The little cafe' was nearly empty when they arrived. The lunch crowd was gone and it was an hour too early for the dinner crowd. This pleased Vash and he said so. Rinnah wasn’t so sure that being able to eat their meal in relative quiet and privacy was a good thing or not. She glanced around furtively trying to weigh the pros and cons. If they were going to be shouting at each other soon, which was always a possibility, then she would rather there weren’t many witnesses on hand. However, if he were to bring up a subject that made her cringe just to think about it, then it would be advantageous for her to have the place jam-packed with people. Who wants to shout about procreation with a restaurant full of people to overhear? She silently congratulated herself; it was a ready-made excuse right at her fingertips. With regret, she wished Milly and Nicholas were at the table with them. Having them there could help dilute any undesirable tension and Rinnah could also use them as a deflection if the need arose. Then she realized that this was the first time since the oh so romantic moonlit walk that she and Vash were eating, together, alone, by themselves. She stiffened all over again at the thought.
One good thing so far, Vash informed her of what happened to Knives after he shot her and she went down like a skipped stone across the surface of a pond, except in her case it was dirt and sand not water. There were still bruises in odd places to prove it. She wondered at the time why Knives didn’t follow up on his first shot and shoot her again, as it was the perfect opportunity for him to recapture her. She knew if Knives were as fast as Vash he should have been able to squeeze off another round. She wasn‘t going to complain about the outcome. She doubted her strength and ability to take Knives by surprise a second time. The hybrid was grateful though and said so, which Vash received with a shrug of an indifferent shoulder as if her thanks mattered not at all to him. While making a face at him she thought ungracious twit! Dropping the expression the instant before he looked up at her.
“Enjoying your dinner?” She nodded at his plate setting her own fork down. She finished hers a while ago and was getting bored. What the heck was taking him so long to eat? Shrugging one shoulder and making a noise that she supposed was meant to be taken as an affirmative he didn‘t bother to look up. She mused to herself that a bank robbery would be a nice break from the monotony right about now, or a runaway sand steamer, anything... except for that talk.
Uneasy and edgy didn't begin to cover what she was feeling right about now. Drumming the nervous energy out of her fingers on the table in a staccato beat Rinnah almost forgot where she was as she stared off into space lost in thought. Suddenly her hand was pinned to the table by a large gloved one holding hers down hard enough to make her bones creak. Stabbing him with a glare she mouthed 'Ow. That. Hurts.' Easing up a trifle but not removing his hand, he asked, "Nervous?"
"What?" Came out in a near squeak. She coughed to clear her throat. "No, of course not."
His eyes held hers.
"Well, maybe a little but not much." Rinnah could feel a nervous tic twitching in one eyelid. She wondered how convincing that sounded and gave him a fake smile, free of charge.
Vash released her hand as a small half-smile played about his lips and turned his attention back to his plate.
Thank the Holy Hybrid for freaking huge favors! What on God's green, er sand-covered earth had prompted her to promise to talk about... things? With a puzzled pucker between her brows she tilted her head trying to recall what exactly they said they were going to talk about. His procreational urges, was that even a word? Rinnah doubted it but it sounded good all the same. Or, here she swallowed hard; did he want to talk about hers?
With a mental groan and a curse, she recalled making a fuss about his scent and gracing everyone with her opinion. She closed her eyes for a moment with embarrassed regret, she also remembered throwing opinions around like confetti at a parade. What the freaking hell was wrong with me? It was amazing they didn’t leave her out in the desert after that evening and make her walk to the nearest town. Thinking that maybe an apology was called for she pondered that over but couldn’t figure out exactly what it was she should apologize for. Hurting his feelings? Sticking her nose in something that wasn’t any of her business? Wincing, that sounded like her. Looking at him askance out of the corner of her eye it was hard to tell if either of those was a valid observation. She couldn’t tell by just looking at him. Who knew what was going on beneath that black coat and white hair facade.
I need a plan, yeah, that’s the ticket, a plan. She let out sigh. A plan to do or say what dim star? When actually coming up with a plan to do or say something brilliant she was scraping the bottom of the barrel. Nothing was coming to her. Especially when she didn’t know what he was going to ask or say. Blowing out a puff of air to move her bangs, she wondered if he was just playing mind games with her. Now that sounded plausible.
She looked down at her empty plate and then noticed the waiter hovering off to the side waiting for them to push aside their plates.
Rinnah wondered again if Vash was ever going to get finished eating. The only thing left on his plate were the mashed potatoes, and heavens to betsy, how long does it take to eat potatoes? It’s not like one has to actually chew them before swallowing; for God’s sake they just slide down! Frowning she stared at his plate, willing it to be empty but not at all surprised to see him continue to eat slowly.
Heaving another sigh Rinnah realized that she couldn't remember ever being this jumpy. She placed an elbow on the table and rested her cheek in her hand, bored. The hybrid was done eating and sitting in a restaurant with no one to talk to; she made a face at her dinner companion, she was quickly approaching boredom of the mind-numbing sort. Nothing would be more pleasing to her right now than if she just got up and left. Jerking her head up off her hand she sat up ramrod straight. Hey! Who said she couldn’t? It wouldn’t be rude because when had she ever cared about being rude to someone who most of the time was the personification of rude? Deciding to be honest and announce she didn’t feel like talking would be a good way to end the evening meal. Then she could go for a walk and find something fun to do. Maybe go to the plant facility and start a fight with the plant angels.
Mulling the idea over, turning it around and around, contemplating it from different angles she tried to find a flaw. I’m bored and I could be doing something fun. Just about the time Rinnah opened her mouth to announce her departure, Vash sat back in his chair and let the hovering waiter swoop in and whisk their plates away.
Timing being everything, she delayed as she reached for her drink and took a sip. Ice tea! She sputtered. When had that vile brew been set on the table? She held it up to the light and studied it as if it was a mutated space spider she had just tried to stick in her mouth. Setting it down with a grimace she placed it close enough to the edge of the table so the waiter would know to take it away and then reached for her water glass. After taking a few mouth cleansing sips she placed it down keeping her hand on it in case the over zealous waiter tried to take it away with the other glass.
The hybrid fumed to herself, either his timing was impeccable or hers was lousy. She couldn't decide which one it was, but if it this was an indication, it did not bode well for her.
"You are getting angry." He stated as he studied her. "Hmmmm, that means you are trying to work up to an action to get you out of an uncomfortable situation whether by shouting, hitting someone, or leaving. Right now I am guessing you have settled on the leaving as your choice. Am I correct?"
She opened her mouth, snapped it shut and then glared at him despising every white-haired spike of him, yes indeed, she couldn't stand his tiny little plant butt.
Deciding to ignore his observations, she asked, “So how come it’s taking you so long to eat? I don’t remember you being such a slow eater.”
An irritated look crossed his face. “You have somewhere you need to be?”
“Noooooo.” Hang him, was he being this way on purpose? “It can’t be that you are enjoying my company so it has to be that you are waiting for someone...” She cast a quick glance around wondering if that were true.
She wasn‘t the only one who could change the direction of the conversation. "You are the one who brought up the subject of my biological and procreative imperative subject first you know." He reminded her.
"Huh?" At first she was startled but then nodded happily. Ah, his stuff, not her stuff. Suddenly she wasn’t bored or nervous anymore. This should be easy, she could talk about someone else's biological stuff until her own plant genes took seed and sprouted. It was her personal biological symptoms and urges that were too hard to talk about. Rinnah's shoulders lowered into a relaxed position suddenly realizing just how tense she had been through most of the meal. She leaned back in her chair prepared to be gracious and accommodating figuring that he was about to ask her for advice or for an opinion. Always glad to oblige! She thought smugly.
"I thought you would appreciate knowing that I have come to a decision based on your observations." Vash watched her relax even further as she stared off into space in deep thought trying to remember everything they had said that night. She had been a little preoccupied since then.
"Well, I am glad to see that you concur with me then," She stated agreeably, "Now we just have to find you someone who..."
"I already did." He interrupted.
"Already? Goodness. You certainly are a fast worker." Rinnah’s head turned this way and that as she peered around the cafe' as if he had someone waiting in the wings to introduce her to. All the tension churning inside of her through the whole diner was fading leaving her in a more relaxed state. This wasn't so bad.
"It was easy."
Yeah, she thought, easy. Who knew? “So, do you need me to clear out of the room for a while? I can go somewhere else for a couple of hours or days. Whatever you need for your little tryst, just let me know." She waved her hand in a magnanimous gesture, a queen bestowing a favor on one of her fawning subjects. Vash shook his head and looked over his shoulder for the waiter.
