I'm still alive! Last October I was really inspired. So much so I started writing this story. It's going to be in two parts and nothing more. It was originally an oneshot, but I wanted to expand and switch perspectives in the next post. I was also working on Strong Memories and Blades and Bellfowers, but where I can function writing two stories… three is too much. It always stalls any progress. I finally got around to finishing this on a Portcall in San Juan PR. Luckily Meghanna Starsong felt up to being my Beta for this story. My last few posts have been editing lazy, so she is a blessing.
Escflowne Short Story- Temperatures Rising
Part One- Sweet like Honey
I may look and act like a normal high school girl, but that description doesn't really fit me anymore. Repeating a lie over and over again won't make it true. I've come to expect that the things that make me different also make me special. My looks are average: short sandy blond hair, a lanky runner's body, and large green eyes. I wear the same tan blazer and brown skirt uniform as every girl in my school, attend the same classes each day, and walk home to my house in a quiet neighborhood.
As far as family goes, my father is an office worker whose thinning black hair and solid rimmed glasses make him one of hundreds, even thousands. Mother looks more like me with naturally lighter hair, but her eyes are brown. I often wonder if my forehead will crease with the same worry lines as hers one day. Mamoru looks like a combination of our parents with black hair and brown eyes, and like all the little brothers around here he is obsessed with baseball and getting his older sibling into trouble.
Things are simple, standard, and easy. Each day moving into the next without issue. Not like in the past. Two years ago to be exact. On a day as normal as the one before it my life changed. Foreshadowed by a dream or vision, it's hard to remember anymore, but one thing I'll never forget for as long as I live, is Van. The boy brought directly into my path by a pillar of light, like lightning striking. The moment when I collided with him everything changed, but it took me much longer to admit it.
I was swept away to another world, one hidden behind the moon. Gaia, a land of beauty and danger, where my powers grew stronger with each new vision. Beastmen lived alongside humans, medieval cultures were peppered with strange technologies, and legends came true. I'd never seen so much death and pain in my sheltered life, but with all the heartache there was impossible strength. I met people I couldn't have described without sounding like the back of a fantasy novel. Friends who supported me during the most confusing and painful time of my life.
Somewhere along the way I fell in love. Not knowing the real thing from girlish crushes, I didn't even see when his feelings changed for me. It wasn't until the end I truly realized that it had always been him: stubborn, reckless, difficult, brave, and deeply thoughtful. Van, the young king of Fanelia, who lost his country to war and nearly destroyed himself for vengeance. Wild raven hair and warm mahogany eyes saw all of me. The quick-tempered girl with head full of daydreams, and heart torn by the turmoil around her.
I do miss Gaia with it's clear, clean air traveled by leviships, crystal blue water surrounding the capital city with its sea-dragon monuments, even the dangerous dance of metal giants called guymeilfs. The way the sky was scattered with the same stars I could see from home, but from a different perspective, and the glow of two moons hanging heavily each night. Most of all, I long for campfire conversations, my arms wrapped around Van's lean waist as we flew on the dragon form of Escaflowne, and his large white wings.
It took me a while to realize that the young king so much arrogant but awkward. That he'd never met someone like me, who spoke bluntly and wanted nothing in return. He, too, was different from anyone I'd ever met before. We saved each other in times of need. There were too many of them for my, but we got through each problem together.
Even though I returned home, I kept him in my heart. Holding on to the memories both good and bad, because they helped make me who I am today. Not a normal girl chasing after silly crushes, but a seer in love with someone a world away. One day I might go back to be by his side, but until then I have everything I need right here. A loving family that will always support me. Good friends that worried when I was missing. I might have changed, but they all still love me the same.
The notebook on my desk wavered in my line of sight. Vertical lines of narrow writing dance like flames below my pen. My breath caught, willing the thoughts of burning buildings to go away, but the heat washed over me like a suffocating blanket regardless of my wishes. Please don't let this be a vision. I'd had a few since returning home, only simple things as distance seemed to play a part with my abilities. The worse thing I saw recently was my grandfather falling.
I'd told my mother and she'd packed bags for the rest of the family a couple of days ago. They plan to be in the countryside for maybe another week as he recovered. I stayed behind for school, as exams were right around the corner, and I'd be graduating very soon.
Now I wished my house wasn't empty. If something bad were happening again, I'd have no one to tell. No one that could help me.
"Hitomi." The familiar voice of my best friend broke me from the downward spiral of my thoughts. "You don't look so good."
Her concerned face swam in front of my eyes. So, this wasn't a vision after all. The realization helped slow the racing of my heart.
"I don't feel well," I replied as evenly as possible.
"You should go to the nurse," Yukari said thoughtfully, her eyes darting to the clock on the wall. "Or better yet home."
My vison cleared and I saw she was right; it was nearly time for the final class of the day to end.
"Do you want me to come with you?" she asked, brown eyes huge with worry.
"No." I gave her a small smile that I knew didn't match the rest of my expression. "Just tell everyone at practice I wasn't feeling well."
As a third year, I normally would have retired from the track team before now, but running was still the best way for me to clear my mind. This was probably a simple cold; nothing some medicine and rest wouldn't cure. Thinking back, it was clear I'd been tired today and most likely had a fever, which explained how my mind jumped to visions of fire.
Requesting to be excused from the rest of class, I bowed to the teacher and packed my bag as quietly as possible. After some whispers about my sudden departure, everyone else returned to their self-study. Exams started next week, and all the other students had their minds on the future, not the past.
My walk home was slow, and thankfully, uneventful. I should have realized the symptoms of a cold before rushing on to worries of visions and death. My nose had felt congested this morning, and I was lightheaded too. I thought of childhood colds where my mother would sit beside me, her steady hands gently pressing a damp cloth to my forehead. She'd always seasoned rice porridge with a little sugar, so it was slightly sweet. I missed my family more with every step that drew me closer to our empty house.
