Categories > Anime/Manga > Card Captor Sakura > Icebreakers

Nanka Shiawase

by lazulisong 3 Reviews

Maybe it's not a happy end but it's happy enough.

Category: Card Captor Sakura - Rating: PG - Genres: Angst, Humor, Romance - Characters:  Eriol, Tomoyo - Warnings: [!!!] - Published: 2005/04/22 - Updated: 2005/04/22 - 11465 words

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Icebreakers Three: Nanka Shiawase

And yet sometimes, there is a moment where everything slows down into a single clear instant, and you see everything, as if you stood above yourself and watch everything that happens, as if watching a movie or something happening to someone else.

Sometimes, the world shatters and is reborn.

Is it a rebirth? Or just a death?

This moment, with Eriol's eyes laughing up at her and then turning tender and serious -- it was different. So very different.

Sometimes you stand at the edge of a cliff, and can do nothing but stare into the vastness around you, and wish you knew whether to leap or remain safe.

'I do love you, Tomoyo.' And he wouldn't say it unless he meant it, she knew that, and she knew that just bare seconds had passed, and he was still holding her, and she was so very dizzy suddenly. Vertigo surrounded her. Nothing had changed, but nothing was the same. Words must be very powerful things, if five of them could make her hurt like that.

But why was she hurting? People told her they loved her all the time, male and female, shy or confident, directly or indirectly. What made this so different?

The world, she thought, as Eriol let her down and stood looking at her with grave and understanding eyes, was changing. She was changing. For the first time in her life, Tomoyo did a cowardly thing, and even as she did it, she was ashamed of herself.

Tomoyo picked up her skirts and ran. She ran past Sakura-chan and her surprised cry, past Li-kun, whose face changed into understanding even in the brief second she saw it, past her mother and Fujitaka, past Tsukishiro-san and Touya-san and Akizuki-san, and however fast she ran, she couldn't escape the voice that told her that everything was changing.

---
Sakura stared after Tomoyo-chan, and her mind thought that she ought to hurry after her, but her feet were rushing toward Eriol-kun.

Eriol-kun looked composed, but Sakura could tell the wrongness in him, as if it were painted in his power signature.

Good, said the cool little voice in the back of her mind. Things are beginning to happen.

Sakura ignored it in favor of Eriol-kun's blank distress. "Eriol-kun, what happened? Tomoyo-chan just ran past us, and she --" Eriol-kun's face cracked for one instant, and then he stuffed the emotion back into wherever he kept it.

"Nothing much," said Eriol-kun, with a smile like bright, broken glass. "I think she's a little tired and wound up from the performance. So am I, actually. I'm going to go home."

"Did something happen to my daughter?" demanded Tomoyo-chan's mother. Sakura was used to her exploding and acting scary that way, but her eyes were narrowed on Eriol-kun and her voice was soft and polite. "Hiiragizawa-kun. What. Happened. To. My. Daughter."

Eriol-kun looked at her and gave her that same brittle smile. "Nothing, Daidouji-san. I told you, she was wound up from performing. It was a pleasure to meet you." He turned around and walked very quietly away.

Sakura thought for a second about following him, or something -- but Akizuki-san was already in motion, scooping a limp Spinel out of Fujitaka's pocket with a careless "Thanks so much for carrying the plushie for me, Professor! See you tomorrow, Touya-kun," and walking unhurriedly away.

Fujitaka exchanged a look with Nadeshiko. Sonomi-kun, for whatever faults she might have had, had always been willing to protect the ones she loved with her life. Hiiragizawa-kun probably didn't deserve to have Sonomi-kun after him. "Performing is hard on the nerves," he said to Sonomi-kun, casually. "Nadeshiko-san used to sleep for hours after an job, remember?"

"Nadeshiko's HOBBY was sleeping, and Tomoyo does not suffer from nerves," said Sonomi-kun, with some spirit. "Kinomoto-sensei, if that young man did anything to my daughter..."

"Hiiragizawa-kun would never mean to hurt anyone," said Fujitaka, with perfect truth. Hiiragizawa-kun never MEANT to hurt people. It was just sometimes an unavoidable side effect of what he had to do, and he was always very sorry about it. And he would no sooner mean to hurt Tomoyo-san than he would Sakura-san.

Sakura-san looked at Li-kun. Li-kun looked at her. Li-kun said, apparently out of nowhere, "I'll call as soon as I can", and trotted unhurriedly off.

Sonomi-kun stared after him.

Fujitaka looked at his daughter. Her eyes had that far-off look again. "Daddy," she said finally, "I think I'll go home now, too. It's been a long day."

"It has been, hasn't it?" said Tsukishiro-kun, on cue. He smiled. "Touya and I will go with Sakura-chan, then."

Which left, Fujitaka thought resignedly, him to deal with an very suspicious Sonomi-kun. He scooped Kero-kun [being a Stuffed Animal as hard as he possibly could] out of his pocket and handed him over to Sakura-san. "There's your plushie," he said.

"See you in a bit, Daddy," said Sakura-san.

Fujitaka watched them off and then tried a placid smile on Sonomi-kun.

Her foot began a tap that he remembered too well from earlier days.

"Kinomoto-sensei," she said. Her amber eyes were bright with irritation.

::Sonomi-chan is always prettier when she's angry,:: said Nadeshiko-san proudly. Fujitaka managed to pull himself together before he choked. Nadeshiko-san smiled sweetly at him. ::You don't think so?::

Fujitaka shot her a look that promised repayment later and somehow managed to look blandly at Sonomi-kun. "Yes, Sonomi-kun?"

"I feel like there's something going on that I don't know about." Tap. Tap. Tap. "I dislike feeling that there's something going on that I don't know about, Kinomoto-sensei." Tap tap. Tap tap. Tap tap. "Especially when it concerns my only child." Taptaptap.

"I don't know all of it, myself," said Fujitaka, with perfect truth.

Tap tap tap TAPTAPTAPTAP. "You know more than I do," said Sonomi-kun.

::Just like a sweet little spitting tabby kitten,:: said Nadeshiko-san, dreamily. ::Facing off with a puzzled Golden Retriever...::

By some miracle Fujitaka did not fall over, choke, or laugh uncontrollably. His voice was a little unsteady, though. "W-Why don't we go get some coffee and I'll try to explain?"

-----

Nakuru could feel Eriol ahead of them. Usually she couldn't track him beyond a feeling in the back of her mind, solid and reassuring, that he was There, the way humans had the reassurance of gravity. Right now he was radiating distress, 'loudly' enough that she could sense the change in the currents of magic around her.

"Good job he isn't the most powerful anymore," said Suppi without moving his lips.

"No kidding." Emotions, especially emotions of a very powerful and agitated sorcerer, could have ... physical effects. Eriol was always very careful about controlling his emotions, but something as strong as this might slip away accidentally. Nakuru still remembered the side effects of Eriol's break-up with Kaho, which had been rather nasty even if Eriol was only at half his original power. Neither Nakuru nor Suppi had enjoyed it, to say the least of it; teapots were supposed to produce tea, not tears or sludge.

"I can smell him," said Suppi. "Upset. Frightened, a little. Confused. Sad. Sorry." His nose wrinkled a little.

