Chapter 53: Yesterday’s Letter
Syaoran… Syaoran, can you hear me? Syaoran, I keep repeating your name when I lie awake in the middle of the night, thinking that maybe you will answer, maybe you can hear me, where ever you are.
Syaoran… Do you hear my voice? I am shouting your name in my mind, hoping that you will answer. Syaoran, I want to see you just one more time…
Just one last time.
So answer me, Syaoran…
It had been a week since Syaoran had gone missing. At first, Sakura had thought that maybe he had taken off on some trip to clear his head, or that he had fallen ill—or maybe he was just at home, avoiding her. Yet, it did not occur to her, not once, that he might be gone for good. The town was still recuperating from the shock of the plague epidemic, the most sudden and devastating spread of disease in a generation. It was the first time so many people had fallen ill simultaneously. It was also the first time she had feared for people’s lives. There were days that Sakura would take out the deck of Sakura Cards from her desk drawer and stare at the ugly rodent sprawled on the face of the newest Sakura Card, the dark force that had cost her so much to seal. Maybe too much. Only afterwards did Sakura come to realize how she had brushed nearer to death than she had ever before. Not when she was battling against any dark force, not when she almost fell of a cliff during the camping trip, not when she fell into an ice pond, not when she was fighting against the Phantom did she ever conceive that she was putting her life on the line. Maybe until now, she had not realized the consequences of being the Card Mistress, one of the greatest magicians of the new generation. That was why she was ready to cast away the title now. During this last battle, she had become aware of so many of her deficiencies as Card Mistress. Some how the days passed by since Subaru’s funeral—she thought she wouldn’t be able to go on, but time passed, and she was back to her normal cycle. That was minus her duties as Card Mistress—she had locked away the Sakura Cards in her desk drawer at home. Her body had long since recovered—she was on the whole a healthy girl and there were no physical remnants of her battle against the Plague, except the uneven skin on her palms from where the diamond stone had burnt her. The true scars were deeper, in places that could not be seen.
“It’s weird,” Chiharu remarked to Tomoyo, looking back at Syaoran’s empty seat. “Li-kun never misses this many days of school. Is he ill?”
Tomoyo shook her head to indicated that she didn’t know as she gazed at Sakura. Sakura might have seemed fine to most of her friends, but she could never hide her true state from her best friend. But Tomoyo felt it in the past days, that Sakura was physically there in the classroom, but her mind was elsewhere. For the first time since Tomoyo had learned of Sakura’s special abilities, she had entertained the possibility that she might truly lose Sakura. In a sense, she felt guilty because up till now, capturing the Clow Cards, battling against the Dark Ones had almost seemed like a game to her; but first with the Phantom and then with the Plague, Tomoyo was beginning to realize this was no child’s play. This was a matter of life and death, sanity and insanity. It had cost Syaoran all his powers and Sakura her laughter. It had been over a month since the battle against the Plague, and not once since then had Tomoyo heard Sakura laugh. And Tomoyo was disturbed to find that no one else noticed—maybe because there was so little humor or joy in anything these days. If Syaoran was here, he would notice. He would also notice that the black uniform blazer and blouse hung looser on Sakura’s frame, and she let her hair hang loosely around her face these days, instead of pulling it back into a pretty clip or ribbon as she usually did. It was as if to hide that her face had lost the joy and innocence in it behind her hair. But Syaoran wasn’t here. Sakura didn’t even realize that Tomoyo was watching her. Instead, she stared at her desk without any change of expression even when the classroom door was yanked open, and Naoko ran into the classroom, out of breath.
“Did you guys hear?” Naoko exclaimed. “Li Syaoran has left Japan!” The words echoed hollowly in Sakura’s ears.
It was Chiharu who recovered first and exclaimed. “No way—we have less than a month until graduation!”
“I heard clearly in the staffroom that Li-kun’s transferred back to Hong Kong!” Naoko stated, panting.
The girls turned to look at Sakura, as if they expected her to know the story behind Syaoran’s abrupt departure. They were stunned to see the blank look on Sakura’s face. Sakura, who had barely recovered from the Plague, thought that nothing could faze her anymore. And it had not yet sunk into her that Syaoran had truly left—that he had just disappeared without a word.
“There must have been some family emergency or some urgent call,” Tomoyo said, resting a gentle on Sakura’s shoulder. Her friend was trembling, and Tomoyo glanced at Eriol, troubled. By the look in Eriol’s eyes, she realized that Eriol was as concerned as she was about this unexpected news. Why—Tomoyo glanced back at Syaoran’s empty seat. Why would Syaoran leave so suddenly? Besides, he had given up all his powers in order to save Sakura’s life. Sakura did not know that yet, because Syaoran had sworn them all to secrecy. There was no way that Syaoran would just leave without letting Sakura know why—he would not hurt her in such a way. Which meant that there could really have been some emergency family situation which called him back to Hong Kong so abruptly; that was the only logical explanation.
“He didn’t say a word to me,” Sakura murmured, staring at her scratched wooden desk. There was a loud humming in her ear—she did not know if it was because of the droning of the students or if it was actually in her mind. “He promised me. He promised to let me know.”
“I’m sure he had a reason,” Tomoyo said, taking her seat next to Sakura, homeroom about to begin.
Shaking her head, Sakura said, “But he promised.” She had not forgotten. Syaoran had promised her back in the hospital, when she was recovering from sealing the Plague, that he would tell her if he were to go back to Hong Kong. He told her that he was no longer the Chosen One, that he chose to stay. Then, why would he go back to Hong Kong without any explanation?
Terada-sensei entered the classroom with heavy steps and cleared his throat. “Good morning class. It is regrettable to say that our classmate Li Syaoran has had to return to Hong Kong because of a family situation with graduation less than a month away. Though you will not be entering high school together with him, let us wish the very best of luck for our friend. On another note, I know some of you have been concerned about the absence of another classmate. Chang Eron, as you all know, has been very ill from the epidemic crisis a few weeks ago, and has been slowly recovering. Chang Erika has been taking care of him, of course, and let us know that Eron-kun is doing much better. If all of you want to write a get well card, I will collect them at the end of homeroom.” Pausing, Terada-sensei glanced at Rika, who sat in the front row. Rika deliberately looked away.
The buzz among the students caused them to almost miss the next announcement their homeroom teacher of two years had to make.
“There is one last bit of news I have to tell you.” Terada-sensei stalled, gazing at his students with a sense of pride mixed with rue. “I am sad to inform you that I will be transferring away from this school. It has been a pleasure being your homeroom teacher for many of you for the past two years—many of you are also familiar faces from Tomoeda Elementary, where I first began my teaching career. Thank you so much for making my teaching you students such a great pleasure.”
There was a rare moment of complete silence in the classroom—nobody had expected this shocking news to come from their much beloved homeroom teacher.
“What?” Naoko finally uttered, leaping up from her seat. “Why, Terada-sensei? It’s less than a month left till our graduation! You can’t just leave us at the end of the school year!”
Terada-sensei’s fists were clenched as he stared down at the podium. “I’m sorry things worked out this way. Hanamoto-sensei would be substituting this class until for the remaining month. However, I wish you the very best of luck on your graduation. You don’t know how proud I am of all of you.”
“I don’t understand!” Akagi Aki exclaimed, slamming his fists on his desk. “You have to be at our graduation. You can’t just leave us—look at our class. Li-kun’s transferred away, the Chang twins have been gone for a month, Mizuki-kun’s always absent. Not you too, Terada-sensei. You can’t desert us too.”
The students of class 3-2 glanced around the classroom, at the empty seats scattered about. Most of the students had been sickly for the past month and the other was exhausted with examination studying. Together, the students of that class had gone through a lot over the past year. The energy from the Star-Crossed days was far lacking, but that class had a tighter bond than any other class in Seijou High. After all, most of the students had been in the same class since Tomoeda Elementary days.
Terada-sensei’s eyes glistened as he gazed upon one student with gray-brown eyes that gazed up at him solemnly from her desk. “I apologize to all of you.” He bowed to his class then looked up again. “Homeroom dismissed.” Gathering his books, he slowly walked out of the class.
And Rika sat paralyzed in her chair, gazing at the empty podium.
“What are you doing?” Chiharu hissed. “Go after him.”
“I—I can’t,” said Rika.
“What are you talking about? This may be your last chance to see him!” Chiharu said, yanking Rika by the wrist and forcing her to stand. “Go now. Go and tell him your feelings! This is your chance!”
Suddenly, Rika looked alert again as she stood up, knocking her chair back. She ran out of the classroom. A couple of the students looked up startled at the sudden outburst from the quietest girl in the class. As Sakura glimpsed Rika’s face, her gentle features overcome with a fierce determination, Sakura realized that there was an amazing strength in such a sweet, timid girl. The news of Terada-sensei’s departure almost eclipsed the news that Syaoran had returned to Hong Kong, because this announcement was straight in front of her. It was almost a relief to face the most immediate shock. And Sakura realized by the perplexed expression on Chiharu’s face that her friend knew something she did not know—could something have happened while she was confined to the hospital?
Sakura took Chiharu’s sleeve. “Chiharu-chan. What is going on? Do you know why Terada-sensei’s suddenly leaving?” In a lower voice, she asked, “Did something happen between Terada-sensei and Rika-chan?”
“Oh Sakura-chan.” Chiharu looked at her friend sorrowfully. “You were sick and out of school for a while. You missed the whole fiasco.”
“What happened?” Sakura demanded, noting the crease on Tomoyo’s pale forehead—everyone knew what was going on. At least between her close group of friends. She supposed because she was ill, they had spared her from the details.
“They found out,” Chiharu stated.
“Who?” Sakura asked in frustration. It wasn’t like Chiharu to draw out her sentences like this.
“The school administration. They found out about Terada-sensei and Rika-chan’s relationship,” Tomoyo finished off for Chiharu. “It’s been a couple weeks now.”
Sakura blinked. “But how?”
“Who knows? Maybe someone tattled,” Chiharu said darkly. “Either way, Terada-sensei was told that he has to hand in his resignation form. They’re trying to cover up the scandal this would cause, you see. The forbidden relationship between a teacher and a student—if the parents found out about it, it would cause quite a commotion.”
“So, Rika-chan knew about this?” Sakura asked.
“Well, her parents were called in the by the principal—she’s been forbidden to meet with Terada-sensei privately. And now that he’s leaving the school, she’ll never be able to see him,” Chiharu said.
“Why didn’t you guys let me know that Rika-chan was going through such hard times?” Sakura demanded.
“Sakura-chan, you’ve been through a lot recently also—I mean, you were in the hospital. We were so worried when we heard you were in a coma, we couldn’t burden you with all this also,” Chiharu said. “Besides, Rika-chan wanted to keep things as shushed as possible. Only a few people know about this—it’s probably because Terada-sensei is the principal’s nephew, as I’ve heard, that they’re keeping this low key. You know—if the parents find out if a teacher here had a relationship with a student, there would be an uproar.”
“Poor Rika-chan,” Sakura murmured. Out of all her friends, Rika had always been the most mature and gracious, the one who never let on her troubles or fears, the one who was always composed and calm. And at this moment, there was nothing she could do for Rika.
Sasaki Rika ran down the hall as she had never run before. She did not have time to think of what to say to him—all she could think was that she had to reach him. There he was at the end of the corridor, tall in a navy blue suit, his hair neatly cropped and his shoulder so broad and reliable. “Terada-sensei!” she called out.
He stopped for a moment, flinching. He could hear the footsteps right behind him now, the soft, frail body colliding into him.
“Terada-sensei!” Rika said through tears, throwing her arms around his waist and burying her head in his back.
“Rika—someone might see us,” he said lowly.
“Don’t leave, Terada-sensei!” Rika sobbed into his suit. “I’m sorry. It’s my fault. Why do you have to leave? Don’t leave.”
“I have to go, Rika. Don’t make this any more difficult.”
His voice was so curt, so emotionless. Ah, so this is an adult, Rika realized, her hold on him loosening. “Sensei, three years. Just in three years, I’ll be able to be with you. I’ll always love you, so please wait for me. If you can tell me you’ll wait for me, I’ll be able to bear through this.”
“Rika,” Terada Yoshiyuki said, stepping away from the girl’s grasp. “I’m many years older than you. In three years, in five years, in ten years, I don’t know where I’ll be at. Therefore, I cannot make any promises. And you’re still so young, Rika. There are so many opportunities for you.
“No!” Rika swallowed hard. “I’ll always love you, Terada-sensei, and only you.”
“You’re young, beautiful and smart. Don’t waste your youth waiting for me.” Terada Yoshiyuki found that he could not turn around to see the girl he had loved. All these years, he had known that their relationship was a sin, that it was a societal taboo. Yet, he had thought if he could keep it a secret, if he could wait a couple more years—but it was too late now for regrets. The school administration had agreed not to expel Sasaki Rika so long as the teacher at fault left the school permanently. And he was never to see Rika again. That was her parents’ request. She was crying, and he could not hold her and let her know that he would always love her. He could not bind her down like that, because she was still a child. It was wrong of him to be so selfish. As an adult, he had to let her go. It took all his will to keep his voice from cracking. “Good bye, Rika. I wish you the best of luck.”
“Terada Yoshiyuki! Wait for me for just three year!” Rika called out, as Terada-sensei slowly walked out of the school door, out of her life, just like that. He gave a tiny wave of his hand and a half-smile before he walked out of the Seijou Junior High school gate, forever. Rika crumpled down on her knees, tears streaming down her cheeks. “Just three more years,” she repeated to herself.
But now, there were footsteps behind her as her three closest friends caught up with her.
“Rika-chan, it’s not your fault. You don’t need to feel guilty,” Chiharu said, walking up behind her best friend. “He chose to leave. For your sake.”
“I know,” Rika replied, without looking up. “To protect me. Because he’s an adult. I wish I can hurry and grow up. It’s like, no matter how much older I get, I can never attain him, never catch up to him.”
“I’m sorry, Rika-chan,” Sakura said, bending down and giving her friend a tight hug. “I’m sorry I couldn’t be there for you while you were going through all this.”
“It’s not Sakura-chan’s fault,” Rika said, turning to Sakura and patting her friend’s shoulder. There was an instant bond between the two like there never had been before, for at that moment, the two girls realized that they both understood each other’s feelings, for they had both experienced being parted from a loved one. “Thank you, Sakura-chan.”
Tomoyo walked up behind the three girls, smiling nostalgically at Rika, Chiharu and Sakura, who were crying and laughing at the same time. In the chaos of recent events which had reduced Sakura to a shadow of her former self, Tomoyo had forgotten the true essence of her best friend, the reason that everyone loved her, for Sakura’s heart was like a bottomless ocean. Even at this moment when she was hurting so much with Subaru’s death, the gruesome battle against the Plague, the disappearance of Syaoran and recovering herself from near-death, Sakura was still able to pour all her heart into reassuring Rika at that moment.
“I’m all right, guys,” Rika said, wiping the corner of her eyes with a sleeve. “Just see in three years. I’ll become such a fantastic woman that Terada-sensei would not be able to turn from me then.”
And watching the strength in Rika to stand up again after Terada-sensei left her gave Sakura courage to face her own inner demons. For at that moment, Sakura realized the fierceness of a woman’s heart.
In a way, Sakura was relieved that she did not see Syaoran, because she no longer had the courage to face him—how could she? She had disobeyed his orders, used the Heal recklessly, put everyone’s life on the line and lost Subaru. But she always thought that when she was ready, when she gathered enough strength to face him again, he would be standing there, ready to accept her. But when she thought she was ready, he was not there. When she needed a listening ear, he was not by her side to listen. When she wanted to see him, he was already gone.
It had been a week since Syaoran had gone missing. And Sakura had not even realized he was gone. Because she didn’t sense that he was gone. Because she did not look for him. Because she did not believe he would leave without telling her. It was not until Naoko came running to the classroom that Monday morning, out of breath with the news that she had overheard Terada-sensei speaking with the principal that Li Syaoran had officially transferred, that it truly hit Sakura he had left. Somehow, she had blundered through the school day—all order had been lost in the classroom after the news of Syaoran’s departure and Terada-sensei’s own declaration of resignation with less than a month till graduation.
But all was forgotten. Even Rika’s heartbroken face when Terada-sensei walked away from the school. All she could think about was that she had to speak with Syaoran, try to understand. But where could she reach him?
There was one person who was the best resource on gathering data about people. So once more, Sakura found herself at the apartment complex that she had spent a third of the year living in. Since Syaoran was no longer in it, the house suddenly felt alien and like any other building, not the place she associated so many warm memories to.
She wrapped her coat tightly around her school uniform as she walked through the front door of apartment #703 that was never locked. It was freezing in Kai’s apartment—did he forget to pay gas bills? “Kai-kun? Are you in? How have you been doing?” Sakura called out, peering at the darkened room with all the shades drawn down, and it was the glint of steel gray of his eyes which allowed her to see him against the camouflage of his black leather chair. Since Kai always wore black, the only way that she could tell that he was till in mourning for Subaru was that his parrot was black, and that he was bare of his usual garish jewelry except for the periwinkle studs in his earlobes. “It looks like you’ve been recovering from the Plague, not me.”
“I’m glad you still have your sense of humor left,” Kai remarked dryly, leaning back on the chair.
“Well, I don’t have much else left, do I?” Sakura sighed. It was a relief to be blunt and say whatever was on her mind. With Kai, she did not have to put up a front; she could just be herself.
“I’m sorry, Sakura-chan.” Kai said solemnly gazing up at Sakura from his seat by the dining table, his usual sunglasses on the table top. His gray blue eyes were bloodshot, but there was no longer the hounded, troubled expression on his face.
“What for, Kai-kun?”
“For everything—you almost lost your life because of me,” Kai replied, find for the first time at a loss of words. “Trying to save everyone with the Five Force Treasures. I knew what danger you were stepping into, and I let you go ahead with it.”
“I should thank you for lending them to me,” Sakura corrected. “You helped me save everyone. I would rather risk everything if there was even one percent of success rather than be helpless and just let things happen. Without you, the Plague couldn’t have been sealed. Thank you, Kai-kun.”
At this, Kai shifted uncomfortably in his chair, knowing he was not worthy of gratitude from this girl. “If you want this back—this originally belonged to you anyway. Though it’s not like it used to be.” Kai slipped out a small object wrapped in a black handkerchief and placed it in Sakura’s hand.
Slowly, Sakura unwrapped the silk cloth to find two pieces of crystal that looked like it was broken in half. She almost let out a sob when she realized what it was—the Amamiya diamond necklace. Since she did not know what to do with it, she hastily wrapped it back in the handkerchief and shoved it into her book bag.
“I gather you’ve heard the news about Syaoran at school,” Kai remarked.
“Do you have any news from him?” Sakura asked imploringly. “He doesn’t pick up the phone. I called him in Hong Kong, and no one picks up there either.”
Shaking his head, Kai said, “I’ve done the same—even Meilin doesn’t answer her cell phone.”
“Do you think something’s happened to him?”
“I don’t know,” Kai replied.
“Where’s Wolfie-chan? Did Syaoran take Wolfie-chan with him too? He must have, right? I mean, if something happened to Syaoran, he wouldn’t have been able to take the dog with him.” Sakura kept looking over her shoulders at the wall conjoining Kai’s living room to Syaoran’s room, as if she’d hear some noise next-doors, some reassurance that he was still there, after all.
Without a word, Kai pushed a card that was face down across the table.
“What is this?” Sakura murmured as she picked it up and turned it over to see the face of the Sakura card—she hadn’t recognized it at first because it was a dull gray color. A lump formed in her throat. “The Wolf—why?”
“I don’t know. I found it not too far from the apartment, about a week ago. I think it was soon after Syaoran’s disappearance. I can’t even figure out exactly when he left the country. I didn’t think he’s left permanently because everything’s still there in his apartment.”
“You broke in to his apartment,” Sakura accused.
“No, as a concerned neighbor, I had to check upon my missing friend,” Kai corrected. “Judging upon the fact that he has not packed anything, and the state of Wolfie-chan, I have to wonder if he went back willingly.”
“Do you mean to say he was kidnapped by his family or something?” Sakura asked sharply.
“I didn’t say that—I’m just assuming that his
return was as abrupt to him as to it was to us, since he did not take anything
back with him and Wolfie-chan has somehow returned to its sealed form.”
”What I don’t understand is why it’s gray,” Sakura said, fingering the card. “Like it’s… dead.” She remembered that summer at the beachside, when Syaoran had converted the Wolf into a light force, and it had lived as their pet ever since. Though Syaoran had christened the puppy Vega of Lyra, after his favorite star, the nickname Wolfie-chan had stuck. “You don’t think Syaoran would really leave without telling us, do you, Kai-kun?”
“Why ask me? I’m the sort of guy who would do so without blinking an eye. You know Syaoran better than me,” Kai snapped.
Sakura gazed at Kai morosely—it was funny how Kai sometimes reminded her of her brother. “What if something happened to him?”
“He’s a big boy—I doubt anyone can do him any harm, even if they do want to, heaven knows why.” What Kai did not mention to Sakura was that at this point, Syaoran was especially vulnerable without his powers.
“But why would he leave without letting me know?” Sakura’s face crunched up—she would not show tears to Kai. Because Kai laughed at human weakness. Kai was no stranger to parting from people without any second thought.
“Well, go pine for your wolf-boy on your own. I’ve got more important business to take care of,” Kai stated, brushing off Sakura for he simply could not deal with weepy girls at that moment. Sakura scowled—she knew she had milked all the information she could from Kai; he had been surprisingly agreeable up till this point, and even more surprisingly useless.
“Such as what to do about Miho?” remarked Sakura, crossing her arms.
“I—“ Kai was cut off by Sakura.
“I know. You did something to her to throw her off guard. But that doesn’t change the fact that she is suspicious of you still. Sooner or later the layers of lies will crumble away. Then, do you think she would be able to ever forgive you for deceiving her time and time again?” Sakura asked. “No, if my own brother did that to me, even if he had his reasons, I would feel betrayed beyond healing. All Miho asks of you is to just tell her the truth, and—“
“I know!” Kai snapped, slamming his fists on the table. Sakura was taken back by his sudden outburst. “I know all that. Don’t you know how many times I ponder what it would be like to just tell her everything? Tell her I’m her brother, how I became Kaitou Magician, how I didn’t want to lie to her. Up till now wasn’t the hardest part. When I had a direction, when I was focused on finding the Five Force Treasures, when I was Kaitou Magician, I just concentrated on the present and what I had to do in order to finish my task at hand. But now, it’s different. Suddenly, everything I’ve been striving towards is winding to an end. I shouldn’t even be alive right now, yet I’m still living. So, what am I supposed to do now? Where am I supposed to head towards? What can I tell her? Voila, I am your brother after all. I lied to you and told you that you’re brother is dead, because I don’t deserve to be able to return to being Tanaka Mikai? I am sorry, but can you accept me as I am?” Kai shook his head. “No, I can’t. You know that. No matter what direction I take from here, she is bound to reproach me. And how can I face my mother again? I—I betrayed her faith in me and abandoned her in her illness…”
Sakura realized that there was yet more things that Kai was not telling her, that maybe she would never truly understand what was behind his constant facade. Another thing she realized was that maybe he had been truly happiest as Kaitou Magician. As Mizuki Kai, a person who didn’t truly exist, or Tanaka Mikai, a person who had ceased to exist, he was always struggling in inner turmoil and anxiety, battling the demons within him to come to terms with his very existence. And she could understand that. Who was she? Kinomoto Sakura, the carefree fifteen year old girl? The Sakura Card Mistress, chosen to be Clow Reed’s Successor? To the Dark Ones, she was the despicable descendent of Amamiya Hayashi of the Great Five. To her brother, she was just an annoying little ogre. To Syaoran, what was she? All these things? None of these things?
“Have you seen… how mother’s doing?” Kai asked, looking up at Sakura.
“You haven’t seen her yet?” Sakura shook her head in admonishingly. “Miho visits her every day—Tanaka-san’s health is improving so rapidly, the doctors keep saying it’s a miracle. But there are some… side effects as well.”
“I see… She has Miho looking after her… I keep telling myself, soon, I will tell Miho the truth. But she’s so happy now that okaa-san’s health is improving. So just a little longer, let me watch over her.” Kai smiled wistfully, as if recalling cheerier days. He did not add out loud, Then, when everything is in its place, I will tell her. And I can leave in peace…
“Sometimes, when you keep delaying something to wait for the perfect timing, you end up losing the opportunity,” said Sakura grimly.
“That would be nice also, the best option, if possible,” Kai replied in his usual flippant manner. He had recovered from his momentary slip of self-restraint; he could not let Miho know yet. Eventually, she would find out. But not yet. There were things yet to be done. “Well now, go ponder on you own missed opportunities and let this poor retiree thief try to seek redemption in quiet mediation and prayer.”
“By the way, you’re not going to get your graduation certificate if you miss anymore classes,” Sakura remarked as she was ushered out the door. “You’re going to end up in the same grade as Miho-chan if you flunk again.”
“That is the last of my worries,” Kai said, the corner of his lips curling up sardonically. He shut the door on her face. Poor Sakura-chan. If he could, he would tie Syaoran up and bring him back to his little cherry blossom. Locking the door, he slinked down onto the floor, clutching his throbbing chest. The pain came more erratically, more frequently than ever, like electric shocks that shook his body asunder. His parrot landed on his shoulder and pecked his perspiring cheek. “Ah, Perro-chan. This is it, I guess. Time’s up.” Kai reached for his bird with trembling hands. “Who will take care of you if I’m not around?” For a brief moment, he had a flash of an animated face with bright amber eyes, scolding him for being weak, for being an angst-ridden, spineless coward. Why did he recall her face at a time like this?
“Time’s up, time’s up,” echoed Perro-chan.
As Sakura left Kai’s apartment, she found herself standing in front of the door right beside Kai’s place. She could not resist sneaking into the apartment next doors with her spare key, which she had kept from that summer she had been resident there. Though she knew it was not a good idea, she needed to see with her own eyes that Syaoran was really gone. Kai had told her that Syaoran had taken nothing with him. Stepping into the house, she felt a wave of nostalgia at the minty peach smell that lingered in the air. There was the couch that she and Syaoran had fallen asleep on many a time while doing their homework or watching anime reruns late into the night while procrastinating. There was the dining table that the two had shared so many meals, the sink they had washed and dried dishes side by side. There was the strawberry-pattern mat the Wolfie-chan slept on, that she and Syaoran had picked out together. The Wolf Card in her coat pocket weighed heavy. How could Syaoran have let anything happen to Wolfie-chan? She could not dwell on the question and continued down the gleaming wooden hallway. There was the bathroom that she and Syaoran brushed their teeth in together in the morning while getting ready to go to school pushing each other to get to the sink when they were tardy. The guestroom—her temporary room— was yet untouched. She suspected that some of her clothes that she had never taken back still hung in the closet—but she did not want to check. What if he had thrown them out?
