Tomoyo spends the night at Sakura's house, and they try to enjoy an evening free of JOKER-induced trauma.
Li pushed the bathroom door roughly open and peeked inside. "I don't see anyone," he announced.
"Check in the stalls," advised Tomoyo. "Someone might be in one of them."
Li groaned as he bent down to peer under the stall doors. "I still don't see why I have to hold you by the hand like a baby. It's not that hard to figure out."
A fierce blush set Yamazaki's borrowed face burning. "I feel uncomfortable going into the boys' room. It's not proper."
"If you want, Sakura can take you to the girls' room," he offered. "But that's going to look really strange, and it's not going to change the way your body works. You're still going to have to get your hands on Yamazaki's -"
"Please don't say it!" she begged him. "It's difficult enough to have to use the public bathroom as a boy. I don't want to think about it."
"Well, there's nobody in there." Li stood up and wiped his hands on his shirt. "You'd better hurry up. It's only going to hurt more if you put it off any longer."
Tomoyo was still hesitant, but the sound of the rain drumming on the roof was making the pressure in her abdomen even more uncomfortable by the second. She took a deep breath and stepped through the door marked MEN, catching a glimpse of her own weary, flushed face in the long mirror above the row of sinks. She was halfway to the urinals before she realized that that was unusual. "Um, Li... what do you see when you look in the mirror?"
Li spun around to glare at her. "Is this an ugly joke?"
"No.... Look at my reflection in the mirror." She pointed to her image.
Li glanced toward the mirror. "It's just you," he said. Then he took a longer look. "It's your own body. It's not Yamazaki."
"It was like that in the lake as well," she told him. "The reflection looked like me."
"That's weird," said Li. "When I switched bodies with Kero, my reflection still looked like him." Shaking his head, he grabbed her hand and pulled her toward the toilets. "We'd better hurry this up before somebody sees your reflection. Do you have to... uh... sit down, or will you be okay standing up?"
"Standing up?" she asked. "Is that possible?"
Li sighed. "I never thought I'd be potty training someone my own age...."
By the time Tomoyo had finished her business and returned to the others with Li, Yamazaki was already awake. "So let me get this straight," he recapped. "These 'Clow Cards' each let you cast a certain magic spell, but you need a wand to activate them. Then there's this fifty-third card, JOKER, that can use each of those spells once. And it used the spell called CHANGE to put me in Tomoyo's body, which is why it can't use the same spell to put me back."
"That's right," agreed Sakura. "I'm really sorry about this."
"So, how DO I get changed back?" asked Yamazaki.
Sakura rubbed the back of her head. "We're working on that right now."
"Working on it?" he repeated adamantly. "What do you mean, 'working on it'?"
"She means we're trying to figure out a way to switch you two back," Kero said impatiently. "Trust me, we don't like having you in Tomoyo's body any more than you do. But the magic of the Clow is complicated stuff." He looked up to see the new arrivals. "Great, you two are back."
"Sorry we took so long," said Li. "She wasn't comfortable."
Tomoyo blushed. "It's hard when I'm so nervous."
"It's okay, Tomoyo," Sakura assured her. "I'd be nervous too, if I had to go into the boys' bathroom."
"It wasn't so much that," said Li, "as that we were worried someone might see her reflection in the mirror. So we had to hurry her out of there... which makes even me have trouble sometimes," he admitted.
"What was wrong with her reflection?" Kero asked suspiciously.
"My reflection looks like me, not like Yamazaki," replied Tomoyo.
"Yeah, I saw myself in Naoko's glasses," added Yamazaki. "I didn't think much of it at the time, but now that you mention it, I should have seen Tomoyo."
Kero scratched his chin. "Well, then there's something to work with. Your reflections depict your true nature, not your outward form. There's gotta be something we can do with that."
"A way to bring out what's in the mirror?" Li wondered aloud. "Is there a Clow Card that can do that?"
"The nearest I can think of is MIRROR itself," replied Kero. "And that just makes copies of people. Wouldn't do us much good to have another Tomoyo and Yamazaki running around, especially if the copies' minds are swapped too."
"Maybe if we look at the Clow Cards themselves," suggested Sakura, "we might think of something." She reached into her backpack and fished out the Clow Deck, shielding it from the rain with her body.