Nakuru nodded. They were close enough to their Master now that she was picking up the traces of his presence, a confused, brightly colored nimbus, with red streaking through the normal ultra-violet that was Eriol. Grey, too, a dull, yellowy tone.

Eriol was ahead of them now, and Nakuru picked up her pace, just a little. "Eriol!" she called, "Eriol, hey, wait!"

Eriol stopped. His shoulders were set, very carefully, and Nakuru prepared to fulfill her duty as his Guardian and companion.

"You made a grade-A idiot of yourself, didn't you?" she said.

Eriol glared at her.

"Oho," said Suppi, "First class all the way?"

Eriol glared at HIM, too. Neither of them cared. Eriol could not be jollied up, nor did he want to be. The most you could do with him was distract him from what troubled him and hope that he would regain a little sense. When the Kaho Thing had begun its long, slow, dive south, they were the ones who pointed out he could bail or be sunk. They had stood by him. They had prodded him into recovering. They had taken care of him.

They couldn't do anything about what Tomoyo thought of their master, and that, Nakuru thought privately, was the most frustrating part of the business. Doubtless Cerberus and Yue had felt the same way -- well, she amended, Yue was Special that way. The thought of Clow falling in love had probably given him hives. And then he felt worse because he had no clue why he had the hives. [The fact that Nakuru felt rather sorry for, and was the only person who could say with truth that she knew where Yue was coming from, did not change her opinion that what Yue really needed was a jolly good smack alongside the head.] But short of finding Tomoyo-chan directly and shaking her until she agreed to love Eriol, there was nothing Nakuru and Suppi could do.

"I did not make a first class grade-A idiot of myself," said Eriol sulkily. "I was a complete and utter fool."

"That's not quite as bad, right?" said Nakuru, brightly.

"No, it's worse," snapped Eriol. "I kissed her."

If he expected shock and surprise, he was disappointed.

-----
Tomoyo closed the door behind her and sat down at a desk, feeling as if she had run a thousand miles in deep sand. She hated this feeling, like she was helpless to do anything but respond, not cause. Someone had got to her so badly that she ran away from him and hid in an empty classroom. She could just smack him.

Well, she thought, maybe she wouldn't smack him. But the thought was oddly comforting. She should have slapped him when he kissed her, instead of staring down at him like a brainless twit, dazzled by the look in his eyes.

What had he done to her?

Some scrap of honesty reminded her that Eriol hadn't really done anything to her at all. Except kiss her, and if she had a hundred yen for every time someone had tried THAT, she could buy her own mansion. She felt, though, however wrong, and however obscurely, that it was somehow his fault for looking at her like THAT and making her feel something that should have only been caused by --

That should only been caused by Sakura-chan.

That was the problem, wasn't it? Tomoyo knew she would have to think this through, but her head hurt. She was responding to Eriol the same way she responded to Sakura-chan, only she wasn't. Because she had never responded the same way to anybody as she did to Sakura-chan, and even with that, Eriol brought something out in her that Sakura-chan did not.

But she felt something for Sakura-chan that she had never felt for anyone else. Something special. Something different. Something unique and lovely and ... Sakura-chan.

The problem was that Eriol made her feel something equally unique. Not the sweet yearning that Sakura-chan brought, the desire to admire -- worship, perhaps -- her, to watch her day by day and see each newness of every new day. Something else. Something that made her feel alive in a different way than Sakura-chan did.

Some thought, something that would give her the whole key to the matter, hovered distractingly at the edge of her mind. Some word, that would make everything clear, was lying just beyond her reach.

There was a slight, embarrassed cough, as if someone hoped they could make their presence known without actually disturbing her if she didn't want to be disturbed. Tomoyo turned and saw Li-kun looming in the doorway. From being one of the shortest boys in the class, he had somehow managed to shoot up to being one of the tallest. He was only shorter than Hiiragizawa-kun and Yamazaki-kun, come to think of it, but Yamazaki-kun lacked the grace that Hiiragizawa-kun and Li-kun, lanky as he was, possessed.

Tomoyo realized that she had just called Hiiragizawa-kun 'tall and graceful', and felt the intense urge to beat herself over the head with something.

"You ok?" Li-kun's eyes were fixed somewhere just beyond Tomoyo, in the way that meant he wasn't quite comfortable but meant to do his duty if it killed him.

Tomoyo thought about this for a second. "Not really," she said. She never bothered with polite fictions with Li-kun. He was her ally, and in some ways, closer to her than even Sakura-chan. He loved Sakura-chan as much as she did. It had always seemed a little absurd to try to keep him at a polite distance. Better that she know him well, and he know her, so they could always be with Sakura-chan.

Li-kun cleared his throat. "I thought I'd ask if you wanted to have some tea or something." Tomoyo's confusion must have shown, because Li-kun went a dull shade of red. "For returns."

'For returns' ... and then she understood. She'd been right, that long ago time, when she looked at him and seen beneath the scowl the young boy had worn to the kind heart beneath.

She managed a smile and rose. "I'd like that, thank you."

-------

"Are you going to do anything?" asked Touya. He was walking a little slower than he would if he was just walking with Yuki -- Sakura had managed to gain an inch or three of height over the years, but she still stood below his shoulder, and if Touya walked at his normal pace, she had to half-trot to keep up.

Sakura shrugged. Her face was a little too composed, as if she was thinking hard but didn't want to be pressed for her thoughts.

"There's not a lot you can do, huh," said Yukito, watching her.

"I'm not eleven, Yukito-san," said Sakura, with surprising primness. "And you're right, you know. There's not a lot I can do."

Touya watched her from the corner of his eye. She seemed calm enough, but still... "Well?"

"'Well', what, Oniichan?"

Touya tried to think of a good way to say it, but failed. "What do you think of... all this?" Sakura had always been blissfully oblivious to most of the emotional undercurrents surrounding her. His mother had done it, too. It was as if they floated happily on the currents, buoyed by their unquenchable optimism.

"I think," said Sakura, looking suddenly like her mother, and even more, oddly enough, like Eriol, "That things are going to turn out all right. No matter what happens."

Touya wished he could be so confident.

-------

"Eriol?" said Nakuru. "You've been working up to kissing her since you were eleven years old."

"I have not," said Eriol, stung.

"Yes, you have," said Spinel, relentless. "But you didn't want to admit it."

Eriol considered this for a second. He had a nasty feeling that Spinel and Nakuru were right, as usual. "I didn't want to kiss her when we were eleven," he said sulkily. "I was in love with Kaho."

"And now you're not," said Nakuru. "And I seem to remember one of us here lighting up like a Christmas tree every time 'Daidouji-san' wrote us."

"Shut up," said Eriol.

"And she never wrote Ruby Moon or me," added Spinel.

"You, too." Eriol tried to look angry but he knew he mostly looked like someone had taken his toy away. "She ran away from me."

Nakuru looked at Spinel.

Spinel looked at Nakuru.

"Suppi and I," said Nakuru, majestically, "Are going home. We suggest you either come with us and act like a civilized human being, or go sulk elsewhere. Possibly in front of her house, where you may find it comforting to sing bad Italian arias about unrequited love and then get taken to the funny farm. Where we will come to throw you peanuts. Or you may find a vending machine and get drunk. We do not care at present."

