.”

What I Think of Plants

          Meryl and Milly waved goodbye to the Thompson family as they left the farm for what would be the last time. Meryl swung Sweetness out into space on the way back to Alpha 2 Minor, and back to the answers she’d been seeking since she was very small. In less than twenty-four hours she would have the medical records in front of her and she could decide for herself if her parents had killed one another or if someone… something… else was the cause.
          Milly was still waving as the farm fell away and they entered the correct airspace for small inter-stellar and pleasure vehicles. She stopped when the towns looked like small dots, and turned to Meryl. “I thought that visit went surprisingly well.”
          “Yeah, especially since your mother was so busy with Betty’s new baby she had no time to bother you about being single.”
          “Of course! Perfect timing if you ask me!” She smiled a devious smile Meryl was sure only she had ever seen, and snuggled into her seat. Meryl adjusted climate control and set Sweetness on autopilot when they reached the correct heading. Reaching over to her bag, she pulled out her holotop, setting the little gray keyboard on her lap and watching the screen pull up between two thin rods protruding from either side. The computer flared to life and the news started playing in a little box to the side. “…whose intentions are to bring the Snakes to their knees in a single, devastating blow. I have here in the studio with me Dr. Rod N. Bary, leading scientist in these strange technologies.”
          “Hey Meryl, that’s Dr. Bary! He’s the one teaching the Plant Theory course I was talking about…”
          “I know who he is,” Meryl said, pulling the box up to the full screen and turning up the volume. “Listen, this sounds important.”
          “…bizarre creatures have been the main power source for the Snakes. We have been studying them since we discovered the first ship nearly eighteen years ago. They are easily bred in laboratory conditions and similar to the human body, which produces a small amount of energy, these “plants” are equal to a hundred humans, giving off excess energy without any apparent purpose. By harnessing this energy our spacecraft have nearly endless power, allowing us to travel further than ever before. Our scientists have discovered that within the year we may be able to attack the Snakes in their own territory…”
          Meryl shut off the news, her eyes turning to the back door of the little ship she flew. In her own ship one of these “plants” had been installed just the week before. Milly didn’t even know it was back there, even though on a few occasions the “lima bean” as Milly referred to it was aboard during test flights. The Captain of the Inter-Space Planetary Alliance (ISPA) had ordered Meryl to do a test-run under normal operating conditions and so far the little thing had never faltered, there was no loss of power, no need for jet-fuel, and not even a slight difference in how she flew. But Meryl didn’t like it one bit. The thing might be only the size of an extra large lima bean, but it had strange winged protusions and eyes that watched her as she fiddled with the attachments. The thing was damned creepy and Meryl hoped that someday they could find a different source of power because if they kept using plants… Well maybe she’d just have to get a different career… like an insurance agent or something…
          “Hey Meryl,” Milly said, looking out the window. Meryl opened an eye to glance at her friend.
          “Do you think the plants are intelligent? Dr. Bary said so much about them seeming to know why we were using them and…”
          “That’s a load of rubbish,” Meryl said firmly. “If you ask me they’re just some creation of the Snakes that went bad and when they were trying to find some use for them they got lucky. That’s all it is. We’ll get lucky someday and find our power source and not have to depend on those creepy critters. It’s giving me the willies just thinking about it.”
          “It?” Milly looked over her shoulder and Meryl shrugged. Milly caught the hint and smiled. “Well, no point in debating it now, right? Classes are over and we’ve got another mystery to solve, right Meryl? We’ll be able to find out what your parents were doing when…”
          Meryl nodded, “Yup. First thing tomorrow morning.” She glanced at her controls, “Okay Milly, get ready for landing, we’re coming to the base.”

Hard Truths

         “I can’t believe this!” Meryl stormed into the apartment, her arms full of copied notes and papers. She closed the door with a foot and slammed the pile down in front of a startled Milly. Her friend scrambled for the plate of donuts that were sitting there, saving them from being smashed as Meryl went on. “They were studying those horrific plants! Both of them!” Landing hard in the chair she took out one paper after another, throwing them at Milly, “Five years! Studying those things! Look at this, designed the bulb system… Here they were picketed by Anti-Snake Technology organizations… Threatened their lives! I’m seeing what I thought I might but now that I know they were with the plants all that time… They got killed for something I’m against as well…” Meryl pounded a fist on the table, grabbed a donut and crammed it into her mouth. “I’m so disgusted I didn’t know that the little creepy bird was one of those things… I don’t even think I’m going to bother going back, there’s nothing else to solve!”
          “But Meryl…” Milly thumbed through the papers, “Are you sure you want to give up? You still have four days…”
          “My own parents… Working with those things… I was born the year they started developing the globes… How could I have not known?”
          Milly put her head in her hands and just watched Meryl steam. She couldn’t keep still, constantly shuffling, getting up, and stomping out of the room and back again. Finally she sat down at the table with a groan, “The only thing is I have the address for someone on their team. He’s still working at the academy with the plants. He installed the…” she stopped and looked up at Milly, “I didn’t tell you this before, but we have an experimental plant in the back of Sweetness.”
          “Yeah, I know,” Milly replied.
          “You knew?”
          “Sure. Sweetness had the smoothest flight this last trip. We made such great time because we were running on empty… It felt kind of like our tests with Frankie, so I had a look-see.” She smiled and waited for Meryl’s reply. It was creepy how well Milly knew their ship sometimes…
          A sour look on her face deepened and she turned a slight shade of pink. “So you’re going to be on their side now?”
          “No!” Milly tried to stifle a laugh that made Meryl even more annoyed. She was almost ready to storm out when Milly added, “I’m not on any side but yours. I just think that we should go see this guy and ask him about your parents before you make any more decisions.” She smiled and Meryl nodded.