And there was Syaoran’s bedroom, the door ajar. The bed was neatly made with green sheets. The curtains were drawn. She walked over to the wall behind the bed. The wolf and cherry blossom embroidery she had made him for Christmas still hung there. She fingered the fabric tenderly—was it was not important enough for him to take back with him to Hong Kong? And there was the bear with wings on his desk, the one she had made him in return for the black Syaoran-bear he had made her back in fifth grade. He had not taken that back with him either—he took back nothing that she had given him. Really, how important was her presence in his life? If she could, if he had given her a chance, she would have hugged him, hugged him hard and begged him not to leave. This time, she would not have let him go without a fight. She would have grabbed onto his hand and refused to let him go. But he had not given her the chance. He had left without a word. Everything was there as if she had never even left the house, and it seemed as if Syaoran would walk right back into the front door, after soccer practice. He would change out of his uniform into a t-shirt and sweatpants and they would prepare dinner together, or he would teach her more martial arts moves. On Saturdays, they would do grocery together, and on Sundays, they would do laundry and house cleaning. Then, at the end of the day, they would buy melon popsicles and take Wolfie-chan out for a walk. They fought a lot too. He would say something biting to her, but then she would see his amber eyes soften in remorse. Somehow, she could never remain truly mad at Syaoran, not since that thundering night when she ran to his room after a nightmare, and he told her about his past with such honesty, about his cousin’s death and his determination then on to become the Chosen One. Because for the first time, he had really opened up to her, conveyed that he completely trusted her. Her throat choked up.
Realizing that the house was suffocating because it was as if Syaoran was still there, Sakura bolted out of the empty, empty apartment. Syaoran was no longer here.
Sasaki Rika would become sixteen in June. For nearly half her life, she had loved one man, and he happened to be her homeroom teacher, Terada Yoshiyuki. At first glance, he was a mild, temperate man, someone who was always calm and gentle. Since he was young and kind, Terada-sensei had always been popular among the students and staff alike. Rika knew that Terada-sensei treated all his students equally and fairly, which was why she grew to respect him so much in the beginning. Her love may have begun as a one-sided student’s crush but over the years, she knew that things have changed. She knew that when he gazed into her eyes, there was more warmth, more fervor than he showed anyone else. She knew that lately, he had begun looking at her as a woman.
But now, it was over, the relationship that barely was able to blossom was trampled upon, scorned upon. Was loving a man such a sin? Sometimes, she was jealous of her best friend Chiharu’s relationship with Yamazaki-kun. So open and uncomplicated. Through her junior high years, Rika had to always hide her relationship with Terada-sensei from the public eye. Her closest friends knew—Tomoyo had noticed first, years ago, but now Chiharu, Sakura and Naoko all knew and supported her. They did not think it was wrong for a teacher and a student to be in a relationship. It had been going well. Those moments alone with Terada-sensei were so rare and there was always the looming anxiety of being discovered. But those moments were so sweet and blissful. Together, they talked up everything. Rika talked about her family, the books she read, the piano pieces she was learning, the little stories of the day involving her friends. And Terada-sensei would teach her so much about the world, talk about literature, history, the constellation. Sometimes, he would tell stories of when he was a student—he had been quite a prankster back then.
“Nee, Terada-sensei, why did you decide to become a teacher?” Rika asked one day, leaning her head against Terada-sensei’s broad shoulders as they sat side by side on the park bench. She was not in her uniform, so an observer would have just thought them a couple in love, not a teacher and his student.
“I wonder too,” Terada-sensei replied, smiling nostalgically. “Nobody would have expected that of me. My grades weren’t terribly good. After all, I spent more time playing baseball than studying. I think my dream when I was a boy was to go pro baseball.”
“Then, how did you end up as a teacher?” Rika gazed up at Terada-sensei clean-cut profile.
“Well, I had a teacher in high school—a person that I admired a lot. She was the sort of person that would trust the students no matter what; she was on the side of the students, not like those adults who pretended to understand but when they made decisions, did what was beneficial to them. And one day, I decided I wanted to be like her. So, I got a teaching license in university and somehow ended becoming a teacher,” stated Terada-sensei.
“Did you like her?” Rika questioned somberly.
Taken back, Terada-sensei stared into Rika’s chestnut brown eyes and stammered, “Well, it was just a high school boy’s puppy love. How should I put it—we all liked her, admired her.”
Rika chuckled. “It’s okay, Terada-sensei. After all, if it weren’t for her, you wouldn’t have become my teacher, and I wouldn’t have met you.”
Returning her smile, Terada-sensei smoothed a lock of hair away from her smooth forehead. “So, Rika, what do you want to become?”
“Why, Sensei’s bride of course,” Rika replied, smiling. She wondered if he would laugh at her childish answer.
At this, she could see Terada-sensei blush, even in the dark. “Why did you choose me, Rika?”
“Why did you choose me, Terada-sensei?” Rika returned.
That conversation had taken place not too long ago. Shortly afterwards, the scandal blew out of proportion when the school administration found out about her relationship with Terada Yoshiyuki. They could have denied it—but Rika didn’t want to lie. Because what was wrong with two people loving each other?
“Rika, aren’t you going to your piano lesson?” her mother called out from outside her room. She tried the door and found it locked.
“I’m not feeling well,” Rika stated, falling over onto her bed. This last month of school before graduation was going to be unbearable. There was no joy in going to a school without Terada-sensei. She checked her cell phone. Still no message from him. And he did not return any of her calls.
“Rika, I don’t know what is wrong with you these days,” her mother said through the doors. “You’ve always been so well behaved. I understand the sort of feeling you had for your homeroom teacher—everybody has such crushes at your age. But for him to encourage that sort of behavior—“
“It’s not just a crush—okaa-san, I love Terada-sensei. And because of you, he had to leave!” Rika burst out, tears rolling down her cheeks.
“Rika, what do you know of love at the age of fifteen? It may seem important right now, but in the long run, you’ll be grateful that this happened,” Rika’s mother said, swinging open the bedroom door to see her daughter sitting on the corner of her bed, hugging her knees in a fetal position.
“I’m almost sixteen now, and I love him. I love him, and what’s wrong with that?” Rika demanded.
“He’s so much older than you—he’s taking advantage of his position of authority. You’re still a young girl,” was her mother’s steady response.
“I’m old enough to know that I love him,” Rika whispered.
“I know I should have sent you to a private school, like your father suggested,” her mother sighed. “You’re lucky your father was away on a business trip. We’ll keep this from him.”
Rika closed her eyes and lay down in her bed. “Is it a sin to love someone?”
Her mother pressed a hand on Rika’s forehead. “Don’t come down with something—you’ve just recovered from that horrible case of flu, and graduation’s coming up. Otou-san will be back for your graduation. Isn’t that exciting?”
“It was the plague, not the flu,” murmured Rika.
“I’ll call the piano instructor and let her know that you’re not feeling well—but you’re going tomorrow, all right darling?”
“I’m not going today, nor tomorrow,” Rika stated, voice muffled in her piano. “I’m sorry okaa-san, but I just want to be alone.”
“Well, come down to dinner in an hour,” her mother said, walking out the room. “You best forget about that Terada-sensei—he’s left for good.”
The door shut and it was silent once more. Rika hugged her blanket closer to her. How could she ever forget Terada-sensei? Loving him had made her into who she was today. And she would never regret falling in love with him.
It had taken Kai a month to return to the hospital room #205 where his mother lay. He knew that every day, Miho went to the hospital straight after school and stayed late into the night there—sometimes in the evenings, she slept on the cot by her mother’s side and went to school directly from the hospital—Eriol would bring her a fresh change of uniform in the morning.
His mother lay on the bed, eyes closed, looking so serene and beautiful. When she was sleeping, she looked no older than twenty, all the lines in her face eased out. As usual, he placed the fresh bouquet of lilies in the vase on the nightstand. He straightened the open journal on her lap, frowning as he glimpsed the letters that did not line up with the lining of the paper. Careful not to make any sound, he sat down on the stool next to her bedside and gazed at her face closer. Her cheeks were flushed, and her breath was soft and steady—she was no longer in pain. She was recovering. He could not help smiling. He wanted to reach out and hold her hand, which was so thin and white, even against the white flannel blanket. These were the hands that would pack him and Miho the least appetizing bento in the morning. Her fingers would always be stained with ink. In that sense, she and his father were quite a set—her father’s fingers would always be smudged with graphite. Miho used to cry in the morning when Miara brushed and braided her hair because her mother was so rough and sloppy with the braiding. So, he had learned to brush and braid Miho’s hair, and Miara would use the extra ten minutes in the morning to edit her articles. Though their mother hadn’t been much of a housekeeper, she had been a brilliant journalist with keen observational skills and a wizardry in forming words to describe events. Like Miho.
Miara’s eyes fluttered and opened. Kai was taken aback to find her eyes upon him, and he didn’t even have the sense to leap up and flee. He blinked back at his mother with eyes the very same shade as hers.
She continued to stare at him without a word, and her eyes, while in his direction, were unfocused, as if she was staring at the wall. Why did she not say a word, not even look surprised? Then, it dawned upon Kai. He remembered Sakura’s troubled expression as she said, “There are some side effects as well.” Gingerly, he reached out one hand and waved it in front of his mother’s eyes. There was no response. He felt a lump in his throat. Even after all this… Even after everything I put into finding a cure…
“Is someone there?” Miara finally asked, holding up her arms and waving them in front of her.
Kai remained silent as her fingers almost brushed against his face.
“Mikai, is it you again?” She was smiling now. “I knew you’d come. Okaa-san is finally getting better. I’m going to get completely released from the hospital soon, for once and for all. The Plague is finally sealed… I knew Nadeshiko’s daughter could do it. I never thought I would live till this day, but here I am now. Maybe I can really live to be old and see you and Miho marry and have my grandchildren. I can write my Nobel-prize novel and visit every city in the world. I can make up for being such a hopeless mother to you two. The three of us can live together again—we’ll find a new house for us. And it would be like old times.” Her hands found his hands. “Why are your hands so cold, Mikai? Mikai? Are you crying? Don’t worry. I don’t mind not being able to see. It’s a blessing just being given this second chance. I’ve already seen much already—now, I can enjoy living. I can still write—typing is no problem since I’ve memorized the keyboard. Miho reads to me everyday, so that’s no problem either. Only, I’d have liked to see how handsome you grew up to be. But I can imagine it—you must look a bit like Keisuke-san when he was young—only you’ll be even handsomer because you take more after me.”
He gently slipped his hands away from hers.
“Mikai? Are you still there? Let me hear your voice just once. The lilies you brought for me smell lovely. Like our old garden. Mikai, my boy… Ah, you’re not ready to return to me yet, are you?” Miara shut her eyes again. The difference was of a little light to no light. When she opened them again, her son was gone.
“Ah, Tanaka-san, you’ve had a dream about your son again?” the nurse said, propping the pillows up and spreading the table for meal time.
“No, it wasn’t a dream,” Miara replied. “I saw him clearer today than I ever did when my eyes could see.”
“So, this concludes the last meeting of the Journalism Club—thanks, all of you for making this such a fruitful club,” Aki stated, gazing around the familiar faces gathered about in the meeting room. Many were missing—the Chang twins, Mizuki Kai, and Li Syaoran who had returned to Hong Kong last-minute. “Not only did we produce high quality papers, but we invested in many good causes such as raising money for charity, volunteering at the Kinhoshi Hospital and covering the ever-so-popular Star-Crossed musical. As you know, I’ve been editor-in-chief for the past year, but now, I must pass the task onto our favorite assistant editor, Tanaka Miho. Give a round of applause for Miho-chan.”
The students cheered—Miho was popular with the underclassman, and she stood up and bowed bashfully. “I don’t know what to say—Aki-sempai, I don’t know if I can handle all the responsibility.”
“I know you can do it, Miho-chan. You already manage most of it, anyway.” Aki grinned, shaking Miho’s hand and passed to her the prized Editor’s Laptop. “Now, keep up the good work and write even more magnificent articles.”
“Congratulations Miho-chan—you deserve to be editor!” Chiharu called out, clapping the younger girl on the back.
“You did more work then Aki-kun ever did,” Naoko added.
Miho turned to glance at Eriol, to see if he was proud of her. He was grinning lazily, unsurprised.
“Well, meeting adjourned,” Aki said, for the last time.
“Woohoo! No more deadlines!” cheered most of the underclassman.
“Oh don’t worry—next year, we’re going to make the paper weekly,” Miho stated, smiling evilly. The underclassmen groaned while the third years chuckled. Another Demon Editor was in the making.
“Sakura-sempai!” Miho called out as Sakura left the room.
“Congratulations, Miho-chan,” Sakura said. “By the way, when did you start calling me sempai?”
“I don’t know—you’re graduating soon and all,” Miho said, suddenly embarrassed. “I—I heard that Syaoran-sempai left for Hong Kong.”
“Umm, yeah…” Sakura was quiet.
“And Terada-sensei left also! He was one of my favorite teachers, though I only had him for once class—I was so excited thinking that he might be my homeroom teacher next year, too. There were some strange rumors going around. About him and Rika-sempai.” Miho crossed her arms. “Don’t worry, I told off everybody. Nobody’s talking about them anymore, at least in my class.”
“Rika-chan would appreciate it,” Sakura said. Though Rika seemed fine on the surface, she knew that Rika was struggling against the whispers and stares of the crowds, daily. But when Chiharu, Naoko, Tomoyo and she formed a tight barrier around Rika and glared at all the gossipers, they backed away. After all, Sakura’s clique of friends were highly regarded throughout Seijou Junior High since they were a talented bunch and quite popular in their own rights. Chiharu, Naoko and Sakura had been cheerleaders since their first year and were well-admired with the athletic crowd—besides, Sakura had become a school celebrity since the Star-Crossed production. Meanwhile, Tomoyo had always been the school Madonna, the most beautiful girl in the grade, as well as a top-scorer in exams, also famed to have the voice of an angel. In other words, students knew not to mess with Sakura’s circle of friends. Thus, gossiping subsided since the anticipation of the upcoming graduation eclipsed all other talk for the time being. Besides, an even juicier gossip began to circulate in school, and it was whispered that Mizuki Kai was in jail after a motorcycle gang fight against rival gang leader Chang Eron. The showdown had involved the serious injury of Li Syaoran, who had jumped in to stop the fight in order to save Mizuki Kai, his dearly beloved. Sakura had yet to figure out whether it was Tomoyo or Eriol who had concocted this amusingly bizarre story.
“By the way,” Miho said, tucking her short hair behind her ears. “Have you seen Mizuki-sempai lately?” It seemed as if she had also heard the motorcycle gang rumors.
“He’s doing fine—I think he’s still recovering from the flu,” Sakura said, not quite untruthfully. “You’re awfully concerned about him as usual.”
“I’m not,” Miho retorted, turning red. “I have some questions to ask him, that’s all.”
“How’s your mother doing?” Sakura asked.
“Much better. Her eye sight still hasn’t returned since the last coma. But she’s doing well—all test results have come out positive,” Miho replied.
“Her eyes… are going to get better, right?” Sakura said.
“The doctors are not sure yet. There isn’t anything physically wrong with her eyes—the retina, the vein, nothing’s permanently damaged. It might have been the shock from when the circulation of oxygen was cut off from her brains during the seizure…” Miho trailed off, trying not to look dejected. For she didn’t want Sakura to feel bad—she was completely grateful for what Sakura had done in order to save all the patients suffering from the Plague.
“I’m sorry, Miho,” Sakura said. “If I was a little earlier—“
“Don’t even think of it. You don’t know how grateful mother and I are… You’ve cured her disease. She’s recovering so quickly, she’ll soon be able to walk around on her own. And I am so thankful, so thankful to have at least my mother left to me.” Miho felt her eyes blurring, so she quickly turned around, bowed her head and added, “By the way, if you see Mizuki-sempai, let him know how mad I am that he never finished the final layouts for the newspaper—I stayed up all night finishing it myself!”
The Chang mansion was built in a Gothic style in the outskirts of the town of Tomoeda, bordering Eitoukou. It was a house constructed during the Meiji era and though it had been renovated many times since, it retained somewhat of an antique chateau atmosphere—rumors that the house was haunted had been whispered by neighbors for decades. A year and a half ago, the Chang twins moved in—neighbors were baffled to see no adults. There seemed to be servants, but the servants never stayed employed for too long. For the past month, nobody seemed to enter or leave the house. The male twin was nowhere to be seen—and the fox-like female one was glimpsed only every so often. Young children were frightened by her, while their parents observed that the girl, with her uncanny gold eyes contrasting sharply against dark hair, seemed quite unearthly, like a fox demon or a mononoke.
Even if Chang Erika knew what her neighbors thought of her, she did not care and never had. But at times like this, it might have been nice to have a friend drop by with some porridge, someone to check on them and see how they were doing. She sat on the parlor chair, staring emptily at the wall above unlit fireplace. The portrait that hung there had fascinated her. This was the only room in the house that retained some sort of order—the rest of the house was in chaos, since there was nobody to clean ever since the last servant quit. She hadn’t eaten anything since yesterday morning, but she wasn’t hungry. She was afraid to leave this room, to go upstairs to where he was. It had been a month since the Plague had been sealed. Yet, she had no sense of how time passed, whether it was night or day since all the curtains in the house were drawn. Never in her life had she ever felt the absence of parents. Not once had she longed for a mother or father; she did not need to, since she always had Eron. But for the first time, after the Plague was unleashed, Erika wondered what it would have been like to have parents. A stern but protective father, a kind and caring mother who would wipe your forehead when you were sweating with fever. A mother who would bring her honey and milk—even though she hated milk.
“My, my, you live in quite a pig-hole, Erika-chan,” commented a drawl voice from right behind her.
Out of instinct, Erika bolted up from her chair and grabbed the nearest vase and flung it behind her, only to find Mizuki Kai, who deftly ducked. The vase shattered behind him on the wooden floor.
“What a waste of a family heirloom,” Kai remarked, pushing up the bridge of his sunglasses knocked askew from the duck.
“How did you get in here?” Erika demanded.
“I’ve gotten in here before,” Kai replied, smirking.
Erika scowled, remembering that the Kaitou Magician had not only stolen the ruby earrings but also the Five Force Scroll from them in the past. “What do you want?”
“How’s Eron doing?” Kai inquired, looking around the old-fashioned parlor.
“Why do you care?” Erika folded her arms in front of her chest.
“I don’t.” Kai shrugged. “I was just asking out of courtesy. You don’t seem to have cleaned the house in months. There were dishes stacked in the kitchen sink. I must say, appearances are quite deceiving—looking at you, no one at school would have guessed you’re a slob.”
“All the servants quit. Supposedly they think the house is haunted,” Erika replied shortly.
“So? Don’t you have two hands? Or if not manually, you have magic.”
“If you came here to criticize our manner of living, I would kindly request you leave.” Erika held her head up haughtily, as if she were royalty, even in the dustiness of the room.
“Actually, I came here to return this.” Kai held out a black satin pouch and dropped it into Erika’s hand.
Gingerly, Erika opened the pouch and saw two gleaming rubies inside it. “Why are you returning this to us?”
“You need it, don’t you?” Kai asked, raising an eyebrow.
Erika remained silent, clutching the pouch tightly.
“Mayura-sama was a healer,” Kai said, gazing at the faded and singed canvas above the fireplace, fascinated. For there was the portrait of the serene-looking woman with clear, gray eyes and long auburn hair against a background of black splotches. Mayura might not have been as startlingly beautiful as Li Shulin, but her face reminded people of beautiful things, like the bamboos swaying in the wind, or the glimmering ripples in the stream. “Why do you guys have a portrait of Mayura-sama here?”
“I don’t know—it was already there when we moved in,” replied Erika, glancing at the small figure against the large black canvas. “My father probably tried to collect as many artifacts related to the Great Five as possible.”
“Yes. Chang Reiji. Twin brother to Chang Ryouta,” Erika said matter of fact.
“And your mother?”
“She died giving birth to us,” replied Erika, repeating the very few facts she knew about her parents, who they were before she and Eron ended up in the orphanage.
“Interesting—I always thought you two were the direct descendants of Chang Ryouta,” Kai remarked.
“Well, we always thought Chang Ryouta died in the Final Battle, but he didn’t. Only some seven years later did Reiji find out that Eri—that’s our mother—was actually pregnant with Ryouta’s child… well, children, because we turned out to be twins. Reiji searched for Ryouta, who had since disappeared—probably died. Since out mother died giving birth to us, Reiji raised us as our father—well, I guess he’s really our uncle—that is until he passed away. And since we had no near relatives, we were sent to the orphanage.”
“I see.” Kai blinked. Chang Ryouta was the Dark One who was famed for his sadistic streak and violent temper, the one who was considered most like Chang Ruichi. In contrast, you heard very little about Chang Reiji, the other twin, the silent one.
“I don’t remember Reiji at all, but Eron says he remembers our father’s face. When we were young, we were always angry at being abandoned at that horrid orphanage. But later, we found out the orphanage head had been hiding our will from us—we had actually inherited a considerable amount of real estate and stocks from Reiji. He had made sure that our futures were secure, and made it so that we would inherit our fortune at the time we were ready to leave the orphanage. Of course, we ended up leaving earlier than anticipated. When we were young, we thought we were left at the orphanage because we were not loved. Now that I’m older, I can’t help thinking, Reiji never really meant to abandon us.”
“Humph, better than a father who pretended everything was all up then landed you in a horrible debt,” Kai said grimly.
“Or a brother who could not deal with his problems and ran away, abandoning his sister with a mentally unstable mother.” Erika gazed at Kai with cool hazel eyes. “Anyway, I won’t thank you for the earrings. It’s ours in the first place, and you stole it from us.”
“True. Though I prefer the term, ‘borrow,’ ” stated Kai.
“By the way Kai, the color of your face is way off. You look sicklier than Eron, not that I really care. But it would have been funny to see Miho’s expression when she found out that you’d been lying to her all this time. If you give in now, Miho will never be anymore the wiser. And that would be bo-ring.”
“I’m glad you didn’t lose any of your cattiness,” Kai remarked dryly.
“And I’m glad you’re as much of a slithering coward as you always are,” returned Erika, turning her back to the Kaitou Magician. She regretted telling him about her father and their past—but it had been so long since she had met anyone, that is, aside from her ill brother. Besides, Kai got on her nerves less than Sakura and her goody-good crew did; at least Kai never made the pretense of being any less of a dirty scoundrel than he really was.
Graduation from junior high was not the festive occasion that Sakura and her friends had assumed it to be but rather a solemn and reflective event. The gymnasium was packed and the seats were filled with the proud parents, siblings and friends of the graduating class. Feeling melancholy that this would be her last day wearing her junior high uniform with the black plaid skirt and matching blazer over white blouse, and the smart red tie, Sakura held her head up as they called her name, and she stiffly walked to the stage to receive her graduation certificate. As the principal handed her the certificate, Sakura bowed deeply than gazed at the fifth row, where her father and brother sat. Yukito-san was snapping pictures. A couple seats back, she saw Tomoyo’s mother next to her great-grandfather. Sakura’s heart lurched. Even her great-grandfather was there to see her. Supposedly, he had not even attended Nadeshiko’s high school graduation, because back then, he had been still angry that his granddaughter had married a penniless teacher before even completing high school.
As she walked down the stage after receiving her certificate, Sakura realized that another chapter of her life was over. She would no longer return to this familiar building that held so many bittersweet memories. All the school festivals, the winter music concert in which she performed in the strings quartet with Syaoran, the Star-Crossed production held in the auditorium, the cheerleading practices by the soccer field, the after school make-up classes, the cafeteria… all those corners of the school were haunted by memories of Syaoran. It was a year and a half ago when he had returned from Hong Kong, one autumn day, to save her from the Knife, reentering her life as if he had never left. Together, they had spent months of anxiety and apprehension as they uncovered the secrets of the past, of the story of Amamiya Nadeshiko and Li Ryuuren and the mystery behind the Dark Forces. As a ten year old, Sakura had thought that she liked Syaoran better than any other boy she knew. Now, at the brink of entering high school, Sakura realized that she had never ached for anyone, never had been consumed by the thought of someone like this. This was not a feeling of hanyaan, the tingling excitement of a first crush, or the sensation of tears welling up to your eyes with the disappointment of the end of a puppy love. This was the feeling of emptiness, as if half of your soul had been torn away from you. Unconsciously, she felt herself always glancing over her shoulder every time she heard a footstep in the hopes of catching a glimpse of him right behind her, to find that he had always been there, that he was not really gone. But when she turned to look, it was not him.
“Well, I’m really impressed you made it through junior high in one piece,” remarked Erika, who was not the same saucy Erika of several months ago but a much subdued girl. “We surely did our best to prevent that.”
“I’m surprised you made it to graduation,” Sakura said tightly, avoiding eye contact with the girl. This was the first time she had seen Erika since that afternoon she had asked Sakura to seal the Plague more than a month ago.
“Well, I needed to pick up our diplomas,” Erika stated, clutching the certificates to her chest almost protectively.
If Sakura had been in a more forgiving mood, she would almost have thought Erika was somewhat proud of graduating junior high. As if the Dark Ones cared about diplomas at all. She managed to ask flatly, “How’s… Eron-kun doing?”
“He’s surviving,” was the brief answer.
“I see.” Sakura thought maybe Erika was keeping the worst from her, but the fact that Erika had shown up for graduation proved that Eron’s state was at least past the perilous stage. Though she had never been more furious at another being than she had been towards Eron, she did not wish such harm upon him. No one, no matter how terrible they were, deserved the Plague upon them.
“In case you’re wondering, we didn’t have anything to do with Syaoran’s disappearance,” Erika asserted. “Well, Eron’s in not in any condition to leave the house, and I’ve been with him all this time.”
“I never accused you guys,” replied Sakura.
“Anyway, I’m not going to say thank you for sealing the Plague,” Erika stated shortly. “Because you did what you had to do.”
Sakura gazed at Erika’s bright golden eyes staidly. “I wasn’t expecting thanks from you.”
“But you saved Eron’s life nonetheless. I won’t forget that.” And she walked away, Erika-like again, with her head in the air. Sakura couldn’t help reevaluating her previous judgment of that vixen girl that had made so much of her school days miserable over the past year and a half. No doubt, Erika was selfish and spiteful towards her—but was she truly evil, as Sakura had always believed the Dark Ones to be? No, Erika was just human. And she could deal with another human being.
Sakura was distracted by Yamazaki stating to a group of fascinated parents, “There is a tradition at school, that if a boy gives the uniform button closest to the heart to a girl, the couple would be blessed. The notion comes from the fact that the article of clothing that a student wears the most is the school uniform—and so the button starts seeping in the soul of the student. Some say that couples who have formed in this matter actually are drawn to each other because buttons yearned to find their soul mate and—”
Chiharu, who had almost been listening raptly at what seemed like a simple enough school girl’s tradition wind into Yamazaki Takashi’s usual nonsense. Nonetheless she reached out and grabbed Takashi’s uniform button, the one closest to his heart. It would go in her cardboard box of junk—the half-crayon Takashi had given her in kindergarten, his uniform tie from elementary graduation, the dried corsage from the Winter Wonderland and old journals and pictures, all now a part of her precious memories of junior high.
“Congratulations, Sakura-san!” Kinomoto Fujitaka stated, handing Sakura a bouquet of pink nadeshiko flowers.
“Kaijou—I can’t believe you actually passed all your exams!” Touya said, ruffling Sakura’s head, tangling the pretty curls that Tomoyo had arranged in pins. “And you didn’t even trip when you went to the principal’s podium!”
“You can’t do that to her anymore, To-ya—she’s almost sixteen now,” Yukito scolded. How could his Card Mistress, who had been a clumsy ten year old who once professed her love for him, have blossomed into this mellow young woman who would be breaking the hearts of many young men in the future?
“Sakura-chan! You’re growing up so fast! You’re going on to high school now,” Daidouji Sonomi exclaimed, squeezing Sakura into a tight hug. “It seems just like yesterday when you were a baby wetting your diaper. And look who’s here to see you and Tomoyo-chan graduate?”
Sakura’s great-grandfather stepped forward and said, “Sakura-san, I’m very proud of you. Tomoyo-san, you too—do you ever stop videotaping, dear?”
