There was a steady dripping noise. It was the tiniest of sounds-coming from miles away perhaps! An eternity away, it seemed. But at the same time, it was the most annoying sound Sakura Kinomoto's half-conscious mind could imagine.
A moment ago, the young girl hadn't even noticed that dripping noise-a moment ago, it had been dripping, and she had been sleeping soundly. Couldn't they come to some sort of agreement like that again? Couldn't she forget it was there-just for five more minutes-and drift happily back to sleep? Her brow furrowed slightly upon her slumbering face. A part of her desperately wanted to stay here where she was-to just roll over, or stick her head under a pillow and convince herself she would be able to stay in bed longer. She had done it many times: a great many times, her roommate Kero-chan would say. Yes. All those years ago, when she had been catching cards... She had stayed up so late on those nights... But there was something else nagging at her, goading her into consciousness-refusing to let her mind shut back off. It was alingering nag which had been getting much stronger these past many years: it was no longer as easy to oversleep as it had been in her elementary days. Yes: she knew, as every day, that if she did not get herself out of bed soon, she would regret it. She would be late for school. Was it even a school day? But she needed to get up anyway-she had to. It was only proper... Half-heartedly the young girl tried to coax herself into consciousness, but quickly gave up. Too bad, the sorceress mused happily, she would simply have to lie here alittle longer. Yet, the tiny nag inside of her continued to goad; inside herself, Sakura sighed. Even if her mind was not yet ready to face the day, she knew full well that it was far too active now to simply sink back into slumber very easily. But it was just so nice here! She didn't want to leave it!
Instead or continuing to fight herself, Sakura turned her thoughts away to focus on other things. She let her senses overtake her. The world around her was suddenly much more clear-perceivable. It was nice and warm here where she lay. She wasn't sure if she had noticed just how nice that was amoment ago. But at the same time, it wasn't overwhelmingly hot either; it was astate of perfection-perfect balance. She pouted more. She knew full well that this radiant heat would vanish soon, once her brain became fully awake. No! She didn't want the warmth to end! On impulse, the young woman instinctively shifted beneath her sheets, drawing them closer. She wanted to grab them-to pull them above her head and incase herself even tighter in her bubble! But she was still too asleep for that. Ironically, the instant she would be able to take hold of the cloth and wrap it around her, this bliss would probably already be broken.
But right now, it was perfect. Warm. Peaceful. Safe.
It was so wonderful here, the girl thought, in this state of semi-awareness. She could vaguely sense a slight breeze swirling around her, but it seemed not to penetrate her steamy cocoon. It was as though it existed in another dimension-a whole other realm away from her. It was like a fairy tale: a lovely story, but surely not something to be believed. Could it be that the wind was really just a lucid dream? Or was it reality? It couldn't be, could it? It didn't truly seem to touch her. As Sakura relished in her comfortable little dome of warmth, she let her growing consciousness drift on further, to other sensations. On the breath of the slightly-moving air, she caught wind of a soft, calming scent. Beautiful. Gentle. What was it? She hated to think too much, lest it force her to awaken faster, but her mind was now determined. It was such a sweet smell; surely, she had to know what it was. At first, she couldn't quite identify the fragrance...it was certainly floral, and yet, she was sure came to her from no flower...
It seemed to come to her out of nowhere: lilac and lilies-that was what this scent was. Why she was so certain of this, the girl couldn't be sure. She knew there was a logical reason, but she didn't want to think about that now. It was familiar. Happily so. If it was so familiar, why had she never dwelt on it like this before? This lovely scent? This beautiful smell: why was she not surrounding herself with it all the time? At any rate, she relished in the fragrance all the same. Another piece of her little dome of perfection -one that she was sure could only exist as she lay half-asleep. It was sad that she would have to leave soon. The waking world just never seemed to be quite as cozy. Quite as safe. But experience had taught her it would be so. Once she was awake, her brain would perceive everything: every sight, every sound, every touch; and this moment would be broken forever. It was so perfect. And yet, her mind was now about to ruin that perfect state. Closer and closer she was drifting to the surface-to the conscious world, and there was not athing Sakura Kinomoto could do about it. Once her thoughts had started up, they were like a train: impossible to stop again. No! She didn't want to leave!