I could handle being alone and being sick wasn't a big deal either. Together, I felt miserable. As I reached towards the door, keys in hand, my vision blurred again. Foot slipping mid-step with a fresh wave of dizziness, I fell backwards, unable to catch myself. In that moment, bright light burned my eyes, and I wondered why passing out as I fell wasn't met with blackness.
The sound of hurried steps a second before I felt hands stop my fall. Strong ones as they supported my weight so easily. Did Yukari follow me home after all? How could she have caught me like that?
This time when my sight cleared it was to see concern on a very different face. Wild raven hair and worried mahogany eyes nearly took my breath away. How had Van known exactly when I needed him?
Carefully, he helped me stand back on unsteady feet. I wasn't sure if the sudden weakness in my knees had to do with the cold or his timely appearance. Two years of distance passed silently between us. The way his angular features had strengthened in that time made him even more handsome, his shoulders broader and his form toned from constant sword practice.
"Van." Even saying his name out loud didn't seem real.
Before I could ask him one of the million questions suddenly flooding my mind, he leaned forward. My cheeks felt ready to burst into flame. His forehead pressed softly to mine, feeling cool against my heated skin. Had he ever been this close before? Near enough to kiss.
The moment shattered at his first word. "Stupid." I could only blink in shock, my head a little too fuzzy for anger. "You're ill. Hitomi, why aren't you in bed?"
"That's where I was going," I snapped back, and the way his full lips quirked up on one side made me want to smack or kiss him. It was hard to tell what I wanted more.
"Only if you'd planned to sleep out here." Van smirked at my clumsiness. Hit him, definitely not the other option.
I turned away, trying to appear steady and strong, when all I wanted was to curl up in bed and sleep. My hand shook, making the keys jingle noisily. Well-worn brown leather gloves stilled my attempt and took the keys from my weak fingers. Without waiting for permission, Van unlocked the front door. Wordlessly, he ushered me into the house, the pressure of his touch at the small of my back making my head spin. Like he wanted to be sure I didn't fall again, but had enough sense not to try and carry me.
The firm but gentle motion made my heart flutter, as though a small bird were flying around inside my ribcage. I wanted to ask so many things. Why he was here? How had he known that I needed him? How long could he stay with me? Was this a onetime visit, or could it happen sometime when I wasn't sick?
I kept silent instead and watched his face as he took in my home. It was different from what he was used to, but then again there isn't a place on any world quite like Fanelia. Maybe, I just wanted an excuse to keep looking at him. Van being here didn't seem real, but his hand sure didn't feel like a fever induced hallucination. Was he this beautiful the whole time, or was my mind playing tricks on me?
I slipped off my school shoes, placing them neatly to the side by habit, and slid my feet into a pair of soft house slippers. Following my lead, my unusual guest removed his boots and set them next to my loafers. Passing him a pair of slippers used for visitors, I wondered what he thought of this custom so unlike his own. It was nice that the respect was there in his willingness to follow my traditions without question.
"Where is your family?" Van's voice was the smooth tenor I knew so well, but now a few notes lower than before.
"Out of town until next week," I responded almost too quickly. The air between us felt strangely charged. "My grandfather was injured a few days ago. He'll be okay, but they went to take care of him."
I was talking too fast. Being alone before seemed so sad, but now it held subtle meanings I couldn't quite read.
Van frowned, his full lips curving downward with a thought he obviously didn't like. "Then who will take care of you?"
"I can take care of myself," I shot back quickly, the heat in my voice lessened by the burning of my cheeks.
"Normally, yes." His concerned eyes were warm and searching. "Not this time."
I wanted to argue more. That this was just a simple fever, one I just needed to sleep off. His presence might raise my temperature more than the cold, but admitting that out loud was impossible. Before my sluggish mind could figure out what to say, he spoke again.
"I'll stay with you." It wasn't a question, but a statement of fact. I wanted to argue, but I was dizzy again and hiding my weakness was never my strong suit. To be entirely honest ,I was glad not to be alone and also to see him again as more than a fleeting image in my head.
"Do whatever you want," I mumbled and pulled away from his hand that still lingered at my back, as though to catch me if I should faint. It was necessary, but I wouldn't be admitting that any time soon. "I'm getting changed and going to bed."
He didn't ask if I needed help, but watched in that silent way that told me he noticed more than I wanted him to. Talking Van out of something he'd set him mind to was impossible. Not that I wanted to this time. Still, it seemed so strange to have him here when I was feeling so terrible. By the sudden worsening of things, my guess is the cold would get worse before it got better. The plus side was it seemed to be a head cold and not a stomach bug. The last thing I needed was for the guy I loved to watch me puke.
Instead, he'd be wandering around my house bored while I slept. Wonderful.
I shut my bedroom door while thinking about the wild-haired boy on the other side. From the sounds downstairs he was opening and closing cabinets in the kitchen. This situation seemed so strange to me. After all I had king playing nursemaid for me.
I know he was good at looking after people from the time Merle and I had fevers from plant poison. Van had recognized the symptoms and made a salve of some kind to treat the scrapes both us girls had. What could he do with a sick patient who already had access to modern medicine and her own bed?
It was nice not to be in this house alone while feeling so badly, but this was almost worse. I still wanted to feel self-sufficient despite the cold. Goose bumps rose along my arms as the blazer sleeve slid free. I could feel the cold through the long button up blouse that suddenly seemed so thin. The sooner I got changed into pajamas and under warm blankets the better.
As I was pulling on my sleep pants, another wave of dizziness swept over me, this time causing my balance to fail. I reached for the desk chair, clumsily hitting it before catching myself on the edge of my desk instead. I stayed upright, but the chair wasn't quite as lucky, falling to the floor with a noise that seemed impossibly loud in the silent house.
