I’ve watched them from afar. Sometimes, Hayate knew I was watching, but sometimes, I assume he didn’t. It’s not that I want to know what has been going on between the Pretear and the Wind Knight, well, not that I don’t know already. But I don’t want to seem like a peeping tom or a gossiper. I just watched from afar, noting to self never to use my powers to listen to them, not that I wanted to. I just want to make sure everything’s okay. Now that the Saihi has already been defeated, we knights no longer need a pretear, but Hayate doesn’t want to disappear from her yet. So he has stayed with her since then, until now.
The sun’s barely up and Hayate’s bed was already empty. I bet nobody knew when he got home, or whether he did return home last night or spent the night in her home. Nobody’s surprised. Nobody went out to look for him. Besides, he’d only be in one place right now.
I got off the bed and walked to the kitchen to find Go preparing the breakfast for everyone, mumbling about how Hayate could ever leave the tree house without having even a single slice of bread first. I asked him where the others were, and he said Mannen, Kei and Shin began their rounds ten minutes ago, while Hajime’s still in bed. Then, he continued muttering about Hayate’s incredible stomach which doesn’t seem to ache despite his daily habit of skipping breakfast. I only decided to leave him there, talk to himself.
After the battle with Takako, everything went smoothly. There was peace, and the Pretear felt a little better. She became confident on everything she did. Her smiles became more beautiful, because they were real. Real is beautiful. She felt like she could get everything, do everything, just by wanting it. Hard work was enough to give her what she was hoping for.
But of course, we shouldn’t always expect things to go well after working hard, even harder. Our world isn’t a perfect one. Himeno was one of the people to realize its injustices.
After high school, her father talked her into going into college, which she finished in 3 years. When the right time came for her to settle down and have a family on her own, she refused. An answer that surprised all of us. Himeno was, like most girls, wanted emotional completion, and would willingly to go search for the perfect man to marry, no matter how long the journey would take. But she refused, like how Hayate refused to break the bond between us knights and the pretear. Everybody else were confused and frustrated at the same time. Himeno’s father wanted grandchildren, and the knights doesn’t need a pretear anymore. But Himeno and Hayate weren’t helping matters at all.
It wasn’t obvious. The reason why Hayate doesn’t want to leave the Earth yet is because of Himeno, and that has something to do with Himeno refusing her Dad’s request of her getting married. They wanted to be together. I was shocked, though. Kei and the others didn’t know this. ‘Like it wasn’t obvious’, I’ve told them so many times. And so Himeno began working, earned a lot and decided to build her home at the sea side and lived there for quite a long time, with Hayate, of course. Since then, it had been my duty to watch over the two, just to make sure nothing goes wrong.
Although Hayate preferred to stay with Himeno and go by her huge appetite and temper, he returns to Leafenia occasionally. Himeno is in fact, a woman, so she needed time to be by herself for a while. And Hayate, well I think he’s too happy to oblige. Every couple doesn’t always get along everytime, I know. I’ve witnessed it every single day.
Now I guess, the two are okay together. Hayate was nowhere in sight for the past few months.
From a distance, I saw Kei, perched on a tree branch. He seemed to be lost in thought, so I decided to cheer him up a bit.
I walked silently to the tree, my hands grasping its base. Releasing a little Leafe, I shook the tree slightly. My deed was awarded by a loud, genuine shriek from the Knight of Light, and of course, one vicious glare.
I smiled up at him and asked for an audience with the usually docile knight.
“Only when you’ve grown up.”
“Ever wonder why Hayate rarely comes to Leafenia?” I asked.
“No.” Kei sighed. “I’ve heard from Shin that she’s not getting any better.”
“So even Shin is there? Right now?”
“Shin and Hajime. Even Mannen wanted to go, but I asked him to do the rounds for a while.”
I heaved a deep sigh. Shin and Hajime have grown up, and they’ve been treated by Himeno as her own children eversince. There’s no questioning why those two are so attached to her.
“Has she stopped creating Leafe?”
Kei snorted. He doesn’t seem to be in a good mood today. “If you’re so worried, why don’t you go visit them right now?”
“Ah, but I won’t get to annoy you when I’m already there.”
Practically pleased with what I just did, I flew off the branch and decided to visit Himeno. I want to know how she’s doing now.