Tomoyo was raptly filming the entire ceremony, the last opportunity to wear their junior high school uniforms, the uniform that looked so cute on Sakura. Then again, Sakura looked cute in any uniform. Nonetheless, graduation was not quite how she thought it would be, for Sakura’s smile dropped as soon as her father and brother turned away, and there was always that glaring empty space between students where Li Syaoran should have been called.
“Sakura-chan, say something to the video-camera!” Tomoyo exclaimed.
“Hoe?” Sakura blinked as the lens zoomed on her face. “Ano… Hoe-e! I don’t know what to say. Umm… Arigatou otou-san, onii-chan, Tomoyo-chan, everybody! I somehow passed the math final. And I… and I… I had a great time in junior high. I’ll continue trying my hardest in high school!” And Syaoran… Syaoran, I’m graduating. Are you graduating in Hong Kong too? Somehow, I made it through so far… I always thought I’d be graduating with you. I might have asked for your blazer button, the one closest to your heart. It’s tradition they say.
“Speaking of traditions, the tradition behind graduation ceremonies began when tribesmen wanted to initiate young ones into adulthood. It involved life-threatening rituals such as being stranded in a forest full of wild beasts and being left to fend themselves on their own, or—“ Yamazaki Takashi’s head disappeared from the video-camera screen, because Chiharu had bonked him on the head.
Grinning at the camera, Chiharu stated, “Hello Terada-sensei! Look, we all graduated! I think, that’s except Mizuki-kun, but we all knew he wouldn’t graduate with all his absences. Rika-chan, say something to Terada-sensei—we’re going to mail the graduation tape to him.”
Rika was pushed in front of the camera. She turned red and stared at her feet. “Umm...” With a determined face, she stared directly at into the camera and stated, “Terada-sensei, just three more months and I’ll be sixteen!”
“Terada-sensei! There are UFOs, and I’ll prove it to you some day!” Naoko exclaimed in front of the camera. “And remember how you kept telling us we’re all going to have to repeat the third year with our grades? Well, here we are! I’ll give you credit for being the most awesome teacher ever!” She was struggling to keep from dropping her handful of buttons.
“Why do you have so many buttons? Who are they from?” Chiharu demanded.
“I must get a boyfriend in high school for sure. But I couldn’t decide who—it doesn’t hurt to be prepared,” replied Naoko.
“And if the adolescent survived the tribal ritual to adulthood, he would receive the initiation tattoos and piercing, which hurt even more than the actual trials, so—“ Takashi was cut off again by Chiharu.
“Takashi-kun, are you still not finished—hurry, my mom wants to speak to you,” Chiharu said loudly.
“Hoe! Why?” protested Takashi, coining Sakura’s favorite word.
Tomoyo filmed Takashi being dragged off by Chiharu then swerved around to focus the camera on another group of people. And somehow she found her lens focus on the bespectacled boy who seemed more amused at the fact that he was graduating junior high than joyous, more aloof from the crowd than anyone else.
“Congratulations Eriol! You’re finally going to be a high schooler!” Miho exclaimed, handing Eriol a bouquet of white roses, which he received surprising rigidly.
“How boring,” yawned Nakuru. “I wish I’m back in school—it’s not as if I actually age.”
“Sakura-chan! Congratulations!” Miho called out, handing Sakura another bouquet, which Sakura had difficult balancing between the one from her father, the small bouquet of peach blossoms from Yukito-san, and the ridiculously large one that Sonomi had gotten for her. “Okaa-san is here too—today’s her first day out of the hospital since Christmas.” She turned around and pushed the wheelchair up to Sakura.
Miara was dressed in a soft cotton blouse and skirt, her long auburn curls braided down her shoulder. Her skin was pale since it had not seen sunlight in years, and she was wheelchair bound at the moment since she was still regaining muscle mass lost after years of being bedridden. Miho had been helping her with rehabilitation and she could walk short distances, but did not have the stamina for a daylong event. Yet, the light had returned to those keen gray eyes, though they were unfocused, and a flush was in her cheeks, as if she was almost a young girl again. “Kinomoto Sakura, is that you?” She reached out, and Sakura knelt over, letting Miara feel her features. “Ah, I never realized before. You have your mother’s bone structure, Sakura, though I remember you don’t particularly look like her except your eyes. I know you’ve been ill yourself for awhile, but I’m glad you seem energetic enough now. Congratulations on your graduation—your mother would have been very proud of you. She wasn’t much of a scholar, herself. I wonder if she even made it through high school.”
“Okaa-san,” hissed Miho.
“Tanaka-san,” Sakura stammered, not knowing what to say to Miho’s mother. The last time Sakura had seen her, she had been delirious with the Plague and did not even recognize Miho.
“Sakura, dear, I want to thank you for everything. I never got a proper chance to,” Miara said, taking hold of her daughter’s hand. Miho’s smile was radiant.
“I—I didn’t do anything,” Sakura said, staring into the brilliant array of flowers she was holding. What could she say to this woman that had once also loved Li Ryuuren, who had lost her husband and son, who had been sick for the past five years? What could she say to apologize to her for all the pain in her life due to the Dark Ones, for even now, she had lost her vision. How was it to live without light and color?
“Sakura, please look at me,” Miara said gently reaching out and placing her other hand on Sakura’s cheek. “Many things in life didn’t go as I planned. There are many things I regret also.” She tightened her hold on Miho, her dear daughter who had been abandoned and devastated. But the girl had grown up to be so strong and determined, thanks to the care of her cousin and the strange glass-eyed boy. “Nadeshiko wouldn’t have wanted to leave such a beautiful daughter. But she did what she had to do in order to save everyone. She and Ryuuren-san. Sacrifices in life have to be made. But never forget the simple joy in living, in breathing, in being in the moment. I thank you, Sakura, for giving me another chance at life when I had abandoned all hope.”
It was strange to meet someone who spoke so openly about her mother and Ryuuren-san. The only other person who did so had been the artist Shing. Misty-eyed, Sakura turned to Miho. Miho squeezed Sakura into a tight hug, flowers and all. “Sakura-chan, thank you for saving okaa-san. Now, I can’t stand you being like this. Go bring back Syaoran.”
“Hoe?” Sakura blinked.
“Sakura, I have something to give you,” Miara said, fumbling in her pocket. She handing Sakura a yellowed envelope. “I found this while I was going through my old diary, some time ago and meant to give it to you ever since. It’s a letter your mother wrote at the age of sixteen. Since you’re almost sixteen now, I thought this would be the right occasion to give it to you.”
“A letter? To me?” Sakura asked.
“Yes—to her unborn daughter.” Miara smiled. “She was a little gifted, your mother. But she was a little scatter-brained—she said that she would never be able to find it and wanted me to keep it safe. I guess she didn’t expect me to fall ill—I almost forgot about it and luckily chanced upon it when it fell out of my old journal when Miho was tidying up my books.”
“T-thank you,” Sakura stammered, taking the envelope and clutching it to her chest.
“Go ahead, open it!” Miho said eagerly.
Nudging Miho, Miara said, “You can open it later in private if you want to. I know it’s pretty chaotic right now. Besides, read the envelope.”
Turning over the envelope to the back, Sakura could read the faded blue ink—To Sakura, age sixteen. From Nadeshiko, age sixteen. She felt a lump in her throat. These words were written by her mother, to her, over twenty-two years ago.
“Okaa-san, do you have one for me?” Miho asked.
Miara chuckled. “I don’t need to give you a letter—I’m here by your side, dear Miho, and I’m not going anywhere.”
At this, Miho blushed. Miara stroked her daughter’s hair fondly. “So, which of the boys here is your boyfriend, Miho? Describe them to me—I can’t see them, but I can feel them. There’s the typical playboy—stay away from those.” Sakura looked over at the direction Miara was focused on, to find Aki surrounded by underclassmen presenting him flowers. “And the intellects—they tend to bore me.” Eriol seemed to be keeping his distance from Miho and her mother. “And the class clowns—I doubt you’ll get much out of them.” Chiharu was pelting Takashi with her bouquet.
“I-I don’t have a boyfriend yet!” Miho stammered.
“No? When okaa-san was your age, I had a dozen boys wooing me.” Miara raised an eyebrow. “I’m disappointed.”
Sakura sighed wistfully—so, was that what it was like to have a mother?
“Sa-ku-ra-chan!” called out Chiharu. “Come, we’re taking a class photo!”
“Go now,” Miho said, pushing Sakura along. She looked around at the familiar faces of the Seijou Junior High third years—she would miss them when they all went to high school in the spring.
Sakura handed her flowers to Touya, who gazed at his younger sister proudly—she’d come such a long way. It seemed just a few years ago, she was a noisy kid who always got jam stains on her uniform tie and needed help lacing up her shoes. Now, she was this lithe creature with soulful eyes, eyes that had seen joy and bliss, death and grief. As he watched her run to the midst of her friends as they waited for their picture to be taken, he realized with a pang that if that empty space beside Sakura had been filled, would she be smiling genuinely now? It had almost been a month since the Brat had disappeared. Touya did not know why Syaoran had left but had been relieved and glad that the boy was gone for good from his younger sister’s life. Yet, in the past month, he had started second guessing himself, wondering if he had been a little sympathetic, a little more grateful for all that Syaoran had done for Sakura, would the boy still be by Sakura’s side right now? And would Sakura be happier today?
“Takashi-kun, don’t push me,” Chiharu exclaimed.
“Chiharu-chan, do you want know that cameras can capture your soul onto the film? Without the soul, the body becomes a mere ghost and—“ Takashi began.
Before Chiharu could open her mouth, his classmates cried out, “Shut up Yamazaki-kun!”
“It is true,” Eriol defended Takashi as usual. “There were also rumors that the soul became trapped inside the camera—and when you printed the film, the ghost soul would be trapped in the photo, always moving, trying to escape from the picture—“
“Sakura-chan, aren’t you going ‘hoe-e’ today?” Naoko giggled, jabbing her friend on the arm. “I thought you’re scared of ghosts.”
“Hoe… I’m not anymore!” Sakura retorted. Not since the haunted mansion encounter that Christmas.
“Rika-chan?” Tomoyo said quietly.
“We’ll send a copy of the yearbook and the videotape to Terada-sensei.” Tomoyo smiled at her friend.
At this, Rika beamed as the camera flashed.
“One more time! Say cheese!” called out the photographer.
“Wait, I’m student body president!” Aki cried out. “I should be in the center of the photo—Yamazaki-kun, your big head is covering up my beautiful face—“
As the camera lens flashed again, Sakura realized that everything wasn’t over yet. She could not just give up without fighting. All the memories at this school, all the precious memories with Syaoran. He could not have left without a reason; she had to find out the truth. She had to see him one more time.
Erika watched the schoolyard clear as students joined their families and parted into different directions. Only she remained now, without a single bouquet, without a single person to come see her graduate. She held two diploma’s in her hand, which almost made up for the lack of bouquets. Maybe she should not have dumped her last boyfriend—but that had been months ago and she did not even remember his name. And she saw another person who looked quite as lost as her amidst all the families walking off. But she had her mother, as well as Eron and Nakuru with her. Still Miho was craning her neck, looking for someone.
“He really did not show up,” Miho remarked.
“Who?” Nakuru asked, ogling Touya, who seemed handsomer than ever now that he graduated med school.
“Mizuki-sempai—if he flunked, he’s really in my grade now.” Miho giggled.
“Why are you so obsessed over this Mizuki Kai?” Nakuru asked, yawning.
“I’m not obsessed over him,” retorted Miho, hugging the bouquet of lilies to her chest. She spotted Erika and walked up her. “Erika-sempai—you missed so many school days and you still pulled through. Unlike someone. Congratulations! But how did you manage, anyway?”
“I studied and took make up exams from home,” Erika replied darkly. “Studied for the first time in my life in fact.”
“I see—umm… I meant to give this to Mizuki-sempai, but he’s not here… Here!” Miho thrust the bouquet of lilies into Erika’s arms.
“I don’t want it,” replied Erika.
“Throw it away then,” Miho said. “But they smell really nice when you put them in a vase.”
“It does… smell nice,” Erika said jerkily. “By the way, are you still looking for your brother?”
“No… he’s dead,” Miho replied.
“And you believe him?” Erika raised any eyebrow.
“I saw the grave.”
“Was it marked?”
“Why do you believe his words then? Has he ever told the truth before? Mizuki Kai is a notorious liar,” Erika said. “And how does he even know your brother?”
Miho stared blankly at Erika, her head pounding loudly. She remembered how Kai’s violet eyes had been fixated on hers that night at the resort when she had confronted him. And he had held up the silver locket and let it swing in a pendulum motion in front of her face. She fingered the silver locket around her neck nervously. “Why would Mizuki-sempai lie to me?”
“Miho. Remember.” Erika’s golden eyes glowed. “Lift the veil from your eyes and see the bare truth as it is.”
“What is the truth?” Miho asked Erika. “Why don’t you tell me?”
“Figure it out for yourself. That’s what I had to do,” replied Erika, walking away from the school gates, alone. No, not alone. She was going home to Eron.
Back when Sakura first captured all the Clow Cards, when Syaoran had told her that he probably would go back to Hong Kong since his duty was accomplished, was the first time she had felt this sort of sadness. But at that time, she assumed that her sadness was simply because she did not want her close friend, the one who had helped her seal the Clow Cards, to leave. In a sense, she was thankful to Eriol for enabling Syaoran to stay in Japan a little longer—when unnatural events began to happen with Eriol transferring to Tomeda Elementary School, Syaoran decided to stay on. But after all the Clow Cards had been converted to Sakura Cards, he really had to leave for good. She thought then that he would never return again, because she knew there was no mission for Syaoran left in Japan. And she didn’t do anything about it then, even though the sadness consumed her like no other emotion ever had, a sadness which only subsided when he returned. But now, she was different. Sakura was done with waiting. She could not simply continue on like this, not knowing where Syaoran was, what Syaoran was doing, why he had left so suddenly. She could not spend the rest of her life waiting for Syaoran to return.
Yukito-san had told her when she was ten that she would one day find her most important person, and that in return, she would be most important to him. While Syaoran was back in Hong Kong, Sakura realized that Syaoran may indeed be that person. When he returned to Japan one autumn day, so suddenly, Sakura could not believe he really was there to stay by her side. Yet, month after month, through fall, then winter, then spring, summer then fall again, he remained with her. As winter came again, she became scared that it was time for him to leave her again—she had begun to take him for granted. She was so glad when he told her that he had no intention of going back—she was worried for him but selfishly relieved that he could remain by her side. And now, as winter came to an end, Sakura realized too late that she had lost the most important person to her, that he was already gone.
But it was too early to give up. Always, it had been Syaoran who had come to her. Syaoran who was there when she was in danger, Syaoran who saved her when she was weak, Syaoran who called out her name when she was in despair and Syaoran who held her in his arms when she was sad and weary, happy and relieved. Syaoran had always been there for her. This time, she would be there for Syaoran. This time, she would go to him.
“Tomoyo-chan,” Sakura said, the first day of spring vacation. She wondered how her best friend would react. This past month, Tomoyo had been so good to her, always by her side, frequently sleeping over, making her try on new outfits, acting as if nothing was wrong. Never once did she mention Syaoran’s name. Sakura figured Tomoyo was being sensitive to her feelings. But she was no longer going to avoid the situation. “Tomoyo-chan, I’m going to Hong Kong.”
“You’re what?” exclaimed Kero-chan, sputtering out crumbs of biscuit over Sakura’s bed.
“Finally!” Tomoyo exclaimed setting down the botched sleeve embroidery that she had been pretending to be engrossed in. “I thought you would never make up your mind.”
Taken aback, for this was not the response she had expected from her best friend, Sakura stammered, “You mean you already knew?”
“I thought you would go as soon as you found out that Syaoran was missing. Instead, you had to wait a month. Well, there’s nothing holding us back now that it’s spring break,” Tomoyo stated. She was relieved—for the first time in a month, some fire had come back to Sakura’s eyes. This was the Sakura she knew.
“You weren’t planning on going alone, were you? I’m hurt.” Slipping out plane tickets from her bag, Tomoyo stated, “Did you expect that I will miss the opportunity to film a grand reunion?”
“Besides, I don’t think your brother would be so keen on sending you off by yourself across the sea. But if we’re going together, it would be sort of a graduation trip,” Tomoyo said. “Don’t say anything—just take your ticket. Think of it as my graduation present. After all, you gave me such a lovely present.” Sakura’s graduation present had been a violet Tomoyo-bear, completely decked in a frilly costume that Sakura had sewn for days—nothing as elaborate as Tomoyo would make, but a good imitation.
Sakura opened her mouth and closed it again. Tomoyo would be insulted if she refused Tomoyo’s offer, even if it was too good to be true—she knew that she would never be able to afford an airplane ticket even if she used up all her savings. Initially, she would have been frightened to travel alone, but with Tomoyo, it would just be another adventure. She just took her friends hands and held them tightly in gratitude and in relief that Tomoyo was her best friend.
“Don’t forget I’ll be there also. Who knows Hong Kong better than me!” exclaimed Kero-chan, flying out of the desk drawer in Sakura’s bedroom.
“Oh, Kero-chan!” Sakura smiled and gave Kero-chan a tight hug.
“Absolutely not!” Touya exclaimed, crossing his arms.
“Onii-chan, I’m going to Hong Kong whether you let me or not. I already have tickets. Tomoyo-chan’s going with me. You don’t have to worry about anything,” Sakura stated, arms akimbo. In despair, she turned to her silent father. “Otou-san, please let me go.”
“I would like it better if you have an adult with you, or if Touya-san or Yukito-san would be able to accompany you,” Fujitaka said. “But they’re preparing for residency at Kinhoshi Hospital, so it would be impossible for them to go with you, and seeing I have the National Archeologists’ Association Seminar…”
“I’ll be fine, otou-san,” Sakura said pleadingly. “I’m almost sixteen now.”
“Well, I think you’re old enough to go on a trip without adult accompaniment, especially since you’ll be with Tomoyo-san,” Fujitaka stated, sighing. How could he refuse his daughter? After all, her mother had been just a little older than Sakura when she had gotten married.
“Otou-san,” Touya protested.
“Thank you, otou-san!” Triumphantly, Sakura walked back to her room to pack her bag, turning around at the stairwell to stick her tongue out at her brother.
Miho sat on her bed, staring at the picture in the locket of her brother and her. Her brother, in his navy blue vest and pale blue polo shirt, was smiling so brightly, one arm around her shoulders. These past five years, she had been so fixated on finding her brother that she has lost vision of who she really was looking for. Besides that image in the miniature photo before her, she could no longer remember who Tanaka Mikai was. Sure, there had been the model son, the kind and caring brother, the straight-A student and the archery team captain. Now that she looked back, her brother had fit all these molds, but which one truly described him? There was that polite face he showed the world, but then, there was that far-away look in his blue-gray eyes that she had caught once in a while, as if he belonged somewhere else. Sometimes, very rarely, but more often towards those last several weeks, she saw a wild, rebellious sort of look wash over his eyes, as if he was ready to bolt any moment. Then, there was the blur of events with Kamura-sempai, Tanaka Keisuke’s car accident, the company’s bankruptcy and debt-collectors, her mother’s illness—and not once did Tanaka Mikai break down in front of her. But quietly, one day, he simply disappeared from her life. And it hit her then, that maybe she knew nothing about her brother at all.
There was a knock on the door. Her mother rolled the wheelchair into the door. “Miho, are you still up? It’s past midnight—you should go to bed soon.”
“Yes mother,” Miho said, rapidly shutting the locket. The ruby gem gleamed in the dim lamplight. She had forgotten what it was like to have a mother—Eriol never cared how long she stayed up, and in England, she had made a habit of sleeping whenever she pleased. She stood up. “I’ll help you to bed, ‘kaa-san.”
“That will be nice.” Miara yawned. “I beat Eriol-kun in a game of chess. Paid him back for last time.”
“Poor Eriol-kun.” Miho chuckled. She’d forgotten her mother’s competitive streak. Eriol had somehow spelled the chessboard so that Miara merely had to imagine the chessboard and pieces in her head, and she could move them with her mind. As she helped Miara into the bed, she said, “Okaa-san, what would you think if onii-chan is… much closer to us than we think?”
“Mikai?” Miara shut her gray eyes. Miho drew the blanket of her mother’s thin frame. It was a blessing that Eriol was such a talented cook—her mother was gaining back weight rapidly, though she would probably never be as healthy and sturdy as she used to be. Then again, her mother used to have the stamina of a bull, her father used to say. “Hmm…” She was quiet for so long that Miho realized that her mother had already fallen asleep.
Quietly, Miho turned off the light and shut the door to the room, which was adjacent to her own room.
Eriol’s own chamber was lavish in black velvet and golden trimmings. He slept in a king-size canopy bed and wore satin nightgowns. Today, she caught him leaning back in an armchair with a burgundy nightgown over his pajamas, glasses put aside.
“Tough game?” Miho asked, entering the room. Eriol looked up to her. “I heard my mother beat you in a game of chess?”
“She’s a fierce opponent,” he replied.
“Sorry—okaa-san’s a bit pushy,” Miho said.
Eriol smiled. “It’s alright—it reminds me of someone.”
“I still can’t believe you graduated—school’s going to be so boring with all of you in high school.” Miho sat down on the edge of Eriol’s bed.
“In a year, you’ll graduate from junior high also,” said Eriol.
“That’s a long time from now,” retorted Miho.
“But it will pass in a flurry,” replied Eriol.
“As did the time that I spent right by him, thinking he would tell me the truth, waiting in vain,” said Miho with a tinge of bitterness.
“You’re not talking about your brother, are you?” Eriol reached over for his glasses.
“Why did he tell me that Tanaka Mikai is dead?” Miho asked. “It doesn’t make any sense at all. After all, it was a lie that was going to be uncovered so easily. And, whose graveside was it, then, that he showed me? It couldn’t be just any grave, because he seemed too affected by it. And why didn’t you say anything to me, all this time, letting me believe all this?”
“You seemed convinced by him for a while—why did you suddenly come about to this conclusion?” Eriol asked.
“I don’t know… It seemed logical at that time, his explanation. I remember he held up this silver locket, and then I don’t remember much after that, except for his voice, such a lulling voice.” She drew out the locket and handed it to Eriol. “There isn’t some spell on it, is there?”
With seasoned fingers, Eriol stroked the surface of the locket, tracing the engravings and the smooth ruby stone embedded in the locket. “It’s an ancient locket, but I don’t see any other power to it than the olden powers sealed within it.”
“It’s almost as if he hypnotized me with his voice,” Miho said. “So that I won’t question him any further and take his words in without any suspicion. Does that make any sense? I’ve always suspected him, but I couldn’t catch concrete proof until I saw that locket on him. But, if he had the power to make me believe in something completely ludicrous, than he probably has the power to make me forget everything, no? Then, why did he just alter my memories just enough to make me believe my brother is dead? Why not just let me forget everything?”
“Tinkling with memory is risky business,” replied Eriol, still staring at the locket. He fingered the M. M. engraved on the side. “You don’t know when memory will be recovered, how it would resurface, what parts will be remembered.”
“That doesn’t explain, why such an elaborate lie that can be seen through so easily?” Miho stated.
“Maybe, deep down inside, he wanted to be caught,” Eriol murmured as he returned the locket, almost reluctant to let it go from his hands. “Good night Miho. Sweet dreams.”
It was rare that Sakura had one-on-one time with Rika, since out of her friends, Rika always had the most after-school lessons, and her mother was strict about curfew time. Yet, Sakura felt compelled to check on Rika after graduation—they had sent the graduation tape to Terada-sensei, but hadn’t heard back from him yet.
“This is such a cute place,” Rika said, looking around the café decorated with their Piffle Princess mascot in pink and white. “I’ve always wanted to come to Piffle Café but we’ve always been so busy with our studies.”
“I heard from Tomoyo-chan that you’re going to Hong Kong for spring break,” Rika remarked, sipping on her cup of green tea latte.
“We’re leaving tomorrow,” Sakura said.
“To see Li-kun?”
Sakura nodded, blushing deeply as she stared into her mug of hot chocolate.
“You know, I used to quite scared of Li-kun when he first transferred from Hong Kong,” Rika admitted. “But I grew to realize that he had a gentle heart. I don’t know if you know, because you’ve always been close with him—but he’s nicer to all of us too, because he knows we’re your friend. When we were doing the Star-Crossed rehearsals, I had trouble memorizing the lines, Isada-kun, who played Lord Montague used to give me a hard time. So, Li-kun he used to practice them with me, in between scenes, backstage, and I know he doesn’t particularly enjoy acting.”
At this, Sakura smiled wistfully. “That’s right, he did play the part of your son—but you never seemed nervous on stage as Lady Montague.”
“That’s because I couldn’t show my stage fright in front of Terada-sensei,” Rika said.
Twirling the whipped cream into the frothy drink with her spoon, Sakura said, “Have you contacted Terada-sensei?”
“No—he’s moved away and changed his phone number,” Rika replied staidly. “My mother monitors all my calls and everybody I meet now—I can’t do anything about it.”
“But Terada-sensei loves you,” Sakura protested.
“Sometimes, love is not enough,” Rika said slowly, looking up at her friend with her dark brown eyes. “But I’m okay. I think I needed this time to clear my head and think things through. I want to step away and try to become the best version of myself before showing up to see Terada-sensei again. I know I have many flaws—“
“No you don’t, Rika-chan!” Sakura said indignantly. “You’re so sweet, smart, talented at the piano—“
“You think well of me because you’re my friend, Sakura-chan.” Rika smiled. “But I know my flaws. I’m awfully shy and awkward with making new friends—I freeze up and can’t talk in public. I’m not outgoing like Naoko-chan or Chiharu-chan, and I’m not particularly athletic and energetic like you either, Sakura-chan, or a good listener and role model like Tomoyo-chan. I’m just quiet, boring me. I’m not strong enough to stand up to my parents, either—I love and respect them very much, so it’s difficult for me to disobey them. I know all this, but I’ve done nothing about it, because Terada-sensei liked me just the way I am. But now, I’m going to work hard at becoming a woman that Terada-sensei can proudly have by his side as a comrade, not the quiet, mouse-like me as a student with him as a mentor.”
Sakura gazed at Rika in awe, for she had expected her friend to be dejected or teary—instead, Rika was still calm and composed, looking more radiant and feminine than ever before.
When they parted, Rika smiled and said, “Good luck with Li-kun!” With a wave, she left since she had piano lessons even though it was spring break.
Thus, Sakura found herself admiring Rika’s resilience as she walked past the Tsukimine Shrine on her way back home. The stately sakura tree was yet bare—the flowers were late this season. She walked further down the road and came by Yukito-san’s house. She remembered the days she felt so giddy rollerblading by his house in the morning, in the hopes that he was up. Back then, she would be so happy when he threw her a lemon drop or a caramel, and it would put her into a good mood for the rest of the day.
“Sakura-chan, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen you pass by here,” Yukito commented as he walked out of the gates.
“Yukito-san!” Sakura exclaimed. Gone were the days when she would turn bright red and be lost in lightheaded amour. But being Yukito always left her a pleasant feeling inside.
“I was heading towards your house, anyway. Your father invited me over for curry. So I prepared some cookies for dessert. Do you think this is enough?” He pointed to the huge backpack he was carrying.
They walked down the road together to the Kinomoto residence. Yukito couldn’t help munching on a cookie—he offered a bear-shaped one to Sakura. “I heard you’re going to Hong Kong, Sakura-chan?”
“And your brother threw a hissy fit?”
