Categories > Anime/Manga > Card Captor Sakura > Icebreakers

Icebreakers

by lazulisong 0 Reviews

Breaking the ice, breaking barriers, learning new ways and new loves.

Category: Card Captor Sakura - Rating: PG - Genres: Humor, Romance - Characters:  Cerberus, Clow, Eriol, Nadeshiko, Sonomi, Syaoran, Tomoyo, Touya, Yukito, Sakura - Warnings: [!!!] - Published: 2005/04/22 - Updated: 2005/04/22 - 12741 words

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(One of these days I will actually rewrite this thing. ._.)

Icebreakers
a CCS Fanfic by Suppi No Miko
September 16 - December 24, 2000

Kinomoto Sakura was having a tantrum. It was a very small tantrum, and it was being conducted in the privacy of her best friend's room, but still, Kinomoto Sakura was having a screaming, kicking tantrum.

Which, of course, her best friend was filming. Tomoyo never had given up her old habit of following Sakura around with a V8, and it had only been strengthened by the excuse of filming everything to send to Li-kun while he was in Hong Kong.

"And then," shrieked Sakura, hopping up and down in sheer rage. "And then! Oniichan took ONE LOOK at Syaoran kissing me -- on the CHEEK! -- and let go of the Dobermans. And for all Syaoran and I knew, they could have been junkyard killers!"

"Were they?" asked Tomoyo.

"Nooo," admitted Sakura, "At least, they only jumped on Syaoran and tried to lick him to death, but still! All I could do is stand there and SCREAM as my BROTHER let loose DANGEROUS ANIMALS at my BOYFRIEND and then Kero and Daddy rushed out, sure that I was being MURDERED and now if Kero even SEES Syaoran he starts BARKING, and even DADDY thought it was funny! DADDY!"

Tomoyo tsked disapprovingly.

"And to top it all off," said Sakura, bitterly, "I asked Yukito-san if he didn't think he could talk to Oniichan, and Yukito-san said I just needed to give Oniichan time. TIME~! As if I haven't been trying to get them to at least make a truce for THREE years! I've tried everything! I've discussed, I've pleaded, I've been reasonable! And they BOTH say it's the other's fault!"

Tomoyo shook her head. "How terrible," she said sympathetically.

Sakura hopped up and down again, and said a few choice words learnt from Kero, Syaoran and Touya when they hadn't thought she was listening. "AAAARRRRRRGH! I'm SO fustrated, Tomoyo-chan! I even asked ERIOL-KUN, and HE said he'd never known a Li to make peace with someone before they were good and ready, and when I asked when 'good and ready' was, he flapped his hands like wings and started oinking!" She flung herself on Tomoyo's bed and buried her face in the pillows.

"Poor Sakura-chan," said Tomoyo, putting aside the camera to sit on the bed and pat Sakura's head.

"I am surrounded," said a tragic and muffled voice from the middle of the pillows,"By idiot males."

Tomoyo stroked her hair. "It must be terrible to be surrounded by tetosterome all the time," she agreed.

"What am I going to dooooooooooooooo, Tomoyo-chan?"

Tomoyo patted her head. "First off, you're going to let me brush your hair so you don't have a headache anymore. Then you're going to spend the night tonight, and we'll decide what to do."

Sakura looked up from the pillows. "How did you know I had a headache, Tomoyo-chan?"

Tomoyo smiled. "Because it's you," she said. "Besides, dealing with males would give anybody a headache."

"Don't remind me," Sakura said.

------------------------------------

In the end, it was Sonomi who came up with the plan. She hadn't originally planned to be home for dinner, but of course when she heard that Sakura was spending the night, she raced home and prepared to spend the night basking in the presence of Nadesiko's daughter. She was properly horrified by the tale of Syaoran and Touya's stubborness, and the callous reactions of the other males in Sakura's life, and Sakura suddenly realised again how much she missed her mother. Surely Nadesiko would have thought of something, and even if she hadn't, the very presence of someone who UNDERSTOOD those things would have been a comfort.

"I don't suppose," said Sonomi, "that you could ignore them until they made it up? Since they don't get along, just deprive them of your presence until they do?"

"I-i-ignore Syaoran AND Oniichan?" said Sakura, horrified. It wasn't that she and Syaoran were attached at the hip, it was just that at school they were commonly known as Kinomotosanandlikun. They had been seperated for so long that even not seeing each other for a day made them restless until they saw each other again. The thought of deliberately ignoring Syaoran was just... well, Sakura couldn't even imagine it. "Oh, no, I couldn't!"

"Hmm..." said Sonomi, tapping her fingers against the table. "Nadesiko couldn't do things like that, either."

"And what makes it worse," wailed Sakura, "Is that if they would just give each other a CHANCE, they'd get along perfectly! They both play soccer, they both have black belts --"

"-- not that that's any comfort, I'm sure," said Sonomi, wryly.

"--they both like to cook, they both --" Sakura paused for breath and inspiration.

"--love Sakura-chan very much--" offered Tomoyo.

"And they're both," snarled Sakura, "As stubborn as pigs!"

"Why don't they get along in the first place?" asked Sonomi.

Sakura coughed. "Well...they kind of started off...on the wrong foot..."

Sonomi raised an inquiring brow. Sakura sighed. "Well, you see... Syaoran didn't like me much when we first met, and so he was being a little... and Oniichan saw and got a little upset."

Sonomi gave her a look that said she knew there was more to the story, and she wasn't going to pursue it. Tomoyo tilted her head. "And Hiiragizawa-kun couldn't offer any useful suggestions?"

Sakura shook her head. "He said usually if Clow had to deal with trying to change a Li's mind, he did it with a large brick." She stopped and a vaguely troubled expression appeared on her face. "I think he was kidding. Do you think he was joking, Tomoyo-chan?"

"Probably," said Tomoyo, soothingly. Sakura suddenly realised that Tomoyo-chan was showing a lot of her pretty, white, sharp teeth in the reassuring smile she gave her.

"Hmmm...." said Sonomi. "If only..." She looked up and snapped her fingers. "Christmas!"

"Christmas?"

---------------

Syaoran, having satisfied himself that neither Touya with his Dobermans nor Tomoyo with her V8 were around [one time he went through his apartment and found five remote cameras, strategically placed -- although that could have been Hiiragizawa being Funny again], prepared to spend the next hour engaged in his favorite activity -- sitting on the couch with Sakura curled in his arms. "Sitting" was probably the wrong word. Generally they ended up draped over each other and the couch in a way that would make Touya hire a pack of man-eating tigers.

Between Tomoyo's V8 [he would never, ever, forget the day he walked into the AV room at school and saw himself kissing Sakura on the screen -- his forehead was still scarred from the fall he took], Touya and the Dobermans, and, what he actually hated more, Hiiragizawa and his sardonic renditions of old Chinese love songs [Syaoran had a classical Chinese education, but Hiiragizawa had several decades headstart, Clow's education, and nobody to dropkick him for learning the dirty ones. His recond was three notes of a song that began by comparing someone's skin to cherry petals and went on from there, before Syaoran caught the reference, turned a brilliant shade of scarlet, AND had to recite the poem to Sakura and Tomoyo. Hiiragizawa, of course, was out of reach in a tree and laughing his damn head off], it seemed like he hardly ever got a moment alone with Sakura.

He shifted Sakura more comfortably in his arms and dropped a kiss on the top of her forehead. Their homework was done, and Syaoran was looking forward to the next hour, especially since he'd spent the last one explaining math to Sakura. Not that he minded, of course, but Sakura still regarded math as a special horror sent to torment her, and since Syaoran was in the Special Advanced Son, If You Don't Go Into Engineering, I'm Going to SHOOT You Class, he ended up helping her.

"December already," he said.

"Mm," said Sakura, cuddling closer.

That should have been his first clue.

"What do you want for Christmas?" he asked. He'd already had his mother send out a little jade cherry tree. She hadn't been happy about it, but Syaoran pointed out that a) it was something for the Clan Head's wife, b) the Clan Head was Syaoran, c) he was going to be with Sakura for the next several lifetimes, if he had anything to say about it, and d) Sakura was more powerful than Clow Read. Whereupon his mother had sighed heavily and sent it. He was still planning to get something special for her and hadn't quite decided what.

Sakura stilled and looked up at him through her lashes.

That should have been his second clue.

"Well...." said Sakura, slowly.

Syaoran smiled down at her and kissed her again. "What do you want?" he asked against her lips. "You know I'd get anything for you."

"Anything?" asked Sakura, twining her arms around his neck with a kittenish snuggle.

That should have been his third clue.

"Any-thing-at-all," he promised, puncuating the words with kisses. He was pleasantly aware of Sakura's scent and the way it mixed with his own. Maybe he'd get her some cherry blossom perfume.

Sakura pulled her head back and smiled brilliantly at him. That should have been his fourth clue, but unfortunately, he was too dazzled to notice.

"I don't care what you get me," she said, snuggling her head into the side of his neck, "As long as you go shopping for it with Oniichan."