When I got there, I adjusted my shirt and ran my fingers through my hair to make myself look presentable. I took a few more steps to reach the backdoor when I heard someone call my name. The sound was barely a whisper, but being the leafe knight of sound, I was able to hear it. And from the way that it sounded, it seemed that whoever that was really meant to get my attention.
I turned around a few times, trying to detect exactly where the sound had come from.
“Eh? Hajime!” From behind the young water knight was the younger knight Shin. “Shi –”
“Shuush! Keep it down!” Hajime waved his hands, then placed a thin finger over his lips. He gestured to make me come to him quickly, and as I approached the two younger knights, I noticed that Shin’s eyes were a bit glassy and wet.
“What’s the matter? Why the long face, Shin?”
“Is something wrong with Himeno?” I inquired. Shin and Hajime gave me silent answers by the way their faces looked. But I didn’t want to assume. I want answers. “Tell me. Shin! Hajime!”
“Himeno-nechan stopped creating leafe.” I didn’t notice that I was gaping, mouth wide open at the shock of hearing those words. I noticed Shin’s lips were quivering, and his eyes looked like he was about to cry again.
“Yes. Kei made sure of it.” Hajime closed his eyes and sighed.
That explains Kei’s foul mood.
“She’s having a hard time breathing too.” Collected tears were on the sides of Shin’s eyes now. “Sasame, can’t we do something? Anything? For Himeno-nechan?”
I could give him any reassurance. In fact, I don’t think there is any way we can help. This is, after all, a part of the laws of nature. And we, as Knights of Leafe, should observe that law. We have powers, and breaking rules won’t be too difficult. But we have sworn to our duties and nothing should be more important than that.
I adviced the younger knights to return to Leafenia and tell Go & Kei about the situation. I’m sure Kei can explain things to them and somehow calm them down. I don’t want to be the one to explain these sort of things to others, especially when the subject of the matter is someone I know…
Especially someone that I’ve learned to love…
I lept off the ground, & perched on a high tree branch, where I usually stand whenever I watch over them, which offered a clear view of the house’s porch. I kept my oath of not thinking of listening to the conversations of the two people down there. But even if I didn’t, I wouldn’t want to know whatever they’re talking about.
My mind raced. The Hime is in torment and I am here, standing. Doing nothing. Nothing at all. I do wish there is something that I can do to help her. Years before, she had always helped us. She smiled for us although the times were difficult. Now I feel so useless. The Princess is in torment and the Knights can only stand watch, and wait.
With a heavy heart, I watched Hayate carry Himeno, warm and dry and worn-out, in his arms, and gently set her down on the bench at the wooden porch by the door. He sat down right next to her and wrapped her tightly in his arms and held her close. From far away, I could see his lips only inches away from her ears. Although her skin sagged and her lips were so thin, I was able to see small smiles gracing her face as response to whatever Hayate’s whispering in her ear.
For a while they remained in that position. Then, Hayate shifted a little and pulled her closer to him, arms tightening around her body. One pale, bony hand went up to tangle itself in his black hair. First, it pulled a little too hard, then gently it patted and smoothened out the knots in his hair.
And then, minutes later. I heard soft sobs from below. I wanted to cover my ears and for the first time, I never wanted to hear again. I felt so cheated, becoming the knight of sound who can’t even choose which to listen to and what not. I lifted my hands and shut my ears close, glad to be welcomed by nothing but a void. But then, in the silence, I heard my heart slowly breaking, my own tears beginning to well in my eyes. When I closed my eyes, I felt warm tears flow down to my cheeks, and then down to the living tree bark beneath my feet.
It has been 70 years. 70 long years. And today, it’s dear Himeno’s turn to rest. Her leafe disappeared into the harsh, chilling winds, like it has never been there. But Hayate didn’t cry over her. No, not much.
I was jerked from my thoughts when someone’s elbow slightly nudged my ribs.
“Ahh, yes?” In response, I turned my head to look at the young girl looking at me through gentle purple eyes. Then, her young lips opened to ask.
“Has Hayate-kun been like that ever since?”
Her eyes rolled to the direction of the wind knight standing meters away from us. Afterwards, she turned to look at me again, pouted, pulled her legs close to her 16- year old body, and rested her chin over her knees.
“Like what?” I’m not dumb enough not to understand what she meant. But I wonder whether she really has to know why. “What do you mean?”
“You know what I mean.” And she sure knows that I’m not dumb. “Him. Being distant and cold.”
