THREE: Spies

Author's note: Thanks to everyone who reveiwed! I thought before I begin the next chapter I should start with giving thakns and answering a quick question. Hitomi is roughly around twenty six/ maybe twenty seven. Van is a year older than her or so. And they lead their lives in the same manner as before, except the war with Zaibach did not start until much later, and Van's father did not die until recently either; which means Falkon did not become evil until later.

The trio travelled silently for a long time. After two days they encountered a vilage where clothing could be purchased for Hitomi, and to her relief thick blankets. The sleeping arrangements had been awkward. Van had become suddenly distant in the Mole man's presence. He slept by himself and she slept near the fire; the mole man had to sleep on the far side from the same Hitomi felt she was getting any sleep because she worried the Mole man would some how get past her chivalrous protector.

They stood just outside of a tavern. After purchasing clothes Hitomi had found the room in the back and was able to change. She returned dressed in a long green skirt and pale blue shirt with a brown vest. Van found a good shoemaker and insisted that all of these gifts were payment for her torn frock; though she felt his generosity was more than equal. She laughed, and felt that it would only create a larger rift. She was fond of the dark hared man, mysterious though he was she was growing to trust him. She couldn't say as much for the mole man, but she was hoping they would part ways with him soon.

"What do you think?" Hitomi asked, she did a twirl in her new clothes. She didn't really care what the shorter one thought. Van gave a short smile.

"I'm glad you like them. And that's all that matters." He said. "As it stands I have to meet with someone in a town a few days from here. If you wish to continue to travel with me then we'll need to be ready to leave with in the hour." He turned to the mole man. "As for you, I hope I wont have to insist you will stay here." He prompted. The mole man smiled nervously.

"Of course I'm staying here. I have LOTS of buisness here." He said sarchastically." Their was an edge on his voice. Van nodded.

"Agreed, then we bid you farewell." The king said. He gestured for Hitomi to follow him and she trotted along after him. Once they were a fair distance from the trader he finally spoke. "Their is a good chance that the mole man is working for some less scrupulous characters. I'm hoping by abandoning him we may flush them out of hiding." He said low they weaved their way around stands and shoppers.

"You mean like the assasin?" She asked. She involutarily grabbed onto his good arm. Her cool delicate fingers encircled his thick dark forearm. He glanced down breifly at them, then returned to talking. "I think our next stop will be to get rations, but then we must leave. I really do have to meet someone soon; although making him wait is fine with me." He had an unconscious smile on his face. Hitomi couldnt help but wonder who this man was.

They left the town before the hour was up. Hitomi found the walking over terrain and low hills much easier in her boots, and warmer in the long heavy skirt. The pair walked in silence for several hours. When at last they stopped to make camp hitomi helped get kindling and firewood. She set the twigs and dry leaves by the out cropping for the fire. She brushed the residue off of her hands and looked down at them, she looked at them in an objective manner. She was still looking at them when Van began to use his flint.

"Anything interesting?" Hitomi looked up.

"No, it's nothing really...it's just my hands...I've used them for such complex and delicate procedures...and if you had told me a week or even a month ago that they'd be covered in dirt and grime gathering firewood, I would have balked; but now it doesn't seem so bad." A small smile rose to her lips. She sighed and sat back on a small log that had been collected for use as a seat. "In fact as much as I should be frightened by the prospect of being astronomically far from home on a strange world, with a strange man and strangers in general...I'm not." Their was relief in her expression, then awkwardness. She shrugged. "I must be the wierdest girl you've ever met." She added knocking on her head with one fist. Van's eyes looked up from the fire with a brief flicker of something she did not recognize; but what ever it was she felt her body start to heat up all over. Then he looked away and an awkward silence ensued. Hitomi felt cold when he did not response; but perhaps her question had only been a means of fishing for approval from him...she resigned.

After an hour of silence and cooking the pair were again in another position to talk. Hitomi was surprised when Van spoke first.

