Okay. Heads up. I combined some of the shorter chapters, which is why you only see 18 now instead of 21 installments. No I didn't remove anything. Everything is still there. Just revised some of it. :) And for warnings? There are none. I overrate my fics to be safe is all.
This is no doubt a cliché start, since it seems the most natural course to take with these two characters. Picks up after the anime (not the manga!) left off. Allow me to make the disclaimer that I have only read three Trigun fics - all of which are deleria's, and all of which are very well-written.
cough cough SPEAKING of deleria...
This fic is inspired by, because of, and dedicated to my darling deleria, who is currently in hiding from the FPA (Fangirl Prevention Agency) for the over-exposure of kick-ass anime to an unsuspecting Thunk...
There…we…go… Meryl gave a self-satisfied nod and jerked the frying pan with practiced precision, flipping its meaty contents onto the plate. Hot-house vegetables followed in a garnished fashion alongside the salmon, with rock salt seasoning it just enough…
She stuck her bottom lip out and blew obsidian bangs off her sweat-beaded brow. A hot meal. Every time, a hot meal. She'd learned Knives preferred his food that way…not because he ever said so. He never said anything at all, actually. The silent treatment was even given to Vash. But it was the only method of preparation that would entice his palate enough to clear his plate.
"Aaahh! That smells so good, ma'am!"
Meryl smiled. Good 'ole Milly. It did smell good. "Hey Milly, have you seen Vash?"
Milly's eyes disappeared in her smile, as she readied an envelope for their employer. "He went down to the pub, ma'am."
The pub. With the big-breasted fillies, and copious amounts of booze. Meryl's smile straightened. Ugh. Such a playboy… Then she considered the state he was in before he'd returned with his brother. The smile returned. But at least he's back to his old self… Truth was, she'd rather see him immersed in his fondling, goofy-grinned antics all day long, than in another bout of hiccupping hysterics of depression.
"Do you want me to go get him, ma'am?" Milly asked.
"Nope." Meryl steadied the plate on one hand, grabbed a bottleneck with the other, and made her way to the back room. "I got it."
Her hesitation to go in that room lessened each time. It had been a month since Vash showed up on that fated afternoon, with the body of his long-lost brother slumped over his shoulder. Knives had lost so much blood from the bullet holes that peppered his limbs, her gut reaction was that there was no way he would survive.
That was her gut reaction. Her second reaction was that he was Vash's brother. So yeah, he pulled through. Seven days of unconsciousness, with Vash steadfast and vigilant by the bedside, and Meryl steadfast and vigilant by Vash, and Milly steadfast and vigilant by Meryl…
A team effort.
And when his eyes fluttered open, they all held their breath. Odd that they wanted him to live so badly, when he'd just spent the past 130 years trying to destroy mankind… But the townspeople didn't know that. Milly didn't even know that. Which meant this 'salvaged prisoner' – as Vash had told everyone he was - was getting a second chance, and Meryl was going to help Vash to help him, if it was her last and only calling in life.
She rapped the door with her knuckles her usual three times before barging in. Her smile came easily. She'd been given to cheeriness ever since she knew the Stampede had come to terms with his past and his future. It was emotionally healing, even for her. Almost like she'd finally matured into the person she was supposed to be, all along. "I've got your lunch, Knives."
No answer. As expected. She slowly entered, giving herself a moment to adjust to his appearance. The two men…er, whatever they were…looked so much alike, that she had to make a conscious effort not to fall into the same behavior patterns she used with Vash.
Knives was a homicidal maniac, after all…
A homicidal maniac who was sitting up in bed, sheets to his waist, and an upper musculature that wouldn't quit, despite a month's neglect. It was easier to maintain her passively polite composure, she decided, when he was covered up, laying down. But at least he never looked at her. Or spoke to her. It was almost like caring for a comatose victim.
She walked over and placed his food on the tray next to his headrest, refilling his water glass with bottled water. Her presence always seemed to repulse him, human-hater that he was. An extra twitch of the lips, or a narrowing of his eyes... The moment Knives was mobile, she didn't doubt he'd be out of there faster than a cat with its tail on fire. But until then, there was a chance. And if there was a chance, there was hope...
"You came at the right time, Knives," she started, preparing herself for another one-sided conversation. "Milly tapped into probably the purest and most abundant water source on the planet. The food grown with it tastes better, the fish grown in it are larger..."
