Don't Worry, Be Happy!

AN: I apologize for the hiatus this story was in. I suffer from a long-term mental illness, and I had a bad relapse. However, I am slowly getting back to functioning. Medications help, but they tend to kill any creative juices. So, once again- apologies! This chapter isn't very well written, but it is long. And there's some VH lime (although badly written) at the end.
Many, many thanks to all my reviewers! Crushinator, Cloudancer, Suils Saifir, Lilypaddies, xEternalxDarknessx, nee, SilverSanctuary, DoofiPhoenix, inupupby5, Revan's split personality, mysisterisasquigum, kerapal bubbles, tear-drowned-angel, kimmi0490, blackvelvet-smile, Crazimani, DolphinWhisperer, Ispano-guymelef, KyriaHitomi, thepinkmartini, and Jaredin Snow!!!!!
Thank you all so much! You've helped me more than you know!

Don't worry, be happy
Cause when you worry your face will frown
And that will bring everybody down
So don't worry, be happy!
(Don't Worry, Be Happy; Bobby McFerrin)

Morning dawned, pale and hazy, over Fanelia's royal gardens. Hitomi stood on her balcony and watched it creep over the grounds with an achy, sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. Time had moved so painfully quickly, and now she was facing a second goodbye to her almost-sister.

She hated it. She hated it.

Selfishly, she wished for a miracle. That Annie would change her mind, and live happily ever after on Gaea. Why couldn't the crazy girl just have fallen in love with someone, Allen, anyone here on Gaea so that she'd want to stay?

Hitomi gave a watery giggle at the fleeting mental image of Annie flinging her arms around Allen and refusing to leave him. As if something like that was even remotely possible...

The double doors to her rooms were suddenly flung open so violently that they banged off the walls, and Hitomi twirled around in alarm.

"...are not unacceptable. Girls wear pants all the time on Earth!" Annie insisted loudly as she marched through the doorway, Merle right behind her.

"Really? Do they also advertise "Farm Fresh Melons" on their breasts as well?" Merle hissed sarcastically, baring her claws.

Annie smiled innocently at her. "Only the ones with something good to advertise. Now you," she eyed Merle's front critically, "could maybe get away with "Farm Fresh Peaches". You're a little small for that, but they'd both be covered in fuzz."

"Excuse me?"

"You heard me, kitty."

Hitomi thought it was high time she jumped in before one of them drew actual blood. "Hey, you two. Isn't it a bit too early to be arguing?"

Annie answered with a definitive "hell, yes" at the same time that Merle growled "Not at all". They glared at each other until Annie broke it off to stomp over and flop herself into the nearest chair.

"I can't believe I'm saying this, but I'm too damn tired to keep fighting," she moaned. "My god, Tomi. Nobody here's ever heard of coffee. Can you believe it? How the hell do they survive??"

Hitomi laughed. "What are you so exhausted for? You didn't go find some shirtless Fanelian man to be really, really nice to, did you?"

"Unfortunately, no. I found a shirtless Austurian man, though."

"Wha-... Allen?" Hitomi gasped, and her eyes grew large enough to nearly pop out of her head. "You didn't! No way!"

Merle sniffed. "I knew you'd have bad taste."

"Hey! He's pretty damn hot, you know! I mean, when he's not wearing that ridiculous uniform," Annie protested sharply, and Hitomi looked like she was going to fall over with shock. Annie rolled her eyes. "Oh, for the love of- before you go passing out, Tomi, nothing happened. I just went to go talk to him, and then Celena... had one of her fits. I just helped calm her down."

"Oh..." Hitomi breathed, but her thoughts whirled crazily. Why had Annie gone to talk to him? And why was Allen shirtless? And why-

A sharp knock on the door interrupted her thoughts, and a young servant entered the room and bowed.

"I am here to escort you to the gardens, my Ladies," he said to Hitomi and Annie, then turned to Merle. "The Chief Designers would like a word with you in the west sitting room, Lady Merle."

"Great," Merle groaned, already heading out the door. She paused briefly to glance back over her shoulder at Annie. "I hope you have a smooth journey home," she said, more graciously than Hitomi would've expected. Annie grinned at her.

"Good luck with the wedding plans. You need it with these two," she replied cheerfully. The cat rolled her eyes before disappearing around the doorway.

Hitomi felt that sick feeling settling into her stomach again, but plastered her best smile onto her face. Annie didn't seem fooled when she linked their arms as they followed the man out of the room.