Sakura nodded, still holding her cookie.
Yukito sighed. “I tell him to grow up, but he never listens. It’s because he’s so protective of you.”
“I know,” Sakura said.
“Li-kun’s back in Hong Kong, I also heard,” Yukito commented, glancing at Sakura with narrowed golden-brown eyes.
“News seems to travel fast,” Sakura remarked, taken aback by Yukito’s statement. She had never figured out how much Yukito shared her brother’s opinion on some things. Lately, she noticed that Yukito defended Syaoran a lot more. Then again, Yukito’s mild personality permitted little room for bickering and squabbling.
“Cerberus let me know,” was Yukito’s reply.
Sakura stumbled over a rock on the ground. It was still nerve-wrecking to hear Yukito talk so frankly about the world of Clow. She still liked to think of him separately from Yue.
Yukito halted also. “Do you remember, some years ago, when I told you that someday you would find the person who you like the most? Did you find your number one person yet?”
This was the first time Yukito had ever brought up that day to her. In a sense, she was surprised that he still remembered what he told her, because she had always considered his words more chosen to console a crying kid, rather than as a serious conversation that he would recall five years later. “Yes, I did.”
“And it feels different than you ever felt towards me, doesn’t it?” Yukito asked slowly, looking down at the girl standing in front of him, the younger sister of his most beloved, the one person he had tried hardest not to hurt.
“Yes, it does,” Sakura replied, looking up into Yukito-san’s eyes, to let him know that she really meant her words, that she no longer stung from that incident five years ago when her first confession had been rejected by him. Because that moment had been her growing point. It had helped her realize an even more important feeling, blinded to her because of her adulation of Yue’s human self. And she finally said the words that she had been afraid to say all these years, because she did not want to hurt him, because she knew he had been trying to protect her back then. “But Yukito-san, my feelings to you back then were not completely like my feelings for my father.”
“I know,” he replied softly.
“But thank you, Yukito-san, for your words then. Because they helped me realize who really was my most important person.”
“Sakura-chan…” Yukito smiled warmly, for the first time feeling exonerated from breaking young Sakura’s heart. He also felt a pang because he realized his little Card Mistress had truly grown up.
“What are you two talking about?” Touya asked jealously, walking up behind the two with a bag of groceries.
“Nothing,” Yukito and Sakura said in unison. Touya glared at the two suspiciously as they walked back to the Kinomoto residence.
Mizuki Kai stood by the empty bedside with a bouquet of lilies. He went to the bathroom and filled up a vase halfway with water and set in by the nightstand. Then, he arranged the flowers into the case. The fresh scent of the flower almost drowned out the stale hospital smell of the room. A photo frame was laid face down on the nightstand, and he picked it up. He almost dropped the photo again—it was a family photo, his father and mother linking their arms around Miho and him. They were all smiling widely—he remembered the occasion; it had been Miho’s ninth birthday. Probably the last happy gathering. It had been so long since he had seen his father’s face. Tanaka Keisuke, the man who had been as mild and temperate as Mizuki Miara had been fiery and temperamental. Even when he was younger, Kai remembered he couldn’t help feeling that his father might have been happier had he not inherited the burdens of managing a large-scale company in such a cutthroat industry. And his mother had been so youthful and beautiful—she almost looked like their sister with her long auburn hair—slightly golden-tinged like his own. He had forgotten how her eyes used to twinkle so merrily, before the company went bankrupt, before his father’s accident, before everything fell apart. He had also forgotten how one could smile so carefree and genuine.
“What are you doing there, Mizuki-sempai?” came a crisp voice from the doorway.
Kai almost dropped the photo again—he was so rarely caught off guard, but he had been utterly absorbed in the photograph. It took all of his usual suaveness to reply, “Hello Miho. Long time no see.”
“Funny to find you here, out of all places when I’ve been looking for you for a month,” Miho continued, entering into the room slowly. “This is my mother’s hospital room, you know. Or should I say, our mother’s room.”
“I’m on duty to change the sheets—making up for missing all those volunteer days,” Kai said, refusing to look into Miho’s eyes, a task made easier because of his blue-gray tinted glasses. He deliberately ignored her last comment. She couldn’t have found out—because he made sure she wouldn’t. But what did she mean?
“She’s no longer here, you know.” Miho walked right up to the nightstand and opened the empty drawer. “Okaa-san’s health has improved so much, she has finally been discharged. She’ll be staying with me at Eriol’s house. Eriol’s house is close to the hospital so that she can have regular checkups easily.”
“That’s great,” Kai said, unable to contain a sincere smile of relief.
“It is. I came to check if she has left anything behind.” Miho reached out and grabbed the picture frame from Kai’s hand. “Oh she has.” She slipped the photo into her bag. Then she turned to the nightstand. “The vase too. I bought it for her in England.” She yanked the stems out of the lavender glass vase and dumped the lilies into the trashcan. “So, Mizuki-sempai, can you explain to me why I shouldn’t find it very odd to find you here out of all places?”
“I told you, I’m just here to clean up the room—“
“The show is over. Just look at me and tell me the truth for once, onii-chan,” Miho said.
“What… did you call me?” Kai’s voice fell flat.
“Did you think you can hide it from me forever? Did you think I was stupid, that I wouldn’t notice?” Miho demanded. “That I will always fall for your lies?”
“You’re mistaken. You saw for yourself. Your brother is dead—has been for years,” Kai said.
“Stop lying to me, onii-chan!” Miho clamped her hands over her ears. “I don’t want to listen you your lies anymore!” Angry tears streamed down her face. She was trembling, not from sorrow but full rage. That her brother could stand before her so emotionless.
“Why do you still think that I am your brother?”
“Just stop it, now!” Miho picked up the vase, still filled with water, and flung the water over Kai’s head. “Do you think I’m blind? That I can’t believe what’s in front of my own two eyes? Okaa-san may not be able to see now, but I can see very clearly.”
Kai’s hair was plastered against his forehead and the water dripped onto his black button-down shirt.
“Look at yourself in the mirror—what more physical evidence do I need? How long did you think you can hide from me? Why don’t you take those blasted glasses off and just look at me with straight eyes; then, try telling me those lies again,” Miho stated, reaching out and snatching away Kai’s glasses. As she expected, his eyes were the cloudy gray-blue of a stormy sky, not the uncanny violet it was the night at the ski lodge. And Kai stared straight into her own steel gray eyes, his gaze neither wavering nor hesitant.
Realizing he was no way to snake out of this one, he asked slowly. “Why did you wait so long to confront me?”
“It’s you—you’ve been avoiding me. I’ve always suspected. Maybe I’ve tried to deny it, because I’ve always despised you. But that doesn’t change the fact, does it?”
“No, it doesn’t.”
No, this wasn’t supposed to happen this way. She was finally reunited with her brother, but what was this sense of distance? This wasn’t her brother. He was not the Mikai she had been looking for all this time. Miho yanked the silver locket from her neck and threw it at Kai’s face. It smacked him on his cheek, leaving a red mark, and fell to the floor, open-faced. “Take this with you. I don’t want anything that reminds me of you,” Miho exclaimed. “I detest you more than anyone else in the world,” she said with such contempt in her voice that Kai staggered back. He could not hold his little sister—she could not bear his touch. He could not speak to her—she would not listen. He could not apologize because she would never forgive him. Because betrayal of blood was the worst of betrayals. And he had hurt Miho more than he had ever set out to.
Kai instinctively reached for his sister.
“Stay away from me,” Miho snapped, almost with a desperate plea by the end of her sentence. “Please.”
Those words stung even more than the locket thrown at him. “As you wish.”
“And I don’t want to see you again,” she said, leaving the room without turning back, slamming the door behind her.
Bending over, Kai picked up the locket. On the right oval, there was the picture of him and Miho. Ah, had there really been a time when he was this happy? And on the left side, he found that Miho had inserted a picture of his father and mother from one of their anniversaries. This was the expected outcome, wasn’t it? But why did this juvenile desire to weep like a child rise within him? Instead, he burst out laughing. Laughing at his own miserable foolishness.
The next morning, at the break of dawn, Sakura lugged her trunk down the stairs. Kero-chan, still sleeping, was tucked into her purse. She was startled to find her brother, arms crossed, blocking the doorway.
“Onii-chan!” Sakura tugged at her braided pigtail guiltily. “’Nii-chan. I’m sorry—I have to go. Let me pass.”
“You can tell me the truth. You’re going to see the Brat, aren’t you?” Touya remarked dryly.
“If I tell you I’m not, I’ll be lying,” Sakura replied, eyes downcast. “But onii-chan, please understand. I need to see him. I need to find out what happened. Please, I beg you. Just let me see him one more time.”
“He left you without telling you—again. What are you expecting from him? He left you once, he will leave you again, without any sweat. You’re only making things worst for yourself. And your body is still weak, still recovering—“ Touya was cut off.
“I’m going to go whether you give me permission or not. I would rather you just let me go. Tomoyo-chan’s van is waiting outside.” Sakura dropped her trunk and flung her arms around her brother’s neck. “I’ll be fine, onii-chan. I’m a big girl now.” Then, grabbing her trunk again, she pushed past her brother and ran towards the black van waiting outside.
Watching his sister ushered into the van by the Daidouji chauffeur, Touya sighed in relent. He called out scowling, “Be careful and watch out for pickpockets!”
The last time Sakura had left the country was for the trip to New York over a year ago. Everything had changed since then, and Sakura felt slightly queasy realizing that this was the first time she was doing something this bold and spontaneous. What would she say when she saw Syaoran? What if he didn’t want to see her? What if he was not there? Sakura stood at the boarding gate with a pounding heart, clutching her passport and boarding pass.
“It will be all right, Sakura-chan,” Tomoyo said, squeezing her friend’s hand.
Nodding, Sakura slipped her hand into her pocket to feel the hard lump of the broken crystal necklace that Syaoran had given her for Christmas. Syaoran had always come for her. He had always been by her side when she needed him the most. Did he ever need her? She would find out.
“My, my, such beautiful girls traveling on their own? Not such a good idea, I daresay,” came a low male voice behind them.
Tomoyo and Sakura jumped and turned around to face a young man in a black leather jacket and a black cap low on his head to hide his face.
“Kai-kun!” Sakura exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”
“I cannot let two lovely young ladies travel unescorted, can I?” Kai said, grinning and holding up his boarding pass.
“No way!” Sakura’s jaw dropped. “You’re coming to Hong Kong with us?”
“Oh joy, another person added to the mission rescue the Brat squad,” Kero-chan muttered from Sakura’s bag.
“Is it safe for you to be traveling?” Tomoyo asked. “I thought the police were still on the lookout for Kaitou Magician.”
“But a gentleman can surely not let two young girls travel alone in a dangerous, foreign city,” Kai stated. “Duty calls.”
“Probably the most dangerous thing in the city is yourself,” Sakura muttered. Nonetheless, she could not help feeling relieved to have Kai by her side, because out of anyone, Mizuki Kai knew his way around everywhere.
“You gals must be flattered to have such a handsome, talented escort,” Kai stated, slinking his arms around both girls’ shoulders as they boarded the JAL plane.
“Oh just admit you’re going because you’re worried about Meilin-chan!” retorted Sakura, taking the first class seat next to Tomoyo.
“NOT!” exclaimed Kai from the seat behind them, taking a glass of orange juice from the stewardess and chugging it down.
Tomoyo and Sakura glanced at each other, nudging each other, trying to keep a straight face. In return, they were pelted by peanuts from behind them. When Sakura glanced back, she found Kai angelically crunching on salted peanuts, listening to his soundproof headphones. Thanks Kai-kun, for worrying.
The airplane whirred as it glided down the runway, ready for take off. Tomoyo clutched Sakura’s hand. Turning to her best friend, Sakura smiled tightly. This was the first time she was taken initiative. She did not know what she would say to him when she saw him. All she knew was that she had to see him again. As if Tomoyo sensed the sequence of thoughts going through Sakura’s mind, Tomoyo squeezed her hand comfortingly. Thank you Tomoyo, for always being the best friend anyone could ask for. If you ever need anything, I will always be there for you, so that I could repay the gratefulness I feel at this moment.
The airplane soared off into the sky, passing through layers of clouds and emerging high above the world. Syaoran, just wait. I’m coming. This time, I’ll find you…
“This hotel room is amazing!” Sakura gasped as they stepped into their room in the Shangri-la Hotel in Hong Kong. The gold-gilded furniture, rich verdant carpet, two queen size beds with satin sheets, brocaded curtains, flat-screen TV—everything was so fancy that Sakura almost felt blinded by the luxury. “I was not expecting anything like this. I mean, it’s not like I’m here on vacation or anything.”
“I’m sorry—my mother found out that we’re going on a trip to Hong Kong, and she couldn’t help booking this room for us—it’s the suite she uses when she’s on business trips. She’s a frequent customer here, so…” Tomoyo shrugged. She knew that her mother probably had called up the manager and grilled them, making sure that their accommodation was top-class. There was a luxurious basket of fruits, and another of chocolate, cookie and nuts laid out on the table. “You can say this is her graduation present to us.”
“Hoe! I’m not complaining—this is just more than I’ve ever expected. I’m so grateful—I don’t think I would know how to make a hotel reservation on my own,” Sakura said. With her own savings, she probably would have had enough money to take the bus to the airport. “Please send my thanks to your mother.”
“Of course. Oh, Sakura-chan, check out the view. It’s marvelous!” Tomoyo exclaimed, opening the curtains, greeted by the sight of Hong Kong nightscape with the luminous lighting of the high-rise buildings against the turbulent sea. Though she knew they were not here for vacation, Tomoyo could not help wanting to keep Sakura’s mind off all the unpleasant events of late.
“Ah, there really is no place like Hong Kong,” asserted Kero-chan, wriggling out of Sakura’s bag.
“Wonderful indeed!” stated Kai, walking into the suite and helping himself to an apple in the fruit basket. “Perfect place for a honeymoon—oh wait, both of you are single. What a pity.”
“Kai-kun!” Sakura glared at him. “How did you get into our room?”
“Don’t worry, I won’t be impending upon our two princess’ privacy.” Kai tossed the apple pit into the trash.
“Where are you staying?” Kero-chan asked suspiciously.
“Next doors,” Kai replied, holding up his card key.
“Please don’t tell me that’s a coincidence,” Kero-chan remarked from the chocolate box—he had buried himself in it the moment they entered the room and had devoured the entire content of the three-tier assortment of Godiva treats.
“No, I just happen to be a shareholder of this hotel,” Kai stated, shrugging. “And they just like to put me in the best room possible when I do stay here—which is next to never.”
Scrutinizing Kai’s poker face, Sakura sighed in defeat—she could never tell when Kai was telling the truth of joking.
”Oh ho ho! So now begins the Hong Kong Adventure 2!” Tomoyo stated into her camcorder. Her amethyst eyes were fixed upon Mizuki Kai—the person who was probably hurting more than Sakura right now. She was not as close to Kai as Sakura and Syaoran were—probably that was why she was able to gaze at him with more of an objective eye. Kaitou Magician was an enigmatic character, one who had somehow used his carefree ease as a disguise to his morbid resignation to life. He was unpredictable, not quite dependable because he was so calculating and yet so useful because he was unexpectedly resourceful and had no regard for law. He was also Sakura’s trump card because he was so capricious in that sense.
“Might our little songstress be pining for a creepy four-eyed sorcerer now that you are in the city of his origin?” Kai whispered lowly into Tomoyo’s ears, stepping up right behind her.
Tomoyo jumped slightly—it unnerved her when Kai walked around so stealthily. Since Tomoyo was a keen observer, even without the aid of special powers, she always watched people enter and leave a room. But Kai was the only person who could move about escaping her notice.
“He really knows how to mess with people’s minds,” Kero-chan grumbled as Kai walked out the room, tossing another apple into the air and catching it. Kero-chan gazed at his Card Mistress who was lost in thought, gazing at the moon shining over the ocean. It had been five years since their last visit to Hong Kong. Not much had changed with the city, but so much had changed for Sakura. For his Card Mistress’ sake, Kero-chan hoped that all would be all right with the Brat. After all, he personally cared little for Syaoran. Well, maybe a little, but who wouldn’t for one who had done so much for Sakura? Kero-chan did not know whether this would turn into some sort of rescue mission or a romantic entourage—after all, those little kids had grown up now—he was not looking forward to either option. But Kero-chan did not have the heart to tell his Card Mistress that should the Elders wish to keep Syaoran, there was no one would could defy the most powerful clan in Hong Kong, not even Sakura.
Pressing her hand against the cool glass of the window, Sakura stared hard into the blur of light outside. For a month, she had tried to block out all thought of Syaoran, to somehow make it through school and graduate. But ever since she had recieved her mother’s letter, all she could think about was Syaoran, because she believed she would be able to see him very shortly. She would only be able to read her mother’s letter after she accomplished all the great things her mother had by the age of sixteen. Had her mother ever seen the city that Li Ryuuren was born in? The Hong Kong nightscape was so dazzling—so grand and somewhat foreign. In the distant harbor, she saw a lighthouse blinking steadily. Somewhere out there was Syaoran.
The only thing to be grateful about going to school in Hong Kong was that winters here were much warmer than Japan. Finally school ended—junior high was over. Li Meilin gathered everything from her desk and dumped it into her book bag. She slipped on a red jacket and left the classroom with heavy feet. Her third year of junior high had been spent straddled between traveling back and forth between Japan and Hong Kong. Somehow, she had passed all her classes but she did not care at all what scores were written in the report card that she had slipped into her bag. She wished she could be back in Japan— Sakura and the others must have had a nice graduation ceremony—if she had her cell phone, she might call and ask how it was. But no, she couldn’t think of them. Clutching her jacket tighter around her, Meilin walked towards the school gates. She couldn’t help wondering if that wretched thief managed to graduate at all. It bothered her that memories of him, the husky low voice he used to call her name, the way his strong fingers ran through her hair, the way his lips curved into that spiteful smile when he told a lie, all sneaked into her thoughts quite frequently these days when she was unaware. Though she tried not to think of him, she could not help recalling how strangely lonely his eyes were that day by the mysterious graveside on days like this, when the sky was overcast and grayish as if right before a storm.
“Meilin!” a boy from her class called out, running to catch up with her. “Meilin, I was wondering, are you doing anything special for spring break? I was wondering if you wanted to, well… hang out if you don’t have any other plans.”
“Eh?” Meilin struggled to recall her classmate’s name. The only reason why she remembered was because they boy spiked his hair up in a similar style to that thief. “Yaomin. Well, I—“
Meilin felt a strong grip around her shoulders that pulled her against a strong chest. “Sorry, she’s spending time with me,” said a suave voice. Yes, it was that low, husky voice she heard in her ears when she closed her eyes at night, thinking of Japan. But this voice was real. Meilin craned her neck back to see the familiar chiseled jaw-line and straight nose, the brand-name glasses shading his eyes. Her stomach tingled.
“Ah, sorry, Meilin—I didn’t know you had a boyfriend!” Yaomin stammered, gulping up at the menacing person standing in front of him, someone who looked like he was a motorcycle gang leader in his black leather jacket and ripped black jeans, earrings gleaming from his lobes and exuded a tough, nonchalant attitude. “Bye Meilin—“ And he dashed out the school gates.
Spinning around, Meilin stared in disbelief. There he stood in front of her, with that aggravating smirk on his face, hands in pockets, nonchalantly leaning back against the school gates to give her room to throw a tantrum. And she did as she sputtered, “You! Why are you here?” Who did he think he was, always just showing up as he pleased, popping up so unexpectedly?
“Missed me, baby?” Kai winked over the bridge of his sunglasses, looking as mischievous and charming as ever. He had already attracted a crowd of girls, whispering and nudging each other. They wondered if he was a movie star or maybe a rock band member.
“You wish.” Meilin rolled her eyes. Why was her heart thumping? That’s right, she didn’t expect him, that was all. But why did she want to collide into his chest and hug him tightly to see if he was real? But her legs were planted on the ground. “What are you doing here, anyway?”
“Why didn’t you pick up your cell phone?” Kai demanded. “The one I gave you.”
Meilin shrugged. “It ran out of battery.”
“And your Hong Kong cell phone as well as your house phone?”
“I don’t know. Maybe I was busy studying for finals unlike somebody,” Meilin snapped. “How did you find me, anyway?”
Kai reached over and ran a light finger over Meilin’s left wrist. She shivered at his touch. His hand was so cold. Glancing at her wrist, she saw the gleaming silver bracelet embedded with a microchip, that he had fastened on her months ago. The only jewelry that she wore was that and the golden chain which she wore fastened right above the silver bracelet, Kai’s Christmas present to her. Then, she realized that he knew where her school was, any way, and at this time, it was only expected she would be at school. “Did you miss me, Mei-chan?”
“No,” Meilin said flatly. “Well, if you excuse me, my chauffeur is waiting. Have a good trip.”
“So cold to an old friend,” Kai murmured, stepping closer to Meilin. He whispered in her ears, “The other bracelet has a lie detector. It’s indicating to me that you missed me very very much.”
“Sure, like I would believe you.” But Meilin fingered her golden bracelet nervously nonetheless.
“Just kidding.” Kai grinned. “But I can tell that in your eyes, you were thinking of me. Right? Or would you rather that I have left you to that classmate of yours? He was pretty good-looking, I admit. Not as handsome as me though.”
Meilin had to agree with that—in terms of being handsome, she found Syaoran and a handful of her Li cousins very handsome. But Kai had a strangely captivating face that no one would forget, especially his eyes. “Stop paying around, Kai, I can’t talk to you. Just go away and leave me in peace.” Meilin glanced around, hoping to convey irritation to Kai despite her weak-kneed state. But she couldn’t help wondering if there was the slightest twinge of jealousy in Kai’s voice.
“I guess you’re being watched also?” Kai’s lips curled in a furtive smile. “Shall we get some privacy then?” Without warning, he reached out and grabbed Meilin’s arm, then dragged her along, sprinting down the soccer field and leaped over the walls farthest from the school entrance driveway.
“What are you doing, Kai? Let go of me!” Meilin protested in gasps as gravel got kicked up and her book bag banged against her legs. But Kai was running so fast it took all her breath to just keep up with him. “I’m supposed to return straight home after school—I’ll get in trouble. The driver will report back to the Clan and—“
“Meilin, I’ll kiss you if you don’t just shut up,” Kai shouted. And that shut her up.
And suddenly, they found themselves outside of the school gates, thrust into the chaos of one of the busiest commercial cities. Meilin found it easier to just let Kai lead her through the crowded Hong Kong streets, through furtive allies that she didn’t even know existed, and follow without fighting against him. Why was he here? Was he alone? Why, oh why did he have to reenter her life just at this point?
Soon, the two found themselves weaving in and out of Bird Street, probably Meilin’s favorite part of Hong Kong. “So pretty,” she sighed, gazing at the multi-colored parrot in its elegant iron-wrought cage. She realized that Kai was still holding her hand. Blushing, she said, “You can let go of me now. I won’t run away. Really, what is it with you? Taking people to places against their will, always turning up spontaneously and creating a mess. What am I supposed to tell mother when I go back home?”
“Just tell her the truth. That you got kidnapped by the Kaitou Magician. Again.” Kai grinned slowly.
Why, oh why did her stomach flutter like this when he smiled? She blamed it on running so much. “Well, are you going to tell me why you are here?”
“Sakura-chan’s here. You can probably guess why. And Tomoyo-chan, Kero-chan and I are here for moral support.” The smile dropped from his face as he turned solemn. “And if you care to fill me in with the missing gaps. What’s going on with the Clan?”
Unable to face him, Meilin replied slowly, “I don’t know. I haven’t seen him yet since he returned.”
“How come? He’s your cousin.”
“Things have… changed within the Clan,” Meilin said. “I’m not really a part of the inner circle anyway. Only reason I knew what was going on was through Syaoran, because I was close friends with him. And Syaoran’s been confined to the main headquarters. He’s not allowed to meet anyone, so I’ve been told.”
“Are they punishing him for defying the Clan’s orders?” Kai asked. “Why did he return so suddenly?”
“Well, the Great Elder is ill,” Meilin began. “And since Uncle Wutai has taken control of Clan affairs, everything’s become stricter.”
“You really don’t know what’s going on at all, do you?” Kai sighed. “Maybe it’s better for you that way.”
“It makes me so mad,” Meilin continued, stopping in the middle of the streets and staring at her feet. “I can’t save him. I’m powerless. They won’t even let me enter the main house—because I’m a nobody in the Clan. We’re here, in the same city again, and I can’t do anything for him.”
Patting Meilin on the head, Kai said, “Well, Syaoran’s a big boy. He knows what he’s doing.”
“But I don’t understand how he could just come back so abruptly, after stating so adamantly that he’ll stay in Japan with Sakura,” Meilin stated. “Did anything happen between them? I heard about the Plague and all in the news—it was a dark force, wasn’t it? But Sakura-chan sealed it, right? It must have been hard. But it’s Sakura-chan, so she must have managed fine.”
At that moment, Kai did not have the heart to tell Meilin the grueling details—as he had suspected, Clan affairs were kept strictly internal. At the same time, the Elders realized the intimate bond between Meilin and her cousin and thus kept her closely monitored and watched. They were all puppets of the Clan.
Sakura had visited Syaoran’s house once before, six years ago, when she had won the trip to Hong Kong. She had met his mother and four sisters and even slept at Syaoran’s grand mansion, along with Tomoyo, her brother and Yukito-san. At that time, she had been in awe of how large and beautiful of a house Syaoran lived in—it was grander than anything she had imagined. The estate had extensive gardens, well cared for by the best botanists in Hong Kong. When Sakura had mentioned it to Syaoran, after the trip, that she had been surprised by the life style Syaoran lead back in Hong Kong, Syaoran had replied that his house was nothing compared to the Li Clan Main House, that the Li’s owned much more extensive land throughout Hong Kong. It was then that Sakura first gained some sort of inkling of what kind of power the Li Clan wielded in Hong Kong.
When Sakura got off the tram with Tomoyo, she could feel her heart pounding as each step took her closer to Syaoran’s house. They finally walked up the gates of the estate upon the hills. The butler answered the door and led them inside, almost as if they had been expected. Sakura and Tomoyo walked through the beautiful gardens, fragrant with the scent of peony. The girls were lead to the parlor, where they sat down on the luscious silken couch. While the last time she had been there, Sakura had been bubbling with excitement, gaping at the rich tapestries and ornate bric-a-bracs, this time, Sakura’s eyes were fixated on the tiny flower patterns on the green carpet. She was gripping Tomoyo’s hand so tightly that Tomoyo felt the circulation getting cut off.
Finally, a tall, stately woman in an elaborately embroidered silken hanfu, her jet-black long hair tied from her face, entered the room.
Immediately, Sakura stood up and bowed deeply. Tomoyo also bowed but keenly examined the leaf pattern on Li Ielan’s robes to copy it to a new Chinese dress for Sakura.
“Kinomoto Sakura. Daidouji Tomoyo.” Ielan narrowed her amber eyes. “It has been a while. How may I help you young ladies?”
“Please, may I see Syaoran,” Sakura burst out.
“I’m afraid I cannot let you do that.” Sakura looked so stricken that Ielan added, “He is not here.”
“Then where is he?” Sakura asked, glancing around the room, as if Syaoran could be in any room in this great house.
“At a relative’s,” Ielan replied shortly. “If that is all, I have to kindly request you girls to leave now. I am not sure if you are aware that these are not good times for the Li Clan. I advise you to stay out of Clan affairs—it is for the best.”
Shaking her head, Sakura exclaimed, “I must see Syaoran! Please, let me know where I can find him.”
