Mystic Moon Vacation (An Escaflowne Story!)

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Sakura
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Re: Mystic Moon Vacation (An Escaflowne Story!)

Post by Sakura » October 20th, 2008, 7:22 am

Congratulations Dinky to page 100! :thumb:
What do you call a dinosaur with an extended vocabulary? A thesaurus.

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oldwrench
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Re: Mystic Moon Vacation (An Escaflowne Story!)

Post by oldwrench » October 26th, 2008, 5:48 am

Geeze, Dinky is getting longer winded all the time, but the end is coming........ well, so is the end of the world...... but. Important things are going on, so don't fall asleep, just plow on through it. Chapter 24


New Year's and Needs

AN: Remember how I said last chapter was long? ...Yeah... This one's even longer. And it, too, was written in chunks. Stupid writer's block! I know there are parts I should've taken longer with- I planned on going into more detail- but it just didn't happen. Maybe someday I will go back and fill in and break this up into two chapters, like it originally should have been. Oh well. It's long, but some pivotal stuff happens, so I hope you don't get burned out before the end


Hitomi couldn't believe her luck when she woke up to feel Van's breath tickling her neck. His face was tucked into the hollow between her head and shoulder, and his hand rested possessively just above her belly button. She loved the feel of his strong, lean legs tangled up with her own. She had no idea that two people could fit together so... comfortably. Idly, she ran her hands through his thick, wild, black mass of hair and sighed with contentment. She didn't care if she woke him up; in fact, she kind of hoped she would so she could see his beautiful, intense eyes. No one in either of their worlds had eyes like him.

Lord help her, she loved him.

She loved being here with him, like this. She loved the gentle way he held her, like she was so precious that he couldn't believe he dared to actually touch her. She loved the private, adoring smiles that he gave only to her, and she loved the way his eyes said sweeter things to her than any sappy love poet ever could have imagined. She loved his calm, his quiet strength, the way he carried himself with understated dignity. Leave the flashy shows of eloquence and chivalry to weaker men. Van out-shined them all.

He shifted to bury his face deeper into her neck, and she shivered at the goosebumps running over her as his lips brushed her sensitive skin. Deep in her gut, she longed for him to wake up and actually finish what they ached to do, but never completed. It was so frustrating, but so perfectly them: that bit of heaven always out of their reach.

The goosebumps sent her nerve endings into such a state of high alert that she could feel the callouses on his fingertips on the soft skin of her stomach. Damn, she really wanted him to wake up.

Van felt her slim fingers sliding through his hair and cursed himself mentally. He'd been awake long before she'd stirred, but he kept his eyes closed and his breathing slow and deep even as electric spikes of desire coursed through his blood at her gentle touch. He prayed she didn't notice the slight hitch in his breath or the increased pressure of his hand on her skin.

Oh, gods. He'd sworn to himself last night that he would ask her today. Heaven help him, he was too petrified by the thought to even face her this morning. His mind was blank except for the urgent desire to run away, but his treacherous body fought back with its own ever-increasing desire.

He just wanted to feel her one more time, show her how much he needed her, before he potentially lost her forever. If the growing insistence of her hands in his hair was any clue, she wanted it, too.

His lips moved to trail hot, teasing kisses down the smooth skin of her neck as his hand slid slowly upwards. He heard her gasp and felt her come alive under his questing fingers. His lips curved in a small, possessive smile as he heard her moan softly

Dawn crept slowly over them as their hands said what neither of them could put into words. Van twined his arms around her slim waist, his eyes closed and his forehead resting against hers in an embrace so sweetly gentle it brought tears to her eyes. Hitomi cradled his face in her palms as he lay there still and silent, just holding her.

“Hitomi...” he breathed, his voice so quiet that she barely heard it even in the deep, serene silence that wrapped over them like a blanket.

She traced his high cheekbone with one gentle thumb. “What is it, Van?”

Van concentrated on breathing. In, out, in, out. His entire existence had narrowed to this moment in time. The feel of her soft fingers caressing his face. The smoothness of her skin under the callouses of his hands. Her sweet, beautiful scent, like wind and wildflowers.

“Hitomi... There's something I need to... something I want-”

Hitomi drew away from him just slightly, and that tiny fraction of an inch shattered his courage. The words just weren't coming out right! Suddenly, he was fifteen years old again, standing with his back to her in that dusty windmill, holding himself rigidly just to keep himself from shaking as he thoroughly mangled what he really wanted to say. He could almost taste the sour piscus juice on his tongue.

“Do you still have visions?”

He wondered vaguely if she was going to slap him again. That question- it just fell out of his mouth. Gods, could he just set back the clock about fifteen seconds and have another try?!

Hitomi blinked at him, confused. Abruptly, she sat up and drew her knees to her chest, pushing her fingers through her golden-brown hair.

“No, not since- I stopped telling fortunes after I came back,” she answered in a low voice. She shifted her gaze away from him, her face embarrassed and a little sad. Van hated himself, hated himself, for screwing things up so royally. Uncertainly, he sat up and touched her arm with a gentle hand.

“I'm glad,” he murmured, and she turned confused green eyes towards him. “Your visions, you hated seeing all that pain. I didn't like it.”

Hitomi couldn't speak. Van's face blurred and wobbled as her eyes misted over with unshed tears. It was silly, and stupid, and embarrassing that his simple few words could make her want to weep, but they absolutely did. Because he was honest, and sweet, and it made her feel so warm to hear him say that he didn't like to see her unhappy.

Van saw the tears gathering in her eyes and panicked. He knew he was bad with words, but to make her cry?

“I didn't mean it was bad that you had visions. I just meant it was hard for you...” he back-tracked frantically, trying to figure out what exactly he'd said wrong this time. Suddenly, her arms wrapped around his waist and she buried her face in his shoulder as she laughed through her tears.

“Van, you idiot. I'm crying because what you said was so sweet. Thank you.”

“Oh,” he returned lamely, utterly confused. Bewildered, he awkwardly patted her back and sighed silently. Talking to a girl was just as complicated now as it had been when he was fifteen.

“It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day in the neighborhood! Would you by my, could you be my...” they heard Annie singing as she flung her door open and headed down the stairs. “Won't you please? Pleeeeaaaaase, won't you be... my neighbor!”

Hitomi giggled into Van's shoulder. “Sounds like someone's in a good mood today.”

“Hm,” Van answered, his face turning thoughtful. Hitomi pulled away from him and surreptitiously wiped her eyes on the backs of her hands.

“I guess I'll grab a shower,” she mumbled as she slid off the bed, her cheeks still pink with embarrassment. She practically ran out of the room, not waiting for his reply. Oh, lord. Van was going to think she was some kind of hormonal, psychotic watering pot.

Van watched her leave in stupefied silence. Women, he decided, were completely, nonsensically, unpredictably confusing. He spent a few moments mentally beating himself into a bloody pulp for his disgustingly botched 'proposal' before he headed downstairs to find Annie.

He needed some advice, and she was the only person he could ask. He'd be damned to the deepest level of hell before he'd go to Allen for it.

“So, any luck?” Annie questioned the second he came into her view. Van sighed and rubbed his hands over his face.

“No. That is, I tried, but it didn't come out right,” he admitted.

She frowned heavily at him, her hands on her hips. “What do you mean, it didn't come out right? What happened?”

“I made her cry.”

“You...made her cry? Cry how?” Annie demanded, obviously exasperated with his less than detailed explanations. Van shrugged uncomfortably, regretting this discussion already.

“Um... she said it was because I was, erm, sweet. She seemed embarrassed, though,” he mumbled, the tips of his ears turning a brilliant red.

“Okay, why don't you tell me what exactly you said,” Annie said in the most soothing, motherly voice she could muster. “Just, you know, leave out the squicky parts.”

Van frowned darkly at her, but he figured it was a bit late to back out now. His face burned red as he quickly mumbled through his disastrous attempt.

Annie's lips twitched with suppressed giggles. “Good lord, Van. You suck. How can you rule a country and not be able to ask a simple question?”

“Thank you. You're being very helpful,” Van snapped sarcastically. “I know I'm not good at...this sort of thing. Can't you give me a little more direction than 'you suck'?”

“What do you want me to do? Make up some cue cards and hide in the bushes while you propose?”

By now, Van was blushing so hard he'd turned an interesting shade of eggplant. “No. Just...just tell me how this is done on this world.”

“Well, there's all kinds of ways,” Annie replied after a moment's thought. “There's the traditional get-down-on-one-knee and declare your undying love like a sap way. Or the romantic candlelit dinner put the ring in her champagne glass way. Or the-”

“I can't. I can't do any of that stuff,” Van suddenly broke in. His heavy blush had faded away into a sickly ashen green, and his face was twisted into a panicked grimace. Annie rolled her eyes.

“Okay, don't do any of it, then. But you've got to do something. Anyway, how come you aren't asking Allen this? I mean, he's got experience with-” she stopped and grimaced. “Oh, wait. Don't ask him. All he's ever gotten is big, fat no's.”

Van laughed out loud. He just couldn't help it. He sobered up quickly, though, since her mention of the blond knight had reminded him of another question.

“Annie, this isn't my business, but- last night, when Hitomi and I came home, what were you and Allen doing? Besides the cake fight,” he asked cautiously.

“Oh, nothing much. Just making out like teenagers,” Annie replied flippantly. Van gaped at her, opening and shutting his mouth several times as he groped for words. He wasn't surprised at her admission- he'd figured as much from Allen's stiff awkwardness last night- but he hadn't expected to hear her say it so bluntly. How the hell did the man do it? Even girls who considered him a walking, talking joke apparently ended up on his lap.

“Uh- I think I should warn you that Allen's got a reputation-” he began, but Annie cut him off with a smirk.

“Of being a player? That's pretty obvious, Van.”

“Oh. Well, I thought you should know...” he trailed off lamely. He just wanted to make sure she knew what she was getting herself into with Allen.

Annie gave him a half-mocking, half-amused smile. “So I don't get hurt? Van, as sweet and amusing as your misplaced concern is, you don't have to worry about it. I'm a big girl. Besides, it really didn't mean a thing. It was just two people having a bit of a good time. Okay?”

Van frowned uncertainly. Things were never that simple, but Annie really seemed to think they were. She poked him in the ribs with a smirk.

“Anyway, you've got bigger things to worry about than that today,” she reminded him, and he paled for the second time that morning.

Allen didn't want to face the day. He feigned sleep long after Van had showered and gone back up the stairs, tightly rolled up in his pile of blankets. What was he going to say to Annie? How could he explain away what had happened between them?

More than half of his problem was simply that he just couldn't stop thinking about it- and more in a “great Jichia that was amazing” way than “that was a regrettable mistake” way. Honestly, if he had the chance to kiss her again, he didn't think he'd be able to pass it up.

But that was beside the point. Whatever had led up to it, however amazing it was, he had to make sure nothing like that ever happened again. Annie was off limits. Period. And he wasn't going to think too hard about why, either. He'd just have to make it through the next two days with civil friendliness.

“Good morning,” he greeted the three of them when he'd finally made his way upstairs. Breakfast seemed long finished, and Allen supposed that's what he got for hiding downstairs like a coward. Which was incredibly stupid, he reflected, since Annie wasn't treating him any different than usual. In fact, she seemed happier than she normally was without caffeine.

“So, how come you're in such a good mood?” Hitomi asked her when she started tuning her guitar, humming to herself. Allen snapped his head up quickly, a hint of wild panic in his eyes. Oh gods, don't let her blurt out what they'd done!

“Because it's New Year's Eve,” Annie replied dismissively, still tightening the guitar strings. “You should always be happy on the last day of the year, or else you'll have bad luck in the new one.”

Hitomi looked like she was going to argue, but Allen jumped in before she could speak.

“So, what are the plans for today?”

“Hm, party at Miranda's apartment tonight,” Annie said vaguely.

Hitomi groaned. “Oh, crap. I forgot all about that. Do we have to go? She won't even notice if we're not there. She always invites to many people to fit in her place anyway.”

“Nope, sorry. She called yesterday to make sure we're coming- especially you, Al,” Annie smirked in his direction. Allen thought hard for a few long moments.

“Have I met her?” he finally asked. Annie burst out laughing, and Hitomi looked like she was trying hard not to giggle.

“Um, yeah, she was at the hotel, remember? Tall, blond, really pretty?” Hitomi prompted. Allen rocked back on his heels, nodding. Yes, he remembered her. The Millerna/Marlene look-alike that had talked him out onto the dance floor. Oh, crap.

Annie tried unsuccessfully to pull her laughing smile into a serious face. “Just...don't tell her you forgot you'd met her. We'd get kicked out!”

“But that party doesn't start until tonight, right? What are we going to do until then?” Van asked, thinking that he could be nice just this once and help Allen out.

“Al and I are going to go hang out at the mall today, maybe catch a movie or something,” Annie replied, giving a deadly, pointed look at Allen. He stared uncomprehendingly at her for a second.

“Oh! Right. Yes, we'd agreed to that,” he agreed hastily when he'd finally caught on to her scheme. Another ploy to get Hitomi and Van alone together, huh? Must mean the man hadn't worked up the courage to pop the question yet. He grimaced when he thought of spending the day at the mall, remembering his one trip to the Mall of America. Van was going owe him big for all this.

“Oh! We'll come with you,” Hitomi chirped cheerfully, and Allen nearly laughed at Annie's disgruntled expression.

“Don't you and Van... I mean, wouldn't you rather...uh,” she stuttered desperately, looking at Allen with pleading eyes. He smiled back innocently and said nothing.

“We don't have anything else planned, right, Van?” Hitomi asked brightly, turning towards him with a huge grin. The only thing he could muster was a shallow nod, but apparently that settled the matter. They were going. Hitomi ran upstairs to grab her bag, and Annie threw up her hands in exasperation.

“Gah! Well, that totally backfired! Allen, why didn't you back me up?” she demanded angrily. Allen gave her his most charmingly innocent smile.

“If I have to spend the day at the mall, so do they.”

Van turned a brilliant shade of magenta and muttered something inaudible as Hitomi bounced back down the stairs.

Allen and Van were immensely relieved when Annie parked the little blue car in front of a much smaller, but still huge, building than the infamous Mall of America. Still, the stores swarmed with people as they wandered through the hallways, and Van started to get that now-familiar feeling of claustrophobia from too many bodies packed into one small space.

“Let's get the boys an outfit to take home,” Annie suggested suddenly. “I'll go with Allen, and you can find something for Van, okay, Tomi? We can meet at the movie theater at six. See ya!”

