AN: *whimpers and hides from angry reviewers* I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'M FREAKIN' SORRY!!!! I know the last chapter was short! I think I even said in my author's notes, "This chapter is short." I just feel bad when I don't update for long periods of time, it had been a month, and I couldn't remember the rest of the stuff I wanted to put in the chapter, so…yeah. That's the result. Forgive me?

*Candy-chan is chased down by rabid warthogs* EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!!!!

*pant pant* Here! New chapter, longer chapter! It's nice and angsty, just the way I like 'em!! Take it and be gone! I don't own CCS, CLAMP does—get off me, damn you!!!

Chapter Eleven—Strength

Sakura was sitting backwards on her desk chair. Her arms were resting on the back of the chair, and her chin was pillowed on her arms. She was staring intently, if sadly, at the small item on her desk.

But nothing happened. The item just sat there.

"You know, you're not going to make anything happen by just staring at it," Kero said softly from the bed behind her. He hated to say anything, but she had been sitting like that for nearly an hour. And in all that time she had barely moved. It was more than unnerving.

Sakura closed her eyes and sat up straight. One hand reached out and picked up the small pink cell phone Tomoyo had given her. So long ago.

"Sakura, it's not going to ring," Kero told her gently. "Not unless the gaki calls."

He got no answer to that, not even to Syaoran's nickname.

To say that Kero was worried would be the understatement of the millenium. He was light years beyond the point of simply being worried. Though he didn't let her see it much, he was more to the point of frantic over his Mistress' mental, emotional, and physical well being, and he knew he wasn't the only one. But Sakura hadn't even begun to recover from the trauma over her best friend's death. If anything, she was sinking further and further into the bleak void she had created around herself.

Suddenly, she jumped to her feet and grabbed a parka from where she had carelessly tossed it onto her bed earlier and pulled it on. "I gotta get out of here for a while, Kero-chan. I'm going crazy."

"Sakura—"

"I'll be back soon," she cut him off and dashed out of her bedroom; the door closed behind her with a soft click, and footsteps pounded down the hallway.

She ran past the kitchen.

"Sakura—" Touya began, but she cut him off as well.

"I'm going for a walk," she called to her brother, then stepped out and pulled the door closed behind her without waiting to hear the answer. Then she darted down the driveway and was gone.

In the kitchen, Touya frowned. "Sakura…"

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

It was chilly, unnaturally chilly for this time of year, but that was just how things had been for Sakura since the accident. There weren't colors anymore, only blotches of black and white that ran together into blurry shades of gray. And everything was cold.

It didn't help any that it was beginning to rain. Again.

Was it just her imagination, or had it been raining a lot as of late?

Without really realizing it, she began to quicken her pace a little. There really was no reason, but she suddenly felt compelled to walk faster, even though she didn't have a destination in mind.

She came to a corner, a place where she would have to cross the street. She slowed then, and suddenly, she was very, very afraid.

Onegai, Tomoyo-chan, Sakura prayed. Get me across the street.

The pavement seemed to stretch out forever beneath her feet, but somehow, by some miracle, she stumbled up onto the opposite curb, and began to run again. She ran until she came to the next corner, and then she stopped and stared at the other side of the street, panting.

Tomoyo-chan, please…get me over there safely… she made the same silent plea for her best friend's protection before stepping off the curb.

Every curb she came to, it was the same thing: a silent, desperate entreaty made to powers that may or may not be listening. But finally, she made it into the park. She crossed the white bridge. How many times had she and Tomoyo crossed that bridge?

Her foot came down on some wet leaves. She slipped and fell, ending up sprawled face down on the wet, cold pavement. It scratched her face, but she was too numb to feel any more pain. She didn't bother getting up; she didn't have the strength anymore. It was like her energy had simply drained from her body, flooding away like water through a collander, leaving her with nothing.

The rain poured down, pounding against her, like so many punishing whips. Somehow, that stung more than her fall.

Kinomoto Sakura was not a weak person. A weak person could never have captured and sealed the Cards, nor could a weak person have changed the Cards. A weak person would not be able to deal with magic on a daily basis. Sakura was strong. It was something she had always known. Everyone had always told her how strong she was, to be so eternally happy, no matter what.

So what in the world was she doing here, like this? Curled up on the sidewalk in the middle of weather that the RAIN Card would have been hard pressed to imitate? Had she really come to this?

And was she really so strong?

Between the still-crushing pain of her best friend's death and her current state of self hatred, she broke. For what felt like the millionth time since the accident, Sakura broke, and she wept. She wept for herself, for Tomoyo, for Syaoran, for Eriol. She cried for a world that didn't seem to notice her pain.

It should have been me.

The thought sprang unbidden into her mind. It had been a tiny little notion, a small worm slowly burrowing into the very back of her mind: painful, but fairly ignorable. Yet now it took over her entire mind, allowing no room for other thought.

It should have been me.

Everyone had been so heartbroken over losing Tomoyo. Even Yamazaki hadn't been his normal self. He hadn't told a single lie since the accident. And he didn't smile much anymore. The life had simply been sapped from everyone and everything.

It should have been me.

Maybe, just maybe, it would have been different if it had been her thrown through the air by a speeding vehicle. Perhaps if she had died, everyone wouldn't have been so sad. Tomoyo still would have been alive, designing her outfits and videotaping anything and everything that caught her fancy.