"But we refuse," said Spinel, looking equally as regal, "to stand here and listen to you blither over Tomoyo. Do feel free to come home when you have regained a gram of sense."

"I'll be sure not to come back until I'm a human again," said Eriol. Whatever irony he intended was ignored, and Nakuru stalked off with her nose in the air, looking both slightly absurd and terribly dignified. Spinel, in her arms, somehow managed to look even more dignified, as if he were a small god being carried in the arms of a devoted priestess. Even in the middle of his irritation and resentment, Eriol felt a wave of affection for them. As he had told Kaho so very long ago now, he had gotten used to them.

--

Tomoyo stared down at the cheerfully smiling face engraved on the table. The Piffle Princess mascot lived in an unchanging world, filled with blue skies and cute things, not the constantly shifting world of reality. Tomoyo looked away from the idiot smile on the table.

"I got you cocoa," said Li-kun's rumble, above her. "Because all they had for tea was English Breakfast and Earl Grey."

And Li-kun, thoughtful as always, had thought she might not wish to drink something that could remind her of her...problem.

Gray eyes smiling up at her, so happy, for just a moment. A beautiful voice shattering her world to bits...

"You could try banging your head against the table," suggested Li-kun. "Dunno why, but it always helped me."

Tomoyo tried it. It did help -- at least, the pain distracted her.

Li-kun set her cup down in front of her and sat down. He'd apparently gotten a mocha for himself, with chocolate shavings on top. "And besides, chocolate is always comforting."

Tomoyo dredged up a smile. "You like chocolate a lot, don't you? Sakura-chan was telling me about learning a new recipe for you. Fudge cake, she said."

Li-kun's face flushed slightly. "It was good cake," he said, smiling a little. "Her father helped her, and then Cerberus ate all of it, and she had to make a new one."

Tomoyo could see it as clearly as if she had been there -- Sakura-chan, flushed with pride and the heat of the oven, her father smiling proudly at her, and then Kero-chan descending like a very small vulture and Sakura-chan's helpless rage. Her smile found more strength.

Li-kun fixed her with one of his bright amber stares. "If you don't want to talk about it, we can just sit here. But if you do, I'll listen."

Tomoyo considered this for a second. "Can we just sit for a while?"

"Of course we can," he said, gruffly.

And they did. Tomoyo worked slowly through her cocoa, and somehow, she wasn't surprised when Li-kun quietly rose and quietly returned with more cocoa and some sweets.

And then somehow she found herself talking. She told him about the first time she'd ever met Sakura-chan; those emerald eyes so bright and open and eager, the way she hadn't even seemed to be aware of Tomoyo's status. She told him about Sakura-chan's carelessly generous gift of a bunny eraser, and how she'd felt like someone had given her a diamond.

She told him about the way Sakura-chan had chattered on about her father, her mean brother, her brother's new friend and how sweet and handsome he was. She told him about realizing how much she loved Sakura-chan, about listening to Sakura's artless infatuation with Yukito, and knowing it was just an infatuation, knowing that perhaps someday she could win Sakura-chan's heart for her own.

She told him about finding out about Sakura-chan's magic, and the pain of knowing she could never really share completely in it; how she had become determined to share in it and help her in the only ways she could, of the prayers put into every stitch of the costumes she made, of her foolish belief that, perhaps, wearing them protected Sakura-chan, just a little, if love put into clothing could be a defense.

She even told him of the bittersweet moment when she realized that he would have her dear one, and how the pain of watching her grow apart from her had become one with the sweetness of watching her blossom. How it had hurt, even as she was glad, when she found out that Sakura-chan had gone to him instead of her with her broken heart. She spoke, as she had never expected to do, of the terrible temptation to not call Sakura-chan when she found out he was leaving, knowing that if she didn't, she could have Sakura. Of the strange, bittersweet relief after she had called, and Sakura-chan had thanked her.

And when the tears at last came, he handed her his handkerchief and let her weep.

When she looked up again, Li-kun was standing over her with a cold glass of water in his hand. "Crying makes you thirsty," he said, with something that wasn't quite a smile.

She _was_ thirsty, she discovered. And liable to choke up again at his kindness. "Thank you," she said. The cold water soothed her aching throat, and when he dipped a napkin in his own water and passed it to her, her hot face. "I've never been able to cry prettily." (I'm sorry, Li-kun.)

"You've never had enough practice." (It's all right.) "My sisters, they can drown the house when they get going." (I'm glad you trust me enough.)

Tomoyo smiled obediently. "I forget those sisters of yours." Her eyes felt full of ground-in sand and dirt, and the napkin was already warm. She dipped it in her own glass and pressed it to them. "I hate crying. It makes me feel helpless."

Li-kun took this seriously. "You're one of the least helpless people I know."

Tomoyo blinked at him and then managed a watery smile. "Thank you, Li-kun."

-----

Sonomi-kun stared at Fujitaka. He felt it like a physical presence, boring into him. "What was that all about, Kinomoto-sensei?" she asked, almost pleasantly. She swirled a spoon into her iced coffee. It clinked slowly.

Fujitaka remained unaffected. Sonomi-kun had such a strong will that she didn't even really think about bending people to it. It just sort of happened. Fujitaka, fortunately, was immune to it, and met her eyes calmly. "Well, you know how it is with kids these days," he said, one eye on Nadeshiko-san, who was leaning on Sonomi-kun, of course. Sonomi-kun was possibly the only person Fujitaka knew who was less sensitive than he was -- or had been. She didn't even notice when Nadeshiko-san patted her hair affectionately, although some of the military tension left her shoulders. "Never tell us anything."

Sonomi-kun gave him precisely the look the remark deserved.

He sighed and tried to arrange it all in words, like the way he looked at a site and then explained how he knew where things were. It was less hard now that he was experienced and respected enough so people thought it was merely the fact that he had been on so many digs -- in his younger years of teaching, explaining that he knew that such and such would be there because it _was_ there, with no conscious reasoning behind it, had been a minor misery. "It's rather a mess to explain," he said.

The first layer, of course, was the way Hiiragizawa-kun felt for Sakura-san. "Hiiragizawa-kun met Sakura-san the first time he came to Japan, and I suppose he --" Fujitaka boggled for an instant. Well, Sonomi-kun, he imagined himself saying, Hiiragizawa-kun believed that he was half the reincarnation of a powerful sorcerer, and that Sakura-san was supposed to be his Heir and free him from his power. And he believes that I was the other half of that sorcerer, so he feels paternal toward my daughter. Like an uncle or something. In fact, Hiiragizawa-kun and I are kind of twins, except instead of being from the same egg we were from the same soul and I'm technically 30 years older than him, except really, he's about 50 years older than I am. "He was, er, interested in her from the first, so..."

"He was in love with Sakura-chan?" demanded Sonomi-kun.

Nadeshiko-san made a noise that, in any other person in the world, would have been a snort of laughter.

"Not really?" said Fujitaka, helplessly. "I think he was interested in someone else, actually." And he was in love with my son's previous lover, whom he met in England. Except something happened and he came back here looking as if someone had cut his heart out with a dull spoon. But he couldn't say that to Sonomi-kun, either. "Hiiragizawa-kun is, er, he has rather a paternal personality." Which was, he comforted himself, nearly completely true.