Unwanted Answers

          His name was Albert Rodriguez and he had only joined the Plant Research Community ten years before. Shortly thereafter the technology was released to the public thanks to Bary’s old school beliefs that the public should know about government secrets. The whole world shared information so even one little department shouldn’t keep secrets from the public. Much to Albert’s aggravation, the plant technology went public and advances were pushed beyond safe measures. There was talk of interstellar travel and the possibility of warp travel in the next hundred to two hundred years. And just as all of this was being spread, Albert received a phone call from the very person he hoped he would hear from, his brightest student back from her test run. Only when he realized she knew something he never meant for her to know… He refused to see her.
          Meryl could tell she wasn’t wanted by the way Dr. Rodriguez kept refusing to schedule an personal appointment with her. He avoided her now to such an extent that after the first week passed by, she packed up Milly and the two of them went to knock on his door. Albert opened his door, still in a bathrobe and slippers, saw who it was and tried to shut them out, but Milly stuck her foot in the door and with surprising strength she opened the door all the way to allow Meryl entry. “Thanks for seeing us, Albert,” Meryl said.
          “Sorry,” Milly murmured behind her to the little man, “But we really need answers.”
          The little man blathered a moment before he closed the door behind them and came into the living room where Meryl was already sitting. He sighed, pulled his robe tighter around him and said, “Would you like coffee?”
          “Yes please,” Meryl said.
          “If you have tea…” Milly said as she sat next to Meryl. The little man rolled his eyes but went over to the kitchen and started fixing their drinks. After a few minutes he returned with Meryl’s coffee and sat down across from them. Milly almost opened her mouth about the tea when Albert put up a hand.
          “My kitchen is old fashioned, you’ll have to wait for the teapot to heat.” He set the cream and sugar in front of Meryl and said, “I know why you’re here and what you want to talk about, but it is classified information and even if I do tell you, you may not understand it. Also, both our lives will be in danger talking in my home like this. You should have waited until we were in the office…”
          “Danger like my parents were in when they were killed?”
          Albert shifted in his seat, “They weren’t murdered if that’s what you think; they did commit suicide just like the report said.”
          “That’s utter crap and you…”
          “However, Miss Stryfe, the suicides were induced by internal changes of body chemistry after an experimental procedure was tested on them.” The teapot started screaming and Milly got up to help herself. Meryl knew she was uncomfortable with the topic.
          Meryl took a moment to digest the information, “What did you say?”
          “Miss Stryfe, your parents’ mental functions were changed dramatically after repeated exposure to alien substances during their research in the laboratory. This was on a completely volunteer basis, they were not murdered; they chose to go through with the experiments.” Albert sipped his coffee as Milly returned to her seat. “It is all documented and you have access to those files I’ve been told.”
          Nodding numbly, Meryl had seen waivers and no-fault papers with her parents’ signatures, but she had not been sure of their meaning until now. “But why did they do that?”
          “Plant chemistry is a very sophisticated yet highly experimental science still. The Snakes receive from a source host a small seed like the one we introduced to your ship’s electrical system. By itself it is a clean power source but it lacks in capacity. When we salvaged multiple Snake systems, we found there are other degrees to which these plants can produce depending upon outside sources integrated with their systems. Plants create a self-sustaining system upon the environmental factors of the host DNA. Snakes integrated their DNA for camouflaging their ships. We can mix DNA of vegetation to create Geo Domes, as you may have heard. Human DNA creates a very long lasting energy source which may lead us to the creation of warp drives in the next hundred years.”
          “But why would my parents…”
          “I’m getting there, please, you must know the facts before you make assumptions.” Albert said, he set his coffee down and pulled a pair of wire-rim glasses from his robe and put them on his nose. He looked at Meryl with huge eyes and cleared his throat, “Plants cannot be injected with DNA by normal means, and so they must take the DNA directly through a series of short introductions. Thus, a human must have direct contact with the plant within the atmosphere of the enclosure, the “bulb” as people are calling them. But our physiology cannot handle it and vice versa, so exposure must be brief and repetitive. Your parents were the first to expose themselves to the seedlings and since, we have progressed in leaps and bounds…”
          Meryl recalled Ascie and gritted her teeth. She glanced at Milly and remembered how she grew a foot the following year, and how she herself had nearly stopped growing for two years afterwards. “But what did it do to them?!”
          “Poison, I’d imagine. From the exposure to the gasses and also to the seedlings themselves. Until they reach stage two like your ships’ plant has, they are fairly unstable. They can’t reproduce, they can’t be replicated, and they die quickly so your parents made a decision to further their research. Without human intervention plants wither and die just like their namesakes. In order to give them the strength to last more than a few months at a time we had to do whatever it was necessary to continue our project. Your parents wanted to stay the heads of the development team but the poison eventually drove them to schizophrenia.”
          Milly reached out and placed a hand on Meryl’s shoulder. Meryl knew she’d have launched herself at Dr. Rodriguez right then if she hadn’t… It was all sinking in very slowly. Her parents chose to poison themselves until they became crazy… For what!? An advance in technology? But why? What was the purpose if it caused their deaths? “Did they know?”
          “I very much doubt they understood what it was doing to them until it was already too late.”
          “Why didn’t anyone stop them?” Meryl stood now; it was all she could do to keep herself from becoming a murderer herself. She couldn’t believe no one noticed… She hadn’t, not really, but she was only a little girl at the time. “Didn’t anyone see the warning signs? My father started drinking and…”
          “It looked like that to us too, especially after the first test subject disappeared and the grant was withdrawn until we got another. We all lost our jobs for a year and your father seemed to take it the hardest… When we regained our grant he just didn’t stop. We thought there were no adverse effects until it started happening to our technicians long after they died. And it doesn’t seem to have affected you… But for your stunted height…” He trailed off and Meryl nearly slapped him before realizing what he’d just said. “ME? Why would it have affected me? I only touched that thing twice!”
          “My dear, do you think your mother stopped the experiment just because she was pregnant? You were exposed numerous times. We were on the verge of a discovery and both of your parents were exposed during and after you were born. Your father showed the effects much sooner I’d say because something about the pregnancy kept your mother immune…”
          “I’ve heard enough of this!” Meryl shot and slapped Dr. Rodriguez hard on the face. “You act like it is just science to you but it was my family and it was destroyed! I trusted you! You introduced yourself the moment we got to this university and helped me with my studies, pushing me to the top of my class! And you were so nice to me that I…” She grabbed Milly’s arm, “We’re leaving, now.”
          “But Meryl…”
          Mr. Rodriguez laughed, “Maybe it has effected you… Both of you… Exposure results differently… I loved studying you…” They closed the door to his laughter.
          “What did he mean… Meryl… Both of us?”
          “We’re getting rid of that damn plant in our ship, that’s what it means! Before something goes wrong.” She shivered and got into the car; glad that Milly had forgotten the bite she received from Ascie… But Meryl knew she herself would never forget it.

