AN: *runs screaming in terror from enraged readers* Don't kill me!!!!! Here, here, here's a new chapter!!! Now leave me!! Please don't kill me!!! EEEEEEEEEEK!!!!!! *pant pant pant* I'm sorry. I just haven't been in the mood to write much lately, and time has kind of been of the essence, so…yeah. You all know the drill. College life, it is.
Also, I would like to point out that I know nothing about Japanese funeral customs, and I'm too lazy to do any research, so this will be a western-style funeral. But I do know that in Japan, they wear white as a mourning color, rather than black. So that's what's up with that.
I don't own CCS. Just my plotline and my OC, Maya. I also don't own the poem used in this chapter. It's a Robert Frost poem, one of my faves.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go tie Meg down. Why must she insist on doing the hula around my dorm room, on my desk, on my loft, on my futon, into the hall, across the hall into Karissa and Kelly's room, down the hall, into the lounge, back into my room, and…oh geez. Meg, hun, you have a very nice butt, but please get it out of my face!!!! I'm working here, dammit!!!!!!
I love my friends. *Candyland huggles her friends so hard they turn blue*
Five days had passed. Almost a week.
The sun was already shining cheerfully in a clear azure sky. It was a beautiful day, the kind of day children dreamed about, as it was perfect for playing outside.
Kinomoto Sakura rolled over and opened her eyes. She blinked sleepily and sat up; stray locks of auburn hair tumbled into her eyes. She moved one hand slowly to brush the runaway strands out of her face. It was not a good morning.
Her head turned, almost mechanically, and she stared at the sunlight playing across her bedroom floor. It caught several dust mites and reflected them; they kind of sparkled. Then her stare hardened into a full blown glare, not that the sunshine really cared.
It was sunny. How dare it be sunny today?
Then her glare softened into sadness. It wasn't allowed to be sunny today. Sunshine was cheerful, and there was no reason to be that happy today.
Today was Tomoyo-chan's funeral. Today, she would bury the girl she had called her best friend since the third grade. And the goddamn sun had the nerve to shine. It was not a good morning.
She slid soundlessly out of bed and tiptoed across the room to peer into the drawer that served as Kero-chan's bedroom. The little guardian was still sound asleep. Not surprising, considering that it was still fairly early—by Kero's standards, anyway.
But on the bright side, she was—for all intents and purposes—was alone.
It was nice to be alone right now. She didn't want to share her thoughts with anyone. No one could really understand what she was going through. Everyone was mourning, and going through grief. But her's was on a different level. It was nowhere near what Sonomi was going through—she wasn't foolish enough to think that anything could compare with a mother's despair over the loss of a child. But it was different from Syaoran's and Eriol's and probably everyone else's as well. It was hard to explain.
Somehow, she had hoped that she would wake up this morning, and discover that the past week had been nothing but a dream, a horrible nightmare. She would get up, get dressed, go downstairs, Touya would call her a kaijuu, she would yell at him and stomp on his foot, and then they would have breakfast. Just like always. Then she would go to school, just barely make it into the classroom before the teacher arrived, and drop into her desk. Just like always. And Tomoyo would be sitting in her desk, chatting with Eriol and Li. They would pause in the conversation long enough to bid her three different greetings: "Ohayo, Sakura-chan!" "Ohayo, Sakura-san!" and "Ohayo." The last, of course, would be Syaoran. Then class would begin, and the conversation would become a bit more covert during the teacher's lectures.
Just like always.
Well, not anymore.
That kind of 'just like always' just didn't exist anymore.
"Sakura! Breakfast!" Touya's voice rang up from the vicinity of the kitchen, interrupting her thoughts and stirring her back to reality, that this wasn't a nightmare.
Some small part of her mind—the part that seemed to notice anything and everything and was documenting even the smallest details to memory—noticed the absence of the annoying jibe that her brother used as an endearing nickname. He hadn't called her a kaijuu since the accident.
But the fact was for the most part lost on her, and she called back, "Hai!"
She slipped over to the closet and flipped through hangers until she found the outfit she had been searching for. She hadn't had many occasions to wear this particular outfit, but now, it was the only thing that seemed appropriate.