She was proud of herself. This was easy. Everything would be taken care of, especially the obnoxious scent problem. Which, come to think of it, since arriving at the cafe’ she was too busy with her anxious thoughts to notice. Leaning as far forward as she could get, inhaled deeply only to nearly launch herself back into her chair while managing to move it back several inches. Right now it seemed to her the far wall was the safest place to be. Vash heard the sniff and scrape and turned to give her a questioning look. Rinnah gave him a wane smile and faked a cough as she reached for the water.
Vash scrutinized her with a mistrustful frown wondering why she was doing that sniffing thing again.
Oh just had to take a whiff now, didn‘t you! Star blazes, forgot how powerful it was! And lucky me, it’s still there! The rich, heady, intoxicating and masculine aroma that she associated with him now was readily apparent now she was aware of it again. Underneath the sharp, clean smell of soap, gunpowder, sun and sand, there it was, elusive at times and at times overwhelming. Tonight it was at what she considered mid-strength, and she was counting her blessings it wasn’t causing her brain to come to a screeching halt. Throwing a grateful look in the direction of the ceiling, she mouthed a silent ‘thank you‘, and with a slight smile, still Your favorite I see.
Now that she was alert to the scent it was easy to recognize and identify him through the predominant kitchen and food smells. Taking in another big whiff she saw him stiffen in anger and hastily changed it to a fake sneeze while giving him an apologetic smile. As soon as she focused on his scent with it’s pulling sensation snatching at her and making her stomach do a funny little dance and she cursed herself. Ninny beans! Now look what I’ve done! She could have groaned. Throughout this whole time she didn’t think once of the scent problem and now it was there for the sniffing. She was still having that same attraction as before so that meant it was still affecting her! Great!
"A night would be good."
"Huh?" She asked, looking at him blankly.
"Your question.” Vash said impatiently but she was still looking mystified. He went on, “I‘m answering it. Try to keep up."
She made face back at him. Smug plant! "All right then. Well, Who is it? Someone I’ve seen around? Someone I know?" She demanded, trying not to let her consuming curiosity be so blatant while at the same time knowing it was a losing battle. Rinnah couldn't control it. She must know, she had to know! Again she looked around the cafe' as if expecting the person to arrive on cue. Who knew, maybe this was the arranged spot for them to meet. Maybe Vash was going to do interviews and wanted her approval... no that didn't make sense. He wouldn't care what her opinion was if there was someone in mind already.
Just then Rinnah spied a buxom woman in a dark flowing green dress, a matching hat with large feathers attached to the back bobbing with each sashaying step she took. A matching fabric umbrella was clutched daintily in her hands hardly looking large enough to shade a postage stamp.
With each swing of her hips dancing beneath the fabric of her dress, she floated across the room like a queen sauntering among mortals, and Rinnah noted, she was heading in their direction. Wow. She must be the one. She's disgustingly beautiful. Vash sure knows how to pick them. So, this was his type, and for some reason that bothered her. Belatedly it was occurring to her that meeting his intended partner wasn’t such a good idea after all.
The woman walked across the room with small graceful steps making it appear as if she was hovering several inches above the floor. Sure is taking her own sweet time in getting here she thought with a mixture of admiration and resentment.
Rinnah wondered if she could walk like that if she practiced. Doubt it. With a face she decided that the woman probably walked like that so every eye could admire her unhurried approach with appreciation it deserved. Not that there were many to watch her, but Rinnah looked around at the few who were. It was true; they were all watching the be-feathered woman as if they couldn’t take their eyes off her as she floated across the room like royalty. The hybrid looked down at her hands with the nails cut short and tiny scars on them. Hands fashioned to fight, not love and sighed reaching up to comb fingers through her thick hair until they tangled halfway through and stuck there. Blooming star gas! Yanking she only succeeded in freeing her hand ripping out a few hairs as she did so. With an irritated grimace she rubbed her stinging scalp.
The floating woman was still halfway across the room when Rinnah noticed dark brown eyes drooping in a sensual fashion. It made her wonder if this was where the expression 'bedroom eyes' came from. Warm chocolate brown hinting at tantalizing hidden secrets and unspoken promised delights. Rinnah slumped a little in her chair already overwhelmed. Her gaze went to rest on white shoulders and long black gloves that covered the lower arms, and she sank down a little further. If the upper arms were an indication they were the same delicate milky white smoothness. Looking down at her own sun browned and wind burned arms and hands Rinnah sighed. Already she hated the woman.
The force from the green dressed woman’s presence was slowly rolling over Rinnah and it was all she could do to straighten in her seat in defiance. How did the woman do it? When only a few steps away from the table, the woman’s sensual feminine aura was already invading Rinnah’s personal space. What was it going to be like when she was standing right next to their table? The hybrid nervously brushed crumbs from the thighs of her traveling pants, which were beginning to look the worse for wear and decorated with an accumulation of stains. As Rinnah brushed she noticed the nondescript white t-shirt she was wearing, the one left on the chair earlier. She made a few ineffectual swipes at it too before giving it up as a lost cause. The shirt was a little on the baggy side hiding any shape her thin figure possessed, which wasn‘t much. Then giving her head a firm shake she thought, Flipping star holes! Stop trying to pretty up before she gets here! It’s a lost cause!
The woman arrived a few seconds before her perfume. Gliding to a stop the woman's eyes swept over Rinnah once and the hybrid knew she was being weighed in the balance and had been found wanting. Knowing she had fallen short of the woman’s standards and being written off as seriously defective, she decided she didn’t want to know what those impossibly high standards were. Being dismissed from existence before she even opened her mouth was an insult and a malicious one at that. Then Rinnah got a whiff of the other woman’s perfume and barely restrained herself from pushing back her chair in self-defense. It was rolling over her like a tidal wave. Vash’s was one kind of forceful but this was potent in another way, making her want to puke or run, maybe both at the same time.
Vash’s scent, while detectable even among the food smells was now totally submerged under the reek of this smell. The hybrid wondered if the woman pickled herself in it every night. Gagging slightly she tried to suck in a breath of air uncontaminated by the aroma. If she works in a dancehall it would have to be that strong to cut through all the beery, smoky, sweaty smells to be noticed. But that was Rinnah’s last charitable thought that evening concerning the brown-eyed woman standing by their table.
The green-gowned woman pivoted slightly swinging gracefully so a well-formed posterior was angled in Rinnah’s direction, in effect shutting her out of a private one-on-one between the woman and Vash. The half-breed started to get offended but sternly reminded herself that she was not here to make friends with the professional friend, if that was what she was, this whole setup was for Vash's sake.
With that in mind Rinnah tried to study the green-dressed woman with the frame of mind as one would examine a steed for purchase. The woman’s bone structure was strong and sturdy with good muscle tone, there was a little more muscle on her bones than what one would expect but that was also a good sign. It meant she wouldn't tire too easily. She already exhibited energy and grace with the strut across the room and standing here in front of them she certainly looked robust and healthy. Another good sign. Rinnah wished she could look in her mouth, one's dental hygiene spoke volumes about a person.
Looking up with approval at the woman's shiny chestnut hair, she noticed that it was arranged so that it swept up to hang down in fancy curls on the back of her head to dangle artfully down her neck. The little hat with the large feathers was set at a jaunty angle, tipping slightly over one dark brown eye. All in all some instinct told Rinnah that the woman was knowledgeable about... things, things that would come in handy when... She blushed just thinking about it. Okay, time to think about something else now. The hybrid focused on the interchange between Vash and the woman.
In a husky, smoke-tinged voice, and with red lips stretched out over impossibly perfectly white straight teeth, the green-gowned greeted the outlaw, “Vash sweetie; it’s been a long time. I saw you across the room and thought it had to be you.” Here her eyes swept up and down over his hair and black coat. “It’s a new look but you pull it off well sweet thing.”
The woman inspected him over again, her eyes running over his slim form more leisurely this time, “That black goes well with the white hair. What’s next, a name change? Dark Vash the Stampede? Sinister Vash the Black Stampede? Or even, Dark Vash the Sinister?” She leaned over him a little as if getting a closer look. “My, my, but you certainly are looking delicious these days. You know, I am at the Dancing Thomas now and if you are so inclined you could stop in. It would be nice to visit about old times.”
She’s drooling! Rinnah thought sourly. She wouldn’t be surprised if the woman pulled out a fork and knife to devour Vash for dessert right then and there.
“Hello Livia,” Greeted Vash cordially yet Rinnah noticed he sat back in his chair as he held her eyes. “Yes, I decided to go with something different.” Then his eyes flicked to Rinnah before looking back to Livia again.
“Livia, this is Rinnah Blackfire. Rinnah this is Livia Havastan.” The woman didn’t turn her head but waggled a few ringed fingers in Rinnah’s direction. “Charmed, I’m sure.”
