Flying Without Wings
Turning around, Van Fanel saw the girl he'd been trying to avoid – Hitomi Kanzaki by name – running up the dirt pathway he'd taken away from the castle. He really needed some time by himself – or at least away from her, the cause of his current predicament – to think.
"I was going flying," he said diffidently, not used to talking about anything having to do with his rather unique heritage with anyone besides Merle or…Balgus.
And his brother, back in the day…
Ruthlessly breaking off that heart-wrenching train of thought, Van came back to himself in time to hear her say hesitantly, "Could I…come with you?"
His breath hitched in his throat. Oh, to hold her in his arms again… He'd never found anything in his life that matched the thrill of piloting Escaflowne, or flying through the air…
Except holding her in his arms.
And then, the one time they'd fought together, him piloting Escaflowne, while she hung onto his back and directed him where to go…twice as thrilling. But even the wondrousness of that had been eclipsed by the exhilaration of flying through the air with her in his arms.
And since he wouldn't have to worry about anyone trying to kill him this time, it should be even better.
"Aren't you…afraid?" he asked wonderingly. True, he remembered her reaction the first time, but it was the thrill of something new back then. The Mystic Moon had legends about angels, and that is what he must have seemed to her, for a few moments…but no longer.
She knew him so much better now…his strengths and his weaknesses.
And she still trusted her life in his hands…literally?
"Of course not," she said, as if the thought had never crossed her mind.
He knew it had, of course; how could it have not? She'd seen what had happened when he had melded with Escaflowne. He knew she still had nightmares about how much he screamed.
No one had ever become one with a Guymelef like that before…connected with it by a blood contract.
And he was sure he only had because of his Draconian heritage.
After all, though he ultimately failed in a true connection, Folken had attempted the same unity with his Guymelef, and had, for a short while, achieved a twisted version of it.
And he could never forget how out of control he'd been; releasing his wings in front of Allen and the others.
Millerna had looked almost terrified. Hitomi, however…he wondered sometimes if he'd ever really scared her.
"All right," he agreed, rather recklessly. Instead of flying to get away from her, he would be flying and spending time with her. A curse and a blessing all in one.
At his assent, she backed off a few feet, out of range of his wings. He'd already removed his shirt when she arrived; now it was just a matter of closing his eyes and concentrating on releasing his wings.
It was always a strange sensation; he knew it looked like it hurt, but it didn't, really. White-feathered columns sprouted from his back, and though he was mostly absorbed in making sure they extended all the way out, he couldn't help but hear Hitomi's gasp…of surprise? Fear?
In any event, moments later, he was standing with his wings outspread. Carefully folding them back, he turned around and held out one arm. She walked forward, hesitantly at first, a slight flush on her cheeks. Once she was near enough, Van scooped her up into his arms and extended his wings once again.
Poised on the precipice, he asked, "Ready?"
Looping her arms around his neck and taking a deep breath, Hitomi said, "Ready, Van."
Involuntarily, he smiled. She had always called him Van; only ever adding a 'Lord' in front when the situation (or Millerna or Merle) demanded it. It was nice to think he had a…friend…who saw him as more than a ruler.
A gasping giggle rose to his ear, and his smile widened.
"Too high for you?" he asked lightly, knowing that wasn't the reason for her outburst.
"Not when you're here to keep me from falling," she said absently, and his heart clenched at the trust in her voice. "It's amazing; I can see all of Fanelia from up here. Oh, you're so lucky, Van…" She trailed to a halt, obviously just realizing how thoughtless those words were.
"Oh?" he asked, foregoing dwelling on all the trials and tribulations he'd been through in the past year for hearing why she thought this so wonderful.
"Well, I…I just meant," she stuttered out, shifting in his arms uncomfortably. "To be able to see this whenever you want…to fly…" Her last words were barely a whisper in his ear, and he became suddenly aware of how close they were…and how her shifting was producing rather interesting sensations below his belt. The few items of apparel she'd brought with her from her homeworld were obviously being washed since she was wearing some of Merle's old clothes. While both she and his foster sister were about the same clothing size, Hitomi was much taller than Merle and the shirt she was wearing was very short; her bare stomach was right up against his chest.