“Yeah, sure, Annie. I- never mind,” Hitomi sighed, as Annie hauled Allen quickly out of sight. Not that she minded, really. Spending time alone with Van was what she wanted, right? Besides, the thought of dressing Van up in all kinds of clothes- you know, so they could pick the best outfit- practically had her salivating. He just stood silently next to her, and she turned to him with a smile.

“So, I guess we're going to find you some clothes. And we never did find something for Merle...”

Allen ground his heels in and dragged Annie to a stop next to him.

“This is stupid, Annie. He's not going to ask her in a place like this.”

She pulled a face at him. “Wanna bet? That guy's got the romantic charm of a rock. Anyway, your styles are completely different, so we'd be going to different stores no matter what.”

“We could've gone together...”

“Geez, Al. Sounds like you just can't stand to be alone with me,” she laughed. Allen frowned hard.

“Annie, we have to talk about what happened last night,” he stated more firmly than he felt. Really, he didn't want to talk about it at all. It'd just be nicer to pretend it never happened and keep it tucked away like a vague memory from a dream.

“Oh, don't get all serious and stiff on me, Al,” she said, rolling her eyes. “We both know it didn't mean anything. It just...happened. So what?”

“How can you be so flippant? We can't just ignore-” he began, but she cut him off.

“Allen, are you thirteen? Is this your first kiss?” she demanded, and he gave her a dirty look. She poked him hard in the chest. “Then stop acting like it. We're both adults. We've both done something like that before, and we both know it's not a big deal!”

Allen crossed his arms tightly over his chest. “It was still a mistake.”

“Fine! You made a mistake. So it won't happen again, end of story! Can we drop it now? We've got some shopping to do,” she huffed and started off down the hallway again.

After a moment's hesitation, Allen followed after her, schooling his face into a calm mask. The truth was, their little make-out session did make him feel like he was a teenager again, kissing a girl for the very first time. It scared the hell out of him. He swore, right there, that he would keep his hands- and mouth- off of her for the rest of this trip.

Van waited with Hitomi outside of the movie theater, one hand entwined with hers and the other idly swinging a full bag. He shuddered mentally as he thought back to some of the things she'd made him try on. Black leather pants? Totally not his style. Thank the gods she was in tune with him enough to figure out when he was really starting to lose his patience and settled on a normal, baggy pair of jeans, a tight black t-shirt, and a loose button-up red shirt with the sleeves rolled up. From the way Hitomi stared at him, he figured it must look pretty good.

Annie and Allen wandered up then, and the girls had to pull everything out of the bags and examine it. The pinched, frustrated look on Allen's face was uncharacteristically comical, and Van almost felt sorry for him. Almost.

“So, had a fun afternoon?” he asked the blond man in an undertone.

“Only if you consider hell to be enjoyable,” Allen muttered back. He scowled darkly at Annie's bent head as she folded the clothes and shoved them back into the bags.

Hitomi studied the movie list. “Do we want to see “A Christmas Wedding” or “Jingle Hell”?”

They ended up flipping a coin, and it landed on 'Jingle Hell'. Allen had to hold Annie down to keep her from running out of the theater after only about ten minutes of the movie, turning every frightening moment into a bizarre wrestling match between the two of them. Van couldn't figure out what was supposed to be scary, but he didn't care too much, since Hitomi clung to his hand and buried her face in his shoulder once or twice.

They filed out slowly after the credits, Allen still laughing quietly under his breath the entire time. Annie punched him, scowling.

“Shut up. Those elves were creepy. God, I'm never going to sleep again!” she wailed.

Allen only laughed harder. “I'm sorry. I just can't see how something like that could possibly be frightening!”

“You should've seen her when we watched 'The Ring',” Hitomi said, rolling her eyes. “She went hysterical. Literally.”

“Scariest movie of all time,” Annie mumbled with a crazed look in her eyes. She stayed jumpy the whole drive back to the house, and even dragged Hitomi upstairs with her when she went to change for the party.

Van went downstairs with Allen to change into their new outfits. The day had been fun, he guessed, but he'd spent the entire time trying to figure out a way to finally ask Hitomi the burning question that was lodged in his throat. He trudged upstairs to wait for their taxi, hoping desperately he'd get his chance at this New Year's party.

The party was exactly as Hitomi had predicted: loud, crowded, and crammed full of boys and girls who looked like they were just waiting for an excuse to tear each other's clothes off and go at it like bunnies. The four of them squeezed through the door and wiggled their way through the crowd.

“We can leave right after midnight,” Hitomi said into Van's ear, and he wondered if his dislike of the place was that obvious. Allen had a pinched look on his face that reminded Van of how someone looked after taking a big mouthful of piscus juice, and even Annie looked vaguely disgruntled.

“There you are. You guys are so late, it's almost midnight,” Miranda chimed out in her clear voice, grabbing Allen's arm possessively. He looked down at her with a surprised look, but he was too polite to pull himself out of her firm grip.

“My fault. I forgot to reserve a taxi,” Annie said cheerfully, the fact that Miranda had clearly claimed Allen for the night apparently not bothering her in the slightest. Allen mentally kicked himself for even looking for any other kind of reaction.

“Annie, you'd better go talk to Jason,” Miranda said in a low voice, leaning down a little to get closer to the small brunette. “He's high as a kite, and getting completely smashed on top of it.”

A spasm of anger and worry crossed Annie's face. “Shit. He's been clean for so long this time, too. Where's he at?”

Miranda pointed through the crowd, and she disappeared before Allen could pry himself loose to follow. Van and Hitomi had already drifted off to a less-crowded corner, and he looked around helplessly. Miranda's glittering, beautiful eyes fixed him like a bug on a specimen tray.

“I think you owe me a dance since you ran off in the middle of one last time, Allen,” she purred.

“Um...” he stalled. He should have known that stupid mistake would come back to haunt him.

Van's ears rang with the noise as he and Hitomi huddled into a corner to get out of the crush. Most of the room was taken up by people dancing, although at least half of them looked like they should be taking their business to a private room. He looked pointedly away from a particularly enthusiastic couple and shifted uncomfortably.

Hitomi glanced at her watch. “I'm gonna go find us some drinks. Just wait here, okay?”

She moved off through the crowd before Van could stop her, and he shoved his hands into his pockets, scowling. What a complete waste of an evening. They could hardly even hear each other, much less have a serious conversation. All Van could think about was finding someplace private to say what he needed to say and get it over with. He was starting to get touchy and agitated from the stress of it hanging over his head, so when a drunk, giggling girl tripped and stumbled into his arms, he set her abruptly back on her feet with an unfriendly growl.

“Jerk,” she muttered before weaving her way towards another guy. Van merely snorted with annoyance and wished that it was after midnight so he and Hitomi could get out of this stuffy, over-crowded apartment.

“Here, Van,” Hitomi said suddenly from beside him as she handed him a bottle. “It's just beer, but at least it's cold.”

Van nodded his thanks and drained half the bottle in one swing. The heat in the room was almost stifling, and he was grateful for the cold liquid sliding down his throat. Hitomi crowded closer to him to avoid getting pushed over by the moving throng.

“Where are Allen and Annie?” Van shouted down to her. Hitomi shrugged and picked at the label on her beer bottle.

“I saw Annie over by the kitchen arguing with Jason. I don't know why she's bothering, though. He gets really mean when he's on drugs. I can't even stand to talk to him.”

Van frowned, trying to think of any time he could remember Jason as anything but friendly. “Does he get like that often?”

“He used to, but he was clean for almost a year now. It's just so stupid,” Hitomi shrugged. She had a dark scowl on her face, and Van thought it might be a good time to change the subject.

“Have you seen Allen?”

Hitomi's face changed from a scowl to a grin in record time. “Yeah. Miranda's dragging him around, but I don't know how happy he is about that.”

The crowd suddenly shifted, and they had a clear view of Miranda clinging onto a bland-faced Allen.

“Wow. She's like a human squid,” Hitomi said seriously, tilting her head to see them better.

“Hm,” Van agreed, an amused smile twitching the corners of his mouth. Oh, the joys of seeing Allen looking uncomfortable.

“Ten seconds, people!” someone shouted, and the whole crowd began the countdown. Van froze, completely confused. What the hell happened when they got to zero?

“..three...two...one...HAPPY NEW YEAR!” everyone shouted, and mass confusion reigned as every person started kissing whoever was standing next to them.

“What the-” Van began, but he was cut off by Hitomi grabbing his shirt and planting a hard, hot kiss on his lips.

“Happy New Year, Van,” she said seriously when she pulled back to stare at him with her soft, emerald eyes. Around them, things began to calm down as people laughed started dancing again.

“What was that all about?” he asked dazedly. Hitomi laughed, and the sound was sweet and gentle and happy.

“Just a New Year's tradition to kiss someone at midnight,” she told him, and then gave him an innocent glance. “So...wanna get out of here?”

Van nodded fervently, and they quickly made their way to the door. He glanced back into the crowd as he shut the door behind them and had to fight a laugh. Apparently, Allen had gotten a taste of this strange New Year's tradition, too, if Miranda's arms around his neck and the look on his face said anything. If ever Van had seen the knight wanting to squirm, now was it.

The only light came from the Christmas tree as they let themselves into the quiet warmth of the little brown house. Van stayed silent as they pulled off their coats, listening to Hitomi's happy voice as he formed a desperate plan.

Hitomi headed towards the stairs, but Van kept standing by the tree, determinedly studying the sparkling glass ornaments, his hands shoved deeply into his pockets. She turned to look at him, her smile slipping off her face as she took in his serious, chiseled features shadowed by the dim light. Part of her wanted to run and lock herself alone in her room, away from the words she knew she couldn't stop him from saying any longer. The rest of her was lost in silent adoration of the lean, dark-eyed, wild haired king that she loved with every fiber of her being. His deep, mahogany red eyes captured her sparkling green ones, and she took a slow step towards him, wanting to reach out into the depths of his beautiful soul.

“Hitomi,” his rich, musical voice floated over to her, and she took another step towards him unconsciously.

“Mm?” she breathed, memorizing his gentle, perfect face. There was a hint of desperation hidden in the depths of his eyes and a small, worried furrow creased his forehead, but before she could reach out and smooth it away, he started to speak.

“I'm not much good with words, or...or saying the things I should to you. I'm sorry. You deserve better,” he began huskily.

Hitomi gave him a soft, confused smile. “Van...”

“I don't want to hurt you,” he continued, “I hate asking you to choose. But the fact is, I can't leave Fanelia, but I hate the thought of leaving you.”

“Van, what are you-” Hitomi whispered, panic bells ringing loudly in her ears.

“Hitomi, I want you to come back to Fanelia. I'm asking you to stay with me, by my side, for the rest of our lives. As Fanelia's queen.”

Hitomi went pale, frozen, unable to speak. This, this was what he had been trying to say all the times she'd stopped him. Oh, god. She hadn't expected this. Or maybe she had, deep down, and hadn't wanted to hear it.

Van swallowed hard. “I know how much I'm asking of you. I know that you'd have to give up everything, and that you'd only have me in return. I wish I could change that.”

Still, Hitomi couldn't find her voice. Silently, her eyes implored him, but whether she was begging him to stop or continue, neither knew.

“I never wanted you to leave. And now, after this, being together, I can't leave without asking you to come with me. I...love you, Hitomi.”

Hitomi wanted to cry. Did he realize that was the first time he'd ever said those words out loud to her before? In a simple world, if they were a normal couple, she could've just shouted 'yes!' and jumped into his arms. But things between them had never been simple.

“Oh, god, Van. I love you, too. More than you could know,” she whispered. “But I... I...”

He watched her, his face twisted with hope and dread, looking so much like the uncertain fifteen year old boy she had fallen in love with. But there was a grown man there, too, one who had become a king, a ruler of a country she knew nothing about. She panicked.

“Van... I don't think I can be the person you need,” she finally choked out through the tears crowding her voice. “You need someone who can help you, someone who knows Fanelia-”

“I need you.”

His voice was so certain, so final, so heartbreakingly desperate, that Hitomi couldn't stop the tears from streaming down her face. It was the closest he had ever come to begging, and it was because of her. She wanted to say yes, she wanted more than anything kiss away the pain in his eyes and tell him she'd go back to Fanelia with him. But she couldn't, she couldn't. Or could she?

The pain, the fear, in his eyes was too much for her to stand. She dropped her green eyes to the floor, unable to look at him, and still he waited for something, any kind of answer from her.

“I... I need some time to think about it,” Hitomi finally forced herself to whisper hoarsely. Van gave a tight nod, and it almost broke her heart to see the way he turned away, exactly like he had after he'd seen Allen kiss her on that bridge in Palas. She itched to reach out and comfort him, but the only comfort he wanted was an answer she didn't know if she could ever give him.

Slowly, silently, she made her way up to her room. She closed the door gently behind her and crumpled to a heap on the floor, sobbing.

Oh, god. What was she going to do?

Allen finally managed to pry his arm away from Miranda's grip long enough to scoot away to look for Annie. He was pretty sure he'd seen Jason pull her out of the main room towards the kitchen, and he headed towards the swinging door. Voices drifted out to meet him as he neared it, and he strained his ears to listen.

“When did you start this crap again, J?” Annie demanded, exasperated irritation coloring her voice.

“It ain't no thing. I'm just having some fun tonight,” Jason growled back.

“Yeah, right. It's never just a one-time thing with you. Are you completely stupid?”

“Loosen up, babe. And what the hell are you doing with Blondy, huh? Not your usual type.”

“Ha. Shows what you know. I'm not with him anyway. We're just friends-”

“Pansy-assed pretty boy.”

“Jason, shut up. God, I hate dealing with you like this.”

Allen had heard enough. He wasn't about to barge into their conversation, but he wasn't going to stand there and listen anymore, either. He wandered through the crowds, looking for somewhere relatively private to put his thoughts back together. Surprisingly, he found a small, empty room and shut the door quietly behind him. It looked like it might be Miranda's bedroom, but at the moment, he didn't care. He just wanted some peace.

It bothered him, somewhere deep in his gut, that Annie dismissed him so lightly as 'just a friend'. He knew it was ridiculous, because in truth, that's all they were. If their relationship could even be called friendly. Borderline animosity was perhaps a better description. But still, the fact remained that it bothered him.

And stupidly, it bothered him worse than being called a pansy-assed pretty boy. That man was just itching for a fight, and Allen hoped he'd be the one to give it to him.

The door opened behind him, and Allen flinched, praying it wasn't Miranda.

