Here we go. The last chapter of Stay With Me. The song, "Here Without You" by 3 Doors Down, is not only one of my favorite songs, but it is also the song that inspired me to write this fanfiction in the first place. I had just finished watching the anime, and I thought that "Here Without You" really captured how Van and Hitomi must feel once Hitomi returned to Earth.
I am very happy and a little sad to finally finish this story. I've worked on this for three, probably almost four, years now. It was quite an undertaking, and since I have a horrible habit of rarely finishing anything I start, and I proud to say that Stay With Me is officially completed.
Thank you so much for reading, reviewing, and encouraging me throughout this time!
Disclaimer: I do not own The Vision of Escaflowne or "Here Without You."
Everything I know
And anywhere I go,
It gets hard but it won't take away my love
And when the last one falls
When it's all said and done,
It gets hard but it won't take away my love
— "Here Without You" by 3 Doors Down
They walked in silence, side by side, the tension and uncertainty suddenly mounting until the air was thick with it, and Hitomi struggled to take a breath. They moved through the emerald forest, and still Van did not say a word. Instead, he looped around until they entered the clearing from the opposite side. Evening had flooded the grass, tinting the memorial a soft blue, and it was quiet and empty.
Van stepped away from her, out into the middle of the glade with his back facing her. Hitomi waited. His shoulders tensed.
"Hitomi," he said, the syllables falling slowly from his mouth, like three lovely white feathers twirling gracefully in the air. "Do you remember when I fought Allen?" he asked.
He did not wait for her to answer, but instead plunged on. "You stopped me, and we argued." He sucked in a deep breath. "I think you didn't know I could still hear you. You started to think out loud and you said . . ."
Hitomi felt her face burning. Van turned around, his eyes trained on the ground.
"You said you loved me," he breathed. "And I—I can only hope that you still do. Because—" Van swallowed with difficulty. His whole body shook. "Because I love you, Hitomi, and I want—I want you to stay with me."
By the end, his voice vanished to a soothing murmur.
Hitomi drew in a shuddering, happy breath at his declaration. But she could taste the sour flavor of piscus on her tongue again, and Hitomi asked slowly, "What do you mean, Van?"
Van's hand clenched, and his eyes flashed with conviction. He lifted his gaze to her face, and the maroon irises burned.
"I want—I want you to marry me."
Hitomi stood, stunned. The world seemed to pause as they stared at each other. Blood thundered in her ears, and she could not believe that he had actually said it. That he had actually proposed to her.
Hitomi ducked her head and smiled shyly at him.
"Yes, Van. Yes, I'll marry you."
Hiko pulled the bills out of his wallet and paid the woman at the counter, then took his coffee and Aiko's lemonade into his hands. The little girl tugged at his arm, reaching for her drink.
He handed it to her with a smile. "I'll get the straws if you'll find us a table."
Aiko nodded then turned to head into the sitting section of the coffee shop. Hiko moved to the island and reached for napkins and straws. He watched Aiko out of the corner of his eye. The little girl walked confidently forward, making a beeline for a little table in the corner. As Aiko stepped out, a woman with long brown hair moved up the aisle, completely engrossed in the magazine in her hand. A jolt shot through Hiko—the woman was going to run into Aiko! He left his coffee at the island and rushed toward his niece.
"Aiko!" he called. The little girl stopped and turned. The woman looked up, saw Aiko, and sidestepped quickly, falling forward slightly to avoid hitting her. Aiko ducked out of the way and scampered to the side. The woman gripped Hiko's forearm to steady herself, and her coffee flew from her cup and splashed all over Hiko's shirt.
Her blue eyes widened. "Oh, I'm so sorry!" she exclaimed. She reached for napkins and started dabbing at the stain, fussing over his shirt. He chuckled and took some of the napkins from her. The woman crouched in front of Aiko, concern creasing her lovely face.
"Are you all right, sweetheart? I'm very sorry. Did I hurt you?"
Aiko shook her head, eyes wide. The woman straightened and started apologizing frantically to Hiko again.
