Merry Christmas everyone! (or any other holiday you might celebrate!) We hope you're having a great season, and to celebrate, here's a bit of a fluff chapter we 'give' to you as a present. Thank you again to all of our fans, new and old! Please leave your comments, we love to hear your opinions! Enjoy! -Milly

Chapter 31

Letters to Home

[Stardate: 5-24-0111-22:30]

'Dear Father, Mother, Big Big Brother, Middle Big Brother, Little Big Brother, Big Big Sister, Middle Big Sister, Little Big Sister...' Milly paused in her writing, wondering what was taking Meryl so long. Normally her trips to the post office didn't take a few hours. But then again, she mused, maybe Meryl had gone out of her way to look for some pudding for her. That would be a welcomed reason for being late. There were a few specialty shops at the edge of town that were open twenty-four hours for travelers, so perhaps that's where she went.

Milly pondered this for another moment before continuing with her letter. 'How are you? I am fine...' She paused. Actually, she thought to herself, I'mnotfine. I'mnotfineatall,infact,I'vebeenprettydamnmiserablesincethewholechurchincidentwhenMr.PriestandMr.LiviodisappearedwithMr.Knives. Milly set down her pen and went over to stand at the window. The street below was mostly deserted but for a few drunks sitting out on the porch of a neighboring saloon. They were toasting to the moon or maybe to the air, having a good time.

It wasn't so long ago when she and her friends had gone drinking together. Milly was a lightweight for being such a big girl, but she still liked to drink. She'd get drunk fast, but most of the time she'd sober up just as fast, and would end up carrying Meryl back to their tent when they were traveling with Mr. Knives and his two bodyguards. Thoseweregoodtimes,whycan'twegobacktothosetimes? Milly sighed, seeing no sign of Meryl and went back to her letter.

'We are no longer following Mr. Vash the Stampede,' Milly continued to write, 'When we first set out on our journey it was to babysit the Humanoid Typhoon and make sure he didn't get into any big trouble. But the guy we thought was him turned out to be his twin brother, and then we found out that guy was not the guy, it was the first guy. After the hole in the fifth moon appeared and the town of Jeneora Rock was destroyed, we haven't been able to find either Vash. There is, however, a strange looking fellow who sounds like the first Vash - not the brother we thought was Vash - but he looks differently: has silvery-white hair and the most piercing red eyes. Not like the eyes on Uncle Roger when he's had too much Whiskey, I'm talking red like the albino Toma that was born on the farm and then died after too much sun exposure. But this Vash isn't like how he used to be, he's a pretty nice guy, and I'm pretty sure he has the sweets for Meryl...'

Milly leaned her head on her hand, come to think of it; they hadn't seen much of that fellow since they'd found him in the rubble. Although, she was pretty sure he was still following them. From time to time she'd catch a glimpse of that silvery-white spikey hair. Or maybe it was just an old fellow, she wasn't quite sure.

'The two bodyguards who watched the Vash who wasn't Vash, haven't shown up again either. I liked them a lot. Actually, I may have liked one of them more than like. But the other, he was kind of like Big Big Brother, and I liked that about him. I know, Mother, that you've told me God will bring me someone like He did Father, but I wonder if I missed my chance because we were following Mr. Vash and Mr. Vash's brother. I miss them terribly, just like I miss all of you.

'Meryl says that if we don't find any of the Vashs or the people we met along the way, we will probably return home in a matter of a few months. We're already headed back, although rather slowly since Meryl has started to do Bernadelli work again in order to get a steady paycheck. I think that the weird goings-on before Jeneora Rock was destroyed are now over. It was almost as if the strange disappearances never happened. Everyone wondered why we had not reported in, although Meryl was very tidy about doing it once a month. Since then, Meryl sees no harm in selling an insurance policy or two while we travel. It's giving us some pretty nice commissions so I should have enough money saved up by Christmas to buy everyone something.'

Pausing, Milly set down her pen. There was noise coming from outside. Was it Meryl coming back? She lifted from her seat and went to the window again. The two drunkards were now fighting. She couldn't see them very well, but from the light of the saloon she could see they were pretty big guys. They were taking their punches in stride, but the argument was getting pretty loud. People were coming out from the saloon, peering out of windows down the street and a few people on tomas had stopped to watch the fight.

Interested in something other than her letter, Milly opened the window and gasped. Below, the two voices were very familiar, although she hadn't heard them in months.

"Stop calling me Crybaby!"

"Well, what's running down your face then? Man up, or I'll call ya Crybaby all I like!" The slightly shorter man with dark hair ducked a punch from the taller man and ran into him. He carried Livio off the porch and into the street.

Milly's heart was pounding. Noway!Itcan'tbethem!ButIthinkitis! She rushed from the window and grabbed her coat, throwing it on over her pajamas. Not stopping to put her shoes on, she ran out of the hotel and down the two flights of stairs and out into the street, pigtails flying behind her. "Stop it! Stop it right now you two!" She ran across the dirt road, feeling rocks digging into her bare feet, and she threw herself between the two men as they were picking themselves up from the road.

The two drunk men started for each other, almost not realizing she was there, but then suddenly stopping, blinking. "Am I seeing what I'm thinking I'm seeing? BigGirl?"

"Mr. Priest!" Milly's eyes filled with tears and she flung herself at him. Wrapping him in her arms she started to sob, "Oh Nicholas! I missed you!" Then, before he could gain his composure, she turned on a heel and said, "And Mr. Livio! I thought you were both dead!" And she hugged him too. He had a moment to put an arm around her but then she pulled away, formed a fist and slugged him. It was almost a blur as she spun around one more time, and hit Wolfwood in the jaw too.

"How dare you disappear for six months and not write even a short letter?" She gritted her teeth as she realized that her fist really hurt but neither man seemed more than startled that she'd hit them.

Livio blinked, suddenly sober, and looked at Nicholas who was rubbing his jaw, not out of pain but out of curiosity. "I'm sorry, Big Girl, but we didn't know where ya went. How could we send a letter?"

Milly put her hands on her hips, started to open her mouth to reply, then stopped and pursed her lips. "Well, you could have tried to find us. Left a note somewhere...I'm not sure, but we thought you were dead! Do you know how hard it is to go on when your best friends have gone missing?" The tears were still glistening in her eyes and Wolfwood leaned over and wiped a stray drop from her cheek.

"Well, we found you now, right?" He smiled that slow smile she hadn't been able to get out of her mind for months. Wolfwood looked at his partner and Livio nodded in return.

"We were searching for our Master. We haven't found him either."

