"Blackfire & Gunsmoke Chapter 11"
By Susan-chan

Rated PG-13

Dressing Up for the Occasion
        Wolfwood stopped to catch his breath. He knew he could make better time without the cross but there was no way he was going to leave it behind. Not with the situation being the way it was. Meaning people shooting at him and he still didn’t know how Milly was doing. If they were shooting at her he wanted to be able to shoot back at them.

        He and Vash had split up after dealing with the ambush. It was relatively easy for the Humanoid Typhoon and one “not your usual” priest. When Vash informed Wolfwood that he was going ahead, Wolfwood, curious, had asked why. Vash replied that he wanted to stop by the car and get his coat. If he was going to confront Knives he needed to get the ammo stashed in the back, transfer it over to the many hidden pockets Milly had so thoughtfully sewn into the coat. Also, he said with a spreading evil grin, he wanted to dress up for the occasion. Then in an emotionless tone, he said, as if it were an afterthought that just occurred to him, he could also check up on the girls to make sure they were safe and sound. Wolfwood only nodded. He knew Vash could travel faster if he wasn’t waiting for the priest and if the girls were in trouble then time and speed were of the essence. Wolfwood felt his heart constrict as if an iron fist were wrapped around squeezing it. Looking up he shot a quick prayer heavenwards for Milly... and Rinnah too of course. If anything happened to Milly though... Wolfwood had broken out in a sweat and started down the alleyway that Vash had already disappeared into. Puzzled, he wondered what was about the occasion that Vash wanted to dress up for? He shook his head. The plant was hard to figure out sometimes.

Air Gunsmoke

        Rinnah closed her eyes but not for the same reasons that Milly had her eyes shut. She reached down into her well of power, hauling up and unfurled her wings. She was desperately hoping they would emerge. Plummeting down the side of a cliff towards certain death at the bottom, she was more than just hoping they would open but she hadn’t done this in so long she was afraid she had forgotten how.

        With a relief so sharp she could have cried, Rinnah heard a great snapping sound like the sail of a sea-going vessel catching the first gust of rising wind. Feeling the tugging sensation at her shoulders, she knew she didn’t have to look back to see two huge wings appear and catch the air. Stretching them out along with gusts of power underneath to fill them, she felt the sudden halt and lift in opposition to the pull of the planet’s gravity. Tilting her head up she thought herself towards the expanse of blue above her and felt the power and wings raising them higher in the sky.

        Wind whipped at their clothes and hair. Upon finding that they were no longer falling Milly dared to open her eyes which nearly bugged out of their sockets in astonishment. Then she laughed with delight. “I’m flying, I’m flying! Oh Rinnah look, I’m flying!!”

        Through gritted teeth Rinnah responded, correcting her friend, “I’M flying; you’re a passenger!”

        Milly didn’t care.

        “This is SO much fun! Look at us way up in the air above everything and everyone! It all looks so different from up here! Ooooh, look how small those men look. And see there, isn’t that Mr. Vash’s brother? He doesn’t look so bad from far away! Nope, they don‘t seem very dangerous at all now! HEY! HEY you bad guys! Look at us! We‘re fllyyiiinnggg! Look Rinnah! Look at how far we are up from the ground!”

        “Aw Milly, did you have to say that? I am very well aware of how...” Rinnah stopped to groan for she chanced a look under their rising feet and saw exactly how far up in the air they were.

        Rinnah clenched her eyes shut and determined that shut they were going to stay, no way in hell‘s green acre was she going to look down again. She already knew the layout of the land, even now she could see it in her head. However, nothing, absolutely nothing under the sun or above it could possibly induce her to open her eyes at this moment. It wasn’t going to happen, not in her lifetime or anybody else’s. What she needed more than anything though was for Milly to give her a minute and not chatter. This flying business was hard enough as it was.

        “Milly,” Rinnah puffed out raggedly, “I really need to concentrate so please don’t talk okay?”

        “Oh, okay, sorry.”

        Rinnah was definitely having trouble. She had never tried to carry another person before. I can do this! She told herself. Just got to get to the middle of town, that’s all. Right. She could feel a sheen of sweat covering her whole body from the effort she was putting forth, like running laps underwater with a piano on one’s back. Nothing to it.

Face to Face

        On top of the cliff Knives was beyond stunned at losing a potential power source. Just as he was about to direct his rage at someone, he paused, realizing he was hearing something unusual. The sound was low at first but growing louder as if it were coming nearer. Turning back to look out over the cliff, he beheld, speechless with astonishment, the source of the noise.

        A great bird, swollen around the middle, was ascending slowly, pumping hard to gain altitude. With each mighty flap the bird would rise and then fall back a little as the wings rose and fell in an immense effort to climb the sky. The bird was slowly and laboriously winning the struggle and once high enough in the air started a long curving loop back towards the cliffs and the town.

        Knives blinked. Then lifted a hand to shade his squinting eyes against the bright sun. He needed to get a good look at this bird. Behind him he could hear the men muttering fearfully or exclaiming in awed surprise. He ignored them.

        He knew the planet couldn’t sustain a species of bird this large. He knew because he had read the survey report one hundred and fifty years ago. There wasn’t a bird of that immense size indigenous to the planet.

        The dark shape of the bird was coming closer and looking stranger with each passing second.

        It wasn’t a bird.

        Now sailing overhead from the direction of the desert in a glide, the shadow of the winged woman and her companion passed over him. With flinty eyes, Knives studied the two women in their flight. It as glaringly obvious she wasn’t entirely human. He didn’t know what she was and right now he didn’t care. She had power and he wanted it. It should be easy to capture them. The black-hair was quickly tiring and would have to land soon and then she would be too exhausted to defend herself for long. The other one, being human, would be easy to overpower. Too easy. He smirked. He would have them both again.