A Mother's Wish

         Knives withdrew his hand from Meryl. His eyes were sad, as if he were a child who just dropped his ice cream cone in the dirt. Knives adverted his gaze and pulled himself to his feet. Meryl stared at him as he took a few shaky steps and collapsed, clutching his head. Something was still going on inside of him, his sisters perhaps, she wondered if it was like having multiple personalities all vying to be heard within him. But really, up until this point she’d never heard of plants actually having voices, but emotions could be just as overwhelming. She knew it for certain because the emotions going through her mind might have dropped her to her knees if Vash hadn’t held her up.
          He squeezed her shoulders, and then wrapped his arms around her. “Did you see that too?”
          “Yeah, I did,” Vash replied slowly. He wrapped his fingers through the ribbon that kept her cape around her neck, lost in thought with his chin on her head. They both watched as Knives stood again, passing by Nicholas and Milly who had during this memory gone over to Shin. The boy was rocking on his butt, arms around his knees as he stared in horror at Knives. Her friend was undoubtedly trying to convince the young boy she was innocent in hurting Knives. His uncle threw himself down into the large leather chair, and didn’t move.
          “Are you okay, Miss Meryl?” Jonas asked then, he too look drained, even though she had a feeling it was out of sympathy more than anything else. What relation did he have to them all? She shook her head, it was too much to think about and she wasn’t really sure she wanted to know. Especially now that she knew everything she had already learned… Her parents had helped to create the plants. That’s why she and Milly were there, they were the first ones Lady Elf ever met and the only humans she knew she could trust with her children. It was a mother’s wish that she and Milly were the ones, only something didn’t turn out right, that’s why she made a last ditch attempt to come into the past, to bring Jonas and Shin here from the future, to correct a mistake she made.
          Meryl glanced up at Lady Elf… No… “You’re Ascie, aren’t you?”
          “Yes,” the plant responded. “That is my name.” She looked sad there in her globe, looking down at her sons and all of her children, whether by birth or adoption. Her eyes were on Knives the entire time, controlling him no doubt… He was fighting it, she could see the expressions changing on his face, but his butt was firmly planted in the chair for the time being. There were probably things going through his head that none of them could comprehend, but Meryl had a feeling she knew part of what it was. He’d seen the little bird creature and knew that it had caused all of the havoc in their lives. This was the one who brought them here into the future in order to make things right, to stop whatever horrible fate that was in store for mankind… She knew about the future and the past, and she regretted it. “I am sorry my sons…”
          Knives turned in his chair and glared at her, but he’d lost whatever drive he had to use his powers. “So… It’s true, just like Conrad said… There will never be a way for my sisters to be free… There will be no paradise for our kind… It’s all death without these disgusting creatures…” His disappointment was evident to everyone in the room. Knives stared at his hands, and then looked away in horror, “We’re like this because of your kind…” He was as much human as Milly was plant… They were simply two sides of the same coin, and all of his arguments were the same as those humans who started wars, who killed… The power he thought he could gain from his sisters was slowly driving him mad… And now he knew that the plants would never become powerful because if it weren’t for human beings, they wouldn’t exist at all. Their kind would slowly diminish and fade like cut flowers in a vase.
          “You are the only one of your kind… You are the only time traveler aren’t you?” Knives asked, hatred flickering over his features. Meryl’s eyes passed from him to Ascie. He said this in merely a whisper and Meryl and Vash moved toward the desk. Milly, Wolfwood, Shin, and Jonas all moved forward as well, staring up into the blind eyes of the Mother. Although wearily, since Knives was still a menace even in his present state.
          “The species I received information from… That once inhabited this planet… They are all gone now and I cannot pass on my abilities… I knew the fate of our kind by seeing the future and decided the best course of action would be to prepare my children in extending our species by bringing in new blood. I came back here when I received what I needed.” She pressed her hands against the glass, as if wanting to force her way out of the globe, but even though she looked better than Meryl had seen her earlier that evening, she was still much too weak. Ascie was using her powers up too quickly having taken control of Knives in his weakened state. “My son… Our kind will be gone and you will see it fade away before you take your final breaths. I did not want you to suffer this fate…”
          “So instead you curse me to joining our pure blood with these detestable creatures? Never!” Knives growled, but he didn’t not turn to look at her… His eyes were glowing in the dark room. Meryl could see something was going through his mind and she took a step back, pulling at Vash’s arm slightly as she did. He complied by moving away himself. She was very glad that Knives had not yet taken the opportunity to control him again… But would he when he had come to a decision? Meryl shivered, Vash don’t you dare lose control of yourself again! We need you! His reply was a squeezed shoulder and she could almost hear him say, Don’t worry… My powers have returned… At least, she hoped he said that.
          “But what about Jonas and Shin?” Wolfwood asked.
          Knives cast him a glance, “What about them? Jonas has human DNA… But no more so than I would probably find in my own genes…” He spat, eyes dark as he looked at the brothers and Milly who stood to the side. Wolfwood had a hand on Shin and Milly both. Jonas stood next to him, a hand placed on Shin’s other shoulder in case the boy became reckless. Both men stood the same height and had the same sloping jaw line.
          “We come from the future,” Jonas replied slowly. “It’s true… Plants will not survive without help… We… We are partially human, born from human and plant parents.” He bit his lip. Meryl could tell that he was struggling with the debate of whether to tell the room about themselves. If it were true, if they were really from the future, then there could be major changes… He had already saved her twice as far as she knew… So what happened in the future where he hadn’t saved her? “The Mother used up all of her power to bring us here. I’ve learned to sideslip, but it used up nearly as much power as Vash used to blow up July City… It takes time to recharge, and I’m not as strong because of my blood…” He shook his head, looking down at the young boy. “We won’t be able to go home without her power.”
          “Who are you really?” Vash asked.
          Jonas shrugged and squeezing Shin’s shoulder. “I’m afraid we’ve changed the past too much already… If I told you who we were we might not be born… What I can say is that when the war started I was only ten and Shin was just a baby. There were only a handful of humans left, those that…” His eyes fell on Knives, “Those that he allowed to survive…” He turned his eyes and Meryl saw a spark of something in Knives’ eyes, hoping he wasn’t getting any ideas from any of this… Had Knives won in Jonas’ future? Was that why he came back to fix things? “Our father was the last full human to die. He and our mother were killed when the aliens came. Knives took us in, protected us…” Jonas fell silent, “I don’t want to say more with him around.”
          “But it’s our Uncle!” Shin complained, finally speaking. “But Uncle… I believed in you, I trusted you… This isn’t the real you… I…” He wrestled in Jonas’ grasp and managed to break free and came up to Knives. “You still love me don’t you?”
          “Shin!” Jonas hissed, “Get back! What did I tell you…” He trailed off as Knives lifted his hand from the chair. “Don’t touch him!”
          “QUIET!” Knives snapped, he put his hand on Shin’s face and looked at him. “You are one of us aren’t you? But you’re different than Jonas… You smell like my sisters…”
          Shin nodded, “She helped me get out, changed me so I could be back to normal,” he pointed at Milly and smiled. Meryl grimaced; this boy was dangerous, talking so much… Was Vash really going to just allow Knives to hear all of this while… “She can do a lot you know, Uncle. Just like in the future she helped you free all of…”
          Yanked back by Jonas, Shin found himself unable to talk. He gasped, opened his mouth but words wouldn’t come out. “No more Shin!” Jonas hauled the boy away and thrust him at Wolfwood who took a hold of him. “Hold the Squirt for me.” Knives was standing now, watching the proceedings with increasing curiosity, the Mother was slouching in her globe, she’d lost control of him. Meryl bit her lip, this wasn’t good… A plan was forming in his head, and she knew that Vash could see that as well as he let her go and pulled out his gun.
          “She did this, did she?” Knives cast his gaze on Milly and Meryl reached out and grabbed her friend, hauling her backwards. Milly made a squeak in complaint but followed suit.
          “Uh, no, didn’t do anything like that… I just…” Milly hesitated, smiled, “Aren’t kids cute these days? They’ll say anything…”
          Vash inserted himself between the girls and Knives. Meryl held her breath, if Knives could still control him, this would be the moment he would do so. She grabbed Milly’s arm and dug in her fingernails, looking up at her friend with worried eyes. Milly bit her lip. “I think I should have had the Doc get rid of my powers,” Meryl could hear her friend say. She nodded slowly in agreement, horror coming over her face. If Knives used Milly to do the same thing to heal the plant angels as she had done Shin, then Knives could have a whole army of his sisters… But if that was what happened, then why was Jonas against it? What was it… Meryl didn’t want to think about it. It was too horrible to comprehend, a whole army of plant angels thanks to the abilities Lady Elf gave Milly over a hundred years before.
          Meryl glared at Ascie. Yet another reason why I knew we shouldn’t have followed that stupid rainbow of light in the desert!! Knives was grinning now and Meryl ducked behind Vash, pulling Milly along with her. This was not good… The grin split into laughter and Knives lifted his hands above his head. “Wonderful! Truly fantastic! This was the answer I was hoping for!” He waved at Shin, “Come boy, I wish to speak with you…”
          “No!” Jonas yelled, “I did not suffer through all of this to have the same outcome! I won’t allow it!” He glanced around the room, his powers were stirring, Meryl could tell that he was ready to do something but she wasn’t sure what he was capable of…
          “I won’t allow it to happen either,” Vash said, taking the forefront. “Knives, if you want the boy you will have to kill me first.”
          Knives cocked his head to the side, “Really, Vash? What can you do?” He held his hand up and it glowed, the blades and feathers coming to his fingertips. Pointing one long scythe toward Vash he said, “You’re powerless.” But Vash was still moving, he lifted his gun before him and cocked the plunger. “What? How did this…”
          “Apparently the tranquilizers you gave to him wore off,” Jonas smiled. Meryl glanced at him as the young man pulled at a stray bang in front of his eyes, “You know, maybe because it was a watered down concoction…” He winked at Meryl and she sighed with relief. But Knives was furious, his powers, his anger, his concentration had returned full force now, and the feathers rose on Vash’s neck and down his spine. She could see something odd happening under his coat and she forced Milly backwards.
          “I don’t like where this is going…” She whispered, glancing to the others, sure enough, both Shin and Jonas were feeling the effects of the power. And Milly… Milly dropped to her knees, “Milly? Milly? What’s wrong?”
          Milly waved a hand at her, “It’s okay Meryl… It’s just that the quiet one inside of me, she’s not so quiet anymore. I’ll be fine…” Meryl gnashed her teeth, wrestling with her cape for her derringers. This would stop even if she had to use all of her ammunition…
          Suddenly there was a stomach turning howl and Knives came for Vash. Meryl shoved Milly to her back, lifting her guns to protect them… But something was happening with Vash. A ripping sound pierced the air; two great wings like Jonas had split through the back of his jacket. He hurled himself at Knives, colliding in the air, they tumbled backwards over the desk. Knives slashed at Vash, a gunshot followed, and then with a mighty effort Vash flung them out of the windows to the ground below. “VASH!” Meryl screamed, scrambling to her feet and to the window. Jonas, Milly, Wolfwood, and even Shin came to stand by the broken window. The brothers disappeared into the darkness below until suddenly there was light from Knives’ powers and the sound of gunfire. “VASH!” Meryl screamed again, trying to lean out the window but someone caught a hold of her cape and she spun on them. “Let me go!”
          “What? And fall?” Jonas quipped. He handed the cape over to Milly who took a hold of it. Her eyes were wide… The young man sighed, “They’ll be fine… I think… They wouldn’t still be fighting if they weren’t…”
          “You big jerk!” Shin screamed, “Go help Uncle!!”
          “And what about Gramps huh? Don’t you care at all for him?” Jonas spat. Meryl’s eyes went wide…
          “What did you just say?”
          A hand slapped against his mouth and Jonas turned, dragging Shin away from the window. “Nothing, never mind, just ignore what I said…” Shin was fighting him tooth and nail all the way back to stand in front of Lady Elf’s globe. “Besides, shouldn’t you be going down to help Vash?”
          Meryl nodded, “Yeah, yes…” She looked down at her derringers, but then sighed, “But what can I do?” Meryl knew well enough that there was nothing she could do now, not really. Her derringers were no match for two powerful plants… And she trusted Vash. He wouldn’t fail her…
          “Oh shit,” Wolfwood said from the window. Meryl turned to see him grab Milly and then rushing away from the window he screamed, “GET DOWN NOW!!” He hurled them all to the ground as a brilliant light exploded around them.

