Light My Way
Chapter 2 Episode 2: Emotions
The bell rang throughout the school, signaling another end to the day. Hikaru looked up and smiled at Mawata as the blue-haired girl approached.
"Hikaru," the quiet girl said, "Himeno and I were wondering if we could come to your house this afternoon to do homework."
Blinking rapidly in surprise, Hikaru stammered, "Ah - um - why? I - I mean, why my house?"
Mawata sighed. "Well, Mother forgot to mention to us that she was having a big dinner party, which means the servants will be frantically cleaning. So - there won't be a peaceful corner at our house to study and we do have that biology test we need to study for."
Hikaru bit her lip as she thought the matter over.
"To make it worse, we didn't know until after lunch. Tanaka came with a message and delivered it to the office." Mawata explained as she shouldered her bag. "I'm really sorry to spring this on you so suddenly."
The pair walked out of the classroom and down the hall together. Hikaru remained silent for a while before she glanced over at her friend. "Well - what about Goh's restaurant?"
Mawata smiled shyly and Hikaru could have sworn she saw a blush on the placid girl's face. "No. I don't think we'd be able to concentrate there."
Hikaru snickered. "You mean you wouldn't concentrate."
"Are you reluctant because your brother might not want us there?" Mawata casually changed the subject.
Hikaru stopped walking so abruptly, that Mawata had taken a few steps before she realized the red-head had left her side. Turning, the silent girl looked questioningly at the other teen. Hikaru's gaze was focused on the floor before her golden eyes lifted to meet Mawata's eyes. "He - he wouldn't mind. I don't think."
Mawata walked over to her friend. "Hikaru, if it isn't all right with your or your brother, just say so."
Taking a deep breath, Hikaru shook her head. "No. It's fine. Um - I have practice and patrol with the guys for a couple of hours."
"Hikaru and I have work this afternoon." Mawata smiled brightly. "We'll come by around six o'clock? We'll even bring some take-out."
"That'd be great," Hikaru agreed.
As they began walking again, Mawata asked, "So, who's picking you up today?"
"Kei," Hikaru answered, feeling a blush creep up onto her face.
Mawata smiled knowingly. "He's nice." Hikaru nodded but didn't comment.
The pair spotted the blonde man standing just outside of the school premises as they exited the school. Mawata veered away from Hikaru's side so she could meet up with Himeno. Hikaru waved to Himeno and Yayoi before hurrying to Kei's side.
His smile greeted her.
"Have a good day at school?" He offered to take her bag, as he usually did when he came to pick her up.
Hikaru shook him off as usual, although she appreciated the chivalrous gesture. "Yes. Nothing eventful though."
Kei shrugged and motioned toward the sidewalk. "School can be like that. So much happens and yet nothing at all."
Hikaru looked at the school. "Shouldn't we be waiting for the boys?"
"No, Mannen said that there's a game after school today," Kei answered. "They've been fighting with Hayate about playing all week. Himeno finally convinced him to let them have some fun."
"So who am I training with today?"
Kei cleared his throat and looked away. "I'm - not sure what Hayate has planned."
Hikaru's eyes narrowed, her suspicions rising. "You're not a good liar."
"No, I suppose not." Kei laughed. His smile fell, but he didn't offer an explanation. They stood at a crosswalk and waited for the sign to change.
Hikaru waited for him to speak, but when he didn't, she started to get worried. When they started walking again, she asked, "Does this have something to do with last night? Did Sasame say something?"
"Yes. How did you know?" Kei looked down at her with a mixture of surprise and relief.
"He said he wouldn't say anything," she growled.
Kei tilted his head in confusion. "Come again?"
Hikaru ran a hand through her hair. "Sasame saw me last night - or early this morning - whatever. I went back to the hospital after I'd finished work."
Kei shook his head slowly. "He never said he saw you last night. No one was awake when he got home this morning. Sasame was asleep when I went to school - Hikaru, what are you talking about?"
They stopped again and turned to look at each other with equal mixtures of confusion.
"You mean," Hikaru said slowly, "Sasame didn't tell you guys I was at the hospital at three this morning?"
"No. Why were you there that early?"
Hikaru shrugged. "It's no big deal. He talked to me and told me that I need to cut back on my hours."
Kei frowned. "Cut back? Is that what he said? No - Hikaru, Sasame and Hayate want you to stop going completely."
Her mouth dropped open in shock before snapping shut with an angry click. Her eyebrows dipped down to deepen her frown. "What?" The question came out slow, calm, yet dangerously so.
"You're wearing yourself out, Hikaru," Kei explained. "We all can tell."
Hikaru glared at him. "You've been talking about me? You all made this decision without my input? You think you all can tell me what I can and can't do? What if I want to give up being the Prétear instead? What if I think that's not more important than what I'm doing now? What I was doing before this was dumped in my lap?"
Spinning on her toes, she started walking quickly through the crowds.
Kei jogged to catch up with her, calling her name and wishing she'd slow down. Eventually he caught up with the short, thin girl that could slip through the crowds so easily. Kei caught her wrist and tried to get her to stop.
"Not until we talk," Kei argued.