“Syaoran does not wish to see you, my dear girl,” Ielan said sorrowfully. “You won’t be able to see him, so I advise you two return to Japan.”
“I just want to see him once,” Sakura said, gazing up at Syaoran’s mother with pitiful eyes. Syaoran’s favorite shade of green, Ielan noted.
Ielan stretched out her arm with her fan in her hand, tilting Sakura’s chin up with the tip of the fan to see Sakura’s face properly. “I would take you to see him, were it under my jurisdiction, but he’s currently residing in the Main House. Outsiders are forbidden to enter there. Stop wasting your time and go back home now. Do not seek him anymore—it will be best for both of you.”
“I just want to know if he’s all right,” Sakura said desperately. “Please, tell me at least how he is doing!”
“He’s doing perfectly fine. I don’t know why you would think contrary,” replied Ielan curtly. “This is his home, where he belongs.”
Sakura stared into Ielan’s eyes. Syaoran’s mother wouldn’t lie to her, would she? If she said Syaoran was fine, he must be fine. Where he belongs… That’s right. Syaoran’s place in life isn’t beside me. And my place in life is not beside him, either. Then how can anything come from this relationship?
The two girls were escorted out of Ielan’s house.
“So, we didn’t get to see Syaoran-kun after all. I didn’t realize he wouldn’t be home,” Tomoyo said as they walked into the tram taking them back down the hill. It had begun to drizzle. Being prepared as usual, Tomoyo took out from a bag of essentials she carried with her a pale pink coat for Sakura and a lavender one for herself.
“Thanks Tomoyo,” Sakura said, shivering as she snuggled into the warmth of the coat. Wasn’t Hong Kong supposed to be warmer than Japan?
“Strange weather,” Tomoyo said, tying her coat belt around her waist. “I wonder if it’s because of global warming.”
“The world is coming to and end,” replied Kero-chan gloomily from Tomoyo’s bag.
“Oh Kero-chan—we’ll take you for dim sum tomorrow.” Tomoyo unwrapped a lollipop and stuck it into Kero-chan mouth.
“Maybe it’s just global warming,” said Kero-chan, sucking happily.
Tomoyo turned to Sakura, who walked down the harbor lost in thought. “What are you doing to do now?”
“Find Kai,” replied Sakura with new ferocity.
“Why?” Kero-chan asked from her jacket pocket.
“Because he’ll know where the Li Clan Main House is,” replied Sakura.
Walking down the bustling streets of Hong Kong with Kai was like being lead by a snake—he slithered in and out of the crowds. Sometimes he pulled her along, other times, he let her walk her ahead and watched from behind, like a cobra ready to pounce on a mouse, Meilin thought.
“Well, can you at least tell me where we’re going in such a hurry?” Meilin finally demanded, yanking her hand from Kai’s iron grip.
Kai stopped and blinked. “Not anywhere particularly.”
Hands on hips, Meilin demanded, “You mean you’ve been dragging me around for hours without any reason?”
“Who said there was no reason? I just wanted to go on a date with you!” Kai replied cheerfully.
“Stop playing your games with me,” Meilin snapped. “You don’t know how different things are now. I can’t be doing this. Just let me go back home. I’m already in enough trouble.”
“What happened to your adventurous streak, Mei-chan?” Kai sighed.
“Being a Li killed it,” replied Meilin, staring at the sky. It was such a dismal, cloudy day. Was Syaoran locked up somewhere? Did he meet Leiyun yet? Was the Clan going to punish Syaoran, or would they give him another chance as the Chosen One? Would Syaoran reconsider if he was given another chance? Thus far, she had not heard of any punishment for the ex-Chosen One, so she figured Syaoran was at least safe for now. A large plop of water fell on her forehead. She blinked. Another fell on her forehead. She groaned as the shower began. “This is all your fault!” she said through chattering teeth as her wet uniform clung to her skin.
Wordlessly, Kai slipped off his leather jacket and put it around her shoulders. He was only wearing a black sleeveless shirt underneath. As the rain droplets clouded his sunglasses, he had slipped them off and was looking up at the sky also with a nostalgic smile.
Hugging the leather jacket, still warm from Kai’s body, tightly around her, Meilin asked, “What are you smiling about?”
“Anniversary,” Kai said.
“Of what?” Meilin let out a loud sneeze in spite of herself.
“Seems like it’s always raining when I’m with you. This won’t do—my hotel’s near by. Do you want to go there and dry up and wait until the rain ends?” Kai asked.
“No way,” replied Meilin. The thunder rumbled in the distance, and she jumped.
Taking her by the hand, Kai lead her through the streets, where people were running indoors to take cover. Blinking through her wet lashes, Meilin looked up several times to take a peek at Kai, this mystery person who had somehow chosen to meddle in her life. Why me? She asked herself again and again what she had done to deserve this wretched lying, two-faced thief. Yet, then, when she saw his tall, muscular form silhouetted by the blur of the raindrops bouncing off his skin, the way his eyes gleamed like his periwinkle earrings, the way his tousled hair fell onto his forehead, the gel holding it up in spikes having been washed away by the water, she could not help feeling something moving in her heart that she had thought had long since been dead.
“If you have the money to stay at such a luxurious hotel, please tell me why you were living in such a dismal little hole of an apartment back when you first moved to Japan, when you kidnapped me,” Meilin remarked as they entered the fancy hotel, embarrassed walking across the glossy marble floor, leaving a wet trail behind her.
“The ladies seem to like expensive hotel rooms better than dingy old studios,” replied Kai, shaking the water from his head.
“Stupid of me to ask,” Meilin muttered, feeling wretched as water dripped from her long hair, making a pool at her feet. “So, how many ladies have you had the pleasure of inviting thus far in your short stay?”
“Just you.” Kai grinned again. “Why, jealous?”
“You wish.” Meilin sneezed again.
”While I admit there’s something very appealing about a schoolgirl in a wet uniform, I recommend that you change out of your wet things. You’ll catch a cold.”
“No way!” Meilin exclaimed, crossing her arms across her chest.
“There’s a bathrobe in the closet—you can wear that until the dry cleaner brings back your uniform. I’m calling them to get my jacket dried anyway,” Kai replied, peeling off his wet-shirt.
Turning around quickly, blushing, Meilin stammered, “Fine, I’m changing in the bathroom.” She grabbed the bathrobe and ran to the bathroom. Peeling out of her cold and wet uniform, Meilin sighed as she wiped herself dry with a towel, then wrapped the warm, terry bathrobe around her. Plopping down on the covered toilet seat, Meilin buried her head in her hands. What was she doing? Why did she find her way here? Because when she was with Kai, she could momentarily forget about the dismalness of the rest of her life. Because with Kai, she felt needed by someone. Because with Kai… because when she was with Kai, she felt that she did not have to put up a front because he could see right through her anyway.
“Are you finished changing? The drycleaner came,” Kai stated, sticking his head into the bathroom.
“Don’t come in here without knocking!” Meilin stated, throwing a shoe at his head and missing.
“You’re not even using the toilet,” Kai grumbled, taking the jacket and the uniform and handing it to the bemused drycleaner. “Well, aren’t you going to come out of there? If you’re hungry, we can order room service. Since you can’t go out like that.”
Meilin glared at Kai as he tapped his foot by the bathroom door frame. A towel was slung over his shoulder. He had changed into dry clothes but hadn’t bothered to spike his hair up again, and they hung into his eyes just like the picture she’d seen of him in olden days. And she realized that it was a lovely rusty copper hue, the color of his real hair color, she suspected. What did that mean? That he was through with disguises and all pretenses?
“You’re going to catch a cold if you don’t dry your hair,” Kai murmured, walking towards her and resting a hand on top of her head. Her hair was still dripping because they were rolled into tight buns. “Why are you sulking so much? Are you that mad because I made you come with me? Or are you glad I’m here and this is just your way of expressing that you’re happy?” With gentle fingers, Kai began to undo Meilin’s hair from the tight buns, easing out the pins and the ribbons. They swished down in a mass of silky jet black hair that reached down her back. Taking the towel from his shoulder, Kai began to rub her head dry.
Meilin sat, letting him rub her temples with the towel, because if felt good do have someone take care of her for a change. After he finished, he set her on her feet. “Now, something to eat?” Meilin nodded. Oftentimes with Kai, she realized that in the end it always ended up with him having his own way. But she found she didn’t mind.
Half an hour, room service arrived, and Meilin grabbed meat buns in one hand and chopsticked chunks of fried rice into her mouth—she had been ravenous and it was well past dinner time.
Kai chuckled, watching Meilin eat. “Why didn’t you tell me you were this hungry?”
“I didn’t know I was hungry,” Meilin said with her mouth full. She gulped down a cup of jasmine tea. “Why aren’t you eating—the food’s going to be gone if you don’t eat quicker.”
Leaning closer to Meilin, Kai stared at her hard. “See, I told you that you look better with your hair done.”
Meilin began choking on her tea. Self-consciously tugging at the end of her long hair, Meilin looked away. “Well, so how are you doing? You didn’t suffer from the Plague or anything, did you?”
“I’m fine,” Kai replied. “Guess what—I got caught by Miho. We were on the school ski trip, and she saw me wearing the locket—you know the silver one with the ruby.”
She had noticed that Kai was no longer wearing his locket. “What did you do?”
“I hypnotized her. Told her Mikai is dead,” Kai replied.
“Are you stupid?”
“Yeah.” Kai sighed. “Do you think I made a mistake, lying to her like that?”
“Well, it’s your choice,” Meilin replied shortly. “If you want her to hate you all the more when she finds out the truth, let it be.”
Kai set down his chopstick. “I actually wanted to tell her. But she found out before I could.”
“She found out? Even after you hypnotized her? How?” Meilin did not know how Miho would react to being deceived like that to her face—especially by her own brother.
“It was a disguise bound to fall apart some day,” was his matter-of-fact reply.
“She said she didn’t want to ever see me again. That she detested me more than anyone else in the world. That was the day before I came here.”
Meilin shivered at the emotionless way he said this. “You mean you ran away, again? Mizuki Kai, I wonder when you will stop trying to run away from everything and just face yourself,” she sighed. “You’re just a big coward.”
“Maybe I am.” Kai stood up and walked over to the bed, plopping down.
As they waited for the drycleaner to come back with her uniform, Meilin sat awkwardly on the chair by the window, hugging her arms tightly around her. The nightscape was amazing—it was rare that she got to see her home city from so high up. Hong Kong was no doubt a beautiful place. But to her, it was a place of imprisonment. Someday, she would leave here for good, leave the Li Clan behind and be at a place where she could just be Meilin, not the “girl without powers,” or “that girl who’s cousin to the Chosen One.” When she had heard that Syaoran was no longer the Chosen One, she had been distraught for him. Yet, she had been silently relieved also. The only loyalty she felt towards the Clan was towards Syaoran. So long as Syaoran was the Chosen One, she was loyal to the Li’s. But with him no longer affiliated to the Clan, there was nothing binding her to it anymore.
“You know, Mei-chan, you actually might have a shot at him now,” Kai remarked, rolling on his side on the bed, breaking the long silence. “He’s powerless, you’re powerless. He’s back here, you’re back here.”
“What are you talking about?” Meilin turned around to face Kai.
“Oh, you don’t know. Syaoran—he’s lost all his powers because he transferred it to Sakura. To save her. She was going to die—result of sealing the Plague and trying to save everyone. So, our dear little wolf is utterly powerless now—which works out well for you because now you don’t have to feel intimidated or inferior to him.” Kai smirked.
Meilin reeled in shock at Kai’s words—what had happened in the past months? Syaoran without power? Impossible. But it all made sense—it was something Syaoran would do for Sakura.
“Well, does the prospect excite you?” Kai leaned his chin on his hand from the bed.
Frowning, Meilin glared at Kai. “How dare you even suggest something like that?”
“Because I’m jealous of him,” replied Kai flatly.
“What are you jealous of?” Meilin asked, taken aback.
“Everything. He’s braver than I can ever hope to be,” Kai said. “He aggravates me, the sincerity he puts in everything. I don’t think I’d be able to sacrifice everything for the one I love.”
“But you did, Kai. You gave up everything in order to save Miho and your mother!” Meilin said, bolting up from her seat.
“That was me being selfish. I ran away. I thought it was enough to restore everything lost to Miho. Mother is slowly recovering now since Sakura sealed the Plague. But even so… I promised I would return everything to normal, and I couldn’t.” Kai’s voice choked up. His mother had told him they could live together again, all three of them. It had made him so happy when she told him that. But no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t restore all the damage that had already been done. “For a brief while, I thought maybe I could have returned to them. Maybe they would forgive me. But I came here instead. I could not face them after all I’ve seen of the world, all I’ve done. I can’t go back to being the model son, Tanaka Mikai. Not even for Miho. It’ll suffocate me!”
And for the first time, Meilin felt that Kai was truly being truthful to her. She realized that here was a plea to be forgiven and comforted. Why it had to be her, she did not know. But maybe Kai had been alone for so long that he needed the warmth of just one person, any person, and she happened to be there. She put her arms around Kai’s head, and he leaned against her stomach. What was this strange fluttering deep within her, as if she was the one being comforted? She was no longer filled with pity for this boy—no it was something else. This feeling of wanting to soothe him, wanting to hold him and support him. He was no longer a stranger. He was no longer that rascal thief who had kidnapped her. He was no longer that dangerous criminal that had stumbled upon her room with a bullet hole in his chest. He was no longer that annoying neighbor that teased her and mocked her. He was Mizuki Kai, just a person as lost as she, as lonely as she, as in need of another person’s warmth as she. Then, she whispered the words that she knew he longed to hear. “Kai, it’s all right. You don’t have to try so hard anymore. You don’t have to run. You’ve done enough already.”
Kai wrapped his arms around Meilin’s waist, drawing her closer to him so that he could breathe in her fragrance—no, his own cologne was drowning out her scent of orange and cinnamon. He knew he did not have to say anything. For Meilin understood. That he was thankful to her for just listening without judging him.
At that tranquil moment, the door swung open. “Kai-kun, have you seen Tomoyo-chan?” Sakura asked, bursting in the room—she had found the door ajar, for Kai had not shut it properly after the drycleaner came. Her eyes flickered between a dark-haired girl in a bathrobe, and Kai on the bed, then she blushed a deep crimson. “Sorry to interrupt!” Then she rigidly closed the door and scurried away.
Heedless to the interruption, Kai’s hands inched up Meilin’s back, playing with the ends of her slightly damp hair.
“Kai.” Meilin frowned, trying to push Kai back. “Kai, wasn’t that just Sakura?”
“Oh… Did I forget to mention she and Tomoyo-chan are staying next doors?”
“Yes, you did forget to mention it!” Meilin exclaimed, the tips of her ears turning crimson.
“I don’t think she even recognized you,” Kai said, pulling Meilin down onto his lap. Meilin collided onto his chest awkwardly.
Placing a hand firmly on his chest, Meilin pushed him away. “Don’t even try of doing anything.”
Sighing, Kai grumbled, “Stupid Sakura… Everything was going so smoothly.”
“Tomoyo-chan, Tomoyo-chan, where were you?” Sakura exclaimed, grabbing her friend’s hands as Tomoyo entered the room, juggling a dozen different shopping bags.
“Oh, just look at all these pretty silk fabrics I bought!” Tomoyo exclaimed, setting down shopping bags with rolls of fabric in scarlet, cherry pink and navy blue from the night market. “They were so cheap compared to Japan.”
“Tomoyo-chan, you won’t believe it. Kai-kun has a girl in his room!” Sakura stated. “And I walked in on them!”
Tomoyo almost laughed because Sakura looked so mortified—it was also amusing to see Sakura so flustered over something so trivial. At least her mind was off Syaoran for the while being.
“He’s a grown boy. It’s natural,” Tomoyo replied straight-faced. She thought it wise not to remind that Sakura herself had spent a night at a hotel in Tokyo with Syaoran, not to mention that she had lived alone with him for several months. “Who was the girl?”
“I don’t know,” Sakura stated. “I ran out too quickly to see. What will Meilin-chan say?”
“Are you sure it wasn’t Meilin-chan?” Tomoyo pointed out.
Sakura tilted her head. “Oh!” Then she turned pink again.
They were interrupted by a knock on the door.
“Come in!” Tomoyo called out.
“Tomoyo-chan! Sakura-chan!” Meilin flew into the room, giving the two girls a tight hug. “I missed you guys so much!”
Kai followed behind grumpily.
“Meilin-chan, is that your Hong Kong school uniform? I’ve never seen you in it,” Tomoyo stated. “It’s really cute!”
“Isn’t it?” Meilin swirled around in her freshly dry-cleaned and pressed gray plaid skirt and matching vest over a white blouse and red ribbon tied around her neck. Her hair still hung loose over her shoulders, so they almost didn’t recognize her for a second. “It looks better on me than the Seijou uniform, I think, which is the one thing better about going to school here. Though this is my last day wearing it, now that I think of it. Can you believe it? We’re becoming high school students. How was your graduation? How’s Chiharu-chan and Naoko-chan and everyone? Do you guys have a yearbook? Did Kai even graduate or is he lying to me?”
Sakura smiled—it was just like Meilin to talk nonstop with so much energy. She hadn’t changed a bit.
“Meilin-chan, you look well. How have things been lately?” Sakura asked.
“Poor Sakura-chan. You look like you came back half from dead or something.” Meilin touched Sakura’s cheeks. “What happened?”
“She did come back half from death,” Kai muttered. But Kero-chan sent him a warning look.
“H-how’s Syaoran doing?” Sakura asked hesitantly.
“Well, I assume,” Meilin replied flatly.
“You mean… you haven’t seen him either?” Sakura blinked. She thought Meilin surely would know.
“He’s in the Main House. Aunt Ielan’s been to visit him there. She told me that he’s doing fine. His arm’s healing well,” Meilin said.
“Oh yeah… His arm.” Sakura recalled how Syaoran’s arm had been bitten by the Plague, paralyzing it. And the first thing he did after he regained use of it was smash up the glass door at the hospital in a fight with her brother.
“How did he injure it in the first place?” Meilin asked.
“He lost his temper. With my brother.”
Meilin giggled—she could imagine that and felt sorry she missed the fight.
“I went to his house today,” Sakura said, toying the grapes in the bowl.
“I met his mother. She told me to go back to Japan.”
Meilin frowned. “Don’t take offense—Aunt Ielan has always been rather brusque. It’s for the best. You know… Syaoran has been neglecting his duties. You probably heard already how he’s no longer the Chosen One.”
“Yes, he did tell me about it.”
“But he clearly did come back to the Clan. And the Clan took him back. That means, he’s trying to make amends. It’ll take a while for him to regain the trust of the Clan. But at least they’re giving him another chance. It’s best to leave him alone for now. I’m doing the same—he didn’t even call me once since he returned. I just hear from here and there that he’s up and about now.” Meilin realized she was rambling now, and Kai caught her eye. Kai could see right through all her lies. He knew she was just coming up with words to somehow reassure Sakura.
“But he never told me he was going to leave. Not a word. And he promised me,” Sakura said.
“Well, he’s never been good with words. I mean, it may have been a sudden decision on his part.” Meilin played with the ribbon around her neck nervously.
“I must speak to him and figure out exactly what’s going on,” Sakura stated. “Meilin-chan, you must tell me where the Main House is.”
Meilin sighed. “You can’t go to the Main House. Outsiders are forbidden.”
Sighing, Meilin found a notepad and began sketching a map. “Well, here’s Syaoran’s house—you’ve been there before. And a couple blocks down is my house. You go straight down this street and take a right—follow the side road. Then you’ll come to the Main House—more like, it’s a village of Li’s. There’s the main mansion, and surrounding villas occupied by the Elders. You won’t be able to miss it. But you won’t be able to enter. I doubt you’ll be able to see him, even if you get through all the security guards.”
“Hoe-e… I’m not good with directions,” Sakura lamented as she saw the intricate sketch unfolding in front of her.
“Don’t worry, I’m good at them,” Kai said.
“You’re coming too?” Tomoyo exclaimed.
“Sure, why not. Might as well put my trade to use. Except I’ve never stolen a person before. Besides Mei-chan, of course,” Kai replied, trying to circle and arm around Meilin’s waist. In return, Meilin smacked him.
Meilin snuck back into her room at the break of dawn, which was no easy feat as she had to climb up the huge oak tree in the backyard—thank goodness PE was her forte. So this is what if feels like to sneak around like Kaitou Magician. Swinging her bag through the window in her room, Meilin then heaved herself in. She shivered—it was a lot colder before the sun was up. Whew, at least my mother would not find out that I was out all of last night.
To her dismay, she found that her mother was sitting on her bed, arms crossed. Meilin stumbled and gaped at her mother.
Standing up slowly, her mother gazed at Meilin solemnly. “Where have you been, Li Meilin?”
“I—I… I was just out with friends,” Meilin stammered.
Raising her hand, Meilin’s mother slapped Meilin across the cheek loudly and smartly. “Li Meilin, you know better than anyone what kind of times these are. You can’t simply just go out and do whatever you want. You must obey the rules.”
“Why can’t I just do everything that other teenagers get to do?” Meilin burst out, clutching her stinging cheek.
“You are not just anyone. You are a Li,” replied her mother.
“Well, I never asked to be a Li. What’s the point—I’m not gifted, I don’t have any special skills. But why do I have to follow everything that the Clan says?” Meilin demanded.
“It was a mistake letting you got to Japan in the first place—you’ve changed so much. You would never talk back to adults before,” her mother said sorrowfully. “Meilin, everything I say is for your own good. You don’t want to displease the Elders. They’re keeping an eye on you. You must do you best to be on good behavior—you don’t want to garner the Elder’s disapproval.”
“I don’t care anymore! Why should I when you won’t let me see Syaoran!” Meilin sank down on her knees. There was a silence. There, she had said it. It had been a taboo to even mention him, ever since he had been disowned by the Clan. “Why can’t I even meet him?”
“I’m sorry Meilin—but the Elders have put him under house arrest. Even Ielan can’t see him freely. It’s best to obey the Elders for now. After all, at least he’s been accepted back after his blatant display of disobedience. We can only wait and see to see if he will be forgiven.”
“Syaoran did not do anything wrong,” Meilin murmured, fingering her stinging cheek. “No, there is no reason why the Clan must punish him.”
“Syaoran has already disappointed the Clan once, when he did not bring back the Clow Cards. He did not have room to make anymore mistakes,” Meilin’s mother, who had the same bright amber eyes as Meilin, responded.
“So, you’re saying this was his last strike, mother?” Meilin questioned. Her mother only shook her head and let Meilin go to bed even though it was broad daylight by now. After all, it was the beginning of spring break.
Back in Japan…
“Okaa-san, I’m sorry—I guess the cherry blossoms are blooming late this year,” Miho said to her mother as she pushed her mother down the path near by the Clow Reed residence. Even though her mother could not see it, she would be able to feel the petals floating in the breeze.
“It’s all right. Breathing in fresh air is good enough,” Miara replied to her daughter. “You know, you should tell Eriol-kun that it is not a good idea to always stay indoors. I remember he used to be such an awful pasty white, worse than me, and I’ve been hospitalized for six years. Thank goodness I don’t have to see that pallor anymore.”
Miho giggled—her mother was so frank sometimes. Eriol had grown to be quite intimidated by Miara lately and had withdrawn to his study quite frequently. Unfortunately, Miara enjoyed being around books so joined him in the study where there was an extensive collection of books on the shelves and coerced Suppi-chan to read aloud to her.
When the mother and daughter pair returned to the mansion, Nakuru exclaimed, “You have a package, Miho-chan!”
“Really? From who?” Miho asked, eying two huge parcels wrapped in brown paper by the doorway.
“I don’t know. It didn’t say,” Nakuru replied.
“Is it safe to open it?” Miho asked Eriol, who tiptoed down the stairwell to avoid Miara’s attention.
”I presume so.” Eriol yawned—he was utterly bored because his favorite playthings, Sakura and Syaoran, were currently absent from the country. Along with his third and fourth favorite playthings.
“So, Eriol-kun, exactly how old are you again?” Miara asked.
“Okaa-san… This is…” Miho said in a hushed voice as she opened the first parcel. They saw the glint of gold. Soon, Nakuru and Eriol helped her peel off the packaging to find the Mirror of Truth sitting in the middle of the house. “It’s finally been returned to us.”
Miara reached out and touched the gold-wrought fame of the family heirloom. What had started it all. If she could see through the glass, what would she see now? Her eyes were misty. The mirror that had cost her Mikai.
“Who do you think sent it?” Nakuru asked.
Miho replied with a lump in her throat, “A thief and liar.”
“Well, what’s in the second parcel?” Eriol pointed to the second brown package, almost as large as the first.
“Won’t beat the Mirror of Truth,” Suppi-chan remarked.
“We’ll see,” Eriol replied grimly. Maybe spring break wouldn’t be quite so boring.
The next day in Hong Kong…
“This is such a bad idea,” declared Kai as he and the two girls circled nearer to the Main House, which would have been impossible to find since it was so deep into the winding hillside. “There is no way you’re going to get in, and in broad daylight too.”
“That’s the Main House, right?” Sakura asked, blatantly ignoring Kai’s grumbling.
“A part of it—it’s a huge estate. This entire hill can be sort of seen as the Li Clan’s mini fiefdom. A town of Li’s, basically. But the Main House is the Headquarters for the Inner Council and also the Council of the Elders.”
“What is this Inner Council and the Council of Elders?” Tomoyo questioned. She couldn’t help admiring her handwork on all their outfits—they were all fitted in black, granted that was the norm for Kai. Sakura looked delectable in her tight-fitting long-sleeved qipao of fine black silk, which cut off into a miniskirt and was juxtaposed by long black boots which reached to her thighs. Her hair was rolled into buns on each side of her hair in a style similar to Meilin’s. Even Kero-chan wore a black cape for the occasion, just to please Tomoyo, who had been sulky that her outfits were going to waste lately. Tomoyo herself wore a deep violet qipao with black embroidery.
“Well, the Li Clan is a large family and also a very hierarchical one. But the Inner Council is basically the decision making board, and the Council of the Elders runs the Inner Council. The Head of the Li Clan is Li Wutai, Syaoran’s uncle. He resides in the Main House and also runs Clan affairs ever since the Great Elder has fallen ill,” Kai explained as he peered out from behind a wall to scout if the coast was clear.
“You know an awful lot about the Li Clan,” Kero-chan commented.
“As a thief, I always to thorough background research before I make a move,” replied Kai smugly.
“So, this is where Syaoran is now,” Sakura said, gazing at the massive stone walls surrounding what she presumed to be the Main Estate—this was even larger than Syaoran’s house, which was probably the largest residence she had ever seen, even larger than Tomoyo’s mansion. “I wonder why he’s here and not at his house.”
Kai did not have the heart to tell Sakura that it was likely that Syaoran was awaiting the judgment of the Inner Council. Instead, he remarked, “Well, what do you want to do? We can sneak in, or—“
“Can’t we knock and ask for Syaoran?” Sakura asked.
Rolling his eyes, Kai said, “You can’t get in without a proper appointment. This is the Li Headquarters—people don’t just show up and enter as they please.”
“It’s rather an intimidating place,” Tomoyo remarked—and she wasn’t easily impressed. Yet, the place breathed old money and name. And even from here, she could see the guards stationed by the front gates—she knew there would be many more by the other entrances and inside the house. Unlike her own bodyguards, who were mostly for appearance, though they were quite qualified to protect her, she had a feeling the Li’s guards were seasoned martial artists who were trained to the extreme.
