never jam today.
Feedback is always welcome!
"It's very good jam," said the Queen.
"Well, I don't want any to-day at any rate."
"You couldn't have it if you did want it," the Queen said.
"The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday, but never jam
"It must come sometimes to 'jam to-day'," objected Alice.
"No, it can't," said the Queen. "It's jam every other
day: to-day isn't any other day, you know."
Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass
ICEBREAKERS: JAM TOMORROW
This conversation happened at least once a month, and it never failed to amuse her.
"Hey," whispered a girl. "That boy -- who is he?" She pointed discreetly.
"Him? That's Syaoran Li."
"He's cute," said the first girl. "And so strong and silent-looking!" A heart appeared above her head. "I wonder what would happen if..."
The second girl shook her head, and held up one finger. "Li-kun is very smart--" she held up another finger "--and he's good at sports, and he doesn't say much, and he's very kind--" holding up more fingers as she listed Li-kun's good qualities "-- and he's actually kind of shy and he doesn't realize that a lot of girls like him."
"He's perfect," squealed the first girl.
"But he has one fault."
The door slid open. "Good morning!" chirped Sakura-chan to the world at large.
Li-kun lit up.
"Syaoran-kun!" sang Sakura-chan, bouncing toward him. "Good morning! Guess what guess what, I did all the math by myself and I didn't even have to ask Daddy about any of it, and will you check it for me, please?"
Li-kun turned the brilliant smile he reserved only for Sakura-chan on her. "Did you, Sakura?"
The first girl's face went slack. It went slacker as Sakura-chan bent over Li-kun's shoulder as he checked her homework.
"I knew you could do it," said Li-kun, smiling up at her and catching her hand in his own. Sakura-chan beamed back at him.
"No way," said the first girl. She looked ready to cry.
"He came from HONG KONG for her," said the second girl, tragically. "And a girl from the D class tried to break them up, and not only did she fail, Daidouji-san offered to bring her down. And Li-kun told her that he 'didn't appreciate' girls like her, and if she ever upset Kinomoto-san again, she'd regret it."
"Did she try?"
The second girl shook her head. "You've never seen Li-kun angry. He made the leader of the tough gang back down once, you know."
Tomoyo's mouth twitched. She remembered that girl quite well -- she'd upset Sakura-chan, and Tomoyo had suggested that she stop, or else she, Tomoyo, would make transferring to, say, America [or the ends of the earth], look very attractive. She hadn't quite believed Tomoyo at first. She had after a short, sharp demonstration of the power that Tomoyo could command when she felt like it. Tomoyo preferred playing nicely, because Sakura-chan got upset when she didn't, but everyone at school knew that it was not an intelligent idea to upset Sakura Kinomoto. Word had invisibly oozed out that Tomoyo found such people irritating, and irritating Tomoyo Daidouji was not, precisely, good for one's health.
Sakura-chan bounced over to her. "Tomoyo-chan! Syaoran-kun said I got ALL my math right!"
Tomoyo smiled at her. "I'm glad," she said, sincerely.
She was glad that Sakura-chan was so happy. She'd decided a long time ago that she'd rather have Sakura-chan be happy, would rather have her be with someone else, than upset or confuse her with what Tomoyo felt for her.
If you held someone too closely, if you refused to let them blossom in the way they were meant to, you couldn't even see their happy face. That's what she had learned from her mother's experience. So she'd never spoken, never would speak. Because, even if it hurt to see Li-kun receive Sakura-chan's brilliant smiles and her affectionate caresses, and all her confidences -- even if she wanted to have all of them, even if she wanted to be the one with her arms wrapped around her, stroking her hair, being with her and belonging to her in a thousand tiny ways -- Tomoyo still would not come between them. And she could. How easily she could. But she would not, because even the envy that bit at her was infinitely better than becoming her mother, living only for memories, hating the one that her dear one had chosen, never seeing her at all.
Half a loaf was better than none, they said. But sometimes, in the far corners of her mind, she found it a very dry and bitter one, indeed.
Eriol heard this conversation at least once a month, and, unlike Tomoyo, it did not amuse him at all.
"Hey, who's that girl?" whispered someone, whom Eriol labeled 'Boy A'.
"You living under a rock?" demanded another, dubbed 'Boy B'. "That's Tomoyo Daidouji. Richer than hell, star of the chorus, in Student Government and top of the class."
"She's cute," said Boy A, salivating. "And some class, too. She involved? Or available?"
"Techn'cally," said Boy B, "She's not involved. In reality --"
Sakura-san bounced into the room. "Tomoyo-chaaaaaaan~!"
Tomoyo-san lit up.
"Tomoyo-chan, will you look at my paper? I think it's all right, but you're always so good at it and I'm kind of nervous about it, so --" she held out a sheaf of paper and fixed Tomoyo-san with pleading eyes. "I was going to ask Eriol-kun, but he's really busy and you know what Syaoran-kun thinks of essays..."
"But of course," said Tomoyo-san, looking up at Sakura-san with tenderness and affection radiating from her like a nimbus.
Sometimes Eriol wondered whether the real tragedy was that Sakura-san was so used to being loved, and loving back, that she never realized, unless she was shown, that there was a difference in the way someone felt for her.
Boy A stared at the two girls. "No way," he said.
"Daidouji," said Boy B inelegantly but expressively, "Plays for a different team."
"Has anyone tried to convince her otherwise?" Boy A looked as if he would like to try. Eriol took four or five deep breaths and reminded himself, forcefully, that he did not want to give Boy A a black eye.
"Lots. But you haven't been ignored until Daidouji looks through you." An expressive wiggle of eyebrows. "And I hear someone tried to make an issue of it, and Li about ripped him a new one."
Boy A blinked. "Is Li interested in her?"
"Hell, no. They say the day that he and Kinomoto break up is the day hell freezes over, and Daidouji's Kinomoto's best friend -- at least, that's what Kinomoto thinks, and Daidouji hasn't explained any different to her. Li kind of has to be friends with her whether he wants to or not. But like I said, some idiot tried to press the issue, and Li sailed into him. And HIIRAGIZAWA backed him up."
Boy A cringed.
"Not only," said Boy B, impressively, "Not only did they practically have to carry that moron out on a stretcher, Hiiragizawa got Li and himself _completely_ out of trouble, and they say if he had talked five minutes more they would've got rewards of merit."
Boy A whistled, and the two of them walked off.
Eriol sighed. He wasn't ... used to feeling so helpless, as if he could do nothing but pine away like an Eighteenth Century poet, sighing his life away over a lock of hair. Even as Clow, even as he had nearly despaired under weight of his own power, he had _done_ something, even if it were just the careful, slow planning that had produced Sakura-san and his eventual release.
Clow had been used to slow plots. He'd thought nothing of setting one thing in motion to bear fruit years later. But Eriol was mortal now, and suddenly too old and too young to stand the strain that a plot to win Tomoyo, as complicated and precise as such a campaign would be, would have on him. And he hated manipulating people. Prodding Syaoran to make him blush or try to kill him was one thing. [Eriol liked to consider himself a nice boy, but Syaoran made a target that would tempt a saint.] Deliberately setting out to capture Tomoyo was another thing entirely.
And yet it would be so easily done. Eriol had a carefully cultivated knack for observing people and relationships like points on a map, or a stand of dominoes. That knack had only failed him once, and that had been because he didn't keep in mind that Yukito and Yue had been designed to function separately, and he hadn't considered that Yue would refuse, or not know, that he could override Yukito's Heart with his own. [Also, Eriol had a sneaking suspicion that Yue and Yukito's Hearts were a bit closer than Yue would willingly admit.] And he'd foolishly assumed that Syaoran was like the rest of his clan -- but he was glad of that. It had worked for the best after all.
Idly, he wondered how that knack had manifested itself in Fujitaka. A feel for where things went in a dig, perhaps.
It would be so easy. He could see the points and connections clearly -- nudge that one there, move Sakura-san gently there, and then one small tap and Tomoyo would fall, like the last domino, to Eriol. It tempted him. How terribly it tempted him. But ... Tomoyo-san had that same knack, even without magic to support it, and she would realize, eventually, what had happened.
