Author's Note: This the last chapter for this story. It's long, though because...IT'S SETTING UP FOR A THIRD ONE! Yep, that's right, my writing muse Bob decided this would make an excellent trilogy. Okay, real quickly, THANK YOU EVERYONE! Thank you VERY much! I love writing these stories and it makes me very happy that you all enjoy reading them! HURRAY FOR NICE READERS! Anyway, I really need to give a special thanks to my girl Rina. She's been very nice about "homework assignments" (such as coming up with cute critters and evil people's names) AND for dragging Bob out of the darkness of my Saikyuki fics and plopping him down in happy (sort of) Leafenia. Thanks, darling, for that! Be happy she did or this story could have gone VERY dark...

A quick blurb about the third story. It's going to be called Sweet Dreams. Shimura tha Queen of Nightmares gets REALLY nasty! As in, Freddy Krueger would bow down and worship her nasty. It's going to involve her family a lot more. AND...well, I guess I can't say too much or you won't bother reading! That's all, enjoy the end of Child of Darkness!

CHAPTER 11: In The End, Did It Really Matter?

Himeno groaned, wincing in pain. Her head was just killing her! It felt like someone had decided to back a train right up over her head and leave it there. Someone had been nice enough to give her a rather comfy pillow...Except this pillow was petting her hair gently, fingertips brushing against her cheek in the process. Slowly, she opened her eyes and stared up into a sparkling blue sky. So stunning. She felt a bit like she was flying into that gorgeous blue. "Whoa..." Wait, a blue sky in a cave? No, not a blue eyes... Hayate...

Hayate smiled. He looked ready to drop dead of exhaustion, but he was alive! Thank God he was alive! Those nightmares...they had been so REAL! As if she would ever fight Hayate...

But then she noticed the dried blood on his face, the dirt on his uniform. More little cuts along his hands. A huge rip in the fabric across his chest that was matted in place with more dried blood. No...It had been real! Himeno tried to sit up, immediately falling back against his chest at the wave of dizziness. His arm moved lower around her waist to keep her still.

"Just lie back for a little longer," he whispered near her ear. His arms were so warm and so safe...and she had almost destroyed him. Almost...but she didn't. She'd fought back. It was her desire to save someone else, not just herself, that had triggered the change into the White Pretear. But it still didn't change the fact that she very nearly killed the man she loved, with her own hands. Himeno stared at those hands now, perfectly clean, not a trace of blood or dirt on them. No sign at all of what she'd almost done.

"Hayate, I never meant-,"

He only hugged her closer, kissing the top of her head. "I know. In the end, you were there for me and that's all that matters. Just rest, okay? I told you I wasn't going anywhere, and I meant that. So, stop worrying, tulip-head."

Himeno snuggled in closer, eyes drooping and managed a little smile for the nickname. Her eyes opened wide though as she searched the cave. Jikan...did she...No, she knew for a fact he was still alive when she passed out. So, he survived. Sighing wearily, she resettled herself against him and whispered, "This isn't over, is it?"

He never answered her. Himeno sighed and closed her eyes. She just wanted out of here. She just wanted to go home...or to the safe house with Hayate. Anywhere but here. Neither of them could move at the moment, both completely drained from the fight. Fine, it wasn't really that bad here. So long as she had him, it was fine with her. She drifted back to sleep again with the sound of his heart in her ears.

"They're here! I found them! Look, I found them!"

Himeno picked her head up and blinked. Not that it did any good. The whole place was dark. All she could see was a pale figure flying down to them. Eyes wide, she shook Hayate awake. What if...what if it was...?

"Hmm?" He yawned and opened his eyes. He followed her pointing and, instead of being alarmed, he said, "It's just Mannen."

Himeno relaxed again when Mannen came to them, followed by Feryn. The Knight of Storms knealt beside them, checking pulses and pretending he knew what he was doing. "Mannen, go and get some help. I do not think our Pretear and capitaine are all that well." Yeah, no fake, Himeno thought sarcastically.

"Okay! I'll be quick!" Mannen disappeared into the gloom once again.

"Can either of you stand?" Feryn asked. He looked almost worried.

Himeno pushed herself away from Hayate, gripping the rock wall for support. Hayate managed as well with a little help from Feryn. He wasn't putting much pressure on his left leg though and was hopping awkwardly to try and keep his balance..

"Bien! You cannot be too hurt then."

"When did you become a doctor?" Himeno mumbled. Feryn heard her anyway and chuckled.

"Oui, you are not hurt badly at all if you are making jokes!"

He had know idea how badly she was hurt. The feeling of not being in control of her was the most disgusting feeling in the world! And what she'd almost done... She hugged herself. No, she wasn't okay. Jikan had done that so easily, like forcing someone to pret was the same as licking an envelope. It made her think of the way other Pretears were treated and was once again thankful she ended up with this team, these knights. All she wanted right now was her own bed, in her house with her dad and her mom and her sisters. She missed them so much right now! "Can I go home?" she asked softly.

