"Blackfire & Gunsmoke Chapter 7"
By Susan-chan

Rated PG-13 (language, violence and sexual situations)
***Now we're talkin'.... heh heh, like that warning would really keep anyone away...***
This Desert Night
Two months later

       She was fed up. Any last shred of patience and understanding was spent like used bullet cartridges scattered on the ground. She had tried, Lord only knew how hard she had tried, to be tolerant and endure with the fortitude she was so well known for what was starting to amount to torture. But by the Holy Hybrid, she had done used up her allotted portion and she was sure, someone else’s along with it. But that smell.... It still came at her and was getting worse by the day. Always with that smell, invading her space, her every waking moment and now, her dreams. Well that’s where she drew the line in the sand. Toleration and understanding could suck wind; she was done, through, finished. Some things were private and one of those was one’s dreaming mind.

        The dream had woken her during the previous night and she had sat up in a sweat and angry enough to spit sand. In fact, it made her so angry she was ready to chuck rocks at the sleeping plant across the camp from her. This is ALL your fault! Glaring flaming death at him for a moment before settling down to try and go back to sleep again. It had taken a while, but she wasn’t a quitter, she would go back to sleep in spite of him if she had to hit herself over the head with a rock and knock herself unconscious.

        Feeling her cheeks growing warm in remembrance of the dream she shifted uncomfortably on the rock she was sitting on. Suddenly dinner was like trying to chew and swallow dry pebbles. She sighed and gave up.

        Two months now and she was long out of pills. Looking back she shouldn’t have doubled up the dosage. Good thing her doctor wasn’t here, the conniption fit would have been spectacular upon discovering the way Rinnah had self-medicated. She sighed again, with real regret. Those beautiful little pills. They were constant little companions, arriving on this planet with her, keeping her sane in the midst of hormonal upheaval, hers and someone else’s. She missed her pills. The night after touching him she felt the desperate need to double dose. Brilliant move on your part half-breed! You used them up that much quicker! Two months. But these past few weeks had been sheer hell. She got through it by sheer will power and gritted teeth but was unable to hide the fact that she was one bundle of snapping nerves. Wolfwood noticed and commented on it at one point, “This is just wonderful. Vash has infected Rinnah, and now we have two of them on our hands, not to mention down our throats.”

        The last two weeks Rinnah had coped much of the time by avoiding Vash’s company. It was easy to do in the town‘s they were stopping in, but harder now they were camping out more. They were on their way to Last Chance, as far away from where they had been as you could get, if you were from around these parts. She frowned and rubbed the middle of her forehead feeling gathering tightness settling behind her brows.

        I’m going insane. This is what insane feels like. I’m freaking going insane here! And insanity is not all it‘s cracked up to be!

        Some crisis averting action was needed, and soon! But what? Nothing was coming to mind no matter how hard and how long she pondered the problem. Rinnah shook her head trying to clear her thoughts. It’s his fault. That’s right, all his fault he’s so appealing,... I mean,... repealing. Is that even a word? No, repellant, that’s the word I am looking for. It was with extreme effort she repeated her new mantra to herself, It’s just a smell. That’s all it is. It’s just a smell. Don’t give in to a smell. It’s just a smell. Underneath the mantra came the accompanying tirade: I’m a civilized sentient being. Do I throw scent bombs wherever I go? Of course not. I wasn’t raised in a barn. I observe a wee bit of decorum, enough so’s I can mix with polite folk without being tossed out on my bum. I should be able to handle this. Of course I can. Sure. No problem. Right. I’m so screwed.

        Well she had tried to handle things on her end and now she was running out of options. One would be to leave the group. But even contemplating the idea caused an almost physical pain. Which was an odd reaction. Rinnah had left family and friends behind before, so why this kind of reaction now?

        Lips set grimly, she came to a conclusion. There was only one thing she could think of to free them both of the intoxicating smell and the distraction it was causing. Oh yes, she knew she wasn’t the only one being affected, he was acting strange too, stranger than normal. He was orbiting her at every stop, criticizing, picking fights, but would he just leave her alone? No, that would be too easy! And she couldn’t seem to keep a civil tongue in her head either. One way or another something was going to blow soon.

        Rinnah had the answer before this; it was just cowardice that kept her from speaking up. She kept telling herself that she was waiting for the perfect opportunity, which had never presented itself, which, truthfully, was fine by her. Now her only question was if she should bring it up with Milly and Nicholas there. They were a team now and what affected one affected all, right? Sure. Speaking to Vash in private just didn’t seem like a good idea, he was so testy lately.

        Rinnah closed aching eyelids. The threatening headache that followed her around all day just under the surface was beginning to throb against her temples and eyelids. She was also weary, with a heavy tiredness affecting all her limbs. Right at the moment even the dim light cast by the fire was too bright, although the heat was comforting. She could feel the heat tightening the skin on the back of her hands and face, the heat soothing against her eyelids.

        I am ending this tonight. I am done doing this. This is all his fault! The wind changed and she was nearly bowled over by the scent of him. ALL HIS FAULT!

        Turning to him she blurted out, “You do realize you are in heat don’t you?” Then horror of horrors, she found she couldn’t stop. All this time she had been quiet and now words rushed out of her mouth in a torrent.

        “It’s not like you have been able to keep it a secret you know. Reek, that’s right, the air reeks! You so need to visit your lover, girlfriend, or friendly whore and do it right away because it is really starting to get on my nerves. Or would you rather just explode in front of everyone with pollen flying every which way because that is what is going to happen if something is not done soon. How do you even stand yourself?!“ She finally came to a panting halt, not just from the flow of words but also from the depth of emotion behind them. Taking a quick breath she tried again as she saw the stunned and shocked looks on the three facing her.

