"Blackfire & Gunsmoke Chapter 6"
By Susan-chan

Rated PG-13 (language & violence)

Under the Light of the Moons
        Neither Milly nor Rinnah were willing to admit that they were at fault for the ‘bar incident’ as they were beginning to refer to it as. Milly was spooked by the whole incident and admitted it while Rinnah was confused by the reactions when the name “Legato“ was mentioned. She couldn’t remember his name being brought up in conversation before nor what he was able to do, but it must be serious to get the reactions it did. Head tilted to the side with a frown of puzzlement she listened as Wolfwood patiently explained this freak human’s abilities and position in Knives’ organization. She also noticed how Vash’s shoulders got tighter and tighter through the brief description. It wasn’t lost on her that this Legato thoroughly creeped everyone out.

        Later that day, she entered the room to find both gunmen sitting on the floor with rags, little brushes, cleaning fluid, oil, and scattered pieces of their guns around them. They were stripping and cleaning every centimeter of gun and anything and everything that could be taken apart with a near mindless intensity. So engrossed were they in their gun cleaning project they didn‘t notice her arrival or greeting until she repeated it a couple of times. They halted long enough to stare up at her with blank looks before returning to their labors. After that she left them alone. Obviously a guy thing. Feeling insecure? Clean a gun.

        In the meantime, for the next couple of days, Milly and Rinnah stayed inside playing cards, everything from Old Maid to gin rummy although Rinnah had taken Nicholas’s advice and avoided playing Milly in chess. They did this until the men were less nervous, jumpy or radiating hostility in all directions. If they didn’t have to wait for the vehicle Vash and Wolfwood would have left town straightaway. As it was, they were assured that the car would be in arriving in a day or two.

        At least now they knew there were two towns they were going to avoid. The intelligence-gathering mission had been successful in part. They discovered that the towns of Dead Run and Lost Edge, although small and while not belonging to Knives, had a recent major influx of plant worshippers gathering in both places. That left Last Chance and Towering Rock. Both of these towns had several plant angels.

        Vash and Rinnah visited the plant facility in short sessions spread out over the week so as not to arouse the suspicions of the security guards or other employees working there.

        Vash had Rinnah listen in on his sisters since it was so easy for her to do and without them realizing it. He, having been exiled from the family communal link, if he tried to link up then the whole family, plus one brother, would know where he was. The danger was that that his sisters could concentrate their power together and direct it at him to either render him inoperative or kill him.

        In talking it over they both decided it was just best for him not to even try, especially since his plant family just naturally “leaked” out to Rinnah. Unlike him she didn’t need to expend any energy in listening to their chatter and then report to him the family gossip.

        Always, at some point in awed tones, mention was made of having a third free walking plant growing up under Knives’ tutelage. When she reported that little snippet to him the effect was more than she had expected. Vash went rigid and tense. Then there was talk of the Mother of the Youngest. The Mother would soon be ready to receive a new seed so another plant could be born. And this time it would be special, even more so than before. This time the Mother would be impregnated... but then it would die down as a voice that Rinnah was beginning to recognize and loathe would command all discussion about those plans be dropped.

        When she reported this, the effect on Vash was unexpected. His lips thinned in a hard, straight line and eyes stared off into the distance muttering quietly not realizing she heard every word. “He’s going to do it; he’s actually going to raise his own private little army. He’s so much closer than he has ever been before. ” Then squeezed his eyes shut. “This time, I will stop him. This time, I will kill him.”

        Rinnah wondered about all this and asked but Vash refused to answer her.

        The only other time they spent any time together were a few meal times with Wolfwood and Milly. He usually ate in silence and left as soon as he was done. Which was perfectly fine with Rinnah.

        The hotel they were currently staying at was one of the best suites they had come across in their travels. The main rooms were a combination of the living room and small kitchen area. To one side was the room the men slept in and directly across on the other side of the main area, the room where the girls slept. Both Wolfwood and Vash were distinctly relieved to have them all together in the same place.

        Not having everyone jammed into one room was a special perk for Rinnah. The men were more easily awakened at night and tended to jump at the least little bit of noise. Maybe they did that all the time but she learned firsthand from those times when they were forced to share a room that she couldn’t slip out those nights. Milly though, slept like the dead. Vash, come to find out, was a notoriously light sleeper. Surprisingly, she found that out not from nights she was trying to slip out, but from those nights she decided to stay in. There were those few nights she couldn’t sleep and had gotten up make herself some warm cocoa. It never failed to soothe her jangled nerves.

        One of the nights she was unable to sleep she decided to get up. Tiptoeing about trying not to make any loud noises to wake the men she was in the process of opening the fridge door and reaching for the milk when she heard a quiet voice speak behind her. Quiet as it was, the sudden unexpectedness of it nearly sent her out of her skin. Luckily for her she still had a good grip on the milk container before she was so startled.

        “Couldn’t sleep?” Rinnah whirled to find Vash sitting near the corner of the couch situated in the shadows where the dim glow from the small light over the sink couldn’t reach. This wasn’t the first time that he had startled her but no matter how many times he surprised her she just couldn’t get used to it.

        “Couldn’t you?” She shot back at him, yet proceeded to pour enough milk in the pan to fill two mugs. She could feel her heart racing in her chest.

        He’s like a freaking sneaky-pawed cat! She tried to take calming breaths to get her heart rate back to normal.

        Evasive liar. He thought to himself with only a trace of suspicious animosity as he watched her make the cocoa. As a result of these frequent bouts of insomnia of hers he discovered that he liked hot cocoa. He was even starting to look forward to these times when she made them both a cup and they sat at the table sipping the hot liquid. They rarely talked during these times but the tension was thick enough to cut with a knife.

