The reflection certainly didn't look all that special.

A pale face hovered above the collar of her light blue pajama top. Large grey eyes looked out from under midnight dark hair. Her toothbrush hung at an angle from a thin clamped mouth. Her ears felt naked without their telltale hanging earrings. They had been a good luck present from her parents when she first got her job at Bernardelli and she never liked to be without them. There was a slight red puffiness still around her eyes attesting to her recent outburst. Nope, nothing special here.

'Could he really see anything in me?'

There had been others in the past who had shown interest in her. They had made suggestive comments when they thought she was out of their hearing, had patted her behind when she waited tables, had eyed her from their desks across the room. Most never bothered to make more than a cursory examination. Whenever they did they were usually turned off by her controlling, anal attitude. Some had found her penchant for violence alluring, but those were not the type she was at all interested in. In fact, after she had rebuffed an inquisitive co-worker five years ago, brushing him off with barely a thought, she had come to the conclusion that none of the guys she'd ever met were her type.

Well, maybe just one.

One who was, once again, in her living room. One who had, not three- quarters of an hour before held her face in his hands and told her he hadn't been willing to risk her getting hurt. One who had stared at her almost as if injured when she had hopped up and announced nervously that it was time for her to be getting ready for bed.

You stupid, stupid fool.

She had escaped through her bedroom door. She hadn't even bothered to call out a hurried good night. Now here she was, brushing her teeth for at least 60 seconds, not forgetting to floss, being sensible old Meryl. Meryl who doesn't like getting hurt. Meryl who likes everything in her life to fit within stacked and labeled regularly sized boxes. Meryl who had gotten the chance of her lifetime again and screwed it up.

Yeah, that was the sensible thing to do.

Spitting toothpaste out into the sink and rinsing her mouth clean, she berated herself mentally. 'He gave you the perfect opening you fool. The least you could have done was ask him what he really meant by saying that. Maybe he would have said the same thing about Millie, but now you'll never now. Now you've left him sitting there in the next room with small army of game pieces to clean up, feeling like a maid, or worse, the family dog you don't allow on the bed.' Meryl put her head into her damp hands. Things had to be bad if even Sensible Meryl was scolding her for missing out on her chance at happiness. Striding over to her bed she sat down on the edge considering.

There was no way she was going to be able to get any sleep tonight.

She jumped at the knock upon her door.

"Umm, Meryl," Vash questioned from the other side.

"Yes," she replied with a quavering voice.

"Umm . . ." there was a pause while he seemed to gather into his thoughts what he wanted to say. "It's just . . .ah . . . could I maybe come in."

Meryl's heart was pounding again. "What?"

"Well, it's just that . . . it's a little hard to talk to someone from behind a door." Crossing the room she opened the door a crack. He was sitting with his back to the wall next to the door. Swiveling his head up he gazed at her through the fringe of his uncontrollable mop of hair and smiled. "Oh, hello." He raised a hand to wave at her.

Sighing loudly and trying to keep the amusement out of her voice she said, "Come in Vash."

Bouncing to his feet, her followed her into the room and sat where she indicated. Crawling onto the bed she climbed onto her pillow and pulled her knees up to her chin. They sat like that in silence for some time; Meryl too frightened to open her mouth and say much of anything, Vash just calmly looking around the bedroom as if he'd never been in one before. Meryl studied him.

'How the heck does he always manage that? To look at everything as if it's brand new? One hundred and forty years on this planet and he still learning, still admiring.' Personally, Meryl didn't find it all that fascinating. Same old dust, same old stark clear skies, same old people living and loving and having children and dying. But there he was, running his palm over her patterned bedspread as if her choice in home decorating was representative of something deep and meaningful.

"Butterflies," he said suddenly, out of the blue.

Meryl was startled from her thoughts. "Huh?"

He was still studying the coverlet and avoiding her gaze. "Do you know what a butterfly is?"

Meryl shook her head, and then realizing he wasn't looking at her and replied, "No."

"They're little bugs." Vash lifted his head and looked over his shoulder out her window. Outside it was bright as twilight as the streetlights competed with the illumination of the three moons visible that evening. One of them, Meryl knew had a large and relatively recent crater marring its surface. "Kind of like moths. They eat nectar, stuff from flowers, you know." He glanced at her suddenly as if for confirmation. Meryl nodded, although she didn't really know anything about flowers. "There aren't many flowers here," he went on, echoing her thoughts, "So they wouldn't be able to survive."

Meryl wondered, not for the first time, how Vash always seemed to have such personal knowledge of things that didn't even exist on Gunsmoke. He had gone on to studying the rest of her room, taking particular notice of the picture hanging over the head of her bed. It was the one real concession to needless beauty Meryl allowed herself. It was a landscape, a moon over the dunes. The artist had painted it so that the land had turned azure in the gathering darkness. The tops of the dunes were illuminated by light from the moon which turned them almost green. Behind everything, the sky midnight blue. She had bought it because the colors had reminded her of him, of his eyes. Something she would never have admitted to anyone, even Millie. She liked to stand back from it and squint, pretending there was a circular scar etched in the moon's surface. Every time she did so she later thought about taking it down to stop herself from forming silly notions involving impossible scenarios. But she never got around to doing it.

Now Vash was staring at it while he continued his monologue.