        “So how about it, if you don’t have a girlfriend or lover we can find a, well, a professional friend.. For hire... you know. Maybe at the next town, what is that, Last Chance or Towering Rock?”

        All eyes fixed on her. Well, now she knew what to say if she ever wanted to get everyone’s attention. Nicholas’s fork halted mid-way to his slightly open mouth as he stared at Rinnah in surprise, startled by her outburst. As for Vash, at this moment carved stone radiated more warmth. No one said anything. Milly’s cup of tea was forgotten halfway up to her lips until finally she blinked and then turned questioning eyes Rinnah’s way as if doubting what she had just heard.

        From under his brows Wolfwood darted a look at the object of Rinnah’s remark and just as quickly looked back down to his half empty plate and went back to eating. Vash stared hard at her.

        “Okay, let me get this straight, since all the female plants are your sisters that leaves them out as potential mates. So, what do you do then? Are you compatible with humans? Can you do it with them?” Vash turned red, then white, and then red again.

        “Rinnah, maybe you and Mr. Vash should talk about this in private. This is kind of personal. Don’t you think?” She elbowed Wolfwood, “Don’t you think so?” Trying to elicit a response from him.

        “I don’t have an opinion. Just pretend I’m not here.” Wolfwood said, eyes on his plate, refusing to look up. This was bad. When women starting discussing a man’s sex life front of others it was never going to end well.

        His own eyes glinting dangerously, Vash catapulted to his feet and with a hard icy glare addressed Rinnah through tight lips; “I want to talk to you in private.”

        Vash turned away into the darkness not bothering to wait for her or even check to see if she was indeed following him. Slowly rising to her feet she watched his rigid back with guarded eyes as he reached the edges of the light and disappeared into the darkness. Rinnah looked over at Nicholas and Milly. Milly just shrugged and looked pointedly in the direction Vash had taken. Nicholas was looking down at his plate shaking his head. Anxiously she started after the fuming plant and followed him out of the camp. And followed some more, which wasn’t easy in that brief period of darkness before the rising of the moons.

        It wasn’t long before they left behind the rocks where they had stopped to camp at for the night. She looked over her shoulder for any sign of glowing light to tell where she had come from. Nothing showed, and turned to face forward again. Vash was still going. Maybe he was walking back to the one other rock cropping they had passed and rejected as not being large enough to camp at.

        Peering into the darkness, barely able to make out his shadowy figure in front she stepped up her pace. He wasn’t slowing nor had he acknowledged her trailing presence in any way. Rinnah was starting to get irked and she knew from past experience that she didn’t do “irked” well.

        Rinnah saw the black shape of Vash vanish around the tall rocks. So he was headed for these few rocks poking up from the desert floor. She followed on autopilot, mind filled with thoughts of what she was going to yell back at him after he yelled at her. She came around the rock and to her complete astonishment and shock, found herself being grabbed, lifted and slammed back into the rock.

        What in the freaking...!? Rinnah’s head smashed painfully back against the rock and she saw stars but even as she was being lifted in the air she threw out a knee and caught him in the gut, which he wasn‘t expecting judging from the gasp she heard.

        With a surprised exhale, Vash let go and took several steps back watching warily as the woman slid down the rock face to land on her feet while rubbing the back of her head. He was slightly bent over but didn‘t take his eyes from her.

        Dropping her hand, Rinnah pressed the slender advantage she had and faster than a drawn-in breath, crossed the distance with a quick leap and threw out a sidekick to his hip. He wasn’t ready for it and it knocked him back several steps even as she spun to follow through with a blow to his face. Thinking she was going to land a punch she was taken aback to feel her knuckles miss his cheek as he inclined away from her. Continuing her spin, Rinnah whirled away and halted on coiled legs, ready for the next move. She was surprised that he managed to evade her blow that quickly.

        When he straightened Rinnah darted in with a rapid blur of movement, simultaneously striking one of his hands away while batting the other off to the side making a gap. She had had it with him! Talk about women being hormonal! She fully intended to mop the desert with his sorry butt and teach him a lesson. Unfortunately for her she forgot to take one little detail into consideration in the whole ‘kick his butt’ campaign: she wasn‘t fighting a human.

        Rinnah grabbed and twisted her fists in the fabric of his black shirt ready to hoist and fling him a dozen feet or so through the air, except.... To her outraged surprise, he stayed put as she came ricocheting back into him! Adding insult to injury she looked up to see him lift a corner of his mouth at her attempt! She was not used to being mocked when she was in the process of beating the crap out of someone. A little voice of trepidation took the opportunity to speak up and announce He’s as strong as you are! Maybe stronger! Oh hell. She released her grip as if holding onto molten bars of lead and swiftly leaped back as far as she could, her back grazing the rock.

        Deceptive, sly, crafty, self-serving, devious, lying, .... From the very beginning! This was the last straw. First inserting herself into our lives, getting us to trust her and now this prying into my... life! Vash’s eyes narrowed as he evaluated her position watching her eyes dart around analyzing either the option of escape or attack. He could tell that this was new territory for her that he could use to his advantage and simultaneously came up with several different plans of attack. Vash’s initial attack had given him only a moment’s advantage. He hadn’t counted on her being able to retaliate so quickly, but she had, even as she was being lifted into the air.

        Rinnah heard his teeth grinding but ignored it as she realized that the rash and impulsive reaction of immediate payback wasn’t working for her this time. Thoughts racing furiously, Rinnah knew at once the style of fighting she had used in the past would have to change. And she only had a second to.... Okay, less than that. Ohcrapohcrap.

        As he began advancing on her, she tried to duck under and away from the longer reach of his arm to gain her a respite to adjust to a new working strategy. The best strategy in the world was the one where she came out the winner. Trouble was, he wasn’t being cooperative, in fact, there were angry, pissed-off waves rolling off of him to hang like a stink in the air.