He was sick unto death of manipulating people. He never wanted to do it again.
Syaoran heard this conversation at least once a month, and it never failed to make him wonder at the workings of the female mind.
"Hey, hey," whispered one girl, "Who's that boy?"
"Him? That's Eriol Hiiragizawa." The other girl gave a long, dreamy sigh. "Isn't he _handsome_? He's from England, you know, and he's really smart and athletic and polite."
Two sighs, heaved as if coming from the bottoms of their pattering hearts. Syaoran cast his eyes to the heavens and prayed for patience.
"Does he have a girlfriend?" She said this as if her life and eternal happiness depended on Hiiragizawa's availability.
If Syaoran had been female, and offered the choice between Hiiragizawa and a shark, he would have taken the shark. Sharks weren't apt to plot evil pranks behind one's back. Girls, Syaoran decided, not for the first time, were really weird.
"Noooo..." said the second girl. "At least, he never really dates and they say he had a Tragic Romance back in England."
That reminded him, when Hiiragizawa had left the first time, Daidouji had seemed to think that Hiiragizawa and That Teacher were pretty tight. But then again, hadn't Sakura just said she'd got a letter from That Teacher saying she was about to be married? Syaoran shrugged mentally. It was Hiiragizawa's business, not his.
"Does he pay attention to anyone?" The first girl had gone into dewy-eyed sparkles at the thought of Hiiragizawa's supposed tragic romance.
"Not really," said the second girl. "He calls Kinomoto-san 'Sakura-san', and she calls him 'Eriol-kun', and he calls Daidouji-san 'Tomoyo-san' sometimes, but she never calls him anything but Hiiragizawa-kun. And Kinomoto-san doesn't know there's another boy in the world besides Li-kun."
Li-kun was forced to preen.
The door slid open. "Hiiragizawa-kun," said Daidouji crisply. Her tone suggested that she not only had Hiiragizawa's number, she wiretapped it and kept logs.
Hiiragizawa -- Syaoran felt his jaw sag. There was no way in hell Hiiragizawa had lit up.
"Yes, Tomoyo-san?" He HAD lit up. Maybe not very visibly, but the difference was -- Syaoran gaped. There was no way in hell he was seeing what he thought he was seeing. Hiiragizawa was absolutely not looking at Daidouji with that look on his face. Syaoran knew what that look was, because it spread across his own face whenever Sakura got within fifty feet of him.
Hiiragizawa and Daidouji's dark heads bent close together, absorbed in some arcane detail of student government. Syaoran watched them. He was probably wrong. He hoped he was wrong. Nobody knew as well as he did what Daidouji felt for Sakura. And Hiiragizawa never numbered stupidity among his faults, nor lack of observation. If he did like Daidouji, he was setting himself up for a hard and painful fall.
Hiiragizawa could handle it. He'd have to handle it.
Hiiragizawa was technically family.
Family did not let family take a fall like the one Hiiragizawa was about to take.
If any conversations happened around Sakura, she neither heard nor remembered them. Of course some people found Eriol-kun attractive, and Tomoyo-chan was so nice and sweet and pretty, people were bound to like her, and Syaoran-kun, as far as Sakura was concerned, had hung the stars and moon. And of course everyone agreed with her.
So she never listened at all.
There was to be a festival in a month, and the school was grinding, ponderously and with many loud groanings and squeaks, into full gear. Tomoyo and Eriol, in particular, had their fingers in so many school pies that [said Spinel] they could have opened their own bakery. Eriol didn't belong to any clubs, but he was in the student council, and Tomoyo was the president of the choir, and in student council, too, and they had been roped, upon the discovery that Eriol played the piano well ["You'd think Hiiragizawa had played it for a hundred years," said the music teacher, in awe. Eriol had been suppressed by Tomoyo, forcibly, before he managed to say 'since it was invented, sensei', but it had been a near thing], into a piece at the concert, and they had yet to agree on what it would be. Eriol wanted something 'fun' or operatic. Tomoyo wanted anything he didn't want, and preferably something she had a chance of getting right before the festival and/or something she already knew. Syaoran thanked the gods and his ancestors, loudly, that it was them and not him, and refused to be drawn into the discussion. Sakura blinked at them and ventured an opinion that whatever Eriol-kun and Tomoyo-chan did would be really pretty. Eriol thanked her for her opinion, and proposed Andrew Lloyd Weber. Tomoyo smiled happily at Sakura and told Eriol, with sweetness in her voice and daggers in her tone, that if he thought she was going to learn 'Think of Me' in time for the concert, he had another think coming.
At this point, Sakura and Syaoran would escape to their own club duties -- Sakura had a new and complicated routine to learn for the cheerleading club, and Syaoran was in the martial arts 'thing', as he called it -- and leave Eriol and Tomoyo arguing over the relative merits of 'Tit-willow' and 'Maples'. Eriol would pull out all the tricks learned through two lifetimes, flirting, cajoling, whining and reasoning, and Tomoyo, face slightly flushed and eyes snapping, would fend off all his attacks and get in a few good blows of her own.
Currently, they were involved in a mostly amiable discussion of why Tomoyo was absolutely not going to sing 'Ave Maria', even if she was a soprano and Eriol could play it in his sleep, in the music room. Eriol, at the piano bench, moved his hands absently over the keys, sometimes going into small riffs and bits of melody.
As much as Tomoyo hated to admit it, it was one of the things she actually liked about Hiiragizawa-kun. It was hard to completely despise and crush someone who loved the piano so much he could make it express his emotions as well as his own face or voice.
"But it would be so pretty," said Hiiragizawa-kun, wistfully. He managed to look both pathetic and hopeful.
"No, Hiiragizawa-kun," said Tomoyo, firmly. "Absolutely not."
He pouted cutely, and the piano made a hopeful trill like baby birds cheeping for food. "I know you can sing it," he said. "I've heard you singing bits of it."
"I'm not doing it for the school festival," she said. "No. And 'singing bits of it' is entirely different than singing it, in its entirety, in front of an audience."
Hiiragizawa-kun's lower lip stuck out more. "Sakura-san would like it."
Tomoyo wavered for a few seconds, and then caught the glint in his eye. "Hiiragizawa-kun," she said, sweetly, "If you don't stop bringing Sakura-chan into this I'm going to push you out the window."
Since the relative absurdity of Tomoyo pushing Eriol, who was fully six inches taller and considerably more solid than she, out the window was more than countered by the fact that the music room was on the third floor and well equipped with heavy objects and things that could be used to pull a body to the window after it had been struck unconscious from behind, Eriol desisted. He was pretty sure he could counter any attack she made, but Tomoyo-san was, well, Tomoyo-san.
And Tomoyo-san was the only one who came even close to being as sneaky as Eriol himself, and SHE had no magic to rely on.
He pushed aside the lovely thought of Tomoyo on stage, with her face lifted to the ceiling, eyes closed as she entered into the never-realm she lived in while she sang, and those old Latin words pouring from her throat. He examined it before he pushed it aside, and discovered that it involved, in no particular order, a low bodice, Tomoyo's throat and the effect of a red rose in the former against the latter, and pushed it aside even more quickly.
"We've got to do something," he pointed out. His hands moved absently over the keys, picking out the bare bones of a song.
Tomoyo pulled a face. "I don't want to learn something really hard for the concert."
"We are rather busy, aren't we?" When I was alone and waiting, sang the piano, were you waiting for me?
Tomoyo turned and stared at him. "What song are you playing?"
He blinked and looked down at the piano, and his fingers, still moving gently over the keys. "Er..." He cleared his throat. "Just a song," he said. Naturally his fingers would fiddle with this song. Naturally.
When I looked up at endless stars, asked the piano, softly, did you see the same ones I'd see?
"It's a pretty tune," said Tomoyo-san, thoughtfully. "Does it have words?"
"Yes," he said. Of course Tomoyo-san would like this song. "It does, actually."
"So you and Eriol-kun decided on a song?" Sakura chewed her pencil over an equation. She hated the silly things; funny puzzles that always just eluded her. But she was bound and determined to go through one term without calling Syaoran-kun, who was in such a harder math class than her, every living night to figure them out.
