Author's Notes:  Well, here it is, the long-awaited sequel to "Altercation".  If it's not long awaited to you, it was at least to several friends of mine.  I originally meant it to be a two-part story, starting with "Separation" and ending with "Altercation", but then I got to thinking.  Van and Dilandau have called a truce on condition that they avoid each other at all costs, but that doesn't put an end to their hatred, only imposes a ceasefire.  Also, the biggest reason Dilandau wanted Van dead was that he killed fourteen of his fifteen Dragon Slayers, and Dilandau craves vengeance.  Calling a truce does not give those fourteen wandering souls closure, so they are still in need of someone to somehow put them to rest.  I find it hard to believe that, sooner or later, that realization wouldn't catch up to Dilandau.

This story is set ten years after the events of the TV series, which at first made me think that the characters were either no longer "young" or at least on the far end of youth.  But, seeing how several characters were only fifteen to sixteen in the TV series, they're only twenty-five to twenty-six in this story.  They're still rather young.  Allen is thirty-one, but I don't see him any less active or vigorous than he was at twenty-one.

Tenkû no Escaflowne and all its characters belong not to me, but to their various copyright holders.  I would still kill for a Dilandau plushy, though.

Expiation By Annie-chan

It was Celena's favorite kind of day.  It was bright and warm, giving hints of the summer that was only a few weeks away.  The sun was out, but not excessively hot, and there was a cool breeze blowing through the trees, making it quite comfortable to sit outside and read a book.

I have been out here for a couple of hours, she though, looking at the angle of the shadows.  I should go back in and see how they are doing.  She put her marker in the book she was reading, adjusted the four braids that hung looped in "doughnut fashion" from behind her ears, and made her way back to the house.

The main building of the Schezar Estate was quite today.  There were no guests staying at the moment, and the servants were going about their daily business, speaking quietly if they happened to be working in the same area.  Allen was in his room the last time she checked, resting up from the latest to-do in Pallas.  Apparently, something had gone down that required the presence of the nearest Knight Caeli, and Allen, who had been in the palace at the time, had been the unlucky one to have it handed to him to handle.  Celena hadn't found out what it had been yet, but she would probably ask him sometime later.

As she neared the south end of the house, where she, her husband, and children resided, she noticed it was uncommonly quiet, even for an uneventful day as today.  She found herself walking very lightly, as if surrounded by sleeping people and afraid of waking any of them.  When she got to the door to their bedroom, she turned the knob slowly, making very little noise as she entered.  There, she saw the reason for the heavy silence.

Dilandau sat on the end of their bed, the light from the window on the other side of him, making his facial features hard to make out.  On a blanket spread over the bedspread were two infants, their month-old son and daughter.  The twins were fast asleep.

Ahh, so that's why its so quiet on this end of the house, she thought.  He has everyone scared.  When Celena was the one in charge of the children, which was a majority of the time, Dilandau kept out of it, because he had learned never to tell her how to take care of her "little darlings".  It got him nowhere.  When he, on the other hand, had charge of them, all the servants made sure to know.  As coarse and anti-social as he was with everyone else, he adored his children, and he was as protective as a mother bear guarding her cubs.  If they were sleeping, as they were now, it was possible to hear a pin drop, because he would not stand to have anything in the vicinity that may awaken them.  It had been the same when Adrienne had been a baby.

"Did you have much trouble?" she asked, setting her book down and going over to the bed.  She sat down beside him and slipped her hand into his, meshing their fingers.

"No," he replied.  "They've been little angels.  I'm starting to suspect something may be wrong with them."

"Oh, stop," Celena chided.  "We're just lucky this time around."  Leon and Encia, named in honor of their grandparents, were quite a bit easier to deal with than Adrienne had been.  Adrienne had been a little terror, making Allen tease Celena that she was definitely her daughter, as she had been the same willful child in her early years before she had been kidnapped.  She was still quite wayward, but was thankfully showing signs of developing more ladylike behavior.  The twins, however, were much more easygoing.  They had their fussy days, of course, but it wasn't a daily challenge just to keep them happy.

"I suppose," he shrugged.

"Where's Adrienne?" Celena asked.

"She's down the hall in the nursery," Dilandau answered.  "She's been asking Sadie to teach her how to cross-stitch, and since this is Sadie's day off, she volunteered to watch Adrienne and give her some lessons while the twins are napping."  Sadie was a middle-aged maid who was a dear friend of Celena's and like an aunt for Adrienne.

No sooner had Dilandau said that, the door suddenly slammed open.

"Mama!  Papa!" an ecstatic voice shrilled.  "Look what I made!"  Adrienne had run into the room, and was just about to jump on the bed, when Dilandau quickly stood and intercepted her, scooping her up and quickly turning her upside-down, her head pointed toward the floor.  He didn't mean to hurt her, but it promptly put an end to her squealing.  She eeped and dropped the cross-stitch canvas she was holding.

"Oh, dear," Celena sighed.  The noise had woken the twins.  She gently maneuvered them onto her lap, one in each arm, and began attempting to soothe them.

"Miss Adrienne!" Sadie was heard saying, and she came through the door a second later.  "You're not to run and burst through doors like that!"  She looked at Celena and Dilandau.  "I'm so sorry!  She just got so excited!"

"Well, let's see here," Dilandau said, bending down and picking up the soft canvas, his arm tight around Adrienne's middle.  "Hmm…not bad for a first try."  On the canvas in meandering cross-shaped stitches was a lumpy blue bird with yellow feet and beak.

Adrienne, still upside down, entreated her father.  "Papa, put me down!"

"No way," he answered.  "Not until your little brother and sister stop crying.  I told you to be quiet, didn't I?"

"Yes, Papa," she said, a child's fleeting guilt in her voice.  A few minutes later, the twins watching the birds in a tree by the window as they lay on the floor, Dilandau flipped his older daughter over again and set her on her feet.  She quickly jumped over to Celena and proceeded to show her first cross-stitching attempt.

"Sadie, you can go," Celena said.  "It's your day off, so go spend it how you want."

"Yes, Ma'am," Sadie said with a nod, exiting.  Dear friend or not, she still treated Celena with the respect owed her master's sister.

"Did you sleep well last night, Dilandau?" Celena asked.  "You look a little tired."

Dilandau blinked.  "I do?  Well…I didn't sleep badly—"  There was a knock at the door, making him sigh.  "What now?"  He opened the door, revealing his brother-in-law.

"Uncle Allen!" Adrienne squealed, running over and throwing her arms around his waist.

"Whoa!" Allen exclaimed.  "Goodness, Adrienne, you're going to knock me down one of these days!"  He ruffled the girl's snow-white hair, making her giggle.

"What's that you got there?" Dilandau asked, pointing to the envelope Allen held in his other hand.

