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Into the Clear
~ a better place ~
Days, how many days do I have until I am set free to a better place? A place of love. A place of no tomorrow's.
Release me from this need I have of me.
Hours, how many hours do I have until I am set free to a better place? A place of love. A place of no misery.
Release me from this need I have of me.
When will you believe me when I say these things to you? No one likes a liar baby, no one at all.
When will you receive me when I say these things to you? No one likes a liar baby, no one at all.
—VAST (lyrics by: Jon Crosby; album: Music For People; © VAST, 2000)
"Do you have any idea how old I am? I don't think you really know what you're saying," he said with a nervous laugh. "I'm not even human."
"I do know what I am saying and I don't care about any of that. I don't care what you are."
He sighed heavily and kept his eyes pointed away from her. "Don't say that. You do, too… You will. You'll die and I… won't."
"Don't you think I know that?" she asked in a voice barely above a whisper. "Don't you think I've thought of that a million times already?"
He still refused to look at her. His eyes focused on his freshly bandaged hand instead. He clenched and unclenched his fist, testing the dressing. "Why then? I don't understand."
To his surprise, she laughed. A joyful sound full of mirth and amusement filled his ears. He looked at her questionably; feeling a little shocked and bothered by her strange reaction.
She caught his eyes and smiled, "Am I to understand that you want me to tell you why I love you?"
He paused for a moment, taken aback by her question. Certainly, he claimed himself to be the mayfly of love, but the fact was his experience with romantic love was nil at best. It wasn't that he was not interested in women or not interested in having a close, loving, romantic relationship with a woman… it was just not something he ever seriously considered. He'd always rationalized that it was not something he was meant to experience. There were too many reasons not to pursue it, too many consequences. Besides, who in their right mind would love him like that?
Vash pursed his lips together and tried to maintain his best poker face as he nodded mutely, almost childlike. He felt bewildered and foolish for even wanting to know why and yet, he waited to hear her answer, his eyes mesmerized by the expression on her face and the shine of her violet eyes.
"You act as though you've never heard those words before."
Vash gritted his teeth and made a face, "I… haven't. Not like that… not in that way."
"You surprise me, Vash," she said simply as her eyes filled with warmth. "Regardless of what you are, or what you think you are… or the crimes you think you've committed and the guilt you carry around… you do realize you deserve to find and be loved, don't you?"
He opened his mouth to speak but she interrupted him.
"You distance yourself from everyone around you. You still don't call me by my given name. You never talk about yourself and you've never mentioned your past unless you had to. You would probably die if it meant saving just one person and you have the scars to prove it. You walk around with a burden of guilt on your shoulders that would crush most people and yet you act so shocked to hear that someone loves you. What makes you think you don't deserve love?"
"No. I don't think that."
"That's not it at all."
"Well, that's not how it looks from where I stand."
He stood suddenly and approached her, crossing the room in a matter of seconds only to stand within a few inches away, his height towering above her. He concentrated for a second, causing a sudden flare of feathers to burst from his arm and float soundlessly to the floor. The woman took a startled step back from him as her eyes searched his face uncertainly.
"Look at me now and tell me what you said before," he gazed down at her intently. "You're afraid of me."
"I… I know what you are."
"Do you?" he asked, an unspoken challenge in his voice.
She glared at him defiantly, "Yes, damn it! You're a plant! You're not human, but you have a heart better than most humans!"
"But you're afraid of me."
The urge to slap him surged through her, but she resisted it for the sake of the moment and opted to scowl at him instead. "I'm afraid… I'm afraid of what I don't understand." She paused as she stared at his arm; "I don't understand that. How can I? I've never seen anything like that until I met you, but nevertheless, it's still you… I trust you."
"You think you do."
Frustrated tears stung at her eyes forcing her to look away. "See? You're doing it again, just like I said before. You push people away; you're pushing me away. You can help me to understand, but you don't seem to want to! Why? Why are you acting this way? Why can't you just be honest with me? Why are you trying to scare me?"
"I'm not trying to scare you."
Defeated, Meryl hung her head and sighed. "Yes you are, Vash. You are pushing me away again. I'm not asking for anything from you, I just… I just needed you to know how I feel. I've wanted to tell you a long time ago, but I was afraid to… and now I remember why," she smiled a bitter smile as she felt the weight of the moment press down upon her. "I'm just 'Insurance Girl' to you, aren't I? I'm just an annoyance."
Vash made no sound to answer her and Meryl shook her head and sighed. "What was I thinking?" she asked herself in a thick whisper as she pushed away from him and started for the door.