"I know it sucks, babe. But I've got to go back," she whispered softly, and Hitomi nodded. Her throat was too thick with tears she refused to shed to be able to answer.

The heat of the morning sun hadn't yet burned through the haze hanging in the air, softening the edges of everything and making the world feel not quite real. Van already stood in a small, grassy clearing in the bushes and trees with the same energist that he'd once used to send Hitomi back to the Mystic Moon in his hand.

"Ready?" he asked, a hint of nervous trepidation coloring his voice that he wasn't able to hide. Annie rolled her eyes at him, obviously aware of just why he was nervous, before she gave Hitomi a quick, tight hug and shoved her towards him.

"Annie, wait-" Hitomi protested even as she reached out to take Van's empty hand. Annie merely wrinkled her nose at her.

"Go on, go on. I don't want snot on my shoulder again."

Hitomi laughed weakly just as Allen strode hurriedly into the clearing, looking uncharacteristically grim and disheveled. Annie turned to look at him while Van bent his head to whisper to Hitomi.

"How's Celena?" she asked him quietly. He sighed heavily and ran a hand over his tired face.

"Sleeping, finally. She'll probably rest for most of the day."

She peered at him, a tiny frown marring her forehead. "You should be sleeping, too."

"So should you," he reminded her gently, and she shrugged with a tiny grin.

"Ach, sleep's over-rated. Besides, I'm heading back to civilization in just a few minutes."

Allen frowned and crossed his arms over his chest. "And just what do you mean by heading back to civilization?" he asked irritably.

"Coffee, dude. Earth has coffee. Which automatically makes it about a hundred times more civilized than here," she explained seriously.

"That is completely ridiculous-"

"Going to spend your last few minutes together arguing, eh?" Dryden suddenly piped up, making them both jump when he appeared seemingly out of no where. He gave them a broad, innocent grin. "Now if I didn't know better, I'd swear you two were married."

"Dryden! Come to say goodbye?" Annie exclaimed happily while Allen turned a funny shade of purple and glared at him.

"Actually, I came to beg you to stay," he replied, taking her arm and threading it through his. "This shindig is going to be dreadfully dull without you, my dear."

"Are you kidding? Watching Van and Tomi being forced to be publicly lovey-dovey? Dull would not be how I'd describe that."

"Hey!" Hitomi interjected indignantly.

"Well, there is always that," Dryden conceded. "I supposed I shall just have to console myself with amusement at their expense."

He winked at Annie before cornering the ornery lovebirds to grill them intently on just how they planned on creating a pillar of light. Annie shook her head with a small laugh before turning back to Allen.

"Well, then. I guess this is goodbye," she said after a moment, pasting on a cheerful smile in an attempt to cover the strange awkwardness permeating the air around them. Allen managed to nod stiffly, struggling with himself. She took a deep breath, smiled even brighter than before, and grasped his hand to give it a mighty shake.

"Alright. Goodbye," she said abruptly, and dropped his hand like a heavy weight.

Allen merely stared at her, right past the cheery smile to her deep, liquid brown eyes that told him something else entirely. His hand shot out to grab her arm as she turned away.

"Annie, don't-"

Don't what? Don't forget me? Don't leave me? She blinked at him, her expressive eyes full of swirling emotions he couldn't even begin to comprehend, and his hand dropped away from her arm.

"Thank you for helping my sister," he said stiffly, formally, and she pasted that fake grin back on to her face and nodded.

"My pleasure, Al."

She turned back to face Hitomi and Van before he could say another word, and he balled up his fists and let her go.

"You're not going to drop me in the middle of Uganda or something, are you?" Annie asked Hitomi skeptically. "Not that it wouldn't be interesting and all, but I've had enough of a 'vacation'."

Hitomi forced a smile. "No- we're going to try to send you to Aunt Vera's house. That's okay, right?"

"That's excellent. She makes her coffee the right way."

"What way is that?" Dryden asked curiously.

Annie grinned with a dreamy expression on her face. "Strong enough to chew."

"I pity anyone in that house if she gives you a cup," Allen muttered under his breath, and she shot him a dirty look.

"Okay, so all I've got to do is just stand here and you guys do your voodoo, right?" she asked, turning back to Hitomi and Van yet again.

"That's the theory," Van replied. Next to him, Hitomi swallowed hard and blinked rapidly, trying to force away the tears that were threatening to spill down her cheeks at any moment.

