"Blackfire & Gunsmoke Chapter 3"
By Susan-chan

Note from Ricki: Rated PG-13
Susan owns Rinnah... etc. etc. etc. You get the idea. ^_~

The Necklace
(Flashback to dinner)

        After dinner and having watched Rinnah rush off into the dark night, Vash stayed a few minutes longer at the table. Milly and Wolfwood exchanged glances as Vash kept looking up at the door with a knee bouncing and a fingernail tapping against the rim of his empty tea cup.

        Milly leaned forward and whispered, “The bathrooms are over there Mr. Vash.” She indicated with a pointing finger towards the back.

        The frown disappeared from his brow as he looked up trying to digest her remark.


        “Well, you look a little antsy to me, like how my little nephews act when...” She lowered her voice, “They have to pee.”

        “Milly, I don’t have to.... I think I can figure out for myself when I... oh forget it.” He heaved a sigh. Standing up he tossed some money on the table.

        “I have something that needs attending to.” They didn’t ask but the question was there in both of their eyes. “Family business.”

        Wolfwood nodded and Milly added, “You’ll be careful won’t you Mr. Vash?”

        He gave Milly a small smile, returned Wolfwood’s nod and strode towards the door.

        They waited, watching the door after he left, each in a different world before turning to each other.

        “Mr. Vash hasn’t been having very good luck with finding those sisters who might be sympathetic to humans.”

        “Honey, I haven’t said this before, but I am beginning to doubt that this whole thing is about Vash finding any allies among his siblings.” Her eyebrows lifted in surprise.

        “It’s not?”


        He reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a bent cigarette. Studying it a moment he put it into his mouth and lit it. Inhaling, he relished the smoke that filled his lungs. He watched as the smoke rose up lazily over their heads to form a small dissipating cloud.

        “No Honey, this is about a fallen angel that doesn’t have a home anymore. Before this he had two families, one natural and one chosen. He was disowned from one and the other he has disowned himself from by choice. He is, for the first time in his life, without a place to call his own. And because of that I don’t think he will ever forgive Knives. And Knives should be afraid of what he has created because Vash is walking through a very dark valley right now.”

        Wide-eyed now, Milly whispered, “He has us.”

        “No. He has you Milly. Vash and I are held together by you even if we both want the same thing...” and here he said in a low ruthless voice, “...and that is to have Knives bleeding out his life’s blood at our feet.”

        “Oh Mr. Priest. This is beyond me. I don’t understand it and don’t know why things are so difficult between Vash and you.”

        Wolfwood cupped a hand over hers, the touch of his rough calloused hand sending a thrill through her as she fought unsuccessfully to keep from blushing.

        There was a gathering silence over the table when both looked up at the same time. Wolfwood noted the blush that spread over Milly’s cheeks. Tenderness filled his eyes, he found her so adorable and endearing. After all this time of living next to each other she still became shy when it was just the two of them together.

        Finishing up the last of the tea, Wolfwood suggested, “Shall we?” She nodded still mulling over what Mr. Priest had told her. It was breaking her heart. Poor Mr. Vash.

        Wolfwood reached for the check and the money Rinnah and Vash had left. Counting, he stopped and counted again. He was astounded to see that Rinnah had left enough to pay for a dinner party of twelve or more. Either she was mistaken or was an abnormally generous tipper. Or, it could be her way of apologizing for the incident earlier. He then looked over what Vash had left and while he didn’t leave nearly as much as Rinnah, Vash also had left an abundant tip. Good, he thought with approval. He left the check with the money in the middle of the table.

        Standing up, he moved around to pull out Milly’s chair for her and assist her up with a gentle hand cupped under her elbow. She gave him a grateful smile and slipped her arm through his. He smiled at her and was rewarded with another spreading blush. It was just too cute.

        Exiting the restaurant, they strolled slowly down the street. Neither was in a hurry to return to the hotel. Enjoying themselves and their moment of privacy Wolfwood stopped. Halting with him, Milly cast a questioning look at him. He turned her toward him noting her confusion.

        Pulling her close, he circled his arms around her. He grinned as he saw her look around to see if anyone was watching them. To her relief they were virtually alone on the street.

        “Ummm, Mr. Priest...”

        “Milly, I told you, you don’t have to call me that anymore. In fact, I wish you wouldn’t.”

        “Er, okay... sorry, er, Wolf...uh, Nicholas.” She grimaced at how false that came out.

        “Sorry, that sounded horrible.”

        He cocked his head at her abysmal attempt to say his name casually.

        Chuckling, he reassured her, “Wolfwood’s fine Honey.”

