Disclaimer in previous chapter. Please see Author's Notes at the end.

-x-

The results flashed up on the screen, confirming the last four before them, and he dutifully recorded them, then flicked his stylus. The results flew across the screen leaving a wake of green pixels behind, and he heard the telltale chime of their arrival across the room.

Not that either one of them were surprised. Not that the results hadn't been expected.

Were he a few years younger, Doc reflected, he might have hesitated before carelessly flinging undesirable data at Millions Knives. Now, it hardly even registered that what he had just done would normally have gotten him slain on the spot.

No matter how they sliced it, flat injection of Plant energy was having zero affect on Vash's physiology. The degradation of his cells continued. They were starving, but merely soaking them in Plant energy, compatible Plant energy, was not helpful. They could not absorb it that way.

Even though it had worked before.

Doc gathered himself and stood, turning to his left as though it would turn his back to the pain radiating down his right side. It had been a battle between his intellect and his physical needs, but right now, he needed to think. He could worry about that pain – and what it meant – later.

Chances were, if they didn't find a way to stabilize those cells, Vash would die before he did.

A visual inspection of his patient showed that all bleeding had finally ceased. They had in essence bathed him in Plant energy, and he had undergone some healing, yet none of his scars seemed to have visibly filled out any more. What that energy had done – all it had done – was to allow his body to grow new tissue without taking apart existing tissue to accomplish it.

What they had done was what Knives had done in the months and possibly years following the catastrophic damage done him in July.

And it wasn't enough.

Of course, while he had hoped, Doc – and he suspected Knives – doubted it would be that easy. Knives had still had an intact Gate, even if he had lost his lower extremities. His cells were essentially still 'eating' while Plant energy was used to give him the building blocks necessary to regenerate his lost flesh. In the case of Vash, while they could give him the building blocks for new flesh, his body was still starving. The energy required to create flesh was apparently not the energy – or at least not the right state – to replace what his body needed from his inert Gate.

Nor had he just 'healed' those wounds as efficiently as he had done back on Gray's ship. In fact, feeding him building blocks but no energy to help with the conversions might have just done Vash more harm than good. They might have just taken some of his already short time away from him.

And that was probably another conclusion Knives had already reached.

"Knives," Doc began calmly, prying open one of Vash's eyes to check the color of the lower lid, "are you sure I am privy to all the data concerning your regeneration after July?"

There was no response behind him, and Doc gently closed Vash's eyelid and turned to the table beside his, where a childlike, inquisitive face stared blankly at him. He gave it a smile, and the Plant responded immediately, though there was no telltale crinkling around her eyes as there would have been with a human. Her eyes didn't really have pupils, either, and it occurred to Doc that Plants were singularly equipped to lie. They would give no recognizable physical signs of deceit.

The Plant's smile did not falter, which he decided was due to the fact that his observation was not judgmental, and she glanced past him at Vash. Doc followed her gaze, but the Plant did not move from the table, she simply fluttered a strangely small wing and gave a little sigh.

"Did you have something to add, my dear?" he asked her in amusement, but he did not recapture her attention. This one was the second Plant Elizabeth and Vash had uninstalled, her name was Fron. She was likely the most mature of the Plants, and she was the very one whose energies had saved Knives. Short of literally tying Knives down and trying to draw energy from him, Doc couldn't think of a way to ensure the energy they were feeding into Vash was any more 'compatible.'

Though he knew it must have crossed Knives' mind, he had no doubt the other Plant would not be willing to be used in that fashion, even if it meant saving his brother.

But perhaps he was wrong. "Whose Gate is responsible for the terraforming I saw on the surface?" After all, if Knives wasn't using his sisters, then it had to be coming from him.

Or from Vash . . .

He heard the click of the console lock, and then a few long, unhurried strides. Knives said nothing, he merely removed the lines from Fron, who paid him little heed. As the most mature, she had also spent the most time in a bulb, and like traditional Plants – which she was – her understanding or concern regarding her physical surroundings seemed minimal at best. In fact, once entirely free from all restrains and equipment, she reached up an extra leg and toyed with the retractors above her.

Knives gave her a flat look of resigned disbelief, which made Doc choke on a laugh. He covered it with the coughing fit that honestly had followed, and then prudently avoided catching Knives' eye.

"The life you see on the surface is a symptom of Plants being allowed to simply exist," Knives said, his voice as flat as his look had been. "My sister modulated her energies when she realized the damage I had suffered. The modulation we recorded is similar, but subtly different."