Given and Taken Away

         Vash could think of only one thing as he hurled himself at Knives: get him out of the office and away from the others. This time it was for keeps, Knives would not fool around now, and he feared for the lives of Meryl, of Milly, of Wolfwood and the boys. He knew it was time, this was it, there was no more time to talk, no more time to argue the finer points of living as a human… Knives knew of what Milly was capable and that was freeing the sisters, his only dream in a hundred and thirty years’ time. Knives could have his paradise, his sisters and brother with him to share it, and have no reasons for the humans to survive… It was that one future Vash refused to accept. He would not allow it to pass, even if he had to kill himself to make sure that it never occurred.
          But there was only one route out of the room, the most direct one was straight forward and down hundreds of feels to the ground. He felt the power rippling over his skin, unable to control his own emotions he felt the same strong wave encompass him, and those strange wings broke out of his back. Vash knew he could make it out the windows… But the glass, he knew it would be able to withstand the hazards of space, it was over eight inches thick… Not even he could break glass like that without the extra help and he knew as Knives came for him that he would have no time to open the latch to the window where Jonas entered. He sprung into motion, colliding with Knives, feeling his brothers’ blades scratch at his arm and neck.
          Shoving him backwards they rolled onto the floor and Vash lifted his gun. Firing one shot at the window over Knives’ shoulder, the glass cracked. Yes! He thought triumphantly, bunching his muscles, grabbing Knives and with a great stroke of his wings for added force, he mustered every bit of strength in his body to force them through the window, the side of his head taking the brunt of it. The glass gave way, shattering into a thousand pieces as they hurled out into the silent night air. Vash felt blood rolling down the side of his face. These would undoubtedly be the first scars ever to break the perfect skin on his complexion, but he had no time to think about it as they were falling now, Knives slashing and pounding at him as they fell.
          Grabbing his brother by the collar, Vash flapped his wings slowing their decent. He struggled with it a moment before his wings collapsed like a busted umbrella and they both hit the hard earth with bone-crunching force. Knives rolled away, gaining his feet first, power gathering around him as he held out his left arm… His angel arm… Vash had only seen his own, never Knives… It was startling and eerie; plant faces developing on the surface, arms and legs, cherubic wings and hind sections… Only more of them, so many more… The plant angels Knives had absorbed! They formed a gigantic gun that was more horrific to see than to experience… At least Vash didn’t remember it being this terrible to witness when they were his own… It disgusted him to see this display of power… The power Knives had to destroy all life…
          Struggling with his wings, trying desperately to get rid of them, Vash regained his feet. The wings fluttered, shifted, and dragged him down with weariness from misuse. He wondered offhandedly if Jonas could teach him how to fly, maybe just a bit more practice… Regaining his balance he lifted his gun and took aim. “Stop this Knives!”
          “You had your chance to join me Vash! I will not have a brother who will not be faithful to me!” Knives laughed, “See how my powers have grown? You will not defeat me this time! I will create a paradise for my sisters!”
          “But you’ll kill us all!” Vash screamed, sending shot after shot into the monstrous thing attached to Knives’ body. It didn’t seem to affect Knives; his brother was lifting the angel arm up to face Vash. He reloaded his revolver, sending another round, this time at Knives himself… But something was blocking the bullets from getting through… A force field of sorts… Like what Milly could produce… Vash swore, Knives had learned to control his powers, and here he was struggling with these stupid wings he couldn’t get to change into his own angel arm… He glanced down at his gun. Then his eyes went wide with the sudden memory of the reason Knives gave him the long colt in the first place made him pause… “Don’t make me do this Knives!”
          Gaining some control over his power he forced it into the revolver. This was the key… Knives had taught him years before in July City… The top of the long colt blew away to reveal the small power cell. Vash felt the power flowing through his arm now, the gun was the key… Even though he knew he didn’t have as much power as Knives, he would use it all if he had to. I’ll stop him no matter what… I’m sorry Meryl but if I don’t come out of this alive… I love you. He felt the power of the angel arm take over, his wings dissolved and reformed in the heads and legs of the massive weapon that formed on his right arm, taking over his body, he felt the weight of the angels pull him over. He struggled with it, Knives was laughing, “Your attempt is futile, Vash! But I’ll give you a chance before I destroy you and your pathetic human companions…” Lifting his angel arm he pointed it towards the sky, power forming at the tip, lighting up the dark night. “Go ahead… Take the first shot.”
          Vash stumbled with the weight of the arm, then struggling, pulled it up to aim at Knives. “I don’t want to kill you!”
          “You won’t!” Knives laughed, “Come now Vash, your hair will turn completely black before you even scratch me! I will watch you wither and die… You will have a proper burial, and I shall tell our sisters about your pathetic life…” His right hand came up to help hold up the angel arm, “Do it you pathetic, miserable creature!”
          “I…” Vash could feel the power forming at the tip of the angel arm, the faces of the angels started to scream… He shuddered. No… I can’t… I’m human! I want to be human! I can’t fight him like this! He closed his eyes, give me strength! Then, opening his eyes wide he screamed, throwing himself at Knives. His brother was caught off-guard when Vash hurled into him, knocking them both to the ground. Vash’s angel arm disappeared suddenly, withdrawing the power he pushed his mechanical arm into Knives’ face. His head ground into the sand and he lashed out, fighting Vash, but his strength was always more in his mental capacity rather than physically. He tried to move his angel arm down, but Vash’s right arm was forcing the remaining plant weapon into the sky, his knees digging into Knives’ legs, pinning him down. Vash forced his power into Knives’ arm, “You won’t harm anyone again!!”
          The sudden surge of power exploded into a great beam of light that shot upwards into the sky. Knives screamed and the sound was echoed in Vash’s lips. They were enveloped in the light and the sound, the powerful force of dozens of angels, set off by his own power… Vash felt like he was about to be destroyed, could feel his power disappearing, feeding into Knives’ angel arm. Indeed, his brother was laughing now, Vash’s eyes went wide, the angel arm’s blast was widening, and it would destroy the ship… “No!” He screamed but the sound was eaten up in the typhoon…
          And then without warning, Vash felt something reach into him, like a hand setting lightly on his head… “I’d never forgive you if you made Meryl cry…” Milly’s voice broke into his thoughts and suddenly Vash broke free of Knives. He fell backwards and watched in horror as Knives screamed. He was using too much power… Overwhelmed by the dozens of angels within him, Knives lost control… Vash looked up into the sky, the angel arm’s power hit the moon, sending shockwaves across the surface… Then suddenly the light died. They were plunged into darkness mere minutes after the fight began. Vash, heaving breaths, stared at the face of the moon, a gash marred its surface, and it looked like a terrible eye looking down upon them.
          “Knives…” His eyes readjusted to the darkness as he scrambled to find his brother. “Knives? Where are you?” He was still alive; he knew his brother was still alive… But where? There! Knives was collapsed on the ground, barely breathing when Vash found him. His hair was completely black… He was like a rag doll as Vash pulled him into his arms… “KNIVES!!!”


