AUTHOR'S NOTES: I…am on a GUN×SWORD writing roll, so don't mind me. This simply had to come first.
I own nothing but the random people, like the Top Hat Guy.
The fourteenth of February dawned bright and cool for the people of the Planet of Endless Illusion. For a lot of people, it meant Valentine's Day, a day of flowers, chocolate, romance, and candlelit dinners for two – definitely not your ordinary day. However, the others would rather go on as though Valentine's Day never existed, paying no heed to tradition.
Either they paid no heed to tradition – or they just didn't want to.
Such was the case of the gangly man who leaned against the concrete wall of a nearby inn, his tuxedo tails dancing in the breeze. He stood out from the crowd; not only because of his all-black ensemble, or his matching hat, or even the fact that he was, well, in a tux and yet didn't seem to be hurrying anywhere, but mostly because he was all by himself…which was saying something, as he was quite good-looking, maybe even more so if he gave his smile muscles some exercise. Instead of looking at the passing, grinning and laughing couples, he chose to focus on the cloudless blue sky.
Anyone who knew Van's past would know why he was all alone – and apparently, a passing, dapper young man with a navy top hat and a jeweled cane was not one of them. He removed his hat in greeting and tilted his blond head as though expecting Van to do the same. But he didn't, and the man conceded by replacing his hat, chuckling sheepishly and leaning on his cane.
The man took off his hat again, staring into it as though expecting something to come out, and resorted to playing with it with his free hand as he began talking. "It is a fine day to be out, isn't it?"
Van glanced up at the sky, and scanned the landscape, but said nothing.
"I'm waiting for my girlfriend – Annalie likes to dress up, and she tends to take some time choosing her clothes. But I don't mind; she's always worth the wait, and even if she wore a ragged sack, she would still be the most beautiful woman in the world, with her long, dark brown hair, and her bright blue eyes…oh, by the way, you look all dressed up, if I do say so myself. Are you headed anywhere, by any…"
"You're not?" the blond man repeated, blinking his gray eyes several times. "But…what's with the…tux?"
Once again, not a single word escaped Van's lips, despite the stranger's extremely expectant expression.
"Well…what are you doing here?"
Van just shrugged.
"Are you waiting for someone?" the inquisitive man repeated.
All he got in reply was another shrug. He gazed up at the heavens briefly as though asking the powers above why he was stuck with this silent stranger in the swallowtail suit before digging into his pocket and pulling out a small, pink and red piece of paper. This he thrust toward Van.
"It's…a coupon for a free lunch for two at this café, but unfortunately, my Annalie and I have already made other plans. I asked my friends if they wanted it, but they all turned down the offer, so I decided to give this to the first man I saw who looked like he would need it. Well…now you've got somewhere to go, since this lunch is available only for today and only for a couple – wait, it'll expire by late afternoon, if I'm not mistaken; the time's printed there somewhere. By the way, this café may not be as fancy or as elite as the rest, but it's got great food."
"Oh." He took it, and stared at the lurid pattern of hearts and stripes, which made him blink several times.
Tipping his top hat, the man grinned and said, "Well then, I must be off. We planned to meet at that corner, actually." He gestured towards their chosen location with his cane before adding, "But I thought I'd pass that coupon to you first. Goodbye!"
Van sighed, gazing at the sky again. There were some wispy white clouds now, but they were way up high.
"Helena, what's going on? Where are we?"
"It's the new restaurant my friends were telling me about. Thankfully I managed to get us a reservation in time. The place is pretty new, but a lot of people are lining up for tables. I thought that…well, for a change, we would eat out…"
"You didn't have to…"
"I wanted to, Van. It is our first Valentine's Day together, after all. Come on, I want to warm up inside."
"It was my pleasure…by the way, you look great tonight."
"There you are…I'm so sorry…"
A young girl's voice brought him back to the present. He was no longer standing before a high-class restaurant on a cool night, arm in arm with the woman he loved, but in front of an inn staring down at a girl who stood before him, clutching a small box. The sight of the pigtailed redhead was all too familiar, but the box, wrapped in shiny black wrapper and tied with plain white ribbon, was something he had never seen before, especially not in her hands.
"What's that?" Van asked.
"I saw this little shop inside," Wendy Garret answered, not really answering the question. "And…I remembered it was Valentine's Day…but people don't always have to be…to be…"
She paused, well aware of the fact that she was blushing.
"I got you this," she finally said, holding out the present. "I…hope you like it. I actually didn't know what to get you…"
The ribbon and wrapping paper were off in a flash, along with the box lid. Nestled in the fine, crinkled packaging was something longer than it was wide and as black as its wrapping – a velvet drawstring pouch. Van took it out of the box and turned it over and over in his hand, feeling the soft velvet and the finely braided strings, while Wendy watched him with rapt green eyes.
"It's for the puzzle you're always working on," she quickly said. "But I don't know if it will fit…I guess I forgot to..."
Wendy stopped again, quickly turning away before he could see her cheeks flush again. Still, she glanced over her shoulder to see him dig through his pocket, and bring out the shiny cylindrical gadget, which was instantly slipped into the pouch. Her face lit up, and she just beamed even more when he tugged at the drawstrings and closed it securely; it was a perfect fit.
Van stared at it for a while before putting it back into his pocket. Then he said slowly, "Thanks…Wendy."
She looked down at her shoes, and then faced him, still smiling. "You're welcome…"
He started rooting about in his pockets again. Wendy's grin slipped a few notches. She was almost sure that he wouldn't have anything for her – after all, why would he give her, the girl who tagged along with him whether he liked it or not, anything, let alone on Valentine's Day?
But she was pleasantly surprised to see Van hand her a piece of paper, one that was obviously designed for the occasion.
"Umm…it's something for a free lunch, but it has to be for two people. And…we can only use it today…"
The waiter took one look at the dish now smothered in every available condiment and ran for the nearest restroom.
"Hn?" he muttered, barely looking up from where he seemed hell-bent on emptying an entire bottle of mustard on his food.
"Happy Valentine's Day," said Wendy slowly, a small smile forming on her lips.
He paused to stare at her and nod. For one split second, the girl thought she saw him grin briefly before he spoke.
"Could you pass the ketchup?"
The girl sighed, doing as she was told.