        Their path was bringing them enough to make out the expressions on the faces of the two women. The black-haired one has her eyes squeezed shut and her brows furrowed in deep concentration as she fought to maintain and channel the power at an even stream to keep them both aloft. The cost was evident in every line of her body. In contrast the taller woman looked down at the men on the ground with wide-eyed fascination. The tall one let out a thrilled whoop of joy and waved to the men below like they were long lost friends instead of just recently engaged in the activity of trying to capture them. Some of the men hesitantly lifted hands in the air to wave back, not sure what to make of the sight.

        Giving them an irritated glare, Knives returned his attention back to the flying pair. From what he could see they were going to come down sooner rather than later. The woman was clearly at the end of her strength and the plant knew it couldn’t just be the wings holding her up, no matter how wide the wingspan. Human bones weren’t designed for being airborne, being too dense, while a bird’s hollow bones were what helped a bird to stay aloft. The vast amount of power needed to sustain the two of them in the air had to be draining her reserves quickly. Knives didn’t want to take the chance they would land someplace where he wouldn’t be able to easily capture them again. He wanted her down and he wanted her down now, and as close to where he was as possible.

        Mouth set and eyes flashing he came to a decision. He would assist her in her descent. With a swift motion he snatched a gun out of the hand of the man standing near him. Rarely did he carry a gun these days. He didn’t need to, he rarely visited any place that didn’t already belong to him or was occupied by a large concentration of plant followers. That, and his personal entourage were well armed at all times.

        The plant looked up again at the winged female now crossing overhead. Her shadow was passing over the upturned faces of the men gaping at her. The strain of utter single-minded focus was visible on a face dripping with sweat. With a fluid movement, Knives gracefully turned his body to align with the woman’s flight. All in one unhesitating action, he aimed with a precise and steady hand as she banked revealing her back and wings to him. He smirked. Perfect. And pulled the trigger.

        The gunshot rang out and he watched her body jerk in response; a direct hit. A cry of pain escaped her and she nearly lost her grip on Milly. Struggling to keep from dropping out of the sky Rinnah tried to compensate for the crippled wing, relying heavily on her good one.

        Knives felt it then, a release of power and saw the result as her flight leveled out to keep her from dropping out of the air right then. He cursed and lifted the gun again, ready to shoot. His first shot hit near the base of her wing where it joined the shoulder, right where he intended it to, not an inch off. She’s stronger than I first thought… I shouldn’t have misjudged her. He watched as she tried to correct the wobbling effect but knew she couldn’t stay up too much longer wounded as she was.

        However, he wanted her down now and down she was coming. With a vindictive smile he judged the timing and estimated where she would most likely land. This time he doubted the aggravating female would have the reserves to keep aloft or resist capture, let alone try another escape.

        The exultant plant took aim again, this time he wasn’t going to underestimate her. The woman was in sight now...


        Knives pulled up short in surprise. Humans, couldn’t they do even one thing right! They’d better be dead and save me the trouble of killing them all myself. Anger erased the smile on his face. The trap should have worked. He had given specific instructions on how to deal with Vash to keep him occupied until he was ready for his twin and could arrive on the scene. Fuming, he cursed the black-hair that started it all.

        Knives took a deep breath and lowered the arm with the gun. Trying to get his anger under control before turning to face his furious and hostile brother, he took another deep breath and released it. Ready to try and reason with the wandering lamb once again, he began arranging the reasoning and arguments that he would use to try and convince Vash. Slowly turning he wondered why Vash was so set in his absurd belief that...

        Everything Knives was going to say caught in his throat. He stared in disbelief. Comprehension was slow in coming as he tried to make sense of what he was seeing. Before him stood his brother but now Vash was sporting white, not black, hair. When the two were last together Vash’s hair was a glossy black color. Also, he noted, it wasn’t up in the usual style of spikes that Vash was so fond of, instead it was hanging down around his face. That coat! It somewhat resembled his old one but this one was black.

        With eyes gone wide, Knives looked his brother over making a quick inventory of the changes. A white-haired Vash where once he was dark. Only one thought went around and around in his head. Something had caused this, once a plant’s hair when black, it didn’t change back, it only led to death and the last time he and Vash had been face to face the incident resulted in both of their hair being turned black by the Hair Darkening Effect. Knives was not eager for a repeat performance of that incident, but now as he beheld the sight of Vash’s hair all thoughts of their disagreements vanished from his mind.

        Knives’ mouth opened, closed, and opened again trying to find the words to ask his questions but none were forthcoming. The plant became aware that his eyes were drying up. The urge to blink was becoming almost painful but Knives could only keep staring at his brother in unrelenting shock.

        Vash watched as a stupefied look came over Knives’ face and smirked. He was right. His twin didn’t know what to make of his white hair and if he knew his brother, and he did, the only thing crossing Knives’ mind at the moment was “how?”

        “VASH!” Knives finally croaked out, “How?!” Then with a joyous smile that lit up his face, he said, “You did it! You figured it out! You know how to cancel the Hair Darkening Effect! How did you do it?”

        Knives was too overwhelmed to realize his brother was slowly advancing on him and not with the intent of a brotherly welcome. The entourage of men knew that Vash was the twin of their Master and therefore also a plant and so made no move to stop him as he inched his way closer to Knives. Soon they were not more than fifteen feet away from each other when Vash halted, his stance was stiff and quietly threatening.

        Wait a minute… Knives became fully aware of the menacing nature of his brother’s posture and how his right hand hovered near his holster. He took in at a glance the enraged state and the too-familiar glow beginning to flare up in his twin’s eyes. He’s never looked like this... not even last time… Before, Knives could always trust that his peace-loving brother would rather talk than shoot. Knives tried to open the connection between them that had been closed for a very long time but was surprised to find that he was closed off. Mentally, Vash did not have the experience, control or power that Knives had. Yet, he was the one feeling a flash of uncertainly at the unfamiliar and peculiar look in Vash’s eyes that seemed to teeter on the edge of insanity and rage. Hazarding a guess Knives threw it out to see what kind of a reaction he would get, if any.