"Annie, I-" she began, but the brunette cut her off with a wild flap of her hands.

"Stop it, Tomi! We've already said goodbye, like, five times!"

Hitomi gave a mighty sniff. "And I know how much you hate goodbyes."

"That's right. So... let's just get it over with, yeah?" Annie said, but the gentle sadness underlying her words took all the harshness out of it. Hitomi nodded.

"Yeah. Ready, Van?"

He nodded back and gave her hand a reassuring squeeze. She wondered fleetingly at the momentary look of relief that slid across his face, but then he raised the energist, and it was time to focus.

All around them, the sounds of morning life in Fanelia began to permeate the peaceful silence. A slight breeze ruffled their hair, and Dryden shifted from foot to foot restlessly. Van lowered the energist and cracked an eye open to look at it.

Annie quirked an eyebrow quizzically. "Uh, guys? Nothing's happening."

"Yes, thank you for pointing that out," Van growled irritably, glaring at the dormant energist like it was one of his councilmen giving him another sex-talk.

Hitomi chewed her bottom lip anxiously. "Maybe if we try the pendant and energist together...?"

"It's worth a shot," Van conceded with a heavy shrug. Hitomi took the thin chain in her hand, dangling the small pink stone in front of her tightly closed eyes and concentrated. Next to her, he did the same.

"Work. Please work. Send Annie home," she murmured pleadingly under her breath.

A moment later, both stones began to glow with a soft, pale light, and the air surrounding them came tinglingly alive with electricity. Hitomi smiled in relief and concentrated harder. The tingling intensified.


Hitomi and Van's eyes flew open at the sharp, echoing sound resounding through the quiet clearing, but Annie was no longer standing in front of them.

"What happened? Where's-" Hitomi began frantically, but a pained groan cut her off.

"Ooow. Shit, Al. You've got a really hard chest."

Shocked, Van, Hitomi, and Dryden turned simultaneously to the sound of Annie's voice, and saw her tangled up with Allen in a very undignified heap on the ground.

"Would you mind getting your elbow out of my ribs and getting off of me?" Allen wheezed out, struggling to catch his breath after apparently having the wind knocked painfully out of him. Annie obediently slid off of him and rubbed her forehead with a grimace.

"What the hell happened?" she asked loudly. "I thought I was on my way home, and suddenly I'm head-butting Al in the chest."

"I... I'm not sure..." Van replied dazedly, scratching his head in confusion as he stared at the two of them. A gasp from Hitomi snapped his head quickly around to look at her.

"The pendant, Van! Look at the pendant!"

The once luminous pink stone was cracked clear through the middle, and it's color was pale and faded. Hurriedly, Van held up the energist only to see the exact same thing. Broken. Useless. Dead.

Hitomi stared at him, her green eyes huge with panic. "What do we do now?"

"Want me to click my heels together three times?" Annie asked before lifting her feet in the air and doing exactly that. "There's no place like home... there's no place like home..."

"Annie, this is serious," Hitomi shrieked. "Don't you get it? We can't send you back! You're stuck here!"

"Well, yeah. But not really stuck, right? We'll just get another one of those energy thingies and try it again. Right? ...Right?"

"It doesn't.... it doesn't really work that way," Van stated, but his usually firm voice sounded uncertain. "It's only ever worked with one of these two, but now..."

"Oh," Annie breathed out. "Well, that... sucks."

"Annie, I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry! I never thought that you'd... that we couldn't... How could this have happened?" Hitomi half-whispered despairingly, staring at the cracked pendant.

"Now, hold on a minute and let's all just think this over rationally," said Dryden as Allen stood up and dusted off his somewhat rumpled uniform. He reflected that it got like that with alarming frequency around Annie as he offered a hand to help her up. Surprisingly, she took it.

"Dryden's right. There has to be another way to call the light pillar," he stated confidently as he pulled her to her feet.

Van was unconvinced, but the hopeful light sparking in Hitomi's eyes made him nod in agreement as he took her hand. "Of course there is another way. We just have to figure it out," he told her reassuringly. The watery smile she gave him was more than reward enough.

"Annie, are you okay?" Allen asked quietly, and she blinked her big, brown eyes at him owlishly.

"Yeah... I'm good. I mean, it's not like I'm going to be stuck here forever or anything. There's probably something I'm supposed to do here, and then poof! I'll be back home again," she said, her natural cheerfulness already swinging back full force. Good gods, it seemed like she was taking it better than Hitomi!