        At first he enjoyed those times because he knew his presence there made her nervous in a way it didn’t during the daylight hours when Milly and Wolfwood were around also. Once he figured that out he began taking a perverse pleasure in standing right next to her as she stirred the cocoa waiting for it to heat up. He even leaned in closer just to watch her twitch and shy away from him trying to be but trying to be as inconspicuous about it as possible. One time though he got too close only to find a wet wooden spoon lightly touching the tip of his nose in warning. Now, it was getting to be something more, but it eluded him as to what it could be. However, he did smile at the memory. This time he would just sit and watch until it was ready.

        The next day, Rinnah checked her list. Despite certain persons she was doing well during the hiatus. She was managing to get everything accomplished she had hoped to. The first week she used every other night to build her traps. The second week she set the traps except for the last one as she ran out of parts. Thankfully, sneaky-paws slept through those nights as well making it possible for her to get finished what she could. She yawned. Last night had not been a trap night but a cocoa night. It was getting to be that nights were not for sleeping anymore.

        The day before Milly had gone grocery shopping and Rinnah took the opportunity to take apart her scanner to use for trap parts. Since the first day after crashing here it hadn’t been used. Now that she knew the culture better it didn’t seem as necessary as it once did. Still, other parts were needed. Scouring the antique stores and junkyards, she was able to piece together the last trap. She wouldn’t be able to make any more after this unless she could find the tiny components. She wasn’t sure if she would be able to find the small computer parts that she needed to make any more traps or not. So, in her wake, she left five. They would have to do.

        With one last trap left to set, she would be done here. She would slip out tonight and finish up. Rinnah was glad this was the last night.

        She waited until Milly fell asleep, grateful it never took very long. It was only the past several nights that Rinnah was having trouble staying awake as she waited for Milly to fall asleep. Night after night with only a couple of hours of sleep in the wee hours were starting to take its toll. She was starting to trip over things, forget what she was talking about in mid-sentence, start to nod off at odd times and her hands were developing tremors.

        So far only Milly had noticed, overall, the outlaw and priest weren’t around them that much, except for that certain someone developing a fetish for hot cocoa. Besides Rinnah was confident in her ability to fake normal. At one point during a lunch with all of them, the boys were deep in a discussion about who managed what area for Knives and what area they should steer away from. Milly took the opportunity to reach across and put a refreshingly cool hand on Rinnah’s arm. The friendly and concerned touch had been so comforting. Rinnah was ready to fall asleep sitting up and even yawned. As it was when Milly removed her hand, Rinnah nearly tipped off her chair. She just caught herself in time and opened heavy eyes with a jerk. Glancing around she checked to see if anyone had noticed. Good, only Milly noticed guessing by the worried look on her face.

        Here she was her last night of trap setting. These things better work! She didn’t want to think about the alternative if they didn’t. What would she do otherwise, taunt Knives into submission? Not likely.

        Listening to Milly’s breathing change as she slipped into the dreaming world, she decided to get up. Normally the hybrid would wait longer but tonight she was just so tired she didn’t think she would be able to keep her eyes open if she stayed stretched out on the bed the hotel provided for the comfort of their guests. The scum!

        There were a few nights when she had used her cloaking glamour so it would appear to Milly that Rinnah was dressed and ready for bed, as was the case tonight.

        Rinnah couldn’t wait any longer; she dropped the cloak with relief, and forced herself to get off the bed with a soft groan.

        Retrieving her bag, she stuck her head through the strap, positioning it over her chest and cinched it close to her body so it wouldn’t swing wildly about.

        Heading for the balcony door, she paused to look over at Milly. No movement. The tall girl was deeply asleep. Star holes but I’m tired. Her shoulders slumped for a second until she took a deep breath reminding herself that after this night’s work was done she could get all the sleep she wanted.

        Standing on the common balcony shared with the living room and the boy‘s room, she let the chill of the night air revive her. Taking a second, she gazed up at the moons before leaning hands on the railing to peer over the balcony. Dang, but it looked a long way down to the ground from up here. How come she was only noticing this now? Heights made her a little on the queasy side and she tried to avoid them as much as possible. Rinnah decided she was too preoccupied of late to notice just how high their room was from the ground. Great. Now I have to notice.

        With a grunt, she jumped from a standing position to a balanced stance on the rail. With an effortless leap she crossed over to the next room’s balcony railing. She ran lightly on the rails of the other balconies until she came to a gap that allowed her access to a lower balcony. Following this pattern she was soon at ground level.

        Starting out the night already tired and feeling somewhat dejected it wasn’t but a matter of time before she soon spiraled down to into an ill-tempered grump. But she was fit to be tied when tools, screws, chips, and parts seemingly slipped through nerveless fingers. Rinnah discovered she was having a hard time holding on to things. Worse though, found herself trying to screw the wrong miniscule parts together that didn’t even fit in the first place, and to notice she was doing it for a while was beyond infuriating.

        At one point she threw her screwdriver across the filthy, dusty little tunnel she was scrunched down in. After realizing what she had done, she had to crawl through the grime to search for it. She was in a right foul mood by the time she finished hours later than it should have taken her to complete the project. And on top of everything else, she would have to take a sponge bath to get all of the dirt, sweat, and filth off of her when she got back. Less sleep time for her. An especially odious curse was flung at the wiring and chips in front of her. Grimly and with a growing frustration she started putting the pieces together, cursing their ancestry back to the first microchip.