It took Syaoran a second to process this.

"WHHAAAAAAAAAAAATTTTTT?!"

-------------------------

Half an hour later, he was still trying to convince Sakura that it was the _dumbest_ idea he'd ever heard of -- except, possibly, leaving Kero and Spinel to guard a sweets shop and dumping a bag of powdered sugar over Spinel before you left. [Which, not to mention any names, Hiiragizawa had done. Just to see what would happen, he claimed.]

"But Sakura," he nearly whined, "We'll kill each other before we get outside of the house!"

"Eriol-kun volunteered to chaperon," said Sakura. "Because Tomoyo-chan said if I went along you wouldn't have a chance to discuss anything, and besides, I didn't need to go along on a shopping trip to get my own present."

That was a big fat comfort. The thought of having Hiiragizawa and his ... remarks ... along for the ride while he tried to find something for Sakura gave him the cold shivers.

Something struck him. "Hiiragizawa 'volunteered'?"

Sakura shrugged from where she sat on the floor -- Syaoran was pacing -- and said, "Tomoyo-chan talked to him. I don't know the details."

Considering that Daidoujiwas the only who could even make an attempt at controlling Hiiragizawa, and it generally involved bribery, blackmail, or worse, Syaoran was sure Sakura would never know them. Syaoran had seen Daidouji "talk" Hiiragizawa into something once. He usually remembered it at three am, and woke with the heebie-jeebies. Daidouji said that she and Hiiragizawa "understood" each other. If that was "understanding", Syaoran, for one, was perfectly happy to be in the dark.

"And have you asked your brother about this?" Syaoran hoped against hope that she had, and Touya had turned her down flat.

"Well, Yukito-san was there, and he kind of stared at Oniichan and Oniichan caught himself in the middle of saying something about snowballs and said he'd think about it if you agreed."

Damn. That made HIM responsible. "Sakura -- "

Sakura looked up into his face. "You're going to refuse?"

"Well --" he began, and froze. That sounded like a snuffle, and Sakura never cried to get her way. It _was_ a snuffle. "Sakura --"

She snuffled again. "Two of the three men I love the most don't get along, and it's just because they're being stubborn, and I just want you two to give each other a _chance_, and -- and --"

"Sweetheart, don't cry," he begged, swamped with guilt. He knelt beside her. "It's just that --"

Sakura snuffled again, and he was lost. "All right," he sighed.

Sakura brightened. "You will?"

He nodded. "But I'm not promising anything, ok? I'll go shopping with your brother, but don't expect anything else."

Sakura flung herself into his arms, and they went crashing to the floor. "Just as long as you go!"

Syaoran hugged her. "Just one question," he said.

"Hmm?"

"Who's the third man you love so much?"

Sakura banged his head affectionately against the floor. "My father, you dimwit!"

-------------------------------

Touya was not so easily convinced. Fujitaka wondered once again where his son had gotten his incredible stubborness -- but on the other hand, Nakdesiko-san was sweet and gentle and yielded like a reed in a windstorm, but she got what she wanted when she wanted it, and Fujitaka, for one, was still not quite sure how she had bulldozed his objections to their marriage. He vaguely remembered something about how she loved him and he loved her and how she wanted to be with him forever, but after that it was a bit of a blur. For instance, he was pretty sure she hadn't actually marched him to the register office, but then again...

Actually, Sakura-san was looking a great deal like Nadesiko-san, minus a bit of the fragile, reed-like air.

Well, all right, minus all of it. Nadesiko-san was not given to kicking people in the shins and screeching that they were Stubborn Idiot Brothers Who Wouldn't Even Give Syaoran-kun a CHANCE and she hoped that Akizuki-san broke his thick head the next time she glomped him. And who had driven her to the station to give Syaoran-kun his bear?

"That was different," said Touya-kun.

"Different HOW?" shrieked Sakura-san.

Touya-kun set his jaw.

"You know, To-ya," said Tsukishiro-kun, "She does have a point." His words and tone were mild, but Fujitaka reconised the look that he was giving Touya-kun. Nadesiko-san had only sent it at him once or twice, but Fujitaka still remembered it clearly. It suggested that his son had best change his ways in the next five seconds, or find himself on the couch with a sheet that night. Fujitaka had never inquired too deeply into Touya-kun and Tsukishiro-kun's relationship. He'd decided a long time ago that firstly, Tsukishiro-kun was a very nice boy, secondly, that the good Lord only knew Fujitaka was the last one on earth to complain about a non-traditional relationship, and thirdly, he bet he could talk that nice Li-kun into letting one of their sons take the Kinomoto name.

Touya-kun looked at Tsukishiro-kun and Sakura-san, and his brow set harder.

"Woss going on?" demanded a sleepy voice from the door. "I was asleep and then Sakura got noisy."

"_I_ was being noisy?" screeched Sakura-san.

"Well," said Fujitaka, mildly, "You are being a little loud."

"Yes, Daddy," murmured Sakura-san. She glared at her brother again. "And even if I was being a _little_ loud, it's all Oniichan's fault!"

Kero-kun blinked. [Fujitaka agreed with his daughter that "Cerberus-san" was a bit of a mouthful for someone who might be convienently carried in a handbag, but he couldn't quite bring himself to call him "Kero-chan", either.] "What this time?"

"I just want him to give Syaoran a _chance_ and he's being stubborn!" Sakura-san glared at Touya-kun again.

Touya-kun choked. "I'm NOT spending a day in That Brat's company!"

Kero-kun looked from Sakura-san to Touya-kun again, obviously confused. "The Kid Priest?" He flew over to Sakura and landed lightly on her shoulder. "Niichan?"

Sakura-san took two or three deep breaths. "All I want for Christmas," she said, "Is for Syaoran-kun and Oniichan to go shopping for my present together. And I don't," she shrieked, "care if they bought me a roll of TOILET PAPER, as long as they did it together! And Eriol-kun offered to chaperon --"

Fujitaka could have sworn that Kero-kun cringed.

"--and Syaoran-kun agreed and now only _Oniichan_ is being stubborn!" She stamped her foot in sheer rage.

Kero-kun blinked, and looked at Sakura-san. "You want I should work him over a little for you?"

A large bead of sweat traveled gently down Sakura-san's head. "Have you been watching gangster movies again?" Fujitaka glanced guiltily over at the PlayStation and the new Al Capone 1930 game. He and Kero-kun had almost beaten it.

Kero-kun grinned evilly, and flew toward Touya-kun. He transformed and smiled wistfully at Touya-kun, making sure most of his teeth were bared. "I'm sure I could convince him, Sakura."

Fujitaka prudently retired to the corner of the room.

"Kero-chan, if you dare --" began Sakura-san, just as Tsukishiro-kun transformed, too.

"Cerberus, that's the Mistress's BROTHER!" he bellowed. "What the hell --"

Fujitaka sighed heavily and went to make tea and cookies. This was going to take a while. He closed the door to the living room, but the sounds of the discussion were still perfectly audible, and Fujitaka shook his head.

::He knows he's going to give in eventually,:: said Nadesiko-san, materialising beside him. He reached up and touched her cheek.

"I'm sure he does," said Fujitaka. "But he really dislikes Li-kun, and Li-kun really dislikes him."

Nadesiko-san trailed him into the kitchen and perched herself lightly on the back of a chair. ::They both hold Sakura-san very dear,:: she said. ::So I'm sure they'll see reason.::

"Yes, but where did he get that incredible stubborness from?" Fujitaka was busy taking things out of the cubboard, so he must have imagined Nadesiko-san making a strange noise like ::coff(myfamily)coff::. When he turned and raised an inquiring eyebrow at her, she just smiled at him.

::My family has always had very strong wills,:: she said. ::Touya-san just needs to get his mind around the idea that he needs to share Sakura-san.::

"He's had six years," said Fujitaka, setting out mixing bowls. "More, come to think of it. You'd think he'd have gotten used to the idea."

And again, Nadesiko-san made a strange sound like ::coff(Sonomi-chan)coff::

Fujitaka had to agree.

---------------------------------

"Yah, awful worried about Nii-chan!" jeered the Large Version of The Plushie.

"You don't threaten the Mistress's BROTHER!" bellowed Yuki's other form.

"Sakura's mad at him herself," countered the Large Version of The Plushie.

Touya twitched. This was not a good day.

"Kero-chan! Yue-san!"

They ignored her.

"Just like the time you --" began the Large Version of The Plushie. He'd already dragged up incidents from the last three hundred years and was still digging for more. Some of them were things that even Yuki's other form had apparently forgotten, but he certainly didn't seem to have any problems with dragging up others in answer. Touya began to think that they had spent the last millenium doing nothing but having fights.

"You two return to your false forms THIS INSTANT," said Sakura, in tones of instant obedience or death. Somewhat to Touya's surprise, they obeyed her.

Yuki blinked vaguely for a second. "I wish he'd give me warning."

"Blame Clow," said The Plushie. "That always works for me."

