Publish Date: 7/1/2004
Disclaimer: I don't own Pretear. I just like to play with Hayate's hair! *pets*
There was a slight thudding sound; it beat with a persistent rhythm. Finally, Kei’s curiosity got to be too much, and he followed the noise. As he got closer, another sound invaded his hearing. A familiar voice muttering a single word with each thud.
Finally, he came around a tree, and found himself face to face with the source of the disturbance: Hayate, who was banging his head against a tree trunk, and repeating his mantra with each strike of his head. “Stupid…stupid…stupid…”
Kei couldn’t keep from laughing a little. “You messed up again, didn’t you?”
Hayate paused long enough to say, “Shut up.” Then he resumed his mantra.
“You know,” Kei leaned against the tree, “you really should just tell Himeno straight out how you feel. You shouldn’t make that poor girl wait like this.” He felt the tree shake with each bang of Hayate’s head. Man, he was really punishing himself today!
“I’m trying. It’s just not working,” the stoic Wind Knight finally stopped, and put one hand to his forehead. “And now my head hurts.” In a rare display, he slouched back and sighed. “I’m really trying.”
“I know. We all know,” Kei replied, with real sympathy in his voice.
It had been quite some time since the defeat of Fenrir. The Leafe Knights continued to live their own lives now, happy and healthy. They had built a gateway between Leafenia and Earth right on the Awayuki estate, so they were never far away.
Since that fateful day, when lives had been lost and restored, everyone had settled into a fairly comfortable routine. The Awayuki family was closer than ever, and was all the happier for it. And the Knights had regular interaction with the family. The younger three were fond of Mawata in particular, and never seemed to tire of her company.
Sasame and Takako were doing well, to the relief of everyone. Sins were forgiven, and the bonds of friendship were restored. Sasame had returned to his radio show, apologizing to his loyal listeners, and pleading extended illness as cause for his absence.
All in all, it almost seemed too good to be true. Unfortunately, there was one thing that hadn’t been taken care of. Namely, Himeno and Hayate. All of the Leafe Knights knew—and were somewhat amused by—their stoic leader’s feelings for their Pretear. So far as they knew, she still didn’t know that he had kissed her that once, when she had died in the battle.
And now that things had settled down, everyone was trying to get him to tell her how he felt. Hayate seemed open to the idea, except for one tiny problem: every time he tried, he would get completely tongue-tied. The mood could be perfect, they could be completely alone, he’d start—and end up stuttering like a moron, his face going completely red, until Himeno would invariably ask if he was feeling all right or some such question.
It was getting frustrating. He had never had this much trouble with anything in his life. Today marked just another failed attempt, and Hayate was once again beating himself up over it. He had even practiced—he would simply say the phrase over and over again, sometimes even practicing on one of his fellow Knights. “I love you,” he would say repeatedly. He refused to practice with Go, though, because he’d feigned offense and pretended to slap him. Never again, he had vowed.
But for all his practice, it still didn’t happen.
Kei looked over his shoulder. Sasame was standing there in his street clothes. The Sound Knight strolled over, hands casually stuffed into his pockets. He took one look at Hayate, and chuckled. “You messed it up again, didn’t you?”
“Leave me alone.”
“You really need to figure out some way to tell her,” Sasame shook his head wryly. “That poor girl can’t just wait around forever for you to figure out how to say you love her.”
“I said leave me alone.”
Later, in the Awayuki gardens…
The Sound Knight glanced up from the book he was reading. “Feeling better?”
Hayate sat down on the bench next to him. “I guess so.” There was a moment of silence. Then he spoke again. “Sasame, you’re still doing your radio show thing, right?”
“Uh-huh,” Sasame replied, not looking up from his book again.
“Do you still do the postcard reading thing?” Hayate asked, looking nonchalantly off to the side.
It was far too casual and far too specific to be just random conversation, and Sasame didn’t miss it. He pretended not to be paying any closer attention, but simply said, “Uh-huh…” Truthfully, he was quite interested in seeing where this little interrogation session was going, though he had a hunch…
“What kind of things do people write in about?”
