It was a little less than four months later that Meryl went into labor.

The doctors had been continually confused, and highly apologetic, about the discrepancies in her charts. It had been suggested that several technicians were in for a strict talking to. She sincerely hoped that no one lost their jobs over it. The last to examine her had shaken his head in confusion and pronounced her at eight months. Still, she went every day to work at the insurance agency. Who knew when next she'd be gainfully employed? The people at work had been understanding, solicitous almost, of her condition. Meryl knew that they whispered behind her back, but that was nothing new. The strange woman who had once chased down Vash the Stampede was something of a legend around the company as it was. Her boss had kindly lightened her load and promised her the same position whenever she decided she could come back. Still it was difficult. Just walking up the four flights of stairs to the office was tiring enough. Fitting comfortably under her desk had become a problem as well. Eventually she just pulled her typewriter off of it and did her work with the machine perched precariously on her knees.

She had just replaced the typewriter on her desk and stood up, knuckling her lower back, to get coffee. Waddling (she hated to admit it, but that is what it looked like) over to the communal pot, she froze in place in the middle of the floor. She was in front of one of the secretaries' desks when she paused and the woman seated there looked up quizzically. Leaning one hand upon the random secretary's desk, Meryl pressed a hand to her side.

"Excuse me, Miss Stryfe, but is everything all right." Meryl looked over at the young woman. Not much more than a girl. Blue eyes blinked over thin rimmed glasses. Her golden blonde hair was pulled back into a low ponytail. It was a look carefully concocted to make her look older, more professional. Meryl wondered for a moment what this pretty young woman would have done if it had been her sent out into the wilds to hunt down the prince of outlaws. Would she have even lasted through to discovering the infamous gunman? Would she have gone chasing after him even after he ordered her away? Would she have stepped in front of a gun to save his scrawny hide? Would this lovely little princess playing dress up at a real honest to goodness job have fallen hopelessly in love with the worst person possibly imaginable?

It was a stupid question. Of course not. She wasn't her.

"I'm fine," Meryl replied finally. The secretary blinked and looked confused. "But I think I'm going to need a taxi."

It could not have taken more than thirty minutes to get to the hospital, but to Meryl it felt like forever. She was herded into a bright room with a decidedly uncomfortable looking bed. For a change she noticed it was warm in the room, perspiration was already beading up on the back of her neck. A sweet faced nurse took one embarrassingly frank look at Meryl and cheerily declared her to be "progressing rapidly."

"That's lucky," she said smiling, "It's rare for first time mothers."

'Right,' Meryl had thought to herself. 'Lucky.'

By the time Millie showed up shortly thereafter things were really beginning to heat up. She rushed into the room ignoring the protestations of the nurse outside the door.

"Meryl!" she nearly shouted in excitement. "I'm sorry, I had to find someone to watch the kids while I'm gone. Am I on time."

"You haven't missed anything yet, Millie," Meryl replied through clenched teeth.

"Ooooh," Millie gasped. "Does it hurt so much?" Meryl just glared in reply. "Oh," Millie said, chiding herself, "Of course it does." She went on in a seemingly worried fashion. "And Mr. Vash is such a big man and you're so little that-"

"Millie!" Meryl barked, "You're not helping."

"Right," said Millie, suddenly seeming to come to herself. She rushed to the chair by Meryl's bedside and clasped her friend's hand. Squeezing it gently she beamed at Meryl. "I know it's bad now, but when it's all over," she leaned forward and whispered confidentially, eyes a shining blue, "It's all worth it."

"I hope so, Millie," Meryl sighed, leaning back against the pillows piled behind her. "I hope so."

Soon doctors and nurses were running frantically in and out of the room every few moments. Things were definitely progressing quickly. Meryl clenched her eyes shut and grimaced as another pain swept over her.

"Ummm..Meryl,?" Millie's voice was strained. "Could you maybe not squeeze so hard?" Meryl gasped a breath and her eyes flew open. Turning to her friend she released the pressure in her hand a little.

"Millie," she said breathlessly, pushing herself up with difficulty onto her elbows, "I have to ask you, if I don't make it through this-"

"What a silly thing to say, Meryl, you're going to be just-"

"Millie I'm serious!" Millie quieted upon seeing the desperate look in her friend's eyes. Sweat was beginning to bead up on her face and mix with the hot tears that coursed tracks over her cheeks. Millie nodded and listened to what her friend had to say. "If something happens to me. . . will you. . ." Meryl gave her a pleading look.

