|Editor's Note: For a little fun Catherine wrote this story for me knowing my growing interest in Levio and my love for Milly. ^_^ It's a "what-if" story since the two will never actually meet within B&G, but we thought you might like to read it too!! Especially since IMO, when Levio is finally introduced through the English translation of Maximum... I think you all will be interested as well in this dual-personality Gung-Ho Gun!|
The five moons above trickled down a sheen of waxy silver on the old buildings below; they stood crackled and pale over the quiet byways of the town. It was a small town of no consequence, like a pimple on the planet's sandy backside, so insignificant that most passers-through usually forgot its name after they left.
But that didn't matter to Milly, happy as she walked about the streets with her arms loaded to the brim with bags of puddings. The town had a place that sold pudding and the people, albeit wan and soft-spoken, were friendly. The heavy weight felt good in her arms. She was so content that she wanted to whistle, but the problem was that she couldn't lick her lips and whistle at the same time and she was very hungry, her tongue darting out reflexively over her big grin.
Milly lessened the smile. Something did not sit well with her. There was some kind of odd break in the cool moonlight colors around her. The feeling wasn't that of danger, traveling with one Humanoid Typhoon had taught her all about danger--it was simply odd, out of joint. Little towns like this never willingly left things out of place where people could gawk at them; small town folk hate being gawked at. Didn't stop them from doing the staring though, she thought while her eyes flickered around, she, Senpai, Mr. Vash and Mr. Priest had gotten an eyeful when they'd arrived earlier that afternoon to stop for the night. They were safe and sound in their ratty little hotel, probably mulling over routes and supplies. Not for the last time she wished she knew exactly where they all were going; there was an air of desperate haste in the boys' faces nowadays, like they didn't want her and Senpai along. That had hurt a bit more than she thought it would. All she wanted to do was help. She had felt sad at feeling so useless and unwanted, so she had gone on one of her pudding runs to cheer herself up, and now she'd hit this unwelcome snag in her road to consolation.
The anomaly that irked her so sat huddled against the alley corner between two buildings. Its shadow broke the even veneer of the moons. Perhaps it was a beggar, Milly thought, a poor beggar who didn't have anywhere warm to spend the night and was hungry. She walked over slowly to the slouched person, performing some magical shuffling to take a pudding cup out of her trove, and opened her mouth to ask if he'd like some. The figure's face shifted to look up at the sudden intrusion.
A half of a skull gleamed up white at her, its empty socket set next to a burning eye surrounded with jagged tattoo markings. The flesh part of the man's face scowled at her.
Milly shrieked. She thought for a moment that half of his face had been eaten away by some kind of acid. The puddings tumbled down into a messy pile around her feet.
"Go away," the man said, his voice cool and rattling like a soft wind, a weird contradiction against his eye that still burned. Milly stooped to collect her fallen goods, a bit calmer now that she realized that the skull on his face was actually a mask. He was sickeningly odd-looking, a huge man swathed in a ragged coat with filthy uncombed hair and that horrible face.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to bother you," she said, forcing herself not to stutter. "But I was just wondering if you'd like a pudding. You seem unhappy and I thought that you'd feel a bit better if you had something to eat. A good pudding always makes me feel better." Blindly she thrust out a cup at him, noticing only too late that it was the only marshmallow-mango flavor the store had carried, a rare find that she felt only her superior palate could appreciate. But it was too late now.
After pausing for a moment--stunned by her kindness or frightened out of his wits?--the strange man took the cup from her hand, silent all the while. He grunted out his thanks. Satisfied at completing her good deed and still numb inside from the shock, Milly stooped to gather her treats. She did not take her eyes off of him, fumbling around without looking down. The strange man opened up his gift, dolloped some of it on his grubby finger (the stains on his hands looked dubious) tentatively, and put it in his mouth. His eye widened, a shudder running through him. She knew she shouldn’t have given such an acquired taste to the uninitiated; berating herself and cursing him for a pudding heathen, Milly turned to move off.
