an Escaflowne fic
Notes: Written for escalove for Yuletide 2008.
Summary: Van visits Hitomi on Earth.
Day Zero - Christmas Eve
The white dragon appeared in the sky above Tokyo Bay like a new star.
Later, there would be news reports, security alerts, official statements, and--when no further trace could be found--endless speculation. But right now, the only person standing on the beach was Hitomi, watching the dragon descend, its wingbeats matching the beat of her heart.
It skimmed over the water, sending up a white wake atop the black waves. Hitomi sprinted down to meet it, wet sand crunching beneath her sneakers, salt spray lashing her face. She halted at the edge of the water, where Escaflowne stood with the tide lapping around its great feet, the energist at its heart pulsing scarlet.
A man climbed down from the dragon's back. Tall and lanky, as his brother had been, black hair whipped into flurries by the wind, formally dressed in a blue uniform with gold piping. For a second, Hitomi wondered if this serious stranger was really the same boy she had known.
But when she searched his eyes, she found his own searching hers. That look she recognised, and she cried out, "Van!" and hurtled towards him.
A smile broke from him, lighting his whole face up, and all of a sudden it was the same old Van. She hugged him till her arms ached, and he hugged her back, warm and real.
They walked through the neon streets of Odaiba hand in hand, Hitomi certain she had a ridiculous smile on her face. The bare trees were spangled with fairy lights, like some kind of miraculous flower.
She stole sneaking glances at the man beside her. Van had shot up and filled out, the planes of his face subtly altering, his expression a little more thoughtful than that of the fierce boy she had first met. She wondered how the burdens of kingship sat upon his shoulders.
When she looked at him again, she caught him looking back at her, and he flushed before smiling sheepishly. She must look different to his eyes too: a little more height, a little more weight, her hair now curling past the nape of her neck.
She started to speak just as he did; there was a brief moment of awkwardness, then he said, "You first."
"You took a long while to come visit, Van! You have a lot of lost time to make up for."
"I'm sorry. I meant to come, every year, and every year, something else came up that I couldn't walk away from. But this time, I made sure. I have a week."
"Only a week?" Hitomi had thought she would have longer. But she swallowed her disappointment and said cheerily, "Well, we'll manage somehow! I want to take you to Tokyo Tower at least, and Asakusa Temple, and Ueno Park, and oh! there's a cafe in Ikebukuro that makes the best strawberry crepes ever! There's so much I want to show you."
"I'd like to see it all," Van said, with a small smile.
"Now you," Hitomi prompted. "What were you about to say?"
Van hesitated, then shook his head. "Never mind."
Hitomi slapped her hand over her Kero Kero alarm clock and rolled out of bed. Christmas Day! She padded out to the living room in her pyjamas.
Van was already up, the futon neatly folded away. He stood on the balcony, gazing out at the skyline, seemingly untroubled by the sharp chill. "I never dreamed it was so big. It goes on forever."
Hitomi joined him, shivering in the crisp morning air. Tokyo extended to the horizon in all directions, a vast sea of buildings. "Not forever. But a long way." She clapped her hands together. "Come back in! I'll make breakfast."
They sat on the tatami around the low table, warming their hands on bowls of miso soup.
"--And it all looks good as new," Van said. "You couldn't tell it had been destroyed. Except for the memorials."
"The people of Fanelia must be happy with their king."
"I'm learning. It helps to have people I can trust elsewhere--Millerna in Asturia, Chid in Freid. Even the Zaibach High Council is starting to cooperate." He brightened. "The last three harvests have been record-breakers. Especially now that the dragons are peaceful since the hunting ban came into force."
"I'm glad to hear that, Van," she said warmly. Then she stood. "Time for presents!" She pointed to the Christmas tree, which was only really a tiny thing, barely coming up to her waist, but valiantly draped in tinsel and hung with baubles.
Hitomi explained the western tradition of Christmas and handed him a foil-wrapped box. He opened it to reveal a red woollen scarf, which he ran through his fingers with obvious delight.