        “Okay.” Milly glanced up and down the street again. It still deserted. It wasn’t everyday she found herself in the embrace of an extremely handsome man. She wasn’t sure how to handle herself and was feeling a little awkward, nice and oh so good at the same time. Milly wouldn’t have ever imagined that she could feel so safe and secure in someone‘s embrace. No, in his embrace, the only one she ever wanted to hold her like this. She relaxed into him and placed her hands on his chest. She could feel his heart beating strongly underneath her hand.

        Wolfwood leaned in close to lock eyes with her, and the world became inhabited only by the two of them in the deepening intimacy of the moment.

        “Honey, I have something I want to give you... before we get back to the hotel.” He jerked his head to indicate their surroundings, “Believe it or not, I think we have more privacy here than there.” A brief pause and then she gave a quick bob of her head. Beautiful Milly, forever faithful to her friends.

        He couldn’t help himself and tightened his arms around her and heard a small “oof” as the air squeezed out of her, but uttered no protests. In fact, she rested her head on his chest and relaxed into him even more as he placed his chin on the top of her head. Closing his eyes he relished the fragrance of her hair and how her soft shape molded against him. A smile crept across his face as he felt her arms slide around him returning his embrace.

        Wolfwood lifted his head and leaned away enough so he could see her face, which he couldn’t with the hair veiling her lowered face.

        He reached a hand around, placing a knuckle under her chin and gently guided it up so he could see her blue eyes. They were wet with tears. Wolfwood nearly panicked. Why was she crying? Had he done or said something wrong? He didn’t think she had minded the embrace, after all she had returned it.

        Not being a deceptive person at all, Milly informed him in a shy whisper, “I love you so much... Wolfwood.”

        Time stopped. Wolfwood forgot to breathe.

        Milly lowered her eyes saying softly, “Sorry. I guess you didn’t want to hear that.”

        Milly was totally shocked as her feet left the ground and she found herself being swung around in an enthusiastic spin as Wolfwood laughed with pure abandon.

        “Big Girl you have no idea how happy you have just made me!” Then swung her into him and pulled her close again, cherishing the mystified expression on her face.

        He let go with one hand while she clutched onto him, scrambling to catch her breath and emotional equilibrium. He reached into the side pocket of his jacket and pulled out a small black velvet bag and held it up before her.

        “For you Milly.”

        She released the death grip she had on him and took the bag in wonderment. Untying the top of the little sack, she flicked a look at him before opening it and pouring the contents into her hand. It was a delicate silver chain with one of Wolfwood’s silver cufflink crosses attached to it. She took in a sharp breath.

        Wolfwood lightly stroked her cheek with a finger as she held up the necklace staring at it entranced.

        “I couldn’t afford to get you what I wanted and what you deserve, a ring. This will have to do until I can get you that ring Milly. This is just a token of my pledge to you.”

        “Pledge? Ring?” Still staring at the necklace.

        “Yes, as in, will you marry me?”

        “Eh?” Wide eyes bounced up to his.

        “Wolfwood,” She breathed out so softly that it sent a shiver up and down his spine. “This is perfect. I don’t need a ring. This is who you are and I accept it. It’s beautiful!”

        Her eyes misted up and with shaky fingers she fumbled with the clasp until he gently took it from her. Circling it around her neck, he fastened it and brought a hand up to cup her cheek. She closed her eyes and pressed her cheek back into his warm palm.

        “Milly.” She opened her eyes to look at him.

        “There is no guarantee that any one of us will survive this madness, but if you and I do, I would be the most fortunate of men if you would do me the honor of becoming my wife.”

        She stared, speechless.

        Tears glistened across her blue eyes causing them to gleam in the moonlight.

        “I will do my best to make sure you survive Mr. Priest!”

        He grinned down at her until, surprising him, she reached up and pulled his head down to hers. Then with a soft caress across his lips, she breathed a kiss on them making his whole body tingle in response. Gradually, she pressed her mouth against his and let the kiss deepen as he drew her into a tight embrace nearly lifting her off of her toes. A warmth spread through him as he became totally consumed by the soft silky texture of her parted lips.

        Part of Wolfwood was glad they were on a public street, the other half was cursing it. The hunger for her was rushing through him making him tremble and it was becoming painful especially when he felt the returning passion as she pressed back into him and heard her utter a soft sigh.

        He had to stop!

        Breaking away with a gasp he breathed in a hoarse voice, “We... I... have to stop Milly.” He squeezed his eyes shut for a second before looking down into eyes crinkling in amusement. Oh you think this is funny do you. If we had our own room I would show you funny.