Kero peered over her shoulder as she flipped through the deck, naming each card as she turned it over. "SWEET - I think we used that one this morning.... WAVE - Not useful unless there's water around.... JUMP - I don't think so...."
Yamazaki leaned in close and stared at the cards. "So these are the magical cards? They don't look that special to me. I saw those on sale at the Twin Bells craft shop a few months ago."
Li sighed. "Yeah, I remember that day. I nearly died."
"Wasn't that the day Meilin bought the SHOT card?" asked Tomoyo.
"Don't remind me," Li requested glumly. "The point is, those cards were all fakes, except for the one my idiot cousin bought. These are the real deal."
"But they don't work right now, because of JOKER," Sakura reminded him.
"They're not giving me any ideas, either," said Kero, shaking his head at BIG.
Sakura sighed and grabbed a random card from the middle of the deck. "How about this one? CREATE."
Kero's eyes lit up. "CREATE... now that could work."
"But CREATE only makes things real that are written in the book," said Sakura. "And when the book is closed, the things that were created vanish again."
"It doesn't have to work that way when JOKER's controlling the magic," Kero pointed out. "The essence of CREATE is bringing thoughts to life in physical form. The book is just a way for the Clow Cards to focus those thoughts into their most concentrated form. JOKER should be more than powerful enough to work with the raw thoughts and cause a permanent effect."
Sakura's eyes spun in confusion. "What does that mean?"
Li snorted. "It means he has an idea."
"Do you really know how to get us back into our own bodies?" Tomoyo asked hopefully.
"It's a long shot," Kero admitted, "but it's better than nothing. Tomoyo, Yamazaki... follow my instructions exactly, and we'll see if this doesn't get you two back to normal." He glared at Yamazaki. "Well, as normal as you've ever been, anyway."
"This from a flying, talking puppet?" returned Yamazaki.
Kero cleared his throat meaningfully. "Putting that aside... the object of this exercise will be to visualize yourselves back in your own bodies, using the mirror as a visual aid. Once that conception is firmly in your minds, JOKER should be able to use the power of CREATE to make it real."
Li leaned against a tree and crossed his arms. "You seriously expect that to work?"
"It's going to work!" Sakura insisted firmly. "You always think everything's going to go wrong, but I have faith in Kero's judgment." She nodded to Tomoyo. "Go ahead, Tomoyo. I know Kero's plan will work."
"Wish I could say the same," Kero said glumly. "All right. First things first, the two of you have to stand opposite each other and make like you're looking in a mirror."
Tomoyo and Yamazaki turned and looked at each other as if seeing the view for the first time. It was unnerving to see herself standing in front of her, but Tomoyo set the feeling of oddness aside and did her best to emulate Yamazaki's pose. She dropped her hands to her sides and stood with her legs slightly apart, turning the upper half of her body at an angle. In that position, she could honestly believe that what she was seeing was a mirror image rather than her own body.
"This is really freaky," said Yamazaki, adjusting his stance slightly.
"Just imagine that you're looking at a mirror image," Kero repeated. "Have you got it?"
"Yes," they replied in unison.
Kero nodded his approval. "Then Tomoyo, wish for a double-sided mirror between the two of you. And don't either of you move!"
Kero's sudden admonishment to remain still made Tomoyo aware of an itch on her nose, but she dutifully ignored it and wished for the mirror that Kero had described. It rose slowly from the earth, a large pane of reflective glass surrounded by gold ornamentation - flowers, holly berries, and a winged cherub at the very top. Soon, it had completely blocked Yamazaki from sight, but she could still see the same image of herself in the mirror.
"What you're seeing is not an illusion," Kero chanted softly. "It is the true reflection of what your body looks like. Do you believe this?"
"I do," Tomoyo and Yamazaki replied. Tomoyo wasn't sure whether Yamazaki really believed it, but despite Kero's mental exercise, she just couldn't deny what she knew to be true. The image in the mirror was a fake. She truly wanted to believe - it seemed to be the key to Kero's entire plan - but it was impossible. If only this really WAS her own body....