She always had better things to talk about with Syaoran-kun when they called each other, although come to think of it, it pretty much boiled down to 'bill bill coo coo kiss kiss'. Which was perfectly fine by both of them, although lately their conversations had begun to seep over to the question of what to do with Tomoyo-chan. Sakura knew that Tomoyo-chan wasn't ... quite ... happy, and she also knew that if she told Tomoyo-chan she knew this, Tomoyo-chan would be very upset. Sakura's instinct was to find her a person that she could love like Sakura loved Syaoran, but the sixth instinct that had grown stronger over the last few years told her that it might not be the best solution. Yet.
Come to think of it, she hadn't mentioned that sixth instinct to anyone yet. She ought to ask Eriol-kun about it. It wasn't foresight or telepathy, she didn't think, it was just an awareness of what went where. And when she was with Syaoran-kun she had a tendency to do things just as he blinked at her and said he was about to do it. And she could tell Tomoyo-chan's and Syaoran-kun's and Oniichan's moods, and, to a lesser extent, Daddy's and Eriol-kun's. She never really bothered with trying to read Kero-chan and Yukito-san's moods.
Tomoyo-chan's mood right now seemed to be pretty calm. "Yes," she said. "He was playing something while we were, er, discussing it, and I decided I liked it. And it's easy enough to learn for the festival."
She almost had the wretched equation now. This went there and slid into place... "Whatever you two do is going to be really pretty." And then that went here ...
Tomoyo-chan cleared her throat. "Sakura-chan."
"You're singing again."
Sakura looked up. "I was? I mean, what song?"
Tomoyo-chan giggled. "It was one of your silly songs. 'Stupid number, O Mister Stupid Number, come over here and go where you belong. Miss Wretched Number, you stupid number, why don't you fall into place.'"
Sakura smiled apologetically. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize I was even humming."
Tomoyo-chan shook her head and gave her that look again, the tender one that Sakura knew so well. "I like hearing you sing."
Tomoyo-chan really needed someone, thought Sakura distantly. Someone who would look at her the same way she looked at Sakura. Because ... Sakura could never look at her like that, and even if it was something that could not be helped, it still made Tomoyo-chan sad.
She bent her attention to the equation again.
Sakura-chan was singing under her breath again, something about an equation being like a human heart, yes, you don't understand it but it all adds up somehow.
For the next few weeks, their lives were mainly composed of classes, club meetings, banging things together with hammers [Sakura hit her thumb, of course, and nearly broke it], practicing, more club meetings, gluing things onto felt [Syaoran nearly glued himself to the felt instead of the flower, and sulked about it all day, especially after Eriol's section won universal praise], more practicing, late nights painting things [Tomoyo got so mad at Eriol, between his calmness at the face of the thousand different minor tragedies inherent in a school festival, and, well, various Eriolian misdeeds, that she almost poured a can of paint over his head], more club meetings, more classes ...
The only bright spot of those hectic weeks, in fact, was the lie that Yamazaki-kun told with Eriol. Yamazaki-kun had nearly wept tears of joy when Eriol moved back from England, and they had told a few whoppers now and then -- but nothing truly monumental. This, Yamazaki-kun clearly felt, was something that had to be remedied. Also, Chiharu was as busy as Sakura was with the cheerleading club, and Yamazaki-kun, in the computer club, had less to do. Which meant she wasn't able to squash him, and he was as bored as it was possible to be in the middle of running around getting ready for the festival.
Their class was gathered, in various attitudes of glassy-eyed exhaustion and apathy, for a meeting. Most of them felt like if they had to go to one more damn meeting, someone was going to snap, and God help the school when they did. Sakura had lost her usual cheer, and even Tomoyo's smile was strained. Rika's unfailing gentleness was beginning to ravel at the edges, and Naoko, for one, had checked out a large horror novel about someone who had gone mad and destroyed their school, and was taking copious notes.
Syaoran slumped over the back of Sakura's chair. He was so tired he didn't give a damn about manners, he just wanted to be near Sakura. Even Eriol sat with his eyes closed, resting. He had a nagging headache, and what he really wanted to do was prop his head on Tomoyo and go to sleep and let her nice scent and the warmth of her wool-covered shoulder soothe the mice gnawing on his forehead to quietness. The fact that doing such a thing would gain him the shocked interest of the class and an instant decking by Tomoyo-san did not improve his headache.
"I hope I never have to do another festival ever again," said Chiharu, rubbing her forehead. "My head HURTS. And we still have two more weeks to go."
There were moans and grunts of agreement from the class, which resembled nothing so much, Eriol decided, than a heap of those floppy panda characters that Nakuru liked, only much less cute.
Eriol considered the chances of Ruby Moon actually condescending to cook that night. Nakuru cooked occasionally, but it was, she claimed, beneath her dignity, and besides, her function was complete when she ornamented the household with her very presence. Spinel's comments about THAT, of course verged on the profane. He could make her, of course, but even if she did it cheerfully, he still felt nasty about ordering her to do things. Which was silly, when you came to think of it, but there it was.
There was the gentle sound of someone clearing his throat.
"About festivals," began Yamazaki-kun.
Eriol woke up.
"Did you know," said Yamazaki-kun, looking sincere and innocent, "How festivals started?" The longsuffering Chiharu gave him a Look. Undeterred, he looked around the class. "A long time ago, people didn't have festivals. What they did instead was --"
Eriol felt his headache began to disappear. "-- gather in big meadows and fight each other," he said. "At least, the men did. And they called them jousts."
"I've heard about them," said Naoko, doubtfully. "They used to try to knock each other off their horses or something?"
"Yes," said Yamazaki-kun, looking even more sincere, if possible. "But of course Hiiragizawa-kun knows more about it than I do."
Eriol was aware that Sakura-san had lifted her head and was regarding him with wide, trusting eyes. He was, unfortunately, only human.
"I don't know about that," said Eriol, modestly. "But in England, a long time ago, they used to have all the knights gather to beat each other up and see who was the strongest."
"Seems kind of dumb to me," said Xiao Lang, suspiciously.
Eriol shrugged. "It was a lawless time. But after a while they started adding other things."
"Like what?" Sakura-san, as usual, was swallowing it whole.
"Well, like dances and beauty contests and things to buy," said Eriol, keeping almost to the truth. "Like haggis, for instance, in Scotland."
"Yes, haggis," said Yamazaki-kun, nodding vigorously.
"Haggis," repeated Chiharu, suspiciously.
"Sheep stomach," said Eriol cheerfully. "With the intestines stuffed with liver. And other bits."
Yamazaki-kun turned a pale green, but rallied valiantly. "In fact," he said, "They used to have contests to see who could eat the most."
"And they'd try to carry big heavy logs upright," added Eriol, "And things like that, to see how strong they were."
"That still doesn't explain about why they started festivals," said Chiharu, eyes narrowed.
"A festival in old England," said Eriol, solemnly, "Was a joust that collected money for the poor, at first. Everyone would pay sixpence -- that's about five yen, Sakura-san -- to get in, and they would donate the money for the poor, and they would have the knights fighting, and jugglers and people singing. Like Daidouji-san. But then later..."
"There was a school, in England," said Yamazaki-kun.
"Where all the students were very bad," added Eriol.
"And so for punishment, they had to put on a festival--"
"--all by themselves, and donate the money to the poor."
"It was very hard," said Yamazaki-kun, shaking his head sadly, "even harder than it is now. Because --"
"-- they had to find and make everything for it themselves." Eriol sighed deeply. "They had to make their stage, and make all the costumes from the ground up. All the girls spent months spinning and weaving and sewing--"
"-- and the boys spent that same time cutting down trees and sawing them into boards so they'd have a stage."
"--they had to get all the food to sell ready, and of course --"
"-- they couldn't just use a kitchen like we do," said Eriol, one eye on Sakura-san, whose eyes were as round as saucers. "They had to cook everything over a pit, and have you ever--"
"-- tried to make cookies and cake in a pit fire?" asked Yamazaki-kun, solemnly. "It was terrible. They ruined so many--"
"-- the poor starving animals in the forest wouldn't eat the scraps anymore," said Eriol, sadly. "To this day you can see piles of stone, and they're all those ruined sweets."
