By Jaina (lhanson@bgnet.bgsu.edu)

VxM. WIP. Post-series.

Props and thanks to Arafel, Empress Galaxia, Clinesterton, Kiri, and Grey for betalicious help, prodding, and listening to my whining about a title.

Chapter One

As evening dissolved into night, long past the time she was expected home, Meryl slipped through the front door of her apartment. A tiny, amused smile was plastered to her lips, as if she were laughing at some joke that was hers alone. "I'm home," she called out. She slid her shoes off into a neat row beside the door and hung her coat up on a hook before walking across the living room to gaze out the window at the sparkling stars that dotted the sky. Scarcely a moment later, she felt a strong pair of arms envelop her from behind and she leaned into them contentedly. "The sky is beautiful, isn't it?" she remarked.

"Mmmhm." Vash pressed a kiss to the back of her neck and she wrapped her
arms around his in response. "You're back awfully late tonight. Dinner got cold."

"I stayed late to do the final paperwork on a file."

"Oh? Anything I'd be interested in?"

"Maybe." She looked up over her shoulder at him and grinned. "As of today, the file on Vash the Stampede is officially closed."

"Already? It's only been six months." He wrinkled his nose. "I should be insulted by how quickly they forgot me."

"Oh, pipe down." Meryl jabbed him in the side, prompting a brief mouselike squeak. "This makes things a lot easier for me, you know. After so long without any incidents people have stopped asking me what it was like traveling with a vicious outlaw, and how did I ever escape his clutches, and aren't I glad to be home sweet home at last." She snorted to show her opinion of such people.

"You're saying you don't want people to know you're having a torrid affair with this amazing fellow? Ow!" He rubbed his arm, victim of another jab. "Stop that. You'll damage my delicate skin."

"You'll be lucky if that's all that happens," she retorted. She turned in his embrace, moving her arms up around his neck. "I'm glad things have calmed down, Vash," she confessed. "I just want to live quietly for a little while. No more drama."

"I can go along with that," he agreed, and dipped his head down to her lips. "This seems so unreal sometimes," Vash murmured when they parted for breath, his voice barely audible. He traced the line of her back with his fingers. "I keep getting scared that I'll wake up and this'll all have been a dream and I'll be alone again."

"You won't be. I promise." She kissed him firmly. "Not as long as I can help it."

"I hope not." He pulled her closer for she what she thought was a hug and suddenly her center of gravity shifted as he scooped her up in his arms.


"Shhh," he scolded, grinning his quirky grin. "Don't be so loud. You wouldn't want the neighbors to know you're harboring a criminal, do you?" He shifted her in his arms, easily bearing her weight.

She scowled at him even as she held onto his shoulders for balance. "You're not being very fair, you know. You're a lot bigger than me."

"I know I'm not. But that's what criminals like me do." He shrugged and kissed her nose before striding towards their bedroom. "Now remember, don't make a sound. I'm a secret."

Shortly thereafter she failed his edict not to cry out, but the apartment's walls were thick and Vash didn't seem to mind after all.

A little over a month later

Meryl paced back and forth, wearing a flat path in the carpet as she waited for Vash to return. The suns were nearly setting-where was he? She paused to look out the window above the kitchen sink and her stomach roiled as she thought of how he might react to this.

Hi, sweetheart, guess what? I don't have the flu after all.

The doctor had looked at her strangely when she'd swallowed thickly and asked if he was certain. A quick glance at Meryl's bare left hand had seemed to smooth away the confusion on his face. Quietly serious, he'd suggested that if it was what she wanted, he could assist her with some of her options. A sudden burst of nausea had saved her from having to answer.

She paced the rooms of the apartment again, wondering for the first time just how small they felt to Vash. Her normal salary, as well as the hazard pay she'd accumulated, allowed them to rent a relatively large unit in the December complex. It was a safe, friendly neighborhood and the apartment was airy and tastefully decorated. But previously to this, Vash's home had been the endless boundaries of earth and sky, and never one place for too long. He'd even managed to break those boundaries during his time on the flying ship. She'd never insisted he stay and he'd never seemed to want to leave. But this…she touched her middle lightly before forcing her hands to her sides. This was a restraint stronger than any stone walls and might finally be enough to make him gasp for an unconfined breath.

Her footsteps carried her to the spare room at the end of the hallway that led to their bedroom. She barely hesitated before undoing the three heavy locks that kept the room shut tightly away from the rest of their home.

The pale figure that lay bound to the small bed was still, aside from the barely
noticeable movement of his chest as he breathed. She hovered above him, feeling a strange compulsion to poke at him and find out whether he was truly out, as Vash assured her, or merely biding his time until he could murder her and escape to a remote location where he could heal and plot more misery for Vash. He'd sneer at her first, mocking her audacity at daring to be with Vash and then punish her for daring to pollute his race. Or maybe let her live just long enough for her to produce a disciple for him, a young tool that he could steal away to raise in his own image. Maybe he'd just smile quietly as his
own kind refused to tolerate her and ate her alive from the inside out--

She shut the door, trembling. Shut away like this, Knives had not been a reminder that Vash wasn't human. Vash's personality was so warm and loving that he seemed to be the most human person she'd ever met. Now, with every breath she took, she remembered that he wasn't.