        Rinnah tried to take another step away but was already butting back against the rock directly behind her. Looking to the side for an opening knowing a potential move was being telegraphed she aimed a sidekick at one of his knees instead.

        Vash saw it coming and moved his knee slightly to the side so that all the woman’s foot did was graze his leg, moving it but not with enough force to knock him over. He noted her annoyed exhale and was sure she would take the bait.

        Rinnah, observing he was off-center and taking a chance, danced in to strike a lightening quick blow to the off-centered side and then whirl away. Instead, even as she moved, he twisted and dodged to snatch one of her arms and pull HER off balance! It was so quick and smooth like he had.... Ah stinkin’ star holes! Like he had planned it! She hated it when someone was sneakier than she was!

        Now Rinnah was beside herself with annoyance and tried a spin, slash and a punch with her elbow to break his hold. It would have worked on a human but the female hybrid was still unused to taking into account his incredible strength. Even as she turned to strike, his free hand clamped around her other bicep like a tractor beam. Throwing a jab toward his face not for the purpose of landing a punch but to distract him from the move of whipping a knee toward soft unprotected parts. However, Vash did see it coming and moved so quickly that it nearly didn’t register as he avoided the feint and the intended attack at the same time.

        Vash was quick but so was Rinnah and in spite of his exceptional swiftness she matched him speed for speed and turned as one with him. Instantly she used their momentum while adding her body weight and threw them both to the ground. She felt one of her arms break free from his tight grasp and saw his arm go past her face. Lunging for it Rinnah snapped strong white teeth on his arm and bit hard thankful it was his real one. She was rewarded to hear a pained gasp.

        Damn! I can’t believe she bit me! Vash had accumulated many scars over the years but not one of them due to having been bitten. Until now. He wrenched his arm from between her teeth and jerked it beyond her reach. Rinnah had expected him to let go and then she would roll away to put some distance between them. Only Vash wasn’t surprised and he didn’t let go. If anything he had increased the pressure of his hold on her arm. I’ve felt worse than that you miserable little creature!

        They rolled and spun each other over and over, punching, elbowing, wrestling and cursing. At one point Vash lost his hold and rolled past Rinnah. She used that split second of time to scramble to her hands and knees intending to put some distance between them. Yet even as she was straightening she sensed him leap with unnatural speed across the space separating them as if they were only separated by a step. The hybrid was elated. Being in midair is a distinct disadvantage when the other opponent has both feet on the ground and is ready for the attack.

        Using her own nimble reflexes she flipped herself onto her back so she could use the revolving motion to aid her in catching him with her bent leg and throw him. Then following his trajectory through and straightening, she added enough force to launch him at the rock. Rinnah rolled through and heard with fiendish delight a solid thud against the same rock he had slammed her up against. She leaped to her feet and started to run when she heard his voice dripping with anger and suspicion.

        “You devious, scheming, lying, treacherous shrew-cat. You fooled all of us into trusting you!”

        She came to a screeching halt. Oh she knew what he meant! He was more offended for his own sake! She whirled towards him angry and tired with his self-centered, self-important arrogance as if he was the only one on the planet who mattered. Her eyes were beginning to glow with the same eerie intensity as his were.

        “Come again?”

        “You heard me!” As he pulled himself up using the rock behind him to lean against. “Where do you go at night? What do you do? Who do you report to? After sneaking off time and again you cover it all up with lie after lie! If you don’t work for Knives, whom do you work for? Who are you and where are you from? What is the real reason you wanted to join up with us? I want to know what you have been doing, who is it you answer to, and what you are hiding!”

        “Okay plant boy, let’s just lay our cards on the table shall we? You have a good hand, but I have an ace up my sleeve. Who is the liar here?”

        His voice came across to her suspicious and defensive. “What are you talking...

        “Meryl!!” She hissed at him. “You creeping sand roach! They think she is dead!”

        “How did you find out?” He asked in a voice gone flat and distant.

        “Last town back while at the plant facility I listened in on some gossip and guess whose name happened to come up in the conversation? I have heard your sisters talk about her before but names were never mentioned so I didn’t put two and two together. So, tell me, o keeper of secrets; and for your information, this one is a doozy, just when were you planning on telling Milly about this?”

        By the light of the first moon coming up, she could vaguely see the closed hard look on his face.

        “You weren’t.” She deduced sadly. “Even though it has torn a hole in Milly’s soul and heart the size of that hole on the moon. Good work by the way.” She heard a growl but she couldn’t help herself, the anger was starting to suck her under and she let herself roll with the suicidal wave. As for YOU, what‘s eating you up is that you didn‘t WIN!”

        She was so incensed, she was practically spitting, “You lost to your brother because he outsmarted you and it was a blow to your pride and its killing you! It never was about rescuing Meryl! Nobody matters to you because you are being consumed by the one overwhelming passion to destroy your brother...”

        Her body was trembling from the tension of the anger she was feeling. Her hands were balled into fists next to her sides. “You flat out lied to Milly and Nicholas. What would they say to that? Call ME a liar will you!”

        The hybrid woman paused for a moment breathing in quick gasps of air as she worked on getting some semblance of control back.

        “Fine. I’ll tell them. Kick Knives butt, destroy his operation, and rescue Meryl all in one easy step. Not seeing a problem with it.”

        The rays of the rising moon were beginning to lighten the scenery around them. Pitch black was washing out to a dingy gray. Rinnah could just make out the silhouette of Vash’s body against the rock. It wasn’t easy considering the black body suit he was wearing. The tension in the air changed as if the wind had switched directions. Rinnah could feel the hairs on her neck prickling and lifting and took a tentative sniff at the air. Something was different, dangerous different. Too late the cold clear razor edge of reason cut away the cobwebs of anger that had clouded her thinking. She took a slow step back and started to take another one. She was definitely having second thoughts about the timing of her confrontation when he crouched low and let out a deep, bestial growl.