She gasped as she felt her stomach lurch forward, so rapidly that she felt like she had to throw up. There was a thunderous sound of breaking glass as something hit her between the eyes, nearly splitting her head in two, and her vision dissolved into stars. Her legs buckled under her, and she sat down heavily, her knees tangling in her skirt as she went down.
A pair of arms circled her shoulders as she tried to figure out what had happened. "Tomoyo! Is that you?" asked Sakura's voice. "Please be okay!"
"I'm okay," she replied. It was more of a reflex than the truth - she had no idea how she was actually feeling. "What happened to me? There was a bright light...."
"You went through the mirror!" Sakura related excitedly. "You and Yamazaki both went right through the mirror and out the other side. It was scary! I thought you were going to get hurt when you hit it, and there's broken glass everywhere!"
"I certainly didn't expect that to happen," said Kero. "I thought their minds would go back into their own bodies, but it looks like the bodies switched places instead." He paused, and Tomoyo could only guess at what sort of gesture he was making. "I guess it worked just as well."
"I can't see anything," Yamazaki complained from the far side of the mirror.
There was a rap of knuckles on wood. "The back of the mirror is still solid," said Li. "They couldn't possibly have gone through it."
Tomoyo's vision was starting to clear, but everyone standing over her was still a mere blur of color. She reached up and felt the spot where her face had hit the mirror, but there was no blood, nor a lump. She was sitting on something hard that was digging into her uncomfortably, and she reached under herself to pull out a triangular shard of glass. She couldn't tell if she was bleeding, because the seat of her dress was already wet from the rain and mud. However, she couldn't see any red in the mud-covered glass, which was a good sign.
"Is anything wrong, Tomoyo?" asked Sakura.
"I don't think so," she replied. "I'm back in my own body."
"That's good," said Sakura.
"How is Yamazaki doing?" asked Tomoyo, rubbing her eyes. When she opened them again, she could see perfectly. The first thing she saw, however, was a rather annoyed expression on Li's face.
"He left," Li announced. "Probably went back to Chiharu."
Sakura gasped. "Oh no! He's going to tell her about the Clow Cards!"
Li shrugged. "So?"
"What do you mean, 'so?'" asked Sakura. "We have to stop him!"
Kero nodded solemnly. "If word about the Clow Cards gets out, Sakura will be at the center of a lot of attention. And most of that attention isn't going to be good."
"Oh well," said Li with another disinterested shrug. "These things happen."
"How can you be so thoughtless?" screamed Sakura, grabbing Tomoyo's arm. "Come on, Tomoyo! We've got to hurry!"
Tomoyo stood up, feeling a bit wobbly, and let her feet run on autopilot while Sakura led the way through the trees to the lake. The next comprehensible thing she heard was Yamazaki's "Chiharu, guess what? You're never going to believe what happened!"
Chiharu stood by the water's edge, soaked from head to toe, glaring at Yamazaki through the sheets of rain. "I've been standing here for nearly twenty minutes. Where have you been?"
"Yamazaki, no!" shouted Sakura, but it was barely audible over the rain.
"I was inside Tomoyo's body!" Yamazaki blurted out. "See, Sakura's got these magical cards, but one of them went crazy and put me in Tomoyo's body! Then she had to go to the bathroom, only she was me, so she had to use the men's room, right? But then there was this mirror, and we went through it, and you can still see the lump right here!"
"Right, right," sighed Chiharu. "If you don't want to tell me what happened, just say so."
"But it's true!" he protested.
"You and your stories...." Chiharu picked up the fueling box in one hand and grabbed Yamazaki's ear with the other, barely giving him time to scoop up his plane as she dragged him away. "I don't care what's going on between you and Tomoyo, but I promise I'm going to make your life miserable unless you give it up right now!"
"And THAT," Li said triumphantly from just to Sakura's right, "is why I wasn't worried about Yamazaki spilling the beans. Nobody's going to believe him anyway."
"I see," said Kero from his shoulder. "You know Yamazaki better than his childhood friends do."
"Girls just worry too much," Li said flatly.
Sakura's face puffed up like a blowfish. "Stop making fun of me!"
Li sighed. "No need to get mad at me. You'll burst a blood vessel that way."
That just seemed to make Sakura even angrier. "Meanie!"
"I'm going home," Li announced. "This rain is getting on my nerves."