“Geez, Allen. What're you doing hiding in here? The party's out there, you know,” Annie said as she wandered into the room and let the door drift shut behind her. She caught sight of his face and frowned. “Hey, what's up? Something wrong?”

“No- nothing. I was just worried you were Miranda,” he replied without thinking. She gave him an amused look, one eyebrow quirked.

“Worried, huh? And here I thought you were having fun with her.”

Allen pressed his lips into a thin line. “And I thought you'd be spending the party with Jason.”

“Not when he's like this,” she said with a grimace. “He turns into a completely different person when he's high.”

Allen nodded his understanding, but his brain had already taken a sharp turn and was heading down another, totally dangerous direction. Here they were, shut in this quiet room, alone, and he couldn't stop thinking about the way it had felt to kiss her. He wanted so badly to show her how very not 'just friends' they were. But he couldn't. He'd promised himself that he wouldn't, but oh,that was getting to be a difficult promise to keep.

“We should...get back to the party,” he said, his voice husky and low. Annie just smiled and took another step closer.

“Hm. Probably. But I didn't get to wish you a Happy New Year yet,” she breathed. Her small hands took hold of the front of his shirt and pulled his lips down to meet hers in a smoldering kiss.

Allen supposed he really should have resisted, should have at least tried to keep the kiss platonic, but logical thoughts had taken a flying leap out the window. There was no way to keep himself from spearing his hands through her hair, or pulling her so close she was molded to him, or going back for more after they'd both come up for air.

“What the hell is this shit?”

They jumped guiltily apart at the furious roar reverberating through the room. Jason stood in the doorway, his bloodshot eyes wild with rage, the veins in his neck bulging horrifically.

“Oh, crap,” Annie groaned, but she lifted her chin and stood her ground stubbornly as the burly man advanced on her.

“What's your problem, J? Get off the drugs, man. They're making you crazy!” she shot at him. Allen had to admire her courage, because it looked like Jason was inches from wrapping his hands around her neck and squeezing until it snapped.

“What the hell- 'just friends' my ass!” he shouted right into her face, and she flinched back just the tiniest fraction of an inch. “Shit, Annie! With Pansy-boy?”

“That's none of your business,” she ground out, her voice dangerously low. They had attracted a crowd by now, but neither of them noticed or cared. One of Jason's friends pulled at his arm.

“Hey, man, cut it out,” he demanded, but Jason shrugged him off. He tried to grab the front of Annie's shirt, but Allen caught his wrist in a vice-like grip first.

“I think it's time for you to stop,” he warned in a deceptively quiet voice.

“Allen, don't-” Annie cautioned, but it was too late. Jason swung his free hand at him, hard, and Allen blocked it with his arm. For the next confusing seconds, everything was a blur of flying fists, shouted curses, and shrill shrieks from from the watching crowd. Jason may have been more heavily muscled, but Allen had the training and the speed. Jason, drunk and high and blinded by rage as he was, was no match for him. Allen dodged and blocked the rain of punches, looking for an opportunity to knock the other man out cold.

For less than a fraction of a second, Allen felt Annie's hands on him, pulling him, before Jason threw a wide punch. His fist slammed into the side of her head, and she staggered back with a strangled cry. Allen twisted swiftly and caught her before she stumbled to the ground.

“Are you alright? Gods, Annie, are you alright?” he demanded frantically.

“Shit...'sokay, Al. Ow...really, it's okay,” she whimpered, hands on her head. Miranda grabbed her then, supporting her with the help of several other girls, all of them worriedly looking her over as they shouted angry insults at Jason.

Allen wheeled back to face him, red fury coursing through his body. He didn't care if it was just an accident. He was going to turn Jason into a bloody smear on the carpet for hurting Annie.

But Jason just stood there, white faced, all the rage gone out of him, and Allen cursed silently. He couldn't punch him now, not when he knew the man would merely stand there helplessly, no matter how badly he wanted to.

“God, Annie, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hit you. I'm sorry. How bad is it?-” Jason moved towards her, but Allen stepped in front of him with narrowed eyes.

“Get out,” Allen hissed, and for a moment he thought he might get the chance to beat Jason up after all when the man glared menacingly at him. Unfortunately, two of Jason's friends grabbed him and hauled him roughly out of the room.

“We should get you some ice,” Miranda insisted worriedly as Annie pushed their concerned hands away and took an experimental step. Allen resisted the urge to reach out and help, knowing she'd just slap his hand away anyway.

“I'm fine, Miranda. Really,” she sighed. “Lord, this is embarrassing. I'm really sorry-”

Miranda shook her head. “Don't be. It's not your fault Jason turns into a real ass when he's using. He was looking for a fight all night.”

“Yeah, well,” Annie shrugged helplessly. She looked over at Allen with shadowed brown eyes. “I think we'd better just go home.”

It took a while for them to get their coats and get to the door with everyone crowding around asking about the fight. Allen scanned the room constantly, but there was no sign of Jason or the guys who'd dragged him away. If they were lucky, he'd be long gone by the time they got outside.

“I called a taxi for you. It should be here any minute,” Miranda told them when they were finally at the door.

“Thanks, Mir,” Annie breathed with a grateful smile. “I'm really sorry about this.”

Miranda hugged her. “Like I said, don't worry about it. And Allen, if you're ever in town again, make sure to give me a call.”

Allen wasn't sure what polite answer he gave to that because he was too busy following Annie out the door. The cold, fresh air was a pleasant shock after the stuffy warmth, and he took a few deep breaths. Next to him, Annie pulled out her inhaler. Immediately, he eyed her worriedly.

“What's wrong? Are you having an attack?”

She rolled her eyes at him. “No. This is just kind of a... precaution. Relax.”

The taxi pulled up, and they gratefully climbed inside. Allen's glance strayed over to Annie as she stared listlessly out the window.

“Are you sure you're alright?” he finally asked quietly when he couldn't stand the heavy silence any longer.

“Yeah. It's really no big deal, Al.”

Her casual indifference twanged at his nerves, and he balled his fists in frustration.

“No big deal? So, what- next time you see him you're going to act like nothing happened? You're not angry with him at all?” he seethed.

“Of course I'm angry. It's just...that's the way things are when Jason's using. Tomorrow he'll call me, and I'll tear into him for being an ass. And I'll tell him not to bother calling me until he's clean. He will anyway, but that's the way it is. I can't just drop him, you know? He's like my brother.”

He doesn't think of you as a sister! Allen wanted to shout, but he ground his teeth together and kept silent. It wasn't any of his business, and besides, he was leaving the day after tomorrow.

The house was dark and silent when they slipped quietly inside the front door. Annie headed towards the stairs as Allen slowly stripped off his coat and gloves with a heavy frown. She paused partway up to look back at him, her expression concealed in the shadows.

“I'm sorry about tonight, Allen,” she said softly. “Jason's a good guy. Really.”

He sighed. “I know. Let's just forget about it, agreed?”

Annie gave a small nod. “Thanks. Happy New Year.”

She sped up the stairs and was gone before Allen could reply, and he ran frustrated fingers through his hair. Everything had gone wrong the minute they'd stepped into that party tonight, including his resolve to keep his hands- and mouth- off of her. If Jason hadn't interrupted them, what would have happened?

Allen stopped short at the bottom of the basement stairs in surprise. That lump of blankets on the futon had to be Van.

“Shit,” he muttered uncharacteristically under his breath, resisting the urge to punch the wall. Knowing he wasn't the only one stuck with a bad ending to the night just made him feel worse. From the way Van kept his back rigidly turned towards him, Allen figured his night had probably been a whole lot more unpleasant than his own.

And they only had one day left to fix it.
Dogs have owners, Cats have staff

Some mistakes are too much fun to only make once.

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Re: Mystic Moon Vacation (An Escaflowne Story!)

Post by Dinky » October 31st, 2008, 2:26 am

The end is in sight, people! I swear! Just chapter 25 and 26 left... and I'm almost done writing chapter 26...
Thanks Sakura for working on this!! How many pages now?
.....sometimes you have to lose your mind to find it......

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Re: Mystic Moon Vacation (An Escaflowne Story!)

Post by Sakura » October 31st, 2008, 3:07 am

The book is only 1cm
What do you call a dinosaur with an extended vocabulary? A thesaurus.

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Re: Mystic Moon Vacation (An Escaflowne Story!)

Post by oldwrench » October 31st, 2008, 4:02 am

The end is in sight?? Not from here it isn't. Another long one, but Dinky is doing a good job of it. Hope you all are enjoying this. Sakura is doing such a really great job of making this story into a pdf file on the fanfic page. Thanks Kitten. So, on to chapter 25 in the never ending saga.

Songs and Choices

AN: So... this isn't the final chapter. Just thought I'd say that up front. BUT... there is only one more to go. Yep, almost done, people! This one starts out a bit AxA, but don't worry, the focus is mostly VxH... you'll see. Hope you enjoy this (once again) long and sort-of angsty chapter.


I love all reviews
Reviews are so wonderful
They are fan-fic crack

Thank you! And please, give me my fanfic fix...



Allen was ripped back to semi-consciousness by someone banging loudly on the front door. Light footsteps tumbled down the upstairs stairway, and the low murmur of voices drifted down to his ears. He sat up groggily, straining to catch the muffled words as he swiped his long hair away from his face. Van sat on the edge of the futon, his dark eyes unreadable, and Allen had serious doubts whether the man had been to sleep yet at all. There was a defeated, hopeless slump to his shoulders that made Allen look uncomfortably away.

The intensity of the voices rose a notch, and Allen rose smoothly to his feet.

“I'll go see what's happening,” he said quietly without looking over at Van. He wasn't surprised that he didn't receive an answer as he made his way up the stairs and through the dark kitchen. The voices were clearer now, and Allen's hands balled into tight fists of anger. Jason- no more sober than he was earlier- was arguing with Annie. Gods, hadn't the man done enough damage for one night? There he was, just inches from her face, and she glared back at him stubbornly, arms crossed tightly against her chest. Allen eased himself into the shadows of the dining room, unwilling to break into their argument unless he had to.

“I ain't stupid. There's no way you two are just friends,” Jason slurred angrily. “I saw the way you looked when Miranda was all over him. Like you were gonna rip her eyes out.”

“I did not,” Annie denied firmly, but all the color had drained out of her face. “There's nothing going on. We're barely even friends-”

“Bullshit. You're friends enough to suck face every chance you get,” he snapped crudely, and Annie looked like she was fighting the urge to slap him.

“Quit being an ass, Jason!”

“Quit being a slut, Annie,” he drawled. This time, she hit him. The sound echoed through the dark room as his head snapped to the side.

“Is there a problem, Annie?” Allen asked in a calm, detatched voice as he moved slowly to her side. She swung surprised brown eyes to meet his questioning blue ones, but Jason spoke up before she could answer him.

“Sorry, was I keeping her out of bed too long? Getting bored all by yourself, Pretty-boy?”

Allen stared disdainfully down his nose at the shorter man's unfocused eyes. He could hardly believe this was the guy who'd shown unending patience teaching them all to snowboard, always smiling, always friendly. That man didn't exist right now.

“I think you need to be taught the lesson I didn't get to beat into you earlier,” Allen ground out between clenched teeth, his muscles taunt and ready. Jason sneered at him as if to dare him to try it, his own meaty, tattooed hands curling into fists.

“Okay, enough testosterone-flinging. Just... leave, Jason,” Annie ordered stepping between them quickly. In the dim light, the dark shadow of the bruise on her temple from Jason's punch stood out on her pale skin, and Jason winced at the sight of it. He backed off slowly, keeping an angry eye on Allen's face as he stepped away.

“So that's it. You're gonna kick me out over him. Some pansy-assed uptight prick that you hardly know,” he bit out. Annie sighed, looking strained and hurt.

“That's not the way it is, and you know it, J. I can't keep doing this. I can't. I told you last time that I'd never go through this again. You've got to go. Don't call me. Don't come over... not until you're clean. I just want you to go away.”

She turned her back to him, her arms still crossed tightly against her body. He took a halting step towards her, but Allen moved between them and gave him a menacing glare.

“Fine. But you'll want me around. After this asshole's moved on, you'll find me,” he stated confidently.

Annie shook her head but didn't turn to face him. “Not this time, J. Take care of yourself.”

Jason glared at her back for several long, tense moments before he stumbled out of the house, slamming the door behind him hard enough to shake the walls. Allen turned slowly to look at Annie. She'd dropped her hands to her sides, her shoulders slumped and her head bent down.

“Hey, Annie,” he said quietly as he put a hand on her shoulder to gently turn her around to face him. Her long, dark hair curtained her face from him as she continued to stare at their feet.

“I shouldn't have said that. I shouldn't have told him to go away,” she muttered hoarsely, and Allen frowned heavily.

“Why not? I'd say it's less than he deserved.”

Annie shook her head, her long hair rippling in the dim light, and Allen tipped her chin up so he could see her face. Her doe-eyes brimmed with worry and pain.

“I'm his oldest friend. We've always... but now I just dropped him like nothing. What if he never gets clean? What if he just dis- disappears?-” she choked on the word and flapped her hands helplessly. With a groan ripped right from the bottoms of his feet, Allen pulled her into a tight hug. He stroked her hair with his right hand, surprised she didn't push him away. If anything, she pressed her face a little harder into his chest as she stood there rigidly in his arms.

“You don't understand. It's my fault he's like this, because, you know, he thinks he loves me. Only I don't... And he just can't let it go, and he says it's my fault he's gotta get wasted to deal with it. So I can't just tell him to go away,” she whispered, and Allen had to strain to hear her. A strong urge to dissect the other man jolted through him again. How dare he pin his inability to deal with his own problems on her? Allen unconsciously tightened his arms around her.

“Annie, it's not your fault. Jason makes his own choices, and you aren't to blame for them. And you can't be the source of his problems if you're not around, right? He's got to fix this for himself.”

Her small hands came up to grab fistfuls of his shirt. “What if... what if I need to save him? What if I've got to do it for me?” she asked, a desperate twinge to her whisper.

“You can't save him from himself,” he said in a low, soft voice. “And you can't save your mother by trying to save him, either.”

He could feel the shudder run through her stiff body, but still she didn't push him away.

“I know. I know. But still,” she mumbled, her voice muffled by the thin shirt he was wearing. Allen didn't reply. There was nothing more he could say. He didn't know how long he stood there like that, just holding her, stroking the long silk of her hair, before she gave a shuddering sigh and stepped back.

“Thanks. Sorry. I kinda went psycho for a minute there. But, well, I guess that'll happen at four in the morning, huh?” she said with a shaky, fake smile. Allen glanced at the clock, following her lead to change the subject.