It should have been me.

It wasn't supposed to be Tomoyo being run down like that. It was supposed to be her. Sakura. Then things wouldn't be this way. It had all been one enormous, terrible, fatal mistake.

It should have been me.

She was only vaguely aware that the rain was no longer beating her with that punishing force. But it was still raining. She could hear the rain around her, yet it did not touch her. Why?

One watery emerald eye opened slowly.

There was an umbrella being held over her, to shield her from the rain. She peered up at the person holding the umbrella, and her eyes fell closed again. "Leave me alone…"

He ignored her, and reached down with his free hand to take her arm, pulling her to her feet with a certain amount of force. She remained standing when he let go of her, and he carefully brushed the wet strands of hair back from her face. "Are you all right?"

She didn't reply, not even with a shake of the head or a facial expression.

He persisted. "Daijoubu?"

"No," she hissed, almost angrily; her voice cracked harshly on the single syllable.

"Sa—"

"It should have been me!" she screamed, suddenly furiously, cutting him off as she began pounding against his chest with white knuckled fists.

She could hear the shock in his voice. "Nani?"

"It should have been me!" she repeated, still pummeling him.

He suddenly seemed to realize that she was beating him, though, not hard, and he grabbed her wrists, holding her in a firm grip without hurting her.

"Stop it!" he ordered. He sounded more frightened than angry.

"It should have been me!" she heard him, but she didn't. She struggled against him without really even realizing she was doing so. She wasn't aware of anything anymore.

"Sakura, stop it!"

"No!" Sakura screamed. She didn't know why, but at that moment she felt the need to run. She needed to put as much distance as she could between herself and him. And she did; she physically wrenched her hands free of his grasp, then turned and fled as fast as her feet would take her.

She didn't even pay attention to where she going anymore.

She slowed a little. Her lungs were burning, craving air that didn't want to cooperate. Every raindrop that touched her skin burned like molten lava, so that her entire body felt like it was on fire.

A tree seemingly appeared magically in front of her, and she all but ran into it. She slumped against it, letting it support almost her full weight. She barely had enough left in her to keep standing.

A hand grabbed her elbow and forced her to turn around, pressing her back against the thin trunk of the tree she had been leaning on. Two hands grabbed her shoulders in an unforgiving grip; they were like branding irons, burning right through her shirt and thin jacket.

"Sakura!"

She shook her head frantically, unable to see; the tears were liquid fire against her eyes, blinding her. She was vaguely aware that she was speaking, but she didn't know what kind of words were spilling out of her mouth.

"Sakura!"

He shook her shoulders frantically. "Sakura!"

"Onii-chan, make it stop!" she suddenly threw her arms around his waist and sobbed into his already soaked shirt. He looked surprised at her sudden one-eighty, but simply put his arms around her.

"Shh…" Touya rocked his little sister back and forth gently, stroking her hair soothingly and whispering to her. He had always done this when she was little: holding her when she was scared or upset, petting her hair, talking softly to her, even though he doubted she heard him.

This time, though, he didn't know if there was anything he really could do to comfort her.

"Sakura, listen to me," he said; his voice was soft but fierce. "Don't you ever say something like that again, do you understand me?" He got a hiccup and a nod in response. "Tomoyo's gone. Nothing's going to change that. How would things be any better if it was you?"

She didn't reply.

He continued. "Do you know what it would've done to me if that had been you? Or otou-san?"

Still no answer.

"And if you think everyone would be happier if you were gone, think again," he pressed on. "It would be the same thing that's happening now, except that it would probably be Tomoyo here, crying. Sakura, it wouldn't change anything. Please, don't say things like anymore. Please."

She nodded, but didn't look up from where her face was buried in his damp shirt. "Gomen nasai…gomen nasai, onii-chan…"

He held her in silence for a moment, then squeezed her a little more tightly. "Should we go home before we catch pneumonia?"

She nodded again, and leaning heavily against her older brother, she allowed him to lead her towards home. She kept one arm looped around his waist for support and protection, though she didn't quite know what she need protection from. He kept one arm wrapped tightly about her shoulders, keeping her close to him, playing the part of the overprotective older brother.

Older brother? To Sakura, at that moment, he seemed more like a guardian angel.

But even with Touya at her side to keep her safe, she still felt a shiver run down her spine when they had to cross the street. It was a chill that had absolutely nothing to with the rain.

AN: Whew. Settle down, everyone. S'okay, s'okay. I'm having a really, really bad time right now…it's in my bio, if you want to know why I'm kind of depressed right now. I won't bore you with the details if you don't want to read it. But I'm kind of upset right now…*sigh* So no major author's notes today. Just a Fic Pick. I haven't done many of these lately. Fic Picks are my reading recommendations. Enjoy.

Candyland Fic Pick

Title: There Will Be Love There

Author: unmei1

Genre: Tragedy/Romance

ID No: 1610743

Summary: An Eriol and Tomoyo story. This is a perfect example of very short, but very, very sweet. It's sad and sappy, and I promise you, any ExT fan will not be at all disappointed. Will leave you with a sad but fuzzy feeling. If you cry easily, you might want to have tissues on hand.