Disclaimer: Escaflowne is Copyright ©) 1996-2000 Sunrise, TV Tokyo/Bandai Entertainment, Inc./Egan Loo.
Tarot Disclaimer: Copyright Notice. Permission is granted to copy (unmodified) all or part of the documents making up "Learning the Tarot - An On-Line Course" for personal, non-commercial use as long as the copyright message (Copyright ©) 1995-2002 by Joan Bunning) is maintained on each document or part. This material may not be sold, incorporated in commercial documents or products, or used for promotional purposes.
PART SEVEN: THE STRENGTH
Keywords: Strength, Patience, Compassion, Soft Control
Usually we think of strength in physical terms - big arms, powerful legs - but there is also inner strength. Inner strength comes from an exercise of the heart muscle. It is perseverance, courage, resolve and composure - qualities that help us endure when times are tough. In the past, a person with inner strength was commonly said to have character; he or she could be counted on in the darkest moments. Card 8 represents this energy of quiet determination. Strength is not a flashy card, but one that is solid and reliable.
Card 8 also represents patience and compassion. Getting angry is easy when events turn sour, but dealing calmly with frustration takes great strength. So does accepting others and forgiving mistakes. We need strength to mold situations softly. The Chariot controls through mastery and authority. Card 8 is more subtle, even loving. Notice how the lion (itself a symbol of strength) is being guided and tamed by the woman's gentle hands.
Card 8 will appear
in a reading when its qualities are needed. It can be a reminder not to
despair or give up. You have the inner strength to endure and triumph.
If you are pushing too hard, you need to withdraw for the moment and be
patient. If other people or circumstances are driving you crazy,
remember the strength that comes with love and forbearance. These will
see you through the hardest moments.
Hitomi woke abruptly, disorientated by the sensation of being in a strange place. Behind her, she could hear Bridget's soft breathing.
Hitomi herself lounged on the futon she and Van had spread out earlier. She could hear the sound of her own blood rushing in her ears, her adrenaline on and racing through her body, warning her that something was out of place.
What woke me up? she wondered. There was nothing overtly wrong, and the clock was staring at her, proclaiming it was 3:37 a.m. The moonlight slitting through the venetian blinds illuminated the room with a ghostly glow, and she made herself consciously choose to not tense up. Her breathing steadied, just like it did when she was running, coming slow and deep.
Take time, if you have it, and think things through. It had been a strategy which always aided her. She counted backward from ten, before opening her eyes to evaluate the situation.
Bridget was out for the count, Hitomi realized as she glanced at the redhead. Her hair was mussed and she looked like a kitten, her body wrapped around a full body pillow. Hitomi vaguely remembered her tripping in after midnight, stumbling into bed with her clothes on. She'd probably been at a party and gotten drunk. Hitomi could smell a hint of alcohol lingering around the girl.
Another blink of her eyes, and she realized that she could hear the soft murmur of voices, coming from somewhere within the apartment. Van had gone to bed at the same time as she had, so there was someone else in the house. Their presence was probably what had pulled her from sleep.
Nodding to herself, she weighed her options. If Van had wanted her, he could have woken her up earlier, so there was no need for her to barge in. It would be polite to leave him to his guest, to show that she didn't have to be the center of his attention constantly. On the other hand, she had a queasy feeling in the pit of her stomach, a sensation that the person out there was someone she should meet. She knew she had good instincts, and it would be stupid to ignore them. Shutting her eyes, she thought of her pendant, asking for advice.
There was that pull again, and in her mind's eye she saw the pendant swing with certainty toward the door. Nodding to herself, she rose to her feet, taking decisive action. She borrowed the robe that hung on the back of the door, tying the belt twice around her waist. Merle - Bridget, she reminded herself - was too deeply asleep to notice her movement, and she paused in the doorway, glancing back with an affectionate smile on her lips.
The living room was alien now in the darkness, and she squinted, trying to make out shapes to avoid crashing into a table or something worse. It would make sense to flick the light on, but she didn't for fear of waking Bridget - at least that's what she told herself. It only took a moment to pinpoint where the sound was coming from - the light in the kitchen was on.