        “*Who is she Vash?*”

        “*A pain in the ass.*” Came the quick reply.

        “*Maybe so, but from what I have seen she is very powerful and now she’s mine. What else can she do? Is she human or plant? And flying! What is she Vash?*”

        Knives almost forgot to be wary of his brother in his excitement. He quickly snapped back into reality when Vash, with unbelievable speed, whipped his gun out of the holster and leveled it at his brother. Knives found himself on the receiving end of Vash’s deadly silver gun. It was pointed straight at Knives’ chest without any reluctance or hesitation whatsoever.

        “Not yours Knives!“ In his fury Vash dropped the link and spoke, his voice trembling with the force of his anger although his arm remained sure and unwavering in aim. Feathers were now erupting from him unheeded floating down around him in a soft rain to collect at his feet.

        “Vash!” Replied Knives with unconcealed amusement and some indignation. “Are you going to shoot me?“

        “Yes.” And he fired.

        Horrified, Knives tried to dodge the bullets but the first ones slammed into him knocking him back several steps. He didn’t feel the pain at first but then it exploded like a fire of agony to race through his body. For only a second did Knives think he ought to return fire but when the pain set in and the intensity of it was unbelievable and crippling. It sucked all the strength from his body and the gun he was holding slipped through weakened fingers as he sank to the ground unable to remain on his feet any longer.

        “*Vash... it’s not supposed to be this way.*” He thought at his brother not knowing if he was getting through or not. Obviously something was as he saw the set, intense expression of Vash’s face and his eyes glow with rage even as he answered.

        “That’s right, it’s not, but you made it this way! You chose this path and only have yourself to blame Knives!“

        Vash pulled the trigger again and again while at the same time unleashing his gun arm. He began firing with that when the shells of his silver gun were spent. When the rounds were gone from that one, he still kept pulling the trigger, oblivious to the hammer falling with a empty metallic click on empty rounds. Humans were falling all around him, some dead but most injured with wounds differing in degrees of severity. Vash only had eyes for the holes he was putting into his brother’s body. With grim resolve he watched the crimson stains spreading across the various parts of Knives’ body. Teeth clenched in determination he aimed and shot again.

        Finally the men around him began leaping on him pulling his arms down and away from his intended target. Vash was so focused on Knives he completely disregarded the men even as they were pulling him to the ground in an attempt to neutralize him without hurting him. Vash had no such scruples. His intent was to kill Knives and he didn‘t care who got caught in the crossfire.

        Knives was wounded in several places, including both shoulders and thighs. Vash wasn’t sure how many places in the torso but at least one he was able to see before going down. On a human it could very well be serious but for someone like Knives it wasn’t as life threatening especially if he could get to one of his sisters in time to be healed. Vash could hear his brother’s moans of pain as his men gently lifted him up. He snorted in disgust even as the sea of humanity continued to pile on top of him. And Knives called him a weakling and a wimp!

        He stopped fighting when he lost sight of Knives after they carried him off around the side of a building. Only then did he become aware that the sound he was hearing was the hammer of his gun falling uselessly on spent cartridges. Once the men who were still standing saw he wasn’t a threat anymore they instructed the ones piled on top of the gunman to let him up. Knives‘ loyal followers slowly stood up from the pile but stayed near enough ready to leap on him again if the Master’s twin showed signs of trying to follow his brother to harm him again.

        Vash straightened and noted with indifference as the others gathered the dead and tended to the wounded. What would have been amazing to him, if he had been able to feel, was the lack of hatred or anger directed at him for the killing of their comrades. He couldn’t understand it, he couldn’t understand them, nor did he have any desire to.

        Vash turned in the direction where Rinnah was last seen before the buildings obstructed view of her.

        How could Knives not know there was something different about her? Wings for one thing. Wings! Stupid woman! That was as blatant and glaring a clue right there. She might as well have waved a sign over her head or started glowing in the dark! She better have a good reason for making a show of herself like that!

        Now Knives would want to possess that power. He would no longer believe she was only a mere human. Vash rubbed his forehead with the back of his hand and noticed he was still holding his gun. He slipped it back into the holster and snapped his gun arm back into place. Yes, the wings certainly clinched it. If she wasn’t important to Knives before this, she was now. He wondered what else she had done in Knives’ presence. The woman was without any sort of discriminating sense whatsoever. This was Knives! Didn’t she understand that by now? One just didn’t sprout wings in front of him and have it go unnoticed! What was she thinking anyway? Knives would hunt her down over the face of the planet if he had to. Knives certainly had the resources to do it if he wanted. There wasn’t going to be anyplace safe to hide after this. The only way he would leave her alone was if he or she died. He considered that rolling it around in his brain. Knives dead. Vash snorted. He could live with that.

        Vash again glanced where Rinnah had gone down. She should be grounded by now and hoped neither of the women were hurt too badly. He broke out into a blurring run totally ignoring the crowd that made no move to stop him.

Crash Landing

        Wolfwood was only a block from the hotel when he was forced to stop and catch his breath. Leaning a hand against the wall next to him he tried to calm his panting when he heard an unusual sound. The priest cocked his head trying to figure out where it was coming from and what was causing it. Soon it was above him and he tilted his head to look up and discover what was causing the source of the noise. With mouth gaping open and eyes widening in disbelief and wonder he nearly dropped his cross from a hand almost slack with shock as he witnessed an unusual flight.

