*********************************************
The Vision of Escaflowne: A Return to Gaea
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Part Eight -- This Hallowed House


What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.
Quick now, here, now, always-
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of things shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.
T.S. Eliot


****

The thing about flying was that you shouldn't over think it. In the
air, Van's wings instinctively knew what to do the way his lungs
automatically knew how to breathe; his conscious mind would only
mess things up if it tried to take charge. So Van didn't really bother
paying attention to the details involved in keeping himself aloft, just on
traveling fast and steady on course.

/"I don't understand," Hitomi had said. "Couldn't Sarine just refuse
to marry Van?"

"Ah, for the ignorance of the liberated woman. Hitomi-chan,
whether or not she *wants* to get married has very little influence on
whether Sarine will or will not do so."

"Oh..."/

He tried to stay as close to cloud level as he could to avoid
detection, but the air was thin up there, and cold. He rode lower drafts
when his wings started to stiffen and his vision blurred. He used to
have dreams about flying as high as he could, trying to reach the part
of the sky where he'd be able to see blue, only pure blue everywhere.
He would wake up frustrated and vaguely lonely because that blue
was unreachable, even in dreams. The sky here was pale and wintry.
There wasn't even any blue to aim for.

/"So a distraction has been provided," Myra had continued. "In
order to give you both time to escape."

"A distraction?"

"A perfectly willing distraction."

"What?"

A steady drumming. The door opened, a young Draconian looking
earnest, breathing hard.

"Myra-sama! Humans have been detected in the Northern cliffs!"

A nod from Myra. "Has reconnaissance been dispatched?"

"Yes, Myra-sama."

"Good. I will be in the main hall shortly to deal with this crisis."

"Yes, Myra-sama." The door closed.

"A *willing* distraction?" Hitomi had bristled with suspicion.

"Consenting and perfectly safe. A spell has been put on the cave to
prevent the Draconians from detecting anything more than their
presence, and they will be teleported away as soon as Van and
yourself leave Icarus."

"About that..."/

Hitomi had told him to flex his fingers and toes as much as possible
while he flew which he had done faithfully at the start but less so now,
as it was beginning to hurt. His wings worried him more. They were
beginning to protest every cadence of flight. Barely more than skin and
bone, the feathers could provide only so much insulation against the
cold.

/"Not together?" Sarine this time, incredulous.

"No. She'll go to her home and I'll go to mine."

"But what's the point? What's the point of *anything* if you don't-"

"The *point*," Van had said with a ferocity he was trying to make
himself feel. "Is that Hitomi will be safe and things will go back to the
way they're supposed to be."

Hitomi eyes had been fixed on the floor./

He could see the sea a fair ways off, opaquely black and rippling,
like volcanic rock. How many wingbeats would it take to reach that
sea? How many to reach Allen flying over it?

/"Besides," Myra had added, trying to dispel some of the tension.
"Since Van undoubtedly sent for reinforcements, it makes more sense
for him to go and meet them while you and I just use an energist to
send Hitomi home."/

Thinking too much about anything wasn't a good idea. He had been
drifting down to nearly glacier level while he calculated.

/"How?" Hitomi had asked softly.

"What?"

"How can Van meet them in time?"

"Think a minute. He *is* half-Draconian."

Hitomi had nearly smiled, painfully enough to break Van a million
times over. "So he is."/

Van took a deep breath that hurt his lungs, and shot upwards
towards the clouds as his wings screamed.

*****

Hitomi was fidgeting. She sat on the bed, Myra watching her from
the windowsill, waiting for Sarine to fetch an energist and come back,
and fidgeted. She fidgeted in the way her mother would bustle around
the house smoothing nonexistent creases in the couch and organizing
the bookshelves while her father trailing behind asking, "Why are you
angry?" and her mother would say, "I'm *not* angry" in a high, tight
voice, and continue bustling.

As he had flown away, Van had looked so insubstantial, just
something that could be tossed around by the wind. She wouldn't see
him again; she wouldn't even really know if he was okay, except for
some gut reassurance that Van would always be okay because of who
he was and her love for him. He had been through much worse, after
all.

Although he hadn't been alone then.

