Bonds Not Broken, Only Bent
I didn't see it coming. Why couldn't I see it coming? He is supposed to be my best friend, someone I've known all my life. It shouldn't be possible for him to shock me this much. Yet he just did. Only now am I realizing that, for the last sixteen years, he has been pretending that nothing was wrong, not letting anyone see that he was in pain. And I am left standing amid shards of glass as Sasame walks away.
The worst part of this is that I could never keep anything from him. He read me like an open book, no matter how hard I tried to hide. Hell, he even figured out that I had found Himeno, while I was still trying to deny that we even needed a Pretear. Without any noticeable effort, he knew, like he always does.
I could never do the same, never. I don't know anything about this stuff. Not for myself and certainly not for anyone else.
Goh is saying something. I'm not quite sure what, but I agree anyway. My mind is elsewhere, running in circles while my body stands still. When things like this happen, people always recognize signs, things that they were too preoccupied or stupid to pick up on before. I remember Kei saying that Sasame was acting unusual the other night, after we had told Himeno the truth about Saihi. That he was saying something odd about hearts never fully healing from their sorrow. I wasn't there then, but as I think about it more, I realize there are many other times when I had no such excuse…
The memories from sixteen years ago have become blurred, each day merging with the next, full of pain and, above all, silence. In the initial aftermath of the battle, none of us could bear to discuss what had happened, each trying to cope on his own. The wound was still too fresh for words to be of any help. Or so I thought, at any rate.
Leafania itself was reeling from the loss, a constant reminder of our fallen comrades. Plants would wither moments after blooming, or were wiped out by sudden frosts. It was always, always raining.
I can't recall most of what happened after Takako was sealed away, but I do remember this one day, one moment, in particular. The rainfall was lighter than usual and I ended up outside, walking right towards the one place I least wished to go: the Sealing Grounds. My guilt called to me and there I found Sasame, our first of many meetings in that accursed place.
It was a shock, hearing such a clear sound after all those days of nothing but whispers. I couldn't respond right away, so I sat down beside him, both of us facing the pond which lay before the tree in which our Pretear lay imprisoned.
"Why are you here?" he asked without looking at me, his eyes fixed upon the spot where I dared not look.
"I'm not sure…I just had to come."
"How about you?"
"What?" His voice lacked its usual surety, something I had never seen before, even during moments of crisis.
"Why are you here?" I asked again, trying not to show my confusion.
"Oh." He paused for a moment, looking down at his feet. "I…I didn't want to leave her all alone."
What could I say to that? Nothing. The wound was still raw and aching. Despite myself, I couldn't stop the images of that battle, the sight of fallen bodies from filling my mind. The blame that rested on my shoulders became more oppressive than I could bear.
I got up to go somewhere else, anywhere else, when Sasame spoke again.
I met his eyes for a brief moment, just long
enough to see the overflow of emotion in them, before he turned his head away
I can't know for sure what Sasame would have said had he only continued, or if I had confronted him later. After what happened just now though, I'm pretty sure that I can guess. But I was too stupid back then and so I let it slide, thinking if it was important then he would bring it up himself. When he never did, I felt relieved because I didn't have to deal with it.
Sasame stands before me, sword in hand, and I have no idea what to do. I don't know what to expect, I can't understand what he's doing. This isn't like him. How could he attack Himeno? He still cares about her, I know he does. He must. Yet he destroyed her house, blasting away that symbol of hope and happiness before turning on the Pretear herself. All this just to lure me out, to force me into a fight.
But what else can I do? These are the people I care about. The other knights are my family. And Himeno…I need to protect her above everything above all else and not just because she is the Pretear. He knew that. Sasame knew it all, and used it all against me.
That perhaps is the greatest reason I have to fight him, because I cannot let this go unpunished. The anger inside me is struggling to get out. He's goading me and it's working. I hate him…but he's still my friend.
"I should tell you…I'm here by my own will. Hayate! Fight seriously. If you don't, Himeno…"
His words ring in my head, accompanied by the steady beat of metal striking metal. Confusion, hatred and a million other feelings are pulling me in so many directions. This battle would be so easy to win; Sasame doesn't know what to do with a sword. He hasn't had my experience with it, fighting as part of the Pretear of Wind. It would be so simple to end it all now, then turn the blade on Takako. But I can't. All I can do is parry his blows, staying on the defensive in hopes of buying time. In hopes that I can snap him out of it. Please, Sasame, snap out of it.
It's not working. This fight is getting us nowhere, and we both know it. Our swords continue to crash into each other, wasting time and energy. The longer it goes, the more frustrating it gets. I just want it to end.
Suddenly Sasame is pulling back, his sword flung up into the air. Hand outstretched, he sends a wave of sound towards me from his fingers, attacking me with it, blasting me backwards.