“So, how are we going to get in, and if we do, how will we ever even locate the Brat in this massive estate. For all we know, he might not even be in right now,” Kero-chan declared.
“Hush—there’s someone coming out,” Kai said, ducking behind the wall, dragging Sakura back with him. “Well, this is our chance. The gates are open. I’m going to create a distraction and you girls sneak in and do what you can.”
“Wait!” Kero-chan exclaimed. “We can’t just break into the Li’s Main House!”
Kai leaped up onto the top of the iron-cast gate. The guards pointed to him and the alarms started ringing.
A guard demanded “Who’s there? I command you come down and show your face!”
Black cloak fanning out behind him magnificently, Kai declared, “Catch the Kaitou Magician if you can!” He waved his arms in the air and a whirlpool or roses blasted out at the guards. There were shouts and loud explosions of tear gas everywhere.
Sakura sweat-dropped—leave it to Kai to create such a fancy diversion.
“Now!” Tomoyo whispered to Sakura, grabbing her friend by the hand. They ran through the front entrance while the guards began chasing after Kai into the northern gardens. Once they found themselves within the walls, they realized that there were so many people within the estate, they would not be noticed at least until someone spoke to them and realized they were Japanese.
It took a good ten minutes for them to reach the Main House, which almost resembled the structure of an ancient Chinese feudal castle. They circled around the house until they reached a side door, where a line of maids trailed in through the terrace with baskets of tangerines, supposedly gathered from the Li Clan’s orchards, a part of the extensive estate. They each picked up a basket of tangerine and carried it in, blending right in with their dark qipao.
Once they found themselves in the long corridors of the Main House, Sakura and Tomoyo stared at each other in disbelief.
“We made it,” panted Sakura.
“How are we going to find Syaoran-kun?” Tomoyo asked, peeling a tangerine and offering it to Sakura. Kero-chan gobbled it up inside. They had been walking down the corridor for a while now, without any sign of reaching the end. Slowly, it dawned upon them that the house was even larger than it looked from the outside.
“I hope Kai-kun’s all right,” Sakura murmured as she looked up and down the hallway at the rows and rows or rooms.
“I think we should be more worried about ourselves,” Kero-chan stated wryly as guards patrolled the hallway. They ducked into a doorway, which lead towards a high, intricately tiled archway at the end of which was a grand, red and gold indoor pavilion.
“What is this place?” Sakura said, looking around in awe—she felt as if she had entered some ancient Chinese palace.
“I believe this is the hallway that leads to the Grand Council chambers,” Kero-chan remarked, fluttering about here and there, soaking in the ancient energy infiltrating the building structure.
“You there! What are you doing here?” a guard pointed at the two girls and shouted.
Kero-chan ducked behind Tomoyo’s hair.
“Run, Sakura-chan,” Tomoyo hissed, stepping up. “I’ll take care of him.”
Tomoyo had never looked fiercer before. “You go find Syaoran-kun.”
“But—” The guard was closing up on them.
“Don’t worry, I’ll watch out for her,” Kero-chan said from underneath Tomoyo’s long curls.
“T-thank you,” Sakura said, before dashing out of the grand hallway, towards yet another long corridor. Even as she glanced back, she could see Tomoyo smiling so sweetly up at the guard and playing the part of a lost tourist—never mind how she wound up in there. The guard was blushing and stammering, despite the language barrier.
Now, she found herself running up a side stairwell—where was she heading? She shut her eyes. Just this once… She couldn’t find Syaoran on her own. Desperately, she tried to sense him in her mind—but why couldn’t she feel him? No, she couldn’t feel anything. Maybe it was because the entire building was shrouded in such ancient runes and wards. Or maybe… had she somehow forgotten how to use her powers? She shook her head. Was she being punished for declaring that she no longer wanted to be Card Mistress, and had her powers had abandoned her at this vital moment because she was using them for a selfish cause?
Her legs were starting to ache now from all the running—the house was a maze. She did not even know how to leave. Even Kai would have difficult finding his way around a place like this. And it slowly dawned upon her that this might only be one wing of the house—from outside, it seemed as if there were at least four wings and a courtyard in the center, along with numerous villas and cottages throughout the estate. Syaoran could be any of those places.
“Ha, finally found you!” cried out the guard, catching her off-guard and taking her by the wrist.
“Sakura-chan, I’m sorry!” Tomoyo cried out, struggling against the two guards who held down each arm.
To Sakura’s relief, she found that at least Kero-chan hadn’t been caught.
“So, what are we to do with these girls?” One guard asked the other.
“Please let me go see Syaoran!” Sakura exclaimed.
The guard, in Cantonese, murmured to each other, “Syaoran? Does she mean our Lord Xiao Lang?”
“Yes, Li Syaoran!” Sakura repeated, recognizing Syaoran’s name.
“We better lock these girls up somewhere and ask the Elders what to do with them,” the other guard advised. Tomoyo paled—she spoke fluent Mandarin and understood most Cantonese. If they were locked up in here, nobody would find them here. It would take her mother a week to realize that they had gone missing.
The guards were interrupted in their process of tying up the girls by heavy footsteps down the hallway.
“What is going on here?” boomed a low voice.
“Elder Wutai!” The guards exclaimed, standing up straight and bowing down low. “There were imposters in the Great Hall, and we thought that we should seek to confer with you as to what to do with them.”
“Humph. And you seek me to deal with such trivial affairs? I would have thought that they were imposters from the Tang Clan. These are merely young girls, most likely tourists. Send them out immediately,” Elder Wutai declared with a swish of his long, deep green robes.
“Our g-greatest apologies, Elder Wutai,” the guards stammered, releasing Sakura and Tomoyo immediately.
But the third guard eyed the girls suspiciously. “Wait, isn’t Elder Wutai supposed to be in the Council of Elders meeting in that room right there?”
“That’s right—no one was supposed to interrupt them,” the guard who had been holding on to Sakura stated.
“Wait, then who’s—” The third guard pointed at Elder Wutai.
“Ohshit…” muttered Elder Wutai under his breath. A yellow stuffed doll face popped its head out of his billowing sleeves, making faces at the two girls.
Sakura and Tomoyo instantly glanced at each other as they recognized ‘Elder Wutai’. Kai snatched off his long robe and gray-streaked black beard and wig and threw it behind an alabaster sculpture. “Run for it!” he shouted.
“Catch them!” cried out the guards as Sakura, Tomoyo and Kai ran towards the far end doorway.
“What is this commotion!” called out in an authoritative voice as the center doors swung open with a creak. Out walked a tall, bearded man in a long emerald robe, followed by a line of seven old men in embellished robes, all bearded and some with swords strapped to their waist, others with staffs.
“Oh exalted Elders!” The guards immediately dropped down to their knees, one arm on their chest.
“Will someone explain to me why we were interrupted in the middle of an important meeting with the urgent news that an outsider has infiltrated the house?” the man with the jet black beard streaked with gray demanded.
“Elder Wutai—these imposters have set havoc in the house this morning,” the guard said pointing at the three youths.
Li Wutai, Head of the Clan, gazed at Sakura, Tomoyo and Kai with slanted black eyes. “Are you trying to tell me that we’ve been interrupted from an important meeting because of these children? The way the messenger reported the situation, I thought we were being attacked by assassins from the Tang Clan.”
Tomoyo couldn’t help squeaking out a tiny giggle—leave it to Kai to do a perfect imitation of the Elder.
“Forgive us for our incompetence,” said the first guard, his head still bowed down.
“What is the Clan coming to, if the guards cannot even administer to the simplest task of keeping out pesky intruders.” Wutai swerved around in disgust.
“Wait!” Sakura cried out. The guards stared at her horrified. “Umm… honorable Elder… I’m looking for Li Syaoran.”
Wutai turned around and walked up to Sakura slowly, like a cat ready to pounce on a mouse. He said in accented Japanese, “And who may you be, little girl?”
“M-my name is Kinomoto Sakura, and I would like to request to see Li Syaoran,” Sakura repeated, her voice growing stronger. So this was Li Wutai, Syaoran’s Eldest Uncle, and his least favorite relative.
“Humph. Take her away, guards,” Wutai replied, sniffing as if he smelled rotten eggs.
“Please!” Sakura bowed down on her knees. “I know he’s here. Please let me speak to him—no just let me see his face and see he’s all right.”
Wutai stamped his black staff onto the ground. “Enough. Guards, what are you waiting for? Jinyu—oversee to this matter. I cannot have any more of my time wasted on these bleating, useless scum” He turned around briskly, his robe fanning out around him. The seven Elders followed his steps, out of the hallway.
“Then can you at least pass on a letter to him?” Sakura cried out. But Wutai slammed the door behind him. For the first time, Sakura noticed that there had been another person standing by the Elders all this time. It was a man in robe similar to Syaoran’s except it was all in black, with a red dragon embroidery up the front. He had been so silent as he stood by the shadows of the doorway that nobody had noticed him. This young man, from a distance, reminded her of Syaoran—not so much his face, but just his ambiance. At least, the Syaoran she first knew, the one who had challenged her to collect the Clow Cards. The guards bowed down low to him when they realized he had been there also, and the young man spoke a few words to them lowly in Cantonese.
“Who is that?” Sakura whispered to Kai.
“Is he Syaoran’s relative?” Tomoyo questioned.
“Who cares—he’s Li Jinyu,” Kai said with a slight reverence in his voice, looking over the bridge of his shades.
“Are we supposed to know him?” Kero-chan demanded.
“Yes, everyone knows him,” Kai said impatiently. “That’s Li Jinyu, the Black Dragon, head of the Hong Kong mafia.” He turned to look at Sakura, Tomoyo and Kero-chan stare at him with round eyes. “I guess I mean everyone on my side of the law knows him—he’s famous for gaining recognition from all the Hong Kong triads at such a young age; he had a one-on-one duel with the former Boss of the Underworld in order to get his current title as King. That was about a year ago—now he’s the most feared Dragon King in generations.”
“That makes sense,” Kero-chan remarked. “It would be a smart move for the Clan to have an insider controlling the Hong Kong outlaws. After all, the Li’s always had affiliation with the mafia.”
“Hoe.” Sakura stared hard at the man with the jet black hair and frightening aura. “And Syaoran’s supposed to be related to this person?”
For a brief second, the man called Li Jinyu glanced at Sakura, and she could see that his eyes were a similar shape to Meilin’s, but his expression was as stoic as Elder Wutai’s. He nodded to the guards, who bowed down low to him again, and left the hallway. Sakura could see from the back that his black hair tapered down to two thin braids, and that he wore two swords strapped crossing each other on his back. But even as she watched him walk away, each guard took them by the arm and dragged them towards the gates.
“Do you know where Syaoran is?” she desperately asked the guard in the little Chinese she retained from when Syaoran had spelled her with the language ward.
“Little girl, no one knows where Lord Syaoran is,” the guard replied, rather kindly because he had seen her begging on her knees, near tears.
“But he’s here?”
“So I’ve heard,” the guard replied.
“No one knows for sure, except the higher-ups,” the guard who was holding on to Kai said. They were near the gates now. “Now, you young’uns take off from here—be thankful that Lord Jinyu was so merciful—he usually is not so lenient. As long as you don’t come back here, you kids won’t be in any trouble. Now, don’t try your luck twice, or you will get a taste of what ‘Li punishment’ truly means.”
So Sakura, Tomoyo and Kai found themselves back where they started, with a couple extra bruises and sore feet from all the running. And they were no closer to finding where Syaoran was than before. But why all the secrecy? It made no sense that no on in the Clan seemed to know where Syaoran was, even though he was definitely in Hong Kong and in the Li Main House.
“I’m sorry, Sakura-chan,” Tomoyo said, rubbing Sakura’s shoulders.
“No, I’m glad I came,” Sakura said, taking one last glance at the immense estate behind the grand stone walls surrounding the Li Headquarters. “Thank you, you two for coming with me. You too, Kero-chan.”
Kero-chan flew out of Tomoyo’s hair and patted his mistress’ head with his paw. “Sakura-chan you tried your hardest.” He shuddered. “And Li Wutai is just as much of a fiend as we all imagined.”
The three nodded in concordance for once.
That night Sakura went to bed early, exhausted both physically and mentally from a long day. Kero-chan and Tomoyo watched the sleeping Sakura gravely, wondering what they had left to do. They had gone the Syaoran’s house and he was not there. They had even infiltrated the Main House, and he was not to be found. It was as if he had just disappeared off the face of the earth. But that couldn’t be. What was Syaoran doing now? Tomoyo was fond of Syaoran not only because he was such an important person to Sakura, but because she truly liked him and respected him for who he was. Back when they were children, he had confided in her all his insecurities regarding his feelings for Sakura. But now that he was older, she found that he had suddenly matured into a person that she, herself, found listening to for advise and words of wisdom. Tomoyo knew she could trust Sakura with Syaoran. Yet, why this sudden blow? Why did he have to leave during Sakura’s hardest times, when she needed his support the most? Tomoyo had a nagging hunch that it had to do with the fact that Syaoran, after giving up his powers, did not feel he could protect Sakura anymore the way he was. Then…
“She’s suffering. She’s smiling at us, but she’s suffering nonetheless,” Kero-chan murmured as he gazed upon Sakura thrashing in her bed, hugging close to her a black teddy bear that she still had with her.
“She even stood up to one of the most formidable men in all of Hong Kong, Elder Li Wutai,” Tomoyo said. “Kero-chan, what can we do for her now?”
“Sakura-chan’s a strong person. We’ll just have to wait and see what she decides, then support her choice,” Kero-chan replied.
“I guess that’s all we can do now,” Tomoyo said. She frowned, leaning over to the wastebasket which was empty except for a slightly crumpled pale blue envelope. She picked it up and turned it around to see Sakura’s distinct handwriting printed on the back. To: Li Syaoran… From: Kinomoto Sakura… Ah, so this had been the letter Sakura was writing the other day, when she had taken off for the night markets, and Sakura decided to take a walk by the harbor. But why was it in the wastebasket? Carefully, Tomoyo smoothed out the creases. That’s why… Sakura had no means of getting it to Syaoran.
Meilin woke up, startled to find Kai sitting on top of her desk, flipping through her photo albums.
“What are you doing here?” she hissed, drawing her sheets closer to her. She yawned, glancing at the clock. It was already late afternoon! She had slept through the entire day.
“You were a cute kid. But you didn’t have any friends, did you?” Kai remarked fingering the old photos.
“Shut up,” she mumbled grouchily. “And get out before my mom finds you here.”
“If I refuse?”
“What did you do today?” Meilin asked. “Did Sakura end up going to the Main House?”
“Curious?” Kai stuck out his tongue. “I would tell you if you come play with me.”
Sighing, Meilin relented because she was too curious about what had happened with Sakura. “Fine, I’ll meet you by the harbor in thirty minutes. Good enough?”
“One more request.”
Kai grinned. He held up an ugly photo of her when she was five, making a hideous face as she was crying.
“Why do you want that? Oh fine, just take it,” Meilin said, as she heard footsteps in the hallway.
The photo disappeared inside Kai’s pocket, and he gracefully leapt out of the window, unnoticed by the neighbors.
It didn’t take Meilin long to wash up and get dressed. She flung on a scarlet waist-length jacket and ran down the harbor side, looking for the guy in black. Where was Kai? Cold hands covered her eyes.
“Looking for me?” asked a low voice.
“Kai, where were you?” Meilin demanding, peeling off his hands and spinning around to face him.
Immediately, Kai’s fingers brushed against her cheek, where he spotted a small, reddish bruise. “What happened?”
“Mother was mad—she caught me sneaking into my room in the morning,” Meilin replied.
“And she hit you?”
“I did wrong. It doesn’t hurt, anyway. Not anymore,” Meilin replied.
“If she wasn’t your mother, I would beat her up,” Kai said through gritted teeth. “I’m sorry; it’s because of me.”
“No, it’s not. It’s because she loves me and worries for me,” stated Meilin.
“How can anyone dare hurt my pretty Meilin’s face?” Kai whispered stroking her cheek.
“I’m all right,” Meilin said, trying to push his hand away, flinching when he pressed gently on the bruise.
“See, it does hurt.”
“Only when you press it like that,” snapped Meilin.
“I wish I can make it go away, just like this,” he said, pressing his lips gently on her cheek.
“Stop it,” Meilin said, jerking away from the gentle touch of his lips.
Meilin planted a firm hand on his chest. “Stop being so friendly with me. It makes me feel uncomfortable.”
Tugging at the end of Meilin’s pigtail, Kai questioned in feigned naiveté, “Why?”
“What do you mean why? I feel like you’re just playing with me—like I’m sort of mouse in a mousetrap when I’m with you,” Meilin burst out. She was irritated to see that Kai seemed merely bemused by her frankness.
“Does my presence make you feel that uncomfortable?” Kai blinked slowly.
“No, it’s not that. I like spending time with you.” Meilin turned pink.
“Then what’s the problem?”
“Well, I need to know. What am I to you?” Meilin demanded. “Don’t laugh—just answer me seriously this once.”
Kai turned somber again, his eyes flickering away as it always did when he was about to conjure up another clever lie. He opened his mouth and shut it again. For once, he was tongue-tied—he had nothing to say.
Meilin’s shoulders slumped—just as she had suspected, Kai did not have an answer. When she had fallen in love with Syaoran, she had loved him with a childlike innocence that was lost to her forever. She had loved him because he was so steady and trustworthy, so reliable. Kai was the opposite of that—you never knew what he would do next, where he would show up next, when he would leave you.
As if in penitence for not having a ready answer, not even a suave transition as usual, Kai took her by the hand and hopped onto the ledge facing the harbor. He tugged her arm and she climbed on as well. Side by side, they sat down on the cement wall, staring at the gray-green ocean spotted with boats of all sizes.
When Kai spoke again, he spoke in his low, regular voice, not the honeyed tone he used when charming people. “It’s too bad that Syaoran has returned to the Clan. I admired him for a while when he decided to find a backbone and stick up to the Elders.” Meilin gazed at Kai’s side profile as he looked out at the ocean. Did he know that she had been thinking about Syaoran? Kai continued, still looking on ahead, “In the end, I guess you can’t run away from your destiny. But I can’t help wondering, there must be a reason why Syaoran and Sakura met. There must be a reason why those two were born to the bloodlines of the Great Ones. Likely, there must be a place for you and me in this bigger picture.”
It was unlike Kai to meander about his views on destiny and Meilin shuffled on the cold cement ledge, wishing he would stop diverging from the subject at hand.
Kai continued, “You know, with some people you just know their souls are meant for each other. When I see Sakura and Syaoran, despite all the hardships thrown in their faces, I can’t help feeling they are just natural for each other, that they complete each other. You can’t help just rooting for them, and I like to believe it is because they belong together.”
“I know what you mean.” Yes, Meilin knew. She knew how it felt to realize that she had no place between those two, something she realized at the tender age of ten. Maybe it was better for her to have faced it earlier. Back then, she wondered if it was possible to find someone who was for her and only her.
“But I’ve always known that’s not for me, that destined sort of love. Maybe I’ve never had room in my life for that. Maybe I’ve never had much time to think of that sort of thing. Maybe I’ve never been much of a romantic, or maybe I’ve been too jaded during the time I’ve spent on the streets.” Kai paused, looking straight towards the horizon. When was the last time he had a chance to just sit and stare at the ocean? Had the ever shifting, ever turbulent ocean always been so fierce yet beautiful? Even though the sky was overcast and the sea was gray, it held a majestic grandeur, for the waves rolled as constantly as the moon rose and the ripples changed color all on its own.
“Perro! Perro!” Kai’s parrot suddenly flew out and landed on Meilin’s head.
“Perro-chan! You’re in Hong Kong too?” Meilin plucked the bird from her hair and smoothed the bird’s feathers. Today, the parrot was a pure white.
Kai smiled and said, “Meilin, you like birds a lot, don’t you?”
“Yes—They always seem so free, able to fly the sky as they please.” Meilin reached out her fingers and Perro-chan flew off—the bird would return to Kai later, when it was tired of flying about.
“That’s why I like birds too.”
“Kai reminds me of a bird,” Meilin remarked. “Especially when you leap through the night sky in your black cloak. Like a black crow.”
“But I’m more like a bird with wings clipped.” Kai felt the chill breeze run through his soft auburn hair.
“Is that why you can’t form any sort of relationship with other people?” asked Meilin wryly. When she saw Kai’s mouth open to protest, she interrupted. “It’s true, isn’t it? That’s why you can’t return to Miho-chan and your mother. That’s why you can’t love. That’s why you always run away from people who truly care for you. What are you so afraid of?”
“I’m not afraid of anything,” replied Kai automatically. And he was not lying—he knew not what it was to be afraid. Somewhere along the way, maybe in the process of losing everything, all his loved ones, his home, his family, having to relearn everything, having to give up his very own identity, he had grown brazen and bold. He was not afraid of death, he was not afraid of another human being, not even the dark ones. His heart no longer felt joy or sorrow, fear or anticipation. But when he was with Meilin, he often forgot that he had been living like a carcass. He became like a regular seventeen year old boy dating for the first time. First, he had been drawn towards Meilin because he had been fascinated by her. Never had he seen someone who had so much unconditional, unrequited love for somebody. What perplexed him more was her tenacity, her ability to rebound, her almost childlike straightforwardness. All his life, he had dealt with crooks and cheats, manipulators and bigots. Meilin, who was loud and annoying, whining and nagging, was such a pure, untainted creature. She was so simple and pure, that he thought it would be interesting to taint her, to bring her down with him. Because there would be no good for her coming from associating with him.
“Look at me Kai, when you say that,” Meilin said softly, realizing that Kai was staring off into the distance again. She had to lean her head back to see Kai’s handsome side profile, his eyes the color of the gray sea, hair whipping around in the sea breeze like golden-red silk. Slowly, his eyes flickered back to her. Her voice grew stronger. “Kai, you may be unafraid, but I’m always scared for you. I’m scared that you might get caught by the police. I’m scared that the bullet in your chest if going to consume you if you don’t get a surgery. I’m scared that you might leave me because I failed you in some way. I’m scared for the days that are to come, the dark days ahead of us as we fight against the Dark Ones. I’m scared that the future is so uncertain. But because I’m scared, I’m human.”
“Are you really scared that I might die?” Kai whispered, lifting up Meilin’s chin to look into her amber eyes. This time, she was staring straight into his eyes; she was not thinking of Syaoran. She was thinking of him. She was truly worried for him. And she did not pull away when he bent lower to kiss her as the crimson sun set into the misty sea, speckling the ocean with sprays of silver and gold.
It seemed like hours later, but probably was only minutes that they had been sitting on the ledge, watching the sunset. Meilin decided it was no use to fight against Kai and had no choice but to accept him as he was. She saw the last glimmer of the sun peaking above the distant waters, her head leaned against Kai’s shoulder. His leather jacket covered both their shoulders from the cooler night air. She broke the moment’s silence by asking, “So, I guess you’re returning to Japan with Sakura-chan and Tomoyo-chan tomorrow evening.”
“Oh, did I not tell you?”
“That I’ll be staying in Hong Kong for a while.”
“In Hong Kong—why?” Meilin could not tell if he was jesting.
“I’m getting a surgery to remove the bullet from my chest. The recovery process will take about half a year. So, I’m counting on you to nurse me back to health,” Kai stated.
“I thought that you can’t go to any hospital because of your blood sample,” Meilin stammered.
“I’m going to the Li Hospital.”
“They were ready to accept me and treat me granted that I returned the Five Force Sword—we have a fair bargain going,” replied Kai, matter of fact.
Then it dawned upon Meilin and she stood up on the ledge abruptly, the leather jacket falling from her shoulders. She wobbled dangerously for a second, before she demanded, “So you knew before you even left Japan that you were going to get treated? Is that why you really came to Hong Kong?”
“Is that bad?” He blinked prettily.
“You mean, you just used my emotions to get sympathy all this time?” Meilin’s voice was rising higher and higher.
“Mei-chan, you almost seem like you don’t want me to get better,” lamented Kai.
“No, but couldn’t you have told me this when you first saw me—I spent all this time worrying for no reason!”
“It’s a dangerous surgery. I might die if I lose too much blood,” Kai said with a straight face.
“Oh just go ahead and die already. I’m sick of playing your games,” returned Meilin, jumping of the ledge, back onto the cement road.
“Don’t cry if I really do,” returned Kai with a lazy grin.
The next morning, Sakura awoke with a more optimistic feeling than she had felt the entire trip. She felt so lightheaded that she did not feel like eating anything, and her hands were trembling so much that she could only manage to tie her hair into a loose bun with a pale pink tie. Her entire body was tingling with a hunch that something good was going to happen.
“Today’s our last day in Hong Kong,” Tomoyo said, surprised to see her friend already up and dressed. “What are you going to do?”
“I can’t just sit around doing nothing,” Sakura stated, pacing around the hotel room. “I’ve got to meet him, just see his face once. I can’t just give up like this, after all.”
“But where will you find him?” Tomoyo asked.
Sakura sighed… It would be impossible to find Syaoran without relying on her powers—no she couldn’t rely on them. She would find him. She would look for him all day in order to see him. “I don’t know. But I will see him. I have to see him. I can’t go back to Japan, just like this.” She fumbled with the long black boots by the doorway and pulled them up to her knees.
“Wait, Sakura—your coat! It’s still cold outside,” Tomoyo exclaimed, handing Sakura the pale pink coat with white fur collar, as she was about to run outside only with a loose white turtleneck over black shorts. “There seems to be unbalance in the weather; it’s colder here than it’s ever been during this time of the year, according to the weather forecast.”
“Thank you,” Sakura said, turning to her friend who gazed at her with sincere violet eyes.
“Ganbare, Sakura-chan,” Tomoyo said, smiling.
Outside, Sakura was glad to have the warmth of the coat. Though it was early spring and the temperature in Hong Kong was usually mild and humid, it was an unusually chill morning. This entire trip, she had been so fixated on meeting with Syaoran, she had forgotten how beautiful the city was, the majesty of the skyscrapers, the serenity of the seaside and the fishing boats, the harmonious meld between Eastern and Western culture. The last time she had come here, she had been so excited at her first opportunity to fly on an airplane and giddy that Yukito-san would be able to join her on the trip also. This time around, all she felt was a strange sense of anticipation and dread. She didn’t think it would be easy to see him, but she also hadn’t thought it would be this difficult to find him. It was as if he were deliberately hiding from her. Slowly, she was starting to conceive that while it was difficult enough for two people’s hearts to connect at the same time, it was even harder for two people to meet, to be joined together at the same place and moment.
With this sinking realization, she looked up, straining her eyes to see across the street in the midst of the crowds of people. Her feet took her across the hard cement pavement of the road by the bustling harbor side. She could smell the unfamiliar tangy salty air. It was early enough that the harbor was shrouded in a film of morning mist. She hugged the coat closer to her body. In this crowded city, how was she to find him? This was her last day in Hong Kong. This was it. Was this entire trip in vain?
