This story is a birthday present for my good friend, Brady the Just. Happy birthday, Brady. :)
Her name was Hana Yoru - Flower of the Night - and it was at night that she came to him, when his dreams were haunted and his sleep sundered by the roar of the dragon and the screams of his comrades-in-arms as they perished around him, and the acrid scent of his own blood as it soaked into the crimson battlefield. He would awaken, eyes wide, nightshirt soaked in sweat, and she'd be there, climbing through the open window, her bare feet leaving small prints of dirt on the sill. She would run to him and kneel by his bed, taking his hand in her small one, sometimes rubbing his wrist with her gentle fingers 'til his breathing calmed and his pummeling heart slowed. Then she would sit and talk to him for hours, and though he never could recall falling asleep, he would wake in the morning, and she would be gone, nothing left but the small footprint on the windowsill.
Hana Yoru, with her wild river of golden hair and her slightly pointed ears; Hana Yoru, with her blue eyes that never stopped laughing, even when her face was grave; Hana Yoru, who always brought with her the scent of earth and water and air, and a sense of peace that never failed to calm him. She was his lifeline, and he clung desperately to her presence as his nightmares threatened to drown him in a horrific tide of memories.
Originally she had only come to him once or twice a month, but as the nightmares grew more frequent, so did her visits, until he would awaken nearly every night to find her at the window, or already sitting in the chair beside his bed. She would take his hand in hers, and begin talking to him as if he had not just been roused from slumber by the horrors of his own mind. She was his best friend, and he dreaded the day that she would not be there.
Driven by such a fear, one night he asked her, "Hana, where do you come from? And where do you go each night when you leave me?" She did not answer at first, but tilted her head, looking at him curiously.
"Why do you want to know?" she asked at last. He gripped her pale hand in his, and she returned the pressure, her grasp reassuring.
"I...am afraid," he admitted. "I am afraid that sooner or later, you will disappear. I am afraid that one night I will need you, and you will not come." Sweat broke out on his forehead and ran down his temples, and he reached out to grasp her arm as the fear mounted within him. "I am afraid that I will lose you, too, as I lost all the rest. I am afraid...that one day, you will be gone."
Hana covered his hand with her free one, and a chill night breeze blew in the open window, stirring the gossamer curtains and cooling his flushed brow. "I will always be with you," she said. Her voice was light and clear, like the moonlight that shone into the room and touched her with its silver glow, turning her golden hair almost white. "I will always be with you, in your heart, and in your dreams."
She did not stay long after that; lulled by her promise, he drifted into an undisturbed rest.
And so it went, month after month; he would be roused from sleep by his dreams of death, and she would come to him, the very essence of life, and comfort him, bringing him peace. Sometimes she would sing to him, the song wrapping around him like water flowing over his shoulders. Once he asked her if she would not go, but stay with him forever, and bind her life to his, but she only laughed and brushed a cool hand over his eyes, and was gone through the window as he fell into peaceful slumber.
One night he jolted awake, and she was already sitting beside him, watching him, her blue eyes wide. "I saw," she said, her voice hushed. "I saw it all." She slid from her chair and knelt beside his bed, taking his hand in both of hers. "Is this what you endure every night?" He swallowed once or twice, and, unable to speak for a moment, nodded.
"Yes," he said at last. "But I have found, as time passes, that it is worth it." Hana blinked in surprise.
"Worth it?" He nodded again.
"Because that is when you come to me," he answered simply. The Fae girl smiled, impulsively flinging her arms around him and tilting her head back, blue eyes meeting green.
"I love you," she said unexpectedly, "and I shall always come to you, and be with you."
His heart swelled within him, and fire seemed to rush through his body, igniting his blood and sending his nerves thrumming. He reached out to cup his hand around the back of her head, burying his fingers in the bright golden hair as he drew her into his embrace. "And I love you, Hana Yoru. Your friendship is far beyond the price of any earthly wealth."
The night breeze blew in the window, rustling the curtains and wrapping around them like a cool blanket. He rested his rough cheek against her hair, breathing deeply the scent of earth and water and air, and then with one hand sought hers, squeezing it tightly as all his thoughts that could not be put into words were conveyed through the gesture, and she returned his grip, responding in kind, and...
...and the door to his chamber opened, and his squire entered.
His body twitched involuntarily, and he sat up, eyes wide. "What-? Where-? Hana?" His eyes slid to the young man, who stood with an expression of bemusement upon his face.
"Master, you were talking in your sleep. I thought you required my presence."
"Sleep... I wasn't sleeping!" He shook his head frantically, staring wildly around the room. "Where is she? Where is Hana Yoru?" The squire looked even more bemused.
"Master, there is no one here."
He shook his head again, fear building inside him.
"No, no! She was here! She was just here!" He scrambled out of bed, almost tripping on the soft sheets, and ran to the window. There was no small footprint on the sill, and the sash was lowered and latched. He struggled with the catch for a moment; it had rusted and stuck fast, for the window had not been opened in a very long time, but at last it gave way to his desperate strength, and he flung up the sash, gazing out into the still, damp night. There was no sign of Hana.
His squire crossed the room and lay a hand on his shoulder. "Master..." His voice was gentle. "There was no one here."
He stared at the boy, eyes wide. "No one... Then...I have been alone all along?"
The squire nodded.
"No." The word came out as a whisper, and he sank to the ground, bowing his head and gripping his hair between his fingers. "No, no, no. Hana...it was all just...she was...a dream?"
The squire nodded again.
"Come, Master," he said gently, squatting beside the man and taking hold of his arms, "let's get you back to bed."
He went wordlessly and without further protest, but lay with open eyes and empty mind as his faithful squire straightened the bedclothes and quietly exited. The room, which had breathed with magic nearly every night, seemed cold and blank.
She was not real.
She was not real. She was a dream, a figment of a tortured mind, a waif of his own imagination. She was never there, had never touched him, or talked to him; she had never sung to him or held his hand. Her promises to always return to him were promises to himself, the promises of a desperate man clinging to a desperate dream in the vain wish that it was reality.
The world crumbled around him.
His eyes squeezed shut, his hands balling into fists around the fabric of his blankets, until the threads strained and broke beneath his fingers. She was gone, gone forever, and all that was left for him were the endless nights of horror. Sweat and tears mingled together as they poured in a salty torrent down his temples, staining the pillow with his despair.
Then a light breeze touched his face, entering through the window that he had left open, and with it, Hana's words came back to him.
"I will always be with you, in your heart, and in your dreams."
Slowly, his breathing evened out, and slowly, his clenched hands relaxed, releasing the death-grip on his bedclothes. Slowly, his eyes opened, and for a moment he just lay there, breathing deeply as his heart slowed and calmed. He looked towards the window, then rose and crossed the room, kneeling before it and peering out into the night. He drew in a breath, inhaling the scent of earth and water and air, and a tiny smile touched his lips.
Hana Yoru, though not what he had dreamed, would live on in the world around him. She was in the night air that touched his face and cooled his fevered skin; she was in the moonlight that cut a path through the clouds and bathed the world in silver light. She lived on in the breeze that stirred the gossamer curtains, and in the dewdrops that kissed the grass each evening. She was in the purple and blue light of twilight, and the brook that endlessly laughed as it danced its way to the sea.
Hana Yoru would always be with him, in his heart, and in his dreams.
He lay his head against the windowsill and slept.