        Uh oh. I should have run when I had the chance. Damn Rinnah, you are so stupid at times! And here I was accusing him of being prideful! Like I’m any better! She spun, making it two steps when she felt a heavy weight slam onto her back knocking her to the ground. Rinnah just managed to twist her body to keep from getting pinned.

        Beyond thinking clearly Vash had leapt, intending to bring this tormenting foe down but instead felt himself being pivoted over the hateful female as she once again used his own momentum against him. This she-devil is going down if it‘s the last thing I do! Vash promised himself with his one last lucid thought.

        Both were on their feet leaping at the other and clashed mid-air. They landed to roll over and over each other again. Rinnah was trying, for all she was worth, to find a break and run like hell, not afraid of tagging herself as a coward. This insanity he was exhibiting was outside her familiarity, understanding, and experience and she wasn’t afraid to admit it.

        At first, neither was able to gain an advantage over the other but with keenly felt dread Rinnah realized that she was beginning to tire. Having started out the day weary and with aching, heavy limbs wasn’t helping. On top of that she had never fought such a furious, out of control, and inhumanly strong being before. And now an innate discerning sensor in her head was blaring loudly, signaling danger, warning her, that of the two of them he in his frenzy was much more dangerous. If there were breath and time available, she would have groaned. She chided herself for ignoring that inner voice before this, now was not the time to throw the waters of good sense and wisdom over her fighting rage!

        I need to get out of this fight, like before it even started, you ninny!

        At one point as they rolled across the ground, his face flashed over her filled with unreasoning fury while his eyes glowed like a devil’s under the light of the rising moons. Rinnah, caught off guard, gasped at the sight of the snarling demonic face. Shit! She had seen people who had lost all shreds of sanity before but this was far worse! It was spooky even! Her concentration wavered as apprehension filled her.

        Within that flash of time while Rinnah hesitated from growing anxiety and alarm, Vash felt it happen on some primitive level and took full advantage of her weakness. In that space between fractions of a second he moved with a strikingly supple and quick twist of the body until Rinnah promptly found herself flat on her back blinking up at the night sky. She was beyond surprised, stunned and astonished, to find her arms stretched above her head and her body pinned under the weight of his hard-muscled one. Bright blue eyes widened with unbelief and horror, stupefied by the shock of defeat. Never. This had never happened before! This couldn’t be happening now! Not to her!

        She forced back stinging tears of extreme humiliation before twisting and squirming trying to wiggle out from underneath him. She threw a hip up against him, still half-expecting to be able to lift and toss him even if only a few feet. But he didn’t budge an inch. She tried her knee again before he repositioned his legs to hold hers down. Rinnah fumed. She tried to ignore the utter indignity of having been defeated. No, admit it, not just defeat, but flaming defeat! I can’t believe this! I just.... CAN’T... believe this!! A primal scream of rage boiled up and again she thrashed about again desperately fighting to be free.

        Damn but she’s strong! And quick like a sand viper! Went through Vash’s mind, wincing as she let out a scream of fury near his ear. He saw in her face as it shifted through a variety of emotions until coming to the dismayed realization that she wasn’t strong enough to fling him aside.

        Stone-faced, Vash watched her struggle as she tried again to squirm out from under him and the mounting rage at herself and at him. He tilted his head and grinned down at her knowing it would infuriate her. She realized there was no one to blame but herself for the defeat. All he had done was to take advantage of her careful training over the years to be gentle when fighting humans. Also, her own idiocy. She closed her eyes for a second in self-reproof before opening them again. Hiding behind closed lids was not going to make truth of the situation go away. Vash saw vivid blue eyes glance up and zero in on his arms above her head and immediately moved the one capable of feeling pain beyond the reach of her teeth.

        After struggling for a while longer without any success and tired of his smug expression as he watched her, she paused to catch her breath.

        As he gave her time to come to terms with the reversal of fortune, he acknowledged that Rinnah was different than most other humans, but different how, like Legato? And when had his view shifted to think of himself as different from “them”, the humans he sided with? The incongruity of his predicament was not lost on him. This is what Knives had been trying to achieve from the very beginning, to get his brother to distance himself from the parasites who lived off the lifeblood of their species. Rage and hate rose in him merging with a razor sharp edge of bitterness, a frequent occurrence ever since the fight with Knives.... He wanted to hurt Knives, kill him over and over again because once was just not good enough anymore.

        Vash was changing, he could feel it but he couldn’t stop it and he didn’t know if he even wanted to. For the first time in his long life he was glad Rem was dead and couldn’t see him like this. Would she even recognize him? He thought not, or else be horrified by who he was becoming.

        It was because of Knives his family was shutting him out now. Yet, they were the ones were who harming others, set on the extinction of another species, Rem’s people. He had only wanted both to work together, live in peace together. It could have been! And the bereavement of that dream was like the sour taste of swallowed tears and bitter ashes.

        He squeezed his eyes shut in resentment as he envisioned his twin’s face sneering at him and heard a surprised grunt. Snapping his eyes open as he heard the air being pushed out of Rinnah’s lungs by his increasing weight on her. In the midst of his ponderings he forgot she was there.

        Rinnah was not unfamiliar with that look, the distant, unfocused one, slowly losing what little remnant of reality was left. Oh yeah, you’re one moon shy there plant boy! She thought back to her academy days. Everyone was required to take one of those battlefield psych classes. What was it they had said about dealing with someone in the process of losing it, think, think! Oh, talk calmly, talk slowly, find the middle ground... no that was diplomacy class. Who cares! At this point, just say something smooth, serene-like, anything!

