This is part 2 of the "Tales from New Oregon" as I'm calling them that include Max Simon from the anime. This story stays based in the anime for the most part with a little fluff added in since I'm in a Meryl/Vash and Wolfwood/Milly kind of mood right now! Hope you like it.

The Dance

For Susan-chan, Themis56, and Mabelgs

Wolfwood leaned against the porch railing looking out over the little town of New Oregon. The crashed SEEDS ship shadowed the town this time of day, and though it was hard not to look at it, Nicholas managed. He still felt guilty about his prediction. So while those of the city stared up at the ship which appeared out of the typhoon Jacqueline, he gazed across the street, where there sat a saddler, next to that a shoemaker, to the other side a small dress shop, and that is where his eyes finally came to a stop. Nick leaned his head against the awning's support beam and his gray eyes narrowed on the window of the dress shop. There were three dresses on mannequins in the window, one white, one yellow, and another red. The insurance girls went in there about a half hour ago looking for something to wear to the little town's annual thomas race. Originally, he and Vash had not planned to stay in this town long enough to attend such a public event; well, that was wrong, originally he had not planned on it. Vash and the big girl thought immediately it would be a good idea in order to have a bit of fun before traveling out in the lonely desert again. Nicholas had a feeling it might have been to keep his mind off of Brad's death as well. The little girl agreed only after Vash gave her enough money to buy something nice to wear. Apparently she had a little bit of a shopping tooth, much like the big girl's sweet tooth, and Wolfwood lost one to three.

While the girls were shopping, Vash was inside the saloon on the ground floor of the inn where they stayed, talking to the thomas jockeys. Every year they came from miles around for this race, it was a huge event culminating in a dance in town's square. Apparently Vash's decision of whether to stay or not was made by a retired jockey, a Max Simon who showed up to watch the race he'd won first place when he was younger. Max looked in his middle fifties, though his winning race took place some thirty years ago, Vash spoke about it as if he'd been there, and Wolfwood knew better than to argue with the fact. However, earlier in the day, it was Max who refuted the point, saying Vash missed the race because he was sulking in his apartment. The skinny gunman became quiet after that and went off to buy drinks for the trio.

Nicholas left the group to stand out on the porch, curious about what the insurance girls were buying in the dress shop. At one point the big girl walked into the front window and waved to him, but he hadn't seen her since. Would she wear a dress? The idea was, somehow intriguing. Come to think of it, he'd never seen her in anything but her work clothes and that meant never seeing anything below her chin. Nick smiled to himself; it would be nice to see if the big girl could actually look like a girl. He'd really grown to enjoy her company, and was ultimately glad they had followed Vash to New Oregon.

"Hey there Wolfwood!" Vash threw open the inn doors and came outside onto the porch and handed his friend a shot of whiskey. Wolfwood took it and held it in his hands but didn't drink it. "You're smiling... that's not like you."

Wolfwood laughed and looked at Vash, "I smile... but just not for you, Needlenoggin. I reserve this one for the opposite sex." He grinned even brighter and Vash nodded.

"You're wondering what they're buying over there, aren't you? Me too. I hope Meryl buys that red one...." He trailed off and downed his drink. The wispy smile that came to his lips from time to time reappeared and Nick was pleased. This was the smile he wasn't sure could come from the gunman. Someone who had seen so much death could not smile so genuinely, he'd figured that out long ago when he joined the group, but from time to time, here it was. Especially after what had happened only twenty-four hours before. But even Vash had cheered up after the insurance girls joined them again. "They're a pain sometimes, but I think we really are better off for their company, don't you think?"

The priest nodded and sipped his drink to test for quality, tipped it back and with an "Aaah," set it down on the railing. "At least we don't have to do the cooking," he agreed after a minute.

"Hey, men can cook too," Vash said, coming to lean over the railing as well. His eyes were set on the dress shop. "But they do have a good touch with it. Every meal feels like it's home."

There was silence between them for a time. Neither of them had known a true home, not with a family, not with security, they had learned to grow up too fast, and it showed on their faces. Sure, he had his orphanage, and Vash had that huge ship which was blocking the suns light, but it wasn't really home. Nicholas knew it showed on his own face, rings under his eyes at an early age, and yet, when the insurance girls were around, he felt young. "Yeah. It would be nice if we could settle down someday..."

Vash only nodded beside him. "Sure would."

Meryl closed her eyes and leaned back in the cushy chair outside of the dressing room stall. Milly was inside at the moment trying on the four dresses that came in her size. It had amazed both girls to no end when they walked into this store that they had any dresses at all for the incredibly tall 'big girl' as Wolfwood always called her, little lone four in different colors and styles. They weren't ugly either, and that was a plus, as Milly told Meryl every time they shopped, 'There's never any reason for me to shop for dresses because they're always ugly and I can never find pretty ones my size.' Her shorter petite friend, who could always find anything in her size, never had the same problem, if it was too long she could get it sized, but she'd gone shopping with Milly dozens of times and they always walked out with something from the men's department.

She mentally thanked Vash for staying in this town and letting them shop, even after voting not to stay in town at first, and on top of it giving them money too. Meryl had wondered at the amount he gave them, where did this wandering gunman get so much money? The little insurance girl scratched her chin as she watched the dressing room door open very slowly and Milly's hand wave at her.

