"Blackfire & Gunsmoke Chapter 18"
By Susan-chan

Rated PG

Bounty Hunter - Mistake of Truth

        When they were out the door without being challenged, both, as if on cue heaved a relieved breath. Wolfwood sagged, his weight pulling the other gunman over a step before he compensated and continued on. Together they started walking down the sidewalk, Vash still supporting the priest.

        “I wish you would stop feeling the need to breathe in my direction.” Remarked Vash, his nose wrinkling up as another burp wafted his way.

        “Sorry pal, but hey, look on the bright side, I think we are going to....”

        From behind them a voice interrupted him, “Stop right there Vash the Stampede. I have you in my sights and I don’t care if I take you in dead or alive.”

        “Oh shit.” Wolfwood exclaimed softly, closing his eyes as their near escape evaporated before them. Another stinking bounty hunter, what did they do to deserve this? Why do these things always happen to me when I am with this guy?

        “Just what we need.” Wolfwood said, more to himself than to the outlaw.

        “Turn around slowly. Any wrong moves and I’ll drill ya both.”

        Vash stiffened but obeyed. Turning slowly in place both men were soon turned around to face the bounty hunter. Vash let the moment stretch between them before asking, “Satisfied?”

        A rough voice answered that sounded like it had swallowed gravel, “Not yet. Not till I have the reward in my hand.”

        Wolfwood knew Vash presented a picture of calm but he could feel the gunman’s body hard and tense with a hyper-alertness radiating from every pore. It was so thick in the air he wondered that the bounty hunter couldn’t feel it too. On second thought, he was glad he couldn’t, it would only make him more nervous and that was the last thing they needed, a nervous bounty hunter with a finger on the trigger of a gun aimed right at them from only paces away. He doubted he could miss from that distance.

        Despite the odds, the priest tensed his knees under him ready to leap to the side and hoped he was able to communicate that intent to Vash. Shifting with as little movement as possible, he positioned his shoulder and body weight away from the outlaw. The only problem was that Vash still had a hand gripping Wolfwood’s wrist, anchoring the priest’s arm over his shoulder. Wolfwood gave a little tug and finally, with profound relief, felt Vash give his wrist a little squeeze to let the priest know he understood what Wolfwood was planning to do.

        Now facing the source of the voice Wolfwood thought of making his move to the side so Vash could have maneuvering room for his gun arm. However, all thoughts of making a move dissolved when the hunter jabbed at the air with his rifle and both froze in place. Both sets of eyes lowered to stare at the oddest-looking rifle either had seen in a while. The rifle leveled at them had two separate barrels wielded together, one a little shorter and wider while the other thinner and longer. Vash found himself forgetting the man for a moment as he studied the gun with curiosity until he wrenched his thoughts back to the situation at hand.

        Holding the rifle with a firm, unwavering grip, was a broad shouldered man with a wide-brimmed hat sitting on his head obscuring his face. The hat kept the stranger’s face so well shadowed that neither Vash or Wolfwood could get a good look at his features; nevertheless both were fairly certain they had never seen him before. He was just another bounty hunter in the long line pursuing Vash the Stampede.

        The only outstanding feature that was easily seen was the long dark braid that hung over the front of his shoulder with the extra length tucked in under the wide gun belt.

        Long braid eh? That meant someone who rode, or used to ride, with the Lock n Load gang. This was unusual. Wolfwood narrowed his eyes and searched the immediate area. There didn’t appear to be any of the others around. This one must have broken with the group or been tossed out. Whichever it was, it was unusual. There weren’t but about a dozen members and they were much like a family, squabbling among themselves but when focused on a goal, presented a united front that was formidable. And, the LnL gang didn’t specialize in bounties. What they were notorious for was being experts at robbing banks.

