Disclaimer: All characters are the property of Kaori Naruse. I claim none, I merely borrow them and take them out to yummy shoe sales and put them through the horror of finding the perfect strappy sandal.
Sometimes Hayate felt very fortunate. Right now was a prime example.
He hadn’t really known where his feet were taking him when he started walking, but apparently his body had somewhere that it really wanted to go, and so he let himself follow that invisible path towards the unknown destination. He passed the town limits and kept going; if it got late, he could fly back. There was a slight breeze that sent a chill down his spine, but he ignored it.
Suddenly, he had dragged his eyes up from the road, starting to wonder if he should turn back.
And there she was, in the middle of the field.
She hadn’t noticed him yet, hadn’t realized that he was there. And miraculously, no one else was around; the other Leafe Knights were nowhere in sight. They always seemed to pop up at the most inopportune moments, but not this time. So for the moment at least, he was free to just look, without hindrance or embarrassment. He liked to look at her…not that he usually admitted it, though.
It was strange, though—the weather had turned so cold recently, and yet this field still echoed with a rainbow of flowers. It seemed that nature’s beauties were clinging to their last days of vibrant life before they succumbed to winter’s cold and winter’s sleep.
She was kneeling in the flowers, oblivious to his presence or to the chill; her attention was solely on the flowers around her. The petals danced in the breeze, playing a spectrum of red, pink, white, green against the pale blue of her jacket, the pastel yellow of the scarf around her neck.
Her hair rustled gently around her face. Red hair, such an unusual color. Tulip-Head, he called her. Once a nickname for a person he hadn’t wanted to get close to, now a personal term of endearment for a person he couldn’t bring close enough.
And he dragged his eyes from her hair to her face, and his jaw dropped a bit.
After Fenrir’s defeat, life at home had become far more agreeable for her; they were a family now, all of them and their adoptive cousins, the Leafe Knights. And he knew she was happy now.
In spite of that, though, he had never seen such a serene expression on Himeno’s face.
For this one moment, at least, she seemed wholly at peace with the world. No worries, no cares, no problems. Just a small, enigmatic smile that belied nothing, and ruby eyes that took in the whole world without fear or troubles.
And the second coming of Fenrir couldn’t have forced Hayate to drag his eyes from her.
She moved; the flowers parted to allow her movement, welcoming her into their fold. Hands cased in pale yellow gloves moved and gathered a small bundle of white flowers.
Kuchinashi, he realized after a second. Gardenia…
She pulled the small bouquet to her face and inhaled deeply, closing her eyes and breathing in the heady scent. The white petals touched her skin, her gloved hands as she took in the perfume, covering her face with so many gentle kisses.
And she was still, unmoving. It was like a painting—he wished it was a painting, because then he could have just looked at it forever, unchanging. Simple. Eternally beautiful. Not that he could ever voice those thoughts, though…
He started as she suddenly said his name. Uh-oh. He had been caught. She’d noticed him.
She stood up, absently brushing dirt from her knees—-no, don’t move away, stay like that forever, so peaceful-—and moved towards him, stepping onto the road. “How long have you been here?” she asked, tilting her head to one side.
He managed to stammer out a disclaimer of, “Not long…”
She studied him for a moment before looking down at the flowers still in her hands. Then she looked back up at him. “Do you know what gardenia means?” she asked softly. When he shook his head, she handed him the bouquet. As it passed into his waiting fingers, she smiled that same enigmatic little smile and said, “It means a secret love.”
Hayate stared at her for a minute. He was sure his face was as red as her hair.
And then she held up a single red tulip, and again he was reminded of his quasi-pet name for her. “And this is for you. A red tulip,” she leaned up and whispered, “means a declaration of love.”
He gaped at her. He loved her—she knew he did. But he was always so stoic, and he sometimes suspected that she did things like this just to watch him blush. But it still warmed him from head to toe when she told him how she felt.
She dropped her free hand to take hold of his; her yellow-gloved fingers intertwined with his black-gloved ones, but he was still to startled to really react. “Let’s go home, okay?” she said softly.
Hayate looked down at the bouquet still in his hand. Then he looked back up at her…and smiled. Nodded slowly. Tightened his hold on her fingers the slightest bit. And together, Hayate and Himeno started towards home, leaving behind flowers, swaying in the chilly breeze as winter’s hold set it.
She really was his Tulip-Head.
For a gardenia meant a secret love.
But a tulip meant a love shared.
PS. Kuchinashi is Japanese for gardenia. There's your random fact for the day. Yay, Wikipedia!