"Blackfire & Gunsmoke Chapter 12"
By Susan-chan

Rated PG-13 for various reasons...
***GRINS, I Luv DV!!***

        Vash set down the packages and stretched out his back, wincing at the pops he heard. He was mildly surprised at the amount of things Milly wanted him and Wolfwood to bring in after stocking the vehicle’s larder with food supplies, ammo, fuel, gas, and the most important commodity on Gunsmoke, water. He hoped it didn’t mean that Milly planned on putting down stakes for very long. They couldn’t afford to hang around for any great length of time. He wondered if he should mention to her, again, that it was too risky to stay in a town overrun with Knive‘s goons. He considered for half a moment and then shook his head. No, she knew and it wouldn’t do any good to bring it up again. Milly would only look at him with sweet, innocent eyes and then go back to doing what she had already set her mind on doing in the first place.

        Vash glanced over at the object of his thoughts. Milly was at the sink working on something that was stinking up the place causing him to wrinkle his nose against the smell and take a step away.

        Just then Wolfwood came through the door they had left ajar and dropped a large sack on the table with an exaggerated sigh. “Whew! Got your pudding Big Girl, nearly wrenched my back out carrying it up!” He made a face as he too got a whiff of the smell emanating from the sink area. “What’s that stench? Not dinner I hope!”

        Milly turned to look at him over her shoulder and laughed, “No, of course not! I am making something that will help Rinnah heal faster.”

        “Are you sure about that?” Wolfwood went to stand behind her peering over her shoulder at the brown gunk she was stirring in a bowl and smearing onto strips of cloth set out on a tray. It was easy to deduce this tray was for the patient as it had alcohol, water, sponges, pins, pads, and a pair of scissors. “Hmmm. I sure hope Rinnah can survive all this doctoring.”

        “She’ll be as perky as two suns up; just you wait and see,” She went back to stirring the dubious ingredients with enthusiasm, “Especially when I get this on her.”

        “I’m sure she’ll thank you for it too.” Vash took several more steps back as the smell assaulted his nasal passages. He waved his hand in front of his nose. “Is this another remedy passed down that only the Thompson clan knows about?”

        “Yes, how did you know?” Milly turned and looked over her other shoulder at Vash with those light blue eyes wide with warmth and cheerfulness. Wolfwood was taking small, but ever so subtle, steps backwards where Vash was standing.

        Vash noted the priest’s slow retreat but didn‘t comment, instead, he replied to Milly‘s question. “The impression I am getting of your relatives is that they drink a lot and are always into the kind of trouble where shooting is involved. Am I wrong?”

        “Hey is that any way to talk about my future... Good Lord!” Wolfwood paused in shock as it just occurred to him that these people were soon to be his relatives.

        Milly stared at Vash with eyes crinkling in good humor not at all offended by his observation. “Gee Mr. Vash, you are really good at guessing about my family.”

        Vash thought it wasn’t too difficult. Milly talked about her family all the time. In fact, it was harder to stay ignorant of the Thompson clan when one traveled for years with a certain Miss Milly as a sidekick.

        “Uh just a guess Milly, a real lucky guess.”

        Milly smiled before turning to pick up the tray and heading for the bedroom. As she walked she became aware of footsteps following her. She pulled up short, stopping so abruptly that Vash nearly slammed into her.

        Over her shoulder she said, “No Mr. Vash, you can’t come in this time. I have to dress the wound and that means some undressing so you just have to stay here until I’m done. You can both come in later.”

        Milly turned her head away before they could see her smile. With guns, both were deadly aims and had survived against unbelievable odds in more perilous and dangerous situations then most people would see in a lifetime. Yet both were also painted with unsavory reputations of being hard-eyed men of the gun with ice water in their veins. Well, that was the scuttlebutt but Milly knew for certain that it did not describe either man accurately. Still, she smiled; men were so cute when they blushed.

        Milly entered the room and moved over to the nightstand and placed the tray on it. She observed the sleeping female for a moment and then shook her head. At first she tried to wake Rinnah but only received a series of grunts in reply. Shrugging her shoulders Milly decided she was going to have to do this while the half-breed slept and moved to turn down the covers. Then stepping back a pace Milly studied the wounded woman and tried to think through how she would remove the shirt so as to cause Rinnah the least amount of pain as possible. With a little care Milly was able to remove it, after all, she was the one who made it and knew how to widen the neck hole so it could easily be repaired afterwards. Once the shirt was off, Milly held it up and inspected it with a critical eye. She decided it could be mended and knew just the thing to get out those pesky bloodstains with yet another Thompson secret family recipe.

        It didn’t take long to clean and bandage Rinnah’s shoulder as Milly thought it would. Removing the shirt took longer than it took to change the bandage. She marveled at the wound. Rinnah was right, the wound was only hours old and already it looked partly healed. All her energy must be going into mending it. Milly paused to stare at the wound in wonder. It was incredible.

        When Milly was finished, she hauled her suitcase over, opened it and dug around until she through found a white t-shirt that used to belong to a big brother. At this point in time she didn’t remember which one it was. With gentle care she tugged the shirt over Rinnah’s head and pulled her good arm through the left armhole. She didn’t try to pull the right one through as that looked like it might be too painful. Stepping away she surveyed her handiwork and silently pronounced it good. It got the job done which was to cover up the main parts that needed covering. She looked down and saw Rinnah’s pants were stiff with dried blood all down the front and the side where the wound was. Making a face she decided they too were coming off and going to be washed. First she started some water in the tub, added the secret family recipe, and went back for the pants. Tossing them in the foaming water she shoved them down under the surface of the water. Only then did she return to the sleeping half-plant. It was amazing, Rinnah didn’t twitch during the whole noisy procedure.

        Getting the pants clean took some scrubbing but not as much as she feared, the faithful recipe did the trick and there wasn’t a hint of a bloodstain on either leg. Then she washed the shirt and wrung it out. She would take the shirt with her and mend it when it was dry. Milly smiled with satisfaction. Her family may be given to drinking and cutting up but they sure knew how to take stains out of clothes, you had to give them that! She hung the pants up. She would come in later when they were dry, fold them up and place them where Rinnah could get to them easily enough.

        There, with hands on hips she stopped to think if there was anything she was missing or had forgotten to do before she let the boys peek in on Rinnah now that she was decently covered up.

        When Milly exited the bedroom with tray in hand and shirt hanging over one arm, she shut the door quietly behind her and then looked up to find dinner was just being placed on the table. Nicholas couldn’t keep the look of pride off his face as he gestured to the spread to show off his culinary efforts. Vash was wearing his carefully schooled expression of indifference, which meant that he was impressed but didn’t want to say anything. With a twinge she remembered the softer Vash who would have exclaimed over the dinner with enthusiasm if not outright drooling.

        Milly shoved those regrets aside and carried the tray over to the sink before returning to sit down and enjoy the meal. Dinner proved to be pleasant and relaxing. Nicholas told stories that were new to her from his days with the orphanage and the antics of his charges. Even Vash unloosened enough to share one from the days before the insurance girls showed up to glue themselves to his side. Milly told stories about her family, ones that were new to them as well, and here they thought they were familiar with all the Thompson clan sagas. Apparently the family legends went on from one generation to the next one story knit into another. But even as she told her stories she witnessed Vash’s eyes drift to the bedroom door then snap back to listen as if it were only a momentary diversion.

