Piece of Heaven
By Ekai Ungson
Disclaimer: Card Captor Sakura copyright CLAMP Kodansha. Characters used without permission.
First in a two-part miniseries. The sequel to "Mellow Candle".
The waiter had just brought the wine in a bucket of ice, and two glasses along with it. The man poured himself and his lady a glass each, and they raised the goblets in celebration of their very special night.
"Excuse me, sir, are you Li-san?"
The man looked up in confusion, but nodded. "Yes, how may I help you?"
The bartender stood before him and held out a hand. "Somebody asked me to give this to you."
It was a small parcel wrapped in slightly damp tissue paper, no bigger than a coin, maybe only slightly. The man stared at it, now more confused than ever, then at the bartender's unreadable expression. The man then stole a glance at the bar, straining to see a figure of a girl clad in green velvet, and found nothing but an empty stool where she had been sitting only minutes ago. That was when realization dawned on him.
Slowly, tentatively, he took the parcel from the bartender, who, soon afterward, bowed and left. Then, for a few precious seconds, he sat as if transfixed, until a woman's voice broke into his thoughts.
"Syaoran? What is that?"
He looked up and feigned a smile as he pocketed the parcel. "Nothing."
He glanced at his watch and noted the time. 12:54. She would be walking across the courtyard right… about… now.
And sure enough it was Kinomoto Sakura's I'm-in-a-hurry-because-I'm-running-late stance that emerged from the corner where the orange tree stood. She was clutching a book in one arm and rummaging in her bag with the other, not really looking where she was going. He advanced, hoping she wouldn't see and he wouldn't have to be faced with her eyes until he had said what it was he had to say…
… but by some miracle of God she stopped, as if she had sensed something (which she probably did), and turned to stare at him in the face.
"Hi!" Li Syaoran replied, a little louder than originally intended. "Great day, isn't it?"
"Li-kun," Sakura began solemnly. "You were trying to sneak up on me."
It's positively uncanny,Syaoran thought, bewildered. He forced out a laugh, which sounded exactly that—forced. "Uh, yeah. I wanted to talk to you about something…"
Her brow furrowed. He knew that she had a class in the building on the far side of the campus. He knew she was running late. "I've got.. Anthrop…" she began.
However, the look on his face was, to her, something bordering on desperation.
"… but I suppose I can blow it off for now," she finished, and he smiled then, that familiar smile of his, and she realized that for some time now she hadn't seen that smile. Not on her, for her, anyway. There was something about familiarity, this familiarity, as if she was coming home.
But she squashed the thought. She couldn't return to him. He was… somebody else's now.
"What did you want to discuss?" she asked instead.
"Do you mind if we walk?" he asked, but already then he was walking. "It's cold."
So she walked, trying to keep up with his speed and his pace. He was chattering inanely, about his sisters missing her, his mother wanting to see her, and how was Yamazaki and Daidouji doing?
She answered his small talk with smaller talk of her own, trying to figure out what the heck he wanted with her and why was he acting this way. It was big news a while back, him getting engaged to Nainiji-san, but she already knew that, and he knew she knew, so this was most definitely not a talk involving him telling her about the engagement (which, of course, he didn't even really need to tell her). She already knew, the way the rest of the world knew, by reading a paper and seeing the lifestyle section. "Wedding of the Century", it said.
Then he stopped, suddenly, in front of the coffee shop they used to frequent, some time way back when. Why she always referred to that time in the past-past tense she will never understand, when it had happened only mere months ago.
"Li-kun?" she asked.
"Why don't you call me Syaoran anymore?" he asked suddenly.
She stared at him. Then she walked over to a table and sat down. He sat at the chair opposite her and looked at the table.
She looked out at the road, out at the highway. She watched the cars pass by and heard the people laughing as they walked by. Then she spoke.
"Why do you not know?"
He looked up at her. She kept her gaze on the farthest horizons.
"Because I don't," he replied. "I remember that day you called me, and said that you really felt as if we were friends when I called your name back in the elevator. I remember you asking to call me by my first name, just to solidify that friendship. I don't know. Does your calling me by my last name mean that we're not friends anymore?"
