Oil on Water by Dinky

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Oil on Water by Dinky

Post by oldwrench » December 24th, 2008, 3:02 pm

Well, now by popular demand...... I guess someone said "Well, if you really want to write a sequel, I'll read it."...... So Dinky's at it again. Will it work out between Van and Hitomi? Will Annie and Allan get together again? And if they do, will he survive? Or worse.... fall in love? Will Dinky reach 200 pages? Find out in their continuing adventures.

Final Countdown

AN: Hello! Welcome to “Oil and Water” (yeah, I know, lame title- I suck at titles!). This is a sequel to “Mystic Moon Vacation” (again, yeesh- LAME title), and it's going to be written in the same style as that story. Easy going, hopefully funny at times, normal relationship stuff. Nope, no wars, no kidnappings, no evil schemers hiding in the wings to destroy everything. Just straightforward “how does this marriage thing work?” fun with Van and Hitomi, awkward figuring out each other's emotions for other couples... which does imply that there will probably be a bit more lime to this story than MMV. I mean, they ARE going to be married, after all.

So, to start off- Hitomi is about to leave for Gaea to marry Van. Of course, the high-ups in Fanelia have had a month to plan things... and you can imagine how it's gotten out of hand (at least in Van's perspective). So... the first thing Hitomi has to do is survive that- and without Annie, who stubbornly insists it would be bad news all around if she were to go to Gaea.

Let's start the fun, shall we?

Hitomi pulled awake with a slow, heart-wrenching sigh. Every single time she had to leave Van behind in that misty, blurry dream-world, where they could see but never touch, it just got so much harder. It didn't matter that the only things they really talked about were frantic, last minute details, or the newest addition to the frighteningly out of control marriage ceremony itself. Hitomi could sense that Van ached as badly as she did to be able to wrap their arms around each other for reassurance that they would actually survive the ridiculous wedding being forced on them by the entire country of Fanelia. In fact, by the entire population of Gaea. From what Hitomi could decipher from Van's cryptic mutterings, it seemed like the entire world had gone into spasms of celebration as soon as word had leaked out that she was coming back to Fanelia. “Biggest Wedding in Gaea's History” didn't even begin to describe it. Another sigh dredged straight from her toes escaped her lips as she scowled up at the ceiling of her childhood bedroom.

Only one day left. One day to spend with her family. Had it already been two weeks since she and Annie had gotten to Japan?

“That didn't sound like a good sigh,” came a muffled voice from the floor next to her bed. Hitomi rolled over to lean her head over the edge.

“Morning, Annie,” she unenthusiastically greeted the lump of blankets balled up on the futon mattress. The blankets shifted a little, but the tousled brown hair stayed tucked out of sight.

“What now? Did they add another day to the ceremony?”

“Not yet, although Van's still trying to talk them down to three days instead of five,” Hitomi answered morosely.

“Maybe Van should tell them that the stress is going to put a strain on your childbearing capacity. I bet that would get them to tone things down a bit,” Annie said thoughtfully, her face finally emerging from her cocoon.

Hitomi laughed suddenly, the sound ringing out happily in her childhood room. “Oh, man! Can you just imagine Van trying to say 'childbearing capacity' to anyone?”

“Yep. He'd be glowing like a stoplight,” Annie chirped with a grin. “That'd be half the fun of it.”

“Oh, Annie,” Hitomi giggled. “Why can't you come with me to Gaea? At least just to get me through this wedding?”

Annie stared hard at the ceiling. “Tomi, we've been over this way too many times. You and I both know that'd just be a disaster waiting to happen. And you're going to be so busy, you won't have time to wish I was there. Besides, what if that light-thingie doesn't work right? You and Van can work it, sure. But what if you're just trying to send someone else? And anyway, I've already bought my ticket, and the flight's right after you leave.”

“Yeah, I know. It'd just be easier if you were there,” Hitomi muttered, punching her pillow with a scowl. Annie ignored that, studying the flat white ceiling like it was the Mona Lisa.

“So,” she finally piped up cheerfully. “It's your last day here. What are your plans?”

“I don't know.”

“Ooh-kaaaay. How about starting with a long, hot bath?” Annie suggested carefully. The bed creaked slightly as Hitomi dragged herself to her feet with a sigh.

“Yeah, a bath sounds good,” she said half-heartedly. She paused at the door, her eyes scanning the room. “It's all just so weird, Annie. I mean, I'm sad, and scared, and there's a part of me that doesn't want to leave. But really, deep down, I feel like I'll die if I never see him again. And I just can't help but feel really happy that after tomorrow we'll finally be together. It's really confusing.”

Annie sat up and smiled at her. “It's okay to be happy, you know. It's not going to hurt anyone if you're excited. Nobody wants to see you sad, Tomi. Just go with whatever you feel, alright?”

“You make everything sound so easy,” Hitomi replied, rolling her eyes but grinning as she walked out of the room and shut the door quietly behind her.

Easy? Annie flopped onto her back in a jumble of blankets, her smile turning into a grimace. None of this was easy. All the planning, the organizing, the endless preparations- all with a smile and a laugh and quick encouragement whenever Hitomi started to get overwhelmed- not a single bit of that was easy. Tomorrow, she would send her off with a big smile, and no one would ever know how much she was dreading the long, lonely flight back to her empty, silent house.

Although, she couldn't silence the irritating thought that Allen Schezar would have known it. The man had an annoying habit of seeing right through her fake smiles.

Annie squeezed her eyes shut hard, the glow of the white ceiling imprinted behind her truth was, she had thought about going to Gaea with Hitomi. But leaving after the wedding would be even harder, and staying there with her was just not an option. Hitomi had Van, and once she settled in, she wouldn't really need anyone else. But she, Annie, didn't have a knight in shining armor waiting in the wings to give her enough of a reason to leave everything behind. She giggled to herself over her ridiculous thoughts. She did know one Knight, but Allen- Allen of all people- was the last person she could imagine professing his undying love for her. The very thought of it made her stuff her face into her pillow to muffle the laughter.

Honestly, the man was so full of himself and his stupid chivalrous ideas that Annie really couldn't figure out why she missed him at all. And if the alarming frequency of him marching through her thoughts was any indication, she actually missed him a lot. It was vaguely disturbing.

Annie shook her head to clear it of any self-pity as she swiftly made both of their beds and went downstairs to meet Hitomi's family. Tomorrow she could wallow in as much misery as she wanted to, but not today. Today, the last day she'd be with the closest friend she'd ever known, was going to be happy.

Hitomi let the hot water relax away the tension in her shoulders, taking her time shampooing her hair. This might be the second to last shower she ever got to take, since they apparently didn't exist on Gaea. Although, considering how much Van had liked them, maybe Fanelia would be the first to install them. She giggled to herself, remembering how he'd sheepishly admitted that showers were one of the things he missed the most from the Mystic Moon- besides herself, of course.

Eventually, she had to get out of the water or risk turning into a raisin. Wrapping herself in a towel, she wiped the fog off the mirror and stared at herself critically.

“You look more like a drowned cat than a queen,” she griped at her reflection. She pulled a face and toweled off with more energy than necessary, refusing to let her thoughts wander down that dangerous direction again. Every time she started to wonder why Van, perfect, beautiful, royal, mature Van, would want someone like her, she started to hyperventilate. He ran a country, for God's sake. She could barely keep her homework organized.

Oh, well. As long as he wanted her, she was his. Just the thought of feeling his hands on her skin again made her tingle, and tomorrow morning felt too many hours away. And yet, the realization that she had less than a day left on Earth set off a flutter of panic in her stomach.

Her plans for the day were simple. Nothing. She didn't want to do anything out of the ordinary, except for spending the whole day with her family and Annie. Maybe they'd go wander some shops for a while- she knew how different the markets on Gaea were- maybe watch a movie or play some video games with her brother, cook a fancy supper, anything as long as they all did it together. Everything she was taking with her was already packed and waiting: her small bag of treasures, a few photo albums, the kimono her mother had worn at her parent's wedding- altered and ready for her to wear. Hitomi brushed away the two tears that leaked from under her eyelids when she remembered how her mother had smiled through her tears when she saw her in it. And then she laughed remembering Annie's obi-tying lesson.

She bounced down the stairs and into the kitchen where her entire family was gathered with a grin on her face.

“Morning, everyone!” she called, and smiled even wider at their happy greetings.

Van made his way carefully through the crowded hallways of his usually serene castle, deftly dodging frantic maids, over-worked servants, and the occasional council member as he headed towards his private study. Fanelia had always had a more relaxed approach to it's royalty than most countries, but today he hardly got a deferential nod at all. Maybe it was simply because there were too many people crawling all over the palace. Maybe they were all just too busy to notice anything but their own tasks. Whatever the reason, he enjoyed it, since he knew it was hardly going to last.

Final preparations were in full swing, and the entire city was cleaning itself up to be presentable to it's future queen. Van could almost taste the excitement permeating the air, it was so strong.

He flopped himself down in the chair behind his desk, running his calloused hands through his wild, black hair as he let out his pent-up breath. There was still so much to be done, but since everything was being planned and organized by his council and countless others, he had an unfortunate amount of free time on his hands and no idea what to do with it. Every place he'd went to try to lend a hand, he'd been very politely and formally shooed away. Van muttered angrily under his breath and cracked his knuckles. Did they want to drive him crazy by making this final, everlasting day seem even longer?

Not even Merle was around to distract him. No, she was too busy scampering around the castle making sure everything was getting done. Van growled in frustration just thinking about the cat. Half of this was her fault. If she hadn't gone crazy finding out every little bit about traditional Fanelian marriage ceremonies and dropping hints to the council behind his back, things wouldn't be quite as wild as they were now.

A knock on the door made him straighten his spine and yank a pile of documents in front of himself in an attempt to look busy.

“Enter,” he snapped in a suitably disinterested voice. He had to suppress a groan when a council member, one of the men mainly responsible for how monstrously over the top this marriage ceremony was getting, walked in and made a formal bow.

“My Lord King,” he began, “I know that you've requested no special recognition of your Lady's arrival tomorrow, but the council members feel something is in order. It would be very simple to arrange a formal escort through the city, a parade of sorts-”

“No!” Van interrupted swiftly, barely managing to keep his voice pleasantly normal instead of a panicked shout. He may not have been able to stop the council from planning a ridiculous wedding, but he could at least protect Hitomi from this. “Lady Hitomi isn't used to that kind of thing. She'll need some time to adjust. No parades. No formal escort. I will be meeting her alone, as planned.”

“But, my Lord! Surely something... a banquet for the evening meal, perhaps?” the councilman stuttered, and Van could sense that he wasn't going to take 'nothing' for an acceptable answer.

“Alright. A banquet, then. But keep it small.”

“Of course, my King,” the man replied with a smile, bowing again before quickly exiting the room. Van allowed himself to groan loudly now, resting his elbows on his desk and pressing his fists into his temples. Small, ha. Words like that apparently had no meaning whatsoever to anyone in Fanelia at the moment.

At least he'd managed to cancel the parade.

The sun had long since set when Allen finally walked through the door of his family home. He was tired, bone-weary from the past week of preparations for the trip to Fanelia. Somehow, being a Knight Caeli, he supposed, he'd ended up in charge of overseeing the princesses' safety during the grand wedding, which also included making their travel plans for security's sake. Allen knew he was probably going a bit overboard with all his precautions, but with the last two heirs to the Aston bloodline traveling together, it would be downright stupid to take any risks.

He heaved a giant sigh and moved his tired feet towards the sitting room where Celena spent most of her time. There really wasn't much more planning to do. Hitomi would be arriving sometime tomorrow, and he would be escorting the Austurian princesses to Fanelia in a week. It would be good to see Hitomi again.

Allen firmly stamped down the little, niggling hope that perhaps he'd see a certain brown-haired someone again, too, as Celena looked up and greeted him quietly. It was a stupid thought, a useless hope, and it really shouldn't matter to him if he saw Annie again, anyway.

But it did matter, even though he couldn't figure out why. And he couldn't quite kill the tiny, whispering wish that somehow she'd be there to laugh at him in Fanelia.

“Did you have a good day, Celena?” Allen asked gently as he sat down next to her on the small sofa. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the nursemaid he'd put in charge of his sister's well being steal silently out of the room. Celena watched her go with a stony face, and Allen sighed again. He knew Celena didn't like the woman, and he really couldn't blame her. As soon as possible, he would have to look for a better replacement. Someone who wouldn't treat his sister with such condescending pity.

“Tell me a story about the Mystic Moon,” Celena pleaded suddenly, bringing Allen's thoughts back to the present. He groaned silently, eying the dreaded picture book lying innocently across his sister's lap. If it wasn't the only thing that made Celena smile, he would've burned the damn thing. It was still a source of daily jokes among the crew of the Crusade.

“What do you want to hear?” he asked with forced cheerfulness through the clenched teeth of his strained smile. Celena seemed oblivious to his irritation as she flipped through the familiar pictures.

“This one,” she declared, pointing at the picture of him glaring murderously at Annie's back as they decorated the Christmas tree. Allen heaved a sigh. Great. That one again. Dredging up all these stories day after day was grating on him. And it wasn't helping him forget about Annie, either. At least she wasn't asking any more questions about mistletoe.

Celena turned to him with wide, begging eyes. “Please?”

Wonderful. Attacked by the secret weapon.

“Of course, Celena. Anything you want.”