"Oh, one of the royal messengers just came by," Allen answered.  "You have a letter, Celena."  He handed it to Dilandau to give to Celena, as Adrienne was still firmly attached to him.  When they had first met, Dilandau had been almost a head shorter than Allen, but they could easily look eye-to-eye now.  Dilandau's adult height and build were about the same as Allen's.

Dilandau handed the letter to his wife.

"Now, if you'll excuse me," Allen said, disengaging Adrienne's arms from around him, "I promised Camellia we'd go bird watching today.  I'm sorry I can't stay longer, but you know how she loves watching birds fly."

"Of course," Celena said.  "Just take care not to look too near the sun."

With a smile and a nod, her brother left, leaving her to read the letter.  Dilandau had sat down in a chair by the twins, unusually quiet, and Adrienne had gone off to the nursery again to play.  The letter was from Queen Millerna, talking about the goings on at the palace and the comings and goings of ambassadors, aristocrats, and dignitaries.  There was also a good deal about the happenings around the city, and Celena found herself giggling at the account of a marketplace performance by a troupe of traveling comedians.  Apparently, Millerna had been passing by and decided to stop and watch.

She felt a smile spread across her face as she read the last line in the letter:  "P.S.  Dryden wants to know how that unruly husband of yours is.  Have you managed to tame him yet?"  Setting the letter down on a bedside table, she made a note to make a reply sometime soon.  She and Millerna were good friends, and exchanged letters often.

I'm glad things worked out between them, she thought.  The make quite a pair.  It had taken nearly six years, but Dryden had made good on his promise to make Millerna fall in love with him, and the once flighty young woman had mentioned to her that perhaps she had been in love with him for much longer than she realized, or she probably would have pursued other men again, Allen most likely being one of them.  Dryden had also been on the money when he had said ten years ago that he'd make a good king.  The practicality and shrewdness he had acquired in his many years as a traveling merchant were doing the kingdom good.

Allen, as was expected, had been downcast when the remarriage had been publicly announced, as he had once thought himself in love with Millerna, and still harbored feelings that ran a little deeper than friendship.  However, Celena had given him a talking to, reiterating to him that Millerna had been engaged to Dryden in the first place, and since the Destiny War, Allen and she had parted ways psychologically.  Millerna had a kingdom to run, due to her father's decline, and Allen had been fully absorbed in Celena's return and her separation from Dilandau.  Even though they had lived at the palace at the time and Celena had been one of her ladies-in-waiting, the almost lovers had drifted.  Allen had been a bodyguard to Millerna for a while after she became queen, but that had ended after a few months, as Allen had decided his responsibility to his family and his estate were more immediate.

Their relationship, which had never really gotten going in the first place, was officially over.

Well, I should hope so, what with Camellia and all," Celena thought.  Two and a half years ago, Allen had met the eldest daughter of the Lymurians, an aristocratic family that had members in both Asturia and Freid.  Celena had been afraid that this would be a fleeting love, like Allen's feelings for Hitomi or Millerna, or perhaps strong on his part but temporary on her part, like his relationship with Marlene.  She didn't want to see her brother lonely and disillusioned about love, which she had found to be one of the most comforting parts in her life.  The bond between Allen and Camellia seemed pretty tight, though, and Celena wouldn't be sorry at all to have her as a sister-in-law.

"You seem pretty deep in thought," Dilandau's voice suddenly broke into her reverie.  "Anything important?"

"Oh, no," she smiled.  "Just thinking over recent events and what was in Millerna's letter."  When Dilandau gave a small nod and turned his gaze back out the window, she looked hard at him, her eyes running over his profile and expression.  His face was largely blank, which was strange.  Unruly, the word Dryden had used to describe him, was normally very accurate, and she had yet to "tame" him further than being civil to people (which, in his case, usually meant stony silence).  His face, or at least his eyes, usually showed some kind of activity.  For the last day or so, however, he had changed some.  It wasn't drastic, but it was enough to make her notice.  The first decade of his life had spent almost exclusively in military establishments and operations, and that had taught his body to catch sleep whenever it prudently could.  In other words, he usually slept deeply, but able to wake up in a second's notice if need be.  The veil of sleepiness and inactivity in his face were enough to worry her.  Something was bothering him enough to disturb his sleep, and he wouldn't tell her what.

She walked over to him and stood behind the chair, placing her hands on his shoulders.  Sure enough, there was an unusual tenseness in them.  Without saying a word, she began kneading and massaging, working the tension out.  She was his safety net as well as his wife, and she would do everything she could to retain the peace of mind ten years of chaos and insanity made him desperately need.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*

"You really should go to bed, Dilandau,"

Dilandau paused for a moment, then sighed.  He really should.  He was sleepy enough that he heard his wife's words, but didn't immediately process their meaning.  It was easier said than done, though.

"I know, I know," he said, his speech slow and drawling.  "It probably won't do any good, though."

"Why not?" Celena asked, kneeling down by the chair he was currently sitting in.  "What's wrong?"  She reached up and put a hand on his cheek.  His skin felt cooler than normal.

"It's my problem," he answered.  "You needn't trouble yourself."

"Dilandau, you're worrying me to death, and this has been going on for months!" she retorted.  "You're losing sleep, your perception is noticeably slower than normal, you can't speak clearly, and you're weakening so quickly, you'll be a vegetable before long!  It may not have started out my problem, but you're killing yourself!  It's my problem now, like it or not!"

He sighed again and closed his eyes.  He didn't answer for a long moment, and she almost thought he had gone to sleep like she suggested, when he spoke up again.

"It's from my past," he said.  "It has to be dealt with quickly, but I don't know how yet.  Even so, I have to be the one to deal with it.  I don't want to let anyone else, you least of all, be sucked in by my personal demons."

"Dilandau," she said gently, taking his hand.  "Your past is my past.  I wasn't physically there, and my memories are much less sharp than yours, but I went through everything you went through.  If anyone can help you in this, I can.  Please, tell me what's troubling you."

"Celena, please," he said slowly, almost painfully, "don't make me do this.  Perhaps I'll tell you about it sometime, but not now.  Not now…"

It was Celena's turn to sigh.  She was bursting at the seams with both curiosity and concern.  It wasn't like him to bottle up his troubles, at least when it came to her.  Whatever was ailing him now must run especially deep, because he was afraid to let even her get a close look at it.

"At the very least, go to bed," she said finally.  "You need every bit of sleep you can get right now.  However much you've tried to hide it from me, I know for a fact that what is bothering you is coming to you in dreams.  You may dream those dreams now, but you still need to try to sleep."

Dilandau opened his eyes.  They seemed dull, the bright redness considerably faded.

"Please, Love," she said softly, squeezing his hand.  "It would really make me feel better."

"All right," he said, nodding slowly.  "I'll try to sleep."

Celena let out her breath in relief.  "Thank you, Dilandau," she smiled.

He nodded again.  A few minutes later, he was lying on his back in the bed, the covers pulled up to his chest.