Who’s charmed you or me? Rinnah wanted to snap out but bit the thought back and instead politely replied, “Pleased to meet you.” If you were actually facing me that is. Rinnah eyed the fingers as they finished with a dismissing flick. And careful where you wave those fingers Livy m‘dear, I’ve been known to bite.
Now that the woman was close up and in person, Rinnah could see the difference between them more clearly. Livia had a perfect hour glass figure and was proportionally well-rounded in all the right places with a chest that made Rinnah glance down in dismay at her rather meager one. From every pore of Livia’s pampered flesh oozed femininity and femaleness as if she were the prototype of everything women all over the galaxy were trying to emulate.
The hybrid studied Livia’s profile, with full red lips, high cheekbones and perfect eyebrows arched above long lashes waving like beckoning banners over dark smoldering eyes. All of it combined together into a juggernaut of insecurity rolling over the half-breed and crushing her into dust. I gotta leave, before she assassinates me with her over-the-top femininity. Besides I bet they might want to snuggle up to each other... Rinnah made a face of disgust not caring if anyone else noticed or not... and I doubt I could suppress the natural gag reflex at that point.
“Well, I am sure you two have a lot of history to reminisce about so Livia you can have my chair because there are things I can find to do so I’ll just leave you two...” Rinnah stood up ready to take a step away from her chair when a metal hand shot out and grabbed her wrist so hard it made her gasp in surprise. His hand exerted a little more pressure guiding her back into her seat before she realized what was happening.
“No, we are not done talking and besides, Livia was just leaving, weren’t you Livy?” He leveled aqua eyes at her gone flat and deadly, “and Livy, I’m only going to warn you this once. Do not get involved.”
What Rinnah perceived earlier as warm velvet brown eyes were immediately replaced by burning coals. Beautiful Livy humphed with lips turning down in displeasure. For the first time Livia turned her full stare upon the scrawny black-haired girl sitting at the table with Vash. Rinnah was surprised. She had always associated brown eyes with warmth and was surprised to see such hostility, coldness, and contempt directed at her, especially since the two of them didn’t know each other.
With lips twisted up in a scornful smile Livia studied the slender woman from the top of girl’s disaster of a hairstyle to the fashion statement of her clothes, which shrieked ‘I steal my reject clothes from an orphanage outlet’. A well-manicured eyebrow raised in disdain.
“You must be a brave thing to go around;” here she waved her hand in a vague gesture indicating the inappropriate outfit, “dressed like this.”
Rinnah’s eyes narrowed but couldn‘t stop herself from glancing down at her outfit even though she knew the woman was only trying to lash out at Vash. Still, it didn’t mean she liked being used as someone else’s bullet.
With eyes never leaving Rinnah she said, “ Kind of skinny for you, eh Vash? Common as mashed potatoes but without the lumps.” Running her eyes over the hybrid, the dark eyes transmitted contempt, “I didn’t think you liked the green ones. Not much to her, you‘d best careful Vash, she may snap like a twig.”
“Enough Livy.” Vash said in a flat voice, aqua eyes hard and unrelenting. He still held on to Rinnah’s wrist because now instead of trying to stand up to leave he could feel the muscles of her arm tensing for a fight.
I know I have been insulted even if I don’t know all of what she was implying. A great infighter but I’d like to see how she would do in a bar brawl. Who would come out the victor then, you smelly, brown-eyed, feather bobbing, green... ah hell, Rinnah sighed and forced herself to relax releasing the anger. The woman was without a flaw over her entire body. It was hard to fight perfection, although, eyeing the woman with a dark look, she wouldn’t mind giving it a try. I could take her, easy.
“If you will excuse us, we still have business to discuss.” Vash informed Livia coldly.
“Well don’t offer to pay her Vash, she’s not worth it.” And with that she turned with a toss of her head making the feather bob behind her. Sweeping across the room more quickly than when she arrived, the woman left a wake of perfume to hang in the air behind her.
I understood that! Furious Rinnah tried to wrestle her wrist free of Vash’s restraining grip so she could launch herself from her chair and race after the pouty-lipped woman and beat her into a little green pulp. Tugging on her wrist while trying to pry his metal fingers off she muttered, “Let‘s see how hot she looks without teeth! Oh yes, sucking up meals through a straw, now there’s a fashion statement for you!” Halfway out of her chair and struggling against his hold she demanded, “Let go Vash, this is between me and Miss Snooty-face.”
“No you stubborn woman, it’s not. It’s between her and me and you are too stupid to realize that.” Vash pulled her down with a sharp jerk and she plopped into her chair that sent a jolt up her spine. Whipping her head around she glared at him. “Stupid am I? Yeah, crazy and stupid! I can’t believe I sat here letting myself get trashed for your sake because I thought she was the one! Yep, that’s how stupid I am.”
Then looking down at her wrist then up at him, she nodded her head at her wrist with a frown. “Satisfied? It’s gone quite numb now.”
Vash didn’t reply. He did let go but was ready to move again if she even looked cross-eyed at the door. She did shoot the door a spiteful glance but remained seated in her chair. He leaned back in his chair as if thinking and Rinnah began to fidget. Dead air. She hated dead air and hoped he would say something soon.
Just about the time she thought she was going to be forced to say something, he spoke up. “You.”
“You wanted to know whom and I just told you. You are the one who started all this in the first place, you are the one who did this to me.” He pointed at his hair.
“And if you will remember, you star flipping jerk, I apologized too! Big time! BIG TIME, buddy! Groveled in fact!” Then it dawned on her what the gist of what he was saying was. “What? ME?!” Pointing an incredulous finger at her chest she breathed out, “Me?” Where was her water glass? Grabbing for it she took a big gulp. The pit of her stomach went cold and the chill was spreading to her hands making them feel numb and clumsy. Putting the glass down she was able to say in a steady voice, “Not me, look for someone else.”
‘I did. I considered it, but I think you should be responsible for the consequences of your words and actions. Besides, you are someone else.”
“Well I’m not! I am not an else, I have never been an else, I am not an else now and won’t be your else later either, so go ‘else’ someone.... else!” That didn’t make much sense to her and she was the one who just said it. Jerking her thumb over her shoulder she asked, “What about Miss Feather In Her Cap? She seemed to like you... a lot. In fact, I‘d have to describe the way she looked at you as ‘have him for an appetizer with a side dish of drool‘, you lucky devil you.” Closing one eye she looked at him and then tilted her head back towards the door behind her, “Why don’t you go on after her, I bet you can still catch her. I’ll pay for dinner.”
“No, not going to happen.”
“I didn’t realize you were so picky.” Rinnah shook her head as if puzzled by his attitude. “She seemed quite willing and very interested in you.” In a sing song voice she chanted out “Vash has a girlfriend!”
“No, I don’t and I’m not so inclined. Besides not being my type, I‘m not attracted to him at all.”
HIM? Rinnah whipped around so fast she nearly spun out of the chair. She looked around for Livia but the woman was long gone. The only trace of her was the hint of the perfume still hanging in the air. That her was a him?! Damn.
She, er, he was good! Livia brought all Rinnah’s inner uncertainties with a mere graceful glide across the room. With one twitch of a hip she proceeded to beat the hybrid about the head with them reducing her to a small mound of self-doubting insecurities. Now that took talent! I should applaud. The cross-dresser was an artist of the highest caliber. Rarely did Rinnah meet someone who was able to do that to her. This little experience was much more devastating than being shot by Knives.
Regrouping she turned back to reply, “Well I’m not your type either! She said so!”
An eyebrow shot up as he asked, “What’s my type?”
“Uh.” She scrunched her eyes and rubbed her nose with a finger in thought before answering, “Never really gave it much thought.”
“So you admit you don’t know?
“I can ask Livia, and, hey, how come she seems to know?” Rinnah grinned at the forbidding expression that came over his face.
He struggled with anger for a moment before giving in. He knew her; she would indeed go and ask. Grudgingly he answered, “I... knew... some friends of hers from years ago, from before... July.... They passed on stories.” Seeing the question on her lips he stated quickly, “and yes, they were women.” He knew she had him on the defensive and decided it was time to change positions. He pinned an intense aqua gaze on her, a piercing stare until she finally squirmed in her chair and looked away. That look always makes her nervous. Amusement almost made him grin.
Leaning in to rest forearms on the table he kept an unrelenting stare on her for a good full minute. Watching her growing agitation under his firm gaze he said in a low voice, “I know you are curious, I know you are attracted to me, and I know you want to...” He wondered how he should phrase it for her, “be intimate with me, but I can also see that you nearly rigid with fear.” Well, he couldn’t see it as much as feel it but he wasn’t going to let her know that.