        Rinnah drew in a quick breath and said in what she hoped was a soothing voice, “I can see you are a little upset. But don’t you think we should save all this hostility for the one who most deserves it,.... You know, that creepy brother of yours? The all-around champion head case?” Although looking up at his face the thought crossed her mind that right now either one would be a shoe-in for the title.

        His mouth turned down in displeasure and forgetting, pressed down on her again forcing out another “ooof”. I wish he’d stop doing that! Rinnah was also noticing that her wrists were beginning to throb.

        “Okay!” Scrapping her textbook psych babble she gasped out, “Why don’t you tell me what exactly it is that is bothering you?” She took another breath and continued, “Because whatever it was I humbly apologize. I’ll shine your boots, and polish your gun, whatever it takes to make amends, anything, just name it, okay?” She ended up hopefully. Use the cute face Rinnah, Rachel always said you could get away with murder if you did. The problem was, Selwyn had never identified for her exactly what the “cute face” was.

        Vash seemed to come back to himself and grated out the one question uppermost in his mind these past couple of weeks, “Who are you? Where do you go, and what have you been doing?”

        Rinnah stared up at him and decided that maybe it was time to come clean about some things, but which ones? She was pretty darn sure he would like to know about a number of them. Hmmm, where to start?

        Impatiently Vash lowered his face close to hers, eyes smoldering, “Well? Can’t decide which secret to spill first? Okay then, let‘s start with the comment about visiting a whore, shall we? And why would you even think I would discuss an area of my life with you that is none of your business? And don’t think I forgot that you didn’t answer the previous question of ‘who are you?’.” He was practically snarling. “At this point, I am beginning to think of you as a ‘what’ rather than a ‘who‘.”

        “Oh ouch, that stung! I’ve been skewered on the fine edge of a razor sharp tongue, I doubt I’ll ever be able to recover. Oh sob, I’ve been called a ‘what‘!”


        Rinnah gasped. The spooky face again! She decided to answer the question. Hmmmm, the comment from earlier in the evening. In hindsight that really was a stupid move on her part. In fact the whole evening was beginning to look like a series of disastrous decisions, especially taking into consideration the guarded and suspicious face with furious glowing eyes glaring at her only a few inches away from her own.

        All she had to do was sniff, which she did.

        “You stink.”

        “Whaaa...?” Not sure which question she was answering or if she was simply trying to be insulting.

        Taking several additional deep sniffs to make sure, and no, she wasn’t wrong.

        She took another sniff evaluating what she was sensing. The aroma from his very pores smelled of a mixture of musky leather with a smoky honeysuckle scent and the sharp clean smell of soap. It was the closest description she could think of and it was more than pleasant, it was intoxicating.

        Inhaling deeply, she regarded the scent.

        “And stop that damn sniffing! You don’t smell any better than the rest of us!”

        Ignoring his remark, Rinnah sniffed again, feeling it on a more primitive and instinctual level wrapping itself around all of her senses, especially with the two of them as close as they were. The scent was so overpowering and pervasive. What’s worse, it had been getting more potent as time went by.

        Not only that, it just seemed to be affecting her. Milly and Nicholas didn’t seem to notice one way or the other. It was as if the masculinity pheromone had been cranked up beyond tolerable levels, solely for her benefit!

        “Could you let me up please?” She asked in a quiet voice. By reflex he lifted up his head and started to relax his grip until he saw the sly look cross her face and clamped down hard again with a renewed scowl. With heartless satisfaction he considered the hard ground she was pinned against while he had the better cushion that was unquestionably softer than pebbles and stones. And it was dawning on him exactly how soft. A corner of his mouth quirked up, his was definitely the better part of this particular arrangement.

        Breaking in on his awareness he saw with clarity of vision that he was not the old Vash. If the old Vash were here he would be appalled at the treatment this woman was on the receiving end of. Yes, the old Vash would quickly press the tip of a silver gun lightly against this new Vash’s temple urging, asking in that nice polite way of the bumbling doofus, to let the trapped female go. He pulled his lips back in a snarl at the Vash he used to be. The one too weak and softhearted to deal with Knives properly. This new ominous self was a dark mutation and he welcomed it, pulling it around him like a sinister cloak. His soul felt as cold as that void of space between the moons.

        Mercilessly he ignored her wince at his tightening grip.

        “Who are you? Tell me.” He demanded. “Now.”

        Rinnah studied his face nearly hidden in shadow even as the now three risen moons overhead set their surroundings aglow with a pale ghostly light. She sighed. Okay, she would start with the big secret first.

        “I... I am... uh... half-human. A hybrid of two different species.” His grip tightened more. Angrily she snapped, “Dammit, you’re going to break my wrists at this rate!” Startled, he eased up a trifle on his grip and she sighed with relief.

        “And? What’s the other half?” He demanded fiercely.

        “Half human.... Half-Antressla, er, half-plantoid.” He went still with shock, his eyes widening with the information. Even as she felt the first tight pressing on her torso she blurted out, “But not of your species, whatever that is!” He brought his face down next to hers studying it and then up to scrutinize her black hair. She saw the disbelief in his face. Black hair? On a plant? That only spelled death... Figures, considering the source.

        “Half! Half! You blooming idiot!”

        “Half human, half-plant.” He murmured to himself wondering how it was possible for two radically different DNA strains to mix, blend and hold together in one being. How in the world was she conceived, let alone survived the gestation stage to make it to birth? Did she go through the human process and the whole nine months or was it plant swift? However, if she is telling the truth...

        Rinnah knew he was searching for the link that all of their kind (assuming that different plantoid races were alike in the way that different humanoid races were alike) possessed. It was easier to connect and blend minds when both beings were from the same genetic heritage, and for some reason, she could only stay connected with a human for a couple of minutes at the most even though she was half-human.

        Okay then. She sighed, wondering how deep to let him in and making a determined effort to hide certain things behind closed doors.