Yuki pulled a face. "Did I miss anything important?"

"Not really," said Touya. This was a mistake. Sakura turned a poisonous look in his direction.

"WHY are you being so stubborn?" she demanded.

"Because --" Touya began, and stopped. There were perfectly good reasons for the way he treated That Brat, and how That Brat treated him, but he couldn't explain them to Sakura. "It's -- it's a guy thing, ok?"

Yuki looked up at the ceiling and said to it, "I guess it's his sister complex again, yes?"

Touya glared at him.

"Ah," said Yuki, smirking at the ceiling, "He can't answer. It can't be helped if he's so unwilling to admit that his precious baby sister's grown up, can it?"

The Plushie _snirked_. That was the only word for it. Touya yearned to grab it by its little cotton-ball tipped tail and swing it around until it was so dizzy it couldn't see straight.

"And Li-kun, too, doesn't like Sakura-chan's older brother." Yuki shook his head sadly. "You may just have to let them have one good fight, Sakura-chan. Maybe if they beat the daylights out of each other, they'd settle their differences." He paused, as if struck by a thought. "But Sakura-chan loves them both so much, she'd be really upset if they had a fight about her, right? She might cry or refuse to speak to them ever again, and I, for one, wouldn't blame her a bit."

The Plushie crossed its little arms and nodded, sighing heavily.

"Some people," said Yuki to the ceiling, "Might consider that their little sister might be feeling bad, because she thinks that her brother and the boy she loves so much hate each other because of her. And maybe she's thinking that if it wasn't for her, they might be friends, because they have so much in common. Like soccer and martial arts and science, and the fact that they both love Sakura-chan very much." He stopped again. "And the fact that they both want to drop Hiiragiwaza-kun off a sharp cliff and back several truckloads of rocks after him," he added, thoughtfully.

"I wouldn't do that to Hiiragiwaza," said Touya, stung. Yuki just looked at him. "I'd much rather slow-roast him over a bed of hot coals." He looked over at Sakura, and saw the hopeless, pleading look on her face, and was lost.

"Please, Oniichan?" she said. "Just a chance?"

Touya sighed. "Fine," he said. "I'll do it."

Sakura cheered. Yuki gave him a smug smile and said, "I knew you were a nice brother."

"Shut the hell up." But there was no heat in the words.

------------------------------------

Tomoyo found Eriol at school the next day -- just in time to relieve him of something obviously meant for poor Syaoran's locker -- and announced, "Sakura-chan talked them into it."

Eriol made a half-hearted grab at his toy -- a motion-activated plushie set to recite a particularly interesting bit of Chinese poetry when Xiao Lang opened his locker -- but didn't put much effort into it. "I'm impressed by Sakura-san again," he said, radiating innocence, light, and an aura of How Mean of You To Take My Very Last Toy To Play With My Cute Relative, Tomoyo-saaaaan. "How did she do it?"

Tomoyo-san opened up the back of the plushie and removed the voice-chip -- and, Eriol was sorry to see, the false back that hid his special improvements. "She talked to Li-kun, and then she said that Tsukishiro-san made her brother think things over."

Eriol just bet "Yukito" had. He smiled brilliantly at Tomoyo-san. "So I'm to play chaperon?" Already he has serveral plots hatching -- among them, the fact that a Victoria's Secret had just opened. He was looking forward to Xiao Lang's reaction. Of course, he thought, awash in a a warm glow of virtue, they often had cute clothes there, too. It was just too bad they'd have to go there with Sakura-san's brother.

Tomoyo-san smiled sweetly at him and tossed his toy in the trash. She then produced a half-inch thick sheaf of paper from her bag. "And here," she cooed, "Is a list of things that I'm quite sure Hiiragiwaza-kun would never _dream_ of doing while he was chaperoning. And Spinel-san has already agreed to sit on your head while you read them, and sign every page after you're done." She placed it in his hands.

Eriol reflected, not for the first time, that Tomoyo-san had no sense of humor about some things.

"And now," she said, with quite a few of her pretty white teeth showing in her smile, "You're going to give me the REST of your toys, aren't you?"

Eriol gave her a look of offended and saddened innocence. "What toys?"

Tomoyo-san merely held out her hand. He tried to outstare her. It didn't work. He sighed, pouted cutely and emptied his pockets. "I guess I would have to get up early in the morning to outsmart Tomoyo-san."

Tomoyo's smile was like the baring of fangs. "You'd have to stay up all night."

------------------------------------

"Is that the list from Tomoyo?" asked Spinel.

Eriol nodded. "She seemed to think I was going to _pull_ something," he said, contriving to looked shocked and saddened by Tomoyo-san's cruel lack of trust.

Spinel was heard to mutter something about Eriol having met his match, and about bloody time. Eriol chose to ignore him. He arranged himself on the Throne Of Evil -- named by Nakuru, of course -- and began to read.

There was a silence. Spinel waited.

The silence extended.

Spinel had nearly decided to go find somewhere safe -- like under a storage chest in the attic at Read Manor back in England -- when Eriol said, "Spinel, would you get me the cordless, if you please?"

Spinel relaxed a little, and and got the phone. Eriol dialed Tomoyo's number without even looking at the keypad. "Daidouji residence? This is Hiiragizawa. May I speak to Tomoyo-san?"

A pause while Tomoyo was found, evidentally. Spinel landed on the back of the chair and waited.

"Miss Tomoyo?"

This was a good sign. Eriol's pet name for Tomoyo, if it could be called that, was Miss Tomoyo, and he only called her that when he was in a certain mood. Eriol used a lot of pet names, although sometimes Spinel thought that he was the only one who was aware of it. But that was what he had been created for, to know Eriol better than Eriol did himself. Nakuru was a companion, but Spinel had been created to understand him.

"Is there anything I am allowed to do while chaperoning?" asked Eriol, leaning back in the Throne of Evil. "No lingerie boutiques, no Chinese poetry at my cute relative, no rabbit puns, no murmured remarks..." A pause. "I'm allowed to behave myself and see that Xiao Lang and Sakura-san's brother behave themselves, don't kill each other and form a truce. I see."

Another pause, in which Spinel could vaguely hear Tomoyo explaining that this call had best not be a prelude to Eriol trying to wiggle out of behaving.

"You wound me," said Eriol. "When do I ever, er, 'try to wiggle out of behaving', Miss Tomoyo?" Another pause. "Oh, come, now, I only tried that once."

A long pause.

"That was different," said Eriol, piously. Spinel shook his head. "Miss Tomoyo, how am I to get them to form a truce if I'm allowed to do nothing to but follow them around with a smile on my face?"

Another pause.

"Smiling makes Xiao Lang nervous. I see. Why don't you go with them, then?"

A perfectly audible sigh from the phone, and another long explanation.

"You have to hold Sakura-san's hand while she waits to see if Xiao Lang and her brother come back in a hearse. I see."

Eriol held the phone from his ear while Tomoyo said, "AND DON'T MAKE JOKES LIKE THAT, HIIRAGIZAWA-KUN."

"I beg your pardon," he said, soothingly. "But, Miss Tomoyo, have you ever read The Art of War?"

The phone radiated skepticism.

"Of course you have. Has Cerberus ever told you about the time that Clow spent fifty years researching the Li clan?" Whatever Tomoyo said made Eriol cringe. "I see he still remembers it. But, Miss Tomoyo, if you really want to have Xiao Lang and Sakura-san's brother make peace --"

Tomoyo interrupted him.

"I know it's important to Sakura-san. I know, if she wants it, you want it even more. But, Miss Tomoyo --" Another remark that made Eriol wince. Probably, Spinel deduced, something about how Sakura's happiness was the most important thing in the world. Spinel reminded himself to bring up Tomoyo some time. Eriol was acting a little funny about her. "Miss Tomoyo, do you ever think about yourself?" A pause. "I see. If Sakura-san is happy, you're happy."

Definitely, Spinel was going to have a talk with Eriol about Tomoyo. Soon.

"Listen to me, Miss Tomoyo. Xiao Lang's a bit different from the rest of his clan, but still --" Yet another interruption. "I know that. Listen. He's got so in the habit of disliking Sakura-san's brother, and Sakura-san's brother has got so in the habit of disliking him, just spending a day with each other isn't going to make much of a difference."

Spinel clearly heard Tomoyo snarl, "They'd best make an effort for Sakura-chan!"

"I'm sure they will," said Eriol. "Just out of idle curiousity, what will happen if I, er, 'don't behave'?"

Threat radiated from the phone.

"Will you handcuff me to you to make sure I don't do it again?" asked Eriol, hopefully. "Or will it be something with red ribbons? That would be fun," he said, wistfully. A biting pause. "Yes, Miss Tomoyo, I shall cease being ridiculous." Another acid pause. "Yes, I'm quite clear of what is allowed." Threat radiated from the phone. "I promise," said Eriol, "that I will do my utmost to help them form a truce without blood shed by either party."

A suspicious pause.