Rinnah choked and stared at him thoughts frozen and jaw unhinged for a moment in total disbelief before the higher brain functions started up again and with it a flaring anger. She leaned forward making a fist at him fuming, “That’s vessel popping anger you star touched idiot! And if you can‘t rouse your lazy plant butt to find anyone else, then I will go and find you someone myself.”
“Don’t bother, I found the party responsible and she’s volunteered.”
“Not for one star blinking minute there hot rod!”
“Not a chance then?”
“Not in this galaxy or the next, not here or there.”
“Are you an idiot by choice or were you born that way? But no, not there.”
“Not anywhere then?”
"No, of course not. Are you hard of hearing?” The outlaw had a real comprehension problem and it seemed to be getting worse.
Vash stood up and gathered the corners of the tablecloth together then lifted it and set it on the table next to theirs. Rinnah watched, astounded. Now what?
Turning back he gestured to the table and asked, “How about here then? And then swept his arm to encompass the room. “And look, we would have an audience.”
Opening and closing her mouth a couple of times she finally sputtered out, “What? Are you insane!? No, forget it; don’t answer that, I know you are.” She stood up, more than a little nervous. She tilted her head watching him with deep suspicion. There was a very strange look in his eye and he was acting in a bizarre fashion. Discretion being the better part of valor, and who the hell knew what that meant, but she took a step back. He took one closer. Totally freaked she spun on her heel and ran for the door hearing laughter following behind her. What a sadist!
After rounding a corner Rinnah slowed to a walk. What was wrong with him and how dare he say those things! What was more disturbing was the fact he hit the truth of them directly on the head. It was way too uncomfortable for her. Usually she valued and appreciated blunt honest talk, but, not now. She was going to revise her opinion about appreciating the virtue of honesty. Honesty be hanged! It was freaking time to self-protect that very vulnerable hole in the center of her heart.
Watching her feet she was unaware of exactly where she was walking until she heard a voice ask, “So has little miss no-hips lost her dark protector?” Rinnah jumped and spun in one quick smooth movement a ready hand on her knife to face a shadowed overhang. Stepping out into the dying light before first moon’s rise, Livia looked Rinnah up and down her mouth curled in the same disdainful look as earlier. Rinnah couldn’t help it, forever in her mind Livia would be a ‘her’ with that overwhelming feminine presence which was again intimidating her to no end making her feel small and worthless.
“I don’t need a protector.” Rinnah straightened from her half-crouch, as she couldn’t see how Livia could hide any weapons on such a form-fitting outfit.
“You have your dark Vash’s interest and that interests me.” The cross dresser purred, turning her gloved hand as if to study her long dark nails. “And I think it will interest someone else too. In fact, I wasn‘t planning on working tonight until I recognized you. Did you know a private bounty has been placed on you?”
Rinnah shook her head. She didn’t know and who could want her brought in dead or alive badly enough to place a bounty on her head? She cast about in her mind for a reason why. It was an eerie feeling to know that some anonymous person sitting in an overstuffed armchair somewhere was interested enough in her to want her dead or captured. She was pretty sure there weren’t any outstanding parking tickets and she wasn’t breaking any laws of late, well, not badly anyway... outside of the removal of a plant angel, but that was quite a while ago.
“Hey! How the hell did you ‘recognize’ me, you didn’t look at me but once!” She demanded, the resentment of earlier came rising back up.
Livia gave her head a little toss setting the curls to bouncing jauntily down the back of her head. “Honey, there are ways to look at people without looking at them. I watched you the whole time. It would probably surprise you to know how much I know about you. You really aren’t for him, you know, despite those big jewel eyes of yours, your only good feature I might add. Otherwise you are much too bony, plainly unattractive, and no figure whatsoever to speak of.” Eyes flicked up to Rinnah’s black hair, “And that hair,” she gave a slight shake of her head that sent the feather to bobbing. Rinnah fought an irrational desire to snatch it out of her hat and snap it in two. “Is a quite a laughable attempt. Do you know what a hairbrush is? Oh, And let me guess, you are inexperienced too. But you are so clumsy,” and here she gave a deep chuckle, “that you are a good source of amusement.”
Aware that Livia’s tirade was intended to make her angry, and doing a very good job at it she might add, Rinnah struggled to control her rising temper. Instead, she asked, “Another question, how are you going to get me to come with you anywhere I don’t want to?” Rinnah crossed her arms giving the pseudo-female an inquiring look. This ought to be interesting.
“I thought I could convince you one way or another. But underneath this gown I am much stronger than I look and it wouldn’t have been a problem carrying you anywhere I wanted.” She smiled at Rinnah without humor. “And I know what you are thinking; the sight of a beautiful woman carrying an ugly one would attract attention. Well it would, but I know the back alleys here and those who live in them. We would disappear long before anyone noticed you were gone.”
“You read my mind! Yep, that’s exactly what I was thinking!” Rinnah sarcastically responded. Ugly eh? She was about ready to open a can of ugly all over the Livia’s beautiful evening gown and made-up face. It was getting harder to even want to walk away from giving this green gowned harpy a good pounding. Telling herself to stay calm she took a deep breath and thought about just leaving, she didn‘t need to know who put the bounty on her. Narrowing her eyes at the cross-dresser as the thought occurred to her that maybe Livia was lying. In that case, there was no reason to continue this discussion. Besides, it wouldn’t do to be brawling in the street attracting a crowd.
Thinking about a crowd gathering, Rinnah quickly scanned up and down the street and the alley but was surprised to not find another soul walking the street. In fact, it was a little on the deserted side and that made her stomach tighten. Uneasily she shifted her feet. This was uncomfortably familiar.
A bad feeling was beginning to creep over her and she said, “Aw crap. Please don’t tell me you work for Knives!” Damn stinking luck!
Again shaking chestnut curls about with a toss of her head, Rinnah was beginning to believe it was her favorite thing to do, Livia laughed saying, “No, I don’t work for cold and gorgeous, but my sister does.” And with that she lifted her little umbrella. Rinnah stared at it. What was she going to do with that thing? Tickle her with it? The hybrid looked up to find a malicious grin on Livia’s face.
“But don’t worry. The bounty states that you must be brought in alive.” Something puffed out of the frilly umbrella‘s spiked end. Rinnah felt a sting and looked down to find a little needle embedded in her stomach. Pulling it out to study it she started to say something when without warning her knees buckled underneath her and she collapsed to the ground with a thud and a curse. Darkness slowly ate away at her vision and from what seemed a great distance she thought she heard....
“Livia, I gave you fair warning!” A voice growled.
“Vash, ” Stepping back the cross dresser gave a nervous chuckle, “or should I say Dark Vash or Sinister Vash even?”
“Say whatever you want, but you will not be taking her.” Lowering himself to one knee beside the fallen half-plant he looked up at Livia, anger flaring in his eyes. He rested one hand on Rinnah’s back protectively before frowning threateningly at the cross dresser from lowered brows.
“Did you say something to let me know you tagged her? I didn’t realize sugar or else I wouldn’t have trespassed. Vash sweetie, if she means so much to you I’ll release her to you and you can collect the bounty.” She raised the tip of her fingers to cover her lips before continuing, “Oops, I forgot, you don’t do that kind of thing, do you?” Then gesturing to the unconscious woman she cooed at him, “nevertheless, you know I wouldn‘t take your prey from you sweet thing if I had known she belonged to you.”
“What did you pump into her?” Demanded Vash ignoring her words.
“Oh this,” Livia held up the tip of her umbrella and found herself at the business end of a menacing silver gun glinting as it caught and threw off the rays of the dying suns. “Don’t worry sweet sinister thing, I wouldn’t harm you. But her,” Livia’s eyes swept over Rinnah’s prone form, “I would if I weren’t taking her in.” With a rueful glance at the tip of Vash’s gun unmoved and deep scowl, “but I can see it’s not going to happen.... Tonight. But don’t worry, the formula used is one devised to be used against the likes... of you.” With a twist of her red lips in what was meant to be a disarming smile, she went on, “Harmless against humans, but she should wake up in an hour or so. Which would have given me enough time. Ah well, I can see you have the bounty, good luck with her. Been nice chatting with you...” Drooping eyes slowly lingered over his slim wiry frame while he bent over Rinnah studying her. “...Dark Vash.” Then licking her lips, “But I think I like the Sinister Vash much better.“ She took another step back and shifted on her feet, ready to turn to leave.
As Vash started to open his mouth to reply when a bundle of fury erupted beside him. Launching like a thrown javelin straight at Livia, Rinnah tackled the cross dresser and brought her down rolling over and over with her in the dirt. A panicked scream rose from Livia but not a sound came from the hybrid.