"This isn't talking! This is ordering! Bullying!"
Kei frowned and instead of getting her to stop, he passed her and pulled her along behind him. They hurried to the park and he didn't let her stop walking until they reached a park bench that was away from people.
He turned to glare down at her. His angry golden eyes met hers and a battle of wills began.
"We are not bullying you, Hikaru," Kei began in a slightly controlled voice. "We are looking out for your best interest. We talked about you without your input because you're never around to give your input. You're always running off as soon as you can! What could you possibly have to do? You're only a first year in high school!"
Hikaru looked away and folded her arms in front of herself in a protective and defensive gesture. Shrugging she grumbled, "I have schoolwork, my job, the hospital."
"Again, I repeat, you're a first year in high school!" Kei snapped. "You're still a kid!"
Bristling, she glared back up at him. "I am not just a kid!"
"What would your brother say? You running yourself ragged like this?"
"What would he say if he knew I was fighting to save the world from a creature trying to drain me and everyone else of their life force?" Hikaru countered. "Face it, there's nothing ideal about my life right now!"
"No! You've said enough." Hikaru turned and started walking again. "You guys want my input? Then I'm going to give it to the morons who made you the messenger!"
Kei walked quickly to catch up with her. Hurt stinging his chest as he listened quietly to her next words. "I can't believe I ever thought you were a chivalrous, kind person! You're just as bad as Hayate!" He missed the tears that stung her eyes as he slowed so he trailed behind her. Hikaru sniffed, trying to keep her tears at bay.
"What's taking them so long?" Hayate queried as he drummed his fingers against the table top.
Sasame looked up from his cup of tea. "They'll get here when they get here. You and Himeno weren't always on time to meetings as I recall."
Hayate blushed and spluttered in embarrassment. "That's different! And Kei and Hikaru aren't dating or interested in each other."
"Shows what you know," Sasame mumbled into his tea as he took another sip.
The door burst open and Hikaru marched into the room. "What's this about giving up going to the hospital?"
Sasame winced and opened his mouth to speak but Hayate beat him to it. "It's for your own good."
"So I've heard." Hikaru folded her arms in front of her chest and shifted her weight to one foot. Glaring up at the Knight of Wind she argued, "Since when do you get to make decisions for me? You're not my brother! Or my father!"
"Well I -"
"As for you!" She ignored Hayate and turned to glare at Sasame. "You said I could keep going!"
Hayate turned his attention to his silent brother. "What?"
Sasame set his tea cup down on the table and folded his hands. "Yes, I did. I just hadn't had a chance to speak to the others about it. I didn't think Kei would be true to his word and speak to you today."
Hikaru felt herself ease a little out of her tense posture. "What?"
"Sasame!" Hayate tried gaining the Knight of Sound's attention. "Why would you say that?"
"Hikaru and I came up with a schedule. She is restricted to going to the hospital for an hour or two, twice a week," Sasame explained. "She agreed to request for fewer hours at work - she has a night shift cleaning an office building."
"I even agreed to have a set bedtime," Hikaru added, feeling very foolish for getting angry.
Hayate sighed and settled his head in his hands. "Why didn't you think to mention this sooner, Sasame?"
"We didn't come to this agreement until last night," Sasame answered.
Hikaru turned to the door to see if Kei was there. He wasn't. Returning her attention to the two older knights, she hesitantly asked, "Would either of you know where Kei might be? I need to - apologize for some stuff I said."
Sasame looked at her then at the open door. "He probably won't come back for a while if he's very upset."
"What did you say?" Hayate's eyebrow quirked up in curiosity.
Hikaru felt her shoulders wilt beneath her guilt. Shaking her head she said, "Nothing I'm going to repeat. So - um - practice?"
"Not today." Hayate shook his head. "You're tired. We're tired. Right now, we're going to come up with a schedule for who will be picking you up from your home and from school."
"Why the extra protection?" Hikaru sat down in one of the chairs and looked from one knight to the other.
Sasame slid an empty cup over to her and lifted a brown teapot. As he poured a cup of brown rice tea for her, he said, "The knights all agree that this Princess of Disaster is stronger than the past ones. Somehow, she was able to summon two strong Seeds and sever our telepathic link. She may have exerted her strength for now, but she'll regain it. When she does, we can't leave you by yourself."
Hikaru's gaze met Sasame's over the lip of her cup as she took a sip of the warm tea. They shared a silent conversation that way that Hayate missed. When she set her cup down, she nodded. "Makes sense."
"So, to ensure that you aren't attacked while you're on your way to or from school, we agreed you needed a knight escorting you." Hayate leaned back in his chair. "And since you're working," he glared at Sasame since the news hadn't been shared sooner, and said, "you'll need an escort to and from your workplace as well."
"Not to mention to and from the hospital for the hours you've specified." Sasame reached for a piece of paper. "If it isn't too presumptuous, I'll take those hours as my turn to escort you."
Hayate shrugged. "Sure. Fine."
Hikaru gave Sasame a grateful smile and nodded. "So I guess we'll be coming up with a schedule instead of practicing?"