Sakura-san cried out, triumphantly, "Eriol-kun, you're telling a story!"
"Yes, Sakura-san, I am," he said.
Sakura-san clapped her hands in glee. "I knew you were telling a story, I knew they couldn't REALLY sell sheep stomachs stuffed with entrails at Scottish festivals! Cos that would be really gross."
And this, thought Eriol, fighting back a howl of laughter, from a person who regularly ate fermented soybeans.
Tomoyo looked up. Part of her noted that Hiiragizawa-kun was still calling her Daidouji-san, and wondered why. Lately he'd been calling her Daidouji-san instead of Tomoyo-san. And he hadn't called her Miss Tomoyo for a very long time. It was humiliating, but she almost wished he would call her Tomoyo-san or Miss Tomoyo. It made her feel like they were friends.
Or was that it? asked a small voice in her mind.
Tomoyo considered this for a moment, and tucked it firmly aside to think through later. "Yes, Hiiragizawa-kun?"
He smiled at her, and she thought, just for a moment, but very clearly, that if he smiled like that at anyone else in the world, that gentle, affectionate smile, they would go to the ends of the world to keep that smile on his face. But she'd always known that he had a beautiful, gentle smile. "I had an idea," he said, perching one hip on the corner of her desk. "I thought maybe you could come over to my house tonight to practice. Nakuru says, and I quote 'I haven't seen Tomoyo-chan for three million years, why can't you practice here for a change, cos if you spend any more time practicing at school I'm going to forget what my master actually looks like and go attach myself to Touya-kun or something'."
"We can't have that," said Tomoyo. "Touya-san would hate it." She ran through the rest of her day mentally. "I need to go home after school, I'm afraid. I haven't got my dress more than half-started and I need to put in an hour or two of work on it."
"If it would be a bother..." began Hiiragizawa-kun.
Tomoyo shook her head. "Mother's not home tonight, that's why I was planning to work on the dress."
Hiiragizawa-kun put his head to the side. "Then, why don't you eat at my house? If you're going to be alone? You could even bring the dress over, you know."
Tomoyo blinked at him. "I suppose," she said, doubtfully. "But mostly I'm working on hand seams."
"If it's seams," said Hiiragizawa-kun, practically, "I guess I can help you."
Tomoyo remembered, suddenly, Spinel making not-quite-out-loud remarks about Nakuru's clothing. And Sakura-chan's father was good at sewing too. But still. "Well, it would be a help," she said cautiously.
He smiled at her, and she found herself thinking that he and Sakura-chan had nearly the same smile. Not quite the same. But both brilliant and fit to light the world up. "Around six, then?"
"That would be fine."
At six, therefore, Tomoyo rang Hiiragizawa-kun's doorbell.
She was half-expecting the door to creak open slowly, as lights flipped themselves on and a hooded figure bowed low silently and beckoned her in, [Hiiragizawa-kun was fond of what he called 'atmosphere' and Li-kun called 'rot and rubbish'] but Hiiragizawa-kun opened the door himself.
"Hello, Tomoyo-chan!" trilled Akizuki-san, hanging off Hiiragizawa-kun's back. She was wearing a very short and very pink dress, with matching stockings held up by a garter belt with roses at the clasps.
"Hello, Tomoyo," said Spinel, from his perch on Akizuki-san's head.
"Come in, Daidouji-san," said Hiiragizawa-kun, placidly.
Tomoyo decided she couldn't be dreaming, because she didn't think even her subconscious could come up with the sight before her eyes. Her training kicked in. "Please excuse my intrusion," she said, and just barely managed not to take off her shoes at the door.
"You're not an intrusion at all," said Hiiragizawa-kun, equally politely. He turned and gestured her ahead of him. It seemed that he was scarcely aware of the fact that Akizuki-san had one leg wrapped around his waist for balance -- in fact, he absently hooked an arm around her leg to support her better. "Nakuru made stew tonight, I hope you don't mind?"
"Of course not," said Tomoyo, trying not to stare and almost managing it.
"And Eriol made strawberry tarts for dessert," said Akizuki-san, happily. "Except Suppi refuses to eat sweets so he has cheese. And we have rolls and coffee and salad and --"
"If you try to choke Sakura-san's brother like this, my girl, I don't wonder that he objects," interrupted Hiiragizawa-kun. His tone was mild, as if reminding a small child that we use indoor voices and outdoor voices, and this was indoors, sweetheart. "Relax your grip a trifle, if you please."
Akizuki-san loosened her hold by perhaps a millimeter. "--and then we just got some tea from England and Eriol made sweets and cheese sticks for Suppi and the gardens are really pretty now," she finished, without missing a beat.
Tomoyo stared at them. Every so often they did something like this, that made any outsider simply boggle at them --and yet, they obviously had no idea that they were doing something strange. It was if the three of them had been so long together, with only each other, that they weren't quite sure how normal people behaved but didn't really care, either.
"When are they supposed to work?" asked Spinel, acidly.
"After supper!" said Akizuki-san, brightly. Spinel made a sound of disgust and resignation.
Tomoyo followed them to the drawing room, and Hiiragizawa-kun politely pulled out a chair for her. Akizuki-san condescended to remove herself from Hiiragizawa-kun and bounce off for the tea and cookies. Spinel followed her, and as they left the room, Tomoyo heard them begin an amiable quarrel over how many cookies would have been left if Akizuki-san had been left to bring them herself, and what Spinel would do to her if any were quietly stuffed down his throat behind Tomoyo and Eriol's backs.
"I'm afraid we won't have a very quiet evening," said Hiiragizawa-kun.
Tomoyo dragged her fascinated eyes from Spinel and Akizuki-san and looked at him. "I don't mind," she said, truthfully. She liked Akizuki-san and Spinel as well as she did Kero-chan and Yukito/Yue-san. There was always the temptation to compare them to Sakura's guardian beings, and yet they were so absolutely unique. "They're very cheerful to have around, aren't they?" That wasn't exactly what she was trying to say, but it was close.
"Yes," said Hiiragizawa-kun dryly, "Having water fights begin at five am on a summer morning, with both combatants bursting into your room to land on your bed and demand you referee always makes me feel happy and light-hearted. And so does rescuing Spinel from the top gable of the house because Ruby Moon got him drunk again and he got disoriented. As does being frog-marched on one of Ruby Moon's shopping expeditions because 'boys should be willing to carry girls' packages for them and I'm much too delicate to carry them myself', directly after she beat me to a bloody pulp wrestling over a water gun. And so does --"
Tomoyo giggled helplessly. "Sakura-chan is always complaining like that," she said, smiling. "Kero-chan eats everything in the house, and she gets mad at him, and then Yue-san comes out and quarrels with Kero-chan. But she likes it, I think." And so did Hiiragizawa-kun, she thought. He liked refereeing quarrels, he liked being dragged on shopping trips and forced to carry several dozen shopping bags, he liked being ordered to sew yukatas and cute dresses.
Maybe, she thought, that was the way he felt the most human.
Something about that thought unsettled her, so she looked around the room to regain her composure. Hiiragizawa-kun's house, which certainly not as large as the Daidouji mansion, was large and filled with the solid weight of age. In the drawing room, there were flowers in everything from Ming vases to lumpy pink things that looked as if they'd been made by an over-enthusiastic Akizuki-san. Tomoyo herself had been trained in traditional flower arranging [and was rather good at it, of course], but she liked the graceful masses of roses and daisies and other flowers heaped carelessly about. They suited the room, somehow.
Hiiragizawa-kun played with a vase of wisteria. They were the most perfect she had ever seen, like huge pale-lavender pearls hung from jade leaves. "Are these all from your garden?" Tomoyo asked.
Hiiragizawa looked at her. "I'm afraid so," he said, not sounding very apologetic. "Every year I tell myself firmly that the garden is really quite large enough, and I should really scale it down, and every year I find myself with a dozen new plants and twice as many different seed packets to put in."