“You’ve never listened in? I’m hurt,” Sasame put the book down and smiled, finally giving his friend his full attention. “But we get all sorts of postcards and letters to read on the air. People talk about their families, something that’s happening in their lives, good or bad…” He paused, then decided to go for the kill. “Their love lives, they want to tell someone they love them…a lot of stuff, really.”
He knew he was right when he said the word ‘love’ and Hayate went red. Honestly, ever since he’d met Himeno, his usually-stoic demeanor had softened greatly, and he’d been getting flustered more and more often. Much to his chagrin, of course.
Sasame sighed. “What’s this about?”
For a split second, he really thought he was going to get an answer. But then Hayate actually let out a nervous laugh and waved his hand, as though brushing the question aside. “Nothing, nothing. I was just wondering, that’s all.” And before Sasame could as another question, he had taken off.
Sasame frowned. Interesting…
It felt as though Hayate had been sitting at that table for hours, hunched over the paper. His shoulders were sore, his neck felt stiff, and his fingers ached. But he kept writing. As the ink flowed from the pen onto the page, he saw Himeno’s face; as words took form, he heard her laugh.
Once upon a time, he never would have been so affected by anyone. But he’d heard it said before that love could change people in the most profound ways, and it turned out that it was true, true, true.
He had never dreamed that it would be this hard to get his feelings down on paper, but he pressed on. And slowly but surely, a letter was formed. It wasn’t terribly long, but it said everything he had wanted to tell her for so long. After talking with Sasame, he had decided that if he couldn’t make himself say the words out loud, then a letter was the next best way to do it.
He’d considered asking Sasame to read it on the air—the reason for his questions earlier. But he’d decided against that. There would be no end to the teasing then, and though he wanted the entire world to know, he’d just decided it wasn’t the best option.
He read back over it, and finally sat back in his chair, satisfied. Finally, she would know. He folded the paper and stuck it in an envelope. He stared at it for a minute, then dropped it on the table and put a book over it. He’d written it out—that was a step in the right direction. Now he was going to have to get up the nerve to give it to her. But that couldn’t be too hard, right?
With a sigh, Hayate heaved out of his chair, wincing a little he stretched. He’d give it to her later. Right now, he needed some air, and then it was back to work. He was still working under Kaoru; it was a job, and it made a convenient excuse to stay close to her.
As he left, he failed to notice a flash of white slip into the workroom behind him.
Sasame was not a snoopy or nosy person by nature, but Hayate’s behavior lately had both intrigued and annoyed him. Intrigued, because he had never seen his fearless leader act so…freaked out. Hayate wasn’t the kind who would normally beat around the bush. Furthermore, their earlier exchange about the radio show had him convinced that something was up.
But he was also annoyed, because he knew how much Himeno wanted to hear those three little words that Hayate was trying so hard to say. He knew because she had told him, in so many words.
“So…how’s Hayate?” Himeno’s question was far too innocent to be innocent, if such a thing made sense. “I haven’t seen him for a while.” That last was said almost wistfully.
“He’s fine,” Sasame replied, knowing full well why she was asking. “But I think he has a lot on his mind lately, and it’s keeping his attention.” That was close enough to the truth without giving anything important away.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough of an answer for Himeno. “What’s on his mind? Is something bothering him? Maybe I can help or something!” She was jabbering, and he held up a hand to calm her down. She blushed a little. “I just miss him, is all…”
It wasn’t fair to Himeno.
Why he’d come here, he wasn’t sure. But some instinct had screamed at him as he walked past the building, and he tended to follow those instincts. He glanced around, looking for some justification, but seeing none. Not at first anyway. His gaze skittered over one of the tables in the room.
There was a book on the table, with the corner of an envelope poking out from under it. And his intuition was doing cartwheels and shooting off fireworks. One little peek wouldn’t hurt…if it was nothing, then it was nothing. It was probably just a piece of junk mail, a forgotten letter left on the table.
He reached over and plucked it from under the book. The front of the envelope was blank, and it was unsealed. So it hadn’t been mailed yet. Well, no harm in taking a peek. It had been left out in the open.