"You can come out here," Meryl said, not wanting to give up her cushy chair. It had been absolutely ages since she'd been able to sit in anything so comfortable, and there were other women eyeing it eagerly as well. Since the SEEDS ship crashed the town was over-loaded, and the town's annual event was the perfect way for everyone to meet each other and learn how to live on the surface. It seemed like every woman in the town and from the ship was in the tiny dress shop.

Milly's hand disappeared and her face peeked out instead, "I... Well, I... I'm kind of..." She pouted, "Could you please come in here, Sempai? I can't get the zipper up, and I'm a bit embarrassed..." Her blue eyes were buried under furrowed brows and blond hair dripping over her round red cheeks. Meryl sighed and relinquished her chair. Three women swooped in and started to squabble over it as she entered the dressing room with Milly.

"Well, turn around," Meryl said slowly, spinning her finger in the air and Milly complied once the door was securely closed again. With a sigh, Meryl set her hands on the zipper and looked at Milly's back, yes, she'd forgotten about her friend's scars, those that covered her back and shoulder down one arm. They were faint but pink, a stark contrast to the white skin that never saw daylight. After the accident, Milly never went anywhere unless she was covered from head to toe, even when the weather was scorching. With a quick move, Meryl zipped up the dress and set her hand on Milly's shoulder, pulling her around.

"What do you think? I really liked the color of the others, but this is the only one with sleeves..." The tall girl looked at herself in the mirror and swished around in the light blue dress. It was very plain, came out at the hips a bit, and ruffles at the bottom, the neck and the cuffs. Even though it was nothing like the dress Meryl had picked out for herself, it made Milly look incredibly feminine in comparison to her normal clothing, as well as it brought the color out in her eyes.

"It looks great on you," Meryl said truthfully. She so rarely saw Milly in a dress that her friend looked completely different. With a nod, she hitched a thumb at the door, "I'll tell the sales lady that you'll take this one." When Milly turned around again, she loosened the zipper and Meryl turned to go.

Milly nodded, still looking at herself in the mirror. "Do you think Mr. Priest will like it?"

Meryl glanced over her shoulder and her tall friend looked down at her, she smiled. "Of course he will. Do you think Vash will like the dress I got?"

Nodding vigorously, Milly's face broke out in a huge grin. "Oh yes, I think you'll knock him dead with it! I'm just curious about what he's going to wear... Mr. Priest always wears a suit, but Vash would stand out like a sore thumb."

"He told me when he gave me the money this afternoon that he'd dress appropriately," Meryl said after a moment, looking back at the door and reaching for the knob. "Whatever that means." She nodded, "Okay, I'll go tell the lady." She walked out of the dressing room and closed the door behind her. The big cushy chair had been taken over by a huge bulk of a woman with an ugly green dress on who was hollering at the sales lady about their selection in her size. Meryl made a mental note that she was forever grateful that God gave her the body she had. And a man she could show it off to with the proper attire. She smiled. Maybe it was time that she finally tell him what she felt. Then she shook her head... I'm too much of a chicken.

"You're out here then, are you?" Vash turned on his heal to look at Max Simon. The old man was grinning ear to ear, draped over the shoulder of a thin woman, her name escaped him at the moment, and she was apparently supporting most of his weight. She smiled up at Vash and caught Max from stumbling again. Apparently he'd had a bit too much to drink at the party after the race. The winner of each year's race always treated the past year's winners. Max had his fill, and the little woman was taking the brunt of it.

Vash caught Max as he stumbled forward and grabbed him from the girl, setting him down on the porch of the saloon. "Old man, you need to take better care of yourself," he said kindly, standing straight once Max was settled in his chair. Vash looked down at the woman and tilted his head to the side; "Thanks for bringing him out here, I think I can take him back to his room though. I'm sure you probably need to get ready for the dance."

The woman smiled again and her shoulders dropped in relief. "You're right, but what about you? My husband probably wouldn't mind if I was a bit late, but I saw that young woman with you a little while ago... "

"She went back to our room to change. It will probably take awhile." Vash set her hand on Max's shoulder; the old man was starting to snooze. He smiled down at him, remembering the vibrant young man he used to be, how he could tame the wildest thomas and ride them like the wind. Age caught up to these people so quickly. His expression turned sad and when he looked at the woman, her light brown eyes caught his and he added, "I have to meet her at the dance, said it was a surprise. I still have to change, and my clothes are back at Max's apartment."

"Oh, I see. Well, maybe I'll see you there then," the woman yawned and walked down off the porch into the street. "I have a friend though if yours doesn't show..." She disappeared and Vash chuckled, and shook his head before nudging Max awake. The old man snorted, but apparently was out cold. With a sigh, Vash lifted him up out of the chair, and pulled him over one shoulder. Then, with ease, walked him down the street to the apartment building.