Hitomi woke groggily to the sensation that someone was forcefully trying to pry her out of her blankets and dump her onto the floor.

“Wake up. C'mon, Tomi! You're gonna be late, and then Van's gonna think you changed your mind and go back to Fanelia broken-hearted!”

Hitomi sat bolt upright in terror at Annie's frustrated exclamation, scrambling for her alarm clock.

“What time is it?” she shrieked frantically. “He won't leave without me, will he, Annie?”

The brown haired girl laughed. “Relax. It's only 8 o'clock.”

“It's... only eight...” Hitomi spluttered, frantically staring at the numbers on the small white clock in her hand. For an instant, pure relief flooded her face before she scowled fiercely and chucked the clock at Annie. “Jeez, did you have to give me a heart attack? I'm meeting Van at noon, remember?”

“Yeah, I knew that. But you'd hate yourself for sleeping through your last morning on Earth, and you were pretty dead out. Guess I used a bit too much...” Annie trailed off, mumbling to herself under her breath as Hitomi strained to catch her last sentence.

“Used a bit too much what?” she asked, confused. Annie's smile was a little too innocent, and suddenly her grogginess and the heavy, sound sleep she'd gotten last night made perfect sense.

“You drugged me!”

Annie shrugged lightly, completely unapologetic. “You slept great, didn't you? You couldn't leave for Gaea today looking like a zombie, you know.”

Hitomi glared at her. Okay, so she'd admit that Annie had a point. Things were going to be difficult enough today without the added complication of exhaustion. The corners of her mouth hiked up into a tiny smile.

The smile Annie gave her in return was like a beam of sunshine. “Okay, your mom's making this huge breakfast that smells crazy delicious, but no one gets to eat anything until you get downstairs. So...”

“You woke me up just so you can eat breakfast?” Hitomi demanded, but the irritation she meant to exude was completely ruined by her laughter.

“You have no idea how good it smells. And I'm so hungry,” Annie groaned. “Please, please, get your butt moving so we can eat, Tomi!”

Hitomi flopped back onto the bed, weak with laughter. Only Annie could take a morning like this, the morning, and turn it into something completely normal and commonplace. As if breakfast was the most important thing on the schedule for the day. She was eternally grateful for that.

“Alright, alright. Let's go eat,” she finally chuckled, grinning as she let Annie drag her out of bed with a whoop of victory.

The morning past by quickly, lighthearted and happy mostly thanks to Annie's influence. Hitomi immersed herself in the warmth of her family, the brief hugs from her father, the way her mother smoothed her hair, the teasing jabs from her brother, and Annie's playful jokes, wanting to hang on to her last brief moments with them as long as she could. Time has a way of moving too quickly when it should be standing still, though, and it felt like mere seconds until she was standing near the shrine where she'd first met Van, waiting for him to appear.

“Now you're sure you've got everything you need?” her mother said gently, her voice barely above a whisper in the still, quiet February air. Her hand fluttered over Hitomi's honey-colored hair again, smoothing it for the millionth time.

“I think so,” Hitomi breathed. Her chest felt constricted, like someone had wrapped iron bands around it. She was so torn between anxious exhilaration and desperate sorrow that it was impossible for her to stand still. Her eyes flickered from the cloudless, brilliant sky to the faces of her family and back to the sky again. Next to her, Annie silently took her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze, quietly reassuring her.

“He'll come, Tomi,” she whispered. “It's not quite noon yet. He'll come.”

Hitomi glanced at her, lips pursed, before looking back up to the sky. She took a deep, shuddering breath and nodded, relaxing just a minuscule amount. Her mother wrapped an arm snugly around her shoulders as her father came to stand behind them, one hand resting gently on her head. Her brother kept his hands shoved deeply into his pockets, but he stood as close to the little group as was comfortable for a teenager to get.

They all waited, watching the sky silently.

Van watched the sun creep it's slow way towards noon anxiously. It took a lot of effort not to pace around the small glade where his family and Escaflowne rested, but somehow he managed it. His thoughts were a completely different matter. They veered in multiple directions so chaotically that he was having a hard time keeping up with himself.

What if Hitomi wasn't there, waiting for him? What if he'd gotten the time and day wrong? What if her parents decided they didn't like him when they saw him and refused to let her leave with him? What if he tried to call the pillar of light and it didn't work?

Or, worst of all, what if Hitomi was there, but she'd changed her mind? What if she refused to come back with him?

But what if she did come back with him, and changed her mind later? What if he was really terrible at the whole marriage thing? He grimaced, the memories of just how bad he truly was at being romantic very clear in his memory. Hitomi was some sort of saint for putting up with his inept bumbling.

The sun finally reached it's peak, and Van took a deep breath to steady himself. With an effort, he thrust aside his worries and focused, gripping the pendant tightly. The electric charge in the air felt almost familiar as the light gathered around him. His feet lifted slowly off the ground, rising faster and faster until he disappeared from the Gaean sky.

Only a scant few seconds passed before he stood on solid ground again, blinking at the sudden dimness and momentary disorientation. The first thing he saw was Hitomi, surrounded by her family as they clung to her. His heart stopped for a brief second, wondering if his worst fear was about to come true. Then her eyes met his, and her face lit up into a brilliant smile, and suddenly everything was perfect.

“Hitomi...” he breathed, overwhelmed by an unexpected wave of profound relief.

“Van! You came!” Hitomi blurted out as she broke free from her family to run into his waiting arms. Annie rolled her eyes.

“You two are seriously hopeless,” she sighed, shaking her head in exasperation.

Ignoring the sheepish blush spreading across both their faces, Hitomi took Van's hand and led him over to her family. For a brief moment, Van had the childish desire to dig his heels into the frozen ground and refuse to move forward, but Hitomi's parents smiled so warmly at him that all his worries vanished.

“Mom, Dad, this is Van Fanel,” she introduced them with an anxious smile.

“Obviously,” her brother snorted with a roll of his eyes. He grinned as Hitomi punched him on the arm. Their parents ignored them and greeted Van politely.

Annie stood slightly off to one side, doing her best to be quietly unobtrusive. Once the introductions were over and Hitomi and her family started to say their goodbyes, Van moved to stand next to her.

“Hello, Annie,” he greeted quietly, both of them still watching the little family.

“'Sup, Van?” she returned cheerfully. “How'd you like my wedding present?”

Abruptly, he flamed scarlet and cleared his throat. “It was... very educational,” he mumbled. Annie laughed and he searched desperately for something to distract her.

“Are you absolutely certain you don't want to come to Gaea with Hitomi? At least for the ceremony?”

Annie sighed. “Yep, I'm sure. Besides, don't you think things'll go a lot smoother if I'm not around to mess stuff up?”

“Well...” Van hesitated, mentally scrambling to figure out just how badly things could go.

“You see? I've worked too hard to get the two of you married to wreck things now.”

As they watched, Hitomi finally pulled away from her family's embraces, wiping her eyes on the back of her sleeves. Van sensed Annie stiffening next to him as Hitomi came towards them, and he briefly wondered how difficult it was for her to keep that cheerful grin on her face.

“Annie, I'm going to miss you so much,” Hitomi whispered as the two girls hugged tightly. Fat tears rolled down her cheeks as she struggled to keep a wobbly smile on her face. After a few seconds, Annie wormed her way out of the hug and wrinkled her nose playfully.

Hitomi gave a watery laugh. “Sorry. I know you hate sappy goodbyes.”

“I'm just worried you're going to drip snot on me,” she replied, still smiling easily, like Hitomi was just leaving on a short trip instead of possibly disappearing from Earth forever. Hitomi rolled her eyes and hugged her again.

“Thank you, Annie. So much. For everything,” she said earnestly.

“You're welcome, Tomi. Although I should be thanking you. Promise me you'll be happy, no matter what, okay?” Annie replied, her voice muffled by Hitomi's shoulder.

“I promise. You be happy, too,” Hitomi whispered, tears once again rolling down her cheeks. There was a brief pause before Annie broke free once more.

“That better just be tears on my coat. I don't want to fly all the way back to the States with boogey-crusties on my shoulder.”

Hitomi laughed for real this time, and her family moved to join them, handing over the few belongings she was taking with her to Gaea. Hitomi was once again enveloped in her mother's tender embrace as both of them cried together.

“Take care of my daughter,” her father said gruffly as he shook Van's hand with a firm grip.

“I'll do my best to make her happy, sir. I swear it,” Van returned solemnly. Annie's quick hug squeezed the air out of his lungs.

“Just remember to relax and have fun sometimes,” she told him seriously. He nodded slightly, and she winked at him. “If you ever manage to figure out page 65, you'd better find a way to tell me!”

“Page 65?” Hitomi asked, wiping away her tears as she took Van's hand and studied the red blush creeping over the tips of his ears.

“Don't worry about it. Van'll show you later. Right, Van?” Annie laughed, grinning her big shark grin at him. He glared at her before turning to look down at Hitomi.

“Ready?” he asked quietly, his voice gentle. He didn't want to rush her through her painful goodbyes, but every second they spent here was one more second that she could change her mind.

Hitomi bit her lip and nodded, trying to give him a wobbly smile. “Yeah, I'm ready. Let's go.”

Van's warm hand firmly gripping her own steadied her as her family backed away several paces. She knew she'd never forget the way her mother leaned into her father for support, the way her brother tried to smile at her, how Annie stood just a little bit away from the small group, all alone. It tore at her heart, but a gentle squeeze from Van's hand kept her together.

“I love you!” she called out to them as the electric, blue light exploded around them. She clung tightly to Van as they drifted up and away from her past life towards their future.

Annie stared up at the forms of Van and Hitomi, rapidly getting smaller and smaller as the pillar of light pulled them higher into the sky. She caught her breath at the stabbing sensation in her chest, biting her lips together hard to keep from whimpering. It was harder than she expected, watching Hitomi leave. A little part of her screamed in the back of her mind that she wished things could have been different.

She was concentrating too hard in that brief moment before Hitomi disappeared from Earth to notice the tingling currents of electricity running up and down her skin like feathers. She was so focused that the blinding, pulsing blue light suddenly flashing around her caught her completely off guard. She staggered, shielding her eyes, and that brief moment of panic cost her everything. Her feet scrambled for solid ground, and her hands reached uselessly for something to grab onto as she was pulled irresistibly up towards the sky.

“Shit! Not me! Not me!” she shrieked, struggling futilely to break free. By the time Hitomi's family registered her strangled cry, it was already far too late. Her brother's hand missed by more than a meter when he lunged after her. Absurdly, Annie kicked her legs and swung her arms like she was trying to swim back down the light towards Earth.

“Put me back! I don't wanna go to Gaea!” she demanded with an angry shout, and she could almost hear Fate chuckling darkly at her. She could have screamed in frustration as Hitomi's family dwindled swiftly, helplessly, beneath her. Their shocked, confused faces were the last thing she saw before the light swept her away into the endless blue of the sky.

AN: Yeah, I know. Not a very interesting start. Sorry. Next chapter will be less boring, I promise. Hang in there, please!! Thanks for reading!
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Re: Oil on Water by Dinky

Post by Sakura » December 25th, 2008, 10:35 am

YAY! However I have a problem... we already used all pictures of Escaflowne for the Mystic Moon Vacation :swt:

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Re: Oil on Water by Dinky

Post by oldwrench » December 25th, 2008, 3:19 pm

Then, I will have to screencap some from the dvd's for you.
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Re: Oil on Water by Dinky

Post by Sakura » December 25th, 2008, 11:31 pm

I'd prefer more artistic images. The series itself had ugly graphics.
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Re: Oil on Water by Dinky

Post by oldwrench » December 28th, 2008, 8:33 pm

Well, on with chapter two...... You didn't really think we would get away without Annie being along, did you? Now, will Allan and Annie get together, and what will happen when they do? Can Gaea survive Annie? Can Van survive Annie? Will the marriage be completely messed up? Or..... Will Allan get a bit of revenge on his crazy little friend?

Over the Rainbow

AN: Chapter two is here!!

Somewhere over the rainbow
Skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true

The first thing Hitomi saw when the light disappeared was Escaflowne's silent, still form kneeling in the grass. Van's warm, rough hand was still wrapped tightly around her own, and she felt him give it a gentle squeeze. She was grateful that he didn't say anything or try to make her move yet. She wasn't ready to do anything but stare straight ahead.

Slowly, very, very, slowly, she raised her head to find the faint outline of the Mystic Moon hanging above them in the sky. Oh, god. She was truly back. There was no question about it: this was Gaea.

And this time she wasn't going back to Earth.

She started crying again. She couldn't seem to help it. She could still see her family, all huddled together, in her mind. And she could still see Annie standing there, all alone, and it tore at her heart. The tears poured in a torrent down her cheeks, and she didn't bother to try to wipe them away.

Suddenly, Van's arms were around her, holding her gently, securely, and she sobbed into his chest. His warmth made the pain better somehow, and she wrapped her arms around his waist to draw him even closer. He was the reason why she'd left, after all. It only made sense that he would help ease the aching in her chest.

When she'd cried herself dry and soaked Van's shirt completely, she pulled back slightly, sniffling.

“Sorry, Van. I'm done now, really,” she whispered hoarsely, hoping that he wouldn't start thinking she was regretting her decision.