        However, this night she found out more about the Mother and what a revelation that was! She wasn’t linked up at the time but only casually eavesdropping when she heard a name for the first time. She shot straight up into a sitting position but in the process cracked her head on the low ceiling of the access tunnel she was in. Dropping her tools she rocked forward as she clutched her head groaning in pain. As the throbbing receded, leaving her with a mild headache, the hybrid was able to wonder at what she had heard and if it could be true. Rinnah’s initial reaction was to tell Milly but knew what the result would be if she did. They weren’t ready yet. Then she wondered why Vash was lying to them. Most curious. She intended to find out one of these days.

        Brow puckered with all the things she was trying to keep in her overly tired brain a she pounded the floor in front of her in frustration. It would be nice to own a small personal thumb-sized computer about now. Yes, just like the one she had only cannibalized previous day for spare parts for her traps. She groaned. It could keep track of everything so she wouldn’t need to. Isn’t that the way it always is? Just when you think you don’t need a tool and get rid of it; in this case in scattered little parts and pieces to use to kick evil plant butt, then you find a use for it after it is disposed of. Fried and dipped star holes from the south side of hell! This was enough to drive a person insane!

        Hours later, a silent shadowy figure leaped from a standing position on the ground to a railing and then crossed, leaping from one horizontal balcony railing to another until she came to a place she could leap up to the next floor’s balcony. Finally she came to the balcony outside her room.

        Rinnah leaned against the door that led to her room, stifling a yawn before noiselessly opening the sliding glass door. She slipped in unaware of the eyes that yet again, watched her ascent.

        Without making a sound, she crossed the room, put away her bag before going into the bathroom and washing off the sweat and dirt smell mix of the evening’s activity. Getting dressed for bed she was nearly overcome by a wave of exhaustion. Sure, she didn’t need as much sleep as an average human required, but she did need some, and of late, she had been getting less than what even she needed. Being half-human that half was complaining and screaming at her for the neglect and ill treatment it had been receiving of late. And blimey, could that half scream bloody murder when it wanted!

        With knees trembling, she slid between her covers with a relieved joy so sharp it was near akin to pain. Pulling her covers up over her she laid her head on the pillow with a sigh...

        ...And some flipping lunatic with a death wish was yanking on her covers!!

        Instinctively, she clutched at her blanket resisting the pull even as her eyes popped open feeling extremely pissed. Someone was going to die a horrible death! She had just closed her eyes dammit all!

        Entwining her fingers in her blanket she looked up to find Milly, Nicholas and Vash all gathered around her bed staring down at her with various expressions of concern and curiosity.

        “WHAT!!!” Exploded out of her.

        Before waiting for an answer her mouth engaged.

        “Flaming star drives! Haven’t you people ever seen a person sleep before? It’s quite a common occurrence, happens every time the sun goes down. Floorshow’s over! Now get the hell out of my room and let me get back to sleep!”

        Sun? Vash narrowed his eyes at her.

        She pushed herself back into her pillow and pulled the blanket up until only her fingers, nose and eyes glared at them from over the edge.

        “Rinnah, I couldn’t get you to wake up.....” Milly began with worry shining in her eyes.

        “Well, I’m awake now and wish I wasn‘t... with a freaking audience no less!”

        She glared at each of them in turn, thinking “go away” in their direction.

        “Uhmm...” Continued Milly, now playing with one of her suspenders, “You don’t understand, the alarm went off this morning... really loud I might add, but you didn’t get up for breakfast. That didn’t worry me although it was odd. You slept through lunch and the afternoon and that’s when I really started to get worried. But, sleeping through dinner?”

        Wolfwood took over; “We came in to help her try to wake you up.” With a smile he added “You were doing some serious napping, but it also looked like you weren’t breathing there for a while.”


        “Mighty strange there Rinnah girl, I’ve never seen someone sleep that hard before. It’s like you couldn’t wake up.” In a voice that invited an explanation. Which at the moment Rinnah didn’t have. She was just as confused as they were.

        “Oh Rinnah we were so concerned about you!” Milly broke in.

        Through half-open lids, Rinnah cast a glance over to the window. The sun had been up and had gone down again? To her it felt as if she were waking from a ten-minute nap. She tried to process what she was being told but it was like looking through the wrong end of a spyglass. It was taking too much energy to try and figure out what all this meant. And, hang it all, she was just too dang tired. No, she was beyond tired. All things considered, they were intelligent beings with a good night’s sleep behind them, let them figure it out; they could give her their opinions in the morning.

        She rolled over, burying her head under the covers.

        “Wake me when the sun comes up again...” a muffled yawn was barely heard as she curled into a fetal position.

        “Rinnah! You slept the away the entire day! I couldn’t get you to wake up at all!” Milly’s voice nearly cracked with emotion.

        Wolfwood asked, and she heard the concern in his voice too. “Are you sick?”

        Rinnah finally realized that this was not going to go away on its own, they weren’t going to go away until they were satisfied. She considered her options. Time to lie like a snake on a hot rock.

        “No, I don’t feel well at all.” Came her muffled voice. The blankets moved until a black head popped out. She looked at them. Funny how admitting to not feeling well made them all feel better. She could feel the tension draining out of the trio.

        Milly smiled and leaned in closer put a hand on Rinnah’s forehead. “You do feel a little warm to me.” Straightening up, she went over to the closet and pulled out her duster. “I’ll go down and get some groceries. I know just the thing for a sick person that my big little sister taught me. It will get you on your feet in no time. Oh, soup and crackers too!” Milly looked happy to be able to do something.

        Rinnah however, blanched. Holy Hybrid, she’s going to nurse me into an early grave. Please, please, don’t let it be some kind of tea. She looked up at Milly and smiled weakly, “Sure Milly. Sounds great.”