As she re-did the locks, she heard the front door open. Vash.

He was smiling as she met him in the kitchen, two brown sacks in hand. She envied him the carefree expression. "Hey," he greeted her, leaning over to kiss her cheek.

"You're late," she said, then cringed at the bluntness of it. Already she wasn't saying things right.

"Sorry about that." He grinned sheepishly. "You wouldn't believe how much work there is for a part-time clerk, especially when it involves cleaning up a display of donuts that someone carelessly knocked over."

Meryl rolled her eyes and took a sack from him, pulling out a few cans of soup to stow in the cabinets. "And that someone wouldn't happen to have spiky blonde hair, would they? Sometimes I really do wonder how you're still working there at all."

"Hey, come on now." He affected a tone of false indignation. "I'll have you know
they appreciate my services. And look, I did this week's shopping so you don't have to. Doesn't that make up for it?"

"I suppose," she replied absently, not looking at him. Possibilities of what to say ran through her mind, each one being rejected. "How was work other than your little mishap?"

"Oh, it was fine. Same old same old. My boss actually offered to make me assistant manager, can you believe it?" He chuckled.

Her head snapped up. "Assistant manager?"

He nodded as he pulled a box of oatmeal out of the bag. "I know. I was surprised, too. You know, I think this is the first actual job I've had that doesn't involve sharpshooting. Too bad I had to turn him down."

She just stared at him. "Turn him down?" She shook her head, dimly aware that she wasn't contributing to the conversation. "Why?"

He looked up at her, a surprised expression on his face. "Well, I couldn't really commit to it, could I? Assistant manager means more hours and I don't want to leave Knives alone more than I am now. Just because he's stable now doesn't mean he'll never wake up."

She clenched her hands into fists at the thought of walking in to tend to Vash's
brother one day and seeing his cold eyes staring back. No. Do not think of that right now, Meryl. You've got bigger worries at the moment. "But do you really think that's going to happen any time soon? A promotion is a good thing, Vash. It's more money, for starters."

"Do we really need it, though?" He closed the cabinet door and came over to her. "I'm sorry I don't contribute as much as you do, but I thought we were pretty comfortable." He looked suddenly uncertain. "You haven't been dipping into your savings, have you? I want you to tell me if we need anything. We're in this together." He leaned in to kiss her, but she ducked away and grabbed a bag from the table.

"No, I haven't," she said, turning away from him in the guise of putting away more groceries. "Financially, we're fine." For now. "But it would have been nice if you'd at least checked with me before making a decision like this."

"I'm sorry." He hugged her from behind and kissed the top of her head. "I didn't think."

"Well, you'd better start," she said irritably. "Sometimes it can be a really important decision…and you don't even realize it at the time." She realized with horror that hot tears were gathering in the corners of her eyes.

"Hey." Gently yet firmly, Vash's hands took the bag from hers and turned her around to face him. "What's wrong?"

"What makes you think anything's wrong?" She bent her head slightly so that her bangs fell over her face, but he tilted her chin up with his hand.

"You don't usually cry when everything's fine." He caressed her cheek with his thumb. "Will you tell me? Please?"

She wiped her eyes. This wasn't how she'd pictured it, but she couldn't put it off forever. "All right. I think we should sit down first, though."

"Okay." Looking serious and a little scared now, he let go of her and sat down at the table. She followed, still focusing more on her hands than his face.

She took a deep breath. She'd imagined a hundred different ways to lead up to this gently, but they were all eluding her now. "I'm pregnant."


After a moment, Meryl looked up. Vash still wore a vaguely comforting expression, but his eyes seemed much wider than before. "Vash? Did you hear me?"

"Pregnant," he repeated slowly. "You said that, right? It wasn't just in my head?"

"Yes. I saw the doctor today."

"That's why you've been sick," he said distractedly.

"Yeah." She picked at a hangnail. "I don't know what to say. I certainly didn't expect this to happen."

"Me either." Some of the shock on his face gave way to a tentative smile. "But…it's still good news, right?" His grin grew wider. "I mean, we're going to have a baby! We're going to be parents!"

Meryl went rigid. He looked so happy. Like he didn't see any of the potential problems. Hell, some of them were already more than potential. "That's not what I said, Vash."

His smile slowly faded. "What? But you said."

"I said I'm pregnant." She carefully folded her hands in her lap. "Vash, there are certain options we need to consider."

"What `options'?" Vash sounded as if he didn't quite trust his ears. "I love you. You love me. We can give the baby a good home to grow up in. What else do you need to think about?"

Dammit, there's more than that!" She slammed a fist on the table. "There's a lot to think about before I decide whether I'm going to have it."

He shook his head incredulously. "I'm sorry if I fail to see what's left to think about."

"How about the fact that we don't even know what it is?" She practically yelled.

He blinked. "What do you mean? It's our baby."