"I'll check on you in a little bit," Celena said, smoothing some hair back from his eyes.  He made no reply but another nod, and she quietly exited the bedroom.  She was still horribly dismayed on the inside, and she immediately set off for her brother's quarters.  If nothing else, Allen was a willing ear when she needed to talk to someone, and perhaps he would have some insight on this.  He had certainly had plenty of problems in the past that he would potentially have lost sleep over, and he had fought in the same war as her husband.  It was worth a shot.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*

"Help us…"

Dilandau jerked as if shocked with electricity, his eyes flying open.  He wasn't in his bed, where he remembered he had been when he closed his eyes.  It was black all around him, the darkness tinted blue by the smoke-like vapor that hung everywhere.  He was shivering in the cold air, and when he breathed in, it was so sharp, his lungs hurt.

He was in Limbo.

No, he thought desperately.  No!  Gods, NO!  Not this dream again!

The soft, echoing cry came again.  "Help us…please…"  He couldn't tell how far away the voices were.  It echoed from every side of him, suggesting that he was surrounded by whoever was calling to him.

He knew very well who it was just beyond the dark's edge.

"Shesta…" he muttered shakily.  "Gatty…Dallet…Guimel…Viole…everyone…"

"Help us…" the call came again, louder.  "Free us…"

"H-how…?" he hesitantly responded.

"Help us pass on…"

"How?!"

"Free us from this prison…"

"HOW, damn it?!  TALK to me!"

"…this hell…"

"I can't!" he shouted back in despair.  "I swore to leave Van alone!  I promised Celena never to kill anymore except in defense!"

"You're the only one who can save us…"  This time, the voices were very close.  He wheeled around, expecting to see someone, but he was still alone.

"Show yourselves!" he screamed.  "Stop hiding!"  He suddenly started running into the dark, desperate to find them.  To his dismay, however, the voices remained in the same shrinking circle around him, no matter how fast or long he ran.

"Help us…"

"Stop it!"

"…free us…"

"Let me see you!"

"…save us…"

"Shesta!  Gatty!  Dallet!  Guimel!  Viole!  WHERE ARE YOU?!"

A sudden, gaping hole tore open in the blackness, the light spilling from it so bright, his eyes couldn't endure it.  As his vision faded, memories rapidly sprang up and took its place.  They were so fresh and painful, he was sure the events happened only yesterday…

The deaths of his Dragon Slayers, over and over and over again.

"Dilandau, wake up!"

His eyes snapped open, his body jerking as if mortally wounded.  He was back in bed, breathing difficult, Celena bending over him in concern.  Fright shown brightly in her eyes.

"C-C-C-Celena!" he stammered, shaking hard, a layer of sweat on his skin.

"You were having a nightmare," she said, her relief audible.  "Thank goodness you're awake again."

Dilandau pushed himself up so he was sitting, trying to quell his shaking.

"What was it?" his wife asked.  "Tell me, please.  Does it have anything to do with what's been bothering you lately?"  She was brushing his hair out of his eyes and straightening his clothes like a concerned mother would while trying to calm her distraught child.

Still trembling, his blood running ice-cold, he held up a finger as if to tell her to wait.  There was a distinct tingling in his mouth.  That's a sure sign of…

He suddenly leapt out of bed and ran for the bathroom door, startling Celena.  His feet slid out from under him on the tile floor, but he managed to pull himself up in front of the toilet, throw the lid open, and vomit into the bowl.  Incredible tension had built up in his body, causing his stomach to purge what little food he had managed to eat this evening.

When he finished, he knelt there limply, barely holding onto the toilet seat, all his strength gone.  He was still shivering, his body weak from fear and the recent exertion, his teeth chattering.  It wasn't until a few minutes later that he realized Celena was beside him, holding him steady, lending him support.  When she was sure he could stay sitting up on his own, she quickly got him some cold water.

"Here," she said softly.  "It will make the taste go away."  She felt her heart constrict when his fingers brushed against hers as he took the cup.  They were ice-cold.

Dilandau rinsed his mouth out with some of the water and spat it into the toilet.  Downing the rest of the water, he sighed as a little relief spread through him.

"Are you feeling better?" Celena asked.

"A little, yes," Dilandau responded, his voice hoarse from throwing up.

Celena nodded, then gently took hold of his chin and made him look at her.  "Dilandau, you have to tell me what's going on.  It's gotten much worse than is healthy for you.  I'm through asking now, I need to know.

His exhausted red eyes stared back at her for an endless moment, then he finally closed them and nodded slowly.

"Come on," Celena said, standing.  "You should get back into bed."  She helped him up and back into bed as gently as she could.

Dilandau sighed, rubbing his temples as if he had a headache, sorting his thoughts out as Celena waited patiently beside him.  Finally, he began to speak.

He told her everything that had been going on for the past several months.  There were the recurring dreams, the voices in his head, the growing fear of shadows and darkness, and a constant dread sitting in the back of his mind like a hunter waiting to pounce and kill him when he was least suspicious.  The point of everything was very clear.  His Dragon Slayers needed him to free their souls from the Limbo of the murdered and unavenged.  He was the only one who could do it.

"I just don't know how!" he lamented.  "I swore not to seek out Van anymore, but there's no other way to give them closure!  They'll be stuck in that hellhole until I kill him, but I can't!  I promised you!"  He was very close to tears, and he was shaking again.  The threat of fainting loomed close over him.

"I'm sorry, Love," she murmured.  "I don't know what to say.  I…I don't want you to kill Van, but…"  She trailed off, at a loss for words.

"Don't be," he shook his head.  "You can't help me.  I hate to say it, but you can't help me."

For several long minutes, neither spoke.  Dilandau had slipped into a half-awake daze that resulted from lack of sleep, and Celena couldn't find any words to describe her emotions in the situation.  Truthfully, even she wasn't sure exactly what she felt.

Finally, he shifted, lying down again, meaning to try to go back to sleep.  Though she curled up next to him, offering her support to him, he didn't say a word.  Against her will, her own sleepiness pulled her down from consciousness, and her last coherent thought was wondering if he had managed to fall asleep as well or not.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*

It was a warm day, the blue sky sprinkled with clouds here and there.  Camellia was halfway across Asturia visiting family, and Allen had decided to visit his sister and see how his brother-in-law was getting along.  He had brought a tea tray, which now sat on a small table in a corner of the room.  Celena and Allen were sitting near each other in chairs, Adrienne was playing in another corner with her dolls, Leon and Encia were amusing themselves watching a mobile above their playpen, and Dilandau was standing at a window looking out over the flower gardens on the south side of the house.  He was leaning against the sill, his head supported with one hand.  A teacup was loosely held in the other hand, and it was probably only a matter of minutes before it slipped from his fingers and shattered on the floor.

"Who did you say was coming to Pallas to visit old friends?" Celena's voice suddenly broke through the ring of fog around his thoughts.  She sounded surprised.