"So, what is it like where you are from? You are a physician no?" He asked. He removed his knife and sliced open the belly of a roasted fish. Hot cooked inards spilled out. She looked away from it aware that she too would be gutting the fish before she ate it. Van had explained to her on the first night of eating fish that he kept the guts intact because it kept the meat from drying out; and she couldn't argue with the flavor. She nodded.

"Yes. I work at a hospital; it's where all of our sick and injured go. Then we treat them and they get better and they go home back to their families." She felt a wave of nausea sweep over her...maybe it was homesickness after all.

"Then all of your sick they recover; no one dies on your world?" He asked curious. She shook her head, and she felt a burning sting of tears. She touched her face.

"No they die. I wish they could all live; but yes some die." Van saw the gesture of her fingers dabbing her eyes, and the tinge of emotion on her voice. He restaked his fish on the ground and took the one in her hands. He gutted it and handed it back to her. She smiled.

"Someone very special...?" He asked. She nodded. He was very intuitive. "A lover, or a husband?" He inquired. Hitomi saw two things in his questions; was she married? and Van too had lost someone he loved.

"Yes; my grandmother." He looked embarassed. He knew he had given away a secret aboput himself. "Although thankfully not a lover or a husband, although I don't know when I would have had the time to find one but..." She chuckled. He moved back to his stump and his fish; and was silent. "Where I am from many women have to make a choice; family or career. I'm the eldest of two children, so I chose a career." She nodded she had stood by her decision for a long time, or at least until her grandmother had died. It was then that the rules of life had changed. Up until then she had firmly believed you could have any dream you want; at least until you accept the concept of a mortal reality. The simple and plain truth was nobody lives forever and suddenly Hitomi knew that her life too was ticking away. Yet what had she truly done? At twenty seven she was alone; she barely kept in contact with her brother or her parents and she had only had a few off and on relationships in a ten year period. She tried to push her thoughts aside. She didn't want to think about her social life or lack there of. She looked up from her feet. "And you? Any family? A wife maybe?" She asked with a similar curiosity to his. His face tightened. Hitomi watched Van's face grow much older than his current age.

"Yes. Although they are all dead now. At least I'm almost certain they are." He stuck the skewer with the fish back in the dirt. "I too have a brother; he disappeared some time ago trying to fullfill the right of passage to..." He trailed off, afraid to give away his identity. "He's most likely dead, I have not heard from him or seen him in seven years. Some time after that my mother passed away; and two years ago my father died in battle." He closed his eyes. "He wanted to die; of that I am sure." His voice was tight. Then the knowledge she knew was coming hit her. "I was married once, eleven years ago. My wife died from an illness we were onl;y together for a year. I have never remarried." He said cooly. Hitomi gulped; how heavy. At least her family was alive; she just neglected to make the time to see them.

"I see. She must have been very special." Hitomi said softly. At the same time the brunnete felt a little thankful; some how she was very comfortable with this strange gruff man; and the thought of him belonging to another woman would have been upsetting. Silence fell. "I should probably check your wounds after we finish our meal." She suggested calmly; though ashamed of her previous thoughts. Realizing this her appetite suddenly vanished. She sighed, what was next?

Van put out the flames from the fire and banked the coals. He moved silently in the night as he listened to the quiet soft breathing of his traveling companion. The two moons were high in the sky, and the shimmering light of the stars gave some light to the darkness. He heard Hitomi stir a little and roll over. She was still sleeping, but she had turned toward him and the absent fire. He caught a glimpse of her face as the moonlight fell over her skin. The woman was bathed in the cool light and he felt the rush of sorrow that filled him at the time he had first caught sight of her. She was so similar; they could have been twins if it were not for her place of birth. He stifled the thoughts; his heart still ached from the death of his wife, but hitomi was not her replacement. He stayed a few moments longer watching her sleep and then set to work laying out his bed roll. Unlike the earthling Van was accustomed to the outdoors and the temperature this time of year. Yet nagging at the back of his mind were his men. Van had no doubt that Balgus could take command and make the appropriate decisions; but something darker was on the horizon he could feel it. The arrival of a girl from the mystic moon could be no coincidence.