"I'd take care of them like they were my own," Millie assured her, "Is that what you wanted to hear?" Meryl nodded wearily and fell back upon the pillows. She had only a moment of respite though, as soon enough she was bent over in pain and squeezing Millie's hand just as hard as before.

"It's okay Meryl," said Millie, trying to smile through her own pain. "You can scream if you want to."

"No!" Meryl answered emphatically.

Setting her chin at a haughty angle, she reminded herself of who she was. Oh, sure, she had screamed before. She had screamed in fear. She had screamed in anger. In frustration. But she would not scream because of pain. Pain was illusory. It could be lived through, fought through. Vash was proof of that. No, only once had she ever cried out because of pain. She had been scared. She had been weak. She had screamed and Vash had killed someone. No, she had sworn to herself that she would never do that again. Ever. Besides, it couldn't get much worse, could it?

It very quickly got worse.

"Come on Meryl," Millie cried encouragingly over her own tears, "You can do it."

Meryl was being ripped apart. She could feel her flesh tearing, could feel herself tearing her own flesh apart with her pushing. Nothing she had ever yet experienced, nothing from her years wandering in the desert, nothing from the years before or after when she had suffered from a loneliness so total that it was torture, nothing had ever hurt this much. She thought desperately of Vash. She thought of the deep scars crisscrossing his chest. She thought of his arm, ripped bodily from him by his own brother. She thought about digging a bullet out of his shoulder with a glowing hot knife while he lay sprawled unconscious on the bed before her; Millie watching, terrified, from the corner of the room. She thought of the night he had awakened after killing Legato, when she had been too afraid, too confused about her own feelings, to comfort him. She had hid behind the door as he sobbed out his agony. She had cringed in sanctuary on the other side of the wall and listened to him screaming in self hatred.

Writhing uncontrollably, half mad with pain, she did what she should have done then.

"VASH!" she shrieked.

Her outburst was followed by a sudden glorious silence, and then a sharp, insistent cry filled the room.

"It's a boy!" cried the doctor as the same sweet faced nurse from earlier rushed forward to take the pink wriggling thing from him with a towel.

"Oh, Meryl," Millie said sniffling and blinking away tears as she brushed wet locks from her friends forehead, "He's just beautiful!"

Glazed, cloudy grey eyes fluttered open.

"Millie," she croaked, barely above a whisper, "He heard me. Somehow he heard."

"Umm . sure Meryl . . . whatever." Millie gazed concernedly at her friend. Meryl usually wasn't one for talking nonsense like this. "Look," she pointed, "You have a son."

Meryl's eyes tracked slowly along Millie's finger to where she was pointing. Blinking, her expression became somewhat clearer. "One more," she stated tiredly.

"Yeah, you've got it," Millie encouraged, "Half done now." Meryl closed her eyes as another contraction began.

The second twin came out much easier. Meryl managed to stay conscious long enough to mumble out their names before collapsing in exhaustion. Millie stayed by her side as she slept, curled up around her pillow and whimpering. The nurse left the children under Millie's care until their mother woke up.

Staring at the two babies laying side by side in their crib, Millie could already see differences between them. The girl baby's head was covered in soft fuzz the same dark, almost blue-black color as her mother's tresses. The boy was definitely going to be blonde. Both blinked up at her with the near luminescent aquamarine eyes of their father. There were other differences too. The boy was fussier, he had screamed bloody murder after coming out. The girl, however, had been almost silent. Millie smiled down at them, wishing Meryl was awake to see how seriously they looked back at her.

'Funny,' she thought, 'It's almost as if they're studying me.' She glanced back over at their mother. Her flimsy hospital gown was plastered to her back with sweat. Thick creases marred her brow even in slumber. Black eyelashes lay stark against cheeks gone ghost white from loss of blood. Millie rubbed her own hand where Meryl had dug her nails in and drawn blood. Sighing, she turned back to her tiny charges, and placed one hand gently upon both of their velvety heads.

"I'll tell you this little Vash and little Millie," she smiled at the names, "Your mother is one very special person." Millie blinked. She could swear they were both smiling back up at her. Babies that young weren't supposed to be able to smile, were they? Shaking her head, she removed her hand from their heads and used it to shake a reprimanding finger at them.

"And don't you forget it."