“Folks, here we are with Vash the Stampede! The humanoid typhoon himself.” Meryl held the mic with a firm grip as she smiled at the camera. “We’ve had a lot of questions roll in from fans just for you, Vash.” He could tell the false kindness was killing her, but the smile remained plastered across her face.
It was the fourth time they’d caught him. The fourth time they sat him down for an interview. After being chased for a solid month, he finally gave in and agreed to the interrogation. In return, they would stop chasing him. For any reason. Especially Meryl. Her feelings for him had become all too clear before the fight with Knives. He couldn’t have her following him into even more dangerous situations for him.
With the deal set in stone, he agreed to sit down at a café with them for one hour. “I’m glad to hear it, Meryl. So what did you want to ask me?”
She smiled. It was a smile too big for her face in his opinion. Fabricated for the camera, he was sure. Her fingers were shaking, making him wonder how long she’d been reporting to still be so nervous. “Uhm… Mr. Vash.” He directed his attention back to her as she read with a practiced calmness from the cards in her hand. “The first question comes from Jenna in June city. During the fall of the Ark, it became clear that you were more than human. So what are you?”
He can’t say that he was surprised by the question. The fight between him and his brother was and had been big news for the entire planet. “My brother and I are plants.” He said simply.
“Like the ones that power cities and keep us alive?” Meryl pressed on. These were questions she already knew the answer to, but the world wanted…needed to hear it from him.
“Yes. Like those. We are known as ‘independents.” Which means we can survive outside of a bulb. We have extended lives and powers beyond those of a human. Not all plants can become independent, but their lives could be longer than mine for it.”
“So you aren’t immortal?” Her eyes bore into him as he spoke. She never looked down at the list in her hand.
“Ah…no. Not exactly.” He laughed a bit and ran his hand through his hair. “This is kind of a sign of my mortality actually. Our life spans all depend on how much energy we use. Daily life doesn’t take very much. There’s no telling how long I could live an easy life. Healing takes a little more energy and has its limits.” He flexed his newest prosthetic left arm for the camera. “Things like my wings, the cannon—or my angel arm—those take a lot of energy. And the more energy we expend, the darker our hair gets. Even dependent plants can show those symptoms if over worked.”
“So if we over expend water and electricity, which the plants help us produce…”
“You’re expending the lives of the plants themselves. Humans made us. They gave us life so that we could return the favor by making theirs easier. And on this planet it’s the only way you can live. All the plants ask for in return is your gratitude.”
Meryl nodded knowingly. “So back to independent plants. Are there any others like you? How many have there been that you know about? And how did you become and independent?”
“Other independents? Well there was my brother, Knives. A girl before us, Tessla. She died before we met her. I believe there are a couple from earth as well but I don’t know them. I don’t really know a full history. And as far as how we became independent, your guess is as good as mine!” he laughed a bit, smiling at her. “Anything else?”
She hesitated. “You said “was” referring to Knives.”
He nodded. “He’s gone now.” Vash looked at the table, avoiding the eyes of the two girls watching him. “He used all of the energy he had in the fight and joined the planet. The last of his life…” he smiled softly. “He used it well.” He told them. The world didn’t need to know where his brother ended up.
Meryl was speechless. She knew the fight had been intense, however the news of his brother’s death still took her by surprise. “I…I’m sorry.”
“Thank you.” He motioned with as much subtlety as possible to the cards in her hand. “Did you have some more questions for me, Meryl?”
“Oh. Right, sorry.” She shook her head, turning back to the paper. The remaining questions were all things she already knew. Why he didn’t kill. The name of his gunsmith. A few women had even written in asking about his relationship status. Through clenched teeth Meryl had to ask him. “So Vash. The women of the world want to know. Are you seeing anyone?”
He could practically hear her brain steaming as a cat-like grin spread across his face. “Why yes, ladies. I’m currently single and as a hunter of love I’m completely available.” His eyes shone with mischief as he smiled into the camera.
“Well thank you for your time, Vash.” The short girl growled. “I think that about wraps it up for now. Cut, Milly.”
Milly peeked over the camera almost shyly. “That means to turn the camera off, right?”
Meryl rubbed her temples tiredly. “Yes, Milly.” She turned to Vash. “Thanks for helping us out.”
He’d already put his sunglasses on as he picked up his duffle, swinging it over his back. “Just remember the deal. No more following me around alright?”
“I know, I get it.” She sighed. “But I mean… you don’t have a bounty on your head anymore, or gung-ho guns to worry about…”
“Meryl.” He set his eyes on her through the amber lenses. “You made a deal. I expect you to follow through with your part.” He laid a bill on the table to cover his tab. “I don’t want to see you again.”