Ah. Which meant Knives was thinking that Fron could tell that Vash's damage was different, and had tried – and apparently failed – to help.

Which was unfortunate. It was probable that Fron and her sisters knew instinctively what he and Knives still did not about humanoid Plant physiology.

Doc stifled a sigh. His lungs and rib hurt too badly for it. "The next logical step from my point of view is to try the energies from a humanoid Plant, my dear Knives." It was that, or figure out a way to open Vash's sealed Gate. "Have you any other theories?"

The tall blonde came to stand beside him, though there was still enough space to register his disgust. "Countless," came the curt response. Knives did not elaborate, and Doc inferred that most of them likely had a high probability of failure. They had spent the last two days trying to work around the closed Gate, thinking that it would be an easier, short term solution to the larger problem of a sealed Gate, and what opening it could mean. If Vash was still producing power, and it had nowhere to go, he could literally be a bomb waiting to go off even as he starved himself to death.

And standing beside a silently glowering Knives was not getting him anywhere. If he was going to be in all this pain, he was damned well going to be useful somewhere. "If I am not needed here, I will attend to Ms. Thompson. Might I use the equipment in the next room?" It was all for surgery and physical reconstruction, as opposed to Plant-based research, and now that Vash was no longer bleeding it would hardly slow Knives' attempts-

"There is no point." Knives' eyes never strayed from the monitor above his brother, and Doc was irrationally annoyed as it reminded him of Dr. Shrew. He had eyes, didn't he?

But his words were more worrisome. It was true Ms. Thompson was not in sight, but Doc had been working on Vash around the clock and had explored nothing outside these two main rooms.

"Of course there is a point," he protested. "As I recall, you gave your word to help her-"

"There is no point," Knives repeated, and his cool eyes slid to the doctor's in what Knives probably thought was a look that brooked no argument.

"She saved your life. All our lives," Doc managed to keep his serene tone through willpower alone. "I will do everything in my power to save hers-"

"Tell me, old man," Knives interrupted, in a deceptively conversational tone, "what is life?"

A child could see where this was going. "It doesn't matter if not all of her memories are intact-"

"Oh?" Knives gestured at the equipment surrounding his comatose brother. "We have the means here to keep Vash breathing, do we not? We have the means to keep his heart beating, his blood filtered, his respiration steady. Why are you still exerting what little effort you are able to contribute upon his body?"

Doc suppressed the urge to interrupt, forcing himself to stop and listen. Knives was telling him that Millie Thompson was essentially braindead.

And he didn't believe for a second that she was truly gone. Not completely. "Then you won't mind if I exert my minimal energies on her, will you."

The Plant gave him a long, considering look. "The spider is dead, old man. She died the moment she crossed my path."

Doc stared at him, almost blankly. Surely he wasn't hearing what he thought he was hearing. Was Millie actually being remotely controlled, dead, by Knives all this time . . .?

No. She would never have been so merciful with the crew of the ship if it had just been Knives driving. He could never impersonate that inner light of hers. Never. "She did no such thing, young man. Where is she?" Unless she had died from neglect while they had been working on Vash . . . ? Surely she was with Stryfe, Boulaise, and Carter, surely Knives hadn't simply left her on the border to die-

Knives responded to his sharp tone by drawing himself up straight – and Doc was not impressed. He had been towered over all his life, and he was too tired and in too much pain to be frightened. Knives seemed to sense it. "Do as you will."

And that was not an answer. "Where is she, Knives?"

And just like that, he was dismissed. Knives' attention was once more on his brother, though he did deign to reply. "The spider came to serve me of her own volition. Right now she is functioning as a teaching aid."

A teaching aid . . . ?

An example of some kind. To whom?

To Stryfe, Carter, and Boulaise.

Doc took a steady breath. Then another. If he had not been so exhausted, he might have been seeing red. Was this how Knives would justify a blatant violation of their agreement? By rationalizing it away as Millie Thompson was no longer Millie Thompson due to her injuries, and she would have wanted it this way? "Is she enjoying her work?"

The visible corner of Knives' mouth turned downward, which surprised Doc. He would have expected a smirk. "Are you enjoying watching my brother continue to suffer?"

Doc was silent for a long moment. "If I leave this laboratory, will I be permitted back inside?" Clearly, wherever she was, she was not here, and Knives was not interested in what happened to her. He himself could not carry the tall young woman back into the lab, but Carter certainly could.