The tall insurance girl sniffed, feeling cold suddenly, "Did he...?"

"No, we don't think so. Dr. Conrad is gone too. We didn't find any bodies." Wolfwood pulled a cigarette from his coat and lit it. After dragging on it for a moment, he sighed. "We think he's gone into hiding with the rest of the Eye of Michael." Pulling on the cigarette once more, he tossed it to the ground, putting it out, he noticed Milly's bare feet. "Big Girl, where are your shoes?"

Milly realized her feet were steadily getting cold and she was pretty sure she'd stepped on something pretty sharp. She looked sheepish and said, "In the hotel room. I was kind of in a hurry when I saw you... Will you come up with me?" Suddenly she found herself lifted up into Livio's arms.

"You shouldn't be walking in the street, there's broken glass," he said to her simply. "Point out the way."

Wolfwood followed them up to the hotel room, where Milly rinsed off her feet in the bathroom before putting on a pair of fuzzy bunny rabbit slippers. When she returned to the main room, it had gotten fairly late. "Where's the little one?" Nicholas was sitting at a single chair in the corner, and Livio was camped out on the floor.

"She went out to the post office, but she offered to bring me back dessert...I'm not sure where she went. But she'll be okay, I'm pretty sure."

Nicholas nodded, "I guess we'll just have ta stay with ya until she gets back, eh?"

Milly smiled. "I'd like that."

In the Stables

[Stardate: 5-25-0111-05:30]

Ah, the subject of her. He looked over at her sleeping form again. She was exhausted after the chase and capture of the night before. Turning away, Vash eyed the doorknob and the construction of the doorframe with an expert eye, it was apparent to him that it was made in such a manner that an ordinary human couldn't easily break out if one had a mind to; if it was locked, which it wasn't. It was quiet here, an older style barn converted into a warehouse of sorts.

Eyes that glowed softly in the dim light turned to rest on the sleeping woman as he finally admitted the deepest truth he had been wrestling with for a long time now; this wasn't just wanting or desire, this was so much more and every fiber of his being screamed it at him. It was time to look the realization in the face and acknowledge it even if she refused. Yes, even if the raven-haired she-devil denied it, she was his female and if the little agent tried to go anywhere it would be with him, even if it was kicking and screaming. Reaching up to rub the bridge of his nose, the handsome male gave a soft snort of bemusement at the situation. Here he was, the most feared being on the planet waiting on what should be an inferior human, to wake up.

"I am way too courteous for my own good," he muttered quietly.

In a way, the spike-haired man was grateful for the time to be able to come to terms with these new feelings racing through him. Before last night, he only thought of her as an amusement that he would enjoy one of these days soon too aware of his aroused reaction every time he was around her.

Reaching up with careful fingers he gingerly touched the knot on the side of his head. The headache he awoke with that morning was already fading and the knot was healing. Not sure if it would work or not, he'd tried a small trick to put a plant to sleep, and it had made the girl drowsy enough to carry her here, to this barn. However, the moment he set her down again, the effect wore off and she had swung the first object she could find at his head, which happened to be a fairly heavy shovel placed up against the wall. Pesky female. He had to use his mojo again, only with a LOT more force this time, to keep her from tearing him to shreds, but in the process knocked her out overnight.

Rubbing his nose again, he pondered the long age spent traveling over the burning sands of this cursed planet, harboring a dark bitter hatred for all humans. Now, new feelings were rising, tender, protective, ones he hadn't felt in so many decades it was near crippling him and he didn't know what to do with them.

Giving his head a jerk that sent silver spikes dancing, he turned slowly in place to once again study the barn. It was different, if only marginally, than last night's flea-infested dive of a saloon; which, he smirked, was where he had seen her from the window, him plying his usual hobby of trying to fill and numb the bleeding abyss in his soul. Etched in his own mind was the remarkable sight as she leaned over to deposit letters into the post office slot, shapely hips forming a heart shape with her cape as he watched in fascination. He slowed his drinking to sipping the rotgut to watch her turn in search of an open store, her hair swirling around her pink cheeks. Glorious. Then a racing shock of insight held him with glass half raised when he realized all he wanted to do at that moment was to gently cup her cheeks in his hands and kiss the tip of her nose. Where had that come from? That was when he made the decision. One way or another he would have her, forever and not just a one-night stand to walk away from the next morning either.

Still reeling and somewhat dismayed by alien feelings, he did what any lewd, immoral, degenerate would do and ran an appreciative eye up and down her lovely legs. This was familiar territory and soon he was outside and ready to reach out and grab her around the waist and pull the ranting female into his arms. Then… the voice. Oh yes, that alternate broke in and turned his thoughts in a different direction. Have her, yes, take her yes, but WOO her? Woo? He. Did. Not. Woo. If he wanted women, he got them, there was no "wooing" involved! Yet, the voice won out. If there was anything he should be concerned about, it was that. That unknown entity was getting stronger and stronger as time went by and would need to be dealt with, he just wasn't sure how at this point in time.

The tall lean man turned back to a considering eye on Meryl. This was too uncomfortable, like trying to get used to an ill-fitting garment as. Vash grit his teeth as an emotion of obligation rose up; as if he owed her something! Her death could have come about so easily last night, he could have lost his temper... and pulled up at where the thought was going. Silver brows pulled together in a knot and a disbelieving snort issued through tight lips with the comprehension dawning on him. There had only been one other human he'd ever felt such a strong affinity to, and she was long dead. Was this….? A deep scowl formed, no, he couldn't even admit that word to himself.

This is what she had brought him to! Thankfully, the petite female was totally ignorant of her effect upon him. He looked at her recumbent form while trying to decide how he felt about this newest observation and what course of action to take, if any. The thought that anyone, especially this mere slip of a girl was able to elicit such a profound and indecipherable emotion from him was bothersome to say the least.

Vash once again turned his attention back to the door and considered taking her to a more secluded location. Yet, something held him back. Abashed, another new and unwelcome emotion flooding him, he glanced down at his bare feet then over at his boots, duster, hostler, and shirt where he'd laid them on a chair. No point in not staying comfortable since now he doubted his scheme of the previous evening would come to pass. Something else was starting to percolate up from some unfathomable place he couldn't access.

"Stuipd alien voice! Give it a rest St. Who-ever-you-are!" He raged internally at insistent voice-thing within.