With a practiced hand, he withdrew the paper and flipped it open. Lavender eyes skimmed the first few lines, and widened in surprise. It was Hayate’s handwriting, and what it read was nothing short of monumental. And it was actually poetic. He could tell that his fellow Knight had put a lot of time and effort into its writing.
Making a split second decision, he put the letter back in its envelope and pocketed it; he then sprinted out of the room, back to the enormous wind chimes by the garden pond. His heart was hammering, and he already felt guilty for taking it.
But he knew his friend. Hayate would never actually work up the nerve to give it to her, just like he couldn’t make himself tell her he loved her. So for Himeno’s sake, and Hayate’s, and everyone who had to sit by and watch this go on, he was going to take care of.
And if Hayate killed him, at least he would die having had the last laugh, so to speak.
The redhead jumped a little as Sasame popped up behind her unexpectedly, as he was prone to do. But she recovered quickly, and flashed him a trademark, million-watt smile. “What’s up?”
“Nothing, really,” the Sound Knight returned the grin. “I just wanted to tell you that I think you should listen to the show tonight. There’s going to be something on there that you need to hear.”
“What is it?” she asked, and he shook his head.
“No, no, I can’t tell you. That would take all the fun out of it. But will you promise to listen tonight? You won’t regret it.”
She giggled. “Okay, I’ll listen.” She put on a mock-frown, and wagged her finger at him. “But this had better be good, or else…” He laughed, and the rest of the fake threat was never made.
As he left, heading for the station, he reached into his pocket; the envelope was still there, just waiting to be read to eager listeners. Sasame smiled. Tonight…
“You’re kidding!” Goh yelped in disbelief.
Kei shook his head emphatically, blonde ponytail flying around. “No, it’s the truth. Sasame has the letter and everything. It’ll be on the radio tonight.” His voice dropped. “But I don’t think Hayate knows Sasame has it, so keep it quiet, okay? And I’ve already explained to Sasame that if Hayate goes into a murderous rage, we knew nothing about it. Remember that—we’re just as surprised as he is.” That last was more directed at the children then anyone else, but the message was clear.
“All right!” Mannen thrust one fist into the air. “We’re definitely gonna listen!”
“I’ll turn it on at work,” Goh nodded with a smirk. “Wouldn’t miss this for anything.” A tug on his arm got his attention, and he looked down at Shin. “What’s up?”
“Is he gonna kiss her again?” the little boy asked innocently. “And will she be awake this time?”
It was quite some time before anyone was coherent enough to answer him.
Himeno plopped down on her floor with her pillow, and promptly began fiddling with the radio dial. She listened to Sasame’s show quite often, but the previous evening she’d been listening to another station, and needed to get tuned back in. Finally, the right station crackled into clarity. “Yes!”
She sat back as there was a knock at the door. “Come in!”
The door creaked open, and Mawata’s blue head poked in. “Mind if I join you?” When Himeno nodded, she came in and closed the door behind her before grabbing another pillow and joining her stepsister on the floor by the radio. “I heard you telling otou-san earlier that you were planning to listen tonight because Sasame said it was important. What’s going on?”
“He wouldn’t tell me,” Himeno lamented. “He just said there was going to be something on tonight that I would really want to hear. And I like listening to his show anyway, so it’s not a chore or anything.” She laughed. “I really wonder what’s up, though…”
As the hour of Sasame’s show finally arrived, Himeno and Mawata got comfortable and listened. In a little restaurant not far away, Goh tuned in the radio in the back and turned up the volume. Kei, working late, clicked on a radio at his work station, and continued clicking away at his computer. Mannen, Hajime, and Shin were hiding out in the gardens of the estate with a radio Mannen had been given as a present from Himeno. Everyone hunkered down to hear what was up.
Even Hayate was listening in. He was helping Himeno’s father with a new project, and they just happened to have the radio in the workroom turned to that station. But the Wind Knight didn’t seem at all disturbed when Sasame’s smooth voice began reading letters. He thought briefly of the letter he had written for Himeno, now buried beneath some books on a nearby table, but he quickly pushed it out of his mind.
Time seemed to slip by, and before anyone realized how much time had truly passed, Sasame’s lyrical voice was announcing that it was time for the last letter of the evening. He seemed awfully smug, though, as he talked about it.