"No, I just need you to und--"
"You're right. It's better this way," Meryl interrupted, her entire demeanor changing as her eyes grew distant and cold. Reaching for the door, she turned back to Vash, a strange smile on her lips that was painful to look at. "Besides, it's never good to mix work and pleasure. I don't know what I was thinking. I could lose my job for that."
"Insurance Girl, I jus–"
She bristled at the use of her pseudo name as she reached for the doorknob. "Thank you, Mr. Vash, for opening my eyes. I'm sorry for wasting your time. Take care of your hand, Wolfwood or Milly should probably change the dressing before you go to bed tonight."
"No, Insur– M-meryl, wait," Vash said too softly too late as he raised his hand toward her retreating back. The hard sound of the door as it shut causing him wince, "I'm sorry."
Vash stared at the door for several long seconds, his mouth dry and his hand hovering in midair. He found himself straining to listen to the muffled sound of two female voices in the other room and was rewarded with the mention of his name before the sound of yet another door slamming broke his paralysis.
He had to talk to her. He had no idea what he was going to say to her, but he could not let the subject fester. He had to make her understand and more importantly, he had to make himself understand.
The look on Milly's face froze him in his tracks when he exited the bedroom. She said nothing in that half-second, and she did not have to. Vash knew what she was thinking by the look in her eyes alone.
He'd blown it. The conversation didn't have to end with Meryl rushing out of the house with her voice thick and tears in her eyes. Vash could have handled it better. He didn't have to react to her declaration of love by frightening her away from him. She was right, he had pushed her away.
"Meryl went into town," Milly said quietly as she resumed her laundry folding.
A brief nod acknowledged his question but no additional information was offered.
"Do you know when she'll be back?"
"She didn't say. She was pretty upset." She paused in her chore long enough to peer at Vash, "You really hurt her, you know."
He rubbed the back of his head with the hand Meryl just tended to, "I know."
Milly turned her attention back to the laundry and began to match socks. He watched her for several seconds wondering if he should wait for Meryl or go after her. He knew he had to talk to her, but he didn't know if doing so would really yield any positive results.
The whole conversation started out innocently enough with Vash behaving like a goof and Meryl becoming annoyed as she usually does. They bantered back and forth for a while as she disinfected the deep gash on his hand. Then she started to express her worry for him because he acted like an idiot all the time. From there, the conversation turned serious until she finally admitted that she was in love with him.
Vash's mind went blank when she made her gentle confession and the room fell quiet for several minutes as she finished dressing his wound. All he was aware of at the time was the sudden pounding of his heart, the softness of her hands and the sense of panic in his gut. He knew by the way she had looked at him and the tone in her voice that she not only meant what she said, but she understood the full ramifications of her words.
Meryl wasn't a fool, Vash knew that… but for her to love him… what was she thinking? Could she be so naïve?
After the minutes slowly filtered by since her admission, Vash was finally able to think about what transpired more rationally. Meryl told him her feelings in such a matter-of-fact way that he did not feel expected to reciprocate those feelings. He realized all at once that she had planned it that way. She didn't want him to say anything negative; she didn't want him to reject her. Intuition told him that her motivation was purely selfless. In a very subtle way, she was offering herself to him, yet her independent nature prevented her from being obvious about it. That was just like her to do that, too.
Vash bit his lip as he remembered the look in her eyes as she glanced up at him, waiting. A simple answer would have sufficed. A simple, "I'm sorry, but" type of response would have been better than what he did. Pushing her away was bad enough, but he humiliated her as well.
"What are you going to do, Mr. Vash?" Milly asked, pulling the introspective plant back to the present.
Vash sighed, "I don't know."
"You could go after her and talk to her."
"Maybe I should let her cool off first."
"Do you care about her?"
Silence answered and Milly continued, "If you care about her, you should go after her. If you want things to stay as they are then you should wait for her to cool off first."
"If I go after her she'll become a target for them."
Milly glanced at him, an unusual hint of annoyance in her eyes.
"I just don't want her to be hurt."
"Then you need to decide what you're going to do, Mr. Vash."
Vash stared down at his boots as he considered his next actions. Milly was right, he had to make a decision. Action or inaction would end up meaning the same thing: pain.
Milly knew the moment Vash made his decision and she had to lower her face to hide her smile as she watched him head toward the door.
AN: If you are curious to hear the song that this chapter is named after, you can download the MP3 at: http://sugoiweb.com/MP3/VAST_ABetterPlace.mp3 - I'll only have the song up there for a little while…