        He noticed her face was as flushed as his felt, hell, as his whole body felt.

        “It’s not like anything could happen here.”

        Shutting his eyes again, he groaned and fought the desire to clutch her to him again. With a growl he answered, “Honey, don’t count on that to keep you safe!”

        God, was he going to be able to wait for the ceremony? Rethinking his position on waiting until after dealing with Knives, the idea of getting her to the altar right away was beginning to look more and more attractive to him.

        As if reading his mind, she said, “Whenever you want Wolfwood, I’ll be ready.”

        He wasn’t sure if she was talking about the ceremony or not, but he didn’t care, he was going to marry this woman and soon.

        Putting an arm around her they headed across the street in the direction of the hotel. Wolfwood hoped the walk in the cool air would help, either that or, he thought morosely, a cold shower.

        Once back in the hotel room Milly became nervous and stiff, frequently darting glances at the door and Wolfwood wasn’t doing much better. He sat and then stood, sat and then paced switching back and forth deciding that whoever had said “three’s company” had never been in a relationship. Three was a downright damned inconvenience especially when the lady of one’s affections was returning those affections.

        He couldn’t keep quiet any longer, “Relax Honey. Nothing is going to happen here.” She knew it wouldn’t but let out a big relieved breath anyway and gave him a brilliant smile as if a load were lifted from her shoulders.

        To give themselves something else to think about and while away the time, they pulled out the big map they had brought with them. Milly had offered to play Wolfwood in a game of chess which, no fool he, had promptly turned down.

        Map spread across the bed they began marking the towns they had already traveled through and in another color the ones that were closest to them they hadn’t been to yet. They noted the larger towns all within the relatively same traveling distance from New Memphis. Any one of them would be viable options as each had twenty to thirty plant angels housed there. It didn’t matter to them which town they visited first or in what order. When it came to seeking out his sisters, searching for those few that were sympathetic to humans, they let Vash choose the direction.

        They were leaning over the map, heads nearly touching, discussing what supplies and food stock they needed and the state of their finances, when the door of their room burst open and bounced with a resounding crash against the wall startling them both.

        Before either could take a breath, Wolfwood found himself picked up and slammed against a wall with a very enraged Vash in his face gripping his throat with his artificial hand. His eyes were shrunk to mere pinpoints of rage. Wolfwood’s heart sank. Wearily he asked himself ‘What could it be now?’ even as he sensed the dangerous edge that Vash was teetering back and forth on.

        Lips lifted in a snarl Vash accused, “You’re still working for Knives aren’t you?!” His hand tightened, imperceptibly but enough that Wolfwood began gagging and choking. Instinctively he reached up and grabbed at Vash’s hand, for all the good it did him.

        He couldn’t believe this! To be accused again after all this time! There had been a time not that long ago when he had been guilty of working for Knives. But not now. This should have been a settled issue by this point in time. Especially since another of Knives’ henchmen had almost killed him and then Knives had also issued a death marker against him. He was a dead man walking.

        “You’re still under his control and doing his bidding! And now I have another spy yapping at my heels to keep me under tabs while reporting back to Knives!”

        Eyes wide with horror, Milly watched the confrontation. Some instinct told her not to interfere, that as long as Vash was talking Wolfwood would be okay. Barely breathing she tried to keep as silent as possible so as not to startle Vash into doing something stupid.

        “She knows about me! How did she know I was a plant! Tell me that Chapel! Did you tell her?” He waited until Wolfwood shook his head and gasped out, “No!” Then Vash looked over his shoulder at Milly, “You?” And believed her when she shook her head no, still afraid to speak a word.

        Attention back on the priest, he demanded, “Then where did she get that little bit of critical information?” In a sarcastic tone he continued, “Maybe she’s psychic. Or maybe you and her are spy buddies for my beloved brother! Are the retirement benefits that good Chapel? I wouldn’t think so. My brother’s hired help have a rather short life expectancy. It’s a wonder you lasted this long!”

        He stopped and closed his eyes, fighting the desire to crush the treacherous priest’s throat beneath his hand.

        Through narrow eyes Wolfwood stared at him in anger.

        Hoarsely he asked, his hands still gripped around Vash’s mechanical one. “Are we back to this again? I don’t know how the hell she knows anything. She smelled your metal arm, maybe she smelled you!”

        Giving Chapel a shake, Vash growled out at him, “She’s out killing plant angels on our side! And she was communicating with these sisters of mine, the worst of a bad lot! So who knows WHAT she was telling them!”