"If he has such a paternal personality," said Sonomi-kun, her expression suggesting that firstly, she didn't believe it, and secondly, she didn't trust it, "Why did he frighten my daughter enough to make her run away?"

::I don't think Hiiragizawa-kun meant to frighten her,:: said Nadeshiko-san mildly.

Fujitaka gave her a Look.

::Darling,:: she said patiently, ::if he is anything like you, the last thing on his mind was 'frightening' her. The poor boy probably scared himself more than he upset her.::

Fujitaka, who still remembered the horror he felt when he'd half-accidentally kissed Nadeshiko-san for the first time and managed to convince himself that she was going to a) shatter, b) scream, or c) look at him like he was some sort of vile monster masquerading as a teacher [in point of fact she blinked twice, stared at him for a long, thoughtful second and then kissed him herself, which was, she observed with her usual maddening complacency afterwards, much better because Kinomoto-sensei was in such shock that she managed to kiss him for quite a long time], was forced to concede that point. "I don't think Hiiragizawa-kun meant to frighten Tomoyo-san," he said. "I think..." He hesitated.

The next layer, he thought, was trying to explain what had gone into Hiiragizawa-kun's making -- even if he had been born and raised in something approaching normality, yet still he carried so much of what he and Fujitaka had once been. Much more than Fujitaka did, even after the division of Clow's power.

Fujitaka's memories of the time before he met Nadeshiko-san were blurred. He had a half-suspicion that they were like Tsukishiro-kun's memories, only perhaps better cemented than the ones that Tsukishiro-kun had been given. Perhaps it was only that Nadeshiko-san had been the first one he had cared to remember. But had he been as powerful as Clow had been said to be, and had he been dividing his soul into two, and had he known what his next life would be like, he might have been sorely tempted to arrange reality so that he could go directly to the one he meant to meet. Especially if Hiiragizawa-kun's comments on their past life [when he even mentioned it] were true.

And Hiiragizawa-kun hadn't had the luxury of going straight to meet the one he was meant to meet, but had lived for many years alone, and then with his Guardians, who, as much as Hiiragizawa undoubtedly loved them, were not quite the same. And then the one he had waited so long for had left him. Or he had left her. And now he was changing again, becoming something new, something more human and more human yet again, and it must frighten him, thought Fujitaka, it must frighten him terribly.

"Hiiragizawa-kun," he said finally, aware of Sonomi-kun staring at him, "Had a very strange upbringing. And it catches up to him sometimes. He ... he doesn't feel like --" He stopped again.

"Is he in love with my daughter?" asked Sonomi-kun.

"I think so," said Fujitaka. "As far as I can tell. And as far as he can, he would never hurt Tomoyo-san, not for anything in the world."

Sonomi-kun suddenly looked old, just for an instant. "And she's in love with him, do you think?"

Fujitaka could only shrug.

------

Eriol dragged himself over to Sakura-san's house. He regretted it almost instantly.

Sakura-san put her hands on her hips. "Eriol-kun," she said, severely, "You knew better than that."

Eriol tried looking small and harmless. "It seemed a good idea at the time."

Sakura-san narrowed her eyes rather adorably at him. "You thought first?"

Eriol looked away. "No." There was a dangerous silence, which, absurdly, he felt the need to fill. "It was just that she... and then I thought... and she was so ... and I didn't mean to..."

Sakura-san's eyes narrowed further.

"Hello, Suppi?" said Cerberus, loudly, into his cell. "What the hell did you mean, sending him over here? Yue and I had to put UP with Clow, you know. We couldn't pack him off to other people so they could deal with him. We had to deal with him OURSELVES. Alone. Even after the Painting Incident."

"The painting incident," repeated Touya from the hallway.

"It was a simple mistake," said Eriol. That was, if he was remembering the same thing Cerberus was. It wasn't Clow's fault.

"I just don't think it's FAIR," said Cerberus, to Spinel and at Eriol, "WE never had the option of sending him off to Sakura-san. All WE could do was live through it. WE never booted him out and ate cookies and tea while someone else listened to him. WE couldn't."

"Cerberus," said Eriol, calmly, "If you don't shut up I'm going to find out if I can still do ice spells."

"Oops, gotta go," said Cerberus. "He's making irrational threats. Not that you would know about that part, of course. Bai."

------

They adjourned to Li-kun's apartment, because, said Li-kun, Tomoyo needed something to eat, and, thought Tomoyo, if they were seen having dinner together, the rumor mill was going to grind into high gear.

Li-kun called Sakura-chan as soon as they got there. "Sakura? It's me -- Yes, I have. She's here. No, I took her for some cocoa --" he cleared his throat "-- and we talked." A pause. "If he's there, tell him to scre--" He held the phone away from his ear. "I won't be rude, promise. Yes, she's fine. Tired, though. Yes, I'm going to feed her. Restrain him, would you? I'm not going to talk to him." A wordless howl of protest from the phone, and what sounded like Sakura-chan calling Shield out. "Yes, I'll send her home, as soon as we eat. Mm-hmm. Yes, I know." A crash on the other side of the phone. "...I'm going to assume I didn't hear Cerberus returning to his true form and sitting on him. I did. Tell him I'll buy him a candy bar. All right. I love you, sweetheart. See you tomorrow. Bye." He hung up.

Tomoyo said, in a small voice, "He was over there?"

Li-kun gave her a Look. "Of course he was over there. If for no other reason than Spinel and Ruby Moon probably got sick of him and kicked him out of his own house." He turned toward the kitchen. "What do you want to eat?"

---

And then Xiao Lang had called, and he'd heard that Tomoyo was safe with him, and all he wanted to do was have one little word with him, and Sakura-san had called Shield out and Cerberus -- his OWN CREATION -- had transformed, and now Eriol was pinned beneath several hundred pounds of golden-furred muscle, and Cerberus's claws were out and uncomfortably near Eriol's throat.

Sakura-san listened to Xiao Lang. "All right, Syaoran-kun. I'll tell him. Make her something salty, ok? Love you, too. Bye."

She turned and smiled sweetly at Eriol and Cerberus. "Syaoran-kun says he's going to buy Kero-chan a candy bar."

Cerberus chuckled. Eriol growled.

"Should I let him up now, O my Mistress?" inquired Cerberus, gleefully.

Eriol made a suggestion. Sakura walked over and stamped on his foot. Eriol howled in pain. "Don't use such language, Eriol-kun," she said severely.

Yukito wandered in, blinked a time or two, and was suddenly Yue. "What did he do this time?" he inquired, looking bored.

"Lots," said Cerberus, with what Eriol was forced to call entirely too much relish. "Lots and lots. More lots than the time with that water mage."

Yue raised one perfectly curved silver eyebrow. "That would take something."

Sakura's eyebrows shot up. "I don't want to know about 'more lots than the time with that water mage', do I?"

"Nope," said Cerberus, graciously allowing Eriol to get up. "You don't want to know at all."

"That was not Clow's fault," said Eriol, stung into defending his past life. "She started it."

"Clow finished it, didn't he? And it turned my tail white, too, look." Said tail was waved around for inspection. "My poooooor goldennn taaaaaaaiill. All white now. Because of Clow."

"You were BORN with a white tail," growled Eriol, dusting himself off.