        There above his head was Rinnah; a Rinnah with wings and Milly wrapped around her! An exhausted Rinnah who, he darted a glance at their flight path, was going to crash any second now. He knew this wasn’t going to be the graceful landing of an angel touching lightly to the ground delicate toes first. Oh no, this was a flesh and blood woman about to slam and skid along on her face until she came to a screeching halt or smashed headfirst into something. Whichever of the two, it was going to be abrupt and painful.

        Milly spotted him and managed to loosen one hand to give him a quick wave.

        He only had seconds to adjust to the sight but he did know one thing for sure and that was letting go was not a good thing when hanging a good bone-breaking distance from the ground.

        “Dammit woman!” He roared, desperately hoping she could hear him, he was assuming she could since he could hear her, “For God’s sake Milly, hang on! DON’T let go! NOT yet anyway!”

        On the heels of nearly damaging his vocal cords from yelling, he heard Milly shout to Rinnah that she was ready and Rinnah could let go of her anytime as they were close enough to the ground. In her opinion! She was going to give him a heart attack at this rate! Why couldn’t they wait until they were a little closer to the ground before Milly tried to drop down? He decided to save his breath; it was obvious that no one, especially Milly in this case, was listening to him.

        Cross still sagging to the ground absentmindedly, he watched spellbound at the clumsy, erratic glide as it continued down the street. Finally he managed to give himself a shake and said quietly, “Now there’s something you don’t see everyday.” Lifting the cross over his shoulder he took off running after them.

        Minutes later, Milly dropped through the air and landed heavily but was able to convert it into a roll. Atta girl Honey! He veered for her even as he saw her slowly sit up. He breathed out a sigh that was part relief and part prayer of thanks. This was aging him worse than the uncertain and dangerous life of a gunman.

        Wolfwood skidded to a halt beside Milly who was looking around with a bemused, dazed expression on her face. She blinked at him as he kneeled next to her then broke out into a wide smile and threw her arms around him in greeting.

        Without hesitation or fear of consequences, Wolfwood released his grip on his cross and let it fall to the ground. All he could see was the woman he was gathering into his arms. He buried his face in her hair murmuring into her ear.

        Milly giggled. That tickled! “Nicholas! I’m so glad you’re okay!”

        “Only because I found you.” He said as he pulled her closer in a crushing hug.

        “But.... oof.. I wasn’t... uhf... lost.”

        “Oh, but My Honey, I was.”

        “What are you talking about...” she started to ask in a confused tone.

        He released his embrace to lean back and take her face in his hands. Looking into those light blue eyes he felt everything intensely again, the fear of losing her and the joy of finding her. His completed self. “Without you, I am lost, always. With you, I am found.”

        The priest embraced her again and said in a firm voice that brooked no argument. “Milly, as soon as we can get the chance, we are going to find a preacher and get married. I’m not going to let Knives be used as an excuse any longer. We are getting married, soon as possible, understand?”

        “Really?” Milly threw her arms around his neck again and hugged tight enough to squeeze a grunt out of him. Then she remembered, “Oh my! Rinnah!” She let go and twisted to get a look at her friend when they both heard feet racing past them in a black blur but leaving a little dust trail their wake.

        “Hi Mr....” Milly started to say but he was already gone.

        Wolfwood and Milly clung to each other as they rose to their feet and turned to look where Vash found Rinnah. She was in a tangle of wings, arms and legs crammed against a thomas trough. From where they were neither could tell if she was seriously hurt, unconscious, or dead. Milly couldn’t see any sign of life, the only movement being the flutter of feathers softly stirring in the breeze. Milly covered her mouth and leaned heavily on Wolfwood who circled his arms around her.

        They watched as Vash dropped to his knees and gently raised up one of the wings covering Rinnah’s torso.

        However, they jumped, startled when they witnessed an arm with the speed of a striking viper grab Vash’s collar and haul him down until her mouth was near his ear. He listened intently as they watched her lips move slowly in a whisper and then released him, limp hand falling across her stomach. Vash blinked and shook his head a few times in amazement as he straightened up.

        The sight of movement broke the trance Wolfwood and Milly had found themselves in and they hurried to Vash’s side. As he heard the approaching footsteps he turned his head to look up at them, greeting them with a wry smile.

        “How is she?” Asked Milly, concern filling her face as her eyes fell on the crumpled form of her friend.

        “She‘ll be okay.”

        “How do you know, Needle Noggin?” Wolfwood’s voice was rough with worry and stress.

        “She requested a chiropractor or a veterinarian.”

        Wolfwood quirked his trademark grin but Milly wasn’t convinced.

        “He shot her Mr. Vash! I heard it and felt it hit her. We have to get her to a doctor!”

        “No! The bullet...” Rinnah gasped out, saying in a whisper so that Milly and Wolfwood had to bend over to catch what she was saying, “went through, besides... I am a... quick healer. No problem. Just help me up, I’ll...”

        They all chorused with her, “...be fine.”

        She glared up at them; she was surrounded by a bunch of flipping comedians! However, unable to sustain the glare she let it drop and closed her eyes in pain and weariness.

        With a look that clearly expressed her doubt Milly watched as Vash slid his arm under Rinnah’s back careful to avoid the wounded wing joint.

        He had her halfway lifted into a sitting position when he stopped, stunned. Wolfwood let out a low whistle and Milly breathed out an awed, “Oh.” The wings were disappearing into Rinnah’s back as if they were being sucked in. All three watched the process in wide-eyed fascination.

        Forgetting everything else Milly exclaimed, “do that again!”

        Rinnah chuckled if a little weakly. “Another time... don’t have... energy for it... now.”

        Vash lifted Rinnah to her feet, taking care not to jostle her wounded shoulder. With the wings retracted it appeared from the trickle of blood seeping from the wound that the hole in her wing transferred to her shoulder. He blinked again, surprised but then gave a shake of his head, he should get used to unexpected surprises cropping up around her.