“This letter was written by someone who has something very important to tell someone else,” Sasame said; prerecording didn’t take away from his voice at all. “He can’t quite say it face to face, but he has something he desperately wants her to know.” There was a pause, and a rustling of paper.
At the time of the recording, Sasame felt a little guilty about doing this, but enough was enough. If nobody stepped in, Himeno would never know the truth. He unfolded it, read the first sentence again, took a deep breath, and dove in. No turning back now; the die had been cast.
“To say that I am a man who can’t speak his mind isn’t entirely true. But when I try to say some things, I suddenly become incapable of speech. You have that effect on me a lot, though you may not realize it. That’s one thing about you that never ceases to amaze me.”
All who were listening could hear the smile in Sasame’s voice as he read the heartfelt words. “I’ve heard it said that things happen to us for a reason. And I was a fool for not seeing right away what an amazing thing had just been dropped into my life when you came flying through that bush and mowed me down. I can’t believe how much has changed since that day. You’ve grown, right before my eyes. And you’ve grown on me.”
“I’ve never been very good with words, unfortunately, so I can’t find the right words to tell you how much you mean to me. Maybe someday I’ll be able to say all this to your face, and if you would just smile at me, I could die a happy man.”
“It hurts me that I can’t work up the nerve to tell you this face to face, and I am ashamed of that. I’ve tried. God knows I’ve tried. But I end up stammering, going red, and just acting like an idiot until you usually ask if I’m coming down with something. I feel like a coward, but this is going to have to do, and I hope you’ll forgive me for it.”
Sasame, listening to his own show on a handheld radio out in the gardens, had long since been able to tell when he truly had his audience captivated. Oh, he always had their attention. He had the personality for radio. But tonight, this letter had everyone spellbound. It wasn’t fancy, but it had come from this unknown man’s heart.
“So I go this route. No turning back, no more pretending. Just the honest truth. I’ve hidden it for too long, and now I want you to know, even if I can't face you later.” Sasame paused for effect, and also to gather himself.
And he read the last line. “I love you, tulip-head. Forever, your Knight.”
Still listening to his own reading of the letter, the Sound Knight extended his considerable hearing, and he heard the reactions of his fellow Knights. Goh, Kei, and the kids all reacted the exact same way. They all jumped up, threw one fist triumphantly in the air, and shouted, “YES!”
In Goh’s case, a customer asked if he was all right, and he was happily telling the man all about it. He got off work after the show anyway, so he would be breezing out of there as soon as he was done recounting the story.
Kei realized that a couple of his co-workers, also still in the office, were staring at him. He froze for a moment, then muttered an excuse and headed out for the night.
Shin, Hajime, and Mannen were doing happy dances.
There was silence on the radio. Then Sasame’s voice continued, “There’s not really much I can add to that. So this is Sasame, signing off. Goodnight.” And there was a musical cue to signal the end.
The closing music began to play, signaling the end of the show.
Mawata reached up and turned of the radio. As the dial clicked, the room fell silent. Himeno sat completely still, both hands clasped over her mouth, eyes fixated on the radio.
Her blue-haired stepsister looked at her questioningly. “Tulip head? That’s you for sure.” She paused; Himeno wasn’t moving at all, she was still stunned. “Your Knight?”
“The only one of the Knights who calls me that is…Hayate,” Himeno murmured as realization dawned. And with it came complete and total exhilaration. “Ohmigod…he loves me.” She stood up, barely realizing that she had done so. “He loves me. He loves me!” Each repetition became more and more excited, until she was actually jumping up and down and squealing.
“What’s all the noise about?” Mayune stuck her head in the door, radiating disapproval.
To her amazement, Himeno skipped across the room and threw her arms around her stepsister in a tight hug. “He loves me! He loves me!” Her vocabulary seemed to have been restricted to those three words for the moment as she danced around in celebration.
Suddenly, Himeno stopped. “Ohmigod, I’ve gotta go find him and give him an answer! Oh, but he said he might not be able to look me in the eye now…” Her happiness dimmed a bit.