        After dinner Milly broke out the pudding and shared her favorite dessert with the men. She wasn’t upset when they didn’t act as thrilled as she was about the greatest dessert known to mankind. That was okay with her. Rarely did Milly meet anyone who had the same obsession for pudding as she did.

        “Well...” Wolfwood started, almost loathe to address business matters. “My cross gun is off a few centimeters and I would like to have it taken care of as soon as possible before we meet up with Knives again.” He regretted bringing this up as the cheerful atmosphere was sucked out of the room as if the air pressure changed dramatically due to an oncoming storm.

        Vash looked over at him, “Why not take it to the gunsmith here in...”

        “WHAT!” The priest exploded looking shocked. “Allow a heathen to touch my beautiful, shiny cross-punisher! OH NO! Not my baby! There is a priest-smith in Towering Rock who is the best of the best in this matter, a veritable artisan of the cross. He’s the only one of two I would trust to touch my baby. No, he is not your run-of-mill gunsmith who is just fine for the likes of those commonplace, everyday, factory-produced pieces of junk, but not my beautiful work of art!” He was practically panting as he scowled fiercely at Vash daring him to make any further comments.

        Vash held up his hands in surrender. “All right, all right! We’ll go to Towering Rock as soon as the winged wonder is able to travel.”

        “Damn straight we will.” Wolfwood said, still slightly agitated about any slur, perceived or otherwise, critical of his cross gun. Finally he cleared his throat, then found himself chuckling nervously. Then he coughed into his fist and tried to clear his throat again, something seemed to be stuck in it. Vash and Milly were lifting spoons up to their mouths when they stopped to watch. The priest was actually sweating now with fine beads breaking out across his brow. He pulled at his already open collar, was it getting hot in here? He reached for his water glass to wet his dry mouth. He cleared his throat again and then looked up to see Milly and Vash so captivated by his unusual behavior that their pudding spoons were forgotten, halted halfway up to their open mouths. Damn, why was this so difficult all of a sudden?

        “Vash, old traveling companion, I would like you to be the first to know the news.”

        Vash eyed him warily. “What‘s that?” He asked, not sure if he wanted to know.

        “Tomorrow, Milly and I are going to find a minister and get married.” Milly blushed and put down her spoon, totally forgotten now as she gazed at Wolfwood with eyes getting bigger by the second and tearing up. He reached for her hand, circling his large fingers around it gently. With the other she reached for the chain around her throat and pulled out the cross he gave her.

        “I’m ready.”

        “Wait, I want to do this right, in front of a witness.”

        “Do what?”

        The priest got off his chair, kneeled by Milly’s and taking her hand asked, “Miss Milly Thompson, My Honey, will you marry me?”

        Vash couldn’t stop staring to save his life, from one to the other he shifted his eyes back and forth. He knew, hell, they all knew these two destined for one another and marriage was in the cards. He just didn’t think the cards would turn up so soon. It was something that he always believed was in a distant future and now the future was pulling up a chair to sit down with them at the dinner table.

        “Eh?” Was all he got out before realizing the priest was still waiting for Milly to answer and how come she wasn’t? He looked over at her and saw that she was softly crying with little tears flowing down her face. He frowned at Wolfwood, the look saying ‘you did this, you fix it!’ Except that the priest didn’t see, his full attention was focused on Milly.

        Wolfwood was surprised too. Weren’t women supposed to be excitedly thrilled upon receiving a marriage proposal? Why the tears then? He bent so he could look up into her face.

        “Milly? Is something wrong?”

        “No. Nothing is wrong. Everything is right.” Milly sniffled and grabbed her napkin, blotting her nose and eyes. “That was wonderful. It was so beautiful. And YES! I do!” She threw her arms around Wolfwood’s neck so tightly a muffled ‘urp’ was squeezed out of him. Milly relented of her hold and leaned back to look at him. Recovering rapidly from the hug he sat back in his chair while a goofy grin spread over his face.

        “Here’s to a beautiful couple!” The couple turned to see Vash holding his water glass up in toast to them. “Congratulations, God bless, and may you have many years of happiness and abundant children!”

        Milly and Wolfwood picked up their glasses and drank with Vash.

        Setting his glass down, Wolfwood asked, “Uh just how many children are you blessing me with there, eh Spikey?”

        Vash smiled, he wasn’t stupid, “As many as Milly wants.”

        “Good answer.” Turning to Milly he asked, “How many should I expect Honey?”

        Milly was blushing and giggling, Goodness was it warm in here? “However many we end up with will be the perfect number.” Wolfwood’s eye got round as he stared off into the distance imagining a mob of children, too many to count. Then shaking his head he decided he could handle as many as Milly wanted, after all, he was experienced at running an orphanage, he should be able to handle fathering his own brood.

        Vash and Milly exchanged quiet smiles as they watched the priest stare off down the years to a future yet to be realized.

        Reaching across he laid a hand on Milly’s arm. “Well honey, how about it? You are getting a scoundrel of a priest for a husband.”

        In answer Milly launched at him nearly sending them both off the chair before he grabbed the edge of the table and halted their progress backwards. She hooked both arms around his neck, “Just try and get rid of me Mr. Scoundrel Priest!” He smiled back softly with his eyes gazing into hers and reached up to cup her cheek as she leaned into the warmth of his hand.

        “Excuse me, do I need to leave?” Vash asked with one eyebrow raised.

        “Oh no Mr. Vash.” Milly gave her standard, good for every occasion giggle. “If we are getting married tomorrow I need to go to the store and buy some things!”

        “Now?” Questioned Wolfwood, truly puzzled as to what she could possibly need to get married. He glanced over to the window; “the suns are near to setting. The stores will be closing soon.”

        “That’s why I have to hurry.” She dashed to grab her duster and headed for the door.

        “Wait! I’ll go with you. It’s not a good idea for any of us to be on our own at a time like this.”

        Milly started to protest that she was going to be right back but saw the inflexible, set look in Nicholas’ face and stance. She looked over at Vash and saw the same look on his face. She smiled; at least she would be with the person she loved the most. He could turn his back when she brought her items up to the counter to be paid for.

        After they left Vash cleared up the dinner dishes. Then, more exhausted then he remembered being in a very long time, he recounted the adventures of the last twenty-hours or so. This included: a lengthy, tiring day of traveling, a long walk, a fight, a mental link forged, a moment of near-intimacy, another long walk, finding out about Rinnah’s past, having her bounce around in his head, changing his hair color, staying up all night drinking, being sick the next morning, confronting a crazy brother, killing another crazy, his angel arm starting up, and then a fun day of running around town getting shot at and chasing a winged woman. Just another average day in the life of Vash the Stampede. He sighed and let his shoulders slump.

        The couch was looking awfully inviting so he wearily walked over and sat down. He wasn’t even aware of falling into a deep sleep and didn’t even budge when the door opened and Milly and Wolfwood entered talking loudly until they saw him sleeping on the couch.

        “I don’t think he should sleep all scrunched over like that. It can’t be good for him.” Milly commented as she saw the way Vash’s chin was lowered on his chest.

        Wolfwood sighed. He knew where this was leading. She was going to make him help in getting the gunman comfortable so she could sleep in peace and in turn, the priest could sleep in peace.

        He bent and unbuckled the outlaw’s leather knee-high boots and pulled them off, mildly surprised that the tugging didn’t wake Vash up. Milly brought out a pillow and blanket. She placed it at one end and then had Wolfwood lower him by his shoulders and then covered him up with the blanket. She tucked it in around his neck and brushed back his spiky bangs and then bent down and kissed him on the forehead.