"I wasn't sure if you would be warm enough for the season," Hitomi explained.
"Thank you," Van said. "But I don't have anything for you."
Hitomi smiled. "My present is you being here to visit me."
Hitomi pushed her way through the Harajuku crowd, one hand clasped around Van's, leading him through the press of shoppers and tourists. "This way!" she said, ducking through a doorway labelled Purikura Paradise.
They entered a shop painted in bright pastels, with a chequerboard floor of black and white tiles. Every wall was lined with sticker photo booths, whose every surface was covered in colourful designs.
Van looked relieved to be out of the press of people, although he looked like he fit in now, with his jeans and sweater and jacket, and sneakers on his feet. "What is this place?"
"You'll see." Hitomi dragged him towards one of the machines. She inserted a couple of hundred yen coins and pressed some buttons. "Look ahead and smile," she commanded.
Van looked startled in the first set of sticker photos, so Hitomi made him go another round.
"Interesting," he said, studying them.
Hitomi showed him her wallet, already plastered with at least a dozen sticker photos. "My friends and I used to get them all the time. But I never had any photos from Gaea. Not of you or Allen or Millerna or anyone." She split the strip of sticker photos with Van. "It's good to have something to hold onto."
"You came!" Reiko shrieked. She enveloped Hitomi in a fierce hug, right there in the corridors of Music Box. "I'm so happy you could make it!"
Hitomi hugged her back. "I wouldn't miss it for the world." She pulled back. "Reiko, this is my friend Van. Van, this is Reiko, my college roommate."
"Pleased to meet you," Van said in passable Japanese. "Happy birthday." He handed Reiko the shiny gold parcel with the red bow.
"Thank you so much! Pleased to meet you too. Come inside, everyone else is already here." She opened the door wider; the karaoke room was packed to overflowing with faces familiar and new. Reiko made another round of introductions while Hitomi memorised names; poor Van, whose Japanese was still rudimentary, looked rather lost.
They squeezed into a free space on the green vinyl couches, between Takeshi and Ken. Ayako was belting out 'Over the Rainbow' in enthusiastic but lamentable English. Van watched the proceedings with fascination and trepidation.
"You don't have to sing if you don't want," Hitomi said, nudging him. She offered him a handful of edamame beans instead and showed him how to pop them from their shells.
"So Hitomi," Reiko said, sliding into the space Van left when he excused himself to use the bathroom, "you've been keeping secrets! Tell me all about your handsome friend."
"No secrets, Reiko. I haven't seen him in over ten years. He's an old friend from overseas."
"Overseas?" Reiko's eyes widened. "He's not that guy you used to talk about, is he? The one you met while you were away?"
"Yes. He's the one." The words fell into the air, strange and heavy, even in the noise of the room.
Reiko burst into a smile and hugged Hitomi again. "In that case, I'm very happy you came tonight. Both of you."
The assistant coach blew sharply on the whistle. A dozen fourteen year olds in shorts and tees burst from the starting blocks, each one sprinting down the track with determination on her face. Hitomi cheered as they passed, her fingers twined around the cyclone fence that bounded the athletics field of Chiba Middle School.
She turned, still grinning, to Van beside her. "Those are my girls!"
"Not bad," he acknowledged. "They're almost as fast as you."
"They're a good bunch. We made it to the finals of the prefectural championships last year. With luck, we might get through to the nationals this time."
"Ah, Miss Kanzaki!" The principal, Mr Yamada, strolled up to them, hands clasped behind his back. "I thought you were on leave this week."
"Hello, sir. Just showing my guest around." Hitomi made introductions. "I hope it's not an inconvenience."
"Not at all." Mr Yamada turned to address Van. "We're all very proud to have the benefit of Miss Kanzaki's coaching. It's wonderful to have someone so dedicated and talented on our staff."
"You're too kind, sir," Hitomi said.
She had been spotted. Moments later, she was mobbed by a cluster of her students. Mr Yamada made a discreet withdrawal. Van hung back, though more than a few girls shot him sideways glances and whispered furiously among themselves.