        Eyes burning back into Vash’s he yelled again, “I don’t know anything about that. I want him DEAD, do you hear me! Dead! You won’t believe me and won’t trust me because to you I am Chapel. If you don’t get it through your head that Chapel is dead and that I am Wolfwood, then you won‘t be able to trust me again.”

        “I NEVER trusted you!”

        “Now who’s lying?” And coughed as Vash squeezed again. Regaining his breath he stared back into hard cold eyes and saw his death there.

        With a swift motion he pulled out Vash’s gun and held it to his own temple. The cold silver circle pressed hard against his head.

        A little gasp was the only sound heard in the awful silence of the room. Vash reached up and covered Wolfwood’s hand, his finger slipping through the trigger guard to cover Wolfwood’s own. All the fury drained from his face. Looking into it was like looking at a blank gravestone. Hard stone revealing nothing.

        Wolfwood whispered hoarsely around the outlaw’s unrelenting grip, “We’ve been here before Needlenoggin. Shoot me if you truly believe I am on his side.”

        Wolfwood was taking one of the greatest gambles of his life. At one point in time he would have said he knew Vash, but now? He wasn’t sure, he couldn’t tell one way or another if Vash would pull the trigger or not.

        He felt a bead of sweat tickle it’s way down the side of his face as he glared back into Vash’s eyes. His heart skipped a beat when he heard Vash cock the gun and felt a gradual tightening of Vash’s finger against his own.

        Nervously he watched a face he didn’t recognize, a distant stranger’s who held his fate in his trigger finger.

        Just when he thought that he had gambled wrong and Vash was indeed going to put a bullet through his skull, a scream froze both outlaw and priest statue still.

        Milly threw herself at the two of them. Grabbing a hold of Vash’s arm she tugged on it trying to drag it down away from Wolfwood’s head. It didn’t budge, staying rock steady where it was.

        “STOP THIS!! This HAS to stop! We have been through hell and back, we’ve laughed and cried together.” Releasing Vash’s arm she slid to her knees yelling and sobbing, “I HATE this! Knives doesn’t have to defeat us. We’re doing it to ourselves. We should be thinking about stopping him instead.”

        Swallowing her weeping she looked up from her knees at Vash with tear- streaked cheeks and drenched eyes. There was no indication on Vash’s face as to what he was feeling, if anything, but she caught his gaze and held it.

        “Vash, we have followed you and would follow you to the ends of the planet just so we can help you destroy Knives. Why do you think we spent all those months tracking you down? You abandoned us as I was struggling to nurse Mr. Priest back to health. We finally found you at that ship getting a new arm, and you can’t deny it, you were pleased to see us. We could have just gone somewhere to hide until the storm hit and blew over but we didn’t! We are in this until the bitter end.”

        Much to Wolfwood’s immense relief Vash slipped his finger out of the trigger guard. He would have sagged if Vash still hadn’t a hold around his neck. Wolfwood released his grip on the silver gun. Vash dropped his hand with the gun still cocked, his arm tight at his side like a coiled spring. Vash looked down at Milly, his face working in anger.

        In a hard cold voice he threw at her, “And you haven’t left me alone since! Do you think following me around is going to bring back that Insurance Girl? It won’t!”

        Milly screamed back at him, “Don’t you DARE call her that anymore! Her name was MERYL and don’t you EVER call her that again, or... I swear.... I’ll... I’ll kill you myself!” Putting her head in her hands she let the pain of a broken and grieving heart rock her body with its weeping. There was a stretch of silence broken only by Milly’s sobs.

        Trying again, Vash said, “Following me will only get you both killed as well.”

        Wolfwood growled, catching Vash‘s attention, “I didn’t die Vash. And it’s only while we live that we have the ability to change things.”

        Vash loosened his grip on Wolfwood’s throat and then finally dropped his hold altogether. Wolfwood began rubbing his throat gingerly where Vash’s iron grip had been before he brushed past Vash to lean over and help Milly to her feet. He drew her in close, circling his arms around her.

        In a calm voice he restated, “We didn’t die Vash. Milly’s right, we could have abandoned the cause completely. We chose not to because even we know you can’t defeat Knives by yourself. You already tried that and failed. You need us and we need you. I wasn’t ready to fight before. I am ready to fight now and will fight!”

        Milly looked at Vash through a veil of messed hair partially obscuring eyes red and puffy from crying. But also lifted defiantly.

        Straightening in Wolfwood’s arms, she said loudly and succinctly, “So am I!”

        “Me too!”

        The three turned in surprise to find Rinnah standing in the doorway, resolute and with eyes burning vivid blue. Both guns were strapped to her hips and the strength of her presence exuded from her into the room cutting through the tension. She smoothly glided in as if her feet were walking on air. Closing the door behind her, she slowly looked from one to another studying them each in turn and weighing what she found there. Her relaxed hands rested on her gun butts while she cocked her head considering her next words.

