On High

They met on the roof that night, Vash with a few blankets and a shy smile, and Meryl with a bottle of wine and nervous hands. Meryl had never made love under the stars before, but there was a first time for everything.

"Hello," she said, and tucked a strand of dark hair behind her ear.

"Hello," he said, and tilted his head. He wanted to crack a joke, say something juvenile that would suddenly make the blankets for sitting on only and the wine for a drinking game based on who could name the most constellations (a game he was sure he'd win). Looking at Meryl in the desert moonlight in a tank top and pajama pants, the nighttime picture of someone's girlfriend or a better someone's wife, Vash almost wanted to be her friend. He almost thought he didn't have the guts to ask a woman such as this for more.

"I...here, let me take that." She commandeered a blanket, and spread it out on the flat stretch of the roof with secretarial—or perhaps military, if there was a difference—precision. No wrinkles, soft side up, and edges parallel with the horizon. God he thought it was cute. Meryl, for her part, sat down, and unable to look at him, looked up instead. "Oh wow."

"Yeah. Wow," Vash echoed, settling on the material beside her with his hands around his knees.

There had been no sandstorms in a fortnight, and the desert horizon was as clear and sharp as if it were day. The fifth moon (one of Vash's oldest friends, and most forgiving of his trespasses) added to the illusion with the light of two suns reflected in full splendor. They could see for miles, from the mesas in the East to the road toward Dimitri stretching West. And the most beautiful thing by far was the curving sky that covered all of Gunsmoke, but seemed, to the would-be lovers on the roof, created exclusively for them. Meryl's hand wriggled into his, because such sights were meant to be shared.

Vash double-decided that he didn't want to be friends, and pulled Meryl into his lap, tucking his chin over her shoulder and wrapping his fingers through hers.

"Come on, insurance girl," he said when she stiffened up, "you're the one who bites, not me." That earned him an unfriendly elbow to the ribs, but she did relax.

"Vash," she said, still gazing at the stars, "I forgot the corkscrew for the wine."

His smile was almost tangible in the air around her, like something she could breathe in. "We don't need it."

"Oh? And do your plant superpowers include turning your fingers into cooking utensils?"

"Of course," he replied without hesitation. "Every handsome alien stud like me is born and programmed to be useful in the kitchen." This time his grin was cheeky, "But let's just save it for breakfast."

"For breakfast?" Meryl turned from the stars to eyeball him, her entire upbringing rearing in those two words, and that was when he kissed her.

Was it abnormal, he wondered, that the first time they kissed was the first time they touched, and would be the first time they made love? If he were anyone else, and she were anyone else, would they have had several kisses by now? Secret, giggling encounters in hotel elevators and balcony corners, so that when a night like tonight came he would already know the dip of her tongue like it was his own?

But I do, he thought. I already do. I know it from every time she said my name, or cursed my antics, or laughed at my words.

"I love you," Vash whispered as her legs wrapped around his waist and her hands came to his cheeks. His palms kneaded the muscles of her back and the feel of her was burying him. "I love you. I really think I love you."

"Vash," Meryl whispered.

"I've never been in love before," he interrupted, forehead touching hers but talking a mile a minute because he had the words. For the first time in ages he knew what he wanted and he knew how to say it. "I've been with people but I've never been in love, and I didn't think I'd ever get that, not for me, but I love you Meryl. I really do."

Meryl's hands had slid from his cheeks to rest on his shoulders, and she breathed in slow deep breaths, her movements halted by his words like a child at the edge of a cliff. If this was what love felt like, then she was in love too.

"You're going to be stuck with me for a long time after saying that, Mr. Stampede."

"I hope so." His response was so quick and earnest that Meryl giggled, and grabbed his chin for another kiss. And if loving someone was everything he'd been told by all the people he'd known in this absurdly long life, then kisses only got better with time.