It made her angry, somehow, that all that mattered to him was that
she would be safe, even though all that mattered to her was that he
was. In the past few days, the two of them had come to the unspoken
understanding that all they really needed at this point was for each of
them to be safe, separate but secure in their own lives. Personal
fulfillment was secondary to survival; if Van could live and be happy,
it wouldn't be so terrible that Hitomi wouldn't be a part of that
happiness. She understood that now.

She thought she understood it, anyway.

Maybe, if Hitomi asked, Myra would find a way to tell her if Van
made it back to Fanelia.

"He's got a lot of his father in him," Myra said, interrupting her
thoughts. "And a lot of his mother too. You couldn't ask to meet two
more stubborn people. He'll be okay."

Hitomi nodded.

Myra hopped off the sill and plopped down on the bed by Hitomi.
The gesture was familiar, casual. There was no real reason for it not to
be, all things considered.

"I want to thank you," Hitomi said slowly. "For all your help. If
you weren't on our side-"

"I am very much the wrong person to thank." Myra looked at her
own hands for a moment, then at Hitomi. As if coming to a decision,
she laid a hand protectively against the girl's stomach.

"Besides," Myra said. "Draconians take care of their own."

The idea was so staggering, so huge, it weighed everything down
until it all clicked into place. It almost made this chapter of her life
make sense, if only almost.

Sarine dashed in, slamming the door behind her and panting. "Got
it," she said, delighted by her own naughtiness, and took a small green
energist out from somewhere in the vicinity of her bodice. "It was
tricky. I had to sneak past some guards, make some illusions. Don't
think I was spotted, though. Here you go, Hitomi."

Hitomi took it, rolling it between her hands. This one was so small.
It looked almost like a marble, and Hitomi thought about the
difference between ordinary and extraordinary things and how maybe
it was all a matter of what you thought something was capable of.

"Thank you," she told Sarine. She stood up, took a few steps away
from the bed, looked back at Myra. "Thank you both."

Sarine smiled, still a little breathless. "I'm glad I got a chance to
meet you, Hitomi."

Hitomi smiled back, as much as she could. She closed her eyes.

For a moment, the room filled with light, frenetic, unstable light
like a magnified spark. It hurt, and Hitomi dropped the energist with a
surprised cry. Except for that, nothing had changed.

Myra and Sarine exchanged dismayed glances.

"What... What happened?" Hitomi asked, a little breathless herself
now.

"It's not the energist," Sarine said, preemptively. "It might be small,
but it's powerful enough for transportation."

Hitomi picked it up, part of her surprised that it wasn't any warmer
than before she had dropped it. "Then... I must not know how to use
it. Can one of you take it? Send me home?"

The two Draconians looked at each other again, conveying a
specially coded message that annoyed Hitomi because this whole thing
was starting to panic her.

"Well..." Myra said, carefully. "I don't think we can. You figured a
lot of this out yourself, Hitomi. I think you know why it won't work."

Hitomi looked out the window, out at ice and snow that had
swallowed Van, and forced herself to think.

"Is...is it because even after everything... I still don't *want* to
leave?"

"And Van doesn't really want you to leave either. Those seem like
the most logical explanations."

"That's...that's just stupid!" Hitomi nearly threw the energist at the
wall but wasn't quite angry enough, so she threw it on the bed and sat
down next to it. It felt perversely pleasing to be upset. "Of course we
don't *want* this! But we know that this is the right thing to do!
We're being mature!"

"You are, you are. But that's just not how things work here."

Hitomi cradled her head in her hands. "So what am I suppose to
do? You can't help wanting something, even if you know you
shouldn't."

Sarine looked like she wanted to move towards her for a moment,
sit next to her or something, and though Hitomi was grateful for the
sentiment she was still oddly glad the girl didn't go through with it.
She wasn't in the mood for comfort, especially from someone who
probably didn't know how to give it well.

She couldn't do this. This wasn't a fair thing to be asked to do.

Sarine looked at her mother again, for guidance, but Myra was
studying Hitomi although not seemingly inclined to speak herself.
Sarine took a deep breath.

"I don't think we really know," she said, not particularly tactful, but
Hitomi wasn't in the mood for tact either. "And even if we did, telling
you wouldn't help. I think it's something you have to work out for
yourself. But don't worry, we have some time. So we'll just wait."