“I thought it felt like I'd only been asleep an hour or two,” he said casually. Annie's smile turned apologetic.

“Yeah... sorry you got woken up.”

Allen shrugged easily. “You were woken up as well.”

“Naw, I couldn't sleep-” she began before she caught herself and put on an unconvincingly casual face. An imp of mischief, probably born from spending too much time around her, reared up in him. That wasn't a little blush creeping over her cheeks, was it?

“Really? Why's that?” he prompted with a gleam in his eye. Was it possibly because she was thinking about him? Or their interrupted kiss? She avoided his eyes, the blush deepening, and he leaned down to catch her muttered words. All he managed to hear was “didn't want to turn off the light” and “creepy noises”. His eyes widened as a smirk grew on his face.

“Wait- you weren't still too scared by that stupid 'Jingle Hell' movie to be able to sleep, were you?” he asked incredulously, trying hard not to laugh. The crimson blush went from her collarbones to her hairline now, and she scowled darkly at him.

“No, I wasn't!” she insisted, then looked even more sheepish than before. “Okay. I was. Shut up. Seriously, I can't get those awful, creepy elves out of my head!”

Allen laughed so hard, he had to wipe the tears away from his eyes for the first time in his life. He couldn't even remember laughing that hard as a child.

“Yeah, yeah. Glad you think it's funny. Are you finished? I'm going to make some hot chocolate,” Annie finally said sternly before she flounced off to the kitchen. They leaned against the counter together, sipping at their mugs and talking about nothing in particular. Neither of them mentioned Jason. Some things were better left alone.

“I suppose we should try to get some sleep,” Allen said as he set his empty cup in the sink.

“Yeah,” Annie agreed. She fiddled with her mug, staring into the dregs of her hot chocolate. “Um, Allen? Can I ask a really huge favor?”

He turned back to face her, keeping his face blandly friendly. He'd hoped by now she'd know she didn't have to ask him not to tell anyone about the episode with Jason tonight, or their conversation afterwards.

“Do you think you could maybe just sleep up in my room for the rest of the night?” she asked, looking up hopefully with her trademark nose wrinkle.

“Uh... what?” he stuttered once he'd mentally picked himself up off the floor. That one had hit him completely out of nowhere.

“Look, I know I'm being a total chicken-wuss, but I really can't help it. I might be able to fall asleep if you're there,” she muttered, blushing again.

So, that was it. Allen rocked back on his heels as he mentally chided himself letting his imagination take a nose-dive into the gutter.

“Annie, I don't think this is such a good idea,” he warned quietly.

“You don't have to worry about it being proper or whatever. Friends spend the night all the time. Please? I really don't wanna go back upstairs by myself,” she replied. She lifted pleading brown eyes to his, and Allen knew he was in big trouble. Honestly, there wasn't much any man could do against those eyes or that pout. Besides, there was something else to her request. Something deeper than just a ridiculous fear.

“Well, I guess this could fall under the code of chivalry,” he finally answered, rubbing the back of his head. He was rewarded by the relieved smile spreading across her face.

Kicking himself mentally for agreeing to this very, very bad idea, he followed her quietly up the stairs. Her room surprised him. Somehow, he'd expected it to be completely trashed, like a roomful of toddlers had been let loose to tear it apart, but it was surprisingly neat. Not perfectly clean, like his room always was, but the bits of clothes here and there and the occasional haphazard pile only made it feel comfortably lived in, not chaotic. Every light in the room was on, and Annie hastily scooped a pile of papers and a large book off her bed. Allen groaned silently. That bed was a single. The two of them would never fit on that thing without a whole lot of intimate touching.

“Well, get in,” Annie prompted, climbing under the covers and fluffing the pillow. Allen swallowed hard. Couldn't she at least wear something more than that tight tank top and those super-short shorts? Keeping his face as bland as possible, he slid stiffly between the sheets. Annie smiled at him and snuggled in, closing her eyes.

“Uh, shouldn't you put out the lights?” Allen asked, grinning in spite of himself. Annie cracked an eye sheepishly.

“Oh. Yeah. I suppose, since you're up here that'd be okay,” she said, rolling out of bed to shut the lights off one by one. Allen laughed under his breath.

“Want me to check under the bed for monsters, too?” he teased. Annie socked his arm and snuggled back under the covers.

“Watch it, buddy, or I'll steal all the blankets.”

Allen stifled another laugh and turned his back to her, balancing himself on the edge of the bed to keep as little physical contact between them as possible. This could be okay, if they both just stayed like this...

Fifteen minutes later, he was still groggily awake. Every time he was about to doze off, Annie would shift again. Every little noise made her jump, and it was starting to get on his nerves. Abruptly he rolled over to face her as she twitched yet again when the stairs creaked.

“Annie, you're not going to fall sleep if you don't relax,” he whispered. She flopped onto her back next to him.

“I can't help it! It's the curse of an overactive imagination,” she moaned. Sighing, knowing he'd probably regret it in the morning, he reached out and pulled her small body into his.

“There. Now you're safe from the creepy elves and we can both get some sleep,” he muttered into the top of her head, firmly telling his sleepy brain to ignore how well they fit together.

“Well, at least they'll get you first,” she mumbled back as she snuggled a little deeper into him and relaxed. Allen smiled into her hair and fell asleep.

The first weak rays of the dim winter sun filtered into Hitomi's room as she groggily struggled to open her scratchy eyelids. Her head felt like it was full of cotton wool and her nose was stuffy and swollen. The hazy thought that she was coming down with a cold drifted through her sleepy brain as she reached out to find Van's warm, comforting body.

He wasn't there. Her hands stopped searching abruptly as full memory flooded her aching brain. He wasn't there, warming the bed, because of what he'd asked her. He wasn't there, holding her with his strong, loving arms, because of what she couldn't answer him.

She buried her face in her hands and willed herself not to cry. Not again, not anymore. She'd cried so long last night her sobs had turned into dry, hacking gulps. Why did he have to ask her? Why did he have to ruin everything? At that moment, she hated him for asking her to make this choice. But she hated herself more, because she was the one who'd asked him to come here, and that had broken everything.

It was impossible for her to go back to Gaea with him, didn't Van realize that? She belonged here. Here, with her families, her friends, here at her job and her classes. Not on Gaea, not a queen in Fanelia. He was asking her to be something she couldn't possibly be.

But, oh! To be without him- her soul ached at the thought. She knew she would never see him again if she didn't go back with him to Fanelia. It would be too painful, for both of them.

She wrapped her arms tightly around herself. Dear god, she could almost feel his arms around her, the callouses on his fingers on her tender skin. It was too much, too much. She stuffed her fist into her mouth, biting down on the knuckles to keep from whimpering out loud.

The pain in his eyes, the slump of his proud shoulders when he'd turned away- she'd hurt him. Oh, how she'd hurt him, and she hadn't even given her answer yet. She was a coward, and a fool, because she knew she would break her own heart by breaking his if she refused him.

She needed to talk to somebody. She needed to talk to Annie. No- she need to talk to her mother.

Sniffling, she snatched up her cell phone and dialed her home number with shaking fingers. Two rings, three, four...

“Hello?” her mother's voice said sleepily from half-way around the world. Hitomi took a deep breath.

“Mom? It's me...” she choked out hoarsely.

“Hitomi? Are you alright?”

Hitomi tried valiantly to hold back the tears that streamed down her face, but it was no use. What she wouldn't have given to be able to fall into her mother's comforting arms at that moment. “Oh, mom,” she wailed. “I don't know what to do!”

Her mother listened patiently while she poured the whole story out in halting, gasping sobs. Long moments of silence crossed the phone line as Hitomi wiped her eyes and gulped back her tears when she'd finally finished.

“Hitomi-chan, why can't you go with him?” her mother asked quietly, gently. Hitomi slammed her fist onto her bed angrily.

“Because, Mom! It would be crazy! I'd have to leave everything, everyone, behind! And I'd be expected to be this great queen. I can't be queen! I haven't got the first idea how to be royalty!”

“I think you would learn,” her mother replied, still quiet, still gentle. “Van loves you. I'm sure his people would, too.”

“But I'd lose everything if I go. I'd lose you,” Hitomi whispered despairingly.

“You'll lose Van if you stay. Can you live with that?”

Hitomi covered her eyes with one hand, forcing herself not to start sobbing again. “Mom, you're making it sound like you think I should go back with him! Don't you get what that would mean? You might never see me again!”

“Of course I realize that. I know that I would lose you...” her mother's voice cracked, and Hitomi could hear her taking a few deep breaths. “But Hitomi, more than anything, I want you to be happy. You never truly came home from Gaea. I could see that right away. My little girl had left something behind there, and I knew in my heart that someday you'd have to go back and be whole again.”

“But... I'd have to give up everything. I don't think I'm brave enough,” Hitomi admitted in a broken whisper.

“What was it that your grandmother always told you?”

“The stars will give you the last of their strength, if you wish hard enough,” she replied slowly. How long ago that seemed, sitting on the back porch with her grandmother when she gave her the pendant. Hitomi wanted to rewind her life to that evening when everything was still simple and happy.

“Whatever you decide, your father and I will always love you,” her mother said gently into her ear, and Hitomi felt as warm as if she had reached out and hugged her.

“Thanks, Mom,” she whispered.

Van stared unseeingly across the empty basement. Allen hadn't come back down after... whatever it was that happened upstairs. Maybe he should talk to the man, warn him not to get involved with girls from the Mystic Moon. Because there was only one way things could turn out, and this was it. Unable to sleep, staring at the walls in a dark, freezing basement while you nursed your broken heart and your battered pride.

He should have gone with his first instinct. He should have known better than to give in to hope. He shouldn't have ruined the little bit of happiness they had actually had. Damn Annie and Allen for telling him to ask her. And damn his own heart for listening.

It was early morning; he could tell by the pale sunlight creeping down the basement stairs. He rubbed one tanned hand across his worn face and sighed. This wasn't the first night of lost sleep because of Hitomi, and it wasn't likely to be his last, either. The only thing he wanted now was for today to be over so he could escape back to Fanelia and let her get on with her life.

Van yanked off the blankets wrapped around his shoulders and pawed roughly through his dufflebag. One more day. Just one more day to get through, though it wasn't going to be easy. They were all supposed to be going to another of Annie's family gatherings, he recalled with relief as he headed towards the shower. The more people around to be a buffer between himself and Hitomi, the better.

Turning the shower on full-blast, he stepped under the scalding water and let it burn it's way over his skin. Maybe it could burn away the memory of her touch. He snorted mirthlessly and rested his forehead against the shower wall. Ha! Not likely. Nothing he tried could ever make him forget that. Gods, what had he done?

Allen woke in the dim morning light of Annie's bedroom as she stretched slowly in his arms.

“Morning,” she mumbled at him with a sleepy smile.

“What? You mean we both survived the night? No attacks by murderous elves?” he teased, opening his eyes wide in mock- surprise. Annie rolled onto her stomach and propped her chin on her elbows to regard him with laughing brown eyes.

“Joking so early in the morning? Your sense of humor must be more developed than I thought,” she replied seriously. “You know, if you're really sneaky, you could probably make it back downstairs before Hitomi and Van crawl out of their little 'Bed of Love'. If you care, that is.”

“It wouldn't matter if I did care. Van spent the night in the basement.”

Annie gaped at him, opening and shutting her mouth like a fish until she managed to stutter out a few words. “Van? In the basement? But, wha- ... How bad did he look?”

Allen grimaced, recalling the shadowed, drawn face and the defeated slump of the king's shoulders. “Pretty bad,” he answered in a major understatement.

“Oh, god. He must've finally asked her,” Annie whispered, chewing on her lip nervously.

“I thought that was what you wanted. Do you think she said no?”

Annie paled, but she shook her head. “No. At least, I hope not. She probably just... needed time to think about it. Yeah. That's all it is. Poor Van.”

“I hope you're right,” Allen said darkly. He pushed back the covers and stood up quickly, before the sight of her sleep-tousled hair and her worried pout made him do anything stupid.

“I guess I'll go take a shower,” he mumbled, but all he got was a distracted “hm” from Annie. Torn between relief and disappointment, he pulled open the door and stepped hastily out into the small hallway, nearly colliding into Hitomi as she made her way to the bathroom.

Allen, who had never been known for blushing, felt himself going crimson from top to bottom as she gaped incredulously at him.

“Uh... good morning,” he said hesitantly. Her eyes looked swollen and red, as if she'd been crying half the night. If he hadn't been feeling so incredibly awkward, he would have hugged her. Now, he merely shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other.

“Goo- good morning...” she stuttered back, blushing a little bit herself before she dodged into the bathroom and shut the door quickly behind her. Allen closed his eyes and rubbed his temples. This was a very, very bad start to his day.

He found Van folding and refolding the blankets with exacting precision when he ventured downstairs for his shower. It was a little unnerving to watch how he lined the corners up perfectly, only to do it all over again with a frown on his face, like the blanket was his mortal enemy. Allen snatched the first bits of clothes his hands touched in his dufflebag and hurried towards the bathroom. Now was probably not the best time to ask Van what had happened the night before.

“Allen,” Van said suddenly before Allen escaped through the door. He stopped and turned back hesitantly.

“Did you need something, Van?”

Van kept folding the blanket and didn't look up at him. “You do remember that we are returning home tomorrow morning,” he stated in a hollow, monotone voice.

“Of course,” Allen returned cautiously.

“You should keep that in mind before you get too involved.”

Allen wanted to laugh out loud bitterly. Van was the last man who should be handing around advice like that. He smiled a tight, uncomfortable smile.

“Thanks, but don't worry. There is nothing between Annie and I,” he said firmly. Van didn't respond and he quickly disappeared into the bathroom.

Van threw the blanket down on the futon in disgust. How stupid did Allen think he was, anyway? Any fool could see what was going on between those two. He growled in frustration, running his hands through his already spikey, messy hair. What did it matter? Let the idiot do what he wanted. Maybe a broken heart would teach him a lesson or two. Van knew it had taught him things he'd never wanted to learn, like how fast he could swing from numb despair to irrational anger.

“Um, you okay, Van?”

Van whipped around to see Annie watching him from the bottom steps, a worried frown on her face. He gave a bitter laugh. “Wonderful. Never better,” he snapped sarcastically.

“So... what happened?” she asked gently, staying where she was on the steps.

“What happened? I was stupid and took your advice,” he snarled. “I should never have asked her...”

“Did she- did she say no?” Annie whispered, her face white in the dim light of the basement.