"Van Fanel," Allen replied.

Dilandau felt his ears twitch at the name.  His interest was suddenly piqued, though he wasn't sure why.  He had promised to avoid the young king.

"He hasn't been here in over five years," the blond knight continued.  "He got word that Duke Chid zar Freid was paying a visit to see his aunts and uncle, so he is coming as well.  Van wishes to see old friends again."

"Chid is coming too, is he?" Celena asked.  There was a note of sympathy in her voice.  Very few people, those quite close to the situation, knew who the true father of the fifteen-year-old duke was, and Chid just recently became one of them.  The young man had been terribly jolted when told that his father was not the man he thought it was, and it was obvious that he would never reveal this secret to the public.  Allen could never act as his father, and Chid would continue to call him "Sir Allen" as if there was nothing more between them than friendship.  When they had been told, Celena and Dilandau had been sworn by Allen himself to total secrecy.

Allen nodded.  "You and I will have to go to the palace and see Van sometime while he's here.  He's bringing his wife, and I hear Queen Nina is expecting their second child.  I assume Prince Dune will be there, too."

"Oh, of course," Celena smiled.  "Dune will be three next month, won't he?"

"Yes," Allen replied.  "I suppose you," he said pointedly, making sure Dilandau was listening, "are staying away from all of this.  We don't need a repeat occurrence from the last time Van was here.  You broke his arm and almost cracked his skull."

"I know," Dilandau answered, his voice drawling a little more than was normal lately.  "I promised I'd stay away from him entirely."  If Allen and Celena had been able to see his face, they would have been alarmed.  Though his mouth said he would avoid being in Van's company, his eyes told a different story.  A light was burning deep inside them, a light that had been entirely absent for over five years, a light that his devotion to Celena and desire to honor her wishes had kept so long from emerging.

It was the fire of his deepest, darkest, most potent lusts that burned behind his eyes.  His craving for the smell of blood and burning was welling up from within, and the animal in him cried out in euphoria as it took control once again.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Dilandau stood in a small clearing deep in the forest on the far side of the estate from the city.  His wife didn't know he was out here, and neither did his brother-in-law.  Before him lay half-a-dozen smoldering animal corpses that he had himself slaughtered and set ablaze.  A sick, sleepy smile stretched his insipid features.

Van Slanzar de Fanel would arrive in Pallas tomorrow, and he would never leave the palace alive again.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*

"Are you sure you'll be all right?" Celena asked.  "You seem better lately, but I'm still worried about you."

"Oh, I'll be fine, Celena," Dilandau answered.  "What I really needed to do was work out that tension, and I've been sleeping better since then."

"You're sure that's all you needed?" she asked again, cautious.

"Celena," he chided gently.  "Trust me on this one.  I'm sure I'm well aware of what my own body needs."

"Well…I guess so," she assented.

"Don't worry about me," he said.  "Allen's waiting for you."

"I'd be happy to stay here with you if you need anything," she said.  "Really, it's no trouble at all."

"Oh, no, you don't," he grinned, tapping her nose.  "Go on.  You don't need to stress yourself by worrying about me too much.  Sadie is watching the children, so they hopefully won't wear me down.  Now, get along before your brother comes looking for you."

"All right," she finally acquiesced with a smile.  "You take care of yourself, okay?  I don't want to come home to see you as bad as you were a few nights ago."

"You won't," he assured her.  "Now, get going before Allen starts thinking I'm purposely holding you up."

She giggled girlishly, pecked him on the cheek, and went out.  Allen was waiting for her, and they would hopefully be in the city proper in a little less than an hour and a half.

Dilandau watched her go, his conscience berating him for lying.  For the first ten years of his life, his conscience had hardly ever spoken to him.  He hadn't heard it much even after he and Celena were separated, for Dilandau rarely did things he would regret later.  Now, however, his conscience was screaming at him for deliberately telling a lie to his dear wife.

"I wasn't lying," he told himself as he walked toward the fencing room for a little sword practice.

Yes, you were, his conscience said.

"No, I wasn't," he growled.  "I merely told her only half the truth."

Hiding the truth is the same as lying, his conscience retorted.

"Shut up," Dilandau snorted.  "I told her that I'm feeling better because I've picked up my activity.  That's not a lie.  I just didn't tell her that the reason I've picked up my activity is to be able to fight against Van.  I also told her that she wouldn't come home to see me getting worse again.  That's not a lie, either.  I just didn't tell her that she probably would see me at the palace when I showed up to confront Van."

All lies, his conscience replied.  You've deliberately deceived Celena, taking advantage of the fact that she trusts you.  You're shameless.

"I said, SHUT UP!" Dilandau shouted, grabbing his sword off the wall.  He unsheathed it and turned the blade a bit, letting the metal catch the light.  It was the same sword he had used in the Zaibach military, rescued by Celena from the battlefield.  Though she had been confused and disoriented at the time, she had stopped to grab his discarded sword out of the cockpit of his ruined Oreades.  She had told Allen that something inside her was telling her to pick it up and keep it as a memento.  He greatly appreciated it.

After a long while in the fencing room, practicing his sword techniques and form, he leaned against the wall and slid down to sit on the floor.  He was a little sweaty, as he had pushed himself hard, as he always did.  His breathing and heartbeat were faster than when he was at rest, of course, but it didn't tire him out.  They were welcome sensations, proving that he was alive.

He looked out the window at the sun.  At least two hours had passed, so Celena and Allen were most likely in Pallas.  Van had arrived yesterday, and had sent a short letter telling them how pleased he would be to see them again.  Adrienne, Leon, and Encia were along, and Van's little boy would probably be playing with Adrienne right now.  Or, she may well have terrified him with her "I'm the boss" attitude.  Dilandau smirked at the thought.

You should stay, his conscience told him.  You were quite attached to your men, and I know it was terrible for you to lose them.  Believe me, I was there.  Do you really want to lose Celena as well?  What would she think of you if you killed Van?  She may reject you for being a slave to your impulses.

"You hush up," he told it stubbornly.

Even if she doesn't reject you, the voice continued, she would still be heartbroken that you've returned to your old ways.  You were doing so well, too.

"Stop it," he hissed, gritting his teeth.

Don't think you'll be able to get away with it, either, his conscience added, ignoring his orders to stop.  You're not a soldier anymore, and Van is technically no longer your enemy.  You can't just kill him and expect no repercussions.  They know where you live.  They'll probably come and execute you the very same day for murdering foreign royalty.

Dilandau finally faltered a bit.  His conscience was right.  Both Asturia and Fanelia would be out for his head if he killed Van.

Ha, gotcha, his conscience taunted.

Dilandau shook his head.  "No matter," he said.  "My biggest need right now is avenging my Slayers.  If I accomplish that, they can give me the slowest, most tortuous method of execution known to man, and I wouldn't mind.  I'll have given my men closure.  That's all that matters to me right now."

