Hostage Situation

Never has the phrase, "Actions speak louder than words." been proven to a greater degree than today. That and that empty room's are great places to think. VxM

The last fight had been hard on him. Her hand gently traced the lines of the scar lacing his shoulder. More would probably join it soon.

He had stumbled onto her front porch, covered in blood and dirt. She hadn't asked any questions. She knew Vash better than most anybody, and that meant that trying to keep him caged up in the house would only result in disaster. He roamed freely, sometimes not coming home for days at a time. She trusted him, and if their travels had taught her anything, it was that whatever had happened to the blond-haired man in front of her was not his fault. At least not in that he was trying to do something less than admirable. Millie had left to give an in-person report at the Bernardelli headquarters in December City. Knives had long since disappeared, gone out his window while presumed to be asleep, while Vash took a rare break to go eat some dinner. They were totally alone on the grubby little porch, Meryl's novel falling to the floor, forgotten. He took a few faltering steps towards her, blood trickling from his fingertips. A small smile spread across his face as he looked at the panic-striken Meryl. Then he collapsed.

It was peaceful in that little house in that little town, out in the middle of nowhere. He had been out cold for three days by now. His face was peaceful while he was asleep, his pain and suffering temporarily forgotten, a rare look at a Vash untainted by the enormous burden that had been placed upon his shoulders. While she missed the bad jokes, it was still special. At least she could look at him all she wanted without feeling embarrassed. She changed his bandages, noting that the wound on his stomach, the deepest, was at least healed to the point that it wasn't going to break open again, even if it would still pain him. Her hands were gentle as she pulled the cloth strips tight. Meryl tried once more to wake him to eat something, but her efforts were in vain. She ate her own meal in silence beside him.

They were running low on antibiotic ointment. With one last longing look at his still closed eyes she left for the local pharmacy to purchase some more. The streets were quiet, unnervingly so. Before Millie left and if Vash was awake he probably would have made some joke about tumbleweeds while the two girls stared at him, mystified, until he started complaining that he was hungry/tired/thirsty etc. in order to take their minds off it. She never did though. But Vash was not awake, Millie was not here, and there were no tumbleweeds, just the empty, empty, streets and houses. The drug store was deserted as well, but the lights were on, and the sign said it was open, so she went in. The owner, Mr. Johnson's, prized "Mondays Bite" mug sat on the counter, the coffee in it still steaming. She rang the bell a few times. No answer. She grabbed a jar of her preferred antibiotic and left the change for it on the counter.

Meryl made her way back to the tiny house on the far outskirts of town. It's familiar lines were reassuring. The threesome had decided to settle there until they all got their lives sorted out. Meryl had chosen the town because it was small enough, and far enough away from anything, that it wouldn't be missed too much if something happened to it to somehow wipe it off the face of the earth. She hadn't told anyone this though. They had been traveling together so long, pursueing Knives, that none of them really knew any other life. That and the many loose ends. Although she never showed anyone her tears, Millie was still mourning the loss of her priest, and Knives had yet to be found once more. And Meryl and Vash hadn't really had a conversation that was any deeper than the weather or last night's dinner.

Meryl cooked breakfast, Vash lunch (Because he really couldn't cook much, and if it was totally inedible most anyone can skip lunch. He knew it, they knew it, but he didn't resent it because it was true. Some people just can't cook, no matter how long they have to practice.), and Millie dinner. It worked well. Meryl enjoyed the solitude in the morning. She gazed out the window, slowly sipping her coffee. The pancake batter was already mixed on the counter behind her. She wasn't quite ready to start cooking yet though, to give in to the fact that the day really had begun. She felt Vash enter the kitchen behind her. He also grabbed a cup of coffee and stood beside her, watching the sunrise as well. He took a sip and grimaced. "Nasty stuff. About the only thing that wakes me up in the morning though. It really is too bad that the recipe for Mountain Dew was lost." He set his cup on the counter and yawned, rolling his shoulders and stretching. He ran a hand through his bed-raggled hair, his eyes closed. "You want me to cook the pancakes?"