        Her eyes came back to settle on Vash.

        “So your brother is Knives the psycho plant. I didn’t realize that until I heard the yelling from down the hall. Oh, FYI people, lousy job of keeping your business a secret.” At their puzzled expression, and Vash’s flat one, she said, “Everyone on this floor knows, okay?” Milly and Wolfwood nodded, still a little confused.

        She came closer into the room stopping a few yards away, her stance relaxed yet at the same time vigilant.

        “You may not believe this, and I don’t care if you do or not, but I have several bones of contention to pick with your brother. He’s going down. Whether you let me join or not, it doesn’t matter to me because with or without you, I’m huntin’ bear!”

        Rinnah thought back to her ship, she now knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that even if Knives didn’t press the firing button himself, he had somehow been involved in that, leaving her stranded here. She would lay down star chips that it was his doing. Then there was Twila and all plant angels like her. More star chips down that brother was absorbing the plant angel sisters that weren’t gung-ho behind his plans for exterminating the human race. And, the humans didn’t realize they were being targeted for extinction. Lastly, her friends right here in this room . They were targeted too. It was very personal now. And it was time someone stepped up to take responsibility for doing in the evil doer. Besides, who knew how long she had anyway?

        “You really aren’t from around here are you?” Remarked Wolfwood.

        She grinned, “’Bout as far away as one can get.”

        Milly had her hands clasped in front of her beaming happily and went to give her friend a hug until she felt a hand collar her back. She looked over at Vash’s grim face remembering the gun he still had cocked in his hand. There was a dark roiling tension emerging from him, the antithesis of the energy Rinnah had been radiating. Suddenly she was afraid for Rinnah, for Wolfwood, for all of them. She snuck a look at Rinnah’s face. She didn’t look the least bit worried.

        Looking straight into Vash‘s face she spoke from a place balanced between resting strength and vibrant peace. “Reject me or accept me Cochise. Like I said, it doesn’t matter to me but quite frankly, from what I’ve seen, you could use the help.”

        The tension hovering around Vash concentrated into a tight sphere of force. In a voice that could have been carved from stone, he demanded, “What did you say to my sisters?”

        Ah, that was it. What the sisters knew, alpha male knew and that really bothered the beta brother.

        “Only that trouble was on its way. Meaning me of course. I didn’t know you people were involved.”

        Slowly, the tension faded and rigid muscles relaxed and then Vash was facing her again and not some sinister changeling.

        He uncocked his gun and slipped it back into his holster and frowned as he came to a decision. In a blur of unnatural speed he disappeared to reappear inches away from Rinnah’s face. He wrapped long fingers around her arm and then the place where they had been standing was empty. Wolfwood and Milly blinked, confused even though they had seen Vash use his incredible speed in the past. Before the second blink, Vash and Rinnah materialized in front of the window. She seemed a little taken aback at being displaced from place to another so quickly but shook it off to look at Vash inquiringly.

        The fifth moon had risen and outlining their bodies was an eerie glowing halo as they stood framed by the window.

        “If you betray me...” He pointed up to the moon. “.... Then you will suffer the consequences.”

        Rinnah ripped her arm out of his grip, ignoring the flash of surprise he gave her.

        “What, you gonna moon me?” She responded not knowing what he was referring to. She looked over at Milly in puzzlement, who mouthed, “He did it.” Rinnah mouthed back, “Oh.” This was an interesting development. She wondered how he had done that.

        Turning back to Vash, she took his arm and spun him around until he was face to face with her.

        “I will not betray you, but the same promise holds true for you. I don’t have a moon to point to but I can guarantee that if you pass me dirty it won’t be pretty.” With that she let loose of his arm, feeling the genetic imperative of her plant genes starting to rise to the surface from the all the stress pheromones and hormones being discharged in a such a small space. With gritted teeth she forced them down knowing that this was not the time to reveal who or what she was.

        Wolfwood finally let out the mental breath he had been holding from the first when Vash had burst into the room until just now. His heart had been beating so rapidly he wondered if he had damaged it and speculated how much abuse like this it could keep taking. Following Vash around was not easy on the mind or body.

        “Well, now that’s settled.” Wolfwood said, suddenly feeling depleted of all energy. His pulse was only now settling back to normal and the sweat was still damp on his skin. Damn that was close. There was a brief point in time he thought Vash was actually going to pull the trigger.

