"You've seen me that afternoon, didn't you, Daidouji-san?"
Eleven-year-old Daidouji Tomoyo averted her gaze. The question was asked gently, yet it managed to spark fear within her. For the person standing in front of her that late afternoon after school was no other than the newest transferee of Tomoeda Elementary School—Hiiragizawa Eriol, a London exchange student who was everything but ordinary.
"You've seen me that afternoon while I was manipulating the Clow cards," said the boy, crossing his arms in front of his chest.
"Y-Yes." She couldn't decide whether it was the right answer or not, admitting to him that she had accidentally discovered his secret identity one seemingly ordinary day.
"And you do understand that it means you will get in the way of my plans for the card mistress," he continued.
This made her look up, eyes wide. "Y-You wouldn't hurt Sakura!"
He shook his head. "That is inevitable, but I won't let anything bad happen to her. She will carry only the burden that she could manage. As the person who knows her best, you should know her strength…and have faith on it." He leaned on the bark of the tree. "Anyway, we shouldn't be arguing about that. I'm here to talk about what shall happen to you."
Tomoyo steeled her nerves. "Yes, what are you planning to do to me?" At the same time, the scene yesterday afternoon replayed in her mind. The shocking sight of her classmate dressed in black mage coat and toga, holding a staff that seemed to command over the magic of the Clow cards.
And it was then that she remembered what Kero-chan always says—that only Clow Reed could control the Clow cards, aside from the chosen card mistress.
Clow Reed. Hiiragizawa Eriol. The strange card-related incidents that happened ever since he arrived in town.
Why didn't they even suspect him?
"Well, I have two ideas on how to deal with you. One is that I would erase your memories of that day and this day as well. Meaning, you will forget that those two days even existed in your life. It's not only me who you will forget, but the other things that happened to you in those days, as well."
Tomoyo bit her lower lip. That fateful afternoon, she saw the fierce protectiveness in Li Syaoran's eyes as he defended her best friend, Kinomoto Sakura, from the Clow card's rampage. In that same afternoon, she had learned to accept that even with her best strength, she could never care for Sakura the way Li could. In that afternoon, she had realized that she was now truly happy to discover that someone could love her cherished person as much as she could.
She would never trade those memories for anything in the world.
He seemed to have read her sentiments. "Or you will pay me back for that secret. Just imagine that you bought that little secret from me." He grinned. "But I'm not talking about money here."
"You aren't?" It sounded absurd to her ears, but her wit was badly lacking at this moment.
"What should a reincarnation of an all-powerful mage need of money?" He gazed directly at her face. She did her best to maintain the eye contact and show him that she was not going to fold up like a mimosa leaf. He smiled and resumed his speaking. "I heard you make good snacks."
"H-Huh?" she said, stupefied. She wasn't sure if she heard him right.
"Sakura always says that you bake the best cakes in class." His eyes twinkled. "And if you must know, I love sweets." He straightened. "I want you to drop by in our house every after class hours and bake me different flavors of cakes."
"I will buy your secret with cakes?"
She looked dumbfounded. "B-But…"
"After twenty-one cakes, you are fully paid. You may choose to keep the secret as it is, or you can sell it to me. You can ask anything from me if you will give me back the secret, and you promise me that you will bury what you know about me." Eriol grinned. "What is your decision? Will you have me erase your memory now and easily get rid of me, or will you buy my secret?"
"W-What if I choose none of the options you gave me?" she wanted to know.
"Then I'll choose for you," he shrugged.
She looked down, lost in her thoughts for a moment. After awhile, she faced him. "Alright, twenty-one cakes."
He nodded, then walked away.
"W-Wait! W-Where are you going?" she asked, puzzled.
"I'm going to do the grocery. We need lots of baking ingredients," he said.
"H-How can you trust me so easily?" she had to ask, for the curiosity had been killing her ever since he laid down his two proposals for her. "What if I tell Sakura about this?"
He laughed—a low, husky, confident laugh. "Will you?"
She fell silent, blush uncontrollably flooding her cheeks.
"Good day, Daidouji-san. I will see you tomorrow afternoon." With that, he bowed politely and continued to walk away.
Once more, she didn't finish her updates for her ongoing fics so she made this oneshot just so she had something to upload to her account for today. It IS rushed, gomen for that ;;
Clocked in: 7:24 pm
The next afternoon, after changing from her school clothes, she sneaked out of the mansion. Eriol told her awhile ago in class that they would meet in front of the school gates.