A hand touched her shoulder. “Get going!” Mawata said with a smile. “Don’t make him wait!” That seemed to stir Himeno to decision, and she gave her younger sister another quick hug before darting around Mayune and out the door. Mawata’s smile stayed on her face. “Go get him, Himeno…”
At the first words of that last letter, the box Hayate had been holding fell from his hands and landed on the ground with a crash. He didn’t even hear Kaoru asking him if something was wrong. His entire being was focused on the words coming out of that speaker.
For the next couple of minutes, he couldn’t move. He was spellbound, frozen in shock and horror. His hand had written those words, earlier that very day. But it was still—
As Sasame’s voice faded into the closing music, the spell over Hayate seemed to break, and he dove over the table. The book was there, but the envelope holding the letter was gone. Which meant…
A thought occurred to him then, and he couldn’t decide if it was horrifying or reassuring. What if Himeno had heard? She was a fan of Words Gate, she’d said so repeatedly. She listened in often. If she’d been listening tonight and heard…she would know it was meant for her, and he had no doubt that she would know exactly who it had been written for.
Without a single word to Kaoru, who was still royally confused, Hayate turned on his heel and walked swiftly out of the work-room, heading for the gardens. In a flare of magic, he was in his Leafe Knight clothes. He knew the radio show was taped during the day and then played at night, so Sasame wouldn’t be at the station. Which meant he had to track him down on his own.
Amazingly, his search didn’t take very long. Sasame was sitting on the same bench he’d been occupying earlier, reading the same book. It was almost like he hadn’t moved, but Hayate knew that wasn’t true. After all, he had to have moved, since he’d thoroughly humiliated his teammate.
Sasame looked up at his visitor. For a long moment, there was dead silence. The tension between the two was so thick, you could have sliced it and served it on bread with jelly and a side of potatoes.
Finally, the Sound Knight closed his book, stood up, and in a flash had changed to his own Knight clothes. Then he regarded his friend with a wry smile. “You heard, I take it?” A nod was his only answer. “So I guess it’s safe to assume that I’m a dead man, right?”
Himeno ran into the gardens. She’d checked in her father’s work-room, but he’d told her that Hayate had left in a hurry without a single word, right after the radio show. She’d just missed him.
So if he wasn’t there, it stood to reason that he was out in the gardens by the enormous wind chimes; it seemed to be one the Leafe Knights’ favorite haunts. And sure enough, as she drew near, she heard voices further off in the trees. Unfortunately, those voices didn’t sound too happy.
She came closer. Mannen, Hajime, and Shin were hiding behind an overgrown root, watching something in rapt fascination. She heard Mannen’s voice, whispering to the other two. “Oh man, I’m really glad I’m not Sasame. Hayate’s pissed!”
Himeno crept up behind him. “What’s going on?”
They jumped at her voice, but Mannen answered in a whisper, “I think they’re trying to kill each other. I’ve never seen Hayate that mad before. Sasame’s toast!” Himeno followed his gaze; sure enough, Sasame and Hayate were engaged in combat. This was the real deal!
“Quiet over there!” Sasame yelled over to them, dodging another wind attack. “Hayate, calm down! I said I was sorry, but it had to be done! If anything you should be thanking me!”
Unfortunately for the Sound Knight, Hayate didn’t quite seem to see it that way. He launched another attack. “You had no right to—I swear I’ll—you son of a—“ He was too infuriated to even finish a simple sentence. “You’re dead, you hear me!”
Sasame was flipping out of the way, avoiding everything thus far—but for how long?
In flares of red and gold magic, Kei and Goh appeared. Each grabbed one of Hayate’s arms, restraining him, and giving Sasame a chance to catch his breath. Hayate remained less than amused. “Let go, dammit!” he yelled, almost managing to throw Goh.
Kei glanced over at the man in white, who was gasping for air. “Sasame, run. I won’t say you were in the right, but I understand why you did it. So get out of here.”
Sasame didn’t need to be told twice, and took off. He breezed over to where Himeno and the three children were watching with extreme interest. But he paused long enough to grab Himeno’s shoulders and plead, “Please tell him not to kill me!”