In a desperate attempt to remain in her joyous stupor, Sakura turned her ever increasing awareness inward: to the source (whatever it was) of all her comfort. Of the warmth. The sweet scents. This safety and security-the feeling of being untouchable where she was now. She drew her many senses towards this source as each began to come online. She shifted beneath her covers and cuddled her body ever closer to it. Perhaps, she thought, if she could just draw herself near enough, she could become one with this core of comfort. Perhaps then this wonderful feeling would never end! She could stay here forever...
As she focused her perception , the sleeping sorceress began to pick up new sensations. The warmth she had enjoyed now had a texture-something solid to which she could tie it. Something real. She could feel the soft, insulating sheet around her; she could feel it move and shift. It was such avery thin sheet... thinner than she had been expecting: like silk. Was this the way things were every morning? No wonder she never wanted to leave this bed. She could sense motion now too-she was suddenly much more aware of herself. She was lying face-forward against the surface beneath her. At a rather odd angle, actually, but she didn't particularly care. Was it possible she had actually fallen asleep in the chair last night? She was lounging semi-upright. Something at the back of her mind was nagging at her about this peculiarity. There was something her sleeping brain thought she should remember. But she didn't want to! Not yet. Couldn't that wait? She said she didn't particularly care at the moment... Back to the motion:
She could feel the world beneath her moving like a gentle ocean tide. Waves. There were waves running under her. Sakura was very aware now of her own breathing. Very aware of the way it made her rise and fall; the way it made her nightgown slip and slide against the sheets. But was that really all? It almost felt like the bed beneath her was swaying as well. Almost as if she were floating on a gentle tide... but that must all be part of the dream. Was the real world ever so lovely? The warmth she had enjoyed was slowly beginning to leave her. No. It wasn't a cocoon anymore. Now she could feel the heat: feel its source. It was radiating to her-radiating from somewhere deep inside the surface upon which she lay. The outside air now stung at her flesh. Sakura shivered. She drew herself ever closer to this glowing warmth. No. Please. She wasn't ready to wake up yet! It was so nice here...
But now there was something else too. Sound. There were sounds now. The outside world still seemed very far away, but there were several noises much closer to her now... Silently, the young sorceress could hear the slight signing of her own breathing. It seemed much more real than that distant breeze... and there was one other sound, but this one did not come from Sakura herself: she was certain of that. Letting her senses dip even deeper into the source of all her comfort, she listened carefully to the strange noise. It was faint. Very faint-and sometimes barely distinguishable. She could hear it one moment, but not the next. Then it returned again, softly, softly. It was like a watch: wearing a watch on your wrist. Like trying to listen to a clock tick, she mused, when you're sitting at the opposite end of the room from it. But there were other noises now too. Other sounds, now that she had begun to realize them. They must have been there all the while, but only now did they start to make sense: a gently sigh along the wind, the dripping of water onto hard stone,
The rustle of leaves,
The chirping of a bird.
Sakura Kinomoto opened her eyes.
It took a moment for everything to register. She had felt so certain that she was in her bedroom like any other day, but as she turned to look all around her, she realized that this was far from true. It was not the sight of her bedside dresser that met her gaze, but cold, grey rock. The light that trickled in was not from her bedroom window: it was from the fat opening of a cave. She was sitting at the mouth of a cavern, able to look down on trees and skies below her-beyond her. Suddenly, like a dam breaking, the events of the previous night all came flooding back. The attack! That's right, she had left her house-she had been attacked! She had run! Images came streaming back into her mind like a raging river: She was standing in her darkened bedroom; her short, mesh-like nightgown rippled around her; Tomoyo-chan had made that for her... just for the summertime; she was staring out at the night: something was off; a bright yellow light had burst through her window-!
