AN: Yay! Another chapter! Is anybody still out there? It's not dead yet! My dear buddy Ciuline Ihmenjo reminded me (rather vocally) that I'd kind of left this one hanging. Got wrapped up other fics, what can I say? But it's here now, and that's what important, right? Right? Of course.
Just for the record, this one is MONSTROUSLY long. It's the Beast, the mother of all chapters! On the outline, the summary for this chapter was almost two pages in and of itself. And the amazing thing is that three-fourths of it was written in one day, about four sittings. Not bad, ne? So here we go! (takes deep breath) I'm ready, hope you are too! I do not own Cardcaptor Sakura, nor do I own the song that inspired it. Waaaaaah…
The Safe House
Tomoyo smiled, a saccharine grin that belied the seriousness of the manner. "You heard me—we leave tomorrow morning. We'll be leaving early, so you'll want to get a good night's sleep. And," she cut Kenji off before the protests could even begin, "there is no choice in this matter. I'm sorry, but it's for your own good. I'm sorry this is such short notice, but we really need you to come with us."
"Why?" Kenji finally got a word in edgewise, and used that word to snarl the demand at her.
Tomoyo didn't bat an eyelash. "Because if we stay in one place for too long, the chances increase that the Slayers will find us. I don't have to tell you what will happen if they catch anyone here." That silenced any and all protests and complaints. They all knew what would happen.
The Slayers were merciless against any who opposed them. Death was a sure thing; if they were lucky or not particularly valuable, they would most likely have a quick and relatively painless execution. But should they be the carriers of knowledge deemed important or vital, then they were more likely to get a slow, painful death by torture should they choose not to surrender their information immediately. Their secrets would be torn from their very mouths before they were slaughtered.
They were stories that such young ears should not have heard, but in this new world, such was life.
"So we're going where?" Kenji asked quietly, a sure sign that he was withdrawing.
"Will you be going with us?" Kita asked simultaneously.
Tomoyo managed to refrain from sighing. She had been unofficially put in charge of the two children—Kita followed her around like a duckling follows its mother, and Kenji seemed just a smidgen warmer towards her than he did towards anyone else—especially Eriol. Even days later, the former street-boy still glowered and went tense whenever the sorcerer was in the same room.
"The Safe House," she replied. "It's away from Tomoeda. We'll be safer there. Yes, I'm going with you." A smile broke on the girl's face. "And now," a glance at her watch proved that it was, indeed, quite late. "I think it's time for you two to be off to bed. Tomorrow's going to be a very big day, so you'll want to get some rest."
Kita didn't question—she merely moved. Kenji stared at her for a moment longer, features dark with a frown, before following suite and heading towards the stairs. He kept glancing back over his shoulder, watching her warily. She simply smiled until he disappeared around the corner, then her own expression darkened, and she whirled and stalked into Eriol's study.
The sorcerer was seated at his desk, eyes closed. To all appearances, he was sound asleep, but Tomoyo knew better. She stomped right up to the desk and slammed one fist down on it. He jumped and opened his eyes, staring at her with wide eyes; she was one of the few people who could still elicit that kind of a reaction out of him. "You're an idiot, you know that?"
"I assume this has to do with tomorrow's adventures." It was a statement, not a question.
"You're an idiot, uprooting them like this. Kita's barely managed to get her feet under her here, and Kenji refuses to trust any of us at this point. You moving him around like this isn't going to help," she huffed angrily, arms crossed menacingly over her chest.
"We need the space and the protection of the Safe House if anything is to be accomplished," Eriol said wearily, in a tone that suggested this was not a new argument.
"That doesn't change the fact that you. Are. An. Idiot!" she accented each word.
"I know it's not the best move, but we have no time left, Tomoyo-san," he rose suddenly and leaned forward, putting both hands on the desk to keep himself steady. "I don't like it anymore than you do, but it has to be done." His expression grew troubled. "I do not relish what I'm going to do, Tomoyo-san. There just are no other options. We're out of time. If this fails…" He straightened and looked down at his hands, as though contemplating them for some unknown answer. "…if this fails, they win."
Kita's eyes were wide with amazement, and her face was pulled back into a joyful delight unlike anything they had ever seen displayed before on the young face. Beside her, Kenji was trying valiantly to smother a similar reaction—and he was only mildly successful. Even as rough and tumble as the young former street-urchin tended to be, he was still just that—young. And it was at times like this when that youth came galloping through.
The Safe House loomed over them, an enormous building that was almost Victorian in style, and faintly reminiscent of the mansion Clow Reed had twice occupied during his time living in Tomoeda. Of course, Kita and Kenji would know nothing of this. But it was also quite pretty, painted white, with blue trim and blue shutters, and an enormous wraparound porch. The only homes that would even remotely resemble this were the ones occupied by some of the Slayers.
They called it the Safe House because it was just that—safe. Probably the one place in the world where Eriol was confident the Slayers would not find them. The place was shielded so tightly that nothing could leak through; Eriol could perform his most intense magic here—and he had—and no one had ever seemed to be the wiser. How the sorcerer had discovered this place, none of them knew. But it had served them well in the past, and now it would serve them again.
"Well," Tomoyo prodded, stepping out of the car behind them. "Go ahead. It's safe."
Amazingly, they need no further coaxing, and like the two children they were, they darted towards the house. Kenji's emotions continued to be hidden behind that same careful mask of stone; he hadn't been amidst them long enough to understand the concept of trust, whereas Kita had lightened enough around them (though she retained her wild-animal shyness the instant they were beyond the walls of the hideout).
While the adults remained by the vehicle and pulled the few bags from the trunk, the children were already halfway up the stairs, and finally scampered onto the porch. They both froze when they realized that someone was there, waiting for them: a tall, slender man with amber eyes, gray-brown hair, and a smile that seemed extremely comfortable on his face. Kita, who was slightly ahead, skidded to a stop, and Kenji bumped into her. Both looked up at the stranger. Kenji noticed that the man's eyes widened the tiniest bit, but did not comment.
"Welcome!" the man said cheerily, erasing the surprise from his features immediately. "My name is Yukito. So you're the guests Eriol mentioned when he contacted us." He bent down a little closer to their eye level. "We're pleased to have you here with us."
Safe House, Kita told herself, a mantra to give herself confidence. It's a Safe House because it's safe. And he's Eriol-san's friend. He's not bad. After repeating it a couple of times, she managed a small smile and a tiny bow. "Hikari Kita. It's very nice to meet you…Yukito-san?" That last was as a question in a tiny whisper, hesitantly asking permission to address him as such.
Yukito seemed completely unabashed by the informality—after all, he hadn't offered his family name, so there was not much else to use. "Kita-chan, and…" he looked expectantly at the other child, who was peering suspiciously over the girl's shoulder.
Kita pointed at the boy. "That's Kenji." The boy tilted his chin upwards slightly in greeting. But there wasn't a chance for her to elaborate; the moment was broken when something small and gold shot up into Kita's face.
"Konnyanyachiwaaaaa!" the newcomer trilled proudly in a bold Osakan accent, one tiny paw thrust triumphantly into the air. It was only then that Kerberos realized his mistake: the visitors the snow-rabbit had been greeting were two children, rather than the expected Touya, Tomoyo, and Eriol. And as such, they would not know about him, that this was normal.
And at that moment, there was nothing on those two small faces, but pure terror.
Two shrieks sliced cleanly through the air, followed by a multitude of thudding noises as Kita and Kenji all but fell down the stairs. "DEMON PLUSH-TOY!" Kita screamed. Seeing no other place that looked even remotely safe, they dove behind Eriol, who had just come to the foot of the stairs that led to the porch. They peeked out from behind him warily.
It was almost comical.
Back on the porch, Tsukishiro Yukito frowned. "Kerberos…"
"What did he do now?" a small black cat with dragonfly wings landed calmly on Yukito's shoulder and peered disapprovingly at his golden counterpart. "We heard screams. Children?"
"What happened?" Akizuki Nakuru's face popped into view, jumping out from behind Yukito. Her long brown hair was swinging behind her like some sort of deranged pendulum. "What's going on? Is Touya here? Is Eriol here?"
"Was that…?" Yukito's already-pale face had actually gone a shade lighter.
"It looked like them…" Kerberos agreed softly. He hadn't even heard the rebukes from his companions. "But…it can't be. They're dead," he finished flatly; his wings drooped a tiny bit.
Spinel Sun frowned. "What happened?"
Eriol's laughter echoed up to them. "Don't the rest of us get a greeting?"
There was a flash of brown and red as Nakuru dove around Yukito, leapfrogged down the stairs, and threw her arms around Eriol, nearly knocking him over on top of the children. He managed to brace himself, though, and stayed on his feet, smiling in spite of the fact that he probably couldn't breathe too well with her arms circling his neck like that.
"Nakuru, may I please breathe?" he finally asked with a semi-strangled chuckle. She released him with a laugh and took a deep breath, preparing to burst into a high-spirited conversation that would undoubtedly be wholly one-sided. But she stopped when she noticed the two small ones, still using Eriol as a sort of human shield.
"Who are you?" she asked, subduing herself in record time.
"Kita…" the little girl mumbled, eyes wide. She pointed with one hand, "He's Kenji."
"I see…well, welcome!" Nakuru went from zero to bubbly in the space of an eye blink. "We love having guests! Come in, come in! Let them get the bags, I'll show you around the house!" And she was off and running again. "And you have to meet everyone, and—"
"Excuse me," Yukito tapped her shoulder. "Calm down."
