Chapter 10

Blame and Regret

The tree of light was all aglow with brilliant prisms of color and light pouring out in every direction. Floating in the center, completely immobile, Himeno was encased in the beams of light. After the failed pret with Daisuke, Himeno feinted. She remained unconscious for the last two hours.

That battle had been a complete disaster. Her first pret with the Knight of Death couldn't have gone worse. It never should have happened. Something needed to be done about Daisuke, but their minds were currently preoccupied with thoughts of their precious pretear. The team watched as the leafe healed her wounds and replenished her spirit.

Mannen, Hajime and Shin stayed as close to Himeno as possible. The two youngest were crying, their trembling hands clinging to Kei's robes. The Knight of Light held them close, rubbing circles on their backs. He hoped the soothing motion would put them to sleep.

Mannen allowed Goh to play with his snow white hair. He didn't even mind when Goh hugged him every so often for comfort, which was rare. Any other time comfort was offered by the Knight of Fire, Mannen was notorious for brushing him off, claiming he wasn't a child that needed to be coddled.

Sasame and Hayate were diligently monitoring Himeno's leafe levels. When the light finally died down at the end, they knights took her home.

Mawata and Mayune were told to return to the manor after the incident with Daisuke. They told Takako and their parents the highlights of the accident. It was no surprise that the family met them at the door upon their arrival.

Hayate, who insisted on being the one to carry her back, took her straight to her room. He covered her with her favorite quilt and watered her mother's flowers. He left and made his way slowly back downstairs.

The knights waited for their leader in the family room. Himeno's mother, father and sisters hovered by the door. They had only seen them look so dejected once before. They looked worn and on the verge of tears.

Takako laid a hand on Sasame's shoulder. He looked up at her, forced himself to smile for her, then pulled her down onto the sofa with him. Sasame berated himself as he held the woman he loved. Like Himeno, he wanted to work together to help Daisuke's team. He saw her fear when Daisuke demanded he be the first to pret with her. It was him who held Hayate back. It was him who convinced Hayate to let this happen. He bit his lip, feeling he deserved so much more than a split lip.

Mannen huddled on the floor with Hajime and Shin. His younger brothers were upset and he needed to be strong for them. Shin was falling asleep, his tears soaking through Mannen's tunic. The Knight of Ice was furious. He knew he didn't like that Knight of Death. He knew in his gut that bastard would cause problems. If only he were a little older or taller. He wanted to deck Daisuke for letting Himeno get hurt.

Himeno's family finally joined the knights. Natsue and Kaoru sat together on the sofa opposite the other. Goh looked up when shadow fell over him. Mawata stood before him, concern etched in every beautiful, innocent line of her face. He had failed her sister just as much as Daisuke had. He should've done something.

He hung his head, his elbows on his knees, his face in his hands. Mawata kneeled and clasped his hands in hers. She reached up to cup his sullen face, rubbing a tear away with her thumb. He let their foreheads touch, allowing her presence to calm his nerves.

Mayune, who had never been the type to lend aid or comfort before, felt very out of her element. Kei looked just as dejected as the others. She desperately wanted to give him solace, she just had no idea how.

She didn't like the idea of kneeling down in front of him like Mawata had, looking like a meek little lamb. She didn't think Kei would either. She was never good with real affection. She could fake it when there was something she wanted, but real emotions were difficult for her to express. It was going to be her downfall in showing Kei she really did care about him. She was more the aggressive type. Why should she change now? Kei needed her and she would do what she could.

She slowly rounded the end of the sofa and sat on its arm next to him. She put both hands on his shoulders and gave him her strength, willing her energy into him. She didn't look him in the eye or speak. She just wanted to be his pillar in case he needed something or someone to lean on.

Kei never expected Mayune, the rich and spoiled princess, to offer help or comfort of any kind to anyone, least of all him. He relished in her stability. As of that moment, he felt very unstable and it was a welcome intrusion of his personal space. The warmth from her hands seemed to radiate and shelter him from the heartache he was feeling.

He thought about the accident. He should have been able to prevent what happened. As soon as it became a battle instead of a practice, he should've insisted that Himeno pret with someone she was familiar with. He didn't open his mouth when it really mattered and now Himeno was hurt.

Kei reached up and clasped his gloved hand over one of Mayune's without looking up. He leaned into her solid frame, closing his eyes, accepting everything she had to give, no matter how small or insignificant she might have thought it was. He appreciated her willingness to try.

Hayate came down the stairs and joined his family. Natsue reached out to him. He sat between Himeno's parents. It worried Kaoru that Hayate was so compliant. Normally in this situation, he would have chosen to stand. Hayate worked so hard to hide his feelings for Himeno from everyone. Allowing her parents to comfort him was almost as loud a confession of his love, as would screaming it from the tree tops.

The maids brought a cart of tea, which no one had yet to touch.

"Himeno will be alright, won't she?" Natsue asked when she could no longer stand the silence.

"She will, Mrs. Awayuki. Himeno simply requires rest." Sasame assured her.