         Milly’s eyes snapped open. She gasped for breath and grabbed for Wolfwood. He was clutching her with white knuckles over her head, holding her face to his chest. “Nicholas! I can’t breathe!” Wolfwood moved, swallowed, she could feel him debating on whether they were safe or not, and then he slowly let go of her, moving off of her, glancing around the room, taking stock of the occupants, counting casualties. Half of the room was gone. There was merely a crescent shaped portion that formed between them and the plant angel in the bulb. Knives’ desk was gone, two of the three doors that entered into the room were gone, and the floor only two inches away from them was missing, all the way down some fifty stories.
          With a gasp, she dragged herself and Nicholas away from the drop, then looking around saw Meryl, one leg dangling off the side, she reached out and hauled Meryl into her arms. “Meryl! Are you okay? Meryl!”
          Meryl coughed, sputtered, grabbed for her leg and then let out a mighty sigh of relief before hugging Milly. “I’m okay! Oh my go… What in the world happened?” Her eyes went wide looking at what remained of the room. She struggled out of Milly’s arms, “Vash! VASH!” She looked almost ready to leap out of the ship to find him until Milly dragged her back.
          “It’s okay Meryl! He’s okay!”
          Her friend turned on her, “But how do you know… With this blast… VASH!!” She screamed at the top of her lungs but Milly knew that Vash would be unable to hear her so far below. Meryl buried her face in Milly’s stomach and started to cry. “Vash… Please Vash…”
          Swallowing, Milly patted Meryl’s head, “It’s fine, I know he’s fine…” She knew, at least she hoped she knew… She’d used nearly everything she had to help him… He better not make Meryl sad! I wouldn’t be able to stand it!
          “Jonas!” Wolfwood snapped nearby. He was pulling his cross punisher into his arms, using it to help him stand upright. Milly swung her head to look at the tiny spot between the wall and Lady Elf’s globe where the room was still intact. Hidden there in the darkness, Jonas and Shin unraveled themselves. Jonas pulled them both to their feet and Nicholas waved a hand at him. “You’ve got to go down there!”
          Shakily, the young man nodded. He swallowed, “I need to hand you Shin first.” There wasn’t room to jump to the remainder of the room where they stood. He picked the young boy up into his arms and when his wings formed he made the leap with ease and handed Shin over to Wolfwood. Shin’s head lulled to the side and the priest looked at him with concern. “Don’t worry, he just passed out…” Jonas turned and jumped off the edge of the ship. Milly watched as his wings flared and he disappeared into the darkness.
          Meryl was still crying in her arms when Milly looked up at Lady Elf. “I hope you’re happy,” she grumbled. “This was all your fault you know!!” Ascie wrapped her hands around herself and turned in the globe. “Oh no you don’t!” Milly waved a finger at the plant, “Don’t turn away from me! First off you need to apologize to me for biting me! And then you’ll apologize to Meryl for…”
          “It’s okay Milly,” Meryl heaved, unable to turn her head to look down into the darkness below. “It’s as much our fault…”
          “No way! I won’t believe that for a minute!” Milly let Meryl go and stomped over to stand as close as she could to Lady Elf’s globe. “I liked you! You were such a nice lady and you really did seem to care for your boys but you made such a mess of things! We were fine coming to this planet, in fact I like it here, so it’s not a big deal that you brought us into the future, but what I can’t forgive is that you’d ignore the fact that people have to find their own destinies… You can’t mess with free will!” Her whole body was shaking as she saw Lady Elf turn to face her again. A hand set on her shoulder and Milly looked up at Wolfwood. He had set Shin down in the corner to lie.
          Milly bit her lip, “Don’t you get it? I love him, not…” She waved her hands and said, “Put me back the way I was!”
          “I cannot…” Ascie said but was suddenly cut off, her attention taken away by movement in the darkness. Meryl gasped and Milly felt Wolfwood’s hand tighten on her shoulder. From the darkness there was a fluttering of wings. Like two angels, Vash and Jonas lifted a black haired Knives up by his arms. They came forward, Vash’s face was covered in sweat and blood from the exertion, his hair had a bit more black than before, but otherwise he seemed okay. Wolfwood pulled her out of the way, and Milly grabbed for Meryl’s hand as they made way for the three men to set down on the floor.
          Knives fell forward onto his knees and slumped to the ground. Milly gasped… Was he dead? She closed her eyes, No, no, Mr. Vash wouldn’t have killed him! There was a pounding of feet and Milly opened her eyes again to see Meryl throw herself into Vash’s arms. “Vash!” She couldn’t say anything more, her breaths coming in happy sobs. Preoccupied, it was only Jonas now who took the care to kneel beside his uncle and turn him over.
          “Is he?” Wolfwood asked in barely a whisper.
          “He’s still alive,” Jonas said, his head turned to look at Lady Elf. “But it’s not long now…” He closed his eyes, “I’m so, so sorry…” Jonas put his hand on Knives’ forehead, closing his eyes tightly. Tears were running down his cheeks.
          Milly pulled away from Nicholas, he attempted to stop her, but she said, “Let me go… I think I can help…” There was still power within her. One plant angel remained in her system, she could hear Retiva in her mind, she was usually silent, but in this instance she could hear her voice telling her something, and Milly asked her for help. She reached out and touched Knives’ cheek. Jonas looked up at her, startled. “It’s okay…”
          “Even after everything he’s done… I don’t want to see either Meryl or Mr. Vash sad… And if he died…” She closed her eyes and reached deep down inside of her for the power she was given. She didn’t want it… But at this moment, as with so many others, it was needed. She was needed, although Milly hoped that when this was over she would never be needed to help again, she wanted to be the one protected, the one that needed others… All right Auntie… Your nephew needs you, she said to Retiva, and the GeoPlant responded. She flowed through the link between Milly’s fingers and Knives’ face. The power disappeared, her voice disappeared, and Milly felt herself weaken, felt herself shake with the exertion… But it wasn’t working… Something in Retiva fought back… The GeoPlants’ existence was to stop the transfer of power between plants… “No…” Milly gritted her teeth, “He needs you!”
          But slowly the plant was winning and Milly couldn’t stop her, Retiva was going back into her… “NO!”
          A hand fell on Milly’s and her eyes snapped open. “Jonas!”
          “Let me help you,” He closed his eyes and Milly followed suit. She reached for the GeoPlant, grabbing her, pulling her, taking her power as she struggled back into her like a worm trying to get back into the ground. But this time, just as she was about to lose the fight, another set of hands pulled into her and yanked Retiva out of Milly, forcing her into Knives. Suddenly Milly swayed and fell backwards. She heard an identical thud as both she and Jonas hit the floor with weariness. “You okay Miss Milly?”
          Milly put a hand to her head and nodded slowly, “Yes, I think so.”
          “Milly!” Wolfwood was suddenly there, pulling her into his arms. “What happened? What did you do?” Milly opened her eyes and looked down at Knives. His hair was still black, but his eyes had opened. She gasped, his pupils were fogged over, and he blinked, his mouth opening and closing, speechless.
          “I just… I gave him the GeoPlant! It was the only thing I could think of…”
          Vash stumbled over to them with Meryl’s help, and they both looked down at Knives. A sound was coming from his mouth now, “You… Where are you?”
          “Knives?” Vash reached down to touch his brother’s hand, and Knives clutched it pulling himself up to sit up. Jonas moved back and got out of the way. His eyes fell on his younger brother who also seemed to be waking up, and he moved over to go to him. Vash was still looking into Knives’ face, waving his fingers past his eyes. “Knives? Can you see me?”
          Knives closed his eyes and then opened them again, “Vash… What did you do? Why is it so dark?”
          The gunman heaved a sigh of relief, and yet sadness came over his features. Milly suddenly felt bad for Knives… She had only tried to save him, but she hadn’t meant to blind him… She reached out to touch the plant but Vash shook his head, “It’s okay Milly. He’s alive, that’s all that matters.” He smiled, “You did something I couldn’t have… I told you those powers would still come in handy, didn’t I?” With a sigh, he stood, moving behind Knives and pulling his brother’s arms behind him, waved a hand at Meryl, “Hand me your sash.”
          Meryl untied her cape and pulled the cord out from the fabric and handed it to Vash. He tied Knives’ hands behind his back before hauling him up to his feet. Knives sputtered, “What are you… What are you doing?”
          “What did you do!?” Shin screamed from the other side of the room. “What did you do to him!?”
          Milly shook her head, “He’s okay Shin. He’ll be fine.” Jonas sighed, he was tired, almost too tired to hold onto Shin, but the boy turned and clung to him suddenly and broke into tears. Milly felt her heart break as Wolfwood helped her to her feet. Listening to Knives rambling with confusion, the young boy sobbing, the comforting words of Jonas… She looked up at Lady Elf. “No more excuses… You need to fix this!”
          “It is fixed already…” Ascie replied within the globe. Her legs were folded below her as she kneeled at the bottom. Milly saw that her hair was blackening again… But a light was starting to swirl in the globe. A rainbow of lights swirling within the glass. “Now I shall return my sons to where they came… My Jonas… My little Shin… Come…” Milly’s mouth opened, and she saw the others looking on in stunned amazement at the lights and the door that suddenly appeared behind Lady Elf.
          Jonas pulled Shin up into his arms and he smiled over his shoulder. “I’ll see you around…”
          “But…” Meryl held out her hand, “What will happen to you?”
          The young man shrugged, “It’ll be better than what will happen before, and that’s all I need to know.” His wings appeared once more at his back and he hopped the gap between them and the plant globe. Milly lifted her hand up to wave as Jonas put his hand up against the glass and suddenly disappeared in a flash of light. She blinked, and saw Lady Elf’s hair blackening even more rapidly… She was dying.
          “Go home too!” Milly demanded. “You can go back to wherever you came from! You’ll be fine if you go back!”
          Meryl grabbed her coat, “I don’t think she can,” she said, her hand to her lips. She glanced over at Vash and Knives, then over at Wolfwood. “She’s dying Milly…”
          “No!” Milly stomped her foot. “If you take my power you can make it back! You can see the future where everything is just fine!” She reached out her hand, “Take it! I don’t want it anymore.” Nicholas put his hands on her shoulders and she extended her fingertips over the gap, “Please!!”
          Lady Elf’s hair was almost completely black now, she put her hand to the glass, and Milly closed her eyes. Suddenly there was another flash of light and Milly was thrown back into Wolfwood. He wrapped his arms around her and Milly stumbled forward, losing her legs for a moment and then she opened her eyes. Ascie was gone. She sighed, feeling within her… But… There wasn’t anything there to feel within her! The power was gone! It was empty; when she closed her eyes there was nothing but the back of her own eyelids. Milly turned, flung her arms over Nicholas’ shoulders and kissed him. He squeezed her tightly before she released him and said, “We did it!!”
          Meryl dashed over to Vash and wrapped her arms around his midsection. She didn’t have time to say a word as Vash picked her up into his arms and kissed her. Their kiss was on the verge of… Milly turned her eyes, giving her friends some privacy as she looked at Knives. “I… I hope you’ll be okay, Mr. Knives.”
          Vash’s brother ignored her, turning his nose up in the air. He struggled at the ties on his hands before giving up and leaning back on the bookshelf where Vash tied him. “You destroyed everything… Just like I thought you would! Humans…” He spit and dropped his head onto his chest, not making another sound.
          Milly shook her head and looked up at Nicholas. He brushed a hand over her forehead, “He’ll be fine… He’ll just have to learn how to be human like the rest of us.” His gray eyes crinkled in the smile that formed there and he winked at her before kissing her again. Milly smiled to herself. I think he might even get to like it…
Into The Future
One Week Later

