The last day of the tournament was not postponed. Luckily, they were informed the very same day that the incident happened, that Folken was not dead. At best, he would be back to normal once his wounds closed. At worst, his legs would be paralyzed for an undetermined amount of time. Either way, it was a relief for the Kanzaki family, Merle, and Van. It was surprising and upsetting how it took such trauma on Folken's part for Van to admit he loved him.
Because the date was not postponed and Van was determined to win, even with his brother in the hospital, he had to go. Merle insisted on going as well, and Hitomi promised she'd be there.
It was another hot day. The sun was blinding Van again as he stepped out onto the field in his guymelef. Today he was fighting the man who beat Folken. The man who defeated Folken in a fair fight. Van didn't want revenge necessarily, but he was... intimidated, to say the least. He hadn't gotten a lot of sleep the previous night because he fretted over Folken. Hitomi, once over her hysterics, had been calm and reassuring. She had held his hand all night long, and Mrs. Kanzaki had let them sleep in the same bed - albeit with the door open. Now, he was emotionally distraught, but his determination was reinforced. Today, he would win. Even if it was against the man who defeated Folken.
The bell hadn't tolled yet, as to keep the crowd in suspense, but it made Van anxious. He was tempted to just start the fight without the bell. But then he'd be disqualified, and this stranger would win. Van took a deep breath, all too aware of the bead of sweat between his shoulder blades. He closed his eyes, trying to calm himself. He was going to win. He had to. His eyes opened again and they landed on the shining, graceful curves of the 'melef mask.
Van was dazzled by it, and imagined easily that that had been part of a distraction in Folken's battle. The mask seemed almost angelic. Van wanted nothing more than to drive his blade through it. The mask was designed to make him think this way about the guymelef and the pilot inside, and Van knew that. He grit his teeth and unsheathed his blade. This was it. This was the battle that determined his worth. His brother's victor stood before him, in all his gleaming triumphant glory. His breath was even and his nervousness drifted away. His confidence was restored.
He was going to win.
Time slowed down. Silver was utterly still, crouched and ready to fight. Slowly, the giant 'melef hand reached out and removed his sword from its sheath on his back. They stared at each other's masks for a long moment, breathing evenly with their confidence sky-high. Both were utterly calm and it was apparent in the way they held themselves. Now that Van's confidence was reinforced, he had to focus.
He took in every sensation. The loud crowd, yelling and screaming and chanting either "Silver!" or "Fanel!" He felt the way the sun radiated heat onto his 'melef's back and the way his hair stuck to his face and forehead. He absorbed the way the sun gleamed off of Silver's guymelef and his own blade. He felt his pulse in his neck and his muscles relax and tighten periodically, ready to follow any command. He felt the lump in his throat and squashed the urge to clear it. The last thing he focused on was the pendant still hanging about his chest. Hitomi had let him keep it after Folken's accident, and it gave him clarity of mind, confidence, and comfort akin to Hitomi's presence.
Hitomi's heart raced while Van was calming himself. She started hyperventilating, staring at Van's majestic Ispano guymelef, which was not disguised any longer. She was frightened. It was once again like she was a little girl, staring up at her father's new 'melef. It seemed so gigantic, so impossible. Van's guymelef was so elegant, so intimidating - it was the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen. The light glinting off its sword, and the aesthetically pleasing sculpt of the body... Once again, it seemed impossible. It was surreal. Hitomi steeled herself. That was Van in front of her. He'd never hurt her. She took a deep breath, her fear dissipating at the thought of Van behind those controls. She raised her eyes to the 'melef again and resolved to do what she came here for.
The bell hadn't rang, but Van grunted and side-stepped when Silver jumped forward and aimed a punch at Van's belly. The crowd screamed, but no one moved to stop the fight. Silver swung his sword swiftly and efficiently at Van. Van managed to bring his own sword out to deflect the blow. Silver hooked his foot behind Van's knee and tried to bring him to his knees. It worked with a loud crash and a dust cloud from Van's fall.
Silver swung again at Van, but was blocked, and their swords locked in a battle of strength. This was not, as Van soon discovered, Silver's strong point. While there was a decent amount of struggle, Van did easily push Silver's sword away and get to his feet again. Van had found Silver's weakness. That was a start.
This time, Van managed to attack first. He thrust his sword into Silver's belly, but Silver jumped back. Van charged forward, his battle cry ringing through the arena. Silver dodged again, swung around, and sliced at Van's back. Van grunted, and turned around, breathing heavily. Sweat still poured down his face and back, and he was just a little frantic. Silver was fast. How could he use strength against this guymelef if he couldn't even keep up with it?
Hitomi, in the silver 'melef, was just as frantic. She'd just hurt Van! I should give up before this gets worse... I'm already disqualified... I can't believe I just hurt Van! What was I thinking? Her thoughts were cut short as Van's sword hissed past the pilot chamber. She took a step back and inhaled deeply. I can do this. Van doesn't know who I am, and he's won already... But here, we can pitch our strengths against each other entirely without restraint. He'll manage if I hurt him. With that last thought, Van landed a fist in her gut.