"Indeed," Spinel flew over, positioning himself between Nakuru and the children. "Please excuse my friend here. That's Nakuru, and she is an idiot, it can't be helped." Ignoring the hyperactive protests, he went on, "I am Spinel Sun. Welcome." He extended one tiny black paw.
After a moment, Kita seemed to get over her initial shock, and carefully took the offered appendage between her thumb and forefinger. "Nice to meet you too."
Yukito stepped around then, revealing he was holding the small golden creature who had so frightened them at the top of the stairs. The being looked extremely subdued as it floated from his hands over to them; Spinel moved aside to let him speak.
"I'm sorry," he said pitiably. "I didn't know you weren't them." A gold paw pointed at Touya and Tomoyo, the latter of whom was trying very hard not to laugh. "I'm Kerberos!" He suddenly erupted back into his earlier brashness, and struck a pose as he introduced himself.
Kita giggled, and took both paws in her hands. "Thank you."
Nakuru finally lost the battle with herself, and dove at them again. In a second, she'd swept up Kita (who looked a little nervous, but did not resist) and Kenji (who looked flat-out terrified and immediately began demanding to be released) and carted them back up the steps across the porch, and into the house. "Come on, guys!"
"We'll get the baggage, so go on ahead," Eriol waved at them. "We'll be there in a minute."
"Spinel-san, Kero-chan!" Kita said, managing to pull one arm loose from Nakuru's grasp to wave at them. "You come too, okay?" And then they were gone—Nakuru had dragged them into the house, crowing something about a tour.
Eriol chuckled, and turned to Yukito. "That's that, I guess. How have you all been out here?"
"Fine, fine…" Yukito muttered, his mind obviously on other topics than such mundane pleasantries and whatnot. He turned a measuring eye on the sorcerer. "But Eriol…that was—"
"Yes," he answered grimly. "And nobody dare say a word to them about it." He bent a little and picked up the bag by his feet. "But let's get these things inside and rescue Kita and Kenji before Nakuru decides to show them one of those old slideshows of some vacations photos or something." Everyone moved to take a bag—except for Kerberos, who was still floating at the foot of the stairs. He was staring up towards the door through which Nakuru had disappeared.
"Kerberos, could you help?" Spinel asked.
"Did you hear that?" the golden creature breathed, almost awestruck.
"Hear what?" Spinel frowned.
"That girl…nobody else uses that except Tomoyo…she couldn't have known…" he shook his head in sad confusion. "So why did she call me Kero-chan?"
It had taken some time and a little work, but after a full, floor-to-ceiling, attic-to-cellar tour, Yukito and Eriol finally wrested two children from Nakuru's grasp—one was giggling, one was irritated. No prizes for guessing who was who. But now the whole company was nestled into one of the many rooms, while everyone passed around introductions, news, and stories.
There were others who stayed here, aside from Yukito and Nakuru and the two demon-plushies (as Kita was still wont to call them), but only one had really stayed around them at all: a tall, elegant woman with red hair, who introduced herself as Mizuki Kaho. She seemed to be quite good friends with everyone in attendance, and her quiet elegance made an instant impression on the newcomers—Kita in particular. She didn't say much, but stood in the background and watched; she seemed to know far more about what was going on than anyone else.
Furthermore, Kita realized, she was seeing a different side of a few people. For once, Kenji was acting his age; the rough-and-tumble attitude had actually vanished momentarily, and was replaced by awe at these new surroundings, though the suspicion of these new people remained as strong as ever. But they were the same now, two children dropped right into the middle of something that was beyond their simple comprehension. Whatever was going on was so far over their heads that they would need a ladder to reach it. And no one seemed in any hurry to enlighten them. By some unspoken agreement, they always hung together, though Kenji was still far from comfortable around anyone.
But even more so was Kinomoto-san. Truthfully, Kita had always been a bit afraid of the man who was the Resistance leader, and it was not simply because her first contact with him had been to watch him take out several soldiers and then kidnap her. He never smiled, and all too often, he seemed to be off in his own thoughts, perhaps reliving memories of happier times, when his sister was alive. For some reason, the notion of Touya's sister plagued Kita. She'd had only scraps of information, yet something drove her. She was desperate to know more about this girl who had died so tragically so long ago.
But now—no one seeing him at this moment would ever know that this man was responsible for the deaths of hundreds—if not thousands—of Slayers, who had lost it all, and was now one of the two most wanted men alive. There was not a visibly tense muscle in his body, and he was smiling. And laughing.
Now the entire crew was in stitches over a rather funny story that Yukito was telling—well, save for Spinel, who didn't seem to be terribly amused. Perhaps that was because he was the subject of the story: it was an amusing anecdote featuring him, Nakuru, and a lot of sugar, or so it seemed.
"…so I come into the kitchen," Yukito was saying, "and Nakuru is dancing around, laughing her head off. There's flour everywhere, and Spinel is loudly challenging the refrigerator to a duel with a pair of scissors, screaming something about Don Quixote!" He paused while everyone laughed. "And the worst part is that the cookies never got made!" He smiled, and started to say something else, but froze.
Amber eyes widened in what could only be described as panic, and what little color there was in his face drained from it. In a movement so fast it was but a blur, Yukito whirled and fled the room, nearly knocking the door from its hinges by the force of his passing.
The room went completely still. Finally, Touya stood up and hurriedly followed his longtime friend, though he was a bit kinder to the poor door as he left.
Yukito was hunched over in the hallway, one hand pressed against the wall for dear life, it seemed. The thin, frail-looking body was wracked by gasps; his free hand was pressed to his chest, and beads of perspiration dotted the ghostly white forehead.
"Yuki?" Touya voice rose slightly in alarm, and he took a step closer to his ailing friend.
Two words that were enough to make Touya stop dead in his tracks. The voice had come from Yuki's mouth, but it was almost too ragged to be his. It wasn't the normal soft, pleasant tenor, but instead a growl that was laden with something that could almost be called pain. It brought back painful memories of those days long ago, when Yukito had slowly been disappearing as the being buried within him had started wasting away.
But finally, the meaning behind those words dawned on Touya, and he thought to question. "Awake? Who's awake?" His blood nearly froze at the answer.
"Yue," Yukito rasped. "The other me. He's awake, and he wants out. He wants out. Now."
"He can't!" Touya shouted before remembering that there were people very close by, and there were a few among those people who didn't need to know about Yue just yet. Carefully schooling his voice to a much softer, much calmer timbre, he went on, "Yue can't come out right now. Ask him to wait a little longer, just until tonight. After dark, when everyone's asleep. He can have all night to run around and stretch his legs." The image that came to mind then, of the somber, stoic Moon Guardian doing anything of the sort, was enough to bring a smile to Touya's face. "There's too many people here now to risk it."
There was a tense moment as Yukito engaged in an internal war, a struggle within that showed itself quite visibly on his face. But finally, a hint of color returned to his pallor, and his deep, irregular breathing slowed and evened out. "He says he'll wait. But the moment the sun goes down, it's no holds barred. I'm paraphrasing, but you get the idea."
Touya breathed an audible sigh of relief. Then he smiled—it was still a ghost of his former self, but it was a smile nonetheless. "Ironic, isn't it? There's a full moon tonight." He looked up at the ceiling in thought. "I wonder what that will bring about…"
Kita peered around. "Are you sure it's all right?"
Tomoyo smiled indulgently. "I promise you, it's perfectly safe. Go on."
The little girl needed no further encouragement. She skipped out of the house, down the front steps, and out onto the grassy lawn. Then she turned and waited impatiently as Tomoyo followed a bit more slowly, and Kenji trailed along after them with his usual indifference.
Since they had a little time before anything "official" was going to happen, Tomoyo had volunteered to take the two young ones around and show them the outdoors. She had correctly assumed that neither of the children had seen anything like the woods before, and so she was going to take them around to explore a bit.
Kita immediately took to the thick grouping of trees, running around and looking at everything. She proved herself to be something of a flower-child: she spotted a small patch of wildflowers, and got down on her hands and knees to look at it further; a butterfly put in a rare appearance, and she followed its movements studiously with a quizzical look on her face.
Kenji was more subdued in his wonder, though the wonder was there. He meandered slowly, looking around at the various trees and plants. He jumped a mile when a bird chirped nearby, whirling around in a near-panic as he fumbled clumsily for his knife. Fortunately, he caught himself and calmed down before he could do any actual harm.
"Hey," Tomoyo said suddenly, leaning down to whisper to the two children, "I think there's a lake around here somewhere. Want to go see?" She threw them a conspiratorial wink.
Kita's face lit up, and Tomoyo again felt a reminiscent pang. Even Kenji's feigned indifference—which poorly masked his curiosity—started the tug of memories once again, of things a decade past.
Brushing off her own feelings of regret and sadness, she led the children through the forest up to the small body of water hidden in the trees. It wasn't anything huge or overly spectacular, but it was quite pretty, and big enough. Kita took to it immediately, like…well, like a duck to water, reaching her hands in and watching in awe at the ripples and splashes she made.
Kenji snorted. "God, you're such a baby."
Tomoyo jumped to quiet him, but it was too late; the damage had already been done. Kita whirled around, tears already shining in her wide green eyes. "But…I…what?" she sounded confused, and her voice trembled as her already-shaky self-esteem crumbled further.
"You're a baby. Do you have a brain in your head?" he snapped. He didn't mean for it to come out so harshly, but this girl was evoking a response in him that he had never experienced before, something he hadn't felt in his short life. He couldn't even put a name to it.
