He'd run at his top speed from the South end of the ship to the West end. Vash's heart was thrumming, and his vocal cords were all tied up with tears. He threw himself against Milly's door, and pounded on it loudly.
THUD THUD THUD
THUD THUD THUD
Too impatient to wait, he opened the door and hopped in her cabin. The hall light illuminated her sleepy figure, just now sitting up in bed. Her hair was a mess, and her eyes were puffy with sleep. She squinted at him, and then cocked her head in inquiry.
Too giddy to be coherent, the words came tumbling out without explanation or adornment. "Merylispregnantandthebabyishealingher!"
She straightened in distress, noticing his tears. "What is it? What's happened?"
"I'mgoingtobeanuncle!" he cried, and then she yelped surprise as he plucked her from her sheets and spun her in the air. After three dizzying twirls, he dropped her to her feet, hands still clutching her waist. "She's gonna live. Meryl's going to live!"
Understanding softened the alarmed expression on her pretty face. The corners of her mouth started to lift with his contagious elation. "Ah. For a moment, I thought you were bringing me awful news!"
"No! No! It's GREAT news!"
Her eyes disappeared in her smile. "It is!"
She said it, unsurprised. Didn't even ask the details. As though she knew all along. But that was Milly. Always seemed to know things no one else did. His bottom lip quivered, considering her support, her quiet faith, her never-failing good nature, and her mystery.
He sniffled, and his eyes scrunched. "THANK YOU!"
She blinked largely. "For what?"
Vash wiped his cheeks, and with all the unchecked emotion from the news of Meryl's well-being, he found himself acting on an outrageous impulse that he normally wouldn't have - and for all of Milly's enigmatic foresight, she apparently didn't see this one coming, because the girl froze outright as he cupped her face in his right hand, tilted it back and smacked her right on the lips.
She squeaked shock against his mouth, but he lingered there long enough to taste the delightful traces of the citrussy lip balm she'd put on before going to bed. Then he pulled back, winked, and brought a hand up to ruffle her hair.
She stared at him as though he'd lost his mind, raising a tentative hand to her violated lips. Vash laughed, waved, and hurriedly skipped out before his ecstatic mood did anything else that might get him in trouble.
Their Meryl was going to live. All of Eden needed to know!
A lethargic hand reached across the mattress out of reflex…long fingers swiping against thin air and cool sheets to draw its other occupant close. But its other occupant was missing.
Knives sat up in bed, cursing his inability to stay awake until she returned. The worrying ache that he'd grown so accustomed to came charging back with his consciousness, quickening his heartbeat and making his blood race. Dammit. Where is she? After the night they'd just had, for her to disappear for – he looked at the clock on the wall – for over an hour! He swore again, and fumbled for his pants in the darkness, finding them and slipping them on. She might be passed out somewhere. Might be suffocating from the tumors closing her windpipe. She might be…
He leapt up and all but ran out of their chamber, shoulder hitting the doorframe on his way. He spun into the hallway, lunging towards the stair well when Meryl suddenly emerged from it, dressed in nothing but her bathrobe.
He came to an abrupt stop, barely catching himself in time to keep from knocking her over. "M-Meryl!"
Tranquilly, she tilted her head back to lock stares with him. And the way she was smiling… So carefree. Like an angel. For a frenzied moment, he thought she was an angel, and his stomach dropped. His breath caught, and he reached trembling hands up to touch her face, her hair, her shoulders, her sides to make sure she was real. She caught his fingers in her hands, laughing confusion at his panic. "Knives…"
"Where have you been!?" his chest was tight, and he had difficulty forcing sound through it. The words came out in an uneven, strained cadence. "You shouldn't…w-wander about at night. Eden sleeps at night. No one would see you if you collapsed. Passed out. Started vomiting blood…"
He stopped stammering as she lifted his wrist to her lips and kissed it, nuzzling his palm without taking her beautiful lavender eyes off his face. "There'll be no more vomiting blood, love. No more fainting. No more dying."
Her words...so confusing. Nonsensical. Unless, she meant… "Whatever it is you're planning, I won't let you do it!" his voice hitched, and he grabbed her shoulders desperately. "I'll find a cure, Meryl. I swear I will!"
She reached up and calmed him by placing a warm, reassuring hand on his face. "You already have cured me, Knives."
His face scrunched. Was he hearing her right? Before he could inquire, she took his hand and flattened it on her belly. He frowned confusion at her, and she directed his attention to her abdomen.