"Miss Tomoyo!" said Eriol, more in sorrow than in anger, "To think such a thing!"

Eriol held the phone from his ear as Tomoyo explained she had reason.

"Yes, Miss Tomoyo," he sighed. "Anyway, I wanted to ask you. What do you want for Christmas?"

"..." said the phone, audibly.

"Now, Miss Tomoyo, if I'm going on a shopping trip, shouldn't I shop?"

Another pause.

"Imagine what Xiao Lang would do to me if I tried to get Sakura-san something, Miss Tomoyo."

"..." said the phone.

"And I can't go shopping for Nakuru and Spinel, because I'd have to bring a wheelbarrow for Nakuru's." This was perfectly true. Nakuru handed Eriol a ream of paper printed on both sides of what she wanted every October -- her theory being that more was more and Eriol needed to get out of the goddamn house, anyway. Spinel traditionally recieved a jar of dilly beans and a book for Christmas.

"Of course," continued Eriol, dripping sweetness, light, and an aura of Don't Take Me Seriously Because I'm Being A Smartass Again Ha Ha Ha, which meant he was deadly serious and didn't want her to know it, "I could simply get you something I thought you'd like."

"Like a ring?" murmured Spinel. Eriol batted at him.

"Oh, no," he said to the phone. "Just Spinel. Now, what could I get you?"

Tomoyo apparently decided to play along on the grounds that it might help Sakura's goal.

"A box of chocolates? Really, Miss Tomoyo, no blades of grass from Read Manor? No Apples of Life?" Another pause. "Oh, am I being ridiculous again? Please excuse me. Tommorow, then? Good night." He hung up.

Spinel cleared his throat. "Do we have that little chat about Tomoyo now, or after you spend five hours tearing Tomoeda apart for something she will politely thank you for?"

Eriol pulled a face. "Was I being obvious?"

Spinel shrugged. "Even the wise Tomoyo may ignore things, if they upset her vison of the way the world should be."

Eriol pulled a worse face. "Well, anyway, I can do my my best to help Xiao Lang and Sakura-san's brother decide to form a truce." He smiled suddenly. "Even if Miss Tomoyo disapproves of my methods."

Spinel sighed heavily. "And afterwards manfully accept your punishment?"

"How well you know me, Spinel Sun."

--------------------------------------------------------

"Eriol-kun..."

Eriol looked up from his papers -- not schoolwork [Eriol breezed through THAT in about thirty seconds], but some research for Fujitaka -- to see Sakura-san standing before him, with a worried look in her green eyes. Eriol laid his papers aside. "Sakura-san."

She still stood in front of him, her brows furrowed. Eriol lifted an eyebrow and silently patted the seat next to him. She sat, but still her face was troubled. Eriol waited patiently.

"Eriol-kun...." she said again, finally, "Do you think it's going to really work?"

Eriol supressed a smile and presented a grave and concerned face to Sakura-san. "The shopping trip?"

Sakura-san nodded. "It seemed like a good idea when Tomoyo-chan's mother suggested it, but now I don't know..." She bit her lip. "And I really do want them to get along, and I don't know how..."

Eriol was once again aware of the warm and pleasant feeling that Sakura-san brought with her. He liked her brother and Yukito. He was fond of Xiao Lang, and he cared for Spinel, Cerberus, Nakuru and Yue. But Sakura-san was Clow's daughter-of-the-next-life, the one who had filled his heart when he had been so lonely. He hated seeing her worried. An unhappy Sakura-san seemed to go against nature.

"Sakura-san," he said, "Your brother and Xiao Lang both love you very much, yes?"

"If they both love me," said Sakura-san, cutting straight to the point of the matter, "Why don't they get along? Yukito-san and I both love Oniichan and WE get along."

Eriol unhitched his brain and tried to think of something a female would understand. He could try to explain the elaborate underpinnings of territoriality, rank and hormones to Sakura-san, but somehow he had the feeling that she would declare them 'silly'. Not that he blamed her, he supposed; looked at rationally they did seem a little... primitive. "Your brother," he said carefully, "is used to thinking of you as his exclusively to watch over and protect. And when Xiao Lang first met you, what happened?"

"He tried to make me give up the Cards." Sakura-san's brows furrowed in thought. "But Oniichan got _worse_ after Syaoran-kun and I became friends."

"That's because he saw that Xiao Lang wanted you." Eriol hoped against hope that Sakura-san would leave it there.

Wheels turned, visibly, in Sakura-san's head. She wasn't dumb, thought Eriol, but her brother and father and Tomoyo-san all guarded her like a bunch of dragons did a precious jewel, and Syaoran, if possible, was even worse. So sometimes she didn't have the worldly understanding to think something through, and she was so modest that it never occured to her that she was a reason to fight over. But then again, Eriol had seen her come to a sudden, apparently unsupported conclusion that was nonetheless absolutely correct.

"So Oniichan and Syaoran-kun don't get along because they both want me for themselves?"

Eriol coughed. "Perhaps not quite so bluntly, Sakura-san."

"And part of it is because they've always done it?"

Eriol nodded. Sakura-san crossed her mouth in thought. He opened up a can of tea and offered it to her, and she took a long drink.

Eriol, unfortunately, had just taken a drink of his own tea, when Sakura-san paused, looked at him with an enlightened expression, and said, "You must be doing this because you like Tomoyo-chan a lot."

The tea went flying from his hand, and from his mouth, and, Lord help him, his nose. He coughed and gagged while Sakura-san anxiously pounded his back and went for paper towels. "What," he gasped finally, "In the seven holy names of God, brought THAT on?"

Sakura-san blinked puzzledly at him. "Well, I just got to thinking, that I wondered why Eriol-kun had agreed to spend the whole day with Syaoran-kun and Oniichan, because they don't like him much, and then I realised that Tomoyo-chan had been the one to ask you for me, and I got to thinking about that and I realised that you were always doing things for her and you watch her a lot. So I wondered if you liked Tomoyo-chan."

Eriol dropped his head in his hands and moaned. Then he called on all the saints of Clow's Catholic education to have mercy on him.

"Eriol-kun?"

"If the innocent Sakura-san noticed," said Eriol, "I must be obvious."

"Hoe?" Sakura-san was patentedly confused. "I just thought you must like her because you always do things for her. And you watch her a lot and you let her tell you to do things. And you don't let anyone else tell you to do things except for Akizuki-san, and you like her too. But you don't watch Akizuki-san the way you watch Tomoyo-chan." Her eyes widened. "Eriol-kun, your poor head!"

Eriol stopped beating himself with his notebook. "Sakura-san... Tomoyo has someone she likes, doesn't she?"

Sakura-san nodded. "But she told me that that person doesn't like her back."

Eriol marveled, once again, at how much Sakura-san was able to ignore if she wanted to. "So, if I DID like Tomoyo-san, it wouldn't do me very much good, would it?"

Sakura-san tilted her head. "But it might do Tomoyo-chan some good. She says she's liked this person for a very long time, and they have someone else they like. But since they're happy, so is she. And I thought, that was nice for the person she likes, but it must be a little lonely for Tomoyo-chan."

Eriol gaped at her. Sakura-san didn't manage to surprise him very often, but when she did... "But Tomoyo-san would be upset if she thought I liked her, right? Because she couldn't return my feelings without being disloyal to the one she loves."

Sakura-san crossed her mouth again. "I think...if I were the person she liked, it would make me really happy to know she has someone who likes her back. Even happier than I was now. Because if she had someone she loved, and someone who loved her back, she wouldn't be lonely. Or just watching on the outside of someone's happiness. She'd have her own happiness, and I'd be really happy, because I wouldn't feel like her liking me was going to take away all the nice things about liking someone and being liked back." She hesitated. "And I don't think she wants the person she likes to know that she likes them, because they have someone else, and she doesn't think they'd be happy if they knew. And it just seems...it seems like a sad sort of happiness to me." She shrugged. "So I'd wish she'd be happy with someone that likes her the best. Instead of her settling for second place."

Eriol stared at her while a million thoughts went colliding through his mind. Sakura-san did that to him. Finally, he said, smiling at her, "I'm sure the one that Tomoyo-san loves feels the same way that you do."

---------------------------------------------------------

It had been decided that they would meet, as Eriol said, on "neutral territory", because if Syaoran went to the Kinomoto house, Touya would be at an advantage, and if they met at Syaoran's apartment, _he_ would have the advantage.

Nobody dreamed of suggesting Eriol's house, of course. Things were too unsettled, Syaoran and Touya too edgy at the thought of the trip, to even consider the thought. Tomoyo was pretty sure that Touya would have refused point-blank if he thought he had to go to Hiiragizawa-kun's house -- for one thing, he still clung fast to his dislike of Akizuki-san.