Grabbing strategic hand holds Rinnah rolled, twisting her body, lifted and heaved the woman through the air to fly a few feet until she smashed into a wall. Her head cracked against the wall making a dull sound. Without making a noise Livia slid down unconscious to a crumpled heap on the ground.
Springing up to land lightly on the balls of her feet, Rinnah crouched ready for battle. Eyes dilated in rage she hissed out, “Try taking me now you overdressed, perfume-reeking, parasol-poking, high heeled, brown-eyed slut! “
Livia didn’t even twitch and Rinnah began contemplating her next move when a large hand came down on her shoulder with a strong grip.
“Livia is a bounty hunter but not a fighter, you‘ve won.”
“I’m not done with her!” Reaching over with a toe she prodded the cross-dresser’s high-heeled foot. It moved flaccidly. “Call me ugly and clumsy will you!”
His grip digging in harder, he was able to pull her back a few steps, “Livia’s out. Come on. We’re leaving.”
Resisting his pull, Rinnah ducked her shoulder out from under his hand. “You go back. I’ll wait here until she comes to because I want to have a few words with her. She and I are not finished yet.” With that, she turned back to examine Livia’s crumpled form.
“Yes, you are. It’s me you’re not finished with. ”
“Go sand yourself. I am not in the mood for a fight.” Then turning her attention back to the fallen cross dresser, she placed a hand on her hip while holding up the little dart with a triumphant smirk. “Half blood there miss prissy. No plant venom works for long and neither do human drugs." With an expelled, “Feh!” noise she tossed the little dart into Livia’s lap. Looking over her shoulder at Vash she said with a grin, “There are a few perks to being a hybrid and that just happens to be one of them!”
Vash thought she could probably stand there all night rejoicing in the fierce glow of victory if left to herself.
“We’re leaving.” He started to reach for her upper arm when she whirled on him.
Scowling and poking him in the chest of his black coat she vehemently emphasized “No freaking way! If you got needs then you go and take care of them yourself. I’m a busy girl!”
Rinnah started to turn away when the scenery overturned, spun, twisting crazily and whizzed past her startled eyes in a dizzy rate of blurred speed. When it came back into focus everything was upside down.
No, correction, she was hanging upside down, being carried like a pet lamb across Vash’s shoulders. He had one arm hooked around a leg holding it clamped to his chest leaving the other leg to dangle down his back. His artificial had held both of her wrists in the unyielding grip of his artificial hand.
With blood rushing to her head, she protested, “Hey! What’re you doing?” She wiggled and squirmed frantically trying to slide off but found his firm grip unbreakable. Thwarted, she thrashed about trying to reach any part of him she could bite when the sound of a vigorous stinging slap reverberated through the evening air. Her head went rearing back and she exclaimed, “OW!” along with as many curses she could think of, which was a considerable number.
That was a damn hard spank! How dare he! Then she tried to get some leverage to knee him in the side but he delivered an even harder slap to her already sore and tingling posterior.
“We’re going back to the room.”
“Put me down!”
“No.” His black coat flared around him as he whirled, turning his back on Livia leaving her to whatever fate should befall her
Ignoring Rinnah’s threats, curses and pleas he set a lively pace and felt, with each step, his shoulder jabbing into her stomach. He was hoping it would deplete her store of energy to invent creative curses and air forthright and blunt opinions. However, he noticed that it didn’t seem to slow her down any when it came to airing the significant amount she had on hand and it didn’t sound like she was going to run out of them any time soon.
When they turned a corner onto a street that had traffic on it Rinnah’s hopes rose. A man walking down the sidewalk toting a woman across his shoulders couldn’t be a common sight, maybe she could get someone to help her, or with a bit of luck, get Milly for her.
Smiling encouragingly at the first group of people they passed she expected them to make a remark about her circumstances. Instead she was dumbfounded when their eyes caught hers and then slid away. Passing by as if they never saw a thing she heard them continue their conversations with the other members of their group as if nothing unusual was happening within a few feet of them.
More people passed, singly, in pairs or small groups. All stared for a second before pretending they didn’t see the female being carried down the sidewalk in a strange and unusual manner. As they passed by Rinnah began calling out to them.
“Hey you, bowler hat guy, yeah you, call a cop for me will ya? On second thought, you there, short bald guy, a little help here? You there, mister accountant-looking guy, yeah you! HEY! Don’t pretend you don’t hear me talking to you, you were looking right at me! FINE! Don’t help then! Cowards, all of you!” If a hand had been free she would have shaken a fist at all of them.
The next group of people they passed stepped off the sidewalk to give them a wide berth. Rinnah could hear them whispering even as they darted suspicious glances at her. At her! But not at crazy boy! Flabbergasted she wondered what kind of town this was anyway? She couldn’t figure it out. Why would they suspect her of being mentally unstable? She was being nice.
Vash ignored it all while Rinnah called out, “A little help here folks! He’s insane I tell you! Oh come on people! Okay what I want to know is in what scary little corner of the universe does this even look normal to any of you! Twisted little freaks, all of you! Well, I’m here to tell you, this is not right! If you had a shred of human decency you would get over here and help! You know what, there is a special little place reserved in hell for every last flipping one of you, you can bloody well count on it!”
Her stomach was starting to hurt from being jounced around on his shoulder with it digging into her gut the way it was. Finally she stopped speaking altogether, it was taking too much effort and her neck was starting to ache from trying to keep it raised. Wait until he put her down. Then stand back and watch the sand fly! For now she laid her cheek against his upper arm and closed her eyes, her head jolting lightly with each step he took. If she wasn’t so pissed and the ride was a bit smoother she could easily imagine herself falling asleep with her cheek nestled against the black fabric of his coat.
When they entered the lobby doors she snapped her head back up but was disheartened to discover she was ignored again so this time didn’t bother trying to round up support.
Going up the stairs from the lobby to the first floor was a trial. Any fight left in her was thoroughly bumped out of her even though Vash went up the steps as smoothly as possible. She had to give him that even if she would rather drink tea than say it out loud.
I hate every spike on his star-colored head! Rinnah seethed vindictively.
Finally the elevator arrived and the doors opened. Stepping out of the elevator car was a woman dressed in a flowing burgundy evening dress all ready for an evening out. She looked as beautiful as Livia. Rinnah eyed her suspiciously. “Are you a real female or are you a man dressed as a woman?” She wasn’t taking any chances on being fooled again. The alleged man gasped and darted towards the stairs intent on making a quick getaway. Calling out after the retreating woman, “Hey, don’t look at me like that, it’s possible you know!”
The ringing sound of a slap followed the woman and she hesitated at the stop of the stairs to glance over her shoulder before hurrying on her way.
“OUCH! Stop it! Dammit! That hurts!” She tried to twist her head to look fiercely at him with her famous skin-searing glare.
“You mean this?” Vash asked with a grin barely discernable on his lips and spanked again.
“Yes that! Damn perv! OW!”
Getting into the elevator Vash waited for the doors to close and when they did he asked, “Are you wondering?”
“About your sanity? Well, yes, I am, thank you for noticing!” She waited a moment trying her best to convey indifference. Failing miserably she sighed and asked, “Wondering about what?”
“No because when you put me down I’m going to hurt you and that will make me feel so much better. Then I will do it again until such a time as I am brimming over with joy and delight, at your expense!”
“Uh huh.” He fell silent keeping his thoughts to himself the rest of the ride and the walk down the hall to the door of their room. Rinnah started planning her moves trying not to tense her muscles so he wouldn‘t be alerted.
After kicking their door shut and reaching back to lock it, Vash crossed to the middle of the living room and lowered the black-haired woman to her feet.
Like a striking snake or a sudden storm dropping out of the sky, she attacked him but he stepped into it, knowing it was coming. As always his trump card was his metal arm and it caught hold of one of her wrists after she landed a hard blow to his rib cage causing him to grunt in surprise. That was going to leave a bruise but he had been expecting it. He didn’t think he was going to come out of this without a few bruises.
Without missing a beat she dropped a shoulder and slammed it into his gut, moving him back a few steps. Even as he let out another grunt of air she stomped on his foot and then kicked his shin. That really hurt! Okay, he wasn’t expecting those although he should have known an attack was coming having had personal experience with how swift she was on her feet.
Not content to step back, she followed through with another punch racing into his face and caught him square on the chin snapping his head back with a sharp crack. Quick little sand viper.
“Twisted, overbearing pollen-swollen...”
He grabbed her other wrist catching it after landing another punch that nearly rocked him off his heels. She was a spinning ball of fury but Vash yanked and she came stumbling in to slam into his chest with a small sound of escaped air. Having her off-balance he didn’t hesitate to whip her arms around behind her back.
