@}----- Burning Down -----{@

Burning Down

An Escaflowne continuation by Sarah-neko

Note: This story is unrelated to the continuity of my major continuation fic, Scars On the Heart. This is a different version of Celena (see, I even spell her name differently *^.^*) and a different Van, Allen, etcetera. It is, however, related to another of my fics, Dryden & Sylvie, presently accessible at http://sarahneko.tripod.com/dryden/fishy.html, but soon to be available through fanfiction.net. If you haven't read Dryden & Sylvie, I suggest that you do so before beginning Burning Down, as there are a few scenes that will make much more sense if you're familiar with the earlier tale of Dryden Fassa and his mermaid. (For example, you will know who Sylvie is and what the hell is going on with her.) I mean, it's not compulsory, but obviously I want everyone to read as much of my fanfic as possible *^.^* Okay - either go read that now, and come back here afterwards, or continue and enjoy the story.

Oh, and if you find a text glitch that says '' or ',' please email me and let me know, so I can fix it up. Peace!

@}----- Escaflowne stands in the shade now, the empty exoskeleton of a dragon god, a war machine that has become a war memorial. The central valley of Fanelia is busy with reconstruction; there is a permanent smell of sawdust in the late summer air that drifts even into the quiet grove of the Fanel family shrine. The temporary shanty-towns are gradually emptying as families become able to move into new houses; diminished families spreading out into echoing new rooms, treading floorboards of pale new wood, arranging raw new furniture and telling themselves that now things will be normal again. No-one will come back to burn them out of house and home. It is time to grow and build again. It is time to resume normal life; to insist upon normal life. The dragon god is sleeping. The fire is banked. @}-----

She sleeps well,' Allen said. She sleeps very well. Not always in her own bed. Should I try to stop her creeping in with me? Do you think that should be discouraged? I don't wish her to get into bad habits, but I think she gets very frightened if she wakes up alone. It can't really do any harm, can it?'

The doctor regarded him gravely over the top of his pince-nez spectacles. If it makes her feel more safe, I'm sure it will do positive good. Does it trouble you, though?'

It's strange,' Allen admitted. I didn't expect her to be so childish. If her idea of seeking comfort is to always crawl into someone's bed' he reddened slightly, and swallowed before continuing, well, what I mean to say is, that's harmless enough at home with family but but it would be terribly easy for someone to take advantage of her. I don't know whether she would understand.'

You don't intend to leave her with strange men unsupervised, surely,' the doctor said blandly. He glanced down at the pages on his desk and made a note. Allen wondered what it said, and whether it was about him.

No, no, obviously not.' The young man looked at his gloves, straightened them at the wrists. Do you think she will always be so dependent on me? I love her dearly, of course, she's the world to me and I will do all I can to protect her, but do you think there will ever be a time when she won't need quite so much protection?'

For now, the only advice I can offer you is to persevere with the routine you have established. Routine will make her feel safe. Be kind to her; encourage her at all times; shield her as much as possible from anything that might worry her. If you wish to proceed from that, give her little challenges, little projects to occupy her time. Talk with her all the time, as you would with a growing child.'

Right,' said Allen, right, of course.' He looked over the table at the notes, wondering if he might unobtrusively be able to read them upside-down. And and how should I talk with a child?' He looked thoroughly worried, as though it had only just occurred to him that there might be a right and wrong way.

I'm sorry,' the doctor murmured, I forgot you don't have children.' He noticed a slight guilty flicker of the young man's eyes, and wondered what that meant. He was so accustomed to observe patients closely that he found himself doing it with everyone he met, but it could be frustrating when, as now, he had very little clue as to what cause the symptoms might denote. Probably it was safe to assume that there was some poor little bastard somewhere, and the young popinjay in front of him was not enough of a bastard himself to be unperturbed by reminders of the fact. The doctor's own views on the propriety of such conduct were more or less unprintable, but he also had a keen sense of the propriety of his situation as a consultant in this case. He would concern himself only with the wellbeing of the rather unfortunate young woman they were discussing. Whether she was also unfortunate in her brother; whether he would display the same lack of responsibility when she and her troubles grew tiresome; these things were not yet his concern. He reminded himself not to purse his lips.

Discuss everyday things with her,' he went on, chat about everything you do. Ask her questions, give her opportunities to contribute, to become interested and involved. Some little thing that she can work on by herself and take pride in, such as a small garden, might be very heartening. Obviously, avoid reminders of her former life if you can. However, try not to make her feel guilty or confused about the matter if she brings it up. Answer her questions as honestly and simply as you can, and remind her that it was not her fault.' He had been over much of this before in previous consultations, but repetition was reassuring.

