CHAPTER 1: Just When You Thought It Was Safe...

It had been four months since the Princess of Disaster...well, kinda quit. Everyone was happy. Goh had quit the restaurant that he hated and decided on a job at a coffee shop. Kei was still at the computer company, now in charge of ethical hacking (and not-so-ethical hacking). Sasame was doing his radio show, and was even more wildly popular than before. Mannen, Hajime and Shin were alternately watched in Leafenia by whoever could get the time off. Everything was perfect.

Himeno stared out the window at the lovely sky and bright sunshine. Well, not everything was perfect. It didn't matter if she'd just saved the world, she still had to go to school. AND, there was still some unfinished business between her and Hayate...

Hayate. He really was wonderul, even if he did act like a pain in the ass sometimes. Most of the time. Okay, all of the time! He'd said he'd wanted to tell her something...and then she'd apparently turned into the White Pretear...and blacked out She didn't really remember saving the world, but since it was still here, she must have.

"Miss Awayuki, are you paying ANY attention at all?" the teacher asked sharply.

Himeno jumped at the voice and fell right out of her chair. The class started laughing. "Um...yes, yes I am," she said, flushing with embarassment.

The teacher scowled and pointed to the door. "Get out of my class, Miss Awayuki. You can get the homework from another student, but I will not tolerate you disrupting this class!"

Himeno gathered her books and packed them up, heading for the door. It was last period anyway. Looking up and down the hall, she made a dash for the door and outside. Once off the school grounds, she took a deep breath and twirled happily. And bumped right into someone's chest. "Oh, sorry- H-Hayate! What are you doing here?" she asked. God, stop stammering!

His blue eyes went wide and he looked around, anywhere but at her. "I, uh...I was just passing by. No need to get all hot about it!"

"ME! Hot about it! YOU'RE the one stalking me," she railed.

"STALKING YOU! That is the LAST thing I would be doing! It's a waste of my time," he shouted back.

Himeno shook a fist under his nose. "As I recall, you were the one peeping through the bushes when we first met!"

"I was NOT peeping!"

"Were too!"

"Were not!"

Himeno bit her lower lip but the snicker came out anyway. "We sound like an old married couple!"

Hayate looked ready to smile, too, but he managed to hold it back and said, "If we were married, I'd be dead with a heartattack by now." But it didn't have it's usual caustic tone. It sounded like he was...making a joke? Hayate making a joke? WHOA!

Both stood looking at each other for a bit, then looking away. Himeno scuffed her shoe into the gravel walkway and said, "Um, listen, I was gonna go get some ice cream. Do you wanna-,"

"Yes," he said quickly before his cheeks turned red.

"Okay," Himeno smiled shyly. This was good. This was really good. She shifted her bag so that it wasn't as heavy on her shoulder and began to walk away. She looked up when Hayate took her bag from her, slinging it over his own shoulder without a word or glance. "Thanks, it's kinda heavy."

"I'd say," he muttered. "Maybe if you weren't daydreaming all the time you wouldn't have this much homework."

"It's not MY fault- hey, how'd you know I was daydreaming?" About you, she added silently.

The angry blush covered his cheeks again. "I didn't! It just seems like something you'd do."

Bristling at the implied insult, she shoved him and walked on. He made a startled yelp before tipping over, landing flat on his stubborn ass. "HEY, Tulip-head, what's the big idea?"

"TULIP-HEAD! Whaddya mean by that?" she shouted back. She HATED being called that! Just because her hair flipped out at the ends and was an odd shade of orange did NOT make her a tulip!

"I mean exactly what I said! Here," He pushed himself to his feet and dropped her bag at hers. "Carry your own stuff! I'm not your slave!"

"YOU took it from me! God forbid I think you're being nice for a change!" Sh grabbed her bag and hefted it to her shoulder, speeding up her pace to pass him.

"I'm always nice, unless you're doing something stupid!" He walked faster, getting ahead of her.

Jerk! He just couldn't let her have the last word! Himeno gritted her teeth and sped up so she was half jogging now. "Stupid is as stupid does," she hollered as she passed him.

"What, can't come up with your own come backs?" Hayate shouted, half-running passed her.

"That tears it!" Himeno broke into a run and blew by him. The bag was KILLING her!

Hayate went breezing by in a burst of speed and she pushed herself harder to at least keep pace. Until the asshole took off flying. Throwing her bag down, she stomped her foot and let out a frustrated scream. "DAMN IT, HAYATE, FLYING IS CHEAT-AHHH!" Hayate had swooped down and grabbed her wrist, hovering in the air a few feet above her bag.