Fortunately for Kita, the situation was not permitted to go any further. Tomoyo stepped between them. "That's enough. We're going back now." As they started back, she scolded Kenji, who really could not have cared less.
Tomoyo vaguely remembered that Eriol had said something about wanting to begin working with the children as soon as possible. But right now, her even temper was flaring. What was he thinking, saying such hateful things? He was as bad as…
She tried desperately to stop that thought before it could really get started, but she was already remembering the one who Kenji so resembled, the one who had been gone over a decade. The boy who had initially been just as hateful towards a girl he had soon come to love.
They got back to the house in record time—without another word spoken—and Tomoyo was no less frazzled. Kenji stormed ahead, up the porch-steps, and into the house without regard for anyone else, brushing callously past Eriol. The two girls were right behind him, though they stopped.
"Did I miss something?" Eriol asked lightly, looking quizzically at the door the boy had just disappeared through. Then he glanced over, and noticed Kita's distress. "What happened?"
"I'm not sure what his problem is," Tomoyo hissed, also looking down at the little girl clinging to her sleeve and sniffling, "but he has no right to take this out on Kita." Quickly, she repeated Kenji's less-than-gentlemanly comments.
The sorcerer looked faintly displeased. "Well, I hate to disappoint him, but I need him here for the moment. You too, Kita-chan. Meet me in my study please." He smiled at the girl, who looked bewildered. Still so very shy…shaking it off, he headed after the elusive boy.
It took but a few seconds before Kenji had been rounded up and somewhat forcibly escorted to the aforementioned meeting place, where he glowered at everyone. "Whaddya want?" Tomoyo remained silent; she had invited herself to observe, and Eriol hadn't chased her out.
Eriol ignored the sass. "I think it's time I explained to you one of the reasons I brought you two here. You see, you both have a gift of magic, and I think it's time that you learned how to use that magic."
"Magic…" Kita began slowly. "Like what you do?"
"Exactly like what I do," he nodded, and she beamed. "Like…oh, this." He held out one hand and formed a sizable fireball, floating above his palm. It wasn't really that impressive, requiring only the barest activation of his considerable magic. Kita stared at it with faint hero-worship in her eyes.
It was Kenji's reaction, though, that was most surprising. The boy's eyes widened to the size of dinner plates, and he flew backwards across the room, staring at the fire in horror. He looked truly terrified.
"Calm down, Kenji," Eriol held out his hands in a placating gesture. "It's just magic, completely controlled." The boy seemed to take a deep breath and relax ever so slightly.
Eriol sighed with relief. "If you'll have a seat please, we'll begin." In short order, all three of them were sitting cross-legged on the ornately colorful carpet, knee to knee. "The first thing we need to do is find your power. You might be surprised to hear this, but both of you have extremely powerful gifts. It's just hidden deep inside you. We're going to see if we can bring that out, and teach you to use it."
Even Kenji looked cautiously interested as the prospect of being able to do magic. "Will we be able to fight the Slayers with it? Like you do?"
"If you so choose," Eriol nodded, secretly pleased at the boy's question. Kenji really wasn't so difficult to figure out—he was still a child, and when something caught his interest or imagination, it became obvious to the trained observer, no matter how he tried to hide it. "Just like anything, though, there are rules to using magic. If you use too much before you are ready, you could hurt yourself. So we're going to start out small—we're going to find your magic."
"How do we do it?" Kita asked.
It was amazing how every time she opened her mouth, Eriol felt the compelling urge to hug her.
Yet he refrained, and smiled. "Don't be frustrated if you can't find it right away. It might take a while, but I'm going to tell you what to do. Close your eyes." They both obeyed. "Now look down inside you. Look for your heart beating." He waited a moment. "Now look beyond on that, even deeper. Look for something warm and pulsing, that you never noticed before. It might be colored—mine is blue."
There was a moment of silence. Suddenly, Kita whispered, "It's…pink."
"Green…" Kenji breathed, "and warm."
Eriol was instantly relieved. This might be easier than he had initially thought. "Excellent. You're both doing very well. Now, this next might be a bit trickier. Find that power again. This time, you're going to tap into it." When he saw Kita's brow furrow, he hurriedly continued, "Reach down into that power with just your mind. Let yourself fall into it. Don't be afraid—you control it, not the other way around. Feel it around you, a part of you."
He was silent a moment, watching their faces carefully; finally, both of their faces had gone slack, relaxed into what he easily recognized as a trance-like state. "Stay within yourself, but continue listening to my voice," he intoned. It was like hypnosis, really. "Now pull yourself back out of it. Imagine your mind has fingers, and you're pulling it behind you. Just a little bit. Bring it back with you."
And he waited. Both of these two had once been quite skilled in magic-working, one since birth and the other after discovering her own destiny. But that had been so long ago, in another time and another life. Still, he could hope that somehow, subconsciously, they remembered how to do it.
Nevertheless, he was shocked when the two began glowing. Softly at first, then brighter and more pronounced. It appeared around Kenji first—an brilliant emerald green glow. Kita followed suit seconds later, with a pink aura that started out pastel, and darkened into a brighter color.
Still standing quietly and watching from her vantage point in the corner, the auras reflected in Tomoyo's eyes, and she managed to remain silent, observing nervously.
Suddenly, almost simultaneously, their auras flared brightly and vanished, and the two children slumped forward into pint-sized heaps on the floor. Kenji let out a tiny moan, but there was otherwise no sound from them.
Tomoyo was at their side in an instant. "What happened?"
Eriol sighed and rocked back to rest his weight on his hands. "They did it." He smiled broadly in a way that Tomoyo hadn't seen him smile for quite some time. "They really did it. They found their magic, and they brought it out." His smile softened a bit then. "I think that subconsciously they remembered how to do it. They're just out of practice now, is all."
"Wait—you knew this would happen?" Tomoyo asked incredulously, gesturing towards the two unconscious children. Kenji was still moaning a bit, but the girl was silent, having been shifted so that she was slumped against Tomoyo.
"It was not unexpected. In truth, I wasn't quite sure if I really thought they would even find their magic in the first sitting," Eriol said, climbing to his feet. "But the point is that we've already made progress, and that's what counts."
"Eriol," Tomoyo began slowly, "are you teaching them this now because of…?" The thought went unfinished; he would know exactly what she was referring to.
"Yes," he admitted. "Best to learn it now, and work from there later. Now if you'll give me a hand," he carefully scooped up the unconscious boy, who still made little groaning noises but otherwise did not stir at the cautious manhandling, "let's get these two to bed. They've earned it."
"You seem awfully proud of yourself," Tomoyo commented dryly, standing up and shifting Kita so she could get the girl up the stairs.
"I am, Tomoyo-san," he chuckled. "I am, indeed."
Upon waking up, both children had been surprised to hear of what they had accomplished.
And they were equally startled when the ever-vibrant Nakuru informed them that there was to be a party tonight, a rare moment of pure fun. When they had gotten word that Eriol and the others were coming to the Safe House, she had insisted that they have a welcome party. After finding out that they had two other guests, it became a celebration for them as well.
An argument ended up breaking out shortly thereafter. Kenji had refused any and all attempts to get him to actually dress up for the event; he acquiesced only to an offer of simple khakis and a black sweater. Kita, however, had proven unable to say no to Tomoyo's pleas, and the startled girl soon found herself whisked away to be decked out like an overgrown doll.
The result was surprisingly simple, by Tomoyo's usual standards, anyway, though perhaps she had toned down her designs in favor of not further-terrifying the girl. A pale yellow skirt that flared out in ruffles at her knees, a pastel pink shirt with (of all things) sakura blossoms embroidered on the bottom of it, and a white cardigan with a dainty floral pattern stitched on in iridescent thread. Simple beige Mary Janes and pale pink hair ribbons around her pigtails completed Tomoyo's ensemble, and when Kita saw herself in the mirror, she seemed absolutely stunned.
"Is that…me?" the girl squeaked, gingerly running her fingers over the stitching on the cardigan, as though afraid it would shatter and fall to pieces if she even looked at it wrong.
"Yes, it is," Tomoyo affirmed, smiling at her handiwork, and trying desperately not to fall back into memories of long ago. Sakura had been her semi-willing victim back then, wearing Tomoyo's oft-outlandish creations for the Card captures and whatever other excuses her camera-wielding friend could come up with to dress her up.
Dragging herself away from the threat of memories that all too often meant tears, she straightened her shoulders and smiled down at her young friend. "Do you like it?"
"Tomoyo-san, you're amazing!" Kita burst. "I've never worn anything this nice before in my whole life!" In the most childlike move Tomoyo had ever seen Kita, she stepped back from the mirror and spun around, just to watch her skirt twirl. Then she stopped and looked up at her guardian. "Tomoyo-san, did you make your outfit too? It's beautiful!"
A bit startled, Tomoyo looked down at her own ensemble—black pants and a purple sweater that had plum blossoms and ornate leaf patterns embroidered all over it in iridescent thread. "I did make the sweater, actually," she admitted. "It's a hobby of mine."
A knock on the door interrupted their conversation, and Eriol poked his head in. "Are you two ladies ready for this…thing?" He hadn't been horribly thrilled at the initial prospect of a party, given the circumstances, but he had warmed up to it.
"Eriol-san, how do I look?" Kita bubbled, spinning around to model her ensemble.
"Lovely," he smiled, stooping a bit to offer her his arm. "May I escort you?"