“It's okay, Hitomi. Take your time,” he replied, smoothing a few strands of hair from her tear-stained face with calloused fingers. The gentle concern in his voice would have brought tears to her eyes if she hadn't already cried all of them out. She settled for a deep, cleansing sigh instead.

“Where's Merle? I thought she would've pounced on you the minute we got here,” she murmured.

“I asked her to stay at the palace,” Van replied quietly, shifting a little awkwardly. “I thought you might want some time to adjust before you had to see anybody else.”

Hitomi pulled away enough for him to see the smile radiating with gratitude on her face. “I love you so much, Van.”

She had to remind herself that he really wasn't very good at things like this when he stared at her for several seconds with a look of adorable, ecstatic surprise.

“I love you,” he finally replied, right before she leaned up to kiss him deeply. They took their time about it, making up for a month of lost time under the shadow of the majestic guymelef.

It was much, much later when Hitomi finally sighed, “I suppose we can't just run away and elope, huh?”

“I don't think we'd get very far,” Van answered, grimacing.

“Probably not. So, how long can we stay here before they send out a search party for us?”

“As long as we're there in time for the banquet, we should be safe,” he answered unthinkingly, too busy enjoying the silky feeling of her skin under his fingers to really consider what he was saying. He cursed himself mentally when Hitomi pulled away from him, green eyes wide. He had been planning to let her know about the banquet gently, not drop it in her lap like he'd just done.

“In time for the what?” she demanded in a squeaky voice. “You didn't tell me about a banquet!”

“They just decided it today,” Van said apologetically. “I did manage to stop the parade.”

“A parade?” Hitomi turned pale and buried her face in her hands. “This is going to be way harder than I thought, isn't it?”

“It'll be fine, really,” Van soothed her gently. “All you have to do is smile and nod once in a while. In a couple of weeks it'll all be over.”

Hitomi buried her head in his shoulder, laughing weakly. “A couple of weeks? You'd better be grateful I love you so much, or I'd never go through this.”

“Oh, I am. I am,” he assured her fervently, and his lips found hers to show her just how true his words were. Her bones turned to pudding, and suddenly everything seemed laughably easy compared to what she was willing to go through for him.

“Okay. Bring on the banquet. I can handle anything you Fanelians throw at me.”

Van squinted up at the sun for a moment. “I think we've got a little more time before we'll be needed at the castle.”

“Even better,” Hitomi sighed, and she reached up for another bone-melting kiss.

The preparations on the Crusade were nearly finished. Allen scrutinized his crew's handiwork as he and Gaddess carefully looked the ship over for any missed details. Since the Crusade was to be the head of the air formation, escorting the princesses' much larger levi-ship on it's trip to Fanelia, everything must run smoothly, perfectly.

“Hey, Boss! Look at that,” Gaddes exclaimed, pointing in the direction of Fanelia. Allen turned and caught a glimpse of a far away blue streak of light.

“Seems like the little lady's really back, then,” Kio called from above them where he was strapped into a harness checking over the Crusade's wings. A small smile tugged at the corners of Allen's mouth as he watched the slender blue light dissipate back into the clouds. He stood for a moment longer, staring into the distance, tamping down the ridiculous wish that Annie would've been in that light, too, before turning back to his levi-ship with a sigh.

Suddenly, his shadow was sharp and dark against the side of the Crusade like a bolt of lightening had hit the ground behind him. Only, unlike lightening, the bright, blue light didn't fade. Allen wheeled around quickly, the startled shouts from his crew and Gaddes' muffled cursing barely registering in his ears.

A light pillar! Here, only a little over a hundred paces away! What had happened? Had Hitomi and Van somehow become separated? Allen squinted and strained, fighting to see through the agonizing glare to make out the shadowy figure hurtling towards the ground.

Whoever it was landed with a hard thump in the tall grass, effectively hidden from the crew. There was a long moment of stunned silence; Allen was fairly certain that nobody even took a breath.

“Ooooh. Ouch,” the mystery person groaned loudly, and Allen unexpectedly found himself running forward, Gaddes close at his heels.

He knew that voice.

The sounds of the crew scrambling after them pounded loud in his ears. It couldn't be. There was no way it could be who he thought...

But it was. It was her brown hair tied back into that messy half-ponytail, half-bun. It was definitely her musical voice grumbling to herself. And that petite figure was totally, unmistakably hers. Allen slid to an abrupt halt about fifteen feet away from her, causing Gaddes to narrowly avoid slamming into him. She stood up slowly, completely unaware of the shocked group behind her as she dusted herself off.

“Well, this is just fabulous,” she muttered furiously, squinting up at the faint outline of the Mystic Moon in the bright, cloudless sky. Allen had to swallow a few times before he could make his voice work again.

“Annie?” he finally choked out, forcing the words through his numb lips.

She jumped and spun around so quickly she had to catch herself from falling over. For a moment, she gaped at him, her mouth formed into a perfect O as she blinked rapidly.

“Allen?” she exclaimed, her voice climbing several octaves. Her face puckered in consternation. “Wait- where am I?”

Allen did his best to sound calm and soothing. “You're on Gaea, Annie.”

For a moment, Annie's face was completely dumbfounded as she stared back at him. Then she scowled darkly with an expression of utter exasperation.

“Well, no shit, Captain Obvious! I meant where.”

Allen could feel the tips of his ears flaming red at the muffled snickering from behind him. Gaddes hid his grin behind an unconvincing bout of coughing as Annie continued to glare at him, hands on her hips.

“Yes, of course,” Allen corrected smoothly, forcing a calm, neutral mask onto his face and willing the blush to stay in his ears. “You are just outside of the city limits of Palas, Asturia's capital.”

“Asturia?” Annie whispered in a half-shriek. Her face paled to a deathly, chalky white, and Allen could feel the crew behind him bracing themselves for a feminine outburst of hysterics. Color flooded abruptly back into her cheeks, and she balled her hands into tight fists. She screwed her face up into the strangest grimace, and Allen wondered briefly if she really was going to burst into tears.

Then she opened her mouth and let out a long string of cursing so violent it made the ears of the most hardened crew member burn. Allen couldn't even recognize half of what was coming out of her mouth.

“Annie!” he exclaimed after a moment of stunned shock. She snapped her mouth shut but ignored him as she flung the small bag she was carrying on her shoulder to the ground and started dumping things out of it. The men shifted, looking at each other with raised eyebrows and dumbfounded expressions.

Allen moved cautiously toward her. “What is going on?”

“Wait! Can't... breathe...” she wheezed angrily in reply. Worried now, he knelt down beside her as she finally yanked out her inhaler and took two deep, long puffs. After several tense minutes, her breathing became noticeably easier, and she scowled darkly up at the barely-visible Mystic Moon.

“What happened?” Allen ventured carefully once her wheezing had nearly stopped.

“How the hell should I know?” she demanded in a shriek, waving her arms wildly. “One minute I'm waving goodbye, and the next I'm doing a belly flop onto another planet! Which kind of hurt, by the way. This totally sucks!”

Allen dodged her flailing arms, a confused frown wrinkling his smooth face. “Waving goodbye? You mean you didn't just get separated from Van and Hitomi?”

“I'm supposed to be separated from them! I'm supposed to be on a completely different world from them right now!”

“So, you weren't trying to come to Gaea at all?” Allen clarified, ignoring Gaddes and his crew leaning in for a closer look at the irate girl now shoving her things back into her small bag with more force than necessary.

She stopped long enough to give him a shriveling look. “No. This was not part of the plan. Dammit! What the hell do I do now?”

That was a good question. Allen thought hard, doing his best to blot out the murmurs from the crew behind him. Annie seemed too worked up to notice or care about the small crowd of men giving her appraising looks. Allen was torn between snickering and groaning when he sporadically caught a few muffled words. It seemed that her shocking language had impressed them. Even the rough-talking bar wenches couldn't compete with Annie. Allen shook his head.

“I think the best thing to do is get you to Fanelia,” he announced, more firmly than he felt.

Annie stared at him with a look that spoke volumes of barely contained irritation. “Fanelia. And how far away from here is that?”

“About two day's journey. It's the only option. Van and Hitomi are the only people capable of calling a pillar of light,” he stated defensively when she flung her hands up in thunderous exasperation.

“Two days. Well, shit. There goes my non-refundable plane ticket,” she muttered furiously. Scowling, she stripped off her winter coat and heavy sweater, leaving herself in just her jeans and tight, grey tank top. Allen had to clench his hands into fists to resist the momentary urge to wrap her coat tightly around her again. He told himself firmly that it wasn't because he knew every man in his crew was jostling to get an eyeful. He just didn't think she realized how much cleavage she was showing. And the words “Farm Fresh Melons” emblazoned across her chest in bright red letters weren't helping.

Annie was either completely oblivious or totally unconcerned with their reactions as she scooped up her things and turned to face the crew with a hearty attempt at a smile.

“Hi! Who're you guys?”

All of them responded at once in an excited, eager babble until Allen cut across them loudly.

“These are my crewmen. My second-in-command, Gaddes.” he said, introducing them. Annie reached out and shook Gaddes' hand before he had time to respond.

“The crew of the Crusade, right? Nice to meet all of you,” she chirped, grinning at them before turning back to Allen. “Okay, then. How do I get to Fanelia?”

“We'll be taking you in the Crusade, of course,” he replied evenly. “We had already planned to be leaving for Fanelia at the end of the week.”

“The end of the week? No way!” she exclaimed in horror. “How do I find a ship that's leaving today?”

Allen folded his arms tightly across his chest and frowned heavily at her. “Annie, you are gravely mistaken if you think I'm going to let you leave on any ship but the Crusade.”

“You're the mistaken one if you think I'm going to sit around twiddling my thumbs for a week. I can take care of myself.” she returned hotly, hands on her hips as the crew looked on with interest. Allen had some very serious doubts about that, especially considering the way she was dressed.

“Maybe I'm more worried about the damage you might cause if I let you loose on Gaea,” he stated seriously, arching an eyebrow. “It might start a war if the new Queen of Fanelia's closest friend goes missing because a Caeli Knight of Asturia failed to protect her.”

“Oh, now that's just ridiculous and you know it, Al. Tomi would never blame you for my stupidity,” she snorted, and then caught herself with a sheepish grimace. “Except that it's not stupidity.”

Allen couldn't help giving a tiny smirk as Annie glowered at him. She glanced from the crew to his set face and threw up her hands in exasperation.

“Oh, fine. Have it your way, since I can't really do anything but go along with you, anyway. For now. I'm not going to give up, you know.”

“And I'm not going to change my mind,” he retorted, grinning widely at his easy victory.

She gave him a sour look and heaved a deep sigh. “So what exactly am I going to do for a week, then, Mr. Bossy?”

Another good question. She could hardly traipse around Palas looking like that. And she couldn't stay at his estate without word getting around. Her reputation would be ripped to shreds and dragged through a manure pile before two days were done. Their options were pretty limited.

And then everything came together, and he had to stifle a very uncharacteristically evil laugh.

“Gaddes, make sure the rest of the repairs get finished today,” he commanded sharply. The scruffy, dark-haired man gave him a significant look, his eyes flickering to Annie with a knowing smirk just long enough to make Allen want to punch him.

“Alright, you dogs. Back to work!” Gaddes shouted, and the crew scrambled back to the ship.

“See ya around!” Annie called after them, waving with her free hand. She stifled a laugh when a few of them turned around to wave back and got a nasty tongue-lashing from Gaddes.

“Don't encourage them,” Allen groaned under his breath, and she turned to give him a confused look.

“So, what are we going to do now?” she questioned.

“That depends. Are you able to control your foul mouth yet?”

Annie glanced up at the Mystic Moon, a scowl crossing her face before she forced a smile back onto it. “Yep. I think I've got it under control now. I've just got to keep telling myself this'll be a crazy adventure and take things as they come. It won't be for very long. Less than two weeks and I'll be home, right?”

“I don't see why not,” he replied, sighing. He looked down into her chocolate brown eyes, and suddenly the strangest, warmest feeling flooded through him. Without thinking, he blurted out, “It's good to see you again, Annie.”

She blinked, staring silently at him for several long moments before a little smile twisted up the corners of her mouth.

“Yeah. I guess it is,” she murmured finally, and then wrinkled her nose at him. “So, what's the plan, Stan?”

“I'm going to take you to the palace. I'm sure Princess Millerna will be more than thrilled to meet you. I trust you know who she is from Hitomi's stories.”

“Yep, I know about her. Hey, is she still married to that Dryden guy?” she asked, hurrying along beside him as he led the way towards his waiting horse.

“Technically. They haven't seen each other since he left at the end of the war. Why?” Allen asked as he checked the saddle straps over and untied the reins.

“Well, I kinda want to meet him. He sounds like fun. Uh, are we going to ride that thing?” she asked uncertainly.

“Of course. I'm sorry, but there isn't a carriage here, so we don't have much choice,” he apologized, and then caught the nervous look on Annie's face. “What's wrong? Haven't you ever ridden a horse before?”

“Nope. Never even touched one. You know what? I think I'll walk,” she said cheerfully, not fooling Allen one bit.

“Don't be ridiculous. It would take you several hours to walk there,” he laughed, enjoying the role-reversal. “You'll be perfectly safe riding with me. You have my word.”

Annie eyed the horse doubtfully and pursed her lips. “Alright, fine. But if that thing throws me and tramples me to little bits, whatever's left of me will kick your ass.”