"Say it," he ordered.

"Arr, NEVER!" Himeno shouted back, angry now. She wasn't gonna say it, not on her life! No way was she gonna say he'd won! She squealed when his hand slipped, now barely holding onto her.

"I can't hold you up forever. Did you gain weight?"

"WHAT! I didn't gain weight! You must need to work out more-AHHHHHHHHH!" He dropped her! The bastard dropped her! Getting up and rubbing her ass while he landed next to her, totally pleased with himself, she scowled and swung a fist into his arm. "You jerk! That hurt, you know!"

"OW! That hurt, too!"

Both glared at each other. Himeno picked her bag up and walked away first.

"Himeno-,"

"I'm not talking to you!"

"Himeno, stop-,"

"I said, WHOA!" Himeno tripped over the crack in the sidewalk and went sprawling. Her knee caught and there was a sharp pain. She was pushing herself up when another set of hands hooked under her arms and pulled her to her feet.

"I tried to warn you," Hayate muttered, helping her over to a bench. Once she was sitting, he went and put all her books back into her bag, slinging it over his back. Then, he knelt in front of her, propping her foot on his thigh to look at her knee.

"Ow, ow, ow," she hissed when he scraped some dirt out from the bleeding cut.

"Don't be such a baby," he said, brow furrowed. He opened her bag and started looking through it.

"What the hell are you doing?" she demanded, ignoring the throbbing pain and angry that he was going through her stuff. Don't let him find that picture, don't let him find that picture...

"Don't you have any Kleenex or something? Cotton balls? Anything to wipe this off with?" he asked curtly.

"No, why should I? I don't usually prepare for jerks to trip me."

"I didn't trip you!"

"You were the reason I wasn't looking at where I was going!"

"I don't make you look at me!"

"Who said I was looking at YOU?" she fired back. There was a fleeting...something in his face. Was it disappointment?

Hayate looked away first and stood up. "Wait here," he said curtly. Himeno turned enough to watch him go into the drug store behind her. He came out a few minutes later with a box of band-aides. He knelt down again, opening the pack and taking out one just big enough to fit over the cut. HImeno sucked in a breath, heart hammering. His hands were so gentle. She could almost think that maybe, just maybe he...

He stood up when he was done and looked down at her. "Better?"

"Umm, yeah. Thanks," she said, blushing. Again they stared at each other for a bit. Finally, she sighed and said, "Well, I better get going. Kei's gonna be helping with my homework when he gets done with work."

"Oh...okay. Or maybe...er..." He was turning the reddest she'd seen him yet.

"What?" she asked, heart pounding impossibly hard against her chest.

"Well, you said you wanted ice cream. Maybe...I could help you...over ice cream?"

HImeno smiled and nodded, thrilled at the idea. Even if it WAS homework, it was ice cream...and Hayate. "Okay, sounds great!"

Hayate took her bag again and they walked side-by-side down the side walk. Their hands brushed a little and both shot quick glances at the other to see if they noticed. Himeno quickly looked away. She was really hoping he wouldn't notice...

Then she felt his fingers playing along hers. And then twine around hers. God, it was HOT outside! She pulled the collar of her shirt and gave him a small smile. Which was surprisingly answered. "So, um, what kinda ice cream do you like?" she asked. It was odd. They'd fought together for so long and she still didn't know too much about him.

"Butter pecan," he answered. It was so distracting the way his thumb was rubbing over her hand in tiny circles. "You?"

"Rum raisin with grape jelly!"

Hayate gave her a startled look. "Are you joking?"

Himeno shook her head. "Nope."

He made some kind of growling noise but didn't pick a fight. Well, THAT was a first!

They found the ice cream shop and went in, Hayate pulling out his wallet.

"No, my treat! You're helping me study, remember?" she said quickly.

Hayate gave her a sharp look. "I've got it."

"But-,"

"Himeno. I've got it. Okay?"

Himeno blushed for about the millionth time in one day. "Okay...thanks."

He ordered their ice cream, grimacing when he came to hers.

"Miss Awayuki, I thought that was you," the ice cream guy said.

"Hello, Haru," she said. She took the bowl Hayate handed to her and found a table at the back that was empty and secluded. Perfect!

Hayate watched her eat her ice cream for a bit, shaking his head. "You really are weird, you know," he said before digging into his own ice cream.

"Hey, don't knock it till you've tried it," she replied quickly. She dug a chunk out onto her spoon and held it for him to taste.

He looked like it was gonna spit at him. "No way!"