It was truly a sign of how much Kita had warmed up to them—she accepted his arm (while Tomoyo discreetly took his other side), and let herself be whisked out the door and down the stairs, where there was music and food to mark the party as being in full swing.
Mizuki Kaho, the red haired woman they had met earlier, met them at the door, offering a welcome. Again, Kita found herself awestruck at the woman's quiet elegance.
Two more people came over to meet them then—a man named Yamazaki, with narrow eyes and a big smile, and a woman named Chihiro, who wore her long hair back in braids, and who seemed to be keeping an extremely close eye on Yamazaki. They were both polite, but their smiles of welcome were tempered with obvious surprise.
As Eriol pulled Kita away from them with a wave, she could have sworn she heard Chihiro whisper to Yamazaki, "Was that…is this one of your pranks?" Yamazaki denied it vehemently. When Kenji appeared a few moments later, glancing around warily, though, Chihiro could again be heard hissing to her male companion questions as to his involvement in this alleged joke.
But the party was fun, the food was good, and the dancing was absolutely ridiculous. Tomoyo was the only one on the floor with any sort of actual grace. Nakuru mostly opted to just bounce around and jump on random people as she saw fit. Even Touya was smiling and seemed to be enjoying himself, and Kita was seen blushing furiously when Yukito-san swept her onto the floor for a quick dance.
They had been there for a while when a slow song came on over the speakers. "Everyone partner up!" someone (it sounded like the Yamazaki person they had just met) called loudly.
The Light Bulb of Evil seemed to click on over Tomoyo's head, and she smiled. "I know!" she trilled, darting across the room while half-dragging Kita behind her. "Why don't you two dance together?" And she pushed the girl towards Kenji. He took a step back in an unconscious recoil, while Kita looked absolutely petrified. Whether that was at the idea of dancing with Kenji or just dancing in general, though, she wasn't quite sure.
"But—I…" Kita stammered, hands clutching together in front of her heart. It was a gesture she made often, usually when she was nervous or frightened. She was staring at the boy nervously now.
"Go on, go on!" Tomoyo encouraged, waving them towards each other.
Eriol appeared behind her. "You two should give it a try," he affirmed. "If you don't mind, I'm going to borrow her." And without another word (or even a by-your-leave), he whisked Tomoyo away. She let out a little squawk of indignation at the manhandling, but otherwise didn't protest.
The two children stared at each other for a long moment. Then Kenji sighed. "I don't know why I'm doing this, but…" And he awkwardly held out an arm, a silent invitation.
And she accepted with a shaky hand. It was painfully obvious that neither of them had a clue what they were doing. They were both straight-armed, leaving all that space between them. His hands were nervously on her waist, and hers rested ever-so-lightly on his shoulders in an awkward imitation of what they saw the adults doing around them. They rocked back and forth, moving stiffly in time with the music.
Kita couldn't quite meet his eyes, so she focused on his left ear. She didn't know where he was looking. Probably anywhere but at her, she really had the impression that he didn't want to be here, didn't want to be dancing with her—probably didn't want to be dancing at all, period…
"Weird…" he whispered suddenly. She barely heard him breathe the word, and without really meaning to, her eyes moved to meet his squarely.
The world froze.
The music, the people around them, even the room itself—all disappeared.
They stopped moving for the silent meeting of amber and viridian. And then, without really meaning to, they inched closer together. One of his hands stayed on her waist, while the other met hers and held it; her free hand still rested on his shoulder. There, that was better.
What did they call it when you felt like you were doing something you had done before? Oh, that's right—déjà vu. Well, that's what this felt like, to the extreme. The posture, the way their hands were positioned, the closeness…it was like a memory from a dream. But there was something not quite right. Something still seemed a bit…off.
They didn't even hear that the song had ended. Neither moved. They simply continued to stare at each other, wondering why this seemed so right, and trying to interpret the strange feelings that tugged at them as they stood this way.
"Are you two all right?" Chihiro's concerned voice sliced through their thoughts, and the two gasped and all but flew apart as the world came back into focus. The loud, throbbing beat of a much faster song now registered in their ears, and they became acutely aware of people staring at them curiously.
"F-fine!" Kenji stammered, retreating quickly to the other side of the room.
The girl just whimpered and immediately headed for a corner to hide out. She wasn't left alone for long, though, as one of her self-appointed guardians sought her out.
"Kita-san?" Eriol bent down so he could speak to the child without being overheard. "What happened? You looked so upset…" He trailed off, looking concerned.
"It…felt weird," she confided. "Like I'd danced with him before. But I've never danced before!" But she hesitated, and he waited, knowing she would speak again when she was ready. Finally, she said, "But something wasn't right about it."
"What wasn't right?" Eriol asked, confused.
Meanwhile, across the room Tomoyo had managed to catch Kenji before he ran too far, and asked him the same thing. And his response was frighteningly similar, though she was unaware of Eriol's hushed conversation with Kita.
"But it was wrong," he admitted. "I mean, just…off."
"What wasn't right?" Tomoyo asked in an unconscious echo of Eriol's question.
And they both finally summoned up the same answer, as bizarre as it sounded.
Tomoyo looked confused.
"He should have been wearing red," Kita said, her expression drifting off into quiet wonder.
"She was supposed to be wearing pink," Kenji said softly, his eyes going vacant.
"The lights were different…"
"Wrong lighting, too…"
"And he had something on his face. Covering his eyes…"
"The face, was she wearing glasses before or something…"
"I guess a lot was wrong. But it felt right…"
"Okay, so it was all messed up. But…"
And the two adults watching over them immediately came to the same conclusion.
They were starting to remember.
A sizable audience, as well as the rest of the play's cast, looked on in fascination as the two stars of the play danced together, the Prince and Princess. He was in red and white, she in flowing pink and ribbons, both masked in honor of the ball. The spotlights shone brightly on them both as the music washed over the assembly. It was a breathtaking sight, not lost on the audience.
But the two children didn't even seem to notice where they were. They were lost in the moment, in the slow, steady rhythm of the music, the steps of the waltz, their own feelings, and each other's eyes.
Enough was enough, Kenji decided. Years of growing up on the streets had trained him well in the art of sneaking around—after all, a person who got caught was all too often a person who did not live to see the next sunrise. He had learned early to slip around, as silent as a shadow. Putting that skill to use, he made his escape from the party, completely oblivious to two pairs of eyes on his retreating back.
Once safely out of the parlor, he made his way to the front door. It seemed like a nice night. He had spent his fair share of nights outside on the streets and had yet to be caught by the Guards. However, if this was a safe place, he could probably just go outside for a little while and get some air before going back to the party or going to bed or whatever he saw fit.
He was startled, however, to find that he wasn't the only one who had snuck out.
Kita was standing by one of the windows beside the door, gingerly lifting up a corner of the curtains to carefully peer outside at the night sky. She didn't seem to have noticed he was there.
"Hey," he said, and she jumped a mile. "What're you doing?"
"L-looking," she stammered.
He looked at her for a minute, then walked past her and opened the door. "I'm pretty sure you can go outside, if you want. Remember, this place is supposed to be safe and all that crap." And he breezed outside, leaving the door open just an inch.
Kita stared at that crack between the doorframe and the door. Was that an invitation for her to join him? Again, trust battled with tradition—the trust of her newfound friends and their vouch of safety for their surroundings, against the tradition hammered into her by her foster family that it was never safe to be outside after dark. Finally, taking a deep breath, she pushed the door open and stepped out onto the porch.
There was a balustrade that ran around the perimeter of the porch. It was chest-high on Kita, but Kenji had apparently decided that it was a comfortable place to perch. He was sitting up there, knees pulled up to his chest, back against one of the pillars that supported the overhang over the porch. He didn't verbally acknowledge her presence, but his eyes slid towards her briefly to let her know that he was aware of her before he returned his gaze to the sky.
Kita stayed closer to the house, choosing one of the chairs beside the door for her seat instead. Trust had let her go this far outside, but tradition as yet was not letting her go any further than that.
"Nice night," he commented offhandedly.
"Hmm…I've never been outside after dark before," she replied.
He turned to look at her in surprise. "Really?"
"It's true," she said quietly. "My…mother wouldn't let us out after dark. She wouldn't even let us go near the windows. She always turned out the lights and everything. The Guards were out then. She said it was too dangerous."
There was that pause again before she said 'mother,' and Kenji didn't miss it. "What was your family like?" he asked, curiosity sparked by that tiny hesitation.
She smiled fondly. "The Hikari family…they weren't my real family. I was found wandering around when I was four. I didn't know anything about myself or where I came from. So they sort of adopted me. If they hadn't taken me in, I probably wouldn't have survived. They gave me my name and a place to live and took care of me. They already had two sons—I called them my brothers, even though I knew they really weren't. I haven't seen them since Eriol-san and Kinomoto-san brought me here."
"Do you miss them?" he asked.
"I do, actually. They're the only family I've ever really known, even though they weren't my true family. I don't even know where I came from…" she sighed. "I wonder what became of them…if they're wondering what happened to me." She hadn't had any contact with her adoptive parents or siblings since her kidnapping from the streets of Tomoeda; they had no way of knowing that she was alive and safe.
Kenji made a sound, and silence lapsed for a moment.
Kita broke it suddenly. "What about you?"
He stared at her blankly. "What about me?"
"Your family. Where do you come from? I've lived in Tomoeda my whole life. Well, what I can remember, anyway," Kita asked, leaning forward to listen better. "What was your family like?"