On a soft chair in the waiting room outside the doctor's office, Celena Schezar sat on her hands, swung her ankles and looked around at the paintings on the walls. She was doing her very best to be good today. She had been good all night, too, at least insofar as good' was staying in her own room and not bothering Allen. Wetting the bed was probably not good but she couldn't help it she was trying to do another good thing and it was just too hard to be good on all fronts at once. When she knew she needed to go she really ought to have gotten up and gone to the bathroom; that was easy to see by daylight but it was so hard to move in the dark. The dark in her room was a special kind, very big and heavy and quiet. It got on top of her. It was quite different from the dark in Allen's room; Allen was properly grown up and could manage the dark. He had it nicely tamed. She didn't need to lie right up close to him any more, if he didn't like that. But when she could hear his steady breathing, her own wasn't such a little sound and little sounds were scarier than big ones, tiny little sounds that got quieter till you were afraid you wouldn't be able to hear them any more, and if you couldn't hear them were they there? You couldn't hear them when you were asleep, so how did you know they kept going? Allen would always keep going. Her breathing would know what to do with its big brother to show it the way. When she could feel his warmth soaking through the sheets good clean dry warmth, not the kind of hot soaking she had managed to give herself last night she knew she wouldn't just keep getting colder.

She had pulled up the sheets this morning. Maybe no-one would notice.

Soaked,' Mrs Rea said, and primmed up her mouth. If this sort of thing is going to go on, sir, it's my belief you should engage a proper nurse, because my girls haven't had the training for it.'

Your girls, I'm sure, know perfectly well how to wash a sheet and air a mattress, Mrs Rea,' Allen said briskly.

It's the thin edge of the wedge,' the housekeeper said portentously. She could go downhill from here.'

It's one wet bed,' he sighed. I'll talk to her. I'm sure it won't happen again.'

Can I grow roses?' Celena asked eagerly. She quartered the little bed the gardener had set aside and weeded over for her with chopping movements of her arms. Red roses here and white roses here and blue roses here and something else over there. I'll think of something later.'

Little pet, there aren't any blue roses and I think they might be a little advanced for you. Why don't we try some small plants like pansies and alyssum, that grow easily?'

All right,' she said, easily enough. Where's the seeds?'

Where are the seeds,' Allen said automatically.

Don't you know? I thought you brought them.' She looked around her vaguely.

You didn't say it quite right, little pet, it should be "where are the seeds," not "where is the seeds."' It was not one of her good days. Still, it was not one of her very bad ones. On a good day, she was lucid; she seemed almost her age. She spoke well and did not make these distressing little lapses in grammar and in spelling, when she wrote. Mindful of the doctor's advice to give her little projects, Allen had suggested that she write a letter to Princess Millerna thanking her for the basket of fruit and flowers she had sent. Leaving her to it for a few minutes while he gave some instructions to the gardener about the plans for Celena's flowerbed, he had come back to find her biting her pen-handle and almost in tears because she could not think how to spell sincerely' when she signed her name.

I know I know!' she'd moaned. I knew yesterday because I read it in a book and I knew it! Why don't I know any more?' But this was still not a bad day. On a bad day she was hard to wake in the morning, had difficulty bringing a spoon to her mouth, stared off into space as though watching some personal vision that she could never explain when he asked her What are you thinking about, little pet?'

He really wondered whether it was sensible to call her that. What if she forgot her proper name, or confused it with the pet-name? Still, he had begun calling her that out of pure affection, and if he stopped now it might hurt her feelings.

We're not using seeds today,' he explained, we have these nice little seedlings started off for us.' He showed her one of the punnets.

I thought I would grow them from the start,' she said, a little wistfully. I like how little seeds have big flowers inside them. However do you suppose they fit?' She held up her finger and thumb, crooked in a circle, and tightened, closed the ring. Down to nothing,' she said dreamily. And out from nothing!'

She crept into his bed again that night, startling him because she came so silently. He tried to conceal his irritation, stroking her rumpled hair as she whispered to him that she thought someone was listening in her room, because it was so quiet. Her hair was humidly warm and her hands when she touched his were moist. It made him worry about fevers; it made him think of damp sheets and cringe. She asked him for a goodnight kiss, and after he dropped one lightly on her forehead, settled at his side and seemed to fall asleep almost at once. It made him deeply uncomfortable that he was even bothered by her sleeping in his bed; it just seemed so inappropriate for brother and sister to share this space, although by definition there could be nothing more innocent.

He was disturbed by the contradiction in her, he supposed. She was a big, healthy girl, tall for her age, even stately if she had known the right way of holding herself. There were times when she came close, when it seemed her mind was growing into her body, and then there were times the doctor had said he could make no prognosis at this stage; the case was simply too unusual. It might be that she would never be normal. It might be that she would always need him.

Perhaps if he got her out of the house and she saw other people, he wouldn't feel quite so alone with her.