In an attempt to quiet his mind Van thought back to his happiest moments. His child hood had been riddled with both happiness as well as saddness, but he recalled his mother's voice and the stories of Atlantis. He imagined lying in his bed and Folken sitting in the doorway pretending not to listen. The stories of his angelic Draconian ancestors filled his mind and he was lost in dreams.

"You can be a hard man to find." Van said. By afternoon of thesecond day he and Hitomi had reached a tavern owned by a mutual friend. A lean blond man sat back in a wooden chair, one leg slung gracefully over another. The man looked at Van with serious blue eyes, his face was drawn with lines; he eyed Hitomi as she stood not to far from her protector.

"I've come to find that in times of war being hard to find is a very desirable attribute." He sighed and turned his eyes to Van's. The young king was dark, his voice had grown deep in consternation.

"I need some information." Allen leaned forward; his legs slipping from their poise as he moved to listen more closely. "The Escaflowne has vanished. I was flying over the area when I was shot down by a shaded guymelef." Allen looked some what worried; this was not good news. "I just want to know if the other side may have captured it. You and I both know that Escaflowne in the hands of the could mean many more lives lost." Allen nodded.

"If you insist Highness." The word slipped out before Van could stop him. "I'll have my men look into it." He brought his hand up under his chin. He looked thoughtful, then Van interupted.

"Will it be a problem?" He asked concerned. Allen shook his head.

"No, no; I just have to recall who is still alive from intell. Aside from the usual casualties of war; our side is being hit hard by the plague." His face was grim. Van sagged in his chair.

"I set up a quarrentine before I left several days ago. You can send your sick." Allen agreed.

"I just hope they survive the journey." They both nodded. It was then that Van noticed for the first time that Hitomi was ease-dropping. He barely glanced to the side and noticed her tring to look indescrete.

"Additionally I am travelling back to my encampment; would their be any way in which someone could put this girl up for a while. I'd be more than willing to pay." Allen looked up fron his thoughts; he seemed disoriented.

"Hmmm, what?" He looked over at the girl. "Oh yes, of course. Just remember that after this is all over our trade agreements will resume as before." Van nodded.

"Fair enough." He grinned. "Although I think I'm getting the better wnd of the deal." He and Allen gave a hearty laugh.

"That bad huh?" Van grew a little quiet; but nodded. Then Allen recognized he was truck inside. It was then that Allen examined the brunette again and took in a hiss of air. He looked solemnly at his friend. "Don't worry I'll make arrangements within the hour." Van looked grateful. The blond pushed back his chair and stood. "In the meantime you two should enjoy our few sites and relax. For the time being Zaibach does not occupy our territory and you are all safe. I have some buisness to attend to and then I will return before dinner." Van nodded. "I would be honored if you two would have dinner with me tonight." Hitomi looked over at him. She smiled and Allen's face softened. "Then its settled. I bid you ado." The lean man disappeared out of the bar and Hitomi took up his seat.

"So when are we leaving?" She inquired. Van frowned.

"I'm leaving at sunrise; you will be staying here with Allen's people." Hitomi sat backed indignant.

"But what about your quarentinne camp; I can help." She said trying not to be too loud and make a scene. He shook his head.

"We are not having this conversation; this is our world and our problem; we'll handle it." She furrowed her brows, her face coloring a bit.

"You don't have to be macho; I'm a doctor. I didn't go to medical school for seven years so I could do gastric bypasses all day. You have a real problem here, and I am in a position to help." She demanded. She hit her fist on the table between them, pain shot through her arm. Van pushed back his chair.

"No! you are staying here, end of story." He said in a very deep masculine voice. She stood up as quickly. "I'll not be responsible for your death as well." His voice was growing thick, what emotion was it? She gritted her teeth.

"You won't be, I choose to go. If I die I die." She pointed a finger at her chest. He fumed and after a s ilent beat hew stormed out of the pub. Hitomi felt immidiately cold inside. Why ? Why? was all she could think.