"Your palm will activate all the necessary locks," came the distracted reply. "Tell me, was Vash still emitting energy steadily before the last dose of inhibitors?"

That data existed in the records, and Doc battled a strong urge to tell Knives to go read them. "Vash was never emitting a steady energy stream except when he was installed," he said in clipped tones. "If you want to try regressing him back to a traditional Plant and installing him into a bulb, that is your choice, but I daresay it would be faster if we installed you."

Just Knives' eyes moved, attention back on him as if it had never left. Doc's only warning was a slight quiver in the Plant's lower lip as he responded.

"You are no longer required."

"I didn't realize I was still on the ship," he retorted. "We have two options here, Knives, and that is to find a way to get digestable energy into Vash, likely from you, or to trigger his Gate. The data indicates that his Gate should – should – never have closed in the first place. Observations of his mental state prior to installation indicates that he was intentionally resisting installation, and we can extrapolate that he did so to delay the inevitable as much as possible. His Gate is closed because he chose to suppress it. And now he is in a coma."

Strangely, Knives remained silent through the lecture, and Doc continued. He had nothing to lose. "He knew the moment they made him produce power, you would consider your compromise null and void. He fought to what might end up being his death to prevent this very scenario. If you think you can reach him through that coma and make him believe differently, then you are right. I cannot help you."

Knives stood there a moment, his expression unreadable. Then his frown melted away, and without another word he turned his back and returned to his console. Doc watched him go, surprised at a feeling of almost . . . disappointment.

No response. The Plant was acting as if Doc had just given him an idea.

And whatever it was would take hours. If it was true Ms. Thompson had received no care since their arrival, she was most certainly his higher priority.

He stopped to get his kit, cocking an ear back as Knives issued a quiet summons, but realizing immediately that it was not for him. It crossed his mind he might be calling for his human staff to remove the troublesome spider from his sight, but Doc was more than happy to do it for him. If this was his last day on Gunsmoke, he would make sure it was of use. As he had seen the other rooms in this underground laboratory, he chose the dark, slender corridor that led only to a sliding door. There was a scanner on the door, and though he never recalled his palmprint being recorded, he placed his left hand on the cool metal surface.

The indicator flashed green, and the doors swept back silently to reveal a small metal box. He entered the lift, which curiously looked as if each of the four walls functioned as a door, and he chose the highest possible floor, none of which were marked. The lift moved quickly, and there was enough of a pressure change that his ears popped before the doors to his left parted to expose what looked very much like the bio dome on his very own ship.

Green grass, as far as the eye could see. A forest, he knew it was in infancy but some of the trees reached over sixty feet tall. It was probably just a square ile of woods, all told, and the outskirts were reduced to less impressive brush and wild growth. On his left was a white, rectangular structure, two stories tall and utterly unadorned, surrounded here and there with small sheds. A glance to his right showered another square, white concrete building, and beyond that was a somewhat traditional manor house, complete with shutters and what appeared to be a wooden French set of entry doors.

He could be certain that his companions were not in there.

Doc decided to head to his left, figuring Knives would want them as far from his and Vash's residence as possible, and the doors behind him closed, showing him only an innocuous, white cement shed. No door was visible, so ingeniously had the lift been blended with the concrete.

Invisible doors to go with invisible guards.

It was a problem for another time, and Doc's gaze trailed slowly over the valley, getting the lay of the land. Hills rose up on three sides, but the valley itself didn't dip low enough to indicate it had been made volcanically. There was not enough water on the planet – probably never had been – for a glacier to have carved out this shape, it was more oblong than round-

Doc stopped, staring again at the topography. The forest and green on the surrounding hills hid a lot of the telltale signs, but that plain that stretched out on the far end, nearly as far as he could see, it had a slightly concave appearance –

This was a crater, all right. It was the crater of a SEEDS ship. One of their ships had crashed on this very spot.

Doc wondered if perhaps it was the one the twins had been raised on. It had to have been completely decommissioned, there was no longer a single scrap visible of what must have been an enormous ship.

His staring, or perhaps his appearance, had attracted some attention. A dim glow came from the forest, and Doc watched, enchanted, as a full grown Plant emerged from the trees like the nymphs of old. She was young, she had few extra appendages and used her wings for propulsion, she had eight or so pairs. Though their waving was unhurried she seemed to be generating her own updrafts effortlessly even outside a bulb, and she was definitely looking in his direction.

He glanced down the hill, looking for a path to pick down there after he had examined Ms. Thompson, and his old eyes fixed on something that had him scrambling like a man half his age.