        She proceeded to open up her ’pathic link and reach for his. Then waited. She wanted him to see exactly what she was, but making sure other secrets were well veiled. She suspected he wouldn’t know it was only the surface level though. At least, she hoped he wouldn’t.

        Despite her efforts, Vash knew there was much she was hiding, he could feel it but was preoccupied with what he was being shown. Like a root seeking water he headed in and found a truth. Isolated in his exile, he would slowly descend into madness, whether today or decades from now. Even Knives would be more mentally balanced by the fact of just being connected to the family. Could he hate his brother any more than he already did? When he thought he had plumbed the depths of his venom-saturated hatred, he found yet another reason to resent him.

        A soft whisper came gently through his heated thoughts, “*Hey spike head, you’re not alone. We are here for you. If you will only let us.*” A growl deep in his throat answered her. He didn’t need any friends! He only needed others to distract Knives so he could finish him off.

        Next she showed and allowed him to experience her talent, her gift of smell along with a few of her memories involving the sensitivity of her nose.

        He practically reeled back from the shock. So. That was it.

        That was why she so strongly suggested he visit a prostitute, immediately if not sooner. She would have carried him there on her back if need be. She offered up another apologetic half-smile and said, “I’m sorry. I realize now that I didn’t handle that very well. I must appear to be incredibly dense, pushy and hardcore to all of... you.. and ... I..” She trailed off as she noticed he wasn’t listening. Instead, his eyes were glazed over with thought as he stared off into the distance.

        So, in her estimation he was overripe. Past due for mating. And she knew that the only females on hand were his sisters. All of his detachment, hostility, obsessing over Knives, was due to an instinctive, primitive mating urge?! His only competition for the humans... was his brother? What he had been protecting for over a century, what Knives had been trying to destroy, was his herd? Good God, were they like rutting bulls stamping and bellowing at each other for the breeding rights to the herd? He cringed. It couldn’t be so easy.

        But to the woman and her damn alien plant nose, it was. Vash looked down at her with new interest. She was... half plant? After learning about her incredible sense of smell he wondered if it would work for him too. He leaned in, disregarding her anxious look and took an experimental sniff. He smelled what he had expected to smell, dust, sweat, body odor... wait, what was that? Vash closed his eyes and took in several deep breaths. There. It was coming off of her, not a perfume, but something else, something intriguing setting his pulse racing and his breathing began to quicken.

        Vash opened his aqua eyes and studied her thin face, pointed chin, and huge luminous blue eyes as if seeing her for the first time. Not gorgeous but still an attractiveness that..., something twisted in his gut, a tightening and a radiating tingling traveling from his abdomen up and down, but especially down as he stared at her. He was becoming aware of an urge to lower his mouth onto hers. Instead he tilted slightly to the side so he could glance down the length of her body. She was fiercely alive and strong, that he knew from their recent fight and he could feel the taut lines of her muscles under him. He became conscious for the first time that this wasn’t just an opponent but a vibrant female under him. His gaze fell on the long line of her thigh, the flare of her hip and moving slowly up to the inward curve of her waist and higher.

        Surprised, but acutely aware of where his gaze was traveling Rinnah cleared her throat. To her chagrin when she spoke what came out of her mouth was a flustered, “We should... um, go back, uh... now, er... they might, uh... worry?” Did that insipid, wishy-washy comment just come out of her mouth?!

        But he wasn’t listening and she wasn‘t sure if she should be insulted or not until... He turned his eyes to meet hers with such a naked intensity that as they locked onto hers she felt her breath catch in her throat.

        All of a sudden she felt it, the powerful masculine drive with a forceful and absolute concentration centered completely on her. She shied away as best as she could which was quite a trick considering he had her pinned to the ground. His searching aqua-colored eyes were laser beams piercing through hers into her very soul.

        Without warning what had only been an irritating and at times crushing weight on her was changing. She was keenly aware of the placement of his hipbones and chest. A warm tickling sensation centering in her abdomen was rising along with a flush creeping up her neck to her face. I liked it better when we were fighting. That was something she understood. And now he was looking at her not like a foe or suspicious traveling companion. She narrowed her eyes and tried to place it. No one had ever looked at her like that before. Then her eyes widened, oh crap, she knew what this was. Panic filled her and she tried to scoot away again without success wishing for some kind of disturbance, any thing, earthquake, moons colliding, or a convenient sand storm. Never an Apocalypse around when you need one!

        Even as her body was turning traitor on her and responding to him she blurted out, “I’m really ugly and I’m all skin and bone, stick-like, yes, I have bad hygiene habits, and er, I drool in my sleep, and let’s see, oh.... and...”.

        “And no experience.” He softly supplied for her. She nodded. Yeah, that too. Did I forget to mention that?

        In her mind she heard a soft “*You believe you are ugly but you aren’t*.” Her jaw dropped slightly in surprise. How had he known that? It was something she had kept hidden in some dark inner corner of her being?

        To free up a hand, Vash transferred one of her wrists to his other hand so that only one of his hands held both wrists. A devious grin curved her lips. Ah ha! With a quick jerk she tried to wrench her wrists free; after all it was only one hand.... Oh star holes, it was his artificial arm! With a lopsided smile he realized her train of thought. She made a face at him. Almost her expression said.

        To Rinnah’s shocked astonishment Vash laid the back of his ungloved forefinger softly on the apple of her cheek, his eyes following as he drew it along the curve of her cheekbone down to her mouth and then jaw line. He saw dazed bewilderment widen her eyes as he bent down to lightly brush his lips across hers in a featherlike kiss, well aware of her eyes crossing in the middle as she tried to focus on his face. Vash raised his head again and continued to trace his finger delicately along her jaw line up to her ear. On impulse, he bent closer and she could feel his soft breath tickle her earlobe as he lingered there, inhaling the scent of her hair. He suppressed a grin as Rinnah tried to keep watch out of the corner of her eyes, still shocked speechless, even as he felt her body stirring underneath him.