"I hope you're behaving yourselves for Assistant Coach Terada," she said severely.
"Yes, miss!" they chorused, except for Nanako, who piped up with, "We like you better!"
Hitomi laughed, but said, "Now, be respectful! Keep working hard. You'll do fine."
Hitomi balanced her stack of parcels precariously in one hand and dug in her coat pocket with the other. She managed to fish out her apartment key and open the door without dropping anything.
"Watch your step!" she called to Van, who followed behind, carrying more parcels.
There was hardly enough room on the table for all their shopping. Hitomi collapsed onto the couch. "Geez, I'm exhausted!"
Van sank down beside her. "I can't believe there's more shopping to do tomorrow. How many presents are you buying?"
"I only get to go back home a few times a year. So I like to get presents for everyone I can."
Van looked over at the row of photographs sitting on Hitomi's bookshelf. Her parents. Her aunts and uncles. Her cousins. Her high school friends. "I don't want to intrude."
"Don't be silly," Hitomi said softly. "I want you to meet my family."
And she leaned over and kissed him.
His eyes widened in startlement. Then he pulled away, hands on her shoulders. "I don't want us to make a mistake."
Hitomi searched his eyes for what was wrong, but they were guarded and she couldn't read them. She stood. "I'd better finish packing!" she said, too brightly. "I'll see you tomorrow!"
"You're an idiot," she told herself after, shoving socks and underwear into a duffel bag. "Just forget about it and go to sleep."
But she lay awake, thinking, for a long time.
They caught the bullet train from Tokyo Station. Hitomi watched the countryside flashing past--houses, trees, rivers--until the landscape almost became a blur of grey and green. They were speeding faster than a guymelef could ever fly, outrunning even Escaflowne itself. She and Van sat side by side, not touching, staring out the same window in silence, until evening cast long shadows across the world.
They pulled into her hometown as night was falling, the thousand lights of the houses winking on one by one, the curve of the bay beyond. Flakes of snow drifted down to earth, melting before they became anything more substantial.
The Kanzaki residence stood solid in the dusk, squares of yellow warmth in the windows.
"I'm home!" Hitomi called from the gate.
"Hitomi! Welcome home," her mother said. "Your father will be back from work soon."
Van bowed. "Good evening, Mrs Kanzaki. Thank you for your hospitality."
"Not at all! Please come in. It's cold out there."
"Van works in government," she told her dad over dinner.
He nodded with approval. "It's good to see young folk take an interest in civic affairs."
But although on the surface Van was as polite and agreeable as a guest could be, Hitomi, who knew his moods well, sensed a reserve and distance that lay beneath.
Her mother said to Hitomi later, "What a nice young man he is."
Nice? He killed a dragon and I saved his life and he saved mine and we saved Gaea together with all our friends. I promised him I would never forget. I thought he promised me the same.
But all she said was, "I know."
Day Seven - New Year's Eve
Everyone in town was out on the streets, all dressed up, breath steaming in the air, ready to go visit the shrine at midnight. Hitomi pointed up the hill, to the red gates that lined the path there. "This was where the dragon chased us the night you came to Earth. Do you remember?"
"Hitomi," Van said. He looked awful, like he was forced to slay another dragon and this time it was her. "It's no good. I can't stay here with you. I have a duty to my people."
"I know. I'm not asking you to stay."
"When I came here, it was to ask you to come back with me."
Hitomi's heart rose and hung suspended, waiting for the 'but'.
"But you have a life here! Family, friends, colleagues--all these people who care about you. I can't tear you away from that. This past week, you've shown me just how much you have here without me. I was a fool to think you would just be standing still, waiting for me."
"I'm not standing still," Hitomi agreed, her heart resuming its beat as she understood. "But Van, you don't understand. This past week, going everywhere, seeing everyone--I've been saying goodbye."
She slipped her hand into his, watching his face change from anguish to hope. "I want you to show me spring in Fanelia."
The bells began to toll, deep and resounding and joyous, ringing in the new year.