Title: To Return

Author: Dendera

Rating: G

Story summary: Set nine years after The Vision of Escaflowne, Van pays Hitomi a visit on the eve of her wedding. Just a bunch of angst-ridden Van and Hitomi mush. Shameless plug: winner of the 2001 Reader's Choice Aoi Hitomi Fanfiction award!

Author's Note: After many pleading e-mails, I've decided to try and write a sequel to this piece. A big thank you to everyone who has read and reviewed it; your encouragement means a lot to me. Please enjoy this revised version of "To Return" (and its prequel "Because He Promised") while you wait for the next installment. And in case you were wondering; no, the characters of Escaflowne do not belong to me. This story, however, does. Please do not copy or reproduce it in any way without my permission.

Dedication: For my sister Valen, who hates it as much as I do when characters don't end up together.

A sharp intake of air and Van Fanel could only stare on in awestruck silence. She looked breathtakingly exquisite, her angelic features shrouded in the intricate embroidery of a beaded veil. Her hair was longer than when he had seen her last, flowing evenly to her shoulders, curled toward the ends. Other than the natural affects of time, she had changed very little. Still just as slender and willowy, although her gangly schoolgirl attributes had been replaced by the graceful signs of womanhood. His aching heart began to pound, and all at once he was that naive fifteen-year-old again, gaping openly at this strange girl from the mystic moon. The stubborn, brave-spirited soul who had earned both his grudging respect and admiration—the one who had taught him to love wholly with his entire being.

He wasn't sure what had brought him to this place on this night, but some inconsolable force within him had yearned to be at her side. Instinctively, he knew that there was something of monumental importance taking place in Hitomi's life right now. The eternal bond of soul mates had gifted him with a link to her, the ability to discern the changing aspects of her life. While what he felt was convincing enough, the pendant he wore around his neck—her pendant—confirmed it. Recently, the small, crimson stone had begun to glow, emitting an undeniable energy as if it had been mysteriously activated. And Van was certain it had been; by Hitomi herself, whether she realized it or not.

The young king had flown his fiercest that night, his fastest, pressing his resources to the very limit. But for her, it was worth it. He had told no one of his plans (save for Merle), where he was going, and for what purpose. All that mattered in their two worlds was Hitomi, and the mere thought of seeing her after so long had only driven him harder. His fervor had served him well, for now, here he was—gazing longingly into her apartment from a balcony he was sure his own destiny had driven him to.

His breath caught in his throat, nearly choking him as new movement from within the small flat consumed his immediate attention. Hitomi had frowned suddenly, and was gesturing animatedly to the veil's billowing layers, which had snagged against a piece of furniture. Van looked on in sheer fascination; enraptured with the comical way she pursed her lips when upset. Remembrances from long ago stormed against him, swarming his thoughts. Hitomi quarreling with a thieving Merle…Her delicate brow creased in pensive meditation as she examined the tarot cards…The fragile weight of her body pressed against his as he flew her to sanctuary… Van's hands tightened into fists at his side, and he squeezed his eyelids closed, willing the phantom memories to fade.

When he had regained a steady hold on his emotions, he glanced up to see that another figure, one he presumed to be Hitomi's mother, had rushed forward to assist her. With quick flick of her wrist she liberated the wisp of fragile tulle from its obstacle, and paused to look it over. Her daughter arched an eyebrow, requesting an appraisal of the situation. Peals of soft laughter drifted out to him, and he could only assume that the predicament had corrected itself.

Though the balcony door was slightly ajar, Van didn't dare to observe their conversation further, for fear of being spotted. He would only stay for a few more moments, he assured himself. Just until he was confident in the belief that Hitomi was safe and well cared for. Then he would depart, leaving her undisturbed. Yes. His chivalric obligations had little to do with his lingering presence. Just a little longer…

Hitomi leaned against the windowpane and released an appeased sigh, grateful for the moment of solitude. Her mother had excused herself to make a few more minor adjustments to the bridal gown, and beaming proudly, had left her daughter for the evening. "You have a big day tomorrow," she had reminded Hitomi with a knowing smile. "You're going to need all of the sleep you can manage."