She had never met anyone like Kenji before. Most of the people she had known in her life were a lot like her—they lived in perpetual fear of the Slayers and their might. Eriol and Tomoyo and the other people here were not afraid; they were refined and dignified and prepared to fight at all costs. But Kenji was different; he was all rough-and-tumble, unafraid of anything…and yet hiding beneath his usual 'I am the Prince' attitude, there seemed to be someone who was a great deal like her: a shy, frightened child just searching for something in life.
That was what she was seeing right now, she realized as he answered her question.
"I don't really remember my family. They died when I was really little—I was told that it was the Slayers," he began. "I probably would have died. But there was this group of kids like me, who didn't have parents or families or anywhere to go. We all banded together and formed our own family, living together wherever we could find. There was one adult who sort of looked after us—his name was Toichi."
"What was he like?" Kita interjected, fascinated by the story.
Kenji seemed to think hard for a moment. "I really don't know much about him. He had a bad leg injury, so he couldn't walk very well." A fond smile broke on the child's face. "But he was like a father to all of us—there were about sixteen of us, I think. He taught me everything I know. He took care of us—I remember getting sick, and he sat up with me all night. All he ever asked in return was that we bring him food and stuff. The basics to survive, pretty much. I was with them for about three years, I think. It wasn't exactly an easy life—we didn't go to school or anything like that—but we were pretty happy." His expression shifted from the fond smile of reminiscence to a more downcast look.
"What happened?" Kita pressed after he had been quiet for a bit.
"…there was a fire," Kenji said softly. "I'm pretty sure the Slayers started it, for whatever reason. With his injury being what it was, there was no way that Toichi could have gotten out in time. A bunch of the guys were in there too. They got trapped, and…" His voice trailed off, laden with memories.
With a start, Kita remembered his reaction to the fireball Eriol had conjured up—the stark terror in his eyes as he backed away from it. Now she understood—he had lost the closest thing to a family he had ever had to a fire. No wonder it frightened him so terribly.
"I'm sorry," she said finally. "I know that's not much, and it won't bring them back. But I'm sorry…that shouldn't have happened to you or to them."
"Well, nothing's going to change it now," he said a bit sharply. "No use in whining about it."
Kita stared at him for a minute before speaking again. "You're a really nice person, you know that?" When he turned to gape at her, she continued. "Really. You are, no matter how much you try to hide it sometimes. And this might sound really weird…but I feel like we're kind of alike. I know we're really not, but…I can see it." She smiled tentatively at him, and his eyes widened even further. "And I'd really like it if we could be friends?"
Kenji stared at her, slack-jawed. Someone actually wanted to get to know him? He knew she was sincere, though—he had the impression that she didn't know how to make those kinds of jokes or be sarcastic or anything like that. And now, offering friendship? It was a fairly new experience.
But before he could answer, the door opened, and Yamazaki stuck his head out. "There you are!" He stepped out onto the porch. "We were wondering where you two snuck off to. Everything okay?"
It was like a switch being clicked to On. Gone was the curious expression, the openness, the actual emotion in Kenji's eyes. Back was the holier-than-thou attitude and the chin in the air. "Fine. I got bored at the party, that's all." And he swung his legs off the balustrade and breezed past Yamazaki, back inside, the Prince once again.
The man frowned slightly as he watched the boy leave, then turned to Kita. "What was that all about, Kita-chan?" he asked curiously, trying to ignore how much she looked like…her.
The girl shook her head and stood up as well. "Nothing." She looked confused now. "I think I'm going to go to bed. Thank you for the wonderful time at the party. It was fun." She smiled at him, though it was tempered by confusion and sadness.
Yamazaki stepped aside to let her pass. Now what in the world was that all about?
"Two nights from now," Eriol said grimly. "That's when I'll do it."
Tomoyo gaped at him for a moment before regaining her composure. "Are you sure? But…but why so soon? They just got here!" She tugged at her hair nervously. "Kita's still so shy, and Kenji's only just starting to warm up to us, and you're going to risk destroying that little trust by—"
"Tomoyo, it's not an option," he interrupted as he sank into his Throne of Evil and sighed, running slender fingers through dark hair. "I don't want to do this anymore than you want me to do it. But…you saw what happened when I brought their power out this afternoon. It won't hurt them yet, but it won't be long before it begins to do them harm." He shook his head. "It has to happen."
She fixed him with a Look that could have turned rain into snow. "Eriol," her tone was as warm and friendly as a glacier, "if this hurts those two in any way, shape, or form, I swear by all that is holy I will take your Sun Staff and shove it right up your—"
"Ahem," he cut her off before she could move out of the realm of the ladylike. "Don't worry. It will not harm them physically. But they will undoubtedly be confused, and so we have to be prepared to deal with that and explain this to them." He paused. "There is no choice."
Tomoyo shook her head. "I understand. I know the reasons. I know it has to be done. I just wish it didn't." She sighed. "Two days from now. Why are you waiting, if it's so important?"
"Because I'll need that long to prepare myself," Eriol replied. "And I will be quite useless for a while thereafter. The spells already in place will stay in place, but there will be a period of time there during which I will not be able to count to one. I leave it to you to care for the children—they trust you more than any of us."
"I understand," Tomoyo nodded. "I will take care of them…and you," she added.
Eriol's eyes lifted from his desk and met hers squarely, silently asking a question he would not yet voice. "Tomoyo," he began slowly, "I was wondering if—when this is all over…" He trailed off.
She waited, but after several seconds, it became clear that he was not going to finish whatever it was that he was going to say. Somewhat disappointed, Tomoyo absented herself to check on the children and seek her own bed.
Kita was restless. Very restless. She had been tossing and turning like crazy for the last couple of hours, trying to doze off, but something kept her awake. It was strange, as she wasn't usually one for insomnia. But no, her eyes kept drifting towards her window, where the curtains rustled gently in the pleasantly cool night breeze.
And then it hit her—what she really wanted to do right then. She wanted to see the moon.
Carefully rolling out of bed, she tiptoed across the room and opened the closet door. A pink terry-cloth bathrobe hung inside—a gift from Tomoyo. Slipping it on over her blue pajamas and tying the sash tightly around her waist, she paused only long enough to slide her feet into a pair of slippers before easing her bedroom door open and sneaking out into the corridor.
It seemed like every single floorboard was determined to creak loudly enough to wake up the entire house. But no doors opened and no one appeared to question her. She tiptoed down the stairs and to the front door. It was here that she hesitated for the first time before steeling her resolve. She had decided to be braver, and to trust in what everyone had said about this being a safe place.
Taking a deep breath, she carefully opened the door and slipped outside, closing it behind her.
In the time the door was open, starlight flooded the house, reflecting off of two lenses. Behind those two bits of glass, blue eyes watched knowingly. Smiling to himself, Eriol turned away from the door and returned to his perch in his Throne of Evil.
Things were proceeding, that much was for certain.
He didn't turn at the mention of his name. "Kaho."
"You're letting her go?" the woman moved into the room.
"I don't see why not. She'll be fine. Besides," his gaze dropped to the desk drawer, wherein resided a certain pink book, bearing a certain Forbidden Name engraved on the front, "things seem to be going along quite nicely. I don't see any reason to step in."
Kaho was silent for a moment. "What do you think about what's happening now, Eriol?"
"What I think is irrelevant," he replied softly, an unnatural tinge of guilt coloring his voice. "I wish I didn't have to do this to them. I'm quite fond of those two—Kita and Kenji both, though Kenji is still so reluctant to let his shields down around any of us. But…" He sighed, letting his eyes close. "It must be done if they are to survive."
"You'll hurt them to protect them," Kaho said bluntly.
"If it is necessary, then yes, I will," he said just as flatly. Not much longer now…
It was beautiful.
Kita stood outside in the dark for the first time in her life, head tilted back to look up at the sky.
So those were stars. And the moon…it really was that beautiful. Huge and round and silvery-white. A full moon, she thought it was called. Wasn't that when it was all big like that?
Without really realizing it, she let her feet begin carrying her towards the forest they had explored earlier. Her eyes remained fixated on the heavens, though.
There really were that many stars in the sky overhead, scarce to be counted, the citizens of a blue-black city in the sky The moon was spectacular, but it was the stars that she found herself staring at the most. It was with the stars that she felt the most at home, the most connection. When they twinkled at her, she felt like they were welcoming her to their domain of the nighttime.
Leaves and twigs crunched at varying volumes beneath her slippered feet. It was a little spooky, with the mixture of moonlight and trees casting languid shadows across the ground. But she simply had to look up through the foliage at those innumerable lights, and she was comforted. She had nothing to fear.
It was strange. Everything was so calm and quiet. She experimentally held her arms out and twirled around, feeling the cool breeze shuffle past her clothes. It was the most wonderful sensation, to be here alone and without fear. She didn't have to hide from anything.
For the moment, she could just be.
She remembered then that they had found a pond earlier, and decided to try and relocate it. She didn't know why—she just wanted to see it again, she supposed, and it was someplace to go. She really had no idea where it was in the dark, but her feet chose a direction, and she let them go.
Sooner than she had anticipated, she heard the sound of water lapping gently in the night breeze. Quickening her pace, Kita stepped through the opening in the trees and found herself looking at the pond and the moon's brilliant reflection therein…and a person.
She stopped dead in her tracks and stared.
She was no longer alone.
Her breath automatically hitched, and every instinct in her body was telling her to flee, yet something kept her rooted to that spot, not letting her run for her life from certain danger.
There wasn't supposed to be anyone out here.
Yet she stood, unnoticed as yet, and stared at the person.