He could feel his eyes on him as he walked through the door. He knew it was harsh. He knew it would hurt her. He only prayed that in the end it would keep her safe.
One Month Later
He’d been running again—this time from the Earth defense group—when he came across the dusty home in the middle of the desert. He glanced down at his empty canteen. Maybe they’d let me rest here, he thought, knocking on the thin plank of a door. It eased open with a squeal on its hinges under his rapping knuckles.
Vash peeked his head just inside the entryway with caution. “Hello!” He glanced around slowly. “Is anybody home?” He pushed the door open all of the way as he stepped inside. “I’m just a lonely traveler in need of water, if you don’t mind.” The home was riddled with trash and books strewn across the floor. The couch was covered in dirty clothes and magazines and the sink was filled with dirty dishes, the food causing a smell that ripened in the heat. He made a face as he stepped closer to the source of the odor.
“Someone left quite a mess…” he told himself. The dishes were too high in the sink for him to even fit his canteen to the faucet. He sighed softly. The only way he was getting a refill, apparently, was if he worked for it. “Alright!” he said, tossing his jacket onto the dining chair behind him. “Let’s get to work!”
The suns were setting when he finally collapsed on the bed. The place still looked terrible, but he’d been able to find the bed and the couch, the dishes were cleaned and put away, and the table was clear for him to reward himself with a drink. He made a path from the door to the kitchen, the bed, the couch, the table, and the bathroom around all of the junk piled along the floor. He left the windows open while he slept, and by morning the smell caused by the rotting food had finally dispersed.
He knew he should have filled up his canteen and begun to head on, however the more he relaxed on that couch, enjoying the silence and peace of his newfound shelter, the more tempting the idea of a mini vacation there seemed. The small home was almost hidden in the nothingness of the desert, so it was unlikely that he’d be found there. And the amount of dust and grime that had gathered inside told him that the owner didn’t plan on coming back any time soon.
Vash rolled his head back and took a deep breath of the freedom he felt inside before hearing voices just outside the door. He turned his head to the sound, listening carefully to the possible intruders.
“Maybe there’s water inside!”
He dropped his head, holding back a groan. How had they found him way out here? Why? Didn’t he properly tell them off after the interview?
“Milly don’t be ridiculous.” Meryl’s voice was tired, as if her throat was dry. He listened as she scolded her friend with her worn throat and couldn’t help but glance over at the dripping faucet. He couldn’t deny them such a vital resource.
He made his way to the door, plastering a smile on his face as he heard the big girl’s hard knock against building. He swung the door open just as the short girl was putting her hands on her hips, a frown settling on her cracked lips. He would have invited them in if she’d let him, but it wasn’t the Meryl he knew to wait for such an invitation, so it didn’t surprise him when she pushed her way inside.
He was going to offer her water, but her grateful smile was like a swift kick in the gut, reminding him of her feelings for him. He played it as a joke, but every nerve of hers he stepped on was another attempt at keeping his distance. He couldn’t help the small smile, however, at the fiery temper he’d come to miss.
Milly updated him on their new jobs, interviewing outlaws all across the planet. So it really was a coincidence… he’d realized, taking the paper the tall girl offered him. His eyes narrowed as he read over the page. Tyberius Sloan. His picture was no more terrifying than some of the bounty hunters who’d chased him down in the past. His smile, however, could send a chill down his spine. He had the toxic grin of someone who was happy to be called a murderer; as if he’d shoot a child if it stood in his way. He glanced up at the girls, and then back to the flyer in his hand. There was no way they could get a man like that to consent to some sort of civilized television interview.
Meryl flashed him her guns, as if to prove to him she could handle a man like that. He sighed, finally giving up trying to convince them out of the job. “You girls take the bed tonight.” He told them, eyeing the couch instead. He blew off the short girl’s complaints about the idea, making up some sort of reason to slow them down.
Come morning, he’d decided, he would already be gone. He would be in New Round hours before them, filling the heads of the townspeople with rumors of Longshot Sloan days away in the other direction. It should be simple enough. Enjoy some cards at the local saloon and enjoy some small talk with a few of the drunks. Pick up some rations at the market and gossip about it to the cashiers. By the time the two former insurance girls would make it to town, they’d be led as far away from the real Tyberius Sloan as possible.
He fell onto the couch, legs dangling over the arm. Might as well get a few hours of sleep at least…
His eyes had just closed when something feel loudly behind him, catching his attention. In one quick movement his gun was at the ready as he knelt in front of his make-shift bed. He narrowed his eyes, focusing in the dark room on the disturbance.