On a balmy evening (though the dark was coming down earlier these days) Van Fanel took a lantern and walked to the sacred grove. The central obelisk was a pale finger pointing to heaven, illuminated by such lancing shards of moonlight as were admitted by the grove's canopy. His lantern was a little orange sun visiting the night-time, throwing jiggles of light into the shadows as he walked. Right now, the stonemasons of Fanelia were needed on the construction sites, but when those immediate needs were taken care of, someone would come and add Folken's name to the memorial properly.

Van tried, sometimes, to talk to his family here in the grove, but although he had a feeling of their presence, of their love at one remove, there didn't seem to be anything to say. If they were with him, as he felt them to be, watching over him, there was no need to tell them what he was doing, how hard he was working; they knew. Still, it was important to him to come here, to breathe the air of a place sacred to their memory, and return to them the wordless exhalation of his love and sorrow. I'll be all right without you. I know you would want me to be all right without you. My mother, my father, my brother. Don't worry about me any more.

There was a soft stirring in the bushes to one side, and he turned, expecting to see Merle, or one of the wolf people of the hill tribes coming to pay their respects. The sight of the newcomer sent his hand to his belt, seeking the hilt of his sword, but of course it was not there; he had not quite gone so far as to beat it into a ploughshare, but recent circumstances, and his recent feelings, had led him to leave it at home more and more when he went out of the castle. He had not regretted it until now.

Van?' said the girl stepping into a patch of moonlight. Moonlight became her, akin to the pale ash-blonde of her hair and the weak blue of her eyes. Blonde, not grey; blue, not red. Van found himself staring at her faint night shadow, expecting it to be a different shape.

My name is Celena,' she said haltingly. You know my name is Celena, right? I'm Allen Schezar's sister.' Her voice did not have the pitch of a child's, being low and pleasant, but possessed something of a child's intonation. Its rhythms were not assured; one would almost have said, not fluent.

I know who you're supposed to be,' he said warily. What are you doing back here?'

I came to say sorry,' she said.

I beg your pardon?'

I,' she said, then bit her lip before continuing. I remembered everything Dilandau did I remembered he did awful things. He burned everyone's houses here. My brother showed me where he was in Pallas. We went to the churches where people are staying. I held a baby. A lot of people lost their homes. I know a lot of people are very sad. I came to say I'm very sorry.'

Is she a half-wit? Van wondered. Or did her mind just not grow up with her body? She was a little taller than he was, an impressive figure of a girl. She didn't look half-witted. Her eyes were clear, although her speech was halting. She was well-dressed, in a narrow white dress with blue ribbons at the collar and cuffs, everything about her groomed and tidy. She looked too well put together to be not all there.

You came to say you're sorry,' he repeated slowly. A little ache of anger was beginning at the base of his skull. He knelt down, placing the lantern on the ground, adjusting its cover to let more light out, giving himself something on which to concentrate.

I'm really sorry,' she affirmed seriously.

You're really sorry.' He left a silence, and she rushed to fill it up.

I'm sorry for for the people, I'm sorry their houses got burnt up,' she elaborated. To begin with she had been merely a little hesitant, but she was now looking mildly rattled by his attitude.

Not everyone got out of their houses,' he said flatly. He wound back the cover all the way, looking into the bare bright flame.

I don't, I don't know what happened to everyone,' she began, but he cut her off.

No, you don't, do you? Because you just came charging in and sent the whole place to hell. Did you even see the people? Did you see my people? Were they just moving targets to you? Bugs you could stamp on? Tell me what you saw, Dilandau.'

My name's Celena, I've gone back to Celena,' she murmured. He lunged up, grabbed her right wrist and pulled her down to her knees at his side. Aah!' Her panicky cry irritated him more than all her words. It was so girly.

Shut up,' he said, shut up and listen.' He was edging closer to the level of rage that frightened him, doing his damnedest to contain it. It's not just houses that burned. People burned. Do you know what it's like to burn? Have you tried to imagine?'

Let go my hand,' she whimpered.

Imagine it,' he said. 'Now. You can't get out of your house. You ran in there to be safe, or to check that the children were out, or to get something precious, and now you can't get out. All you can hear is screaming and crashing and roaring and some crazy person laughing, and you think why is he laughing? The air is black and you can't see for tears. Everywhere is getting hotter and brighter and the fire is all around you, eating up the air, eating up the walls and the floor and beams are falling down and you know no-one will be able to rescue you. Are you scared?'

please stop'

No, shut up. It's getting hotter.' He pulled her hand nearer to the flame. You can't breathe. You can't move. You know it's going to happen now. What's going to happen now?'

Her eyes were fixed on his, paralysed, hypnotised. ' she murmured.

You burn,' he agreed, and pulled her hand into the flame. For a moment it felt only like a warm, wet, immaterial tongue licking over the skin, and then it bit, and bit hard. Celena gasped and her whole body twitched, trying to leap away from the pain, but Van held her too tightly, bracing himself against both her impulse and his own. She was getting the worst of it. His hand was protected by a glove.