"It's all right," Hiko said, still laughing under his breath. He dabbed at the splash, then looked up into the woman's face. He started, shocked.
Her eyes were a different color, but the face and the hair—even the voice, too—were exactly the same. Hiko had seen the stark similarity between Amano and Allen, but he had not expected to find anyone else from Earth who mirrored the inhabitants of Gaea. Or was it that Gaea paralleled Earth?
Hiko shook his head. The woman looked like Kanta.
She was still frowning, tugging on a strand of her rich brown hair, and assessing the stain on his shirt. Hiko smiled at her.
"It's all right, really. I'm Hiko Munama, and this is my niece, Aiko. Perhaps I can buy you another cup of coffee?"
The woman looked up at his face, glanced at Aiko, and smiled warmly at the little girl. Aiko grinned back. She nodded, blushing a little. "I should be the one buying you a new shirt. But coffee would be very kind of you," she said.
With a soft clink, Celena lifted her cup of tea from the saucer and sipped the fragrant liquid. She stared at the woman sitting across from her and wondered why the second princess of Asturia was always so rigid.
Eries had invited Celena and her brother for tea, and although Allen had started at the invitation—Celena saw his eyebrows go up when he read the message, and he only did that when he was surprised by something—they had accepted. Allen sat beside his sister, politely continuing the conversation while Celena quietly sipped at her tea. She was unsure how to behave around this princess. With Millerna, conversation was always relaxed and friendly. But Eries never seemed to be relaxed.
The light from the window caught on the pale strands of hair that fell gracefully over Eries's forehead. Celena watched curiously as the golden metal around her ears gleamed. She was dignified and strong, even as she gracefully poured Allen more tea.
Strong. Yes, that was the right word. And proud.
Celena glanced at her brother. They were a lot alike, Eries and Allen. Both proud, both strong, both willing to do anything for Asturia.
She had seen Van and Hitomi look at each other lovingly at their wedding. She would like to see her own brother so happy, so perfectly at ease with someone, and since he and Eries were so similar . . .
Allen felt Celena's eyes on him, and he looked down at her. She was smiling, a quiet, suggestive smile, and Allen's heart lifted at the innocence that shone through her blue eyes. She started to speak to Eries, nervously at first, but then her voice grew in strength, and Allen nearly dropped his teacup when he realized that she was talking about him, that she was describing his strengths and kindness to Eries.
"Brother makes sure everything I need is taken care of," Celena continued. "He is an excellent person."
Eries nodded slowly. "Yes. Allen is a very honorable man."
Allen stared at the princess. To his surprise, there was not any sarcasm or disdain in her tone. She was completely serious. He had not expected a compliment like that to come from her.
"You and Allen should spend more time together," Celena suggested with a smile. "I think you would get along really well."
Eries cast her gaze down to her tea, and she fidgeted in her seat. Allen tilted his head. Was the most dignified princess in Asturia actually flustered?
"That is certainly an idea worth pursuing, Celena," he replied, a whole horizon of possibilities unfolding in his mind.
The Mystic Moon hung brilliantly in the sky, and the sun's rays beat upon his tan skin as Van lifted his face to the clear blue sky. He breathed deeply until the scent of Fanelia's fields mingled with his blood. Van exhaled happily. He loved his country.
Running footsteps caught his attention, and he suddenly remembered the watch in his hand. Hitomi came pounding past, eventually pulling to a stop. She turned and approached him, breathing heavily with a frustrated expression on her face.
"You forgot to record my time, didn't you?" she puffed.
Van sheepishly handed her Hiko's watch, the numbers still clicking upwards. He had not paid attention and had not pressed the stop button when Hitomi crossed the one-hundred meter marker.
But Hitomi only sighed, pocketed the watch, and rewarded him with a smile. Van reached for her hand, interlaced his fingers with hers, and pulled her close. Together, Van and Hitomi walked through the fields of Fanelia.
Thank you so much for reading and sticking with me through the whole story! My deepest gratitude to you!