“Language, Annie, language,” Allen sighed as he lifted her easily into the saddle and swung up behind her. It seemed he was going to get his chance to teach her some manners after all. He suppressed a dark chuckle as he urged the horse into a canter and Annie's knuckles turned white around the saddle horn.

Revenge was going to be very, very sweet.
Dogs have owners, Cats have staff

Some mistakes are too much fun to only make once.

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Re: Oil on Water by Dinky

Post by oldwrench » January 5th, 2009, 2:54 am

Well, Dinky has the third chapter done, but now whe says she has writers block......... Maybe she needs more encouragement from you people. Hope you like this one, it's pretty good. On with chapter 3.

Welcome to the Jungle

AN: Yay! Chapter 3!! There's more VxH in this one, for all of you who missed more VxH action last chapter. I think this one's a bit boring- all that setting up junk- but it's also a bit longer. Hope you enjoy anyway!
You all are wonderful and deserve giant, frosted Holiday cookies!! Cheers!
Oops, been forgetting this: Escaflowne doesn't belong to me! But Annie does! Mwahahaha!

Welcome to the Jungle
We got fun 'n games
We got everything you want
Honey, we know the names
(“Welcome to the Jungle” : Guns 'N Roses)

Hitomi clung tightly to Van's hand as they ducked as silently as possible through dark, unused passages of the castle's servant quarters. Her skin was still tingling from the cold air of the upper skies. Van had unexpectedly unfurled his glorious wings as they'd neared the city walls, lifting her suddenly, breathlessly, from the ground without an explanation. She'd gasped, but wrapped her arms tightly around his neck without an argument. It had been six long years since she'd heard the wind whistling past her ears as his strong wings carried them through the skies; she wasn't about to start complaining.

Now, as he hustled her quietly along the dark hallways, pausing every so often to listen for other footsteps, she had to stifle a giggle. They were sneaking around in his castle like a pair of guilty thieves, all to avoid the pomp and celebration of their wedding.

“Van, is this really necessary?” Hitomi whispered into his ear, ghosting just enough air to raise a shiver of goosebumps on his skin. She kind of hoped he'd relax enough for a minute to pin her up against the wall and kiss her senseless. It would complete the mood. His grip on her hand tightened momentarily, but he was too busy peeking around the corner to kiss her. She sighed in disappointment.

“It'll be worth it if we can get you to your rooms without anyone seeing us,” he whispered back, pulling her swiftly down the deserted hall. Hitomi pressed her lips tightly together and frowned. He was starting to make her jittery, which really wasn't helping her keep her already frazzled nerves in check. How bad were things here if Fanelia's king was forced to play hide-and-seek in his own castle?

They were entering the more inhabited areas now, and their progress was slow, hampered by the scurrying servants bursting out of rooms and hurrying up and down the hallways. The fifth time Van yanked Hitomi into a small room to avoid what sounded like a charging mob, she had to work hard to stifle a giggle at the absurdity of it all.

“It's not far now,” Van assured her in a low whisper, his ear pressed intently against the wood of the door, listening. Hitomi watched him, her lips twitching.

“And I suppose... once we get there, we'll have to separate for a while, huh?” she whispered back, leaning in just a little bit closer to him. His deep, red-brown eyes turned to find her own.

“Well, yes. Until the banquet.”

“Mm hm,” she moved a little closer. “But we won't be alone like this again for a while, right?”

“...Oh. That' true,” he managed to get out after a moment of thought. She nearly laughed at his adorable look of crestfallen disappointment. She settled for leaning in until they were centimeters apart.

“But- we're alone now...”

Van blinked, his brain apparently too dazed to be able to keep up with the situation. Hitomi, the girl he'd dreamed about countless times in ways that would earn him a well-deserved slap and then some, Hitomi was leaning towards him, giving him that kind of look. Dear gods, it was like one of his secret fantasies come to life! No. No, that was just his dirty male mind making stuff up. He cleared his throat and tried not to stare at her lips.

“Uh, we should... get you to your... uh...”

But Hitomi moved just a fraction of an inch closer, and he completely lost his train of thought. She was right, anyway. They wouldn't be allowed to spend time alone together until they were properly married. He was pretty sure the council had already assigned round-the-clock chaperons for both of them. Stupid protocols.

His lips crashed into hers, and she wound her arms tightly around his neck, pulling him in deeper. His hands settled on her hips, holding her tightly against him even as they moved away from the door. He backed them into a small wooden table, covered in books and papers, and with one swift movement, he swiped everything onto the floor and lifted her onto the top. She grinned against his mouth and wrapped her legs around his waist, running her hands through his hair. He ghosted his lips down her neck to her collarbone, grinning himself at her gasp.

Behind them, the door crashed against the wall with a reverberating bang. Hitomi shrieked, her nails digging into Van's shoulders as he let out a shocked curse. Timidly, they both glanced at the doorway. A very irate cat-girl glowered at them both, her hands on her hips.

“Where have you been?” Merle screeched at them, stomping forward. “Lord Van, I saw the light pillar return hours ago. Do you have any idea how worried I've been? And then, once I finally catch your scent in the castle, I find you two breaking all the rules. And worst of all, you're wasting time! Don't you realize the banquet's in less than two hours?!”

She'd stomped her way to their frozen bodies by then, and she grabbed hold of Van's shirt to yank him away. Hitomi was blushing so hard she was surprised blood wasn't spurting out of her nose. She couldn't quite stop the hysterical giggle from bubbling past her lips at the look on Van's purple face, and Merle shot her a very dirty look.

“I don't know what you find so funny,” she sniffed. “You're just lucky it was me who found you, or we might not be having a wedding.”

“Merle,” Van protested, frowning, as Hitomi's giggle died a swift death.

“What? It's true! I can't even imagine the scandal...”

Hitomi paled, swallowing hard against the sudden dryness in her throat. She was playing by a whole new set of rules now. She'd have to remember that. The consequences weren't worth taking the risks.

“She's right, Van. We shouldn't have done that. I'm sorry,” she said quietly.

“I'm not,” he murmured in a voice so low she hardly caught his words. Merle's tail twitched in irritation, and Hitomi smiled tentatively at her.

“Hey, Merle. I've missed you,” she said simply. The enormous grin spreading across the cat-girl's face caught her completely off-guard.

“I've missed you, too, Hitomi!” Merle squealed, almost knocking her over with an exuberant hug. Rendered speechless by the sudden change in her mood, Hitomi could only manage to hug her back. Inwardly, she marveled at how much Merle had changed in the six years she'd been away. She reminded her of Nariya now; tall, sleek, feminine, and feline all in one. The unchanged bubblegum pink hair and the attitude helped her retain the childlike glow that Hitomi had come to love so much, though.

“Okay. We'll have time for hellos later. Right now, you both have to get ready for the banquet!” Merle exclaimed, letting her out of the rib-cracking hug but keeping a firm grip on one of her arms.

“Merle, there's plenty of time-” Van protested, but Merle cut him off with an angry slash of her tail.

“For you, maybe,” she hissed, already propelling a surprised Hitomi out of the door and down the hallway. “But I'm in charge of getting your queen-to-be ready for her grand debut. I need all the time I can get.”

“Grand debut?!” Hitomi squeaked out, stumbling along as Merle pulled her by the arm. Her head started to swim at the idea of it, little black sparks flying in front of her eyes, and she wondered if she was going to pass out. She seemed to do that a lot on Gaea, she remembered.

“Merle, that's enough!” Van barked, exasperated. Hitomi stared at him with wide, nervous eyes, and he did his best to look calmly reassuring. “This isn't going to be a 'grand debut'. It's just a small informal banquet, alright, Hitomi?”

Merle huffed, and he shot her a dark look. She glanced quickly at Hitomi's white face and her tail twitched a few times.

“Um, yeah. You shouldn't take me too seriously, Hitomi. I'm just sort of on edge with all this wedding planning. Sorry.”

“No. It's fine. I'm just- it's fine, really,” Hitomi said weakly, giving a small, shaky smile. “I've got to get used to it sometime, right?”

“That's right!” Merle exclaimed, exuberantly determined again. “And the more time you have, the better. Let's go start getting you dressed!”

Hitomi tried hard to look excited, but merely ended up looking like she had a really bad headache. Merle laughed at her expression and started hauling her down the hallway once more. Van trailed along beside them, and Hitomi caught the anxious glances he kept giving her. She tried to give him a convincing smile so he'd know she wasn't going bolt and demand to be sent back home.

No. Not back home. This was home now, and she'd better start remembering that.

It was hard to ignore the way everyone they passed in the hallway stopped dead in their tracks and stared open mouthed, or the excited whispers floating behind them. Hitomi did her best to focus on the endless stream of enthusiastic chatter about dress fittings, marriage ceremony protocol lessons, and the occasional “I'm so glad you're back, Hitomi!” coming from Merle, but it was getting increasingly difficult. She just wanted to let Van hug her and tell her again that everything was going to be alright.

“And here we are! Your own personal suite, at least for the next two weeks,” Merle exclaimed, gesturing widely at a pair of large, heavy, wooden doors. “You've got a bedroom, a sitting room with a dining area, two dressing rooms, and a private bathing room. Oh, and a balcony overlooking the gardens.”

Hitomi gaped at her, unable to help herself. “Are you kidding? That's... incredible!”

Merle grinned happily at her and turned to pull open the doors. Hitomi looked at Van, her eyes sparkling, and he smiled an incredibly adorable, crooked, little smile at her obviously pleased astonishment.

“I hope you like it. Merle actually made all the preparations,” he said humbly. She smiled at him, but Merle cut her off before she could thank either one of them.

“Yes, I did. And it's on the opposite end of the castle from Lord Van's rooms, so I hope you enjoyed your little interlude today, because it's not happening again until after the wedding,” she hissed in a voice so low only the two of them could hear it. Hitomi glanced sheepishly at Van's face to find him blushing just as bright red as she was. Merle flashed a grin that showed off a few more of her sharp teeth than was necessary and gave Van a shove away from the doors.

“It's time for you to go now, Lord Van. I'll take good care of your bride.” she informed him severely. “Come on, Hitomi. We've got a lot of work to do.”

If Hitomi wasn't feeling so overwhelmed, she would've had a few snappy replies to that comment. As it was, a whole crew of maids rushed up to them as if on cue, panting and gasping as if they'd just run through half the castle. Which, Hitomi surmised wryly, was probably the case. She could feel that hysterical giggle building in her throat again when she imagined the panic rushing through the castle as word spread that Van and the future queen had snuck in and were headed toward her rooms.

The women all dipped respectfully at their king, but their eyes were fastened on Hitomi with eager excitement. She felt herself going from pale to red and back to pale again as she clenched her hands tightly together to keep herself from fidgeting nervously. Van eyed the small group and backed away slightly, looking distinctly uncomfortable.

“Perfect timing!” Merle exclaimed, waving the women forward into the suite. “There's no time to waste. Let's get started!”

Hitomi flashed a helpless look at Van; he did his best to look reassuringly calm and failed miserably.

“I'll see you... later” he said lamely as Merle flashed another grin at him and shut the door in his face. He heaved a sigh and moved away down the hallway. He didn't really have any desire to be caught staring at her door like a lovesick fool, and he definitely didn't want to deal with Merle's wrath if she found him hanging around. Besides, he was fairly certain he was in for a very respectful telling off by several of his advisers for the way he snuck Hitomi into the castle. There were probably at least five rules of protocol he'd broken with that one.

Ah, but it had been worth it for those few stolen moments with Hitomi. Curse Merle and her impressive sense of smell! He sighed yet again and scowled ferociously, making a passing maid drop her armload of linens. She gave him a few surprised looks as he apologized and hastily helped her scoop them back up before he hurried away to his private study.

The next two weeks of complete, hands-off celibacy were going to be hell.

Hitomi now knew what it felt like to be caught in the middle of a tsunami, and it was very, very unpleasant. She even got to experience the wet part, too.

There was no time wasted showing her around her new rooms. As soon as the door was slammed in Van's face, the women had surrounded her and rushed her into what she could only guess was the bathing room.

“For the Dragon's sake, Hitomi! I know it must've been stressful getting everything ready to come here, but I've only got two weeks to get you ready for the ceremonies! Couldn't you have taken better care of my raw material?” Merle demanded as she pulled bits of twigs from her hair and grimaced. “What were you and Van doing? No, don't tell me,” she said, holding up a hand quickly as Hitomi turned pink from head to toe.

All of the maids giggled in unison, and Hitomi did a quick head count. No less than six, not counting Merle and herself, were bustling around the room heating the water, setting out perfumed oils and lotions, readying towels, and, most embarrassingly of all, getting her undressed. Before she even had time to protest, she was stripped and plopped into the fragrant water. The pink blush had turned scarlet by now, but none of the women seemed to notice or care.

At least the room was enormous enough that it didn't feel crowded. It was a very simple room, with straight, clean lines and no unnecessary frills or decorations. Everything was made of the same dark wood, and the simple, zen-like design reminded her strongly of traditional Japanese architecture. What little she'd seen of Fanelian buildings reminded her of that; it was a very comforting feeling.

Much more comforting than the six pairs of hands that were intent on helping her bathe as Merle directed them with military precision. Hitomi caught the wicked gleam in her eye and scowled.

“Initiation by fire, huh?” she asked as she grabbed the first towel handed to her and wrapped it tightly around herself. If it wasn't for the audience, she would've liked to soak forever in that tub. Maybe it would have eased some of the tension stealing through her ever since she was separated from Van.