Or perhaps person wasn't the right word for the being before her. Kita's eyes widened. Was this…an angel? She had heard stories about angels before, from other kids at school. Wasn't this what they were supposed to look like?
The being there was tall and slender. Long white hair draped down the figure's back in a ponytail that swept the ground, and the person (was it a he?) was wearing all white, blue, and silver. Some sort of wrap or drape hung casually over one arm and shoulder; his arms were crossed, and she could see the outline of long, slender fingers resting against his forearm. His head (she was more and more sure that it was a he) was bowed, and he seemed to be regarding the water in the pond. His skin was pale, almost translucent. In fact, it seemed that everything about this unknown person was white or silver.
It silently amazed her that she was able to take in this much detail at this distance.
He looked like alabaster, a statue cast of the whitest marble. In fact, if she hadn't been there earlier and seen that there was no statue there, she would have believed him to be nothing more than that. He did not move an inch, having not noticed her presence (or perhaps not caring that he was being watched). That alone was awe-inspiring. And he was beautiful, so very beautiful.
But the most striking feature, the one that truly had her convinced that the being before her was an angel, were the two snowy white wings unfurled from the person's back. Feathers as white as clouds. Could this being fly? Angels had wings, and they flew, or so the stories went. Or was he really some statue, cast from whitest alabaster and blue and silver marble, the masterpiece of an artist's loving hand somehow brought to life to move around beneath the glow of the moon and beckoning starlight?
An image sprang unbidden before Kita's eyes.
She stood atop a tall, tall structure, staring at a figure in white hovering in the air above her.
She was nervous, confused, frightened. Whoever it was that was floating up there bore her ill will, she was sure. There was no compassion in a cold gaze that pierced her even across the distance.
Her hands unconsciously tightened around something long and thin in her hands.
And she moved…
Suddenly, Kita had a desperate desire to know what this being's eyes looked like. The color silver flashed through her mind, and she took one step forward…and heard a twig snap underfoot.
The angel turned sharply, eyes widening. Even this far away, she could see the shock on his face—for she was now certain that it was a he. And in spite of the distance, his eyes were clear—luminous silver, and slitted like a cat's. For a split second, it was completely still, and she could have believed once again that he was a beautiful statue.
Then he raised his wings—and fled. By flying.
Kita didn't know why she chased him, but before she knew it her feet were moving as fast as they could, giving chase to the mysterious man in white. "Wait!" she called out, but he wasn't paying attention. It was truly amazing how fast he could move, keeping that close to the ground.
He whipped through the trees, sending leaves and twigs scattering in his wake. It was really all Kita could do to even keep him in sight. She briefly wondered if he was evening going as fast as he really could, but then refocused on running.
Why she was chasing him, she didn't really know. She knew she wasn't going to catch him, but something compelled her to at least try and keep up with him. It was so strange…
He zipped over a bush then. She dove through it…and her foot caught on an exposed tree-root. Kita tripped spectacularly, and wound up splayed face-down in the dirt and the leaves. She heard the rustle of wings and cloth and leaves that meant she had lost her elusive quarry.
Now alone (and lost, she realized belatedly) in the woods, she sat back on her knees and took a good look at herself. She was officially a mess—her robe was covered in dirt, there were twigs in her hair, and leaves were clinging to everything. Most importantly, though—she had no idea where she was.
Who was that person, she wondered? An angel? But angels were just beings in stories, weren't they? Why would one be hiding out in the forest here like that? What was that vision she'd had when she saw him? And why, oh why, did she feel such a strong connection to that unknown being of silver and white and blue? It was remarkably similar to what she'd felt upon first meeting Tomoyo—a desperate, raw, encompassing desire to trust that person with no credentials whatsoever.
But back to the immediate problem at hand: she was now horribly lost. There was nothing around to tell her where she was in relation to the Safe House; she didn't even know how far she had run in her haste to chase the angel. She was lost in the middle of the night in unfamiliar territory. Instinctively, her eyes slid skyward. She saw the glimmer of moon and stars through the canopy, and once again found herself strangely comforted. It was as though by their very presence, she was empowered.
There was a rustling in the bushes.
Kita froze, now fixed to the spot where she knelt. Someone—or something—was there. Was it the angel? Or had Eriol been wrong, and the Slayers had found her? She waited…waited…
Whatever spell had held Kita frozen in place broke when the beam of a flashlight cast into her eyes, and she winced and put her arm up to shield herself from the harsh light. "Tomoyo-san?" she called, recognizing the voice.
Sure enough, Daidouji Tomoyo stepped through the foliage with far more control than Kita had earlier displayed in her haste. The flashlight held in the woman's hand scanned the girl up and down, and Kita swore she heard her older friend laughing softly. "There you are. We were wondering where you'd disappeared to this late."
"How did you know where to find me?" Kita asked, struggling to her feet. "I was lost."
"Eriol saw you leave the Safe House," Tomoyo explained. "When you didn't come back for a while, I said I was going to come look for you, just to make sure you were all right and didn't get lost."
"I was lost!" Kita half-wailed. Suddenly, she became quite aware of her appearance: dirty, disheveled, an utter mess. Standing beside the collected, beautiful Tomoyo, Kita suddenly felt like a squirrel. A dirty, disheveled, messy squirrel.
Tomoyo reached over and pulled a twig from her hair. "I see you've been having fun," she chuckled. "Well, come on. We'd better get you back and get you cleaned up. But I warn you," her voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper, "Touya-san wasn't terribly pleased when he found out we'd let you go out on your own."
Kita winced. She hadn't really had much contact with the illustrious Kinomoto Touya, one of the two most wanted men alive. Their communications had been somewhat limited since the day he and Eriol had stolen her from the streets of Tomoeda, be it by circumstance or choice. She sometimes wondered if he was avoiding her outright, yet other times she swore she saw him lurking around corners, observing her silently from a distance.
But the fact was that he was an extremely dangerous man when angered or threatened, as his prowess in fighting the Slayers had demonstrated. And that frightened Kita, though she had Tomoyo's reassurances that she would never find herself on the receiving end of one of Touya's famed knives.
"Am I in trouble?" Kita asked hesitantly.
"No, no, they're just worried," Tomoyo said, giving her young charge's hand a squeeze. She really did feel like a mother sometimes, or at least a mother-figure, to this girl. "Everyone was just concerned about you. If something happened to you, bright one, it would hurt us all terribly."
Thus reassured, Kita allowed herself to be led back through the woods. They stepped from the trees sooner than she would have anticipated, and within moments they were back on the road to the Safe House. As it drew nearer, she saw that every light in the place was on, and the closer they got, the more pronounced the shouting voices and angry calls got.
Kita tightened her grip on Tomoyo's hand, and followed her towards the house, not noticing that Tomoyo cast a furtive glance back over her shoulder at the forest and nodded quickly.
Had Kita herself turned around, she would have seen a silhouette crouched on a tree-branch on the forest's edge. It was a strange shadow, though, because it seemed more gray than black, with large, very pronounced wings on its back. As it moved its head in response to Tomoyo's nod, the moonlight flashed silver across cat-like eyes.
"What did you think you were doing?" Kinomoto Touya demanded. Glaring down at her from his considerable height, coupled with his already-fearsome reputation, he was quite an intimidating figure, especially to one very frightened little girl. Behind him, standing beside Eriol, Kenji was smirking oh-so-cheerily at her perceived misfortune.
Hikari Kita, the one currently pinned beneath that glare, let out a tiny squeak. "B-b-but…Eriol-san said it was safe, and I just wanted to…" She sighed and slumped forward a bit before saying honestly, "I'd never seen the moon before. Or stars. I wanted to see if they were real."
She looked so adorable right then, with twigs in her hair and leaves caught on her clothes and one particular smudge of dirt right under one eye…coupled with the fact that her eyes were welling with tears and her chin was quivering, she was cute enough to have given even a Slayer pause.
And Touya was not made of stone, contrary to popular rumor. Had Kita actually been looking up at him right then, she would have seen what everyone else saw: the corners of his mouth were twitching, threatening to pull back into a smile.
"It's not that we're angry that you went outside," Touya finally went on, softening his tone a bit. "But you really should have said something to someone. If Eriol hadn't seen you go, then we wouldn't have known where you were, and you might have been stuck out there all night."
She sniffled once.
Touya broke. He reached out and ruffled her hair affectionately, ignoring the debris tangled there. "You're safe here," he actually smiled a little as she lifted her head to look at him in surprise. "And we trust you. But that has to go both ways—you have to trust us as well. Sound fair?"
Kita nodded emphatically.
"Good girl," he patted her head and straightened up.
"Umm…Touya-san?" Kita asked on a sudden whim. "Is there such a thing as angels?"
He stared at her. "Why do you ask?"
"'Cause I saw one in the woods," she said, drifting back to that magical moment by the lake. "He was tall and wore all white and had wings. I think it was an angel."
"Really…" Touya asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Yes," Kita affirmed. "He was really beautiful…"
Kenji stiffened slightly at that; only Tomoyo noticed. Everyone else was too busy laughing.
Touya was far too good at schooling his expression to let his laughter through. Eriol had a sudden coughing fit in an attempt to hide his snickers. He knew exactly who she had seen, and already knew that the "angel" was never going to hear the end of this.
"All right, all right, that's enough," Tomoyo stepped in to fend off any further laughter. "Everyone back to your beds. That's an order, not a request. Kenji-kun, that includes you." She fixed the sniggering boy with a Look. "Kita-chan, you come with me to get cleaned up." Everyone scattered, and lights went out to the sounds of doors closing throughout the house.