"Hey, think of it this way, Tomi: now I'll be here to see your wedding, just like you wanted!" she told her, linking their arms together.

"Yes, but-"

"Hell, I'm starving. What do you Fanelians eat for breakfast, anyway? Don't tell me it's Yak liver or something," Annie cut in before Hitomi could say more than those two words, already walking back towards the castle.

"Yak liver?" asked Van, confused, as he followed hurriedly after them.

Dryden and Allen remained still and listened to the sound of Annie explaining what a Yak was fading off into the distance. It was only after they could no longer hear her that Allen turned to give Dryden an appraising look.

"You don't honestly believe that there is another way for us to send Annie home, do you?" he asked bluntly.

Dryden shrugged nonchalantly. "How should I know? The world is full of great mysteries. Women, for instance."

"Some more than others," Allen agreed darkly.

"Strange, though, how Annie was sent right to where you were in Austuria, instead of ending up in Fanelia with Hitomi, and then just now..." Dryden mused, stroking the stubble on his chin pensively.

"What do you mean by that?" asked Allen sharply.

"Just thinking out loud, my friend," he replied cheerfully, then gave the knight a hearty slap on the back. "Well, shall we? I can't wait to see the aftermath of this one!"

Frowning, Allen watched the merchant head toward the castle, gleefully rubbing his hands together in anticipation. He followed behind more slowly as he made a valiant effort to process what had just happened.

There was no way he could deny the deep current of joy and relief running through him at the thought that he did not have to face the prospect of Annie leaving, at least for now. But he could rationalize that, explain it away as just wanting her to stay because of his sister. Celena had already made drastic improvements, making more progress in the few days she'd known Annie than she had in almost six years. It was only natural that he wanted her to stay.


But what if... what if his wishing for her to stay on Gaea had, in fact, made her do just that? What if he was responsible for keeping her here?

The thought gnawed at him, almost as much as the fleeting glimpse of disbelieving terror in her eyes at the knowledge that she might never get home did. He swore, right then and there, that no matter what it took, he'd find a way to send her back to her family on the Mystic Moon. And until he did, he would do everything in his power to keep her safe and happy.

Of course, that didn't necessarily include keeping her safe from Merle.

The cat's voice had reached pain-inducing levels by the time he entered the breakfast room, and Annie appeared to be the only person there unfazed by it.

"You broke the light pillar? How did you manage to break it?" Merle screeched, making even Van, who was used to her temper tantrums, wince.

"Guess I'm talented," Annie replied nonchalantly. "Keep a lid on it, will ya, Kitty? I'm trying to eat here."

Merle's tail lashed against her sides and her eyes glittered with dangerous anger. Van raised his hands and tried to placate her before she attacked.

"Merle, calm down. This isn't Annie's fault, and we-"

"I don't care who's fault it is, Lord Van! Oh, gods, what are we going to do? This complicates everything," Merle moaned, sinking into her chair and burying her face in her hands in despair.

"How so?" Annie demanded disinterestedly. "There's going to be so many guests here, it won't be hard for me to blend into the crowd."

"Don't be silly. We can't let you just 'blend in'."

Annie frowned and narrowed her eyes at the cat suspiciously. "What do you mean by that, exactly?"

"Now that you're here, you're going to have to be a part of the ceremonies," Merle stated bluntly, like it was the most obvious conclusion in the world. Annie's chair scraped hard against the floor as she jumped to her feet.

"Wait just a minute, Miss Kitty! I'm not-"

But Merle was already rushing out of the room, muttering under her breath about rearranging seats and bringing in more dressmakers. Annie flung herself down in her chair and stabbed at the food on her plate like it was her mortal enemy- or perhaps a certain feline.

"If that cat thinks she can order me around, she's got another think coming. And maybe a boot up her ass for good measure," she grumbled darkly to herself. "You think it's a bad idea, too, Tomi. Don't you?"

Hitomi looked up at her and blinked in confusion. "I'm sorry... What did you say?" she asked distractedly. Annie just shook her head and mumbled for her to forget it.

Hitomi caught Van's piercingly perceptive gaze and looked away hastily while Eries attempted to start a polite conversation about possible ways of getting Annie back to the Mystic Moon. She wasn't sure if she wanted Van to figure out just what she was thinking about at that moment. She wasn't even sure herself what was going on inside her head.

