Several years after her trip to Gaea, Hitomi thinks about the past, present and future. Post-series spoilers.
"Expected flight time is nine hours, and we are fifth in line for takeoff today. Thank you and enjoy your flight."
Hitomi sat back in her seat, and stared out, past Yukari's head, through the window to the tarmac. It was really an unusual chance they had -- the track team was heading to America for an exhibition meet. They had spent months fundraising for the trip, not to mention getting passports and packing and heading to the airport all together, to the goodbyes of parents, and it had finally happened. Hitomi felt the weight of the letter she had stuck in her bag before they left. 'I have to make a decision before I get back', she thought.
"Hmm?" Hitomi looked over at the girl seated in the aisle, one of the underclassmen. "What is it, Megumi?"
"Have you ever flown before?"
From the window seat, Hitomi heard Yukari stop fiddling with the lights and set down her book. She wasn't surprised -- Yukari was one of the few people who knew about Gaea, even if Hitomi was never sure if Yukari believed her.
"Well," Hitomi said, "I've never flown across the Pacific before." Which was true. She'd also never flown on an airplane before, for that matter, only a leviship and a guymelef, and in Van's arms. She glanced around at all the people -- her classmates, businessmen, and tourists and everyone else heading for America on this flight.
"Are you afraid?" Megumi asked.
"No," Hitomi said. "It's just a plane flight." Which was true. And it was nothing like the other ways she had flown before. The plane stayed aloft not due to energists or levistones or ancient Atlantean magic, but by the physics of flight. Not to mention that she was positively certain no enemies from Zaibach would be trying to shoot this plane down. Still, when she had heard the door close, she had sat up, and had to take a few deep breaths to calm herself.
It had been a lot worse when she had first returned from Gaea -- the second time. She had liked it there -- parts of Gaea had been so beautiful, and she had liked the people... Allen-san, and Dryden-san and Princess Millerna, and Prince Chid and even Merle, who had grown on her. And Van... well, she really liked Van. But, by the end of the war, she felt like the weight of the sorrows of the place had overbalanced the joys. She needed to get away from things -- it was why she asked Van to send her home, though she had told him it was for her family and friends. Which wasn't a lie -- her mother must have been worried sick about her, even if time on Gaea didn't seem to pass the same was as time on Earth did.
How much worse was it for Van, who had seen his own home destroyed, and had to stay to rebuild it?
Her mother had understood... well, she had understood something. It helped that Japan was a lot different than the countries of Gaea. Still, she had been jumpy and strange for months after that. But, slowly, things came back to her. The sorrows faded -- by a year later, she could honestly look up to the sky and tell him, 'I'm doing fine'. She felt better.
Hitomi fished out her Tarot cards. She never used them any more, deciding that she was going to let herself and her friends make their own destinies. But she kept them around, anyway. Since she had given her pendant to Van, they were the only thing that had come back with her from Gaea. Well, except her school uniform and her bag. She carefully turned them face up, lest one jump out at her and start pulling on her destiny, and looked for the card she wanted.
A letter, folded within the deck, came out with the card she wanted -- the Ace of Serpents, Van's card. Hitomi set both on her lap, absently touching the letter's foreign print. She had read it enough times to know what it contained:
/Dear Miss Kanzaki,
We are pleased to inform you.../
"Oh, are you going to do a reading, Kanzaki-sempai?" Megumi asked. "I remember one of the other upperclassmen saying you used to tell fortunes with cards."
Before Hitomi could correct her, Yukari said, "Oh, she doesn't do readings any more."
"Oh? Why not?" Megumi looked disappointed.
"I guess I decided it was better for people to try to make their own futures," Hitomi said. "I just keep them for sentimental value. My grandmother gave me them."
She was tempted, though, for the first time since leaving Gaea. Yukari had been talking about college again on the ride to the airport. She had been accepted into Tokyo University, and had wanted to know if Hitomi was going there too. Hitomi wasn't sure whether she should tell her about the letter -- an acceptance to a university in America. She wasn't sure if she wanted to go at all -- she knew she could live on her own, so far from her parents, but it would take some getting used to. 'America isn't as far away as Gaea,' Hitomi thought. Though distance was relative -- when in Gaea, the trip home took only a thought. Here, there was the day-long plane ride across the Pacific. There was also all kinds of things -- taking classes in English, and living in another country. Amano-sempai had said it wasn't as bad as people thought it was, but England had to be different than America. It was a nice-looking university, though, and the programs in history looked very interesting.
But, with Gaea there was no choice -- the first time she went, it had all been a surprise. The second time... well, that had been her choice, but it was a choice made knowing that Van and Gaea had needed her, even if she couldn't take the war any more. This was completely her choice.
The plane had stopped taxiing, and stood, poised on the runway for takeoff. Hitomi felt the push back from the engines as the plane built up speed and she saw Megimi next to her wince a bit. It was definitely not like flying in a levistone ship, which lifted off the ground like a balloon freed from its tether, or on Escaflowne, where she could feel the wind pressing into her face and whipping her hair around. She wasn't sure if she liked the feeling. But, she thought she could live with it.
They didn't talk much again, until they were in the air, and the signal was given that they could walk around the plane's cabin. Megumi stood up. "You know, I read it's important to walk around occasionally. Otherwise, you get leg cramps."
"We've only been seated for an hour, though," Yukari said.
"It's still a good thing to do. I'm going to go see what Ai is doing. Lucky her to get bumped up to first class," Megumi walked off, keeping a hand ready to grab the back of a seat if the plane hit a bump.
Hitomi looked over at Yukari, who was still looking out the window. "Wow, there's so much water," she said. "I can't believe it is going to take nine hours to cross the ocean."
"Hey... Yukari?" Hitomi said. She might as well say something now, when there wasn't anyone else to overhear. Yukari was her best friend, and had at least been willing to listen about Gaea. Not to mention the whole thing about Amano-sempai. She owed it to her to tell her. "Can I tell you something?"
"Sure. what is it, Hitomi?"
"Well, I just got this in the mail yesterday," Hitomi said, holding up the letter.
"Oh? It's in English," Yukari said, leaning in to read it.
"It's an acceptance letter for a university in America. I'm not sure if I want to go or not, since I don't even know what America will be like, but-"
"Well, then let's find out," Yukari said. "And I think I'll be able to forgive you for not going to the same school on me... on one condition. If I can get the money for a plane ticket to America, you have to let me visit you."
"It's a deal, Yukari." Hitomi held out her hand, and Yukari chuckled as she shook it.
Hitomi held out the Tarot card again. 'Ace of Serpents. A new beginning, project or journey.' She had been a stranger in a strange land before, she could handle America, or where ever she steered her future to. 'Van, I'm still doing fine. And I'm feeling much better now'. She couldn't quite see out the window, past Yukari's head, but she imagined he was looking out for her, still.
This was done for the Yuletide Treasures rare-fandom 2007 ficathon for Doinkies. I also had the help of J Chaos as a last minute check on my writing. I'd also like to thank Unoriginality, for explaining the tarot cards Hitomi uses, and how they are different from (and map to) the more usual (and easier to Google for) set.