"Come now, I shall tell you - and convey home the tale once you have heard it -
These are the only ways of inquiry that can be conceived:
The first says 'It exists' and 'It must exist.'
This is the path of belief, for it follows the Truth.
The second says 'It doesn't exist' and 'It must not exist.'
This I point out to you is a path wholly unknowable.
For you could not know that which does not exist - because it is impossible -
Nor could you put it in words...
For 'to be thought' and 'to exist' are the same thing."
- Parmenides, 'On Nature'

She is alone. He's there somewhere, somewhere in the great world out there, of that she is certain. Why is the ocean so grey out here... As she relaxes in the wind, as her eyes daze away, she catches a glimpse, a flash of the one she loves, smiling at her. And for a second, the sea turns blue.

"Van... I'm doing fine."

Is she lying to herself or to him?

.

.

.

I look at the girl lying before me on the couch, her eyes fixated on the ceiling like someone whose mind is wandering in some other reality, invisible to the people around her. She is young, light-brown hair, very thin and pale, calm, always lost in her thoughts, often fiddling with her pendant.

It's quiet, I can hear the clock ticking on the wall. If she won't break the silence, I will.

"So, Hitomi, is there anything you'd like to talk about today?"

"Nothing you'd understand."

"Does it matter? It might make you feel better just to say it out loud."

She stays quiet for a moment, perhaps struggling with herself.

"I-I've come to the conclusion that Gaea is real after all."

I sigh. We've gone through this before.

"I thought we agreed it was all just a dream. Or a 'vision.'"

"No, it all really happened to me." She bites her lip in agitation. "Van is real."

I must try to be gentle. Even if we have to go through this again.

"Hitomi, you had a stroke in your right temporoparietal junction. You were comatose in the hospital for almost three days."

I pause to emphasize my point.

"Gaea was just a hallucination. Van is a fictional construct created by your subconscious mind." I'll just give her an example.

"Did we not establish that Allen Schezar was a displacement of your crush on your best friend's boyfriend? Mere subconscious wish-fulfillment."

"I'm not denying that. But Van is still real."

I try to be understanding. It's my job, after all.

"If Van is a hallucination, then he cannot be real."

Hitomi's eyes have moved away from the ceiling. She averts them, avoiding me.
She speaks in a soft voice.

"May I ask you something?"

"Go ahead."

"Is Isaac Newton real?"

Her question worries me. She better not be going delusional.

"Of course."

"Have you ever seen him?"

"Considering that he died almost three hundred years ago, I cannot say I have. Though I've seen pictures of him."

"So how do you know he's real?"

I pause for a moment. What is she getting at?

"I've read it. In the history books."

"Those could be fabricated, couldn't they?"

Conspiratorial delusions. She might be slipping into schizophrenia.

"Maybe. But it sounds pretty improbable, doesn't it?"

"What I'm saying is, if you believe it just because you've read it in books, then from your perspective Isaac Newton isn't that different from NausicaƤ."

Miyazaki, eh? I mark that in my notebook. Maybe that is the source of her fantasies.

"Perhaps. But objectively, Newton existed and she didn't."

"I said you wouldn't understand."

That hurts my pride a bit. What does a kid like her know, anyway? We stay quiet for a moment. Then, she seems to think of something.

"Do you believe in telepathy?"

She sounds almost shrewd, like she knows exactly what I'm going to say. Which she does.

"It is physically impossible."

"Have you ever gone to a room, and your friend is feeling sad, and you can immediately feel it without her saying anything? Grandma said that was telepathy."

Not that old granny again.

"Don't confuse what your grandma says with reality."

"Then how do you explain it?"

She still sounds like she's in control of the conversation.

"Subconscious impressions. Your friend is acting different from usual, so your subconscious mind tries to discover the reason behind that by figuring out what she must be feeling. Then it tells your conscious mind that your friend is probably feeling sad. That's all there is to intuition."

Was that the flash of a smile, in the corner of her lips?

"And how does your subconscious know what she's feeling?"

"It's called theory of mind. You have a model of your friend, which you can use to figure out how she thinks, or how she would react in any given situation."

She seems to be thinking deeply of what I said.

"But I can't actually know what is going on in her mind. She might be just acting. Or maybe she is only a puppet, pretending to think and feel, even though she cannot. I would never know."

Puppets pretending to be human? She's clearly taken a turn for the worse.

"If she looks like a human and acts like a human, you should assume she also thinks and feels like a human."

"You said Gaea wasn't real. But it felt real to me."

She pauses, extremely agitated, before continuing.

"If that wasn't real, how can I know this is? Just because it feels real? Just because it's consistent?"

"Hitomi, do not slip into fantasy again. You know this is real because this is real."

"I can't know that. All I know is that it feels real."

I am getting agitated myself, now. I have to come up with something, or she might go psychotic.

"W-when grandma died, we visited her house. And I could still feel her, I could still feel her presence lingering there. She was watching me from the afterlife.
And she came to me in a dream, to say goodbye."

I'm not a believer myself, but...

"How thoughtful of her."

Her tone turns accusational.

"I know what you're thinking. You don't believe a word of it. It was just 'theory of mind.' My simulation of her, coming to say goodbye."

She's on the verge of tears. This is not going well.

"But don't you see? That means they never leave! We're always carrying them in our hearts..."

"That is a beatiful thought, Hitomi. You're very mature for your age."

Flattery is about the only way I can think of to calm her down right now.
She sounds like she's trying to say something, but can't get the words out. Her eyelids have turned red. She breathes deeply, and finally, she opens her eyes.

"I spent a long time with Van. It felt like a lifetime. We experienced all those amazing adventures which I'll never forget - together. He wasn't just my sock puppet. It was all real to me."

Suddenly, she seems to run out of energy and falls limp. With what seems to be the last of her strength, she says:

"So you see, Van is fictional. But he's also very real."

Hitomi closes her eyes, and for a moment her surroundings fall away, and she's back there, and the Earth is in the sky, and she is hugging Van, and Van is hugging her, they're locked in an eternal embrace, the silent expression of their boundless love for each other. Slowly, she opens her eyes. Van's eyes.

Because they are one.

"I'm going to be a writer. I'll share their stories with everyone. Merle, Allen, Van, everyone... They'll all live through me. And when I die, I will be with them again, and I'll show them all the stories I made... I'll show them all the people who were helped by those stories! Because as long as there is love, we can always see..."