At six something, she arrived in their rendezvous, where she found him sitting calmly on the treetop, just like how Li Syaoran always used to do.
She didn't notice that she had just voiced that thought out. Eriol turned to her, amused.
"My posture looks familiar?"
She nodded. "Y-You look like…Li."
He chuckled. "Well, he must have taken from me."
Her forehead creased. "What do you mean?"
"Li is my descendant, from his mother's side," he explained.
Her stunned face made him laugh. "Fascinating, I know. But you'll see more things far beyond this, and already I am anticipating for your reaction."
"Are you really…Clow Reed?"
He smiled mysteriously. "You have 21 cakes to do. You'll learn by and by." He jumped down from the tree. "Let's go?"
At last, they arrived in the large mansion Eriol calls a 'home'. Tomoyo vaguely remembered that she had been here before, when Touya and Yukito were shooting a film for school.
The door opened, and Nakuru's cheery face appeared to greet them. "Hi Master! Hi Mistress!"
Seconds later, her eyes bulged.
"M-Mistress?!" Her eyes went to Tomoyo. "B-But…"
"She would be here to bake us twenty-one days of sweets treats," explained Eriol.
With that, all doubts and questions flew from the servant's face. "Welcome to our house, Mistress…ah…what's your name again? The best friend of Touya's sister?"
"Daidouji Tomoyo. How do you do?" she quickly bowed in greeting.
"Wai! She's so polite!!!" Nakuru looked at her master, astounded. "And she will bake us cakes?"
Eriol nodded. "Yes."
"Ooh! Come in, Tomoyo-chan! I'll tour you around the most stunning spot of our house!" Nakuru excitedly pulled her inside the mansion. "Next to being beside Touya, I love it most when I'm in the kitchen!"
Eriol followed them inside calmly and took off his cap. "Careful, Nakuru. She is still a guest in this house."
Suppi materialized in the kitchen, curious by the noise in the kitchen. Orderliness and silence was the only acceptable condition for the feline every late afternoon while it browses through its master's books. It did a double take when it saw Nakuru dragging an eleven-year-old child with her.
It entered the room Nakuru went in and was shocked to see its Master seated in the kitchen table too, watching the scene with interest.
Nakuru and the girl were standing by the kitchen counter, bringing out baking ingredients and utensils from the cupboards.
Eriol turned to the flying black cat, smiling. "She'll be breaking our appetite for dinner."
"Cakes! Cakes! I soooo love cakes!" said Nakuru cheerfully as Tomoyo started with the batter.
"W-What's this all about?" the cat asked, seemingly at lost.
Tomoyo looked up and smiled shyly at the animal. Normally, talking and flying black cats weren't part of her typical pet list, but after Kero-chan, she had learned to accept that there were more to pets than the more conventional dogs, cats, and birds.
"Master Eriol will have Tomoyo-chan here come every afternoon to bake sweets for us!" announced Nakuru cheerfully.
"What?!" spat the cat. "Sweets?!!!"
Eriol chuckled. "Relax, Spinel. I'll make you your own dinner so you won't have to watch us enjoy Daidouji-san's delicacies."
"Such relief it brought me," groaned the feline sarcastically.
Nakuru laughed. "Suppi-chan's got no cakes! Suppi-chan's got no ca—kes!" she said in a sing-songy voice.
"I refuse to stoop to your intelligentsia's level!"
"Suppi's got no ca---kes!!!"
"I hate you. I hate you so much." Spinel rolled its eyes once more before leaving. Nakuru, who seemed to have gathered her momentum in the vexing match, followed the cat outside, leaving the two alone.
"Your housemates are very…high-spirited," she said at last as she began to stir the batter.
"And you are very polite, Daidouji-san," he laughed.
She looked up at him, eyes thoughtful. "But they are not just housemates, are they? I feel they're like…Yukito."
He nodded. "Very perceptive too."
"Y-You don't talk like a fifth grader, Hiiragizawa-kun," she said as she poured the mixture to an aluminum foil-lined tray. "Who are you really?"
He blinked, and then laughed. "You still do not know me, Daidouji-san?" He held out his hand. "Konnichi-wa! I am Hiiragizawa Eriol, a transfer student from England. It's nice to meet you."
She sighed. "I guess that means I have to keep guessing."