"You are Chapel's friend," remarked a voice. Milly almost dropped her stash again, eyes wide in surprise.
"Chapel--Nicholas, you're one of his friends, aren't you? I saw you come in with him and the Stampede."
The fact that he knew who Mr. Vash was did not come off as much of a surprise to her since every bounty hunter worth his salt knew about him; it was the fact that he knew Mr. Priest's name and had called him by some strange nickname that sat ill in her stomach.
“Yes, it's my job to accompany Mr. Vash. But," she forced her tone to go stern, "you'd better not think of anything funny! His bounty was taken off a long time ago so if you're after the sixty billion then you're out of lunch." Her hand cut through the air to throw off any dissent concerning her pronouncement.
The eye blinked once, twice, three times before he found his cool voice. "The bounty is not what I am after. But a word of advice to you: don't continue to follow him much longer if you wish to live."
"Why not? We never get in the way and it's our job. Senpai won't give it up for anything. We've been through a lot already and we can--"
"What you've gone through before is nothing."
Milly could feel the stinging in her cheeks rise with her foot before she stomped it. "How rude! You should be nicer; I gave you my rarest brand of pudding, after all. I don't see why you should care anyway."
"I don't," he snapped, somehow managing to do it without really clipping his words or even raising his voice. "But you gave me a kindness. And you are a friend of Nicholas. He cares for your well-being. I would not cause any unnecessary harm to one he cares for."
The numbness inside her turned into an outright chill; her heart beat very fast. "What's wrong with you? I've done nothing to you and you're being so freaky. Leave me alone!"
The man puffed out a breath. "I would not willingly hurt you, but every man has a demon inside him. I can't guarantee your safety against a demon, nor can he."
"Oh, it's not he thinks so much of me," Milly replied, frowning at a memory; an unbidden surge of bitterness compelled her to confide this in the bizarre man, her hand gingerly patting her stomach. "Mr. Priest even punched me and knocked me out not so long ago. He was acting so weird, almost like you, but I don't know what I did to deserve that. I still have a bruise."
"You don't understand the circumstances," said the grim voice. "For what it's worth, however, he is fonder of you than you know. He thinks of you, no matter how hard he tries to conceal it--for your own good--he can't hide it from me. But I would not stoop so low."
She fought back a tremble up her spine. "Please tell me why you're saying these things. I don't get it."
"You are kind and, for his sake, I do not want to see him hurt needlessly by anything that would happen to you. You don't realize what the Stampede is going up against. You and your friend should stay behind. To follow him would likely cause your deaths."
A prophetic current ran through his speech and Milly's head filled with the picture of his skill clacking its teeth at her at it conjured up the future from its bones--she could not doubt his words. She knew the truth, knew that things were too big for one insurance girl (no matter her size) to handle, but she guessed a part of Senpai's stubbornness had rubbed off on her.
"We know the risks in this job. We're not looking to meddle with anything except Mr. Vash’s penchant for blowing things up and we're not doing so hot at that either. There's no need to hurt us."
The man actually laughed, not a pleasant sound. "The weak can more of a difference than most think. And don't you know that anything goes in this game so long as it brings the Stampede suffering? As dear friends, your deaths would surely increase his unspeakable anguish. You really don't know what monsters are out there. You'd best get out of his way as quickly as you can."
If Mr. Vash told them to stay behind, gave good reason for it, Milly thought, and made Senpai see that she could not help directly, then they would obey him. She knew she would do that if Nicholas said the same to her. "That's up to Mr. Vash and Mr. Priest." Deciding to leave that as that, she began to walk away again, determined to forget this frightening man so that his face wouldn't give her nightmares.
"They will make the wise choice," came the voice. It sounded like the man was talking to himself rather than to her. "Oh, and miss?"
Against her better judgment Milly turned around, face intent.
His lips lifted up into a ghostly smile. "Thank you for the pudding.”