She didn't really want to think about why she was blushing.

A small noise to her right caught her off guard. She turned, drawing her single derringer. In a town this small, she felt she had little reason to haul a cape full or them around. Embedded in the wall of their house was a nail at least a long as her entire arm. She was really regretting that decision to leave most of her guns at home now. So close, and yet so far. She gathered herself to make a run for it. But before the thought even finished crossing her mind, a strong hand clamped over her nose and mouth, a piece of cloth held in it. She felt her limbs turn to lead, her mind slowing at a frightening rate. Two thoughts passed across it before she blacked out entirely. 'Chloroform.' and 'Vash.' She pulled the trigger.

When Meryl awoke she really wished that she hadn't. The pain hit her like a wave, and only the only thing that kept her from crying out was the cloth in her mouth. They had broken her leg while she was unconscious. But, apparently, they thought of her as quite the accomplished escape artist in hostage situations, (not without merit) as the metal chair she was on (undoubtably bolted to the floor) she was also chained to- hand and foot. And of course the gag was only to be expected. As was the fact that her single derringer was gone, that there was no longer any reassuring weight in her cape.

Meryl had gone her whole life trying to be the one in control. She had always been the best in everything, driving herself to succeed, whether it be grades, or later in life that end-of-the-year promotion the boss had been dangling in front of his workers, or even later becoming a fighter of rare caliber. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that she felt others would discount her before truly knowing her due to the fact that she was short, or a woman perhaps. More likely it was because she was overcompensating for whatever insecurities she felt. She never let herself display any weakness in front of anyone but Millie, and even that was rare. But in a situation like this, where she was totally dependent on others, subject to their every whim, unable to defend herself or even walk, it was most likely the worst torture anyone could ever devise for the young woman. And it terrified her to her very core.

Working to control her breathing, she craned her neck down as much as she could to inspect the damage. Her lower leg was broken, and as far as she could see, no bones had penetrated her skin as of yet. That was liable to change if she tried to walk on it though. It felt as though everything else was intact, other than her leg, however. It was becoming achingly clear that they, whoever it was that kidnapped her, had broken it only to prevent her from running away if she managed to get free from the chair they had chained her to.

The room she was in was totally empty, the walls concrete, a single metal door at the far end, a mirror next to it. It didn't take a terribly large amount of brain power to realize that somebody was on the other side of it, probably watching her right now. 'Knowledge is power.' Meryl thought. 'There may be someway out of this yet.' Optimism was the only way she would be able to keep herself sane, because things were looking rather bleak at the moment.

She had never felt so utterly alone her entire life. Wolfwood had died, leaving Millie all alone. She was beginning to understand her pain, the reason she cried herself to sleep every night in the room next to her own. Very likely Millie would not even know about what had happened until they had killed her, and some wanderer had come across her dried-out body in the desert. Somehow, the knowledge that they would kill her didn't disturb her all that much. After all, they weren't going to keep a hostage forever when the only people that would be willing to give up whatever they demanded were either dead, 100+ iles away, or unconscious. Her friends, her family, they all fit into one of those categories. It was a grim outlook, but Meryl was always a logical woman, and oftentimes the truth was bleak. She didn't resent that fact.

The door opened. She wasn't surprised. They wouldn't kill her, she knew that, they hadn't waited long enough. A large person in a tweed jacket walked gracefully towards her, unhindered by the gigantic suitcase swinging at his side. The two adversaries silently acknowledged one another. They had met before. Meryl gazed unfearing into the eyes of Elendira the Crimson Nail. The 13th Gung Ho Gun did not scare her.

She always had felt a particular loathing against that particular member of Knives' posse. It may have had something to do with the fact that a transvestite had a better figure than her own, but more likely was the look in his eyes. Each of the Gung Ho Guns had had a particular reason to turn towards killing, but the infinite strangeness and coldness she saw in the gaze directed towards her only spoke of someone who killed because they saw it as a source of money. The countless people the man had mown down were only a way of getting a paycheck, not people with a family that would mourn their death, histories, lives, dreams. She regarded this calm equamity as something even worse than the joy that those like Legato found in killing others. Legato and those like him were insane, plain and simple. But the man standing in front of her was quite the opposite, he simply didn't care about anyone else but himself. And that she believed to be the worse crime that anyone could commit.