         The Fifth Moon shown brightly down upon the desert. Even half full, the dark spot upon its surface served as a reminder to events that most people remained unaware of. For the few who saw the dreadful occurrence, it would be permanently burned into their memories just as the hole in the moon remained visible for all time. There were whispers that it was the Humanoid Typhoon who caused the strange scar on the lunar surface, but a louder voice still wondered if there was someone out there in space, waiting to destroy them too. Within a week the planet’s heads were gathered in a conference about the possibility of alien invasion, and it was unanimously decided from then on to keep a close eye on the skies for the same predators that drove their ancestors from Earth home over a hundred years before.
          News spread quickly through the satellite, preparing those who had never once considered their lives threatened; they began hastily arming themselves against an unknown foe. No one knew for sure when the attack would come, but after the mass disappearances upon the planet and the hole in the moon, everyone was sure it would.
         For those who knew the truth of the events that had taken place the week before, it was a slow uphill climb back to normalcy. Vash the Stampede and his traveling companions began the arduous task of rounding up the last of Knives’ followers in order to have them safely locked away rather than having them appear at odd intervals in the following months. There was also the matter of the strange experiments performed in the lower levels of Knives’ hideout, and the discovery of Revenant Vasquez’s laboratory.
         It was in this room where the little insurance girl spent much of her time while Vash and Wolfwood took care of the remaining Gung-ho Guns and various other servants. Her memories completely intact, plus with the insurance investigative training she received while working for Bernadelli, she discovered a very complicated and carefully laid out plan to stop Knives. Apparently Revenant was part of one of the original Plant Research teams which came from Earth. Before his death he had worked with Knives to further the research on plants, but after finding out Knives’ ultimate plan of destroying the humans, he went underground for a time in order to lay traps for Knives. Meryl could only wonder at this man that helped them stop Knives once and for all, and said a prayer of thanks for his hard work. When it was time to leave, she packed up the research and decided she’d take it back to the Doc to use as he pleased.
         Meanwhile, it was Milly who kept an eye on Knives. Once the holding cells were cleared, he was placed into one and let free to roam as he wished, in order to grow accustomed to his blindness. Even without her powers, the big girl kept guard with stun gun in hand, saying it was the best she could do to help out. As she watched Knives however, it was soon apparent that even without a great deal of power, he still had some of his psychic abilities left. The black-haired plant would follow her with his eyes whether she made a sound or not, and he would eat what was given him, although begrudgingly, without so much as dropping a pea from his fork. It was creepy until she got used to it, those cloudy blue eyes like the skies over Earth. He never spoke, and Milly had a feeling he never would speak to her again, and she was glad, although she said a word from him time to time in apology for what they did to him. But at least he was still alive, and wasn’t that what mattered?
         When the week was over, and everything was packed and ready to go, the foursome plus their silent prisoner headed back to the orphanage. There was much rejoicing, especially on Meryl’s part because she made it back in time to spare Sweetness’ life and she flung her arms over the ship’s hull like a lost love. Vash looked on in jealousy, but just couldn’t help but smile at how happy his insurance girl was now that everything was okay again. Vash was pleased at his own ability to have saved his brother, and also the planet from Knives’ wrath, even if there was still much to be done in fixing the damage that they both had caused over the hundred and thirty years.
         After a quick stop-over, the crew headed back to the SEEDS ship where the Doc gave everyone an once-over, discovering indeed Milly and Meryl’s brains were functioning normally again, Vash and Wolfwood were fine but for a few bruises, and Knives… The Doc spent a week with Knives, Vash keeping an eye over his brother to make sure he didn’t do anything to the little man. With the Revenant’s information Doc discovered he had some memory loss, similar to when Vash had used his own angel arm.
         No one was sure just how much Knives remembered, although he seemed angry about his treatment and remembered enough to hate those holding him captive, he didn’t seem to remember more than fragments. He spoke to Doc, careful to avoid speaking when Vash was in the room, although the little man related everything to the others. Eventually the Doc gave Knives a clean bill of health as well, saying that most likely even with his degraded powers, he would have a lifespan of easily another hundred years, and if he so chose he was willing to do the surgery to return his eyesight, although his memory was another matter. Strangely enough, the only words out of Knives in front of the others were in rejection to the offer, and then to ask to return to the church before falling silent again. With the blessing of those on the ship, they returned to Wolfwood’s church, although none of them quite knew what to make of Knives’ request.

The First Engagement
Two Months Later

         Milly rushed out of the little bedroom where she’d been sleeping and dashed down the hall to the kitchen. “I’m late, I know I’m late…” She felt like the white rabbit in the old story books from Earth, and if she’d had a pocket watch, she probably would have checked it. The big girl was still pulling her suspenders up on her shoulders when she came into the kitchen to see a startled Melanie kneading dough, standing beside a disinterested Knives. Apparently it was her turn to watch him. “Where is he? Did he have breakfast yet? Where’d he go?”
          The older lady hitched a flour coated thumb over her shoulder to the backdoor of the kitchen. “He’s out back with the kids. I think he was waiting on you for breakfast because he passed up the pumpernickel bread I made this morning.” Milly nodded as she passed by them, smiling at Knives as he eyed her without speaking. She could hear Melanie saying something to him about the consistency of the dough as she passed through the back screen door to the porch. Apparently Miss Melanie had decided to make Mr. Knives into her personal sous-chef. Milly was pretty happy with Knives, he never once tried to kill anyone, and really he was a pretty personable fellow, although he was still bitter at the foursome, whether he remembered the reason or not.
          Out into the sunshine, Milly was still breathing heavily from her rush to get around that morning. Nicholas had told her the night before having surprised her as she walked down the corridor and whisking her into a shadowy corner for some much-missed kisses, he wanted to see her first thing, and even though she had a feeling what it might be about, she knew she had to let him surprise her. Of course, surprise! She’d slept in. Milly hoped it wasn’t too late for whatever he wanted to tell her, that the timing wasn’t thrown off, and as she stumbled down into the yard, seeing Wolfwood and Mr. Vash covered in children, she thought maybe it had. “Hey Big Girl!” Nicholas cried from his pile of kids, shucking them off him one by one. The children ran over to her, covering her in hugs and kisses and then ran off into the yard to play. “I was hoping you weren’t going to sleep in much past noon…”
          “I’m sorry,” she said, waving at Mr. Vash as he ran off with the kids to where Meryl and the two nuns were sitting looking over plans for a larger building for their brood. Meryl was in charge of design since it was her money they were using after she sold Sweetness to a billionaire from December City. He’d paid nearly half of Vash’s bounty for the ship, and after prying the little girl off of it one last time, she never looked back saying her life was here now, not out in space. Although, there was only one condition, he had to keep it in good shape in case of a war, and in that the man agreed full heartedly. When the children and Vash came over, she picked up her guitar and started to strum a tune. The music could be heard faintly from where Milly stood, it was a pleasant song, one of Vash’s favorites.
          Now that they were alone, Wolfwood got to his feet, dusting his pants off as he stood. Milly smiled, hands clasped behind her to stop them from shaking. Her palms were already sweaty from anticipation for what he had to tell her… It had been far too long in her estimation, but she knew he’d had a lot to deal with in getting the orphanage back together, and then that week-long trip he took with Vash and Meryl back to the city when they had sold the ship and returned on the tomas. They both stood there for a moment, looking at one another until Nicholas took a step forward and another until he bridged the distance. Startled at how fast he was there in front of her Milly stuck out her hand, palm up. Wolfwood laughed, “I can’t keep anything a secret from you can I?”
         “Sorry…” Milly started, she grinned and put her hand out a little higher this time, “It’s a gift I have.”
         Nicholas laughed as he fished in his pocket, “That’s what I love about you… But we’re still going to do this the proper way,” he took a small black velvet box out and got down on one knee. Milly withdrew her hand and tried not to spoil the moment by hopping around gleefully like she knew she would in a moment’s time. The priest opened the box to reveal a tiny gold ring, no diamonds or adornments but for a couple of little crosses etched onto the surface. “I know it’s not much…” He said slowly, then smiled, “But Milly Thompson, will you marry me?”
         “YES! Of course I will!” Milly didn’t even wait for him to fish the ring out of the box before she tackled him to the ground and they both fell into the dust laughing and kissing. Nicholas managed to roll her over onto her back and he wrestled her left hand away from his neck. She was blushing and giggling as he finally managed to slip the ring onto her finger and she looked at it with her heart nearly bursting, “It’s perfect Nicholas! Simply perfect!” She grabbed him again and kissed him until she heard applause from nearby and a chorus of children going, “Ewww!”
         “So when’s the wedding?” Meryl asked as she made her way over to be the first to congratulate them, guitar in her hand as she came up, Vash trailing behind.
         “Right away! I’ve got Pastor Harrison coming in from December this weekend,” Wolfwood said with a grin on his face. He smiled, “See, I can read minds too, I knew you wouldn’t say no.” Milly giggled and nodded.
         “You were right! And since all of our family is already here, there’s no need to wait!” She took Meryl’s hand to help her back to her feet, “Look Meryl, isn’t it beautiful?” They walked off as Vash came up to congratulate Wolfwood. She could hear the boys laughing about something as they went to show the nuns the ring as well. Milly sighed in relief as they walked, everything certainly was just the way it should be. She had finally found a place to call home.