Sakura blinked. She remembered running-flying!-flying out her window into the night. That comet of energy, whatever it was, had chased her all over Tomoeda-had chased her into the woods beyond the penguin king park. But details were very fuzzy. Poor Kero-chan; she hoped he was okay... he had been in that room too, sound asleep. It was actually amazing that he hadn't woken up... But no: last night her savior had been-!
A light flush had rushed up into Sakura's cheeks, but she scarcely noticed it. The young woman smiled softly and felt herself relax alittle again. That was right: she had been saved; she had been rescued. He had come for her-heavens only knew how! But even together, they still hadn't been able to escape that strange power... they had had to hide. Had to seek refuge... in a concealed cave. More memories were flooding into her brain. She remembered strong arms closing around her-spinning her through the air and out of harm's way; the perusing projectile had clipped her hair for the nearness of the miss. And as for her shining white knight...
Gently, Sakura looked back towards what had moments ago been the source of all her happiness and comfort. Yue lay softly reclining against the cave wall behind her; his eyes were softly closed, and faint shadows shown prominently beneath their lids. He had probably been watching silently until the break of dawn: keeping sentinel over their fortress. He too had clearly fallen asleep-given in to exhaustion... but even as that thought came to her mind, Sakura found it inherently odd. She had scarcely seen Yue betray any sign of weakness-not physical weakness anyway. Magical: perhaps; emotional: assuredly; but never...
For a moment, her heart clenched once more with concern as she recalled the events of the fortnight. A horrible thought sprang into her mind. Panicking for a split second, her magical senses leaped out to feel his aura. Sakura relaxed once more as she felt its slow, pulsing surge. Good. / /He was alive and well, then. But even if her mind was now at ease, the young woman's stomach was curiously still tying itself into knots as she stared at her companion. Though he had clearly lasted longer than she, Yue had apparently fallen asleep sometime before morning had broken. It was strange somehow. As illogical as the thought was, it was still hard for her to believe that he could have such weaknesses as fatigue-the same fatigue to which she had succumbed...
Her valiant rescuer looked strangely normal just now. He had been completely stripped of his long overcoat and the brilliant armor, which usually covered his chest. A thin, white undershirt was stretched tautly across his shoulders-silk, by the look of it; the sheer fabric betrayed every movement of his body beneath. Ooh! It was all very, very odd, Sakura thought to herself, feeling remarkably flustered for some reason. She tried to tear her eyes away, but they refused to respond. He had been hurt last night by that wretched pursuer of theirs: that was why he was without most of his vestments. As if on cue, Sakura's eyes fell upon his right arm. A length of thin purple ribbon was wound several times around his bicep; it was holding pressure over amakeshift bandage. Even now, the light cloth was stained with a ruddy brown splatter. With a sickening feeling, she tried desperately not to think of the ugly gash that might still be bleeding beneath.
The two of them were still drawn tightly against one another. She wasn't entirely certain how they had gotten this way... She vaguely recalled cuddling up to him in fear-she had been so afraid last night; Yue, of course, had never been able to resist comforting her when she was in distress. She must have fallen asleep while still in his protective embrace. And he let her stay there...? Sakura's flush returned to lightly dust her cheeks-she wasn't entirely sure why! Why should she be blushing? After all, she had been glomping him like that since sixth grade! (and he'd been rescuing her at least since fifth!) But then, that lucid dream... that cozy, peaceful place...
Glancing down, the girl noticed that he had apparently draped her with his long silk shawl. Closing her eyes, she remembered the soft sheet she had snuggled beneath in her stupor. Did that mean-? Almost daring herself to, she turned back into his chest and inhaled his scents. Lilac...lilac and lilies. So she hadn't imagined it. And, she noted with considerable embarrassment: as she cuddled up to her companion's slumbering body, she was greeted with the same warmth that had comforted her while she slept. None of it had been the work of her sleeping mind alone. Eyes still closed, she reminisced on all those wandering observations. Everything her sleepy senses had perceived then: the floral fragrance, the pleasant glow that had surrounded her-the sense of safety she had felt-had all come from Yue... had come from being cradled in his arms... But then... that sound... that meant the faint sound that she had compared to a steadily-ticking watch must have been...
