Three days after Salem's Plant self-destructed, Meryl prepared their newly acquired car for departure from New Hope. Her eyes had mostly recovered from the blinding in the ship but were still sensitive to bright light. She'd snagged Vash's glasses to wear for the meantime, rationalizing that since he dragged her down there in the first place, he at least owed her some sort of reparation, even if he wasn't aware of it.

Plus, okay, she had to admit, they were pretty cool looking.

Speak of the devil, Vash finally stumbled outside, appearing much back to his normal, annoying self. Millie walked more sedately behind him, carrying his duffel.

"Millie, I'm fine, really."

"I'm sure you're much better, Mister Vash, but we don't want you over-stressing yourself. I can carry your bag just fine."

"But it's embarrassing," the outlaw whined. "How can I maintain my studly reputation if girls keep carrying all my stuff for me?"

Meryl raised an eyebrow. "What studly reputation?"

Vash turned to retort but instead stumbled to a halt. "Those are my glasses."

Meryl smirked. "Wrong. Mine now."

"But *I* paid for them."

"And *you* owe me for the damage to my retinas. So, tough luck broom-boy."

He made a perfunctory attempt to snatch them off her face but she ducked underneath his hand, tripping him with a well-timed foot before jumping into the driver's seat. Millie paused to shake her head at the outlaw. "Really, Mister Vash, you shouldn't annoy Meryl when you're already injured or you'll never get better."

The response from Vash was an unintelligible grumble.

By late afternoon, they'd been on the road for some hours, Meryl refusing to relinquish the wheel. Millie dozed in the back, snoring lightly every couple of minutes. Vash sat in the passenger seat, chin cupped in his hand, eyes focused on the horizon outside his window.

"Hey, Meryl?"

For a moment, she thought she was hearing things, his voice was so soft. But then he repeated himself and she glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. "Yes, Vash?"

"Why did you come back?" Serious tone, almost amazed at the idea.

"I'll always come back," she answered truthfully and at his faintly startled expression, added, "It's my job, you know."

A trace of a smile appeared and he settled back into his seat, gaze once more drifting out to the desert. She sighed a little at his relief, but couldn't bring herself to mind too much.

Because, really, who needed the whole truth anyway?


Alexis drove. Liam sat in the seat beside her. The silence was comfortable, one born of long years working together and caring for one another.

Alexis was the first to break it. "Was that *really* Vash the Stampede?"

"The one and only," Liam answered.

"He's not human."

"What do you mean?"

The Slayer sighed. "Come on, Liam, don't play dumb. What is he?"


"That's not an answer."

"If someone asked me what you were, how do you think I'd answer?"

She gave in. "The same."

"Well, there you go."

Another beat of silence before Alexis said, "We're going to see him again."

"Probably. These things tend to move in threes."


Liam smiled. "Story for another time."

"Oh." She grinned. "I kicked his ass, y'know."

Her Watcher groaned. "So you've said. Many times."

"Yep. Kicked his butt real good. Does that make me the baddest-ass Slayer that ever lived?"


"Oh, come on. Who else beat up a world-wide legend?"

"Tell you what. Defeat a hell-god and I'll think about revising your standing."

"What's a hell-god?"

"Long story."

And so they continued on into the night.



Special thanks to Jaina, for being such a super groovy beta, Wraith for rightly pointing out that wood would be pretty darn valuable in the desert (thus inspiring holy water arrows), and everyone else who's written reviews for this monster.

End notes: Well, it's done. Finally. It's taken me more than a year to finish it. Yeah, a friggin' *year.* And it's by far the longest story I've ever completed. I'm sort of in awe. Or maybe that's shellshock, I'm not sure. What's worse, it's not over yet. A prequel's been rattling around in my brain for a while and I'm finally starting to hammer out a rough draft for it. I can't tell you much yet. Rem's heavily involved, as is a demon. And, yeah, it'll explain just how Liam didn't get himself blown to kingdom come with the rest of the Seeds crew. I hope. Don't hold your breath though – it'll be some time before it's fit to see print.

Right now, though, I need some rest. Catch y'all later.