Elendira checked her bonds, smirking at the look on her face when he accedentally brushed her broken leg. He didn't speak a word when he was done, he simply left. It was clear to Meryl now, either she had been kidnapped on Knives' orders, or that Elendira wanted Vash to tell him of his wereabouts. She suspected the latter. Knives' would never do something so obvious as rejoin those that had served him before if he was trying to remain hidden. No, he would lay low for awhile, away from those that may have known him, and make a new band of murderers at his convience. She had a smirk of her own when she realized that if that was the truth, Elendira's plan would have absolutely no result.

Try as she might, no matter what she did her thoughts always returned to the gunslinger she had left behind. It occurred to her that in his vulnerable state that Elendira easily could have blown him away after he had captured Meryl. Although the logical part of her mind told her that this would be quite stupid of Elendira, as Knives' would probably kill him for it (wherever the hell he was), and then nobody would be able to give up whatever he wanted. But she couldn't stop the images. Blood everywhere, but most tragic of all were the wide aqua eyes beginning to film over. Those eyes, the ones that made her knees weak whenever they were directed her way, that held such compassion, secrets, and sadness staring sightlessly ahead. It pained her far worse than her leg, than anything.

And there she had her answer. Why she was so terrified, saddened, and why she had previously been unable to move on with her life. She still hadn't told that spikey-headed moron that she loved him more than her own life. She had realized within moments of awakening in this cell that she was going to die, but that was not was frightened her. It was that she was leaving so much unfinished. She began struggling against her bonds once more, the chains cutting into her hands and the ones on her legs jerking on her broken bone. She relished the pain, she deserved it. Meryl Strife, always the top at everything, had been so preoccupied with moving ahead that she left the most important task that she had ever been given unfinished.

But the more that she thought about it, the more she only succeeded in depressing herself. With the equamity only granted to those who are facing their deaths, able to look back at their whole lives and not question what had yet to happen, she realized that no matter how she felt, she was no more to him than any other person. Yes, Vash undoubtably cared about every person on the whole planet much more than most people felt about their neighbors, but she was not special. Why would she be? She yelled at him, slapped him, called him names. She had bore witness to some of the darkest times in his life, when he had been filled with the most doubt, the most remorse, and yet had been unable to take the three steps towards him and give him a hug, the support he deserved. He was filled with an infinite amount of compassion and kindness, perhaps the only person in the world that would give to others when he had nothing for himself. And that was precisely why she loved him. And precisely why he deserved someone so much better than a woman like her.

The pain in her leg faded. Faced with only the truth, she had no reason to care anymore, as she was going to die anyways. Her head slumped against the back of her chair. It was over. She would not be missed.

She heard a faint clatter outside. 'So. Elendira's decided he's waited long enough has he?' She almost looked forward to an end to her pain. Suddenly, instead of coming through the door like she expected, he flew through the one way mirror.

The shards fell to the ground, like so many pieces of shattered dreams, sparkling from the single flickering halogen light above her. The cool facade had slipped, and the panic in his eyes was only too clear. 'He's killed Vash. And Knives has come to kill him.' Was the only conclusion she could draw. Her heart threw itself against the confines of her rib cage. 'He can't have died- can he? Not Vash. Never Vash.' The man in front of her looked around, finally resting his eyes on her. They were hungry. He ran toward his captive with all the grace of a leopard. Elendira stood behind her, pressing a gun in her ear. The metal was cool, comforting almost, against her fevered skin. She could smell the gunpowder.

In the room beyond her own she heard footsteps, breathing. It was unlit beyond the small square of light she resided in, and whoever was in the room beyond it was just as paniced as the man threatening to blow her brains out. She could hear the breathing even from here, the frantic sound of their boots as they ran blindly about. They stepped on some glass, she heard the dull crunch, then more as they walked towards the window. She saw his hair before she saw the blind terror in his face as he climbed through it.