She hadn't meant that to come out so much like aquestion!
Sakura felt a strange, sudden heat rise to her face-she was certain she must be a brilliant shade of crimson by now. Oh! It was just so strange somehow! To imagine Yue-her most ethereal companion-the very embodiment of magic-the /antithesis/, she had thought, of every bit of her normal, worldly life-! To think that he could share with her-could be dependent on-something so obscenely mortal-so /human/-as a-!
As a beating heart? As flesh and blood? And yet it seemed so silly and childish of her to be surprised!
Silently, ashamedly, her mind drifted back to a fortnight ago:
They touched down rather unceremoniously on the floor of the cavern; somewhere out in the distance, she could hear the sound of their pursuer continuing to shoot back and forth across the night. Sakura's mind was still in shock.
"Don't worry," she heard Yue pant gently from somewhere beside her, "It won't find us here."
She made a vague whimpering noise in response and sunk slowly onto the ground. Her companion didn't seem to need a reply. Dimly, she was aware of him summoning the Shield card from amidst her deck, and casting it over the cave mouth. She made no move against him-she would have commanded Shield herself, but her brain was working sluggishly. A soft touch graced her shoulder; gasping in surprise, the young sorceress blinked out of her trance. Yue was kneeling beside her on the stone floor, eyes filled with that looked like genuine worry. Wildly, her mind flashed momentarily back to that day in the Seijou hospital wing, many years ago-the day Touya gave his power to Yue. "Are you alright?" he asked concernedly, his voice scarcely above a whisper. In her reminiscing, his words almost sounded like 'nakuna*'...
Sakura cast her eyes downward and didn't reply immediately. Alright? Well, she didn't think she was injured too badly, but then again she felt a bit numb at the moment... She studied her hands, her arms, her legs, all which lay before her. She bore a few cuts and bruises from jumping so unceremoniously out her window, but for the most part, she seemed to be unhurt... She hated to think what sort of state she would be in right now if Yue hadn't arrived when he did... if he hadn't pulled her out of the way... Slowly, however, she began to notice something unsettling: something which snapped the girl immediately out of her stupor. A dark stain was splattered against the upper side of her nightdress. For a split second, she feared she might have been injured after all; but in the next moment, her stomach clenched with horrible realization. Casting her gaze back down, she followed the trail of the crimson splatter onto the floor, where a tiny trail of droplets coated the stone. Blood. There was a trail of blood. But it was not her own. Immediately, she whirled around to face Yue, eyes tracing up his right arm.
/"/I'malright," she exclaimed hurriedly, grasping her rescuer by the wrist, "but you'renot! You're bleeding!"
The words echoed in Sakura's still-sleepy mind. Could it be...? She had seen all the evidence, but had never stopped to think-! Timidly, (WHY was she suddenly so nervous!?) Sakura allowed herself to lean back against the slumbering boy, settling herself back into his embrace. She froze just a second longer, her thinly-covered breasts hanging mere centimeters from his flesh. They had never been this close before-at least not while she was consciously aware of it! Not while she was thinking about it... about it really being /closeness-intimacy/! She had never felt... quite so /flustered /before!But Yue showed no signs of awakening. Closing her eyes, the young girl let herself fall against him and pressed her ear against his chest...she let his existence completely consume her.
All the world seemed to cease. Sakura could no longer even recall her embarrassment.
All of the sorceress' anxieties instantly melted away with the rest of reality. They were replaced by a feeling even more terrible. What felt like boiling water leapt into her eyes. Sakura Kinomoto knew a lot of characters in her life-no one was muted: Tomoyo-chan, sweet and polite; her brother, curt and coarse; Kero-chan, overblown and stylish; and Yue? Yue had been no exception: from his speech patterns to his attitude, Yue's mask had always been pompous and cynical-to the core, he was as hard as diamond, and as fierce and unpredictable as fire. They were all fa
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