Hearing a soft sigh his head snapped back around to the sleeping form of the woman on the sofa. He knew she would be waking up shortly. Again he gritted his teeth remembering when he had laid her down and the thought flashed through his head to strip her while she slept. For some stranger than strange reason, all he did was unclasp and remove her white cape. The white cape still loaded with the derringers. Otherwise, she was fully dressed in a white waist-length sleeveless top with a double row of buttons starting at a mandarin collar down to within inches of the hem. Then a snug pair of black pants; he'd considered taking off her shoes but he realized in the process she wasn't wearing and decided to leave them on.

Wondering over these fresh, (not to mention disgustingly respectable and decent) changes, the gunman's eyes wandered up her slim legs over the gentle slope of her hip and soft sweeping curve of her waist. It was an enticing sight and with a half smirk, he debated on whether it would be worth it to wake her up instead of waiting. With a flash of amusement, a slow smile stretched over his lips as he leaned a shoulder against the wall next to the door to study the sight before him. Knowing eyes lingered over every lovely and exquisitely curved portion of her body, crimson eyes glowed a deep blue, gleaming in the dim light as he contemplated the temptations coming to mind. The effect lasted all of a second and then the color returned to brilliant tomato red again.

His gaze had just traced over the elfin-like features, delicately and beguilingly attractive when dazed eyes fluttered opened, a small pucker of confusion formed between her brows. Right now they were the color of mist on those rare mornings after a rainstorm and slightly hazy with sleep. He watched her blink a few times before running a slender hand through the tousled locks framing her face and dangling in her eyes. She pushed ineffectually at the bangs for they fell back into place again once she dropped her hand.

He watched with interest as she blinked, then yawned with arms reaching over her head, straightening both legs and arms out in a delicious stretch. A small satisfied sound purred from her lips and Vash froze in place, he couldn't move if he had wanted. Her spine arched, and his eyes slipped lower, unable to stop staring at her torso where the fabric of her short tunic was pulled tight with the strain. The stretch continued until both legs were extended and feet flexed, toes pointing before relaxing. The being known as the Humanoid Typhoon realized his mouth was dry while also becoming aware that a fast rhythm was pounding through the veins in his throat, and that wasn't the only effect. Gaining control, he calmed his breathing but it was all the silver-haired man could do to keep from leaping across the room and pouncing on her. Vash had definitely had his share of more buxom and voluptuous women, but there was something about this one, with tiny, perfect proportions that fascinated him and he just flat out wanted her in a way he hadn't wanted any woman in the past. Despite the fact he wasn't human, the Plant never had to work to get women into his bed; they came to him with such ease that made other men cry tears of envy in their beer.

Spearing her with narrowed eyes, he knew there was no doubt about it; she was affected by him yet trying to keep distance from him with a wall of the professional insurance agent. With narrowed eyes he determined that the wall was going to have to come down, and soon.

Next Meryl lifted a fist and rubbed the remaining sleep from her eyes. It was becoming clear that nothing in the room looked familiar to her. Her eyebrows lowered in a slight frown as her eyes wandered over the room until at last they came to rest on him. It was satisfying to see them widen in surprise and then flare that lovely silver-lavender color when she was overcome with emotion, as she appeared to be at this moment. He cocked his head at the relief sweeping over her features upon seeing him.

Meryl gave him a delighted smile, "Oh good, I thought for a moment..." she came to a screeching halt. At first sight she was overjoyed to see that he appeared to be none the worse for wear after that blow to the head. However, the expression meeting her gaze was something else altogether. On previous other occasions she had seen glimpses of this look, only before this it had been veiled and held in check. Now the unbridled look was aimed at her with no attempt made to disguise it.

Meryl stared at him, anxiety mounting at the smoldering fire in his eyes that were fixed on her along with crooked, half grin on his face. Casually, as if he hadn't a care in the world leaning there with arms crossed over his chest, he stared so hard at her it felt like two weights slamming into her.

Whateverwashedo...oh, as she saw his eyes languidly dip south before slowly moving back up to her face. It was clear that he was enjoying the journey along the way. At her self-conscious shifting on the sofa he gave her a mischievous grin.

Pensively now, while keeping a wary eye on him she eyed the distance from her position to the door and from him to the door, a door, incidentally that she didn't remember coming through. She wondered if they were in his room but after a brief glance again at the décor, doubted it as nothing seemed to fit with his personality.

Out of the corner of her eye, she studied him before turning back to contemplate the door again. The disturbing thing was that he was positioned so he could easily reach in a stride or two and it sure didn't seem to her that he was going to be moving anytime soon.

Intuitively, she knew he wasn't going to just let her scoot out the door all on her lonesome. There was something in that fierce gaze hinting at hungry possessiveness. Where in the world was all of this coming from and why was he looking at herlike that? Thisisn'thappening,Iamnotworthlookingatthisway,Ihaven'teven,notonce,beenonadate!Andthattimewhenmycousinfixedmeuponablinddatedoesn'tcount!Ifheknewthathewouldn'tbestaringatmelikeIamthelastgrainofcorninashedfullofravenouschickens!AndgoodLord,whyishehalfwayundressed!Waitaminute,whereamI?WhyamIhere?

Looking down she noticed she was sitting on an old, overstuffed sofa. Her nose twitched, it also smelled as if it had been there for a long time. Swinging her legs to the floor Meryl slowly stood while taking stock of her surroundings, ignoring the intensity of the stare focused on her.

They were in a…. a barn? Except there were no animals just many pieces of heavy, dark furniture were crammed into it from one end to the other. A body couldn't take more than three steps between one piece and another. At the far end was one small grime-smudged window barely allowing in any light. She studied it carefully wondering if she could find something hard enough with which to break the glass.

"Forget it; it's too small even for you to climb through." No need to tell her that the door was unlocked, not just yet anyway. Why ruin the fun? It amused him to no end that she assumed it was locked.

She didn't bother to look at him. Insufferable creep, did she ask for his opinion?

The barn looked more like it was being used to store old furniture from faded days of glory, not nice enough to use anymore, but most of it (with the exception of her sofa) too good to throw away. If she had to guess, from the slope of the ceiling and the beams that were visible, she would say that this was just an extra room being used as a storeroom for a rich family. Following that line of thought she would assume they were in the back of an old stable or barn. All she had to do was find more clues. Looking around at the thick layer of dust there was no doubt in her mind she would find something underneath the grunge, maybe an old receipt or letter with an address on it.

Seeing her eyes roam over the room, taking in the dust and articles of years gone by, he remarked, "It's seen better days."

"So have I," the insurance girl muttered quietly to herself. She huffed when upon seeing the lopsided grin on his face, knew he had heard her.