Sleep, Hitomi theorized good-naturedly, was something that would not come easily tonight. Peering out of her bedroom window, she lifted her eyes to the expansive, starry sky. It was as if the heavens itself, with its luminescent, twinkling lights, was celebrating the arrival of her long anticipated marriage.

Looking for him, aren't you?

The calm clarity of the voice startled her through her serene reverie. 'No! No…of course I'm not,' she protested hastily, aghast at the possibility of thinking of another man on the eve of her wedding. It was with a maidenly delight that she awaited her nuptials, and though many of her friends had confessed to bouts of cold feet and shivers of indecision before their own weddings, Hitomi felt secure in the fact that she was making the wisest choice.

Liar, her conscience intervened with a chiding instance. You're scared silly, and you know it. You're waiting for him to come and save you.

Hitomi found herself a little unsteady, as a flood of adolescent memories washed over her. That unruly shock of sable hair, the dazzling warmth of his smile, the tender vulnerability in his reflective brown eyes as they whispered their good-byes… The years seemed to fall away as the familiar desire took hold of her, an empty void forming in the pit of her stomach.

Stop, she silently urged herself, blinking back an impromptu swell of tears. Gaea and its exploits were a thing of the past, an impossible reality. It was beyond foolish to look back now, not when she had such a promising future ahead of her. It would be Akiyo, her kind and generous college sweetheart, who would be the one awaiting her arrival at the church tomorrow—not Van. He was sensible, reliable, and moreover, a tangible part of her world.

But time doesn't overshadow love.

The simplicity of the words struck true, and a helpless feeling of doubt stole over her. "I'm not fifteen anymore!" Hitomi cried aloud in her own defense, truly frightened by the course of her thoughts. "I know what's rational and what's not! I'm beyond girlish flights of fantasy!" She collapsed against the bed, sinking to her knees. "I know what I want…"

Do you?

"Stop it!" She insisted furiously, the exclamation piercing the room's stillness. Her shoulders slumped in defeat as the raw emotion overtook her. "Stop…"

It was hidden behind her weeping distress, tossed upon the evening wind, but she heard it anyway. The breeze snaked through her bedroom's patio door, rustling the blinds, and then an overwhelming sense of empathy enveloped her. A musical flutter of invisible wings, the sound of her own heart breaking... She recognized it all at once. The twenty-four year old whirled around; sensing the presence at her balcony before could behold it with her own eyes.

"Hitomi?" The voice had deepened over the years, but she would have known it anywhere. Fanelia's king stood before her, tall and valiant in his handsome robes. "Are you all right?"

An eternity seemed to flow between them as she searched for a way to express her surprise. Hitomi touched a shaky hand to her lips, deliberating the truth behind this apparent mirage. And yet, it was no illusion. For she could see his chest rising and falling rapidly, his brandy orbs fixed upon her with genuine concern.

"Hitomi?" He repeated uncertainly, his tone seeping with worry as he took a step towards her.

"Van…" she acknowledged, somewhat weakly. The dryness in her mouth was quickly spreading, threatening to silence her. "What are you doing here?"

This time the hesitation was his. Van's gaze fell away to the floor as he shuffled awkwardly, contemplating his reply. "I'm not sure exactly," he answered finally, glancing up to meet her bewilderment. "I just felt like I needed to find you…like I was being drawn to." He began to slowly advance, cautiously approaching her. "Your pendant was glowing, and I thought that maybe...maybe you needed me too."

"Needed you?" Hitomi faltered, her grasp on the situation slipping away. "I needed you a long time ago, Van."

By the look of despondency that crossed his face, it was obvious he had not been expecting such a forthright confrontation. However, he made no excuses, but chose instead to regard her with solemn, sorrowful eyes.

"I'm here now," Van offered sincerely, an earnest smile quirking one corner of his mouth. He watched her intently, arms itching to hold her. "I want to be here for you always, Hitomi."