        Running a hand through his hair, he said, “If we need to be up early tomorrow we are going to have to get some sleep.” Like I will be able to drop off anytime soon after all this stimulation.

        Instantly Rinnah brightened, fairly bouncing with suppressed excitement. Vash looked at her with suspicion, Wolfwood with a “Now what?” expression but Milly caught the excitement and beamed it back at her.

        “Milly! I found the perfect place to have breakfast tomorrow!”

        “Really? Where?” Milly ignored the now sour look on Vash’s face and the “Here we go again” roll of the eyes from Wolfwood.

        “It’s a bakery!”

        Milly stared at her in confusion. “A.... bakery?”

        “Yeah, bakery. You know.”

        “Yes... I know.... but... so?” Her head tilted to the side in bewilderment.

        “Milly,” Rinnah explained slowly, “They have real live people who roll out the dough...” she mimicked the action of someone rolling out dough, “They have fresh baked donuts every morning and on top of that, they grind the coffee beans fresh every day. Holy Hybrid Milly, doesn’t that just make your mouth water?”

        Milly was still staring as now were Wolfwood and Vash.

        “Rinnah,” She began gently, “Don’t they have bakeries where you’re from?”

        Rinnah pulled up short. Damn. Damn. Damn. She scrunched her eyes wondering how to get out of this one.

        “Well, maybe you and Mr. Vash should go. It’s really hard for me to get up so early in the morning.”

        “Vash!?” She shot a dubious look at him out of the corner of her eye. “He doesn’t seem like the donut type to me.”

        Missing the grin on Milly’s face and Wolfwood’s grin she turned back only when Wolfwood asked, “What, exactly is, ‘the donut type’?” he was curious to hear the answer.

        Rinnah waved a hand in the air, “Oh you know, the carefree, happy-go- lucky sort. The kind who enjoys life, laughing and being around people.” She shot Vash another look that clearly expressed her doubts that Vash could ever be like that. “And friendly. I really doubt he would like it.” Muttering under her breath although he heard her quite well, “Probably kill him to have some fun.”

        Focusing her attention on Milly she clasped her hands in front of her pleading, “Oh c’mon Milly, puhleeeeeze? I want to share this new experience with a friend. It’ll be fun! You can come sleep in my room. I’ve got a really loud kick-ass alarm clock. And, you can get out of this male hormone infested room to one that smells like a girl. Yours truly.” Spreading her arms wide to indicate herself. Beaming a smile now while batting huge, wide eyes trying to convince Milly.

        Milly laughed at Rinnah’s attempt at the puppy dog eyes and nodded.

        “Since you put it that way, it does sound like fun. Let me get my stuff together.”

        As Milly moved around the room putting her things into a bag Wolfwood felt a spasm of panic. He realized that he and Milly hadn’t been parted in more months than he cared to count.

        “Hey, can I come too?” Wolfwood asked pathetically even as both girls shook their heads. “You’re not leaving me alone with him for a roomie are you?”

        He grumbled underneath his breath. He would bet even money that they would have a whole lot more fun in their room than he would even begin to have in this one.

        As Rinnah moved for the door to return to her room, she called back over her shoulder, “Next time, I’ll get us a suite so we can all stay together. We can pop popcorn and stay up late watching scary movies.”

        “What the hell are you talking about?” Vash growled at her while at the same time Milly asked, “Wow. Are you rich Rinnah?”

        Rinnah decided to answer Milly’s question, “Like you wouldn’t believe!”

        “How’d you get so rich?”

        “Wisely invested military retirement plan.” And exited the room with a wave of her hand with Milly close behind her.

        “I hate her.” Muttered Vash.

        “What. She’s a lot of fun.” Responded Wolfwood with a smile. “Things seem to happen around her.... “And walking over to his bed he sat on it only bothering to take off his jacket before laying down. “...Kind of reminds me of what you used to be like.” Sighing, he closed his eyes waiting for sleep to overtake him.

Setting Traps
        Rinnah laid in bed, fully clothed, listening to Milly’s breathing. She was asleep but even so the black-haired hybrid waited. She really didn’t need to worry, after all the emotional upheaval of the past couple of days, and especially the past several hours, Milly had collapsed into bed and not long after had started to softly snore. Still, she wiggled her toes waiting impatiently as Milly slipped quickly into a slumbering state. She wanted to make sure the tall girl was deeply asleep. Not knowing her well enough to know her sleeping patterns, she wasn’t sure if Milly was a light sleeper or a dead-to-the-world one. She was hoping for the latter.