Tomoyo lightly placed a hand on Sakura's shoulder as Li walked away. "Don't let him upset you, Sakura. We've all had a difficult day."
"You sure are taking this well," observed Kero. "Just about everything that's happened today happened to you. Are you okay?"
Tomoyo nodded nervously. "The situation has been resolved, so everything's back to normal."
"But JOKER's still got plenty of power left," Kero pointed out.
Tomoyo shuddered involuntarily. "Please don't remind me."
Sakura tugged on Tomoyo's sleeve. "Do you want to come back to my house? It's a lot closer than your house, and you can change into some clean clothes without having to go home. If your mom saw you like this, she might be upset."
Tomoyo looked down at her dress, only now realizing how dirty it was with rainwater, mud, and even a tiny bloodstain near her torn ankle. "Yes, let's do that," she decided.
It took Sakura a few minutes to find the keyhole on her front door, as it was still hidden within the light-consuming shadow that JOKER had placed there earlier that morning. Tomoyo hesitated to step on the porch that had nearly swallowed her alive, but it was a passing fear, quickly overshadowed by her need to be close to Sakura. She hurried into the house and closed the door behind herself, as if hoping to shut out the evil power of JOKER.
"We should at least call your mother and let her know you're over here," suggested Sakura.
"That's a good idea," agreed Tomoyo. "Would you mind making the call, while I go upstairs and change?"
"I have to change, too," Sakura pointed out, flinging water from her sopping sleeves. "Your mom probably wants to hear from you anyway."
"I'm too nervous to call home," said Tomoyo. "I wouldn't be able to speak."
"Well, SOMEBODY call," Kero said impatiently. "I'M not going to do it."
"I'll go upstairs and pick out some clothes I can let you borrow," Sakura asserted firmly. "You call your mother and ask her if it's okay for you to stay the night."
Tomoyo's heart leapt into her throat. She was going to spend the night with Sakura! It wasn't the first time, but they so rarely got to spend nights together that it was always exciting. And it would save her from having to be alone another night with JOKER's power looming over her, ready to cause chaos at any moment... it seemed too good to be true. "Are you sure that will be all right with your father?"
"Of course!" Sakura replied happily. "As long as your mom says it's okay."
Her mother did indeed say it was okay, largely because Dr. Kinomoto returned while she was still on the phone and assured her mother that he wouldn't let a hair on her daughter's head be harmed. Sakura practically flew down the stairs to greet him as soon as he was off the phone, wearing a clean set of clothes and a smile that showed no hint of the day's tragic excitement. In a whirl of hugs and greetings, Tomoyo was whisked up the stairs to Sakura's room, and before she knew it, Sakura was offering her a choice of dresses from her wardrobe. Tomoyo couldn't help blushing at the ironic turn of events as, for the first time, she was wearing Sakura's clothes instead of the other way around.
After that, they went down to the kitchen to help Dr. Kinomoto make dinner for five people (which required enough for ten when Yukito was one of those people), promising to bring some dessert up for Kero later in the evening. Touya and Yukito came home just in time to change out of their uniforms while Tomoyo and Sakura's father finished cooking and Sakura finished swooning over Yukito's entrance. And seemingly moments later, the entire group was sitting down to dinner.
"This afternoon has gone by so quickly," Tomoyo noted as she waited for everyone else to finish serving themselves.
"Time always seems to go by too quickly when you're being productive," agreed Dr. Kinomoto. "I've always known Sakura was a wonderful help in the kitchen, but you're quite a hand yourself. Thank you."
Tomoyo smiled at the compliment, while Yukito swallowed a mouthful and turned to her. "This is very good, Tomoyo. And Sakura, you helped too?"
Sakura blushed and nodded.
Touya stuffed a chunk of potato into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully. "Seems kinda dry," he assessed without swallowing. "Sakura made these, right?" Seconds later, he jumped as Sakura kicked him under the table.
"So, Yukito, how was work?" asked Sakura.
"It went well," replied Yukito, "except that I ended up eating most of my wages."
"I'm surprised there was anything left for the customers," said Touya. "Part-time jobs aren't going to be enough if you keep eating like that, you know."
"Eating a lot is a sign of good health," Sakura reminded her older brother.
