L-chan's notes: You may have seen this chapter posted over on livejournal. Yes, I've decided to try to make a story out of it. It's the old secret baby cliché, but I hope I'll be able to bring something new to it, by my choice of characters if nothing else. Please let me know what you think.
Disclaimer: Card Captor Sakura is not mine. Not now, not ever.
We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Life to Bring You This Important Announcement
Chapter 1—Never a Good Time
Tomoyo reflected on how much things had changed as she studied the group of old friends gathered in Sakura's living room. It had been too long since she'd seen everyone, though much of that had been her fault. She'd spent almost four years hiding from the past, thinking that moving away would be the answer. But running away only delayed the inevitable.
Part of her knew that it was time to get everything out in the open. The other part was afraid things would change for the worse. She knew she had to tell him herself, before anyone else could. But it had been so long now, and putting it off had become easier, just as facing him had become harder. She still wasn't sure what her decision would be. Maybe tonight she'd get a reprieve. Maybe he wasn't coming after all.
Of course, he's coming.
"Ooh, you're so cute!" she heard Sakura squeal, and she turned to see what was happening. Sakura was holding a squirming little boy in her arms, but he was laughing as she tickled him. "How old are you now, Reiji-kun?"
Reiji held up two pudgy fingers, until Tomoyo cleared her throat. "Reiji...." she prompted. He gave a knowing grin and held up one more.
"Three!" he answered proudly.
"Three!" Sakura repeated in the exact same tone, winking at Tomoyo as she set the boy down. "When did that happen?"
"Overnight, apparently," Tomoyo drawled, but there was warm affection in her voice. "It must've been magic."
"Magic!" Reiji tugged at Sakura's skirt and looked up at her with beseeching eyes. "Magic! Show me a trick!"
"Reiji...." his mother said again.
"Please," he added politely.
"Okay," Sakura replied. She pulled her stack of cards out of the pouch she always carried, and after a quick shuffle, she fanned them out and presented them face-down to the boy. "Pick one."
Tomoyo watched her young son carefully consider the pink cards before him. She really was lucky to have him, no matter what the circumstances. He was a healthy, happy, beautiful child, with almond-shaped eyes the color of midnight, and thick hair a shade of brown that most people mistakenly called black. He was incredibly smart for his age, and with Sakura and Sonomi spoiling him, he never wanted for anything. Except....
It always came back to that. She knew she was denying him something important, but she was trying to do what was best for everyone. And that was wrong, and not even true, because she was being selfish.
Reiji's curious eyes passed over the cards once more before finally selecting one. Sakura turned it over to reveal the image of the Bubble Card, and within seconds, a sea of iridescent bubbles was floating in front of the giggling boy. He reached out to catch them all and then taste the soapy stickiness on his fingers. "Do some more," he requested after the last one had popped.
"Maybe later," Tomoyo answered before Sakura could comply. "I think Alice is in the kitchen with Kero-chan and Spinel. If you hurry, you might get a cookie before they eat them all." She didn't usually bribe her son with sweets, but he'd been on his best behavior today, and if he was busy with a treat, she could get some time to talk with her dear friend.
"Okay, 'kaa-chan." But before he could go, his mother took an opportunity to fuss over him, smoothing his unruly hair and brushing away imaginary lint on his navy pants. She kissed his cheek and sent him on his way before collapsing into a chair. I'm only twenty-four. Why do I feel so old?
Sakura sat down next to her. "Is this weird for you?" she asked quietly.
"A little bit. But it's not often we're all back in town at the same time. It's good to see everyone again." She'd been worried, but when she'd introduced her son to her old friends, no one asked any questions. They'd simply accepted him. She was grateful for that. Besides, it wasn't as if none of them had ever harbored any secrets of their own before. Everyone here had kept something from the others at one point. She was the only one without a good enough reason. "And I've only ever seen Alice in pictures," she continued casually, though her mind was not fooled by this attempt to divert her worries. "She's such a sweet girl."
Sakura nodded. "I can't believe she's seven already. And she looks more and more like Kaho every day. Except for the smile—that is pure Eriol."
"I overheard them saying that you're next. Any truth to that rumor?" Tomoyo teased.
"I hope not," Sakura answered, waving her hands in front of her with an embarrassed smile. "Someday, sure, but right now, with all the traveling back and forth that Syaoran and I do, it's just not a good time."
"It never is," Tomoyo said, then tried to shake off her melancholy tone before Sakura could comment on it. As a distraction, she picked up a nearby photograph of Sakura's parents and pretended to look at it with great interest. But it was no use. Being in this house, surrounded by these people, was going to bring back all those memories, both pleasant and unpleasant. She was an adult, and she would just have to deal with them.