The Plant wasn't looking at him. She was looking at her sisters.

Two of them lay in the grass at the base of the hill, beneath a large tree.

They were laying beside Millie Thompson.

-x-

He gasped, and for the first time since he could remember, it felt like he was taking a breath.

Adrenaline was coursing through him, cold and familiar, constricting his chest, and he sat bolt upright before his eyes had even opened. Light and dark, cold and hot, his senses were overwhelmed, and he focused on the only thing he could.

Air.

He was breathing.

It was cold, but cold was welcome, and he gulped it down like water, felt it flowing through his limbs, curiously pooling in his left arm.

His left arm –

Vash squeezed his eyes shut, then open again, forcing his brain to see, to understand. The sheet was white, it was clean and white and it was pooled around his waist, and he was staring at his left arm, only it couldn't be, because he had one, at least part of one, almost to his elbow and that was very certainly wrong.

It wasn't mechanical.

Vash held his breath, then released it slowly, and sucked in a new one. Felt it in every way. Felt the way his lungs stretched, they weren't used to it. Felt the way his chest moved – it was wrong. Things were shifting in the wrong way. There was no weight where weight should be, there was no metal-

His heart-

There was no cage. There were no bars, no pins. Shining white scar tissue met his eyes, nearly as pale as the sheet.

This . .. this couldn't be.

The sheet was shaking.

Vash reached up his hand, his real hand. It was shaking, too. He could feel it when be pressed it against his eyes, just to make sure he had them. His eyes were real, they really were and they were seeing this, and this-

Stars. Pearls.

He remembered. He remembered clutching his hand to them, the gift from her-

And who was she?

She was his sister. A Plant. A stranger, they had never met but she reached out to him across the void because he was crying, and –

Oh god.

That void had been the network.

The network on a ship.

She was the plant on the ship.

The ship that had kidnapped him. The ship that had taken Doc's arm away from him. All the metal away from him, out of him, so that they could put him in the bulb and he'd have nothing to break it with, nothing but his Angel Arm, and they knew he couldn't use it because if he did he would be too close to her-

If he used his Angel Arm, he would be a Plant, and he would be a Plant in a bulb, and there would be no escape from it.

Vash pulled his hand away almost fearfully, forcing his eyes open. He wasn't in a bulb, though, he had his legs, he could see his lap and the sheet, and the bed that he was lying on-

His bed.

He was in his bed.

He was in his bed at the house.

At his house. His and Kn-

Vash felt his breathing falter, and he dragged his eyes up, up to the foot of the bed, up the body armor, past the chest and the chin and the grin and –

Knives was grinning. "Yo," he greeted, and the relief sounded sincere.

Knives was relieved.

Vash just stared at him.

The grin didn't slip. "Sorry about the drugs. There was no other way to wake you up."

Knives. Knives was standing at the foot of his bed.

His brother tossed a forgotten syringe at the waste basket by the desk. His desk. His eyes followed its graceful arc, past the wall, he knew that wall, and the window, the suns were very high in the sky, it was late afternoon, and to the waste receptacle beside his wooden writing desk, where he wrote to Millie, sometimes –

They were in Eden.

They were in Eden.

He tried to swallow around the air that seemed to be choking him.

Was it . . . a dream . . .?

His hand brushed his chest, shaking so badly he scratched himself with his own fingernails. They were overgrown.

It didn't seem to bother the scars.

"The adrenaline will wear off in a minute or two," his brother said reassuringly. "I wasn't sure it was going to work at all."

Vash just stared at him.

The grin slipped, just a little. "Vash?"

He was shaking too hard to even speak, and Knives stepped forward, concern written on his face. "Vash, you know who I am, right? You know where you are?"

Knives. Eden.

There was only one way he would have gotten out of that bulb.

There was only one reason he would be here. He would wake up here.

Knives knew.

Vash shrank back against the headboard, it ground into his back but that didn't put off his brother for a second. Knives gave him a piercing look, not two feet from him. Vash?

Knives was in his head.

Vash jerked his face away from outstretched fingers, scraping up whatever mental shields he could manage. It felt weak, like he couldn't properly form a shield at all, and Knives swatted it away in irritation. Brother, you're safe. You're home. You're safe.

Safe.

He heard himself choke out a noise, forced his voice steady. "K-Knives."

"I know." The mattress shifted as Knives sat beside him, warmth as Knives put a steadying hand on his shoulder. "I know what happened. You're safe, Vash. They can't come after us again."