"It was CREAM before," said Cerberus. "And now it's white."

"Who cares about your damn tail," snapped Eriol. He'd made Tomoyo upset and Tomoyo was never going to speak to him or fight with him or boss him around ever again, and she was just going to be palely polite forever and ever, and it was all his fault. And now everybody was acting like it was vaguely funny, and just what he deserved. And what was worse was the nagging feeling that it was both those things, hidden beneath these new feelings of hurt and fear and confusion and not-knowing-what-to-do. He sat down on the floor again, suddenly, and banged his head against his knees. It didn't help.

A small hand rested against his head and stroked his hair. Eriol felt nominally better. "I've made a right muck of things, haven't I, Sakura-san?" he said, muffledly.

"Yes, Eriol-kun," said Sakura-san.

--

He felt vaguely on trial, a feeling heightened by the fact that Sakura-san was curled up in the armchair in the living room, with Cerberus sprawled on the floor and playing footrest to Sakura, and Yue kneeling beside her on the floor, wearing an oddly smug expression.

Also, the fact that he was sitting beside a pillow printed with a racoon, a frog, and a small yellow duckling bathing in a tin tub did not help. Eriol decided he hated Sanrio and all their works. Obviously they were part of some global conspiracy to dull the populace's brains with sheer, horrifying cuteness. And then Hello Kitty would rise up and take over the world. But nobody would care, because their brains were dulled by the constant barrage of angry penguins and bouncing puppies and burnt buns. Everybody would be forced to cheer up, whether they wanted to or not.

"I didn't mean to," he offered finally.

Sakura-san, his dear Sakura-san, the one he had worked and waited for so long for, the girl who was perhaps the closest and only thing he would have to a daughter, snorted. Eriol tried to feel offended, and somehow failed.

"What didn't you mean to do?" asked Sakura-san. She looked exactly like the woman who had been Eriol's nanny, very long ago, although even Eriol wasn't sure if she had been real or a construct made so Eriol could talk convincingly of his past. That woman, motherly as she had been, had always made Eriol feel like she could look into his mind and pull out anything that wasn't perfectly in order, and look at it as if it were something small and grimy that lived in mud, before marching out with it held between two fingers to return it to its native dirt.

"Say anything," said Eriol. "I wasn't going to say anything at all."

Yue lifted his upper lip, like he smelt something bad but didn't quite like to mention it.

Sakura looked down at him, and then at Kero. "Why don't you two see if Oniichan's making tea or not," she said. It wasn't quite a suggestion, even if it wasn't an order. Kero-chan opened his mouth to object, and Sakura stared hard at him. Kero-chan recognized it for what it was, and heaved himself to his feet.

"I bet Niichan's sitting in there shoving cookies down his throat," he said, darkly. "Come on, Yue."

Yue-san looked at Sakura for a single moment more and then raised himself up in one fluid motion, and followed Kero-chan out the door. Sakura watched them out the door -- she wasn't going to suspect them of actually eavesdropping, of course, but they might find it tempting to listen quietly nearby -- and then looked back at Eriol-kun, who looked, she thought, exactly like a puppy that had been scolded for doing something Bad in the hallway, and was trying to figure out how to make things better.

"Why didn't you mean to say anything?" Sakura knew that people thought of her as rather cutely naive. [Although how you were supposed to be cutely naive after being mistress of the sort of powerful magic that most mages would give their eyeteeth for, going through the associated troubles to master them, and dealing with people who weren't best pleased with the idea, was never quite explained.] She let them think it; it was easier that way. And perhaps she was naive, she didn't know.

"Because," said Eriol-kun. "She loves someone else."

Sakura considered this for a moment. "You mean you didn't want to say anything because she's in love with me."

Eriol-kun gaped at her in some apparent horror. "Sakura-san," he said, finally, or rather, croaked, "When did you..."

Sakura shrugged. "I had a good idea when you came here for the first time. But I didn't think about it much until you started teaching me to read auras, and then it was fairly blindingly obvious." What she didn't say that it had always been even more obvious that Tomoyo-chan did not want her to ask about the person she loved, except perhaps in the most general terms. Over the years it had become clearer and clearer, but Sakura knew that Tomoyo-chan thought that if Sakura knew the way Tomoyo-chan felt, Sakura would not like it, or become confused. Sakura was never quite sure if this was a compliment or some sort of vague insult, but in either case, Tomoyo-chan might have a point.

And there was no delicate way to tell Tomoyo-chan that she knew that Tomoyo-chan had been in love with her since they met in third grade, and she wished that she could do something about it. But there was nothing to be done but what she did -- tactfully ignore it until it came up on its own. It never had, and Tomoyo-chan had continued to love her, and Sakura had continued to love her as her dear friend and almost-sister, and to quietly accept Tomoyo-chan's love for her.

Because love was a gift, and it was terribly rude not to accept it as freely as it was given.

Sakura looked at Eriol-kun again, and sighed. There wasn't really a point in scolding Eriol-kun. He did an amazingly good job of it himself. She got up and went over to him. "Eriol-kun," she said, gently. She put her hands around his face and tipped it to meet her eyes. It was something she had a dim memory of her mother doing, very long ago. "Everything will be all right."

He tried to look away, or say something depressing and silly about that only being for her, and Sakura shook his head, very gently. "It _will_ be all right," she repeated. It was important, even though she didn't know why, that he should know this. "No matter what happens. I promise you."

Eriol-kun's dark eyes met hers for a minute more, sad, and older than they should be -- older and sadder than anybody's eyes should ever be. One eyebrow went up quizzically, and he relaxed, just a little. "Yes, Sakura-san," he said, obediently.

Sakura pulled him to his feet and gave him a quick, hard hug. His arms came around her and returned it, a little desperately, for one second, and then he let her go.

"Now," she said, looking as severe as she possibly could, "Go home and get some sleep. Tomorrow will be better."

"Yes, Sakura-san."

"And stop being meek. It scares me."

"Yes, Sakura-san."

------

Li-kun had fed her 'proper' Chinese food and innumerable cups of jasmine tea, which his family sent to him from Hong Kong, from thin porcelain cups, painted with peonies that shone through the other side like animate shadows, and talked to her about everything but the concert. Afterward, he had courteously offered to walk her home, and even more courteously understood when she said that she would much prefer to be alone for a while, thank you.

The night sky was so clear she could pick out even the dimmer constellations. You could almost see the couching between the stars, as if it were a piece of fabric beaded in crystal, with the lines between them laid down in faintly shining silver thread.

When she was younger, she hadn't liked the lonely feeling stars gave her sometimes, as if she wanted to follow after them, but was simply too earthbound to even trail behind them. That loneliness, she had learned, was just part of what stars were. They didn't mean it, and couldn't change their nature, even if they wanted to, and she could not change herself. Better to accept it, and learn to love even that loneliness.

Darkness had never made her lonely, or frightened. Dark was simply there, wrapped around her, and in it she saw the stars most clearly.