As she expounded on trivialities, she used the opportunity to observe his visage. His hair had grown a full inch in the past 30 days, those uniquely silver strands spiked about in a fashion less soldierly, and more messy. Vash had been shaving his face, so he still looked well-manicured. But definitely different. Perhaps it was the small creases in the corners of his narrowed gray eyes, or the set frown that weighted down his chiseled face and perfect complexion… But Knives seemed more alive, today.
Though I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. As though he'd shifted from indifference about being alive, to angry about it. Pride was a funny thing, and she didn't doubt that Vash the Stampede had bruised plenty of it for Knives. Knocked him off his superior high horse, and shot his body into damn-near quadriplegia. Then they'd humiliated him further by nursing him back to health with more love and nurturing than the poor being could probably stomach.
As soon as his body regenerated, his self-confidence would be next. She just hoped his soul could heal before he redefined himself as humanity's greatest scourge.
"…so I imagine if any place has the capacity for growing a green world, it's this town. Irrigation ditches have already been dug throughout the residences, enabling people to try and start their own gardens. We're crossing our fingers," she said, lightly touching his thigh out of conversational reflex.
He winced with a hiss. Meryl withdrew her hand in alarm. What…? He looked at her. Actually LOOKED at her. And oh, he was angry. Glared silent accusation at her for touching him until she gulped. Am I that disgusting to you? she almost asked, but then she noticed it. Her eyes bounced back and forth between his thigh and his face. "You're still in that much pain?" she asked.
His scowl deepened, but he said nothing. She was about to interrogate further when a red blotch formed in her peripheral vision. She looked down and blinked shock. The wound on his thigh was bleeding. Straight through the bandages and onto the sheets.
"Oh, my…" She reached to pull the sheets down when he caught her hand in an iron grip. Her breath caught. Heartbeat quickened in panic. The animosity bled off him in waves as he glared daggers at her face. But Meryl checked it, realizing that fear just fit the insulting stereotype he'd pegged her with from the get-go. No point in adding fuel to the fire. Besides, what could he possibly do in this state?
Her lips pursed as she let her arm go limp. His fingers were crushing hers. Gathering her courage, she frowned back at him. "You do realize that you're making more contact with me right now, than you would have had you just let me change your bandange... Right?"
How could anyone look so condescending? It's a good thing she was so self-assured, or she might have left right then. With a jerky toss, he released her.
"You can let your brother tend to it, though from what I've seen, his touch is a little more clumsy that mine." Exasperated, she cocked her head to the side and held her hands in a placating gesture between them. After a long moment, he exhaled tensely through his nose and looked away. If she was reading his body language correctly, he just basically told her to hurry the hell up.
This time, she met no resistence. Ever-cautious of his state, Meryl gingerly reached up and pulled the sheet down to observe the bandage. She immediately set about to sanitizing the area and replacing it with more gauze. He stiffened at her touch, his hands clenching into fists. But he tolerated it.
"I'll be quick. Promise." She said, wondering why the hell the bullet holes had opened back up after all this time of being bed-ridden. Vash would be worried. She was worried. "I don't…I don't understand," she muttered to herself as she gently unwrapped his swollen, fevered leg. "It's been so long, and your kind heals so quickly compared to ours. It's almost as though you…" she stopped, looked at his face, and knew. "You tried to walk today."
His eyes widened marginally, and his frown deepened, but he kept his gaze fixed on the window.
I guessed right... She could have gone off on how he was foolish to try it so soon. On how if he would have just asked for help, then it might not have been so bad.
But she didn't, because she understood. Meryl snorted, continuing her administrations. "It's no wonder after being cooped up in here for so long," she said quietly. "You must be going absolutely crazy, looking at the same four walls, and the same two faces… I probably would have tried the same thing." Actually, if someone had shot her limbs through the bone, then she wouldn't have lived long enough to try. But Meryl left that part out. "If only there was a way for you to heal faster."
He flinched as the old gauze unstuck from his skin, and bit his lip when she washed his wound with the sanitizing solution.
"Sorry, sorry!" she said. "Almost finished." Off with the old, on with the new. She noticed something right then, thinking of all the wounds Vash had survived. Her observation came trickling off her lips before she thought to stop it. "You know, I would think that your brother has a higher tolerance for pain than you do," she said, not noticing how his lip curled, or eyebrow twitched. "But then if you look at his personality, you realize that he just embraces pain more than most. Almost like a form of self-punishment."