“Yes. No, not exactly,” Van moaned, sinking down onto the futon. He buried his face in his hands as he leaned his elbows on his knees, his anger replaced by despair so quickly he felt physically weak.

“Not exactly? What did she say?” Annie questioned as she moved slowly to sit next to him.

Van shook his head. “She needed time to think about it. But we both know she meant no, she just didn't know how to say it yet.”

“Or maybe 'time to think about it' just meant she needed some time to think about it. Honestly, you didn't expect her to immediately say yes, did you?” she said. Van gave her a withering look, and she tapped him on the head. “It's a really big choice. I'd be more worried if she wasn't thinking it over. I mean, this way at least she won't regret a spur of the moment decision, right?”

“Yeah. This way she'll be absolutely certain she wanted to say no,” he spit out bitterly.

Annie rolled her eyes. “Okay, Mr. Pessimist. You're going to feel like the prize idiot when she says yes.”

“Annie, stop. Just- stop. You didn't see her face last night. You don't know...” he trailed off, then turned his head to give her a hard look. “Don't talk about it anymore. It's done.”

“Fine. But I reserve the right to a huge 'I told you so' if I'm right,” she declared, standing up and heading towards the stairs. Van crossed his arms and growled under his breath. That stupid, irritating, loud-mouthed... he could think of a lot of words to describe her right now, and none of them were very friendly. He sighed and stood to follow her up the stairs. There was no point in hiding out in the basement.

Breakfast was a silent, awkward meal since Van glowered at his barely touched food, Allen was stiffly polite, and Annie was unusually quiet. Hitomi never came down the stairs, and her empty place at the table merely highlighted their discomfort.

“We should probably leave soon,” Annie said abruptly. Neither of them responded, and she stood up with a frown. “Okay. Well, I guess I'll go talk to Tomi, then.”

She stalked up the stairs, muttering under her breath the entire way. What a crappy start to the New Year. She rapped lightly on Hitomi' door and poked her head inside the room.

“Hey, Tomi. We've gotta leave for Aunt Lolli's soon. Are you going to come along or what?”

Hitomi looked up from a photo album spilling across her lap with startled green eyes. “Oh. Oh, I'd forgotten about that. Maybe I should stay here today. I've got some stuff I have to...”

“Hitomi, you can't hide up here until Van leaves,” Annie said gently. “You've got to talk to the poor guy.”

Hitomi grimaced. “I know. I just... Wait. Do you know what happened last night?”

“Sort of. Enough to know this is really, really hard on you,” Annie replied, watching her face with concerned brown eyes. She sighed and sat down next to Hitomi to give her a hug. “I know you're hurting, but you can't just hide away up here...”

“I'm not 'hiding away'!” Hitomi exclaimed. “I've got a lot I have to think about. There's so much I need to...”

“You need to talk to Van. Come on, get up. You're coming with us to Aunt Lolli's,” Annie commanded as she pulled a resisting Hitomi to her feet.

“Why?”

"Because moping around up here alone all day isn't going to help you. If you cry any more, your eyes will swell shut. You need some cheering up, and you know us Goettenbergs can always make you laugh.”

“I look terrible. I can't face him, Annie,” Hitomi moaned. Annie smiled at her reassuringly.

“Sure you can. You look fine. Here, put a little concealer on and no one will be able to tell you've been crying,” she said. Hitomi gave her a withering look. “Okay. So your eyes are a little red. Just... tell people you're getting a cold. It'll be fine. Really.”

“Why do I always let you talk me into stuff?” Hitomi asked plaintively as she let Annie drag her out of her safe, secluded bedroom. Annie threw her arm around her shoulder and gave her a comforting squeeze.

“Because I always know what's best for you. That, or I'm as stubborn as a bulldog in heat, and you know it.”

Hitomi couldn't even look at Van's face as they put on their coats silently and climbed into the car together. She suspected that Annie picked a fight with Allen just to cover up the awkwardness permeating the air with their unending squabbling.

Across from her in the backseat, Van stared unseeingly out his window, hunched down deeply into his thick coat. Hitomi stole nervous glances at him from time to time and wished futilely that things could have turned out differently. That she could have given him the answer he wanted, so he could be sitting there, holding her hand and smiling that small, beautiful smile at her. Now, the cord of tension and unease between them twisted and pulled so tightly she wanted to scream. She knew she should've stayed in her room today.

Aunt Lolli's house was on the other side of the city, but traffic was light and the drive was short. Relief poured through Hitomi as she slid out of the car and up to the front door. Van, she realized, was working just as hard as she was to keep as much distance between them as possible.

All four of them were swept inside by a tidal wave of Happy New Year's and hugs from Annie's family. If anyone noticed that Hitomi's smile was brittle or Van's face looked like it was chiseled out of marble, no one showed it. They edged through the front entrance into the crowded living room and looked around.

“I thought you said only half the family from Christmas would be here,” Allen hissed into Annie's ear.

“It is only about half. Aunt Lolli's house is way smaller than Aunt Vera's, though,” Annie replied innocently. “Oh! Leftover Christmas cookies!”

She gave Hitomi a glare that shouted “talk to Van!”, grabbed Allen by the arm, and dragged him across the room. For the first time since she'd run away from Van's question, Hitomi found herself alone with him. Well, as alone as two people could be in a crowded room, anyway. Van's face was hard and unreadable as he stared at the far wall, and Hitomi shifted uncomfortably.

“Hey, guys. Looks like you had too much fun last night or something,” a teenage cousin of Annie's chirped, winking at Hitomi as she passed by the two of them. “Too bad we don't have any mistletoe left over to cheer you up, huh?”

Hitomi felt her mouth go dry as she forced a high-pitched laugh. Van merely looked away, his eyes blank. She felt physically sick to her stomach.

“I... I think I'll go see if the Aunts need help in the kitchen,” she mumbled without looking at his stony face. He didn't even have to time to reply before she stumbled off across the room.

Van ran a hand through his hair, frustrated and wishing someone would punch him to take his mind off his mental anguish. He could do this. He could. Jichia above, he'd thought he had better control of himself than this. He'd thought he could be mature about it, friendly even, not silent and hard and bitter. Gods, how she must hate him for this.

He looked up and caught Allen watching him with piercing blue eyes. Angry and embarrassed, he turned away. The Caeli Knight would never have behaved this way. He hadn't behaved like this when Hitomi had turned him down. The thought that Allen was a better man than him ate away at Van's already demolished pride.

A light tap on his shoulder forced him to turn around. He found himself face to face with baby Willem, who looked surprisingly chubbier in the one week since he'd last seen him. His mother was holding him out towards Van with a friendly smile.

“Van, you were so good with him at Christmas. Would you mind holding him just for a bit while I go have a few minutes of freedom?” she asked cheerfully as she placed the baby in Van's arms. Van stuttered out a few words, unable to think of a good excuse, and the woman seemed to take that as a yes.

“Thanks! Just find me or hand him off to someone else when you want,” she called over her shoulder as she headed towards the kitchen. Van heaved a sigh and stared down at the bundle in his arms. Willem stared back at him with big, slate-grey eyes, studying him solemnly before his eyes crossed. Van gave a tiny smile in spite of himself.

“Alright, little man. You can stay with me for a bit. Just don't spit that white goo on me again, agreed?” he said quietly as he shifted the baby into a more comfortable position and studied the tiny face. He'd never realized holding a baby could make a person feel so... fuzzy.

The image of himself cradling his own baby flashed through his brain, and suddenly all the fuzzy feelings were gone. Someday, he was going to have to produce a son, an heir to the Fanelian throne, and now Hitomi would never be the one that gave him a child. Someday, some woman would have to be found to take Hitomi's place by his side, though never in his heart.

Van stared down into Willem's now sleepy face, wondering about the baby he would never see: their baby, his and Hitomi's. Would he have had green eyes like his mother? Black hair like his father? Or if they had a daughter, would she have had Hitomi's sweet beauty?

His throat closed up and he swallowed forcefully. Those thoughts were stupid and self-indulgent. Van hoisted Willem onto his shoulder and forced the stony, indifferent mask back onto his face. Somehow he'd learn to take his future as it came, and he would do what was best for Fanelia without hesitation.

On his shoulder, Willem suddenly squirmed, grunted, and filled his pants with a loud, squelching explosion. He settled his head back down with a dreamy, contented smile as Van stared in horror at the spreading brown ooze leaking through his outfit.

Once into the bustling kitchen, Hitomi began to wonder if she'd been better off standing awkwardly next to a silent Van. The Goettenberg women's glances were sharp, and her reddened, slightly swollen eyes didn't escape their notice for more than a few minutes.

“I'm just getting a cold,” she lied quietly when the inevitable question was asked. She ignored the skeptical looks and smiled unconvincingly when someone asked about Van.

“Yeah, he's going home tomorrow morning. I don't think we'll see each other again,” she managed to say with an effort. There was a loud chorus of disappointment from everyone in the room, and Hitomi did her best to shrug casually.

“That's really too bad,” Groszmama said, reaching up from her chair to pat Hitomi's arm. “The two of you seemed so... well, we all thought you were going to get a husband before our Annie.”

Hitomi choked and felt the blood drain from her face. She felt like she was drowning in a bucket of ice water.

“What? And break our solemn oath of bachelorette-hood? My Tomi would never do that to me!”

Hitomi swung wide, grateful eyes to Annie as she sauntered past her through the kitchen. She snuck a taste from one of the overloaded trays and winked broadly at her with one sparkling brown eye. Groszmama swatted her hand like a naughty child.

“Ach, Annie! When I was your age, I was already married with a baby! And you can't even find yourself a husband!” the old lady exclaimed, shooing her away from the food, her eyes twinkling in her wrinkled, old face. All the rest of the the elderly aunts nodded their heads in agreement, all talking at once about how they'd all either been married or engaged by then, too.

“Find a husband, find a husband! It's like they've never heard of feminism,” Annie muttered as they headed to the dining room to start setting the tables. She suddenly put down her stack of plates and looked up at Hitomi with a curious, worried look on her face.

“Tomi, you didn't mean what you said, did you? About not seeing Van again?”

Hitomi kept setting the table like an automaton as tears clouded her vision. Fork, knife, spoon. Napkin folded just so. Annie came around the table to put a hand on her arm gently.

“Tomi, talk to me,” she begged. Hitomi flapped her hands frantically and blinked rapidly to keep the tears from falling.

“I don't know. I don't know what to do,” she squeaked out in a panicky voice. “I just... I can't. I don't want to talk here, not now. Please. Let's just pretend everything's normal!”

“Okay, okay,” Annie soothed. “Everything will be alright in the end, Tomi. You'll see. When you can think it all through, everything will be alright.”

Hitomi forced a laugh through her tears. “What, you can see the future now?”

“That'd make it easier, wouldn't it?” Annie replied quietly as they started setting the table again.

“Yeah. Times like these, I wish I still had visions,” Hitomi returned just as quietly. They both looked up as the door swung open and Van walked in, gingerly holding baby Willem. At the sight of him, Hitomi flushed bright red, then paled. His eyes quickly scanned the room, and after seeing just the two of them, he looked like he wanted to turn tail and run.

“Did you need something, Van?” Annie asked curiously. Van hesitated a moment, glancing uneasily at Hitomi before holding Willem out with a grimace.

“Yeah. He's, erm, leaking.”

Annie tilted her head, looking the baby over. “Ooh,” she said as she caught sight of the spreading brown stain and grinned. She made no move to take Willem from Van and instead propelled him out the door with her. Hitomi caught the slightly panicked look on his face and gave a watery giggle as Annie's voice drifted out of the room with them.

“You ever changed a diaper before, Van? No? Well, this should be very educational for you...”

Allen felt like his stomach was going to explode. Seriously, no normal human being could eat like a Goettenberg did and still survive! He was eternally grateful that the New Year's dinner was done, and not only because the thought of taking another bite made him break out into a cold sweat. Even with all the loud talking and laughing and general happiness around the table, seeing Hitomi's strained, pale face and Van's stony expression had completely killed his appetite. Even watching Annie literally squirming with embarrassment over her family's blatant attempts to try to hook the two of them up didn't help. What if he'd encouraged Van to do the wrong thing?

An elderly aunt came around with a tray of steaming mugs, and Allen groaned to himself as he forced a polite smile and accepted one. Annie sat nearby on the piano bench, playing silly duets with some of the little kids and generally adding to the overall racket. Van was nearby, pretending to join in a conversation with a few of the older men as he covertly watched Hitomi where she sat on the floor near Groszmama playing with a small toddler. Allen had the sudden urge to pour his scalding drink over Van's head and shout at him to swallow his pride and beg, plead, whatever it took to make Hitomi realize that she needed to go back to Gaea.

“Can you sing something for us, Annie? Please?” begged one of the little girls. Annie pinched her little cheek gently, and wrinkled her nose with a shake of her head.

“Do it, Annie. Sing us something pretty,” Groszmama said from her chair as she rocked baby Willem. Annie pursed her lips but reluctantly agreed, running her hands over the keys thoughtfully. Hitomi smiled softly to herself as she watched the kids crowd around the piano for a song as the rest of her American family drifted in to listen. The tune Annie began playing was slow and sad, and Hitomi drew in a breath sharply when she recognized it.

I know there's something in the wake of your smile
I get a notion from the look in your eyes
You've built a love, but that love falls apart
Your little piece of heaven turns to dark
Listen to your heart when he's calling for you
Listen to your heart, there's nothing else you can do
I don't know where you're going
And I don't know why
But listen to your heart
Before you tell him goodbye...

Hitomi closed her eyes and focused on breathing. In and out, struggling to keep a blank mask on her face even as her pent-up tears threatened to fall.

Sometimes you wonder if this fight is worthwhile
The precious moments are all lost in the tide
They're swept away, and nothing is what is seems
The feeling of belonging to your dreams

It was too much. Hitomi pressed her way through the small crowd, slipping out of the room unnoticed.

(Listen to your heart...)

There was nowhere she could go to escape Annie's voice. She didn't want to think about it, she didn't want to listen.

(Before you tell him goodbye...)

Oh, god. She couldn't hold back the tears any longer. They fell in slow, searching tracks along her cheeks as she pressed her hands over her ears.

And there are voices that want to be heard
So much to mention, but you can't find the words
The scent of magic, the beauty that's been
When love was wilder than the wind
Listen to your heart when he's calling for you
Listen to your heart; there's nothing else you can do
I don't know where you're going
And I don't know why
But listen to your heart
Before... you tell him goodbye...