"The ears of a bat, that one!" Unable to stop herself she looked again and he winked at her. "It's unnatural that's what it is!" She grumbled under her breath.

"I heard that too."

"Would it kill you to not listen!" Meryl fumed, fists on hips, eyes snapping silver and lavender sparks but quickly backing off when she realized his eyes slipped down to her lips and were latched onto the sight of them. Unnerved, she denied him the view by spinning on her booted heel to present her back to him and began scanning the room once again.

"This angle's just as nice."

"You are insufferable!" She said sharply over her shoulder, and then tried to ignore the feeling of his eyes on her backside to concentrate on the matter at hand. Ignoring was a losing battle with this one but she kept trying anyway.

Everything was covered in dust and her eyes snapped back to the sofa she had been sleeping on. It was the only thing so far that was not covered in a thick layer of old grime. By rights it should have at least one layer on it, but it was clean. As if, she thought, tilting her head before reaching down to run a finger over the stuffed cushion to verify her theory that it was, indeed, clean. She noticed that the farther a piece of furniture was from the door, the more dust had accumulate on it. Yet this one was situated about halfway in the room as if placed in this spot for someone to sleep on. Like her. One of them, at least, had been expected. Finally, she turned her eyes back to the only other person in the room with her.

"Where are we?" She asked, the accusation heavy in her tone as she eyed him distrustfully. "You did something to me and if you're kidnapping me again to get back at your brother, it's not a very smart plan because I haven't seen Knives in months..."

Annoyance flashed through him by the fact that she was coming to the wrong impression. He curtly pointed out, "No Knives is not a part of this!" He gritted his teeth, (why did everything always have to be about Knives!)

Meryl shook her head and then lifting hands to her hair she tried in vain to comb out her tangles with her fingers. Absently she replied not thinking about her answer, "Well, if this isn't about him, what is it about then? If it's about money, Bernadelli won't pay any ransom just for me. So I am at a loss as to what you… could… do…" Given the nature of the Plant before her, maybe this wasn't such a good line to pursue. "Yes, right," she cleared her throat before continuing, "Let's try this from another angle. We were on the street…" She stopped upon seeing his shake his head. "YOU KIDNAPPED ME!" As she glared at him, a slow, seductive smile formed on his lips.

The tall gunslinger hadn't moved but Meryl suddenly felt his male presence as distinctly as if he were within arm's reach. She only meant to glance at him but then his eyes caught hers and wouldn't release them. He was still in the same stance, but those blue-tinged eyes were locked on her, forging an intimate connection between them until she was aware of nothing else in the room, only him, and the fact that her knees were suddenly ready to give out from under her.

If there had been a blanket on the sofa she would have been tempted to snatch it up and wrap it around herself as protection from the pressure hemming her in from every side. She couldn't believe he was the source of it, an overwhelming raw sensuality flaring out from him to spring on her, the pressure holding her firmly in place.

If there had been a blanket on the sofa the insurance agent would have been tempted to snatch it up and wrap it around herself for protection from the pressure hemming her in from every side. She couldn't believe he was the source of it, an overwhelming raw sensuality flaring out from him and the pressure was holding her firmly in place.

That's when Meryl noticed, in a very disturbingly new and tingly way she might add, that he was only wearing the chaps that he wore under his black great coat. For the first time she took in and appreciated, (forshameMeryl!) how snugly that leather garment fit his slim narrow hips. Underneath she caught glimpses of tight-fitting jeans hugging his thin waist. She swallowed nervously.

With a surge of panic she broke eye contact to look down and check herself. She could have sagged with relief to find all herself totally clothed with only her cape was missing.

"And what makes you think you wouldn't want to come with me?"

Meryl looked up in surprise at the tone in his voice. Did he sound… irked, miffed even, just now? That thought vanished immediately as she saw with rising irritation the impish light flash through his vermilion-colored eyes.

With amusement Vash watched Meryl go into her hands on hips, 'fighting position' as the plucky girl laid into him with all the reasons why. There were a truckload and none of them were new, well, except for the last one on the list.

One silver eyebrow rose as he responded, "I don't snore. Want me to prove it to you?" His eyes twinkled merrily at her indignant blush. Then speaking in a voice full of enticing seduction that still managed to carry his soft words across the room to her, "I can think of a place, want to know where?" Eyes dark now with sensuality and hinting at things she couldn't begin to guess at, a slow knowing smile crossed his attractive features.

"NO!" Avoiding looking him straight in the eye she lowered her gaze to his chest thinking that a safe place to rest her eyes. That's when she noticed the few huge scars on his chest. She stared at the multiple old wounds cutting deep into the perfect musculature of his chest and smooth taut muscles of his abdomen. From the looks of them, any one of them could have easily been a fatal wound. The fact that he survived them spoke much for his ability to endure hardship beyond belief, either that or he had the devil's own luck. This was the first time she had seen the sight of his bared torso, more often were the times she had seen him in that dark blue shirt with the fabric stretched skin-tight across his muscles revealing how very fit he was. However, it rang familiar with Knives' torso, the same scars of dozens of fights. Vash's looked older though, faded, like maybe when he learned to fight back? When he became evil? It was pretty sexy though... StopitMeryl,prettysoonyouwillbeslobberingifyoudon'tcontrolyourself! It was useless however; she couldn't stop her eyes from following the slender lines of the tight muscles of his well-formed physique.

Fascinated, she became aware of how perfect his body was: broad at the shoulders, the awesome breadth of his chest, a wiry torso, all tapering down to a slim waist, flat, hard stomach, and lean hips. Despite the scars, or maybe because of them, she had to acknowledge that the man standing in front of her was definitely Drool Material. Suddenly she became aware of where her gaze was sinking and she raised it with a jerk to meet his mocking, knowing smile along with that strange, predatory gleam in his eye.

"Like what you see?" He mocked with a tilt of his head.

The heat rose up her neck bringing a furious blush to her cheeks; she felt hot enough to fry a toma egg. She would have fanned herself but she didn't want to give him the satisfaction of knowing that he had flustered her. Why was she staring like a schoolgirl in heat? Unfortunately she knew the answer to that and clamping her teeth as tight as she could while placing a nonchalant smile across her lips. There was an explanation of course and it was the fact that he was as handsome as a Greek statue come to life and for whatever reason, he was centering attention on her. Ha,iftherewasaflirty,big-bosomedbarmaidwithatrayofcoldbeersanywhereinthevicinityhewouldn'tevenknowIexisted.He'sjustdoingthistomakefunofme.Instead she gave him her sharpest glare but he didn't seem the least bit intimidated by it. In fact, his reaction was one of amusement. She huffed and turned her head away. It was best not to let him think that she was being affected by him.