"And eating enough to feed a family of seven for lunch, and still having room for that much at dinner, is a sign that something's wrong," countered Touya.
"Now, now," Dr. Kinomoto broke in, "he's our guest." He smiled at Yukito. "So, Yukito, how is school going?"
"Aside from it being summer break, you mean?" Yukito quipped. "I'm doing surprisingly well. I sometimes have trouble staying awake during classes, but I haven't fallen behind yet."
"It's not just class," said Touya. "You nearly nodded off twice on the job today."
"I get tired when I don't eat enough," admitted Yukito. "Maybe I could do with a longer lunch break."
"'Don't eat enough?'" Touya repeated quietly, his voice tinged with worry. "How much is 'enough,' man?"
"Eat as much as you want," urged Sakura. "We made plenty."
"Tomoyo, how have you been?" asked Sakura's father.
Tomoyo nearly choked in surprise. She'd been enjoying the feel of a nice, normal family conversation so much that she'd almost forgotten she was in the room. And what a question to open with! She didn't know where to begin. 'Oh, my life has been hectic since yesterday afternoon, which I lived through twice, by the way. Did you know that having every wish granted is a living nightmare? I've almost died at least four times in the last two days, I had to use the boys' bathroom just a few hours ago, and now I'm staying here tonight because I'm scared to death of being alone.'
"I've been very busy lately," she said aloud. "Sakura's been giving me a lot of support, which has helped me a great deal."
"That's my little Sakura," Dr. Kinomoto agreed. "She's never happier than when she's helping her friends."
"I just like spending time with Tomoyo is all," said Sakura, turning her face to her plate.
"I barely see you two apart anymore," said Touya. "Maybe we should staple you together."
Tomoyo sighed in a show of delusional happiness. "Oh, it would be so wonderf-" She quickly shut up and bit her tongue, hoping JOKER hadn't decided to grant her half-stated wish. She wasn't sure whether there were any Clow Cards that could attach two people to each other, but she didn't want to take that risk.
Yukito chuckled, misinterpreting Tomoyo's sudden silence. "I think it's cute the way you two get along. Childhood friends are special."
Touya nodded. "Yeah, it's good to see that Sakura has someone to take care of her in hard times."
Sakura stared at Touya, trying to figure out what he meant by that, but Dr. Kinomoto spoke up. "Did anyone notice that the front of the house was unusually dark today?"
"Yes, there was a large round shadow over the front door when Touya and I went to work," said Yukito. "I thought it was a sunspot, or perhaps a passing satellite, but it was still there when we got back."
Touya glanced at Sakura, who did her best to appear as clueless as everyone else. "I'm sure it'll go away on its own," he declared.
"I sure hope so," replied Dr. Kinomoto. "The porch lights don't appear to be working, and I can't see to change the bulbs while it's that dark."
"I'll take care of it tomorrow," offered Touya. "Hopefully, that shadow will be gone by then." He said this last sentence with another meaningful glance in Sakura's direction.
Sakura pushed her nearly empty plate away from herself. "I think I've had enough to eat," she announced. "May I be excused?"
"Is something wrong, Sakura?" asked Tomoyo.
"No, nothing," she replied. "I just feel a bit tired. I should go upstairs and lie down for a while."
"Maybe you ate too much," Yukito said with a smile. "That can make you tired."
Touya sighed. "Too much, not enough... is there any amount of eating that DOESN'T make you tired?"
Yukito rubbed the back of his head self-consciously. "It is rather strange that I've been so tired lately. But I'm sure it's nothing to worry about."
Sakura stood up and picked up her plate. "Good night, everyone. I'm sorry I can't stay longer."
"Sakura, wait!" called Tomoyo as Sakura carried her plate into the kitchen. "I'll come with you!"
"Are you finished?" asked Dr. Kinomoto. "You've hardly touched your food."
"I'm not very hungry," she replied, not entirely lying. "If it's all right, may I just take a few slices of pie upstairs for myself and Sakura to eat later?"
"Of course," said Dr. Kinomoto. "Have a good night."
Kero seemed surprised to see the girls when they got up to Sakura's room. "Pie!" he shouted, diving headfirst onto one of the plates before voicing his suspicion. "So, what are you two doing up here while Snow Rabbit's downstairs? I've never seen Sakura leave him unless she was dragged away."