Meryl winced. "We aren't supposed to be able to conceive, Vash. You said so
yourself. Just because it happened anyways doesn't mean it would be just like
a normal pregnancy." She wrapped her arms around her middle and shivered. "You're a plant. I'm not. Who knows what will happen if we go through with this?"

"I know it's scary." Vash spoke patiently, using the same tone she'd heard him use on many of the children of the godforsaken planet. "But if we just support each other during all this then everything will be fine, you'll see."

"No, I don't see, and you don't either," she shot back. "Don't you get it? The baby could be deformed or worse. It might not be able to breathe right or even think right because our genes don't mix the way they should."

"But…they do. They must be able to, or else you wouldn't already be pregnant."

Meryl shook her head. "That doesn't mean anything. You're old enough; haven't you ever seen what happens when a smule manages to mate with a thomas? They reproduce all right, but the result is never good."

"You're not a thomas, and I'm not a smule," he pointed out.

"No. We're further apart genetically than they are," she said. "We don't even know what would come out even if I'm capable of carrying to term. It might die before then. It might not be able to survive at all. Whatever it is, it was never meant to exist."

"I was never meant to exist, either," Vash snapped. "Would you rather I wasn't

"That's not what I meant and you know it," she said, her voice low.

"The only thing I know is that you seem to be determined to make this a bad thing," he said tersely. "I know there are a lot of questions, but we'll find the answers and get through this together, like we always do. Why can't you be happy about this?"

"How can I be happy when I don't even know what's happening in my own body?" She practically shouted at him. "You can't just smile and wish everything will be all right and have it turn out that way. This is real and it's happening to me and I can't pretend everything is fine when I know it's not."

"It's happening to us," he insisted.

"Oh, really? Are you the one carrying who-knows-what inside her? Are you the one whose body is going to be affected by incredible changes? Are you the one facing the possibility of giving birth to something that might not even be able to survive? There's no medical precedent for this. We don't even know what it might do to me, if my body can take caring for a plant child." Meryl glared at him. "Let's be very clear on this, Vash. As far as it matters right now, this. Is happening. To me."

"So I've got no rights just because it's not my body?" He asked, sounding stung. "It's not like I didn't have a hand in creating this situation. Now what I have to say doesn't matter?"

"Of course it does." Meryl deflated just a little bit. "That's why I want to sit down and talk about this, to decide what we're going to do next."

"Gee, how about we have a baby?" He snapped. "It seems logical to me."

Her jaw dropped. "Did you hear any of what I just said?"

"I heard it. You're saying that you don't want to have this baby."

"That's not what I said!" She sank down in her chair and pressed her hands to her forehead. "I just don't know if it's the right thing. I don't know if it's fair to me or the baby, even if it does turn out all right."

"Why wouldn't it be fair?"

She looked up at him. "The person that's lying in a cot down the hall seems to me like reason number one."

Vash flinched. "Knives is comatose. Anyway, he's not a part of this. This is about you and me and our child."

"How can you say that?" Meryl protested. "You said yourself that Knives is going to wake up one of these days. You're the only one who can take care of him and he's not likely to repent for his sins and spend his days working at the general store. Is it fair to bring a child into a world where he'll grow up with a megalomaniacal, genocidal uncle? Don't you think Knives will be interested in another creature like you and him? Who knows what he'd do to it?"

His eyes flashed. "Am I just a `creature' to you too?"

"That's not what I said. Stop twisting my words."

"I told you, I've got Knives under control," Vash went on. "That's not going to change if and when he wakes up. He can't take me out in his condition and I'm not going to let him hurt anyone I love."

"Can you watch him all day, every day? I just…I need time to think." Her shoulders slumped. "I just don't know how much time we have."

"I know how overwhelming this is," he said. "Look, why don't you just relax and get some sleep? I'll draw you a bath first. Everything will look better in the morning, I'm sure."

Meryl watched as he calmly strode towards the door. Her gaze fell upon an empty mug that sat on the table. Throwing it at Vash suddenly seemed like a pretty good idea.

So she did. He jumped as it crashed against the wall beside his head. "You don't want a bath?"

"Don't patronize me, Vash," she spat. "You can't just say something soothing and expect this to go away. We have to deal with it."

"What do you want me to say?" he asked, his face taking on an angry countenance-as angry as she'd ever seen him. "Do you want me to tell you I understand, that killing our baby is a good idea? I can't do that."

"I don't want you to say that. I just want you to face reality," she countered. "I'm only about a month along. If...if having it isn't a good idea, then there's still time-"

"No! Absolutely not!" He interrupted. "We can't do that!"

She stood. "`We' aren't doing anything," she said slowly. "Whatever happens, happens to me. I am not about to bring a child into the world just to watch it suffer." She tried to walk past him out of the kitchen, but he moved to block her.

"Don't say that," he said intensely. "It's not right. It's…"

"It's my body," she interrupted him. "In the end, it's my decision." She pushed past him out of the room and grabbed her coat from its hook by the front door.

"Where are you going? Meryl!" He called after her.

"I don't know. Out." She opened the door and stepped through. "Don't wait up for me." Looking back, the last thing she saw before she slammed the door and the tears blurred her vision was Vash's face, looking absolutely stricken.