Mind reeling from his childlike frankness, Hitomi had the sensation of drowning in her own inner turmoil. "I'm getting married tomorrow." The declaration rushed passed her lips before she realized what she was saying.

Van blinked, visibly stunned, the news of her engagement slamming against him like a wave on a rock. Noticeably more pallid, he opened his mouth to say something, only to close it again, completely lost for words. At last, he managed a dry, mirthless chuckle.

"So that's why," he mused ruefully, shaking his head.

Unnerved by the odd turn of events, her brow knitted in puzzlement. "I don't understand; why what?"

Van's eyes locked with hers, his somber smile fading into thoughtful reverence. "That had to be what brought me here tonight," he explained, nodding towards her engagement band. "We're…bonded, I think. So I knew that something important was happening in your life, and that must be it."

The sight of his poorly concealed disappointment was too much for her, and Hitomi buried her face in her hands, taking leave of all composure. She could make out the sound of Van's footsteps closing in on her, the musk of his body as he tentatively eased her into his arms.

"Don't cry," he whispered soothingly, his skin tingling as it made contact with hers. Despite the bloody years of battle he had fought from inside the guymelef Escaflowne, Van's touch was remarkably gentle as he smoothed back her hair. "Everything will be all right…"

Hitomi flattened herself against his broad chest, and he held her close as she sobbed without reserve. "Why now? Why after all of these years?" She demanded tearfully, clasping him more tightly than necessary. "Why would you come now, of all nights, the night before my wedding to see me?"

"I'm not sure," Van answered vaguely, wincing at the inadequacy of his reply. He rested a cheek atop her silken head; unable to focus on anything in existence, other than the woman locked in his embrace. Though he couldn't read her anguished expression, the pain behind her accusing words was more than evident. "But believe me," he told her intensely, "if I could, I would go back and change it all. I would have found a way back to you sooner…" Closing his eyes, he indulged in her fragrant scent, the forbidden luxury an all too haunting reminder of the past.

Hitomi sniffled and pulled away unexpectedly, hurriedly wiping at her eyes. "I'm sorry," she apologized flatly. "I'm such a wreck tonight. I just wasn't," she guiltily avoided his anxious gaze, "expecting this."

"Don't be sorry." He lifted her chin, only to lose himself completely in the lush green hues of her eyes. It was only now, when he was once again at her side, that Van realized just how much he had craved her company. How every fiber of his being had pined for her return. And now there was no chance of that whatsoever. A terrifying notion plagued him, ate away at him, and he could scarcely summon the courage to verbalize it. But it had to be asked. He had to know. Fanelia's sovereign swallowed hard, resolved to address the matter boldly.

"Do…do you love him?" Van queried tensely, "This one you're betrothed to?"

His unintentional insult brought a heated flush to her face. "How can you even ask me that?" Hitomi retorted, hurt blossoming in her eyes. "I'm marrying him tomorrow!"

Unsure of how to respond, Van recoiled from her flare of temper, growing red with embarrassment. The precarious silence was fleeting though, and Hitomi soon discovered that she was yet again resting against his shoulder. Flustered by the incessant urge to be near him, she withdrew and sighed heavily.

"I waited for you," a slight smile curved her lips at the memory. "It went against every sensible thought in my head, but I was a silly little teenager and completely taken with you. The fact that we came from two different worlds meant nothing to me then. You had found a way back to me once, and I thought that surely…"

His sculpted features lit up with hopeful expectation. "Thought that what?"

She shook her head, a dismissive gesture, and self-consciously turned away from him. "It doesn't matter now, Van."

Grasping her slender arm, he gently steered her back towards him. "It matters to me."