Part of her- okay, most of her- was guiltily ecstatic that Annie hadn't been able to leave. And that right there showed her what a truly selfish person she was. On top of that, she couldn't shake the niggling worry that it was her doing that Annie was still sitting here in the breakfast room of Fanelia's royal castle.

Oh, she had tried to send her best friend home, she honestly had. But secretly, in the privacy of her own mind, she'd been wishing desperately for anything at all to stop Annie from leaving. And that wish, though unspoken, had been so much stronger than anything else she'd tried to make herself feel.

And just to make things even worse, a twinge of panic crept through her veins every time she thought about her broken pendant. Deep down, she now knew that she'd always considered it as an escape route, a way out if everything fell apart. If she and Van fell apart. If she couldn't hack it as royalty and needed to go... home.

Hitomi glanced up at Van through her lashes, studying his lean, tanned features surreptitiously. She needed him right now. She needed to be alone with him, to feel his strong, quiet presence chasing away her doubts and uncertainties.

But that just wasn't going to happen. Breakfast wasn't even half over when the dreaded maids came to collect her for her first round of fittings of the day. Millerna hopped up from the table with all the giddy excitement of a toddler with a new toy, but Annie stayed resolutely put.

"First of all, I'm not done eating yet," she argued reasonably, but there was a decided gleam of mischief growing in her eyes as she waved her fork carelessly. "Secondly, I really should go see Celena and tell her I'm stuck here for the time being, and third, there's no way in hell I'm going to make things that easy for the kitty."

"Annie, you may as well just go along with it. Merle's not going to give up on this," Van told her wearily, rubbing his temples.

"We'll see about that," Annie stated confidently. "Tomi, you can tell that cat if she wants to give me orders, she's got to find me first. It'll be like 'Where's Waldo', except in real life. And without the stupid hat."

Hitomi rolled her eyes, but she couldn't stop the giggle bubbling past her lips as the maids dragged her away. Unlike Van, she fully believed that Annie was going to give the poor cat-girl one hell of a time.

The day wore on long and tediously for Hitomi as she submitted yet again to being poked, prodded, primped, posed, and preened under the matching critical eyes of Millerna and Merle. This was one case that two heads were definitely not better than one.

At least she'd had entertainment in the form of Merle's futile search for Annie. The brunette, true to her word, had stayed elusive from the time Merle had personally marched back to the breakfast room to collect her until suppertime. Even Van looked vaguely amused at the furious death glares Merle directed at Annie's somewhat smug face across the dinner table.

She kept out of sight again after supper, and Merle escorted Hitomi and her maids to her room in a mighty huff. Hitomi didn't dare protest the lengthy beauty routine the women subjected her to under the cat's watchful eye, and for once, she didn't beg to be allowed to see Van, even though the desperate need for his reassurance had grown to frightening proportions. She heaved an enormous sigh of relief when the door finally closed behind them and she was finally alone.

But not for long. A quiet knock on her door sent her flying across the smooth floor to fling it open, hoping to see Van standing on the other side.

"Sorry. Not your lover-boy," Annie whispered as she slipped inside and shut the door silently behind her.

"Annie! Where the hell have you been all day?" Hitomi demanded, more sharply than she meant to from the aching disappointment in her chest.

"Visiting Celena- who was beyond ecstatic, by the way- and then I slept a little. Oh! And explored. But mostly, I was just avoiding Merle."

"You didn't get into any trouble exploring, did you?"

"Nope. I was a good girl, honest," Annie replied, plopping herself down on the bed. "Mostly, I just checked out the kitchens. I helped make the dinner for tonight, you know, to start learning how to use woodfire stoves."

Her words brought all of Hitomi's worries and guilt rushing back to the front of her mind, and she chewed on her bottom lip.

"Annie, I'm so, so sorry. I never meant for this to happen-"

"Don't, Tomi," she cut her off abruptly, suddenly sitting up and hunching her shoulders. "I don't wanna talk about it, okay?"

"But I... Annie, it's my fault!" Hitomi exclaimed, and Annie's brown eyes shot up to meet hers. "I wanted you to stay. I couldn't help it! I tried to send you home, honest I did, but I couldn't stop myself from wishing you would stay!"

"Tomi, Tomi, calm down," Annie insisted, giving Hitomi's shoulder a slight shake with one small hand. "It's not your fault. These things just... happen."

A few tears leaked out and ran down Hitomi's face. "But I wanted you to stay. The whole time, I just wanted you to be here with me. It's because of me you were brought here in the first place, and now, now you're stuck here!"