        Already practicing for that big family, Wolfwood thought to himself but the only thing he said was, “At least I don’t have to listen to his snoring tonight.”

        After she was finished tucking in the notorious outlaw, ace gunman, and Humanoid Typhoon worth more money than God had angels, to her satisfaction, Wolfwood snagged her and pulled her around the corner of the room. He didn’t care if Vash was asleep; he wanted to do this without a third party only a few feet away.

        The priest smiled down at Milly and pulled her into his arms. Slowly leaning in he touched his lips gently to hers and gave her a kiss full of reassurance and hope. Then, because he wasn’t your usual kind of priest, he slowly tightened the circle around her and kissed her harder with a little more passion than what she was used to from him. He could feel her surprise in her lips until they relaxed and softened under his to return his ardent attention. Knowing he could continue and she would let him, he reluctantly lifted his head breaking the kiss. He released her to cup his hands on either side of her face and he caressed her cheeks with his calloused thumbs. He marveled at the silky smoothness of her skin before leaning in to place a tender kiss on her forehead.

        “You have ravished my heart with one look of your eyes.” * He gazed for a moment longer into a color so clear as if a bit of blue from the edge of heaven had fallen to land there. He leaned his forehead against hers and whispered, “tomorrow, love.”

        “Tomorrow.” She whispered back to him and they went their separate ways for the last time.

Nicholas and Milly

       Milly was so nervous she wondered if she was remembering everything on her checklist which she had lost of the things she wanted to get done before they left. Determined to remember everything of importance, she checked where she set her sack several times before Vash finally suggested she place it by the door so she didn’t forget it in the scramble to get out the door. Then she spent some time searching through the room growing more upset by the minute until Wolfwood asked what it was she was looking for, maybe they could help.

        The men exchanged glances when she told them she couldn’t find her duster and she was beginning to panic. This wasn’t just an ordinary coat, she must find it! It was one that her grandfather passed on to her just before he died. It smelled just like him, even after all these years, that homey smell of old coffee grinds and gunpowder. When she put it on she always felt as if he was wrapping his great strapping arms around her holding her close and investing her with a heritage of strength. He once told her, “It’ll last forever and my children and my children’s children will wrap up in it nice and safe. When I am gone,” he said, as he bounced his little Milly-kitten on his knee, “my soul will dance in the wind.” **

        She had to find that duster! She couldn’t, she wouldn’t get married without it! “Where is it!” Burst out of her mouth in an uncharacteristic wail and tears threatened to spill out of her eyes. “I have to find it! I just have to!”

        Wolfwood, sensing this was one of those critical moments where silence is golden, merely pointed to her left arm. Looking down to find her duster hanging over that limb, she giggled a little nervously as she patted it as if to reassure herself that it was actually there. Blushing bright red as she realized it had been draped over her arm the whole time while frantically searching for it. This wedding thing was causing her to be a bundle of nerves. She looked over at the boys sitting at the table. Vash was gently shaking his head and Nicholas smiled at her with that crooked grin making her stomach feel all fluttery.

        Finally though, despite little obstacles such as the duster mishap, Milly was able to say that everything she needed for the morning was ready and waiting by the door. The last thing she wanted before they left was to change Rinnah’s bandage. Hands on hips she studied the pile by the door, making sure once again that it included the duster. Yes, she was satisfied, all was ready.

        Feeling rushed and lightheaded, Milly entered the bedroom. This was the last time she would come into this room as a single woman. This was last time she would bandage Rinnah as a single woman... if Rinnah would wake up then this would be the last time she would see Milly in her single state. The next time Rinnah laid eyes on her she would be Mrs. Milly Wolfwood. She sighed happily before realizing she was holding the unwound bandage up in the air ready to be cut and tied off. Really, she shook her head, she needed to keep her mind out of the clouds, and this was not the time to be daydreaming. Quickly she finished taking off the old bandage with the caked remains flaking off of it. Wadding it up, she threw it away before replacing it with a new bandage but without the healing smelly gunk of earlier.

        Again, as she removed the night’s bandage she noted that the wound indeed was healing faster than a normal human’s would. Now there wasn‘t even a scab there but instead Rinnah was sporting a faint scar. If her healing continued like this, Milly doubted there would even be that to show for it. Amazed, she stared at the fading wound. Rinnah slept through the whole changing of the pad and bandage although once she moved a little and then said something under her breath. Milly leaned down curious trying to catch what it was she was saying, but Rinnah fell back into a deeper sleep without enlightening Milly any further.

        Feeling time passing by her Milly sped through the rest of the chores noting that even though she was finished in record time the job was done neatly and looked very professional. Grabbing up the items and tray Milly briskly returned to the dining room to set the tray on the counter.

        She arrived at the table for a breakfast that Vash made for them as a wedding-day send off. Sitting down she found a full plate along with a cup of pudding by it and for the first time ever thought she was going to be sick from the sight of her favorite food. Milly tried to think back but couldn’t remember a time she was ever this nervous to the point it was upsetting her stomach. When pudding didn’t seem appetizing she knew it was a serious matter.

        Vash noticed Milly’s lack of appetite with surprise. He too couldn’t remember a time where she was unable to eat her pudding. He looked Wolfwood’s way and saw that the priest was picking at his food also.

        Deciding he couldn’t eat Wolfwood slid his plate in the direction of Vash who was not having a problem finishing off both of their meals.

        Looking up when moving his plate over to slide Milly’s in front of him, Vash did a double take when he spied the twin goofy smiles plastered on Milly and Wolfwood’s faces as they stared affectionately into each other’s eyes. Maybe it was a good thing they were getting married. He didn’t know how much more of this he could take. It was like a black hole threatening to suck any innocent bystander into a powerful and inescapable maw of, he grimaced, the adoration they were lavishing on each other. No sane person should have to be forced to put up with this. He was feeling sick. Then looking down at the food in front of him, decided no, he would wait until later and hopefully once hitched the two would start returning to normal.

        “All right, are you finished?” Asked Wolfwood.

        Vash thought that an odd question since neither one ate enough to show for it. Both of them were edgy and more nervous than a salmon-smeared mouse in a cat factory. They were making him nervous just by association. At this rate he didn’t think he could finish his third plate. Damn them, they were throwing him off his eating stride!

        “Yes! Let’s go.” Milly responded and then giggled again nervously but jumped up and grabbed her stuff by the door. They left arm in arm. Vash would have put money down that there didn’t even notice him waving. They were too busy gazing deeply into each other’s eyes. Vash snorted as he got up to close the door they didn‘t even notice they left open. If the time ever came for him to fall in love, he certainly hoped he didn’t act all goofy like that. It was an embarrassment to the species, any species.

        Then an idea came to him. Before he acted on it he went and peeked in on Rinnah to make sure she was still in a sound sleep. Good, she was still passed out and probably would be for a while yet.

        Vash left the suite but wasn’t gone long. He returned clutching a key in his hand. It would be a surprise wedding gift. Vash was glowing with pleasure and proud that he was even able to think of something like this on his own. He was also amused by the fact that he couldn’t wait to spring it on the married couple when they returned. The gunman was well aware that they didn’t think he was capable of being thoughtful. Catching himself pacing he wondered if he should make breakfast for Rinnah to help pass the time, oh, and yes, because she should be hungry too and it wasn’t good to skip a meal when a person was recovering. Vash could quote Milly word for word and hear her sweet, concerned voice in his ear as earlier that morning she tried to impress upon him the importance of a well-balanced meal for invalids. Well if he did it would be because it would be better to do something, anything, than dealing with this unbearable waiting for them to return.