“Ugh! Okay. Points for your team, you cheater! If I had an artificial arm I could bounce your sorry butt all the way back to Old Earth!”
He bent his head to look her straight in the eye and a grin spreading across his face said softly, “But you don’t.”
He transferred a wrist over so that both of hers were held immobile with his left hand.
Leaning back he watched the fire in her blue eyes flare up as she glared at him.
Relaxing the tight hold of his arm so she could take a step back, he waited until there was a space between them. Then startling her, he dropped his hand to the buckle of her gun belt tugging at the leather strap until it pulled through the buckle to slip the belt off her hips.
“Hey!” Protesting she tried to twist her waist away but could only watch as her gun and belt slid off to be tossed sailing through the air until it landed with a soft thud on a living room chair. Turning her eyes back she started to make a remark, but he reached down again and unbuckled his own gun belt. He pulled it off and gave it a toss to land with hers on the same chair.
Indignant that he thought she would even consider turning a gun on him, she stated, “I wasn‘t going to shoot you... but now that you bring it up though...” she mused more to herself then for his benefit, and ended up mumbling, “Besides, if I did they‘d probably make me clean up the mess.”
“Not to worry, I wasn’t going to give you the chance to even think about it.”
Then, with a swift motion, he lifted and tossed her, eyes wide with astonishment, across the room to land bouncing on the couch.
Momentarily taken off guard Rinnah was confused but gathered herself and leaped up in a flash and made a beeline for the front door. She remembered the fight they had in the desert, she may make mistakes but she learned from them. His ace in the hole was that gun arm, smug trickster! Shooting a quick glance over her shoulder she saw that he was using the time to take off his coat. He was removing it leisurely as if he had just returned from an evening stroll about the town taking in the evening air. He undid all the buttons or snaps casually, not hurrying or even looking in her direction. Good thing for her Milly sewed so many buttons and snaps on it, gotta remember to buy her a pudding some time.
Grabbing the doorknob she yanked on it only to be jerked back into the door and by a whisker just prevented bumping her nose into it. Oh crap. She forgot he locked it. Checking, she found the key removed from the lock. Fine then, one broken door coming up. She didn’t mind paying for that. Lifting a foot to brace against the wall she heard the small sound of moving fabric rustling behind her as he approached. Releasing the knob she turned and raced to keep the dining room table between them, she was determined to not let him lay a metal finger on her.
Shooting a swift look at the windows she knew right away that wasn’t going to be an escape. Turning, she expected to see him on the other side of the table and was shocked to find out he was gone! Seeing a movement out of the corner of her eye, she looked over her shoulder to discover him standing right behind her. Damn! I hate it when he does that! In a heartbeat he wrapped long lean arms around her and pulled her in until her back was against his chest.
Abruptly awareness broke through her muddy thoughts with clarity of vision and with an uncanny knowing, she knew there were unasked questions hanging heavy between them. Not bothering to struggle, she waited.
“Am I that repulsive?” He asked quietly into the back of her hair. When he spoke she could feel the vibration of his voice rumbling in his chest against her back.
“You?” To her that seemed such an incredulous question.
With a trace of humor he asked, “Did I use the incorrect pronoun?” But there was a thread of something else insinuated there. Rinnah wished she were smart enough to be able to figure it out. What did he really want to know?
“Just give me a minute.” Blazing stars, where was this leading? Figuring it was just better to answer what she knew rather than try and deal with unknown territory she went on, “Uh, no, you’re not repulsive at all, far from it.”
“That took a while to answer!“ His voice got softer. “Are you afraid of me then?”
“What? Of course not! Not in the slightest.”
“So what’s the problem?”
Rinnah didn’t answer for a moment. “I’m... it’s... I’m..”
Vash spun her around so quickly her eyes were still twirling in their sockets. Holding up a finger to him to signal she needed a chance to regain her equilibrium, she replied feebly, “You are going to have to stop doing that, unless you want to see me puke.”
Holding her in a loose embrace he tilted his head back waiting for her to answer the question. “Me. Okay! It’s me! I’m afraid of me. There, happy?” Rinnah was sagging and weak kneed with embarrassment, or maybe it was the scent again as he was easier to smell now that the coat was off. Either way she was definitely in discomfort.
With a hand free he reached to cup her cheek but she jerked away.
Oh no, not again, she fumed, I’m not letting the nose rule me again! It was a wonderfully defiant thought until with an abrupt motion he pulled her close smashing her nose into his black shirt. Turning her head to the side she commanded herself to ignore the aroma and concentrate on... hmmm, kind of sweet with a tinge of sweat and definitely.... Sheep! Count Sheep! One, two, three... Images of fat sheep jumping fences went through her mind until he hugged her so tightly that the breath was expelled in a sudden whoosh out of her lungs. Hastily sucking in air, she got a good whiff of the musky leather, gunmetal and that underlying irresistible scent of him and knew she was fighting a losing battle.
Rinnah stopped struggling and leaned her head against his chest in reluctant surrender feeling his heartbeat underneath her cheek.
In a barely heard sigh she asked, “Okay, what do you really want?”
Bending his head down, he grazed the top of her head with his lips and murmured, “I told you. You.”
“Really? You are freaking insane you know that don’t you? This is just too weird!” Then a sudden inspiration hit her and she lifted her head and went on in a cheery voice, “Of course, that’s it, you are hormonally unbalanced! Why didn’t I think of that earlier? I should have guessed right away! You know, chocolate might be of some help here. It’s been known to help all sorts of people. It’s helped me out of many a foul mood. It’s a good idea, glad I thought of it. Let’s go get some, I’ll treat! All is forgiven!” She tried to take a step back but it was like being glued to a mountain when said mountain didn‘t want to move and nothing could convince it to budge an inch.
Vash caught her chin with his gloved fingers, held onto it firmly and lifted. Her eyes went huge as he slowly brought his lips down on hers to envelop them. Soft, warm, he noted but definitely still tense with apprehension. Keeping a firm grip on her chin, unrelenting he held the kiss keeping it there as he let her grow accustomed to the presence of his lips on hers and give the residual anger and anxiety a chance to drain out.
Rinnah had tried twisting but found herself imprisoned in a tight hold. This is bad. He’s the one who stopped last time, not me. Oh great, maybe I’m the perv! She tried to keep her thoughts focused but felt them surrendering to sensations she was vaguely familiar with from the last time. A captivating spell was being woven around her and through her. The room was getting stuffy and warmer while she was becoming very lightheaded. The hybrid wondered if she was going to faint but at the same time it was such a good feeling that she didn‘t want it to stop. The last of the anger bled away being replaced with certain warmth and tickling in her belly.
Vash would have smiled as he felt her relax in the circle of his arms, inclining into him and resting her weight on his chest. The gunman let a long arm slip down to curve around her waist to help support her as she leaned against the strength of his slim, hard-muscled body.
With a breathless wonder growing in her she wondered if there was going to be any stopping for her this time. Vash was holding her flush up against him, his real hand moving caressingly along her side from shoulder, arm, waist, and down to her hip, coming to a splay-fingered rest there. The touch caused her heart to pound in a way that alarmed and excited her at the same time. The kiss was only a part of the reason her heart was pounding so rapidly. Nestled into him this way with his lips warmly holding hers she couldn’t help but inhale the fragrance of his male scent with a hint of the liquor he had consumed that day. All the strength was slowly oozing out her body and her knees were shaking. Then she tried to pull her head away to say something but his mouth followed hers and captured it again. Off balance, she would have tripped backwards if his gun arm weren’t already wrapped around her waist in a tight hold. Her previous experience taught her that fighting with that artificial limb was a losing battle.
Reaching up Rinnah patted the outlaw on the shoulder trying to get his attention. She really did need some air, yet she also liked that he was kissing her in a breath-stealing way. Then his lips began traveling across her cheek, down her neck leaving warm imprints as he found and traced her collarbone before starting to return. Recognizing that he was moving back again she tried to speak and breathe while she still had the chance.
“Vash, do you know what you’re doing?” Breath caught in her throat as he hit an especially sensitive and ticklish spot on her neck causing a quiver to go through her.
“Don’t worry, it‘s like riding a bike, ” He mumbled against the smooth, velvety skin in the bend of her neck while his warmth of his breath against her skin caused her to shiver in response. “You never forget how.”
Exerting the tattered remains of her self-control, she just managed to utter, “That’s not what I meant star dim! Are you sure you want to be doing this with me?” A mental image of herself as scrawny, bony and unattractive flashed across her mind and she wiggled uncomfortably in his arms, suddenly ashamed of her appearance. It was an especially strong image after her brief meeting with Livia. The incident left her with the insecure feeling of being a gawky, knock-kneed, shapeless adolescent. “You could be doing this with, someone, anyone, er, more, uh,” How to put this? “Well, more filled out, shapely really. And, uh, fun.” Yeah, that was it, fun.