"That's exactly where I'm taking you," Hayate answered.

She missed Feryn and Hayate sharing a quick glance. Feryn sighed, clearly not liking what he saw on Hayate's face, but not arguing. "I can carry Himeno," he said. "Hayate, you can fly yourself out. It would be better for all of us not to be down here."

Himeno went over to Feryn and took his hand. Her memory flickered back to the last time someone had taken her hand...she had to fight with herself not to pull free. Feryn felt her hesitation and frowned, glancing at Hayate. He didn't ask the question it was obvious he wanted to. He flew her up to the top and let go of her hand immediately. Himeno rubbed her palm behind her back, trying to get the feeling of someone touching her off. Hayate landed a little behind them with a sharp breath of pain, then Feryn was there and helped him walk out of the cavern and into the cold night air.

Once outside, Hayate collapsed onto a rock, wincing in pain. Himeno stood nearby, hugging herself and feeling helpless. She had to do SOMETHING! But what? it wasn't like she knew first aid or anything. She watched as Feryn tried to keep his arm from moving too much. If he screwed it up further...

She didn't have to worry about that, though. A soft golden light was coming toward them, quickly taking on Kei's shape. Once he hit the ground he was hugging her, practically suffocating her against him. "Himeno! Thank God! Are you hurt? Sete, get over here and-,"

"I'm fine, Kei," she interupted, smiling at his concern and pushing back so she could breath. The smile faded when she saw the blood on him and the deep bruise on his jaw. Oh, no..."What happened to you?"

"Oh, just some Dark Knights and shadow demons. Nothing to worry about," he answered flippantly. "We were trying to keep them busy while Hayate rescued you."

Himeno looked over at Hayate and her smile go a little wider. "You came to rescue me?"

"Of course," he bit out sharply, annoyed she had even asked that. "What was I supposed to do, let some moron carry off my girlfriend?"

"Shit, Hayate, it looks like you got your ass handed to you for it as well," Sete exclaimed, looking him over. There was a soft flash of green as she worked her leafe on him, fixing the break in his arm and his sprained ankle in a matter of minutes. "Jikan really did a number on you!"

Hayate didn't answer, and Himeno was glad for that. What had was horrible! She buried her face in Kei' shoulder and he squeezed her back. She just wanted to go home now! This was a nightmare she never wanted to go through again.

Hayate stood up, testing his leg and arm a little. Satisfied that they worked, he went over to Kei and Himeno. "Thank you Kei," he said before taking Himeno from him. Kei nodded and stepped back, glancing over at Sete as she moved to stand next to him. There was a quick glance and then neither one could meet the other's gaze. Himeno frowned. Had she missed something between them?

"We should leave this place, go back to the palace," Sete said. She kept glancing at the shadows warily, as if they were about to bite her.

No, not the palace. Himeno shivered. She didn't want to go back there! "Hayate..."

His arm tightened around her shoulders. "I'm taking Himeno home."

Kei looked relieved at that announcement. Sete and Feryn seemed bothered. "Good. She should go see her family," Kei said firmly. "I'll just stay here and keep an eye on things." This last seemed directed more at Sete than anyone else.

"That's all bullshit, and you know it," Blaise called. He stepped out of the shadows with Shin, Hajime and Mannen behind him. Hajime and Mannen ran up to Hayate and punched his arm affectionately before trying to duck him messing their hair up. Shin ran to Himeno and hugged her leg, making her grin and ruffle his hair. "You're just wanna stay to make kissy faces with yer girl there!"

Kei's cheeks darkened, whether because he was angry or because he was embarassed it was hard to tell. "Kissy faces? What the hell do you mean by that?"

Mannen and Hajime started snickering. Then, Hajime grabbed Mannen by the shoulders and said in a high, false voice, "Oh, Kei! I couldn't bear it if you died!" He practically dragged Mannen into a 'passionate' embrace.

Mannen, around his laughter, made his voice deeper and said, "And I as well had you died, Sete!" They made a big deal over blowing each other kisses, making ridiculous faces as they did.

Blaise cracked up, laughing so hard he fell to his knees, clutching his sides. "That's-ahahahaha-bloody right-hhhheeeeeaaaaaa-ON!"

Scowling, Kei pushed Blaise over the rest of the way. "It wasn't like that at all," he muttered. Blaise glared at him and got to his feet, rubbing his butt a little and muttering about 'stupid gits' and other things less nice.

Tossing her hair, Sete said haughtily, "Besides, I'm not his girl!"

Blaise stopped laughing. "You're not?" His eyes were ready to fall out of his head.

"Yeah, she's- hey, what?" Kei gaped at her, shocked.

Sete arched a brow, a little smile coming to her lips. "Hey, we never discussed it! So, until we do, I'm a free woman, pal!"

Kei's mouth opened and closed several times but no words came out.