Meanwhile, Kita was led to a bathroom on the ground floor. She sat on the toilet while Tomoyo fetched some towels from a small cabinet in the corner. "We'll just do what we can to get this stuff out of your hair," Tomoyo said cheerily, digging around in the white cupboard. "Tomorrow you can take a real bath. It's too late for that right now." Withdrawing several fluffy towels, she set them on the counter and took a quick surveying look of her task. "Robe off."
Sheepishly, Kita obeyed. "I'm sorry…I didn't mean to get it all messy…"
Tomoyo shook her head. "These things can be cleaned. And look, your pajamas are still nice and clean," she gestured towards the blue cotton pants and shirt. "No harm done." She took the robe from Kita, opened the bathroom door a crack, and tossed it out into the hallway; a squawk suggested that it had hit some random passer-by in the face. "I'll take care of that in the morning. Now," she closed the door and turned back to Kita, "let's see what we can do about your hair." Wielding a towel and a comb as her weapons, Tomoyo gently attacked.
"So you've never been outside at night, Kita-chan?" Tomoyo asked conversationally as sticks and leaves began falling into a towel waiting to catch them. "What did you think of it?"
"It was wonderful!" Kita chirped. "The moon really is as big and pretty as everyone says! But I really liked the stars a lot. There's so many of them!" She sighed happily. "Even when I got scared or when I got lost out there, I just looked up at the stars, and I felt better. They made me really happy!"
Tomoyo nodded. "I know what you mean." She felt a pang, recognizing that Kita already felt her link to the stars, though perhaps she did not necessarily understand their link to her magic. "You know, when my best friend and I were your age, we used to be outside at night all the time…though our parents didn't usually know about it. We had all sorts of adventures!"
"Really?" Kita immediately latched onto the small tidbit of information. Tomoyo really hadn't told her a great deal about herself as of yet. "Who was your best friend? What kind of adventures? What happened to her?"
The comb stopped moving through Kita's hair. "She…died. The Slayers." Her hands rested lightly on top of Kita's head. "If you want to know the truth…I was best friends with Touya-san's sister."
Kita gasped, instantly sorry she had asked. "I'm so sorry…I didn't know!"
"Daijoubu," Tomoyo reassured her, resuming her task. "You couldn't have known."
Kita fell silent. It seemed as though everyone had loved Touya-san's sister so very deeply. And if earlier reports were to be believed, then Kita herself bore a striking resemblance to the deceased girl in question. It made her feel guilty, knowing that every time someone here looked at her, they saw Touya's sister. Whatever her name was…
It was on the very tip of Kita's tongue to ask about the girl's name when Tomoyo inadvertently interrupted her thoughts with a question of her own. "So Kita-chan, what do you think of Kenji? I know you two were out on the porch for a while after the party. Did you have a nice conversation?"
Kita frowned in thought. "I'm really not sure what to think of him. We did have a nice talk for a while, and I thought maybe we were getting to be friends…but the minute Yamazaki-san showed up, he was back to his whole 'I am the Prince' attitude. I don't know what to think!"
"Well, he's probably still getting used to the whole idea of living with us," Tomoyo pointed out.
"Half the time he seems so nice," Kita huffed. "But the rest of the time, he marches around like he owns the place. Like he thinks he's better than everyone else or something! It drives me nuts!"
Unbeknownst to both, someone had been walking by, but had paused upon hearing his name. He listened to that much of the conversation, and after listening to Kita's comments, amber eyes averted, and the small eavesdropper continued on his way without looking back. In doing so, he missed what came next.
"Still," Kita went on, "I hope we can be friends. When he's not being all high-and-mighty, he's really nice. I do want us to be friends." She was silent for a moment as a few more leaves fell from her hair into the waiting towel.
"Kita-chan?" Tomoyo prodded, sensing that there was something else on the girl's mind.
Finally, Kita spoke again, a barest whisper. "Kenji…he has really beautiful eyes."
After making certain that Tomoyo was otherwise occupied with getting Kita cleaned up, Eriol slipped outside onto the front porch. It wouldn't do to incur the wrath of the fearsome Daidouji heiress. Not at all. But fortunately, he wasn't the only one making a quick defiance of her ultimatum that everyone was to be in bed as of ten minutes ago.
Touya was waiting for him, along with another.
"Ah, the angel pays us a visit," Eriol smirked.
The angel—otherwise known as Yue—did not appear amused at all. He stormed up to Eriol. "That girl saw me in the woods. I didn't mean for her to see me, but she did. But who is she?" Long, slender fingers clenched into fists. "Who is that girl? And why does she look so much like…like…" He trailed off as his anger crashed against the painful memory.
"We found her," Eriol said shortly. "I'll give more of a detailed explanation when there's more time. But long story very short, Touya and I ran into her on the streets of Tomoeda. The Guards were after her—my guess is that someone recognized her. We essentially kidnapped her and brought her here, and now I am training her in her magic before…other measures can be taken."
"Is it just her?" Yue pressed.
"No," Eriol shook his head. "We have them both here. Neither of them remember anything definite, though. There's basic recognition—they know they can trust us, even if they don't know why they want to—and I have the feeling that they've had dreams and visions, probably for most of their lives. Flashbacks to what they once were. But they don't know what any of it actually means."
"What 'other measures' do you have in mind?" Yue asked, eyes narrowing suspiciously. "If that girl really is her, then I will stand against even you if it means you intend to harm her." He folded his arms, looking every inch the menacing Moon Guardian.
"At ease, Yue," Eriol held up his hands in a placating gesture. "I would never harm either of them. It needs to be done." He glanced over Yue's shoulder. "Would you fill him in?"
Touya nodded. "Better change back before someone else sees you." He cracked a smile and snickered. "Wouldn't want anyone else mistaking you for an angel, now would we?"
Yue muttered something highly uncomplimentary, but folded his snowy wings around him. There was a flare of white light, and the wings opened and receded, leaving only Yukito, in his jeans and long-sleeved black shirt. He looked around, blinking owlishly behind his glasses. "Did I change?" He looked panicked, ever so slightly. The change always unnerved him.
"You did," Touya slung an arm around his friend's shoulders. "Come on, I promised Yue I'd explain to him exactly what's going to happen in the next few days here. Let's go inside." And they were gone; the front door closed behind them, leaving Eriol alone on the porch.
With a sigh, Clow Reed's reincarnation sank into one of the chairs near the balustrade and rested his elbows on it, looking up at the sky. Kita had been right; the stars were exceptionally lovely tonight.
Kita…he had grown to truly love that child, as a father loves a treasured daughter. The terrified young girl who had first fallen into their world so recently had already blossomed into someone far more like what she had once been so very long ago. Her smiles made him smile, and her laughter could brighten even his most sour moods.
She had already made it quite clear that she would take to the magic lessons willingly, and her progress that afternoon, seemingly a baby step, was quite impressive and encouraging. He had no fear that she would pick it back up again quickly. Kenji as well, for that matter, if he were able to keep his attitude in check long enough to sit through the lessons.
However, he wasn't really too concerned about Kenji. He was quite sure he could handle the boy, just as he had handled the one Kenji so resembled once upon a time. The boy was brash, and showed no fear whatsoever. Eriol really believed that the kid would do something like this just to prove that he could. Whatever the motivation, it suited Eriol just fine.
But there was one thing about Kita that still ate at Eriol: that wild-animal shyness. If given the slightest inkling that someone might be upset with her, she withdrew immediately. She drank up any compliment she was given as a religious fanatic would swallow holy scripture, and it concerned him. That sort of shyness all-too-often spoke of abuse or neglect. But Kita herself had told him about her adoptive family—the Hikari family—and nothing in her stories had given any impression of that sort of thing. To hear her tell it, they were quite loving towards the child they had taken in.
And Eriol was fairly certain that Kita didn't even know how to lie, let alone lie that convincingly.
Still, when speaking of her family, she had always shown a bit of…was it sorrow? Was that the right word for it? She knew that they weren't her true birth-parents, and that had somehow kept her from fully embracing them, though he knew that she did love and treasure them. Perhaps that was the cause of her shyness, somehow?
But more importantly was what was still to come. The day after tomorrow was when it would happen, he had decided. He knew it was necessary. Yet it frightened him. He had gained Kita's trust almost wholeheartedly, in spite of their rather shaky beginning. And he sensed that Kenji was grasping that Eriol was a safe protector and perhaps a knowledgeable mentor. The former street urchin was beginning to open up ever so slightly.
And it frightened them that he might have to betray that trust to a certain degree in order to protect them and prepare them for what lay ahead in a future that was far too near for Eriol's liking.
He had been so wrapped up in his own musings that he hadn't even heard the door opening or noticed the soft footsteps pattering towards him. And sure enough, the very object of his thoughts was standing beside him, watching him curiously.
He winked at her. "Are you braving Tomoyo's wrath as well, bright one?"
Kita shook her head. "We saw you out here, and I asked if I could come keep you company. Tomoyo-san said that was okay, but if I catch a cold, she's going to get you for it." She giggled, then sobered a bit. "Do you mind company?"
"Not at all," he smiled indulgently, gesturing to a vacant chair beside him. "Have a seat."
She obeyed happily, and reached up to set her arms on the railing, resting her chin comfortably on her forearms. They sat like that quietly for a while, just looking at the clear night sky.
"Did you know, Kita-chan," he began conversationally, "that it is possible to read the stars?"