Hitomi heard the family clapping and she slowly dropped her hands to her sides. She didn't bother to wipe the tears off her face. What would be the point?

“Hitomi? Are you alright?”

Hitomi spun around, swiping an arm across her face hastily at the sound of the frail old voice. Groszmama leaned on her cane and scrutinized her red-rimmed eyes.

“Oh, I'm fine. It's just... that song always makes me cry,” Hitomi lied quickly. Groszmama quirked an eyebrow, obviously completely unconvinced. When Hitomi only forced a shaky, fake smile and said nothing, the old woman turned around and headed back towards the piano room.

“Annie!” she called as she moved slowly through the doorway. “You play such sad songs. Can't you sing us something happy?”

Annie jumped and looked a little guiltily through the doorway where Hitomi stood in the shadows. She tugged on a piece of her dark brown hair, managing to look thoughtful and apologetic at the same time.

“Okay, you want a happy song? I can do that. Hey, Karl, lend me your guitar!”

She tuned the strings for a second before glancing up and waggling her eyebrows mischievously at Hitomi. Allen, seeing it, frowned heavily. That sort of look was usually followed by trouble. Or at least something completely inappropriate. Annie began to play, grinning.

When I was in my teenage years, I did just what I should
I listened to my mother and I was kind and sweet and good
And my friends and I did rituals, and I prayed with all my might
That this would be the evening that she'd stop along her flight.
Well, that was several years ago, and that chick's long overdue
And it's time I came to terms with something plainly clear to you...

She looked up and Allen swallowed a groan with a big mouthful of his drink. That twinkle in her eye could not be good.

The Boob Fairy never came for me!
No, the Boob Fairy never came for me!
Okay, I'm spunky, and I'm cute, and I've got a great personality-
But the Boob Fairy never came for me!

Allen wiped the hot chocolate he'd sprayed off the front of his shirt as the room erupted in cheers and laughter. Completely inappropriate was right. Not to mention completely untrue, he added mentally as he secretly eyed her front.

Still I harbor hopes she'll come for me- I know she will!
I'd get them done myself if she'd agree to foot the bill...

The Boob Fairy never came for me!
No, the Boob Fairy never came for me!
Look, I wasn't wanting melons, just a cute curvaceous B,

But the Boob Fairy never came for me!

Great Jichia. the girl had absolutely no sense of decency. Where the hell did she even learn a song like that? Allen pressed his lips together disapprovingly. Okay, he'd concede that it had worked. Hitomi was actually laughing, and even Van's stony mask showed mild amusement and surprise. Groszmama gave Annie a light smack on the leg with her cane.

“That's enough from you, young lady,” she said sternly, but her eyes sparkled with laughter. Annie handed over the guitar and slid over to Allen's side.

“How about that one? I even made Van smile. And nice hot chocolate spray, by the way,” she giggled, eyeing his splattered front.

“Yes. You're very talented,” Allen muttered dryly with a strained, long-suffering expression. He just barely managed to stop himself from rolling his eyes at her.

“I think we should get going, though. Those two have got to talk sometime, and it's not going to happen here,” she said thoughtfully, looking out the window at the late afternoon sun already fading into dusk. Allen nodded, and it wasn't long before the four of them were once again packed into the tiny blue car speeding back towards home.

Hitomi wasted no time retreating to the safety of her room once the tense drive was over. She dropped face down on her bed, mentally and emotionally drained, and she still hadn't figured out what she was going to do. She couldn't leave tomorrow with Van, and she couldn't bear the thought of living without him.

She wanted everything to stop. She wanted to drift away and become nothing. She wished she'd never heard of Gaea, or Van.

She heard her door open and shut gently and felt the bed shift as someone sat down. For a wild, brief second, she thought it was Van, but it was Annie's voice that spoke quietly.

“Tomi, in the three years we've known each other, I've never seen you run away from something because you're scared. I can't stand the thought that you're going to lose Van now because you're too afraid to go back with him. He loves you, Tomi, but more importantly, you love him. All the family and friends in this world aren't going to be able to replace him, and deep down, I think you know that. I don't want to watch you turn into an empty shell because you let your fears get in the way of your heart.”

“I can't! I can't go back with him!” Hitomi sobbed into her pillow. “I can't be what he needs, I can't be a queen! I'm just a girl, an ordinary girl that doesn't know anything about that kind of thing!”

“Isn't a queen's duty to get pregnant and have babies? I know you can figure that part out,” Annie joked, and Hitomi threw her spare pillow at her and sobbed harder. “Okay, that was bad timing for a joke. Sorry. But honestly, I think you'd make a very good queen. Anyway, Van would choose you over some perfectly brought-up, well bred princess hands down, but he's not going to have that choice if you say no. Someday he's got to have children. Are you okay with that?”

Hitomi felt like she was going to throw up. Behind her eyelids, she could see a scene of Van with his perfect-princess wife and their perfect little children with sickening clarity.

“But I can't... Annie, I can't just leave with him tomorrow. I'd never even get to tell my family goodbye,” she whispered despairingly. Annie gave her a small half-grin and smoothed a few strands of hair off of her tear-stained cheeks.

“Well, why would you have to go tomorrow? Can't you go in a month or something? When you're done saying goodbye and getting your life in order?” she asked matter-of-factly. “I mean, the guy's waited what- six years? I'm sure he'd be willing to wait just a little bit longer.”

Hitomi stared at her, her big emerald eyes full of uncertainty. Annie stood up and gave her a gentle look.

“Listen, Allen and I are going to leave for a while. Think about what I said, okay, Tomi?” She turned to leave but paused in the doorway. “Talk to Van. Don't wait until tomorrow to work this out.”

Hitomi heard the front door slam and the roar of Annie's car as it drove away. She sat in the heavy silence of the empty house for a long time, wishing for a clear answer. It wouldn't come, no matter how hard she wished. Abruptly, she stood up and headed downstairs, thinking that maybe if she just saw Van again, if she talked to him, she'd finally know what she was supposed to do.

The main floor was deserted, and she eased herself silently down the basement stairs. She wasn't surprised to see Van practicing slow, methodical movements with the royal sword she had confiscated the first day he'd arrived. He had always had a habit of doing that when he was under stress. He was concentrating so hard that he hadn't heard her coming down the stairs. His back was mostly turned towards her with his shirt off, his muscles moving under his tanned skin as he swung his sword. God, how she wanted to reach out and run her hands over that skin.

“Van,” she breathed quietly, and his sword stopped in mid-strike. He stood there, motionless for a long second before his arm slowly dropped until the tip of the blade rested against the floor. He didn't turn to face her.

Now. Now was the time to give him her answer. Because she finally had one. Hitomi licked her lips and drew in a breath.

“Van, I can't go back with you tomorrow.”

AN: Um... don't kill me. Remember, there is one whole chapter to go, and if I'm dead, it'll never get finished. Yes, it's partly done, so hopefully I'll update a bit sooner this time... So, the two songs: "Listen to your heart" version by DHT (piano version) and "The Boob Fairy" by Deirdre Flint. Toodles!
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Re: Mystic Moon Vacation (An Escaflowne Story!)

Post by oldwrench » November 21st, 2008, 8:32 pm

And so we come to the end of the story, there is some happy, and some sad. Well, Dinky couldn't have it all end up sad, now could she. I guess the two worlds will just go on as they have for millennia......... Or will they? Maybe there's more to the story.......... ask Dinky. On to the thrilling conclusion, sort of, chapter 26.





Beginnings and Endings

AN: Well, here it is. The final chapter. What started out to be just a short little nothing ended up being 26 chapters long! Thanks to everyone who has stuck this story out to it's ending, and especially thanks to everyone who has reviewed- It really means a lot to me, and I deeply appreciate it. So, this last chapter is dedicated to all of you! Uh... sorry for the horrifically long delay... computer issues, and then just plain bad writing issues. I just can't get this chapter right. Sorry if it's a really disappointing ending! Please leave me a review telling me what to fix... Thanks, and I hope you enjoy!!


“Van, I can't go back with you tomorrow.”

The words hung in the air between them as heavy as death. Van didn't move, the taunt muscles under his tanned skin as cold and rigid as the blade of the royal sword he gripped in his hand. Hitomi took a hesitant step towards him, hand outstretched, wishing he'd turn and look at her so she could see his eyes.

“You have to understand. There are so many things, so many people to say goodbye to. I can't just walk away from everything- from my life- tomorrow and go back to Gaea with you. No matter how much I want to stay with you.”

Still, he wouldn't turn to face her, standing there like frozen stone, and suddenly Hitomi couldn't stand it any longer. Slowly, her outstretched hand brushed against the skin of his back, and she could feel the already tense muscles tighten under the touch of her hesitant, shaking fingers. Her other hand joined the first, and she slid her arms around his waist to press herself flush against his back, resting her cheek between his shoulder blades. And still, he never moved.

“I don't want to live without you,” she whispered brokenly. “I don't want to watch you leave tomorrow knowing that I'll never be with you again. I'm scared, Van. I'm scared of leaving everything behind, I'm scared that I won't be able to be what you need. And more than anything, I'm scared of losing you. But I know, deep down, that when I'm ready to go back to Gaea, you'll be with me, and somehow everything will be okay.”

Van felt like he was drowning and had just been thrown a lifeline. He held himself as rigid as a granite slab, every muscle tight to keep from shaking. He wouldn't, couldn't, allow himself to hope.

“Hitomi... ” he finally rasped out through an achingly dry throat.

“I'm asking you to wait for me, Van. I want to go back to Gaea, I want you to bring me home to Fanelia, but I can't go tomorrow. I just need some time. Please,” she begged.

Van wanted to turn around. He needed to know if he'd heard her right, if she really meant what she'd just said. Gods, it couldn't be... and yet-

“How long?” he breathed, unconsciously holding his breath for her answer. How many years would they be apart this time? Her arms tightened around his stiff waist, her body pressed tightly to his back.

“A month- maybe two,” she whispered hesitantly. “Just long enough for me to say goodbye...”

Under her cheek, she could feel Van's shoulders begin to shake with silent laughter. Confused, she loosened her grip enough to pull away and stare uncertainly at the back of his head.

“Van?...”

He shook his head, overwhelmed by such an incredible wave of pure joy and relief that he couldn't stop his helpless, silent laughter. A month? That was all?

“If that's too long...” Hitomi began slowly, but she stopped in surprise as Van wheeled around abruptly to take her face in his hands.

“Too long?” he gasped incredulously. “Hitomi, you know I'll wait as long as you need, if you say you'll come to Fanelia.”

She gazed steadily into his deep mahogany eyes. “Well, I am saying I'll come to Fanelia. And I only need a month-”

Van cut her off mid-sentence with a deep, lingering kiss. He hadn't really done it on purpose, but when his brain had finally grasped her words, her meaning, he couldn't stop himself. It had only been a day since he'd last tasted her sweet gentleness, but gods, it felt like he'd lived a lifetime of pain between then and now.

Hitomi sagged against him. her bones doing that melting thing they did so often around him.

“I can definitely be ready in a month. Maybe less,” she sighed as their lips parted slightly. Van rested his forehead against hers and she leaned into the warmth and security of his embrace.

“Hitomi,” he breathed. “Are you sure? You'll really-”

She smiled up at him. “Yeah. I'm sure. Are you? Will your people be okay with this?”

“Fanelia will be deeply honored,” he stated seriously, and Hitomi swallowed a giggle at his intensity by giving him a quick kiss.

“And waiting a month or so...?”

“Hm. I think my council's hoping you'll show up with me tomorrow morning, but as long as they know Fanelia will have a queen within the year, they'll be fine,” he answered distractedly, thinking more about how much he wanted to kiss her than answering her questions. A disturbing thought floated through his preoccupied mind and he grimaced.

“Gods, they're going to use the extra time to plan some huge elaborate ceremony,” he groaned before he could stop himself and Hitomi gave him a quizzical look. He cleared his throat. “Not that a big ceremony's bad, if that's what you want...”

Hitomi had to laugh at his worried face. “That's not really my style.”

She laughed again at the obvious relief flooding his face, and the sobering thought that she knew absolutely nothing about marriage ceremonies in Fanelia hit her with full force. She'd never been big on traditions before, but the thought that she probably wouldn't even get to plan her own wedding was suddenly a little depressing. She rested her head on Van's shoulder and buried her face in his neck so she could breath in his scent of wind and fields and freedom. Everything was going to be alright.

“Van... what would you have done if I wouldn't come back to Gaea?” she asked quietly, the words out before she stopped to think about them.

“I don't know,” he answered simply. “I couldn't stand to think about it.”

Her mouth twisted into a wry grimace. “Me neither. I probably would've ended up as one of those crazy old cat ladies.”

“Cat ladies?” Van asked, obviously trying to picture Hitomi covered with fur and a tail. Hitomi laughed out loud and pulled away enough to look at his confused face.

“Not like Merle, Van! I meant just a normal, crazy old lady with fourteen cats that she treats like her kids!”

“Ah,” he replied slowly, still trying to wipe a disturbingly fur-covered Hitomi from his mind's eye. Some things were just too weird to imagine. And besides, he kind of had a thing for her soft, smooth skin. Her soft, bare-naked skin. Lots and lots of it.... What were they wasting time talking about again?

His lips brushed hers, and she responded eagerly, her slim hands fluttering through his wild black hair to deepen the kiss. There was no tension anymore, no unanswered questions lingering in the back of their thoughts, no misunderstandings to separate them. There was no longer any sense of urgency, only pure, loving need.

And tomorrow no longer bothered them, because it would be the first day of the rest of their lives together.

Driving through the long night
Trying to figure who's right, and who's wrong...

“Where exactly are we going?” Allen asked over the music with an edge of exasperation coloring his voice. They'd barely been home for a half an hour before Annie had loaded up the car, pushed him out the door, and sped off down the road again. Not that he really minded getting out of the tense atmosphere in the house or spending a little more time alone with her, but it was damn cold outside, and besides, she was paying even less attention to her driving than usual.

“We're going to an ice-fishing house of my uncle's. Eventually. Right now, I'm just gonna drive for a bit,” she replied absently as she turned up the music and stared out of the windshield at the forlorn road passing by under the orange glow of the street lamps. Allen frowned as he covertly studied her face in the half-light. Her dark eyes held no trace of their usual laughing sparkle, and the brightness he'd become so familiar with was dimmed. They were empty. Sad. Lonely. And he realized she wasn't getting out of that house for Hitomi and Van's sake, but for her own.