Vash mumbled something unintelligible as he slowly worked his way up her neck increasing the shivering sensation and spreading warmth in her stomach. Rinnah had to cling to him from the rush of overwhelming heat that was making her feel shaky and very flushed. The tickly feeling in her gut was growing along with the warm feeling.
He lingered over the delicate skin of her neck under her jaw when she turned her head to avoid his lips ensnaring hers so she could speak.
In a low, shaky voice she managed to get out, “I don’t think you want to be doing this with me. I think you ought to take a breather and give this some more thought. I am sure you can find someone more suited for you. There must be someone more experienced that would be better at this....”
“You know what?” He muttered huskily between kisses.
“You talk too much.” And with a quick movement caught her mouth with his. She squirmed trying to talk again but this time he held her lips imprisoned under his and wouldn‘t let up and instead increased the pressure. Then pulling back a whisper, with gentle pressure he lipped hers to open under his and flicked her teasingly with his tongue. Remembering last time, he lazily drew small tantalizing circles on her hip with his fingertips. He would have smiled when he felt a shiver going through her but he was starting to feel the effects of her kissing him back. With a fevered intensity he concentrated on her lips as the blood in his veins pounded in response to her genuine enjoyment of being kissed and returning his.
He pulled her up onto her toes crushing her against him and deepened the kiss. Then it happened, Rinnah’s knees buckled out from underneath her, but he held her tightly against him not letting her collapse. He kept her pressed against him in a fierce, possessive embrace. Pleased beyond measure he raised his head enough to look down into her half-closed blue eyes and couldn’t help thinking with a smirk, I knew I could do it!
Rinnah tried to get control of herself, but her legs felt rubbery and shaky, she doubted she could stand on her own at the moment. Looking up into his face she noticed the satisfied expression. That was suspicious right there.
With an impish grin playing about his lips he asked in a teasing voice, “want me to stop?”
The hybrid gave a little shake of her head and his smile widened even as he lowered his head to take her lips again. Mine, he unconsciously thought as he felt her hands slide up his chest and come around his neck. Fingers curled and slid up into his hair and nails slowly scraped along his scalp causing goose bumps to rise along his skin. Definitely mine. This was good. He wanted her as a partner. Another deeper darker thought surfaced, Knives, after this I am going to be able to kill you.
Vash bent and scooped an arm behind her knees catching and sweeping her up into his arms. He was beginning to enjoy doing that and not just for the reason of seeing the startled look on her face.
Incandescent blue eyes snapped open wide to latch onto his and he smiled reassuringly down at her as he turned and carried her to the bedroom. Whispering into the black hair covering her ear, his breath moving it in little puffs, “Rinnah, will you let me love you tonight?” She stared at him for a moment considering even as he continued to carry her through the doorway, and then nodded her acceptance. Arriving at the bed, he gently set her down and then followed her.
Later, a short while later, Rinnah gazed at Vash’s face and sighed. He was easily the most beautiful being she had ever seen in her life. Then cynically added, when he has his eyes shut that is! She lifted a finger and traced his eyebrows without the fear of discovery this time. They were still incredibly soft.
The plant was as soundly asleep as she was wide-awake. Right now she was feeling the need to be alone with her thoughts and hoped she could crawl out of the embrace of his arms. Trying to slip out twice now, she found herself pulled back and hugged in an imprisoning embrace. Each time, even in his sleep, he seemed to sense her moving to leave and tightened his grip making it impossible for her to sneak off. One time he even made a “Nah uh” sound in the back of his throat. How could he do that while still asleep? Rinnah wasn’t sure but knew she didn’t want to wake him. From the way he collapsed afterwards into a deep sleep, she figured he needed it. Thinking that his grip would soon loosen when he sank into deeper levels of sleep she was amazed to discover his hold on her was as unbreakable as it was at first. She squirmed at first, trying to slide out from under only to have him nearly wake up at one point and mumble something, and as he did so tickling the back of her neck as his lips moved against her skin. She froze and then forced her muscles to relax as if acquiescing to his embrace. In no way did she want him to wake up and start up with what they had just finished.
Trying for the third time to ease his hands up, this time she slowly eased up one digit at a time until she could move one arm off of her. Sliding out as quietly as she could to keep the sheets from rustling she nearly fell to the floor but caught herself in time. Straightening in a very unhurried manner she nearly groaned from that sharpness of the pain that was stabbing through her at intervals. Pausing to catch her breath she straightened the rest of the way.
Spying a blanket she snatched it up. Then, at a measured pace, because that was all she could manage for the time being, headed for the living room. She needed to find a bathroom in the worst way because she was pretty sure he had crippled her life. Well, I’m mighty spry for a cripple but damn, I really hurt! Rinnah made for the other bathroom, there was no way she was going to take the chance of him waking up and wanting to do that again!
Some time later, after a bathroom break and two cups of cocoa to soothe fractured nerves Rinnah rested on the couch, albeit ever so gingerly on one cheek with the blanket wrapped around her. The dregs of her mug sat next to her on the end table.
Finding herself in a contemplative frame of mind and in a mood to indulge the philosophical side of herself she thought, Life sucks! Love sucks! Romance sucks! I hate everyone on this freaking planet! But I especially hate him! She considered morosely that one didn’t have to be experienced to know he obviously had a good time. A good time that she didn’t have! Not fair! And that makes him normal and me not. She ended glumly and with a good measure of self-loathing. I despise being me. At the back of her brain she had always suspected that she was a freak of nature, not natural, a weird little creature, not one thing, or another. She sniffed; her eyes were starting to sting. Usually it didn’t bother her but right now all Rinnah’s carefully constructed protective walls were stripped away and she was left with the loneliness of not belonging to anything, any place, or anyone. And it hurts, freaking hell, I didn’t think it was supposed to hurt!
Looking around for some kind of distraction to ward against the power of beliefs too strong to shove back in some dark corner of her mind, she spied a book on the table. Was that Milly’s? Picking it up, she flipped through the pages and stopped in the middle scanning paragraphs until a phrase caught her eye and she stopped to reread it. Lifting her eyes the hybrid started at the top of the page and then turned back a page looking for the beginning of the scene. Finally finding it, she read absorbed unable to wrench her eyes away. The answer! Right in front of her, who would have thought? After reading through several pages she went back and reread it again.
I knew it! She flipped the book to the front to read the title and author’s name. ‘Love’s Unquenchable Furious Fire’ by Golden Delight Kingsmith-Danvers. That was an impressive name, with a name like that she must know what she was talking about. According to this expert on romance Bethalee’s first time with Trask was a blessed act of passion, pleasure, a beautiful, awesome moment of sharing between a man and woman. Rinnah snorted. Right. Nothing, not one word, not even a hint of any painful aftereffects for Bethalee. No, she went straight up to the heights of passion to drift blissfully down into a languid peaceful feeling in Trask’s arms. Feh! I’m gonna be sick!
Still, a niggling doubt wormed up; what if what was portrayed here was normal and it was supposed to be like that? What if she was as an abnormal half-breed monster like she suspected? It was one thing to believe something like that, it was another to have it proven true. If so, what could she do about it, scatter pixie dust over her head and tap her heels three times wishing for something that couldn’t be?
With alternating emotions seesawing back and forth between anger and the pain of self-hatred, Rinnah raised her fist in the air and shook it at the heavens for them to bear witness and said, “I’m gonna sue someone! Holy Hybrid, see if I don’t! I’m gonna find one slick, jaded, junkyard mean, back street lawyer and sue everyone from St. Peter down to my sixth grade sex education teacher!” She dropped a venomous look down at the romance novel in her hands, “Oh yes, Miss Kingsmith-Danvers, you too are on my list and shall feel my legal wrath!” What could she sue them for, let’s see, oh everything from dereliction of duty, truth in advertising, parking in a loading zone, breach of contract, counterfeiting, and trespassing! And anything else she could think of!
With disgust Rinnah tossed the book on the table and finally the tears that were waiting on the edge of her lower lids began to leak out unbidden. A broken sob rose up with them and she dropped a face quickly becoming tear-streaked into her hands as she gave her pain the freedom of release.
“I knew it; I’m some kind of half-breed monstrosity! A freak. That wasn’t fun at all! Who said it would be! I’ll shoot them! No I’ll sue them first, and then I’ll shoot them! And on top of everything else I’m probably crippled for life!”