        Vash cocked his head to the side in thought as he also recognized the braid and what it meant. He had been in a bank once when the Lock n Load gang had knocked it over. They were efficient, determined, and very quick to clean out the vaults but were not killers. He wondered what this one’s story was before Wolfwood jabbed an elbow into his side reminding him to stop daydreaming. One eyebrow quirked in irritation and he barely managed to squelch the urge to nudge Wolfwood back, hard. Damn priest with his insistence on drinking the day away and most of the evening. They would have been out of the saloon hours ago if Vash had his way.

        “Hands up, you and your drunk friend.”

        One corner of his mouth curled up. Vash knew he was much more handicapped if he kept his hold on Wolfwood. He didn’t have to turn his head to look but he would lay odds that Wolfwood was concealing a smile as well. Poor fool bounty hunter.

        Wolfwood acted like he took offense at the remark insisting, “I’m not drunk. I was just getting into a happy mood when you came along and ruined it!” Vash almost rolled his eyes at that although it wasn‘t lost on him that the priest wasn‘t slurring his speech anymore.

        Slowly he released his hold on Wolfwood who, to his credit, was able to remain standing upright without any assistance. That was another good sign. Gradually, carefully, Vash raised his hands in the air and, he felt more than saw, Wolfwood do the same. One thing the outlaw was grateful for was the apparent lightening quick way Wolfwood was working his way back to full sobriety. He spared a smile on the priest’s behalf. It couldn’t be pleasant way to sober up and he hoped it hurt like hell. Served the priest right.

        “Tough.” There was a pause as the bounty hunter looked Wolfwood over. “You a wanted man?”

        “According to him,” here Wolfwood jerked a thumb in Vash’s direction, “Only by my wife.”

        Even in the dark, Vash could feel the sharp amusement coming from the hunter.

        A breath of air was expelled at that and the bounty hunter motioned to the priest, “I don’t got a paper on you so if you’re wanted I don’t know nothing ‘bout it. You can leave as soon as you help put the manacles on your friend here.”

        Vash could feel the priest tense up at those words. He glared at Wolfwood from out of the corner of his eye, trying to catch his attention to warn him not to do anything rash. Vash was just biding his time until the opportune moment came to deal with the situation. He may have changed in the course of time but that didn’t mean he wanted to spill blood unnecessarily. Besides, it was fairly easy to deal with a human who is slower and less accurate than he was. Wolfwood tended to forget that from time to time.

        Vash regretted wearing the sunglasses now, wishing he had taken them off as soon as they were outside the saloon. They weren’t as restrictive for him as they would be for a human wearing them. Yet another difference between plants and humans was that his eyesight was slightly different then theirs; he could see well in the dark even with the shading effect of the glasses. However, try as he might and despite his keen eyesight, he still couldn’t make out their captor’s face underneath that lowered brim. One thing he liked was being able to see his opponent’s face.

        The gentle breeze of earlier was changing to a stiff wind. As if in response, Vash’s coat flared about him, fluttering with each windy gust. Eleazar had warned them in advance that sometimes the wind was worse at night. Most people in town tended not to travel, or kept it to a minimum, scurrying home before full dark. They didn’t want to get caught in a freak sand storm; it was too easy to get lost in one, especially in the dark. Vash glanced up, noting that the air seemed to have a hint of fog in it. Only, it wasn’t moisture putting it there, it was the sand brought it from miles and miles of empty desert and now it looked like it was going to be one of those nights that Eleazar warned them about.

        In sharp contrast to his coat, Vash stood stone still as his eyes traveled over the bounty hunter whose own coat was also starting to flap about him from the effects of the wind. The fluttering of coats was the only sound heard as the trio studied each other with the tension mounting with each passing breath. Vash decided it was time to make a move.

        Arms still raised, Vash gave a little wave of his hand to catch the rifleman’s attention. When he saw the sharp glint of an eye as the rifleman indeed focused on him, and before he had time to tighten his finger on the trigger, Vash pointed to the glasses he wore. There was a hesitation and then the hunter nodded permission.