And I might be more a man if I stopped this in it's tracks
And said, Come on. Let's go home.
But she's got the wheel-
And I've got nothing except what I've got on

“Annie, you know you can talk to me if something's bothering you,” Allen said gently after he'd watched her tug on a strand of hair distractedly for a few minutes. She blinked and turned her head to look at him, dropping her hand back down to the steering wheel.

“Nothing's bothering me,” she stated cheerfully, but he knew immediately that it was a lie. Sure, the smile she gave him flashed her dimples, but it didn't make her shine the way she usually did, like life itself was one big joke to her. Allen narrowed his eyes at her, silently challenging her to stop hiding behind her fake grin and forced cheerfulness. The smile slipped off her face as his blue eyes pierced hers, and she turned her gaze back to the road with a sigh.

“Really, it's nothing. Nothing that I didn't already know for years now,” she finally said quietly. Allen waited, but she didn't say anything more. Why wouldn't she talk to him? He wanted her to confide in him, let him know what was hurting her so he could stop it. He shook his head at the absurdity of his own thoughts.

When you're driving with the brakes on
When you're swimming with your boots on
It's hard to say you love someone...
And it's hard to say you don't

“Tomi's going to go to Gaea, you know,” Annie said quietly, surprising him. Allen turned to look at her, at the unconvincingly blank mask on her face, the way her mittened hands gripped the wheel tightly.

“Wasn't that your whole plan? The reason you asked Van to come here?”

Her face contorted into a helpless grimace. “Yes. And I knew it would work if the two of them got enough pokes in the right direction. Seriously, they're so clueless it's almost painful.”

“But now you think it wasn't such a good idea to play matchmaker?” Allen asked, confused.

“No! It's just- “ she sighed again and bit her lip. “I have a big family, but I've got no one. No brothers or sisters, like everyone else. It was just me and Grandma, and a mom I met once in my entire life. Jason was sort of like a brother, but...” she trailed off, and Allen could sense that she was forcing herself not to think about the middle-of-the-night fight. She took a deep breath.

“When I met Tomi, I just knew that she was someone special, the sister I'd always wanted. And then I knew, the first time I heard her say Van's name, that I'd have to give her up. Because she didn't belong to me, or my family, or even her own family anymore. I knew it would be hard to let go. I've known it forever. But I guess I'm more selfish than I thought, because sometimes it gets really hard to keep smiling and telling her to choose Van.”

Allen felt sick. This entire time, every single moment that Van had been on the Mystic Moon and for countless days before, Annie had planned and hoped and schemed to get Hitomi realize what was in her heart, all the while hiding her own hurt so well that no one would even suspect it.

“Annie, nobody could think you're selfish,” he finally choked out huskily. She gave a humorless laugh and forced a smile.

“Well, I guess it really doesn't matter anyway. Pretty soon she'll be gone, and that'll be that,” she glanced over at him and frowned. “Stop looking at me like that, Al!”

He blinked, genuinely startled. “Like what?”

“Like I'm some poor, helpless thing to be pitied. I told you I knew this was coming a long time ago. And I'll deal with it just fine, so you can stop feeling sorry for me.”

Irrationally, Allen wanted to snap back at her for being stupid, and at the same time hug her and tell her everything would be okay. In the end, he couldn't make up his mind, so he stared out the window and said nothing.

“You know what? We need some happy music. And we need to find a parking lot,” Annie suddenly declared. She grabbed her iPod and fiddled with it while Allen gave her a confused look.

“A parking lot? What for?” he asked warily as she pulled off the main freeway and the little car reverberated with a techno beat.

“For this,” Annie answered as she shot into a deserted lot and slammed the gas pedal to the floor. Allen pressed his back into his seat hard with a surprised gasp as the car sped across the icy pavement. Suddenly, she jerked the wheel to the side, sending them careening wildly out of control. He hung on to the dashboard with all his strength as they spun madly, narrowly missing a light post by mere inches as they past.

“That,” Annie declared, breathless from laughter, “ was awesome! Wanna go again?”

Allen gaped at her. “Are you insane? You could have killed us both.”

“So... that's a no, then?”

“Of course it's a no!” he shouted. “I don't share your apparent wish for death!”

Annie laughed, long and hard and sincerely at his fuming face. “I don't have a death wish! But, you know what? When I die, I wanna go sliding into my coffin sideways with a big-ass grin, shrieking 'Whoa, baby! What a ride!'”

There was a long, heavy, silent pause as Allen stared blankly at her grinning face.

“You,” he finally stated solemnly, “are by far the strangest person I have ever met.”

“Well, maybe you won't forget me then, so I guess that's something,” she murmured without looking at him, and Allen wasn't sure if she was talking to him or herself. She glanced back at him with a brilliant smile. “Wanna learn how to drive?”

Allen, momentarily dizzied by her quick conversation change, pursed his mouth apprehensively. “Uh, no thanks. I'm not really interested...” he trailed off lamely as Annie gave him a mocking look.

“Oh. Well, okay, if you're too nervous to try it,” she said flippantly, her brown eyes laughing at him. “It's probably more complicated than your giant robot thingies-”

“Guymelefs,” he ground out between clenched teeth. “And I'd love to try driving.”

He ignored Annie's triumphant grin and the nagging voice in his head asking him just when he'd become so easy to manipulate as they switched seats.

Ten minutes later, the two of them stood in the frigid air of the parking lot, surveying the damage a light post had done to the side of the car. Allen was too embarrassed to say anything as he picked up the mangled chunk of metal that was once the passenger side mirror and looked it over helplessly.

“It's okay. Really,” Annie reassured him, patting him on the back. “I hardly ever use the side mirrors anyway.”

“I'm sorry, Annie. I don't know how I could've-”

She grabbed the mirror out of his hands and chucked it into the backseat with a casual shrug. “I said it's no big deal. I'll get Jason... uh, I'll find someone to fix it later. Let's just get to the ice house.” She wrinkled her nose and grinned broadly at him. “But I'm driving.”

Allen felt too sheepish to do more than grunt one-word replies to her lighthearted conversation for the entire drive. He wondered ruefully how she could go from quietly depressed to nearly giddy in the space of an hour. At least she was smiling again.

Annie parked the car, and the two of them trudged through the almost knee deep snow, loaded down with all their gear for the night. Allen looked around curiously a the large, flat expanse of land, dotted here and there with tiny shacks.

“These are ice houses? What are they used for?” he asked incredulously. Most of them looked hardly big enough to hold more than two people.

“Ice fishing,” Annie replied. She pointed up ahead to a somewhat larger one. “That's ours. Some of my uncles and cousins stay there over a weekend to fish.”

Allen thought hard, completely confused but not wanting to sound stupid to her. Growing up near the ocean, fishing was definitely something he knew about, and any complete idiot knew that you can't fish without water. And all he could see was vast, empty, snow-covered ground.

“Uh, where exactly do they fish?” he finally asked after straining his eyes searching through the black night air.

Annie frowned at him. “What do you mean, where? They just drill a hole in the ice and fish.”

Allen suddenly stopped and swallowed hard. “Drill a hole?...”

“Well, yeah. They set up the house in the middle of the lake, so there's good fishing... Hey, something wrong, Al?” she asked, turning around and noticing his pale face.

Something wrong? They were only standing on top of a lake, with nothing more than a little ice between them and freezing, deep water. He suppressed a violent shudder. He'd heard, somewhere, that it was possible for entire lakes to freeze over in the coldest regions of Gaea, but he'd never seen it for himself.

“It's perfectly safe, you know,” Annie told him reassuringly, once again making him wonder if she could read his thoughts. She readjusted her armload of stuff to grab his hand and start leading him toward the ice house. “People drive trucks out over this stuff. Haven't you ever ice-skated?”

“No. Asturia doesn't get cold enough to freeze anything. And I'm not worried,” Allen replied defensively. Annie gave him a laughing, unconvinced smile, and he frowned heavily. “I'm not! I was just... surprised. That's all!”

“If you say so,” she chirped lightly. She didn't let go of his hand, though, and Allen was secretly glad about that.

They crunched their way through the frozen snow to the door, and Annie let go to dig through her pockets for a key. Allen stepped gingerly into the house, trying to ignore the nervous worry that their added weight would send the whole thing crashing through the ice as Annie fiddled with a large Grey box.

“Close the door, Al,” she commanded distractedly. “Once I get the heater started, this place'll warm up fast.”

The heater kicked in suddenly, and she stood up with a satisfied grin. She eyed Allen as he stood with one hand on the door knob, looking ready to bolt at the first creak of the ice beneath them, and laughed.

“What? I'm just being... cautious!” he said defensively as she doubled over and wiped the tears off her face with her mittened hands.

“You look like a scared little rabbit!” she giggled. “It's perfectly safe. See?”

Allen gasped in horror as she started to jump up and down, grinning maniacally at him. He dove across the room and grabbed her shoulders, forcing her to stand still.

“I can't believe you're so freaked out about this!” she laughed.

“It's a lot more reasonable to be worried about falling through the ice than to be scared of some non-existent, murderous elves,” he growled, still not taking his hands off her shoulders. Annie rolled her eyes, still smiling.

“Yeah, yeah. Okay, I won't jump around anymore. But seriously, we're not going to fall through the ice. I promise.”

Allen eyed her skeptically for a long moment before slowly lifting his hands and taking a step backwards. When she didn't start jumping again, he let himself relax slightly. Annie rummaged through a bundle and pulled out a bottle of wine triumphantly.

“I thought you said you were never going to drink again,” Allen said questioningly as she opened it and took a sip.

“That was the hang-over talking,” she replied cheerfully. “Besides, I only brought one bottle and no beer. Want some?”

Allen eyed the bottle she held out to him for several long moments. It was hard enough to keep his hands off her when he was sober. It wouldn't be the smartest thing to do while the two of them were miles from anything. But then again, if anything did happen, there wouldn't be any Jason to come in and start a fight. And it was his last night here...

He grabbed the bottle and took a huge swig.

Four hours later, Allen was nearly asleep with his head on Annie's lap as she put little braids in his hair. The empty bottle lay discarded next to him, and he smiled a little to himself. As much as the firmly ignored part of him had wanted to do other things with their mouths, they'd spent the night talking, and it felt good. For once in over five years, he'd been able to really pour out all his worries and his pain about his sister without holding anything back. And the best part was that now he was here, supremely comfortable with her fingers sliding through his hair, drifting to sleep as he listened to her singing quietly to herself.

He'd never met anyone like her before. She laughed at him, she argued with him, and most importantly, she listened to him. How had he ever thought he didn't like her? He couldn't remember any more. The sudden thought that it would be difficult to leave her in the morning floated through his sleepy brain, but he was too lethargic to say anything to her about it at the moment. Besides, he'd rather listen to her singing.

You have my heart
And we'll never be worlds apart...

For the first time in his life, Allen fell asleep with a smile on his face.

Morning came far to soon for Hitomi. She rested her head on Van's shoulder as they watched the dawn creeping slowly through her bedroom window together. They hadn't wasted any time sleeping. There had been too much to say to each other, and there was a whole lost day of intimacy to make up for, too. But the clock ticked slowly, enevitably forward, and their time together was nearly over. Hitomi fought the occasional urge to throw her alarm clock across the wall and beg Van to stay just a little bit longer because she knew it wouldn't really do any good anyway. For now, it was enough that he had his arms around her, and his cheek on her hair, and he loved her.

The front door slammed, and the low murmur of voices told them that Annie and Allen were back from wherever they'd spent the night. Van shifted, but was reluctant to let Hitomi go just yet.

“I suppose they'll want to know what our plans are,” he sighed against her silky, honey colored hair.

Hitomi pressed herself deeper into his arms. “They can wait a little bit longer. I don't want to move yet.”

Van didn't reply, but the way his arms tightened around her was as effective as saying “me neither”. She closed her eyes with a small, gentle smile. She was getting better at understanding him, though she supposed it would still take some time. But that was something they would have, right?

“Van, you're absolutely sure about this?” she suddenly questioned, anxious for him to kill any lingering doubts she had left.

“About what? You coming to Gaea?” he replied, and she nodded slightly against his shoulder. “Hitomi, I've wanted you back since the moment you left. There's nothing I'm more sure about.”

Hitomi smiled and turned to kiss him- and was stopped by the knock on her door.

“Hello? You guys decent?” Annie whispered from the other side, and Hitomi couldn't help but laugh.

“You can come in,” she called, and laughed again at the look of bursting curiosity on Annie's face when she poked it through the doorway. “Just couldn't wait to find out what happened, could you?”

Annie grinned sheepishly. “Hey, if curiosity can kill a cat, what do you think it could do to me? So...” her eyes twinkled merrily. “Do I need to help you pack and write a long letter explaining things to your family or what?”

“Nope. I'm not going back to Gaea,” Hitomi stood up and stretched before grabbing her clothes and heading towards the shower.

“You forgot to add 'today',” Annie said with a smirk. “Nice try, though.”

Hitomi heaved an exaggerated sigh, trying to suppress a smile. “Yeah, well... You're no fun.”

“You can always try it later on Allen,” she replied soothingly as Hitomi shut the bathroom door. She whirled around and gave Van the most ridiculously huge smirk he'd ever seen. He scowled ferociously and stood up.

“Don't even say it.”

“Oh, no way, buddy! I reserved the right, remember? I TOLD YOU SO!!” she gloated, poking him in the chest a few times for good measure before she turned to leave.

“Yeah, yeah. You're very smart,” he muttered, rubbing his bruise with a grimace. “And Annie-” she looked back at him and he smiled. “Thanks. For everything.”

“My pleasure, Van Fanel.”

Hitomi laughed silently at her surprise that the open, frozen field looked exactly the same as it did when Van had first arrived. It was only natural, she supposed, that she'd think everything would be different somehow, since her entire life had changed in less than two weeks. In a strange way, it was sort of comforting. In a few weeks, she could leave Earth behind and nothing here would change.

She clung tightly to Van's hand as they walked a short distance away from the beat-up, little, blue car. Annie and Allen followed a few steps behind, but they might not have been there at all for all Hitomi noticed. She only saw Van, walking silently beside her, looking lost in deep thought. Suddenly, he stopped and turned towards her, his deep, mahogany eyes searching her bright, sparkling green ones.

“Hitomi-” he began, and she could sense that it was her turn to destroy his doubts.

“Van, I told you I'll be coming back to Fanelia to be with you,” she reassured him gently. “I'm not going to change my mind. Spending the rest of my life here without you would be like hell. The next few weeks will be hard enough to get through as it is.”