He knew.

A strange sort of calm seemed to seep into his chest. He couldn't shield. He couldn't fight, not in this condition. He was naked, no weapons. Knives knew. He knew about the bulb.

It was over.

It rang in his head, deafening, over and over again, and Vash realized that he was crying.

So did Knives. "Please tell me that's the adrenaline." It was flat, and the hand his shoulder tightened. "Please tell me after everything they just did to you that you are not crying over those worthless spiders."

It was over.

The compromise was broken. The humans had hurt him, and he knew full well what it meant.

No wonder Knives was smiling. No wonder he was relieved.

The slap shocked him, his head bounced off the backboard and Vash tasted blood. It helped to focus his racing thoughts, and topaz was burning into his eyes as he opened them.

Is that how you think of me, brother? Real anger in those eyes. Real hurt in that thought. You almost DIED, you idiot! They almost KILLED YOU! They WOULD HAVE KILLED YOU!

Knives had him by both shoulders, and shook him none too gently. "After all this, still with the sentimentalism! Wake up! Wake up to the reality that this was always going to happen! This is what they are! This is what they did to you!"

Knives released him, hard enough that the headboard probably drew blood, and towered there over him, radiating fury. There was something under it Vash couldn't pin down, and for the first time, he pushed himself forward.

"Knives, listen. They had only just woken. They were from Earth, they'd been cryosleep for a hundred years-"

NO! YOU LISTEN!

Images in his mind. A computer screen, technicians racing around a room, the only static image the sole occupant of a gurney. Bleeding out.

The screen changed. It was the control room of a bulb, and there at the bottom, a forearm kept appearing against the glass as the occupant inside pounded down on it, again and again, until there was so much blood it was all that could be seen-

People, the doctors, the technicians, celebrating when the bulb flickered.

Vash summoned his will and yanked his mental eye out of the screen. He met his brother's glare head on, but when he opened his mouth, nothing came to mind.

That was doubtless footage from the ship that had taken him.

That was him. That was him bleeding on that gurney. That was him in that bulb. He had all the memories. He'd been there. He didn't need to see it again.

The humans had done what Knives had always thought they would. They'd put a humanoid Plant in a bulb.

It was exactly what Knives had said they would. Right from the beginning.

And it hadn't mattered how much he'd begged. How much he'd explained, about his brother, about the danger, about –

Vash stomped on those thoughts, those memories before Knives could pick them up. There was footage, if Knives had been to the ship he could have seen it like he'd seen the rest of it. It didn't matter. There was nothing he could do.

Vash let his glare fade. There was no defense. There was nothing he could do. " . . . I'm sorry."

Knives' eyebrows crawled into his hairline. "You're sorry?"

"I'm sorry I made you worry."

". . . you're sorry?"

It wasn't just anger, and Vash raised his eyes again as the hair on the back of his neck stood up. Knives was visibly livid, and he flinched when his brother moved.

But Knives did not strike him again. He threw out an arm, using his telekinesis to rip the bedroom door off its hinges. In the doorway was one of the twins, and he wasn't alone.

In his arms was a diminutive woman with dark hair.

Vash blinked, unable to believe his eyes, as Meryl Stryfe was tossed unceremoniously into the room. Her arms were bound behind her, and cloth had been stuffed into her mouth. Her silver eyes were shining with tears and terror.

Meryl.

Meryl was here.

Meryl was in Eden.

Vash was out of bed before he even knew if he could walk, but he could. His legs were fine, he had Meryl in his arm before the man – he wasn't sure if it was Librett or Wright – could do anything else to her. She was clothed, so she was safe from the servant's bare arms, and Vash held her tight against him, not sure which of them was shaking harder.

There was only one reason Meryl would be here.

Knives' voice was full of malice. "The one who NEEDS TO BE SORRY IS THE SPIDER!"

"Please, Knives." He tried to keep it steady, he tried to hold back the tears. Tears would just piss his brother off more. "Please don't do this."

"I saved your life," Knives ground, and Meryl flinched into him at the malice in his brother's voice. "Who do you think told them where you were, Vash? Who do you think gave them a list of all your favorite bars, all your favorite humans?"

Meryl was struggling to speak, but he only had one arm, and he used it to hold her tight, putting his body between her and Knives. There was no way he could shield her both from Knives and from the other man. He couldn't protect her like this.

"Are you listening to me? That thing in your arms tried to kill you!"