        Reaching up slowly to prove his movements were without trickery or ill intent, Vash lowered the glasses down to the tip of his nose. Now he could see a little better and no, the bounty hunter in front of him still didn’t look familiar and he wasn‘t getting the feeling that they had ever met before this. Briefly he wondered if Knives had hired him and decided that didn’t seem likely.

        The rifle was aimed dead center at his chest but that wasn’t causing him any concern. He could be at the gunman’s side grabbing the rifle before he could pull the trigger. Again concern flared up as he sincerely hoped that the priest wouldn’t decide that he needed to step in and try something. There was always the off chance that the rifleman could get off a shot and hit Wolfwood or some other innocent. It was these unknown variables that were a frightening hassle at such times like these.

        “Hmmph.” Both Wolfwood and Vash tensed at that sound. It could mean anything from ‘I have a bug in my mouth’ to ‘I am going to shoot you now‘. The tension began to run high again as Vash felt the man become stone-like, frozen as he considered the bizarre sight before him. Vash wondered if he would decide to shoot them anyway just because of the red eyes. He tensed; ready to leap when he watched the gun barrels dip until the ends were pointing at the ground. Even if barely discernable to anyone else, they both could feel each other sagging in relief and unconsciously began to lower their hands a fraction of an inch at a time. They relaxed even more, lowering their hands down to their sides, when the bounty hunter stepped back while flipping the safety back on and then swinging the rifle over his shoulder to slip it into a carrying case strapped to his back.

        “You ain’t Vash the Stampede.” Spoke the rifleman in a flat, disgusted voice. It was hard to tell if he was disappointed or not. Then, more to himself than his prey he continued in a gravelly voice, “Just another fake wannabe trying to cash in on the rep.”

        Vash could feel his eyes moving over the both of them and then come back to rest on him.

        “Just some friendly advice mister, if you don’t want to keep getting trouble, I’d think about ditching that coat even if it ain’t red.” Vash felt the eyes moving again. “Along with that hair style too or else people are gonna keep making the same mistake I did. Sure had me fooled there until I saw the eyes. And the eyes mister, them red eyes just ain’t normal I’d get a doctor to look at that if I were you.”

        Using two fingertips to touch the brim of his hat in salute, he turned and walked back the way he came, not looking at the two men as he entered through the saloon’s double doors.

        Wolfwood let go a breath of relief so deep it left him dizzy. “Okay, that’s one good thing about the new look. You don’t fit the well-known description anymore.” A thought occurred to him, “Hey, did you recognize him? You ever have any dealings with the Lock n Load gang?”

        “Yes, but he wasn‘t one of them then. I know I would certainly remember meeting him,” and looked over at Wolfwood with bemusement written on his face before flipping the glasses closed and tucking them into an inner pocket. “I thought it would help convince him if could see the eyes.”

        “Good call on your part pal. But I wonder why he didn’t react more. Like he said, ‘they just ain’t normal.’ but he wasn’t unnerved at all when he saw them.”

        “You’re right.” Vash frowned at the door the man had pushed through. There was an inclination to follow him and ask, but then again, part of him didn’t want to know the answer, if there was one. With a shake of his head he said, “Maybe people have red eyes where he comes from... or maybe even plants have red eyes...”

        “Or maybe Knives sucks his thumb.... Are you crazy? Didn‘t you hear him, ‘not normal‘. That‘s what he said and I agree with him. It would only be normal if you were a white rat.” Wolfwood squinted at Vash, “although I have to admit there’s a certain resemblance here that...”

        “Can it. I’ve already been described as a giant albino rabbit.” With a shrug of a shoulder he added, “With friends like these...” and whipped around when he heard a gagging sound, sure they were being set on by someone new. He turned just in time to catch Wolfwood’s face going a deathly white. Vash, well acquainted with the signs of imminent eruption, quickly moved back a few paces well out of the splatter zone.