"Look, Mannen, Kei's speachless!" Hajime exclaimed, pointing to the Knight of Light.

"I...well, you...damn you all!" Kei crossed his arms over his chest and looked away angrily. Sete's smile turned a little smug.

"Can you open a gateway, Hayate, or do you wish for me to?" Feryn asked, still a little tight lipped. He seemed very upset they weren't going back to the palace.

"I can," Hayate answered. He suited action to words and opened one into the real world, holding Himeno tightly.

Himeno closed her eyes, ignoring the warmth enveloping her. She had almost killed Hayate. Jikan had gotten away. No matter how hard she tried to be happy, she knew this fight was far from over. Her eyes opened just as they came out the other side and she heard something. Was that...laughter? She could have sworn she heard this beautiful voice laughing, and it had filled her with terror. Could it be...Looking up, she smiled when she saw they were outside the gates to her house, her relief at being home quickly wiping away that awful laugh. Home...

Hayate walked her up to the door and rang the bell. He turned to face her as they waited, rubbing her arms gently. "Himeno, don't let what happened change anything," he said softly.

Blinking, Himeno met his eyes and saw that he was worried. Worried about her. He didn't need to be. She wasn't going to let it effect her negatively. True, she was upset, but she'd bounce back, she always did! Shaking her head, she answered, "It won't. If anything, it'll make me stronger. I won't ever let that happen again! I'm not just some weapon to be used against the ones I love. Jikan may have gotten through this time, but next time he won't."

Hayate let out a relieved sigh. He held her to him, lips against her cheek. "Thank you," he breathed against her skin before kissing her cheek.

"For what?" Even now, after all the horrible things that had happened, he still gave her butterflies and made her heart scream for him.

"For everything. Just...thank you."

Himeno smiled against his chest. Now that she knew what to expect from the enemy, she was ready for them. She had said before she would do anything and everything to protect her family and friends, and she meant that. She pulled him in tighter, letting the feel of him comfort her. This was one battle she knew she wouldn't lose! Drawing back, their eyes met and then he was leaning forward...

The door opened and the maid broke them apart. Himeno held Hayate's arm and pulled him inside. Kaoru and Natsue ran down the stairs, in their pajamas and robes and hugged her. "Why, Himeno, you're back already?" Natsue exclaimed.

"I'!" Kaoru sobbed dramatically.

"Geeze, dad, it's not like I was gone for twenty years or something," she choked out. They were suffocating her! She glanced over at Hayate who was standing near the door. He looked a little uncomfortable, staring at his shoes. Well, she couldn't blame him. This was a family thing. Breaking away from them (more like prying away when it came to her dad), she went up to him, taking his hand and pulling him in. "Is it alright if Hayate stays for the night? It's really late and-,"

Natsue looked suprised for a second. Oh, right, he still had dried blood on him. "It's okay, mom. It's nothing." Nothing any of them should worry about.

She smiled graciously if not entirely warmly and said, "Why, of course he can! Mareko, please get Hayate some food. And Himeno some as well. Please, come in! We really must hear about your trip. But after you shower, of course. Do you have a change of clothes?"

Hayate, a little taken aback by her sudden willingness to have him stay, stammered, "Oh, well...I hadn't really planned..."

"Oh, that's alright! I'm sure we can find you something, and if not, we can buy it! Show Hayate to a guest room in the east wing." The servant addressed bowed low and then waited by the grand staircase for Hayate to follow him up.

Himeno shut the door on the darkness outside before tucking her arm around Hayate's waist. She really hoped that this was over for a good long time.

Shimura, the Queen of Nightmares, was angry. No, angry wasn't strong enough. She was livid to the point of incoherent speach. She let out a loud, long scream that broke the windows of her castle, shattering them into the night that she loved so much like a thousand tiny spears. Her precious children...dead. Her Dark Knights...defeated. Her whole day...ruined! And all that remained for her was a never ending loathing for the White Pretear. Oh, yes, she knew the White Pretear was still alive. She had seen what had been done to Jikan's face personally. The White Pretear was stronger than she had thought...but no matter. There were other ways for destroying a person. Other, much more painful ways. In fact, even as she thought them over, new ones surfaced and started to amuse her. She wondered if the White Pretear would cry...or scream...or maybe, she would get lucky and witness BOTH!

Smiling to herself, she took her throne, picked up her sword, and cut a small path along her arm, letting the blood slip along the blade and take shape. An image appeared, one of the White Pretear and her precious knight leaving this world. And...just as she had thought, a family. Families always made things so much more fun! She smiled to herself, the smile quickly turning to a gag as she witnessed the happy reunion. Did she honestly think this was over? That she could just go home and pretend nothing had happened?

"Oh, but this isn't over, White Pretear," she whispered, her voice sifting in the air like a lullaby. "Sweet dreams, princess. I'll be waiting for you. I'm not the Queen of Nightmares for nothing" Shimura threw her head back and laughed. Yes, this was far from over!