"Touya was making me feel uncomfortable," said Sakura.
"Doesn't he always?" Kero asked through a mouthful of pie.
"He kept looking at Sakura whenever the shadow on the front of the house was mentioned," explained Tomoyo.
Kero swallowed. "I'm pretty sure he's suspected something about Sakura for a while now. But if he'd figured out that Sakura is a magician, he'd probably have confronted her about it by now."
"Then you're saying there's no need for Sakura to worry?" asked Tomoyo.
"There's nothing we can do about Touya, no matter what he's thinking," confirmed Kero. "So just let him be and deal with more important issues."
"Do you have any more ideas about JOKER?" asked Sakura, clearly reluctant to forget about her brother, but willing for Tomoyo's sake.
Kero's expression darkened as he scratched his head with the fork. "I've been thinking long and hard about this one. But everything we've tried has just gotten us in more trouble. No matter what Tomoyo's doing, it's just human nature to wish for things, and those wishes are going to fuel JOKER's mischief. And we've already seen what JOKER will do if we try to deal with it directly."
"Ohhhh..." whined Sakura. "There has to be something we can do!"
Kero gestured toward the Clow Book on Sakura's desk. The cover flipped open, and the cards floated lazily into the air to form a circle around Sakura. "All these cards... each one with more power than any human is capable of using unaided. Two of them together could defeat almost any other type of magic in human history, and Clow calculated that it would take only eighteen of them to rival the power that created the Universe itself." He shrugged smugly. "Then again, Clow always did have a big head." He shook his own head, then paused to take another bite of pie while the cards collected into a deck again. "JOKER has the power of all fifty-two of them put together. No living being could possibly channel that much power. That's why JOKER is autonomous; only JOKER itself is capable of using its power. That's what we're up against here. It's a force beyond comprehension, and even farther beyond anything we could wield against it."
"What are you saying?" asked Sakura.
Kero sighed. "I'm saying it's quite possible that there's nothing we can do to stop it. Maybe all we can do is stick by Tomoyo's side and clean up JOKER's messes until it runs out of power."
"But it's dangerous!" Sakura protested. "And we can't possibly stay with Tomoyo all the time!"
"When a hurricane comes, you just have to brace yourself for the storm and clean up the damage afterwards," Kero analogized. "JOKER is a force of nature, Sakura. Stand in its way, and you'll just get blown down."
"This isn't a hurricane we're talking about! Tomoyo is our friend!"
Feeling a bit uncomfortable being the topic of the conversation, Tomoyo turned her attention away from the pair and found herself at the window, looking up into the sky. There wasn't much to see; even though the rain had stopped, the dark clouds still filled the view, hiding the stars. She sighed sadly, wishing the night sky were even worth looking at. She'd love to share a beautiful starlit sky with Sakura....
The sky instantly filled with tiny dots of light, like hundreds of unmoving, unblinking fireflies. Unlike distant stars, these lights seemed to populate the entire atmosphere from the clouds all the way down to the ground. The suddenness of their appearance drew a startled gasp from Tomoyo, but she quickly regained her composure and let herself be awed by the magnificence of the spectacle.
Sakura was at her side in a second. "What is it, Tomoyo?" She froze as the lights outside drew her eyes. "Oh, it's so beautiful!"
"It's just GLOW," said Kero. "You've seen it before."
"It's still pretty," cooed Sakura. "I could look at this all night."
Tomoyo opened the window and stretched her arm out, letting the cool night air play against her skin. Even the small contact with fresh air felt liberating, reminding her of how tense she was and how much she needed a chance to relax. It would feel so nice to immerse herself fully in the night... which gave her a strange but wonderful idea. She closed her eyes. "I wish that Sakura and I could fly into the starry sky together."
"Whoa, whoa!" warned Kero. "That can't be safe!"
Tomoyo felt her entire body become lighter, and she quickly grabbed the windowsill for fear she would float right off the floor. However, she remained right where she was. Experimentally, she imagined herself rising a few inches, and her body obliged so naturally that she almost forgot that she'd never been able to fly before. She let go of the wall and turned a few experimental flips in the middle of the room. "It's easy! Try it, Sakura!"