The Final Engagement
Three Months Later

         Vash sat holding Meryl's hand, the ball of his thumb caressing in slow circles in the middle of her palm. Meryl glanced at him out of the corner of her eye wondering if he knew what his touch was doing to her. Apparently not. His unseeing gaze was lifted to the horizon, deep in thought.
          The porch swing creaked as they; Vash really, since her toes could barely reach the wood floor of their veranda, gently stirred the swing as they watched the suns go down. As they had for many evenings. Very little was said, they merely sat together, arms wrapped around each other, gaining and giving strength and support to one another as they sat.
         It had been over five months now. Every one was slowly getting over the events of the past, recuperating slowly each in their own way. The most rushed recovery had to have been Milly and Wolfwood with their wedding and subsequent announcement of a baby on the way; or perhaps babies, Milly had started to show a few months before which made Meryl wonder if she wasn’t already pregnant before the wedding... Construction of the new larger orphanage was already started. Meryl knew that with enough money anything was possible, and she knew she wanted to have the building done by the time her friend gave birth. The progress was going smoothly and they were even getting some help from the nearby townspeople who were delighted to have the bigger orphanage and a new priest up in the pulpit. Actually, she was very happy for Milly but was still worried about the aftereffects, yet, out of all of them, Milly seemed to be the one that was quickly leaving the past in the past. She wondered how her tall friend did it. She couldn't.
         How were any of them able to forget anything? Knives was with them, bitter, blind and full of rage although both Vash and Milly were adamant that he was getting better, softer. Meryl snorted. She didn't see it. He was still the vile being he had been before, but she trusted their opinions and decided they should know. After all, he had taken over cooking duties with Miss Melanie, and played a mean game of chess. Meryl still was boggled at how he managed to do things so easily, but chalked it up to just more secrets within a completely unreadable man.
         When they first arrived back home, in order to put their minds at ease, Vash kept Knives tied until they all realized, even Knives, that there was no place for him to go if he were to escape. Even though he could see with whatever power was still available to him, Meryl or one of the others would find him stumbling into this or that, listening to a harsh slur of swearwords from multiple languages, and receive a glare from him when they offered to help. When he did get out of the orphanage, he could easily be tracked down and found like a lost puppy out of his yard. It was quite a shock to Knives when he figured that out. He nearly went catatonic, laying on his bed, sightless eyes pointed at the ceiling. Vash sat beside him for days, worrying, waiting, praying, and talking to his twin trying to help him find his way back. Eventually he did, in his own way, although he never said a word to his brother.
         He still didn’t have all of his memories, and he was constantly angry with them for holding him “hostage”, Meryl heard this time and time again passing his room, listening to him talk to one of the nuns or perhaps Melanie. It was strange, in his present state, Knives saw them as the bad guys. They were the ones who kept a close eye on him, and he didn’t trust them which bothered Vash constantly. Knives was opening up to all of the humans in the orphanage, but not the people who cared enough to save him. Although Meryl didn’t really care. She worried for the moment he got his memories back and became the evil, vindictive madman he was before.
         Vash wanted nothing more than for them to have a restored brotherly relationship and Knives treated his brother as if he didn't exist. Even though Vash visited with him every day, Knives didn't soften, acting as if there was no one in the room with him. The rest of the foursome were as dead to him as Vash was. Vash and Milly easily forgave Knives for what he’d done, although Meryl still didn’t trust him completely and Wolfwood steered clear of him. The priest really didn’t seem to care of Knives was there or not, although he would miss a sentence in his sermons if the black-haired plant came into the sanctuary. Meryl wasn’t quite as cold to him for Vash’s sake. Although she wanted to wring Knives neck every time she saw the hurt look in Vash's eyes every day after trying to speak to him.
          At least he didn't attack the children and for some odd reason the little girls were crazy about him and could be found following him around when they weren't waiting on him hand and foot. They adored him, and when he thought that no one was looking he would give them an honest to goodness smile. Most of the boys left him alone but a few also hung around him, finding something about the secretive man that was oddly intriguing. And for some reason, every time she and Vash came home from town they all had powdered sugar mustaches and Vash swore he smelled donuts, although there was never any proof of it.
          Surprisingly, the one he spoke with most, outside of the children, was Melanie. Something about her gentle understanding and mothering nature allowed him to speak to her. Never for very long, never of any depth, but at least he spoke, which is more than he did for any of them. The old house mother would relate what he said from time to time, depending one the topic of his conversation. But mostly she talked about how well he was getting along in the kitchen, and how she had come to depend on him. In the months following their return to the orphanage, Knives stayed near Melanie much of the time, since she was always around and a crack shot with her rifle. And once he was able to find his way around the kitchen she had taken up teaching him how to bake. For someone who wanted more than anything to destroy the world a month before, he was pretty darn good at making bread. He even made donuts, but only when Vash and Meryl were in town buying supplies, Melanie told her one day in strict confidence. He only shared them with the children in the orphanage, making sure to eat them all before they returned, and she had a feeling it was one of his ways of getting out his frustration at his brother, so Meryl promised not to tell Vash and she made sure to buy him donuts in town to throw him off the scent.
          It was on one of these days, after Vash tried to talk to Knives after they came home, that the rejection and anger hit him harder than on previous days. He and Wolfwood had been into the city looking for a mining crew to dig the orphanage a new well, and it had not gone as smoothly as they had hoped. No one wanted to come out so far into the boonies, and it had taken them two days to finally convince someone to come. Sometimes Vash missed the old days when he didn’t have to worry about the normal problems of living on a desert planet, instead just drifting with the wind. Then, to return with good news, only to find his brother so much darker and so full of hate when he could be almost cheerful with the young ones… Vash just felt so lost. He took his time before coming out to sit on the swing with Meryl. Vash leaned up against the doorway, screen half-open, one foot holding it that way, his arms crossed over his chest.
          "He will never forgive me Meryl." He said softly, the tears gathering at the corners of his eyes. With the back of his hand he wiped away the free flowing tear looking like such a lost child that Meryl wanted to pull him to herself and just hold and rock the pain away even though she knew she couldn't. With a look of sorrow, she reached out a hand and touched his arm. He looked down at her with that sorrowful expression and allowed her to pull him to sit upon the swing next to her. The screen door squeaked before quietly clattering shut.
          "I'm sorry Vash," she said quietly, a finger brushing at a runaway tear, "He may never… We just have to forgive ourselves and live our lives the best we can. I can live like that, can you?"
          "I will have to. If his hate is the only thing of him that he will allow me to have, I guess I’ll accept it." He tilted his head and gave her a weak smile then reached out for her, placing hands on her hips, drawing her to him. Laying her head on his chest, she could feel the beat of his heart under her ear. He leaned down and kissed the top of her head.
          "At least you can keep an eye on him and keep him from getting into trouble."
          "Funny, that's what he wanted to do for me." He took her hand and laced his fingers with hers before sweeping his mechanical arm under her rear and pulling her into his arms. She made a squeak of protest as he stood and carried her down the porch; headed for their favorite place.
          She sighed softly to herself not wanting to intrude upon Vash's meditations when she felt him looking down at her. Lifting her eyes she looked up and saw his aqua-colored orbs drinking in the sight of her face. She could feel the blood going up her cheeks. It never failed. The man had such an effect on her, there was no doubt about that! He set her down on the ground then, and unconsciously she patted her cheeks, trying to get the blush to fade. Her hands lowered as she watched him sit down next to her under the small sapling Vash had brought from the SEEDS ship. He really was incredible. It was almost as if he’d planned this moment of perfection.
          Leaning down, Vash placed his lips against her ear and closed his eyes. Breathing in deeply, he reveled in the scent of her light perfume. This was paradise, being with her. Too bad Knives couldn't find his paradise. "I love you Meryl." His low whispering rumble and breath in her ear sent shivers up and down her spine. She could have melted right then and there. Doing the next best thing, rested her head on his shoulder thinking she would have to wait until later for the more desired contact that she was thinking of.
          As if attuned to her thoughts, Vash slipped his other arm around her waist and turned her until she was facing him. Then he placed a couple of fingers under her chin and lifted, enjoying the flush and the answering heat in her eyes. With slow deliberation he brought his lips down, ever so tenderly to linger on hers, softly at first, enjoying the silky smoothness under his mouth. He felt her arms slide around his waist as she responded to his kiss as it began to turn into an equal longing for more. Then more firmly, as his embrace lifted her from her seat halfway onto his lap.
          Finally, Vash lifted his head a few inches until he could look into her eyes which were rapidly turning a lilac-tinged gray. Lifting a finger, he traced the outline of her face and whispered, "Will you marry me?"
          Before becoming too lost in his gaze she managed to say, "I was just waiting for you to ask." Smiling, Meryl flung her arms around him even tighter, nearly knocking him over. As it was, they nearly toppled into the little sapling and forced themselves upright again. Meryl giggled out an apology to the little tree. It was the start of a brand new life, on a brand new planet, with her brand new husband to be. She grinned, “So hey, where’s the ring?”
          Vash started to offer his apologies then, but he was forgiven in the aggressive kiss she planted on him and answered it in kind. There would be plenty of time to take care of the pleasantries later. After all, they had forever… Starting now.