It was as if his conscience sighed at him.  You're impossible, you know that? it groaned.  I don't know why I even bother.  You didn't listen to me at all in your first decade.  Why should you start now?

"Exactly," Dilandau grinned, standing and retrieving the sheath to his sword.  "Finally, we find a common ground."

His conscience was silent.  It was as if it had disappeared altogether.  He stood there a moment, waiting for a response, but none came.  He shrugged his shoulders, sheathed his sword, and fastened it onto his belt.  Walking out of the fencing room, he headed for his and Celena's bedroom first.

After putting on some outdoor boots, he was about to go out when he passed by Celena's vanity mirror.  He passed by it several times a day, and there was normally nothing to catch his eye, but he stopped this time.  Something had caught his attention.

The scar on his face.

He stared at the thin, pinkish line for a long while, his only movement that of his eyelids to blink and breathing.  Reaching up to the gash, he ran the tip of his index finger down the rough tissue.  Before the last time he had seen Van, he had been almost as angry about this wound as he had been for his Slayers' deaths.  Since then, his desire to fulfill Celena's wish that he stop being violent had made him stop caring much about it.  He was initially terrified that people would find the scar ugly, but no one had ever said anything save children asking where he got it.  Dilandau had grudgingly accepted that perhaps it wasn't as tragic as he had first thought, and it had eventually just become another part of him.

Now, the sole driving force behind his hatred for Van was his Slayers' deaths.  He would do anything to avenge them, even risk losing the heart of his wife.  He wasn't thinking straight, totally ignoring the fact that if Celena left him, she wouldn't take him back.

Shaking himself out of his reflection over his scar, he turned and walked out, heading for the stables.  There was a white mare with black speckles that he had found lost and sick in the woods as a filly.  Since then, she had been his horse, stabled next to Celena's black mare.  He was teaching Adrienne horsemanship, though it would be several years before he let her ride without him or Celena up there with her, probably.

Within ten minutes, he was mounted and ready to go.  Not hesitating a moment, he turned the mare toward the city and sped off.  The landscape whizzed by, and his attention was focused entirely on the road ahead of him.  Within no time, it seemed, he was on the edge of Pallas.  It was a large city, and the palace was on the water's edge, almost directly opposite from his position.  After letting his horse rest for a little bit on the outskirts of town, he continued through the streets.  He was quite a recognizable person, and he noticed many people watching him.  It was common knowledge the enmity between him and Van, and he had little doubt that Van would be aware of his presence by the time he got there.

It doesn't matter, he thought.  Even if he knew months in advance that I was coming, he wouldn't increase his odds of survival.  I'll kill him if it takes until my last breath to do so.

There it was.  The palace entryway was within his sight.

Can't go in through the front door, he told himself.  It's too suspicious, and they probably wouldn't let me in anyway.  He slipped off his horse and took her reins, leading her to a quiet corner of the palace, away from the marketplace.  Luckily, she was pretty good at staying where you told her to stay, so he had her stand in some shade while he went to look for a place to sneak inside the palace.

Figures I'd be doing this, he thought a few minutes later.  He was working his way along the wall over the water, facing the sea.  The side of the palace facing the rest of the city was way too close to the marketplace for him to get in without being seen.  Asturia was a busy port, so even this method risked someone seeing him, but at least the risk was lower.  People in boats were probably looking out over the water or toward whatever dock they were heading for.

Finally, he got to an opening he could get into unseen.  It was a door to the water, used for people inside the palace to board small passenger ships or for merchandise to be delivered directly to the royal store.  It was unused at the moment, so he quickly slipped in and made himself as invisible as possible.  It wasn't something he had practiced nearly as much as outright attacks, and it had been a little over ten years since he had done anything like this, but he did have training in stealth missions to draw upon.  He prayed his little knowledge on the subject wouldn't let him down now.

He made his ways through the hallways.  He remembered where several places Van would possibly be in were from when he lived here with Allen and Celena, before Allen condoned his and Celena's relationship.  Van, for all he knew, wasn't even in the palace, but this was the most likely place to look.  He headed for the nearest parlor.

No, Van wasn't there.  He wasn't in the next several places Dilandau checked, either.  The palace had many large and small rooms for entertaining guests, and it was a trial-and-error process until Dilandau found the right one.  It hopefully wouldn't take all day—

Ah!  There he was!  Everyone was there, including three people Dilandau failed to recognize.

Hmm, he mused.  That woman next to Van must be his wife, the little boy would be his son, and…that Allen-looking kid must be Chid.

Now, how to go about this?  Admittedly, Dilandau hadn't really planned this out further than getting there and killing Van.  He couldn't just rush in there and stick him with his sword.  That wouldn't be very wise, royal guards would probably be on him before he got to Van, and it lacked a certain finesse.  Unless worse came to worse, he wouldn't do that.

I could wait until they're in the courtyard or some other large place, Dilandau thought.  I don't need a big audience for this, but I fight better sword-to-sword in open spaces.

He waited for a long time, and the conversation and pleasantries were just about to lull him to sleep when a messenger politely interrupted and told Van something.  From where he was, Dilandau couldn't hear much, but his own name caught his attention.  Aha, so the gossipers in town have finally chewed ears off palace personnel.  Dilandau's presence in the city was known.

"Dilandau Albatou," Van repeated softly.  "Somehow, I knew he'd go back on our truce."

Shut up, Dilandau wanted to say to him.  I shouldn't have agreed to that stupid ceasefire in the first place.

"He apparently was seen going toward the palace," the messenger said.  "Security around the palace perimeter has been strengthened, and the guards throughout will be keeping a close eye out for him."

Too late, you suckers! Dilandau grinned mentally.  Sometimes, the natural reaction to something was the most ridiculous.  Van said as much.

"Don't be foolish," Van said, standing up.  Everyone else in the room, except the four small children, looked alarmed.  Adrienne knew it was her father from the name, but didn't understand what the problem was.  "Dilandau could very well be in the palace already!" Van continued.  "You should be searching the place, not just fortifying the outside!"

"I'm sorry, Your Highness," the messenger said.  "I am not in charge of these things.  I am only a pageboy."

Van sighed.  "I know, I know…you can go."  He looked around at everyone else.  "I'm going to the courtyard.  That's a wide-open space, so it'll be easier to see him coming and have a good defense."

The courtyard! Dilandau crowed in his head.  That's exactly where I want you to go!  Without staying to listen anymore, he stole out of his hiding place and quickly made his way to the courtyard, hoping to get there before Van.  He was taking a more direct route, but it was more difficult because he wasn't just walking along the corridors.  The last thing he heard from Van's companions was Celena's voice.  He couldn't make out the words, but she sounded distressed.  Something in him squeezed, and he hesitated a few minutes.  His conscience, however, was still silent, so he continued on his way.