So the three of them were to meet at a cafe downtown, and Akizuki-san and Spinel were to spend the day at the Kinomoto house making cookies. Tomoyo didn't tell Sakura-chan, of course, but she meant to go to Hiiragizawa-kun's house before he left to meet Li-kun and Touya, and have a little chat with him. It wasn't that she didn't trust him, exactly, it was that she had a healthy respect for his capacity for saying one thing, with sincere and angelic eyes, and meaning quite another thing, and she had an idea that he was planning Something. She didn't know what, of course. But she meant to try to nip it in the bud before it could come to fruit.

When Hiiragizawa-kun opened the door, his shirt was half undone and his hair was soaking wet.

"Did you just get out of the shower?" demanded Tomoyo, disapprovingly.

"No," said Hiiragizawa-kun, "Nakuru decided to have a water fight."

"In DECEMBER?"

"It was warm water," said Hiiragizawa-kun, as if that explained everything, buttoning his shirt, "And she was mainly trying to give Spinel a bath, but Spinel was asleep and by the time he woke up all the way the whole house was soaked. And I happened to be in the path of the bowl when he tried to bite her."

"Is this," said Tomoyo, delicately stepping around a puddle, "a common occurance?"

"More common in the summer. Spinel doesn't like baths, but Nakuru likes water, so she tries to make him like it, too." Hiiragizawa-kun pushed his heavy black hair away from his face. He wasn't wearing his glasses. It made him look...different. More grown up, and maybe more serious. "Nakuru," he shouted, "Tomoyo-san's here, and where's the towel and my glasses?"

"COMING!"

Hiiragizawa-kun shook his head. "I hope she doesn't break her neck sliding down that wet banister." He stared ruefully up at his dripping bangs. "Nakuru! Have pity on your poor, blinded master, if you please!"

"I AAAAAAAAAAAM~!"

Tomoyo offered him her hankerchief, and he refused it with a quick gesture. He didn't seem very blinded at all, as he looked at her again. Without his glasses, you were more aware of the strange lavender-grey of his eyes, and the way his black eyelashes -- surely too thick and long for a male -- fringed them. "I assume," he said politely, "You came over to read me a lecture?"

"Really, Hiiragizawa-kun," said Tomoyo, severely, "How rude." His hair was dripping down to his shirt and making it cling to his shoulders. Tomoyo suddenly realised that he was as broad-shouldered as Touya-san, and perhaps a bit taller. His hair was dripping down onto his shirt, and it made the fabric very slightly transparent.

Eriol swept her a mocking bow. "I beg your pardon," he said. He straightened and looked at her with a funny smile lurking in the corner of his mouth. Tomoyo wasn't quite sure what sort of smile it was. "But, Tomoyo-san, you don't need to worry."

Tomoyo found that she had backed up half a step without realising it. "With you, Hiiragizawa-kun, I always worry."

Eriol pouted cutely at her. "How cruel, Tomoyo-san." His face went suddenly serious again. "But you really don't need to worry." His eyes drew hers and she was vaguely aware of something odd in her chest. "Because I know how important it is to you."

Tomoyo distantly realised that his eyes were turning a deep, purple-black, and the thing in her chest was a butterfly, struggling to get out...

Something small and black zoomed into the room and zipped to a landing on Tomoyo's shoulder. She leaped, and realised that it was only Spinel, burrowing into her hair. "I'm going to Sakura's house with you," he announced, glaring suspiciously at Akizuki-san bouncing into the room. "Because YOU don't try to DROWN people in their SLEEP."

"I call that about mean, Suppi!" Akizuki-san draped the towel over Hiiragizawa-kun's head and put his glasses in his shirt pocket. "I only tried to hold you down because you kept trying to fly away!"

Spinel glared. "You get people WET and you try to DROWN them and I'm not going to go anywhere with you."

Akizuki-san hmphed. "Fine. Like I want your bad breath on my shoulder anyway."

"Spinel doesn't have bad breath," Tomoyo objected. She should know. Spinel was even worse than Kero-chan about suddenly alighting on Sakura-chan's or her shoulder whenever a chance presented itself.

"Suppi," said Akizuki-san gleefully, "Has _very_ bad breath."

"I do NOT!"

There was a muffled chuckle from beneath the towel on Hiiragizawa-kun's head. "Tomoyo-san has never seen Spinel or Cerberus attack, Nakuru."

"Attack?" said Tomoyo, completely confused. "What does that have to do with..."

Hiiragizawa-kun pulled the towel off his head, ran his fingers through it and put his glasses on. "Yue and Ruby Moon are in human form, right? So they attack with their hands. Yue uses diamond shards, and Ruby uses ruby shards. But Spinel and Cerberus don't have hands, so their attacks are with their breath. Cerberus breathes fire and Spinel Sun sends out a ruby light beam. That's why Nakuru says he has bad breath."

"But that would only be in his big form, right?" asked Tomoyo.

Hiiragizawa-kun shook his head. "Spinel can use his while he's small. Cerberus spent most of his time with Clow in his big form, so it wasn't a problem that he couldn't use it when he was small."

"Oh," said Tomoyo, doubtfully.

"Anyway," he said briskly, "We're going to be late." He made another sweeping bow -- Tomoyo reminded herself to find out sometime when, precisely, Clow had lived -- and offered her his arm. Tomoyo curtsied gravely and accepted it.

---------------------------------------------------------

Eriol hummed a particularly happy, bloodyminded tune beneath his breath as he practically skipped toward Cafe Piffle Princess. Oh yes, he thought, gleefully, Xiao Lang and Sakura-san's brother would be gettting along by the time the day was done.

If only a truce to try to kill him. Eriol was comfortably aware of the fact that he had at last outsmarted Miss Tomoyo. Even she hadn't thought of _this_.

----------------------------------------------------------

Touya and Hiiragizawa were waiting for him at the cafe. Syaoran made his way toward them. Hiiragizawa was oozing happy evil. Touya was glaring at Hiiragizawa and Syaoran alternately. Syaoran glared back. This occupied them for a full five minutes, until they became aware of Hiiragizawa's politely repressed maniac sniggering. They glared at him, and he pulled a blank and gently inquiring face.

"I ordered a mocha and some chocolate wafers for you," said Hiiragizawa, cheerfully. Too cheerfully. "Got to keep up your strength and all that, what?"

Something in the back of Syaoran's mind paused. Something about...

"And I thought," continued Hiiragizawa, with a bright idiot smile, "We could go to the shopping terrace, don't you know, and see what they have there, what?"

Syaoran and Touya stared at him. He smiled brightly back. Syaoran found himself scooting his chair toward Touya, led by the primal part of the brain that suggested that there was safety in numbers.

Eriol beamed happily on them. "I'm sure we're going to have such FUN today, what?"

The question, Syaoran thought, casually reaching into his pocket to be sure he had a good supply of ofuda, was 'fun for whom'?

-----------------------------------------------------------

Nakuru bounced into the Kinomoto house. "Sakuraaa-chaaaaaaaaaan! Kinomoto-seeeennnnnseeeeeeeiii! Tsukishiro-kuuuuuuuuuuuun! Kerooooo-chaaaaaaaan! We brought Tomoyo-chaaaan with uuuuuuuuusssssssssss!" She hugged Sakura, wrung Fujitaka's hand, glomped Yukito until he turned blue and she has a good shot at Kero, whom she snatched out of the air -- a technique perfected on Spinel, of course -- and cuddled him briskly. Kero tried to bite her. She held him by the tail, cackled delightedly at him, and then let go. Kero called her something that earned him a Look from Sakura. "Snickerdoodles! Sugaaar coooooookies! Pound cake! Chocolate chip cooOOOOOookiiiiiiiiiiiies! Ladyfingers! Cover all the Oreos with cho~co~laaaaate~!" she sang, bouncing around the room. "Lots of good things to eat, yes! Make them for Touya-kun, make them for Eriol, make them for Tsukishiro-kun, Sakura-chan, Tomoyo-chan, Liiiiiii-kun, Fujitaka-sensei and meeeee! Hold Suppi down while Kero rams them down his throat, yes! Lots of sweets for me, me, ME~!"

Everyone stared at her.

"Chocolate-covered expresso beans," said Spinel direly, poking his head out from Tomoyo's hair. "Ze was pouring them down hir throat with a funnel."

"Such fun today, yes!" trilled Nakuru, happily.

Beads of sweat traveled down everybody but Spinel and Yukito's heads. Yukito gave Nakuru a big, fat smile. "I agree!"

Sakura hit the ground with a thud.

"Not," said Spinel, who seemed determined to emulate a famous gloomy donkey, "That they were created by the same freak, oh no."

---------------------------------------------------------
Eriol bounced happily ahead of Touya and Syaoran, wearing a maniac smile. "I hear Victoria's Secret is having a special Christmas sale, what! And Frederick's of Hollywood just opened a branch!"

Syaoran turned a shade of crimson previously unachieved by the human face. Touya glared poisonously at him and Eriol. "If you THINK," he said, with concentrated venom, "that we are stepping ONE INCH in such a store to shop for MY LITTLE SISTER --"

Eriol, perhaps wisely, did not make the obvious remark about Yukito.