Max Simon lived in the same room where he'd always lived, since before the days of July City, back before he found Knives again. He still kept an apartment here, though he didn't stay except when he was passing through on rare occasions. The old man snorted in his arms as Vash pulled his keys from his breast pocket and opened Max's room. He arranged his old friend in his bed and left to face his own apartment. This was the life he'd left when he went to face the storm that was his brother. Here were his cherished memories of a life of acceptance, when people didn't track him down for a bounty, when he flirted with his own share of women, with which he attended years of dances. But he'd left this place, and for thirty years he'd only come back a handful of times, the last of which was ten years ago.

Vash pushed his key into the lock and turned it. The door opened and stale air greeted him. The gunman coughed and sneezed before crossing the room to the window and pushing it open. He breathed in the fresh air, leaned against the windowsill and looked around. It was all exactly as he left it. A simple little bed, a table with two chairs, a small kitchenette and a wardrobe. Shedding his coat onto a hook by the door, a place it had hung for many years off and on, he stretched his arms, rolled his head, and yawned. It had been a long day, a long week, and he still worried about when one of Knives' lackeys would appear once again.

But today he resolved not to think about it. His brother was out there, but he had to enjoy what few moments he could. His smile was fake even to him as he went to the wardrobe and opened it, pulling from one of the hangers a black tuxedo, much sharper than the one Wolfwood wore, he mused.

Next came the collarless dress shirt with a small red ruby pin, a red cummerbund, and shiny black shoes. This outfit... He'd worn it when he'd proposed to Cynthia. Funny, he hadn't thought about her or the other girls he used to date. Vash closed his eyes; they were all dead now, so long ago. Everyone he met died eventually; it was the curse of being immortal.

Shaking the thoughts from his head, he thought instead of Meryl, hoping she'd picked the red dress, but they'd never taken it from the window, and she'd had her dress in a black bag when the girls came out from the store. Completely secret. Vash unbuckled his uniform and shucked out it of before getting dressed. Then he turned back to the wardrobe and pulled open the second door revealing a mirror. Running a hand over his hair and he smiled. Really, he was a lady-killer. Even he had to admit that. Especially in this outfit, but strangely enough Cynthia never said yes. None of the girls he dated said yes, not when they found out about his secret, about his scars, about his past...

But Meryl... Vash glanced over at the clock on the wall. It was powered by lost technology, self-powered, always kept perfect time, and he grimaced. He was already late! Meryl was going to kill him if he didn't get to the dance on time! With a groan, Vash jumped into his shoes, and grabbed his gun, sticking it in the back of his pants, and locking the door to the apartment, ran out to meet his friends.

Milly brushed her hands over her blue dress and looked up at Mr. Priest. She smiled up through her long bangs and he brushed them away from her eyes and behind her neck. "That dress is beautiful," he said slowly, letting his hands rest on her shoulders. His grey eyes could pierce through her soul, she thought romantically, and then she blushed, not wanting to let the thought of this evening dig too deeply into her. Already there were signs that he and Mr. Vash were in for bigger things, too terrible for her or Sempai to comprehend. But no, as he smiled and withdrew his hands to dig into his breast pocket for something, she made the decision, on this night; anything went, just like the night before the quick draw contest. Tonight was hers to enjoy, even if she did have to wear a dress.

Already the nylons were riding up, she was sure there was a run down by her feet where she'd forgotten to trim her toenails after Sempai told her a million times and the tag of the dress was scratching the back of her neck. She tried desperately not to scratch at it as the priest pulled a small flower from his pocket and smiled. It had a yellow middle and a dozen little white petals. Milly forgot about the itch as he stuck the little flower into her hair and stood back to look at his handiwork. "There, a flower for a flower. Such is the Lord's work, and such it has been made more beautiful by your light. I'm sorry I couldn't find something more appropriate, but this little daisy was all the florist would give me on such short notice."

"It's just perfect," Milly said, and it was the truth. She smiled brightly, "Did I tell you I have a flower garden at home? These flowers are all I can grow in that garden, but I love them so much... I haven't seen them in a long time. When my letters catch up to me my family says my daisies miss me, and I miss them too, so thank you!" With one quick move she planted a kiss on Mr. Wolfwood's cheek and he startled back, eyes wide, but glittering.

"Wow, guess I should get you flowers more often." They smiled at each other for a long time until a cough beside them broke the moment. Mr. Wolfwood looked down at the little woman standing next to Milly. "Can I help you, little lady?"

"I have a name you know," Sempai huffed as she glanced around. "Where is he? You saw him last, where is that good for nothing, spiky-haired..."

"Tongari? I thought he was with you."

"No! He was with you at the bar when we left to go get changed, so where did he go?"

Milly looked down at her friend and felt a bit sorry for her, Sempai had put her all into getting dressed up this evening. She looked just beautiful, hair and makeup carefully arranged, dress pressed and it fit so perfectly someone could have sworn it was made for her. And then here she was, completely alone, and Mr. Vash still hadn't shown up at all. Even Milly was getting a little concerned. Sure, she knew that the gunman had to go somewhere else to change since he certainly didn't have any dress clothes in his bag, and since Mr. Wolfwood was always in a suit, he had just stayed behind at the bar. She and Sempai had taken some time to get ready, but they were there for the first dance, and already it was into the fourth song, but still no Mr. Vash.

