Thank you for all of you who have been following this story. This is my first ever multi-chapter fic that I've finished (an accomplishment for me since I like to write long stories that go on forever) Sorry for the rushed ending! Hope you enjoy and please R+R!


The sound of laughter filled his ears—the sound of another boy and a girl. He felt his face stretch into a smile and he got to his feet and ran.

"Wait for me!" he would cry out as the girl and boy ran off together. He felt a woman pat his head and hold him back.

"Not yet, my sweet," she would murmur, trying to stuff in the last of the medicine. He struggled but succumbed to swallowing the disgusting mix she would feed him once a day.

"There. Now you can go," she said softly. He looked up to face her before running off, and saw the face of a beautiful young woman…

the face of the witch who had been his foster mother…

Hayate groaned as he gained consciousness. He could feel a hand upon his face, cupping his cheek and was surprised to find that it was the princess' delicate hand.

"Princess?" he murmured.

"Shhh," she said softly, and bent down to kiss him. His eyes widened, but then relaxed when he tasted the powder on her lips and tongue. An antidote, he realized.

"Make sure to swallow it slowly," she murmured when she broke the kiss.

Hayate nodded, still not trusting himself to speak. As he felt the strength returning in his limbs, he reached out for her and brought her close to him.

"Princess, I…" he began, when she silenced him with another kiss.

"Thank you, my dear knight, for protecting me all this time. When this is all over, I have something to tell you. So please wait here for me," she murmured, low enough that only Hayate could hear.

Hayate smiled in understanding, and released her hand. She stood up and grabbed Hayate's sword by the hilt and turned to where Takako was stirring. For Hayate's sake, she would end this once and for all…

Go watched in amazement as the two combatants fought in a blur of action. He could barely discern their movements now. It was as if their previous fight was on an entirely different level—one that he could have caught up with. Now, however…

"There's nothing to be gained by all this," Sasame cried out as he parried Mawata's series of blows.

"I will gain her revenge," Mawata replied.

"She chose to conduct the spell herself. I am not to blame," Sasame retorted.

"You always had loved father more than mother. Your actions betray you," she parried, her words cutting deeper than her sword tip.

Sasame winced in pain.

"I did what I felt was right—for the kingdom," he said softly, his eyes full of hurt. The guilt rushed into his features, and Mawata knew that he had not forgotten his sin. She could now see that he had spent the past ten years trying to atone.

Sasame had always been the quiet one. He was shy and seemed to always cling to Mother. Father had focused instead on Mawata, training her skills in both weaponry and poisons because she had the greater audacity and skill. But Mawata could tell her gentle foster brother had a deep jealousy that only manifested itself in the cruelest way—he harmed his own blood mother for the love of his blood father.

Their father had adopted many of the orphan or unwanted children of the kingdom—seemingly out of good will at first. It was many years before Mawata knew that he was training his army for the rebellion, shaping the minds and bodies of the young, neglecting children. His one obstacle—the woman he had once loved.

She wanted to raise the children herself, to give them happiness for the future. When she came to realize what her lover intended to do with the children, she began to resist him. Slowly trying to make him see the light.

And he decided to get rid of her.

The children loved her; she was beautiful and kind, but stern and strict at times too. She was their savior and haven. She loved her children—both her own, Sasame, and the ones she adopted, like Mawata and Hayate—and did everything she could for them.

Hayate was sickly, and Mother tried many herbal remedies to help him get better. But nothing seemed to help. Afraid he might die, she turned to the forbidden magics—and found the cure for him. Father became wary of her magical powers, even as Mawata learned them in secret from her.

And he used her own magic to destroy her.

Mawata's eyes blazed as she thrust forward, swatting Sasame's sword aside in a quick, deft motion.

As her sword point was at his throat, she cried out, "Do not try to escape from your guilt. You obeyed father and hurt the one who loved the most in this world!"

"I had to," Sasame conceded, relaxing his body for her final sword thrust, "it was the only way to keep her alive."

Mawata's arm shook as she lowered it, her vision blinded by tears.

"You fool," she finally managed.

Takako was losing control of the duel fast. The princess was fighting with a alacrity and dexterity that she had never seen before. She was a demon whose rage had been fueled into a skillful sword dance.

Each slash she received from the princess' sword was accompanied by an explanation for why she was being slowly, excruciatingly tortured so.

"This is for the wound you gave Hayate," she would cry or, "This is for the poison you placed in his blood…"

Never did she utter a word about her own brush with death with the poison they had given her. Not a word about her own suffering. It was always about Hayate…

As she felt the blade slip between her breasts, Takako felt no surprise—only relief.

I love you, Sasame…

As he heard her gasp, Sasame turned away from Mawata and raced over to Takako, his eyes unbelieving, unable to grasp the situation. The princess stood over Takako, her sword streaming with blood—the blood gushing from the deep wound in his love's chest.

"Takako! Takako!" he cried out in agony, rushing to her side. The princess' rage ebbed away and she averted her eyes for the lovers whose future she had destroyed.

She felt an arm grab her gently and press her face to a warm chest. It was then she realized she had been trembling, and in the safety of those arms, she let go of the tears she had held back as she heard Sasame's desperate pleas.

"Takako…Takako…" Sasame moaned, holding her head in his lab. She managed a soft smile for him despite her pain and mouthed over and over again the same phrase until her last breath: I love you, Sasame…

After being allowed to bury Takako, Sasame willingly entered his life long captivity in the castle. Go was in charge of his imprisonment, but he was the least of his worries. Sasame had no desire to leave. He had been trapped by his guilt all these years that physical imprisonment was no more than a formality.

Hayate and Mawata returned to visit their foster mother—only to find that her unnaturally bestowed old age had claimed her life. As promised, Hayate helped bury her in the field with her favorite flowers.

"Forgive me for the hate I had shown you," Hayate murmured, as he placed flowers on her grave, "I should have treasured you more for all that you had done for me. Thank you, Mother."

"Forgive me for causing your son so much pain," Mawata murmured, "Both you and he deserved more happiness. I wish that your next life be filled with happiness."

As the sun began to set in the sky, Hayate turned to Mawata.

"Shall we return back home?" he asked her. She nodded, knowing that a certain idiotic, naïve member of the guard would be there, waiting for her with a worried look.

As they mounted their horses and rode back to the castle, Hayate felt at peace. He would soon be returning to place he belonged—at the side of his princess, her protector and her protected to the end of his days.