        Wolfwood stood close by, one arm around Milly’s shoulder tucking her into his side. His eyes roamed over everyone in the group and Vash looked up to catch his gaze before he turned to study Rinnah. Then asking, “Everyone’s okay? I mean, besides Rinnah’s gunshot wound?”

        Milly nodded enthusiastically still elated from the recent the flying experience. “I got to fly!” She said with sparkling eyes.

        “Don’t get... used to it,” commented Rinnah weakly. “I’m not... an amusement park ride.”

        “Anytime you want to go flying again, I’m up for it! Yay!” Milly laughed.

        “Not me....” And mumbled something that no one else heard even when they leaned in to catch it.

        “What did you say? “ Asked Wolfwood while at the same time Milly asked, “Could you repeat that?”

        Looking out from under her bangs, which she tried to blow out of her eyes with a puff of air, embarrassment making her voice soft, “I don’t like heights.”

        With a disappointed look Milly said, “Oh.” Remembering Rinnah’s reaction at the cliff. “You’re afraid of heights?” When Rinnah reluctantly nodded a disappointed look flashed across Milly’s face. “Shucks. I was so looking forward to another ride!”

        However the disappointment quickly lifted as the excitement of being airborne returned to her. “Wings! You have wings! Like the angels of heaven!”

        “Welllllll.....” Countered Rinnah, that wasn’t a description she would necessarily apply to herself...

        “Angel? Her? Talk about mistaken identity.” Vash said with a smirk.

        However if the wings fit. She aimed a laser blue glare up at him. Noticing how vivid blue her eyes were, he caught and held them as he replied, “What? A more accurate description would be this: a turmoil enticing, trouble-magnet imp from hell.”

        Seeing the temper starting to flash in Rinnah’s eyes Wolfwood quickly spoke up to derail it before it could get started.

        “So, were those your dress-up show wings or just everyday wear?” Wolfwood asked.

        “We were between Knives and the worms!” Supplied Milly who was still amazed at their escape and hardly able to contain herself with the amazement of their adventure. “I thought for sure Rinnah was going to say we had to climb down the side. It was scary!”

        “Had to get away...” Rinnah said as her knees sagged a little. Vash adjusted his grip and pulled her back up.

        Instantly ashamed that she had temporarily forgotten about Rinnah’s wound, Milly stated firmly, “If you won’t see a doctor you will still need to get that wound cleaned and wrapped. So...” she started eyes rolled upward in thought and held up fingers ticking off each item as she announced it, “first we need to get supplies, then a room where we can take a look at the damage and fix you up, and we all need a good night‘s rest.”

        Both outlaw and priest jumped on that.

        “We can’t stay here!”

        “This is not a safe place!”

        Milly gave them both a look they rarely saw but knew there wasn’t anything they could say that would change her mind. When Milly decided she needed to be, she was the strongest member of their little group and right now nothing was going to budge her or change her mind.

        “They won’t expect us to do the dumb thing because the smart thing would be to leave town right away. So the dumb thing is the smart thing to do and they won’t expect our dumb thing to outsmart them! Right?” She looked at Vash and Wolfwood who were trying to follow her thinking process and failing. With halfhearted nods they reluctantly gave in to her reasoning. Neither gunman was comfortable with the plan but they weren’t able to think of an argument to counter it at the moment. Vash gave his head a quick shake. Trying to think like Milly or follow her logic either confused him or gave him the beginnings of a headache.

        A soft, pain-filled voice spoke, “You don’t need... to do this on my account. We can leave town. It won’t bother me. I heal quickly. See! Feeling better already.” Rinnah was standing if you chose to ignore the fact that she was swaying from side to side and that Vash had an arm around her waist to steady her.

        The three turned their heads to stare at Rinnah, faces filled with various expressions of disbelief from skeptical to sympathetic. “Sure you are.” Commented Vash dryly.

        Wolfwood pointed out, “Well whatever we decide to do; we can’t just keep standing here with her bleeding in the street. People are going to start coming to with questions and we don’t want to be out here looking like the suspicious characters that we are.”

        “Right. Let’s get back to the car and then we can come to a decision about what we are going to do when.” Vash said and then turned to adjust his grip as Rinnah started to slip through his arm again. This time he pulled her up and held onto her with both arms wrapped around her while trying not to hold onto her so tightly that it would cause her pain.

        A mellow, smooth voice they all knew too well stopped them before they could take a step. Wolfwood stifled a groan, Milly gasped, Vash cursed, and Rinnah shut her eyes, not again!

        “What a touching little scene this is. All the cute lovers assembled here together making it easier for me.” Instantly tense they turned together alarm making their eyes wide but no one replied to the cripple. In his face a pretense of a tranquil surface covered a seething cauldron. Alongside of him was his ever present aide and servant.

        “Vash the Stampede.”


        “Nicholas D. Wolfwood, otherwise known as Chapel.” Narrowed eyes were Wolfwood’s only acknowledgment to Legato.

        “And the girls. How sweet.” He gave a bow of acknowledgment toward the women. “Ladies.”

        A mental clamp came down on the group, but unknown to Legato it only affected Milly. Rinnah knew she wouldn’t be of much help to the group this time. In fact, if anything, she did might cause more harm them good if she made any moves. Unintentionally making a wise decision, she chose to keep her mouth shut.

        Wolfwood didn’t let on that he wasn’t under Legato’s control, keeping his face blank and immobile. Hiding his astonishment, he decided to bide his time and then use this freedom to their advantage when the moment presented itself. This must be an aftereffect of Rinnah’s mind touch the night before. He only wished that Milly could move too but he chose not to communicate with her to ease her fears and it was one of the hardest things he had ever done in his life.

        With an insane gleam Legato fixed his eyes on Vash.

        “You have hurt your brother, Vash the Stampede.”