Sakura knew what she was doing and took the frame away, but she too studied the picture before returning it to the table. "I'm glad they're together now," she said wistfully.
"I should have told your father.... I wanted to, but...."
"He asked me about it one day. He'd figured it out, but he understood why you kept it to yourself. He just wished you could have been happy."
"I am," Tomoyo said, but she knew she didn't sound convincing. "I love Reiji, and I wouldn't give him up for the world. And Osaka is nice, really."
"But is it enough?" Sakura asked, concern in her voice and her eyes.
"It has to be." She could only be selfish up to a point. She wasn't going to disrupt everyone else's lives out of some need to satisfy her own desires. They were never going to be a family, so she had to be the best family she could for her son.
But he should have a father, her conscience whispered to her. It had been singing that same tune for years, and she was getting tired of it.
I grew up without a father, she answered herself forcefully, and I turned out just fine.
Yet you named him for your father. Doesn't that tell you something?
Oh, shut up.
Sakura watched these conflicting thoughts pass through her friend's violet eyes. "Tomoyo...."
"Is he happy?"
"Then that's that." Tomoyo shook her head and blinked away tears before they could fully form. "I don't want Reiji to be hurt."
"And you don't want to be hurt, either."
"He can't reject us if he doesn't know." She'd told too much. This wasn't about him rejecting her. It was about something buried deep in the past. Growing up without a father might not have been the worst thing to ever happen to her, but she had never completely healed from that rejection.
Sakura reached out and took her friend's hand. "He deserves to know," she said softly.
"I know. But I can't put any of us in that position. I won't make him feel obligated. And you know that's exactly how he'll feel."
"You think you know him that well?"
"I know him well enough," Tomoyo said with a forced laugh. "Obviously." It would have been a joke, had it been funny.
"Tomoyo?" She chose to acknowledge the second person to address her, leaving Sakura to frown in annoyance. "I believe this belongs to you." Eriol had approached, carrying a sleeping Reiji in his arms. He reached up to ease the grasp the boy had on his indigo hair. "Too much excitement for one day, I'd guess."
"Probably," she answered as she took her son. Reiji opened his eyes briefly and then yawned as he snuggled close to his mother. "Thank you."
"Since it appears to be a moot point anyway," Tomoyo said to Sakura while Eriol looked on with obvious curiosity, "we should go."
They were in the middle of making plans to meet for lunch the next day when she heard the front door open. She froze as a familiar voice called, "Sorry we're late!"
"Damn train," a deeper voice added, sending a chill right up Tomoyo's spine. She'd been so close to escaping, but she pasted a too-bright smile on her face to cover her apprehension. She suddenly wished she'd chosen an outfit more sophisticated than this denim skirt and plain turquoise blouse. She probably looked like a fifteen-year-old.
"Yukito!" Sakura practically jumped into his arms, and he gave her a big hug. "It's about time." She let go and put her hands on her hips as she acknowledged her brother with a stern pout. "You could have called."
"Well, it's not my fault the train made a non-emergency emergency stop," Touya answered. "We could've walked faster."
"I guess flying never occurred to you," Sakura said to Yukito as she finally hugged her brother, stepping on his foot when he called her a monster.
"Not without creating a spectacle," he answered cheerfully.
Tomoyo felt rooted to the floor. She was sure roots had literally sprung up from the rug and twined around her slippered feet. She kept imagining the roots as everyone else made small talk, picturing them winding their way up her legs, around her waist, until she and Reiji were completely surrounded. Would anyone even notice? Would she be able to cry out for help before the roots covered her mouth?
"And Tomoyo!" Yukito said with his same kind smile, having absolutely no clue about the panic she was feeling. "I haven't seen you in ages."
"Yeah, it's been a while." Touya's greeting was stilted and completely impersonal, but, otherwise, he seemed unfazed. Until his brown eyes came to rest on the boy in Tomoyo's arms.
Tomoyo wouldn't let herself look at him and instead forced her attention on the oblivious Yukito. "Oh, and is this your son? I didn't even know you were—"
"Yes, this is Reiji," she answered before she had to explain to yet another person who didn't know she was married that she actually was not. It was hard enough being a single parent without being reminded of it all the time. "He's three." Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the blood drain from Touya's face, and she would have sworn he was mentally counting on his fingers.
"He's very cute," Yukito said. "He looks like you."
"Thank you," Tomoyo answered, protectively clutching the soundly sleeping boy to her. Now that she was in this moment, she didn't know what possessed her, whether it was exhaustion or guilt or maybe Sakura's earlier prodding, but before she could stop herself, she looked directly at Touya and said, "But I think he looks more like his father."
I'm already working on the next chapter and will try to have it up soon. Thanks for reading.