*****

Van was losing altitude. Not even very gradually -- he would
swerve down for a few strokes, realize it, and fight his way back up,
but the overall affect was a distinct loss of height. Sometime during
the last few hours the distance between him and the ground had come
to symbolize a kind of security, and the forfeited space made him
uneasy.

The cold wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the wind. He had
gotten as used to the temperature as he was likely to get, but then the
wind would blast, blowing him back or down or to the side, and it
would be too cold to even breathe until it was over.

Recovering from the wind was also taking longer and longer, and
Van realized that he was tiring. He didn't have much time to spare, but
it was foolish to pretend stamina was limitless, and it was better to
stop now, while he was over land, than fall into the water.

He swooped down, and saw an outcropping of rock that might
provide some shelter from the wind. He landed, skittering a little as he
found his balance and his footing. Van sat, hugging his knees to his
chest and folding his wings around him like a canopy. He was shaking.

He could do this. He could do this because it was the right thing to
do, and Hitomi would be safe and happy and that's all that mattered,
and so he would find his way home.

His home that was not her home, and would never be.

In his exhaustion and in a land that only tolerated what was in its
most exact form, Van let that hurt.

Because they didn't belong together and they didn't really belong
apart either. Right now, Van felt like the only thing that had ever
existed, and it was unbearable.

It *could not be borne*. Life simply could not continue this way.
Miles away, inside a stone castle, Hitomi had not long since reached
the same conclusion.

And for whatever else may be said about it, life is nothing if not
about adaptation.

Van couldn't say what made him look up, but he opened the curtain
of his wings a fraction.

Hitomi was there.

She was clearly in the same room he had left her, he could see the
stone walls, the furniture. The sky had opened up directly in front of
him to where she was, framing her with glowing light. She blinked,
surprised, so she must have been able to see him too.

Then she smiled, slowly, and it was a smile that had enough love
for the whole world, but it was all for him.

Walking to her, his wings folded behind him, Van could feel
himself smiling in return.

They met right at the very edge of the rift, and held each other. The
world changed, shifted, poured darkness out of somewhere and left
nothing where it had been.

And then, just as quickly it was over.

The wind still roared around him, but Van barely registered the
cold. He flexed his fingers and his wings, and took off, feeling as if he
could fly for miles.

*****

Sarine was leaning against the wall, playing with a strand of hair,
when she noticed a flicker of movement from the bed. Hitomi had
gotten up and walked forward a little. Her eyes were wide and
unfocused, and Sarine began to worry, but then they closed again, and
Hitomi relaxed, some underlying tension evaporating.

She opened her eyes again and looked at the Draconians, peaceful
as Sarine had always imagined the Buddha statues her mother
sometimes told her about when she returned from a trip to Earth.

"Okay," Hitomi said. "I'm ready to go home."

*****

Years and years later, educated men would debate whether what
was presented in the Crusade that night was the masterwork of a
brilliant leader or the delirious rambling of a half-frozen man; and the
cynics would claim they were one in the same.

"That's the thing, you see, they don't have rivers. So we'll give
them rivers, except they'll be rivers of *steel*!"

"Gadeth, be so kind as to se if there are any other blankets hiding
somewhere onboard, if you please?"

"I don't need any more blankets," Van said irritably from the
cocoon of bedding that had been piled on to- of him since he had
landed on-deck, ordered them to turn around *immediately* -- no use
waiting for Hitomi -- and collapsed. They had taken him to the engine
room, which was the only place on the ship guaranteed to be warm,
and now Van had to strain what was left of his voice to be heard over
the drone of machinery.

"It couldn't hurt, Van," Allen said, gently enough.

"Maybe not. But listen! We'll pay Daedalus to melt its guymelefs
down."

"Of course we will."

"Don't humor me! Fanelia and Asturia and anyone else who wants
to get in the act will pay for every guymelef they melt. It's not a lasting
solution, but Daedalus can use all the money and the metal to build!
Farming equipment!"

"That's a lot of pitchforks, Van."

"No - big things. Big metal things that have spiky bits at the end.
You sit in them."

"Oh, naturally."

"You're still humoring me! I'll ask Hitomi about them. Maybe
Dryden will help."

"About Hitomi-"

"See, Daedalus has always exported! And the problem isn't that
they ran out of ore! So they'll build the machines and sell them, and
maybe in a few years of being supported by farming in a way they
might not mind doing it themselves if they ever do run out of raw
material. I'm thirsty."