Hitomi fidgeted for a minute before continuing, tugging absently at her ring. "I…I thought you would come for me. That you would show up one night at my window, and say that you couldn't go on another day without me. Even when it was time for me to go off to college, I never let go of that dream." She crossed her arms uncomfortably, divulging what were, in all likelihood, her most private thoughts. "The storybook finale, where you come swooping in to rescue me and I never have to leave your arms…"

"Hitomi…" He was taken back by her heartfelt confession, the pure honestly that still radiated from her. "I wanted to. I wanted that so badly." Van clutched a hand to his chest in a display of wrenched agony. "But I was still just a child then, with the future of a nation stacked upon my shoulders. There was so much that I wanted for my life, but because of what I owed Fanelia and her people, I had to give much of that up."

The grief-stricken emotion had resurfaced, gleaming brightly behind her jade orbs. "I could have helped you…I would have stayed…" She murmured faintly, her breath coming in short, shallow gasps.

Van brushed a light kiss against her forehead, a sea of regret churning within him. "I know you would have, Hitomi. But I had no right to ask that of you. There was too much I would have been forcing you to leave behind."

"I know…" She squeezed his arm, a poignant smile dancing across her wistful visage. "It's just that I've missed you, Van. So much."

He traced the line of her cheekbone, doing his best to repress the impulse that was guiding him toward her supple mouth. "Me too," he confirmed quietly. "We all have. Gaea's just not the same without you."

She laughed in spite of herself; a light, musical sound that Van knew he could easily get used to hearing again. "Everyone?" Hitomi wondered with a teasing smirk. "Miss that strange girl from the Mystic Moon? I'll bet Merle is pleased to have me out of her hair."

"Hey," Van interjected with an equally playful grin, "In Merle's defense, I think you should know that she happens to like you very much nowadays."

"Only because I'm not around to seduce Lord Van anymore," Hitomi scoffed, in jest. It took a second for her humor to sink in, and when it did, she could feel her ears burning in mortification.

He smiled pleasantly at her, but refrained from commenting on the latter part of her argument. "All the same," the King informed her, "she speaks pretty highly of you. As Fanelia's resident storyteller, she loves to spin tales of our adventures."

"I've never forgotten my time on Gaea," she said fondly, nostalgic all at once. "I still think about it sometimes. How things might have been different. What it would be like to be that girl again, just once."

The mischievous spark that flickered in his dark eyes was unmistakably Van. "You can be." And without further warning, she found herself being scooped up in his muscular arms.

"Van, what're you—?"

A lopsided grin was all she received in return, "You'll see." His brow furrowed in momentary concentration, the effort in turn, producing a set of magnificent wings.

"Van…" Although she had witnessed the flawless beauty of the transformation before, it was a sight that never failed to amaze her.

"Ready?" He questioned eagerly, indicating towards the balcony with a nod of his head.

There were a hundred reasons why she shouldn't agree to this, and Hitomi couldn't seem to articulate any of them. "We… we can't," she protested feebly. "People might see us. My mother could walk in at any—"

"She won't." He told her matter-a-factly, still smiling broadly. "I watched her leave your apartment. No one will discover us, I promise." When it was clear that she was going to dispute the issue further, he touched a hand to her cheek, hushing her. "Please Hitomi," he implored beseechingly, "Just let yourself have this one moment. Let it be my wedding gift to you."

She could feel her lip start to quaver. "Van… I…"

Disregarding her reluctance, he strode over to the glass door, and stepped out into the night. "Here we go, " Van announced, holding her protectively. He gave his wings a powerful flap and sent them propelling towards the fathomless sky, erupting into flight.

The world and all of its trifles seemed to drift away as the two, star-crossed lovers sat huddled together atop the roof of her apartment building, watching the sweeping cosmos. Cloaked in a gauze of shadow, the only reality that presently existed for Hitomi, was the man at her side. She followed him silently from the corner of her eye, admiring his athletic physique. There was a distinct clash of traits that, in her opinion, only enhanced Van's attractive assets. The hard, firm curves of his toned build, in comparison to the artistic beauty of his features. It was a whimsical introspection she might have pondered longer, had Van not put a halt to her daydreaming.

"What're you thinking about?" He inquired, arms folded behind his head as he lay back, inhaling deeply.

Hitomi started at the seemingly innocent question, jerking back to attentiveness. "Lots of things," she answered, truthfully. "What about you?"