"Yes. Once we're finished, you're more than welcome to go home and get some rest." Sasame smiled and slid the paper over to her. "Go ahead and write down some times. The knights will discuss what works with our schedules tonight."
Hayate stood and stretched. "I'll go see if I can find Kei for you."
Once the Knight of Wind left, Hikaru looked up at Sasame. "I really shouldn't have jumped to conclusions."
He shook his head. "My own folly for not informing everyone of the change in plans sooner. I have a feeling Kei won't be showing up before you leave though. I'll walk you home."
Hikaru nodded sadly and finished writing out her schedule as best as she remembered it. She slid the paper back toward the knight. They discussed the schedule a little longer, but, eventually, Sasame overrode Hikaru's desire to stick around to see if Hayate found Kei.
"You need rest," he chided.
"Okay. Okay." Hikaru smiled and stood. "Thank you for the tea."
Hikaru looked up from her laptop when the doorbell rang. Setting it aside, she stood and hurried to unlock the door. Opening it, she smiled at her guests. "Hey guys!"
"We come bearing food!" Himeno held up a plastic bag that held delicious scented boxes.
"Great! Come on in." Hikaru motioned into the apartment. "The kitchen is to the left. What would you like to drink?"
"What do you have?" Mawata shut the door and slid her shoes off.
Hikaru followed Himeno into the kitchen and opened the fridge. "Juice, water, milk?"
"Water for me," Mawata answered.
"Juice." Himeno grinned. "I don't care what kind you have."
Mawata walked around the living room, looking at the pictures hanging on the wall and sitting on side tables. Picking one up she asked, "Is this your brother?"
Hikaru looked up from the drawer she was lifting chopsticks out of and tried not to show any emotions on her face. "Yeah. That's Takumi."
Himeno hurried out of the kitchen to stand next to her step-sister. "Let me see!"
The former Prétear peered over Mawata's shoulder. The picture was of a younger Hikaru. She was sitting on the shoulders of a young man with straight, brown hair and smiling golden eyes.
"You two have the same eye-color," Himeno looked up at the other red-head.
Hikaru smiled and turned her back on the pair so she could hide her sadness and so she could dish out the food in some bowls. "Yeah - we got it from our mom."
"Do you have a picture of your parents?" Himeno looked around for a picture that suggested it was a family photo.
"Yeah. Hold on a sec." Hikaru left what she was doing and went to her bedroom. Walking over to her bed-side-table, she slid open a drawer and lifted a folder out from beneath papers and CDs.
She didn't know why she was doing this. Possibly because Himeno had opened up to her. These girls had befriended her. She could trust them.
Hikaru came back out carrying a photo album. "Takumi and I don't like to have pictures of Mom and Dad out. Just - makes us too sad, you know?"
Mawata and Himeno smiled sympathetically at the girl as they all sat down around the coffee table. Food and drinks set before them, Hikaru flipped through the album. Stopping on a page, she pushed it over to her friends. "That's them."
"You look like your mom," Himeno said after looking at the picture.
Hikaru laughed. "Well - besides the hair, yeah."
"Your parents were doctors?" Mawata asked as she flipped the pages of the album.
Hikaru nodded and took a bite of her food. "Yeah."
"That's pretty cool." Himeno smiled and pointed at a picture.
Mawata reluctantly slid the album back to Hikaru's side of the table. "Well, we really should start studying."
"So this is where you live," the Princess of Disaster chuckled darkly as she watched Hikaru, Himeno, and Mawata in the swirling purple mist she had conjured.
Her eyes narrowed as she watched the trio laugh and talk. "What in your home could help me? What is your weakness, Prétear?"
"Mother, we're home!" Mawata knocked on her parent's bedroom door and poked her head into the room.
"Ah! Mawata! How did studying at Hikaru's go?" Natsue looked up from her book she was reading.
"It went well. I believe we'll be ready for the test." Mawata walked over to the couch Natsue was sitting on and hugged her mother. "The house looks spectacular."
Natsue smiled. "Yes, well. We must make a good impression on the Karou's publishers. I'm so glad he's started writing again."
Mawata sat down beside her mother and nodded. "I think he is too."
"So what else did you do at Hikaru's house?" Natsue slid a bookmark into her book and set it aside. "You can't have me believe you girls only studied."
Mawata laughed. "No. We had some dinner and Hikaru showed us some pictures of her parents."
"Did you meet her brother?"
"No - Hikaru never said where he was tonight." Mawata frowned as she tried to recall whether her friend had made an excuse for her brother's absence.
"So, who were her parents?" Natsue inquired.
"The Yoshidas were doctors," Mawata said, excitement making her eyes sparkling. "Can you imagine!"
Natsue hummed as her eyebrows dipped in concentration. "Yoshida. Dr. Yoshida?"
"Yes," Mawata nodded and asked, "do you know them?"
Natsue's eyes widened in recognition. "Yoshida Suzu! She was a doctor at the hospital here in the city!" She looked at Mawata, sadness filling her eyes. "Oh that poor girl."
"What? Mother? What happened?"
"There was an epidemic." Natsue shook her head. "Hikaru's mother contracted the virus and died. It was all over the news. Hikaru would have been six years old."