        Great blazing star holes of Belsiphon! I KNEW it! I have all the stinkin‘ luck of a fallen angel! He WAS awake! Damn light sneaky sleeper of a plant! And became all the more aware of that flash of heat and the tickling sensation in her stomach.

        Aware of her mental tirade, Vash pulled back a little as his eyes once again watched as he traced the outline of her ear with a light stroke of his fingertip, noticing how her skin glowed under the light from the moons. Moving upwards, he slowly and softly combed his fingers through her thick black hair. After that he brought his hand down to her forehead and brushed back the obsidian locks hanging in eyes now staring at him in disbelief and also with something else starting to smolder deep within them.

        He leaned down again until his lips were next to delicate curve of her ear. A light breath tickled against the shell of her ear as he whispered, “You’re right. I was awake.” He watched her scrunch her eyes shut and turn her head away from him, overcome with unending waves of total embarrassment, mentally kicking herself. Could this night get any worse?

        He took her chin in hand and guided her head back to face him although she looked beyond him to the starry sky above.

        Then he whispered, “Why not you?”

        She frowned at him wondering what he was..... Freaking star holes!

        “WHAT!” Exploded out of her with as much air as she had available in her lungs. “You think I am some kind of...” Furious beyond words she began thrashing and struggling. She would kill him. One hand, just one hand free and she would solve all his sibling problems for him! She tried to call on her power but it wouldn’t come for her, she was beyond being able to concentrate and be in control of it.

        He held onto her with a firm grip but with a glint of humor sparkling in his eyes as he reminded her, “You said ‘whatever‘...”

        Dumbfounded, she stopped to huff back at him, “You know that I didn’t mean that, I mean, this, uhm,... this that.. er this kind of that! Dammit, you know what I mean!” Thrown off balance she decided she had just better stop talking until she actually had something intelligent to say.

        There must be something she could do or say to get him off of her! As if he could read her mind he unexpectedly rolled off of her and sat up. As he did so, her anger was replaced with apprehension as she thought, Now what?

        Vash lifted Rinnah up by her wrists, relentlessly and determinedly pulling her toward him between his raised knees until he could slip his arm around her waist, drawing her up into a sitting position. She took a deep breath; it felt good to be able to breathe again without constriction.

        Feeling totally out of control and nervous, the black-haired hybrid fell back on her habitual and customary way she handled most of life with its variety of trials and problems. Humor. Yes indeed.

        “Okay, okay, you win! What’s next, a spitting contest? Musical chairs? Darts? crossword puzzles? This some kind of weird initiation before I get to join the club, right?” That’s it, babble like a fool, say whatever as long as it’s diverting. Oh hell, who cares if it is diverting or not, just babble!

        “I used to have a cat that had the craziest sense of balance. Not like your normal cat. Nope, not at all. Used to stagger around like a drunk on Saturday night after the bars closed. Also had cravings for talcum powder. Where that came from no one knows. Now my Great-Aunt Gertrude used to come and visit us, not my real aunt, we just called her that, and she wasn’t that great either. Smelled like overripe pickles on a hot day and I don’t think her name was Gertrude, in fact, I used to wonder.... “

        Still babbling, she tensed her muscles ready to take advantage of any momentary lapse of attention on his part. She didn’t like what she was starting to feel. Oh she wasn’t stupid; she knew what was going on, she just never thought it would ever happen to her, never, not ever.

        Rinnah had been hoping to distract him for even just a fraction of a second and thought she had when he let go of her wrists. She gathered her muscles to spring away only to find an arm circling around behind her. As she resisted the pull she took note that the arm felt like what it was, a strong bar of metal without any give to it. The hand to that arm came up to cradle her neck and he was firmly and unyieldingly pulling her closer to him!

        Roll with it and then deflect. “Okay, one hug and then we go.” She leaned in to him and gave him a hug usually reserved for elderly aunts with a few friendly pats on the back for good measure. Then she started to lean back, hands pushing off against his chest, eager to end this moment that was starting to turn her face ten shades of red and her heart to pound wildly. Just when she thought there was enough room to turn around, he pulled her back in closer. There was no room to even squirm now. She was flush up against him, in fact, even a little bent back at an awkward angle. She wondered if he was doing it on purpose because it was certainly keeping her off balance, in more ways than one. Well, she had a thing or two to tell him! Rinnah’s eyes lifted ready with flaming insults until she met those aqua orbs bearing down on her. Ah, she felt like she was going to drown in the passion pouring into her own widening uncertain ones.

        Okay, grab some perspective here Rinnah! He is a plant even if he is not Antressla. You hate plants. Evil, wicked, evil, immoral, foul, evil plant, it all spells bad news. Everything tragic in her life had been due to the interference of her plantoid relatives mucking about in her life. Can’t judge every plant by his smell. She was beginning to feel a little panicky and realized she wasn’t making a whole lot of sense.

        Dammit! Why does he get to be so flipping strong! Despite trying to twist in his arms without success and ignore being held tightly against him she was feeling things she didn‘t want to. Rinnah was no weakling, in fact, much stronger than the average human female. Yet here she was as incapacitated in his arms as a child would be. Then remembered she wasn’t exactly operating at peek strength of late, and on the heels of that thought, felt all the strength suddenly wash out of her as if all her reserves were drained empty.

        Only vaguely aware of what she was doing she tiredly stopped struggling as worn-out muscles suddenly and unexpectedly released and an ebony black head drooped to rest a forehead against his shoulder. A weary sigh escaped her as her eyes closed. She was tired of fighting... everything. The internal struggle had sapped the last little bit of strength she possessed. Muscles all over her body were trembling from all the exertion of earlier, a long day’s travel, not to mention in reaction to his touch. It’s not fair, she shouldn’t be reacting this way and he should definitely not be having this effect on her. It shouldn’t matter that he was so incredibly handsome... ah God, not again! I give up, She thought with weariness, I can’t do this anymore. I need to stop pretending I can. I just can’t control this... feeling.