"...let yourself get dragged along with him. I know you love him, but you can't live his life." Van was speaking firmly, with conviction that blazed through his words. He sounded every inch the king that he had once been, and it sent a shiver through her.
"He's my younger brother, Donovan!" The feminine voice was high with protest. It sounded vaguely familiar, pulling on the edge of Hitomi's awareness. She couldn't place it, which meant little, but furthered her feeling of unease.
"So? He's a lost cause," Van said. "You can't throw your future down the drain." His volume dropped abruptly, and his next words were lost to Hitomi.
She stood slightly behind the wall that separated the kitchen from the living room, peeking around the corner. With the lighting the way it was, she had a clear view of Van sitting with a girl she didn't know, underneath the intimate light cast by a small, dangling lamp that hung right over the tiny kitchen table.
The girl was a pretty blond, and her features were frustratingly familiar. Then it came to her, but she didn't want to admit it. She had always seen them twisted in rage, but now they were softened by compassion and worry. Her chin was a bit too pointy for classical beauty, but she definitely caught the eye.
She looked like Dilandau, Hitomi thought after a long moment. Hitomi forced herself to take a deep breath to calm down. She had known this was coming - or something like it. Everyone on Gaea hadn't been a friend, and it was foolishness to believe that only her friends had been reborn. She told herself not to panic. For all Dilandau's insanity, he had started out as Allen's sister.
It was very strange to be meeting her here, in Van's house. It was true she had been Allen's sister, but she had also been changed into a pyromaniacal sadist.
Was this girl The Tower that she had read in Van's cards? Certainly Dilandau's capability for destruction would fit.
No, she decided, Dilandau can't destroy us. In the end, he had not proved to be the worst threat. He wasn't powerful enough to be The Tower.
She had to shake herself out of her musings to concentrate on what was going on. Van was saying something which Hitomi couldn't decipher. Her brain, despite the shock, was still functioning slowly, and her attention fixated on the gentle hand Van lay across the girl's. He seemed to be trying to reassure her, and the girl was denying it. They were speaking in English again, and Hitomi struggled to focus her still sleep-fogged mind to understand what they were saying.
"-understand," the girl said, her tone becoming sharper with anger. "We've been over this before, and I still say the same thing: I will not leave Lan."
"Then why did you come here tonight?" Van asked.
"Maybe because-" the girl said, stopping abruptly. She turned to the door, where Hitomi was lurking, and arced an expressive eyebrow. "It seems we have company," she continued.
Van turned as well. "Hitomi? Can you come here?" he asked, switching to Japanese. He offered her a slight smile, but it faded quickly as the stranger spoke.
"Does she speak English?" The girl was asking Van, a slight crease marring her brow.
"Good enough to understand you," Hitomi said, feeling a bit annoyed.
The girl blushed with embarrassment. "That was rude of me, wasn't it? I'm sorry, I just don't speak Japanese very well..."
Van saw the tension, and worked to dispel it. "This is Serena Schezar, she's Allen's sister. Serena, this is Kanzaki Hitomi."
He motioned for Hitomi to join him, and she walked over to his side. She was a bit surprised when he pushed his chair out, offering her room to sit in his lap. A bit self-consciously, she slid onto Van's knee. She wasn't used to such familiarity, but his touch made her relax and feel warm somewhere inside. Without thinking on why she was doing it, she leaned forward to kiss his cheek, a territorial instinct getting the better of her manners.
He looked surprised, but Serena smile tightly, acknowledging the ploy. Serena tilted her head as she studied Hitomi in the better lighting. "Have we met?"
"I've never been to England," Hitomi said in reply. Van's body went rigid since he understood her subterfuge almost instantly, but she pressed a hand to his leg, trying to reassure him.
"Guess not, then. You just... remind me of someone, I wish I could remember who." She tapped her chin with a manicured finger thoughtfully, before offering a shrug. "Well, it's nice to meet you." She bowed a bit from the waist, the movement gracefully executed.