All this time, Mr. Priest was looking around at the people dancing and laughing and playing in the town square, his eyes mere slits as he looked for the man in question. Then he turned and nodded, "I remember now, I think someone mentioned him taking the old man home." He scratched his head and then added; "Two girls were talking about him when I came out here to meet you."

Sempai started to fume, "Girls?" Milly grimaced, her friend did not like competition, she was sure of that, although she'd never actually seen Sempai date anyone before, she sure got angry anytime Mr. Vash paid attention to other women. Already the little insurance girl was getting red in the face and starting to mumble, "That good for nothing..."

"Oooh, did you see him?" A woman said nearby and Milly turned her head to see two women walking by, chatting. Mr. Wolfwood turned to look as well as the blond spoke, "Oh yeah, I could watch him forever. But he was headed toward the band; I think he was looking for someone. Pity that, I've never seen anyone so handsome in town before."

The other shook her head, "I have, about ten years ago, you know our old weather man, this guy used to work with him... " Their voices trailed off as the women disappeared into the crowd and Milly turned to look at Sempai again. She hadn't heard any of it, still mumbling about how she should go back to the hotel room and rip the dress she bought to pieces.

"Those were the girls," Mr. Wolfwood said in Milly's ear. "You should probably tell your little friend here that Vash is on the other side of the party otherwise I think she might blow a fuse. Besides, I was hoping to get a dance with you."

Milly nodded and tapped Sempai on the shoulder. The little insurance girl looked up at her and stopped talking only long enough to recollect herself and say, "What is it Milly?"

"Sempai, I think Mr. Vash forgot we were meeting him on this side of the dance, someone just mentioned seeing him over on the other side of the square." She lifted a finger to point to the other end where the band was playing, and sure enough, there was a tuft of blond hair slowly making its way towards them. "Yes, there he is now."

With this news, Sempai perked up and ran her hands over her hair. "Do I look okay? Is my hair straight? My mascara hasn't started to run yet has it? How is my dress..."

"You look fine! Now get over there!" Mr. Wolfwood said and gently nudged her out into the crowd. Milly smiled and waved at Sempai as she headed toward the tuft of hair that was Vash the Stampede. She watched until suddenly the priest stood in her line of sight and she blinked. "You going to stand there all day or are we going to make good use of this time we have without Tongari and the Little Girl?"

Milly grinned, "Of course we'll dance! I was just hoping they'd find each other, that's all. I think they're perfect for one another."

"Perfectly opposite if you ask me," came her reply. Mr. Priest grinned and grabbed her hand. "But they do say that opposites attract..." He pulled her into the crowd, "Shall we get something to drink first?"

"Yes!" Milly chirped and followed him into the crowd, already abuzz with the night to come. Still, as they passed through the men, women, and children, she couldn't help but wonder how things were going between her friends. She hoped Sempai would follow her heart for once and finally tell Mr. Vash what she felt for him... But at the same time she was a bit reluctant to wish for that, because she wasn't there to witness it!

"Ah! What'll we have?" Mr. Wolfwood chanted, waving at the makeshift bar out in the street. Once he had ordered and they were out on the dance floor, she had all but forgotten Sempai and Mr. Vash.

Two women blocked Vash's way as he tried to find Meryl. They stood side by side in front of him, neither very large, but they were doing a fine job at keeping him from moving forward. One, he recognized from earlier that day, she had dark hair and light brown eyes and smiled, but a concerned look rested on her brow. "How's Max? Did you get him home okay?"

Vash nodded, looked down at them, then looked past them, worried that if Meryl saw him talking to these two she'd get angry and storm off. He sighed, making eye contact with the woman and said, "He's fine, and he's sleeping it off. Well, sorry but I have to..."

"That's good to hear," she said relieved and nodded to her friend, who was a few inches taller with blond hair and blue eyes. "Oh, but I wanted to introduce you to my friend..."

"I'd love to chat," Vash cut her off, glancing at her friend and thinking she looked surprisingly like Milly, only shorter, and he wondered on an off chance whether this was one of the insurance girl's many relatives, then continued, "But I have to meet with someone and she doesn't like to be kept waiting." He finally managed to push past the two women.

As he was walking away he could hear the dark haired one say, "He's quite handsome isn't he?" Her reply came in a "Uh, hmmm."

Now that he was safely away from the two women, it occurred to Vash that he'd never done that in his life, pushed off the attentions of two pretty women. It made him pause in thought as he realized the reason he'd ignored them was because his mind was set on one girl, and one girl only. Meryl. His aqua eyes lifted to look around him, searching for the little insurance girl and hoping she'd be around nearby somewhere, but still no luck. Where had they said they'd meet again? Wasn't it supposed to be by the fountain? He couldn't remember.

The music had started to play a half hour ago and he knew he was late. He hadn't meant for it to happen but... Out of the corner of his eye he saw Wolfwood and Milly heading over to the bar. Scanning the crowd again, he pushed through a few dancers and stopped. There, he knew she had to be nearby, but... He never counted on how his breath froze in his chest, how his feet refused to move, and how his heart started to pound so rapidly that he could feel it hit the metal mesh that rebuilt his ribcage. Even with her arms crossed over her chest and a scowl on her face, Meryl was beautiful.