        The impromptu invite for a sleepover could have compromised Rinnah’s plans for the night but she didn’t regret it one bit. She hadn’t realized how much she missed having Rachel to talk to everyday. And Dad. They hadn’t seen each other in person for ages but they had sent e-translight mail every other day. A lump was beginning to burn to tighten in her throat with an urge to let the tears flow out of her brimming eyes. Quickly, she shoved thoughts of her murdered father aside and breathed deeply, concentrating on her plans for the night. Another time, she assured herself, when she had ample opportunity to remember and mourn.

        Deciding enough time had gone by, she slowly slid off the bed and on cat’s paws padded over to the closet where her equipment bag was stored. Pulling open the door even more slowly, wincing at the squeak it made, she reached in and grabbed her bag filled with computer parts, electrical parts, with different appliance components and tools. Delighted, with the abundance of parts with which to build her first trap she slung the bag over her shoulder and head.

        Rinnah started for the door, grabbing her shoes on the way out. She breathed out a deep sigh of relief as she shut the door quietly behind her.

        It wasn’t long after that when she stood in front of the five plant angel bulbs. This time she was heavily cloaked mentally and physically. Thankfully, this plant facility, like the one in the last town, didn’t have a security system in place, unless one wanted to count the security guards, which Rinnah didn’t.

        She hurried over to where she was hoping the access panel would be. She was counting on it being in the same spot as Twila’s had been. Walking past the bulbs to the last one, she followed the curve of the base to where it met the wall. Kneeling, she ran her hands over the metal.. Again, like Twila’s, there was no obvious seam to indicate a panel door was there. If she couldn’t see Twila’s panel with the naked eye then she shouldn’t be able to see this one either. Closing her eyes the black-haired hybrid ran her fingers across the metal surface feeling for a difference. Eyes popped open when her fingertips found it. So miniscule that unless one were actively looking it wouldn’t be easy to find. Putting pressure on it she heard a faint click and it swung open. On hands and knees she crawled in the hole, dragging her bag in with her. Reaching back she pulled the door shut behind her with a firm click.

        Several hours later, a dusty hybrid crawled out from the hidden crawl space more tired than when she had entered but also quite satisfied with the results of the night’s work. Closing the panel door carefully, she sighed with the pleasure of a job well done. The first trap was set. Rinnah studied the tiny reply com in her palm the size of her thumb print and dropped it into her belt pouch. Standing up as she shouldered her bag, then stretched, feeling her spine pop and crack in several places.

        Remembering, she hastily pulled the cloaking glamour around her again. She didn’t have to pull the mental mask up as she had never dropped it, that didn’t take as much energy as her physical disguise as it was hooked into one of two Antressla organs she had inherited. Rinnah was pretty sure that the plant angels weren’t able to sense her ‘pathic presence as she was the one who had always initiated a connection, but it didn’t hurt to be careful. It was best not to take chances if one didn’t know for sure. She did take a moment to eavesdrop in on the conversation that leaked from the plant angels. Good. They didn’t suspect a thing. Bleah! Again with the singing the praises of their brother!

        Later, as she slipped silently through the front doors of the hotel, she didn’t notice a pair of eyes following her as she ascended tiredly up the stairs to her floor.

        Back in the room, Rinnah put away her equipment and got ready for bed. Before nesting her head into the pillow she checked to make sure the alarm was set to go off at the right time. She didn’t want to miss those fresh baked donuts or freshly brewed coffee. I’m a hopeless addict, she thought, with a smile. Gotta love it.

Morning People
        Milly swayed in her chair and felt a hand under her arm steady her. She opened bleary eyes to grunt at Wolfwood. She hoped he still loved her after this as she was not at her best in the morning and looked it. It didn’t matter that he had seen her like this countless mornings before. They weren’t engaged before, now they were, and now it mattered.

        Lifting heavy eyelids, she noticed Rinnah was at the counter chatting with the owner, a huge barrel of a man. Her eyelids felt like they had weights attached to them and closing them was a relief. A slight frown creased her brows. Rinnah was too damned cheerful in the morning and Milly would tell her that as soon as she had downed six, seven, or ninety-eleven cups of coffee. Are the suns up yet? They weren’t when Rinnah had yanked her out of bed, practically dressed her and hauled her down here. And Wolfwood and Vash had been waiting in the lobby for them! Bastards, all of ‘em, Milly allowed herself to think ungraciously. I hate morning people, entirely too damn chipper.

        Milly opened her eyes again and caught sight of Rinnah turning from the counter carrying two large mugs in her hands. One of those had better be for me! Sashaying through the morning work crowd Rinnah made her way back to their table. She plunked one mug in front of Milly whose nose twitched at the enticing aroma and she reached to wrap her hands around the steaming cup of black liquid.