Sakura gasped as she floated into the center of her room to join Tomoyo, but quickly overcame her fear as she realized how excellent her control was. "This is amazing, Tomoyo!" she laughed, spinning through the air and trying some acrobatic moves that rivaled anything she'd ever done on a gym mat.
Tomoyo motioned toward the window. "Come on, let's go outside." She flew to the window and dropped her hands to her sides so that she would fit through the opening.
"Tomoyo, wait!" called Sakura, darting out after her. "Are you sure this is a good idea?"
Tomoyo sat back in the air and nodded. "I feel like this is the way JOKER wants to be used. It wants to make me happy, and not just waste its power cleaning up its own messes."
"But aren't you afraid something bad might happen?" asked Sakura.
"Not at all," replied Tomoyo. "JOKER won't hurt me as long as I'm not trying to fight it."
"That's what we thought before," said Kero from the window. "But any wish could be turned against you."
"I think we should just go back inside, Tomoyo," advised Sakura. "Flying could be dangerous."
Tomoyo floated close to Sakura. "Sakura, this is the first time in days that I've truly felt happy. I really want to spend some time away from other people, away from everything. I want to forget about JOKER and the Clow Cards and just enjoy something. I want to be with you and not have to be afraid."
Sakura sighed. "We'd be even less afraid in my room...."
Tomoyo took Sakura's hand and threaded her fingers through Sakura's. "Please don't take this chance away from me." She watched Sakura's eyes widen in surprise, but it couldn't possibly compare to Tomoyo's own astonishment. She'd acted without thinking, only to discover that, indeed, the thing she feared was not a wish gone wrong but the loss of this wonderful opportunity to be close to Sakura.
There was an extremely uncomfortable pause while Sakura looked herself over from head to toe. She bobbed up and down in the air as she thought deeply about something for what seemed like an hour to Tomoyo. Finally, she smiled nervously. "It feels safe enough," she decided. "I suppose we can fly around a bit. We should at least get up higher before somebody sees us."
Tomoyo willingly accepted that answer and led the way into the sky, passing some of the lowest glowing spots on the way. This close, they looked even more like fireflies than before, and Tomoyo reached out and grabbed one without even considering the possibility that it might burn her. Fortunately, she couldn't feel it at all, and when she pulled her hand back, the light remained right where it was.
"Wow," breathed Sakura, her trepidation draining away as the ground below grew more and more distant. But her eyes were focused on the sky around her. "It's so beautiful."
The last of Tomoyo's fear vanished as Sakura began to enjoy the flight. It was going to be a magical evening after all. "This is the kind of wish I truly wanted all along," said Tomoyo.
"It feels so strange to fly without the Clow Wand," said Sakura. "I feel so free, like I could do anything I want."
"We can," Tomoyo told her. "Your wishes are my wishes."
Sakura recoiled. "You mean... you want to use JOKER again?"
Tomoyo nodded. "Tonight, I'm in control. JOKER will do only what I want; I can feel it."
"How can you be so sure?" asked Sakura.
"So far, JOKER has been acting against me because I didn't accept it," replied Tomoyo. "If I accept JOKER's presence, and use it to make myself happy, then it will behave. It's doing what it wants to do." She rolled over onto her back, kneaded her fingers behind her head, and let herself float, sighing happily.
Sakura dubiously mimicked the position and stared up into the dark clouds just overhead. "What do you plan to wish for?" she asked.
"Being with you is all I want right now," said Tomoyo, "and I already have that. I just want to enjoy it while it lasts."
Sakura blushed. "Um...."
"Shall we fly above the clouds?" asked Tomoyo. "We can see the real stars."
"Okay," Sakura agreed, letting the matter drop. If Tomoyo was happy, then Sakura owed it to her not to destroy that fragile mood. And who knew? Perhaps she was right. Maybe she and JOKER could learn to get along.
The girls shot upward through the dense cloud together, shivering as the cold droplets of water touched their skin, and broke through into the clear sky above. The stars seemed so distant compared to the lights of GLOW beneath them, leaving them in an empty expanse of sky; but there was something so natural, so uninhibited, about the way the lights above twinkled that drew fresh cries of wonder from them.