Vash's eyes connected with her own, the fear replaced with profound relief. His eyes fell down to her bonds, her broken leg. Anger. The gun cocked in her ear. Rage. His colt appeared in his hand, gleaming in the dim light. His voice throbbed. "Let Meryl go." His eyes flashed. 'He said my name! Vash actually said my name.' It was a great feeling.

"Tell me where Knives is." She could feel the muzzle of the gun quiver.

"I said, let Meryl go." She followed the path of Vash's gun. It was pointed at Elendira's head. The bottom dropped out of her stomach.

"I'll kill her. You know I will." His voice was calm, controlled. The shaking of the gun betrayed his acting however. "You tell me where Knives is, I let her go. Simple. You wouldn't want her pretty face blown away, would you?"

"What if I told you I don't know where Knives is?" The anger hadn't ebbed, but fear was gnawing at its' edges once more.

"Well, then I would kill her. Even if you shot me in some non-lethal spot-" A snort of scorn. "-I would simply have to push this button. Didn't you wonder where my suitcase went?" A small panel in the ceiling opened, the tip of one of those monstrous nails glinting in the dark. Elendira pulled a small pendant from inside it's hiding place in the collar of his tweed jacket, a small remote on a string hanging about his neck. "It's aimed at her heart. Make your decision." He clasped his hand around it.

Vash's red coat played around his legs, moved by some small breeze. "You bastard. How dare you do this to Meryl!" His fist clenched, the only real sign of the rarely seen humanoid typhoons anger boiling over. She remembered the look in his eyes when he was attacked by Monev the Gale, silhouetted in the doorway. It paled in comparison to what shown in those aqua orbs right now.

The man smiled. "If it gets an answer, I really don't care." The gun had stopped shaking. Her end was near. She lifted her eyes to Vashs' own. He removed his from that of the man behind her. Time became fluid. The brief glance turned into an eternity. The look in his eyes reassured her of her choice. The relief permeated her body, relaxing her. She did not resent Vash for not going against his beliefs, he could not pull the trigger on anyone. Yet another reason she loved the man beyond all reason. She would die, but she was no longer afraid. She would be mourned. It was all she could ask.

"Here's your answer. I don't know where Knives is." Despite his calm voice, his stance did not relax in the slightest. Perfectly balanced, fluid, feline. She could almost see the adrenaline pulsing through his veins.

"The girl dies then." 'Girl! Who the hell does he think he is- calling me girl. Really.' She thought for a split second. 'I really am ready to die, aren't I. If I'm worrying about something like this instead.' It sombered her.

"I've made this decision before. You mean nothing to me in comparison to Meryl." Oh how she thrilled to those words!

She expected the gunshot. What she didn't expect was the small moan escaping from the corpse behind her as it fell to the ground.

Rage was an emotion that was quite foreign to Vash. Sadness, happiness, even anger, yes, but never rage. Not until he saw Meryl chained, pale as death, the look in her eyes much more broken than her leg. He felt no remorse at having shot Elendira, only relief that it meant that his Meryl was alright. He ran forward, crouching beside her. He could still smell the chloroform on her. Rage prickled at him once more. Vash untied her gag, and she panted heavily. When her breathing slowed she looked up at him, smiling forlornly. His heart ached. He matter-of-factly rummaged in the last Gung Ho Gung's pockets until he found the key to her bonds. He freed her feet first, then turned to her hands.

The bonds cut into her delicate wrists, some blood trickling from her fingers from their sharp edges. He tore the manacles away, tossing them across the room. With nothing left to hold her, Meryl collapsed forward. Vash caught her, lifting her unresponsive form into his arms, leaving the dark room far behind them.