His eyes twinkled. "Yes, keep guessing." He watched her carry the tray towards the oven. "And there goes my first cake." He snapped his finger, and a small plate with fork appeared on his hand.
This made her forehead crease. "You have magic, Hiiragizawa-kun, and yet you prefer to use it on Sakura-chan. Why?"
"Things were planned beforehand, Daidouji-san. For her to be truly accepted by the cards Clow Reed created, she must prove her worth. This is my way of helping her," he explained although he knew that he didn't owe her one.
"And Sakura-chan's success is written beforehand, is that what you are trying to say?"
"And another thing…you referred to the cards as Clow Reed's creations…not yours."
He concurred to that. "I would like to think that Clow Reed's memory resides within me, but that I still am different from him."
"S-So are you Clow Reed?"
He grinned. Enigmatically. "He lives within me."
The alarm of the oven sounded, and Tomoyo pulled out the first of the twenty-one cakes.
"Things shall be revealed to you in twenty-one days. All in good time, Daidouji-san. But for the meantime, relax." He snapped his fingers, and another plate with fork appeared, floating in the air. He motioned her to get it, then continued to speak. "We can be good friends. I never really had one."
She paused when she sensed a hint of loneliness in his voice.
"Why couldn't you just tell Sakura-chan—"
He laughed. "Oh no, that would defeat my purpose. You see, she must rely on her own strength to make the cards accept her authority. If she learns about my manipulations, she might not trust herself anymore. In turn, the cards would lose faith on her and rebel. A lot of things can happen."
This made her pause in contemplation, and slowly, she realized he was right.
One afternoon, Tomoyo bade goodbye to Sakura and Li.
"W-Where are you going?" Sakura was surprised to see her best friend looking so tensed.
"I-I have some commitments…" Fortunately, she was spared from further explanations when the two cardcaptors sensed Clow Reed's presence.
Hiiragizawa Eriol's presence.
Her first instinct was to whip out her ever-ready video camera, but she had to make true to her promise. If she stays longer with Sakura, she might end up saying the forbidden.
So even though her two friends were surprised when she didn't join them, they let her be. For that, she was grateful. She had no talent at all in fabricating stories.
It didn't surprise her when she arrived in the Hiiragizawa mansion and found no one there. She placed her school things down and headed for the kitchen. In the few days that she had been serving her kitchen sentence, she had somehow familiarized herself with the house layout.
In less than an hour, the blueberry cake was done, but there was still no sign of Eriol or his servants. She decided to just wait for them in the living room.
As the clock ticked away, she remembered once more the guilt in her heart. She should have told Sakura or clued her into Clow Reed's identity. She knew Eriol promised her that Sakura would not be hurt, but still she was worried sick for her cousin. Did she do the right thing by maintaining her silence?
"Your thoughts run deep."
She jumped, startled. Eriol Hiiragizawa smiled amusedly, then sat down on the chair across her.
"I-Is Sakura-chan alright?" she asked immediately.
"Of course. You worried over nothing." His eyes softened. "Will it ease your discomfort if I reassure you that no harm shall be done upon her except when it would do her good?"
She clasped her hands together. "Y-You don't need to do this."
"I don't want to see a friend troubled," he said gently.
Friend. Somehow, that soothed her soul.
He nodded, satisfied by the easing of tension in her face. "Now let's have that cake…the fourth, am I right?"
She looked up, eyes twinkling. "Blueberry for today."
"Master, the cake's better than yesterday!" chirped Nakuru's voice from the kitchen.
"That I would have to see for myself." He got up and turned to her. "Let's try your cake, Daidouji-san."
"Don't you have a hard time, Hiiragizawa-kun?"
He looked at her, puzzled. "The fractions are fairly uncomplicated, Daidouji-san." He gestured to the math problem sets they were given. He arrived minutes ago in the kitchen only to find her fussing over the problems. He took over the solving of the equations while she started with the fifteenth cake since their deal materialized.
She shook her head slowly. "Iie."
"Then with what?"
"Living double lives." She cupped her face. "You are Hiiragizawa Eriol, but you also oversee the cards."
He shrugged. "I've gotten used to it."
"Don't you even give a thought for normal living?" she asked curiously.
"No. I will not long for things and situations I do not think about." He placed his pen down. "I have accepted my destiny. I may be gifted with magic, or I may be accursed with Clow Reed's memories and in consequence, his responsibilities with the cards. No matter how I look at it, I just thank my Creator for giving me a chance to exist, regardless of what my reason to live is."