His focus was fixed entirely upon the inky skyline. "Just thinking about him," Van commented lightly. "About where you met him…how long you've known him…and how lucky he is to have you."

"At school. College," she supplied the requested information with little enthusiasm, finding that, for the first time, the topic was undesirable conversation. "I've known him for three years. He uh... also interned for my father's business."

"I see…"

A brief interlude of quiet fell over them, and she felt compelled to break it. "So, tell me about yourself," Hitomi prompted curiously, more than happy to usher in a new subject. "About Fanelia." She twirled a strand of hair and tried to adopt an attitude of casual nonchalance. "Do you…rule alone?"

Van glanced over at her, a sheepish smile tugging at his lips. "I never married, if that's what you're getting at." He admitted, his disclosure breaking the pervading stillness. "I never thought to."

"Oh…" It was all she could think to say, and she berated herself for such a meaningless response. At the same time, a surge of relief coursed through her. Van was still single—available. The contentment swiftly faded, however, curdling into the sour taste of guilt, as Hitomi remembered that she was not.

Fanelia's king didn't seem to mind her short reply, as he seemed particularly occupied with the velvet sky and its glittering constellations. "My subjects wanted me to though, very much. Even Allen had a hand in a few of the match-making attempts."

"Allen?" Against her better judgment, Hitomi laughed out loud at the concept. "You turned Allen for advice on romance?"

Van chuckled along with her, clearly enjoying a joke at the gallant's expense. "I didn't choose him, my advisors did," he explained, tongue-in-cheek. "They thought they might ally with an 'old friend' to help me towards wedded bliss."

"And how is Allen?" Hitomi inquired, hungry for any news regarding Gaea.

"He has a legion of knights under him these days," Van spoke up from around a yawn. "After King Aston passed on, Millerna and Dryden appointed him their chief tactical advisor."

Comprehension clicked into place, and Hitomi felt an ironic smile lift the corners of her mouth. "So Dryden and Millerna didn't annul their marriage?" She had never been sure whether the proper princess and the merchant scholar would prove well suited for one another.

"No, in fact, they're quite comfortable with each other. Asturia has prospered significantly under their reign." Shifting his weight towards her, Van rolled over to give her his full attention. "And Allen," he eyed her with interest, awaiting her next reaction. "Allen has also settled down, or at least as much as can be expected. He and Eries are expecting their second child soon."

Hitomi's brows peaked in astonishment, her dumbfounded expression mirroring her shock. "Eries? As in Princess Eries?"

He smiled at her surprise. "One and the same; although, she isn't technically a princess anymore. King Aston didn't approve of her feelings for Allen, and eventually disowned her, naming Millerna his rightful heir."

She scowled at the memory of the narrow-minded monarch and his arrogant ambitions. "I never really liked that guy."

"Very few people did, especially toward the end of his rule." Van gave a little shrug, "But honestly, I don't think Eries minds very much. She always was the sensible one in the family, and a simple life seems to suit her well. She and Allen are very happy together."

"So Allen is married…" the words rolled off of her tongue, sounding very strange indeed when used in the same sentence. "Huh. I didn't see that one coming."

"Why?" Van shot back a little too quickly, his voice edged with dismay. "That doesn't bother you, does it? I know you and he…that you two had a—"

Hitomi sat up abruptly, almost startling him. "Van, Allen and I never had an anything," she clarified for him. "Well, nothing serious anyway. We were just friends."

"But I saw you," he interrupted, in what she perceived to be a wounded tone. "I saw the both of you on that bridge in Asturia. He was kissing you." He intoned thickly, stammering slightly over the words. "It was raining so hard, you probably didn't even see me standing there."

"Van," she took his hand in her own, feeling as though an apology was in order. "I did see you there, and I felt horrible about it." The crestfallen look he had worn that fateful day would be forever branded into her memory. What was even worse, was the knowledge that she had induced such dejection.