"Natsue, young man. You are all family now. How many times must I remind you that there is no need for such formalities?"

Sasame nodded with an appreciative smile. Takako hugged his arm and snuggled closer. Sasame rested his chin in her hair. She calmed him and centered him.

"How did this even happen?" Takako asked, "The pretear isn't supposed to get hurt."

She felt him flinch, "I'm not saying I want you guys to get hurt. I'm just aware of the rules."

Sasame knew what she meant. It just felt like he was responsible for Himeno's condition.

When no one answered, she pressed further, "So, how did this happen?"

"I'm afraid that the blame lies with us."

All the knights jumped and faced the voice ready to do battle. Kazuki and the rest of his brother knights, Daisuke excluded, were gathered at the doorway of the family room. Cautiously they stepped forward as one.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Hayate demanded, taking a step toward them as well. He looked as dangerous now as he did when he yelled at Daisuke earlier that day.

Ryu and Akira cowered under the Wind Knight's wrath. Mitsuya laid his hands on their shoulders. They tilted their heads back to look at him. Mitsuya wouldn't let the angry knight harm them, but he wasn't worried. Hayate was furious, but Mitsuya didn't think he was capable of hitting children. He understood the knight's anger. It was a normal response in such circumstances when one was in love. The adoration he had for the pretear had been written all over his face and colored his judgment since they met.

"We came to see how Himeno is doing." Kazuki bowed, hoping Hayate would sense their remorse.

"Yes, we need to know she's alright. We've been worried sick." Tsukeida demanded, though his voice quivered. He wiped the tears from his flushed cheeks angrily with the back of his hand.

Hayate was irate. He couldn't form a sentence without a barrage of obscenities thrown into the mix. He bit his tongue and said nothing instead.

"She'll be fine, no thanks to you and your incompetent leader!" Goh shouted, forcing himself into Kazuki's personal space, poling him in the chest.

Mawata pulled on his arm to keep him from doing something senseless. Goh pulled her to him, trying to find his equilibrium again. Her touch was enough to bring him back a little, though his anger still boiled on the surface.

Goh had spent most of the night consoling the children. He hadn't had the opportunity to vent his frustrations. "You got your information; you can leave now!"

"Now, now. Let's all calm down." Natsue said kindly, trying to salvage the situation.

She touched Goh's outstretched arm that was currently pointing the door. Goh lowered his arm and backed away. She looked between the two teams. This really was a mess.

Natsue had been watching them all closely since they arrived. The two youngest looked worried and afraid. It was painfully obvious that the elegant blonde was beside himself with pain and regret. His eyes were a mess, the emerald orbs not nearly as stunning as she had seen them before. The young man with glasses was somber and constantly fidgeted as thought trying to hedge his discomfort. The gentleman with the ponytail and long white robes seemed to be holding something back. Their speaker, the man in front with the white hair looked genuinely innocent and very concerned.

"Natsue is right."

Hayate twisted around, piercing Kaoru with a quizzical look. Himeno's father returned his look with confidence, telling the knight to trust him.

"Come in; join us." He tugged Hayate's sleeve. "Have a seat. More tea, ladies."

Relunctantly, the knights returned to their seats. Mawata permitted Goh to pull her onto his lap where he could hold her more closely. He rested his head on her shoulder, content with the simple connection. Mayune glared at the accused, her hands firmly replaced on Kei's shoulders the second he sat back down.

Hayate stood in their way. He wasn't in the mood to play nice.

"Hayate..." Sasame pleaded softly.

When he didn't acknowledge his friend, Natsue moved to stand at his side. She took his hand, which was fisted and shaking. She watched him struggle with his emotions and it broke her heart. He looked at her and forced himself to relax.

"Come on, Hayate. You have not allowed yourself to rest. Sit with me."

"But they..."

"I understand how you feel." She persuaded him to follow her, "but Himeno would not appreciate it if we mistreated her new friends."

He made to argue again, but she interrupted him, "They obviously care about her safety and came seeking forgiveness. Relax, Hayate. Please?"

With one last menacing look at the offending team, Hayate allowed her to pull him back to the sofa. Once seated, both her and Kaoru made small forms of physical contact. Kaoru hugged his shoulders while his wife interlocked her fingers with Hayate's. Their parental concern grounded him.

His shoulders finally relaxed. His face lost all tension. Hayate looked drained. He stared at the floor, his mind filled with thoughts of Himeno once more.

It never should have happened. He should have disregarded her opinion and forced her to pret with him for that battle instead of Daisuke. How could he let this happen? It was his job to protect her and he failed her. Again. Himeno deserved so much better.

Kazuki waved his brothers on. They sat close, but well away from the other knights.

"Thank you, Mrs. Awayuki."

She nodded.

Kazuki continued, "We came to apologize. It is very apparent that our fighting ability is lacking."

"Kazuki is right. If we were more skilled, none of this would have happened." Tsukeida added.

"We never meant for the pretear to be harmed by our carelessness." Tatsumi said.