On Making Bread

         Knives sat with his chin on a flour covered fist, holding a wooden spoon in his right hand, staring at Melanie. He really couldn't see in the sense that most people could, although sight was returning to his left eye ever so slightly. Sometimes shadows faded in and out of his range of vision, but most of the time he had to turn to some inner power to watch the older woman as she mixed the flour, eggs, milk, and whatever else she was putting into the dough this time around. It took practice, lots of practice, adding in the other senses, a sense of smell, a sense of sound, he could hear footsteps coming down the long corridor from the church, could smell that it was one of his captors walking into the kitchen.
          It was Vash, wearing that hideous cologne that Meryl liked so well, and Knives turned his nose up at it. For some reason, even though he couldn't remember it, he knew Vash had made him this way, and that he should hate him. Although, he really didn't, it was just something he felt he should. The way they treated him during his first moments when his first memories began were haunted with his own fear and he could smell blood and gun smoke and he knew something horrible had happened between them all, and they were all angry at him, yet he wasn't really sure why and why should they be angry for something he didn't even remember! It made his blood boil and he put the spoon down on the table with a sharp crack and the wood split in his palm.
          "Oh Knives..." Melanie said with her simple way, she reached over to his hand and wrapped a towel around it, Knives felt a warm liquid pooling in his palm; the splintered wood cut him. He wrenched his arm away from her and jerked around to go to the sink.
          Vash was there near him and Knives growled at him, "Go away," he didn't like speaking to his captor, even if Vash called him his brother, no brother would treat a man like a prisoner! Keeping an eye on him at every moment, it made him fume with anger and he tried to shove it inside of himself as he washed his hand.
          "Vash, please, do as he says," Melanie agreed and Knives listened to the man move away, his footsteps retreated to the back door and it squeaked shut. The old woman came over to him, "Knives, I have bandages here."
          Knives allowed her to wrap his hand and he sighed. "Sorry for the spoon."
          "It's okay, I have others."
          "Not wooden... It was an Earth relic."
          Melanie patted his hand gently, "It really is okay... But what's wrong? Did something startle you?"
          Shaking his head, he allowed the older woman to set him down at the stool where he was sitting before and she pushed the bowl over to him. Immediately he set his fingers into the dough and after reaching for the flour canister with his other hand, coated the counter with flour before dumping the bowl onto it. He started kneading before he finally regained his composure enough to say, "I can't stand him."
          There was a sigh, and cracking of eggs as Melanie started on the next type of bread for the evening's meal. "You can't hate him forever Knives, he loves you."
          "Loves me?" Knives nearly spit if it wasn't for the food he was preparing, "Do you have any idea what they did to me the first few weeks?"
          "Yes, I do," Melanie replied. "I know they're sorry about that... I'm sure you were told how scary you were..."
          Knives frowned, "I'm not like that."
          "But you were," she countered. Then she shook her head, Knives could see the movement in his one eye. "Not that I'm saying things are the same as they were, because I know they aren't. I for one know that you are an excellent chef and I'd trust you with any of my children's lives... And I think that even your brother has realized that."
          "But not his wife."
          The house mother took the flour canister from Knives' side and started measuring out what she needed. "Meryl... You caused her a lot of suffering which is hard to forgive... And you haven't exactly asked for her forgiveness either."
          "For something I don't remember!" He shot back, pounding the dough with his fist. He grimaced, feeling the flour floating around his nose and fighting the urge to sneeze. "You think I should apologize don't you?"
          "Doesn't matter what I think."
          "You're aggravating."
          "I'm old, I can be."
          "I'm older, I'm told."
          Melanie laughed, "Yes, I suppose you are." She slugged him playfully in the arm and then shook her head. "But you look like a youngster in comparison so I can give you advice as long as you take it."
          "Which is?"
          "Talk to them."
          "I won't."
          "The advice is free, take it or leave it." Melanie went back to working on her bread and Knives reached for the bowl again to set the dough in to rise. He stood, moving over to the stove for the yeast to get heat, and then he went to wash his hands for the next batch, which apparently would be cinnamon. Knives could smell it as Melanie worked in the spice with her spoon. "There's been something I've been meaning to ask you," she said after a moment and Knives turned.
          "That young lady you sit next to in church, what is her name?"
          Knives returned to his stool, "Hope."
          "You like her?"
          Taken aback, Knives just stared at the old house woman and a slow smile formed on her lips, he could tell she was laughing internally, could hear it in his head as clear as bells. But of course, she was probably right, and he hated to admit it because in admitting it Melanie would probably tell the others... "Doesn't matter."
          "Sure it does..."
          "She reads the Bible verses to me, that's all."
          “She likes you."
          "I know... But does her no good to be attracted to me."
          Melanie handed him the next bowl and he continued in his job, thinking about the young girl who sat next to him in church. She smelled nice and she had soft hands and a quiet demeanor. Of course he was attracted to her... But it would do neither of them any good because Vash and the others would never let him near her but in church because they still thought he was some evil murderer... "I invited her over for dinner tonight, to sample your bread," Melanie said after a moment.
          "Y-you..." Knives stuttered, his mouth hanging open, "You what?!"
          "It was actually Meryl's idea."
          Knives couldn't speak for a very long time... Then he said simply, "All right, you win."
          "Win what?"
          "I'll talk to them... A little."
          Melanie smiled, "Good." She reached out and put her hands on his and he flinched, looking at her. The old woman nodded, "Go get yourself cleaned up, I'll finish here." She let go of his hands and he stood, confused, but after a moment he went to wash his hands and started to the stairs that lead up to the second story where his room was located. But at the first landing, he stopped and looked down at Melanie. "You're welcome," she said.


4/26/05 ©Ricki, Susan, & Catherine

Author's Note

         I have to thank a lot of people here: First off Susan-chan!!! Without her this story would have never gotten off the ground!! When we first met and she started telling me her ideas about this alternate universe she'd created in her head to figure out the gaps missing from her Trigun knowledge I got so interested that I wouldn't stop bugging her until she put it down on paper! Meeting Mom was born that day and soon afterwards, Milly to the Rescue, And Feathers All Around, and eventually the first collaboration between the two of us - Crossroads. I really didn't think I'd ever get into writing Trigun fanfiction but this story was something special from the very beginning and Susan-chan was the reason for it all!! So thank you so much for all of your hard work and encouragement!! And your help in editing this, our last story, and for the sweetest epilogue between Vash and Meryl!! ^_^
          The second round of thanks has to go to Catherine-chan, I'd have to say was our very first fan. She was the driving force behind getting me to start writing Crossroads with her weekly letters of "when will the next AU chapter come out?" ^_^ Also the bestest web-hound finding all of my errors, and pointing out the little inconsistencies that always crop up in huge stories like this! She did a great deal to help this final story get off the ground, writing the entire Legato/Milly fight scene, plus a few of the sweeter moments between Milly and Wolfwood (long live Milly fans!!) and all of her editing help in this final chapter as well! Thank you my friend!
          The last thanks goes out to everyone else! I could list you all if I knew who you all were - reading this from the very beginning, you know who you are - whether you started out as Susan's B&G fans, Catherine's Simplicity fans, Milly & Meryl fans in general - or just stumbled on here and read it to the end - THANK YOU!! Your emails, support and encouragment have made this a terrific series and I'm so glad that we were able to share this world with you!! ^_^
          One final note before I close this story's final chapter is... I hope in the coming months to be able to once again write with both Susan and Catherine again - they are my dearest friends on the inter-web, very talented writers, editors and I'm so very glad that I could share this last story with them and also all of our Trigun obsessions!! This story has come to a close - but there will be many more in the future, I am certain of that!! And who knows... Vash's footsteps will continue into the future - who knows where they may lead? ^_^ Thanks again!!! ~Ricki

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