        Milly was humming as she buttoned up her coat. She left with Wolfwood following, but before he left the room, he threw a blessing back to her. “May Almighty God speed you to a full recovery.”

        I’m gonna need it, thought Rinnah with sour resignation.

        She groaned before realizing someone was still in the room with her. Opening her eyes she was surprised to find Vash still there. Rinnah caught him staring down at her with an unfathomable expression on his face that changed into a frown. Returning his frown she humphed, closed her eyes again and scrunched down under her blankets while rolling her back to him.

        He grunted and she heard him leave the room and let out a sigh of relief.

        Hoo boy. That was a close one.

        Guess I was more tired than I thought.

        True to her word Milly made soup, which Rinnah found out to her surprise, was delicious. The ‘good for what ails’ you potion was horrid. It was thick, and smelled of rotting animal parts left out in the sun too long. Milly helped Rinnah sit up in bed even though she didn’t need it. One sniff and Rinnah about tossed her cookies. Trying not to smell it, she took a couple of gulps before gagging. Coughing and choking, she apologized. Milly’s eyes crinkled up hiding her eyes.

        “Oh everyone does that. It means I made it right.”

        If I wasn’t sick before, I will be now.

        Much to Rinnah’s irritation, Milly made out a schedule and everyone took a turn at sitting in the room with the invalid.

        “I not on my deathbed you know, you don’t have to sit in here with me! One more time folks, I’m fine! Really!”

        Milly was firm and could not be moved. “You weren’t breathing, I swear you weren’t. And it was only when I shook you that you started again.”

        Rinnah didn’t have an answer to that. How do you argue about what happened when you weren’t awake to experience it? She flopped back onto her pillow. The first one on shift was Wolfwood who sat down and got comfortable in the recliner in the corner and smiled at her. He reached in his jacket pocket and pulled out a cigarette and put it in his mouth. Milly saw and with widened, outraged eyes swooped down on him snatching the cigarette from his lips.

        “What are you thinking!? Second hand smoke is bad for a sick person!” She held out her hand for the rest of the pack. He pulled it out of his pocket and gave her with a fair amount of grumbling and scowling.

        For Rinnah, the whole evening would have been a special kind of hell but she didn‘t get to experience it much as she kept falling asleep, even in the middle of grousing about how she was feeling ‘just fine thank you very much‘. She would fall asleep before her eyelids even had a chance to close and her lips were still moving in soundless speech. She was awake one second and asleep the next as she was unable to force herself to stay awake no matter how hard she tried. When she would regain consciousness she knew time had passed as someone different would be sitting in the chair watching over her.

        Once when it was Milly, she informed Rinnah in a soft worried voice that during Vash’s turn earlier, he reported that Rinnah stopped breathing once. He lifted her up and shaken her before she started again but slept through the whole thing. The same thing happened on her watch also. Maybe Rinnah should let them take her to a doctor in the morning, as this could be something serious. Rinnah narrowed her eyes in disbelief and took a deep breath to issue a statement about how she felt about doctors in general and how much a chance they had of getting her into a medical facility which was absolutely none! She wasn’t going to let anyone lay a hand on her and furthermore.... but fell asleep mid- sentence. Milly pulled the blanket up around her shoulders and tucked it in with a worried frown creasing her brow.

        If she had been asked Rinnah could have told them that she doubted it was an illness at all. She almost confessed early on when she saw Milly organizing the sick watch for the rest of the night. All this solicitude and care was sheer torture, she wasn‘t used to being on the receiving end of such concerned nursing and supervision. At one point she had been awake for a changing of the guard and caught a smirk cross Vash’s face as he looked down at her. She had frowned back at him and then gave a standing ovation performance of her “I’m sick I have to stay home from school today” groan until Milly came dashing over to check on her and laid a hand on her cheek peering intently at her. With the most pathetic look she could conjure up, Rinnah requested a glass of water and Milly ordered Vash to get it. She bit the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing out loud. Changed that smirk to a scowl in a heartbeat! Served him right!

        It would have been a quite little triumph but before he returned Rinnah had fallen back asleep again.

        Milly left the room to go to bed, as both the men convinced her to take the morning shift; they would split the night between them. Vash placed the glass of water on the nightstand. He frowned down at the irritating female. He didn’t think she was sick at all, but something was wrong with her. This was odd behavior, even for her. What it looked like to him was sheer exhaustion, but with a twist.

Unexpected Visitor
        Hours later, when all the moons were riding high overhead and the night was at its brightest, Vash came out his chair in a fluid, graceful motion. His eyes were busy scanning; every fiber of his being alert and tense, scanning for whatever brought him out of his light doze. His silver gun was in his hand; tip pointed to the ceiling until he could identify the disturbance.

        There. A soft scrape sound from the balcony. So soft no human would have heard it.

        He cast a quick glance at Rinnah who didn’t move or alter her breathing in the slightest.

        Without making a sound, he stepped back into the shadows behind him, blending in, using the darkness to shroud him as he waited.

        There was someone just outside the balcony door inspecting the room. He couldn’t see them, but he knew they were there.

        With a small click the door was unlocked. Slowly, silently it slid open until it was wide enough for someone to slip in. Still, he couldn’t see anyone. It wasn’t until the intruder’s arm left the beam of moonlight streaming in through the windows that Vash understood.

        All of his senses fairly vibrated with taut alertness, his eyes swept back and forth, knowing someone was there. He could feel the beat of his heart speeding up along with the anger racing through his blood, yet he remained composed, waiting with the patience of a hunter. Holding onto every bit of control, he refused to allow his power to glow blue through his eyes not wanting the intruder to be alerted to his presence.