I Know Where Love Is

       As they started across the lobby of the hotel, Milly and Wolfwood became aware that neither knew where the nearest church was. They stopped to ask for directions at the front desk. The elderly woman at the desk smiled and took out a piece of paper and wrote the directions down. When she was finished she slipped it across the front desk informing them that she could tell they would forget the directions once they were out the front door. It was a common occurrence. It was safer to give them something they could refer to as they followed the directions.

        The desk clerk shook her head kindly as she watched the couple exit. They were certainly cute the way they linked arms and were staring into each other’s face. Chuckling she wondered if they would be able to find the church even with the slip of paper she gave them. They were definitely in their own little world.

        Milly floated. Today the world was made of gossamer wings and golden fairy dust. There was no such thing as ugliness, sorrow, fears, regrets, or anger in this day. A sensation washed through her making her feel like she was flying all over again only this time it was her heart taking wing to soar away.

        The clerk was right. They kept stopping so Nicholas could check the instructions to make sure they were headed in the right direction. She was also correct in that they were only able to retain one part of the directions at a time. It was slow going, but she didn’t mind. It just gave her a chance to look over and study him. He was so incredibly handsome. A moon could have dislodged from the sky and fallen at her feet and she wouldn’t have given it a second thought. She loved everything about him, even his adorable scruffy chin hairs.

        As if sensing her attention, he turned and asked, “Milly?”


        “I love you.”

        “I know. And I love you.”


        “And ever...”

        “You know, as a priest I was taught that love is eternal and stronger than death. I didn‘t believe it at the time.”

        “But the thing is, you do now.”

        “Because love found me.” He stopped to pull her close to him. He looked down into those sky blue eyes and felt his heartbeat quicken. He ran a fingertip softly down one silken cheek wondering at how soft it was. She was a contradiction of sweetness and strength. He slowly bent down and grazed her lips with his, then stopped to rest them on hers with a kiss light enough to tickle giving her a chance to return the kiss, which delighted, she did. He lifted his head and smiled at her his own heart filled with the rarely felt emotion of joy. He didn’t even have a passing acquaintance with it, and here, in front of him was the reason for knowing it.

        Milly sighed with happiness. This was a moment she was pulling into a memory of amber to be captured and held in her heart more solid and precious than any wedding ring. She looked down at the cross Nicholas had given her and lightly caressed the metal before looking up at him. He was looking at her with eyes shining silvery gray. Those eyes with their peculiar shade made her catch her breath every time he gazed at her with them. It was so uniquely Wolfwood.

        Milly sent a little prayer of thanks winging upward as they continued on their way.

        After a while they came to a tiny white stone church. It as almost cramped for a church but clean and well taken care of. Wolfwood stood looking over the building before they entered. How a church was taken care of spoke volumes about the shepherd in charge of the flock and from what he saw this one as very conscientious. He gave an appreciative nod before grinning at Milly and taking her hand in his.


        “My goodness yes!” And they started up the stairs together.

        Once inside both stopped to wait until their eyes adjusted to the dim light.

        Hearing voices in the foyer a middle-aged man stuck his head out of an office door to the side of the back of the sanctuary. Seeing the couple he came out smiling. He was small and slightly stooped with a fringe of gray hair circling his otherwise bald head. His round face was made for the wide smile that adorned his lips. His whole presence beamed friendliness and warmth.

        Like a flower opening in response to a gentle touch of sunlight, Milly reflected his affability back to him with crinkling eyes and a big smile.

        “Hello, hello my lambs! What can this old man do for you?”

        Milly giggled but also found herself flushing with bashfulness about stating the reasons why they were there to see him. Wolfwood had no such problems.

        “We want to get married. Can you do the job?”

        “Clapping his hands together with genuine enthusiasm he said, “Oh certainly, certainly. Let me go and get my book and the proper forms for you to fill out and we can, as you say, ‘get the job done’. Oh, by the way, you may want to know who performed the ceremony and that’s Reverend John Harper, at your service.” He bobbed his head with a grin. “Be right back.”

        Milly covered the giggle that wanted to escape around her hand, oh my but she was feeling so nervous and fluttery all of a sudden. They watched as the minister disappeared into his office to retrieve the necessary items to perform the ceremony. Remembering, she placed the sack she was carrying on a pew and opened it. Reaching in she pulled out a fine, white lace veil and arranged it over her hair. Using a couple of clips with little pearl-like beads on them, she clipped the veil to her hair. Again she reached in and this time brought out some pink and burgundy fabric flowers fashioned into a bridal bouquet. Last, she held up a fabric rosebud nestled on a spray of white baby’s breath and pinned it to Wolfwood’s lapel as he tilted his head trying to watch her. He looked down to study the rosebud. He liked flowers as much as the next guy but wasn’t particularly fond of them on him but he had to admit it lent a certain elegant touch to his suit. Besides look at the way it made Milly’s eyes sparkle.

        By this time the minister was back with the forms and couple of pens. After Milly and Wolfwood filled them out and handed them back, the good reverend called in his wife and grown sons to be witnesses. So in front of the Harper family, God and all the angels, Nicholas D. Wolfwood and Milly Thompson became husband and wife. Nicholas and Milly Wolfwood. It sounded good. Nicholas kissed Milly with a promise of more and better to come when they were alone. Mine, all mine, he thought with a grin. Answering his grin with a smile of her own she thought, Mine, all mine.

The Gift

       Vash was pacing. He tried to stop and occupy himself with pulling out Milly’s cards to play solitaire games. It failed miserably, leaving him to wonder why he was so wound up about such a small thing as giving them a gift. Slowly it dawned on him that he was acting in a manner that was unusual for him. He wasn’t used to thinking of putting other people first anymore. Surprised that it felt so good but at the same time it was driving him crazy to be sitting on this. He wanted nothing more than for them to return so he could pass this weight onto them and get out from under the pressure that was slowly building to intolerable levels within him.

        So pent up feeling he decided to go ahead and make breakfast for Rinnah whether she was awake for it or not. He made it and then carried it into her room. Waking her took a while but it was fun to watch her as her eyes took a while to focus to see straight. He also saw that she was not wearing the shirt Milly put on her the night before. Turning, he saw it draped over the chair by the nightstand. His eyes cut back to the groggy female still trying to wake up. Well, this was interesting and not a bad view. Things were looking up he thought but forced himself to not say anything. This wasn’t the time to make smart remarks, as much as he wanted to though. No, by the wrath of Milly, he would be good. Vash the Nurse was on the job! He smiled at the mental image that conjured up.

        He stepped closer to the bed to lay a hand on her forehead to check her temperature. That was a good sign, it was normal, if nothing else about her was. She also didn’t seem as stiff and sore as she was the night before. He helped her to sit up, plumping the pillows behind her and arranging them the way Milly had done. The half-plant eyed him with curious suspicion but didn’t say anything and that too was unusual. He was just grateful she didn’t ask where Milly where was but just accepted that it was his turn to be on nurse duty. Having been the recipient of their care before she didn’t make any comment. She wasn’t that hungry but was able to finish the liquids and toast before her eyes began to spin in her sockets. Vash managed to grab the juice glass before it slipped through her fingers as her eyelids began to sink and her head started to nod. He helped her slide down again and tucked the pillow under her head.