"Nice to meet you," Hitomi echoed, lying through her teeth. She wished this other girl would drop off the face of the planet. She didn't like being jealous, but this girl probably knew Van quite well. Added to the fact that her former personality had been an enemy, it created a predisposition for Hitomi to dislike her.
"I'm afraid I haven't heard much about you," she said. "Van's always quiet about his private life - he won't even talk about it with his new friends."
Touche, Hitomi thought. "I appreciate that. It's nice to meet an old friend of his," she replied in a friendly tone, hoping she didn't sound catty this time.
Serena smiled a bit in feminine acknowledgment. Van was staring at the two with caution, like a puppy caught between two hissing cats. Warily he looked up at Hitomi, speaking in Japanese. "Is something wrong?" he asked.
"No, nothing," she replied. "We're just getting to know each other." Serena's expression drew a frown at the conversation, and Hitomi chuckled before switching back to English. "We should use English. We shouldn't be rude to your guest."
Van shook his head, but was wise enough to keep his mouth shut.
"How long are you here for? Are you studying at the college?" Hitomi asked, deciding to get the facts immediately, so she could decide what to do.
"No, I'm taking a gap year," Serena replied, "along with my brother. We're going to attend Oxford next year."
She was smart as well as pretty, Hitomi realized reluctantly, despite her inability to speak Japanese. And if she was Allen's sister, she was rich. Hitomi, the daughter of working-class parents, knew she could only qualify as cute. It was hard not to be jealous. But Van was holding her, not this stranger.
"That's nice," Hitomi said, and the conversation stalled. She couldn't feel comfortable around Serena, and Van was smart enough to feel the tension between the two women. He looked like he was about to say something, but Serena spoke first.
"Van, can you go get me a mocha frappacino? I think it would help calm my nerves," said Serena.
"At four in the morning?" Van did not sound pleased with the idea.
"Donovan...," Serena said, her voice hitting an unpleasantly high note. "There's an all-night cyber café opened a block from here. I saw it on my way," Serena said. "It should take you half an hour, tops."
Van looked at Hitomi. "I'd rather stay here. It'd be rude to leave you alone."
She was tempted to take the out he offered, but it would be best if she and Serena sorted themselves out without his inhibiting presence. "It's not a problem," said Hitomi. "Serena-san and I can find something to talk about, I'm sure."
"Get her something that takes a while to make," Serena said with a pointed look at the door, clearly meaning that Van's presence wasn't currently desired.
"Low caf, if possible," Hitomi said after a moment. "And light on the sugar - it's not good for me, this late. Or this early."
"Okay, I get the hint! You want me gone for a bit." Van held up his hands defensively. "Hitomi, will you be okay?"
"Of course," she said, hoping she was telling the truth. Hitomi slid off his lap to allow him movement.
He rose, brushing her lips briefly with his own. "You have my cell number. Call if you need me," he said.
"If we need you, I will," Hitomi agreed, hoping she was communicating that she was alright with the situation to him.
A bit of the tension around his eyes relaxed, and she gave him another smile before he stepped out. She could hear him in the hallway, fumbling a bit, as he retrieved a jacket, and a slight jingle assured her he had his keys. A creak, the sound of the door shutting, then the click of the lock and he was gone.
"What did you want to talk to me about?" Hitomi asked.
Serena took a deep breath, before exhaling slowly. "I'm not a threat to you," Serena said. "Van is Allen's best friend, and they both watched me grow up. He's like another big brother."
"You like him, though," Hitomi said. "I can see it in your eyes."
"Does that matter? He doesn't like me." Serena heaved a heavy smile. "When I was little, I had a crush on Van. He was always so kind to me, and never brushed me off. Allen was a great brother, but there were times when I knew I was bothering him. And Lan was always..." she trailed off. "Van, though, always made time for me."
"He's a kind person," Hitomi said.
"I agree," Serena answered, before leaning forward slightly and offering a smile that was less than pleasant. "And as his honorary sister, I just want you to know that if you hurt him, I'll break your leg."
