Publish Date: 7/22/2004
Disclaimer: I don't own Pretear. I just like to play with Hayate's hair! *pets*
Himeno wandered aimlessly through the streets of the town that bore her family’s name.
Her arms were wrapped tightly around her stomach, trying to stave off a cold that came solely from within. She kept her gaze on the sidewalk, meeting no one’s gaze. She was lost in a whirlwind of her own thoughts, and none of them were happy.
She was a failure. Worthless. Good for nothing. Powerless, helpless, and hopeless. A burden. She had failed those who needed her most, and Sasame had nearly died as a result. He was safe now, being cared for my his fellow Leafe Knights and nursed back to health…but she was plagued incessantly by ‘maybe’s’ and ‘what if’s.’
An idea had been wiggling, gnawing at the very back of her mind. She had tried desperately to ignore it, but the more she wandered and the more she thought, the better it sounded.
She could leave. She could run away from all of this, and not bother or burden anyone again. Maybe if she did, they would be able to find a new Pretear, hopefully someone who could do what she couldn’t, and stop the Princess of Disaster to save the world.
Himeno didn’t even realize that she was speeding up. Her steps quickened, and within seconds she was running. She didn’t know where she was going to go or how she was going to get there. But she needed to leave. Maybe then, the Leafe Knights could find someone who could really do the job.
And her family…they wouldn’t miss her. Her father had two new daughters to take her place.
They didn’t need her. The Leafe Knights didn’t need her.
Nobody needed her.
Kaoru looked out the window, his hands still on the unfinished sculpture he had been so carefully molding into shape. And he sighed. “I’m worried.”
Hayate looked up, surprised. “What?”
“Himeno’s been acting very strangely lately. I haven’t seen her all day,” he continued. “And I don’t think she’s come home yet. I’m worried.”
For some reason, that struck a nerve with the Wind Knight. “She hasn’t?”
Minutes later, after making a few moderately plausible excuses to Kaoru, he managed to escape from the workroom and darted out into the forested area that took up a good chunk of the Awayuki family estate. In a flare of magic, his work clothes had vanished, and he was clad as the Knight of Wind. With a practiced ease, he took off into the air.
His eyes darted left and right, not missing a single inch of ground beneath him. He’d had a bad feeling; it had been pestering him for quite some time, but he’d ignored it until now. But Kaoru’s offhand comment of concern for his daughter had sent Hayate’s instincts onto red alert.
He would search for her. If she was all right and there wasn’t a problem, then at least he would have calmed his own nerves and concerns. But if something was wrong…
Please let her be all right…
It was starting to rain.
Great. Just great.
As if she didn’t feel pathetic enough, now she was getting cold and soaked.
Others around her went scurrying for safety, inside homes and buildings. There were a few pulling out umbrellas, or pulling coats or even newspapers over their heads to protect themselves against the torrent. Himeno, on the other hand, ignored it. She had numbed herself to the world.
Had anyone noticed she was missing? She hadn’t been home all day.
She wondered about Sasame. Was he all right? Goh and Kei had been taking care of him, feeding him Leafe and watching over him until he was back to his normal self. He’d been hurt because she hadn’t been able to pret and fight.
Takako, the Princess of Disaster, had called her the Princess of Sorrow. Was it true? Would her powers change now, like Takako’s had? Was she going to become like her predecessor—a harbringer of disaster and destruction to the world? Would she be sealed away too, locked away in the darkness?
So many questions. So few answers.
Himeno slowed her steps until finally she stopped; her shadow was cast on the ground by the glow of a streetlight she had managed to stop under. Without really meaning to, she leaned against it; it was so cold, so very cold.
Her eyes burned, and a few tears escaped to mingle with the rain on her face.
She felt cold, and so alone.
He landed in an alley and in a flash was in his street clothes; he was soaked. His long hair was plastered to his neck and face; it was irritating, and he absently pushed it back with one hand as he ran.
Suddenly, his intuition started sending up fireworks, shooting off starter pistols, and doing cartwheels and back handsprings inside him. He followed it, trusting that inner instinct to guide him.
Hayate rounded a corner…and skidded to a stop. His heart was hammering out a skittering jangle in his chest, and his lungs were aflame from exertion. He could feel a muscle in his leg cramping up. But his own pain didn’t matter.
He had found her. At last, there she was, clearly visible in the circular glow cast by the streetlamp she was beneath. Her back was to him, and she didn’t seem to have noticed him just yet, so he had a moment to take her in, to try and read her thoughts.