        Wolfwood only had a second before whirling to brace his palms against the alley wall and empty the contents of his stomach. Once he was finished he gingerly rolled around until his back came to rest against the wall. He did not feel well at all. Someone remind me again, why was getting drunk supposed to be fun?

        Vash shook his head in sympathy or maybe it was more of an‘ I told you so’ gesture; Wolfwood wasn’t sure which it was supposed to be. “Shut up.” He tried to growl out but it came out more of a rasping breath over hoarse vocal chords.

        Vash waited as the priest pulled in deep breaths. Tilting his head in observation he noted that the priest had a sickly green tinge to his skin with sweat beading along his brow and dark circles under his closed eyes. After a few moments, Wolfwood lifted his head and wiped the sweat off with his sleeve before pushing off. Trying to keep himself erect, he kept one hand firmly planted against the wall as he tried to balance on shaking knees. This drinking business wasn’t as much fun as it used to be and he wondered idly if he was getting too old for this.

        “You done?” Asked Vash. He was beginning to get hungry and wanted to get back in case there were leftovers. The old coot was a surprisingly good cook.

        Staring up at the rising moons he was surprised again at their position. Time indeed had sped by while they were busy getting happy. Vash winced. He didn’t feel happy, he wasn’t feeling anything at the moment, except for a pressing need to deal with his hunger. Besides, it would be wisdom on their part to depart from this area with its population of ‘too many riffraff‘. He wanted to get away from people and be alone. In this case alone meant the friends he was used to traveling with, they didn’t count. He still wasn’t sure about Eleazar. It was hard to pin a description on the old man.

        The infamous and only officially designated ‘localized disaster’ had countless experiences of dealing with people over the past century and a half and was quite familiar with the different personalities types and peculiar characters that developed on this planet. Yet, this one was hard to peg and that was a new one for this long-lived plant. Well it didn’t matter tonight, just as long as he got fed. He was in no mood to analyze anyone at the moment.

        He crossed his arms as he continued to watch the priest. Wolfwood was still bent over a little but at least his color was slowly returning.

        “I’ve seen you look worse, but for the life of me, I just can’t remember when.”

        Wolfwood groaned and held a hand to his aching head.

        “Feel like a herd of thomas’ ran me over, ... with spiked heels... and dumped on me.”

        Vash groaned and held a hand to his own aching head, “Thanks, now I’m going to have trouble getting that image out of my head.”

        “And then my stomach feels like tickly, flea-infested sand rats made a nest there...”

        Vash was beginning to feel a little tickly himself. “Stop! Crap. I don’t need this!” And his stomach did a little dance of sympathy and revulsion at the picture the priest was painting.

        Wolfwood went on as if he hadn’t heard.... “And had a litter of pus-infected, naked pink rat babies in my mouth...”

        “For the love of Milly, I’m begging you to stop!” Vash’s breathing grew ragged and in desperation he began drawing in deep lungfuls of air trying to calm the surging sensation in his gut. Leaning forward and placing his hands on his thighs above his knees he started looking for handy places in case his stomach had a mind of it’s own. His sensitive gut couldn’t take any more lurid pictures being painted on the canvas of his inner eye.

        “...Yeah, drooling, squirming, snot-nosed rat babies with...”

        That did it. The humanoid typhoon dashed past Wolfwood with a hand clamped over his mouth and then did an impressive imitation of the priest in puking up what remained of his innards. When the gunman was finished and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand he shot a heated glare at the recovering priest. When he could finally speak again all that came out was a grating, “I hate you.”

        Wolfwood passed a hand over his face and nodding in agreement said, “I hate me too. What was I thinking?”

        Frowning deeply but still taking deep cleansing breaths, Vash answered, “I think you were trying to cheer me up, or something to that effect.”

