A Whisper in Darkness

by Jaina and Arafel

This is what happens when you mix together two authors with a yen for something plotless and add a late-night Friday chat.

Jaina: It's all Arafel's fault! Really not mine this time!

Arafel: She encouraged me to do this, the blame is shared.

Meryl told herself that it was out of habit that she slipped out of her bed to go check on Vash long after they'd both gone to sleep. It was silly to be worried about him after the day's events. Even though the day had started with a terrifying attempt on Vash's life, it had ended with him emerging from the pit of despair that had kept her and Milly walking on eggshells. For the first time in weeks, she actually felt hope that things might be all right after all. Still, she continued down the hall towards Vash's room.

It was like…like work. Since they'd arrived in this little nowhere, Meryl had made taking care of Vash her most important task. In her working career, she'd always made a point of doing a damn good job on anything to which she was assigned. It was difficult to shift her focus after concentrating on something for so long, that was all. That had to be why she held her breath as she tiptoed into his darkened room, trying not to wake him as she squinted for a glimpse of his sleeping form to reassure her.

Tonight was different from all the other nights she had crept down the hall to look in on her charge. Meryl wasn't sure she understood all of what had happened that afternoon, and she probably never would. All she knew was that she had finally found the words to defend Vash and the courage to stare down a man who was going to shoot him, and the thought of Vash lying dead on the sand was somehow worse than the thought of the same happening to her. No one had been hurt – and at the end of it all, once the townspeople had cleared off and the girls had sliced through the ropes binding Vash, he was a changed man.

And then… A faint blush stained her cheeks at the memory. Then, with no warning at all, Vash had bounded up from the sand with dawn breaking on his face and hugged her. Not a little one, either. It was a heartfelt snuggle into her neck followed by a backbreaking bear hug. Meryl had smacked him a good one for the second half of the embrace, but the first part had been just fine as far as she was concerned. More than fine, actually.

Vash had never touched her with any kind of affection before. He had thrown her off a few times when she had tried to stop him or restrain him in some way, and that hardly compared to what had happened that afternoon. It was enough to get her thinking – thinking that maybe she could tell him what she was feeling someday, once the whole mess with Knives had come to a conclusion. And damn but he had been nice to hug. She hadn't quite expected that.

Meryl stepped into Vash's room hesitantly, not wanting to disturb him or to have to stammer out a plausible explanation for why she was sneaking in. The third moon had nearly set, and for the next few hours, none of the satellites that circled their dusty planet would glow in the sky. There was still enough moonlight coming in at the window for her to see that Vash was sleeping soundly. Meryl's lips curved in a small smile as she watched him. Before, it had been easy to sense his pain when he slept. He'd held himself rigidly, unable to give himself a moment of solace even when he was resting. Tonight Vash was sprawled on his side, one arm grasping the pillow that his cheek rested on. He was facing her, but his eyes remained shut, his breathing deep and even. Meryl wasn't sure when she'd last seen him look so peaceful.

Uncertainty filled her as she watched him. He was resting comfortably. Any danger that threatened him in the form of the townspeople or his own mind had gone away. Vash didn't need her with him any more. Who do you really want to console, Meryl? Vash or yourself?

The relief that Meryl had felt since Vash had given her an honest smile for the first time in weeks ebbed as she considered what lay before him. She'd be lying to herself if she pretended that the danger gone. Now that he'd stopped teetering on the edge of sanity, Vash had one last task to accomplish and one more person to face. Knives. The word sounded so harsh, even in her mind. It didn't seem like a name that should belong to a member of Vash's family. This was the man that Vash would have to deal with. Vash would leave her to confront his brother, and for once she knew with cold certainty that she could not follow.

Knowing that he was going to leave didn't stop Meryl from wishing that he wouldn't. Maybe Knives would kill Vash, out there in the unknown. Maybe Vash would defeat his brother and choose not to return, leaving her in uncertainty the way he had done after Augusta. It was all the more reason for her to sit in the dwindling moonlight to study his scruffy, beautiful face and commit every contour and line to memory.