My heart pounded loudly in my ears, which is why I didn't hear the footsteps rushing upstairs until the door to my room flew open. Van burst in as though there were a danger he must protect me from. He found not an army of enemies, but the sight of me wearing only a pair of loose cotton pants and a white bra. The shirt I'd meant to put on was crumpled on the floor with the poor chair.
There was a long moment when we just stared at each other, as though neither of us was sure what we were seeing was real. His eyes shot from me holding onto the desk like a lifeline, to the chair, and back to me. He zeroed in on the thin white fabric which was the only thing on my mostly bare upper body.
The flush quickly spread up his tan neck to his ears. Before I could shout at him to get out, he turned around, gazing up at the ceiling.
"Sorry," he mumbled, eyes fixed upward as if the plain white paint was suddenly interesting. A flush crept up his tan neck, the only other sign of his embarrassment. I wondered for a second if he was thinking about my bra, which was the same color as the ceiling. How would he have reacted if I hadn't been wearing it at the time of his sudden entrance?
I blushed at the lewd thought. It seemed to take ages to pick up my shirt and pull it over my head. Sure, I was attracted to Van. How could I not be? He was handsomer now than ever. More importantly, he only saw the real me and loved me regardless of all my faults.
In the past, I might have yelled at Van for bursting into my room like this, but now I recognized what really happened. He heard a loud noise and came running, no questions asked. It very well could have been me laying on the floor, not the chair.
"It's okay. I'm dressed now." I sighed, still feeling more unsteady than I liked. "I got dizzy and knocked over the chair. Could you help me to the bed?"
Just like that, Van was back to normal, or as close to it as he ever came. In a few long strides he was at my side. He stood the chair on its feet and out of my path. Next he then placed one hand around my waist and took my left hand in his. It almost seemed like a dance pose, the way he guided my steps and supported my weight so easily. I appreciated that he didn't just pick me up. I knew he was strong enough to carry me easily, but it wasn't what I'd asked for.
I liked the way that the stubborn king treated me, like I was precious yet strong at the same time. He never acted as though I was fragile or needed a man to do everything for me. It reminded me of the short time where I'd had Allen's attention, but it wasn't anything like I'd dreamed. He'd been overprotective, even suffocating. He'd talked down to me and acted as though I was a possession.
Van never did that. He knew I only belonged to myself. Ours was a mutual respect developed throughout our dangerous journey together. Though the thought of him seeing me so weak was hard, I was glad to have him here. Enough that I could forgive a little embarrassment. After all, I wasn't fifteen anymore. I wanted his attention now more than before, for him to see me as a woman and not just a girl.
There was a time my heart had stopped, and it'd been Van who opened my shirt and did chest compressions until I came back. If I thought of the situation in a logical manner, then I couldn't be mad at him. Still a little part of me, hidden deep down, past the logic, below the awkwardness, wanted to know what he really thought of me. Wondered what his touch felt like without any barriers. Desired to look into those deep eyes and just fall into the feel of his lips against mine.
Heat must have flooded my cheeks again, because Van was eyeing me with worry. I climbed under the covers trying not to let him see the path of my thoughts, but they were probably written all over my face in bold letters.
"Hitomi, your fever seems worse." Concern in his voice, he must have taken the deep blush as a sign of worsening fever. "Do you need a healer?"
"No." I burrowed below the comforter like it would hide the fine shiver I didn't want Van to notice. "Medicine and sleep are really all I need right now."
"Where do I find medicine?" For a second, I thought of getting up and grabbing what I needed on my own. That passed quickly, because Van gave me a sharp glare, one that promised that he'd tie me into bed with sheets if he had to.
"In the bathroom." I sighed, giving in without a fight. "The mirror is a cabinet. Inside is a small bottle labeled for cold and flu."
With a swift nod, Van left, trusting that I would stay in bed on my own. The moment he was gone, I worried how he might read Japanese, having no written language that seemed similar to kanji characters. A bottle of pills wouldn't look like any medicine he'd recognize. Working with herbs and buying processed pharmaceuticals weren't really the same thing.
I was so busy fretting that it took me a moment to realize he'd returned. In his gloved hand was the plastic bottle with the correct label. It wasn't the only container in the cabinet, but it would work way better than mother's headache medicine or father's blood pressure pills.
"How did you find it?" I asked, knowing that the things in the bathroom were foreign to Van.
"I can read it." His free hand tapped the pink stone resting against the background of his red shirt. "This stone of yours is truly something else. Before I could read and speak common language, Fanelian, and some ancient Fanelian. Since you've given it to me, there isn't a language I can't read or speak while wearing it."
The thought made my head spin, or was that the fever? He was right. When I'd worn the pendant there wasn't anyone I couldn't understand. That should've been impossible since I came from a country no one else had seen or visited. It reminded me of the carved symbols in Freid and the Mystic Valley. Only I'd been able to read them at that time. Did that mean if I returned to Fanelia and Van kept grandmother's necklace, then I wouldn't understand anyone? It was strange to think of, but not impossible.
My spinning thoughts were interrupted as he held out a glass of water and the whole bottle of pills. It was interesting to think that the necklace had the power to bypass language barriers, but couldn't teach someone to open a child proof cap. I removed the lid slowly. He watched the movements, storing the knowledge for later. Taking two pills, I washed them down quickly before the bitter chemical taste could register.
I handed the bottle back to Van and saw the command in his expression without him needing to say anything. Following orders for once, I drank the rest of the water before giving my stubborn caretaker the empty cup as well. Keeping hydrated would only help, but the cold only seemed to sink into my bones further. This time I couldn't hide the shiver that made my teeth chatter and skin crawl.
"Are you cold?" he asked, concern in his voice.
"Like I'll never be warm again," I admitted and pulled the covers all the way up to my chin. Failing to hide the way my body seemed to stiffen and shudder. All I could do was pray that my body heat would be insulated enough by the comforter to stop the annoying trembling.