        Vash felt the shift in her body posture and also from the thoughts leaking through the link that was still in operation. He had only planned on holding her, the warm curvy smaller shape of her that molded so deliciously against his as he wrapped what seemed to him now, arms too long and gangly around her. In her whispering thoughts below the surface turmoil he heard a similar desire and attraction that matched his. For reasons that eluded him, he felt the need to look into her eyes.

        Reaching a hand up, Vash placed a knuckle under her chin, lifting her face to his. They were such a vivid intense blue! Then, with a finger extended and feather light touch he caught a tear as it spilled down her cheek. Cupping his hand softly under her chin, he held her face while he gently and leisurely brought his mouth down to cover hers. Again with the luminescent blue eyes wide with surprise! In another setting it would have been amusing but the effect they had on him at the moment was marvelous and wonderfully disturbing at the same time. Her lips were so warm and soft beneath his. His gut tightened. He could feel his blood roaring in his ears and his heart hammering away a staccato beat he was sure she could feel.

        Vash couldn’t believe he was feeling this way, about anyone. This was a new first. With a rush he realized that he wanted this woman and he wanted her now. Yet at the same time he knew she wasn’t ready. Not yet. He could have groaned with frustration.

        The arm curled around her waist tightened with his palm coming to rest flat against her ribs, fingertips lightly moving in small caressing circles. Rinnah felt shivers go up and down her spine.

        When her lips parted in surprise she felt a light flick of his tongue slowly teasing along the length of her lips. She tasted the sweet honey tea from dinner as he gently and then more firmly pressed, guiding her mouth to open under his in a deepening kiss. With a slight increased pressure against her lips with his he encouraged her to respond. The shock quickly fading, she began to enjoy the tingling sensation darting like little lighting bolts racing along her skin, and pressed back into him even as it felt like all the strength in her body was oozing out onto the desert sands. Lightheadedness was descending over her and she was secretly glad that he had his strong arms wrapped around her holding her up in a tight embrace against him.

        For the first time, she inclined into him and slid her arms up his chest to his shoulders. She couldn’t help the small moan that eased up out of her throat over her lips and into his mouth. With one finger she reached up, barely touching his skin and traced the path from his jaw line to the edge of his ear. So lightly, it was a butterfly's breath, she circled his ear and was rewarded to hear a returning moan as she felt his grip tighten around her.

        What is happening to me! Rinnah screamed with the one part of her mind least infected even as her arms slid up to wrap tightly around Vash’s neck. I can’t do this! Not with him! But that one small part of her was aware, very aware that she was afraid. Of this moment, of him, of herself, of the unknown, what it would be like... But the smell… Ah Holy Hybrid, that intoxicating fragrance curling up over her senses, weaving up to her nose which couldn’t seem to breathe it in fast enough. At the same time she was aware of an overwhelming desire tempting her to start tearing at his clothes. This strange, heady aroma wasn’t the sour smell she normally associated with humans, nor was it that too sweet aroma of her plant relatives… This was different, more smoky with the whiff of leather, smoke, spring rain and blooming flowers, it was spiraling around her... She could feel his hands brush down over her hips and thighs where they lingered only a moment before they suddenly released her completely.

        Rinnah opened her eyes feeling dizzy, confused and.. and... what? Vash took a deep breath, trying to get control of the pounding in his veins and the pulsating urge to keep going. But he had heard that inner cry of fear and had seen some memories he was sure she didn’t want anyone to know about, let alone him. He may have changed but he wasn’t an animal. Letting out a slow shuddering sigh he looked into her face. “You’re right… This is not the time…” He pushed her away from him and stumbled to his feet, swaying on shaky knees.

        Rinnah flushed, suspicion rising that he had more than grazed the surface of her mind. She wondered if her careful protections against prying minds had failed her during this incident. … She shivered; the desert was so cold at night.

        Vash bent over, hands on knees, still working on gaining control, calming his breathing, the rush of blood, and other areas before walking back to the camp. Why had he let his emotions get to him like this? He smiled faintly; truth was he so rarely fought with women. The last one… he’d snapped a few of her buttons during that battle… But why Rinnah? She was… She was… How in hell’s blazing sandpit can she be half-plant??

        Rinnah stood to her feet, more confused that she had ever been in her life and began cursing herself with every fleet swear word she could think of and some she made up on the spur of the moment. She was deeply annoyed with him yes, but mostly with herself. The deeply disturbed hybrid promised herself there would be no ‘next time’ no fights, no... None of... this, whatever the hell this was! What had happened here tonight was not going to happen again. Yet, there was a tinge of tangled regret, a part of Rinnah wanted to keep experiencing that thrilling quivering sensation,.... To feel his strong arms wrap around her and press her lips to the hollow of his throat to... AGH! Stop it! Get a grip Rinnah!

        Well! That was the last of that! No, it wasn’t going to happen again, she wasn’t going to let it! Without a doubt they needed to get him into town and find someone with experience, yes that was it. Just coming to a decision was calming her down. She didn’t care if he wanted to or not. She was going to toss him in a room with a prostitute and lock the door on them both with no intention of letting either of them out until the deed was done. Lust or love, she didn’t have time for either in her life. Ridiculous, she huffed at herself. Without looking at him Rinnah turned in the direction of their camp and set off not caring if he followed or stayed put. She was cold and she wanted to get back to the campfire. And she was hungry too; she hadn’t had time to finish her dinner. With a rueful grimace she hoped Milly hadn’t tossed it out.

Blackfire & Gunsmoke: Chapter 8
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