I laughed. Always those words. What’s with 16-year old pretears and the adjectives ‘distant’ and ‘cold’? Don’t they know anything about synonyms? And why do I have to hear the same dialogue from Hayate-frustrated pretears anyways?
I laughed not only because I found entertainment with her child-like curiousity, but also of her clear resemblance to the late Pretear.
“What’s so funny?” Her face flushed, and she made another cute pout.
“I guess I know why he tries his best to avoid you.”
“Why? Is it because I’m not good enough?” She looked upset.
“No. Don’t feel bad. That isn’t really his reason.” I placed my hand over hers reassuringly. With a deep sigh, I prepared myself to this little revelation I was about to declare, “Someone just comes into his mind whenever you argue with him.”
“Really?” Her eyes widened in surprise. “Do you mean…” And I think she’s looking for a proper word to use. “Someone special?”
Her last remark surprised me. “You don’t really think he’s gay, do you?”
One of this Pretear’s best qualities is, she’d never do anything that will offend people, unless it’s Hayate.
“No. But it’s fun to tease him about it. He gets all red and very angry.” She looked down at our joined hands and smiled. “I asked because I can’t believe that a girl can love that man and his stubborness.”
“Well, that’s because she was just as stubborn as he is.”
She was silent for a while. And she seemed more gentle and serious this time.
“And she was like… me?”
In an instant, I recalled an image of a small, headstrong girl, a karate black-belter, and a total klutz, who smiled constantly to everyone, and cried only to herself. She suffered on her own, wished she could simply give up and disappear, until she met Hayate. “Yes.” I sighed. “She died five years ago.”
“How did she – ?”
“Old age. All people die that way.”
“Hmm… I understand.” She quickly wrapped up the topic when she noticed that Hayate was walking towards us.
“We better get going. Mannen and the others aren’t here yet. There might be trouble.” Hayate commanded; his face stern and serious and uncaring, at least at first sight. But it seemed this little Pretear is still unaware on the existence of softness and love beneath that mask, the hidden soul that she loved in the past.
Then I felt the sudden tightening of my chest, the feeling odd and uncomfortable and painful. Himeno was the past. Our past. Hayate’s past. How does he feel about it now? Now that on everyday of his life, there is another girl who is just like Himeno but is not Himeno at all.
I looked to the girl’s face, to her frowning and irritated look, while her wide eyes glared at the Wind Knight a few feet away from us.
“Can’t you see we’re talking? Don’t you even know how to say ‘excuse me’?” She made a very unattractive snort.
“Now isn’t the right time for a chat. Let’s go.” He reached out his hand for hers. But all that he recieved was another pout and a frown.
“Sasame will take me there.” She childishly stuck out her tongue at him, and protectively tugged at my sleeve.
“Yume.” I called gently, eyes looking at Hayate’s emotionless face. “Be nice.”
Another snort. She sure is cute. “If I were half the Pretear Himeno-san had become, you wouldn’t treat me this way.”
And then there was silence.
Since she didn’t knew, she continued throwing in her insults, hoping to do him some damage. I watched Hayate, who was as quiet as I was. But in his eyes, I saw an unaccepted loss, longingness and despair that nothing and no one can ever cure.
How many years had passed when the last vestiges of her leafe disappeared? The pain evident in Hayate’s dark eyes made me feel that it was just yesterday. The pain of losing a loved one was still fresh that it burned his heart and soul.
When she was done insulting him, like how she could make him kneel before her prowess as a Pretear, Hayate closed his eyes and sighed, “Yes… Perhaps,” With his face downcast, Hayate murmured as if it was merely an afterthought, “Perhaps I wouldn’t.”
And he walked away. Yume was obviously confused, he had widthrawn from the fight too quickly. She stood up, eyes still on Hayate back slowly disappearing in the sky. She asked me if he’s feeling alright, but I’m not sure what to say. So I left the question unanswered and instructed her to hold my hand.
If only Hayate can walk away from everything, just like how he walked away from us: swiftly and smoothly, with no complaints. I know he’s aware of this impossibility. He knows what might happen to him if he doesn’t move on. When a knight is in despair, he gives off and produces less leafe. And he becomes weaker. He knows he can’t give up. He knows he has responsibilities to fulfill. He has to learn to forget everything that has happened between him and the previous pretear, and knowing that made him more sad than ever.
And he told me once, a few months after that day, that for the first time in his life, he knew what it felt like to be in Himeno’s shoes.