"It's nice to have a big garden," she said. The gardens at home were taken care of by gardeners, of course, but she liked to sit in them and work.
Hiiragizawa-kun pulled a face. "It's nicer to have time for things besides weeding. I give some of the flowers away, but I still end up with half of the garden in the house. Especially if Nakuru has her way."
Tomoyo thought about this for a second, and then, enlightened, said, "Isn't it so handy, then, that the children's hospital is half a mile from here."
Hiiragizawa-kun nearly managed to not turn a dull shade of red.
"That hospital's rather one of Mother's pet charities," said Tomoyo, watching him. "And I remember, the nurses are always very puzzled by those baskets of flowers and sweets and stuffed animals that appear for the little ones."
"Is that a fact," said Hiiragizawa-kun, to a squat bean-pot of roses.
Tomoyo retreated, satisfied. She'd wondered about those baskets -- the stuffed animals had a whimsical quality that had reminded her of Kero-chan and Spinel-san.
"What about you, Daidouji-san? I hear you spend some time there yourself." Hiiragizawa-kun shot her a look.
Tomoyo wasn't about to allow herself to be drawn. "It's one of Mother's pet charities," she said placidly. "Charity is excellent public relations, and a children's hospital is an excellent choice for a toy company."
Eriol briefly considered pointing out that public relations, by definition, meant making sure that people knew one was doing something, and not simply showing up and helping, while somehow forgetting the press release that featured the beautiful and talented only daughter of the Daidouji Toy Company volunteering at the hospital, when she was so busy getting straight As and winning major choral competitions. But that was her way.
"I rather like gardening," he said, dropping the subject before Tomoyo-san dropped a chair on his head. "It's soothing." He picked up one of the red roses from the jar. He liked these roses the best. They were a deep, velvety blood-crimson, and smelt of cinnamon and vanilla and the taste of honey. Spinel and Nakuru liked them, too, but Nakuru complained that the scent made her want cookies and Spinel that smelling them made him drunk. Clow's father had cherished this rose tenderly, and Eriol loved it, for that, and because of its beauty.
"What a beautiful rose," said Tomoyo-san, with polite interest. She really liked cherry blossoms better, he knew.
"It's an old type," he said. He offered the rose to her to smell. She sniffed like a curious but doubtful cat, and her eyes widened. She blinked, several times.
"It's strong," she managed finally. "Is it Damask?"
"Not precisely." Damask roses had been bred from this, after all. "But it's related."
She reached for the rose, and Eriol hesitated for a split second before deciding that he might as well be hung for a sheep.
He put one hand gently on her shoulder to hold her steady and tucked the rose tidily in her hair. He concentrated on putting it in carefully and neatly, so it wouldn't fall out. He could hear her breath, smell the faint aura of lavender and gardenia from her hair. It felt, he thought, keeping the thought as distant as he could from the rest of himself, like silk floss, or unraveled satin.
She was very still. One part of him hoped against hope that she was feeling the same tension he was, but the rest of him was sure that he was about to be decked. Or politely frozen solid for the rest of the evening -- and between the two he would infinitely prefer the decking.
He'd been trying so very hard to keep his distance. It would be stupidity at its worst to like Tomoyo-san any more than he already did, even worse foolishness to tip the balance on the fine line between affection and desire that he was already walking.
"There," he said, keeping his voice light, "That suits you."
Tomoyo-san reached up and touched the rose in her hair, and there was a long pause. Eriol felt his heart sink as he stared at the line of her back.
"Thank you," said Tomoyo, finally, She could feel him let tension of his body, subtle like a pin being taken delicately out of a balloon. She didn't like it. What she liked less was the way his hands in her hair had made her feel. Tomoyo was not quite so naive to believe that that liking someone Best meant never responding to anyone else, but this was different, somehow, than a basic, hormonal response to an attractive young male displaying signs of interest. That she could handle. She didn't know if she could handle the way she wanted to blush, to look away and retreat, so he could follow.
She didn't like it one tiny little bit, so she turned and met his eyes without flinching. For a bare second she saw the last remains of that sweet, tender look on his face, and then he folded it up and tucked it behind his mask as if it had never been.
"Hiiragizawa-kun," she began, and stopped. What was she supposed to say? 'You'd better not be falling in love with me, because I'll just break your heart'? 'Stop it, you know as well as I do that I love someone, and you damn well know who it is'? Or she could be cruel and ask what about Mizuki-sensei, but she knew that if Hiiragizawa was still in love with her, he would not look at her, Tomoyo, in that way.
There was nothing she could say, she realized. Nothing at all.
"Yes, Daidouji-san?" His smile had a bite to it, turned at himself. She would have been less than human to not feel a sudden quick distress at that acid edge to his smile, an edge that suggested that he knew that she knew, and he was making himself not care, because that was the way things always turned out for him.
And still the words to stop him, or apologize, or make it into a joke or her over-active imagination would not come, and the silence grew as thick as the scent of flowers in the room.
"Eriol!" howled Spinel, zooming in the room. "Make her STOP!"
Tomoyo was rather proud of the fact that she did NOT jump, leap away from Hiiragizawa-kun or otherwise clutch at her heart and try to recover from a screaming heart attack caused by surprise. Hiiragizawa-kun's eyes flickered slightly and then his mask descended firmly, not even leaving that smile behind it.
"Stop whom from what?" said Hiiragizawa-kun, looking resigned.
"SPEEEEEEEEEEAK! Roughly to your! Suppi-chan! And! BEAT HIM! when he! WHEEZES!" trilled Akizuki-san, marching back into the drawing room. "For! he! only! does it! to ANNOY! For he KNOWS! THAT! IT! TEEEEEASES!"
"SEE!" whined Spinel. Tomoyo blinked at him. "And she held me over the rest of the sauce for the strawberry tarts, too! And I had to breathe in the fumes! And now I'm half drunk!"
The chorus of Akizuki-san's song was apparently "WOW! WOW! WOW~!", in which Hiiragizawa-kun enthusiastically joined in.
"I! speak! SEVEERELY! to my! SU! PPI! CHAN! And beat him when he WHEEZES!" continued Akizuki-san, at top volume. "For he can! Tho! rou'! ly! En! JOY! the SU! GAR! when! he! PLEASES~!"
Hiiragizawa-kun bellowed "WOW! WOW! WOW!" and Spinel said, "Ha. Ha. Ha."
From the foyer came the sounds of polite leave-taking. Tomoyo, wisely, refused Eriol's offer to see her home. Nakuru looked at Spinel. Spinel looked back. They'd both seen the look on their master's face.
Nakuru pulled a face that meant 'that damned idiot, we just got him over Kaho.'
Spinel shrugged in a way that meant 'what do you expect of humans?'
Nakuru cast her eyes to the heavens. 'Common sense would be a little too much to ask for, wouldn't it?'
Nakuru brightened. "Tomoyo-chan makes really fun clothes, though."
"Is that all you ever think about?"
"I think about Touya-kun, too. And food. And Eriol."
Spinel rolled his eyes.
Eriol came in the room, and looked from one to the other. He didn't actually technically read their minds, of course, but he had a pretty good idea of what went through their heads. They were staring at him in a way that made him wary. "That's over with," he said, brightly.
"Tomoyo-chan sure smells nice," said Nakuru, apparently absently. "Like lavender or something."
Eriol took a deep breath. "Really," he said. He knew exactly how nice Tomoyo-san smelt.
Nakuru turned and looked at him. Then she looked at Spinel. Spinel looked at her.
"Really nice," said Nakuru, with the air of someone running a scientific experiment. "Like, I dunno, lavender and jasmine and wossit, spice."
Eriol sat down in his chair very calmly and smiled gently at his creations, who looked back at him. Eriol was sorry to see the beginnings of a smirk on Nakuru's face. "I've never really noticed," he said, blandly.
"More vanilla, I think," said Spinel, helpfully. "And then she uses something that smells like gardenias for her shampoo. I've smelled it."
And so had Eriol. He counted to ten, and then back to one.
"Mmmm..." said Nakuru, over-thoughtfully. "I bet she uses L'Air Du Temps." She smiled happily. "I like L'Air Du Temps. Don't you, Eriol?"