"Move over," Van ordered, not shy or nervous at all despite the fact that I had no idea what he was planning.
I did as told, scooting closer to the wall. He sat on the edge of the bed without hesitation and lifted the covers I'd been clutching for warmth. Before I could speak my indignation, Van's long body was right next to mine. My bed wasn't made for two people, so it was a tight fit. Even so, he somehow kept us from touching under the blanket, which instantly felt warmer.
Silence filled the room with my need to say something, but inability to do so. His face was so close that I could see the thickness of his black lashes. Though those fathomless eyes stared straight upward, not meeting my gaze. I wanted to memorize the way his wild hair looked resting on my pillow, but also feared he'd be troubled by my feelings. This wouldn't last forever and I still had a life here. Getting too close now would only hurt more in the end.
"Just sleep." The words were soft and almost as soothing as the body heat he was sharing with me.
"Okay," was all I could say, feeling a heaviness pulling me under.
Without him there, I might have shivered and fought to stay warm for ages. The comfortable heat said more about his feelings than I could ever have expected. I rolled to face him with one hand under my cheek in the way I normally slept, thinking how easy it would be to close the small space between us. Instead I let sleep take me into peaceful darkness.
I could almost believe it wasn't a dream, that a gentle hand was smoothing hair out of my face. A soft, low voice saying soothing words in a language I couldn't understand, not without the pendant.
When I woke the room was starting to darken with the approach of sunset. I'd been asleep for hours, and the dream I couldn't really remember lingered on the edges of my mind. The space next to me was empty, and I found disappointment sour in my empty stomach. Next to my bed stood the chair I'd knocked over earlier. On that seat was a second glass of water and two more pills, Van having learned to open the bottle on his own.
Sitting up, I shivered slightly as the warm covers slid down to my lap. I took the medicine and drank the glass without needing to be told this time. It was then I noticed an extra blanket on top of me that normally stayed in the hall closest. I would be annoyed by someone else moving around my house as though they belonged here, but not Van. It warmed my chest and did funny things to my stomach to think of him taking care of me.
Not saving me from danger, but just being the one to watch over my needs. He could be rash and absolutely pig headed, but then there were times he was sweet and thoughtful. I loved all of him, even the part that had the tendency to put his foot in his mouth. Looking back, he'd been trying to tell me something he hadn't even fully understood then.
Thinking of the man seemed to draw him back to me, as there was a soft knock on the door a moment before it opened. Van entered with a tray balanced deftly on one arm. Something that took a level of strength and skill it was easy to forget he had just by looking at his lean frame. He was more muscular than before, but not quite as broadly built as Folken had been. I liked the way he looked almost as much as I loved the person he was under the untidy hair and ironic expressions.
One of which he was giving me now, saying without words, "You shouldn't be upright yet" or "I wish you'd sleep longer."
"I feel much better," I assured him, feeling that the medicine and rest were doing their job so far.
"In that case, do you feel up to eating?" It seemed as though he didn't quite believe me, but chose to humor the patient this time.
At the mention of food I realized how hungry I was. "Yes," I agreed quickly. I wasn't sure what I could stomach right now, but I was willing to give just about anything a try.
He set the tray down on the chair and the meal there made me both surprised and grateful. First was another glass of water. It seems someone knew the goal of staying hydrated. Next was a bowl of steaming, thick rice porridge, exactly what I'd been craving since I first realized I was sick. Lastly was an apple, sitting whole as though he wasn't sure I'd want it. I was reminded of the sour piscus fruit Van'd once shared with me.
"It's been a while since I've made this," Van spoke quietly, as though trying to apologize for the food he'd prepared.
"I'm sure its fine." I gave him a small smile and pulled the tray carefully into my lap.
"Merle likes hers with green onions," he supplied. Though I was happy to eat whatever he had made, I still hoped my nose was stuffy enough not to taste the strong herb.
I took a small spoonful and placed it in my mouth slowly, feeling his gaze on my lips. For a split second, I prayed not to make a face if it wasn't good, but that thought passed the moment the flavor registered.
"It's sweet!" I exclaimed, pleased. It didn't taste exactly like my mother's cooking, but it was close enough to be nostalgic. Instead of bitter green onions, I sensed a lingering sweetness in the warm rice that wasn't too rich.
"I hope that it's okay," Van seemed ready to apologize. "I didn't know what you were used to, so I made it the way I liked."
"No," I rushed quickly before his feelings became hurt. "It's good! What did you use?"
The smile I received wasn't small or lopsided, but full and unguarded. For a second I forgot to breath. "A little honey."
That explained the sweet flavor just a few notes different from the sugared porridge I'd grown up eating. After explaining this to him, Van relaxed a good deal. It seemed like I wasn't the only one unsure of how to react to this sudden chance at time together. Asking how long he could stay seemed wrong, so instead I ate the porridge he'd made while thinking of me and what I might like.
We talked a little while I slowly worked through the bowl. At one point, he picked the apple off my tray and started peeling it with smooth, sure motions and a sharp little knife. His hands turned the fruit almost absently, the bright red skin coming away in a long unbroken strip.
I finished scraping the late bite from the bottom of my now empty bowl. Before I could decide if I was full or not, Van held out the slices of crisp apple: peeled, cored, and cut with skill I didn't possess. As I took a piece, I almost blurted out the question if there was anything he wasn't good at. Instead I bit into the juicy flesh. In a way Van was a better housewife than I was. His cooking was better than mine at this rate, not counting those strange bug things he'd once roasted over a camp fire.
In a different time or place, I might had felt jealous or resentful, but not right now. I was lucky. A logical part of my mind reminded me that there were plenty of things Van struggled with, and those made him just as much the person I loved as all the things he did well.