        Coming out he looked at the stove clock as he placed the tray in the sink. He was hoping hours had passed while he was busy with that chore. No such luck. That only took about half an hour, if that! Sand pit! How was he going to survive through this morning? How long did it take to go through a simple marriage ceremony anyway? Where were they?

        Looking at the door, he considered checking on Rinnah again, but he doubted there would be any change in the past three minutes. Throwing himself down in a chair he glared at the front door willing the priest and former insurance girl to walk through and growled when the moment passed and still there was no sign of them. A knee began bouncing with nervous energy. He sighed and started drumming his fingers on his other knee and leaned his head back against the chair. This was killing him. His nerves were practically jumping under his skin, if they didn’t get back soon he was going to explode.

        Finally, when he was thinking that they had left to go to another town to have the ceremony performed, knee and fingers froze as he heard steps coming down the hall. He grinned; it had to be them. He was at the door and jerked it open even as Wolfwood reached for the knob.

        “Where the hell have you two been?!” It burst out of his mouth unbidden before he could stop it.

        Two surprised faces stared at him.

        “Getting married, Needle Noggin, remember, this morning and that little discussion last night?” Wolfwood wondered what was wrong with the gunman and continued to stare at him as Vash stepped aside holding the door open so they could enter. Vash was acting oddly, more so than usual.

        “Right. Now get in here.” Vash rocked back and forth on his heels rubbing the back of his neck. Milly and Wolfwood were barely inside the room when Vash slammed the door behind them.

        “Is something wrong Mr. Vash?” Milly inquired, concern coloring her voice.

        “Uh no. Just waiting for you two to get back, perilous times and all that don’t you know.” Milly and Wolfwood exchanged glances and then looked back to Vash, now they were really worried. Vash didn’t talk like that.

        “Uh I,..” Vash started nervously. Now they were back he wasn’t sure how to say this. “Uh congratulations and, here!” He dug a key out of his pocket and held it out for the couple to take. They transferred their stares from him to the key and back to him again.

        Wolfwood reached for the key Vash held out in front of them and taking it looked at it curiously. “What’s this for?”

        For the first time Vash’s face lit up in a huge grin and looked quite pleased with himself, smug even. Wolfwood glanced at the key again and then back up to Vash.

        “It is your own room for however long we stay here. I figured you needed time alone together, you know, ” He closed one eye as if winking, “without roommates” and smiled at both until he saw the tears rolling down Milly’s cheeks. His smile straightened out. Now what? He wondered if he had just done something wrong and then added in a soft, hesitant voice, “Thought of it myself.”

        Alleviating the growing doubt, Milly suddenly threw herself at Vash and enveloped him in a crushing hug while Wolfwood looked on with a stunned expression on his face.

        “Oh Mr. Vash! Thank you so much! You are wonderful! I love you! You are such a thoughtful friend!” Then pulled his head down to give him a resounding kiss on the cheek.

        After Milly disengaged herself from Vash Wolfwood stuck out his hand and shook Vash’s hand. “Thanks pal. I appreciate this, I mean, I really appreciate this.” With a look full of layered meaning emphasized again, “Really! “

        Wolfwood was quick to admit to himself that he had forgotten to take into account what they were going to do after the ceremony, well, besides for the anticipated activity of course. He also didn’t take into consideration their fellow traveling companions. This was great, now he didn’t have to worry about disturbing roommates or being disturbed by them. The more he thought about it the more relieved he felt. There were some things that were not meant to be shared even among good friends and one’s wedding night most certainly qualified near the top of the list if not right at number one.

        Vash nodded at the two and couldn’t help the pleased grin from spreading across his face.

        Milly removed herself from the circle of Wolfwood’s arm saying, “I want to check on Rinnah and get some things together.”

        Wolfwood nodded trying to rein in his impatience especially knowing there was a room waiting for them.

        “Milly?” Vash said, catching her before she opened the bedroom door.

        Milly looked over her shoulder and gave him one of her warm smiles, “Yes Mr. Vash?” Hand still on the doorknob. Vash almost forgot what he was going to say as the sight of her suddenly pierced through him. Taking him completely by surprise was the purity of beauty of who Milly truly was. These little revelations weren’t new to him; he had them before in the past, but very rarely since the leveling of the town of July. He looked, amazed as the vision broke through and penetrated his heart as she was framed in that moment of time and he perceived her as she was meant to be seen. It about took his breath away. So this is what Wolfwood sees when he looks at her! Amazing! He shook his head slightly to clear it.

        “Mr. Vash?” Inquired Milly.

        “Uh, I can take care of Rinnah. After all, we have done it before and really; I am a great caretaker... ask any of my previous patients who didn’t die. They‘ll vouch for me.“ He saw the skeptical look on her face until she grasped that he was teasing her. “Really, you two go ahead and leave me to take care of her.”

        Milly turned and came back to stand in front of him. Looking him square in the eye she said seriously, “All right then Mr. Vash. I know you will do an excellent job and that Rinnah is in good hands.” She gave him a steady look, “and I know she’ll be in perfect health when I return.”

        Vash heard the unspoken ‘or else’ on the end of that and smiled down at her and raised his hand so say, “I swear on a stack of pudding cups to do the best job possible.”

        Lowering his hand he grinned at her and said, “You and the priest don’t have to worry. I was a notorious ace gunman at one time you know. I should be able to take care of one sleeping half-plant, don’t you think?” Milly looked him over as if trying to decide if she could trust him with this or not.

        He frowned, really, he could do this, was she doubting his ability to take care of that troublesome woman? Didn’t she think he was up to this? “What?” He demanded but Milly came to a decision and smiled as if she wasn’t entertaining any doubts whatsoever.

        Wolfwood wanted to leap about the room and cheer but with effort contained himself. He could have kissed Vash too but limited it to an enthusiastic handshake and a heartfelt “Thanks again pal!”

        A few minutes later, although for Wolfwood it felt like the slow crawling of years, he and Milly were on their way out the door with the priest carrying Milly’s one piece of luggage, that she would need for the night. Vash called out after them; “your room is on the next floor up.”

        Milly turned and waved over her shoulder, “Thank you again Mr. Vash!” Her cheeks were starting to flame now. Vash lifted a hand in a small return wave and chuckled at the way Wolfwood was hurrying Milly along at a swift pace.

Solomon's Song

        Much later, Wolfwood held his resting wife cuddled next to him and whispered in her ear, “How fair and pleasant you are O love with your delights!... set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is as strong as death.”*

        Milly giggled, blissfully content but sat up to lean over her husband, her hair dangling to tickle his muscular chest and stomach. She bent down and touched his lips with hers, letting the kiss linger like a delectable spice flavoring. Feeling dizzy and warm at the same time, he reached up a hand behind her head and pulled her down to him. Her skin felt like velvet against his. He was so unbelievably and exceeding happy with a depth of emotion he had never felt so intensely in his life before this. He never imagined a man could feel this way. It must be joy, another emotion he was little acquainted with. A quiet, resting joy that caused his heartbeat to speed up when he looked up into his wife’s sky blue eyes filled with love and affection, for him.