"Can you feel it?"
"Angela said you might be able to pick up on it if you concentrated."
"What 'it'!?" he said crazily. "Tell me!"
Her grasp tightened as her eyes teared. "The babe in my womb that has saved my life so it can live."
He stared dumbly. Mutely. Babe. Womb. Life. One miraculous thread of logic lead to another, growing with momentum until the simplicity of the solution smattered itself up in a psychological collage that explained everything.
Knives' legs gave out, and he collapsed to his knees, hand still on her belly, staring up through rapidly blurring vision at her brilliant countenance. His mouth fumbled over unformed words as she affectionately ran her nails along his scalp, tugging her bottom lip in between her teeth as her smile broadened.
He could barely speak, his voice was so choked. "Are…are you sure?"
Vigorous nod. She exhaled in an exhilarated laugh.
His heart felt like it burst, and unable to contain the emotion he wrapped himself around her small frame like a big blubbering blanket, not caring that he was wetting her robe, and not caring that she was witnessing yet another one of his meltdowns. She merely cradled his head, whispering reassurances and I-love-yous until the early dawn light began to cascade through the windows, blanketing them both in an orange glow, signifying a new day. A new life. And a new future.
TEN MONTHS LATER
Oh, I am so totally busted!
Wiping the sweat off his brow, Vash jogged briskly through Eden, looking frantically for his two-month old niece. He'd just turned his head for a second, and with her propensity for climbing things…
"Bejya! Hey, Bejya!"
His sister stopped in the middle of a class, her orphaned students giggling the second they saw Vash. Apparently he was a pretty funny guy, even when doing nothing. "Have you seen Tessla?"
Bejya's inquiring look turned to one of a reprimand. "You lost her? Again?"
The laughter increased.
"I…well, Milly just got back from her three week trip, and," he shrugged helplessly. That should explain everything, shouldn't it?
Bejya clicked her tongue, and shook her head in exasperation. "No, I haven't seen her. You'd better check—"
"I see hewr," came a soft little voice with a thick speech impediment. They both swiveled their necks to look at little Kylie who was sitting cross-legged in front of Angela, getting an arrangement of baby's breath and daisies braided into her brunette hair.
Angela's brow quirked, and she bent over the girl. "You've seen her? Where?"
Kylie blinked hugely, and then pointed up at the ceiling. "Up thewre."
They craned their necks. The escapee panicked when she was caught, and let out a squeal.
Vash's breath caught in his throat. "oh-Oh-OH!" he choked. "OH SHIT!"
Bejya's jaw dropped, and one kid pointed, declaring the obvious. "Look at her! She's swinging from the vines!"
The white-haired little bundle, the size of a 2-year old human child, had somehow scrambled up the vine-covered wall, and was currently dangling from the foliage. She was grinning hugely at Vash, quite taken with the phrase he'd just used. "Oh shit?"
"No no, Tessla—"
"Oh shit! Oh shit! Oh shit!"
He gulped as Meryl came storming into the chamber, her angel-human hybrid hair bouncing about her shoulders like a black and white feather duster. Her lavender eyes were on fire, and her hands in fists. "I told you to watch your language around her!"
"Well," he laughed nervously, scratching the back of his head, "You see—"
"Up thewre!" Kylie piped up helpfully.
Distracted, Meryl followed the young girl's line of sight, and both hands flung to her mouth as she audibly gasped. "T-T-TESSLA!" she screamed. "Getdownfromthere!"
"Momma! Watch me! Watch me!" the child kicked her legs out to swing, when one of her hands slipped. The merry expression turned to wide-eyed panic as she barely caught herself by hooking a knee around a neighboring vine. Suspended, upside down, she began to cry. "I want down! Momma! I want down!"
"Hold on, doll! We'll get ya!" In a panic, Meryl scanned the wall.
"Those vines won't hold an adult," Bejya warned. "We'll have to catch her."
Meryl whimpered, along with Vash. It was a thirty foot drop. The trick was to get her to let go.
"Tessla!" Meryl cried. "We're going to catch you…no! WAIT!"
Too late. No sooner had she said it than the trusting girl child unhooked her leg. Gravity stole her voice and yanked her down, limbs flailing. Everyone lunged forward, including Vash, but a blur knocked him to the side before he could reach her. He landed with a heavy thud, momentarily faded, and when he picked himself up off the floor, to his immense relief, Knives was crouched on the ground with Tessla curled tightly in his arms.