        “Oh, I was?” Wolfwood’s brow wrinkled as he tried to remember. “Oh, sure I was.” He turned a dull gaze on Vash and asked, “Did it work?” In answer, Vash returned his look with a ’what do you think’ glare. Wolfwood shrugged, “Guess not. You seem just as anti-social, edgy and agitated as ever.” He heaved his shoulders in a heavy sigh and shook his head saying, “Guess it was a waste of time and good beer.”

        “You were drunk if you thought the beer in this place was good and I’m even starting to wonder about brain damage. I was fine before we ever went in there.”

        Wolfwood’s eyes snapped up as a deep grin raced across his face.

        Dammit, bad choice of words. Vash backed up and started over again, “I was doing great...”

        Wolfwood interrupted him with a held up hand, “No, no, tell me about how fine you were doing. Fine as in ‘Rinnah, how are you doing? Oh, it‘s nothing, just a scratch, don‘t worry about me‘. That kind of ‘fine‘?” Vash looked daggers at him causing the red of his eyes to glow in the darkness but Wolfwood wasn’t intimidated, this was just too good to pass up.

        “Or is that fine as in…”

        “Just drop it!” Despite his words Vash came over to lend the priest a supporting arm even as he leveled a fierce scowl in his direction. Wolfwood wasn’t paying him any attention as a deep chuckle increased into laughter. A laughter that shook old kinks out of the soul that had gathered there unnoticed like dust bunnies under the bed. With a hand over his eyes and shoulders shaking Wolfwood let the mirth have free rein and even gave himself permission to enjoy the moment as it rolled out of him unimpeded. The two gunmen started taking slow steps down the alley with Wolfwood still laughing. He wasn’t surprised to hear another hesitant laugh finally join his even if Vash was a little rusty in the mirth department. That was alright, the priest more than made up for him with his own rolling laugh filling the night air. He didn’t care because it all of a sudden occurred to him that his goal for the evening had succeeded after all, Vash was finally in a better mood.

        “Reach for the sky Vash the Stampede! You’re a goner!” Said a voice behind them.

        “Dammit!” Snarled the priest as both men froze in their tracks. There goes my happy mood!

Lavender and Blue Ice

        It had been days since he was placed in the bulb to heal and even though the recovery was at a fantastic rate, by human standards, he was still recovering. With the corners of his mouth curved downward and narrowed eyes he cursed his idiot of a brother and was determined that things would go much differently next time they met in battle.

        Knives hobbled into the room on crutches before coming to a stop at the foot of the bed to lean heavily on them. He was surprised to find that the trip coming down the hall left him so winded. His heart was hammering in his chest from the exertion. He waited a moment letting the beat return to a comfortable resting rate and for the panting to stop. He hated having to catch his breath like this, it showed weakness. Only then did he acknowledge the nurse. He also hated the fact that she witnessed his difficulty and considered having her killed. Not now, maybe later, he had more important things on his mind at the moment.

        “Leave.”

        He ignored her as she bowed and left the room, closing the door softly and slowly behind her, never realizing that the cold grasp of death had gazed at her before being distracted. She would live to see another day, perhaps.

        The click of the door shutting behind him barely registered in Knives’ ears as his full attention was on the woman asleep in front of him. The woman was huge beneath the blankets, her belly distended in the last stages of pregnancy. He watched as her chest rose and fall in a pattern of deep sleep before being satisfied and hobbled for the chair by her bed.

        For a week he had been cradled in his sister’s bulb recovering from the gunshot wounds that Vash had inflicted on him. It was an amazing speedy recovery even though he was still on crutches. Any other time he would have stayed in the healing solution made up of his sister’s fluids as she held him like an embryo floating in her bulb. This was a critical time though, with too much needing his attention, especially with the death of Legato. Damn that brother of his, and he knew it was Vash as that last image sent with a partial message conveyed plant’s image and something about New Earth and other plants. He needed to find out more and in order to do that he needed to be out and about. And also, he needed to know how she was doing.

        Only this morning was he able to exit from the healing ministrations of his sister’s care. He decided to leave even though his body could use several more days in the bulb.