Every time she tried to brush away the tears and stop the flow, they only defied her wishes and flowed even more as if from an inner leak that couldn’t be stopped up once started. Trying to tell herself to toughen up and just get over it, was only wasted mental breath. Finally giving in, she gave herself permission to cry. Nothing else was working. I’m just going to cry for a little while, that’s all. It’s just the human half of me that needs to be sad for a while. That’s healthy, sure, of course it is! Sniffling, she could feel her sinuses beginning to plug up. I bet this never happens to Bethalee! She sniffed resentfully. Her face and hands were wet with the tears and she needed a tissue in the worst way but she couldn’t bring herself to move hands away from her face. I am so embarrassed. I hate crying. Glad no one is here to see me.
Tears were dripping around her hands and all the salty liquid was beginning to irritate her face. Relenting, Rinnah reached out a drenched hand in the direction of the tissue box when one was placed in her searching hand. Automatically she said “Thanks” before it registered that someone was standing there next to her. Her hand froze in midair. Then that someone gently sat down next to her making the springs creak and the cushion sink down further underneath their combined weight. This is just wonderful, why does company always drop in unannounced? Can’t they see the porch light isn’t on?
Rinnah brought the tissue up and blew her nose without opening her eyes. Maybe they would go away. Tossing the used kleenex in the direction of where she thought a trash can should be, she reached for another one and once again one was placed in her hand before she could find the box. Treacherous tears insisted on leaking out. It was bad enough to cry when alone but with someone else there to witness it? Mortifying. Rats. She had to blow her nose again, and not just a dainty, petite little blow, but an honest to God honking snorter. Very appealing.
Thinking that maybe if she pulled her head into the blanket like a turtle it would give her uninvited guest the obvious clue that she wanted to be alone, Rinnah started to duck her head and pull the blanket higher when an arm came around her shoulders. Oh good, she was going to be comforted now. Damn sneaky pawed cat! Why couldn’t he just stay asleep for once! But no, he just had to wait until the absolute worst time to come out and see her in this messy, drippy, sniffling state. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, I have all the bloody, stinking luck of a fallen angel!
“Go away! No one’s home! I gave at the office!”
Another arm slid under her legs and she felt herself being lifted up and pulled into his lap. He drew her against his scar-covered bare chest which she hardly noticed as she was too engaged with being annoyed and embarrassed along with trying to duck her head into the blanket to silence the sound her sniffing. Nuzzling his nose in her hair he asked, “What’s wrong?”
How could he ask? But more to the point, how should she answer? What happened to that cold-hearted, insensitive, aloof plant that they had all come to know and love? Who was this acting all concerned? It was weird, and not to mention, just plain scary.
From under the folds of the blanket a muffled tear-choked voice whispered, “I lost my donut coupons.”
Vash pressed his lips near her ear, his breath stirring silky strands of hair, “You lie. Now tell me the truth.” He knew but wanted to hear it from her and knew she needed to say it, confront herself with the truth, even if it was costing her to admit to the confusing storm battering her from within.
The silence stretched for a long time with only their hearts beating in rhythm to measure the passing seconds. He felt her beginning to shiver and knew it was not from being cold but from an emotional overload which is what had woke him up just minutes ago.
He had been startled awake and eyes snapped open as a weight of warring emotions surged without warning through the link ripping him from slumber. Groggily he reached for her and realized with an alert wariness that he was alone. Eyes immediately began scanning the room searching. Upon finding the place empty, he wondered what could be keeping her up such an hour when wave after wave of unbearable anguish nearly knocked him over.
He groaned softly to himself as he ’listened’ in. This had to be about earlier, but he was clueless as to exactly what. Vash rolled out of bed and grabbed his pants knowing that she wasn’t too far away, he could feel that too.
As the fog of sleep lifted it dawned on him exactly what this was about and cursed.
Ever since leveling the town of July he had taken on the persona of a woman-chasing buffoon and goof who was so pathetic it drove the women away from him. It was a plan that worked quite well over the years, which was his intent. For all his calculated skirt chasing he never caught anyone and never meant too, although there were a few close calls but he managed to wiggle out of those situations. Well, except for the case of one short insurance girl too stubborn for her own good. However, the upshot was that he knew full well what he was missing out on since July. Thanks to a certain demented brother the revelation was forced on him that he carried within himself a horror of destruction. After that he had deemed himself too dangerous to share any woman’s companionship and had all these years abstained from all forms of intimacy. Human that is. But Rinnah wasn’t, well not entirely anyway she proved that time and again. Wings! What next? Did he even want to know?
What began as fun and pleasure had rapidly turned into a burning, consuming, and urgent drive for him. Being with a woman after all these years was a pleasure that the outlaw thought he would never experience again. Vash lowered his head into his hands with a soft groan as he remembered telling her that she would enjoy it. In that final moment he ended up simply losing control and taking her. It definitely wasn’t his best moment. Silently groaning again, the earlier activity replayed through his head. He ran a hand through his hair with a grunt of frustration. Damn.
Squeezing his eyes shut in remorse he knew he could just let her cry herself out and then pretend he knew nothing about the storm raging inside of her. He could but knew he wouldn’t. Even when the thought flashed through his head to just leave her, he was already standing up, compelled to find her and went in search of her.
Now as he sat on the couch with her huddled on his lap sniffing, Vash waited, trying to impart comfort to her as he held her tight in the embracing circle of his long sinewy arms. It took a while but the shivering finally faded. He rested his chin on her ebony head. Her hair, for as wild and rough as it looked, It was unbelievably soft. Then lowering his lips to her ear again he whispered, “I’m sorry. I promised you that you would enjoy it and you didn’t.”
“It hurt!” Rinnah sniffed. “But, I’m just...” she paused before able to push it out between teeth clamped shut from the powerful emotions still surging about within her, “A freak. Some odd monster that obviously can’t enjoy something normal people can.”
“So I’m normal now, am I”? He asked, an eyebrow quirked up, amused. “I’ve never been accused of that before.”
She didn’t answer right away as she considered. “You’re a loon but apparently normal enough to enjoy this...” She stuck a hand out from under the blanket and gestured it around to indicate their joining earlier.
One corner of his mouth lifted, how very odd that someone saw him as normal.
“There’s nothing wrong with you.” He informed her. Voice lowering, feeling ashamed for the first time in a very long time, he added, “I was... in too much of a hurry.”
Rinnah tilted her head in contemplation of that piece of news. “Sooo, what you are saying is... this is all your fault?”
“I’ll have you know that I’m suing you then! You, Miss Kingsmith-Danvers, and everyone else I can think of! I’m getting a lawyer and suing every last God-fearing one of you!” She sniffed again and he reached for the box and handed her another tissue. “Fanbks.” She said while blowing her nose.
The hybrid was silent for a moment and then feeling slightly embarrassed about her question but had to ask, “And... I’m not crippled either?”
The outlaw couldn’t help but chuckle. “No, you’ll be fine. You’re a pretty quick healer you know.” She nodded in agreement.
Again she asked, “This is all your fault?”
“Yes. This is all my fault, and again, you are not a freak.” He knew she was not going to let him forget this any time soon.
Then, with a crooked grin because he was beginning to get a feel for what motivated her, he said, “Tomorrow night I’ll show you just how wrong I was.” He knew her curiosity and the fact he admitted to being wrong were an unbeatable combination she wouldn’t be able to resist. If he was wrong that meant she was right.
“And it won’t be like tonight?”
“Nope, I promise.”
“The fine print of that promise better not read, ‘fun for me but not for you’!” She threatened.
He brought his hand around, lifted her chin to look into her vibrant blue eyes and said softly but firmly, “I promise and you can hold me to that.”
“Damn right I will or my lawyer will sue you for every bullet you own! When I get one that is.”
“You won’t need one to.” He bent his head and kissed her, holding her lips with his as he felt her stiffen. He knew she was thinking that this was going to lead to a repeat of earlier but he wanted her to know that kissing was never meant to lead to something painful. He kept a firm hold on her chin and deepened the kiss as he felt her relax against him. Then he slowly raised his head.
“Let’s go get some sleep.”
“Really, just sleep?”
“Yes, just sleep.”
Her eyes were already starting to droop now that the storm of her deeply held worries and fears were calming. The whole night’s ordeal had worn her out. He looked down at her watching her struggle to keep her eyelids open and losing. Good. That would help her slip into a much-needed rest. Already she was mumbling something and he bent his head down to try and catch it, something about all her careful rules going to hell in a hand basket. He grinned and shook his head. Whatever, but it gave him another excuse to carry her. He liked the soft feel of her warm weight in his arms. With care he laid her down on the bed, covered her, slid in next to her, then snuggled her close and wrapped himself around her. Then Vash the Stampede dropped into the deepest and longest sleep that he hadn’t experienced the like of in a very long time.
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