In the past she had not let herself actively notice him for she knew, instinctively, this gorgeous hunk of man would be too much of a distraction. And the last thing she needed in her life right now were distractions, especially those of the incredibly, unbelievably magnificently virile evil variety, such as was lounging against the wall across what was suddenly turning out to her, to be a very close, small room. She could have groaned; didn't they have any ventilation in this place? Were the walls actually shrinking?

Instead, Meryl forced her thoughts back to planning a way to make a gracious yet hasty exit. She eyed the door next to him. His full attention was zeroed in on her and it was making her twitchy, as if a million miniature ants were crawling all over her just under the surface of her skin. PleaseGod,don'tletitbelocked.

Suddenly, he shoved off from the wall and disappeared one second and appeared the next to stand in the middle of the room between her and the door, it was such a fast blur of motion Meryl totally missed it. She had seen some extraordinary things the two Plants had accomplished in the past so tried to keep the amazement off her face as if people vanished and appeared like that every day of the week was old hat to her. Instead she tried to focus on something more mundane.

Gesturing at his scars with a slender hand she said, "You were lucky to have survived those..." Meryl trailed off thinking how inane her remark sounded. Stupid,stupid,couldn'tyouthinkofsomethingmoreintelligenttosaythanthat?He'sgoingtothinkyouareacompleteidiot!

A chuckle rumbled from deep within his chest as he quirked an eyebrow up. It was a lovely sight watching the flush, once again, spread up her slender throat and bring color to her cheeks. He wondered if it spread downward as well and his eyes dipped again, keenly enjoying the view. He wouldn't mind finding out, especially with the pretty way she sucked in her lower lip and bit it showing a trace of glistening teeth. In fact, he would like nothing more than to take over that activity for her. Then the way she was looking at him uncertainly from under those dark, thick lashes was killing him, no, everything about her was killing him. Just as he decided he was going to cross the room, take her up in his arms and suck on those lips, she started speaking with a smile so counterfeit it made him frown to see her wear it. It was everything she wasn't, fake, plastic, and dishonest.

Meryl decided she was done looking, acting, and talking like an idiot, it was time to leave this place so with false brightness she said, "Well, it has been... er, interesting to spend time like this again... (Like this? She was an idiot!) and seeing..." How long had she spent with him anyway? Abruptly faking a glance down at her watch, "Oh look at the time... I'm sure there's someone I'd rather, I mean... oh great... somewhere I'd rather be, oh, not that this hasn't been fun...but, uh people are counting on me." Aware that she had failed miserably at the whole 'down play the idiot look' she tried for a professional smile this time and it felt just as heavy on her lips as the last one did.

Vash scowled. He would rather see a frown, laugh, cry, scream, or her throw a tantrum, actually any show of authentic emotion would do rather than this artificial persona that wasn't her at all. He watched the way her shadowed eyes shifted trying to study the doorknob. "Probablytryingtoseeiftherewasakeyinthekeyhole," he wryly thought. Taking a small step to the side, Meryl kept her back facing the wall while keeping her eyes on him and the contrived smile firmly in place.

Eyebrows twitched up as he stared at her as she took step to the side with what was an obvious attempt at nonchalance. Now what was the silly insurance girl up to?

After she took a few more steps, it occurred to him that she was trying, unobtrusively to make her way to the door. This was her attempt at an escape? His eyebrows lifted higher.

Meryl blinked her eyes and jumped in place with a surprised gasp upon finding an outstretched arm in front of her chest blocking the path to the door. He had disappeared and reappeared in the time it took to blink! Again! Her gaze followed the arm to the palm splayed flat against the wall. Meryl was puzzled, annoyed, and slightly alarmed. Keeping a tight rein on her eroding composure, she repeated to herself, he'saPlant,Meryl,haveyouforgottensoeasily?Fasterandstrongerthanhumansorhaven'tyoureadyourownreportsonthesubject?

She turned to go back the other way, ducking her head to avoid his gaze but just as swiftly the other arm slammed up blocking that route also. Meryl studied the arm for a heartbeat. Not a whisper of skin was coming into contact between them but she was feeling thoroughly trapped within the cage of his arms. Maybe he wouldn't notice (ha!) if she tried to go under. It was worth a try. Just when she was about to put into operation a quick break-and-run action, he bent his arms at the elbow and leaned in until his chest was scant inches from hers and effectively penned her in from all sides.

Deciding to go on the offensive, Meryl tilted her head up to yell at him but before she had a chance to he caught her off-guard instead. Swooping down he launched an attack of his own on her neck.

Convulsing Meryl let out a sound somewhere between a squeal and a shriek as his lips worked on the sensitive skin of her throat. Within seconds she was squirming, giggling and trying to breathe all at the same time.

Finally, she managed to yelp out around the laughter, "Not there! Not there!"

Between giggling spasms she snorted; (and wasn't that just ever so lady-like?) "That tickles! You are a very bad…AGGGGG, that... TICKLES you horrible man!"

Meryl loathed giggling for she did not consider herself the giggling type of girl and despised it when circumstances caused one to rise out her. Now though, a torrent of snickers, chuckles, snorts and giggles were gushing out while she fought valiantly to stop those wicked lips from sucking, his teeth from nipping, and good gravy was he even using his tongue?

A fresh round of giggling seized her even as Meryl vigorously strained to sound commanding, although it came out as a feeble: "You stop... this... instant!" before she collapsed in his arms weak from laughter. The small female allowed him hold her up since nothing could be done about it anyway. She didn't even notice when he pinned her, flush up against the wall, his hard chest against hers.

At this moment Meryl flashed back to when he'd pinned her in the confessional. This was not the same man. Whatever it was that had made her heart pound in terror before was gone now. All that was left was this rising feeling of...what was it? She was weak with it. But it didn't feel bad, rather, she liked it. WhydoIlikeit?

For his part, Vash smiled internally, pleased with the reaction, who knew she was so ticklish? He didn't, but it was fun finding out. With a little more effort he was sure he could get her to stop thinking like an insurance agent. If he kept this up, Vash knew the tickling would soon change to another sensation, he could feel it even now. Something was rising within her wanting to respond to him in the way he suspected that she wanted. He was sure the insurance girl role was fighting a losing battle over the fact that she wanted him as much as he wanted her.