It was a kimono style dress, immaculately white. The design was simple—knee length, short sleeved, with a high, Chinese-style collar. The dress was mostly unornamented, with a few cherry blossoms, of all things, sparsely embroidered on one shoulder.
As she pulled the outfit on over her head, Kero floated out of his drawer, yawning. He perched on the edge of the desk and watched her straighten the dress. "You look nice, Sakura."
"Arigatou," she said softly, glancing in the mirror. She looked pale, and the dress did nothing to help her palor. But yes, she did look quite nice.
"Sakura!" Touya called again.
"Coming!" she hollered before turning back to the mirror and taking a brush to her hair. It felt strange to think that she was preparing herself for the funeral of her best friend.
Sakura pulled her hair away from her face, and paused momentarily before selecting a pink ribbon, rather than a white one, to tie her hair back. She didn't know why she went with her trademark rose shade rather than the colorless one. But she really didn't care. Then she headed for the door.
"I'll have a bag with me, Kero-chan," she said quietly, pausing with one hand on the doorknob. "So you can come along. Spinel-san will be there as well. At least, that's what Eriol-kun told me." Then she left the room, heading downstairs for breakfast.
Kero stared at the door, at the spot where she had stopped. He hated seeing her so sad, but there really wasn't anything he could do, except sit there and watch her cry. And she had been crying a lot as of late. Almost nonstop, it seemed.
"Sakura…" the little magical creature sighed unhappily. But there was nothing he could do.
"Ohayo," Sakura mumbled, unnaturally subdued, as she slid into her chair at the table.
"Ohayo," Touya said back, watching his sister carefully. She wasn't looking at him, so she didn't notice his scrutiny. But he was worried, and her behavior wasn't easing his anxiety at all. "Hungry?"
"Not really," she muttered back. She seemed to mutter a lot lately.
Touya set a plate down in front of her. "You need to eat something, hungry or not. It's going to be a very long day." He studied her for a moment. She looked so pale in the white dress. "Are you feeling all right? I mean, aside from the obvious."
She shook her head. "I'm fine. I'll eat. Just please leave me alone."
With a sigh, he obliged her, taking his own seat across the table and digging into his own breakfast. But he kept one eye intently focused on his little sister—who really wasn't so little anymore. She sat there, using her chopsticks to push her food around her plate, but not really eating anything.
Touya was on the verge of saying something when Sakura suddenly stood up. "Arigatou, onii-chan. I'm done." She all but ran for the door.
"You didn't eat anything!" Touya finally blurted out.
But she was already gone, dashing back upstairs to safety. Kero was sitting on the bed; he looked up at the door when she came back in. "That was fast."
"I'm not hungry," she said flatly, the same thing she had told her brother. Then she sighed. "It's really happening, isn't it? We're really burying her today, aren't we?"
Kero nodded slowly.
Sakura didn't say anything else, but the look on her face said enough.
And the sun still dared to shine.
Sakura stood forlornly in the pew; she was positioned between her brother and Daidouji Sonomi. Fujitaka, ever the gentleman, had taken a spot on Sonomi's other side, and for once she hadn't protested. He had been a great help to her in the days following her daughter's sudden death.
"This is so sad," Yukito said from the other side of Touya, and the latter nodded mutely.
There were no classes for Sakura's school today, as so many students had called in that they would be absent from school to attend the funeral. It had been taken into consideration that Tomoyo had been blessed with many friends, and so it had been deemed an open service, with the front pew reserved for family, and the pews directly behind them reserved for close friends.
But the Kinomotos had been ushered into the very front row, apparently at Sonomi's own request.
Sakura turned and looked around behind her. Some of her closest friends were standing in a row behind her: Naoko, Chiharu, Yamazaki, Rika, even Terada-sensei. The girls were in white; the men were in suits, and Chiharu was openly sobbing, with Yamazaki doing his best to comfort her. Mizuki Kaho was a few rows back. But there were still a couple of very important peoeple missing…
As if the thought itself had summoned them, the door at the back of the church opened, and three people trailed in. Hiiragiziwa Eriol and Li Syaoran, both in khakis and blazers. Akizuki Nakuru, wearing a white dress and carrying a fairly large purse which, Sakura assumed, held Spinel Sun. The Moon Guardian was looking incredibly subdued. Sad, even. It was not normal for her.