Syaoran shook his head vigorously to clear it. "...jewelry store..." He managed. "... the Gap..not going to get her..." he couldn't finish the sentence and blushed even more scarlet.

"If we're going to The Gap," said Touya sarcastically, "Wouldn't it be nice if you knew her SIZE? Or what she likes?"

Syaoran recovered somewhat. "I do have four older sisters," he said, with dignity. "(And Meiling.) I guess I know SOMETHING about shopping for a girl. Clothing is easy."

"Is that a fact," said Touya, radiating disbelief. "And how do you do it?"

"Buy an 6 and keep the receipt," said Syaoran promptly. "And then when they yell that they're really a 12 and do you think you're FUNNY, swear to God they look like an 6 to you." He thought for a second. "Or you can get them some sort of cute mascot thing and claim it reminded you of them. But if you get Badtz-Maru you get beat up."

Touya's mouth twitched. "Tried it, did you."

"Only once," said Syaoran, rubbing his head as if at the memory of some painful noogie.

Eriol, listening, allowed himself a small, evil grin.

---------------------------------------------------------

Fujitaka had gotten used to allowing for Tsukishiro-kun's appetite -- and also for Sakura-san's, who was generally a light eater but apt to take sudden fits where she poured food down her throat with a funnel, staggered upstairs, slept like the dead for fourteen hours, and crawled downstairs to eat half the pantry before collapsing on the couch, if she were lucky, or the floor, if she were not, especially when there had been a patch of particularly nasty weather and there hadn't been any stars for a while. Hiiragizawa-kun had gone into a long and complex explanation, stopped, looked at Sakura-san's blank face, and then said, "It's because you can't get any power from the stars, so you have to generate more for the Cards yourself." They'd gotten used to it, but all of them [except possibly Sakura herself] kept a sharp and anxious eye on the weather, and Syaoran, for one, had gained minor infamy and a fearsome lecture for bellowing, in the library, as he read the paper, "What the hell do you MEAN, rain at night for the next week? Goddammit, Sakura needs it to be CLEAR!"

It had taken a while to get used to shopping and mentally rewriting recipes for a daughter supporting nineteen Cards and two magic beings on her own power, plus one of said beings' tendency to suppliment that power with horrific quantities of food, and the other's tendency to oink hopefully when someone went into the kitchen, but Fujitaka had risen to the challenge. Keeping enough food to stock a small grocery store and doubling all the recipes and making two batches almost made it seem like Nadesiko-san was alive again.

He heaved a twenty-five pound bag of flour, a 15 pound one of sugar, and the Super DeLux Econo Bakery Sized can of baking powder on the counter, as Sakura-san and Tomoyo-san staggered under the weight of flavorings and decorations. Tsukishiro-kun hauled four gallons of milk, Akizuki-san enough shortening and buttter to grease Tokyo Tower, and Kero-kun and Spinel-kun manfully -- well, he amended, catfully -- carried ten pounds of chocolate chips between them.

Fujitaka looked around. He had the Scottish Terrier apron. Sakura-san had the winged heart apron. Tomoyo-san had a ruffled one, Tsukishiro-kun the monkey one, and Akizuki-san a heart one. Spinel-kun wore a small apron with a winged cat, and Kero-kun one with a winged bear.

"Hands clean?" he asked.

Four pairs of shining hands and two pairs of gleaming paws were held up.

Fujitaka picked up the bag-opener and held it up, pausing for effect. He slashed open the flour and the sugar, and declaimed, with all due drama, "Let's make some cookies."

Even Spinel cheered.

-----------------------------------------------------------

Touya was begining to really dislike Hiiragizawa's attitude. The problem was that was no reason to resent it -- Hiiragiwaza was merely being happy, cheerful, helpful, friendly and energetic in the most annoying way he possibly could. It _had_ to be deliberate. Nobody could possibly be THAT grating and yet skate so delicately on the edge of making his companions snap without knowing precisely what he was doing and how far he could push it.

Which was another thing Touya hated. The thought that Hiiragizawa had sized him up well enough that he COULD skate that narrow line.

Hiiragizawa bounced ahead of them. "The second floor of this building has some really cute shops!" he said. "And I'm sure Sakura-san would love the stuff they have!"

And if he called Touya's sister 'Sakura-san' one more time, Touya was going to shove his obnoxiously perfect tie down his throat. Touya reluctantly followed him into the building. At least, he thought, That Brat didn't like Hiiragizawa, either.

------------

Spinel stopped turning the flour shifter for a second, and sniffed the air suspiciously.

"Something wrong, Spinel-kun?" asked Fujitaka, not ceasing to cream butter.

"Not exactly," said Spinel, carefully. Nakuru turned and looked at him from where she was cutting sugar cookies. Then she stopped and closed her eyes.

"Oh, dear," she said, giggling.

-----------

Syaoran and Touya got on the elevator. Eriol had lingered in front of a sweets shop and then discovered that his shoe was untied, so Syaoran was impatiently holding the door open. Eriol hurried up, all fluster and apology, and Syaoran took his finger off the door as Eriol began to step in -- and then stepped out again.

-----------

Sakura stopped mixing frosting, and looked around.

Tomoyo looked at her.

Sakura had a horrible sense of deja vu. "Clow-san's aura..." She froze and looked at Tomoyo, who was blinking puzzledly at her. "Er, nothing," she said brightly. "Do you think the frosting is mixed enough?"

It was probably nothing, she comforted herself. Anyway, Eriol-kun only had half his magic left, what could he DO to Syaoran and Oniichan?

-----------

Syaoran watched, like in a nightmare, as the doors of the elevator slid shut.

"I'll be back in a hour," caroled Hiiragizawa. "Be sure to make good use of your time!"

Syaoran looked at Touya.

Touya looked at Syaoran.

With one voice, they swore.

-----------------------------------------------------------

Nakuru scowled threateningly at the empty green sugar container. "I guess we're going to have to get some more," she said, looking as if the world was going to end.

"Mmm," said Tomoyo, "And we're almost out of pastilles, too."

"I'm hungry," said Yukito, piteously.

"Yes," said Kero, "I'm sure you haven't eaten anything for at least fifteen minutes." He ducked automatically but Sakura still managed to smack him one.

"Why don't you three go to the store, then?" said Fujitaka, squinting in the oven. "We've got about twenty minutes before the sugar cookies are done, and then they have to cool."

"We'll be back in half an hour," said Yukito, as he followed Nakuru and Tomoyo out the door.

"See you then," said Sakura, waving vigourously.

"Byeeeeeeeeeeeee~!" trilled Nakuru, and slammed the door.

Sakura stopped waving and sighed, slumping a little.

"Worried?" said Fujitaka gently.

Sakura tried to smile cheerfully at her father. "Sort of. But I'm sure it will be fine." She hoped.

----------------------------------------------------------------

Touya banged experimentally on the door of the elevator. Nobody heard it, of course.

"I doubt that will do any good," said Syaoran gloomily. "He may not be able to do massive charms anymore, but he'd probably be able to work something to make people suddenly decide to take the stairs for their health."

Touya called the absent Eriol something even Syaoran hadn't heard. "What are we going to do, then?" he snapped, glaring at Syaoran, which was patently unfair.

"Wait for an hour?" said Syaoran, acidly. He glared at Touya and Touya glared back. "And you can't blame this on me," added Syaoran.

"He's YOUR relative," said Touya.

Syaoran gaped at him. "He's half of YOUR father's last incarnation!"

Touya growled. "Bastard."

"Him or me?" inquired Syaoran politely, glaring at him.

"Him," said Touya. "For once."

"How very kind of you," said Syaoran. He slumped down to the floor. "Goddamnit, this is the SECOND time he's pulled this on me. I'm never going to hear the last of this from Aneki-tachi."

Touya stared at him, and then slid down, half-unwillingly, to the floor opposite Syaoran. "The 'second time'?" he said, carefully. One part of his mind noted, unwillingly, that The Brat seemed to have a healthy respect for his older sisters.

"The first time," said Syaoran, even more gloomily, "I was worried over how Sakura felt about me, and of COURSE Hiiragizawa noticed, and the next thing I knew, he'd locked Sakura and me in an elevator and didn't let us out until she smacked me over the head for being a damn idiot and I apologised."

"...." said Touya, and then, "How long were you in the elevator and what did you do?"

Syaoran snorted. "Two hours, and we talked. JUST talked," he added, as a vein swelled on Touya's forehead. "You ask her."

Touya stared at him consideringly. One of the Brat's few good qualities was his honesty -- it wasn't so much that the Brat couldn't tell a lie, it was that he couldn't tell one convincingly, unlike That Hiiragizawa. So if the Brat claimed Nothing had happened, he was probably telling the truth, not, he added hastily to himself, that it mattered to him.

"Hmph," he said, finally. Then he stared at the brat again, consideringly. There was something he'd been wondering about, since the day he had realised -- with some horror -- that The Brat loved his sister. That The Brat loved Sakura he never doubted; before he'd given his powers to Yukito's Other Form, he'd seen the way that The Brat's aura reached toward Sakura's, seen the first faint response of Sakura's own toward him. It was just that... "Just out of idle curiosity," he said, "What does your family think of you settling in Japan?"