"They're beautiful, butterflies." His eyes vague with remembrance. "They start out as these ugly little worms and then they build a little house for themselves, and when they come out they're just amazing. All sorts of colors, mixed haphazardly, but none bleeding over into the other. Never one the same as another. And delicate. . ." Vash held out his hand, palm upwards. He looked at it for a moment, as if expecting one of the strange creatures he was describing to suddenly alight upon it. "So fragile, their little wings." He shook his head and rolled his hand into a fist. Meryl had the disturbing impression that he was crushing something with it, if only with his mind. Abruptly, he looked at her.

"They don't live very long." His eyes were deadly serious. "Their beauty lasts only a short while before all you're left with is a memory of what they were." He cocked his head at her. His eyes were changing colors again, drawing her in dangerously. "But the shortness of it all makes them all the more beautiful. All the more worth watching while you have the chance."

Meryl just nodded. She didn't know what to say, but somehow, she understood. Inexplicably, she wished that butterflies could survive on her desolate planet. She wished that she could see one.

"So," he said with determination in his voice.


"There's something I've been meaning to ask you."

"There . . .is?"

"Remember the cat?" Meryl blinked in confusion. Oh, he was talking about their discussion from before. She nodded in enthusiastic reply. "Well," he went on, "I was just thinking about when the last time I saw him was."

"Oh?" she said simply.

Vash nodded. "It was in that village, the one where you girls stayed after I went to find Knives. On the very day I left, in fact." Getting no reaction from her based on this statement, he continued. "I'd gotten so used to him following me, to him always being there, that I barely noticed him." She could almost see Vash's concentration drifting off. His eyes clouded over and started wandering aimlessly over the chipped paint of her walls as if looking for something.

In an attempt to bring him back to the subject, she broke the silence. "I don't get it . . . you want to ask me about the cat?"

"Oh no!" he said in a blinking return to the conversation. "No I wanted to ask you what you had been going to say."

"Huh? What?!?" Meryl's confusion was completely unfeigned. So was her terror. 'He doesn't mean . . .he couldn't be talking about . . .what if he is?' Her heart was beating so loudly that she was sure he must be able to hear it. Hell, he probably could hear it even if he didn't have preternaturally hearing. Her breath was coming in quick, short, near hyperventilation gasps. He was looking at her again. 'Don't look at his eyes!' she shouted silently to herself. She let her gaze come to rest on the relatively safe area of his nose.

"The day I left," he said simply. "You were waiting to talk to me. You were about to say something when Millie ran up with Wolfwood's Punisher." He smiled at her and Meryl could feel her whole midsection turning to ice. Damned eidetic memory. "I just wondered if it was anything important." Her eyes flicked up to meet his of their own accord. He had that same look she had seen on him several times already that day. The look that she was already beginning to associate with a languorous warmth spreading throughout her limbs, combined with a near electric tingling in her extremities. Not to mention a complete retreat from comprehensible speech.

"I was . . .umm . . . I uh . . ."

She recognized the feeling she was experiencing. On clear nights when she was a child her brother and her had laid out on blankets on the dunes that began to curve their sandy sleekness just outside the city walls. They would gaze up at the stars and, if they were laying very still, they would swear they felt the ground beneath them moving. It was almost like they could sense the world revolving along on its endless track. As if the whole universe was a spinning top, with them as its fulcrum. There had been power in that feeling, as well as fear. They had laughed at the freedom of it all and then dug their fingers uselessly into the sand. Afraid that with the world tipping thusly they would be flung from it.

"I . . ."

This wasn't right. Fairy tales were not supposed to come true. Wizards did not drop out of the sky and offer you the ability to go back and alter one of the choices in your life. No matter how much you hoped and prayed, you had to live with the decisions you'd made. Everyone was accountable for their own actions. People were not supposed to get second chances. It wasn't fair that she should get hers when so many others suffered and died, never able to overcome the mistakes of their past.

But then Vash the Stampede had always been keen on second chances.

"I . . ."

He cupped her cheek with a smooth palm, the same way he had brushed her bedspread, and leaning forward, gently touched his lips to hers.

The world was spinning, tilting. Meryl gripped her bed covers in desperation to keep herself from sliding off. She could feel his hair brushing lightly against her forehead. Just short of tickling, it distracted her momentarily from her fright. His hand was almost unbearably warm against her face. That was surprising seeing as how the rest of her body felt like a furnace. His lips were soft and dry and the pressure behind them hesitant, almost questioning.

Surprised at her own daring, she leaned into him and removed the shy nature from his kiss.

He pulled away a bit then. Not so much as to break their connection, but enough that she could see his eyes hovering before hers. They were at their most striking. A bright, almost luminescent, aquamarine. They were clear as crystal and the intensity she had noted earlier had, if anything, increased. It was a look she thought that, just maybe, she was beginning to understand.

He pulled away from her then, leaving her gasping. His eyes never left hers as he moved away, the hair falling over them in a disorganized curl making him look like he was ten years old. The boyish grin he was flashing at her only added to the picture.

"I was kind of hoping that was it."

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I personally feel that the story ends perfectly well right here. However, as I conceived this entire storyline around a sexual situation, I figured I should probably put it in. Besides, I've never actually written one out before and I'd like to give it a try. The point is, if you're not into that sort of thing, you can stop right here and go on to the next story (if you want) having missed nothing of any real importance. Otherwise, continue at your own risk.