Since Nakuru knew perfectly well that Eriol had once frightened an innocent saleslady [who had never seen an eleven year old boy drool at a cologne] at a perfume counter by his reaction to said perfume, he didn't feel called to answer that.
"But you know what I think," continued Nakuru, radiating innocence, "The way she smells, I bet she uses lavender dusting powder, and then she uses lavender bath oil and things. That's how you get a really layered scent, you know. Using bath oils and gels and lotions and things."
Eriol's eyes crossed.
He made a heroic effort and wrenched his mind away from the visions his treacherous body drooled over -- Tomoyo-san in the bath, Tomoyo-san rubbing silky lotion over her -- he pulled his mind away from THAT image in a hurry -- Tomoyo-san putting small dabs of perfume on her wrists and throat and the back of her knees... dear God. "I don't see why you're so interested in Daidouji-san's grooming habits," he said, and was instantly, horribly aware of the fact that his voice had dropped an octave.
"Do we need a widdle cold shower and a wie-down now?" cooed Nakuru. "Let me see... I saw her at Intimately Yours the other day. She surely does have good taste in ..."
Eriol gave up every pretense of dignity, and dropped his head to his knees so he wouldn't pass out from sheer lack of blood. "I hate you," he said muffledly. Intimately Yours was the sort of lingerie shop that didn't so much display their wares as much as they draped something sheer and lacy or soft and -- Eriol's eyes crossed more -- absently over a fainting couch, as if the owner of the garment had tossed it there and was currently in a bubbling bath tub and was about to return and dress herself in front of the triple mirrors. Slowly. As someone sipped pale, sparkling wine and waited patiently, so they could go to a party and then come back and then, finally, the someone could remove it again.
Nakuru pulled his head up and examined his face scientifically. "The pupil is enlarged," she announced. "The face is flushed, and the eyes themselves are crossed. The voice of the subject has dropped in pitch, and the pulse rate is high. Shall we make a further examination, Suppi?"
"No you will not," said Eriol, amiably. "You will stop teasing your master before he kills you."
Spinel gave him a look. Spinel, of course, shared Cerberus' ability to pack sermon, text and application, and a certain "but heaven forfend that this humble servant dare know better the mighty Clow Read" acidity in one look, but Cerberus had been a scold, and Spinel merely looked volumes. Cerberus didn't do it so much anymore, although Eriol had seen him give Yue a Look once or twice -- Sakura-san wasn't the sort of person that one gave Looks to. [Of course, one of Clow's main joys in life had been doing things to make Cerberus scold. Yue was scarcely any fun to tease, because he took everything so seriously, but Cerberus enjoyed fussing and bellowing and falling dramatically over with a thud. One hated to call him a 'goofball', but the proverb about shoes and their fit certainly applied.]
"Didn't I tell you about this?" asked Spinel.
"You did," said Eriol, "but humans are famous for ignoring good advice."
Eriol stared down at his papers, but he couldn't summon the interest in them to do anything.
Eriol looked up. The Li -- definitely he was being The Li, not Xiao Lang, nor Syaoran-kun, nor even Li-kun, but THE Li -- was lounging in the door. "Yes, Li-kun?" he said, politely. Part of his mind was wary. It was terribly easy to forget that Syaoran _was_ the head of his Clan, a powerful mage with all the rights and responsibilities inherent to that, and power enough and besides to hold together his Clan. Even if he had half-left his Clan, he was The Li. His inborn power hadn't dried up merely because he was living a relatively normal life.
And now the Li part of Eriol's blood was making a desperate effort to expose his throat in the face of the Clan Head. Eriol took a deep breath. He was not Li, no matter what Clow's mother had been, and it was simply ridiculous that the Li radiating waves of power [which he doubtless didn't even know or think he was doing, for God's sake] should make him instinctively try to look small and harmless.
"Wanted to talk to you," said the Li, calmly. "And Sakura said you were over here."
Eriol laid his papers aside. "I'm here," he said. "What did you want to talk to me about?" He tried for a mocking smile. "Since you avoid me like the plague usually."
The Li thought about this for a second. "No," he said finally, "I avoid you like a nest of snakes." He came into the room and shoved his hands in his pockets.
The Li was making sure he couldn't see his hands. Eriol was so looking forward to the next ten minutes now. He busied his own with stacking the papers with mathematical precision.
"Anyway," said the Li, "I was kind of wondering."
Eriol raised an eyebrow and waited.
The Li took a slow turn around the classroom, reading notices and signs. Which meant he was trying to bring up a subject he was uncomfortable with, and Eriol could only think of one thing that the Li would be both uncomfortable with and feel the need to bring up to him.
"Sakura's brother said something kind of weird when we went Christmas shopping," said the Li, finally, studying a schedule of class duties with the attention due to the Ten Commandments, fresh from God's hands. "And I thought he was completely out of his mind, but then I started wondering."
"And what was that?" Eriol braced himself. Touya had given up his power, but none of his horse sense, and he was, if possible, even sharper than Tomoyo-san when it came to people. Especially if he thought it would affect Sakura-san.
"He said he thought you and Daidouji might make a good couple." The Li turned around and speared him at a bright-amber glance. "And I said he was out of his everloving mind."
The Li studied him for a long moment more. "And then," he said, very deliberately, "I kept on thinking about it, and I started watching you. And Kinomoto must have done something weird to my brain, because damned if you didn't look like you liked Daidouji or something."
"Is that a fact," said Eriol, fighting for neutrality.
"And then I thought, I had to be wrong, because Hiiragizawa's not stupid enough to fall for Daidouji, because I figured you'd figured out that she likes someone else." The Li was staring at him. Eriol met his eyes calmly.
"And the point of your fascinating deductions is...?" he inquired.
The Li ran his fingers through his hair, hard, and blew out a sound of disgust. "I can't believe I'm doing this. Look, Hiiragizawa, Daidouji's been in love with the same person --"
"-- with Sakura-san," said Eriol, calmly.
The Li blinked at him, and recovered. "Yes, with Sakura, since as long as I've known her. Maybe it's just a habit or something. But she's always looked at Sakura, and if you've got any idiot ideas in your head about making her like you --"
Eriol gaped at him for a second. "'Idiot ideas in your head about making her like you'?" he repeated.
The Li glared at him. "You know what I mean. Hiiragizawa -- dammit. What I'm trying to say is -- oh, hell. Look, if you want to set yourself up for a fall, I don't give a damn. But Daidouji --"
"Daidouji is part of your Clan now, and you won't allow her to be hurt," finished Eriol. His head and chest hurt dully, for some reason. That was a lie. They hurt because in some secret place, he was hurt, too.
"Yes," said the Li. "I don't want her to be hurt, because Sakura loves her, and she's my friend, too." He stopped for a moment, as if fighting some inner battle, and then he burst out, "And goddamnit, Hiiragizawa, what sort of IDIOT falls for a girl already in love, like Daidouji? Are you LOOKING to slink back to England again or what?" His hand shoved through his hair again. "Give me one good reason why I shouldn't beat some sense into you right now."
Eriol blinked at him. "Do you know," he said thoughtfully, "That's the closest any Li has ever come to saying 'I'm worried about you' to me _or_ Clow?"
The Li glared at him. "Don't expect it to happen ever again. And be careful with Daidouji." And he walked out.
Eriol watched his poker-stiff back march away, and commented, not quite beneath his breath, "The sort of idiots who fall in love with girls who are already in love, like Daidouji-san, are probably closely related to the sorts of idiots who fall in love with girls that they were supposed to be destroying and taking powerful magical artifacts from."
"Screw you, too," said the Li over his shoulder, amiably.
"I'm home!" called Fujitaka, prying his shoes off. "Hello, Nadesiko-san." She bent and gave him the light tingle of air that passed for a kiss now.
::Hello, darling,:: said Nadesiko-san. ::Hiiragizawa-kun-tachi and Li-kun and Tomoyo-chan are here.::
"They are? Then it's a good thing I got a lot of takoyak--"
Distantly, from the general direction of Sakura-san's room, came the sound of things being knocked over, Sakura-san shrieking, Li-kun yelping, and what sounded very much like Hiiragizawa-kun rolling in helpless laughter.