I have never felt the full extent of his power before. For a moment, my whole world is pure sound, nothing else. My body vibrates with it. When it passes, I realize I no longer have my sword. It stands upright a few feet in front of me with its tip in the ground. And Sasame is charging me, his own blade recovered and pointing at my chest.
I try to reach the weapon, in a last ditch attempt to defend myself, but I know I won't make it. This is it. I've stalled too long and now I've lost.
I brace myself for pain that never comes. The world is in a state of suspension, resting on our still forms and the sword which lies poised before me, tip nestling in my robes.
Our eyes meet as we stand frozen in limbo between the act of ultimate betrayal and that of ultimate friendship. His eyes are cold, yet behind that façade I can see the doubt which stays his hand. He is fighting himself and all I can do is wait and see which side wins. What happens to me is out of my control.
It wasn't always this way. I once had the power to stop this from happening, to stop it all from going wrong. But I didn't. As I stand here, watching the inner turmoil play out within my best friend's body, a conversation of the past echoes in my ears. It was the point in which this may have all been averted. I will never forgive myself for ignoring it.
"You have to be more careful around her."
"What? Careful? How am I not being careful?"
"Hayate, haven't you noticed how she's changed?"
"Of course I have. I'm not that dense, you know."
"And you think this is a natural development, for her to completely lose her hesitation overnight?"
"Why wouldn't it be? Takako has come into her powers. We always knew she had great potential and now she is realizing it."
"But what? Why is this a bad thing?"
"It's just…I think she expects something in return, something that you aren't able to give."
"What the hell are you talking about, Sasame? What could she possibly be expecting?"
"L-love? That's ridiculous! I…she…it could never happen!"
"I know that, and you know it…but she doesn't. And how you've been acting…it's only making it worse. You're almost leading her on."
"No, I'm not! And even if I was, you're hardly in a position to tell me. You barely even speak to her unless you have to! Have you ever considered what you're doing to her?"
"Hayate…just please, please be careful…"
"Why do you hesitate?"
Takako. Another person who was once my friend, now my enemy. Always my fault. If only I had listened, rather than being too stubborn for anyone's good, I could have saved her.
She throws my sword away, dismissing any hope of defending myself. Then she reaches towards Sasame's blade, grasping it carefully in her hands and pulling it away. My eyes widen as she places it against her throat. The slightest pressure and her blood will spill.
"Tell me your true feelings. If you say your heart is still with the Leafe Knights, then you might as well tear through me now. If you say you love me…if you love me…kill Hayate…kill him!"
I should run. There's nothing to stop me. Except myself. Despite everything, I still hope that he'll choose us, that he'll forget about his feelings and kill her. But part of me knows he won't. Even I don't think I could do it and I'm not the one in love with her. Yet I can't leave. I can't bear the thought of just giving up on him.
Sasame stands there, frozen before her, for what seems an eternity. Then he turns, facing me, sword ready once again. My heart sinks and I brace myself. This time, there will be no indecision. This time, he will kill me.
I can hear Himeno's voice in the distance. I wish…there's so much that I wish. That I could talk to her, that I could hold her, that I could call her 'Tulip Head' once more. But that's not going to happen. Sasame charges and all I can do is brace for the inevitable.
It doesn't come. Instead I am flung through the air, tossed aside by Takako's power. As I come crashing to the ground, I almost regret that she did this. Now I have to live with the fact that the Sasame I knew is gone.
It might have been less painful to die.
Things can never go back to the way they were. Even now when everything is over, the world pulled back from the brink of destruction, it will never be the same. We were betrayed by one of our own and it almost cost us everything. It's impossible to forget that, no matter how much we yearn for a fairy tale ending. The situation is too complicated to simply accept Sasame and Takako back.
I find him standing by the large chime on the Awayuki estate. It's a fitting place to meet, where wind and sound are joined together in song. A symbol of the connection between us, which will always exist no matter way matter what.
There is so much lying between us, words just waiting to be said. I can feel its presence looming everywhere. Yet at the same time, I can't properly express it. I was never like Sasame, always knowing the right thing to say.
He is just as silent now, just as uncertain as me.
We start and stop speaking simultaneously, not able to look at each other.
I take a deep breath, knowing that if I don't do this now, I may never be able. "Sasame….I'm sorry. I'm sorry I never noticed that something was wrong… I can't believe I missed what you were going through for so long." There, I've said it, I've finally said it. The relief is unbelievable, my whole body feels lighter than I can ever remember it being.
He laughs bitterly. "How could you have known? I was even able to hide it from myself at times. You have nothing to feel sorry about, the only one responsible for my actions is me."
"But I do. Even if you were trying to hide, I should have noticed something was wrong. You're my best friend. I should have known."
Sasame sighs. "I don't blame you, Hayate. Not for anything. There's no one to blame but myself. But…if you so insist, I will accept the apology. But it really wasn't necessary."
"Yes, it was."
I turn to leave, having said what I needed to.
I turn back around and meet his eyes.