She wore a red dress, satin, long past her knees and it made her look ten times taller. Her hair was slicked back against her head, a red-jeweled barrette keeping it behind her right ear. A ruby necklace sat right at the scoop of her neckline and oh how he could look at that neckline and wonder what fell below it! But he couldn't move, just drinking her in like he'd never seen another beautiful woman before. Meryl's eyes moved finally and she saw him.

At this moment, Vash doubted they'd ever get to one another, standing there as still as posts, unable to take their eyes off of one another. But it was Meryl, who managed to make a step forward, and in the time it took her to come up to him, his breath returned and he blinked away a tear of sheer joy at the sight of her. This was the reason he'd asked them to stay for the party, this was the reason he'd given her the money to buy a dress, and she'd used every penny of it to good use.

"You look beautiful," Meryl stammered and then caught herself and said, "I mean, handsome... You look... Wow, where'd you get that tuxedo?"

Vash chuckled and reached out to touch her. He felt the softness of her cheek and the silky smoothness of her lips before saying, "You look like a flower that's opened for the first time." Her cheeks turned pink and he leaned down to kiss her lips, lingering for only a moment. It was like kissing an angel; afraid he'd lose his heart to a being that would have to return to heaven after that night. But when he withdrew, it was Meryl, and he knew she'd still be there come morning.

Meryl swallowed hard and couldn't speak; her lips pursed open as if everything in her body had stopped functioning. Vash smiled and put his hands on the lapels of his jacket. "Oh this old thing, I've had it for years." He winked and grabbed Meryl around her waist to spin her around to face the dance floor. She was so light, really so much like an angel.

"You... But where did you go?" Meryl finally stammered out. "You were a half hour late and..."

Vash swung her around, her feet hardly touching the ground as he did so. "I had to help an old friend. He's really an old codger, thinks he's still young enough to drink with the best of us I guess." He could feel Meryl's fingers wrap around his sides and lay flat on his back as she pressed her cheek against his chest. She was so warm and the satin dress felt so good against his fingers. Smooth, so light and smooth, almost to be fleeting as so many good romances were. But he was surprised at himself, he'd never felt this way with any of the other girls in his life, none of them had made him feel half as good as this did, right now. And he doubted none after this would either. "Were you worried?"

Meryl's head disappeared just a bit farther into his chest and her reply came, "Yes, I was."

"I'm sorry," he said, genuinely concerned. "It's difficult to..."

Violet eyes looked up at him, "I know, you get into trouble, and you're too much of a goody-two shoes to not stop and help those in need." Meryl smiled and reached up to set her hand on his neck, pulling him down to her eye level. It was uncomfortable, but Vash didn't mind, looking into those eyes that looked like jewels when she said, "I'm sorry myself. I've just never had much practice in being patient, that's all." She kissed him on the cheek, but when she pulled away, Vash pulled her up into his arms and kissed her again on the lips and she wilted in his arms. So light like a rag doll, but solid and firm, real.

Their moment ended with a cough to the right, and Vash pulled back for one more look at Meryl's eyes before turning to look at Milly and Wolfwood. Milly twiddled her fingers at Vash and said, "I'm sorry to disturb you."

"Yes, you did," Meryl said as Vash set her back down on her feet. She chuckled as her friend started to stammer out an apology to which she waved a hand, "Don't worry about it Milly, what did you want?"

"Well, there's a problem..." Milly said slowly. She looked down and Vash's eyes caught the fact she was holding hands with Wolfwood. The tall insurance girl didn't continue her sentence, and when she squeezed the priest's hand, he took over.

"There's word that your friend Max Simon was betting on the races today." He frowned, using his free hand to pull a cigarette from his coat pocket and slipping it unlit between his lips. "Apparently he lost and disappeared before his agent came to collect..." Wolfwood hitched a thumb in the direction where Vash had come, "Wasn't the first time apparently, and with all the noise..."

Vash didn't wait for him to finish, he let loose of Meryl and ran through the crowd, pulling his gun as he did so. If what the priest said was correct, Max was going to be in some serious trouble... And he had to stop it before anyone else got hurt. He cursed his luck... Just when he'd made his decision about the little insurance girl.

Staring up at the ceiling, Max Simon lay on his back with a rifle pointed at his chest. He swallowed. As if things hadn't been stressful enough when Vash came back into town. Why did that man have so much trouble following him? First he had to save the satellite, then the SEEDS ship crashed, and now this. He had a feeling this wasn't really about the money he owed them. In fact, he knew it wasn't because he'd already paid them and he still had a gun pointed at him. "If you gentlemen would just tell me what..."

"What we want? Of course you'd ask that, as if you didn't already know." There were three of them, rough fellows, but Max had never had trouble with them in the past. They'd always been fair when dealing with the races and they paid him when he won and they took his money when he lost. It had worked that way for years, so why... Well, sure, this time was different, Vash was here this time, but he'd saved the town, so they should be thankful, not...

He grunted as the rifle was pushed harder into his chest. "More money, is that it? I know the guy with the bounty on his head, so you're using me as bait, am I right?" The reply Max got was in the form of a nod, and he shook his head slowly. "I'm an old man, my back's stiffening up and I'm not going to be able to stand on my own very shortly. But if you let me up I'll be your bait." He thought briefly to himself about the time he and Vash had been in a similar situation when they were younger, only that time, his little gambling problem hadn't been trivialized by a big bounty.