The three filed into the row behind her, and manaed to stand directly behind Sakura. They didn't say anything, as if by an unspoken agreement, but offered mere nods in greeting. Nakuru looked forlornly at the young Card Mistress, then reached into her purse and withdrew what appeared to be a small stuffed animal—a black, cat-like plushie, with small semi-transparent wings on its back. At least, that's what it would have appeared as to anyone who didn't know better. Spinel had wanted to come to the funeral, and this had been the arrangement. It would perhaps seem a little odd that someone who looked to be around eighteen years old would hold a plush toy for comfort, but then again, whatever worked.
At Sakura's side, her own purse moved a little. Kero-chan was squirming about. But it had been agreed that when the service began, she would take him from her purse, and he would sit in her lap, unmoving, doing his plush toy imitiation, so that he, too, could watch. That was the plan—he would simply be a stuffed animal, something she could hold onto during the service for comfort.
Suddenly, music began playing. Sakura didn't recognize the song, but she knew what it meant. The funeral was starting. She stood, as did everyone else, and turned towards the back of the church to watch as the casket was rolled in. It was a long, white coffin, with an enormous floral arrangement fixed on the top. The majority of the flowers were cherry blossoms, Sakura noticed absently. Once again, there was that little corner of her brain, documenting every little detail and logging away every little thing.
But she wasn't paying much attention to that right then. She was too busy trying to figure out how it could be Tomoyo in there. It just couldn't be. It was someone else, it had to be someone else in there. But it wasn't. She knew it, and she understood it, but she couldn't accept it.
It was wheeled down the center aisle of the church, and positioned at the front in the very center.
The priest stepped behind the casket, and the service began.
Sakura spent most of the homily in a daze, with Kero-chan sitting quietly in her lap. She couldn't really hear much of what was said, until it was time for speeches, remembrances of friends and family.
Naoko climbed to the podium and adjusted the microphone. Her eyes were red and puffy behind her glasses, but her voice was surprisingly steady as she spoke to the assembly. "Tomoyo-chan was a dear friend of mine for a long time, since elementary school. We shared a love of reading. This was one of her favorite poems, and it sort of fits. I'd like to share it with you now."
She took a deep breath and began to read.
I'm going out to clean the pasture spring
I'll only stop to rake the leaves away
And watch the water clear I may
I shan't be gone long—you come too
Eriol recognized the poem immediately. It was one he knew as well, "The Pasture," by Robert Frost. And Naoko was right—in a strange way, it did seem to fit.
I'm going out to fetch the little calf
That's standing by the mother. It's too young
It totters when she licks it with her tongue
I shan't be gone long—you come too
Naoko took a deep breath and nodded her head. "Arigatou," she choked before stepping away from the podium and returning to her seat amidst the congregation. It was only then that anyone realized that she had recited the poem from memory.
Sonomi tried to speak, but she couldn't make it, and ended sitting back down again.
It was Sakura's turn.
Without a word, she handed the motionless Kero to Syaoran and inched out of the pew, heading for the podium. When she got there, she paused and looked around, out over the sea of white. There were so many people here that she knew, and at the same time so many she didn't recognize.
"Tomoyo-chan was my best friend," Sakura began slowly. She had been trying to perfect her speech for most of the night, and even now, she wasn't quite sure what was going to come out of her mouth. "My best friend since the third grade. Looking back, I can't even count the number of times we would sit in class, whispering to each other, passing notes—in other words, all the things we weren't supposed to do." There was a soft chuckle from their classmates in spite of the occasion. They all remembered those things too. "I'm sure all of our school friends can remember the many, many times when Tomoyo-chan would chase me down with her video camera as well. And I could never say no. Looking back, I'm glad I didn't. It made her happy."