Meryl brushed a stray lock of hair away from Vash's face, moving delicately so she wouldn't wake him up. His hair was so soft, faint gold in the last light, and she let her fingers move farther into his unruly mop, taking a liberty she wouldn't have dared if it wasn't Vash's last certain night with them. I might not get another chance to touch you, to see you, she thought, extending her feather-light caress down to his cheek. Maybe never again.

The light was almost gone, giving the scene a dreamy unreality. Vash muttered a little, shifting in his sleep, and Meryl jerked her hand back. Damn it. I almost got caught. She almost got up to scurry back to her room before Vash could wake up completely, but he settled down so that he was more on his back and didn't move again. His face was in profile against deepening shadows, mouth slightly open.

What if... what if.... oh, no. Meryl leaned closer to Vash, a terrible but highly appealing idea spilling into her head, prompted by the sight of the curve of his lips in the dark. She wanted to know, just once before he left, just once before he might pass out of her life forever, what those lips would feel like pressed against hers. It was stupid, and a complete invasion of Vash's personal space and his privacy... but here in the warm dark, it felt like she was capable of anything.

The thought was overwhelming and all-consuming. Meryl struggled against it, but the more she tried not to think about it, the more her mind supplied her with tantalizing images of how it would feel and how much she would like to find out. Hardly believing that she dared, or that she was even considering it, Meryl leaned over and touched her lips to Vash's, finding him completely by feel in the now-moonless night.

The kiss was as light as it could possibly be and still be called a kiss, but that didn't stop her lips from tingling at the contact. His lips were warm and soft, not chapped and worn like much of the rest of his body. His mouth fit against hers just so, as if it had been waiting for her all this time. Meryl chastised herself for the whimsical thought, but she remained where she was, savoring the moment. A kiss stolen in the night could hardly be ranked as a milestone in anyone's life, but she knew she would always remember this. She held the kiss for a few seconds longer before exhaling a quiet breath, ready to pull back and slip away before she pushed her luck too far.

Meryl was grateful that Vash hadn't awakened and thus nearly jumped out of her skin when she felt his lips move to press against hers, kissing her back. A sharp, sudden tremor went through her entire body as she held back a squeak and prepared to jump away and babble apologies. Before she could, she felt his arm brush against her as he reached a hand up to cup her cheek. The caress and the kiss were as light and tentative as hers had been, but he wasn't pulling away and he clearly wasn't asleep. After a few more seconds of stunned stillness, Meryl summoned the will to kiss him back. The strangeness of the situation made everything seem unreal, even more so when he gently brought her down against him.

I cannot believe this is happening. Meryl bent down over Vash, her entire being focused on the soft motion of his mouth on hers. Her balance faltered as Vash's arm tightened around her back, and she rested her weight on the edge of the bed, one knee pressed into the mattress. The light sweep of Vash's tongue against her lower lip distracted her completely from keeping her balance, and somehow Meryl suspected that he knew what effect he was having – he was already moving over and taking her with him. A furious blush rose to her face as she realized that she'd gone from stealing an innocent kiss to lying in bed with a man she desired deeply. But it felt so good, so right...

Well. FF.net really wants to protect you, because our link is gone! But, we are wily. Ha.

www. oceandreaming. com/ fanfiction/ whisperindarkness. html (remove spaces)

It was difficult to move through the post-orgasmic languor, but when she felt Vash begin to go soft within her, Meryl lifted herself away and resettled herself next to him. Vash's arm curled protectively around her back, and Meryl rested her head on his shoulder, feeling only his warmth next to her and not the rough patches of scar. Her hand moved in idle patterns on his chest, memorizing him with touch this time, never wanting to forget this moment if she should never see him again.

Vash seemed to be doing the same, because his light touch was exploring the lines of her face, gently tracing her cheekbones and the curve of her lips. Meryl kissed his wandering fingertip, and his chest shook in a noiseless laugh under her cheek. He cuddled her close, his hand tangling in her short hair. In return, she fit herself against him, reaching up to pet the stubble along his jaw. A moment of whimsy prompted her to finish the caress that had started this whole unexpected tumble in the dark, and Meryl slid her fingers into Vash's hair. It was damp with sweat, and she smiled, remembering why that was so.