Van nodded, silently agreeing with her. The two of them just stood there, staring at each other for long, long minutes, reluctant to say even this temporary goodbye. Suddenly, Van tugged on her hand and pulled her into a tight hug.

“We'll still be able to see each other, just like before,” he murmured into her hair, and she fought tears as she nodded.

“I know. I wish I could just go back with you now,” she mumbled, her words muffled against his chest. “But I can't leave without saying goodbye to my family...”

“Hitomi, I understand. There are things you need to do, and I'll wait until you're ready.”

She leaned back to look into his dark eyes through her tears. “So, I guess I'll be seeing you in my dreams.”

“I'll be there,” Van assured her with that gentle, private smile he gave only to her. They leaned in for one last bone-melting kiss until they met again on Gaea.

“Good Lord. You'd think they were planning to go another 6 years without seeing each other or something,” Annie grumbled under her breath to Allen, rolling her eyes with a grin. He just gave a vague nod in reply, distracted by his thoughts as he stared unseeingly across the empty fields. For whatever unknown reason, it seemed incredibly important that he cement all his memories firmly in his brain. Watching the sunrise over the frozen lake that morning wrapped up in a blanket with Annie- for warmth, of course- the good natured squabbling, the crazy victory dance she'd done when Van and Hitomi weren't looking, the way her brown eyes smiled at him...

Allen looked down in surprise as she thrust a big, wrapped present, complete with a ridiculously huge, floppy bow, into his hands.

“It's a Christmas present for your sister,” she said casually when Allen frowned and looked it over cautiously.

“Should I make sure she points it away from herself when she opens it?”

“If it were that type of 'present', don't you think I'd be giving it to you?” she asked cheerfully. “This one's a real present. I'm hoping it'll get a smile out of her, anyway.”

“Oh,” he replied after a long moment. Suddenly, he didn't know what to say to her anymore. He was aware of something, some feeling that wanted to be shared, floating around his heart, but he just couldn't pull it forward and figure out what he wanted to say.

Annie gave him a light punch on the arm and a small grin. “You know, I'm really glad I met you, Allen Shezar. I had my doubts the first time I saw you in that poofy-sleeved blue horror you call a uniform, but you turned out to be a really great guy. Maybe we'll meet again in our next lives. If you don't come back as a cockroach, that is.”

“Next life?” Allen echoed, jolted out of his silent thoughts. “But- aren't you going to come to Gaea with Hitomi for her wedding?”

Annie watched Hitomi and Van, lost in each other, for a brief moment. “No, I don't think so. That'd just complicate things for her. And make it harder to say goodbye for both of us. No, it'll be better if she just says goodbye to everything here when she leaves.”

Allen felt like he'd just been drop-kicked in the stomach. He opened and shut his mouth like a gasping fish a few times, totally at a loss. Great gods, he hadn't considered the possibility of never seeing her again. And now, he was about to leave, and she was just standing there smiling at him, and there was something really important he needed to say to her, only he didn't know what it was.

“Annie-” he began, and his hand started to reach out for her. Next to them, Hitomi and Van finally broke apart. Annie glanced at Hitomi and nodded.

“Take care of yourself, Al,” she said, slowly backing up with Hitomi as Van moved a little closer to Allen. The air suddenly felt alive with electricity.

“Wait” Allen whispered, but Van was too intent on memorizing Hitomi's face to hear him. The blue light exploded around them, momentarily blinding them as their feet were slowly, irresistibly lifted off the snowy, frozen ground. Allen caught a brief glimpse of Annie, one arm around Hitomi's shoulder as she waved solemnly at him, before he was swept up into the clouds and disappeared.

Hitomi stared up into the sky for long minutes after the blinding pillar had vanished, fighting tears. It didn't matter how much she reminded herself that she was the one who didn't want to go back with him today, that it would only be a month or so before she was with Van again. She wanted him back now. Why couldn't he have just stayed here for a few more weeks?

“Well, that's that,” Annie murmured, and Hitomi took a deep breath and nodded. Annie gave her shoulders a squeeze and grinned, wrinkling up her nose. “If you're ready, I'm freezing. Plus, I brought a bunch of junk food, so we can do some serious mope-eating on the way home. And I rented one of those really sappy, tear-jerker romances, too, so we can veg out in our pajamas, eat ice cream right out of the carton, and generally feel sorry for ourselves all day.”

Hitomi laughed, finally pulling her eyes away from the sky and climbing into the car with her best friend. “Oh, Annie. You always know how to cheer me up.”

“Chocolate cures everything,” Annie declared as she revved her beat-up blue car to life and headed back home.

The two men were immediately enveloped in the warm, spicy air of Fanelia as the pillar dissipated around them. Neither spoke for long, silent moments, both lost in their private thoughts. Van stared up at the Mystic Moon, reminding himself that the emptiness flooding through him was only temporary, that he had an entire life with Hitomi to look forward to after this last, brief separation was over.

Allen stared blankly into the lush greenery around them, floored by the sudden feeling that he'd lost the chance at something precious, something he was only vaguely aware of wanting. Annie's gift for his sister weighed heavily in his hands.

“Lord Vaaaaaaan!”

The familiar ring of Merle's devoted, somewhat anxious voice pierced the peaceful air around them, and both men turned to give each other a rueful look.

“Back to real life,” Van muttered as the crew of the Crusade, Merle and Gaddes in the lead, charged into view. Allen forced a smile as Merle glomped the helpless king with a loud, happy, shriek.

“It's about damn time you two showed up,” Gaddes growled. “That cat's been downright scary for the last hour, and I've got some scratches to prove it. Have a nice vacation, Boss?”

“Nice? Yes, I suppose it was nice,” Allen said. He rolled the word around his thoughts, pondering it. Nice seemed much too bland a word to describe it, but he really didn't want to think about it. Van's wrestling match with Merle suddenly seemed much more interesting to watch.

“Of course I smell weird, Merle! I've been on the Mystic Moon for almost two weeks!” Van exclaimed in irritation as he tried unsuccessfully to pry the cat-girl off of him.

“Where's Hitomi?” she asked, apparently finally able to notice something other than just her precious Lord Van. She and the rest of the crew of the Crusade peered around as if they expected Hitomi to pop out from behind a tree and shout 'boo'!

“Why would Hitomi be here?” Van asked calmly, laughing secretly to himself as Merle and the crew gave each other sheepish looks.

“Oh! No reason. We just thought, ah, that maybe, um...” Merle stuttered, her cheeks turning as pink as her hair under her fur. Van hid a smirk and swung his small bag over his shoulder as he strode towards Fanelia's castle.

“It'll take her at least a month to get things in order before she returns to Fanelia.”

Van figured that he only had himself to blame when Merle tackled him from behind in a hug so ferocious that it knocked him flat onto his face.

“See what I mean? Scary,” Gaddes muttered under his breath.

Van's personal rooms felt familiarly comforting when he finally made his way through the heavy wooden doors. He sighed wearily, but with a faint smile, as he dumped the few contents of his bag onto his bed. His council had certainly been pleased with the news of the impending royal marriage. Van smirked to himself at the memory of their contradicting disappointment that the wedding couldn't take place for at least a month and their complete panic about planning the celebration in only a few weeks. 'Simple' was not something that penetrated their thoughts. He was going to have to warn Hitomi about that.

Van frowned as he found a small, brightly wrapped gift tangled up in his small pile of clothes. He unfolded the piece of paper attached to it and was surprised to see it was written in Annie's handwriting.

Dear Van, it said, Here's a little wedding present for you to enjoy. I know it's a bit early, but I thought you might want to look through it before the actual day. Enjoy!

Love, Annie.

PS: Check out page 65! How is that even possible?

Curious now, Van ripped off the wrapping paper to reveal a thick, leather bound book.

“The Complete Kama Sutra?” he muttered with a frown, and flipped open the cover. “What the-?!”

The book fell out of his numb fingers onto the bed, and Van could feel his face turning a glowing red. He glanced around his empty room quickly and thanked every known god that he'd opened the 'gift' in private. What in the deepest level of hell had Annie been thinking? Although...

He picked it up and quickly thumbed through it to page 65.

“Whoa. How would you do that?”

Allen breathed in the fresh sea air of Asturia as he patiently answered all of the questions being flung at him, Millerna's enthusiastic and Eries' typically properly polite. As long as he didn't think too deeply about things, it felt good to be home. Although, if he was honest with himself, his uniform did seem a bit constraining and a little ridiculously pretentious after the comfortable, simple Mystic Moon clothes.

Celena seemed happy to see him, the little upturn at the corners of her mouth as close as she ever came to a real smile as she sat silently by his side. Allen searched her face surreptitiously, looking for any sign of improvement, and stifled as deep sigh when he found none.

“Celena, this is for you. It's a Christmas present from Hitomi's friend Annie,” He said, gently drawing his sister's attention to the brightly wrapped present with it's ridiculous, floppy bow.

“Oooh, something from the Mystic Moon? Open it so we can all see it, Celena!” Millerna prodded excitedly. Celena was already pulling at the wrapping paper, gently tugging it to cause the least amount of ripping. Allen's mouth twitched, remembering Annie's family tearing into the presents, paper and bows flying everywhere. For an instant, he was back in that crowded, loud room with Annie's brown eyes laughing at him as he opened her 'present'.

“What is it?” Celena asked, bringing Allen's thoughts back to Gaea as she stared down at the large, strange looking book in her hands. The princesses leaned over her shoulders to get a better look.

“Look, here's a letter. Maybe this'll explain it,” Millerna said, smoothing the piece of paper open.

“Dear Celena-

Thanks for letting Hitomi and I borrow your brother for the holidays. He generally takes himself way too seriously, so I thought you might like to see some pictures of him having some fun- or at least some pictures of him looking funny. Enjoy!

Annie

“Celena, we should be getting home,” Allen said desperately, making a shrewd guess about what kind of pictures might be in that book. Naturally, the three girls ignored him and opened it eagerly to the first page. Allen found himself cursing the rules of etiquette and chivalry that forbade him from grabbing it out of their hands.

There were pictures from almost everything he'd done on the Mystic Moon, all with captions like “Rides at the Mall of America! (Allen got sick!)” and “Snow Football! Me tackling Allen- again!” Oh, what he wouldn't give to take that book and shove it down Annie's throat! An entire world apart and she was still laughing at him! Millerna pressed a hand against her mouth, desperately trying to stifle her giggles, and even Eries seemed to be biting her lips in an effort to keep them straight. Allen could feel his ears turning hot, and he imagined every sort of horrific torture possible to do to Annie- if he ever got the chance to see her again. Chivalry and etiquette or not, his hands twitched to reach out and grab the book away from Celena, preferably to burn it so no one could ever see it again, when he noticed the miracle.

Celena was smiling.

A real, genuine, laughing smile. She stared at the pictures intently, her smile growing with every page she turned, and suddenly Allen couldn't care less how ridiculous Annie's pictures made him look. He watched his sister's face, memorizing her smile through the sudden mist of tears that he hastily blinked away. Gods, how he wished Annie could've been there to see her Christmas Wish coming true.

“And last but not least, the highlight of the whole trip and my personal favorite...” Millerna read out loud, jerking Allen out of his thoughts as she flipped the last page. Great Jichia, Annie wouldn't have-

“Princess Alice?!” shrieked Millerna and Eries together. Allen flamed red from his collarbone to the roots of his impressive hair as the two of them dissolved into gales of laughter that even the stoic Eries couldn't stop. He glared up at the Mystic Moon, grinding his teeth together silently while the two princesses fought to compose themselves, only to fall into another fit of giggles every time they looked at the picture of Allen in all his ribbon-bedecked, eye shadowed glory. Good gods, Annie was damn lucky she lived on another planet.

Celena shut the book finally, a huge grin still stretching her mouth from ear to ear. Ignoring the still giggling princesses, she hugged her brother tightly.

“This is the best present I've ever gotten,” she said quietly, her voice muffled by his uniform. Allen hugged her back, all his embarrassment and irritation melting away underneath her happy smile.

Maybe he could forgive Annie for that last page after all...

Hitomi drifted in a gentle dream world somewhere between waking and dreaming, searching through the mist for a familiar face. Van hadn't even been gone a whole day yet, but already there was a painful ache of longing growing in her soul.

And suddenly, there he was. The lines and edges were blurred, but she could still see his beautiful, sweet smile as his eyes met hers.

“I miss you,” she blurted out, and his smile got even bigger.

“So... does that mean you'll be here in less than a month?”



AN: Weak ending, I know. Please forgive me! Or... at least let me know if you're interested in me trying to redeem myself. Yep, I'm thinking about writing a sequel- but ONLY if there's interest. Personally, I think it'd be great fun to see Hitomi and Van trying to figure out marriage- although I won't lie. I'm thinking Annie and Allen have a lot of unfinished, barely started business to work out. And Allen's gotta get a chance at some sweet, sweet revenge for everything he had to put up with on the Mystic Moon. OH! And let's not forget everyone's favorite Esca character (no, not Dilly, sorry!)-- DRYDEN! Yep, I'd love to stick some good ol' Dryden wooing in there- because, even though Millerna's kind of a ditz, he's totally crazy for her, and I want to see him win her over!! So... any takers? Please let me know! Just send me a message or a review with a big fat YES or NO. Please? THANKS FOR READING MMV!!!

Oh, yes. The two song quotes are: "Driving with the Brakes on" Del Amitri and "Umbrella" Rihanna.
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JHawkNH
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Re: Mystic Moon Vacation (An Escaflowne Story!)

Post by JHawkNH » November 25th, 2008, 4:01 pm

I really enjoyed the story and I would love to see a sequal. I need to sit down one of these and read it staight through from begining to end.

P.S. I loved the gift that Allens sister got. Priceless! :gg:
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Sakura
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Re: Mystic Moon Vacation (An Escaflowne Story!)

Post by Sakura » November 27th, 2008, 12:26 pm

*Little Sakura runs of with sheets of paper*

MEOOOOWWWW...~~~ :love: :love: :love:
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Sakura
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Re: Mystic Moon Vacation (An Escaflowne Story!)

Post by Sakura » November 30th, 2008, 11:28 pm

The story has been updated. Thanks alot for that wonderful work :thumb:
What do you call a dinosaur with an extended vocabulary? A thesaurus.

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oldwrench
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Re: Mystic Moon Vacation (An Escaflowne Story!)

Post by oldwrench » December 2nd, 2008, 5:39 pm

It looks great Sakura. I'll have to check out some other stories from Dinky, maybe there are some other short ones to post, not a major novel like this one.
Dogs have owners, Cats have staff

Some mistakes are too much fun to only make once.

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