She took a deep breath to steady herself. "Tomoyo-chan was a wonderful singer as well. She had so much talent…" Sakura paused; she wasn't sure where this thought came from, but in a very strange way, it was almost comforting to her. "God probably wanted to hear beautiful music. He wanted someone to sing for Him. I'll bet He's listening to her sing right now, and He's as happy as we were when we listened to her." Tears coursed down her face. "Arigatou."
Sakura stepped away and nearly stumbled on her way back to her seat because her eyes were clouded with tears not yet shed. As she slid into her spot, an arm snaked around her shoulders, and Touya wordlessly pulled her into a one-armed hug. She let her head lean against his side, thankful for even the smallest of comforts.
The rest of the service was a blur, and the next thing Sakura knew, Syaoran and Touya (who had yet to engage in a glaring match) were gently nudging her. It was time to go to the gravesite. Sakura obeyed blindly. She was numb; it was easier to just let herself be led. She was only moderately aware that Syaoran had placed Kero back in her arms.
She stepped out of the church, and her eyes drifted skywards. To her surprise, a layer of clouds had formed in the short time they had been in the church. The sun was no longer visible; it was now gray, more dreary, and more befitting of the overall mood.
The ride to the cemetary was too short and too long at the same time. This was it. After this, they would never see her again, except for a slab of granite stuck in the ground.
She rode between Yukito and Touya, staring blankly ahead. She failed to notice that they were both watching her intently with extreme concern.
Some part of her wondered vaguely about the people who had done this. A couple of dumb teenagers on a dare, she had been told, taking the corner way too fast. They were in prison now, awaiting trial. They would see the funeral, though. They would see a video of it later. They would know their victim's name, have in engraved forever into their memories, as they saw the grief that their stupidity had caused to so many. If they had an ounce of human decency left in them, that would be more than enough of a punishment for them. Perhaps she was being a little unfair—after all, she was quite sure that they hadn't meant to run her down. But the fact remained that they had, and intentional or not, Tomoyo was still dead.
At the graveside service, she stood between Eriol and Syaoran, with Touya, Yukito, and Nakuru positioned behind them. Nakuru was now the bearer of two "stuffed animals." Sakura had handed Kero off to Eriol's Moon guardian, and the golden magical creature was perched nonchalantly on Nakuru's shoulder. Spinel still occupied her arms.
Overhead, a roll of thunder echoed across the heavens.
The service at the grave was short—a few more words were said, a few prayers were offered for Tomoyo, and finally, Sonomi stepped forward and threw a handful of dirt on top of the casket.
Following that, a shower of flowers rained down into the open grave—thrown mostly by friends. Roses, daisies, even a few plum blossoms…and cherry blossoms. Most of the flowers were cherry blossoms, falling down onto the white casket like an endless pink-white snowfall.
Sakura herself released a handful of the small flowers and watched as they danced slowly down onto Tomoyo's final resting place. A few more fell from Syaoran's hands, and Eriol's as well. And for a moment, the assembled guests and mourners were silent, unmoving. It was like a painting of a funeral.
As the mourners began to depart—Fujitaka himself led a sobbing Sonomi away—the rain finally fell, sending guests scrambling for umbrellas or the shelter of their cars. With the sudden precipitation, the area around the grave site was deserted rather quickly.
Only three remained. Three teenagers, standing beside the still-open grave. None of them moved an inch; they may very well have been statues, erected to forever keep a silent vigil over the newly filled tomb. Two young men, both stoic and seemingly emotionless, flanked the third, smaller figure—a pretty, petite girl in a white kimono.
Tears streamed down Sakura's face; they were lost in the rain that poured down around them. She barely even noticed that she was getting soaked, or that her hair was matted to her forehead.
And she didn't seem to realize that Syaoran had taken off his jacket and draped it around her, and then placed his hands on her shoulders. "Come on, Sakura. We should go."