The door slammed open, and he heard the sound of gravity and the sound barrier breaking.
::Duck,:: suggested Nadesiko-san.
"taaaaAAAAAAKOOOOOOYAAAAAAAKIIIIIIIIiiiii!" screamed Kero-kun and Spinel-san. Fujitaka, on the ground and covering the takoyaki with his own body as well as he could without flattening it, reflected that it was a pity the physics professor couldn't borrow them for a sound wave demonstration. "FUJIIITAAAKAAAA [-SENSEEEIII, screamed Spinel-san, polite to the last], WE SMELL TAAAKOOOYAAAAKIIIIIIIII!"
"Yes, you do," said Fujitaka.
Kero-kun began the Takoyaki Boogie [named, of course, by Hiiragizawa-kun, who had a vaguely unsettling facility with words], which was disturbing at the best of times and apt to give you nightmares if done in midair, and Spinel-san dropped like a rock and stared at the bag that Fujitaka was still trying to protect with his life. This was actually an improvement. The last time he'd bought it, Kero-kun had spontaneously transformed, followed by Spinel-san, and they had landed on Fujitaka, demanded to know how much takoyaki he had bought, and then danced in a congo line to the kitchen. Sakura-san had turned a peculiar shade of green, not that he could blame her. The very thought of the bump'n'grind the two of them had managed made Fujitaka a trifle queasy himself.
"Daddy? Are you back?" Sakura-san's red-gold head stuck cautiously into the stairwell.
"Yes, Sakura-san," he said. "And if you could call off your guardian, we can have--"
"TA! KO! YA! KI!" yelled Kero-kun. "TA~~! KO~~! YA~~! KI~~! TAKO TAKO YAKI YAKI~! TA! KO! YA! KI!"
"I think we all know how to spell 'takoyaki'," said Fujitaka, mildly. "We can have takoyaki and cookies. And juice, if you'd like it."
Kero-kun passed into a glassy-eyed state of bliss.
Tomoyo-san, Fujitaka noticed, was rather quiet. She was never what one might call loud at the best of times, but today she was ... quiet. There was no other way to put it. And she was, in some strange way, avoiding Hiiragizawa-kun, who was acting more or less normally. In a way. Fujitaka, between setting out the takoyaki and cookies and settling a mild and mostly amiable argument over how much takoyaki Spinel-san and Kero-kun were allowed, and if so, why Kero-kun was going to have his tail pulled out if he stole any of Spinel-san's again, watched her from the corner of his eye.
She was making a good effort, he decided. She smiled in nearly the same way she always did, but still...
"I wanna go to the festival," announced Kero-kun, although since he said it through a mouthful of takoyaki, it sounded more like 'I wanna gof tof da fahstibal.'
Spinel-san looked at him distastefully and swallowed his takoyaki before speaking. "It would be nice to go."
"I'm surely not carrying you two," said Akizuki-kun sweetly. "Because I intend to spend the whole day with To-ya-kun and Tsukishiro-kun."
"Akizuki-san," said Tsukishiro-kun, smiling at her, "what did I say about calling To-ya that?"
Akizuki-san thought this over and tried to shove Spinel-san in the teapot, even if he wasn't asleep. "That it if I did it again I was going to see how well I'd transform in a full body cast?"
Tsukishiro-kun smiled happily. "I'm so glad we understand each other."
Akizuki-san pulled a face but retreated. "Well, anyway, I won't. Sakura-chan and them really can't."
"'And they', you wretched child," said Hiiragizawa-kun, absently. "Or 'Sakura-chan's group'. Or anything else you please, but kindly do not slaughter this noble language."
"Yes, Professor Higgins," said Akizuki-san.
"I can carry them," said Fujitaka. He didn't mind -- Kero-kun and Spinel-san were mostly well behaved, if kept away from sweets.
"What about Sonomi-san?" demanded Touya-kun.
"Tomoyo-chan's mother?" Sakura-san blinked.
"She's going to be there, if she has to shoot the investors," Touya-kun pointed out. "And she may hate Dad, but they always end up going around the thing together." He shot Fujitaka a look.
::I think you like teasing her,:: said Nadesiko-san, thoughtfully. Fujitaka looked at her with wide, innocent eyes. ::And don't give me that look, Fujitaka-san. I've seen you do it. You look exactly like Hiiragizawa-kun whenever you do it.:: Since Fujitaka, in his heart of hearts, had to admit to a small, probably low, pleasure in making Sonomi-kun go cat-eyed and irritated, he kept silent.
There was a pause while this was considered. "Charming image," said Spinel-san, shoving another takoyaki ball in his mouth. "Although you're probably right. She hasn't met my exalted master yet, has she."
"I haven't had the pleasure of President Daidouji's acquaintance," said Hiiragizawa-kun.
"You hang round Tomoyo so much, I'm surprised you haven't made it whether you wanted it or not," said Touya-kun, more or less amiably. "I thought for sure you'd have had the Bodyguard Ladies happen to you."
Tomoyo-san definitely flinched. Fujitaka filed the fact away for further consideration.
Li-kun thought about this. "Probably didn't want to," he said, prodding Kero-kun away from his plate with the business end of his knife. "Daidouji's mother, that is. Because whenever he comes up..."
"I say he's just like Daddy," chirped Sakura-san happily.
"......," said Fujitaka and Hiiragizawa-kun. Nadesiko-san giggled quietly, and they both turned around and glared at her.
"Did Mama say something?" demanded Sakura-san. She never could see Nadesiko-san for herself, but she'd gotten used to the idea of having her around. With some difficulty, of course, but as Touya-kun said, Nadesiko-san was not a regular ghost.
"Nothing much," said Fujitaka, almost truthfully.
"She probably thinks Eriol wants to daaaaate her baby girl," said Akizuki-san, happily. "And she wants to see if he meets her requiiiiirements." It was hard to tell, but Tomoyo-san went perhaps a shade paler, and Hiiragizawa-kun a shade pinker. This was interesting, thought Fujitaka.
"He won't," said Li-kun, positively.
Sakura-san blinked at him. "Won't what?"
"Meet her requirements."
"I think I'd make rather a nice boyfriend," said Hiiragizawa-kun, mildly. "At least, I've always hoped so."
"That's as may be," said Li-kun, "but I bet I can sum up what she wants in one word."
"'God'," said Li-kun and Touya-kun at once.
Sakura-san laughed so merrily at this joke that she fell off her chair and Kero-kun tried to steal the rest of her takoyaki. Fujitaka looked up at Nadesiko-san during the issuing battle.
::Unfortunately,:: she said, ::that's not too far off.::
"Professor Kinomoto," said Sonomi-kun, in about the same tones other people used for a wiggling mass of cabbage worms, "What a surprise."
Fujitaka smiled cheerfully at her. "Sonomi-kun, what a pleasure to see you. May I sit here?"
Sonomi-kun's face suggested he was perfectly welcome to sit there if she could first drop red-hot coals, or worse, on the chair, but she didn't actually object. Fujitaka hoped sincerely that Sonomi-kun would be on her best behavior -- well, for her -- and Nadesiko-san would restrain herself. Being dead had certainly made Nadesiko-san more spirited, if the pun could be pardoned. She said that since she was dead, anyway, she might as well speak her mind. Fujitaka enjoyed it very much but sincerely hoped that Nadesiko-san wasn't going to make him laugh suddenly in front of Sonomi-kun. He shuddered to think what would happen if Sonomi-kun found out that Nadesiko-san was still with him, even in spirit form.
For one thing, he was willing to bet that not even his daughter's Power could restore the damage Sonomi would cause.
"And now," said the announcer, "Daidouji Tomoyo-san and Hiiragizawa Eriol-kun would like to present an original song, 'Waiting For You Waiting For Me', if they may depend on the kindness of the audience."
The audience applauded politely. Fujitaka shifted carefully over so Spinel-san and Kero-kun could have a clear view. Sonomi-kun sat straight up in her chair, eyes bright and expectant.