Leaving a trail of light kisses across the sensitive, silky skin of her neck and throat, Vash worked his way up and over to an especially tender spot behind her ear that soon had her jerking in spasms against him. He stopped short, feeling a wave of glorious heat rush through his veins. Lowering his hands to her hips Vash pulled her even closer so that she was flush up against him and began to redouble his efforts on the satiny softness of her throat.

Try as she might Meryl could not break his hold. When his hands dropped from the wall she thought it was an opening to dash to the side, but no such luck. His large, powerful hands clamped around her tiny waist and the slid down to the flare of her hips and drew her in. His grip was so strong she couldn't move that part of her body at all. And good night, was he using his tongue again! She jerked trying to throw herself backward only to find out that she was already against the wall.

Meryl giggled but the laughing was giving way to another sensation altogether, one arising from her belly with a warmth that was spreading throughout her entire being leaving her head spinning and the breath to catch in her throat. A delicious, dizzying heat was starting low and traveling up until she felt she was about to be consumed by an inner flame. With a heart pounding a quick beat in her chest she realized she was getting in too deep in; what was for her, uncharted territory.

Vash lifted his head from the delicious velvet skin in the crook of Meryl's neck leaving off the nibbling he had been intent on, to stare down into eyes that were crinkled in laughter. However, he was gratified to see something flashing bright like molten silver was starting to glow. Velvety cheeks were flushed, and the uncombed hair was wild and loose about her face. He sucked in a breath. She was gorgeous and enticingly desirable. He wanted nothing more than to keep on going with what he was doing until they both ended up in his bed. Damn, he gritted his teeth in frustration, cursing the fact they were where they were instead of in a room with a bed.

Heated eyes watched as she slowly regained her breath when taking him by surprise, the little female closed her eyes and nuzzled her cheek against his chest, willingly, making his heart do an unscheduled flip. He stared down at her with unbelieving eyes. This was unexpected. She was letting him hold her, and tightly he might add, not only that, she was practically snuggling into his embrace. She was, warm, curvy and soft in his arms, but Vash knew if he tried to move to that last step, she wouldn't go there willingly, at least not yet. This would have to be a time… and yes, he could admit it and would do it, woo her and with great care.

This was the truth, Meryl Strife wasn't one of his one-night stands, no, instead, she was forever embedded in his soul and heart. Looking down at the top of her jet-black hair he let out a soft sigh that stirred the feathery black locks there. He wanted her as a one-night stand everysingleblessed night for the rest of her life. As he continued to gaze he heard a soft, contented sigh rise from her and knew right then that she would be worth the effort. This one he wanted for his "forevermore" and he wanted, no, the Plant needed her to come to him willingly.

Finally!Meryl thought with relief and then IwishIknewwherehisticklespotwas.Iwouldshowhimthemeaningof 'nomercy'!

Thinking the strange bout of playtime was over, she tried to take a step away but his unbreakable hold on her hips was still very much in place. Now that she wasn't giggling her fool head off, Meryl was acutely aware of his touch and in such an intimate fashion too! She pulled her head off his chest with a strange reluctance, it was so warm and firmly muscular, and perplexingly, she had felt safe there even uncertainly warred within her. He is evil...right? Evil,rememberMeryl,averynaughty,immoral,bad,badman. Ohtomaturds, I'mnotintobadboys,amI?What'sgoingon?

She tilted her head back to look up to see the lopsided smirk. With widening eyes she felt his grip slide a couple of inches lower and toward the back, then a give her a firm but gentle squeeze.

"Hey!" She protested as she tried to push his arms back. Instead he tightened his hold and once again her cheek was lying against his broad chest. A part of her, (traitorous part! she seethed at it) wanted to stay put, but with stiff resolution she pushed away, well, she attempted to anyway. Trying to quell the rising panic she tried to maintain a calm she wasn't feeling. It didn't help that the conflict was getting worse and the fact of the matter was that she was quite powerless to free herself. Then it dawned on her what could possibly happen from this point on and calm immediately flew out the only window. Struggling and twisting she tried to slip out of his embrace but she felt the rumble of his masculine chuckle under her ear.

How dare he laugh at her! Now she was angry! Pulling a leg back she aimed for where she thought a shin would be. It was a wild strike that only struck empty air. She would have fallen but for the hold he had on her.

"Where did you learn to fight, an all-girl's school?"

"Never you mind where I went to school!" Huffed Meryl stiff with injured pride, as she tried to pull back to hit him.

He merely moved his arms around her shoulder blades and tightened. The air whooshed out of her before he relaxed his hold so she could breathe without difficulty. She knew it for what it was: a gentle warning.

With a few pants, she leaned her head against the broad expanse of his muscled chest, one of the scars rough where it ran under her cheek. Not able to help herself, she tentatively reached up a finger and traced the outer edge of the scar tissue that ran under her cheek and upward to his shoulder. It was a surprise to her when he trembled slightly in reaction to her touch.

"You can't seem to decide on what it is that you want." He murmured huskily into the delicate shell of her ear. "Not that I mind of course."

Wounded dignity in shreds because she knew he was right, she stiffened in anger. If he just would shift his position just a little bit, she would show him what she had learned in an all-girl's school! Yet, she was so weary and at the moment all she wanted to do was rest. She was winded, tired, sweaty and more importantly, she had been giggling! She, Meryl Stryfe, giggling! It was humiliating. Iamsogladnoonefrommyhometownwasheretowitnessthis...hey...her thoughts jumped track to another subject all together, hesmellsgood...noratherenticing...whatisit,gunpowder?Nonotthat. That being a common scent she would easily recognize, but it was something more along the lines of a mixture of spicy tang from sun and wind on his skin, and then something much more primal, like leather... she took another experimental sniff. Her hands were still wrapped around his biceps, which for the first time she noticed were hard as rock. Her eyes sprang open. She was experiencing that warm, tingling sensation in the pit of her stomach again and she was overwhelmed with the desire to run her hands up his arms to his shoulders and down the expanse of his chest. Thisisbad. Meryl tensed, her muscles tightened, reacting to the escalating anxiety within her.

Vash felt her body go rigid and knew it was time to release her, when an idea occurred to him. Loosening his grip enough so she could take a step back, he looked down at her startled eyes and flushed cheeks. Everything in him wanted to bend down and claim those soft pearlescent lips...

"Meryl." She started at the sound of his voice saying her name, "I'm not finding a good enough reason to let you go..."

At her panic-stricken face one corner of his mouth lifted slightly, but he went on, "The first kiss I stole from you. However, if you willingly give me a kiss I will let you out of this room. Deal?" He didn't have to elaborate for both knew what he was capable of. And, still, no need to tell her the door was unlocked, especially if thinking otherwise gave him what he wanted.