Did they send all guards to watch the outside of the palace? he thought as he neared the courtyard.  I thought there were more in the hallways than can be avoided as easily as this.  If they did send them all out, they need better leadership in charge of the royal guard.  Any good soldier would know you have to balance out your resources, not bunch them all in one spot.  I'll bet Allen and the other Knights Caeli aren't real pleased with this.  Funny that the elite fighters of Asturia were supposed to protect the kingdom, yet they weren't in charge of the first line of defense against those who wish to harm the military.

I really don't understand these bureaucrats' thought patterns at all, he sighed.  They're full of contradictions, no matter which country you go to.

Here we go.  He was at the courtyard.  Van, Celena, and Allen were just coming through a door on the east side.  Dilandau didn't know where the others were, and he didn't care.  The courtyard was deserted otherwise.

"Celena, you shouldn't be here," Allen could be heard saying.  "You should stay inside with everyone else.  Van is the one he's looking for, and I'm the one technically in charge of Dilandau, but it'll be safer for you to be inside.  I don't want him hurting anyone, you least of all."

"I don't care about that, Allen!  I'm staying!" Celena said defiantly.  "Maybe I'll be able to talk some sense into him!  You don't really think he'd try to hurt me, do you?!"

"Celena, please don't start," Allen sighed.  "I know you love him, but you shouldn't let yourself be blind to his faults.  He told us just a few days ago that he would avoid Van as much as he could, just like he promised, and he's apparently broken that promise.  Don't you remember how he was before he started 'getting better'?  How do you know that wasn't the breaking down of his self-control?  How do you know hearing that Van was coming wouldn't be the last straw?  How do you know his 'getting better' wasn't merely because he had finally decided to break his promise and come here to Van?"

Give the man a prize, he's right on the money, Dilandau grinned.

"He was a violent, dangerous, impulsive man for a very long time," Allen continued.  "There's no reason to think that, just because you got him to calm down, he would never return to his old ways.  As a soldier, I know the temptation to just let go and mow down your enemies with no mercy.  He's too susceptible to such a seductive feeling, and I don't trust him right now.  For all we know, he could be unable to tell friend from foe."

Give me a little credit, Dilandau thought.  I'm not that much of a maniac.

"But, Allen…" Celena started.

"No buts, Celena," Allen interrupted.  "Please, just do what I ask without arguing for once.  It would be really—"

"Oh, she doesn't need to leave," Dilandau said suddenly.  "She's seen all the other kills I've made through my own eyes.  It would be no different for her to see another one through her own."

"YOU!" Van cried, reflexively drawing his sword as he whirled around, that voice instantly recognizable to his ears.  "How dare you show your face here?!  We both swore to stay away from each other!"

"Oh, so it's the young king who draws first, is it?" Dilandau jeered.  "How eager you are to fight me.  Given the chance, you would have broken our "truce" just as quickly as I did, wouldn't you?"

"That's a lie," Van gritted through his teeth.  "I said you were dead to me!  I would have been perfectly happy to leave you alone, just as long as I never saw you again!"

Dilandau stepped out into the courtyard proper, totally unthreatened in his movements.  "So, just the sight of me makes you want to kill me again?"

"I never stopped wanting to kill you," Van growled.  "I would have been able to curb that desire by never seeing you.  It's worked for over five years.  Why do you want to break it now?"

"Because, you were in the Valley of the Dragons," Dilandau answered matter-of-factly.  "I had other matters on my mind besides traveling miles just to get near you, and I thought I could follow that idiotic truce as well."

"Dilandau, please!" Celena suddenly spoke up.  "You've been doing so well for years!  Don't throw it all away now!"

"Stay out of this, Celena!" Dilandau barked.  "Allen, if you're so intent on keeping her from seeing this, then get her inside, you idiot!"

"Van!" another voice suddenly screeched.  All heads turned toward it.

"Nina!" Van shouted.  "What the hell are you doing?!  You can't help me!  Get inside!  It's dangerous!"

Yes! Dilandau's killing instinct howled, finally awakening fully.  Kill her!  Find their son and kill him, too!  Give Van the agony of losing his loved ones!  Show him what you've suffered!  As if the movements were as natural as breathing, Dilandau drew his sword and lunged toward the Fanelian queen, the word kill echoing through his mind.

"Dilandau!" Celena and Allen cried.  On instinct, Allen immediately pursued Dilandau.

"No!" Van roared at the same time, surging into action, trying to put himself between his wife and Dilandau.  "You stay away from her, you sick freak!"  Oh, gods, Dilandau had gotten past him…!  "DAMN IT!  Where are the fucking guards?!"

Nina had shrieked, realizing her error, when Dilandau sprang for her.  She had turned around so quickly, she had nearly lost her feet, and was trying to get back to the safety of the building.  Too late…

"DIE!" Dilandau cried gleefully, bringing his sword down to cleave her head from her body.  He could already smell her blood—

No! a young man's voice suddenly pleaded in his head.  Stop this!

The voice froze him so quickly, it was as if time itself had stopped for him alone, paralyzing him where he stood.  Van couldn't veer around him quickly enough, smacking right into him as he ran past toward his wife.  Dilandau swayed and fell to the ground, but hardly registered it.  That voice!  He knew that voice!  Oh, gods, he could see him!

"G-Gatty!" Dilandau gasped, staring at the unreal yet solid-looking apparition before him.  His surprise was so great, he completely didn't notice Allen's rough hands grabbing him and dragging him away from the two Fanelians.

"FINALLY!" Van shouted at the guards as they entered, his sobbing, terrified Nina clutching at him.  "Where the hell were you?!  I thought the Asturian royal guard was better organized than this!"

"Dilandau, what where you thinking?!" Celena cried, almost as distraught as Nina.  "How could you try to kill her?!"  His seeming to not notice her only increased her distress.  "What's wrong with you?!  Look at me!"

"Shesta…!" Dilandau said thinly as his eyes landed on another vision from his past.  "Dallet!"

"What?" Allen asked, confused.  "What is he saying?"

"His Dragon Slayers!" Celena said, incredulous.  She desperately tried to bring her husbands eyes to her.  "Dilandau, what about your Dragon Slayers?!  What are you saying?!"

"Th-th-they're all here!" Dilandau stammered, breaking away from Allen, staring wildly at the circle of young men in blue and black that surrounded them.  "Everyone!  Miguel is missing, but all the others are here!"

"Dilandau, you're hallucinating!" Celena said, almost crying.  "None of them are here!  They're all dead!"

"You're all dead…" Dilandau slurred, as if speaking to many people.

Celena desperately took his hand.  "You need to go home, Dilandau!  You need rest!  There's nobody here!"

"Yes!" Dilandau countered.  "They're all here!  All…here…!"  As he said this, the weight of the vision came crashing down upon him, and he staggered.

"Hey!" Allen said, reaching for his arm to keep him from falling.  "Come to your senses!"