Her enormous lilac eyes - so like her mother's - watered up. She clung to her daddy's neck and started to wail. Knives took a moment to glare at Vash in a way that promised a later flogging, and then his expression turned impossibly tender, like it always did when he was around his daughter. He cradled her against his chest, rocking her back and forth. "It's okay. You're safe. I got you…"
Meryl reached them at that point, and knelt down to get a better look. When Tessla saw her mom, she threw her head back, hiccupped, squeaked. "P-p-poopie diaper!"
"Oh no," Angela uttered nearby. "And they'd just finished potty training her a couple weeks ago. I hope this incident doesn't set her back."
Meryl overheard it, and turned, eyes on Vash. "No, she hasn't soiled her breeches," she said heatedly. "Thanks to Vash's dynamic reaction to a diaper change when she was 3 weeks old, she now associates 'Poopie Diaper' with every bad situation!"
Little Tessla, not getting her momma's attention, bawled out another phrase that equated disaster in her innocent little mind, "Momma! I...I think I started my period!"
Meryl turned to give her loves, and Vash stifled a guffaw, silently thanking whatever menstruating orphan girl that had indirectly shifted the blame off him, if only for a moment. "Ha! Ha! Ain't no WAY I taught her that one!"
The anxiety simmered down as he sat from his undignified spot in the dirt, watching his brother's family. Knives, Meryl, Tessla, all entwined in each other's well being, on the floor. He tried to put into words what he'd felt so many times before. That there was definitely something there. A void filled. A purpose given, when Tessla had been born. If he looked closely enough, he saw the ties that bound them together. Literally. Faint, luminescent cords that wrapped around the three like ethereal serpents, connected on every angle. It wasn't the first time he got the impression that they were now part of something bigger than them all. And it had nothing to do with Meryl's permanently altered physiology, or the promise of a sustained life for each of them. It was that their family itself was like a structure of eternity. That it would somehow transcend time. Even death. That they would be together, forever.
He couldn't explain it. He didn't have to. He just felt it.
Large, bemused eyes watched from the entrance. Observing. Pensive. Nostalgic. After a minute, the child's crying stopped, and she began to jabber wildly about her exploits on the ceiling. Bejya went back to teaching, and Angela went back to braiding as the crisis wound down, and the mom and dad carried their mischievous daughter out of the chamber. Bits of their conversation could be heard before they disappeared into the hallway.
"Next time you want to do that, you need to tell an adult, okay?" the mom persisted.
"Right! Next time, Uncle Vash can climb with me!"
The dad snorted, but said nothing.
The mom sighed. "Tessla, Tessla, Tessla…"
The name rang out, and hung in the air like a fragile memento. Just like it had on the day the child was born. It was familiar, somehow connected to dim memories that she'd once thought were nothing more than faded dreams...just the mention of it finally piercing a veil that had always been closed.
Things that had never been quite clear had become clear. And understanding, although vague, had also come. And then she knew with a clarity that her unique intuition and uncanny foresight hadn't been a gift. They'd been part of her long before she was even born.
My soul is old…
Vash jumped up and jogged over when he saw her there. She liked it when he smiled at her. She liked his smile.
He stopped an inch from her, emerald eyes drinking in her face, her figure, her whole presence. Their conversation had been interrupted when she pointed out that his young charge was missing. "You done unpacking yet?"
"I haven't quite made it back to my cabin," she smiled.
"Ah, you saw the incident, then? Boy, that kid…" he shook his head and then laughed. "I feel sorry for Rem. She had two little hybrid squirts running around, causing havoc. I'll have to tell you about her some time, now that everything's okay. I'll have to tell you about Tessla too. The being that Knives named his daughter after…"
Ah, but I already know about that one, Vash dear… Milly quickly threw up her practiced mask of obliviousness – that learned response she taught herself all those years ago after scaring one too many people with her eerie insights into their lives.
He quirked a brow. "I saw that. You're hiding something from me."
Ah, Vash... "Me?"
He eyed her knowingly, and slid both hands about her waist, pulling her close. She umphed against his chest, and got goosebumps as he bent his head, resting his lips against her ear. "One of these days I'll figure you out, Miss Milly."
She blushed. He always made her blush. "And if there's nothing to figure out?"
"Then it'll be fun trying."
Thanks for reading, guys.