        It was not wasted on him that even with all the pressing issues in front of him, that during those few waking periods of drifting in and out of consciousness that many of those times all he could think about was the pregnant woman living in this suite. And in thinking on her to feel an unfamiliar nervous fluttering in his stomach. Yet, what could happen, he chided himself, she was safer here living in his shadow than anywhere else on the planet. Still, he couldn’t ignore the sensation anymore though. It ate at him, pulling with invisible cords, tugging, wearing away at him, growing stronger each day. He needed to see her with his own eyes.

        Studying her now, he considered her small form. She looked so small and delicate underneath the blankets; that was the first thing that always struck him. When the force of her personality was slumbering he could again see how slight of stature she was. Coming hard on the heels of that was the grudging respect he came to regard her with but would rather die than admit. She had to survive this birth; she should, it wasn’t going to be as difficult as the last one was. He wanted her to survive and it with a strong desperation that surprised and unnerved him.

        His icy blue eyes warmed as they traveled over her face. He was given to understand by his underlings that she was quite beautiful. The fools were obviously under the impression that his being a plant rendered him incapable of seeing that for himself. She was beautiful for a human, even with the bruised rings under her eyes and pale face. Still, with that dark lush hair and those unusual lavender gray eyes she was quite... what was the word? Alluring? He never said anything to them to give them a hint either way of what he thought when they made those kinds of remarks. Inner thoughts were not meant to be shared with lesser beings.

        Knives was getting tired of standing even with leaning on the crutches so he finally lowered himself to the seat. It was placed alongside the rail that was lowered at the moment, probably for the nurse to attend to her more easily. Using one of his crutches he nudged the chair until it was scooted next to the bed and with gritted teeth slowly lowered himself into the chair. Damn that hurt. His wounds still ached and gave him twinges of pain as if to remind him he wasn’t fully recovered yet. He grunted in displeasure before turning his attention to the sleeping figure on the bed. He was glad to see that she was still asleep.

        The plant once again studied the swell of the woman’s pregnancy under the cover. Any day now. That’s what they were telling him and he could see it for himself. It wouldn’t be too much longer. He was grateful this time was going to be easier on the woman when it came time for her to give birth. She was near half-plant by now and she didn’t need him as often to supplement the growing plant child within her. The last pregnancy had nearly sucked her dry. When she had been implanted with the child they all knew she wouldn’t likely survive the child’s birth as she didn’t have the energy to sustain the baby’s life and hers. It was an outcome that didn’t bother him when he had kidnapped her to be the human life support for the pure plant child. However, sometime in the course of events, Knives slowly found himself wanting, willing her to live, and survive the birth. Then he had accidentally stumbled on the fact that the plant child needed energy that he could supply. Placing his hand on her abdomen twice a day and channeling energy to feed the child had saved the woman’s life.

        This pregnancy she didn’t need him to supplement the growing child like the first time. Unlike human babies. plant babies needed nourishment beyond what could be supplied by a human female‘s body. Being almost half-plant now she could generate some internal energy to feed the baby on her own. He smirked. She would be astonished to know that her body was doing that of it’s own accord without much help from him. It was a fortunate thing too after the wounds inflicted on him as he was unable to help her out these past several days.

        A corner of his mouth lifted. She was also much more content and accepting of this birth and her fate to deliver the next generation of free plant children. If she was aware that he still wanted the death of all humans she didn’t act like she remembered it nor did she bring it up in any conversations of late. Right now her greatest worry was what to name the child when it was born. Already a growing list of girl names were on the table to the other side of the bed. It was such a small thing and his permission to allow her the choice in picking the name had pleased her immensely. When she had smiled her eyes lit up and it had, in turn, pleased him that he could give her this. He permitted a corner of his mouth to slightly curve up. After all it was only fair. She truly was less trouble now and much less so than most humans were. Slowly over time he had spent more time in her company discussing art, literature, philosophy, and of course, children and child-raising methods. He was glad to find that she wasn’t boring or stupid like the majority of her race. Hers was a quick, lively, and intelligent mind and he enjoyed sparing with her. It was easy to rile her up and her eyes flashed in a fashion he found most appealing at those times. Again, something else that he didn’t let her in on but kept to himself.