        He wrapped an arm around her curved waist and with the other wove his fingers into her soft curtain of hair and pulled her down to him, effectively pinning her against him. He noticed that she didn’t seem to mind in the slightest. If anything, she was actively returning his attentions. It didn’t look like they were going to be getting much sleep tonight.

Heart Unknown

        Now that Milly and Wolfwood were gone the place went back to being quiet, too quiet, deathly boringly quiet. Despite a previous day’s hair raising adventures, Vash caught himself wishing that another assassin would break in hell bent on killing him and in turn shatter the mind-numbing quiet that was descending and filling the suite upon the departure of the newlyweds. Vash would rather fight a bounty hunter any day of the week rather than wallow in the tedium of being alone with his thoughts.

        The gunman decided that Wolfwood was right, not that he would admit it to him, he was different, even if they disagreed in exactly what ways he was changed. Before there had never been a problem with being bored out of his skull like this. Maybe he just didn’t know how to entertain himself anymore. That must be it. He was used to the company and the constant stir of other people and their business going on around him. He was pathetic. He didn’t know how to amuse himself and found his own company tiresome. The gunman realized once again that he didn’t like being alone, well as alone as one can get with a practically comatose patient for company.

        Looking for something to do, Vash took a shower and for the first time since his hair turned white he put his hair up in the usual spikes. It was strange. He was used to his hair being blond for over a century and then for the last year or so it was black. Now it was white. At least with it white it was closer to the color he remembered. He turned his head this way and that in the mirror trying to see as much of his head as possible. Still, it was so startlingly different that it would take some getting used to.

        After that he retrieved the other suit from his bag and changed into it. It was good to be in clean clothes again. He looked over his worn suit with a critical eye. Just as he thought, it needed to be cleaned which went without saying after traveling through the desert, fighting, running and sweating in it. He eyed the rips where it needed to be mended. He could clean it, which wouldn’t be a problem. He knew how to sew, the life of an outlaw gunman on the run all the time didn‘t allow much time for stopping at a seamstress shops for quick repairs, so he had developed a crucially needed skill to keep a basic outfit together if the occasion arose. However, he knew what would happen the second he took out a needle and thread to do any repair work. Milly would see his attempt, descend on him like a storm and confiscate his needle and do it herself. She had done it before with that sweet voice ‘tsking‘ his paltry sewing endeavors. Yes, it was a sure bet that Milly’s immediate reaction would be to snatch it out of his hand and do it herself. Her rationale was that she couldn’t stand to see good cloth butchered. He folded the suit and shoved it back into the bag for another time. He considered the fact that she wouldn’t be around for a while and he could do it himself but found he was getting lazy and dependent, at least in this area. He would rather Milly mended the suit.

        Now that he was finished cleaning up and making himself presentable he couldn’t think of what else to do to keep himself occupied. He peeked around the bedroom doorframe at the sleeping female to assure himself nothing new was happening there. She was now sleeping on her other side, wow, that was new.

        Bored, Vash wandered back and picked up the deck of cards, considered and laid them back down again. He wasn’t in the mood for cards. He spied a novel on the end table left there by a previous occupant and picked it up. A romance. He grimaced; he would rather shoot himself in the foot before reading one of these things. Why couldn‘t the people who rented the suite before them leave any interesting reading material such as a magazine, like ‘Gunfire and Smoke, Thrilling Adventures on the High Plains‘, or ‘Your Gun and You‘, or even, ‘Bounty Hunter Weekly, the Latest and Hottest Updates on Vash the Stampede‘. I should have a fan club. Yeah, right. My only fan club consists of unwashed, scruffy bounty hunters with black teeth and bad breath. Some fan club. He looked around the room but didn’t spy any more reading material. This was it. He held the book up to study the front cover with the bare-chested hero clasping a barely clothed, well-endowed woman to him. Both had blonde hair blowing in a stiff wind. He looked around the room again, desperate to find anything else to read, even an eviction notice would be better than this. God he was bored, but not this bored. Just then he had a vision of himself reading the book with a drooling, blank-eyed look on his face. He cringed. Vash gave a quick glance down at the author’s name and noted it was written by one, Miss Golden Delight Kingsmith-Danvers. He snorted in disgust. That broke the spell of the vision right there. With an apathetic flick of his wrist the book was tossed back onto the table where he had found it. It would be one cold day in hell before he read a book by someone with that name.

        Imagining brain cells starting to gasp and keel over from the dull and tiresome inactivity, he wandered from kitchen area, dining table, to the living room area and back again. He completed the circuit several times before realizing that what he was doing constituted as pacing. He stopped and looked around the room, again, desperate to find something to do. Bored, bored, bored. The litany went through his mind. Right now he would pay good money to be chased by some vicious bounty hunter, or chasing them. Or, he smiled nostalgically, better yet, being chased by a crowd of angry, gun-waving citizens tearing up the town. Now those were the good old days. Never thought I would be looking back on those times with such fondness.

        With a degree of dread, the plant began to recognize that he was not as much bored to tears, although he was close to that, as he was unconsciously avoiding the thing that had been stirring for months but awakened with a vengeance the other day.

        Vash sat down at the dining room table and propped his chin in his hand and started thinking. It wasn’t pleasant. Looking over the years at the different memories, some good, most horrific, it led one step at a time to end here in the present, in this town, in this hotel. He rubbed his eyes with thumb and index finger. He wanted a drink; in the worst way he wanted a drink. Maybe he could hire a babysitter and then head for the nearest saloon and get drunk. He squelched the desire with a sigh. If he did and Milly found out about it he would end up a small pool of plant slobber on the floor. Best not to risk it. Then he perked up with a thought, no reason he couldn’t go down and request a bottle or two of Wild Thomas be sent up to the room. That should be acceptable.

        With a spring in his step, he made his way to the front desk and placed his request. What pleased him to no end was to see the clerk reach down behind the counter and pull out a couple of bottles of amber colored liquid. Apparently this wasn’t an unusual request. Vash’s respect and admiration for this fine establishment deepened. He expressed his thanks, paid for the bottles, and tipped the clerk generously, more than she deserved or was expecting. He headed back for the room clutching the two precious bottles to his chest like long lost relatives.

        Funny, now that there was a glass in his hand and he applied himself to the task of lowering the level of liquid in the bottle, it was easy to think about the changes in his life, from Rem to his color challenged hair. There was a miniscule part of him that cared he had grown calluses on his soul along with a near impenetrable shield. He knew if he wanted it to be completely bulletproof he would have to leave the group, but even thought he was colder and harder, he couldn’t bring himself to consider that as a viable option. No, he wasn’t going to leave. He was used to these people. They were his.... traveling companions and comrades in arms. He needed them. That’s what they were. His companions, nothing more than that. They were going to help him bring down Knives to the hell he deserved. Vash didn’t care if the rift between the two brothers was philosophical, ethical, revenge or just two clashing plant males in heat. The reason didn’t matter anymore, not to him at least. He knew the others had different reasons for accompanying him, let them have their ivory towered, sweetness and light beliefs, they were welcome to them. It hadn’t done him any good to think that way and live that way all these years, in fact, just the opposite. He eyed the filled glass morosely before gulping id down. He had the scars to prove it, on his skin, heart, and mind. The longest and deepest ones were thanks to Knives. He poured another glass and held it up, To you Knives, may you rot in hell. And downed that glass too.

        Vash poured out another shot and downed that also feeling the liquid’s warmth all the way down. It wasn’t making him gasp like it did at first which meant his taste buds were already numb.