"Allen was just what I pictured as the model knight in shining armor. I was a fifteen-year-old girl and incredibly naïve. I'm sorry," she paused, uncertain of where this conversation was leading them. "I'm sorry you had to see that."

Van's hand closed over hers. "It doesn't matter now," he reassured her, unconvincingly. "It was partially my fault. It's not that I didn't notice you, because trust me, I did. I think I was just too preoccupied to accept it. And then when I caught him, with his hands on you… I think that's when it really hit me." He shook his head with a disarming grin. "I still give him a hard time about that."

His openness only made her spirit soar all the higher. "If it makes you feel any better," Hitomi added, flashing a bashful smile. "I wish it had been you."

He pulled himself into a sitting position as well, hanging on her every word. "Really?"


And with the sudden swiftness of an impending storm, the angel caught her about the waist, closing the distance between them. His lips seized hers in a sweet moment of reckless ardor, the fulfillment of a timeless longing. Clinging desperately to him, Hitomi returned the impassioned gesture. In the history of embraces, it was a kiss unlike any other. Euphoria seemed to stir within her blood, welling up inside of her, setting her senses ablaze. It was as if she had been desolate and barren all along, a vessel devoid of all vital content. And Van was the breath of life itself, filling her; activating her very essence. Eyelids fluttering shut, she pressed herself closer, fingers weaving through vividly ebon locks.

For several breathless minutes, they continued, simply basking in the presence of one another. Lips melding in perfect union; souls intertwining with the alignment of fate. For Van, it was a solace comparable only to an oasis after a long, lonely trek through the desert. His body ached for her—depended on her for sanity and strength alike. And while he had never before experienced such completion, he knew it was a luxury he could not possess.

Reluctantly, he broke the contact, and with a tragic sense of honor, released her.

Hitomi immediately strove to correct the absence, reaching out for him, but he held her back, his fierce eyes bearing into hers.

"Wait," he instructed, still panting hard. "Hitomi…please."

She ceased her movement and relaxed in his hold, gazing questioningly up at him. It was by far the greatest amount of will power Van had ever had to exercise. How easy it would be to just take her up in his arms again and fly them back to his beloved kingdom. Happily ever after, just like in Merle's fairytales.

The king sighed brokenly, his duty prevailing. "I love you, Hitomi," he told her with absolute conviction. "That's no secret. But I can't keep fooling myself. Time and circumstance have kept us apart for so long…" the epitome of melancholy, that same saddened look her kiss with Allen had reaped, rippled across his face now. "I can't deny that you've found another man…a better man. And tomorrow, you're to marry him."

She cradled his fingers against her chest, wishing for all the world that it could be Van she would pledge herself to. "No…" she amended, voice wavering. "Not better. No one, Van…no one but you."

A smile found its way beyond his affliction, like the sun coming out from behind the clouds. "No one but you," he repeated ardently. "And there never will be." Bringing her hand to his lips, he planted a chaste kiss. "I should leave now. It's very late and you need your rest."

At his mention of leaving, alarm infiltrated her mind, reigning over her common sense.

He stood resignedly, helping Hitomi to her feet before gathering her into his arms. "We'd better get you back inside."

"But…I…" She wanted to say it; thought she would die if it were left unsaid, but the words would not find their way from her throat. They landed nimbly at her balcony, Van gently setting her down.

"Van, I…"

He acknowledged the unspoken sentiment with a nod, but the inkling in his eyes told her that he knew. "It's all right, Hitomi," he whispered, drawing her into a hug. "I'll always be with you."

Hitomi watched, deploring, as he backed away, sprouting heavenly wings once more. Van moved to unfasten something from his neck, and extended a hand out towards her. Puzzled, she reached out to accept it, and with an elated sort of relief, recognized the familiar weight in her palm. Her grandmother's antique pendant glistened with fiery splendor in dim light, just as uniquely delicate as she had remembered.


Say it! Her thoughts screamed at the outrage of such passive emotion. Tell him, now!