As he stumbled, Dilandau reached out to the nearest one, Viole, his fingers seeking to touch and make sure they really were real.  He felt nothing but empty air, and his heart screamed out in hysterical grief that this was nothing more than his overstressed brain's imaginings.

He was unconscious before he even hit the ground.

"Oh, gods!" Celena cried, falling to her knees beside him and turning him over onto his back.  "Oh, gods!  Oh, gods!"  Everything but her still-as-death husband seemed to disappear, and she no longer paid attention to her brother or the still distraught Van and Nina.  Dilandau was all she saw.

And, he wouldn't wake up.

Frantically, she checked his heartbeat and breathing, looking for signs of life.  They were there, but very faintly, almost undetectable.  This was exactly how he had been when he had gone into a seizure and passed out the last time Van had been here.  When he had awoken, he had been dangerously close to total detached madness.

"No!" she screamed.  "No, no, no!  Wake up!  Come back!  Come back!"  She dissolved into panicked tears, screaming her rage and grief to the gods, losing all her senses as she, too, blacked out completely.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Strange, Dilandau thought faintly.  That was eerily like the last time Van and I confronted each other.  The circumstances were different, and Van didn't go away with massive injuries over his person, but the mad frenzy and subsequent unconsciousness had been much the same.

Maybe the gods were trying to tell him something.

What, though? he wondered, his thoughts hazy.  Don't confront Van?  That can't be right.  My men need vengeance, don't they?

As it had been since he left the Schezar Estate, his conscience was silent.  It either had no opinion on the matter, or was shunning him.

Don't they…? he tried again.

"No," a faraway voice answered.  He jumped, coming fully awake.  That wasn't his conscience…

"Gah!" he gasped.  It was freezing cold!  Where was he anyway?  He looked around.  Ah, yes.

Limbo, of course.

Strangely enough, he didn't feel the incapacitating fear he normally did when he found his dreams centering on this wretched place.  Perhaps he had been here too many times.  Or, perhaps the spirits around him were purposely making him feel calmer.  They were here, weren't they?

"A-are you here?" he called into the darkness, anxious.  He had a strong feeling that they wanted to tell him something important, and he didn't know why.  "Please, show yourselves!"  A light touch on his shoulder startled him, and he whirled around, his heart suddenly racing.  He found himself staring right into the eyes of his second-in-command.

"We meet again at last!" the youth grinned.  "Finally, you can see us!"

"Gatty!" Dilandau managed to gasp out.  Behind Gatty, he could see shadows moving toward them.  The shadows coalesced and grew sharper, until he could see thirteen other young men walking slowly toward them, their attitude almost like that of curious onlookers approaching a strange sight.

"Oh, thank gods!" one of them cried, and Dilandau's ears recognized Shesta's long-absent voice.  "He can see us!"

"Wh-why…?" was all Dilandau could say.  So many questions were suddenly abuzz in his head that he found himself speechless, unable to decide what to say first.

"You should probably sit down," Gatty said gently.  "I'm sure this is quite a shock."

The albino nodded numbly.  He slowly sank to the ground, sitting on his knees.  His Dragon Slayers exchanged a few looks with each other, then suddenly rushed forward.  They bunched around him in a rough circle, careful not to crowd him.  Gatty, who seemed to be their spokesman, was in front of him.

"Why did you show yourself to me?" Dilandau finally was able to ask.  "Why did you stop me?"

"Show ourselves to you?  In the courtyard?" Gatty asked, seemingly confused.  A light came on in his eyes.  "Ohh…I'm so sorry, Sir.  That wasn't us.  My voice in your head was real, but disembodied spirits can't be seen in the living world.  It was probably just a vivid figment of your overtaxed mind.  We never meant to frighten you like that."

"It's a good thing he saw our images," Dallet's soft voice spoke up.  "He would have killed that young lady, otherwise."

"B-but—!" Dilandau started.

"Please, stay calm," he heard Guimel interrupt.  "Just take things slowly."

Dilandau turned toward the voice, his eyes meeting the white-haired boy's.  His eyes were drawn to others, and he looked around at all of them, recognizing each face with a sharp twist of his heart.  They looked so young to him now, way too young to be soldiers.  Way too young to die.

"Miguel isn't here," he observed.

"Of course he's not," Gatty answered with a slight smile.

"You avenged his murder with Zongi's death," the one named Viole explained.  "He's passed on already."

"So has your caretaker, Jajuka," Shesta added.  "He willing laid down his life for you.  He never lingered here."

"S-so, it's just you fourteen?" Dilandau asked.  "You've been here for ten years!"

The boys were silent, but many nodded somberly.

"You need my help," Dilandau murmured, saying it as a statement instead of a question.  He knew full well that they need him.

More nodding.  "Yes," Gatty assented.

"I-I'm so sorry!" Dilandau said softly, his voice shaking.  "This is my fault!  I-I should have released you long ago!  Van's death—"

"No!" several voices cried at once, startling him into silence.  He looked at them, stunned.

"Don't kill Van," Gatty said.  "His living on isn't what's holding us back.  It never was."

"What?" Dilandau asked, confused.

"We don't even need vengeance, actually.  It's something else."

"What?!"

"I really, really hate to say this—we all do—but what's holding us back from passing onto the afterlife is…well, it's you."

"WHAT?!"

"Please, don't shout," Dallet said, wincing some.  "You're particular voice echoes very loudly."

"Sorry," Dilandau apologized, for the first time ashamed in front of his Slayers.  He looked up again, distress in his eyes.  "How can this be, though?!  H-how can I be the one holding you back?!"

"Your grief over our deaths," Gatty said softly.

"What do you mean?" Dilandau queried

"Your loss of us has been, and probably always will be, the greatest emotional strain you've experienced, and thus has been the worst feeling of grief and loss you've felt," Gatty explained.  "You're resulting loneliness and isolation made you cling to our memory, latching onto them like a safety line.  Even after finding love, family, and peace, you have refused to let us go, to stop grieving over us, even if you never realized it.  It's become almost a security issue by now.  And, however dormant, you desire to avenge us has always burned deep below the surface."

"So…wh-what are you saying?" Dilandau asked quietly.

"Let our memory go," Gatty answered.  "Let us go.  We're the only thing besides your fighting skills that you haven't given up from your first life in the military.  Release us and truly move on with your life."

"B-but, I don't…I-I don't want to forget you!" Dilandau cried.

"He didn't say to forget us," Shesta's painfully young voice piped up.  "You can let our memory go without forgetting us.  Just acknowledge that, though we were a terrible loss to you, you can still be truly content with life.  Don't live your life with your emotions centered around stagnating memories."

For several moments, Dilandau was silent.  Finally, he spoke again, his voice thin and wavering.  "I-it really was me, wasn't it…?  I condemned you to ten years of this hell!"  Tears stung his eyes so sharply, he had to close them.

"Please, don't cry," Gatty said gently, trying to cheer his commander up.  "You have some other questions, don't you?  You're dying of curiosity inside, I can tell.  Don't pass this opportunity up."