        The assassin was wearing a moon slicker. When worn in the full light of the moons it would turn the wearer practically invisible. Crossing into the area out of the reach of the light of the moons, a black form could barely be discerned. Now that Vash knew what he was dealing with he knew what to look for. The outline of the form wavered like a heat wave as the material of the moon slicker tried to take the surrounding light and adjust it to bend around the outfit.

        Vash watched as the assassin stepped further in to the room and became more distinct the further he got away from the light of the moons.

        When he did, and in the suit and cape it was obvious the shape was male, it appeared as if the assassin was stepping through a door from a dark dimension into the hotel room.

        Vash waited with a predator’s patience as the form of the intruder came into full appearance. The shadowy figure stopped to study the sleeping person on the bed nearest him.

        Vash didn’t give him a chance to consider his options. With inhuman speed he inserted himself between the intruder and the bed, blocking his view and access. The tip of Vash’s silver gun glinted as he pressed it lightly to the space between the stranger’s eyebrows.

        In a soft whisper belying his anger, Vash demanded. “Who are you here for?”

        The intruder froze as soon as he felt the metal circle of the gun’s tip placed against the skin where his hood ended. If he was surprised at the sudden appearance of a guardian he didn’t give any sign of it but remained silent in response to Vash’s question.

        Vash cocked the hammer of his gun, the metallic click breaking the quiet of the room.

        “I’m not afraid of waking up the entire hotel in the process of blowing your brains out .”

        “You are... ??.” Questioned the intruder.

        Vash frowned and asked again, his voice going feral. “I won‘t ask again. Who are you here for?” The tip of his gun pushed harder into the skin.


        Vash grunted. Figured.

        “Tell me where he is and I will let you live.” One corner of Vash’s mouth lifted. They never learned.

        “He’s in the next room...”

        Upon hearing that the assassin took it as an opportunity to get closer to his victim. He would deal with this gunman after he acquired his target. He already thought of several different ways to disarm him and kill him. He started toward the door, noting how the gunman kept step yet at a safe distance. His estimation of the man went up a notch.

        “...And do it quietly. The lady needs her sleep.”

        Both men moved across the dark room making no more noise than silent shadows passing across the wall. At the door, Vash grinned, anticipating the assassin and gestured for him to open the door before stepping into the living area. Vash let him take several steps into the room before shutting the door quietly behind him. He would just take it on faith that Rinnah wouldn’t stop breathing again while he took care of this unwelcome visitor.

        “Chapel.” Vash said in a normal tone, not wanting to reveal Wolfwood’s real name to the assassin.

        Wolfwood jerked up. Something in Vash’s voice cut through his slumber, waking him instantly.

        In one swift sinuous movement Wolfwood was on his bare feet, gun in hand with the safety off, hard eyes taking in the situation in a glance.

        Blinking the last remnants of sleep from his eyes he saw Vash in his usual black form-fitting outfit gesturing at a man in a strange cape costume. He briefly wished he had dressed up for the occasion, he didn’t know this was going to be a formal affair, but he should just be glad that he was wearing pants on out of consideration for the girls.

        “Says he’s here for Chapel.” Informed Vash in a low tone.

        Wolfwood’s eyes narrowed as he studied the man and noticed how the garment he was wearing kept trying to misdirect the eye. It was like looking at an oily surface that directed the eyes to slide off of it, but then again, looked fuzzy at the same time. The man didn’t look familiar, but all he could see were his eyes and nose. Vash reached over and in one quick motion yanked off the close-fitting hood that covered reddish-colored hair. Wolfwood gave a slight shake of his head to indicate that he still didn’t recognize him.

        All of a sudden the assassin disappeared from in front of them. Wolfwood let out an oath even as he threw himself to the side. It’s never just an ordinary killer; no it always has to be some dressed up freak with an equally freakish talent to give them an edge over their targets.

        Shifting from using his eyes he relied on senses honed over the years from intense training and experience. He moved again, knowing the attack was coming and felt something pass by him where his neck had been. A soft thud hit the wall behind him. He started to where he knew the man was but Vash beat him to it.

        The next instant and the assassin and Vash were visible again as Vash lifted him by his neck, feet dangling a few inches from the floor.

        Vash’s eye sockets were totally consumed with a blue glow, and he hissed, ‘No MORE! Or I will kill you!”

        “Put him down Vash, he can’t talk hanging there like that and we need answers.”

        The man couldn’t speak but the look in his eyes spoke volumes as he rolled them down to stare at Vash’s face. Wolfwood nodded. The intruder was clueless that he had been dealing with Vash the Stampede this whole time.

        Vash, seeing Wolfwood’s wisdom, lowered the man and then threw him into the closest chair. It about toppled over from the force of the throw but righted as the assassin’s quick reflexes compensated and righted himself and the chair.

        Vash and Wolfwood stood to either side of him several feet away, legs slightly spread in guardian mode. The intruder rubbed at his throat where Vash had gripped him.

        Vash asked in a flat voice, “Who sent you?”

        When he didn’t answer right away, the assassin found two guns pointed at him. The intruder’s eyes flicked back and forth between Vash and Wolfwood.

        Lifting his chin with a jerk they both heard a crunch come from his mouth.

        “Doesn’t matter, I’m dead anyway.” Both outlaw and priest leaped forward but it was too late. His head fell on to his chest as he slumped back onto the chair.

        Vash and Wolfwood cursed under their breaths. Again, typical.

        The outlaw looked over at the priest as he holstered his gun.

        “Looks like he’s still pissed at you.”

        “Damn brother of yours, just not the forgiving type. Needs to get some religion.”

        “Needs to get some... period.”

        “Amen brother!”