And then she saw him. At first, he was just a silhouette behind the veil of mist. There, outlined by the brilliance of the harbor, stood a brown-haired young man in a navy blue trench coat worn over a black turtleneck sweater and slacks. Even though his face was turned from her, she knew it was him. It seemed so logical to find him standing right in front of her in the midst of the Hong Kong streets after all the days of searching for him, being turned away from his house and the Main House. But there was no logical or reason—it was pure chance to find him here. She stepped forward with shaky legs towards his direction, afraid that he might disappear, that he was merely an apparition from her imagination conjured up because of her overwhelming desire to see him. It was as if all else around her melted into the mist, and only he, he shone through the ephemeral haze. Syaoran looked much older within that month of absence. In this foreign city, she was seeing him with new eyes, as those who did not know him saw him. He stood handsome and distant with broad shoulders that carried well the long Burberry coat, the son of a mighty lineage, the Li Clan, the place he truly belonged. Those walking in the streets cleared their way for him. And he held his head up aloofly, heedless of everything going around him. Who was this distant, somber young man surrounded by four bodyguards, the boy once entitled the youngest Chosen One in the history of the Li Clan? Seeing the Main House had been a reality check for her, experiencing the environment he grew up in, the hierarchical structure he was accustomed to, the reverence people felt regarding him. The Elders were just as intimidating as she imagined them to be—and that was the company that Syaoran had grown up with all his life. This was a Syaoran she did not recognize, a side she had not yet seen in the six years she had known him. This was the Syaoran she had always been afraid of facing one day. Her heart pounded fast, for it seemed as if she was seeing a stranger. But she realized at this moment that she had always been blinding herself with the image of the boy, the shy but good-hearted boy that she had befriended six years ago. She had been blocking out the image of the man, this serious and burdened man who might have become the most important person in her life.
Her ankles trembled as she stepped nearer—she had to cross the street. It was a red light. She had to cross before she lost sight of him. Her lungs were screaming but her voice was clenched in her throat as she drew in sharp breaths of frosty air.
“Syaoran!” she called out from across the street over the honking of the cars. Did he hear her? She ran across the road, avoiding the speeding cars—she paid no heed to them as brakes screeched and drivers screamed out at her.
“SYAORAN!” Sakura cried out again as she stepped onto the pavement, just several feet away from him. What were the odds in a city of seven million that they could be standing here on the same road at the same instant? There, the two stood parallel to each other against the brilliant Hong Kong seascape as if space and dimension had temporarily been suspended for them. “Syaoran, listen to me! I have to talk to you!”
This time he must have heard her, for he came to a complete halt. Momentarily, his eyes, only his eyes flickered her way. She shuddered—his amber eyes were so cold and remote, showing no sign of recognition whatsoever. The only time she had seen his eyes like that was when she first met him, the day he had declared himself her rival in capturing the Clow Cards.
Her voice wavered. “Syaoran. Please, say something. Anything.”
He turned his head again, his back to her so that she could not see his expression. When he spoke, his voice was low and cold as he said, “Go back. You shouldn’t be here.”
“Syao…ran?” A chill washed down her spine—this was not the Syaoran she knew. He would not just send her away like this, without any explanation No, this was Syaoran, the Syaoran he had been before she ever got to know him. She opened her mouth but no voice came out—all the words she had to say to him was swallowed down with the lump she felt forming in her throat. This scene that she had replayed over and over again in her mind. But all the things she told herself she would say to him when she came to find him all dissolved into silence. Only the gentle lull of the waves crashing upon the harbor could be heard.
Without looking back, he continued walking ahead, his heels echoing hollowly against the pavement.
No. He couldn’t just walk away. Her legs felt like roots planted onto the cement ground. She had to chase after him. He wasn’t going to leave just like this. Not after all the courage she had drawn up to come to him. He was going to turn around and smile, and reassure her that all this was just a joke. He would take her in his arms and tell her he wasn’t going anywhere. That he would be the one who will always be by her side. Like he always had been.
But all she could see was the back of Syaoran’s head, his chestnut locks swaying in the wind. Not once did he turn around to look at her. His bodyguard ushered him towards a black car. She briefly recognized the man that Kai had called “Li Jinyu,” as one of the bodyguards. The chauffeur opened the door and Syaoran entered the car without glancing back again. It was then that it sank into Sakura that Syaoran was really going to leave her.
“No,” Sakura uttered out loud. “No, I have to tell you—”
Without looking back from inside the car, he nodded, and the car engine started and the gleaming black vehicle zoomed away.
Sakura starting chasing after the car—if she lost him now, she did not know when she would get to see him again. Her legs pumped forward, the sharp heels of her boots slamming into the cement as she ran harder than she had ever run before. She ran so hard to reach him that her lungs stung with each breath she took of the icy seaside air. She screamed, “LI SYAORAN!”
With her last exertion, she cried out, throat sore, “SYAORAN! Please stop!” She knew he could still hear her. He must be able to. A crowd in the streets gathered, staring at her. But she ignored them. Just another leap and she would be able to catch up to the car. Yet at that vital moment when she was an arm’s length away, her ankle gave away, and she tripped. She sank down on her knees in defeat. Her eyes blurred as the car drove away and disappeared down the road.
Unbeknownst to her, hot tears that had been brimming in her eyes finally spilled out and streamed down her face. “Syaoran…” she whispered at the empty road alongside the brilliance of the Hong Kong harbor. Some people passing by gazed at her pitifully—others hurried their way. Sakura was oblivious to it all. She knew she was sitting on the street, obstructing the road. But her legs were too weak to stand upon. And the tears did not stop flowing, as if her insides were bleeding its ache through those tears, salty as the sea. The water kept welling up in her eyes, as if she was crying for everything she had to cry about for the past year and the years ahead. If she had not come, she would not have been turned away like this. And then, she could have waited in Japan, still hopeful. If she had not come, she did not have to see Li Syaoran as the person who he was destined to become, the Chosen One of the Li Clan, someone who was not at disposal to be with someone like her. If she had not come, she would have been avoiding reality. Wetness dripped off her cheeks and onto the fur trimming of her coat. Her hair had escaped from its bun as she ran after the car and hung in loose strands down her back and over her face. This feeling was nothing compared to when Yukito-san had turned her down. Yukito-san had been gentle about it, but it had still hurt. But at that time, Syaoran had been there. He had let her cry into his shoulders. He let her wipe her tears away with his blue handkerchief which had smelled minty and clean, like him. And he had told her that someday, someday she would definitely be able to find her most important person.
No, she had already found him five years ago. He had been standing there by her side all this time. There was no question, there was no uncertainty. That knowledge was as clear as the break of dawn in her mind when she set out to Hong Kong to see him. It was that reassuring feeling that had made her bear through everything. She thought that if she fought against the Dark Ones hard enough, if she did her best as Card Mistress, someday, she could be with her most important person. And hopefully, he would accept her as well.
But he was gone now. It was too late.
“Sakura-chan, is it okay, just leaving like this?” Tomoyo asked hesitantly. Tomoyo did not ask Sakura what had happened that morning. She did comment when Sakura came back to the hotel with bloodshot eyes, with bruises and scrapes on her knees. But Tomoyo knew what ever had happened between Sakura and Syaoran, what ever Syaoran might have said to Sakura, there was no way she could let things end just like this for the two. But what could she do? Some things were beyond her control.
Sakura did not look up as she shoved clothing back into her suitcase. Her head was lowered so that her bangs covered her eyes. “I came to Hong Kong to see Syaoran. And I did see him. So it’s fine.”
“But you came to talk to him—did you really get to speak to him?” Tomoyo wanted to hug her friend, but somehow this Sakura was not the Sakura who had come to Hong Kong, the girl who had finally come to terms with her own feelings. This Sakura was another Sakura all together, the sparkle gone from her eyes, replaced by a dull sense of defeat.
“I was worried about him because he suddenly disappeared. I thought something happened to him,” Sakura said shortly. “But I saw him, and he was fine—his arm seemed fine too. It seemed as if he was doing well; it wasn’t as if he was being kept at the Main House against his will. So I’m satisfied just knowing that.”
Tomoyo did not probe further because she could hear the strain in Sakura’s usual lively voice. Between the two girls, there were no secrets. But if Sakura was not ready to talk about it, she would let her be.
“Tomoyo-chan, I’m ready to go back to Japan,” Sakura said forcefully.
So, Tomoyo reached out and held her friends trembling hands in her own two hands. Maybe they both knew this would be the result. Nonetheless, they made the long journey to Hong Kong in the hopes of finding a different answer. Sakura’s deep green eyes were impossible to read. But she was Sakura’s best friend and the only thing she could do was be by her side and her support her through all hardships. “All right Sakura-chan. Let’s go back.”
As Sakura left the room, she turned back one more time to stare out at the surreal nightscape. Good-bye, city of Clow Reed. Good-bye, Syaoran.
The Third Arc Epilogue…
It was a mild winter afternoon, five years ago, the day I saw the glistening tears roll down your cheeks as we sat on those nostalgic swing-sets in King Penguin Park. That was the day you told me you had been rejected by Yukito-san. You told me that Yukito-san said that someday, you would find someone who you truly like the best and that in return, that person would also like you the best. That day, when you cried in my arms, I thought that I could be that person for you. It was then I swore I would never make you cry like that…
But it seems like I have broke my own words. Today, I was the one who brought the tears to your eyes. Today, I was the one who hurt you…
It had unsettled Syaoran more than anything else to see Sakura there in the streets of Hong Kong, as if dream had blended with reality. At first, he thought that his eyes were playing tricks on him—he wouldn’t be surprised if they were. But there she stood in a soft pink coat lined with white fur, her long brown hair pulled away from her face into a loose bun, standing like a lost angel by the Hong Kong harbors. She no longer had that deathly pallor in her face, though she seemed frailer and thinner than he recalled her to be. But in that bleak, misty morning, it seemed as if her brilliant emerald eyes were the brightest thing he had ever seen.
“Syaoran-sama. Syaoran-sama.” It was Wei who had been knocking on the bedroom door.
“What is it?” Syaoran said coolly.
Wei sighed—his master hadn’t forgiven him yet. It was understandable. Syaoran must feel betrayed, being held captive by the one who had taken care of him from youth. But he could not disobey the orders of the Elders. And Syaoran also understood that it was preferable to have Wei be his guardian than some other lackey of the Clan. Wei, to the greatest extent possible, gave Syaoran some breath of freedom in the stifling confines of the Li Clan main estate.
Lowering his voice, Wei glanced around before sliding something out of pocket. “It’s a letter to you.”
“From who?” Syaoran took the envelope, realizing that Wei was breaking the rules to do this for him.
“Meilin-sama said it was from someone called Mizuki Kai,” Wei said with a straight face.
Narrowing his eyes to analyze Wei, the man who had been almost like a father for him all these years. So Kai was in Hong Kong also—did that mean that the entire crew was there? He inwardly groaned. Nonetheless, Syaoran couldn’t help feeling relieved that Kai was with Sakura.
“How’s Meilin doing?” Syaoran asked, taking the letter. He was forbidden to meet with anyone, by Clan orders—he didn’t mind, because he did not particularly want to meet Meilin in his current condition. The envelope seems awfully effeminate for Kai—why would he write him a letter? When he turned the envelope over, he almost choked. It was not from Kai. It was from Sakura. In her clear print, the envelope was addressed: To: Li Syaoran, From: Kinomoto Sakura. Was this some prank from the Clan? How…
“She’s doing well,” Wei replied, but realized his master was not listening to him anymore. “Well, if you want some privacy to read the letter, Syaoran-sama—“
After Wei left the grand bedroom that basically served as a large prison cell, Syaoran sank down into a chair. Sakura—she had seemed well. That was all that he could ask for. How could he demand for anything else, in his current situation? He sighed. It had been over a month since he was taken back to Hong Kong on the private Li jet. Since he had been unconscious during the journey, he did not have the opportunity to ask Leiyun any questions. When he awoke, he had already been locked in this room, Leiyun already gone, with no one to offer him any explanations.
Once he was back in Hong Kong, he had not been allowed to return home or speak with his mother or sisters. Instead, he realized he had been taken straight to the Li headquarters. And for the past month, he had been under strict house arrest—that first week he was back, he was locked in his room without any contact with anyone except the doctor who came to check his broken arm. That week, he lay in bed without any motivation, any direction, blankly staring at the ceiling like a listless lunatic. He was on the borderline of insanity—when he was not in bed, he stormed around the room, smashing the furniture, banging on the door, finding some means of escape. Without his magic, it was futile, for even if it was physically possible to break down the doors, the main estate was so heavily warded that even the likes of Kaitou Magician would have a hard time infiltrating it. The following weeks, he spent in agony as his arm began to heal with the help of the Clan healers—he literally thought he would lose his mind if they kept him locked indoors any longer. Not only was he utterly helpless, but he was at the mercy of the Clan, since he knew not what they had in store for him. For all he knew, the executioner’s blade suited well traitors of the Clan. He knew not how many days passed by, what time of the day it was, since his shades were always drawn.
And even in the second week, there was no sign of the Elders wanting to speak with him—Syaoran figured it was a part of Uncle Wutai’s punishment. To keep him hanging, wondering what sentence awaited him for his disregard of all the Li Clan’s codes of honor, for neglecting his duty and casting of his title.
The third week, he was allowed to meet with his mother, very briefly. The bodyguards were listening, and she did not say much. She took one glance at her son, once the pride of the Clan, as he sat sullenly on the bed with his arm in a sling, his eyes with a pained, haunted look, utterly without powers and physically broken.
“Syaoran, my son, what has become of you?” Ielan asked sorrowfully.
“I apologize, Mother, for disgracing your name,” Syaoran said grimly. He realized he did not sound particularly apologetic, however.
“Do you realize what you have done, disobeying the Clan? You should have come home when I sent for you—look how things turned out.”
“While I deeply regret the inconvenience I have caused for the Clan, I have no regret for the choice I took.” Syaoran stared at the brilliant tapestries on the wall of peonies and butterflies—wasted on him as he had no appreciation of the fineries that he had once been so accustomed to. He could not help recalling the wolf embroidery Sakura had made him two Christmases ago—if he had known he was going to leave, he would have brought it with him.
“You impertinent boy. Even in the current state you are in, you still have to cheekiness to say such things! You really should know better after how I raised you.” Ielan turned around.
“How is the Great Elder doing?” Syaoran asked quietly.
“Poorly,” Ielan replied.
“Will I be allowed to see him?”
“That depends on what Elder Wutai decides,” Ielan said, turning around again to gaze at this strange, somber young man sitting on the bed. He looked so much like Ryuuren now that he had lost most of the boyish curves in his face. No longer was he her precious little wolf but this rebellious, spontaneous young man that did not heed anyone’s words anymore. When had he turned like this?”
“What does he want with me?” Syaoran laughed shortly. “I’m useless to the Clan now. I’m powerless and no longer the Chosen One. They disowned me. What more can they want from me now? They have Leiyun. He can be the new Chosen One.” Judging by the cringe on his mother’s face, Syaoran realized that Leiyun was yet an uncomfortable topic for her. Not surprising, because they had all spent the last seven years believing Li Leiyun had died on a top-secret Clan mission.
“You should thank your cousin,” Ielan said slowly. “If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Elders voted to do away with you. But Leiyun insisted that they should give you another chance.”
“Ha. In this current state? Mother, I’m nothing now,” Syaoran lashed out. “Nothing. I’m not like father—I won’t sell my soul to the Clan.”
“Don’t speak of your father like that. What do you know of him?” Ielan said sharply.
“I mean no disrespect, but what do you know of my father, Mother?” Syaoran stared directly at his mother, all the knowledge, all the emotions, all the pain and all the experiences he had gained in the past year and a half held within that one gaze from his deep amber eyes.
Li Ielan was taken back. Her son had never spoken back to her before. He had always been so obedient and dutiful. “I don’t know when next I will be allowed to speak to you again. But until then, stay well behaved—and don’t even think of trying to run away. Who knows. The Elders might give you a second chance, especially with Leiyun speaking on your behalf.”
Leiyun. In the past three weeks, he had not once seen his cousin again, though he was aware that Leiyun must be around in some other part of the house. “Mother… How…”
His mother, as if reading the confusion her son’s eyes, shook her head. “No one really knows for sure yet. Only the Inner Council has actually met him. That’s all I can tell you for now. Be strong my boy, because these times of adversity is a true test of your inner will.”
Syaoran stood and bowed to his mother, who left gracefully. But her steps were heavy as she left the Main House. Even as his mother, she had no say in what plans the Clan had made for Syaoran.
He felt the pain in his right arm more acutely in the nighttime, as he thrashed awake in the nighttime. Injuries took longer to heal without his powers, and Jinyu had not been gentle when he snapped Syaoran’s arm back to pin him to the ground before knocking him out. Since Syaoran was in an enclosed room with windows sealed tight and shades permanently pulled down, he had no sense of time passing by, and spent his days in desperate delirium. Each day passing by meant another day away from Sakura—what was she doing now? Did everyone graduate by now? When did they realize he went missing? Was she worried for him? How long had he been locked up in this room? It had almost been a month, hadn’t it? He glanced at his leaf-shaped watch, which had been Sakura’s Christmas present to him. The battery had died, probably back in Japan when Jinyu tried to restrain him. Granted that the room was quite large, he was starting to feel claustrophobic being enclosed in the same place, with nothing to do, no one to meet except when Wei brought him his meals. And Wei was not permitted to speak of anything to him. It was frustrating hearing no outside news, have no means of finding out what was happening back in Japan. What had happened with the Dark Ones? Surely Sakura could not be fighting any new Dark Forces—was she able to fight with the power transfer? Could there possibly be any side effects?
For the first two weeks of Syaoran, he had felt to numb to feel angry, but after those weeks of being locked up, he realized that he was furious. Furious at the Elders for kidnapping him Furious at Leiyun for showing up and then disappearing. Furious at himself for being so helpless. With his good hand, Syaoran took a chair and flung it at window. The chair rebounded from the window and collapsed on the ground. Obviously the window was protected by seals. He almost felt like laughing. Didn’t the Elders now that he was powerless, anyway? He could not escape even if he wanted to. It was aggravating. He could scream and holler all he wanted, and no one would hear him; he did not even know which wing of the main estate he was locked in since he could not look out the windows.
It was only a day after his mother’s visit that Leiyun finally decided to show up again. His mother’s visit had shaken him asunder, because he had been counting on Li Ielan to get him out of there—but she had the look of resignation in her eyes, as if she had accepted the fact that her son was no longer under her jurisdiction but at disposal to the Council of Elder’s whim. Unable to shake off the maddening feeling of suffocation, Syaoran had stumbled towards the bathroom which was adjoined to the room and climbed into the shower, fully clothed. He turned on the cold water, which streamed down onto him, soaking his hair and through his clothes. Then, he realized the doctor had told him to keep the bandage on his arm dry—not that it mattered anymore; he banged his head on the tile wall and gazed at the sopping bandages shrouding his arm. Taking a loose end, he began to unravel it, letting it trail down to his bare feet.
It was sopping wet, collapsed on the bathroom floor, that Li Leiyun found Syaoran a little while later.
“What a pathetic state you’re in, Li Syaoran,” Leiyun remarked from the bathroom doorway.
Slowly, Syaoran looked up to see his cousin, dressed completely in white to complement his silver hair. “What do you want from me now?” Syaoran croaked—his voice was almost gone from such long disuse.
“My apologies for not being able to visit earlier. I got caught up in Clan affairs.” Leiyun smiled, his sky blue eyes twinkling. “Now, we need to get that arm rebandaged, don’t you think? A healer is here to see to it.”
Syaoran changed into dry clothes. His sleeves were rolled up as the healer pressed his arm muscles to see his reaction, then carefully bandaged the arm from hand to elbow. “How is my arm?” he ventured to ask.
“Well, it’s hard to tell at this state,” the healer replied. “The bones have set perfectly fine. But multiple injuries have put a shock on the muscles. I don’t know if it would ever heal all the way—you’ll definitely have pain in this arm in the future. But if you can just regain functional use…” But his tone was hesitant.
Syaoran grimaced—for a swordsman, everything depended on the full use of his arm. But the new bandage was lighter, and his arm felt better with the healer’s herbs.
When the healer left, Syaoran gazed at Leiyun sullenly. “So, how long are you going to keep me locked in here?”
“I’m sorry, Syaoran. Had it been my choice, I wouldn’t keep you guarded and locked. But the Elders would have had you thrown into the dungeon, and I thought this would be a more pleasant alternative.”
Syaoran snorted. “I would rather have the dungeons—at least that would brand me clearly as a traitor, and I would gladly embrace my punishment. So, when will I have to face the tribunal?”
“The Court of the Inner Council has yet to decide on a trial date for you. After all, the Li Clan does not take kindly to traitors—we all know that. And for you, because you were the Chosen One, turning your back on the Clan could be considered the highest degree of betrayal. They’ve got to be harsh on you to set an example for the rest of the Can. But I am doing my best to appease the Elders and try to convince them that your blatant display of disrespect is nothing more than a pubescent boy’s temporary rebellion. Which is what it is. You were much too young to carry on the responsibilities of the Chosen One. You can’t be held accountable for your misjudgments and childish behavior. You didn’t know what you were doing.”
“No, I knew perfectly well what I was doing when I chose to stay in Japan and ignore the wishes of the Elders. I made a conscience decision to abandon my title as Chosen One,” replied Syaoran somberly.
Sighing, Leiyun stood up from the chair. “Come, Syaoran. I think you need some outside air to cool your head. It must have been difficult for you, being cooped up indoors for all these weeks. It’s no wonder you’re blathering nonsense and taking showers fully clothed.”
Without the will to argue back, Syaoran followed Leiyun down the long corridor. He realized his room was located in the rather abandoned third floor of the South Wing of the Main House. They walked out to the backyard, where he saw a line of young men and women in the courtyard, training in martial arts. It was still chilly outside, considering how warm Hong Kong weather usually was. Though there were curious glances in their direction from those people in the courtyard, Syaoran paid no attention to them. After all, he had always grown up with the gaze of everyone as the Chosen One candidate. Now, they were walking through the extensive botanical gardens, where the fountain shaped like goldfish trickled water merrily. Even further down the winding pathway, they came to a worn, secluded courtyard, which granted them some privacy.
“So, Syaoran, do you care to tell me how you came to lose all your powers?” Leiyun asked, turning to the younger boy.”
Syaoran turned to face the man standing before him. Finally, he could speak to him. All these years, all those times he’d wondered what Leiyun would say, what he would advise. But this was not how he wanted to me meet him. Not in this state. The man standing before him had been his mentor, his friend, his brother and the person he had looked up to. Unable to contain himself any longer, Syaoran burst out, “They said you were dead. We all thought so, these past seven years. If you were alive, all this time, why didn’t you let us know?”
Leiyun sighed. “That’s another story to be told at another time. What you need to be concerned with is how you can be pardoned by the Council.” They walked into the courtyard, at the center of which there was a large slab of stone in the shape of a cross. “In the olden days, traitors used to be chained to this stone, then beaten until unconscious or bled to death. Thankfully, the Clan is a little more civilized now.”
Hearing Leiyun’s cheerful tone, Syaoran stared at the stained gray granite, as if he could hear the centuries of cries from people who had been at the mercy of the Li Clan. “Do you know what the Elders want to do with me?” Syaoran asked, placing a hand on the weathered slab of stone. “You clearly know I don’t have any powers. I’m useless now to the Clan. Why keep me here?”
“Because it’ll make you miserable,” replied Leiyun darkly. “Syaoran, I don’t think you understand how the Clan works. The Li Clan’s not about family honor and dignity. It is about profit and reputation. You being willful and acting on your own accord, when as the Chosen One you were the figurehead of the Clan, has been putting muck on the Elder’s reputation and self-pride. That’s why you must be punished. So that others can be taught not to disobey the Clan.”
“What about you? You do as you please.” Syaoran said.
Leiyun smiled demurely. “They abandoned me and left me for dead. Don’t you think they owe me a little favor?”
Syaoran shuddered. He did not ask anymore.
“Well, Syaoran, I apologize for you current situation, but I will make sure to see that you are allowed some fresh air—of course with a guardian. But anything would be better than night and day confinement, will it not?” Leiyun said pleasantly. He turned around. “Jin. You can come out now.”
Li Jinyu came out of the trees that had been hiding him. In full daylight, Syaoran realized that the young man standing before him was not much older than himself. His long black bangs covered most of his eyes, but Syaoran glimpsed that they were a brighter, more ruby-amber than his own.
“Accompany Syaoran back to his room,” Leiyun said.
Jinyu nodded, and Syaoran reluctantly followed Jinyu back through the gardens. He desired to speak with Leiyun longer. Meanwhile, his guardian spoke not a single word but silently lead him back to his room. Only from the back, Syaoran could see that Jinyu had two long braids coming out from the nape of his neck, like thin ribbons snaking down his back, over the red dragon embroidery on the back of his black cheongsam. In the light, Syaoran finally recognized where he had seen Jinyu before. Jinyu was the Li Clan Protector, appointed just a year go. While the Chosen One was the figurehead of the Clan, the one who undertook difficult missions and boasted the honor and splendor of the Clan, the Protector took care of all the undercover tasks, the deeds that happened with stealth and in the shadows, the ones that no one talked about. In Japanese terms, the Chosen One would be like a samurai, and the Protector like a shinobi.
Only several days ago, Syaoran had the cast taken off his arms—ever since then, he had returned to rigorous martial arts training. He had nothing better to do, and he had to rebuild the muscles in his right arm which had been mangled so badly. The healers said they doubted it would ever be the same again, but he’d see. Getting bitten by the Plague in his arm wasn’t the worst that had happened to him as of late. The worst was breaking his promise to Sakura, that he would always be by her side. But she was in safe hands. Now that Eriol was there, he did not have to worry as much as he did when he left her the first time. She had powerful friends, those who would protect her.
Leiyun kept his words, and Syaoran was allowed to roam around the estate so long as he was escorted by a bodyguard—they did not have to worry because after that first week, Syaoran realized that he did not have anywhere to run to, that there was no point in trying to escape the Clan. Because if they wanted you, they would find you. Earlier that day, he had been allowed out of the gates of the Main House estate for the first time. They had driven him to the Li Hospital so that he could get his arm checked up and start proper rehab. After the check-up, they even allowed him to get out of the car and take a walk outside, almost unescorted. Leiyun had mentioned to Jinyu that it would be “all right to let the boy take a stroll down the harbor for a change.” Why the sudden generosity, Syaoran did not know, but he was glad to be able to see the outside world for a change—living in the Main House was like living in a time capsule from a century ago where traditions and aesthetics never evolved with modern times.
It had been a brisk, chilly day, weather that could rival Japan’s winter, an unusual occurrence in Hong Kong. Yet, even the cold was welcome to Syaoran—any sensation except the blank numbness he had felt as he was trapped indoors. Though the harbor had been covered in fog, the outside world seemed so bright and surreal after a month being cooped up in the Main House. It was as if he could breathe again, the familiar salty air that distilled his mind and made him feel like he was still alive.
And there, out of nowhere, he heard her sterling clear voice call out his name. At first, he thought he was mistaken in the midst of the honking cars and humming of voices. Then he heard it again. He knew it was her for certain, even without turning around. But he couldn’t resist. His feet were planted to the ground, unable to step forward, unable to step back. And he had to glance behind, to make sure it was really her. Sakura, in her soft pink coat, the white fur surrounding her throat and sleeves. Sakura with her long golden-brown hair tied up, with loose strands whipping around in the wind. Sakura with her glistening sea-green eyes that gazed at him so imploringly. It took just that brief glance of her before he entered the car to crumble all his resolve, to send the emotions he had packaged within himself over the past month into a whirlpool again. When she had called out his name in that urgent voice, it took all his restraint to just look forward and continue walking. If she had called out one more time, he was sure he would have knocked aside those bodyguards and ran back to her, taking her in his arms, feeling her warmth to make sure she was real and not just his imagination. Was she well? Was she angry at him for leaving? Was she fully recovered yet? Was she here alone? He would be surprised that her brother let her come to Hong Kong. What was she doing here? She couldn’t have come here alone. But he had left her standing there; he had told her to leave. He was relieved that he had not been facing her, because the expression she must have been wearing on her face from hearing those words would have torn his heart asunder.