Merle examined her nails casually. “This is the custom for nobility. Van's mother never used to bathe with less than eight maids to help her. Besides, you really didn't give us much time to get you ready, Hitomi.”

“I've been bathing myself since I was four, Merle,” she replied as she submitted to being lotioned and helped into a kimono-like robe made out of a thin, cream-colored material. Short of throwing an all-out temper tantrum, there wasn't much she could do to stop them. Somehow, she didn't think that would reflect very well on her, so she clenched her teeth and told herself to go with the flow.

Merle must've caught the resigned look on her face, because she suddenly gave her a warm, friendly smile as the small entourage moved into another, even larger room.

“It won't be so bad once you get used to it, Hitomi. And if you really don't like it, you can change it. You're going to be Queen, remember,” she told her kindly, taking her hand and giving it a small squeeze. Hitomi flashed her a weak smile of gratitude in return while she was gently pushed into a straight-backed wooden chair. Someone began pulling a comb through her hair while others began pulling clothes out of closets that Hitomi hadn't even realized were there.

“Thanks, Merle,” she sighed. “But honestly, I don't know anything about being a queen. What if I'm really terrible at it?”

Merle and the maids all laughed. “That's not even a possibility. Lord Van practically worships you, so there's no way the rest of the country won't love you, too. If you make Lord Van happy, you make Fanelia happy.”

“Why don't I believe that things could be that simple?” Hitomi asked wryly. Merle just shrugged and looked her over critically.

“I'm glad you grew your hair out. It makes you look less like a boy.”

“Hey! I liked my short hair!” Hitomi protested.

Merle smirked at her. “Then why'd you grow it out?”

“Well, I...” she grimaced a little and fidgeted in her chair, thinking. “Just for a change, I guess.”

“Sure,” Merle agreed, rolling her eyes. She beckoned the waiting maids forward, and they lifted up several dresses for inspection. Pursing her lips, she put her hands on her hips and tilted her head to the side, all business again.

“Okay, these are the ones you can pick from tonight. This one-” she pointed at the first maid, who held up a dress in mixtures of dark and light greens offset by white- “will go best with your eyes, I think. But that one-” now she pointed to a dress in reds and blues- “is more of a traditional Fanelian style. And I don't like that one at all,” she ended, waving away the yellow and white dress that Hitomi had to agree looked like a five year old's Easter dress, minus the bonnet.

“You mean I actually get a choice?” she asked, raising her eyebrows in mock surprise. Merle ignored her, her head swiveling back and forth between the dresses and Hitomi's seated form.

“The green one, I think. Plenty of time to wear traditional dresses later. Tonight we'll go for stunning,” she announced, then stopped as she caught the amused look on Hitomi's face. “What? Oh. Right. So, which one did you like?” she asked politely, but with a threatening frown on her face.

“Uh, the green one is nice,” Hitomi agreed meekly after catching the fierce look on the cat-girl's face. Really, it didn't much matter to her which one she wore. Both of them were completely foreign and not her style, anyway. She wondered vaguely if this was how Van felt when he'd had to wear Earth clothes. Maybe, twenty years from now, things wouldn't feel so strange anymore.

Quickly now, she was stripped of her robe and helped into the strange, loose-fitting undergarments. The short, loose undershorts were tied on around the waist; no elastic or zippers here, she reminded herself. Instead of a bra, a thin piece of cloth was wrapped around her chest, buttoning securely in the back.

The dress went on next, and Hitomi realized it was actually several layers. The first was a thin sheath of a smooth, white fabric that was closely fit to her body, but hung in loose folds from her hips to the floor. Over that went a gauze, see-through sheath of light green material, exactly the shade of her eyes, in the same style as the white one. It was slit straight up the middle to the bottom of her chest so that the white material showed through as she moved. Over all this went the last part of the dress that was made in a dark green material with gold embroidery around the bindings. It went on like a coat, buttoning with one button right below her breasts in the middle of her chest, flaring out to show both the light green and white layers. The wide shoulder-straps of the green overdress went out about one inch past her shoulders and were embroidered intricately with gold filigree. Over the single button holding the overdress together, a silk ribbon that matched the light green fabric was tied in an intricate bow in the front of the dress, leaving the trailing ends to flutter down the front of the dress.

All in all, it was a stunning design. Hitomi eyed herself critically in the mirror as she stood like a doll while the other women swarmed around her.

“Well, what do you think?” Merle demanded, looking her over just as critically.

“I think the dress is beautiful. I'm not so sure about me,” Hitomi conceded. The maids all murmured protestingly at that, but Merle laughed.

“At least you look better than a handmaiden,” she giggled. “Alright, ladies, let's take it off.”

“What? Why? I thought it looked good!” Hitomi protested in alarm. It had taken them almost a half an hour to get her into that thing!

“Relax! It does look good, but it's not perfect. We made a pretty good guess at your size, but it still needs a little alteration. So, unless you want to get sewn into it, literally...”

Hitomi groaned, but submitted meekly to being undressed like a life-sized doll once more. While several maids got to work on the minor sewing work, two more led her back to the chair and started in on her hair. She had to work very hard not to jump up and bolt out of the room screaming from pure nerves. This was nothing compared to what they were getting her ready for. So far no one had even told her what she was supposed to do at this banquet tonight.

“Just smile and look pretty,” was all Merle had said with a shrug. “And try not to start any wars.”

Right. That really helped a lot.

Suddenly, the cat-girl's face was inches from her own, and she gave a small shriek at the sharp tug on her scalp as she yanked back in shock.

“So, is he worth it?” Merle asked with an amused grin. Hitomi blinked, and then gave an ear-to-ear grin herself.


“Annie, are you paying attention?” Allen demanded in exasperation as he urged his horse through Palas' quiet back alleys toward the palace.

“Absolutely,” she answered distractedly, craning her neck to be able to see as much as possible. She waved at a group of children playing beside a snoozing old man, and they pointed and stared open mouthed at her.

Allen sighed. “Is that so? Then what was I just telling you?”

“Oh, did you mean paying attention to you? Then no, I wasn't listening at all,” Annie clarified cheerfully. Underneath his pristine gloves, Allen's knuckles turned white as he clenched his fists around the reins and wished it was her neck.

“Annie, this is important. You are going to the palace to meet Austuria's royal family. There are things you have to know, protocols-”

“This is where I lost interest last time. Manners and etiquette and blah, blah, blah,” she interrupted him. “I'm not two years old. I can behave myself when I have to.”

“Why do I find that highly unlikely?” Allen muttered under his breath. If Annie heard him, she chose to ignore him.

“Why are you taking me to the palace anyway, if you're so worried about my manners? Why not just hide me at your place for the week?”

“That gets... complicated. Believe me, this is the best option,” he assured her. They'd reached the palace walls now, and Allen urged the horse to one of the lesser used side gates. The guard there sprang to attention and let them in immediately, gawking openly at Annie as they passed.

“I think you should put your sweater back on,” Allen said tightly, making a mental note to have a talk with the Captain of the Guard about the professionalism of his soldiers.

“Are you kidding? I just came here from the dead of winter. I'm roasting to death in these jeans,” Annie protested, and Allen decided it was a battle he didn't feel like fighting. Short of shoving it back onto her himself, he had a feeling he'd lose, anyway.

A servant approached them as Allen dismounted in the courtyard, reaching up to lift Annie off the horse as well. He handed the reigns to the young man, who was busy staring at Annie as she spun in a slow circle to take in her surroundings.

“Send a message to the Princess Millerna that I must speak with her urgently,” Allen barked, much more sharply than usual. “I will wait in the Water Garden.”

“Immediately, sir,” the servant replied, blinking in surprise before leading the horse away. Allen pinched the bridge of his nose in exasperation for a moment. Great. Half the palace would know about the strange visitor before the message ever got to Millerna.

“Wow. You Austurians sure like the overly grand, huh?” Annie commented, still spinning slowly in a circle, now looking almost straight up to see the top of the palace.

“We have a deep appreciation for art and beauty,” Allen corrected. “We should be waiting in the Water Garden before Princess Millerna gets there.”

“Sure, sure,” she agreed, skipping along beside him as he led the way. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that she was studying him critically.

“Is something wrong?” he finally asked after several minutes of wondering if he had a big splotch of mud somewhere. Annie flashed her shark grin at him.

“Not really. I was just thinking your uniform looks pretty much as ridiculous here as it did in my kitchen. I'd thought maybe it wouldn't.”

Allen forced himself to stay calm. Letting her figure out how to get to Fanelia by herself was not a good idea. Why had he wanted to see her again?

“Of course, the guard that let us in has an even pansier uniform, so I guess maybe it's not so bad,” she continued thoughtfully, and Allen just clenched his teeth and shook his head. They'd entered the Water Garden now, with it's impressive array of fountains, ponds, and little streams with tinkling waterfalls, and he led her down a winding path towards the largest fountain.

“Oh, wow! This is amazing. Even better than the gardens I saw in Japan, and those people know how to garden,” Annie exclaimed, her big brown eyes enormous in her pixie face as she stared at the beauty around her.

Oh, right. This was why he'd wanted to see her again. Luckily for him, she was too caught up in her surroundings to notice the way he couldn't take his eyes off of her. How could he go from being completely annoyed with her to being completely awed by her in less than ten seconds? It didn't make any sense.

“Allen! I got your message. What's so urgent that you can't- Oh!”

Millerna came around the bend in the path and stopped short at the sight of Annie in her tank top and jeans. She blinked uncomprehendingly for a few silent seconds while Annie grinned at her and Allen jerked himself back to reality.

“Hi. I'm Annie,” Annie piped up cheerfully into the blank silence. “I'm Hitomi's friend.”

“Oh! Oh, I see!” Millerna exclaimed, understanding dawning across her face. “Yes, this is terribly urgent!”

“Yeah. I'm not supposed to be here,” Annie agreed, nodding. Allen's lips turned up slightly at the corners as he gave her a quick glance. He didn't think the two girls were on the same page at all.

“Oh, dear! Hitomi must be so worried! This is going to disrupt everything in Fanelia-” Millerna began, but Allen took a step forward and cut her off.

“Princess, you don't quite understand. No one in Fanelia is worried. Annie isn't supposed to be here at all.”

Once again, Millerna blinked. “You mean you weren't planning on coming to Gaea?” she asked Annie.

“Do I look like I was trying to come here?” she replied dryly. Millerna looked her over from head to foot now and gave a delicate grimace.

“What happened?” she asked, and Annie gave her a quick run-through of what she called her “abduction by Fate”.

“Well, this isn't so bad, then. We'll bring you to Fanelia, and Van and Hitomi will send you back,” Millerna stated cheerfully when she'd finished.

“Maybe it's not so bad for you, but I'm still not too thrilled about this little surprise side trip,” Annie muttered under her breath. Allen decided it was time to bring the conversation around to the real reason why he'd brought her to the palace.

“Until we can get Annie to Fanelia, she'll need someplace to stay and, ah, perhaps some different clothing,” he suggested gently, knowing Millerna would jump on the bait. She was already eying Annie's outfit again with dislike.

“Of course she'll stay here at the palace. And I'll take care of the clothes personally,” she replied quickly, her eyes lighting up at the possibilities. “As soon as possible. We can't have too many people seeing her walking around in that.”

“I agree. Thank you, Princess,” Allen said with a slight bow. “Hitomi would be very upset if anything were to happen to her closest friend.”

Annie frowned, her face annoyed. “Can you please stop talking about me like I'm not here?”

“Of course. I'm so sorry,” Millerna replied, smiling brightly at her. “This is going to be so much fun! I never thought I'd get the chance to meet you, but now you can tell me all about what Allen was like on the Mystic Moon! I only know a few of the stories from that amazing picture book you gave to Celena.”

“Oh, you saw that?” Annie asked, perking up and grinning her shark grin as she gave a sly glance in Allen's direction. “I'm pretty sure I could tell you a few more interesting stories...”

“Wonderful! You can tell me while we find something for you to wear!” the princess nearly squealed, taking her arm and leading her towards the castle. She glanced over her shoulder at the blond knight. “Oh, Allen, come back for the evening meal. I'll get Annie dressed properly by then. You should bring Celena to meet her, too.”

Annie caught sight of the smirk on his face right before she walked away and narrowed her eyes at him. Oh, he was perfectly certain that Annie was going to tell Millerna as many embarrassing stories about him as she could think of, but she had no idea what was in store for her. He had to swallow the immature urge to laugh out loud as they disappeared around a bend in the path.

He was just about to mount his horse when Princess Eries came towards him across the courtyard. He made a small, formal bow when she stopped in front of him and gave her a curious look. As a general rule, Eries kept her distance from him, blaming him for Marlene's secret disgrace and Millerna's separated marriage. For her to seek him out was a rare occasion indeed.

“Allen, what do you mean by bringing some outlandishly clad woman to the palace? Don't you know the rumors-” she began in a low voice of tightly controlled fury.

“Princess Eries, she isn't just some woman,” Allen interrupted her. “Hitomi Kanzaki's friend Annie was accidentally sent here from the Mystic Moon. You must see that it is our duty to protect her until Lord Van and Hitomi can send her back home.”

“Annie? But how...?”

“I explained everything to your sister. Annie is with her now while they find her something more appropriate to wear,” Allen explained, doing a fairly good job of keeping the glee out of his voice. Eries was silent for a moment, processing the surprising news with tightly pursed lips.