        “Yeah. I screwed up. I was trying to kill him.”

        Legato frowned at that. “I cannot allow you to keep trying to hurt the Master. You shall know his pain.”

        “Does he know you are here?” Vash asked in challenge even as he moved Rinnah to his left side but keeping one long arm looped over her back and down to her waist. It had to be hell on her shoulder but at the moment it was more important to get out this alive first.

        Wincing she whispered softly, “I’ll be okay, just kick his coffined butt before I take a can opener and go in after him!” She assessed her current physical state and amended, “When I get to feeling better that is.”

        There was a slight hesitation before Legato repeated, not answering Vash‘s question, “I cannot allow you to bring harm to the Master anymore.”

        Vash exploded, saying in a voice made hard with anger, “I can endure you no longer!”

        “Me either!” Whispered Rinnah frowning at the crippled man. Yeah! Take that!

        “You! You will not speak! You are marked!” Rinnah was surprised at the animal hatred held in the pit of his eyes and also wondered what he meant by that. “You have dared to lay a hand on him and for that you will wish that you had died with your friends!”

        Then with a mirthless laugh he said, “And it shall be by your lover’s own arm in what I like to call a small explosion of taking out the garbage.”

        Hold the phone! Lover? Him as in a ‘him and her‘? Us? We‘re not ‘him and her-ing‘! She opened her mouth to correct his wrong assumption when she felt Vash tense and knew he was going to do something. She wondered if he remembered to exchange the empty cartridges for full ones. Leaning back until his left arm refused to budge an inch more, Rinnah knew which pocket to look in, grateful now that she had been present when Milly cut the fabric out and lovingly stitched it together.

        Legato lifted up the corners of his mouth in his trademark chilling smile. He had the appearance of a living man yet to Milly he was hollow. The hollowness sucked the life from the space he occupied and seemed to drain the living energies of those standing around him. It was as if he had no true life force of his own to keep the blood pumping through his veins. Milly wondered if there was anyone in there behind those soul-damaged eyes. Her eternal optimism said there was a humanly impoverished and broken individual residing in there somewhere needing love, but the painful and sad experience of the past mocked her belief. This seemed to give credence to her pondering that the hollow man’s true power was the absorbing effect that leeched away at the hope and promise of better days to come.

        His servant beside him lifted up a gun to point at the group. Noticing, Legato addressed his servant for the first time that Rinnah was aware of, “Now, now, while I appreciate the gesture, please have more respect for my abilities. I really won’t need the help but I will allow you to shoot any one of them that tries to escape.”

        Lovers! Despite the extreme precariousness of the situation Rinnah’s mind was caught on the comment of earlier and the desire to correct him. She opened her mouth to speak when wisdom spoke up and cautioned her to swallow her reply. It was hard to do but she forced herself to keep quiet yet again. This is a record! I should get an award of some kind! She thought, mentally patting herself on the back.

        A soft whining noise, barely discernable at first but soon turning into a drone that set the teeth on edge, grew louder as a soft light began emanate from Vash’s right arm. Rinnah couldn’t help herself; she grabbed fistfuls of Vash’s coat to keep her steady and swung forward around him to look at this wonder of noise and light.

        “Does it ever occur to you that the very thing you are curious about could be dangerous?“ Vash asked with eyes narrowed in irritation.

        “Yeah, but I usually ignore those thoughts.” She stared like a moth entranced by a candle’s flame at the glow as it grew brighter, .

        “You’re going to hurt your shoulder even worse if you are not careful.”

        He pulled her back to his side while noting again her uncharacteristic silence. He suddenly worried that this would frighten her and make her think he was an unnatural monster. For some reason it bothered him if she began to think of him that way. He could feel the power of his angel arm coursing throughout his body. He chanced another glance down at her face and found not fear, but fascinated curiosity. Surprise shot through him, this wasn’t the reaction he thought he would see on her face but he was grateful. Then turning his attention back to the glow of his arm as it united and melded with his gun, he watched for a second. He really didn’t need to look down to know what was going on. He was quite aware of what was happening. He knew the glowing light was coming from where his hand rested on the hilt of his gun and that the two were starting to become one so that it was hard to tell where the gun ended and the hand began.

        Rinnah forgot her wound and the pain as her eyes bugged out at the sight, or as much as she could see because Vash was resisting her efforts to peer around his chest by holding her clamped to his side. What the freaking hell is going on here!?

        “Not this time Legato.” The noise and light blinked out as if a switch had been flipped. “Not by you, not by anyone, not ever again!”

        He pulled the silver gun out with one fluid, smooth motion. The light show stopped and his hand and gun went back to their original shapes. With an expert flick of his wrist he cracked the gun open to dump the spent shells on the ground. He didn’t move his eyes from Legato but was very aware of Rinnah leaning across him with a bullet. He was still holding her up while she was holding onto him with one hand slipping the bullet into a chamber. With a thumb he spun the chamber into the right position and snapped the gun closed. He was mildly curious as to how and where she had gotten one of his bullets. Maybe she was a pickpocket, and if so, what other little unspoken talents did she have? Then he decided it didn’t matter at the moment

        Vash raised the silver barrel to point like an accusing finger at Legato’s black heart.

        “Are you going to kill me Vash the Stampede?” In a soft chuckle he went on, “don’t you know I could kill everyone within fifty meters of here in less than three seconds?”

        Listening to the conversation with mounting frustration, Milly imagined that this is what it was like for one of the statues on top of a city fountain. Her body felt as if it were encased in stone. Not a muscle, finger or hair was under her control. If she could have frowned, she would have. Mr. Legato was a very disturbed individual. He was the first person in her experience to be so very broken on the inside, a virtual wasteland of anything human. So very shattered and ruined she doubted anyone would ever be able to piece together the fragmented puzzle pieces of his sanity and soul. If he wasn’t so darn powerful and mean it would be easier to feel sorry for him.