"All right," one of them said and stepped forward, pulling the gunman back to allow Max room to sit up. He stretched his arms backward and rubbed his neck. With a nod, he yawned and felt a headache kick in. Sat up too fast, such was the trouble with growing old. But Vash... Max wasn't jealous of him, but on various occasions he wished he'd been able to age a bit more graciously.

As he moved to pull himself into a chair, Max's eye caught movement outside the apartment window. He hurried to cover the fact that something caught his attention by yawning and closing his eyes. Yes, just on time, as usual. Vash was like clockwork. He'd seen him work dozens of times, never killing anyone, always saving the day... But as he tried to look at his friend without drawing the attention of the three men, he realized that he'd never seen Vash do it in a tuxedo before. His eyes widened accidentally, and the first man yelled, "There he is!" Turned his rifle to the window and sent a shot that blew the window out.

"Not the window!" Max moaned as the three men ran to the window. From behind them, the apartment door flew open and Vash stood there, huge silver gun pointed directly at the three men. "Thank goodness! Just in time." He didn't even bother to question how the humanoid typhoon had made it from outside of the building to the inside in a little over five seconds.

"Hey Max, what have you gotten yourself into this time?"

"The usual," Max returned, watching in silent awe now as the three men turned to see not only Vash now, but that odd priest fellow, and the two young women, all holding weapons of various shapes and sizes. "Oh, you brought friends. Good evening ladies."

"Hi Max!" Milly chirped and Meryl frowned, apparently not very happy about the night's events. They were all in dress clothes, taken away from the dance. Max was sorry to have caused them trouble. He reminded himself he'd have to tell them so later, after they'd taken care of these three men.

Vash stepped forward, his gun aimed at the rifleman. "How about you put that down and we discuss this like civilized..." He shrugged, "You really don't have much of a choice."

"And who are you?" The third man asked, going over to Max and pulling a knife. His eyes narrowed as he waited for the reply of them an in the tuxedo.

The three friends and Max all looked at him, waiting. Vash held up his gun, smiled, and said, "Vash... Vash the Stampede."

Jaws dropped open around the room. "You?" The man with the rifle said, he leaned over to the second man and they whispered something to one another, giving the group odd looks before withdrawing and going over to the third. They looked down at Max. "Is he really the guy, Max? I thought he was supposed to be evil, dressed in a long red coat, glowing eyes, that sort of thing."

He stood from his chair, and everyone looked at him. "Yes, that's him," he waved a hand at them, "Vash, they're after your bounty." Max shook his head, what a strange week this has been. He pointed out the window to the SEEDS ship.

"Not after your bet?" Vash said slowly, he shrugged. "That's too bad fellows, because my bounty was taken off me two years ago."

The little insurance girl stepped forward, "That's right, when he was declared a natural disaster we were sent from Bernadelli Insurance Society because you can't put a bounty on a disaster, but you can collect insurance on it." She put her little derringer back into the strap at her thigh and Vash blushed as he watched her. Max chuckled, this was a new development, and he'd never seen Vash act like that around a girl.

"You mean..." The first man gritted his teeth and his brows knotted. "We're idiots..."

"You could say that," the priest said around a cigarette.

"We're so sorry Max," the third man said. "We shouldn't have... But when we heard about Vash... It was... What can we do to make it up to you?" Max mused that Vash always seemed to have that affect on people; even if he was wearing a tuxedo and had a group of well-dressed friends with that looked kind of like high school kids after the prom. He smiled.

"Well, if you just let this old man get to bed, I'm sure you three still have time to get to the dance. I'm sure these four would like to get back to it as well." The tall girl nodded and he added, "Oh, and I heard that they're leaving in the morning..."

The second man's eyes lit up, "Need a car? I've got one, impounded it the other day..."

"Hey, thanks buddy," Wolfwood said. He threw his strange gun back over his shoulder and grabbed his girl's hand. "Shall we go Big Girl?"

"Yes! Thanks Max! Goodnight!" She grinned and disappeared. Max waved at Vash and Meryl as they left with the three men trailing behind him. Then a breeze floated by and he shivered.

"Oh, and one more thing," Max said, and the men looked over their shoulders. "Fix my window too, would you?"

Meryl walked slowly behind Vash as they headed out of Max's apartment. The three men apologized profusely as the two made sure they were well on their way out of the building, but when Meryl went to follow behind them, Vash held her back. Instead, he asked Milly and Wolfwood to escort them to the dance without Meryl and he. With a confused look, the little insurance girl waited for them to leave, Vash's hand on her shoulder as his aqua eyes focused on the hallway. After a few minutes, he looked down at Meryl and he lifted his hand. "There's, something I wanted to show you," he said after a moment, and went to the doorway across the hall.

Confused, Meryl watched in silence as he pulled a key from his pocket and unlocked the door. He waved her into the room and she stopped at the sight of a small apartment sparsely furnished, but to the side hung Vash's read coat and his boots were discarded to the side below. She blinked and looked at the gunman as he sat down at the table. "Do you, uh, live here?"