“I see. Of course you're right. Annie will be our honored guest. Thank you for bringing her here, Allen,” she finally said. “I shall go welcome her personally.”

“Thank you, Princess. And if I could ask a favor,” he replied, and Eries nodded slightly. “I would appreciate it if you could make sure her gowns are... on the fancier end.”

For a moment, Eries stared thoughtfully at him, her face blank, before she nodded once more at him with a very small, tight smile and walked away.

Ah, payback was sweet.
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Re: Oil on Water by Dinky

Post by Sakura » January 5th, 2009, 10:00 am

Annie is crazy but she won't beat me :swt:
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Re: Oil on Water by Dinky

Post by JHawkNH » January 8th, 2009, 7:47 pm

I love it. Am I the only one who is enjoying the war between Annie and Allen more then the story between Van and Hitomi?
Revenge is sweet, but I just know that Annie is going to turn the tables on Allen at least a few times. I can't wait. :gg:
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Re: Oil on Water by Dinky

Post by oldwrench » January 13th, 2009, 3:15 am

Well, here we go with chapter 4. Dinky is suffering writers block...... along with a cold, so she's just not cranking them out very quickly. Also, she said that right now, lots of babies have decided to be born. Dinky's an ob nurse, lots to do. Ok, on with the show, will Hitomi survive the "small" banquet? And what about Annie, will she be able to survive the Austurian royalty...... or worse, will they survive her? Will Allan get his revenge, or will Annie outflank him again?

Pretty Woman
I am really sorry that it's taken me SO long to update. I have an impressive list of excuses, but I'll spare you that boring agony... One thing, though: I'm suffering horribly from writer's block (been writing a lil' fic for Twilight to try to break it, but it's not working...), so please forgive any lameness in this chapter. I'm doing the best I can with with I got to work with. Sorry!

I don't have anything else important to say, besides the obvious fact that I don't own Escaflowne, so let's get on with it already!

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I don't believe you, you're not the truth
No one could look as good as you!

“You look perfect,” Merle assured Hitomi for the umpteenth time as they stood waiting in the large, brightly lit sitting room of Hitomi's suite.

“I look like your average Jane Schmoe off the street in a costume,” Hitomi muttered, and Merle rolled her eyes dramatically.

“Fine. Have it your way,” she hissed, striding over to a mirror to double check her own sleek appearance. Hitomi sighed again, nervously biting on the side of her pinky nail as her eyes scanned the room. It, like the bathroom and dressing room, was furnished with dark wood in fine, straight lines. It's simplicity was calming to her jangled nerves. People who preferred this type of clean, minimalistic décor wouldn't go that overboard and elaborate in anything else, would they?

How long until she got to see Van again?

“Merle, what are we waiting for? I thought the banquet started a while ago.”

Once again, Merle rolled her eyes. “I told you. We're waiting here until we're summoned to the dining hall. You can't just waltz in whenever you want like you're just another court lady. Timing is everything, you know.”

“Is Van waiting, too? Why can't we wait with him instead of here?” Hitomi asked hopefully. It would make everything seem unfathomably easier if she could walk into the crowded dining hall with Van's strong hand wrapped securely around her own.

“We can't wait with Van because he's already at the banquet,” Merle sighed in exasperation. Hitomi moaned and sank into a chair, burying her face in her hands. The cat-girl was suddenly by her side, patting her reassuringly on the back.

“Hey, cheer up! Tonight's going to be fun,” she told her. “Besides, we get to miss out on most of the boring speeches and ceremony. Once we go in, you'll just have to give a tiny little speech, and then we get to eat!”

Hitomi nodded vaguely into her hands before her brain really processed Merle's words. Then her head snapped up , her face a deathly, chalky white.

“Did you say... give a speech? Me? Just me? A speech??”

Merle grimaced ruefully, obviously wanted to smack herself in the forehead for accidentally saying anything. “It's just a teeny, tiny one. Nothing to worry about,” she insisted hurriedly.

“You're serious? In just a few minutes, I've got to give a speech to everyone in that dining hall, and you didn't bother to tell me about it??” Hitomi's voice had risen through two octaves into a high-pitched shriek. She jumped to her feet and paced in a tight circle, the green dress rustling quietly, silk on silk, with her agitated movements.

“Oh, calm down, Hitomi. This is why I didn't say anything,” Merle muttered darkly. “Listen, you don't have to prepare anything. It's not even a speech, really. The head council members will give some speech about how Fanelia welcomes its new queen and blah, blah, blah, and all you'll have to do is thank them and say something about how happy you are to be welcomed into such a wonderful country. That's it.”

“Oh, that's it. No big deal. Just give an impromptu speech in front of all the most important people in Fanelia,” Hitomi agreed sarcastically, a hysterical edge to her voice.

“Just keep it short and simple. You'll do fine.”

“How could you do this to me?” she moaned, sinking weakly once again into a nearby chair. “Did Van know about it, too?”

“Er, no,” Merle fidgeted uncomfortably, not meeting Hitomi's suddenly curious gaze. “The whole thing's going to be a bit of a surprise for him, too.”

That couldn't have been a bigger understatement. Van sat in his appointed seat, furiously dumbfounded as he listened to his council members drone on through endless speeches. Everyone of any importance in Fanelia was crowded into the large dining room, eagerly awaiting their first glimpse of the future queen.

“I thought I told you to keep this small,” he hissed under his breath to the man who'd discussed it with him only yesterday.

“This is small, my Lord. Comparatively,” the council member replied calmly as they applauded politely at the conclusion of the latest speech. Van ran an agitated hand through his unruly hair, accidentally dislodging the gold circlet he'd so unwillingly shoved onto his head before entering the hall to boisterous applause. He straightened it hastily now, forcing himself to keep the pleasant, bland mask on his face instead of scowling darkly like he wanted to. Maybe he should've let them have their parade so they wouldn't have resorted to this madness.

Van had to resist the urge to groan out loud as the next speaker stood up and addressed the crowd, embarking on what promised to be a long-winded and immensely boring speech. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the head council member nod discreetly and a servant slid silently out of the room in answer. Apparently, it was nearly time for the intended queen's grand debut.

Hitomi wasn't going to like this. Not one bit.

Panic seemed like such a weak word describe what Hitomi was feeling as she was lead swiftly through the brightly lit hallways of Fanelia's castle toward the banquet hall. Stark terror might have been a closer match. She clutched Merle's hand in a death grip, fervently wishing it was Van by her side instead of the excited cat-girl. Merle seemed to think they were headed towards a spectacular party instead of the pit of vipers Hitomi dreaded.

The servant stopped outside of a massive set of ornately carved wooden doors and motioned them to wait quietly. He slipped silently passed the doors, leaving them standing alone in the enormous hall.

“I can't do this. I can't do this. I just can't,” Hitomi suddenly moaned. She clutched Merle's hand tighter as her knees wobbled underneath her. The smooth silk of her skirt rippled in cascading waves from her chest to her feet with the force of her trembling, and her breath came in short, painful gasps.

“Hitomi, relax!” Merle demanded, placing her hands on either side of Hitomi's face to force her green eyes to look at her. “Everybody's going to love you. They love you already for coming back to Lord Van.”

“But what if I do something wrong?” Hitomi whispered hoarsely as she stared desperately into the cat-girl's bright eyes.

“You won't, trust me. I won't let you,” she replied grimly. “I've worked way too hard on this wedding to let anything mess it up. Including you.”

Hitomi gave a weak laugh in spite of herself. “Thanks, Merle. That makes me feel a lot more confident.”

“I do what I can. Besides, you don't have to worry. Everyone's here just to get a glimpse of you, and you look perfect.”

“Ha. If you say so,” Hitomi muttered, but Merle didn't get a chance to argue. There was a sudden, loud clanging of drums and bells, and then a gong was struck three times.

“This is it. Stand up straight and smile,” Merle exclaimed in an excited whisper as she took a position slightly behind and to the right of Hitomi's shoulder. The doors swung open, and she automatically stiffened her spine and held her head high.

The banquet hall erupted into deafening applause and cheers, and she faltered in the doorway.

“Go on, go on! Slow, steady steps!” Merle hissed at her shoulder, and Hitomi shuffled obediently forward. The cheering didn't let up in the slightest as the two moved forward; if anything, it just got louder. Every single person in the room strained to catch a glimpse of Hitomi as she passed, the smiles on their faces doing little to ease her nervousness. She felt like she was going to sink through the floor under the weight of their stares.

Her terrified, overwhelmed gaze flickered through the room frantically, searching for a familiar face to cling to in the bright sea of people. Finally, she found the pair of deep maroon eyes she'd so longed to see staring intently at her through the crowd. Her own eyes clung onto his gaze like a drowning person clung to a life raft in the ocean.

“Slow down, slow down! I don't care how happy you are to see him,” Merle ordered in a frantic hiss behind her. Hitomi slowed abruptly, sheepishly realizing that she'd almost broken into a run just to get to Van's side.

“Oops. Sorry. Where am I going?” she whispered back to Merle, moving her lips as little as possible. As Merle directed her forward, Van came around his table and down the two steps to meet them, obviously prompted by the two elderly council members following closely at his heels.

The cheers and applause rattled the windows when Hitomi finally reached him, taking his outstretched hand with a sigh of relief. She clung to his hand so tightly her knuckles turned white, but if it bothered him, he certainly didn't show it. His face was a bizarre mixture of stunned wonder and apologetic uncertainty. She could guess that he was worried about how she was going to take all of this unexpected pomp, but she didn't really understand why he was staring at her like he'd never seen her before.

Van, for his part, wasn't sure how he'd gotten from point A to point B, since his brain had abruptly stopped working when the massive double doors had swung open. No goddess could ever look as perfectly amazing as Hitomi did tonight. He knew he'd never seen her look so beautiful as she did right now, with that slight, pink blush staining her creamy cheeks, her incredible, sea-green eyes sparkling in the glow of a thousand candles, the way that dress flowed perfectly over her lithe frame. He wanted time to stop so he could stare at her for endless moments.

Her eyes never strayed from his as they made their way back up the stairs and around the table to their raised seats.

“Lords and Ladies of Fanelia, presenting your future queen, Lady Hitomi Kanzaki!” shouted the eldest council member, and now the two of them were forced to tear their eyes away from each other to smile and nod at the enthusiastically cheering crowd. Hitomi's ears were ringing by the time the council members signaled for the crowd to finally quiet down and resume their seats.

Merle leaned over to whisper quickly in her ear as they sat down, “See? Told you they love you.”

Hitomi gave her a tiny, wry smile before she turned to listen to the head council man's speech. Under the table, hidden from the eager eyes of the crowd, she still clung tightly to Van's hand like a lifeline.

Van did his best to keep his eyes trained on the speaker instead of staring like a sex-deprived teenager at Hitomi. It took a lot of will-power to stop himself from turning his chair sideways, propping his chin in his hand, and drooling onto the tablecloth. It just wasn't fair that everyone else in the room got to stare all they wanted at her, while he, her soon-to-be husband, couldn't. At least she hadn't let go of his hand.

The councilman finished his speech and stood looking expectantly at them. For a moment, neither of them moved, staring confusedly back at him, before Merle kicked Hitomi's shin painfully under the table.

“It's your turn to talk, Hitomi,” she hissed frantically.

Wide-eyed, trembling, Hitomi rose slowly to her feet. She hoped she had a smile plastered on her face, because she was too numb with fright to know what she was doing. Van stood up with her, whether from protocol or because she wouldn't let go of his hand she didn't know.

“Uh, thank you. Thank you, all of you, for welcoming me to Fanelia,” she began, blushing bright scarlet. She stopped and glanced at Van nervously, and he gave a tiny nod of encouragement.

“It's- I mean, I'm very glad to be back here, home, in this beautiful country,” she finished quickly. The crowd seemed as eager to be pleased as Merle predicted, because they burst into applause again like she'd just delivered the Gettysburg Address. Van gave her hand a tug, pulling her gently back into her seat.

“Well, that was nothing to write in the histories, but it worked,” Merle muttered to her as she heaved an enormous sigh of relief.

“You're doing great,” Van whispered into her ear, raising goosebumps down her neck from the tickle of his warm breath. She turned shining eyes to him, wishing she could fling her arms around his neck and....

But the old man was talking again, droning on and on about the great honor she did to Fanelia by becoming its queen, blah, blah, blah. Trying not to scowl in annoyance, they both turned their attention back to him and twined their fingers tighter together under the table.

At least, Van pretended to pay attention to the speech. In reality, his brain was wandering in much more interesting directions. Like how the green of her dress reminded him of the silky, green shirt she'd worn dancing. Dancing on the Mystic Moon... and what happened after the dancing... oh yeah. Good times.

He couldn't stop his eyes from sliding over to her again, just for a brief moment. No, that green actually reminded him of something else. His brain wandered off into a world of teeny-tiny green bikinis and saunas, which might have accounted for the dreamy, vacant expression on his face.

Hitomi kept glancing discreetly at him, silently wondering if someone had drugged his drink to stop him from canceling this wildly insane excuse of a “small” banquet. Maybe he was just a really good actor. At any rate, he certainly looked like he was enjoying himself.