"We'll get you some water."

"And I need to talk to Ren."

"I don't think anyone by that name's onboard."

"So the Daedalans will also build ships so the emphasis can be
switched from others importing to them exporting and - I think my
legs are on fire."

"That just means you're going to be all right."

Van was all right in the end, although his wings would remain too
inflexible for proper use and the tips of his fingers would suffer near
total numbness for the rest of his life. The latter would have been
crippling to a master swordsman, and Van would tell very few people
his own technique was barely affected. No one at all would be told
about his wings.

Perione and a few other court officials would notice that the king
never lapsed into one of his strange fits again, although he now would
always sleep like the dead, which they would assume was a new
manifestation of old stress.

The Crusade docked on the flag ship of Dryden's fleet as they had
received notice to do on the way back to Daedalus. Apparently the
Princess Sarine had not sent word since setting out, and the court was
in something of a panic. Van's and Allen's entourages were able to
sneak aboard Dryden's ships with relatively little trouble. The fleet met
The Crusade about halfway, and Celena, pale, thin figure with skirts
fluttering out like foam on breakers seen from the porthole of the ship,
was there to meet it when it landed.

"Oniisama!" She launched herself at Allen before he could descend
the gangplank, throwing her arms around his neck. "Oniisama, you're
back. Thank goodness. Oh, thank goodness, Oniisama."

Allen smiled, a smile for himself, not because a smile seemed the
appropriate thing for the time, and his loved ones could claim to have
seen only a few lovelier sights. He stroked his sister's hair. "I missed
you too, Celena."

Over his shoulder, Celena could see Van making his way towards
them at a stiff, unsteady hobble, like an old man, but all in one piece.
She slid off of Allen to lead Van gently by the elbow into the living
quarters of the freighter. Van let her.

"So you're all right, then?" she asked cautiously.

"Fine."

"And...Hitomi?"

Van didn't answer. She glanced at Allen, who shook his head
slightly.

"Oh," she said. There would be time for details later, for
explanations. Right now there was only the knowledge of what *not*
to say, and an overwhelming, inadequate regret. "Oh, Van."

He looked at her, focusing on her like he had just woken up. "I'm
fine, Celena." Almost as if he meant it.

She patted his hand, and something glinted in the torchlight.

Allen stopped dead in his tracks. He grabbed her by the wrist. And
stared at a plain silver ring on her index finger.

Celena let go of Van completely. The king stumbled, unnoticed.

"Oniisama..." Anything she had to say withered under the force of
that stare.

For a moment Allen's face was blank, unregistering. Then it melted
into an expression of abject horror for a short moment before it
resettled into steeled fanaticism.

He released her hand and clutched the hilt of his sword. "Where is
he?"

"Oniisama-"

"Where. Is. He?"

"Oniisama, I can explain-"

"Dryden Fassa!" Allen bellowed, pivoting around on his heel and
marching away. "Where are you? Come and face me like a man, you
lecherous coward!"

"Oniisama! Wait! Please don't do anything rash!" She skittered
after him, her voice growing more desperate the farther it was away.
"Oniisama!"

Van watched them go, then leaned back against the wall with a
sigh. He closed his eyes and raised his head, as if towards the sun. He
was awfully tired.

"Van-sama?" Spoken by a brown head peaking around the corner
as if it weren't quite sure.

Van opened his eyes, weary but serene. "Ren. Come here. Sit
down."

Ren did so, shyly. Van slid the rest of the way down the wall so
they were more or less on an even level.

"Thanks for coming to meet me, Ren. I've been needing to talk to
you."

Ren was curled up tightly, the heel of one foot kicking the wall
behind it in a senseless rhythm. "I'm sorry, Van-sama! I'll accept my
punishment and I'm sorry!"

Van leaned away from the wall, surprised. "What are you sorry
for?"

Ren scrubbed his eyes with the back of his hand, more a warning
against any potential tears than a reaction to existing ones. "For telling
Celena-san where you were, so they could go and get you. It was me
who did that. I'm sorry."

"Ren," Van said gently, that kind of gentleness that wants to
convey subtler notes but doesn't have the capability. "I'm not going to
punish you. You didn't do anything wrong. If Allen's ship hadn't
reached me when it had, I might have died. If anything, I am in you
debt, Lewilren Yarda.