Vash nodded slowly, "I haven't been here in awhile, but it is mine, bought and paid for. Max takes care of it for me." He took a second to wave her into a seat and when she sat down across from him he crossed his hands, elbows on the table and set his chin on his fingers. "About tonight..."

Meryl blushed, it was an immediate reaction as she thought about the two kisses they'd had that evening and the total shock that Vash must have liked her as much as she liked him... "I... Well, we uh, what I..."

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to do that, but this town..." Vash looked around the room, his green-blue eyes roaming over the furniture and then falling on Meryl. "You just looked so beautiful tonight, like a real woman."

"As if I wasn't before?" Meryl stood, her fists on the table as she leaned over the table staring at him. "You worthless... Are you just saying that you kissed me because you got caught up in the moment or something? Is that it? Well then, I knew you were a womanizer but I thought Milly and I were safe from your advances... Oh yes, we were safe, you don't even look at me like I am a woman and..." She groaned and turned from the table. No, she couldn't tell him that she liked him, no matter how much she wanted to, no matter how much she wanted to turn around and kiss him again. Vash was just a womanizer, plain and simple, it didn't matter who the girl was as long... A hand set down on her shoulder and Meryl swung and looked into Vash's chest.

He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her into him. He was so warm... His heart was pounding rapidly in his chest and Meryl fought the urge to close her eyes and listen to it. "Let go of me, Vash."

"Not until I've explained," he said quietly. "I think you've got the wrong idea about me."

"What idea? That you're just a womanizer? That you can't help but find some ignorant woman who you can take to bed with you? Well, I've seen the way women act around you Vash, you aren't all..." Her words were cut short as he pushed her into his chest, muffling her mouth. He loosened his grasp a moment later to let her breathe, but she knew he'd do it again if she started to speak.

"See what I mean?" Vash lowered his chin to her head and then kissed it as he breathed in her hair. "I've told you not to follow me, and yet here you are again. I'm glad you're here, and I won't run away anymore." Meryl relaxed in his arms but her eyebrows furrowed as she lay her cheek against the soft material of his shirt. What was he saying? That he wouldn't leave them behind again? Did he have another reason than just because she hadn't been willing to give up? She wanted to tell him, right here and now what she felt about him, because she'd never felt anything like it in her entire life, but when she opened her mouth to speak, she couldn't.

Meryl stood in Vash's arms for what seemed like hours until she tilted her head up to look into his eyes and he was smiling softly down at her. "Can I speak now?" The gunman nodded, eyes sparkling. She looked away from him before he swallowed her up in that expression. "We should probably get back to the dance. I'm sure Milly and Wolfwood are probably worried."

"If you say so," Vash said somewhat reluctantly. He released her and straightened, stretched his arms over his head and smiled down at her. "After you."

Milly sat with her face down on the table, Mr. Wolfwood's jacket over her shoulders. She hiccupped and moved her head to the side to look at him through her bangs with one blue eye. He glanced down at her and smiled and she smiled back, her face getting pinker as she did so. For the time she was content not to mull over whether her blush came from the alcohol or her feelings for the rogue priest. He was so handsome. His eyes returned to scanning the patio where they sat on the edge of the town square.

After returning to the party the two of them danced the night away. Milly wasn't sure how many drinks she had while they rested, but probably more than Nicholas... She smiled to herself, sure, she couldn't call him his first name to his face but she didn't mind calling him that in her mind, at least while she was drunk. And yes, she was drunk, she could feel it in the way her head throbbed and how much she just wanted to curl up in the priest's lap and go to sleep... Her eyes closed again as she lay on the table listening to the music that was still playing. Apparently the party lasted until dawn, some people were still dancing. But as for their friends... Milly frowned, she hadn't seen Sempai or Mr. Vash in awhile.

Lifting her head, she sat with her eyes closed for a minute, before finally opening one and skimming the square. Oh, there they were, sitting at a bench together. Milly felt a hand on her shoulder and turned her one eye to look at Mr. Wolfwood. "You okay there Big Girl?"

"Uh yeah... I was just think...king... thinking about Sempai and Mr. Vash." She smiled as his hand wrapped around her and he pulled her head against his shoulder. "You think they're okay?"

The priest nodded, "They're fine. Not much going on between them since they caught up to us, just sitting there together." Milly moved so she could see what he was talking about, yes, again, there they were, now they looked at each other, talking apparently. "I wonder what they're talking about?"

"You know Sempai likes Mr. Vash, right?"

"You know Vash likes the Little Girl right?"

The couple looked at each other and smiled. Milly closed her eyes and nestled into Mr. Wolfwood's embrace. She smelled the laundry detergent on his shirt, breathed in his skin, felt his strong arms tighten around her as he set his chin on her head. After a time like this Milly spoke again. "She's not going to tell him."

"You think so?" Milly nodded and sighed. She could feel the priest shrug in reply, "It's a pity, I think he'd like her to. But then again, until he faces the Knives..." He trailed off and Milly wondered who he spoke of. She'd always felt kind of out of the loop, no one ever talked about the bad guys around her, not even Meryl, almost like it was some kind of big secret. But right now, she didn't really mind, she was happy and if this lasted even another hour she'd be content.