Eriol was of Dark, and Sakura-chan of the Stars. She didn't want to think about that, not now, not with her mind still confused. She pulled her mind away from it, and thought of fabric. Fabric she could control. Fabric she could make into something lovely and unique and special, something that would last. She had a piece of fabric at home, a black silk. It wasn't exactly black, though, like night was never exactly dark. The shop called it Black Opal. The saleslady had waxed poetic over the sheen, the gloss, the way that it reflected navy and blood-red and dark green and silver back at the light. Tomoyo had seen a vision of Sakura-chan's pale skin rising above the dark fabric, but she had never used it. Something had always stopped her, a lack of a design that would do justice to the fabric, perhaps.

She would use that fabric tonight, she thought, and sew until her mind was clear again.

Her mother was lurking, rather badly, in the hallway. Tomoyo blinked at her. "Is something wrong?" Her voice sounded surprisingly normal, even to herself.

Her mother hesitated -- a rarity -- and nearly cleared her throat before she caught herself. "Are you all right?"

Tomoyo considered this seriously. "I think so." She managed a smile. "I'm sorry for worrying you, Mother."

"Bah," said her mother, more normally. "I'm supposed to worry. I gave birth to you."

Tomoyo found herself really smiling again. It seemed to have gotten so rare, these last few infinitely long hours, that she thought she might start a diary of every time she smiled. 'Mother was mother. Couldn't help cheering up.' "Thank you," she said, "but I'm fine."

"Bah," said her mother again. She stopped and then burst out, "Did he hurt you? Or upset you? I'm going to kill him if he did, baby, don't worry."

Her mother was really worried and upset, and really ready to kill Eriol. Laughing would be terribly inappropriate. "I'm fine, Mother," she said. "You don't have to worry about me."

Her mother looked at her sideways. "Really?"

Tomoyo nodded.

"Well, if he DID hurt you," said her mother, baring expensively kept and exquisitely whitened fangs, "you tell me, baby, and I'll take care of him."

Tomoyo made some reply and fled to her own room. She leaned against the door and sighed. It was good to be alone, without any need to keep up her mask. The message light was flashing on the answering machine, but she was more than certain it would be either Sakura-chan demanding to know if she was all right, or Eriol to apologize. However much propriety demanded she allow him to do it, or let Sakura-chan know she was not floating, like the Lady of Shallot, down a river with her hair spread dramatically and damply around her, she simply could not face listening to the messages and calling them back.

The first thing was to get out of the dress, which she hoped she never had to look at again. She'd been proud of it before ... everything ... had happened, but now she would be just as glad never to see it again. She pulled a shirt and skirt out of her closet and kicked the dress and the shoes she had worn into a far corner. Where they could stay, forever.

She went to her work area, and lifted down the black silk. Even in the artificial light of the room, it shone. Tomoyo shook it out, watching the way it billowed and settled softly, like a shadow, onto the table, and picked up her scissors.

Snick-snick. Snick-snick. The scissors seemed to move on their own, blindly following some invisible pattern. As if every move they made was inevitable, but of their own desire. They swept through the iridescent gleam of black, and even in the state Tomoyo was in, she saw and approved of the way the fabric fell divided from the scissors, how the fabric slid down with a soft silken whoosh to puddle on the table.

Her hands were somehow apart from herself, moving surely on the fabric, cutting out the major pieces of the fabric quickly and without haste. She wondered if she would regret not cutting a muslin mock-up first, but she just wanted to make something without thinking about it, without thinking at all. It wouldn't matter if she had to throw it away afterward.

She threaded a needle of contrasting thread -- when basting, the point was to make sure that the stitches were easily seen to take out -- and it flashed in and of the fabric like a little silver fish in a sea of darkness. The fabric was so beautiful, she thought. Perhaps she would feel sorry for using it for an experiment later, but right now she was in the curiously distant place that she always went to when she sewed. She had done this before. She began work on something with another problem on her mind, and told herself that when she got done with the project she would know what to do about the problem.

It was always something like magic, the way that a flat sheet of cloth, however beautiful, submitted to being torn apart by scissors, and then pierced by needles and pins, and finally was reborn as something that would slip over someone's head or around someone's shoulders, and drape and mold to someone's living body and become almost alive itself. It was always something like a miracle how the cloth became so much more lovely when you made something of it.

Tomoyo wondered if the cloth minded being cut, minded being sewn together. Did it shrink away from being recreated? Or did it welcome it?

But it was too late, even if the cloth had wanted to remain how it was. The basting was finished. The cloth lay perfectly even and waiting to be run through the machine. Now to thread the machine with black silk, like a strand of night going through the needle. Later, perhaps, she would take off the foot she used now, and put on the embroidery foot -- less romantic, perhaps, than stitching it by hand, but faster, easier.

When she surfaced, the sun was rising, and curious rays were poking at her curtains, wondering why they were still closed. She stretched and looked down at the fabric. She should lie down soon. She was tired, but wide awake.

Perhaps she would just finish off the sleeves.

The next time she looked up, the clock said it was nearly eleven AM. She blinked at it, disbelieving, and then stretched and rubbed her eyes. The fabric was recognizable now as a jacket, not a pile of odd shaped --

Jacket?

Wasn't she making a dress for Sakura-chan?

She stepped back and looked at the fabric carefully. It was something for Sakura-chan. It was meant to be something for Sakura-chan. She had gone to her fabric and scissors and sewing machine meaning to make something for Sakura-chan.

And if Sakura-chan grew seven inches, got about five inches wider across the shoulders and narrower around the hips, and wore black, it might actually look rather good on her.

Tomoyo tried to decide if she wanted to laugh, cry or simply scream, and settled for saying several words Touya-san tried not to use around Sakura-chan. She took hold of two seams, ready to reduce it to scrap fabric -- and hesitated. Maybe she could alter it to fit Sakura-chan's brother. It was about the right size, after all. Even Li-kun might look well in it. And -- her hand rubbed the fabric, just a little -- it was such good fabric, and she didn't know if it would stand being cut up for scrap. Maybe she could finish it later. She'd never done much male clothing, after all. It would be a terrible waste of the cloth. It had taken her so long to find it, and now that she had actually cut it and sewn it, just to toss the entire thing... and there was the silks, too. Tomoyo looked at the box of embroidery thread, horribly tempted. She'd bought the floss to match the fabric, and she knew just how she would do it. Chinese designs, a dragon twining up the body of the jacket, perhaps, with jeweled-eyed head to rest on the wearer's shoulder, as if it was some sorcerer's pet frozen in time... but subtly colored, in shades that nearly matched the fabric, so you had to look at it closely to see it.

It wouldn't be much harm, would it? pleaded the part of her mind that was always occupied with fabric and thread and the way fabrics draped and shone and the personalities of cotton and silk and linen. Just do it to display. To see if you can. It would be so lovely.

And she could use frogs for the fastenings, of heavy dark-indigo satin cord, and perhaps put tassels on them, or on the back of the neck, under an especially elaborate silken cord knot. A Chinese collar, of course, and perhaps ... Tomoyo caught herself. This time she managed to laugh, although even to her own ears it sounded more like a sob.

But she couldn't take it apart. She wanted to, but she couldn't make herself do it.

What an idiot she was. Tomoyo glared at the innocent fabric as if it had done something to her personally. It just lay there, a mute and beautiful thing. Waiting.

There was a soft knock on the door. "Ojousama." The maid's voice was slightly muffled by the door.

Tomoyo looked toward the door. "Yes?"

"Sakura Kinomoto is here to visit you."