"I've never taken the time to look at the stars from this high up before," said Sakura. "They're incredible!"
Tomoyo slipped her hand into Sakura's again. "I feel so warm inside just looking at them."
"Once I get my power back, we should fly together again," said Sakura. "We'll have to use the Clow Wand, but it will still be fun."
"But nothing will be as wonderful as being able to fly freely like this," said Tomoyo. Then, with a chuckle, she let go of Sakura's hand and darted out of arm's reach. "Sakura, try to catch me!"
"What?" asked Sakura. But Tomoyo was already swooping away, and Sakura had to dive after her. They circled around each other and spun and danced in the air, leading each other on a merry chase above the clouds. Time flew by while standing still - they could have spent days playing that way and not missed the time at all.
Finally, Sakura sat down, breathing heavily. "I'm dizzy," she announced. "We've been flying in circles too long."
Tomoyo sat down beside her, the wind blowing her long hair forward over her shoulders. "That was exciting. But maybe we should just rest for a while."
Sakura fell onto her back and lay in a dead float, staring up into the stars. "Say, Tomoyo...."
She stretched her arm to the dome of the sky above. "Do you ever wonder what it's like out there?"
Tomoyo looked up. "In outer space?"
Sakura nodded. "People used to go into space, and walk on the moon. But what's really out there, beyond the stars we can see?"
"I don't know," Tomoyo admitted. "It might be nice to go there someday and see, but I don't want to go right now. There's too much I still want to do here on Earth."
"Yeah, not right now," Sakura agreed. "But someday." She pointed off to the side, and Tomoyo noticed a particularly bright star in that part of the sky. "That one. That's my star. Someday, I'll go there and see what it's like."
"How will you remember which star is yours?" asked Tomoyo.
"I just know," said Sakura, turning back to Tomoyo. "It feels cozy."
Tomoyo found herself looking deep into Sakura's eyes. Sakura's expression was the same dreamy look that she always took on when gazing upon Yukito or Miss Mizuki. Tomoyo sighed, regretting that the dreaminess wasn't on her behalf, but still reveling in her friend's happiness. It seemed like such a waste that she didn't have her camera with her to record the moment.
"Let's go get it," said Sakura.
Tomoyo jumped in surprise. "Get it?"
"Your camera," explained Sakura. "You said you wished you had it."
Tomoyo blushed. "I didn't realize I was talking out loud...."
Sakura smiled. "Well, come on. Let's go." She held out her hand, and Tomoyo took it gingerly. Sakura led the way as the pair set off together for the Daidouji mansion.
Suddenly, Sakura's entire body shuddered. "Is something wrong?" asked Tomoyo.
"I feel strange," said Sakura, moments before she stopped in place, hovering for a split second, then dropped like a stone, arrested only by her firm grip on Tomoyo's hand. Tomoyo felt like her arm was being torn from its socket, but she held on tight.
"What happened?" asked Tomoyo.
"I don't know!" cried Sakura. "I suddenly couldn't fly anymore!"
"Oh, no," gasped Tomoyo. "JOKER's power must be wearing off!"
"But we're still too high! We'll die if we fall!" Sakura frantically grabbed Tomoyo's arm with both hands. "Please hold on!"
"I won't let you go!" Tomoyo assured her friend, as she felt her body becoming heavier again. "I'm going to fall!"
"Quick, fly back to the ground!"
"There's no time!" The magical force holding her up let go, and she and Sakura fell together, screaming all the way.
"Tomoyo, do something!" shouted Sakura.
Tomoyo swallowed and cringed against the rising wind. "JOKER, please save us!"
The air around Tomoyo began to swirl, creating what felt like a soft cushion under her. At first, it stayed beneath her as she continued to descend, picking up speed, but then it stopped, breaking her fall in a jarring instant. Sakura's weight suddenly wrenched on her arm again, and this time, her fingers weren't strong enough to handle the force. Sakura's hand slipped from Tomoyo's grip, and she continued her plummet at terminal velocity.
Tomoyo rolled over in the funnel, reaching toward Sakura as if expecting her arm to extend itself and save her friend. "Sakura!" she screamed helplessly as she watched Sakura plunge through the clouds and out of sight, her final scream swallowed by the mist as she vanished.