She shook her head suddenly, violently. "It's not that," she replied. "We're friends. We'll always be friends no matter what happens."
She looked at him briefly before staring at her hands, clasped on top of the table. "…I remember Meilin-chan telling me something when we were in Hong Kong," she said softly. "She said that the only people who called you by your first name were herself, your mother, your sisters, and me."
His brow furrowed, as if he were concentrating very hard on this.
"I asked her if it meant anything," Sakura continued. "And she told me that you only let the people you love call you that." She smiled bitterly then, and that smile was something he had never yet seen on her. She smiled when she was happy, smiled when she found a friend, but she had never been one to smile so sadly. It was a travesty.
"I don't think I have to point out the glaring obvious, Li-kun," she finished softly.
"So you think I don't love you anymore?" he asked, his voice breaking somewhere. "Sakura?"
"I don't know," she replied. "I don't really know."
They remained quiet for several minutes. Then Syaoran pulled something out from his pocket.
It was a squarish piece of tissue paper. He set it down on the table and pushed it towards her. Sakura merely stared at it. Then realization dawned.
Then she allowed her heart to hope. Hope that maybe this might mean something, that it meant that he was, he still, he did…
But she squashed the thought. He was not, he did not, he would never again. She knew about what happened that night. She knew about what promises he had made to a girl, that girl who wasn't her. And she knew he intended to keep them. Wedding.
"What's that?" she asked flatly.
"You know very well what this is," he whispered. "It's yours. I want you to have it. To keep it. I bought it for you, you should keep it."
She felt all the pain rise up to her chest and suddenly she could not speak, could not move. She exhaled, and the effort was painful. Then she spoke in a low, soft whisper:
"What use have I for a ring without meaning?" she asked.
He looked up at her suddenly, expecting tears forming in her eyes or even dropping already across her cheeks. He found none of what he sought, but there was that one thing—
Her eyes were devoid of anything but pain.
"That ring meant everything to me," she said. "It meant your love binding you to me. It meant myself agreeing to be bound. It meant a time long ago when what was yours was mine and what was mine is yours and we were not apart from each other, but a part of each other." She sighed. "That ring means you love me. And only me. And you and me and us." She closed her eyes and he was spared the torture of her. "That is not what we are anymore."
He stared at her. "But we're friends, aren't we?"
"Yes, we're friends," she replied. "We're most definitely friends. We were friends before we were something higher than that, and we still are friends."
"Then take it. I love you."
She opened her eyes and stared into his. "Of course you love me. And I love you, too. But…" she shook her head. "I just don't think I can keep that ring. You keep it."
"Take it in friendship," he insisted.
She smiled. The smile, again, never reached her eyes. "I'll take your friendship but not the ring, Li-kun. You see—" her voice trailed off. "It hurts."
Then she stood up, taking her bag with her. "I'm happy for you and Nainiji-san," she said, smiling a real smile now. He searched her face for anything contradictory and found none. She was really happy. He wondered how she could be that happy, knowing that everything he did to her had made her sad to an unbelievable extent.
"Sakura," he began.
She cut him off. "Send me an invitation to your wedding, okay?" she said, a giggle in her tone. Then she turned and she walked away.
Sakura kept walking until she was in the vicinity of the school. Her eyes were shining, but not with happiness. Something else.
Syaoran sat at the table for a long time. Before him was an empty seat, a glass table, and a piece of tissue paper left behind by the woman he loved most in the world.
Somehow, even if the people around him were laughing, he felt very, very sad.
A/N: I should explain myself.
The S-S saga, as we all know, began with "Beautiful Alone". (And if you haven't read that then you will not understand this story.) Then it continued on to "Mellow Candle", and now this. It seems as if the fic thread will not severe until I get Syaoran good and permanently away from Sakura. Sorry if I seem to be overusing the S-S angle.
Anyway, I hope you guys still like this. It's the first CCS vignette I've written in a long while. Thanks go to the people who persistently believe in me, my imouto-tachi and my oneesama-tachi. Wubs.
Oh, and this has a sequel. That'll be the last one. I promise.