As I sat in bed feeling far better than I had before he came to take care of me, I couldn't help but wonder what he saw looking at me now. Cheeks flushed, nose dripping, hair wild, pajamas sticking slightly from sweat. At least the fever seemed to have broken while I slept. Suddenly, I was very aware that he was considered a man in his country, and we were alone.
Van too seemed to realize our predicament. He'd gone silent and oddly still. The moments dragged out painfully slow.
"I should try to get more sleep." The words seemed forced, but for his part Van didn't either notice or care.
"Agreed." He nodded, taking the empty dishes. At the door he turned, hesitating before adding, "Feel better soon." At that he was gone, steps silent as a ghost.
I burrowed bellow the covers once more, remembering his warmth beside me the last time I tried to sleep. How could I be lonely for someone just on the other side of the house? What would he say if I expressed the wish to repeat that closeness from earlier? Could I ever be that forward? How long would this even last, or was it all a dream made up by my fevered brain?
Could this all be an elaborate hallucination?
That I knew to be false. As great as my imagination is, it couldn't have dreamt the feel of his warmth, the sound of his amused chuckle, or the taste of honey and rice. My heart had thudded angrily at the nearness of his body and tenderness of his actions. This is the Van I love in a way I couldn't have pulled from a memory or daydream.
The next thing I knew my eyes opened to find pale morning light filtering in the pink curtains of my window. One moment I was thinking about this strange situation I'd found myself in, the next I was waking to a new day. My mind tried to piece together everything that happened yesterday, from coming down with a cold to being cared for by the king of Fanelia and his timely appearance.
Maybe this whole thing had been a dream after all. When I'd become dizzy and fallen after school yesterday I'd actually hit my head. Then I noticed the slight dip in the mattress by my arm and a nest of wild jet-black hair. Van slept sitting on the floor, his back propped against the side of my bed like some samurai warrior grabbing a couple of hours rest while remaining on guard. I couldn't imagine ever being comfortable like that, but then again, I'd seen Van do this before. At that time he'd been thinking deeply, but now his head rested backwards just slightly, expression peaceful.
Without thinking, I reached out, brushing that thick, dark hair off his brow. I don't know what I expected, the strands not course, but silky on my fingertips. Maybe I was prepared for him to start away violently like a man tormented by war. Instead his eyes opened, and focusing on my face positioned over him, he leaned into my touch much as a contented cat would.
"Joh-eun achim nae salang." He spoke the words softly in that musical way of foreign languages with a tongue familiar with them.
"What does that mean?" I asked. My hand was still in his hair, enjoying the strange yet comforting feeling of this tender moment.
Van pulled away from my touch, not violently, but enough that it made me feel as if I'd done something wrong. "Nothing," he mumbled, as though embarrassed to have been caught saying whatever he'd said.
"What did you say?" I asked a little more forcefully, still hurt by his dismissal.
I was about to ask him again, remind him how he had the necklace with its gift of language and not me, but he spoke up.
"It was Fanelian," he explained, refusing to meet my eyes. "Good morning, my love."
It was sweet and his embarrassment made it all the more endearing. I never imagined he'd be the one to say such things, but in a way, it wasn't that surprising. How he said it was almost like a routine. As though each moment when he woke up, he'd turn his face towards the Mystic Moon where I was and say such a simple phrase. One that people from all over the world, probably both worlds, take for granted. To be able to see the person they loved each morning without fail or question.
"You know, sometimes I look up at the night sky and imagine I can talk to you," I said. It was the truth and one I'd never admitted to anyone before. "Even if you couldn't hear me, it made me feel as if I wasn't so alone. Like we were still connected despite the distance."
I had his full attention, and it was freeing and unnerving at the same time. "Me too," Van agreed quickly, "We are connected, otherwise I wouldn't be here with you now."
This was the first time he'd said anything out loud close to all the questions running through my head, since the pillar of light brought him to my doorstep. How had he known exactly when I needed him? Why Van was here when I faced more of an emotional danger than a physical one? By asking him, would I speed up his departure? How long was he able to stay this time?
Maybe that is what scared me the most. Having to say goodbye to the wild haired boy I loved all over again. This couldn't last forever, but it still caused a tight pain in my chest. As though a fist squeezed my heart. Somehow, I didn't need to put my questions or worries into words as he seemed to know them already.
He tapped the stone resting on his chest much as he had when explaining the power of languages. "I could feel you needed me, but not how or why."
It was nice to know the connection wasn't just an empty promise made by two teens barely old enough to understand the consequences of such things. Van wasn't really one for great, wordy explanations, but I still understood what he meant. Since I came home we'd communicated only by images during the few times when I'd felt the most alone. Just seeing him had been enough to remind me that someone else knew exactly what I'd gone through and loved the real me.
This time a picture wouldn't have been any help. My fever had been high enough I might have convinced myself that it was all just my imagination running wild. If it hadn't been for him coming for me I could have been seriously injured. It also answered the question of how long he would stay. Only until I was well enough to take care of myself again.
A selfish part of me wanted this cold to last, but my mind knew I was already far better than yesterday. The fever broke thanks to the steady cold medicine, fluids, warm food, and rest. I wasn't cured, but it would only be a few days until then. At this rate I should be well enough to be on my own by tomorrow, but until then I wanted to relax and soak in this temporary chance to be together. Van and I never really spent time together where something more urgent wasn't happening. This was almost like a dream; one where my nose ran, and I was still sick.
Van made sure that I had another glass of water and dose of medicine before he went back downstairs to make more porridge. My stomach could have handled regular food, but I liked the comfort of the sweet, warm rice. With a glance at the clock, I knew school had already started. With my caretaker occupied, I took the chance to clean up and switch to a fresh pair of pajamas. Part of me wanted to soak in a warm bath, hoping that the steam would clear up the stuffiness. The rest of me didn't want to risk my caretaker looking for me if I wasn't in bed. I can handle most things, but the thought of how he'd find me was too much.