With trembling hands, Syaoran held the pale blue envelope in his hands, the letter from Sakura. He grabbed his coat again and pulled it on, placing the letter in his coat pocket.
“Syaoran-sama, where are you going?” Wei asked as Syaoran burst out from his bedroom, following after him.
“To get some air,” Syaoran replied, hurrying down the hallway. He knew Jinyu was tailing his steps as usual, but he didn’t care. For some reason, Jinyu following him around didn’t bother him as much as the other bodyguards. Maybe it was because Jinyu was good at what he did—not being noticed. Or maybe it was because Jinyu didn’t particularly seem to care what Syaoran did or seem to derive any pleasure from reporting back to the Elders about Syaoran’s daily activities.
A strong gust from seaward struck his face, whipping his hair back as he gazed out at the waves rolling onto the shores, the anchored boats bobbing back and forth in the ocean. The guards did not try to stop him when he ran out through the back gates of the Main Estate. Because they knew that even if he left the Main House, there was no way he could leave Hong Kong. He was trapped in this city. Breathing in the familiar scent of the ocean, he realized that he was no longer angry. He was no long suffocating. He felt surprisingly calm after the events of the day. He had sent Sakura away. She had come all the way from Japan, but he could not give her an answer. He could not even look her properly in the eye.
He leaned on the cracked stone ledge overlooking the harbor. The letter. The letter was still in his pocket. Slowly, he opened the crinkled envelope and unfolded the sheets of paper within it. It was unmistakably Sakura’s curvy handwriting written in dark blue ink.
If you are getting this letter, it is probably because I wasn’t able to see you in Hong Kong. I am sitting by the harbor, near by your house, actually, looking at the deep gray-green sea—I’ve never seen so much water everywhere before. It makes my heart feel peaceful, after all that has happened, but a little sad also. So this is the view you grew up with. Today, I visited your house. You weren’t there, but I met your mother. She was as beautiful as before, and I’m still a little intimidated by her. Now that I get around to writing this, I don’t know what to say anymore. I had so many things to say to you, so many things I wanted to tell you. Somehow, I guess I’ve been taking you for granted. When I first learned that you left Japan, I admit was really shocked. I wished you told me before—I won’t have minded, really, because I always knew that you would one day have to return. With life, people come and go. People enter into our lives and then leave. But, if paths cross more than once, doesn’t that mean there is something more?
As I was sick, I spent a lot of time thinking in bed. There was not much else to do. For a while, I reproached myself for losing Subaru. But I’ve come to terms with it. Did you know he left me a letter? He was such a smart boy, for all that he was just seven. And it made me realize that so many important things in life end as an idea flickering in the mind, that life is too short to spend simply thinking and ruminating, that feelings and thoughts have to be communicated. He may have passed on, but I’m here and alive. I have so many things in life left ahead of me. I realized when you were gone, that I was a little sad, a little angry that you left without a word. But then, I also understand that you also must have your reasons. So, I don’t mind waiting for you, waiting for the next time I could meet you so that I could say everything I need to you to your face.
The sun is almost setting now, and I realized I haven’t said anything I meant to write. That’s why my handwriting is getting messier—it’s getting dark and I’m running out of paper, even when I haven’t said anything I wanted to yet. Syaoran, you’ve always been there for me whether I was down and dejected, scared and worried, happy and excited. You might laugh when I say this, but when I was in that coma, I think I awakened because I heard your voice calling me. It could have been a figment of my imagination, but then, I can’t help asking myself, out of everybody, why is it your voice that I heard?
The past few months have been the most difficult times that I ever had to endure. Yet, what kept me going through these trying times, in the past and even now? I wish I can tell you to your face how grateful I am to you. All those times of peril, all those times I was in despair, thankfully, you were there. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have come this far. If it weren’t for your harsh critique, I would never have been able to capture all the Clow Cards. If it weren’t for your kind words after Yukito-san rejected me, my heart would never have healed. If it weren’t for your support, I would not have been able to defeat Eriol-kun. If you weren’t by my side against this battle against the Dark Ones, I would long since have been crushed. I have a feeling I wouldn’t even be alive after the Plague if you didn’t call out my name that vital moment when I was sealing the Plague. Back then, I did see you. I’m sorry I set up the barrier blocking everyone, but please don’t be angry at me for not listening.
There are so many things left to tell you, but I’m out of lines. Syaoran, I just want to tell you, thank you, thank you for always being there for me. That’s why I won’t ask anything of you anymore. This time, I want to be there for you if you need me. So, I’ll wait. That’s all I can do for now.
Syaoran sat on the ledge overlooking the ocean, the very same ledge Sakura must have sat on when she had left from his house. He held the letter with trembling hands. He did not want to read it but he had read it. It was like Sakura to write such an uninformative letter. She could have mentioned how her health was, if there was any side effects from the power transfer—though she did not know about that, of course. She could have truthfully let him know that she was angry that he had left without a word, that she felt betrayed. She could have reproached him. But why did she thank him? Why did she tell him that she would wait? What did she feel now that he had sent her away like that, walked away from her without turning back. He had hurt her beyond reparation. She had every right to reproach him. Nothing written in his letter mattered anymore. It was all from the past. She had written it from the past. Today was another day. Tomorrow would be yet another day. And yesterday would be just nostalgic dreams that would haunt his sleep once in a while. He let a strong gust of wind carry away the sheets of pale blue stationary, watching the paper fly away into the harbor.
Then, he recalled the gentle plea in Sakura’s jade-green eyes as she called out his name. Why had she come to Hong Kong? For him? No… Why would she come for him when he had broken his promise to her? But he thought of her sitting on this cold stone ledge, writing him those words. He could almost hear her speaking them with her sweet, clear voice—she had a tendency to ramble on when she was nervous. She had come for him, all the way from Japan. What did that mean? What was the message written in between the lines? How did this letter even reach him? Through her hands, Kai’s, Meilin’s, Wei—all those people who wished them well. Jumping over the ledge, Syaoran made a wild dash towards the sheets of letters flying away in the wind over the ocean. He did not even realize he had jumped down into the sea and was waist-length in water before he was able to grab one sheet of paper—the rest had already flown away. The local fishermen stared at him as if he were insane. Maybe he was. But Syaoran clutched the single sheet of paper in his hands. The ink was smudged with sprays of wetness from sea water. He could still make out the words. Thank you… Thank you for always being there for me… This time, I want to be there for you if you need me. So I’ll wait…
She must have left Hong Kong by now. If he could have just turned around and run back to her that morning. If he could have answered her call. If he could have just explained to her... The water lapped up his waist, icy cold as the sun sank lower into the horizon. The voice that had been lost to him earlier had returned to him. “SAKURA!” He called out at the top of his lungs. “SAKURA!!! Do you hear me?” The only answer was the echo of his voice over the roaring of the waves.
He could remember the pain in her eyes as tears spilled down earlier that morning, when she had called out after him. She had been running after him and fell down—but he did not stop the car. He had left her there, on her knees in the middle of the road. He was such a despicable person.
It occurred to him that his limbs were turning numb from the cold, and he waded back out of the water and staggered back onto the ledge. He stared out at the dark blue-green ocean, waves tumultuous as were his insides. With trembling hands, he tucked the crumpled letter into his breast pocket which was still dry. Somehow, life without Sakura seemed bleak and dreary. But wasn’t that how things were before he had met her? Ah, but now he knew what he had lost.
With life, people come and go. People enter into our lives and then leave. But, if paths cross more than once, doesn’t that mean there is something more? Those lines had flung out at him like a desperate plea. Yes, there must be something more. Otherwise, how could he continue on living and struggling? Was there any meaning in fighting against the Elders? What was the use of everything he’d worked towards until now? He was no longer the Chosen One; he no longer had any special powers. He had lost Sakura and his family and friends were alienated from him. He was alone, utterly alone. No! Our paths must cross again. This can’t be the end, I simply can’t let it be. Or else, what is the meaning of my existence? Sakura, without you, there is no longer Li Syaoran…
In the distant wind, he though he heard her voice whisper in his ears, Sayonara, Syaoran.
The dimly lit underground chamber, deep beneath the Li Headquarters, was the only place that Li Leiyun could get away from the pesky Elders. He scowled as he tried to decipher the faded foreign words in a fragile leather-bound book he was reading. Straining his neck, he looked back to see what was blocking his source of light. Long slender arms snaked around his neck.
“You never told me that your cousin was such an amusing kid, Lei,” the young woman with pale lavender eyes remarked.
“Kara, you’re blocking the lantern,” Leiyun replied crossly.
Kara slinked around his chair and leaned on the armrest, crossing her legs. Silver cross earrings twinkled from her ears as she tucked her chin-length hair behind her ears to bend over and read the scroll. Her hair was such a pale gold that it glistened almost as silver as Leiyun’s in the candlelight on the table. “Pendant l'été, je suis resté au château de la Loire souvent,” she read out loud.
“You never told me you read French,” remarked Leiyun, folding his arms.
“Natural talent.” Kara shrugged her shoulders. “One of my distant ancestors was from France.”
“You could have told me earlier.” Leiyun scowled as Kara flipped through the pages, skimming the legible words.
When she grew bored, she looked up towards the shadow, where a third person stood leaning by the doorway. “So, I heard that Clow Reed’s successor made quite a ruckus around here, the other day, Jin.”
Jinyu glanced at Kara with narrowed amber eyes but did not reply.
“What a silly bunch your cousin’s crowd is,” Kara remarked to Leiyun, hopping off the armrest. “I’m surprised Clow’s reincarnation hangs out with the likes of them. Must be demeaning.”
“Hiiragizawa Eriol? It will be interesting to meet him, for your sake, Kara dear,” Leiyun replied with a yawn. “So, Jin, what has my cute cousin been up to lately? He hasn’t drowned himself yet, has he?” He smiled innocuously. “Or is that being too hopeful.”
One glance at Sakura’s tightly concealed expression kept Touya from asking anything further about his sister’s trip to Hong Kong. If anything, his resentment for the Brat was finally sealed, for Touya now realized that the Brat was truly out of his sister’s life. Yet, why could he not rest at ease with this?
Outwardly, there was no change with Sakura. She had received her new uniform for Seijou High and went shopping with Tomoyo for school supplies. Also, Sakura never argued with him anymore. She never talked back, never even got angry when he teased. She just smiled and let him say anything he wanted. And because of that he no longer teased her or called her kaijou. And she felt different to Touya. Maybe it was because Syaoran’s power was mixed into her blood now. Maybe it was because she’d grown up with the recent events. Once residency at the hospital started for him, he knew he couldn’t spend much time at all at home with his sister. But perhaps it was for the better. Every day, at the back of his mind, he had a nagging feeling he should tell Sakura about what Syaoran had done for her. That the boy had given up all his powers in order to save her life. That Touya had felt the obligation to tell Syaoran, who had give up everything to save her, to leave Hong Kong, to remind him that he was of no use to Sakura without his powers. But what was the use now? He was gone now.
On her sixteenth birthday, a day after returning from Hong Kong, Sakura opened the yellowed letter addressed to her by her mother. She was almost afraid to open it because the paper seemed so frail, but she slowly eased the flap open and breathed in a whiff of musty cherry blossom scent. Carefully, she opened the yellowed letter, out of which a dried sakura petal fell onto her palm. Her heart was pounding as she began reading the letter which was written in dark blue ink in her mother’s flowing handwriting.
My dearest Sakura, at age 16,
My darling daughter—your name is Sakura, right? I always knew I wanted name my first daughter Sakura. So, Sakura, I can’t imagine how lovely you will be—I wish I can see you all grown up, wearing your school uniform. Maybe you will even have a boyfriend, but if you don’t, don’t worry. The right person will definitely come some day. Okaa-san is sixteen and doesn’t even have a boyfriend yet! But today, I met your father at the Tsukimine shrine. How do I know he will be your father, Sakura-chan? It’s just one of those womanly instincts, I guess. Do you want to know how I met him? Maybe you heard the story already. I fell out of the sakura tree and landed right on him. And he told me, “I thought an angel fell from the sky.” At that moment, I knew he was the one for me, that I wanted to marry him. Who is he? His name is Kinomoto Fujitaka-sensei—it turns out he’s a student teacher for my class. He has the kindest smile I’ve ever seen in my life, but I am sure you know him very well. He probably will be a wonderful father.
Sakura, I have so many things I want to tell you, so many things I want to do with you, share with you. I grew up without a mother—so I’m afraid I will be a hopeless mother. I don’t know how to cook, sew or keep house. But I’ll try my best. I grew up by myself, so I’ve always wanted a daughter and a son. My eldest son will be named Touya—aren’t peach blossoms so fragrant and lovely? I hope my son takes after Kinomoto-sensei, because he’s tall, athletic and so intelligent, unlike me. Your brother will watch out for you so that you don’t get lonely. And you must look after Touya-kun and make sure he doesn’t get lonely either. Both of you have to look after your father, but with you two, he would not be as sad when I am not there.
My beautiful, beautiful Sakura, you don’t know how much I wish I can watch you grow up and give you this letter in person. But I don’t think I’ll be able to do that. Don’t ever think I left you, Sakura, because I’ll always be watching over you. You may think it strange, but okaa-san has a strange gift. I can see things that other people can’t. Maybe you and Touya have inherited this gift from me, maybe you haven’t. Today, when I met Kinomoto-sensei, I had a flash of your face for the very first time. You had my eyes. You don’t know how glad I was, how joyful. Maybe this gift is also a curse in that I can see my end coming near—if I can just see you grow up just enough so that you can remember me, I will ask for nothing more. But don’t feel sad if you don’t remember my face, my voice or my touch. When you close your eyes and feel a wind upon your brows, it is my lips kissing your forehead. When your temperature has cooled after high fever, it is my hand stroking your cheeks. When you are waylaid and lost and finally find your path again, it is my steps guiding yours.
There are many wiser than me in the world, and at this young age, I have nothing to leave you, dear Sakura, but a sixteen-year-old’s words on love. I cannot pretend to know any more than I actually do, but what I know with certainty is that when all else fails you, Sakura, trust your heart. And trust the ones that have always been by your side. There are times in life when you are afraid of trusting, and you end up losing chances. Life is too brief, too transitory to miss a given opportunity simply because you cannot allow your heart to trust. You cannot return to the past, you can’t undo what is already done. All you can do is continue looking forward. So, Sakura, grow up to be a magnificent, lovely young lady. But most importantly, all I want for you is to be able to be confident in who you are, Sakura. Never lose your smile, for at the end of a storm will come a rainbow. I will always watch over you, my darling daughter. I love you.
One last word to leave to you… Things may seem confusing for you at the moment, but everything will be revealed in its own time. Seek for the Eye of the Dragon, and you will find answers.
- Amamiya Nadeshiko, age 16
Tears were rolling down Sakura’s face, but she was careful not to drop them onto this precious letter. The words of her mother at age sixteen—at that young age, she knew so much. She already knew who she would marry, what she would name her children, what she would teach her daughter. Sakura was now sixteen, and she felt like she knew nothing.
“You can’t possibly have completed your spring break homework, Sakura,” Touya commented on the last of spring break. They were on their way to the Tsukimine Shrine.
“I did—Tomoyo-chan and I completed everything yesterday at the library,” replied Sakura smugly.
“And you didn’t even ask for my help, Kaijou.” The old pet name slipped from his lips unintentionally.
“Of course not. I can’t always be dependant on you, onii-chan, can I?” Sakura ran up to the shrine gates. “Ah, it’s the Tsukimine Shrine. I haven’t been here in a long time.”
“Why did you want to come here, anyway?” Touya asked, gazing around the familiar shrine. This was where he had first met Kaho. She had been like a forest sprite, her long hair loose over her shoulders, her eyes a delightful marigold hue.
“Ah, this tree is always the same,” Sakura said, standing before the largest sakura tree, so brilliantly pink that it seems like rose quartzes hung from the branches. “It’s the prettiest tree in all of Tomoeda. And it never changes. Every year, year after year, it blooms the most beautiful flowers.”
“True. People come and go, but this tree seems to stand there watching over us all. It never leaves. It only waits for people to come back,” Touya replied, placing a hand on the tree bark, expressing his greeting.
Sakura lowered her head and clasped her hand together.
“What are you doing?” he asked his younger sister with a slight smile.
“Making a wish.”
“What are you wishing?”
“It’s a secret,” replied Sakura. She knelt down and kept her head lowered, her hair hiding her face.
“Sakura?” Touya paused for a while. She did not answer. “Are you crying?”
Her voice was muffled by her hands. “This will be my last time. Tomorrow, I’ll be fine. But just for today, let me cry.”
Awkwardly, Touya patted little sister on the back. What words could he say to a grown girl who had experienced heartbreak for the first time? When she was a kid, he could give her a lollipop and that would stop the tears. Back when he was a teenager, he thought being an adult would solve all the problems of the world. But now that he was older, he felt the older he got, the more useless he became.
“Gomen. I’m all right now, ‘nii-chan,” said Sakura between quiet sobs. “Really.”
“It’s okay. Cry all you want for today. The old sakura trees will take your tears from you and fill you with tranquility and peace,” Touya told her in a gentler tone than he had ever used on her before.
Wiping the tears from her eyes, Sakura looked up at her brother. “You seem to have experience?”
Sakura gazed at the braches laden with pink flowers, her mother’s favorite. Okaa-san, is this what it feels like to send away the person that is most important to you? Is this how you felt when Ryuuren-san left? Or was it even more painful for you? Did you already know it was going to end before it even began? Or did you think, that maybe, maybe you would be lucky. Maybe you might be the one in a million to defy the odds. Okaa-san, tell me, what am I supposed to do now? I thought surely when I found someone I truly liked, I would also be the most important person to him. But I guess I was wrong. How can someone so dear and so familiar feel like a complete stranger when I see him in a different city? Okaa-san, I won’t be selfish. I want to wish for him to return to me. But I won’t ask for that. Please, just let him be safe and healthy. Let him be happy where he is. Because I know he should be with his family. I know he was born to do great things, and I won’t stand in his way. She wiped away the trickle of tears with her sleeve and stood up, sniffling.
“Sakura?” Touya blinked. His sister was smiling at him.
“I’m really okay now. Let’s go back and eat dinner,” Sakura said. “You’re right. This tree does seem to have some magical calming ability. I’m feeling better now.”
“Thanks you, old sakura tree,” Touya murmured. The branches seemed to shake even if there was no wind. For a split second, he had the vision of black haired fifteen year old boy crying by the side of the tree, for the loss of his first love, the demure woman who he had met at that shrine, only to find her to be the student teacher of his homeroom class. Back then, he thought he had met his fated one. But one year later, she announced she would return to England without giving any consideration for his feelings. If he closed his eyes, he could still hear her bell-like voice, her face radiant under the full moon. She had been wearing a new blue kimono just for him.
"It's been a year since you told me you loved under this tree. I really loved you too, Touya."
"Why are you speaking in the past tense?"
"Let's say good-bye now... The next time we meet, you'll have someone else you'll be in love with, and so will I. And we’ll become really good friends."
And with the same smile she had when she first greeted him, she left him. At that time, he thought he could not love again, but strange enough, the heart did heal. He watched Sakura walk out of the shrine, her steps slightly lighter than they were when she entered the place. All this while, he thought that he could protect Sakura from feeling the same kind of hurt he had felt. Yet, such things were not under his control. Sakura had to experience happiness and pain, joy and sorrow, and learn to stand up again on her own. He could not do it for her. “That’s what you want to tell me, isn’t it, okaa-san? That I have to let her grow up,” he spoke out loud, as was old habit. And the wind ceased, leaving his heart in peace for the first time in months. He followed his sister’s steps, on their way home again.
As Sakura walked back out onto the path, she gazed up at all the brilliance of the cherry blossoms lining the long path leading from Tsukimine shrine. Petals blew about everywhere and the air was sweet with the scent of sakura blossoms. Spring had come late this year, but it had finally arrived. Though he was no longer here, the seasons still changed and time still passed. Even if he was no longer here, she found the flowers as beautiful as before and their scent just as fragrant. Even if he was no longer here, the sky was just as bright and the sunlight just as warm. Even if he was no longer here, she could still live on. And the days would pass by. Then maybe, someday, she would be able to think of him again, without hurting.
Then, she would be able to lift her head up with a smile and say, “Li Syaoran, I loved you, once.”
Later that night, Sakura gently opened the music box she and Syaoran had won during the Best Couple Contest last summer. The tinkling melody of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake brought about a bout of nostalgia for warm weather and sunshine. Inside it, she set Subaru’s note. She then reread the last lines of her mother’s letter to her.
Sakura, trust your heart. And trust the ones that have always been by your side. There are times in life when you are afraid of trusting, and you end up losing chances. Life is too brief, too transitory to miss a given opportunity simply because you cannot allow your heart to trust. You cannot return to the past, you can’t undo what is already done. All you can do is continue looking forward. So, Sakura, grow up to be a magnificent, lovely young lady. But most importantly, all I want for you is to be able to be confident in who you are, Sakura. Never lose your smile, for at the end of a storm will come a rainbow. I will always watch over you, my darling daughter. I love you.
Gently, she set down the yellowed envelope containing her mother’s words as a sixteen year old. She also set down the sakura-petal shaped watch that Syaoran had given her for Christmas. The hands of the time had stopped at 9 A.M., the time that she last saw Syaoran in Hong Kong. Lastly, she set down the broken diamond necklace wrapped in soft cloth, into the music box. As Sakura shut the lid, she felt as if she was shutting away a part of her heart and childhood, forever.
Syaoran, can you hear me? I didn’t think you can. I guess it doesn’t matter anymore, since I won’t be able to see you again. Good bye those blissful days that I spent with you. Every day, I try to think less of you. But I guess it’s not working.
So, this was how it was going to wind up. Did you hear the sound of my heart shattering, like that glass door you broke, when you walked away from me that chill morning in Hong Kong? No, your back was to me, so you probably didn’t see the tears I cried not because you didn’t even pause when you heard my voice, but because I realized that this really was the end. You walked towards your path, and I’ll some how have to find my own. I don’t think I miss you yet because I still haven’t realized that you have walked out of my life forever. It feels like I can wake up and run down the hallway and find you in your room, just the way you were during the summer, always there, always… It’s too late for regrets, isn’t it? So many things to tell you that I never got a chance to… No, just one thing I needed to say to you that I couldn’t. Syaoran, you told me that I would one day find my most important person. But can you tell me what can I do when I’ve already lost him?
I told myself when I went to Hong Kong that I won’t be selfish, that I won’t cling to you. I just want you to be happy and safe, where ever you are, what ever you’re doing. If I can be guaranteed that at least, I think I will be able to go on, somehow.
Yet, what is this emptiness inside of me? It’s because I’ve lost you, isn’t it? But in losing you, I have gained a very somber knowledge, the weight of what you truly meant to me.
So, good bye, my most important person.
Wish-chan: (November, 2007 edited version)
“Who is my most important person?” The age-old question Sakura struggles with in Season Three of Card Captor Sakura. The theme of this chapter is obviously, “Hontou no ichiban,” literally translated, “My number one person.” My favorite CCS anime episode was that episode, 66, if you can’t tell, and it’s a hard pick because CCS is such a fabulous anime with superb episodes and characters. In this chapter, I tried to come to a full cycle with the events of Episode 66, because that single episode contained probably one the most moving and touching scenes I’ve ever seen in my life. That’s when I realized how much young Sakura and Syaoran had grown over the course of the 70 episodes. Who would think they are merely ten year olds? All the magic, costumes and cuteness makes CCS probably one of the most delightful shoujo animes ever, but then, the characters portray so much emotion and development that make it resonant and human. If I could have capture half that in this chapter, than I have done what I can.
Well, what an emotionally draining chapter to write! Many things happening to make way for the final arc of New Trials. I’m sort of glad it took me this long to get to this point of the story, because I don’t think I could have handled writing it back when I was thirteen. Some of these scenes are scenes I replayed over and over again in my mind, waiting for the moment I could include them in the story—and there are more storylines to come that I’ve been waiting years to get to. Is it any assurance to tell you this chapter is still less gloomy than I had anticipated? I’m a bit sad I can’t give Rika’s arc more development, but I can’t help it since her scenes occur sort of off-screen. I think I mentioned before that in New Trials, I leave enough room for other things to be happening. And maybe I can fill in things in the future if I feel like it—and Rika would get her own Special Chapter. But she’s not that high up on the queue of characters who need their own specials at this point. This is another example of a chapter that grew twice as long as I intended—Syaoran’s POV wasn’t supposed to be included in this chapter at all, but I thought that would be too mean to have to wait till the next arc to find out what happened to him, thus I included the Epilogue. >.< So, this was the first magic-void chapter thus far (I think)… I guess I wanted to focus on the human aspect of things, without the powers, the messy ancestral business and all the battles. I guess lots of build up for the next arc. Wouldn’t it be cruel if I ended here and said, “The End?” Lol…
The title comes from a 98 Degrees song that I used to be like a lot of the same name. (Good old days when boy bands were good.) I guess this wallpaper finally makes sense now: http://wishluv.revolutionhosting.net/ssseawallpaper.jpg I was also very inspired by this quote from a Japanese drama call “Long Love Letter,” which actually is not a romantic drama at all by a supernatural sci-fi one. Anyhow, it went along the lines of, “A letter can transcend time because it is written in the present but conveys a message to someone in the future.” Kind of like a time capsule, I guess. And I may be making the quote up from my memory, but it’s something along those lines.
To commemorate completing this chapter, I have made a special New Trials Trailer that took me a month and a half to put together. Since I used to get lots of comments about, “I wish New Trials was an anime…” I made a trailer for Chapter 53 – “Yesterday’s Letter – Hontou no Ichiban” Trailer which is sort of a montage of one of the scenes. ^_^ You can find it here: http://youtube.com/watch?v=MSoe6K5yTis I put a lot of effort into it and drew many of the pictures when I had downtime at work. All the Hong Kong photos except the night one were taken by me when I visited Hong Kong. The first half is a flashback of Episode 66, “Sakura and Her Number One Person.” In reflection, the title of the episode might initially indicate Yukito-san, but I think by the end, we actually realize it meant Syaoran. Enjoy!!!
And check out the CCS New Trials AMV – Sakura Drops that elliray has made with the song I envisioned to be an ideal Opening song for NT. Makes you feel nostalgic. >.<
Special thanks to Amethyst Beloved (who uploads these chapters up on fanfiction.net) for making chapter summaries of ALL the chapters as well as awesome appendices. It makes life easier for those who don’t want to reread fifty-something chapters to find out when something happened.
Heck, it was a good refresher for me because after writing thousands of pages of New Trials, every time I write a new chapter, I need to return back to old chapters to double check my facts, because I’m growing old and forgetful. Also thanks to Kirei Blossom for compiling a list of all the new Sakura Cards—I couldn’t keep track of them myself. Very thorough list. ^_^.
Please join the best source of news for New Trials and other Card Captor Sakura related stuff at the most awesome ring with the most awesome group of people: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/newtrialsring/ and check out my semi-updated website at http://wishluv.revolutionhosting.net/ or wishluv.com
And please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org It is YOUR feedback that has fueled me for the past eight years. Thank you! (And now that I have finished a chapter, I can catch up with replying to emails… Gomen, I know I’m bad about replies, but I read every single email with delight.)
I still can’t believe we’ve made it this far. So concludes the Third Arc of New Trials. Thank you for staying through all these chapters! See you in Arc Four!