Anyone else who would have seen her would have seen a pitiable sight. Himeno was sitting on the ground—whether she was there by choice or had fallen, he knew not. Both arms were wrapped around the metal lamppost; she almost seemed to be clinging to it for support of some kind. She was thoroughly soaked from running out in the rain. And she was shaking, shivering as though she would just fall apart. He recognized the way her shoulders were trembling—she was crying.
Another person would have seen a pathetic girl.
Hayate saw someone who was very nearly broken. Himeno was hurt and scarred in ways even she probably didn’t know of or understand. And now, in the face of all that was happening, those old wounds were reopening, tearing into her and ripping her apart. She had started to doubt, and as doubt was wont to do, it had grown, as a seed planted in fertile soil would blossom into a strong flower. But the plant of doubt was no more than a weed that had rooted so deeply in her mind that she might never be able to pull it up.
She had tried to help them. She had taken the destiny of Pretear and all that it meant, and look where it had gotten her. Alone, heartbroken, huddled on an empty street in the rain, in the middle of the night, with only a cold, unfeeling metal post for support.
He moved without even realizing he was doing so. His feet carried him forwards, and he fell to his knees. Hands and arms moved of their own volition, encircling her huddled, shaking form and pulling her back against him in the warmest embrace he could muster.
She tensed at the first brush of contact, but she was too surprised to resist. She knew, instinctively, who was behind her, holding her now. And without really meaning to, she leaned back into it a little; it was warm, he was warm, and she could feel the ice that had clawed around her insides begin to thaw.
Then she remembered what she was doing, and though it almost hurt, she pulled away and turned around as she stood. Her back pressed against the lamppost; after the warmth of his embrace, it felt even icier, more bitter and uncaring.
She was right; it was Hayate—who was watching her now with question written in his dark eyes. “Himeno…” he began softly, but she interrupted.
“You don’t need me,” Himeno whispered in answer to the question she hadn’t given him time to ask; tears were shining brightly in her eyes. “Nobody needs me. Find another Pretear before it’s too late.” She refused to meet his eyes, instead staring at the pavement as though it held the answer to life itself.
“Go away. I’m leaving,” she went on. It almost killed her to say that, but she did it.
“Himeno!” he grabbed her shoulders, forcing her to look at him; she still managed to avoid looking right at his eyes. “Why are you leaving? It’s not true!” He forced himself to calm down. “What do you mean, nobody needs you?”
“It’s true,” she argued. “Otou-san has okaa-sama, and Mayune and Mawata. A wife and two new daughters. He doesn’t need me. And I can’t pret anymore. If I can’t pret, I can’t become a Pretear. So you guys don’t need me. Nobody at school understands me or even tries to…”
“That’s not true!” Hayate insisted, at a loss. This wasn’t a recent development by any means; she had to have been beating herself up with this since long before she had jumped out of that shrub and mowed him down. She’d obviously been thinking about this for a long time.
She shook her head. “Takako was right. I’m—I’m just worthless. Nobody needs me…I could just disappear, no one would notice…” Her eyes closed. “And I’ll become a Princess of Disaster, too…” Her voice trailed off, leaving the thought unfinished.
“No, no, no,” he shook his head fervently. And once again, his body took on a mind of its own as his hands tightened slightly on her shoulders and his arms pulled her forward against him, into a tight hug. “Himeno…your father is worried about you.” She tensed, but he continued. “I was just with him, and he told me so. Point blank. Those words, exactly.”
“He…did?” she asked, like it was a completely new experience for someone to worry about her.
“Yes. And you think we’re just going to forget about you because you can’t pret?” he went on. He didn’t know where the words were coming from, but he was grateful for them. “I think Mannen and Hajime and Shin would be offended by the very idea of it. And as long as you don’t let your powers change to darkness, you won’t become another Princess of Disaster. I know it.”
“R-really?” she sounded almost…hopeful?
“And Himeno?” he took a deep breath. “I’d miss you…” He paused. “I’d notice…if you weren’t there…” He felt her shoulders shake. “I’d be miserable…it would be terrible…”
“Really?” she asked again. She sounded desperate to believe him.
“Really.” He gave her a squeeze, and then asked. “Come home?” he asked softly. “Talk more?”
She hesitated for a moment, but nodded.
What would happen if I disappeared?
She had wondered that not too long ago, right before the Leafe Knights had fallen into her life.
And now she knew.
At least one person would have missed her desperately.
Wasn’t that enough?