Dilandau swallowed hard, blinking rapidly, forcing his tears to abate.  "W-well," he began, "why can I see you?  Why can I touch you?  Why can you say so many more things than you have before?"

"For one thing, you're not really dreaming," Gatty said, glad Dilandau hadn't broken down like he had threatened.  "The terror you felt was a creation of you own imagination, and you were never really in Limbo, as you are now.  We could speak to you through your dreams, but it was a very limited ability.  None of us are psychics.  We couldn't get more through to you than our pleas for help, and your mind just kept repeating them over and over, blocking out any other attempts to contact you."

"I really am in Limbo now…?" Dilandau asked, feeling disturbed.  "Why?  Did I die?"

"No," Gatty shook his head.  "When you passed out, your spirit retreated deep into your subconscious.  We saw our opportunity and managed to grab a hold of it, pulling it into our world.  It will return when you leave."

"But, why now?!" Dilandau said loudly, barely keeping from shouting again.  "Why not sooner?!  I've passed out plenty of times before!"

Gatty sighed through his nose, a look of both sadness and guilt gracing his young face.  "We hoped perhaps you would realize your mistake on your own," he said in reply.  "Especially since we could no longer talk to you, that was our only option.  Even after we realized that you probably wouldn't, we couldn't contact you directly.  Today, though, has a special significance.  Our influence on you is much stronger."

"Why?" Dilandau asked.  "What's today?"  He knew he should remember it, but his recently jolted brain couldn't dredge up what happened on this date.

"On this day ten years ago," Gatty said slowly, "almost to the very hour…"

"…you died," Dilandau finished.  "Oh, gods…"

For a long time, no one spoke.  Dilandau sat leaning forward, his head in his hands, memories flowing continuously through his mind.  His Slayers were still and silent around him, letting him mourn uninterrupted.

"Dilandau," Gatty finally said, addressing him as an old friend instead of a superior.  "It's time for you to go back.  You wife is probably worried sick about you."

"But, what about you?" Dilandau asked, lifting his head again.  "What about all of you?"

"We will remain," Guimel said softly.  "We wait.  You know what we need now."

"Yes!" Dilandau said fervently.  "I'll do everything I can to free you!  I swear it!"

"You have to do nothing," Dallet replied.  "Only let our memory go and move on."

Dilandau nodded.  "I will!  I'll do it!  Just…"  He paused.  "Do you think you could…I don't know…somehow let me know when you can pass on?"

A grin split Gatty's face.  "We'll do our best.  Just make sure you do yours."  Before Dilandau can answer, his second-in-command and all the others stood and backed away from him a few feet.  "Goodbye, Dilandau.  Until we meet again."

The world spun crazily, and he knew no more.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Her husband lay on his back on their bed, between the white sheets.  He was as still as death and just as cold.

Celena knelt on the mattress beside him, her eyes wet.  She hadn't been able to stop her tears since she had woken up beside him, Allen at the bedside.  She clutched at his hand, hoping desperately for any signs of life.

Dilandau's red eyes popped open as his spirit slammed back into its mortal casing, and he sat up suddenly with a cry so quickly, he almost clunked foreheads with his wife.  Celena's startled shriek brought him to his senses.

"Celena!" he gasped.

"Dilandau!" she cried at the same time.  "What…what are you…how did…"  She stopped her stammering and really looked at his face.  "You look like you just saw a ghost!"

"So do you, but I really did!" Dilandau answered, an uncommon tone of non-malicious zeal in his voice.  "I saw fourteen of them!"

Celena blinked.  "Dilandau, what on Gaea are you going on about?"  Her startlement from his sudden reawakening had vanished, replaced by a cat's unrelenting curiosity.

Quickly, almost breathless, Dilandau explained what had happened to him since his fainting spell.

"Don't you see?" he asked when he had finished.  "I don't need to kill Van!  I don't need to go back on my promise to you!  I just have to give myself a good talking-to and let them pass on!"

Celena nodded, a little overwhelmed.  His personality had done a total one-eighty from the brooding, slightly melancholy man he had become in his years since marrying her.

"This is great!" Dilandau grinned, jumping to his feet.  "I'm going to go tell Van!"  Without another word, he ran from the room.

"You have got to be kidding me," Celena muttered, following him.  "Don't tell me he plans on becoming friends with Van Fanel."  The very concept was enough to make her wonder if any shred of his sanity remained at all.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*

One month and two days later, a very short but very vivid dream came to Dilandau as he slept next to Celena.  It was the bluish-blackness of Limbo, his Dragon Slayers standing idly, as there was nothing else to do, the vapor swirling lazily around them.  Unexpectedly, one of them flashed and disappeared.  Another followed, then another, then another.  They all blinked out rapidly, until the only one left was Gatty.  He looked so isolated standing there.  He turned, and he seemed to look straight into Dilandau's eyes.  A soft, grateful smile slid across his face, and he, too, disappeared.

He jerked awake, as if something had come toward him in his dream and hit him.  Celena stirred but stayed asleep, and for a moment, Dilandau stared up at the ceiling, silent.  He had been half holding his breath, but he finally let it out with a relieved sigh.  His Slayers, after more than ten years in Limbo, had finally passed on to the afterlife they deserved to appreciate.

Sleepiness overcame him again, and he turned to Celena and settled down.  He slowly descended into sleep, and he knew no more until morning.

Owari

Author's Notes:  Woo-hoo!  I've finally, after more than a year, written a one-shot fanfic longer than "Heero, My Hero"!  This beat HMH by quite a long way, too, if file size is anything to judge by.  I've finally broken my personal record! ^_^  But, but…aaaaaugh.  Some parts of this seemed mighty awkward to me.  I have a thing for getting too wordy in descriptions or parts of stories with little dialogue, but if I edit anything out, I feel like I'm missing stuff.  I can't kick that habit! ;_;  I did like the scene where Dilandau met his Slayers, though.  I took a lot longer than I expected to write this, too, since I had a nasty fight with writer's block for about a week. *sigh*  I hope this was all worth it.  I'm leaving it up to you readers to decide the relationship between Van and Dilandau after his meeting with his Slayers, because I'm not writing more fics to continue this story arc.  I may write more DxC fics in the future, but they won't be connected to this.  I feel like I've written enough, and if I write more, I may ruin it.  I hope this last installment to my "-ation" trilogy satisfies my readers and leaves you with a sense of completion.  I'd really, really like it if you would tell me what you think!  The first two fics got great feedback, so I hope this one does, too!  Tell me how you enjoyed (or didn't enjoy, but please be nice about it) "Expiation", or even the whole trilogy if you just recently discovered it, in a review or an email to mangareader@hotmail.com, onegai shimasu!

Oh, and "expiation" means "the atonement for guilt or sin", if anyone was wondering.  It's a new word for me. ^_^