"Don't you yearn to be free from those duties?"
"I don't know. I don't really care much." He smiled. "I am satisfied with my life. Too much want will ruin my peace of mind."
"That's so sad…"
"Why do you say so?"
"If I live life following an outline, I would be miserable. There are so many things I want to do that are beyond my reach, and I have to set it aside because it is not written down for me. If I want to write poetry, but my fate says I have to be a mathematician, then…then that would be awful." She laughed embarrassedly. "I'm not making so much sense, am I?"
But he was looking at her with face a mixture of awe and fascination.
"Hiiragizawa-kun?" she asked, blinking.
"N-Nothing." He turned his attention back to the problems, but within him, his own problems were starting to brew.
Tomoyo finished serving Eriol the twentieth cake as the latter wordlessly finished her math assignment.
"You're quiet, Hiiragizawa-kun," she observed, sitting down beside him. "Do you not like carrot cakes?"
When he didn't answer, she tried again. "It's healthy. And good too. Carrot is good for the eye…and…Bugs Bunny likes it a lot. Really."
With that, he chuckled. Tomoyo sighed, relieved that he was back to his usual self.
"Alright, let's try your recipe." He was about to snap his fingers when Tomoyo set the plate and fork down for him.
"Do not rely on magic too much. It would grow boring soon enough." With that, she began to slice the cake for him.
"I suddenly remembered something. I had been meaning to ask you this, Daidouji-san."
"Then ask me." She sat down and looked at him expectantly.
"Are you not afraid of me…and my magic?" he asked, looking back at her.
She paused, then began to speak. "When you confronted me after I discovered your identity, I was scared. A little." She placed the fork on the side of her plate. "But that was because I didn't really know who you are. But after the some two weeks we had been friends…" She smiled shyly. "I feel very comfortable with you. And your magic…I like it, but it is incomparable to the magic of your friendship."
"Is that so?" His eyes softened. "Daidouji-san is perpetually kind." He looked at the orange cake, then got up resolutely. "I have a lot of things to thank you for, and I don't know how to begin."
"I still owe you one cake…but are you saying goodbye already?" she asked quietly.
"Tomorrow, everything will culminate with the light and dark." He pocketed his hands. "And if I don't say my farewell now, I can never properly do that anymore."
"The past weeks would be a treasure I would keep in my heart," she spoke in silence, but her every word reverberated in his soul.
"Forgive my selfishness, Daidouji-san, but I would have to withhold that." He took out the Erase card. "It's best if you do not remember."
She sighed, then looked at him straight in the eye. "I cherish you, Hiiragizawa-kun. Deeply." And her lilac eyes shook. "But I know that you know what is really for the best."
"Trust me, Daidouji-san. It is."
And her eyes said that she did.
"Thank you for the twenty cakes…and the twenty times you gave me freedom…freedom to do things that I wanted but wasn't on the plan. But as you said, mathematicians can never be poets…and reincarnations of a great mage cannot allow himself any emotional involvement. Thank you and goodbye, Daidouji-san."
The Erase card lit up.
"Ohayou!" Twenty-one year old Tomoyo waved at Eriol, who was seated in the garden amidst the many guests in the white satin and silk-filled Daidouji veranda. "I'm glad you were able to drop by!"
"I cannot possibly disappoint you," he smiled as he got up. "Very lovely as always."
She giggled, then handed him a plate. "Here. I baked this one."
He looked at the white icing-covered cake then smiled. "I'm sure this is very good." He took the plate and sampled it. "Hmm…you still make good cakes."
"Thanks!" She gestured to someone not too far away, then turned to him, beaming. "Wait, I'll introduce you to my dashing groom."
He smiled shakily. "Ah, but I am in a hurry. I just dropped by to give a quick wish of happiness."
"Oh, Hiiragizawa-kun, can't you possibly stay for the wedding?"
"I'm afraid not. My congratulations again to you, Daidouji-san." He bent down to kiss her hand, and for the last time, hold her.
"T-Thank you…" She looked surprised, but she didn't make any comment.
He placed the plate of cake down—the twenty-first cake she gave him—and walked away from the scene, hands on his pocket.
As he expected, the twenty-first cake set him free. Finally.
He had accepted a lot of things, including how he cared deeply for Daidouji Tomoyo—far deeper than he acknowledged.
And even if the acceptance came too late, he was free.
-- ( the end) 8:50 pm; I will now rush to the net café.