A CCS fanfic by Sakura
Standard disclaimers apply.
'Koko ni Kite' snippet romanization/translation mine.
My heartfelt thanks to everyone on the CCSFWML for putting up with me. ^_^
Mother and daughter silently sat in front of each other at the breakfast table while the fire crackled merrily in the fireplace and the heavy drapes shut out the dreary snowfall. After some time, Sonomi laid down her cup noiselessly on the saucer and regarded her daughter with sparkling brown eyes. "Dear, let's plan out our Christmas this year."
Tomoyo looked up from her plate, where she had been listlessly stirring around her breakfast of eggs and bacon with a fork.
"Yes," her mother sighed, "these past few years our Christmases have been...how do you say this, bland lately. Don't you think so?"
"No," Tomoyo thoughtfully replied, "in fact I liked them."
"Eating dinner and watching old Christmas movies on television?" Sonomi incredulously exclaimed, lifting a delicate hand to her coiffure and tucking a nonexistent stray lock behind her ear. "For goodness sake, dear, we ought to do much better than that."
"So what exactly do you have in mind, then?"
"Celebrate Christmas the way we ought to!" Sonomi gesticulated wildly. "Dinner at a five-star hotel! Dancing, partying, whatever---"
Tomoyo sighed. "Okaasama, you know I'm not into all that."
Sonomi shook her head and lifted her cup to her lips. There was a pause while she sipped. "Look, I just thought we should go out for a change. After all, you can't stay home forever."
"That's true, but--"
"All right, let's make a compromise. What if we hold a party here, then? Would that be better for you?"
"Well," Tomoyo put down her fork and hesitated, "I'll agree to that--"
"It's settled, then!" Sonomi clapped her hands in delight.
"...But I don't think anybody would come."
A perfectly shaped eyebrow lifted. "What on earth are you talking about?"
"Sakura-chan has--" Tomoyo paused, remembering Syaoran, "---other people to spend Christmas with. Same goes for my other friends. And I don't know too many people, I'm afraid."
"What about that nice young man, the one who came for tea---"
"You mean H-Hiiragizawa-kun?" Tomoyo suddenly stammered.
Sonomi's eyes were on the ceiling. "Oh yes, Hiiragizawa-kun. So polite. Didn't spill a drop of tea on my tablecloth. Excellent Japanese, even if he spent most of his life in--- where was that? France?"
"Ah, yes, England." Sonomi gazed at her daugher. "Why don't you ask him to come, then?"
"Well...I-I don't know if he's free or not---"
"But that's why you're going to ask him, right?" Sonomi asked.
Tomoyo was losing it. "He...he may be going home to England for the holidays for all I know... Or maybe he...well...has um, other plans and he possibly couldn't make it; I don't think he'd--"
"Does he live alone?"
"Yes...no, I mean, no, but---"
"That means he's spending Christmas alone, isn't he?"
"I don't really know..."
There was a pause before Sonomi set down her cup on the saucer, noiselessly. "I see. Well that's too bad, I think it would be nice to have him come."
"So that means I have to take care of the guest list, then."
Tomoyo nodded, flustered, and went back to her breakfast.
"But you won't object to a party on, say, Christmas Eve?"
"No, I guess not."
"Good," Sonomi said, "because I have something really special in mind."
Tomoyo looked up in time to catch a knowing smile lifting her mother's lips before they disappeared behind the rim of her cup.
His chin was resting on the top of her head, and he kept still, holding her while her sobs quieted down. Snuggled against him like that, enveloped in his warmth, a memory she thought she had forgotten for good suddenly drifted through her mind...
Her father, sitting in his study with his pipe, motioning for her to climb up on his lap and choose the ones she wanted from the glossy black and white prints laid out on his desk. When she eagerly pointed out the photographs of smiling, happy people, he gently ruffled her hair and laughed. Just as I thought. Your name suits you so well, Tomoyo.
Tomoyo. Friendly world.
And for a while she did believe that the world was like that --- forever happy, full of laugher and sunshine, spinning round and round like a never-ending carousel...
Then one day her father left home and never came back.
And she found out that there were such things as pain and sadness and tears...
It seemed to be over now.
Tired? he murmured against her hair, and she shook her head, briefly pulling away and raising a hand to rub her eyes before turning back to him and slowly, tenderly, burying her face in his shoulder.
The first person she saw at school that morning was Syaoran, who was seemingly preoccupied with something in his shoe locker. She pulled off her right glove, tapped on his shoulder, and watched him jump a mile high in the air.
