Mr. Vash once told her that a very wise, though semi-coherent, man had declared privately to him that alcohol was the greatest of all Man’s creations. For a long time she hadn’t believed it, tasty as liquor could be--surely pudding, sweets, and Ceylon tea all came out on top! But she had to concede, if it weren’t for alcohol then there wouldn’t be road houses dotting the land between towns to offer salvation from the monotonous blaze of riding through the desert. All four of them, having rode out from New Oregon a few days earlier, had been utterly exhausted. Then Mr. Wolfwood, with his keen booze-senses tingling, swerved their car up to a little ramshackle place that had only been a dot on the horizon when first spotted. She envied him and Mr. Vash their amazing powers.
The mother sun had come perilously close to dipping out of sight as she deliberately sipped her frosty crème. They were the only customers in the road house at the moment, too early for the night rush and planning to leave before the first stars appeared. The bartender puttered behind his counter, eyes hidden. Mr. Vash, totally wasted as usual, had slumped off his stool and lay conked out on the floor like an angel who had requested the old water-to-wine trick once too often; so serene was his face that Senpai had no heart to move him by shove or shout. She just looked at him with her ever-increasingly pensive face. Mr. Wolfwood, she strained to remember over the brain freeze of her frosty, had gone to the one place that no decent girl ever dared to tread--he’d overdone guzzling down his water. He did that a bit.
A small square area had been set aside as a dancing floor, the lightly-warped boards scuffled. A jukebox dominated the far wall. The old records within, also a tad warped, had a strange beckoning aura to them, reminding her of the heirloom record player at home, the one she had spent childhood nights sitting next to, listening to the scratchy offerings it provided. Sometimes her father or an uncle or a brother would dance with her. She’d step on the toes of their boots and they’d twirl her around until she grew too dizzy to take more.
Milly asked permission from her Senpai and walked over to the jukebox, rattling the change in her duster pocket. She scanned over the meager selection, found a song that she recognized--and old waltz that her Uncle Bernard favored--and inserted the coins to watch the needle creak over the vinyl.
One two three. One two three. Glancing over her shoulder to see Senpai still regarding Mr. Vash with a strange expression, she began to swing herself around, eyes closed.
A warm pair of hands take a hold of her shoulders from behind. She almost tripped over someone’s feet before they got into the swing of the rhythm. Milly deftly turned to her companion in momentary surprise, her face softening into a smile. “Hey, Mr. Priest.”
“You like dancing by yourself, Honey?”
“What can you expect, dear? I've stomped on some many people's toes that nobody takes me out on the floor anymore,” she giggled. Her arms slipped around his waist. She always marveled at how slender he was beneath that suit yet could heft his Cross Punisher about wherever he went.
“Lord forgive me for being remiss in my duties,” he murmured heavenward. After a few steps he pulled her closer to him, so close she could smell the cologne on his skin and on the collar of his jacket underneath the layer of smoke. It baffled her that the priest actually made smoke almost sweet; a few members outside the immediate family smoked and they never smelled as good as Mr. Wolfwood. Almost on instinct she buried her face into his lapel, into rough cloth against a wiry, solid body.
“Now you’re the one who’s comfy,” she smiled against his shoulder; she felt the return grin through the motions of his stubble-roughened facial muscles next to her ear.
“Happy to return the favor.”
In the scent and sensation and happiness, Milly felt a pull of confusion. Her eyes clouded up in the blank look that overtook her when in deep thought, the look that made her unintentionally appear spacey and flaky to the untrained eye, an expression which sometimes fooled even Senpai. The lean, almost gaunt, frame underneath the black cloth thrummed with life underneath her fingers, the rise of his ribs coming at a faster rate than before. Her eyes grew cloudier still. She felt very odd, like how she had felt when walking with him as they hustled Moore away from the caravan, only it hit her a hundred times more keenly, her cheeks pooling with heat. She had always liked Mr. Wolfwood--he was very rough at times but she knew he had kindness in him--and if this wasn’t an indicator that he liked her back then she didn’t know what was. And yet--they had never really spoken a word about it. They had only shared some grins, leaning against each other from time to time, and flirty banter--well, he did, she really didn’t know how to flirt well but she at least became more playful in his presence--but other than that nothing else had been very romantic. He liked to buy her things when he could and they enjoyed each other’s company, but that was found in any solid friendship, she knew that much. She could not tell when she had crossed that cursedly thin line, but apparently she had and now everything was a mess inside of her. She didn’t know what to say, where to put her hands, what to do, how to act. Was it cricket to ask him how he felt? That was a very risky venture to her mind. She had to be careful. The time was never right.
“Honey,” a grunt huffed in her ear, “ease up. You’re breaking my ribs.”
She loosened her killing grip around his middle in a sheepish way. “Sorry.” She actually removed her hand so she could put it behind her head to accentuate her apology.
The blue cleared from his face as he let out the first free breath in several minutes. “That’s okay. Are you all right?”
Once her mind had been taken away from analysis her cheeriness returned, basking in the happiness of the moment, the pleasure she derived from his mere company. “Oh yes. Thanks for the dance. It was nice!”
He nodded, smirking. “We should do it again sometime.”
“You bet!” Without a thought she leaned forth to give him a peck on the lips. His blue-gray eyes widened at her but Milly succeeded in overcoming the wave of apprehension unfurling in her stomach, giving him her brightest smile instead. She honestly didn’t regret it. “But I guess we’d better fetch Senpai and Mr. Vash so we can get to town before nightfall.”
Her suddenly mute companion nodded his assent and they all clambered into the car, Wolfwood dragging Vash by one foot because he staunchly refused to carry both him and the cross at the same time. Milly took her turn at the wheel. He slid in next to her. Once she had gotten out of park and into a good, steady gear she felt the warmth of his arm wrap around her shoulders, his hand rubbing in a circular motion. Milly smiled and a freshness rushed into her at his touch. She glanced at him from the corner of her eye, catching his grin.
Not a word was spoken.