"Sakura-chan?" repeated Tomoyo.

"Yes, Ojousama. Shall I bring her up?"

Tomoyo stared blankly at the wall for a second, and then she found herself balling up the half-finished jacket and shoving it into her sewing basket. "I'll be down in a moment, thank you."

--

Kero-chan had offered to come with Sakura when she went to Tomoyo-chan's house, but didn't press the point when she refused. She rather thought he knew, like her, that whatever needed to be done with Tomoyo-chan was best done alone. Whatever that was. Sakura spent the entire bus trip wondering what she was going to say to Tomoyo-chan. Anything she could think of just seemed wrong.

"Sakura-chan," said Tomoyo-chan, from the stairs. She had purple smudges under her eyes, and her skin looked transparent, even though her cheeks were red. "I wasn't expecting you..."

Sakura could read symptoms of exhaustion, if nothing else. Tomoyo-chan looked like she was about to blow away into the wind. "Tomoyo-chan," said Sakura. "Did you even lie down last night?"

Tomoyo-chan looked a little guilty. Sakura shook her head, and said, firmly, "Let's go back to your room and sit down, at least."

In Tomoyo-chan's room, Sakura pushed her into a chair and sat down. "Are you all right?" Which was a silly thing to say, but expected. Tomoyo-chan looked as if she needed to hear expected things.

"Perfectly fine," said Tomoyo-chan, smiling. The smile didn't really fool Sakura, but she let it pass. "I'm sorry for yesterday, Sakura-chan. I was --"

Sakura's eyebrow shot up.

Tomoyo-chan blinked at her for a second, and then recovered. "--wound up," she said, only it sounded more like a question.

Sakura waited.

Tomoyo-chan took a deep breath, and began to say something about being over-excited from the performance, and how Hiiragizawa-kun had been on a performance high, too, and Sakura was entirely unsurprised when she stopped, caught her breath on a half sob, and said, all at once, very fast, as if the words would make it real, "AndthenhesaidhelovedmeandI --" and started to cry.

Part of Sakura hated to see Tomoyo-chan like this. Tomoyo-chan was always so calm and gentle, unlike her. Sakura could never control her emotions, even if she tried, but Tomoyo-chan did it effortlessly. She got up and put her arm around Tomoyo-chan, who sobbed harder. Tomoyo-chan dragged her arm ruthlessly across her eyes, and hiccuped. "I don't know what got into me," she said, sounding almost normal. "I didn't sleep all night, I suppose -- and it was like he was trying to --" and down went her head again onto Sakura's shoulder. Sakura patted it and waited patiently. "-- and then I felt trapped," said Tomoyo-chan, muffledly. "So I ran. And I felt terrible about it, but I just wanted to get away."

Sakura thought about this for a moment. "Trapped?"

Tomoyo-chan lifted her head and snuffled. Sakura passed her a tissue from her pocket and Tomoyo blew her nose. "You know how it is when someone gives you a present that you don't really want, but it's too rude to refuse it?"

Sakura nodded. People were always giving her presents and letters of confession, which made her feel bad, especially when she had to give them back. It wasn't their fault that she loved Syaoran-kun.

Tomoyo-chan hiccuped again. "And it was like he was giving me himself. And wanted me in return. And I didn't want to belong to him, and I didn't want him to belong to me."

Sakura thought about this. She never really thought about people 'belonging' to others -- if she had thought about it at all, it was that some people belonged together, like Syaoran-kun and herself, or Oniichan and Yukito-san, and some people did not, like Oniichan and Akizuki-san. The way Tomoyo-chan was talking about it gave her a confused image of Eriol-kun wearing a collar and tag with 'If found, please return to Tomoyo Daidouji' on it. Then she got even more confused by an image of Kero and Yue wearing tags that said 'Property of Sakura Kinomoto', and gave up the line of thought in self-defense when she found herself trying to decide if Syaoran-kun would wear a pink or green collar, and whether she would have the same color or the opposite one.

"I don't think that Eriol-kun thinks like that," she said. "I think... I think that when Eriol-kun talks about belonging to someone, he means it like what Daddy said."

Tomoyo-chan stared at her.

"I think..." said Sakura, slowly. "That when Eriol-kun and Daddy think about belonging to someone, when they think about someone belonging to them, they don't think about possession, like a toy or a doll. I think they mean belonging together, being together, because they want to be with that person, and trusting them and talking to them about anything." She hesitated, trying to feel for the words. "Kero-chan said that Clow-san had a lot of problems, and then Eriol-kun said that his power was a burden. Sometimes... sometimes I wonder what really bothered them was that they couldn't share anything with anybody. I can talk to you, or Syaoran-kun, or Eriol-kun, but I don't think Eriol-kun or Clow-san had anybody they could talk to. Sometimes I wonder if Clow-san and Eriol-kun weren't really lonely."

Tomoyo-chan seemed to think about this, and her eyes looked as if they understood. But Tomoyo-chan always understood. Then she looked at Sakura suspiciously. "Whose side are you on?" she asked.

Sakura blinked at her. "Nobody's," she said, truthfully. "I just want both of you to be happy."

Tomoyo-chan's eyes narrowed.

"Maybe not _together_," Sakura added. "But you are awfully nice together." She hesitated again. "Tomoyo-chan," she said, taking her hands firmly in her own, "I don't want you to... to settle for watching someone else's happiness. I think... I think the person you love ... I think I would be even happier if I could see you being happy, too."

Tomoyo-chan's eyes looked into hers for a long moment. "You do know," she said, almost thoughtfully. "I wondered."

Sakura coughed apologetically. "I do feel kind of bad about it," she said, knowing Tomoyo-chan would know what she meant. "But..."

"Yes," said Tomoyo, smiling a little painfully, "'But.' It's always got a 'but' somewhere, hasn't it?"

"If I could, I would," said Sakura, helplessly.

Tomoyo-chan's mouth twisted up into a funny half-smile. "I know that, Sakura-chan. Believe me, I know it."

"I want you to be happy," said Sakura again, feeling like it was the only thing she knew how to say. "I want everything to be all right for you, too."

"It is--" began Tomoyo-chan, and Sakura took her shoulders and shook her gently, like she had shaken Eriol the night before.

"Not right now," she said, trying to express something she _felt_, but could not describe. "Don't -- don't think you have to give happiness to someone else, Tomoyo-chan. Take it."

Tomoyo-chan's eyes said she did not understand, but Sakura could not explain it to her. "Everything will be all right," she said, again, feeling more helpless than she ever had. She wanted Tomoyo-chan to be happy so very badly, and there was nothing she could do to help her. "No matter what happens."

There was a long silence, and then Tomoyo-chan managed a real smile. "Thank you, Sakura-chan."

"But you have to believe it," said Sakura, anxiously. This was important, too. "Promise me you'll believe it."

"I will," said Tomoyo-chan. "I promise."

---

After Sakura-chan left, Tomoyo pulled the jacket out of her basket, and looked at it for a while. It was nearly done. She knew, even without seeing it on him, that it would fit Eriol perfectly. But she pushed that thought away and began to sew again, almost blindly.

Sakura-chan knew she loved her, and still accepted her.

Eriol knew she loved Sakura, and still loved her.