"She feels so fragile." He remarked as he walked. Her head rested against his chest, her soft breath tickling him every now and again. A angel, wounded from her fall to earth, sleeping in his arms. It seemed in such sharp contrast to the bossy woman that usually stormed around the house they shared with Millie, but he'd always known it was as much a mask as so many of his own smiles. The one he had on now was true though. He felt complete once more.

She stirred slightly, her eyes flickering open. Fear flashed in them for a moment, but disappeared just as fast. Their eyes met. "You shouldn't have shot him. I was ready to die. I know how you feel." She seemed to read the confusion on his face. She continued. "I love you. I know you don't feel the same way. It's alright. I understand." She saw his sadness and hid her face against his coat.

He simply sat down where he stood, in the middle of nowhere, the bright sunshine caressing their tired bodies. He left her on his lap, careful not to let her broken leg touch the ground beneath him. "Whatever gave you that idea?" He lifted her face. "Because I've been thinking the exact same thing for months. Maybe even years. Because, Meryl, I love you too."

Meryl couldn't help it. She laughed. Long and hard. Months, like he said, maybe even years of wanting and not getting because neither could say three simple words. She even had to admit to herself, it was laughable. Apparently it was infectious too, because after a moment he joined in as well, just a couple of idiots laughing their heads off in the middle of the desert. After they had both calmed down a bit she found her voice once more. "How long was I gone?" She barely managed to get it out. She wondered if he could even hear her.

He did. His eyes were haunted. "Three days." He broke her gaze. "It was terrible. I woke up to your derringer going off. Elendira had shuttered all the windows from the outside, and tied the door handle to the gutter next to it. It took me 10 minutes to just manage to get out of the house. I ran outside, but I was too late. All I found was your derringer and Elendira's nail. I was terrifed that Knives had ordered you killed to get at me, but then I found the note. I-I failed you Meryl. I'm sorry." His confession came out jumbled, in a rush, but his face was what really killed her. The sadness, the guilt. She reached up and stroked his cheek. Startled, he turned towards her once more.

"No you didn't. You came back." He smiled, but the sadness didn't leave entirely. "Why did you shoot him?" She felt terrible for asking, but she had to know.

"Because I love you. There was no way out, and truthfully, if he had killed you I think the result would have been the same." While he pondered she marveled. The man who pledged love and peace, whose scar covered body was a living testament to the price of not killing ones opponents. And he killed to keep her safe. She knew it should frighten her, but she felt all that much safer in his arms. "I can't imagine life without you." He breathed.

"Oh, yes, I would get killed and then they would assign some dull 50-something male desk clerk to follow you around. I'm sure you'd like that." She said flippantly, trying to alleviate the tense atmosphere. He smiled, but he was not to be distracted.

"You were so close to dieing. I'm just amazed, and more grateful than I have been my whole life, that you're still with me here." His eyes were troubled.

"I'm just glad I got to talk to you again." She smiled, closing her eyes and leaning her head against his chest once more. He picked her up again and rose to his feet carefully. The smooth, rocking, rythym of his walk was very soothing. Sleep beckoned. She could feel the muscles of his chest underneath her cheek, the mesh of metal strips holding the side of his chest together. It was comforting. He surprised her tired mind by planting a brief, chaste kiss on her lips. She opened her eyes again.

He seemed very surprised by her creased brow. "Is that it?" Meryl demanded of the shocked Vash.

"Nah." He smiled, placing another kiss on her forehead, feeling the wrinkles smooth out. "But first we have to get your leg splinted."


A/N: Whadda ya'll think? My first pitiful attempt at a Vash/Meryl fic. I never really intended to write one, since I was rather mad at how disproportionate the numbers were with Wolfwood/Millie fics that didn't involve him staying dead and her weeping in the church with the kid that looks just so much like him. tugs collar and "Ahems." Sorry about the mini-rant, kinda got off on a tangent there. Anywho- the idea of Vash in a rage over Meryl really intrigued me. You see him angry, yes, but never in a full on righteous rage. I just hope I don't get too many flames for having him kill Elendira, but remember that it was at least as bleak of a situation when he was forced to shoot Legato. Any thoughts? Please review.