"Oh my," she blinked.
"Daidouji!" he gasped for breath, running a hand through his chestnut brown hair. "Y-You scared me."
"Is something wrong?" she asked.
"N-No, it's nothing," he squeaked, hastily slamming his locker door shut. Years hadn't changed him at all; he was still the worst actor she ever knew. She decided to go on with her game and pretended to eye his locker suspiciously. "Did I just see something in there?"
His face turned fiery red, then deathly pale. "You didn't."
"I think I did," she innocently smiled.
He glowered and bent down to put on his school shoes. Tomoyo smiled again and turned around to do the same.
All around them other students were milling into the hall from the cold, laughing and joking around as they pulled off their gloves and shook the snow off their coats. It had snowed a lot that morning, which made it harder to walk to school. Nevertheless the snowfall seemed to lift everyone's spirits, as conversations turned from exams and homework to the upcoming winter vacation.
"You're kind of late today," Syaoran commented, standing off to the side as he waited for her to put on her school shoes. Or maybe he was waiting for Sakura to arrive. But maybe he was waiting for her, because he was staring down at her and not outside at the gate. After all, he knew as well as she did how late Sakura came to school sometimes.
"I didn't wake up when the alarm rang. Besides, it was so warm in bed," Tomoyo lied. The truth was she couldn't make herself come to school early again. Not after what had happened. There was a brief sensation of Eriol's arm tightening around her and suddenly she felt her face flush. Syaoran, however, gave no sign that he noticed. "Yeah, is it just me or do winters in Japan turn colder each year?"
"You're still not used to the cold?"
They made their way through the busy corridor. "By the way, Daidouji---"
His voice was quiet. "Don't tell Sakura what you saw back there at the lockers, okay?"
So there was something back there. Tomoyo wished she hadn't lied and decided to tell him that she was just joking, but realizing that that would embarrass him, she nodded instead.
"This is the third time, actually," he confessed, "I don't know what to do with them."
Tomoyo hmmed vaguely, wondering what he was talking about. Before she could figure it out, though, they were already standing at the door of their classroom and there was no choice but to go in.
Two people were late for class that morning, rushing in right in the middle of a discussion on the Japanese Imperial Army. One of them was Sakura, whose face was flushed with embarrassment as she bowed and apologized, and the other was Eriol, who appeared as calm and unruffled as ever as he bowed alongside her. While there were times that Sakura came to school late, it was definitely strange for Eriol to be tardy, and the teacher (who regarded the bespectacled boy as her star pupil) was visibly shaken. "Oh dear, it snowed a lot this morning, didn't it? Did you have problems getting here, Hiiragizawa?" And as an afterthought, "Kinomoto?"
"None at all, sensei," he politely answered, and he and Sakura exchanged looks of amusement.
"Well then, take your seats and try to catch up with the lesson, okay?"
They bowed again and did so. He hurriedly unraveled his muffler as he made his way down the aisle, smiling at the people who greeted him good morning, then he looked in her direction and met her gaze. She quickly turned back to her textbook and tried to hide the blush mounting in her cheeks.
There was a wary greeting from somewhere to her left. "G-Good morning, Tomoyo-chan."
Tomoyo looked up and smiled. "Good morning, Sakura-chan."
Sakura hesitated before smiling back, obviously still worried about the previous day. Ah, yes. Tomoyo inwardly winced, remembering everything that had happened. She tried to recall the pain that had caused her to cry so much, but for some reason she couldn't remember. It was like waking up from a bad dream then instantly forgetting all about it, leaving only the dull throb of knowing that something terrible had just happened. It was strange that she didn't feel as bad now as she did then. Maybe it was because she had cried so much yesterday.
At the music room.
In Eriol's arms.
Tomoyo felt herself flush again and gave herself a sharp rap on the head.
Sakura was looking at her oddly. "Tomoyo-chan?"
Tomoyo shook her head and mouthed, I'm all right.
"Class, turn to page 136 and read paragraphs 6 to---"
Everyone dutifully leafed through their textbooks.
Tomoyo whispered, "Did you sleep through the alarm again?"
Sakura ducked her head in shame. "Oniichan said he had been banging on the door for hours before I finally woke up."
"Oh my," Tomoyo giggled softly. "And Kero-chan?"
"He slept through the whole racket."
"Now that's pretty strange, isn't it?"
"He stayed up late last night because of this video game---."