Still feeling slightly cold, I wrapped my robe firmly around me before climbing back into bed. Returning with a tray this time crowded with two bowls, Van gave an approving nod. He set the food on the desk, taking the seat for himself.
"Do you mind if I eat with you?" he asked, an unnecessary question to his voice.
"Of course," I responded quickly, and for a few minutes we ate in silence. Both not quite used to this gift of time together.
After a little while, conversation started slowly at first then gained in confidence. I did most of the talking, but it was nice. Sometimes I'd say something that would amuse Van, his lips would quirk up in that way that made my stomach feel full and empty at the same time. He spoke, too, of Merle and Fanelia with a fondness I understood yet still envied. He told me how Allen was doing, and though I thought well of the knight, I found it was Van's words that meant more to me than anything.
I soaked in his updates on Millearna, my friend, and how Dryden, her husband, had returned only after she chose him for herself. At this point in his story Van paused. Maybe he was trying to decide to ask me when I'd come to a similar realization. Then the moment passed, and he continued on and I breathed a small sigh of relief. To be honest, the more of he talked of our friends on Gaia, the greater my wish to see them again was. I wanted to return with him, to experience a rebuilt Fanelia for myself.
Before I could make a promise I might later regret, Van stood, taking my empty bowl and stacking it with his. "You should rest." He didn't meet my eyes.
I wanted to argue, but he was right. I was already feeling drained. By the time I snuggled back down, my eyelids were already getting heavy. As I drifted back off to sleep, I felt the blankets smoothed around me by a gentle hand. One that brushed the hair out of my face soft as a breeze, though I might have imagined it.
When I woke again the sun had shifted, letting me know it was later in the day. I wasn't sure what had brought me back up; the king turned caretaker wasn't here this time. My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of someone at the front door. With a quick glance at the clock, I knew who'd come for a visit: Yukari. My friend, knowing I was sick, came to check in on me after school finished. It was possible she'd called while I was asleep yesterday, and Van wouldn't have answered the phone. But the door was another story. He knew how to work one of those.
I made it halfway down the stairs to find the door already open. Van greeted a bewildered looking red-haired girl and a tall, college-aged boy with shoulder length light brown hair. Yukari had brought Amano along to see me. I didn't know if I should laugh or be worried. I was far enough away that I couldn't hear them. They only remembered me running happily into a bright light and not the other time he'd visited our school track to kill a dragon.
There was a half-formed theory that made me think I forced myself home before the first time I left, causing a strange time loop. Everyone here only seemed to know of the second time I'd gone to Gaia and not the original trip. So, though I'd been on Gaia for a total of three months, to those I'd left behind it had only been one.
Even if she couldn't recall tripping as we ran from the ugly monster and the armored boy trying to kill it, I'd told Yukari everything as soon as I came home. She believed me and it was comforting to know the truth was out in the open. Still seeing the real thing was different. Van was a story to her, a figure in the center of a bright pillar of light. One that took me away and returned me without part of my heart.
Her eyes narrowed at the boy standing in my house. "Who are you?" Tone not exactly rude, but not warm in the slightest.
Before he could respond, I hurried down the rest of the way, catching a glare from the raven-haired boy that clearly stated that I should be in bed.
"Yukari, Amano," I greeted as cheerily as possible. "This is Van."
The introduction seemed awkward and lacking, but what else was I supposed to say? This is the dragon killer and gumelif pilot I've told you so much about. Everything is okay, because I've got a king here making my meals and keeping me warm with his body heat. My cheeks must have been burning. Instead of lecturing me like he wanted, Van's eyes softened.
"Hitomi, has your fever returned?" He gently smoothed hair away from my face, not seeming to care that we had an audience. "Go back to bed." Even the order was gentle with concern.
He then turned back to my friends. "I apologize for any rudeness, please come in." It seemed so natural for him to invite people into my house. As soon as the door was shut behind the pair, a strong arm was around my shoulder guiding me back up the stairs. There was no point in arguing. I would lose. Before I knew it, I was back in bed, comforter tucked around my legs with pillows propping me into a sitting position.
Van went to make tea. The moment he was out of the room, Yukari's mouth opened, but then it closed again without the tirade I expected.
"I nearly passed out on my doorstep yesterday," I explained quickly. "Van came, feeling that I needed him through our connection. He saved me and has been taking care of everything since. Honestly, I don't know how I'd be without him here."
"This is the Van?" Her voice was soft, and I could feel a bit of her worry washing away. Van was many things, and he'd had a rough time during the war, more so than anyone else, but he was a kind person. One that loved me enough to let me go back where I belonged. Now he was here against all odds just when I needed him the most.
"The only one," I reassured her. Unfortunately, my friend wasn't the one I needed to convince, and the now graduated track captain wasn't as close of a confidant as his girlfriend.
"I don't like the idea of a man here with you alone." This time the words came from Amano who'd been silent until now. The thought that I wasn't safe with Van was strange to me, but a guy like him wouldn't understand.
"You think I'd take advantage of Hitomi while she was ill?" Van's voice was low and deceptively calm. He stood in the doorway, eyes shadowed even with a tray of tea in his gloved hands.
"Van," I tried to soothe from my place in bed, "Amano didn't mean that."
"Didn't he?" The tension in the room was a tangible thing, solid enough to reach out and touch. It reminded me that despite how kind he'd been to me the raven-haired man was a powerful enemy. Silence stretched between the two boys as they studied each other much as foes on the field of battle.
The voice that spoke next did so without fear or hesitation. "It would be his right to want to protect Hitomi," Yukari said with a hint of irony. She knew everything, after all. How consumed with my safety Van became during the war. "She was our friend before you ever came to this world, so you'll have to forgive our suspicion of who wants the best for her."
As touched as I was by her words, the need to defend Van, who'd only been a gentleman towards me, rose up strongly. He gave a nod and set the tray on my desk.