        Wolfwood gestured at the dead man, directing Vash’s attention back to the situation at hand.

        “What are we going to do with him?” Then another thought struck him.

        “Hey! How’d he get in?” His eyes darted to the front door and saw the chain still on the door, then to the bedroom where Milly was sleeping. Before he could take a step in that direction Vash held up his hand to calm him.

        “Relax. He came in through the girl’s room.”

        “Relax?! Relax he says! That’s supposed to make me feel better?! Is Rinnah okay?” He asked with a concerned look at the girl’s door.

        “That one?” Vash snorted. “Of course she is. Slept right through the whole thing. Didn’t even roll over.”

        “Yeah, well if she wakes up dead Milly will have our hides. Geez, there must be something really wrong with her.”

        “Oh there’s something wrong with her all right!”

        Wolfwood grinned, “Still getting along well I see.” He looked back down at the dead man. “But our problem hasn’t gone away.” And gestured at the corpse with his gun.

        Vash clasped his chin in thought as he gazed down at the dead man.

        “Tell you what. You sit with that woman and I’ll take care of the body. I think I know what to do with it.”

        Looking over at the kitchen he asked, “Does Milly have any of that god-awful potion left?”

        “Plenty. Why?”

        “Tell you later. I’ll spell you when I get back.”

        Then a thought came to him, and he looked back to Wolfwood saying, “We are NOT telling the girls about this, right?”

        Wolfwood assumed an innocent look, held one hand over his heart and his right hand up in a pledge, “God as my witness, we are taking this to our graves.”

        Lowering his hands, he went on, “You know, Milly will kill both of us for letting a strange man get into Rinnah’s room.” He rolled his eyes in the direction of the ceiling before turning them on Vash, a mischievous glint shining in them, “Of course, she would be angrier with you since it happened on your watch. And Rinnah will be pissed that we didn‘t save the assassin for her to question. And she will be even more pissed with you since you let him die.” With an eyebrow cocked at the now scowling Vash and a grin stretching the corners of his mouth he pointed out, “Anyway I slice it, the girls come out more angry with you than me, which is fine by me!”

        Wolfwood chuckled and tucked his gun in his pants after flicking the safety back on and heading for the girl’s room to do his “Rinnah-sitting”.

        Vash snorted at his retreating back before turning to study the dead man. With a grimace, he got down on one knee and pulled the corpse over his shoulder. An idea had come to him and a wild gleam crossed his aqua-colored eyes. On his way out he grabbed a jar of Milly’s “good-for-ails-you” potion.

        A short time later he re-entered the suite to find Wolfwood standing alert in the middle of the room, gun in hand although hanging loosely at his side. Nevertheless he was vigilant and wary.

        “Heard someone coming. I figured it was you but wanted to make sure.”

        Vash nodded and headed for the bedroom to take over, asking, “Did she stop breathing?”

        Wolfwood nodded, Vash stopped short to look at him, face frozen. “Once.” And covering a growing yawn with his fist then said, “She started up on her own before I got to her through.”

        Vash felt his breath start again and headed for the bedroom. He didn’t want to admit to feeling any concern but it was worrisome. Whoever heard of exhaustion and lack of sleep causing someone to stop breathing? He settled himself in the recliner and squirmed around trying to get comfortable. Finding it impossible, he got up and dragged the chair a few feet closer to the bed. Leaning back he sighed, and listened to the rhythmic breathing of their patient.

Rules for Temptation

        The next morning an urgent summoning from a full bladder caused Rinnah to fling back the blankets and leap out of bed still only half awake as she raced for the bathroom.

        Returning in a much more sedate manner than when she left, she slowed to take note of Vash asleep in the recliner and wondered why it was closer to the bed than before.

        Curious, she walked over and stared down at his face. He looked so different when he was at rest and not sneering at the world. The way his long lashes lay against his skin, the morning light gliding across his face making it glow, the line of his jawbone up to his ear, and with strands of black hair falling down over his brow, made Rinnah realize something. He’s gorgeous. She froze. Oh freaking star crap! This just keeps getting better and better doesn’t it?

        Just as she was about to back up, she looked down at his face again. She couldn’t stop staring, noticing for the first time that his dark gold eyebrows, the only hair that wasn’t black, angling up over his eyes looked so soft, like kitten fur. Unable to stop herself she reached over and ever so lightly, a mere butterfly’s breath of a touch, caressed with the tip of her forefinger tracing an eyebrow from the inside corner of his eye outward to the edge. It was soft, incredibly soft. She was amazed at how it tickled the tip of her finger. With a small smile creasing the corners of her lips, she lifted her finger and followed the brow again. Deliciously and sinfully soft.

        Emboldened by this, she then lightly caressed a fingertip over his cheek, amazed that a man’s cheek could feel like velvet even with a night‘s stubble grown in. Slowly, and savoring the warm feeling, she followed the jaw line over to his ear and along his hairline and came back around the same route. She came to his chin and lifted her fingers and reached to touch his lips, hovering there for a second. Even more lightly than before, she traced her finger along his lower lip until he stirred making a little sound in the back of his throat. Rinnah’s heart and breath froze. Realization dawned on her what she had been doing as if she had woken from a dream. If there is a God in heaven please don’t let him wake up now! Wide-eyed and with a hand still suspended in the air between them, she slowly and carefully backed up on tiptoe, one silent step at a time. What was the matter with her? What was she thinking! She had touched him! Afraid, but of what, she wasn’t sure, she turned, grabbed her clothes and darted from the room breathing deeply.