::Tell her not to notice them,:: said Nadesiko-san. Fujitaka looked up at her puzzledly, and she gave him a look of infinite patience. ::Just tell her not to notice them, Fujitaka-san.::
Fujitaka felt amazingly stupid, but he said, very softly, "Don't notice Kero-kun and Spinel-san." Except it came out more like , and he blinked rapidly. It always surprised him when he managed to do something like that. It seemed like people should notice that reality had hiccuped.
Kero-kun and Spinel-san's heads poked out. They exchanged glances, and rose very quietly to Fujitaka's shoulders. He cast an agonized glance around, but nobody seemed to realize that anything was strange.
::Of course they won't,:: said Nadesiko-san, patiently. ::The song's starting.::
Fujitaka turned his attention back to where Tomoyo-san and Hiiragizawa-kun bowed on stage. She was wearing a filmy, silky ashes-of-roses colored dress with ribbons flying around it and lace foaming at the edges. Fujitaka put it at several hundred thousand yen and/or a month of very late nights for Tomoyo-san. Eriol-kun was wearing a Chinese-style suit in severe black.
The applause died down, and Eriol-kun walked to the piano, leaving Tomoyo-san alone in the spotlight.
The piano began, soft and wistful.
Tomoyo-san closed her eyes and began to sing.
When I was alone and waiting
Were you waiting for me?
When I looked up at endless stars
Did you see the same ones I'd see?
Fujitaka felt Nadesiko-san's hand rest on his cheek, and out of the corner of his eye, he saw her put her other hand on Sonomi-kun's head. Kero-kun and Spinel-san crouched quietly on his shoulders, watching Tomoyo-san and Eriol-kun unblinkingly.
Oh, were you there?
Oh, did you see me?
When I sat alone where
The stars fell to the night
Waiting for you waiting for me
Eriol-kun's eyes were closed, concentrating fully on the music, and for a moment Fujitaka had a funny feeling, like he was almost the same person as Eriol-kun again, like he could see into Eriol-kun's mind, as if it was his own, because it was. Eriol-kun was thinking only of the music, of course, but underneath was the nameless, wordless delight of hearing his words sung as they were meant to be, and even beneath that, a quiet resigned ache.
He/Eriol-kun had tried so hard.
Tomorrow's never been my friend
Today's enough for me
The present should never end
Now, with you with me.
And yet it hadn't been enough, and he'd been left alone again -- but not alone, he knew that. He had Spinel and Ruby Moon, and to a lesser extent, Sakura-san, though she was Fujitaka's, not his. But he could pretend, a little, that he was perhaps an uncle or a favored godfather, even if it was not the same.
But when it had lasted, when she was with him, he had been so happy. Knowing, for once, the reason that you cherished someone was because of the uncertain future, that perhaps they would part, and he would be alone again, to find his way.
Oh, were you there?
Oh, did you see me?
When I sat alone where
The stars fell to the night
Waiting for you waiting for me
Because people came together, and people grew apart, and the only thing he wanted to know of the future, the only thing he had ever wanted, was that 'everything would surely turn out all right'.
Forever, forever, can this last?
Until those stars fall
Until this moment joins the past
Let those stars stay to tell
The story of me waiting
For you waiting for me
And Fujitaka could feel Eriol-kun's happiness -- yes, happiness was the word, not small enough for a pleasure, and yet too quiet and steady to be called 'joy' -- in Tomoyo-san's voice, in the trade between the human voice and the piano, how one made the other part of itself, how they combined to make something much more than they would be of themselves.
You were there
You saw me
Eriol-kun loved music because it was something humans could make without magic, like he loved to cook and sew and do all the small ordinary things of an ordinary human life. He'd waited so long for them, and now he could scarcely resist grabbing greedily at them, taking all of them all at once, if he could -- a family, his family, someone to love, ordinary things, ordinary life. Loving someone in the ordinary way.
Sitting alone where
The stars fell
Into the night
Waiting for you
To wait for me
And even if feelings didn't last, did that matter? If you believed that they could, that somewhere, someone was waiting for you, just as you had waited for them.
I'm waiting for you
Waiting for you
To wait for me...
There was a moment like an indrawn breath, and then Eriol-kun got up from the piano, walked to where Tomoyo-san was just opening her dazed eyes, took her hand and made her bow with him.
The place exploded. Sonomi-kun bawled openly, and several members of what was obviously the Daidouji Tomoyo and Hiiragizawa Eriol Fanclubs climbed up on their chairs and yelled at the top of their lungs. Fujitaka shook his head to clear it from the last remnants of Eriol-kun's thoughts, and saw Sakura-san and Li-kun up front, cheering and clapping.
He handed Sonomi-kun his handkerchief, and looked up at Nadesiko-san. She looked back at him and smiled happily.
Yes, thought Fujitaka. What an extraordinary thing was an ordinary life, and an ordinary love.
Sonomi-kun snuffled loudly. "My baby girl," she said. "Oh, Nadesiko would have loved that song."
"Yes, she liked it very much," said Fujitaka, unthinkingly.
Sonomi-kun paused. Her eyes narrowed.
On the other hand, Fujitaka decided, looking for the best possible escape route as two magical beasts in their small forms muffled their howls of laughter at his expense in his coat pockets, Sonomi-kun swelled up like an enraged bantam hen, and Nadesiko-san rolled around in midair in an agony of giggles, there was something to be said about the extraordinary, too.
They walked quickly off the stage, just barely restraining themselves from bursting into a giddy run, or at least that was how Eriol felt. It had gone _well_ and the adrenalin from performing and the bubbling rush from knowing they had done well, and hearing and feeling the audience respond, was popping through his blood like soda water.
Tomoyo-san's eyes were so bright, like amethysts, he thought giddily, lilacs, violets, jewel-bright plums, a thousand things else, twilight clouds, wisteria blossoms, and they were laughing up at him, so happy. She clapped her hands like a delighted child and spun around, and her skirts flew around her like the petals of an iris. "We did so well!"
He couldn't help it, her pleasure and excitement made him even giddier. He picked her up by the waist and spun her around in a circle, and her laughter rang out like chiming bells, and then he really couldn't help himself, and nobody was paying attention anyway, so he kissed her.
"I do love you, Tomoyo," he said, smiling up at her, and felt her freeze in his arms.
TO BE CONTINUED.
Ain't I a STINKER. XD And remember, if you mailbomb me, drop rodents in my mail box or otherwise try to harm, dismember or maim me for where I ended it, I won't be able to finish it. .> Shouldn't that be 'that Meghan-san likes so much'?
Meg: o_o What?
are Tarepanda, from Sanrio, I think. They aren't a character licenced in the States, so you have to go to Japanese bookstores to find merchandise. I have a pencil board with falling flowers and Tarepanda ^.^ and it's horribly cute.
The song that Eriol and Tomoyo perform is original. o_o I was going to do Purachina, read over the lyrics again and decided it wouldn't work. Yoru no Uta was also considered, but I'd already done one fic with that song [>.> except I couldn't find the lyrics cos we were moving and the computer was disconnected, so the lyrics are more 'inspired' by Yoru no Uta, and not the actual song itself, although it IS pretty close] and it's, erm, well, an obvious choice. >.> I also thought about Koko ni Kite, the song Tomoyo sings in the second movie [__________* Piiiiiiitty song, pitty pitty song] but the version I'm most familiar with is the guitar version, and I couldn't quite bring myself to have Elioru-kun be a guitarist, too. >.> So I wrote a song for them to sing.
-- About the lie that Yamazaki and Eriol tell: It gave me FITS. >_.> Natto is like eating jellied gym locker debris. We tried it once and the whole house smelt like ... well. Go to a high school boys' locker room in midsummer directly after football practice and you'll have an inkling. >.>
-- The whole takoyaki gag comes from me finally getting my dirty, hot little hands on the second movie short [thanks to Shirl ^_^], and if you think I exaggerated for the sake of comedy ... I didn't. ^_^ It's the funniest damn thing since the Suppi ep, and maybe even funnier.
And thanks go to: Amy, Meimi, Catsy, Thea, Sakura, Shi-chan, Tin, Frank, Jae and the rest of the usual suspects.