"Be happy," the guardian angel spoke in a final farewell as he rose, hovering gracefully. "You deserve that much." His snowy wings caught the moonlight, glimmering briefly, and then he was gone, gliding to where her earth met the sky. All traces of her champion had vanished forever, save for a few stray feathers which drifted lazily on the autumn air.

Wrapping her arms about her, Hitomi breathed against the midnight chill, a tear streaming a solitary path down her pale cheek. "I'll be fine, Van." She promised huskily, more for her sake than his. Fighting an uprising of depression, she retreated into her bedroom—back to the inviting forgetfulness her average life would soon procure.

"I'll be fine…"

Will you? Her inner voice nagged at her, the question burrowing itself deep into the crevices of her heart. Will you really?

Trembling violently, Hitomi realized that she was already aware of the answer. If Van Fanel walked out of her life, never to be seen again, then no, she would not be fine. She would be devastated. Glancing down, she noted that in comparison to the brilliant luster of the scarlet gem, her engagement ring shone with dull insignificance upon her finger. Comprehension hit her like a bolt of lightning. The pendant's unrelenting gleam represented her love for Van; an unbridled force that burned within of her, emitting an effulgence no one else could inspire. All else was simply compliance, a necessary conformity for what was considered to be an ideal life.

Had she truly chosen Akiyo to be her husband, or was it the collective wishing of her family and friends that had driven her to such a match? There had been such pressure for an early engagement. Her father had proclaimed Akiyo his future son-in-law long before Hitomi had ever truly made the decision for herself. He was a worthy man and dear companion, but she felt little more than endearing friendship for him. Instead, her thoughts swam of her white dragon; the young king whom her very blood cried out for. It was Van she was in love with…and if she didn't act quickly, she would lose him a second time.

Pulse thrumming wildly, she launched herself back toward the balcony. Her throat caught with a stifled gasp as she frantically sought the blank horizon, only to find…nothing.

"Van…Van!" Leaning over as far as she could, Hitomi draped herself across the railing, crying out mournfully. "VAN!"

The air was filled only with the echoes of her grief. The angry stirring and loud complaints of neighbors did nothing to aid the heartache. Van would never return.

Her shoulders heaving as she wept, Hitomi staggered back towards the bed, and sunk down into the comforter. It was all over; there was nothing left for her now. To ignore destiny's call was to face one's own ignorant consequences, and she knew that she could not, in right conscience, attend tomorrow's ceremony. She curled a fist around her pendant, the sounds of her own sobbing filling the room.

The clock on her mantle chimed two am, its cheerful melody lost amid the evening's commotion. She didn't hear it, couldn't hear it; was oblivious to all else except the loss—even the sound of timid footsteps that had woven a path to her bedside. When she felt the tender caress of sympathetic fingertips against her forehead, Hitomi was sure that she had been visited by a lovely dream. A figment of her imagination with strong, steady hands and soulful brown-black eyes. Hitomi squinted wearily, her vision blurring at the sight of a pair of dove-white wings.

She sat up so quickly it nearly made her head spin. Van pulled her into his waiting arms, smiling adoringly down at her. "Easy now…I think you're still a little dizzy."

Her mind worked feverishly to try to put two and two together. She touched his face, still incredulous. "Van…How did you…?"

He fingered her necklace affectionately, his forehead brushing with hers. "I heard you calling."

Overwhelmed by his unfailing dedication, Hitomi flung her arms about his neck. "I didn't think I'd ever see you again." She whispered against his ear, "I thought you were lost to me."

"I told you that I would always be with you, didn't I?" Van reiterated, grinning smartly down at her as if this were a most obvious fact. His impishness subsided as he stroked her neck, appraising her as the only thing worth cherishing. "And I always keep my promises, Hitomi. What I want to know now is, how this fairytale ends. Will you come back with me?" Van cupped her chin, his features etched with unparalleled devotion. "To Fanelia?"

She snuggled against him, enfolded in the safety of his embrace. "I want nothing more than to return. I love you, Van." And as his mouth captured hers, their lips moving fervently together, Hitomi found that she already had. Mind, body, and spirit.