Serena's twisted expressions reminded Hitomi far too much of Dilandau. Hitomi shifted on her seat uncomfortably, reminding herself that Serena was not Dilandau, even if she had been in a past life. "If I hurt him, I'd let you break both of them without fighting," Hitomi answered levelly.
The hostility on Serena's face faded as she abruptly burst into laughter. Her laughter was real, not the giggles of a teenager or the polite, contained chuckles of a socialite, but rather the deep, loud ripples of an amused woman. "At least you have your priorities straight," Serena said.
"And if I see you going after him, I'll break both of your legs," Hitomi added, winking playfully, although she might have been telling the truth.
Serena's amusement faded, replaced by a melancholy expression. "You don't need to worry. I can't give him what he deserves – and you might be able to."
Had it been six months ago, Hitomi might have doubted that. But since Van had returned to her, she had discovered her faith. She could believe in Serena, because there was no reason not to. Serena was not Dilandau.
But he's probably still out there, Hitomi thought, not without fear. There was Lan... but she shouldn't borrow trouble. She had enough to deal with.
She blinked, realizing that her distraction had led her to silence. Serena was staring at her, a blush of embarrassment starting to form along her neck. How much had it cost, by giving up pride and hope, for Serena to admit that?
Hitomi smiled at her, hoping to keep Serena from becoming too anxious. "I'll do my best," she promised, reaching out and squeezing the Englishwoman's hands warmly with her own. "And just because I'm with Van doesn't mean he still won't need his friends. No person can ever be everything to another person."
When Van arrived back twenty minutes later, he found them in the kitchen baking cookies, giggling. A smile touched his lips, and he quietly set the drinks down on the table, before announcing he was going to bed. He kissed Hitomi on the cheek, murmured a polite farewell to Serena, and then turned back to his bedroom.
Hitomi watched him go. A part of her was disappointed he hadn't wanted to keep them company. Glancing at the clock, she noted that it was pushing five – sunrise wouldn't be too far away.
"He's going to be exhausted tomorrow," Serena murmured, as though reading Hitomi's thoughts. "Two hours of sleep does not a happy Van make."
She winced, feeling bad about it although it was Serena's fault. Checking the clock, she noted that the second batch would take another ten minutes to finish. "And I've got to get back to my dorm so I can change for a run," Hitomi said reluctantly. Part of the whole track star package was training, training, and more training. An imp of mischief prompted her to ask, "Would you like to come?"
Serena waved her hands defensively, almost comedic with a flash of panic. "No! Definitely no!"
"Never say I didn't offer."
"Someone needs to finish the baking!" Serena insisted.
Hitomi removed the borrowed apron she'd put on top of her equally borrowed robe. "Then I guess it's a good thing you're here," she replied, folding it up neatly and putting it into the drawer it had been discovered inside. She still wasn't sure why they'd decided making chocolate chip cookies was a good idea. "Are you going to be okay with the cleaning?" she asked a bit guiltily.
"I'll make Bri do it if she wants any," Serena replied. She handed over one of the first batch to Hitomi. "Should be cool enough to eat now."
Hitomi knew her hips would regret it, but she sank her teeth into the warm cookie happily. The chocolate was perfectly gooey.
Five minutes later she was putting on her shoes to leave when Serena asked, "Shouldn't you wake Bri?"
The idea of dealing with a hung-over Bridget made Hitomi cringe. Even though it was more likely Bridget would probably bounce right up. Dealing with ultra perky before sunrise was too much to ask. "She'll have a cookie-cooking mess to clean up," Hitomi replied with a grin. "That should be enough exercise for her."
It was to the sound of Serena's laughter that Hitomi left. Although it had the same tone as Dilandau's had, it only sounded happy, not mad. Hitomi clung to that thought as the chill of the night air hit her full-force.
This was not Gaea, she told herself. There is no one who wants to destroy us this time.
But the phantom thought of the unknown Lan lingered in her mind.
Up Next: The Devil
Keywords: Bondage, Materialism