        He closed his eyes for a moment as he thought about the other added benefit to this birth. This baby was going to be a prototype, even more so than Vash, himself and Tessla. This one was taken from one of her half-plant eggs. She didn’t know that though. Also, he had a vested interest in this one, and this child was just as important to him, if not more so, than the last birth.

        Opening his eyes to rest on her he pondered the recent past and knew something in him had developed over this space of time. As he understood human emotions she appeared to be happy, and for some unfathomable reason, that pleased him even if he shouldn’t care what or how she felt as a mere incubating tool.

        Knive’s gaze traveled over the pale face framed by long black hair. In deference to his wishes, she was letting it grow and it now hung past her shoulder blades. He did note with a trace of concern the pallor of the skin on her face and wondered if he should rescind his order that she was not to be allowed outside. A little time in the sun could be healthy as long as she didn’t overdo it. He rarely let her go beyond this wing of living suites and had moved her quarters conveniently closer to his to keep an eye on his bridge to the future. Only once since her kidnapping had she tried to escape after he had coldly informed her that she was needed only as a brood mare and in so doing would bring about the elimination of humans from the face of the planet. Surprising him, she had escaped but was easily captured of course. After that her freedoms were curtailed and she wasn‘t allowed on the surface anymore.

        He watched her stir uneasily and a slight crease appeared between her brows as a dream disturbed her sleep. Without conscious thought he leaned forward and brushed the bangs off her forehead and froze his hand as the frown disappeared from between her brows. Then hesitating for a brief second, he let the back of his hand gently trail slowly over the curve of her cheek and secretly delighting in the velvet smoothness he found there and leaving them to linger for a moment. He didn’t realize it but a smile softened his usually guarded features as he found pleasure in the soft warmth of her skin. He owed her so much but quickly squelched that thought and leaned back in his chair, still tired from the effort to hobble the short distance down the hall.

        A leg twitched under the blanket and a little moan came through her lips along with the return of the frown. The dream was taking a turn for the worse. Knives was still unable to read her mind since her first pregnancy and couldn’t do it now either. He couldn’t send or receive and she couldn’t either. It was an interesting, and somewhat irritating, side effect of her transformation. Otherwise he would simply banish the nuisance dream from her mind. He found himself wanting to ease her anxiousness and distress. Besides, it was better for the baby if she was able to rest without being disturbed.

        Surprising himself, he found his hand reaching down on it’s own accord and cup around her slender, more delicate one. He had an investment to protect. It was in his best interest to keep her emotionally healthy. Reassuringly he squeezed her hand. The plant wasn’t sure if it was his imagination or not but she did seem to grow calmer and he felt himself relaxing with her. Yes, this baby was even more important to him than the last, for obvious reasons.

        Removing his hand and placing it on the mound her stomach made, he closed his eyes and concentrated, until he could feel the life force of the child beneath his hand. All was well and he let out a breath he didn’t realize he had been holding.

        Again, unaware of his actions, Knives returned his hand to cup around hers again as he considered the woman. She would survive this birth, she had to, and he would see to it. He closed his eyes with relief and weariness and leaned his head back against the head rest.

        “Knives?” At the soft whisper he opened startled eyes to find lavender gray ones looking up at questioningly. “Are you... are you well?”

        She attempted to pull herself up on her elbows when he reached out a hand and supported her until she was able to prop up herself on her elbows. Once there she again turned lavender gray eyes on him, regarding him with deep concern.

        He could only nod. Words were caught in his throat as a warmth flooded him puzzling him. Usually he never had a problem with voicing his thoughts prior to this.