Face flushing, he turned slightly away to let the heat in his cheeks pass as he answered softly, "Yes, I am very lucky…" though whether he was referring to her words about his wings was unclear even to himself.
They fell silent then, no more words breaking Van from his contemplation of the girl in his arms. His wings stroked powerfully through the air, carrying them in ever-widening circles over Fanelia. Below, his people worked to rebuild, and already he could see great progress being made; only two-fifths of the land below him still needed to be repaired. The other three-fifths looked almost unchanged from before the war.
Before the war…before Hitomi came into his life.
He'd never felt about anyone like he had about Hitomi. He was young to be an orphan, young to be King…but was he too young to fall in love?
He didn't think so, but a lifetime of hurt and betrayal had made him cautious. And he was wary about revealing his feelings to her. For even if, Gaea help him, she returned them…she still needed to leave and return to her own home.
And he would never see her again.
Stricken, he focused all his attention on his flying, well aware of how, if he let himself descend into the depths of depression, he could crash. And then they'd both be in trouble. He might not place much worth on his own safety, but Hitomi's…
Finally, their aerial circuit took them over the Fanelian forest, Van's normal destination when he went flying to clear his head. Normally he'd go to the clearing where he and his brother used to play…but right now the memories were too close to the surface.
And there was a spot he thought Hitomi would like to see…
Circling down, he angled his flight path towards a small break in the trees. Not really a clearing, but large enough to allow him to land. His feet hit the ground with a soft thump, followed more carefully by Hitomi's as he let her down from his embrace.
"We're pretty far away from the castle, Van," she said, but there was no trace of fear or censure in her voice, merely curiosity. She was simply stating a fact, and subtly asking for more information on their location.
Van nodded. "I come here a lot," he said. "When I need to think. And there's something I want to show you." He held out his arm in a mute gesture, and when her hand slipped into his, he headed down a barely discernible path.
After only a few minutes of ducking and dodging tree limbs, they arrived at their final destination: a small creek fed by a large waterfall, with tall grass and multicolored wildflowers scattered across the surrounding land.
"It's beautiful," Hitomi breathed, and Van smiled.
"Yes, it is," Van agreed softly, not knowing whether he meant the waterfall or her smile.
But as she turned towards him, face aglow with happiness, he knew the truth…
"Van?" she asked cautiously, staring at him. Startled, he realized that he must have had a rather…odd look on his face, to say the least.
"Yes?" He carefully schooled his face into what he hoped was a nominally pleasant – and nothing more – expression.
But it seemed he wasn't the only one who'd been thinking. "Van, I think we need to talk," Hitomi said seriously.
Sighing, Van knew she was right. "I know," he admitted. Gesturing towards a group of large rocks that he thought would make good temporary chairs, he said, "Let's sit down, all right?"
She nodded and went to perch on one gray stone, waiting patiently as he situated himself on another, tucking his wings back inside.
"I'll be leaving soon," she said with no preamble, keeping a close watch on his face.
His jaw tightened, but he gave no other outward indication of how much he was going to miss her. "I know," he said simply.
"Isaac said that my pendant can summon the blue light," she told him. "It was a side-effect from Escaflowne and I being so close to the Fate Redirector together."
He swallowed. "And you will summon the light soon, to take you home?"
"Yes," she agreed quietly. "But…"
Looking up from his contemplation of the ground, he prompted, "But?"
"He said it works on Earth, too," Hitomi revealed.
Van froze, not daring to hope. "You mean…?"
"I can come back, Van," she said happily, a soft smile on her face.
Overcome – by relief, by happiness, by pure unadulterated joy – Van acted before he thought. Jumping up from his rock, he wrapped his arms around Hitomi and whirled her around. Her surprised giggles twined together with his own delighted laughter in the summer air.
Finally whirling to a stop, Van looked down into Hitomi's bright eyes, his laughter trailing off at the emotions caught in those blue orbs. "Hitomi," he whispered.
"Van," she returned breathlessly.
And they were leaning towards each other, lips touching, hesitantly at first, and then more firmly as each saw their advances were not unwanted.
Holding Hitomi in his arms, kissing her…Van thought it was twice as wonderful as flying with her, and a thousand times more thrilling than flying. And he couldn't help but think that even though they were on the ground…he could swear they were still flying.
Flying without wings.