        “I don’t want your pity you parasitic user of resources!” Legato snapped at Milly, hearing the echo of the wholeness that was vibrantly alive within her. He was practically spitting at her; “you will cease to feel sorry for me you wretched human!”

        Wolfwood observed that whatever Milly had thought it had thrown Legato off balance. Pity? For Legato? Well, that was his Honey, mercy in action. People feared Legato, he doubted anyone had ever felt sorry for him before. Wolfwood, personally, wasn’t aware of one person ever that felt pity for him, heart-stopping fear yes, but never pity.

        The cool, in control exterior was cracking right in front of them. That made Wolfwood nervous. The insane man was even more dangerous if what fragile control he had over his mind was beginning to dissolve.

        Just then Legato’s eyes widened as he pulled more from Milly and then snapped eyes back to Rinnah with evident surprise. “So that’s what and who you are.” Suddenly the control that had been disintegrating came back up and his face smoothed out with a charlatan smile rising on his lips. “The Master is so wise. He knew you would be useful to him. Now I can see it too and realize that I was in error. A New Earther and part-plant. He will be pleased.”

        Vash pulled the trigger.

        Another shot echoed on the heels of that one.

        One dead body fell to the ground, the other unable to fall sagged lifelessly in metal and leather straps.

        Vash looked at Wolfwood. “You were able to move.”

        “Thought I would save it as a surprise.” He tucked his gun away and reached for Milly. Released from Legato’s hold she stumbled into the comfort of his arms. Wolfwood looked over her head to Vash, “Surprise. I just hope he didn’t have time to alert Knives.“

        Burying her face in his chest Milly mumbled, “I can’t help it! I hate him for making me glad he is dead!”

        Wolfwood pressed his lips to her hair, pausing there as he closed his eyes. Now that the adrenaline rush of the moment was over he could feel a trembling in his limbs. It could have gone so wrong. It didn’t, he sternly told himself, don’t think about what could have happened, and instead, focus on the fact that everyone came out alive and healthy. Or somewhat healthy as he caught a glimpse of Rinnah starting to go down again before Vash caught her and lifted her off her feet this time so her toes were an inch off the ground.

        She was starting to say something before Vash hoisted her into the air. Startled she stopped before trying again. Wolfwood was waiting for an order from her directed at Vash for him to set her on her feet.

        “We need to find out what that stuff was they pumped into Milly.”

        “Stuff! What stuff?” Snapped Wolfwood, rigid and tense all over again. “What do you mean? Pumped Milly full of stuff! When?” Wolfwood’s heart squeezed painfully. Of course there had to be something else that was a potential danger. Did it never end?

        Rinnah quickly, if breathlessly, explained the situation while Milly rolled up her sleeve to stare at the cotton pad taped in the crook of her elbow.

        “I don’t feel any different.” She said with mild wonder.

        “We can talk later, we need to hole up someplace for a while.” Vash said wary eyes skimming the street.

        Both Wolfwood and Vash turned as one, and started in the direction of the vehicle. Milly was not exhibiting any strange symptoms or illness, but Wolfwood kept an anxious eye on her anyway. If anything she was lighthearted and cheerful as always and was practically skipping as she related her flying adventure as if without a care in the world.

        Even with her toes barely touching the ground and a supporting arm circled around her, Rinnah was stumbling but refused to allow Vash to lift her up in his arms to carry her. Her theory was that as long as her toes were within waving distance of the ground that counted as walking under her own power. The hybrid mused; maybe Vash had a point about her not being able to deal with reality well but then quickly dismissed the thought. It just didn‘t sit well with her that he might actually be right about something.

        Vash looked down with a frown, it was plain awkward and difficult to walk this way. Her legs and feet kept getting tangled around his even though she was walking, if ever so lightly, on her tiptoes. If he tripped and they crashed down in a heap he knew she would blame him. Why did she have to be so damned obstinate? This was ridiculous.

        “Listen, if you would let go of your stubborn pride and just let me carry you we could go faster.”

        “I wouldn‘t expect you to understand.” He waited for her to explain but she was again, for her, being unusually silent.

        When Vash asked a second time, with eroding patience if he could pick her up, she uttered a defiant, “I’ve been carried here and there all damn day and no one’s carrying me anymore! I’m walking!”

        With a snort of contempt Vash said, “If only you were...”

        “What? What did you say?”

        “Walking. If only you were walking it would be so much easier instead of having to drag you along like a bag of thomas feed.”

        “That’s it! You don‘t have to drag me anywhere you star blazing diphole!” Spoken in a trembling whisper it didn’t have near the impact or ring of authority that Rinnah was hoping for. “You can just let go now.” And squirming, tried to push off from him. He tightened his grip and hefted her a little higher so that her toes were now dangling several inches off of the ground.

        “I can get back on my own even if I have to crawl.”

        “Woman, you are insufferable.”

        “Children, children, don’t make me come back there.” Sang out Milly. She glanced over her shoulder at them and giggled while Wolfwood ignored them with practiced ease.

        “He started it!”

        Lips curving into a lopsided grin, the outlaw shot back “did not.”

        “Are you making fun of me?” She asked. Her brows came down in a threatening scowl.


        “You...” Her voice was fading and all that came out after that was a wispy breath.

        Vash leaned and swept an arm behind her knees, it was easy, he was getting good practice at it, and swung her up in his arms. Ignoring her squawking protest he stepped up his pace to walk next to Milly and Wolfwood who were chuckling.

        “Who needs enemies! ” Rinnah grumped ignoring the chuckling going on around her.