Which was more than she could say for herself. Everywhere she looked, curious, eager eyes were staring intently at her. There was a twittering undercurrent of murmurs flowing beneath the sonorous tones of the oblivious speaker as the Lords and Ladies whispered excitedly to each other, never looking away from the royal couple seated hand in hand in their raised seats. Hitomi could feel herself shriveling under their scrutiny. Never in her life had she wanted to run screaming from a room as badly as she did now.

And the out-to-lunch Van wasn't helping her, either. She tugged on his hand discreetly under the table to get his attention just as the councilman ended his long-winded speech. He looked questioningly at her as they untangled their fingers to clap politely.

“Where was your brain? You looked completely spaced out,” she murmured to him quietly enough that only he could hear her. She blinked in surprise at the red tinge creeping into his cheeks as he shifted uncomfortably.

“Uh...your dress- the green- it just reminded me of something,” he dodged uncomfortably.

“Reminded you of what?” she demanded. She pinned him with a curious gaze, and his hopes of getting out of telling her were dashed.

“Just... well, bikinis. And... saunas,” he muttered as his ears flamed red. He shifted in embarrassment, looking every direction but at her face. She blinked at him a moment before her own blush crept into her cheeks, making her flush a delicate rose pink. A tiny, awkward smile tugged at her lips as she looked down at the green, silky material of her gown.

“Oh,” she whispered, a little bubble of pure joy expanding in her chest. She could forgive him for spacing out over that. Van risked an embarrassed glance at her face and sighed in relief at the smile he saw there. A little part of him had been expecting a slap, since he knew he sort of deserved it for the kind of thoughts he'd just been having.

The gong sounded again, and servants began pouring into the room bearing heavily loaded trays of all of Fanelia's most delicious delicacies. Hitomi suddenly felt ten pounds lighter as the crowd's interest switched from her to the dishes being placed in front of them.

“You're doing great, Hitomi!” Merle told her, quietly enthusiastic. “Did you see how everyone was staring at you?”

“That's a good thing?” Hitomi asked incredulously as tray after tray of mystery food was presented to her. The sheer number of choices was beyond bewildering, and she just sat and stared, unable to decide on anything.

“Of course it's a good thing,” Merle reassured her distractedly as she filled her plate to overflowing. She glanced at Hitomi's empty plate and leaned around her to get Van's attention.

“Lord Van, make sure your bride eats something, please. I can't have her looking like a skeleton for the marriage ceremonies.”

“Aren't you hungry, Hitomi?” Van asked quietly as yet another tray passed by her, untouched. She looked at him with a blank face, and he frowned a little in concern, swiftly placing a few scoops of food on her plate.

“Here, just try this. Don't eat what you don't like,” he told her gently. She nodded and picked up her strangely shaped fork, obediently putting a bit of food in her mouth and chewing slowly. Whatever it was didn't taste too bad, but it was hard to feel hungry when her stomach was still tied up in knots of anxiety. The last food she'd eaten had been hours ago, on the Mystic Moon with her family and Annie. Tears gathered thickly in her throat, and she hastily swallowed them down with her food. Van noticed and leaned over to murmur quietly in her ear, his voice thick with concern.

“I'm sorry about all of this, Hitomi. I swear I wouldn't have allowed it if I'd known.”

She looked at him, losing herself in his troubled, maroon eyes. She wished they were alone so she could melt into his arms and let his warmth soothe her. But they were in a crowded banquet hall, with all eyes on them, and the last thing she wanted was for him to worry about her.

“It's okay, Van. I know it's not your fault,” she gave Merle a quick, scathing look which she blithely ignored, “I'll be fine, really. It's just a little... overwhelming.”

“I agree,” Van replied fervently. “If I had my way, none of this would be happening. Right, Merle?”

Merle looked up from her plate, blinking innocently at them. “Hey, if it wasn't for me, the two of you would be getting married without anyone noticing at all.”

“Exactly!” Van and Hitomi exclaimed together in exasperation.

“You'll thank me later,” Merle told them haughtily, ignoring their skeptical glares. “You had better eat quickly. They're going to be bringing out the dessert soon.”

After dessert came another speech, this time by a man so ancient Hitomi sat in nervous terror that he was going to topple over dead from the exertion of talking at any moment. His speech meandered from topic to topic, and she felt her eyelids getting heavier and heavier as his monotonous voice droned on. Merle's sharp fingernail digging into her side made her jump; she stiffened her spine and worked hard to refocus on his words.

“...and may the gods smile kindly on your love, that you may bless Fanelia with many heirs from your union. May the fertile soil of this blessed land, guarded by dragons, become a part of you, that you will be blessed with fertility...”

Oh, god! What the hell was that old pervert going on about? Hitomi flamed bright scarlet from collarbone to hairline as Merle snickered quietly next to her. Van's hand tightened painfully around hers, his other hand looking like it was itching to reach for his sword. Once again, all eyes were locked onto them, and Hitomi wished fervently that she could hide underneath the table until she died of old age.

The old man finally wound to a close, bowing carefully toward the royal table as the crowd applauded politely.

“The Fertility Blessing? Merle-” Van hissed angrily at the cat girl, his eyes narrowed dangerously.

“I had nothing to do with that, Lord Van!” she squeaked in a high-pitched whisper. “I swear to Escaflowne, I didn't plan that!”

“Fertility blessing? Is that what that was? I thought he was just some kind of pervert,” Hitomi mused in a muddled sort of voice. The blush was finally wearing off, but it left her feeling completely drained and incredibly sleepy.

“It's an ancient blessing for many children in your married life,” Merle explained patiently while Van looked like he still wanted to smash a few plates.

The drums and bells clanged again, and Hitomi jumped, nearly falling off of her chair in surprise. The gong tolled slowly three times and Van pulled Hitomi to her feet as the entire room stood up silently.

“That's it. It's over for tonight, Hitomi,” Van told her as they made their way hand in hand out of the room. Everyone strained to catch one last glimpse of the royal couple as they passed on their way to the massive double doors.

“Thank goodness,” Hitomi sighed, sagging with relief once they were out of sight. “Is it like that every time you go out in public?”

“Sort of, but not so intense,” Van replied carefully, his own relief evident on his tired face. Swiftly, they made their way out of the brightly lit, public hallways into the darker, private areas of the castle. Hitomi sighed, leaning into his shoulder has he began to put his arm around her, but Merle pulled them apart.

“Hey, hey, Lord Van. You know the rules,” she stated firmly, putting herself between them.

“Merle, don't be ridiculous,” Van began, thoroughly exasperated and at the end of his rope. He just wanted to hold Hitomi for one minute, was that too much to ask?

“Carefully, Lord Van,” Merle warned, her eyes flickering meaningfully to the hovering maids. Van blew a frustrated breath through his pursed lips and ran his hand through his hair, dislodging the gold circlet once more.

“Right, right,” he muttered, straightening it with a heavy frown. Hitomi giggled sleepily from behind Merle, and he couldn't help but give her a small, crooked smile in return.

“I will see you tomorrow, right?” she asked in a small, hopeful voice.

Merle answered for him, already pushing her down the hallway toward the waiting maids. “Of course you'll see him. C'mon, get moving before you fall asleep on your feet.”

“Yeah. See you tomorrow, Van,” she called down the hallway, helpless against the wave of women propelling her away from him. He lifted a hand wearily in response before turning and walking slowly toward his own rooms.

In his mind, the whole evening had been nothing short of a disaster. Except, of course, seeing Hitomi looking like that. That had been worthwhile. But the Fertility Blessing? Good gods, the whole country had gone insane.

Two more weeks until the marriage ceremony would even begin. Two weeks that Hitomi could change her mind- and if things kept up like this, he could hardly blame her if she did.

“Dear gods,” he prayed fervently, “Don't let Merle get any more carried away with this than she already is!”

Rubbing his temples, he sank wearily onto his bed fully clothed. The next month was going to be pure hell.

Millerna chattered nonstop, showing no sign of stopping, and Annie wondered vaguely just what she'd gotten herself into. That smug little smirk on Allen's face had her worried. The only other time she'd seen a look like that on his face, he'd kissed her under the mistletoe in front of her family.

Not that that had been entirely bad. The kissing part was actually quite enjoyable. Okay, that was putting it mildly. Allen Shezar was one damn good kisser, despite his pretty boy looks. And that, by itself, had touched off a humongous tangle of issues, mostly stemming from the fact that she wanted to make fun of him and make out with him every freaking time she saw him. It was a conundrum.

Millerna babbled on and on as they wound their way through the long, twisting passageways of the Austurian castle. Annie registered the fact that she was discussing clothes and automatically tuned her out in favor of paying attention to the passing scenery. It would've been nicer if Millerna had slowed down so it didn't all look like an ornate blur, but she'd take what she could get. She was just trying to decide if Austuria resembled Marie Antoinette-style French decor, or Victorian England when Millerna flung open a door and pulled her inside.

“So, what do you think, Annie?” Millerna asked her, slightly out of breath from all her talking, as she pulled on a tasseled, velvet cord hanging by the fireplace.

“Definitely Marie Antionette French,” Annie replied, nodding as she surveyed the room. She smiled cheerfully at Millerna's confused face, the realization that she hadn't answered what the princess had been asking at all making no difference to her whatsoever.

“Um,” Millerna began, and Annie couldn't help smiling a little wider at her confusion. “I'm afraid I don't know what style gown a “Marie Antionette French” is. I'm sorry.”

“S'okay. I don't want to wear a dress like that, anyway. Even though it'd match the room perfectly,” Annie replied, shrugging. Millerna blinked, clearly floundering to get the conversation back on normal ground.

“Well, we'll have to find you something decent to wear. You can't walk around in that. Someone might question Allen's virtue!”

“Why would they question his virtue?” Annie asked, her voice sparkling with amusement. Millerna shifted uncomfortably, her eyes flickering over the tight jeans and the “Farm Fresh Melons” emblazoned across her chest. Annie looked down, inspecting her outfit, a pronounced, mischievous twinkle in her eyes. “What? Is there a problem with fresh produce here?”

“Er, no. That's not...” Millerna broke off in relief as a soft knock on the door interrupted her. “Oh! The maids are here! Enter, please!” she called in a clear voice, turning her back to Annie as the swarm of curious maids poured into the room.

Annie held her grin firmly in place as she faced their scrutiny with no visible sign of nervousness. Inside, she was starting to feel a little sick. A little inkling of what Allen had been smirking so smugly about was worming it's way into her mind, and the thought made her repress a shudder.

It was time to play Dress Up Barbie Annie.

“Lady Annie has just arrived as our honored guest. She is Lady Hitomi Kanzaki's dearest friend from the Mystic Moon, and you will inform the palace that all are to obey her desires,” Millerna informed the room regally, ignoring Annie's raised eyebrows at the title of 'lady'. “But first, she requires several suitable day dresses and evening gowns for her stay here.”

The maids all dropped into a respectful curtsy in unison, murmuring excitedly to each other as they eyed the newly minted “Lady Annie” in wonder. In the breath of a second, the room sprung into action. Several women rushed out of the door, while another pulled several times on the velvet rope. People began to come and go at an alarming rate, whispering instructions to each other as they passed.

Five ladies suddenly surrounded her, lifting her arms so they stuck out straight from her sides, as they wrapped measuring tapes around every available surface of her body. Millerna sat comfortably in a nearby chair and watched the proceedings with a practiced eye.

“36, 24, 36? Uh uh. Only if she's five three,” Annie joked to herself, giggling a little. She could handle this, if only to wipe that smug smirk off of Allen's face.

“I'm sorry?” asked one of the maids questioningly as she traded confused looks with the other ladies around her.

“Nothing, nothing. Just something from a song,” Annie replied airily, waving for them to continue with their over-enthusiastic measuring. Millerna leaned forward, a fascinated gleam in her eye.

“Oh, a Mystic Moon song? What's it called? How does it go?”

“It's 'Big Butts' by Sir Mixalot. You know- “my anaconda don't want none unless she's got buns, hon”. It's a great song.” Annie chirped happily. She nodded sagely at everyone's shocked expressions. “Yeah, Allen looked like that when I played it for him, too.”

For once, Millerna was at a complete loss for words. She sat blinking, opening and closing her mouth helplessly for several long minutes before she could make any sound come out of it.

“Oh... Well. That's...”

“Enough of that,” a new, commanding voice finished for her from the doorway.

“Eries!” Millerna cried in relief, jumping to her feet. Austuria's middle princess stood just inside the door, looking Annie over with a hard, critical eye.

Annie kept the smile plastered on her face even as she got the uncomfortable sensation of becoming a specimen under a microscope. This princess looked like she might be a formidable opponent.

“Welcome to Austuria, Annie,” Eries said formally, moving smoothly and slowly into the room. “I am Millerna's elder sister, Eries.”

“How did you know about Annie's arrival?” Millerna blurted out before Annie could do more than open her mouth.

Eries' lips curled up into an enigmatic smile. “I spoke with Sir Allen briefly in the courtyard and he explained everything to me.”

The way she said 'everything' with that strange smirk on her face made Annie's skin crawl uncomfortably. So, the ice-princess was in on whatever Allen's evil scheme was. Great.

“So the whole palace knows about me, huh?” was all she said out loud. “Wish I could hear some of the rumors. I bet you heard something wild if you went running out to talk to Allen.”

Eries pursed her lips and raised her chin slightly. “I merely heard that Sir Allen had brought a strange visitor to the castle. Although, with the way you are dressed, you shouldn't be surprised about having a few unsavory rumors floating around.”