        Stepping into the central room, she pulled the door shut behind her with a quiet click. Fully dressed for the day Wolfwood peered around the edge of the paper he was reading. A steaming cup of coffee sat in front of him. He greeted her with a mumbled ’morning’ and went back to reading.

        Milly turned from her pancake flipping to ask, “How do you feel?”

        “Uh, great. Um, wonderful in fact. Your drink did the trick.” Who knew, maybe it had. All she knew was that she never wanted to be sick to the point of being forced to down that wretched concoction again. Milly beamed at her and then looked over Rinnah’s shoulder.

        “Where’s Vash? Breakfast‘s almost ready.”

        With an airy wave of her hand she replied, “Oh with not a thing to do all night except listen to me snore, I expect he needed the sleep and I decided to not wake him.” Please Holy Hybrid, let him have been deeply comatose!

        Wolfwood seemed to be choking behind his newspaper.

        Milly laughed, “You don’t snore and I know that for a fact!”

        “Mr. Pr... er, Wolf... um, Nicholas? Would you like some eggs and bacon with your pancakes?”

        “Please.” But stayed behind his paper.

        “Hey can I use the shower in your room Nicholas? I don’t want to wake up Vash. For some reason it doesn’t look like he got much sleep last night.”

        Odd choking noises came from behind the paper before Wolfwood said, “Sure. No problem. Go right ahead. I’m done in there.”

        When she got back feeling clean and wonderful like a well-rested self-respecting hybrid should, she found Vash sitting at the table. He was slowly eating the food Milly placed in front of him. His tired aqua-colored eyes flicked up to hers and she nearly flushed with embarrassment and guilt... mostly embarrassment though. To her it seemed he knew what she had done and began to squirm in her seat. Feeling her mouth go dry, she grabbed for her coffee and nearly sloshing it on the tabletop took a big gulp of it only to have it go down the wrong way. Choking, coughing, and sputtering she snatched her napkin up to cover her mouth but the damage was already done. Coffee drops were sprayed everywhere across the table.

        As if he hadn’t just been splattered, Nicholas reached over and solicitously patted her on the back. “You okay?“

        She gave him a weak but thankful smile when she was able to breathe again.

        She looked up to find Vash’s eyes still on her. Her heart about stopped.

        When Wolfwood cleared his throat she looked over at him gratefully.

        “The car came in last night so we can pick it up this morning. We need supplies and....”

        “I’ll do it!”

        Rinnah startled herself and everyone else as she leaped to her feet.

        “Well, you don’t have to go n...”

        “No time like the present! Color me gone!”

        Practically running she snatched up her poncho and gun belt and was out the door slamming it behind her before anyone had a chance to say anything.

        “Color me gone?” Wolfwood mused still staring at the door.

        Milly covered her mouth with a hand and giggled.

        With face showing no trace of emotion, Vash merely quirked a brow before returning his attention to the next plate Milly placed before him.

        Rinnah didn’t make it to the vehicle dealers right away. She stopped to eat at a small diner. As soon as her plate of food was set before her she began cramming her mouth with an unladylike amounts of food.

        Food first.

        Food is good.

        Good food is even better.

        Then she would get the vehicle. Then she would get the supplies. That would take a good portion of the day, and she would make sure it did. It would give her a reason not to go back until she had calmed down.

        New rule, Rinnah, “Do not touch the plant!”

        Second new rule, ‘Do not violate the first rule!’

        If feeling tempted again, review rules!

Letters and Plans
        Knives was feeling contented. This was the first time in quite a while since the one plant angel sister had been.... misplaced. He was sure it was only a matter of time before the missing sister was found. A cold half-smile graced his lips as he contemplated the meeting and the outcome. Once she was in his custody, he could find the one responsible for breaching the perfection of his family. They would pay for that transgression. He wrenched his thoughts away while he was still in a good mood. Going down that trail never failed to cause him to fall into a raging temper that disrupted his logic and reasoning for hours at a time.

        He recalled the news he received the day before from his engineers about the breeding program. It was right on schedule and the new plant child was growing at a phenomenal rate, a rate that he and Vash had grown at. Soon he would begin teaching the child to use the power that belonged only to them. Just a few more non-tethered plant angels and they could and would soon exterminate all the humans. He flushed with excitement, knowing that the goal would be accomplished soon, it was only a matter of a few years now.

        As he studied the charts and graphs in front of him, he heard a sound from the outer office. He was in early this morning, having awoken long before the suns were up and decided to get a jump on the day‘s work piled on his desk. The door to his office was open halfway. Going through the great stack of reports on his desk sidetracked him and he had forgotten to close the door.

        Frowning, he heard his assistant moving around getting ready for the morning staff meeting and that day’s meetings with his head engineers and plant scientists. He cocked his head to listen and identified another voice that he did not recognize as anyone on his immediate staff.

        Knives overheard the stranger say he was from Howling Sands, a plant worshipper’s town nearby. It was very unusual to have one of his humans from there travel this far. It must be something the mammals deemed important. He was in the process of deciding he couldn’t be bothered until he considered the placement of the town.

        He tapped the chart he was holding with a finger. Howling Sands was the only human town that was under his total control. It was also located near Towering Rock, a bigger town with seven plant angels. One sister of his there was pro-human. One he still needed to deal with but was too busy of late to take care of it.

        Sitting back in his chair, the thought struck him that maybe he should consider that a higher priority than it had been in the past. There was still no clue as to what that abomination of a human female had done with his sibling at West Carson City. He felt a stinging in his hand and looked down to find fingers clenched so hard they were leaving half-moon impressions in his palm. He relaxed his fingers to study the red marks. So far all he knew was that the trespasser of holy ground was female. He considered what would be a just punishment for such a one was she. A familiar prickling sensation ran up and down his arms and he berated himself. Yet again his thoughts had gravitated in this direction.