He nodded.

"On the lips?"

He nodded again, eyes crinkling in amusement.

Her own were narrowed in suspicion as she persisted, "You'll get us out immediately afterthe kiss, right? No other funny business?" Meryl was having a hard time keeping in mind that Vash the Stampede was one devious Plant.

"Have you ever had any legal training?" He teased pleasantly, although gazing at those lips which were tantalizingly close was getting harder and harder to ignore especially since they were practically beckoning to him to taste deeply from them.

Meryl dropped her head in thought, cutting off the sight of those luscious lips from his view. It was probably a good thing.

She didn't ask what would happen if she said no. What the insurance agent part of her wanted was to be on the other side of the door with a minimum of fuss and bother. Meryl was well aware that it would be a simple thing for him to deal with a closed, locked door and iff this is what it took then she would do it. Meryl had never been kissed before. Well, not until that night in the alley that is, and really did being grabbed liked she had been and kissed with such intensity it still made her flush, did that count? Her shoulders slumped, why would he want to kiss her anyway? She wasn't pretty...

A quiet whisper spoke in her ear, and then his breath sent shivers down her spine along with, "You are beautiful."

Meryl tilted her head back to meet his eyes. They were a red but rimmed with a flowing blue around the pupil. At the sight of them she quailed a bit, they were so intense and bright as if lit with a luminous inner flame. Gathering the remnants of what was left of her shredded dignity she assented with a quick nod. So help her if even one smirk crossed his lips she was going to slap his face into kingdom come!

Tilting her head back and closing her eyes against the much-suspected smirk, Meryl waited and then heard that familiar rumbling chuckle once again. This was getting old! Her eyes flew open and with a frown she pinned him with a glare and hissed out, "What? Why are you laughing?"

"No, my sweet," Meryl's stomach did a delicious flip, "the deal is that you must kiss me. I am not going take one more from you," he grinned, eyes glinting, "even as much fun as that that sounds."

The handsome face become serious as he dropped his hands, releasing her totally before taking a step back away from her.

"Whaaa?" Placing one hand on a hip and lifting a pointing finger Meryl opened her mouth to argue but then the wording of the promise came back to her, the wording she had agreed to. Straightening her shoulders she blew out a breath and ran a hand through her hair wondering if this was going to be worth it. However, it was too late, she had already agreed to the deal.

"Okay then, lean down." She started to go up on her tiptoes but stopped when she saw Vash shaking his head.

"For the sake of all that's holy,whatnow?" she exclaimed throwing her hands up in vexation.

With an answering impish grin he stated, "You must come up here. I never said I would make this easy for you just because you are vertically challenged."

She punched his arm, winced and shook out her hand; that had hurt! At the sound of his mocking snort Meryl punched him again, which only had the same consequence.

"I'd stop doing that if I were you."

Through one squinting eye she debated on whether she should try for the growing smirk on his face before or after the kiss. Instead Meryl turned in place, eyes on a hunt for something to stand on. The chairs in the room would place her too high and then she would have to bend over. In an effort to avoid a crick in the neck she would need something shorter. No book was thick enough and if she were to stack enough on top of each other in order to reach his lips one of them would surely slide out when she went to stand on top of it. That's when her eyes fell on a footstool sitting under one of the chairs where the matching bright floral pattern was muted by the dirt and grime of gathering decades.

Going over, the diminutive agent squatted down and dragged the stool from beneath the chair and started to lift it. Her eyes flew open wide as it pulled her back down. So unexpected was the recoil she nearly went somersaulting over the stool to the other side. Halfway there she threw out a hand and caught herself by catching hold of the chair. Meryl congratulated herself on the save, it wouldn't do to go head over heels in front of him like that. He already thought she was clumsy.

At the sound of his rolling laughter she scowled at the offending piece of furniture and exerted more effort to pick it up. It was much heavier than it looked, made out of some dense, hard wood. Meryl fumed at the fortune that had her locked in some sooty, dusty barn-like structure where she was struggling with a stool. Fantastic thought Meryl darkly. It'smadeoutofrealwoodfromoldEarth,howluckyamI?

She took a step with her burden and then stopped to stare. The door was not but a step or two away from her. She could toss the footstool at Vash and run. Then coming to her senses realizing that if she could barely even lift the stool, what made her think she was going to be able to heave it across the room at him? How about just dropping it and making her escape out the door? It was a tempting thought but she also knew that overconfidence was one of her serious shortcomings. And there was that fantastical display of speed of his, what if he did it again? Meryl doubted she was fast enough to beat him to the door even though it was nearby.

WaitaminutethereStryfe!YoujustmadeapromiseandaStryfenevergoesbackontheirwordonceit'sbeengiven!It'sjustaharmlesskiss,justdoit,andthenyoubothcangetout.Yet something in the back of her mind was exulting and craving the intimate connection. It was hard to ignore it.

With new resolve Meryl straightened her spine and turned back to where he waited, in all of his white-haired and red-eyed masculine glory. She wondered what he was thinking. Rolling her eyes she decided it had to be along the lines of what an underdeveloped weakling she was.

Vash watched, admiring her tenacity and strength of character that wouldn't let her back out of her word once given. The gunslinger knew what she had been thinking; it was evident what by the play of emotions dancing across her face. It was a good thing she was in the insurance business; she would have made a lousy spy. The thought of her as a spy almost made him laugh but he stifled it before she saw it. He could admit that he had a brief flash of doubt when her eyes turned toward the door and he had tensed, wondering what she would do, then wondered what he would have done, especially when she found out the door was unlocked.

That the stool must have been heavy for it showed in the strain and the awkward way she carried it. When she was within distance she dropped it more than placed at his feet.

"There," she panted, "you big, lazy jerk!" With a huff Meryl stepped on top of the stool. It would have put their mouths on an equal level except that the cushion covering the stool sank under her weight eliciting a muttered curse under her breath.

With an exasperated sound Meryl stretched up on her toes and this time fought from tipping forward. In reaction she threw herself backward, spinning her arms until, overcompensating, she started falling back off the stool until Vash caught her arms and righted her. When once she was balanced and stable, he released his hold.

"Thanks," she muttered, knowing the acquiring of several nasty bruises had narrowly been averted.

"Can't have you backing out of your promise just because you're clumsy."

The petite beauty ignored the comment but seethed with eyes snapping, "I keep myword," she challenged. "We'll see if others in this room do too."