That was not true. Meryl was shaking her head, but it was hard to tell if she was trying to tell him something or she was just trying to get the gag off. He didn't dare release her.

"Even if that's true, she didn't do it on purpose!" God, how was he going to explain this? They must have gotten it from her reports, the ones she had sent to Bernardelli, she'd never intended them to get that information, certainly not if she knew what it would be used for. Vash tried to give her a reassuring look, but Meryl was having none of it. She looked terrified.

He wondered, suddenly, what they must have done to her to reduce her to this. What she had already suffered while he had slept off the drugs from the bulb.

"I'm sorry." He could think of nothing more to say. With – it had to be Wright, if Meryl was this scared – in the doorway, and Knives between him and the window, there was no place left to go. She wasn't wearing her cape, they'd stripped her of her derringers and her hands were tied anyway.

There was no way out. She was in Eden. There was no way Knives would let her go.

"I'm so sorry." It was only a whisper.

"YOU HAVE NOTHING TO BE SORRY FOR!" A white-hot knife buried itself into the wall just over Meryl's head, and she squeaked and ducked deeper into his hold. Vash twisted to give her more cover, glaring over his shoulder.

"Knives, please! Please don't do this!"

"What?" His tone was vicious. "You want to do it yourself? Is this what your word is worth, Vash? Are you going to choose them over me again?"

The words burned into his mind, accompanied by a vision of Knives lying in a bed, helpless, in pain. Terrified, just like the woman in his arm.

He'd truly believed his words to Knives that day. It wasn't a lie. He'd believed it would work. It had to work.

"Fine." The word was bitten off. "If you want to stop me, brother, then go ahead and do it."

Another knife, this one brushed his shoulder as it went over, and Vash watched a lock of hair spring from her head as if in slow motion. He watched as her eyes saw it, followed it for so long, widening far too slowly as she realized what it meant, how they painstakingly moved in the socket from his chest to his neck, to his jaw, to his eyes-

He could move fast. So much faster than she could. So much faster than Wright.

And so could Knives.

There was only one way to save her.

"Go ahead, Vash," Knives snarled, and the hurt was so obvious, it was right there atop everything. "Go ahead and shoot me again."

July. The office. The desert, the cross. He had no gun, this time. Wright wasn't Nicholas there to save him. Just his arm.

He didn't even need to use it. All he had to do was manifest, and at least she'd have physical cover.

Until Knives shot off this arm, as well.

Vash pressed his body against her, pinning her to the wall, and tucked his chin over her head. He was screaming, he could hear his voice like it wasn't even his own, begging Knives to stop. She was slight, he could protect her with his body, at least for a little while –

Until Knives tired of using him as target practice.

I can save them. I can save all of them.

There is always a way.

A finger grazed his left ribs, and Meryl stiffened in his arms with a cry.

"Well, Vash? What's your answer?"

Another finger past his thigh, and she screamed again. The gag did nothing to muffle her heartbeat, racing against his chest.

What do I do, Rem? What do I do?

It was manifest the arm, or she would die.

But there was no way out. He had given his word. Knives had given his word and he had kept it. How could he not do the same?

It was the humans or Knives. If he manifested that arm, protected her, even flew out of Eden with her –

The Gung-Ho Guns. Legato. Knives wouldn't stop.

Knives would never stop.

Even if he died here protecting her, Knives would never stop.

"I'm sorry." He said it, over and over again, flinching when Knives lost his patience, when the wall they were cowering against exploded, splinters and worse in his skin, in hers. Her weight growing heavy. No more shaking.

But the screaming didn't stop.

-x-

Knives leaned away, taking a deep, slow breath, and he let the mental construct disintegrate. His brother's mind slipped, still screaming, back into intangible space. A glance at the monitors to his right showed him steady levels.

Steady in their nonexistence.

Vash had not manifested. Hadn't even tried. His Gate was still closed.

Knives sat there for a long moment, hands still on Vash's face, before he let them fall away. There was no response from Vash, mental or otherwise.

Knives studied his brother, then stood abruptly and headed directly for the cells.

-x-

Author's Notes: I really contemplated leaving that last little bit off, but you guys are pretty perceptive and I'm sure you would have had your doubts. Considering I can't promise when the next chapter will be out, I figured that would be mean. I also very nearly changed this fic's rating with one innocent little typo. (Vash nearly asked Knives to top instead of stop. =) So I apologize for any typos that were not caught, as this certainly was not beta'ed. And thank you, everyone that dropped me a comment on the last chapter! You guys really are still out there! Yay!