You burn like this, but it's all over your body, and it goes on and on. Your hair burns and stinks, and your skin fries. Your fat melts. You're dead meat cooking but you're alive to know about it. And you can hear someone laughing.'

With a wail she managed to wrench her hand away from his and stared at the side of it, the meaty blade of the palm that he had forced into the flame. The skin was angry, shiny red, already puffing into a big, watery blister. She gasped again and pressed her hand to her mouth, sucking the abused skin, still staring at him from eyes full of bright tears.

Van looked at his own hand. That was a good pair of gloves ruined. There was a bad smell from the scorched leather. He dragged the glove off and looked at the hand properly; it just looked sunburnt. It would be a little sore, that was all. What a stupid, theatrical sort of thing to do.

You held a baby,' he said. Well, when we were clearing the ruins, I found a baby. A little black charcoal baby with arms and legs like burnt sticks and its mouth stretched open crying. It nearly broke apart when I picked it up. I didn't know if it was a girl or a boy. No-one knew who it was; all the houses had fallen together in that street and we couldn't even be sure what family it belonged to. There were more bodies but that was the first one I found.'

Celena took her hand from her mouth. I'm sorry,' she said, again, her voice throaty with pain and bewilderment. V-very sorry,' cradling her hurt hand with the good one.

Come on,' he said, and caught her arm above the elbow, dragging her to her feet. She was too startled to struggle much as he towed her towards the trees but she protested faintly. The little stream that ran near the grove was easy to find by its rushing murmur; he knew the ground well enough even in the dark, but she slipped and stumbled, turning her ankles in nice little blue boots on dirty loose stones. Van pulled her down to a crouch again and pressed her hand into the cold water.

Now leave it there,' he ordered her. It needs a few minutes. You can't just suck it. You'll make a worse mess.' He was feeling guilty already, even on top of his anger. She obeyed him, holding the scorched hand steadily in the spring-fed stream. It was icy even at noon in midsummer. It must hurt almost as much as the flame.

I'm sorry,' she said, pleadingly.

Stop saying that. It doesn't mean anything to me.'

It means please don't be cross with me!'

I'm not cross with you. It's bigger than cross.'

Be cross with Dilandau!'

Show me Dilandau!' He shook her by the shoulders and she cringed. 'There's just you, isn't there? You know what you are.'

I'm just Celena, I'm just I didn't know! I woke up and it was all like a bad dream! It's all still in my head but it's not me, I'm sorry and Dilandau wasn't sorry, he wasn't ever sorry, he was glad!' She burst into tears properly at last, undignified sobbing. He let go of her, disgusted with both of them, and sat down on the creek bank.

How did you even get here?' he asked wearily. Allen wouldn't have brought you. He'd be keeping you in a gilded cage, wouldn't he?'

H-he gave me pocket money in the bazaar,' Celena said, sniffing and gulping. He said choose things. I got I got red ribbons and a music box and then we went to the churches and I was sorry. I got upset and I ran away, and I threw my ribbons away and I think I dropped the box somewhere. There was a man at the docks with a pretty little fly-boat and I gave him the rest and said take me to Fanelia and he said yes. I came all by myself to say sorry.'

He'll be going crazy,' Van said. You're not safe to be out on your own. You're like a kid. Why would you try to do that? Why couldn't you just stay in your place and not come back here?'

It's not very nice to hurt a kid, then,' Celena said, with the first trace of spirit he had seen in her. I thought I could do things when you knew I was sorry other girls help at the churches and wash things and mind children and I thought maybe you didn't have anyone to do that here.' Defending herself, she seemed a little more coherent.

Charity work,' he said sourly. For a lady.'

I wanted to make it better for what Dilandau did,' she said stubbornly.

You can never make it better,' he said. We're doing that for ourselves. You don't deserve to be allowed to help. What do you think a gussied-up girl like you can do? How are you going to look after children? You can't even use your right hand now. You've gotten off lightly. Taking a ride with a man you didn't even know there are a lot of people who will hurt you just because they can.'

You,' she said.

I can't ever hurt you the way you hurt me.' He regretted saying it immediately; it made him sound like a victim. He wanted to be angry, not hurt. Righteous rage on behalf of his people was one thing; it was too much like defeat to let her see the very personal pain he felt. It gave her an opening. But she said nothing. They fell silent and the creek carried on a conversation by itself, whispering to the trees and chuckling over the stones.

Should I go away again?' she asked after some time.

I can't send you away in the middle of the night,' he said. You can come to the castle tonight. I'll send a message to Allen. He'll come and get you; it should be in the next couple of days. I can put up with you that long. And you need a bandage on your hand.'

It's all right,' she said. I can't feel it any more.'

You will.'

To Be Continued