"Uh..." said Syaoran.

----------------------------------------------------------------
"I'm sure everything will turn out all right," said Fujitaka soothingly. "Because everything turns out all right for you, Sakura-san."

Spinel reflected, again, that Fujitaka was too much like Eriol, in a strange and maybe a little unnerving way. And it wasn't even so much the similiar personalities -- although Eriol had an evil tinge to his -- well, Spinel admended, puckish, perhaps -- that Fujitaka lacked. You couldn't imagine Fujitaka creating someone with an Allergy to sweets, for instance, although you could see Eriol happily knitting small sweaters.

"For Sakura, maybe," said Cerberus, with uncharacteristic gloom. "And maybe the Kid Priest. But what about everyone else?"

Fujitaka blinked at him. "Kero-kun, what do you mean?"

Cerberus shoved several spoonfuls of cookie dough in his mouth. Spinel cringed. "Fink abouw hit," he said muffledly. He swallowed. "Think about it. Niichan's gotta back down on the Kid Priest, which ain't gonna make him happy, Tomoyo's got to be in Eriol's debt, prolly, and that's one place she never likes being, and then..." He stopped suddenly and slanted a meaningful glance at Sakura.

"I see," said Fujitaka. And he probably did, if he was anything like Eriol; Spinel sincerely doubted that anything involving his precious children got past Fujitaka, whether he acted like he knew anything or not.

Sakura wrinkled her brow. Puzzled, as usual, thought Spinel. It was rather unsettling, really, the way she could be oblivious to any and all emotional undercurrents surrounding her. Especially when she could then promptly turn around and know more than Eriol did about a situation. "Why would Tomoyo-cha..." Her voice faded out.

Spinel poked Cerberus and pointed at Sakura. His fur, and by the looks of it, Cerberus', was standing on end with the electric sense of power in the air. Cerberus looked at his mistress and drew a sharp, silent breath. Her green eyes were blank and staring at nothing.

Fujitaka, too, was glancing uneasily around. He looked at his daughter. "Sakura-san?"

"And yet somehow," said Sakura, clearly, "Tomoyo-chan, too, will be glad of what happened today." She stood watching something with a slight smile, while her father stared at her and the two guardian-beasts backed quietly -- very quietly -- away.

"I thought your master said that she'd be able to control that," hissed Cerberus to Spinel.

"Not if she wants to know," muttered Spinel back, watching Sakura's blank eyes.

"Gave me the cold creeps everytime Clow did it," said Cerberus, quietly.

"You're telling ME about the cold creeps?" Spinel checked for a hiding place out of habit. Cerberus was doing the same thing, which suggested that Eriol hadn't changed much from Clow. "Eriol used to stop in the middle of dinner and stare at nothing, and then he'd suddenly say something like 'Sakura-san just took her first step', with this huge goopy grin on his face. It creeped _Nakuru_ out, for God's sake."

"Just as long as it wasn't 'Sakura-san just got concieved'," whispered Cerberus.

"July tenth."

Cerberus winced in sympathy. "Clow never was really good at that Too Much Information thing."

Sakura blinked, and looked around. "What are you and Suppi talking about, Kero-chan?"

"How glad we are there's two of us," said Cerberus, without a blink. "Na, Sakuuuraaaa, we can have the frosting left over from the cookies, can't we?"

-----------------------------------------------------------
"'Uh...' what?" said Touya.

Syaoran looked at him. He was obviously not going to back down, and Syaoran supposed he had a natural interest in the question. He sighed. "It's a long story," he said, finally.

"Well, we certainly have the time to hear it," said Touya, acidly. "I don't know much about your family, but you can't tell me they just waved you off at the airport and wished you good luck and good fortune."

Which they hadn't. Syaoran tried to think of how to explain what had happened. "It kind of helped that I'm still the official Clan Head," he said finally. "But they weren't pleased, no." How to explain three years of battles, three years of clashing with his mother and the rest of the Li Clan, three years of holding on to the one thought, that one day he would be with Sakura forever? Three years of worry that she'd find someone better than him, even though he'd asked her to wait. Three years, he thought, suddenly, of living from letter to letter, of trying to explain that Sakura was more important than the Clan -- that Sakura _was_ his Clan now.

"I bet they tried to find you someone else," said Touya, staring at him. "I would have, if it had been Sakura."

Syaoran flinched. Three years of 'why don't you take your cousin out shopping' and 'you WILL dress nicely tonight, Yun Li is coming to dinner', and the ensuing battles. Three years of listening with blank politeness as girls were trotted out before him -- nice, Hong Kong girls, with good bloodlines and magic of their own -- but not Sakura. "You didn't try to find her anyone else," he said, striking blindly.

Touya gave him a long, considering look. "I knew it wouldn't be any good," he said finally. "Sakura had made her choice." He paused and stared at Syaoran again. "If they tried that, they must not know you very well."

Syaoran stared back at him. "Huh?"

Touya sighed. "The one thing I've never doubted about you is that you love Sakura. And if you love her, you'd come back to her through the fires of hell." He glared at Syaoran again. "Which does not make me like you any better."

Syaoran thought about this. He realised that if Touya _had_ suddenly decided to approve of him because he loved Sakura, Syaoran wouldn't have trusted him any farther than he could throw him. "I didn't expect you to."

Touya snorted. "So you escaped from your family and came back to my sister. What do they think of that?"

Syaoran coughed. "It, um, probably helped that Sakura's so powerful." He hoped against hope that Touya would leave it there.

Touya's eyebrow shot up. "Helped you get approval, or...?"

Syaoran knew this was coming. "Shall we say," he said, very carefully, "That there's been Clan Heads before that wanted to marry, ahem, unsuitably."

"And what," said Touya, deliberately, "Happened to them?" An acid pause. "Or should I ask what happened to the unsuitable one?"

Syaoran looked away.

"From what I know of you," said Touya, "You wouldn't mind dying but if Sakura got a scratch on her, you'd go mad."

Syaoran didn't say anything.

"This would explain the Plushie suddenly turning Big and growling at nothing," said Touya thoughtfully. "And Yuki transforming and staring at shadows. And the Cards floating around her in formation, with the attack Cards on the outside and Sheild front and center. And Hiiragizawa turning up again and casually escorting her everywhere." A long pause while he studied Syaoran's face, which, Syaoran knew, had turned hard and closed. "If it's any comfort," said Touya calmly, "I don't think you had anything to do with it. I didn't then, either."

Oddly enough, it did help. Syaoran still remembered the day he found out that Sakura was being ... targetted ... and the battle that had ensued. "After a while, they decided it was better to welcome her into the family," he said neutrally.

"So they could have control of the Cards," guessed Touya.

Syaoran shrugged. Touya let out a long breath. "I don't mind you too much, Brat," he said finally, "But God Almighty, what a bunch of in-laws for my baby sister."

Syaoran began to laugh. He couldn't help it -- it was just exactly what he had thought about his own family so many times. "I can't say," he managed, "That I'm exactly thrilled at the thought, either..."

Touya studied him and then broke into a grudging smile. "Her in-laws or yours?" he demanded, and Syaoran simply howled with laughter. He was laughing so hard that he accidentally hit the open button, and the elevator doors obediently slid apart.

Syaoran stopped laughing. He looked at Touya. Touya looked at him.

"THAT SON OF A BITCH!"

-----

Eriol heard the howl, in enraged unison, from three shops away, and his face spilt in a wide, happy smile. He'd known they'd get along perfectly if they only had a reason.

-----

Touya and Syaoran conducted a complete search of the vicinity, but either Eriol had wisely lit out for safety, or, more probable, he was managing to stay three steps ahead of them. As annoying usual.

"Bastard," said Syaoran, stomping bitterly through the malls. "Smiling weasel."

Touya trumped his insult.

"I doubt it," said Syaoran, fair despite himself, "From what I hear of his mother, anyway."

Touya growled, and swept the area round with a glance. He paused suddenly. "Hey, Badtz-maru."

Syaoran looked. "...," he said, and slanted a suspicious look at Touya. "I hope you're not suggesting what I think you're suggesting, Kinomoto."

"Aw, c'mon, Li... what can one little, bitty, tiny girl the size of thistledown DO to you?"

"I dunno, what CAN'T she?" Syaoran regarded the glaring penguin doubtfully. "I think it looks more like you, anyway."

"Thanks," said Touya dryly.

"Anyway," added Syaoran, "What would DAIDOUJI do to me?"

"So you're more worried about what your girlfriend's best friend is going to say than what your girlfriend herself is going to say?" demanded Touya.

"Sakura wouldn't say a word," said Syaoran. "But if I give her something bad, Daidouji will give me bloody hell."

Touya had to give him the point. "Speaking of Tomoyo..."

"Yeah?" Syaoran studied a display of Angel Kitty merchandise.