But that was less confusing than Sakura-chan accepting her love for her. She, after all, loved Sakura-chan despite the fact that Li-kun loved her, too. Li-kun had never apologized to her for being the one Sakura-chan loved, and she would have hated him if he did. Sakura-chan was sorry that she could not love Tomoyo back, but that was something that could not be helped.

Eriol knew all this. Eriol understood, perhaps.

Eriol would not apologize for what he felt for her. Perhaps he would apologize for the way he had said it, but Eriol would not insult her by making light of his own feelings. Just as she would not insult him, nor Sakura-chan, nor herself by making light of her own.

The problem was -- what did she feel?

The jacket was done, but for the trimmings and embroidery. She would do the dragon embroidery on the machine; unromantic, perhaps, but sensible and mindless. The tassel and frogs were easy, too, once one learned to do them.

She stared at the dragon taking shape under the sewing machine's flashing needle, but she didn't really see it.

When she looked up from sewing the last frog on with careful, precise stitches, the sun was at the edge of the sky. Summer meant that the sun set late, and Tomoyo was vaguely aware that she hadn't eaten all day. Probably that meant her stomach would object soon, but her brain was still ignoring the signals.

She shook out the jacket and stared at it. It was beautiful, she thought. It would suit Eriol, if she gave it to him.

She could give -- and her thoughts stopped.

That was it. That was the thing that had been at the edge of her mind, and now came quietly forward, as if it had simply been waiting for her to notice it.

It was not, she thought slowly, that her love for Sakura-chan was childish or immature, although she had outgrown her original feelings. And they had been replaced by something else, something brighter and deeper. There would always be a part of her that loved Sakura-chan the best in all the world. No, it was not that she cast aside that love to make way for a new.

It was like... it was more like living all one's life in a little room, and then one day opening some door and finding many more rooms to add on to the one you lived in.

Perhaps the reason why Eriol had frightened her so much was that he would not be content to be merely given to, that he must also give. Perhaps that was what frightened her, the thought of learning to accept being given to. She had always given, and never taken. Perhaps it was that she didn't know how to receive.

And being given to was so very uncertain. You could give and give and give, and still give more, and not worry about getting something back, because that was the point, to give everything you had of yourself. You couldn't say to someone, You must give me your love. It didn't work that way. But maybe... maybe for love to be complete it had to be accepted, too. Perhaps that was why her love for Sakura-chan had always seemed so complete, even though Sakura-chan did not love her back, because Sakura-chan was generous in accepting love.

She was hardly aware of the fact that she was on her feet and folding the completed jacket neatly into a bag. She was aware that she needed to talk to someone, and the only one she could think of was Eriol. And she was finally aware that she was calling him Eriol in her thoughts, as if she had a right to that intimacy.

The sun was just setting in a blaze of color as she walked up to his house. There was a song tickling at the edge of her mind -- although that was scarcely unusual. Tomoyo always had a song in her mind, waiting patiently to be sung. This one was unfamiliar to her, and hung on the edge of her mind, as if it wasn't yet the right moment for it to come out.

He was in the garden, of course, as she had half-expected, sitting in the grass, staring at jasmine climbing up a trellis. She went to him and sat down, as if they had arranged it before hand, or as if it were an old and familiar thing to do, as if this was not the first time she had sat beside him, but the thousandth.

"Have you come to give me my answer?" he said, still looking at the jasmine, how it exploded into white stars against its green leaves.

"Is it harder to accept than it is to give?" she asked. "Love, I mean."

Eriol thought about this for a second. "It shouldn't be. But it probably always will be."

Tomoyo was silent for another moment. Something about sitting with him in his garden, without the need to talk, without any need but to be together, steadied her and made her mind clear. "I made you something," she said. "Because... because I can't not give people things."

Eriol turned and looked at her, his eyes a little surprised, like that time long ago. She couldn't think of anything else to say, nothing pretty or graceful like she should be able to say at a time like this, so she just handed him the bag. He pulled it out slowly, as if it would fade into mist or smoke or a dream. He looked down at the jacket, and traced a slow finger over the dragon's face. "Thank you," he said, a little stiffly. "Er... Tomoyo? I can't read minds anymore."

And then Tomoyo started laughing so hard she fell over onto him, and his arm came up around her, as if he expected it to be thrown off again, and that only made her laugh harder, until he gave her a look that hovered between bemusement and hope. She recovered enough to put her arm around his neck, and said, "I think I love you, too, but I haven't had a lot of practice, you know."

He blinked at her, and then her words must have sunk in, because he started to smile, and then he started to chuckle, and then they both laughed so hard that they fell over and the jacket was crushed between them, even as Eriol's arms wrapped tightly around her, and hers around him.

And she could hear the song playing in her head, finally.

Nanka shiawase chotto shiawase
Kanjiru toki koso ichiban no shiawase
Nanka yukesou umaku yukesou
Sou iu mon da ne ashita mo shiawase da ne

[I'm somehow happy, sort of happy
It's the times you feel like that, that are the greatest happiness
I'm somehow gonna go for it, it's gonna work out
That's how it will be, so tomorrow I'll be happy again too]

--30--

4:03 PM 6/24/01


-- Couching is a stitch used to hold down thread on a fabric, generally to fill in a large area of fabric quickly. Yes, I know, but I've always been a bit of a needlework g33|< [blame my mother], and it seemed like something Tomoyo would think.

-- Ojousama: Eh. Best way I can think of would be 'young lady', although that doesn't quite describe it, I think. 'Ojousan' is, if I remember correctly, the polite term for someone else's daughter, so it has the added meaning of 'Miss', as in a polite way to refer to a girl whose name you do not know. [Wossname in X calls Yuzariha 'ojouchan', which the American translators did as 'Missy', which is pretty accurate, I think. Sano in RK calls Kaoru 'jouchan', which, if I remember correctly, the fansubbers didn't even bother TRYING to translate, although I suppose 'chickie' would be pretty close. Dunno what the commercial release did.] Ojousama, when referring to The Young Lady of the House, always reminds me of the Indian servants calling Mary 'missie-sahib' in The Secret Garden, somehow.

If you think I exaggerated any of Tomoyo's thought processes while she was trying to decide what to do with the outfit, you are not a crafter. And you would be horrifically bored if by some fatal mischance you had to go to a craft, art, or fabric store with me. There is no such thing as too much yarn. There is no such thing as too many art supplies. Having piles of fabric is an end unto itself. And it is perfectly possible to rationalize not throwing out half-finished projects and scraps of useless but pretty fabric. Because. XO You MIGHT finish it someday and you spent so much TIME on the damn thing, and God only knows they commit DAYLIGHT ROBBERY with fabric prices these days...

Eh. Creative Liberties Were Taken with making the jacket. I wrote it and then realized that the jacket would probably have to be lined, etc, so just assume Tomoyo's 1337 sk1||0rZ with fabric were even greater than you thought. >_>

And the Sanrio character this time round was Landry [whom, incidentally, I adore].

Sakura is probably a little out of character, but she is sixteen years old, and naivety is not the same as stupidity, number one, and number two, even in the manga she can be scarily observant. Nobody told HER in volume six that Yue loved Clow, she figured it out all by her little self. Nor did Yukito say a word about liking Touya to her, she figured THAT out, too.
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