The child looked at him with inquisitive green eyes. "You can read the stars?"
"Unworthy as I am, my dear," he smiled. "Some people read palms. Some people read tea leaves. Some people even read books. I read the stars. They tell me many, many stories. And they like to tell me interesting things. Sometimes, they tell me what is to come."
"What are they telling you now?" Kita piped.
Eriol shifted his gaze slightly to look at her. "They're telling me that a legend is going to be revived soon. And when that happens, everything will change. This hellish world that we live in will be reborn. A lot is going to change soon, Kita-chan."
"What legend?" Kita asked, tilting her head to one side. "Tell me."
Eriol regarded her for a moment before deciding that it couldn't hurt. "All right. This is something of a long story. Are you sure you want to hear it?" When she nodded, he smiled. "Get comfortable."
He waited while she shifted a tiny bit in her seat. "Now, once upon a time—as all good stories should begin—there was a sorcerer named Clow Reed. He lived a very, very long time ago. He was a very powerful magician, and one day, he decided to make something with his magic. He created what he called Clow Cards—a deck of cards with magical powers. Each card had a different magical ability. There was a card for each of the four basic elements—Windy, Watery, Firey, and Earthy—as well as other abilities, like the Erase, Glow, Light, and Dark. Clow also created two magical Guardians to protect the Cards and their master. When he died, the Guardians and the Cards went to sleep in their book for a very, very long time." He looked down at her. "Are you with me so far?"
She nodded emphatically.
"Then one day, many years later, a little girl was home alone after school when she heard something in her basement," he recollected. "She went downstairs to see what was going on, fearing an intruder. Instead, she found a glowing book. When she opened it, she found a deck of Cards, and when she read the name on the first one—Windy—all of the Cards blew away!" He chuckled as Kita's jaw dropped. "Well, one of the Guardians awoke then, and instructed the girl to find the Cards. He gave her a wand to use, and taught her to seal the Cards away. He chose her, as was his duty as Guardian. And thus, the Cardcaptor was born."
"Did she have a name?" Kita asked suddenly.
"As a matter of fact, she did," Eriol replied. "Her name was Sakura."
Kita's eyes widened. "But that's—"
"A Forbidden Name?" Eriol chuckled. "Yes, I know. But that was her name. Cardcaptor Sakura, if you will. She was about your age when she got the job. She recruited one of her friends to help her, and with the help of her Guardian, they set about trapping the Cards. She had captured perhaps half a dozen Cards when another complication was thrown into the mix."
"What was that?" Kita asked.
"Clow Reed had descendants, a whole Clan of them. They lived in Hong Kong," Eriol went on. "They got word that the Cards had been released, and sent one of their own to retrieve them. The person chosen for this task was to be the future leader of their Clan, who could trace his lineage directly to Clow Reed. He appeared on the scene, and…well, let's just say that at first he and the Cardcaptor did not get along very well."
"Why?" Kita interjected.
Eriol threw her an amused sidelong glance. "If you keep asking questions, I'm never going to get all the way through the story!" At her sheepish look, he shook his head. "Ask all the questions you want. Hopefully, I'll answer most of them anyway." He took a deep breath. "He, along with his Clan, knew that the Cards were extremely powerful magical items, and this Clan was well-versed in the schools and uses of magic. Furthermore, as the Cards had been created by their much-revered ancestor, they felt it was their right to possess the Cards."
"But didn't you say that the Guardian chose Sa—the girl to be the Cardcaptor?" Kita queried. "So weren't the Cards supposed to be hers?" Even now, she couldn't say the Forbidden Name.
"Very good. Thus, the burden of the Cards fell on Sakura's shoulders," he smiled inwardly as she winced at his blatant use of the Name. "Still, the young man appeared to try and take them from her. And that young man was named Syaoran—yes, the other Forbidden Name. But the Guardian had chosen, so there was nothing he could really do."
"I bet he wasn't too happy about that," Kita sighed.
"No, he wasn't. But you'll be happy to know that Syaoran came to respect Sakura after a while. And eventually, they became very good friends. They worked together to capture the Clow Cards. Once all the Cards were sealed, though, Sakura had to go through what was called the Final Judgment, to prove herself worthy of being the Card Mistress. That means that the Cards would be hers and hers alone, and no one else could use them."
"It was. But she passed, and became the Card Mistress. Life went on, until some strange things began happening in their town—they lived in Tomoeda, did you know that?" She shook her head. "So they stepped back up to fight whatever this new thing happening was. And Sakura began to change the Cards, from Clow Cards into Sakura Cards."
"Why did she have to change them?"
"The Cards had been living up until then on the magic left in them from Clow Reed. But that magic was running out, and if it did run out, then the Cards would become plain pieces of paper. So in order for them to survive, Sakura had to change them to be able to support them on her own magic. Things went along fairly well for a while…until something else happened. Something very unexpected."
"What what what?" Kita bubbled impatiently.
"Remember how mean Syaoran was to Sakura when he first came for the Cards?"
"Well, Syaoran fell in love with Sakura, the Card Mistress."
Eriol nodded. "It's true. It took him quite a long time to finally tell her how he felt. But when he finally did confess his feelings to her, he was amazed to find that she loved him in return. And so they were happy together, having successfully changed the Cards. Their magic continued to grow, as did their relationship. All was well in their world."
"But what was causing the trouble in the first place?" Kita asked.
"You are a perceptive one," he smiled. "Remember Clow Reed? Well, he had been reincarnated, and his reincarnation had gone to Tomoeda to help Sakura change the Cards, going to her school and staying at her side as one of her friends. He knew what would happen if she didn't, and not wanting to see his creations die or Sakura's grief if they did, he set up little tricks, tasks, and in some cases, outright attacks to get her to change the Cards as the situation called for it. After it was all over, he told her the truth. There were no hard feelings, though, and he eventually came to stay in Tomoeda for good."
"Sa—she must have been a really nice person to forgive all those people who were mean to her," Kita observed, still not daring to utter the Forbidden Name even now. "So what happened to them? And why are they the Forbidden Names?"
Eriol's eyes clouded over then, and he looked away from Kita. "Are you sure you want to hear this part, Kita-chan? It's not a happy ending to their story."
"Tell me," she insisted.
"Sakura and Syaoran…died."
Another gasp escaped the girl.
"The Slayers lured them out, separated them, and executed them," he closed his eyes. The memories of that evening were still so vivid. He could still see Syaoran sprawled on the pavement, his neck broken, still hear Sakura's choked gasps as she lay dying in her brother's arms.
"They knew that the Card Mistress and her friend-now-lover were the biggest threats to their power. And they also knew that the Cards were priceless as magical treasures. So they sought to eliminate the Card Mistress, and claim the Sakura Cards for themselves," his voice trembled slightly now at memories he had carefully walled up for the last decade. "While they did succeed in the murders, they never did find the Cards."
He half-expected Kita to pop in with another question then, but she was surprisingly quiet. So he went on. "Sakura and Syaoran's friends—the ones who knew about their magic—took the Cards and hid them to protect them. It was the next day, the day after they died, when the Slayers started their attack and marched into Tomoeda. They still don't have the Cards."
Eriol finally turned and looked back at Kita, who was staring at her hands, now folded in her lap, with wide eyes. She looked paler than usual, even with the moonlight washing out her features.
"Kita-chan?" he asked, now very concerned. Maybe he had told her too much, too soon. She was only ten years old, after all. "Kita-chan, are you all right?"
The first tear slipped from her eye. "I hate them."
Eriol started at her words.
More tears followed suit in rapid succession. "I hate the Slayers. I hate them." She raised her hands to her eyes, still balled into white-knuckled fists, and tried desperately to wipe her tears away, albeit unsuccessfully. "I hate them so much!" She was crying outright now.
"Kita-chan, you shouldn't hate," he said, feeling more than a little hypocritical.
"I hate them! They killed everyone! They killed my family and Kenji's family and his friends later," she remembered his story from earlier that night. "And they killed Sakura and Syaoran and everyone and I hate them!" She kept going, but the rest of her words were lost into sobs after the Forbidden Names left her lips. She cried and cried.
Instinctively, Eriol reached for her, gathering the small, shaking form into his arms in a tight hug. She clambered towards him, ending up perched in his lap, clinging to him with tight fists while she sobbed brokenly against his shoulder.
"Shh, shh," Eriol shushed her gently, fighting off his own emotions. In hindsight, he had never really allowed himself to grieve for his two fallen friends; there just hadn't been time. And now, in the face of Kita's tears, he found himself forced to face feelings that he had methodically shut away for all this time.
It marked one of the very few times in his life that Hiiragizawa Eriol had cried. He clung to Kita as desperately as she held onto him, and finally released his own grief over the senseless murder of two of his closest friends, his anger over what was happening now, and his terror at what was still to come. He was exhausted, running on fumes, and just didn't have the energy to fight it off any longer.
Beneath the twinkling blanket of stars, their shadows cast in the silvery white glow of the full moon, two lost, sad souls shared their pain.
PS. There ya go. After not updating forever and ever, I give you twenty pages and sixteen thousand words, the single longest chapter I have ever written to date. May that make up for it to some degree. Would you believe I wrote about fifteen pages of this in one day? Just got going and couldn't stop. After struggling to write it for this long, it suddenly just flew together. Lucky, huh?
Hopefully, it will not take me this long to write the next chapter. Still got a few twists and turns to get through before this story can officially be called done. Hope somebody's still out there to read and maybe like this story (grin).
Much love, and happy holidays to all!