        Once arriving at the car they found the guns the girls had been forced to leave behind. Vash gently lowered her in the back seat before straightening up, working out the kinks in by rotating a shoulder in a circle a few times. He didn’t doubt he would wake up the next morning with aching muscles, scratches, and bruises. He looked down at her and caught her staring at him until she whipped her head away, a light flush rising to her cheeks.

        With a smirk he said, “This time, see if you can stay put instead of flying off sightseeing all over the town!”

        Rinnah frowned up at him ready to make a remark when suddenly all the wind went out of her sails. She was dashed tired, her shoulder was hurting and she was trying to stay upright when Wolfwood handed her the gun. That perked her up for a moment. The wounded woman turned the blue metal revolver over in her hand inspecting it before slipping it into her holster with a sigh of relief; it was good to have it back again.

        Like Rinnah, Milly took hers and turned it over in her hands only with a puzzled expression on her face. She didn’t remember dropping it in the first place, or anything that happened after that. With a shrug she slid it into the holster she had sewn into the back of her coat. It was heavy but no where near as heavy as her stun gun.

        Rinnah tried to pay attention to the conversation but the pain in her shoulder was escalating like someone had stabbed it with a red-hot poker and now was twisting it. The pain was radiating throughout her body. She was tired and muscles she didn’t even know she had were sore and aching. This led her to wonder just which muscles did a plant-person use when they were flying? She tried to figure it out, somehow it seemed very important to know. Was it the back muscles, sure, that was a given, chest muscles, and arms, but only because she was carrying someone... her eyes kept drifting shut of their own accord. It was taking more and more effort to keep them cracked open. The buzz of Milly, Wolfwood, and Vash’s voices was very soothing. Slowly weighted lids would shut and then guilt would shoot them back up again. I should be paying attention and contributing.

        Feeling a hand resting lightly on her good shoulder she was barely able to turn her head. Over a tongue that felt thick and slow she stumbled out a “Yes?” At least she intended for it to come out that way. It ended up sounding more like a snake slither than a question. Looking at Vash through lids half shut she thought she saw his face soften as he studied her. Knowing she was going to fight the healing rest she needed tooth and nail, Vash slid in next to her. Reaching around her, careful of her wound, he pulled her in close to his side.

        I’m hurt worse than I thought I’m starting to hallucinate. Rinnah’s eyes were beginning to blur.

        Rinnah tried again, “Hhhhnnn?” That was good enough, a nice all-purpose sound to convey interest.

        “Sleep and heal.” She wasn’t sure if she heard it in her head or if it was spoken out loud. It didn’t matter though; she was tipping over already asleep her head landing heavily against his chest. He lifted her head and turned her body slightly, again, careful of her shoulder.

        Vash looked down, a little surprised but pleased with the results. He used the link and sent across a strong suggestion she sleep. He didn’t expect it to work so well thinking that he could only receive through it. This was the first time he was able to send something back to her. Starting to lay his hand on her right arm before remembering the wound, he lifted it up in the air wondering where he could rest it and still be comfortable. He could put his hand on her hip and he eyed it for a moment toying with the idea but after blowing out a sigh of irritation resisted the temptation. He ended up placing his elbow on the back of the seat, propping his head up on his hand and closed his eyes. She was trouble, pure and simple.

        Wolfwood drove until they found a store and he and Milly went in for supplies. He wanted her to stay in the car but Milly wasn’t taking ‘no’ for an answer and insisted on going in over his objections. With the comment that she did the cooking and knew what they needed better than anyone else did, she brushed past him and entered the store. With a long-suffering look at Vash, who gave him a return grin, he turned and followed behind her.

        Later, once they were situated in their room, Wolfwood carried in things from the car they would need. Vash carried the still unconscious hybrid into the bedroom and held her while waiting for Milly to finish arranging the towels to soak up any blood if it should seep through the bandage. Earlier, in the car while waiting for Wolfwood and Milly to come out of the store, Vash put on a temporary bandage until it could be replaced.

        Milly watched as the gunman carefully laid the part-plant down with a gentleness that didn’t escape Milly‘s notice. She stood slightly behind him watching the tender and skillful way he straightened the limbs of the wounded woman, making sure not to make any sudden motions that would cause her pain.

        As soon as Rinnah’s head rested on the pillow her head rolled limply to the side. Both Milly and Vash paused by the bed to study the half-breed with looks of concern. They both wanted to take her to the doctor while she was out but surprisingly it was Wolfwood who reminded them how Rinnah felt about doctors and said it wouldn‘t be a good idea and that they should trust her on this one. Neither had liked it but they finally agreed to nurse her themselves.

        With a sigh Milly left the room to get everything ready to clean and treat the wound. It was in a tricky spot, that damn Knives, Milly thought with more than a little exasperation. He couldn’t just graze her, no he had to shoot her in a troublesome location that was difficult to bandage. With all the experience she was getting lately Milly was entertaining the idea of entering the nursing profession. Of course, she would rather not be gaining the experience from patching up her friends.

        Vash stayed a moment longer, leaning over to brush Rinnah’s black hair off her forehead, noting that her skin felt warmer than it should. Taking a quick look over his shoulder to make sure there weren’t any witnesses, he allowed himself a small, soft smile and whispered, “Don’t you dare do anything but get better!” What a contradiction she was. Imagine having wings while being afraid of heights. Then he leaned the rest of the way in and placed his lips on hers holding them for a breath before straightening. Stopping at the door he turned for one last look before exiting the room.

        Later, Vash unpacked the purchases while listening to Milly’s rationale for why they should stay in town. His only remark was to comment cynically that they might as well put a sign out front advertising their presence. Milly’s lighthearted reply was that they were like tame thomases hiding among the wild ones, hence the whole hiding in plain sight ruse. Vash squeezed his eyes shut to keep from rolling them. Wolfwood just chuckled and shook his head knowing that Vash had lost before he even had uttered the first word.

Blackfire & Gunsmoke: Chapter 12
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