"What are you going to do about her?"

Syaoran suddenly became even more interested in the display. "What about her?"

Touya gave him a Look. "You're not that dumb."

Syaoran sighed. "There's not a lot I _can_ do, is there? She's going to be like that whatever I do." He hesitated. "Sakura's so... fond of her, anyway, and I... well, she's my friend, too, even when she could have come between us. I ... don't want to hurt her, so..."

Touya studied him for a long, long moment. "You could set her up with Hiiragizawa," he suggested.

Syaoran cringed. "Oh, God, no." He looked at Touya. "That was a joke, right?" Touya raised one eyebrow and waited. "...You're not joking," said Syaoran. He stared at Touya. "Why?"

Touya shrugged. "You don't think they'd get along?"

"I think they'd be damn scary together," said Syaoran bluntly. "And I think Daidouji would rather be together with a barracuda. Why do YOU think that?"

Touya shrugged. "Just a feeling," he said, obscurely. "Are you going to get Sakura something Angel Kitty?"

They regarded the stacks of blue, winged cat thoughtfully for a second. "Not pink enough," they chorused, and moved off.

------

Eriol was torn between laughter and irritation. He was glad they were getting along, yes, but then again... He sighed. He wasn't surprised that Touya-kun had caught something -- even without his Power, Sakura-san's brother was damn sharp -- but he wasn't sure he ... well, it stung a little. Xiao Lang was right, he supposed. Tomoyo-san had watched Sakura-san too long to ever turn her eyes away. He sighed again.

He could think about Tomoyo later. Right now he had to keep an eye on Xiao Lang and Sakura-san's brother.

--------

Akizuki-san's eyes had the slightly maniac gleam of someone who had not only been dipping in the chocolate chips, but the cookie dough, the cocoa, the hard candies, the gingerbread, the icing for the gingerbread house, the candied fruits, the sugar [when she had a chance] and the coffee, to boot. Yukito supposed she had been fairly good about it. No sneaking around for Akizuki-san; she took what she wanted and dared anyone to say anything about it.

::Pig,:: commented his inner voice. Yue-san, Sakura-chan called him.

::She's just got a healthy appetite,:: said Yukito, automatically, although he really had no idea why he was defending her.

::Healthy like a pig,:: said his inner voice, sourly.

::You don't eat, so how would you know?:: Yukito thought about this for a second. ::And I eat as much as she does.::

::She's still a pig,:: said his inner voice, decidedly. Yukito gave up.

"Ne," said Akizuki-san, happily.

::Oh, God,:: moaned Yukito's inner voice. Yukito wished, again, he could kick him.

"'Ne', what?" said Suppi, warily.

Nakuru gave Suppi a big, happy smile. "Suppi hasn't had ANY sweets at ALL~!"

::...:: said Yukito's inner voice.

Yukito had to agree.

"Grab him, Cerberus!" cried Akizuki-san, happily. Suppi shot around the room like a panicked arrow.

It was no use.

-------

"Damn," said Syaoran, "How many stores have we gone into?"

"Too many," said Touya, who hadn't shopped so much since -- well, since they were fitting out the baby things for Sakura. [His father, of course, had been mildly freaked out by Touya and Nadeshiko's insistence on pink and cherry blossoms, but then again, as he had said at the time, they were the ones with Power, not him.] "And we've got to meet HIM soon, too."

There was a brief pause while both imagined several things to do to HIM, mostly involving stringing him by his toenails.

"There's a jewelry store over there," said Touya, pointing. "Although, after all that..."

Syaoran rubbed the back of his neck. Shopping should not be this stressful. But it was, because he wanted it to be perfect for Sakura. "We might as well look," he said. "Hey, Kinomoto."

"Yeah?" Touya studied the display in the window.

"Wanna make a bet?"

Touya raised an eyebrow. "What type of bet?"

"I bet Daidouji never said he couldn't lock us in an elevator."

"Tomoyo?" Touya thought about this for a second. "Nah... she would have covered that."

Syaoran shook his head. "I say she didn't."

"Yeah? If she did, you're buying me the biggest damn steak I can find."

"And if she didn't, you're buying me two pounds of chocolate." Syaoran held out his hand. Touya shook it to seal the bet.

Touya studied the display again. "Hey, Li."

"Hey, what?"

"I think I just found your present for you." Touya made a noise in his throat composed of disgust and amusement. "I can't believe I just said that."

"What is it?" Syaoran looked in the window.

-------------

Spinel was huddled in a corner over a tall pile of sweets, sobbing unrestrainedly. "Mine," he wailed, glaring around as if he expected someone to take them by force. "Miiiine." He hiccuped. "All miiiine."

"...," said Fujitaka, Sakura, Kero, and Yukito. Nakuru was rolling on the floor, screaming with laughter.

"Of course they are, Spinel," said Tomoyo, soothingly. "Nobody will take them from you."

"Cerberus might," wailed Spinel. "He likes sweets. But these are all mine. Don't let him take them from me."

"...," said Fujitaka, Sakura. Kero and Yukito again. Nakuru was in tears of laughter by now.

"How long until he falls asleep?" whispered Sakura.

"I WON'T!" howled Spinel. "Because my sweets might get stolen...." He fell over onto them and began to snore.

"...," said Fujitaka, Sakura. Kero and Yukito. Nakuru giggled helplessly.

-------------

Syaoran lifted the little necklace with near reverence. It was a pretty thing in and of itself, with a delicate gold chain. But what really made it perfect was the pendant -- a tiny golden teddy bear, perfect in every detail, holding a small, quartz heart.

"You're blushing," said Touya, jabbing him.

"I am not," said Syaoran automatically. Then he realised that he was, which made him turn redder.

"Would you like to get it, sir?" asked the pretty salesgirl, smiling sympathetically at him.

"Yes, I would," said Syaoran, still staring at it. It was so pretty. So...Sakura.

"Hmm," said an interested voice behind him. "Sakura-san should like that."

Syaoran and Touya turned around and skewered Eriol at a glance. The saleslady, an intelligent girl, wrapped up the pendant and rang it up in record time, hoping all the while that those two apparently normal young men would restrain their obvious urge to kill the handsome one that had just come up behind them and was now smiling benevolently upon them.

They did, but the salesgirl reflected, uneasily, that the way they were pushing him out the door didn't look very good. And she really hoped she hadn't heard the tall one say, "Perhaps we could have a little TALK about you and elevators, Hiiragizawa..."
-------------

"We're back," said Touya and Syaoran in unison. Eriol said nothing, which was perfectly understandable, considering that his tie was stuffed up his mouth and he was hanging, with surprising docility, in a half Nelson between Syaoran and Touya, his suit ruined by the what was apparently all the snow in the park, well rubbed in.

Sakura skidded into the hallway, followed closely by Yukito and Tomoyo. "Welcome ba--" She stared.

"Mgghffph, mmpph ffrrummpphomn, Fnfunnfa-ffn," said Eriol cheerfully.

"'See, they're both here alive and getting along, Sakura-san'," translated Syaoran. "Hey, Daidouji -- Kinomoto and I are kind of curious."

"About what?" asked Tomoyo, eyes narrowed on Eriol suspiciously.

"I bet him a rare steak against two pounds of chocolate that you hadn't put 'You will not lock Li-kun and Touya-san in a elevator for an hour and go off to have tea and scones' on that list of things he wasn't allowed to do."

"Eriol-kun, you didn't!" wailed Sakura.

"Mmmy mffpnfft fmph, Fnfunnfa-ffn," said Eriol, soothingly.

"'They were perfectly safe, Sakura-san'," translated Touya, twisting on Eriol's arm a trifle. Eriol gave him a pained look.

Everyone looked at Tomoyo.

She glared at Eriol in a way that boded extremely ill for his next hour. "You get the chocolate, Li-kun."

Eriol spat the tie out and twisted his way lithely out of Touya and Syaoran's grips. "Well," he said, looking excessively pleased with himself, "I think that broke the ice."

--30--
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1.) Meimi: upon reading draft XD And aaaallll I want for Christmas [besides these 2000 other items, of course] is Touya-kun, allllllllll wrapped up and unconcious under the tree~!
Meg: XD

2.) Yes, there is a sequel planned. ^_^

3.) For Tin, since I adopted the original idea and then ran screaming away with it, as she egged me on with the Eriol x Tomoyo bit, and dedicated to Shi-chan, whose Love Reflection fics were my first introduction to S&S screaming fangirlhood AND the Doberman joke. ^_^

4.) Spinel's breath weapon, a ruby light beam, can be used even when he's chibi, unlike Kero's fire. ^_^; Blame Amy for that joke, proposed after we saw The Suppi Episode.

5.) I counted back, and I'm PRETTY sure Sakura would have been concieved in early July. It was an irresistable tempation.

6.) For those of you not familiar with Sanrio products, Badtz-Maru is an extremely annoyed looking penguin type critter. He actually look kind of like Touya, what with the spiky hair and things. ^_^
>>
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