"We're both stuck here," Annie reminded her, and more tears streamed down Hitomi's face. Annie gave her another shake. "C'mon now, babe. It doesn't matter if you're stuck, right? You've got Van!"

"But what if it doesn't work out?" Hitomi choked out on a sob.

"Oh, please. This is true love! 'And they lived happily ever after', remember?"

Hitomi sniffled and wiped her cheeks. "Why is it that you're the one comforting me? Shouldn't it be the other way around?"

"Maybe because I'm not that upset," Annie replied with a shrug. "Really, it's as much my fault as yours that I'm still here. I wanted to stay and see your wedding, too. Besides... Allen and Dryden are probably right. There's got to be more than one way to get me home."

"You really think so?" Hitomi asked hopefully, and Annie nodded.

"Of course. I betcha I get sent home right after you and Van are officially married."

Hitomi took her hand and squeezed it, but didn't say anything. The two of them sat silently for a long time, lost in their own thoughts until Annie suddenly leaned over to poke Hitomi's cheek with one finger.

"You know what you need?" she asked cheerfully. "You need to see Van."

"Yeah. But that's not gonna happen," Hitomi sighed ruefully, pouting.

"Wanna bet?" Annie asked, sparkling with mischief once more as she bounced off the bed. She winked broadly at Hitomi and slipped out of the room. After a moment, her singing drifted through the closed door, getting fainter as she went down the hallway:

"In every life we have some trouble
But when you worry, you make it double
So don't worry. Be happy!"

Van found himself staring up at the balcony to Hitomi's rooms without a clear reason for why he was there at all. He just needed to see her, talk to her, make sure she was alright. The way she'd looked every time he saw her today- that mixture of guilty sadness and slight fear- tore at him. He wanted to see her smile again.

Okay, and the hormone-driven part of him wanted to see her in her nightdress, too.

"Penny for your thoughts..."

Van jumped and yanked his sword half-way out of its scabbard before he realized it was only Annie standing next to him with an enormous grin spread across her face.

"You know, it's not very safe to sneak up on someone who's armed with a sword," he grumbled as he irritably re-sheathed it. Annie blinked innocently.

"I didn't sneak up on you. I said your name a few times, even. Sooo... that makes me wonder just what you were thinking about, staring up at Tomi's rooms like that. I'm beginning to think your intentions may not be so honorable."

"What? Yes, they are! I wasn't thinking about... you've got a dirty mind, Annie!" Van spluttered uncomfortably, turning red in the ears.

She quirked an eyebrow at him. "Mm hm. So, why don't you just go up there and get it on?"

"That would be unacceptable and inappropriate," he replied stiffly. Even in his own ears, it sounded like a poor imitation of Allen at his worst, and he quailed under the withering glare Annie pinned him with.

"Just how do you propose I get up there, anyway? These walls are designed to be impossible to climb!" he added irritably.

"Are you joking? You'd better be joking!" Annie demanded. "You've got wings, don't you?" She scowled heavily at his dumbfounded look. "Idiot."

"Still, it would be wrong of me to-"

"Van, if you do not get your sorry ass up there right now, so help me, I will castrate you."

Van gulped and took an automatic step back. There was no hint of joking laughter in her deadly serious voice, or in the narrowed glare she directed at him.

"Alright, alright! I'll go," he conceded in defeat, watching her warily. She looked marginally appeased when he turned back towards Hitomi's balcony, and he couldn't resist grumbling a little under his breath. "When Merle finds out about this and cancels the wedding, at least we'll know who to blame."

The snort Annie gave was both amusing and oddly intimidating. "If she finds out about this, she won't be canceling anything. I'll make damn sure of that. You just focus on having a good time tonight."

Van turned around to reply, his ears burning crimson, but Annie was already disappearing through the gardens, throwing a casual wave over her shoulder as she went. He heaved a sigh, rubbed a calloused hand over his face, and looked nervously up at the shadowed balcony.

Sure, Annie had sworn there was no one but Hitomi in her rooms, and sure, his hormones were demanding that he get his butt up there this instant so he could see her- in her nightgown, which had the potential of being semi see through- but there were a whole lot of logical reasons why he shouldn't take the risk. And finding himself at the business end of Merle's claws was somewhere near the top of that list...

But on the other hand, he'd have to deal with Annie if he didn't sneak into Hitomi's rooms.