Vash merely met her glare with a quick lift of his eyebrows, a lazy shrug, and waited with his arms hanging loosely at his side, one knee slightly bent while he rested his weight on the other.

Once again Meryl stood on her toes but this time she was quick to place her hands on the tops of his shoulders to keep from falling. She didn't miss the twitch at the corner of his mouth but ignored it.

The eyes met and fastened onto each other's while the two opposing wills met and jousted for the upper hand.

"Sands take you!" muttered Meryl before closing in to alight lips gently in a feather-soft kiss on his as he eagerly responded to her touch. He had resolved to wait and let her initiate the kiss while he enjoyed the fruits of her labor, but such determination evaporated as soon as the first bare touch of her lip joined his. With a satisfied grunt he noted the perfect union of their lips as if they had been sculpted for one another. Meryl pulled back only a hair, in a teasing caress across his lips that surprised even her. A protesting growl was heard from deep within his throat as he pursued her and firmly caught and held them under his own. He couldn't wait for her to come back to him again, and he knew then, he would always want her.

An instant heat rose up her face and down through her abdomen and Meryl couldn't help but press back into the Plant, wanting more contact, falling into the kiss while molding her body to his steel hard one.

Just when she was lifting to pull back but before all contact was lost, two strong arms of steel encircled her waist, pulling her back and pinning her tight against him. First he began with little nips and then a quick swipe of the tip of his tongue over her lower lip before deepening the kiss until a heady wave of desire and need rose nearly consuming him. Then taking her mouth under his, bending her back as he pressed in from over her, he deepened the kiss even further feeling her own fiery desire responding to his. Soon he was kissing her back with an intensity and raw passion that left nothing to the imagination.

Vash noted that for a beginner she was certainly catching on fast. He wasn't about to let loose of her now that she was letting go of restraints, but he also knew she was as afraid as she was mesmerized by the new experience. Besides, he didn't just want her body to be his, not any more, he wanted all of her, every little bit of her, her thoughts, her affections, her emotions, he wanted to know and experience every aspect of her lively personality and passionate heart.

However, under the stirring of a suddenly revealed passionate nature, Meryl was growing alarmed at what was happening within her and between them and it was being communicated in her touch, her lips, and her hands, even in the beat of her heart.

Despite her mounting reservations it was a challenge for the gunman to harness and control the fire raging through him wanting to keep going until completing himself in her. Vash wasn't used to doing it but he managed to stop. Reluctantly he pulled back from those lips he wanted to tenderly and possessively keep on kissing for the rest of eternity.

Meryl came to herself like someone awakening from a dream. What was she doing? Thatwas the kind of kiss he was talking about? It wasn't the kiss she had intended on giving. Here she was playing tongue wrestle with someone; and when she thought about it rationally it was something she barely knew anything about! What did she know from those times when she met him in his different disguises where, consistently in all of them, he was a seducing womanizer? She and Milly had been told he was Vash the Stamped, but then, no he wasn't, oh yes he was, repeatedly for so long now she didn't know who to believe about what.

Vash signed with regret and with extreme effort, lifted his lips away from hers. He caught a glimpse of amethyst eyes cloudy with emotions that totally and completely had him beguiled within seconds. As if he weren't before this! He was well-aware of his near-magical effect on women, and any time he began luring them in with one seductive charm after another it was an automatic given that they would be his for the night. And, unknown to her, here he was neatly caught up in her own charms that she was unaware of.

Meryl was trying to back away but he couldn't quite bring himself to release her, at least not yet, in a minute he would, in the meantime, with her pressed up against him was a sensation too tantalizing to resist. Bending over her he nuzzled his nose into the top of her mussed hair, taking in the faint scent of white rose and honeysuckle.

A bare whisper rose up from her, "You can let go now."

For a brief moment he refused, enjoying the opportunity to just hold her. He was thoroughly shocked at himself. He was experiencing something he had never experienced before. The intense flare of sexual desire was giving place to a warm, peaceful feeling and the enjoyment of embracing her. It was with surprise that he noted he was happy to have her velvet cheek softly pressed up against his chest. In fact, he was content. For the first time in a very long time he was satisfied to just embrace a woman as he was doing now, but not just any woman, this one special one. He lowered his chin and placed it lightly on the top of her head. Yet, he could feel her growing anxieties with every second that passed.

"Meryl," he started hoarsely, again burying his nose into the thick sable mane of her hair, not even sure what he wanted to ask her.

"No! A promise is a promise!" Her voice was shaking and she was beginning to tremble. Meryl didn't know what he was going to say or ask her but suddenly she was seized with an unreasoning fear by whatever was going to come out of his mouth.

Utilizing more self-control than he thought possible, Vash took a step back. In a move that surprised her, he slid hands down to the curve of her tiny waist and gently lifted her off the stool to the floor. Keeping his hands there long enough to make sure she was steady on her feet, he gave a light squeeze before dropping them and stepping back away from touching distance of her.

"A promise is a promise," he whispered in a tone she couldn't identify.

Meryl looked at him but the gunman was ignoring her and staring off to a corner of the room.

Ohdear,nowhemustthinkIamsomekindofhussylikealltheotherwomenheassociateswith.Not letting the sting touch the surface of her eyes in the form of tears, she turned from him and marched for the door, back rigid and stiff. Fine,lethimthinkwhathewantsto,Idon'tneedtostayhereandtakeanymoreofthisabuse.Deep down inside an answering voice reminded her slyly that she had enjoyed herself, and even threw herself into it before being too overwhelmed. Shutup!Ireallydon'tneedthis.

Upon reaching the door she placed her hand on the doorknob thinking that it couldn't be so easy. It had to be locked all this time. Well, she wasn't going to spend any more time in the company of someone who thought she was no better than a floozy.

With attention on her churning resentful thoughts she almost missed it when the doorknob turned under her hand and the door swung open on squeaky hinges.

"Did you unlock that?"

"A promise is a promise," Vash replied cryptically.

Meryl didn't bother to look back. Instead, she cautiously poked her head out. "Main Street? We were this close to the hotel and you couldn't have taken me back?" She turned around, her heart still beating heavily in her chest, but when her eyes focused on the room again, Vash was gone. "Vash?"

The room was empty as if no one had been there. "Sands take him, what just happened?" Confused, Meryl looked outside, and then back in again before a shiver rose on her spine and she sprinted back to the hotel. Milly was undoubtedly looking for her.

What she'd tell her tall friend, Meryl wasn't quite sure. The flush was still on her cheeks as she ran down the street.