        To take his mind off the thinking about the human, he cocked his ear toward the nervous whispering in the outer office. Looking up he could just see through the opening where the door was half-ajar. His assistant had received the messenger and was being given a small box about as tall as the size of a forearm.

        Knives knew that very few realized just how acute his hearing was. He could tell his assistant wanted the messenger to bring in the small package and the messenger adamantly refused, fear rolling off him in a psychic stink as he backed away towards the outer door. Well he should be afraid, thought Knives with satisfaction.

        Usually he didn’t believe in showing any interest in those who served him. He would know soon enough what the fuss was about. Yet, even he was not immune to a little curiosity and began to be intrigued about the arrival of this package.

        Finally, his assistant, the third this month, knocked and waited for the signal to approach, which he did with slow caution. He was well aware that to come into the magnificent presence of this particular superior being could be a life-threatening venture.

        The assistant chanced to look up and saw the Master’s eyes upon him. Knives flicked a hand at him and he bravely stepped forward at the unspoken command. He placed the small package and envelope on the Master’s desk and stepped back, waiting for the plant to make his desires known. Which was as it should be thought Knives as he did not take things out of the hands of inferior beings nor did he allow them to touch him.

        “Master, there is a delivery for you...” He began, voice shaking.

        Knives studied the package and then looked over at his assistant and steepled his hands in front of him; elbow’s resting on the armrests of his chair. He lifted an eyebrow indicating the man should continue.

        A tic appeared under the man’s right eye as his gaze bounced back and forth between the Plant and package.

        “Out with it human.”

        With the patience of a coiled snake, his cold blue eyes rested on the now sweating man as he waited for him to explain.

        Licking his lips, he tried again.

        “Master, two packages and this envelope were delivered to your place near Howling Sands. The other was a large-sized box. In it was the folded up body of one of our recent assassins sent out after Chapel. He had been dead several days...”

        He stopped as Knives held up a hand forestalling any further description and waved his hand in dismissal. Already his brow was furrowed in thought as he considered the envelope in front of him with the familiar handwriting. He had recognized it even as the letter was being placed on the edge of his desk.

        He reached over and picked up the envelope, noticing the flap was open. In the middle on the front his name was written with Vash’s in the upper left-hand corner. Both were written in Vash’s scrawled handwriting. He couldn’t help himself, one corner of his mouth lifted in remembered fondness. For a member of a perfect species, Vash had the worst handwriting.

        He was unprepared for the sharp flash of pain that twisted in his chest. With a light touch he ran his fingertips over his twin’s name.

        Flipping it over he pulled out a tri-folded single sheet of paper. Unfolding it he read:

Dear Sir,
        We found your merchandise to be defective. Being displeased with the results we are returning your shoddy product. Please find upon receiving of shipment:
        The return of assassin (1), slightly dead.
        Reason for return: inept.
        Jar (1) of medicinal drink guaranteed ’to cure what ails you’ because you, brother, are one sorry sick bastard.
        With loving affection and warm regards,
        Your brother,
        Who is going to kill you.

        Lips pressed together in a thin slash across his face as his eyes went frosty. Vash. What did he hope to accomplish with this attempt at humor? He shook his head slightly; his brother was always trying to compete with him. Knives was the smarter brother and always would be. Why couldn’t Vash just accept that?

        Crossing long lean legs while tapping the envelope against his chin thinking, he reflected on the opinion he arrived at years ago. Vash needed a purpose in life instead of just ambling about aimlessly among the humans. Yes, Vash needed a firm controlling hand, which meant he needed to be contained and decontaminated. Yet Knives had tried that already and Vash, surprisingly, proved quite resourceful in his escape. What Knives needed was a bulb that was escape proof. And, with a widening smile, he now possessed the technology to create such a thing.

        Knives came to a decision. He would order a bulb to be grown immediately. It would take weeks for it to get to the mature phase and days after before a plant angel could be inserted into it. The ability to grow bulbs that looked like glass and housed the plant angels had been lost in the Great Fall and he only just recently found and put together the pieces of knowledge needed in order to grow one. Careful digging through the remains of many different crash sites, clues were found scattered about that only needed patience to put them together. It had been a manner of assembling the many puzzle pieces together. Now, though, he could replicate the process.

        He would turn Vash into a non-walking plant angel. That would keep him from continually being a nuisance with his interfering in trying to stop Knives’ plans to exterminate the vermin. Most importantly, it would keep Vash near him, keep him safe. No more wandering the planet collecting scars. Next, he would start the process of growing the support cherubs to attach to Vash’s back.

        Leaning back in his chair, he thought out all the different angles of his plan. How he would lure Vash, how to capture him, and how to separate him from his friends.

        The best way to handle Vash was to make him lose his temper to the point he couldn’t think straight. If he could get him to lose perspective. It wasn‘t easy, Vash had years of dealing with his brother, but then, he had years of dealing with Vash.

        With a wolfish grin, Knives hit on an idea. He recently discovered a way to turn a human into a plant angel. It was a slow process that could last up to years, also took too many resources, and used up vast amounts of energy so it wasn’t a feasible plan to try to change the human population into plants.

        However, he could start on certain humans, and he could certainly always use the living plant uteruses.

        Yes, he would snatch the tall one or that new female out from under Vash’s nose and prove to him how incompetent he was as a protector of his precious humans. It would be a devastating blow to his ego, which was in an already fragile state as it was. It was a good idea and he would win all the way around.

        He let the grin grow wider.

Blackfire & Gunsmoke: Chapter 7
Back to Chapter 5

Email Susan