He honestly wasn't sure which one of the two was a scarier prospect.

Ah, to hell with it all, anyway. He wanted- no, needed- to be close to Hitomi. Besides, Annie said she could deal with Merle, and that cat-fight was definitely one he'd pay to see, if only to find out who'd win.

The cool night breeze tickled his bare skin as he slipped his thin shirt quickly over his head. He took a deep, slow breath, feeling the familiar, tingling pressure building between his shoulder blades until his white feathered wings burst free. They lifted him easily from the ground, and he landed silently on the smooth wooden floor of the large balcony.

The sliding doors leading into Hitomi's rooms stood wide open to let the cool night air inside, and Van tentatively peeked through one into the dim interior. He could just make out her form sprawled across the bed, one bare leg dangling off the side onto the floor. He gulped audibly at the sight of that length of silky, tempting skin illuminated by the weak moonlight filtering through the open doors.

Hitomi jolted upright, suddenly aware that she wasn't alone, and gasped when she saw the unmistakable shape of Van's wings silhoutted against the moonlight. With no hesitation, she slipped out of bed and came towards him, totally uncaring that she was dressed only in a thin nightdress that barely reached her mid-thigh.

Van couldn't breath as he watched her move slowly through the dimly lit room in a silky gown that was every bit as see-through as he'd hoped, and a whole lot shorter than anything he'd dreamed of on top of it. He just stood there, unable to even utter a word when she'd reached him and stared up at him with those impossibly green, green eyes of hers.

"Van..." she breathed, and that was the end of his self-control.

His lean fingers gripped her hips, and he pulled her body tightly against him as his mouth, hot and insistent, covered hers. She gave a tiny gasp of surprise, and he used the opportunity to deepen the kiss. Her arms wound themselves around his neck so she could twist her fingers into his hair and press herself tighter against him.

The thin piece of silk between their chests did little to separate their skin. Van groaned at the feel of her small, firm breasts rubbing against his bare chest, and barely realized that one of his hands came up to push the little strap of her nightgown off her shoulder. Hitomi moaned as he gently tugged on the back of her hair to tilt her head back and trailed his lips down the sensitive skin of her throat to her bare shoulder.

Her own hands wandered down over his chest and fluttered across the chiseled muscles of his abdomen. It thrilled her to feel them tensing and quivering under her touch even as Van's eager, yet gentle, mouth ignited a fiery yearning in the core of her being.

She didn't even care when his fingers brushed the second strap off her shoulder, and the silky material of her nightgown slid smoothly down to her waist. Without hesitation, she straightened her arms to let it fall completely to the floor. The cool night breeze gently moving against her skin should have chilled her, but Van's heated fingers, his burning mouth, left such trails of red-hot desire that she wondered if she might suddenly spontaneously combust.

Skin moved on skin as Van propelled her slowly back into the dark half-light of her room. Hitomi barely registered the way his wings disappeared in a flurry of white feathers, barely noticed when her legs hit the mattress and the two of them toppled down together. There was no room for her to feel anything but the insistent, almost painful need in the way he carressed her.

And dear god, but he felt good!

Hitomi had no idea what had possessed him to show up on her balcony, but she sure as hell liked where things were headed. Van's fingers slid under the top of her underpants, heading toward areas he'd never explored before, and she arched into him with a tiny mewl of encouragement. Her own hands moved to fumble at the closure of his pants in a mindless response, and suddenly Van froze.

An unhappy whimper escaped her lips at the loss of his touch as he hastily pulled away from her and sat up. Flaming red from collarbone to hairline, he ran an agitated hand through his unruly hair and struggled to slow his breathing.

"I'm sorry, Hitomi. I shouldn't have- I mean, I didn't come here just to- dammit to hell!"

She stared at his back in complete disbelief for several long moments before she sat up and wrapped her arms around him from behind. Van's muscles immediately tensed up, and the breathing he'd been trying so desperately to get under control became erratic.

"I'm not exactly complaining..." she breathed into his ear before lightly brushing her lips against it. A little smile tugged at her mouth at the way he took a deep, hissing breath.

"Hitomi... I shouldn't be here. I just... needed to see you," he mumbled. She sighed and pressed her face into his neck.

"I needed to see you, too," she admitted. "Please stay. Just for a little while."

Van struggled to breathe in shallow, panting bursts. "But... we shouldn't- I mean, I shouldn't have been touching you like that..."