There was a pause, and then Knives snorted, "He's an…idiot."
Meryl froze. Looked up at him. Blinked. He…spoke!? Be cool, girl. Be cool. "Tell me about it," she responded turning her attention back to his leg, trying to continue as casually as if they'd been talking this entire time. "He's the biggest doofus I know. The most stressful friend I've ever had."
Silence followed as she finished securing the new bandage around his thigh. Now that his injuries weren't distracting her, she realized how much of his body was showing. Blood rushed to her face as she tugged the sheet back up over his hips. It didn't help knowing that he was looking at her. Hell. She could feel his gaze boring into the top of her skull.
Sucking up her breath, she looked at him and smiled. "All done--"
"And you stil...bother," Unused for 30 days, his voice was as dry and gravelly as the arid planet they lived on…like nails on a chalkboard. She nearly choked.
"I…" He's talking to me! He's talking to me! But what a question. One she still had trouble answering, herself. Meryl tugged her bottom lip between her teeth, and chewed thoughtfully. Nothing was simple when it came to Vash. All she knew…really…was that… "It…it feels right. Being with him. Helping him." She smiled at him ruefully, and shrugged. "For all the havoc that follows your brother, he abides by a law greater than all of us…a law that isn't bound by people or customs. I…I believe in him. I believe in the future he wants."
For a moment it seemed as though he forgot he was supposed to be bitter. Those piercing, ancient but beautiful eyes were locked on her face. Studying her in some sort of…recognition? Meryl felt the blood rush to her face. What…what are you searching for, Knives?
After what seemed an unbearably long moment, he broke the trance with a derisive snort. "What. Love and Peace?" he spat the words out with obvious contempt. "Then you're a...fool...as well. I could kill you with my mind...woman. Right now. Wouldn't...even have to lift a... finger."
Now this was more like the type of conversation she expected from the malevolent Knives, which was why she was able to meet it without batting an eyelash.
"Yes. I'm sure you could."
Pause. His arrogance cracked at her flippant response. He'd obviously expected her to tremble in her boots, or something. His lip curled, "Moron told everyone...what I am..."
She shook her head. "No. Just me."
A furrow in his brow. Confused resentment. More emotion she'd seen in his face than the entire last 30 days. His voice became stronger. "Then you know what my goals are. You know what I've already done to your people."
"And you're sitting here, nursing me back to health..." His jaw clenched, and beneath his projected ire was an undisputable question – Why?
She locked stares with him, and placed her hand on the bed, feeling no less confident about her involvement in all this. "I also know what humanity has done to your people, Knives," she countered firmly, "what we're still doing to them…" her throat constricted thinking of the torture inflicted on the sentient beings locked inside the energy plants. Beings like pure-hearted Vash. She might have said more, but what could she say? That she wished like crazy they could find an alternative way of freeing them, without wiping out her kind in the process?
He'd scoff at her. Just like he scoffed at his brother.
Her last comment had stumped him, though. His mouth parted absently, while his eyes widened a fraction, looking at her face in a state of bewildered disbelief.
She held his gaze. Yes, I see both sides of it, Knives. All on my own, unlike your other human lackeys whom you had to brainwash into coercion.
He exhaled in a light cough, his brow creasing. Meryl cursed herself. It was a direct mental thought with a direct living recipient. He probably heard her. I've got to be more careful…
A moment later, he closed off his communication valve, folded his bandaged arms across his chest and went back to staring out the window, stone-faced as ever. Accepting his dismissal, Meryl dusted her knees off and stood.
It was just starting to sink in…that their genocidal, anti-human, mute patient had just acknowledged her presence. Had spoken to her, no less. She needed to get out of there before the surrealism of the moment made her lose her composure and freak out.
"Eat your salmon before it gets cold," she said politely. "And Knives, I…" she wasn't comfortable saying it, but it felt like the right thing to say… "I'll…do everything I can to help you heal. I mean that. So if you need anything…"
His brow raised a millimeter, but that was the only sign that he'd heard her. Meryl nodded reflexively and left the room, shutting the door quietly behind her. When it was closed, she leaned back against it, and exhaled in a 'hooo boy…'
Well THAT was unexpected…