“Seriously. What do you people have against fresh produce?” Annie exclaimed in a dead serious voice, keeping the giggles locked inside at the roomful of pink-faced women suddenly unable to meet her eyes. Even Eries looked away uncomfortably. Oh, the fun of implying everyone in the room except for you had thought of something dirty.

Unfortunately, her moment of hilarity was cut short as several maids bustled in with what appeared to be layers of lace, silk, and floofy frills.

Oooooh, hell.

A nonchalant smile was getting more and more difficult to keep on her face as she eyed the mountains of poof that were apparently what the Austurians called 'appropriate clothing'. It looked like a prom store had exploded as the maids laid out dress after dress, each one fancier than the last. Eries and Millerna were being shown each gown for approval, and Annie frowned heavily as she noticed how Eries rejected every sensible, minimally frilled dress in favor of the ostentatiously fancy ones. Somehow, the elder princess had convinced Millerna that simple was definitely not the way to go for their most honored guest, and now the room was alive with floating lace and taffeta.

Oh ho ho. So that was Allen's evil, evil scheme. Annie bit her lips in an effort not to grimace. There seemed to be absolutely nothing she could do to stop this train of poof-dom, and the smartest course of action appeared to be playing along. Oh, she'd get Allen back somehow. No doubt about it- she was going to get him back good for this humiliation.

And the first step would be pretending to be thrilled about the ridiculous dresses being thrust at her. Her chocolate brown eyes danced with determination and laughter, a smirk of her own tugging at her lips.

Bring on the frills, you lace-happy freaks,” she laughingly taunted them silently. “Allen, prepare to be disappointed. A Goettenberg always wins these type of games.”

“Annie, why don't you start getting dressed while Millerna and I pick out your gown for this evening?” Eries suggested in a voice that was all commanding sweetness. There was an amused twinkle in her eye behind her bland, calm mask, and Annie decided right then and there that she really liked this princess. There was a quirky, practical joke-loving sense of humor hidden under that icy exterior that she just had to respect.

“That sounds like a great idea,” Annie agreed with a bright smile of her own. “Oh- but just make sure it has extra lace, will you?”

“Oh, it will,” Eries replied, the smile on her face mocking the hidden threat in her voice. “And ladies, do make sure you lace Lady Annie's corset up well.”

Corset?? Okay, now it was time to panic. She remembered watching a History Channel special on women's fashions through the ages with her grandma a long time ago, and vague memories of it being labeled as a 'hidden torture device' floated around in her head. Floofy dresses were one thing, but corsets? That was taking the joke a step too far.

Helplessly, Annie followed the small crowd of maids leading her into another room to undress. She had to grit her teeth a few times as she handed her Earth clothes over the privacy screen- perhaps never to be seen again. The undergarments they handed her fit so perfectly into the Marie Antoinette period style that they didn't even surprise her. Once she'd gotten the bloomer-like underpants and tight-fitting camisole on, she was told to step out from behind the screen so they could tie up her corset.

“I can do this. I will laugh in Allen's face when he sees me tonight. I will not throw a temper tantrum. This is all just fun and games,” Annie told herself over and over again as she gripped the post as instructed and braced herself for the inevitable. The harsh yanking and tugging surprised her; she lost her grip with the first pull and fell backwards into the shocked arms of the maid.

“Holy Moses! Do you guys ever play tug of war? “Cause that'd be something to see,” Annie gasped laughingly. The maids exchanged confused looks, no smiles on their faces, and she straightened up and gripped the post again with a frown. “Never mind. Let's just get this over with,” she muttered darkly. These people had about the same tiny sense of humor that Allen had.

The tugging started immediately again, and this time she wrapped both hands around the post and hung on like a monkey. The maids yanked and tightened unmercifully until she finally understood why women in the past fainted all the time. Taking a deep breath, taking any kind of breath, was all but impossible now.

“Alright, we've finished lacing you up, Lady Annie,” a maid stated respectfully. Annie uncurled her rigid hands from the pole and looked down at her wasp-shaped form.

“You sure? 'Cause I think I can still breathe a little,” she said, hiding her sarcasm perfectly behind a blandly serious voice.

“We can try to make it tighter if you'd like,” the maid replied anxiously, and Annie felt her eyebrows shoot right off the top of her forehead.

Note to self- Austurians do not understand Minnesotan sarcasm.

“No, thanks. I think this'll be good enough for tonight,” she told them quickly, backing away from their eager hands. Wheezing a little, she scanned the room anxiously for the bag that held her inhaler. Cripes, but it was ridiculously hard to breathe in that get-up.

The door flung open, and Millerna danced into the room, followed by a much more reserved Eries. The gleam in the elder princess' eyes gave her away, and Annie put her hands on her hips and grinned.

“So, I survived the lacing. What's next?”

“Oh, corsets aren't so bad once you get used to them,” Millerna said, smiling kindly. “Anyway, it's all worth it for the figure they give you, right?”

Annie eyed her in disbelief, a laughing grin on her face. “Oh, sure. I don't really like breathing, anyway.”

Eries cleared her throat delicately, and Millerna suddenly clapped her hands and looked like she'd just won first prize at the county fair. A little sprinkling of apprehension trickled through Annie's veins.

“Oh, we found the most beautiful gown for you tonight, Annie! You're going to look so wonderful in it, you won't even recognize yourself!” the princess squealed with glee, and Annie's little sprinkle of fear turned into all-out terror hidden behind a carefully excited-looking expression. She had no doubt whatsoever that she wasn't going to recognize herself once Millerna was done with her Barbie Annie makeover.

Eries clapped her hands sharply, and two maids came slowly into the room carrying The Dress. Annie swallowed hard, the fact that it took two women to carry the monstrosity not lost on her.

The maids held it up and spread it out for inspection, and poor Annie could only gape at it in sheer amazement. Never again would she consider pink one of her favorite colors. Each poofed sleeve was twice as wide as her cinched waist, and the frilled and gathered skirt was at least as wide as she was tall. One could hardly even see the dress underneath all the lace.

“Isn't it just perfect?” Millerna exclaimed, her beautiful, lavender blue eyes dancing with pure joy.

“Its... wow,” Annie managed to get out as she shook her head slowly, unable to look away from the magnificent horror in front of her. “Just... wow.”

What else could she say? Even a tea-partying group of six year old girls would mock that mess of fabric and floof as being too frilly.

“Oh, I'm so glad you like it! Try it on so we can alter what doesn't fit. I'll go choose your shoes and jewelry, and Eries can stay here to help you,” Millerna exclaimed, as excited as a girl with a new doll. She rushed out of the room, and Eries smiled innocently. Ignoring her, Annie stepped forward to lift up the skirt and peer under it curiously.

“Are you looking for something?” Eries asked politely.

“Just making sure the circus isn't still in there,” Annie replied, grinning. “Where'd you dig this thing up?”

Eries sniffed, raising her chin haughtily. “This is one of our royal designer's creations. He will be most honored to have you wear it.”

“I'll bet,” Annie muttered, but Eries ignored her and signaled the maids to start helping her dress.

First, a skirt with stiff, metal hoops sewn into the fabric was tied tightly around her waist, encasing her bottom half like a bird cage. She poked at it with one finger, fascinated. It took three women to gather the skirts of the enormous gown and hoist it over her head. They let it fall to her feet, and it settled like a cloud over the hoops. In reality, it felt as heavy as lead with all the layers of silk and lace. Annie stared down at the indecent amount of cleavage the dress positively displayed as the maids worked on the long row of tiny buttons going from her bottom to the collar of the dress in the middle of her back.

“And you people think my tank top was indecent,” she snorted mockingly. “I think my girls will tumble right out if I lean over.”

“Then don't lean over,” Eries told her sweetly, supervising the maids as they cinched and pinned the areas that needed alteration. To Annie's utter horror, the women picked up their needles and thread and began fixing the dress without bothering to take it off of her first.

“Wait a second! Wouldn't it be easier if it wasn't on me?” she exclaimed.

“Yes, but this way it will look like it's tailor-made for you. Which, when we're finished, it will be,” Millerna explained as she skipped into the room followed by several maids carrying boxes of varying sizes. “Oh, Annie! I knew that dress would be perfect on you! Just wait until you see the things I found for you!”

She pulled out a pair of very uncomfortable looking shoes in a matching shade of pale pink, topped with small bows of white lace.

“Well... they definitely match the dress,” Annie managed to say in a carefully cheerful voice, inwardly screaming KILL ME NOW!

The shoes were quickly slipped on, just the tiniest bit snug. Millerna shrugged it off, declaring that since they matched the dress so well, the little pinch was worth it. Annie just managed to stop herself from pointing out the fact that no one would ever see the shoes underneath the mammoth skirt, so it would be easier if she just went barefoot. The teetering, four inch heels weren't helping the dress be short enough, anyway.

The bottom piece of lace and frill dragged on the floor even after she'd stepped into the sky-high heels, and the whole room was in a frazzled tizzy trying to figure out what to do. Annie crossed her fingers and prayed this was her way out of the pink disaster.

“We're just going to have to take off the bottom ruffle,” Millerna finally sighed in despair.

“Oh, heaven forbid I lose a ruffle!” Annie couldn't stop herself from blurting out, and everyone but Eries took her seriously.

“It's really the only option, Annie. No one will even notice it's gone,” Millerna reassured her gently, and if she'd been able to laugh, she would have. As it was, the corset made anything more than a breathy giggle impossible.

Yikes. So that's why all the women in the room sounded like twittering idiots when they laughed.

The ruffle was quickly disposed of, and Annie was led to an enormous, full-length mirror so she could admire her own magnificence. Words completely failed her as she stared with enormous eyes at the reflection of a small, brown-haired girl completely swallowed up in the pink and white monstrosity. She was just a plastic tiara away from a fairy princess at a Renaissance Festival.

“Oh, my lady! You look good enough to eat!” one of the maids crooned excitedly, and Annie tilted her head to the side, examining herself with an amused grin.

“Well that's true, since I look like a ginormous wedding cake,” she agreed cheerfully. The women exchanged confused looks, uncertain whether that was a good thing or not, and she wrinkled her nose.

“You know, I don't remember Tomi mentioning corsets or hoop skirts when she talked about Austurian clothes,” she said breathlessly, giving a rueful grimace as she pressed a hand to her protesting ribs.

“Oh? She must've just forgotten them,” Millerna shrugged distractedly, looking Annie's outfit over with a very critical eye.

Annie tried to take a breath and winced heavily. “Not likely,” she muttered.

“Corsets didn't come into common style until about five years ago, after the Great War. The hoop cage is a popular accessory to our designer's gowns,” Eries informed her coolly in a detached voice. If she'd been hoping for a stronger reaction from Annie over the dress, she'd been sorely disappointed. Just like Annie hoped Allen was going to be, if she could manage to keep up the cheerful charade. And if she could manage not to have an asthma attack or pass out.

Gratefully, Annie sank into the chair she was directed to so the maids could work on her hair. Those shoes were definitely going to have to come off before the night was over. As she sat down, her vision was suddenly completely obscured by a blurred mass of pink and white fabric. Before she had time to react, she was smacked so hard in the nose that her eyes watered.

“What the hell?” she gasped, blinking and floundering in the sea of fabric that threatened to drown her. When she'd sat down, the hoops in her skirt had flown up and over her head, flashing the whole room with her poofy, white bloomers. A dozen hands immediately helped to smooth the unruly skirt back down, but not before she'd burst into a fit of breathy giggles that were all she could manage of a full belly-laugh in that damn corset.

“Oh, wow! So, how often does that happen at a formal dinner?” she gasped out, wiping away the tears streaming down her face. Eries looked less than amused, shooting disapproving glances at Millerna as she did her best to smother her own giggles.

“Never,” the elder princess hissed. “And you will practice how to sit properly in that dress before coming down to dinner tonight. There is nothing amusing in showing one's undergarments.”

“Well, not usually,” Annie conceded, the grin not fading from her face at all. “But you've got to admit, sometimes it can be downright hilarious.”

Eries pursed her lips tightly. “Let us go and change for the evening, Millerna. Lady Annie, we shall see you this evening.”

Quickly, the two princesses sailed out of the room, taking a contingent of maids with them as the left. Annie's smile faltered and died as her scalp was tugged unmercifully by her hairdressers.

Round One was done, but she couldn't tell if she'd won or not. It seemed like it ended in a draw. Her eyes glinted with steely determination and a deep, hidden amusement. Round Two- Allen's round- was sure to prove interesting.

Bring it on.

AN: Okay, yeah. I know- the time line's a little messed up with me stopping it here, but I think this chapter's more than long enough, huh? Next one might be a tiny bit heavier on the Annie part of the story to make up for it, though- since I've gotta do the evening supper thing with her yet and it's already done with Hitomi and Van. Sorry- but don't worry. There's lots of VxH to be had yet, and Dryden will be joining the fun very soon. Thanks for reading, and please- let me know what you think. Any suggestions or ideas would be most welcome! Freakin' writer's block!!!
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Re: Oil on Water by Dinky

Post by Sakura » January 22nd, 2009, 1:02 pm

Started the pdf file.

Check out the front page, I have announced the final version of the 'Mystic Moon Vacation' there and added a photo of you. If you want to change something or want to have the photo removed please give me a call. The pic is already on the forums so I just moved it to the front page.
What do you call a dinosaur with an extended vocabulary? A thesaurus.

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