"What? Why?" Hitomi asked quickly, unhappy with how this conversation was going. She'd liked the way he'd touched her. She really, really liked it, actually.

Van really liked the way she was touching him now, all bare skin and trailing fingers, but he did his damnedest to fight against it. "Because. I don't want to- no, I won't disrespect you like that."

"Disrespect me? Van! We're going to be married in less than two weeks!" she exclaimed, exasperated. Her arms loosened just enough that he could twist around to face her, and his deep maroon eyes stared intently into hers.

"Exactly. So until then, I won't allow my own weakness to... to defile you like that."

Hitomi marveled at her ability to maintain her composure and not burst into shrieks of laughter at that. It wouldn't really have been helpful, especially since Van was so very deadly serious about it, but good lord. His words were utterly absurd, especially given the fact that she was only in her bottom undergarment and very nearly sitting on his lap.

She could see by the set of his jaw that he wasn't going to bend on this, and honestly, if it was that important to him, she didn't want him too, anyway. But that didn't mean they couldn't do anything, did it?

"Okay," she told him gently. "Okay. We won't do any defiling-" a miniscule pause while she swallowed a giggle- "But you can still stay. Just for a little bit, alright? We'll be good. I promise. Just... just don't go yet."

She'd moved closer so she could wrap her arms around his neck and rest her forehead against his. Van squeezed his eyes shut tightly, his breaths once more harsh and uneven, but his lean, muscled arms snaked around her waist. His rough fingertips brushed against the sensitive skin of her back, her sides, and she gasped at the sensation.

"Alright. Just for a litle bit," Van mumbled just before he crashed their lips together once more. Hitomi smiled against his mouth and pressed herself closer to him eagerly.

They'd just have to be careful to wake up before Merle walked in on them in the morning.

Allen was not known for being indecisive. As a general rule, he always knew what needed to be done and the most effective way of going about it. So why was he repeatedly walking a few steps away from Annie's door, only to return and stand in front of it for another minute or so with his hand half-poised to knock?

He was on the seventh repetition of that exact scenario when a familiar voice piped up behind him.

"What are you doing, Al?"

Allen gave an audible gulp before reluctantly turning around to come face to face with an amused Annie. The quizzical way she quirked her eyebrows at him and the laughing smirk pulling at the edges of her mouth made him wonder uneasily just how long she'd been standing there watching him.

"I wasn't- that is, I was merely..." he realized he was babbling and took a steadying breath. "Are you alright?" he asked bluntly.

Annie's expression didn't falter for an instant. She looked as amused as ever, but Allen wasn't fooled. The gleam of laughter in her dark eyes was snuffed out like a candle in a sudden gust of wind.

"I'm fine. Why shouldn't I be?" she replied quickly, lightheartedly. He frowned.

"Because you're still here, perhaps? Because there's a chance you may never be able to return to the Mystic Moon? Annie, you don't need to pretend-"

"I'm not pretending!" she cut him off loudly. "I will get home. I'm probably just supposed to stay here to make sure no idiot screws anything up and Tomi and Van actually get married. You'll see. Once this wedding's over, I'll bet you anything that I'll be sent right home."

Her voice was determinedly cheerful, but Allen caught the hint of uncertainty underlying her words. Involuntarily, he started to reach one hand towards her.


She sidestepped him quickly. "Man, what a crazy day. I'm gonna sleep like the dead."

"Annie-" he began again, more insistent this time, but she was already slipping through her door. She looked up at him once, and her cheerful expression was painfully at odds with the swirling, panicky look in her eyes.

"Maybe we could go to the market again or something tomorrow. 'Night, Al."

He opened his mouth to protest, but the door had already snapped shut in his face. One tightly fisted, gloved hand shot up in an automatic reaction, but he caught himself and froze. What was he going to do? Pound on her door and demand that she open up and talk to him? Barge into her room whether she wanted him to or not so he could try to give her the comfort she so obviously didn't want but so desperately needed?

Yeah. Because any of that would go over well.

Besides, what business was it of his if she wanted to go on pretending that everything was fine, that she actually believed she'd be suddenly sent back to her homeworld once Van and Hitomi were finally settled? Absolutely none, that's what.

But still...

The way her eyes simulatneously begged him to shut up and go away and yet to stay and somehow make everything alright haunted him.

Frustration clawed at him, twisted up with pain. There was nothing he could do. She'd shut the door on him, dismissed him, and he had no right to challenge that.

Still, it took him a long, long time to walk away from her door.