“Dammit Milly…” A voice whispered. Vash flipped on the light as he put his gun away. “Oh, Vash…” She looked up at him with a shy smile. “I’m sorry. Did I wake you?” She rubbed her side lightly, motioning to the blonde who had stretched herself across the bed. “She kicked me out…” She told him with a small laugh.
He couldn’t help but stare at her. She was only wearing an over-sized button up. It was long, but the lack of her usual navy tights made it seem much more revealing. “Vash?”
He coughed, turning his head away as his cheeks warmed. “It’s no big deal.” He told her. “I’m just a light sleeper is all.”
“I wish I could say the same about her.” She chuckled. “Anyways, sorry I woke you.” She sat on the floor, back against the wall and knees to her chest.
He frowned. “You aren’t going to sleep there, are you?”
Meryl shrugged simply. “I’ve slept in worse predicaments.” As if that were good enough reason to sleep on the ground. “Good night, Vash.” She said softly.
He shook his head. “Take the couch.” He didn’t have much more time to sleep anyways.
“I’m fine.” She laughed. “Get your beauty rest.”
“You need it more than I do.”
Vash went over his words in his head, cursing himself as he lifted his hands in surrender. “I didn’t mean it like that. You’re beautiful!” Shit. He closed his eyes in defeat. First he insulted her, then he gave her a full on compliment that was sure to lead any woman on. Right?
She laughed. Vash opened his eyes slowly to find her covering her mouth in an attempt to muffle the sound.
Meryl stood up. “I’ll take the couch.” She was still smiling. “We’ll both fit if we’re sitting up.”
He gave her a half smile in return, his cheeks still a light shade of pink. “Okay but can you put some pants on first?”
Meryl looked down at her legs. “I…” her face turned the shade of his coat hanging on the chair. She tore the blanket off the back of the couch. “Why you…” She wrapped the thin cloth around her body tightly. “How long have you been staring!”
“I haven’t.” Or at least he’d tried not to. “Don’t you have sleep pants?”
The two stood, both avoiding the others eyes. The only sound breaking through the tension was the snoring coming from the bed. Meryl sighed, climbing over the piles of junk, blanket held firmly around her bare legs as she made her way to the couch, falling into the seat.
“You aren’t getting your blanket back.” Her cheeks were still visibly burning with a pale pink, and her grey eyes remained focused on anything but the man in front of her. “But you can sit down.”
He couldn’t help but chuckle a bit as he sat down on the opposite end of the couch, leaving a seat of space open between them. She was cute. He could never deny that to himself. But the red cheeks and irritated pout only made it harder to separate himself. He wanted to be close to her. He wasn’t sure if he felt the same as she did, exactly, but he wanted to find out. He only knew that he couldn’t take that risk.
“I…” Her voice brought him back from his thoughts. He glance down at her small form, wrapped up in the thin fabric as she looked up at him. “I’m sorry about your brother…”
He smiled softly, laying his hand on her head, ruffling her hair as if she were a child. “Thank you.”
“What happened?” She asked, her voice muffled slightly behind the cloth.
“Off the record?” He teased.
Her eyes narrowed, turning serious when she answered. “Of course, Vash.”
He sighed, dropping his hand to his side. “He saved me. Entrusted a father and son with my life.” He told her. “I’m not exactly sure what happened after that. When I came to he was gone and the son told me that he’d left an apple tree in his place.”
“An apple tree?”
Vash nodded slowly. “Had he wanted, he could have lived on peacefully with the last of his energy and in the end left nothing behind at all.” He smiled a little. “Instead he used the last of his energy to make something that could live on forever.” He chuckled lightly. “He won’t ever let himself disappear completely. It wouldn’t be Knives.”
Meryl smiled up at him. “So you saved him in the end.”
He shrugged. “I guess.” He ran his hand through his hair and laughed a bit. “I don’t really know what I did though.” Vash stretched, propping his feet on the table. “You should get some sleep. I’m sure you two will want to be out of here bright and early tomorrow.”
“You’re right.” She nodded, burrowing herself into the blanket once again with a yawn. “Goodnight, Vash.”
She fell asleep quickly, shifting slowly on the couch until her head laid against his shoulder. He smiled sadly before slipping out from under her, grabbing his coat off the chair and his duffle from the wall.
He froze, turning slowly to the girl on the couch. Her eyes were closed, her bare leg uncovered by the falling blanket. With gentle footsteps he made his way back to her, tucking her in carefully. “Vash…” she mumbled, “You promised…” His chest ached as he made his way back to the door, trying to ignore her ramblings. “You said you’d come back…”
He slipped out the door, sliding his glasses on as he went. He turned his head to the moons above him. “I’m sorry, Meryl. I can’t keep that promise.” He whispered. “But I promise…I will keep you safe.”