        His staff kept him informed, letting him know she asked about him constantly, obviously worrying and fretting over his well-being. To hear about it was one thing but to see it in and experience it for himself was another matter altogether. It was strange she did so after all he had done to her.

        “Everything is fine. The baby is healthy.” He spoke in a hushed calming tone.

        A small smile graced her lips as her sleepy eyes locked on his. Now they were filled with gathering tears of relief and she blinked them back knowing the moody plant was uncomfortable with any displays of emotion, especially female ones.

        Yet, she was surprised when a hand came to rest on her shoulder to gently push her back down onto her pillow. When she tried to resist and sit up again he increased the pressure and easily held her down even in his weakened condition. She pushed against his hand still trying to fight against the weight of her heavy body and the strength of his hand.

        “Let me up, I want to...”

        “Stay.” He interrupted her, “You need to sleep,” Her eyes jumped to his again with a telltale shine in them. “For the baby’s sake.”

        “I was worried about you.” She whispered quietly.

        Knives let a smile touch his lips, “No need to be. As you can see, I am quite well.”

        “Why?”

        He frowned. Why did Vash shoot him? Why didn’t he come sooner to visit her? Why was he gone so long? He was unsure of what she was asking him.

        “Why did you leave? It’s not safe out there with Vash loose. You know he is going to try and kill you. He‘s not in his right mind.”

        One eyebrow shot up. This was a good sign. Vash was being seen as the enemy. Vash was now her enemy as well as Knives’. As for whether his twin was being rational or not, he had been convinced from the very start that Vash was a peculiar type of insane. Especially when he proved it by continuing to associate with vermin. Knives looked down at the diminutive woman, conflicting emotions crossing his face. She used to be one of them but now she was in the process of becoming one of his. He couldn’t think of her anymore as one of those whose existence was a blight on the face of the planet. His planet, his destined Eden and she would be there to share in it.

        She looked at him, puzzled at his continued and weighty stare. Another burst of uncharacteristic squeezing in his chest and a unfamiliar warmth filled him. He couldn’t remember feeling this way, no wait, a very long time ago, this kind of warmth before the discovery of Tessla’s remains... His fist clenched and he shunted old memories aside. He didn’t want to feel them or the persistent touch of the past and it‘s ghosts rising again.

        He returned her perplexed gaze wondering what was happening to him. It was like he was under a spell of some kind. Leaning over he brushed his hand over her hair. He found that he couldn’t help himself. It was something he did more often of late, but only if they were alone. Turning her face to him with a quiet sigh she closed her heavy lids, until surprising her greatly, she felt the pressure of soft lips come down on hers. Eyes flying open in astonishment she stared up at those customarily ice blue eyes and aloof features. She was so shocked that she could barely register the lingering soft press of his warm lips on hers. Then he was slowly pulling away but his eyes stayed on hers as if to gauge her reaction. They stared at each other for a moment until with a smirk he reached over and gently placed a couple of fingertips under her chin and closed her mouth.

        Still she tried to speak, “Wha... what?”

        Interrupting her he replied in a firm and quiet voice, “Nothing. Go back to sleep now... Meryl.”

        Expecting her to put up more resistance, he was moderately surprised when she obeyed and shut her eyes. Sleep claimed her quickly enough and soon she making little breathy noises of deep asleep. He smirked to himself again, he knew she was worn out. That was another thing he was finding out, it pleased him to know her and to know about her.

        Knives sat back in his chair wondering why he had done that. He was just as surprised as the little female. One thing he knew for certain and that was if Vash thought he was coming to rescue the petite woman he was very much mistaken. A smile pulled at the edges of his mouth. Vash was in for a bit of a shock when he discovers just how things had changed from the time before when he had last seen the small insurance girl. The smirk grew into a cynical smile as Knives closed his eyes and leaned his head on the back of the chair‘s head rest and let himself drift into a much needed nap.

Blackfire & Gunsmoke: Chapter 19
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