        The gunman scowled as his thoughts led him to thinking about the confrontation with Knives the day before. That meeting convinced him that he was not operating at the peak efficiency he was used to. Knives was wary, but then, he always was, still he wasn’t expecting Vash to attack him and since Vash had the element of surprise on his brother, Knives should be dead now. Dead from that very first bullet, but it missed. It wasn’t as if Knives was standing iles away from him when that first round was fired! He aimed right at him and missed vital areas time and again; none of them was a lethal enough shot to kill him. Vash couldn’t believe how slow his attack was and that Knives was going to survive it. Vash wasn’t used to being slow. He knew how quick he was and could be. He also knew his brother; he would survive even after hitting him with one round after another. All had hit his twin without any of them being deadly enough to kill him. Vash couldn’t believe how slow his attack was. He had never been that slow before. The next time, and there was going to be a next time, his reaction time needed to be at the very best and quickest he could get it. No more moving and reacting so slowly that it gave Knives the opportunity to escape again. Upon hearing his teeth grind he decided he needed to think about something else for a change.

        There was something else hidden just as deep if not deeper starting to make itself known to him, especially of late. He lifted his eyes to the bedroom door. Somehow she was associated with this change, this new disturbance within. In fact, she may be the reason it was coming to the surface, the half-breed was the one who went in and made a pathway for it in the first place. What else had she done, even if unintentionally? She was certainly linked, connected to it that he knew for sure. The scowl deepened as he stared at the door. It wasn’t a hard decision to come to, the pull was getting stronger every day and it was all her fault!

        Just then he heard his stomach rumble and growl. He threw a surprised glance at the clock. Hours! Hours had passed?!

Now This is Entertainment!

        Being bored and hungry were the worst two combinations Vash decided. Now that he was aware of how hungry he was he wandered into the bedroom hoping the female half-plant was awake. A glance cast at the bed showed him she wasn’t. He walked past the bed to the chair near the window and plopped down into it with a sigh. If she didn’t wake up soon, he would do it for her.

        He stared out the window for a while woolgathering until it slowly dawned on him that this hotel didn’t have a balcony for each room like the previous places they had stayed. He smirked as he studied the windows. Where the frames were set into the wall was painted over with so many coats of paint that it was bumpy from the thick layers. The panes were also partly covered with paint sloppily applied so that each window was effectively sealed shut. It would practically take a stick of dynamite to open one of these windows. They were glued tight. They could be opened but it would involve a great deal of noise being made in the process alerting everyone on the floor that someone was trying to slink out. There would be no sneaking off in the middle of the night out of these windows to do who knew what.

        With an oath Vash sat up so fast it made his head spin. That manipulative, scheming, conniving, deceitful sand weasel! She was all nerve and piss to accuse him of holding back information and here she still was able to cunningly avoid omitting what exactly she was doing when she went out those nights! And wasn’t he the brilliant one for not noticing it until now! He clenched his left hand so tight the metal parts started to grind until he became aware of it, looked down, and commanded the arm to relax before something crucial snapped in two or burned out the small internal gears and motors.

        The outlaw sat back shooting a vindictive glare at the sleeping female like a bullet exploding from a gun. This was beyond aggravating! Pointing the finger at him while holding back and not coming clean herself. What a hypocrite! If she was trying to distract him by keeping him on the defensive it was working quite well, until now. He had been had and it wasn’t sitting well with him, no not at all. He shot another resentful glance her way and wondered why she wasn’t waking up from the sheer intense and smoldering stare he was leveling at her. It should be burning a path through the air between them.

        Reluctantly Vash closed his eyes and worked on getting control of his temper. He was nearly relaxed when he heard sheets rustling and then a sleep-thickened voice ask, “What are you doing here?”

        With a lop-sided grin but dangerous glint in his eyes, he turned his head to view the aforementioned sand weasel. She was propped up on an elbow squinting one eye at him while rubbing the sleep out of the other. She yawned, waiting for his answer.

        Look at her, he fumed, she fakes blameless innocence better than anyone I know. With an effort he wrenched his thoughts away from the image in his head that involved a certain someone in their little group on the receiving end of a much needed shaking or spanking. Frankly, he thought the latter was the better option of the two and he was angry enough to wish it on her with a vengeance.

        But right now he was hungry and that was taking precedence over anger. He could always ask her about it later, after all, Milly wouldn’t be around to protect her and take her side with her absolute conviction that Rinnah meant no harm and was totally trustworthy. Feh! He thought with down-turned lips. Besides, he promised Milly he would take care of the half-breed while she and the priest were on their honeymoon. Of course, his lips twitched, she didn’t say he wasn’t allowed to have fun doing it! Payback time!

        Totally in the dark as to the thoughts racing through his mind Rinnah looked at him questioningly still waiting. With a wolfish grin he replied, “I’m taking care of you.” He couldn’t wait to hear her response to that one.

        It was quick in coming, although lacking her usual sarcasm. “In that case, kill me now.” She blinked eyes still heavy and puffy from sleep.

        “Need any help in getting up?” Trying to keep the telltale lingering edge of anger out of his voice.

        “No thanks.”

        “How about getting dressed? I could force myself to help with that.”

        She leveled a look at him that said ‘I don‘t think so!’. “No, I’m just...”

        “Fine. Yes I know.” He threw a leer at her and promptly lost it to laugh at the confused expression on her face.

        “What is your problem today?” Puzzled, she cocked her head to study him. “But no, I don’t need you so you can dance your happy little plant butt out of here. Besides the wound should be just a scar by now.”

        “Oh really? Let me see....” And made a move as if to rise out of his chair.

        “NO!” The idea of him looming over her checking her wound was an immediate and unexpected source of instant discomfort. “There is no part of me that I am going to show to you so you can just keep it parked right there ground pounder!”

        Just how undressed was she anyway? For the first time it occurred to Rinnah that she was feeling more air on her skin that she was used to. She looked down and found the sheet pooled around her waist and the only thing covering her chest was the bandage wrapped around her chest a few times as an anchor for the bandage looped over the shoulder. It wasn’t covering up much, mainly certain critical areas. With an ‘eep’ of surprise and dismay Rinnah grabbed the sheet and pulled it up to her chin while the sound of his chortling rang in her burnings ears.

        If I had known it was going to be this much fun I would have woken her up a long time ago!

        “Is that so?” He managed to chuckle out. “Are you aware that I’ve already been taking care of you this whole time?” His grin widened at the look on her face. “Remember breakfast?” Vash didn’t see fit to mention that Milly was the one who played nurse this morning.

        Rinnah nodded. Yes, the memory of breakfast was coming back to her and then paled. She cast him a look he couldn’t interpret and then she lifted the sheet up to check just how much of her was uncovered for him to have seen. He heard a gasp and slowly she lowered the sheet to look at him with wide eyes. Vash felt an impish smile tug at the corners of his mouth.

        Interlocking his fingers behind his head, he slouched back in the chair to gaze up at the ceiling in mock indifference.

        “Yes. I am very good at wrapping wounds but don’t worry. I rarely notice small breasted, scrawny women with a cute little star-shaped birthmark right...”

        “Stop!” Rinnah teetered between rage and ego-deflating embarrassment but the latter won out with the remark about the birthmark. She knew exactly where it was.

        “What’s the matter?” He looked over with a smirk. “Wondering to yourself exactly what I saw and when?”