"Maybe someday when everything is settled, they'll be happy, what do you think?"

Mr. Wolfwood squeezed her, "Yes, I think they will be." He nudged her and Milly sat up again as he pointed over to the couple sitting on the bench. "Look, they fell asleep."

Milly's eyes widened as she watched Mr. Vash and Sempai slowly slumping towards one another until they sat shoulder to shoulder, head's on their chests. She giggled. "Let's go over..." With a woozy first few steps where Nicholas kept her up straight, Milly eventually managed to walk over to the bench where the two of them didn't move. "Yup, you're right, out cold." She giggled, they looked adorable together.

"Think we ought to take them back to the hotel, or just leave them?"

With a finger to her lips, Milly thought about it. She glanced up at the fifth moon in the sky, it was low on the horizon, and already the sky was starting to lighten in the opposite direction. "It's almost dawn. Let's watch the suns rise, then we'll come back for them."

The priest nodded, "I like your answer. Let's go, I know of a good cliff to watch it from." He wrapped his arm around her shoulder but stopped and looked back over at the couple. "If this is what paradise is like... And if you have to be forgiven to get there... I ask for it... Count me in."

"I forgive you," Milly replied lightly as she watched her two friends sleeping still. "I'll always forgive you."

With a yawn and a stretch, Vash opened his eyes and looked out the window. He blinked a few times, wondering why the suns were so low in the sky, and then something else hit him, how in the world did he get back to the hotel? Springing up in bed he looked around and a movement caught his eye... There was a yawn next to him and a body rolled over in the bed to look at him. "MERYL?!"

He jumped out of bed as the little insurance girl sprung awake and immediately looked down under the covers at herself and pulled the blankets up around her. Vash hazarded a glance down at himself, he was in his nightclothes and a cold sweat trickled down his spine, "What happened?" Vash looked to Meryl and then at the windows and then around the room and swallowed. Back at Meryl as she scooted farther into the bed, a scared look coming over her face.

"Where... Where are we? Why are we... Did we? What did we? How come I..." Meryl was sputtering and she glanced under the covers again. "I'm in my nightgown but... I don't remember getting into it and..."

Vash opened his mouth to speak when a knock came at the door and he spun on his heal to watch as Milly and Wolfwood pushed their way in, fully dressed and smiling. "Hey there Tongari! What are you doing still in your pajamas for? It's the middle of the afternoon, shouldn't we be heading off?"

"I... uh..."

"We... uh..." Meryl sputtered from the bed and got a couple kind smiles but no surprise, no shock... She frowned and so did Vash. "Wait a second."

The gunman shook a hand at her and nodded, "Yeah yeah, wait, I know what's going on here... I think." He spun on his heal looking at Wolfwood and Milly, then back to Meryl, and back to the first pair as they sat down in chairs across from the bed and said. "What happened last night? I have a feeling you two know."

"You fell asleep on the bench last night," Milly said, her blue eyes sparkling as she smiled. "You looked so sweet together that once the suns rose we came and brought you back here to the hotel room."

"But..." The little insurance girl was opening and closing her mouth, not to much use, but she finally said, "But we're in our nightclothes!"

Wolfwood set his chin on a hand as he leaned over the table, "Yes, well that was the most interesting part..." He looked up at Vash through dark bangs and Vash couldn't help but blush, what was he implying? Did something go on?

"Oh you silly," Milly said thumping Wolfwood on the shoulder, "You two were like the living dead - changed into your clothes without a word in each of your bedrooms and then while we were having coffee you both stumbled into the living area together and then without a word crashed in here."

Vash looked back at Meryl, the blush still on his cheeks and he couldn't believe he was blushing about all of this, but so was she. Doubtful either of them had woken up in the same bed with someone of the opposite sex in a long while, he knew he hadn't. Meryl just turned away and got up out of the bed. "Well, that's good to hear," she said below disheveled bangs. "I was pretty tired last night... Well, guess we should get going then?"

"Probably a good idea," Vash agreed. He looked at the others who were giggling between themselves. Seemed like they had a better night all in all... At least they could show their feelings for one another. He glimpsed Meryl out of the corner of his eye and sighed, he kissed her but had it just been that they were both caught up in the moment last night? Was that it? Meryl didn't look at him as she walked out of the room and most likely into the bathroom to change. Milly got up and followed her out. He frowned, his eyes on Wolfwood. "You two... We didn't... I mean..."

"No, you were sound asleep the whole time, Tongari," Wolfwood replied. "Kind of sweet. But that begs the question... Are you going to?"

Vash dropped his eyes to the floor, "I don't think she..." He shook his head and came over to sit at the table next to Nicholas. "I kissed her but I'm not sure she..."

Wolfwood set a hand on Vash's shoulder. "Life's short my friend. The girls are a blessing in disguise. I know you've got bigger worms to fry but when it's all over, do me and the Big Girl a favor, will you?"

"And what's that?"

With a slow smile, Nicholas glanced toward the door and back at Vash. "Come back to her and have a little house and a dozen little children okay? Have that family you always wanted." He grinned as Vash leaned back abashed, but then he chuckled, nodded slowly and smiled.

"You know what, I think I'll do just that."