"Come on! Now who's being the baby?"

Scowling, he let her feed him, looking ready to spit it out as soon as possible. But then, his eyes went wide and a little smile broke out. "That is good," he conceded.

Himeno beamed proudly and pulled out her books. "Okay, so I don't have much English, but the calculus is a bitch. Are you any good at math?"

"You're taking calculus?" he asked, eyebrows raised in disbelief.

Scowling, she made sure to slam the book open on his hand. "Yeah, I am! See, not as dumb as you'd like to think!"

"OW! I never said you were dumb," he railed.

"What you DIDN'T say said it all!"

"WHAT!"

Himeno sighed and decided to ignore him. She picked up her pencil, took a bite of ice cream and began writing out the problems. Until he scooched closer, arm behind her shoulders and head leaning in next to hers.

"Is that a two?" he asked, tapping the page.

"Yeah," she answered, ready for some kind of insult about her handwriting.

"Okay then."

She turned to look at him. Which brought her lips very close to his. Himeno bit her lower lip nervously when those incredibly blue eyes (like looking up at the sky just as it's starting to turn dark) started to close and he was leaning toward her and...

"WOOHOO!"

Himeno jumped when Mannan, Hajime and Shin all sat down, Goh right behind them with a tray. "We caught them at it, Goh," Mannan crowed happily. Hayate drew back quickly, an angry flush coming to his face.

"What are you guys doing here?" he demanded.

"Well, I had off today and the runts were bored," Goh began.

"RUNTS? Who ya callin' runts?" Mannan demanded.

"Yeah, take it back, Goh," Hajime jumped in.

"Am I really a runt, Himeno?" Shin asked, green eyes wide an innocent.

Himeno ruffled his dark blonde hair and grinned. "Of course not! You're a sprout!" Shin was the Knight of Plants.

Shin smiled happily and began sucking on his popsicle.

"So, whatcha doin'?" Mannan pressed eagerly, white hair sticking up in every which way but normal.

"Homework," Himeno and Hayate said at the same time.

"Riight," Goh smirked, sitting backward on his chair. "We were gonna go get some more plants for Shin to grow and since it was time for Himeno to get outta school we were gonna see if she wanted to come along. But since you two are 'studying'..." The younger two snickered.

"But we ARE studying," Hayate defended.

Goh's eyes flickered to the arm around the back of the booth. His grin turned even more sly. "Okay, finish up, squirts! We gotta lotta stuff to do. And we don't wanna interupt any 'studying'".

Mannan and Hajime all but spit their ice cream cones across the table. Shin ate his popcicle in complete ignorance of the joke. Himeno was blushing until they left the ice cream shop and then looked under her lashes in Hayate's direction. He was glaring death at her papers. "So, um, are you good at math?" she ventured.

All she got was a "hmph" in answer. What a great conversationalist, she thought. But, that was okay, she shouldn't be talking anyway. Himeno went back and tackled her homework. Or tried to. It was very difficult thinking when his arm moved a little more securely against her shoulders, fingers brushing the short sleeve of her dress shirt. And even more so when he leaned in a little closer, breath moving gently against her neck, stirring hairs. It made goosebumps jump up and down her arm.

"Oh, ahahaha," she laughed nervously, rubbing her arms.

"Are you cold?" he asked quickly, sitting back and starting to shrug off the light jacket he was wearing.

"No, no, I'm fine. Really," Himeno lied. God, how much faster was her heart gonna go before it exploded?

Hayate still sat there, staring at her with an odd look. It was so...confused. And a little lost. "Himeno..."

HImeno sat very, very still when his arm went back around her shoulders, this time it was DEFINATELY on purpose, and leaned in. Just a bit more and...

"Hayate, Himeno! Something bad just happened," Mannan cried, making them jump back.

Himeno swore she heard Hayate let out a frustrated groan. "What's wrong now, Mannan?" he demanded.

"Shin just got hurt! He was attacked by his own plants!"

Both of them jumped up and ran outside, going down a side alley. Hayate looked around to see if anyone was watching and opened a gateway into Leafenia. Once on the other side, Himeno felt the change in the air immediately. What the hell? She had just been here three days ago and it was fine. Now it felt stuffy, like the air was suffocating her. And so much leafe everywhere! She could almost see the different threads, as thick as spider webs, all around her. Was this what the knights saw?

Mannan was running full speed down the unusually bright green hill to where Goh and Hajime were crouched. Vines were flying everywhere, a consentrated knot of them wrapped around something...or someone.

"SHIN!"