        Rinnah glared at him over the sheet and then began searching madly for clothes, any clothes at this point. With a small sound of satisfaction she spied the white tee on the chair. She would get him for this teasing, she wasn’t sure how and she wasn’t sure when, but her day would come; Holy Hybrid but her day would come and there would be no mercy shown! Go ahead, tease away plant boy! I’ll get you for this, you can be sure of that!

        Judging the shirt to be within arm’s reach, a long arm’s reach, but still she should just be able to snag it if she stretched out a little bit more. Only a little more now, she was grazing the fabric with her fingertips.

        “Want some help?” The apparent amusement in his voice set her teeth on edge.

        “No.” She grunted through clenched teeth trying to concentrate. Triumph! As she snatched the shirt up in her hand a deep sense of accomplishment blazed through her. It didn’t last long. Rinnah teetered on the edge of her bed and then with a yelp toppled off in an undignified tumbling roll end over end to land on the floor with a thud and an ‘oof’.

        The fall had caused the sheet to become even more entangled and twisted around her body making it awkward not to mention revealing as she tried to struggle her way out of the ensnaring grip.

        The seething hybrid was in a foul humor as she fought the sheet. A fight that could easily be a draw since she refused to let go the shirt now that she had a hold of it. The entwining sheets had a life of their own and seemed intent on strangling the very breath out of the hybrid. If I had my gun I would shoot you full of holes you fabric snake wannabe! The look she gave it should have been enough to burn holes through it. No simple bed covering was going to get the best of her! Rinnah unwound the sheet from around her anatomy and then panicked remembering her state of undress. She heard an appreciate chuckle coming from across the room rapidly shifting to rolling laughter.

        Rinnah felt a flush creeping up her neck and face. Cheeky bastard.

        “Nice...” He managed to gasp out.

        “No one asked you!”


        “Shaddup you perv!”

        “Should I leave?”

        Rinnah started to say yes but noticed she would be even more exposed if he were to walk by the bed, which at the moment was actually blocking her from view. Better he remain where he was.

        “No! Stay right there. If you value your life, don’t move!”

        With a roguish grin and eyes twinkling as he choked back the laughter to ask, “How about having that talk now?”

        “Are you insane?” She yelled, shaking the fist at him that still clutched the shirt. “Does this even remotely resemble a situation where a heart-to-heart is called for?“ She hoped the anger would drown out the dread his question had raised in her.

        Rinnah stopped waving the shirt and pulled it back to her to cover her chest area. Waving it around like that meant she wasn’t wearing it, which was the whole reason for searching for it in the first place. She looked around for the rest of her clothes. Spotting them folded neatly on a shelf next to the closet, she stood up, darted glance over at the plant who was mocking her by placing a hand over his eyes yet a glint of aqua peeked through two fingers. Hope you don’t think that’s going unnoticed buddy! Although it was the smirk more than anything that was irritating. Backing up while holding the sheet wasn’t easy and she transferred the shirt to that hand so she could scoop up her waiting garments. Looking up she saw him drop his hand and give her an interested, intent look. Ignoring him she backed up into the bathroom dropped her clothes on the floor, hid behind the wall and flung out the sheet before slamming the door shut.

        Vash stood up chuckling. That was more fun than he thought it was going to be. Laughter was indeed good for the soul and a little bit of uncovered skin was good for the eyes, and he could admit easily, if only to himself, as exasperating as she was, things were certainly lively around her. Yes indeed, his mood was lighter than when he first wandered in. However, his stomach was still rumbling with hunger.

        Crossing the room he reflected that once the sensitive area was known it was really an easy matter to get the best of her. It was also obvious that this was new territory he was going to be guiding them toward and she wasn’t knowledgeable enough about certain things to see it. An eyebrow went up at the thought, and that was quite all right with him.

        Done with her shower and safely dressed, Rinnah finished brushing her hair and slowly put the brush down on the counter. She wasn’t in a hurry to leave the relative shelter of the bathroom. Rinnah fervently hoped he would forget about the talk and, she seethed, whatever else he managed to see. Jerk!

        Rinnah was not a coward but knew she would try any and every trick to avoid talking about... personal things. How in the world did she manage it the first time? Was it being out in the desert, her shifting hormones or had she been drinking? Was it the night? Was she crazy? Yes, that was probably what it was. A temporary lapse of any and all mental balance. With deep embarrassment she looked back, she couldn’t believe she was the one who actually brought up the whole matter of procreating plants! Snatching up the brush she thwaped herself alongside the head with each, stupid, stupid, stupid! Tossing the brush aside she cursed rubbing the sore spot . Okay, not only did that not help, now I have a lovely knot on the side of my head to show for it! She was looking as forward to ‘a talk’ as much as she would look forward to the act of sucking brewed tea up her nose. The unknown frightening spaces within her were more threatening to her than the most dangerous person alive, that being Knives of course. If Vash was serious and not just teasing her, then he could easily be moved up the list to public enemy number one. Duh Rinnah, reality check, he already is!

        Looking at her reflection in the mirror she studied the unusually somber reflection. Addressing her mirror image but not expecting a reply, she asked, “What is it you are so afraid of? Do you know and if you did, would you tell me?” As she expected, nothing. With a sigh she turned away from the mirror, it held no truth to set her free.

        Stepping out of the bathroom she was pleased to find the room empty and breathed out a sigh of relief. Things were looking up for a change.

        Entering the main room the first thing she caught sight of was Vash sitting at the table resting his elbows on it with hands clasped in front of his face. Those incredible aqua orbs were gazing at her from over the top of his hands. His posture spoke of someone who had been waiting patiently but was reaching the limits of that patience.

        The sight of him made her heartbeat faster and breath catch in her throat. She must be coming down with something.

        Rinnah halted, uncertain and unsure if she should say anything and if so, what could she say? To cover up she looked around the room. They were alone. Where were the others?

        Vash noted her searching eyes and knew what she was thinking but waited until she asked.

        “Where are Milly and Wolfwood?”

        “Not here.”

        “That I can see for myself!” She snapped at him.

        “They want to be alone.” With a grin he thought, Hoo boy do they want to be alone!

        Rinnah wondered what that meant, but replied “Oh, okay.” And was undecided as to what to do next but urgently wanted to be doing something to rid herself of this awkward feeling. She looked back to Vash grateful to hear him speak breaking the moment for her.

        “I’m hungry and you should be too by now...”

        Throwing a quick glance at the clock she was surprised to find it was past mid-afternoon.

        “... And since you seem to be pretty healthy let’s go get something to eat.”

        Rinnah perked up, just the thing! “Sounds good and you’re right, I am hungry!”

        Vash was by her side in a wink. Though she knew he was like her with the ability to move at an inhuman speed, nevertheless to watch someone else do it was still unnerving.

        “Let’s go.” He grabbed her elbow with a firm grip. She tried to wrench her arm free but his hold was unbreakable.

        “Do you mind! I am not a blithering idiot; I know how to find the door!” Rinnah frowned; it was going to be a long, tedious dinner if he kept this up.

Author's Note

* Author’s Note, quote taken from the Song of Solomon.

** This description of Milly’s grandfather’s duster was taken from my friend Catherine’s Milly-centered story called Simplicity (link on front page). The author has kindly given permission to use her description here for which I thank her. I heartily recommend it, she is a very good author who weaves a well-told tale and you won‘t be disappointed.

Blackfire & Gunsmoke: Chapter 13
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