"Understood." Van seemed to relax, his honor not so much in question now. "I've found that Hitomi doesn't appreciate when others try to fight her battles." There was that little hint of a smile that made my pulse jump in speed.
After that, the visit was better than I expected. Amano's overprotectiveness wasn't really called for in my opinion, but I could see from his perspective how he was trying to look out for me. Even if they had the chance to get to know each other, I doubt they would become friends. Respect, maybe, but not necessarily like. Yukari for her part seemed too curious about the guy I loved. Van answered their questions politely, but with that air of not starting a conversation. When asked what we planned for our future, the response was short and to the point.
"That is entirely up to Hitomi." Van's eyes met mine warmly, and for the second time today I wanted to make a promise we both knew I wasn't ready for.
Before long Yukari stood to go. She seemed pleased by the chance to interrogate Van and that I was in good hands. Amano hesitated, but he too gave a small bow of his head, nearly a nod, in Van's direction. By the time they left I was exhausted. It was hard pretending not to feel terrible.
As though knowing this, Van checked my temperature with his forehead wordlessly. He followed the action by bustling around the room, forcing more medicine and water on me and tucking the covers tighter. When he returned later it was with a steaming bowl, not of rice porridge, but of soup that consisted mostly of vegetables cooked in a simple broth. I hadn't even realized how hungry I was. Unlike this morning, Van was silent as I ate, his mind still on our now departed guests.
I hadn't expected him to meet my friends while here, and a small part wanted him to stay for a repeat event with my family. I wished that it was possible for them to get a chance to know the person I loved, but it was too much to ask for. He couldn't stay. This wasn't his world. Soon Fanelia's need for him would outweigh mine. It was strange to think of going back to a life without him at my side.
Time marches on and tomorrow would come very quickly. Nothing I could do would change how soon we'd be saying goodbye again. I almost didn't want to sleep, because it meant losing time with him. Still, I was sick and Van lecturing me on the need for a quick recovery wasn't how I wanted to spend our time together.
After a quick run-down of how to operate the bath, Van had one run and waiting for me. I was strong enough to handle bathing alone, and the idea of help made both our faces burn hotly. One I was scrubbed, rinsed, and soaking in the steaming water I felt much better. I hadn't realized how gross I'd felt sleeping on and off for a whole day. Thankfully, I didn't get dizzy, avoiding the chance of Van coming to my rescue and seeing me in less than yesterday. Back in my room I dressed in clean pajamas and opened the door as a signal to the king that it was safe to enter. I didn't even hear him walk up behind me while drying my hair when I felt the towel tugged gently from my grip.
It wasn't that I couldn't do it without help, but it was nice to be the one cared for like this. I sometimes help Mamoru after his bath, lecturing the whole time that sleeping on wet hair would make him sick. He'd complain that he didn't need his sister to baby him, but still would lean into my touch. Now it was my turn to feel hands running the soft fabric over my hair in circular motions. Sure, I could do it alone, but it was nice not to have to.
Without thinking, I spoke, "Will you stay next to me tonight?"
Like being turned to stone, Van's hands froze instantly. This wasn't my mother caring for me or my bratty little brother, and I was stupid to forget that. Even for a second. I wasn't shivering hard enough to keep awake anymore. Sleeping together had a whole different meaning now. Trying to recover, I rushed on, my words tumbling out fast as rocks in a landslide.
"Sorry, that was a silly thing to ask," I sped on into the stiff silence. "Of course, you wouldn't. I just was thinking about when I was sick as a kid and my mother would stay with me through the night. Not that I'm calling you my mother, but." Here my words failed, and I moved out from under the still towel. It was just sitting on my head now, blocking me from seeing his face.
Van's head was turned away from me slightly, as though he'd been slapped. His expression almost pained.
"Van," I said his name slowly, almost scared of hurting his feelings after everything he'd done for me. "Are you okay?"
My back was against the wall before the towel had even hit the floor at my feet. His face was suddenly so close but still unreadable, cast in shadow. My chest felt tight either from fear or anticipation. Trapped in between the cage of strong arms not holding me, but only a thin space from it. Was he going to kiss me? Would it stop my crazy rambling if he did?
After a strained moment, Van stepped back. A trembling hand passing over his face, shoulders tense, he let out a long breath. "What will it take for you to see me as a man?" His voice was low and shaky. "Do I have to prove your friend right about me?"
It hit me then not only what I'd asked Van to do, and that there were other dangers of a boy and girl alone together. To me, Amano had been overreacting, but to Van he'd read secret thoughts the other boy had that didn't have anything to do with honor. This time when I spoke, I knew exactly what I was saying.
"You think that it's not what I want too?" My voice was strong as I reached out, brushing the dark wild hair out if his eyes. My heart full of emotion for this boy, memories and possibilities. "I love you, Van, all of you."
For a moment, I feared he'd pull away again, telling me that I didn't know what I was suggesting. Then he leaned into my touch, eyes warm and the love I held for him reflected back. Slowly, he reached for my hand, the one tenderly against his cheek. The roughness of stubble there reminded me that he wasn't the smooth-faced boy I'd first and slapped. We'd grown up somewhere along the way. Fingers gentle as they circled my wrist guiding it down to his mouth. His lips were soft and impossibly warm against the pulse that thudded there, a tender kiss that held a million words. Wishes, promises, and maybe a little premonition for the future.
His breath ghosted across my skin, causing my own to hitch. "I love you, Hitomi." The heat between us was electric and full of possibilities. All the things I felt for him were in the open, our defenses gone, and he returned that love freely. "You have no idea how much I want to be with you, but now isn't the right time. You deserve more than stolen moments, and I will be waiting for the day you choose that future."
Then he led me back to bed. I would be the only one in it tonight. There was a small feeling of disappointment, but Van was right. I let him tuck me in without expectation. Almost before I was settled, I felt fatigue and sleep pulling me down. With everything I'd almost forgotten I was still sick, but he hadn't.