“I’ll—try?” she promised, confused. Why was Hayate so angry? Was it over the letter?
Having received her promise, he continued on his way, disappearing through the gate into Leafenia and presumably, safety. Kei and Goh released Hayate, who spun out of their reach.
Before Hayate could say anything, Kei held up a hand. “I’m sure you don’t want Himeno to see you behaving like this, so calm down before you do something you regret.”
At the mention of his angel’s name, Hayate’s anger flooded away. Comprehension dawned, and he wryly asked, “She’s watching right now, isn’t she?” A nod. “Dammit…” That last was a whisper, so he was sure she hadn’t heard him curse.
Goh turned to Kei and grinned. “I think it’s time for us to make our exit. Let’s grab the kids.” The blonde Knight nodded, and they darted over, scooping up the children, and pausing to wish Himeno a whispered good luck. Goh threw her a conspiratorial wink.
As they were dragged away, Mannen started yelling, “Hayate, make sure you kiss her, okay?”
Hajime picked up on it. “Yeah! Smoochie smoochie!” Shin just giggled as all three of them began making kissing noises, and Mannen made a few cracks about vacuum cleaners. But in a minute, they were gone, leaving Hayate and Himeno alone in the moonlight.
His back was to her, but even in the faint light, she could see that his face was a brilliant crimson. His hands were clenched into fists at his side, like he was trying to restrain himself from something. Stanidng still like that, in his Knight clothes, he almost seemed a statue, carved of dark marble.
Himeno walked closer, until she was standing only a few feet away. If she took one more step forward, and reached out…but not yet. Instead, she simply said, “I listened to the radio tonight.” She saw him wince. “Did you write that letter?”
For a moment, nothing. Then the softest of voices answered, “Yes.”
“Yes.” His head bowed a little bit; he was embarrassed. “I—I’m sorry.”
She was surprised. “For what?”
She could barely hear him when he said, “I didn’t tell you myself.” A pause. “Sasame took that letter. I didn’t know he was going to…” His voice trailed off then.
So that was it. That was why he was so angry.
But he was going on, so Himeno abandoned the thought with a mental note to chastise Sasame later. “I—I tried, but I couldn’t say it. I’d always get stuck on the second word.” She remembered many times when he’d started to stay something, but never getting past the word ‘I.’ She hadn’t wanted to hope then, but now it made some sense.
Himeno finally gave in to her urge, and stepped forward, putting her arms around his waist and letting her forehead rest against his back. She felt him tense in surprise; he turned a little to look over his shoulder. “Himeno?”
“Would you tell me now?” she asked, not moving. “Can you? Please?”
Silence fell with an audible thunk. Even the crickets and cicadas chirping nearby seemed to quiet in anticipation of what was coming. Slowly, Hayate turned around; she didn’t let go of him. His hands moved on their own, moved to her shoulders. He took a deep breath. This was it. The opportune moment. He just had to say it, those three little words that had been on the tip of his tongue for so long now.
“I…I…” Something broke, and his hands moved to her back, pulling into a crushing embrace; he held her as tightly as he could without hurting her, and finally, the words came out. “I love you. I love you.” Now he couldn’t stop saying it. Great.
“…not breathing…” Himeno gasped. Sheepishly, he loosened his hold on her a little, though he really didn’t want to. He wanted to hold her. But she didn’t step away. Instead she looked up; her expression was serene, but her pink-red eyes were dancing with joy. “Was that so hard?”
He stared at her in surprise.
“And you know what the best part is?” she stood on tiptoe, smiling. “I love you, too!”
He’d known it, he truly had, but something about hearing her actually say those words was absolutely magical. Preting had nothing on this, he decided. But she was still very close…there was no one else around, and it was romantic—he guessed.
Up until meeting her, he’d never given romance a second thought.
Hayate gave in. One of his hands moved to her cheek. Hadn’t he touched her face like this once before? She had been lying amidst flowers, clad in the pink-white dress of the White Pretear. It was right after the battle with Fenrir, and she had been…
What had he done next?
He repeated that as well, breathing her name as he kissed her.
Okay, so maybe he wouldn’t kill Sasame.
Not yet, anyway.