For the first time since Vash had left a half a year earlier Meryl was happy. She was tired of course, perpetually harried, but when she was finally able to collapse at the end of the day she did so with a sweet sense of contentment and accomplishment she had never before known. The kids ran her ragged through all twenty-four hours of the clock, one never waking without disturbing their twin in some way she hadn't yet put a finger on. Always it seemed as if there were 20 things that had to be done right away, and for when those were finally finished there were 20 more. It was a challenge worthy even of Meryl Stryfe, queen of organization. Changing diapers, warming bottles, finding lost socks, and not to mention all of the regular around the house chores she had originally taken for granted. Sometimes in a few rare moments of respite, Meryl would despair at the state of chaos her living room had fallen into. But then one of the children would cry, joined almost immediately by the dulcet tones of their sibling, and she would jump to her feet. The living room would just have to suffer another day. She had priorities now. She was a mother.

Millie had been right. It was all worth it.

Millie had been a lifesaver too: making her meals when she was too tired to do anything but lay prostate upon the couch, lending her old baby clothes when the twins outgrew what they had, and offering to watch the children whenever Meryl needed to get out for shopping or sanity. Close as their relationship had always been, it had grown closer in the last few months. Meryl had to admit that they had drawn apart a little after Millie had gone and gotten herself a family and a "real" life. Now that Meryl had children too their interests, once again, coincided completely. Whenever they would be rushing around a kitchen together, trying simultaneously to cook and care for four irritable young children, Meryl had to shake her head to rid herself of the intense feeling of déjà vu. All that was needed were the two tall forms of the outlaw and the priest watching from a doorway to make the seen complete. As she had been during their past travels, Meryl was eminently thankful for Millie's help.

It had been Millie who had first pointed out what Meryl had been too blind, or perhaps too close to the problem, to see herself. It happened one afternoon when little Vash escaped from his mother's attempt to pull on his pants and went crawling off across the carpet at a rapid pace. Meryl just laughed at his antics and chased after him on her own hands and knees, his trousers still clutched in one hand. Millie's kids looked up from their rapt attention to the TV as a small blonde haired child and a dark haired middle aged woman went scuttling across their field of view. Millie, holding her stoic namesake against her hip had merely looked on with pursed lips.

After catching up with her son and subjecting him to a punishment of affectionate tickling, Meryl began, again, the difficult task of dressing him. While she was struggling to slip the waistband over his diapers, Millie spoke up in her soft voice.

"Meryl, there's something I've been meaning to tell you."

"Hmmm," she had replied, bottom lip caught between her teeth, engrossed in fastening a button at her son's waist.

"It's just that . . . well . . . babies really aren't supposed to be crawling around like that at two months," she finally blurted out. Meryl looked up from her work. Her glance traced from Millie, to her dark haired daughter, and finally to the smiling, round checked face of the young boy before her. Nodding her understanding she returned to her task. She had known, sort of. More or less, she had tried not to notice. It was not something she really wanted to think about and, with the twins taking up the majority of her daily capacity to think, it was an easy thing to pass off.

"Does it bother you?" she asked her friend, already knowing the answer.

"Oh, no, of course not," Millie replied in her most flippant voice. "I mean . . . what else would you expect . . . they are Mr. Vash's children." Meryl barely controlled a sigh of frustration. She had known that was how Millie would see it, but she had a feeling the rest of the world would not be quite as willing to accept the bizarre half-plant offspring of a notorious outlaw.

"It's just . . ." Meryl heard tension in her friend's pause and knew what to expect when she continued. "David has started to notice." Meryl didn't have to look at her old partner to know her head would be lowered in an embarrassed shrug.

Meryl had always liked her friend's husband. He was quiet and sensible, the kind of man she would have been likely to marry had she not been ruined for such things by a roguish outlaw at a young age. But it was that very sensibility about him which had made their relationship a strained one. He had eventually accepted the fact that the tall blonde man who came by occasionally for dinners and dug into his wife's potatoes with such relish was Vash the Stampede. He had even come to grips with the fact that the very same man was the father of Meryl's two young offspring. Meryl doubted, however, that he would be quite as accepting of other factors of the children's heritage. It wasn't fair to make Millie choose between keeping her secret and keeping faith with her husband. Meryl had known it would come to this eventually, she had just hoped she would have more time to adjust to the confines of motherhood beforehand.