He thumped the arm of his chair. He prided himself on his ability to be in control. He never wasted his time with ridiculous emotional outbursts. He thought love was a waste of energy, anger only begets trouble and revenge was pointless. Why did he feel so responsible? Daisuke was the one who preted and failed to protect her. Why did he hope she would come bouncing happily down the stairs? He didn't know her that well to be overly concerned. Why did his heart ache to see her smile to prove she was alright? He had no romantic attachment to her. What was wrong with him?

"I do not believe you are incapable of fighting. You all have great skill. I believe what you truly lack is teamwork."

"I agree with Kei. You have power; you have talent. Your individual fighting styles are impressive, but you don't work well together. You fight the same battle together, but you don't move as a unit." Sasame explained.

Mawata added to that, "Mayune and I were watching. Your weapons were flying, sometimes they almost hit your own teammates. You were each more concentrated on your own targets that you weren't even looking out for each other, let alone Himeno and her team."

Goh squeezed her hand. She was a wonderful observer.

Daisuke's team hung their heads, clearly ashamed. Back in Leafenia, they were top of their class. They had risen faster in the ranks than any other team, but they had failed.

"Teach us." Mitsuya said.

Tatsumi stared at his spiritual companion. To be retrained as though they were rookies was embarrassing.

'Can I sink no lower?' he thought.

Tatsumi was good at everything. This was unacceptable.

"Yes, please." Ryu pleaded, "Teach us how to fight better. Teach us how you do it."

Akira nodded, "Yeah. We don't want Himeno to get hurt again. Teach us how to fight like you."

Himeno's team stared dumbfounded at the brunette.

"Like us?" Mannen asked.

"Akira has a point. You are a well oiled team. Our failure today was a wake-up call. We are...incomplete." Tatsumi admitted, much to his own surprise.

"What does your heartless leader have to say about you seeking our help?" Hayate finally spoke up.

Kazuki didn't like the heartless comment, but let it slide due to the extenuating circumstances.

"Daisuke is..." Kazuki paused.

Tsukeida, Tatsumi and Mitsuya shared a look. Kazuki was taking his friend's situation hard.

Tsukeida took over, "Daisuke is...well he's locked himself in our old headquarters in town. He refuses to come out. He seems to be taking his failure...Himeno's condition very hard, believe it or not."

Hayate frowned. He had been right. Despite the Death Knight's attitude toward their pretear; he had feelings for her. He might not know or understand what they mean yet, but Hayate knew and he didn't like it.

"You should just let us handle the Princess of Disaster." He snapped, clenching Natsue's hand tightly. She squeezed back, supporting him no matter his decisions.

"We can't let you do that. Hikaru is our responsibility. We need to be a part of this. Daisuke may be preoccupied now, but he'll be himself by morning. He'll want to move on and try again."

"Well, Himeno is our responsibility and I'm not letting him anywhere near Himeno." Hayate moved to stand again, but Kaoru held him down.

"Hayate." He said sternly, warning the young man before he lost control again.

"I understand, I'll talk to Daisuke myself." Hayate hesitated, then nodded. "Would you still be willing to train us?"

The knights all looked at their unspoken leader. Natsue gave him an extra squeeze. Hayate looked at Himeno's sisters. They smiled and nodded. He looked back at his team.

"We're with you, whatever you decide, Hayate." Sasame said. A nod from the others and he made up his mind.

"Fine. We'll include you in our training. From now on, you do as we say and you follow our instructions. You will learn to work with us. As of today, you are a part of our team. You no longer have the privledge of being your own team."

"Understood. We work together as a part of your team." Kazuki said.

"And Daisuke?" Tatsumi inquired, an eyebrow raised.

"We'll let Himeno decide. If it were truly left up to me, I would tell him to never come back, but I know Himeno. She won't want me to do that. I'll leave his punishment to her." Hayate said, his teeth clenching at the last part.

"I'll talk to Daisuke tonight. I will even suggest he keep his distance for a few days. Whether he listens to me or not is another story entirely."

Hayate nodded and ran a hand through his hair. He was exhausted.

"Perhaps we should leave now. You all looked like you could use some sleep." Kazuki said.

He and his team stood and turned to leave.

"You do mean that you're going to turn in, don't you?" Kaoru asked.

"You''re not kicking us out?" Ryu exclaimed, his eyes wide and hopeful.

"Course not. What do you take us for?" Mayune snarled.

"Himeno would never forgive us if we turned you out." Mawata assured them.

"Go, go. Get some sleep, all of you."

Natsue, and Kaoru saw Hayate's team to the door. Takako left with Sasame and the girls walked Goh and Kei to their cottage on the property.

Kazuki and his team watched as the family said their goodbyes and goodnights. They climbed the stairs, gave Himeno's door a brief look and entered their own. Kazuki waited until the others were settled before climbing into bed himself. Convincing Daisuke to give up leadership for the duration of their mission was a death wish. Daisuke would never willingly give up control. How was he going to get his best friend to relinquish command?

Kazuki rolled over and closed his eyes. Tomorrow was going to be a trying day. He hoped Himeno would be willing to go with him. Perhaps she would be able to tame the beast.