Meryl pushed his hair away from his face and gently ran her nails along his head. Vash made a very happy noise, and she scratched a little harder, stifling a giggle. What would the insurance company say if they knew that the most feared man on the planet liked to have his head scritched like a big cat? She kept up the motion until Vash caught her wrist and brought her hand down to his lips to press a kiss into the palm of her hand. Sudden tears sprang to her eyes at his tenderness, and Meryl buried her head in his chest and bit her lip hard to keep from crying.

Vash tightened his arms around her and Meryl felt his breath grow slow and even. She closed her own eyes but didn't try to sleep. The feel of his heart beating under her cheek, his warmth surrounding her…no matter how tired she was, there were no dreams that could compete with this feeling.

Meryl wondered if she had made a mistake. They said, whoever "they" were, that ignorance was bliss. She'd never believed it. Knowledge was a good thing. Knowledge gave you power, gave you means to carve out something resembling a decent life on this wreck of a planet. A few hours ago, she'd been ignorant. She hadn't known what it would feel like to give in to her feelings or have Vash acknowledge that he felt the same. Now she did know, and the pain that tore at her heart was almost enough to make her want to take it back. She knew what it felt like to really love Vash, and she knew for the first time just how much she would lose if he didn't win the fight with Knives. Knowing all this, she still had to let him walk away. I have to let you go. But how the hell can I?

Meryl didn't move for a long time. Only when the light of the rising moons began to filter back into the room did she stir. She couldn't be here in the morning when he awoke. What they had shared was wonderful and indescribably precious to her, but it was something that could not exist in the daylight until Vash had taken care of his business and freed himself to live without fear. Besides, if she spent the entire night in his arms, Meryl knew there was no way she could watch him leave her without breaking down entirely.

Vash's arms grasped for her when she sat up. There was enough light in the room now for her to look at him and see that he was looking at her questioningly. She just smiled sadly at him. I can't stay. You know that.

He nodded once, slowly.

Meryl sighed and fumbled around the pillows for her nightshirt. Vash handed it to her and she slipped it over her shoulders, not bothering to button the entire thing. He rolled onto his side and didn't even pretend not to watch her. For a second Meryl thought she glimpsed tears shining in his eyes, but no, that had to be a trick of the moonlight. Vash reached up to touch her face and she leaned in to kiss him one last time.

His lips were warm and soft and sweet against hers, and Meryl concentrated hard on the feeling. Tears threatened again and she knew that if she didn't leave soon, she never would. Vash's arms encircled her in a tight hug, and she unwillingly broke the kiss, snuggling into his bare shoulder. Come back, she thought, unaware that her mouth had breathed the words as well until a nearly inaudible "I will" tickled her ear.

You had better, Meryl thought, making sure to keep her words to herself this time. Relief and hope began to lighten the sense of anxiety and despair she felt at the thought of him going. You had just better. I'm not through with you yet, Vash the Stampede, and for the first time I think you're not through with me either. This time I can let you go, because I think you really will come back.

The moons rose higher in the sky, and Meryl knew it was time. Leaving Vash was the hardest thing she had ever done, but she did it. One last caress, her delicate fingers over his callused gunman's hands, and she padded across the cold floor to the hallway and then to her own bed. Meryl's cheek was cold with the tears that had finally flowed after she closed Vash's door, but there was happiness mixed with the loss. The darkness was kind, and sleep came quickly once she had crawled back into her own bed, still feeling the warmth of Vash's body. A last, fleeting thought flashed through her mind before she sank into unconsciousness.

He'll come back. He promised.

"Vash will come back, won't he, Meryl?"

"Hmm?" Meryl tore her thoughts back to the present. Milly was watching her with happy, hopeful eyes. "Of course he will." Meryl smiled into the sun and remembered a whispered promise in the dark, a promise made only to her. She thought of the last words he'd said to her that weren't hampered by the too-bright daylight.

"He wouldn't dare keep a good woman like me waiting."

Leave us reviews! We're plotting a sequel. We like encouragement.

Arafel: arafeloceandreaming.com
Jaina: lhansonbgnet.bgsu.edu