As he turned to go, I reached out, catching the hem of his red shirt in my fingers. "Will you sit with me?" My question soft and almost shy.
Van nodded and I released him to pull up the desk chair. As soon as he was seated, my hand was back in his. I don't know who reached for who first, but it didn't matter. I had Van, and he had me. Our fingers twined together as I fell into an easy, restful sleep.
I dreamt of flying through a crisp blue sky. Weightless on the wind, strong arms embracing me tenderly. So, waking up alone was a little disorientating. My eyes found Van standing by the window. Early morning light made his warm skin almost glow golden. The way his face turned up meeting the day made it clear that he was being called home. Our time was up.
My heart ached at the thought of saying goodbye to him again. It took two years and a cold to see him again. What would it take for the next time? When would I be ready for the next step in or relationship? The one that would force me to say goodbye to everyone I loved here...
Van turned to me then, a small smile that couldn't hide the sad truth on his handsome face. "Good morning, my love," he greeted in words I not only understood, but felt in my soul.
"I wish good morning wasn't also goodbye." The sigh in my voice hid the slight quiver, or so I hoped. I didn't need to be a seer to know our time was up. I wished for more, but knew we'd have it when the time was right. Just as he'd told me last night, but he'd been wrong about one thing. It was Van that deserved for things to be right. He'd had enough people leave him. Once I could make that commitment with all my heart, I would be there for him until death do us part.
We ate breakfast together again, but this time the ease we would have had was tinged with unsaid words. I would not ask him to stay longer no matter what I wanted. This wasn't any easier for Van, and I knew what little time we'd had was a gift.
While he cleaned up the dishes I dressed in my casual clothes. I was still a couple days from cured, but this was the tail end of the cold. One I was extremely grateful not to have suffered alone. Without being prompted, I took another dose of medicine and took the stairs slowly down.
Van was waiting at the bottom. "Do you feel well enough for a walk?"
My throat felt tight, so I just nodded. He took my hand and we traded slippers for outside shoes in silence. I knew where we were going without asking. The fact that he'd arrived on my doorstep was either from lucky timing or willingness to take a risk. It wouldn't be wise to call the pillar of light in the middle of my neighborhood twice. Someone was bound to see it if they hadn't the first time.
I hate how fast time seems to pass, and though holding hands and strolling as a leisurely pace, the stairs are before us at record speed. Red spirit gates and steep climb to the temple where Van once killed a dragon. After I retuned here two years ago, I'd visit from time to time when things were hard and I needed to feel close to the boy I loved a world away. This was different, but we knew it was inevitable.
When we stopped walking, Van took a visible step away from me, letting my hand go. It hurt more than any pain I'd ever felt, but he was doing it to protect me. I hadn't meant to go with him the first time, and we couldn't risk me being swept away with him again. Still, a selfish part of me wanted to beg for more time or refuse to let him go, but that would be unfair to both of us. We belonged on separate worlds a little longer.
I don't know what calls the power, but it came easily this time, as though it had been waiting for Van this whole time. The fine hairs on the back my neck stood up, and I staggered away from the sudden swell of energy. Van's face turned towards me, and I could tell this pained him as much as it did me.
"I'll wait forever," he breathed, mahogany eyes holding my gaze. Tears prickled hotly as I watched his boots begin to lift off the ground slowly, weightlessly. Bright light swelling into a column ready to take Van away to where he belonged.
It was too much all the sudden, and I ran. Not away like I should have, but towards him. His eyes widened in shock, but before he could yell at me for being an idiot, my hands fisted in the fabric of his shirt. I pulled him towards me before the light could sweep him away. My mouth found his. Power flowed through me, and it had nothing to do with otherworldly travel. The feel of his full, soft lips against mine. He was shocked at first, but responded quickly, desperately. The kiss said everything we never could, all the words in any world small and insignificant to the swelling emotion we shared.
Magical wind swirled around us, then between us, and Van began to drift up faster. This time I let him go. My own feet staying firmly on earth where they belonged, for now. His hand still reached for me as the light carried him into the sky, back to Fanelia and the people who needed him. The kiss was a promise I couldn't wait to keep.
To be continued…
A/N- SOOOOO FLUFFY!
The inspiration for this story was actually a cold of my own. At the end of my last patrol there was a head cold that went around brought onto the boat by one of the officers. You could see it pass from one person to the next as happens in a small enclosed space. 100 people on a 270ft metal island, like living in a petri dish. I got it at the very end. Laying in my rack shivering and unable to sleep because the cold. I wondered what it would be like for Hitomi to be sick and have Van care for her as he did when she was poisoned. This time they wouldn't be virtual strangers, but a couple in love that had so little time to explore or express their feelings.
I know at the beginning Hitomi says her family is away for another week and at the end its days, remember Van is there taking care of her for two nights and almost three days. In that time they have so many little interactions and sweet moments. They spent more time apart than together and grew up at least physically. Their feelings were strong, maybe stronger than before, but they both had so little experience. I brought up the time in Freid when Hitomi's heart stopped because back then Van hadn't quite seen her as more than a friend and his personal responsibility. Opening her shirt, touching her chest it was medically necessary, not romantic. Now even though she was sick it wasn't life threatening. He saw her not just as some strange girl, but the person he dreamed about at night. The only woman he could imagine sharing his life with.
One last note. The phrase Van says when he wakes up is Korean thanks to google translate, so if it's incorrect I apologize. In each of my stories I like to focus on little ideas or theories, either from the height of popularity… or my own musing on the culture, technology, and magic of Gaia. I liken Fanelian to Korean culture and language in several of my stories. It gives me more tangible information to work with when expanding the world especially from Van's View.
Stay tuned for more fluff and sweetness in the next part. I can't wait to hear what you think. And hope it makes up for the gap in posts. I'm still working on the other stories don't worry about that.