The words rattled around in Ren's head, dissonant and brilliant.
"...Really?"

"Yes."

Ren relaxed out of his huddle, mostly because he was too stunned
to remember to stay curled up. "Okay."

Van closed his eyes. "Ren, how much do you know about where I
was?"

Ren hesitated, and Van opened one eye, a reverse wink. It was
friendly, somehow, and Ren answered. "It's cold. Cold and...lonely."

The king nodded. "You're right, it is. There are people there who
are very cold and very lonely, but they've been alone for so long that
they don't even know how to go about *not* being lonely. I want to
help them. I think you can, if you're willing."

Ren had to crane his neck up to look at him even though they were
both sitting down. He was so young, and for a moment Van had
second thoughts, but then Ren said, "I don't see how I can make
anyone know how not to be lonely, Van-sama."

"That's why you can. See, Ren, part of the reason they're lonely is
because they have power. Like you do."

Ren sucked in a deep breath, contemplating this.

Van turned to face him. "Ren, how would you like to leave Fanelia
to go north? Far north."

"Van-sama?"

"You don't have to, of course, if you don't want to. I'm not in any
way forcing you to go. I'd bet you would be very valuable to my court
in a few years time. But what do you think of living with the
Draconians for a few years? You'll learn about them, and they'll teach
you all about your... talent. It's nothing unusual to them at all. And
they'll learn about *you*, about humans." He was aware that he was
drifting, talking less to Ren than to history, maybe, or his conscience,
but Ren was staring at him, fascinated anyway. "They're like parents,
our parents. They love us but they don't understand us, and you could
help them understand. And then, after you come back, you can teach
*us* about *them*, sort of pave the way for them to come back so
they won't have to be lonely."

And Ren, somehow, didn't look overwhelmed or frightened or even
hurt, just thoughtful in a not particularly cerebral way, more like an
artist studying the play of light and shadow. "Will I like them?"

"The Draconians? I think you will. A few of them, certainly.
There's a woman named Myra who you'll probably like a lot. And a
lady named Sarine. I think you two would have a lot in common."

"If I go, I would miss everyone in the castle."

"They would miss you too."

Ren gave him a look, a muted version of the glare adults get when
they don't understand and cover it up with platitudes. "Not all that
much, Van-sama."

He didn't know exactly how Ren worked, but he figured that some
things the boy just knew, so he just nodded.

It probably wasn't right, to send a kid to do what was by all rights
his responsibility, but it felt like the right thing to do. Ren was young,
but that meant he hadn't had enough time to develop conflicts to his
purpose. His burden was what would help him find the place where he
most belonged. This felt like symmetry.

Ren toyed with the cuff of his trousers before remembering he was
next to his king and sitting up properly. It was warm in the corridor,
and they rested together in silence, enjoying the the brief lull between
ending and beginning.

*****

"Are you going to keep it?" Niabi asked.

Hitomi shrugged into her coffee, making little half-moon imprints
in the styrofoam cup with her nails. "Yeah, I think so."

"But-" Niabi looked around the cafeteria and lowered her voice.
"But... god. You know how hard.... man, Hitomi."

"I don't feel like I really have a choice here, you know?" Hitomi
touched the curve of her lower abdomen, gently. "Besides, I want it.
This feels right."

Niabi sighed, shaking her head. "What about school?"

"I'm not going to drop out. Maybe I'll go part time or something.
Get a job. I still want to have a real career, though."

"Have you told your parents?"

"Not yet. I'll call them tonight. I'm pretty sure my mom at least will
be supportive, so that's okay."

"That's good. You won't have to be alone."

Hitomi nodded. "No, I'm not alone."

Niabi smiled weakly and touched Hitomi's hand. "What are you
going to tell people about the father?"

"I don't know. It doesn't really matter - I'm not going to be alone.
Don't look at me as if I just told you I'm dying, Niabi. This is...
inconvenient, and I know it'll be hard, but I'm happy. This is a good
thing."

"It's not that I doubt you," Niabi said - despite honest logic -
doubtfully. "If anyone can raise a kid by themselves, you can do it.
Just... Hitomi... you know that it would be wrong to have a baby just
to have some sort of link to its father, don't you?"

"It's not about staying close to Van. I don't need a baby for that.
I...I just know I'll love my baby so much, and that it'll be such a good
person. I love this baby already. This just feels *right*."