        “Hey, where’s mine?”

        Rinnah grinned at Nicholas.

        “You’re not morning impaired Mr. Priest-man.” Having only found out that morning what Nicholas’ vocation was. Explained his dark suit, but was a priest supposed to be that good looking?

        Wolfwood grimaced.

        “Relax Nicholas. They have to make another pot and will bring yours out when it’s done. I have to have coffee now or I won’t be pleasant to be around and Milly really needs it.”

        Milly nodded, or thought she did, she wasn’t too sure, her head felt so heavy and thick. Lifting the mug up she took a sip. She opened her eyes to see Rinnah smiling at her.

        “You weren’t kidding. You really aren’t a morning person.”

        “Uh... not.” And took another sip. It sure felt good going down.

        Just then the large owner came up and set down a mug in front of Wolfwood. Corners of Wolfwood’s mouth lifted up and his eyes followed the platter of donuts, eggs and bacon that the gentleman set down on the table.

        The owner said, with a twinkle in his eye, “Thank ye again for last night. The boy, he only think of money saved, but we thinking of him not being harmed, he being our only grandchild. Breakfast, for you, for your friends, always free when you come through.”

        Rinnah blushed, “Gee, wasn’t that big a deal Mr. Fantoola. Your grandson has a good head on his shoulders, but still, that’s really nice of you, thanks!”

        After he left, Wolfwood leaned in to ask, “What happened last night?”

        “Oh nothing much. A misguided robber. I just helped convince him of the error of his ways.”

        Milly dragged her eyes up from her coffee and donut, and still tired, only managed a half-gush, “That’s so nice of you Rinnah, you’re always helping people out.”

        Wolfwood grinned. He thought he had a better idea than Milly as to exactly how Rinnah had helped out.

        Vash finally showed up acting like his usual self, prickly. Rinnah took note of him grabbing a chair and pulling it up to the table and straddling it. He reached for the coffee and a couple of donuts. What do you know, thought Rinnah in surprise, he does like donuts.

        She turned her attention back to Nicholas. He had been telling her about the orphanage he had been in charge of. She was intrigued. After her one experience with the small litter of children in the last town, she had gotten curious about these little critters. They weren’t just adults in kid costumes. What they were to Rinnah was a whole new fascinating species.

        Absently Rinnah reached for the last donut on her plate only to have her hand close on empty air. Eh? Irked at not being able to find it she turned to look and found a crumb speckled plate.

        Where was her last donut? Turning she looked over at Milly who was halfway through her bowl of pudding. Technically they didn’t serve pudding, what she was eating was used to insert into donuts but Mr. Fantoola himself had brought her a bowl when she had asked if they had pudding on their menu.

        He was quite taken with Milly, once she had fully woken up to her normal perky self. He had pinched her cheek causing a sweet blush to spread across her cheeks. It deepened when he had turned to Wolfwood, who had an arm draped across the back of her chair, and advised him to take good care of his woman, she was a keeper. Wolfwood had crinkled his eyes in amusement and assured him he would take excellent care of her. He then winked at Milly who quickly dropped her eyes to her bowl, but a quiet smile hovered around her lips.

        No, Milly was intent on her pudding, but feeling eyes on her had looked up and returned Rinnah’s with one of puzzlement. Wolfwood was sucking on an unlit cigarette looking up at the ceiling in private contemplation of who knew what.

        Then finally swiveling in her chair to face Vash she was just in time to see him lick donut sugar off of a fingertip.

        Eyes wide with outrage she roared at him.

        “That was mine plant boy!”

        He stopped to stare at her, finger still in his mouth.

        “You took my donut on purpose, just to spite me...” She was out of her chair looming across the table at him, “Just because I said you weren’t the donut type!”

        He finished sucking the tip of his finger.

        Without a word, he stood up, reached over and ruffled her hair before spinning on his heel for the door.

        Rinnah yelled at his retreating back and shaking a fist at him he couldn‘t see, “I’ll get you back for this you donut snatcher!” Without stopping and without looking back, he lifted a hand in acknowledgment and exited the door.

        She sat back down in her chair glaring at the door.

        “I hate him.”

        She heard Nicholas chuckle and whipped her head to pin him with a stare. He held up both hands but that didn’t stop him from laughing softly.

        Oh well, there was always the leftover eggs and bacon. She went to reach for them and stopped short, hand hovering over the empty platter. When had he had time to inhale all that!? She muttered an appropriately foul curse while the priest’s eyebrows shot up in amused response and Millygiggled around her spoon.
Blackfire & Gunsmoke - Chapter 4
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