Hitomi gasped, and stumbled back. She suddenly had to wonder about her earlier reassurance that Van would never hurt her. She revised it: Van would never knowingly hurt me. Van aimed another thrust, this time at her energist. Hitomi ducked, and tackled the Ispano 'melef. They landed on the ground, raising a cloud of dust. Van flung Hitomi off of him and tried to get to his feet. He was on one knee, and one foot when Hitomi decked his 'melef across the face. He didn't fall down, and swung his sword at her feet. She jumped back, barely dodging the attack. Then Van stood and charged Hitomi again. He feigned to the left, and Silver fell for it.
His sword sunk right into the silver 'melef's energist.
Something strange happened, though. After he dealt the final blow, he realized a silver sword pointed straight at his pilot chamber. Did that happen before or after the energist was destroyed? Either way, it worried him. The crowd cheered, and he heard it for the first time since the battle began. He saw the judges whisper fervently amongst themselves. Finally, the announcer spoke. "The anonymous pilot is disqualified. Van Fanel, take your prize!" The crowd's response was varied. Many people whistled and cheered, but just as many other people screamed profanities.
Van pulled his sword out of the energist. The 'melef collapsed. Hitomi stared at the ground for a long moment. Her mouth was slightly open, and her breath was shallow. The sounds of the arena, Van walking around, the cheering crowd... they didn't reach her. Shock overwhelmed her. What was she to think after such a horrendous sight?
The Kanzaki family, including Van and Merle, held a party that night. Champagne was passed around without Mrs. Kanzaki's knowledge, but she cooked a big dinner with lots of cornbread. Friends were invited - friends of Mamouru's mostly. Millerna and some of Van's drinking buddies showed up, but they left soon to go somewhere they could get wasted. They'd just wanted to congratulate him, and eat some cornbread.
Van didn't have much to say to anyone, except that he was glad he won. Everyone was in the kitchen, except for Hitomi. No one knew where she was. Van sat by the wall instead of by the table with everyone else. It was loud with so many people there, but it was nice. Mrs. Kanzaki entered the room and Mamouru hurried to hide the alcohol. Van hadn't touched the stuff yet, and didn't plan on it.
The door opened, and seeing as people just kept popping by, no one paid attention to it, except Van. It was Hitomi. She looked exhausted, and drawn, and maybe even dirty. She squirmed past the crowd with Van's eye on her, and she whispered to her mother. Mrs. Kanzaki smiled and nodded, and Hitomi walked right past Van and went straight up the stairs without giving anyone or anything a second glance.
Once she was out of sight, Van stood and weaved in and out of the throng of people to get to Mrs. Kanzaki. He grabbed her forearm and asked gently, "Is Hitomi okay?"
"She's fine," Mrs. Kanzaki replied cheerfully, "Just tired. You can go talk to her if you want." She gestured up the stairs. Van nodded and made his way toward the stairs. He glanced back at the happy picture of celebration, and then went straight up the stairs. The hallway was shockingly quiet after spending so much time in that kitchen with so many teenagers that just don't know how to be quiet for all of ten seconds. It didn't bother him, per se, that those kids were always so loud, but it wouldn't hurt anyone if they were quiet.
Van found Hitomi's room and knocked gently, even though the door was open and he could see her lying on the bed with her face planted in the pillow. Hitomi didn't move when he knocked, didn't speak. She just lay there. Van stepped inside and closed the door behind him, ever so softly. Something was wrong with Hitomi. Something was bothering Van, too, but he didn't voice it. Instead, he stood by the door and waited for Hitomi to acknowledge him. She didn't.
Van stood by the door for what seemed like hours. Finally, he padded his silent way to the bed and touched Hitomi's back ever so gently. Still, she didn't move or speak. Van didn't know what to say. So he asked the first thing that came to mind. "Why were you so late?"
Hitomi mumbled into the pillow, "I saw a friend at the arena and we talked. I lost track of time." Even with the muffled pillow, Van could make out what she was saying. Of course, it took several minutes of silence and a lot of repeating in his head, but it eventually became clear. The way she said it made him wonder if she was telling the truth. She never was terribly good at lying. Again, he was at a loss. He didn't know what to say.
"Is everything okay?" he asked at last. He sat on the edge of the bed and stroked her hair softly. The moonlight fell on her hair, and it was irresistible. He simply had to touch the honey colored stands.
Hitomi answered belatedly, "Yeah." Her voice cracked. Van knew she was lying this time, but didn't know how to voice his thoughts. Would he offend her? He ran a hand through his own hair and tried to think. What could he say?
He asked quietly, "Can I sleep in here tonight?" Whatever possessed him to ask, he didn't know. Sure, he'd wanted to sleep next to her again for a long time, but he never had the courage to ask. And Mrs. Kanzaki would get on his case about it and probably kick him out. As it was, he could move out whenever he wanted, and he was less worried about the rules. Still, he didn't have the courage to ask Hitomi. So how did he manage it just then? Even he didn't know the answer.
Hitomi nodded. Van relaxed a little, after the apprehension of awaiting her answer. The apprehension had only lasted a moment, but it was intense. So Van crawled over her and lay down on his side. He wrapped his arm around her waist and closed his eyes. With a deep breath, he hoped Hitomi would open up to him eventually and tell him what was bothering her. The two of them fell asleep that way.