Panic rose suddenly in Sakura's throat, and she pulled away from his comforting grasp, nearly slipping on the newly soaked grass. "No! We can't go! We can't leave her here like this!" The sobs erupted as she bordered on the hysterical. "I can't just leave her here, out here in the rain like this! No!" Suddenly, her energy just dissipated, and she broke down again. "Tomoyo-chan…"
Eriol and Syaoran watched her outburst with deceptive calm; the latter's hands were still poised where they had been when she had slipped away from him. Syaoran lowered his hands a little, and took one slow, careful step towards her. "Sakura…"
"Gomen nasai…" she hiccuped brokenly. "Gomen nasai…" But she didn't move away, and he was able to carefully slide one arm around her waist, ensuring that she would not be able escape again. She didn't even try, though. She simply let him wrap his arms around her shivering form. She was freezing, and not just from the cold rain.
"Shhh…" Syaoran whispered gently, rubbing her back with one hand. Truthfully, he wanted to do exactly what she was doing. He wanted to scream, to cry, to freak out. But he couldn't. He had to be strong now, for Sakura's sake, even though he knew he would pay for it later. But it was a price he would pay. He emptied himself of as much emotion as possible, and hugged Sakura a little tighter. "Shhh…it's okay. It'll be all right." She nodded against his shoulder. "Come on, let's go home."
Syaoran shot a glance over Sakura's head at Eriol, who was watching them impassively. He hadn't moved from his spot beside the grave. Chills ran down Li's spine, chills that couldn't be attributed to the chill in the air. The look on Eriol's face was the source of the shivers. Syaoran had never seen Hiiragiziwa Eriol look so…dead.
No, not dead. Dead was not a good word to use right now.
He looked pale, paler than usual. He looked empty, tired. And lost. Syaoran had never seen the reincarnation of Clow Reed looking so worn out. It was almost frightening.
Eriol's blue-black eyes met Syaoran's amber ones for only a moment, but they quickly averted, and he looked back down at the grave; his hair was just long enough to fall over his glasses, obscuring his eyes from outside view.
Syaoran led a sobbing Sakura over towards Eriol and paused about two feet away. "Are you all right?" he asked, genuinely concerned.
A mute nod was the only answer he got.
Syaoran led Sakura away, to stand under a tree until she had calmed down a little more. Eriol stayed beside the grave, staring down into the still-open hole at the top of a white casket.
His eyes drifted up to read the inscription on the stone.
A beloved friend and daughter
And then it listed the date of birth and the day of…passing.
He frowned at the inscription. It wasn't Tomoyo at all. The hard, cold characters carved into the hard, uncaring stone were nothing like the Tomoyo he knew. They were so harsh, so impersonal…he hated them for a moment. He hated everyone and everything. But the hatred drained from his body almost as soon as it had entered it.
Tears rolled down his face again; they blended with rain. He could taste it. He never cried enough to taste it. Mixed with the rain, it was a salty-sweet taste on his tongue.
A short distance away, a chocolate-haired girl watched, holding what looked like a small gray-black plush toy in her hands; a second stuffed animal, this one with golden fur, was perched on her shoulder. But if a person looked closely, they would see that the "plush toys" were moving. They watched without speaking, helplessly. All three were grieving themselves, and watching over those whose grieving was more severe.
Sakura sobbed under a tree, Syaoran comforted her, finally crying himself, Eriol wept without shame beside the grave, and three silent figures kept vigil. Six in all—each feeling completely alone in that moment, yet connected by a common thread of loss.
And the rain continued to fall.
AN: *whew* It's done! Hope that was worth waiting for. *gulp* I've already got the next chapter started, so it'll hopefully be up sooner than this one was. Gomen nasai once again. I just feel really bad when I don't update for more than a couple of days. Next chapter—Tomoyo and Maya!!!! YAY!!!!
Oh yeah, I might not be updating for a while. Ya see, my birthday is in ten days, and I'm thinking I'm going to do a massive sweeping update on my b'day if I can get everything written in time. But the thing is that my fall break is this weekend. Four days with absolutely nothing to do. I figure I can just kick back and do a little writing, mayhaps, and post a monster update on my eighteenth b'day. Yes, dear friends, my eighteenth birthday. I'M ALMOST LEGAL, BABY!!!!! WOO-HOO!!!!
PS. Thank you to Negi Ramen for telling me about how if a driver kills an innocent bystander in Japan, they have to watch a video of the victim's funeral. Praise, I say!