Brushing unruly bangs tenderly away from her son's forehead she asked, "Do you think anyone else has . . . 'noticed' ?"

Millie's eyes were dark. "Your landlady. Just the other day she asked me how old the kids were." Her nose wrinkled with distaste and then was replaced with a triumphant smile. "I told her they were older than they looked." Meryl smiled in response. Leave it to Millie to find her way out of a tricky situation. That Meryl could still be surprised at this stage by her old friend's competence was a testament to her modest demeanor and carefully crafted air of ineptitude.

"Where will you go, Meryl?"

If she was disturbed by the question, Meryl didn't show it. "I don't know," she replied. Then with a force that belied the fear inside her, "But I'll know it when I get there."

Well, there was nothing for it then. Arrangements would have to be made. She merely wished that she had been granted more time in peace and ignominy. But then, despite his deep desire for it, peace was something that had rarely attended the 60 billion double dollar man. It stood to reason that it would be just as absent from the lives of his children. Climbing up from the floor with her son in her arms, Meryl looked into the face of her daughter. Eyes like the bright blue jewels in store windows she had no hope of ever owning shone out a face that would someday fill out to the same pixie shape she saw in the mirror every day.

Meryl prayed with every inch of her being that it was not so.

The arrangements for her departure took less than a month, which was probably a good thing, seeing as how the kids appeared to be advancing at an exponential rate. The landlady was even willing to excuse her premature exit from their rental contract. Her kindness was probably a result, Meryl thought ironically, of her desire to rid herself of the strange children from upstairs that seemed to grow up so fast.

Millie, during their tearful farewell, had made her promise to write from wherever she stopped on her travels. She had pressed a stationery set into her hands and Meryl had been forced to agree to being more forthcoming with correspondence then she had been during their former excursions. If possible, Millie's two children seemed even more disturbed at the parting than their mother. They had really been beginning to enjoy having their two little "cousins" around to play with. Being children themselves, the rapid development of their playmates had failed to faze them. They could not be made to understand why Millie and Vash had to go and were inconsolable on the point.

The hardest thing to obtain turned out to be the car. Finally, David managed, through some connections with a dealer, to get her a good price on a not too beat up old jeep. He apologized for not being able to do better and disparaged the vehicle as "not really a family car." Meryl thanked him and assured him that it would do. It would more than do.

As she strapped her squirming son into the back seat Meryl thanked him again silently for saving her enough money to purchase child safe seats.

"Mommy, I wanna go home."

Meryl looked abruptly up at her daughter, already secured in the seat across from her sibling. Millie had only recently started speaking. That is, though she had trailed her brother in his attempts at and exuberance for speech, she had come out talking plainly and in full sentences just a week previously. Meryl had dropped the container of baby powder she had been holding the first time her daughter had, out of the blue, informed her that she was hungry. She had then spent the next fifteen minutes cleaning up the soft smelling powdery mess before she could get little Millie the bottle she had so eloquently requested.

She still wasn't quite used the change in her child's communicative status.

"I'm sorry, honey," she explained, "We can't go back up to the apartment. It's not our home anymore." Her daughter blinked back at her in reply.

"Why not?" queried her son precociously, stifling a yawn.

"Well, sweetie," she said, clicking his seat belt closed, "Home's not a place like a building or a city that stays in one place all the time." She wasn't sure if her children really understood such deep concepts as she often related to them, but she figured she should continue to do so anyway, just in case. "It's where your family is."

She paused to take a breath and looked affectionately at the two tiny persons staring back at her with wide, blue-green eyes. "Where your heart is," she finished.

The expressions on their faces didn't change, but, somehow, she felt that they had understood her. Neither child seemed to be interested in asking any more questions, though, so she climbed into the driver seat and started the sticky engine. It would take all day driving across the desert to reach May City, she hoped the jeep would last at least that long without any major complications.

The second great adventure of the life of Meryl Stryfe had begun.