Niabi sank into her seat, shaking her head but with more
resignation than disappointment. "So... any premonitions if it'll be a
boy or a girl?"

Hitomi took a sip of coffee with a funny, peaceful sort of smile.
"No. None at all."

*****

As Allen had predicted in part of his infamous week-long lecture to
Celena about why what she and Dryden had done was very, very
wrong, the impromptu wedding of the future king's sister was fodder
for months of rumors and gossip. In such matters, however, rank can
often outweigh deed, and the scandal the two newlyweds caused was
nothing compared to Eries refusal to wear the traditional royal
Asturian wedding gown. The dress was a relic of misfortune, and she
wanted her union with Allen to be the beginning of a new and joyous
age. The princess stood firm, a new gown was commissioned and
Celena and Dryden escaped the brunt of aristocratic derision.

The wedding day was beautiful, the sun shining off the water like a
new source of light, or a blessing.

"They deserve every happiness they get," Van said to Celena,
watching the royal couple lead the first dance of the celebration
following the ceremony. They were being inconspicious together at
the edge of the white canopy the size of a field, festooned with
traditional Asturian flowers where the important people took part in
the festivities. Smaller clusters of people, of course, were celebrating
in their own way throughout the streets of Asturia.

"I'm so happy. For both of them," Celena said with a little sigh.
"They look beautiful together, don't they?"

Van nodded. "They're a good couple."

Celena fiddled with her glass. "Yes... they deserve each other, and I
love them both very much but they're not... Van, are you *really* all
right? I know you try hard to be strong, but you... anyone who saw
you together with Hitomi..."

"Millerna's flirting with your husband," Van said, staring at the
crowd with a tilted head.

"Your attempts to distract me notwithstanding, you and Hitomi
had something that was more than anything I've ever seen, and it's just
hard to believe you're really fine now that she's gone. So, Van-"

Van put a hand on her shoulder, smiling, amused. "We did have
something, and I really am fine. You don't have to worry about me,
Celena."

She searched his face and only saw the simple contentment he was
claiming to feel.

"And Millerna's resting her hand on Dryden's arm," Van reported.
"Giggling."

"I'll be off, then."

****

Festivities ran late. Van had expected them to, and resigned himself
to going to bed only when the moon was nearly setting and the sky
was grey with incoming blue.

Fortunately all the partying had made him tired, and he fell asleep
almost as soon as he hit the bedroll.

And then woke up again, this time to sunlight.

Hitomi wasn't beside him in the bed, so he swung his legs over the
sides and left the room, toes curling on the plank floor.

He found her in the place she called the living room. She was
humming to herself, sprawled out on the couch, all comfortable grace.
At his footsteps, she stopped humming, but only to smile and bounce
up to greet him.

They kissed, and drew back to talk, still holding hands.

"Did I keep you waiting long?"

"Oh no, I was up late studying, anyway. I just got here a little while
ago. But that doesn't matter -- today was Allen-san's wedding, wasn't
it?"

"It was."

"Did it go well? Did they seem happy? You have to describe
everything about it to me."

"I will." Their fingers intertwined. "How are you?"

She rolled her eyes at him, affectionately. "I'm fine, Van."

"Have you felt the baby yet?"

"Van, I've been pregnant for only over a month," she told him,
again. "The baby isn't big enough for me to feel it."

"Can I try?"

Hitomi nodded, smiling.

Van lowered himself to his knees in front of her, slowly, and put a
hand to her stomach with infinite gentleness, as if she was something
that might break. Just as carefully, he leaned the side of his head to
rest against her abdomen, closing his eyes.

Hitomi ran her fingers through his hair, just letting him hear and
feel like they had all the time the world could give them.

And in a way they did. When they had found each other they had
found this place that Folken had first shown Van, this house, that was
nowhere and all theirs. They would meet here every night in their
sleep, as each others dreams, but a dream as real as everything else
between them. No one could take this away from them, and it would
always be so.

It wasn't what either of them had asked for. It was both more and
less, but it would be enough and, in that, it was wonderful.

"Do you hear anything?" Hitomi asked.

"It sounds like the ocean," Van said. "It sounds like us."

Hitomi smiled and closed her eyes, too. Through the window, the
endless summer sunlight shone down.


The End