"Kinomoto, Daidouji," the teacher called out, "would you mind sharing with the class whatever it is you two are talking about?"
The guilty pair straightened up in their seats.
The teacher turned back to the blackboard and they hid behind their books, grinning at each other mischievously.
Yes, everything seemed to be back to normal.
During a lull in the busy day, the students relished the break; some stretching and yawning, some slouching in their seats and gazing at the sparkling whiteness outside to preoccupy themselves.
"Look at all that snow!" Sakura marveled, "Isn't it beautiful?"
Syaoran was unfazed. "It's ten degrees below zero out there."
She made a face at him. "You don't have to sound so enthusiastic, you know."
Eriol stared thoughtfully outside the window. "But this cold is kind of unusual, especially for Tomoeda."
"Ne." Sakura's eyes brightened. "Let's go out and build a snowman or something."
Tomoyo nodded eagerly. "I'm sure there's enough out there for us to build as many as we want."
"That sounds nice," Eriol mused.
"I'm not going anywhere," Syaoran muttered darkly.
"Oh come on," Sakura coaxed, turning around in her seat and staring hopefully at his disgruntled face. "It'll be fun."
He was adamant. "No."
"It would probably be better for you to stay here," Eriol remarked, "after all, it does pay to be careful. I've read about cases of severe frostbite around this area." He then glanced at Tomoyo, who caught the gleam in his eyes and realized that he was on a roll.
"Yes," she found herself saying in turn, "I think there were around a hundred casualties last year."
"Hoe?" Sakura blinked. "What happened to all those people?"
Eriol paused dramatically for effect. "Their toes froze in the cold and fell off days later."
"You're not serious!" Syaoran demanded, eyes wide.
"I know somebody who suffered from frostbite once," Tomoyo replied, "and she doesn't wear sandals. Not anymore. Apparently she lost two of her toes the previous winter---"
"---they turned purple before they fell off, just like--"
"Like the way hair falls off," Eriol cut in, "like when you wake up in the morning and find strands of hair on your pillow; it's the same way. You wake up and find your toes shriveled under the sheets---"
"---you can have them surgically attached, of course," Tomoyo chimed in, "but it won't be the same. There's the sock problem, for one thing..."
"Sock problem?" Sakura echoed, eyes growing larger and larger.
Eriol shook his head solemnly. "You wouldn't want to know."
Syaoran's voice was weak. "I'm gonna be sick."
Tomoyo and Eriol eyed each other amusedly and, finally unable to help themselves, they laughed.
There is a proper way to laugh.
First the mouth should be opened at a certain width --- small enough so as not to bare all the teeth --- then with the mouth held in this position, the air from the lungs should be released in short, rhythmic gasps of breath, like so --- ha, ha, ha, ha. How much laughter there is depends entirely on the situation --- five counts would do for a polite response to a bad joke, ten hearty-sounding ha's would imply a higher degree of appreciation, and so on and so forth.
As children, we learned all that by heart. Not only that; we also learned the proper way to sit, to stand, to walk, to eat, to write, to read, to speak, to breathe, to think, to feel, to live.
But now we are laughing and you are leaning forward in your chair, hair tumbling over your shoulders racked with convulsions of merriment, pressing a hand against your laughing mouth. You know as well as I do that you are breaking all the rules --- the mouth too wide, the laughter too loud, the hand used in lieu of the more proper handkerchief... But we are now older and reckless, mindless with glee and so I raise a drunken fist and yell, to hell with the rules! and you laugh even more, clapping your hands eagerly.
The more you lose yourself in mirth, the more I find myself drawn to you.
And the more I am drawn to you, the harder it is to pull away.
After class Sakura bounded up from her seat and declared that all four of them should go out for something hot to drink, but as soon as they all had reached the gate, she suddenly stopped in her tracks, a hand flying to her mouth. "Oh no!"
"What's wrong, Sakura-chan?" Tomoyo asked.
"I forgot my history book back at the classroom! We have homework for tomorrow, right? I have to bring it home with me or else..."
"You can borrow mine," Syaoran offered helpfully, as it was his habit to finish all his homework before he left school; but instead of accepting, Sakura grabbed his arm and pulled him back towards the school, shouting at Eriol and Tomoyo to go on ahead without them. "We'll catch up soon!"
Her intentions were not lost on the two.
"Crude but effective," Eriol commented, smiling.
Tomoyo felt herself blush, not for the first time that day. Did he mean that he wanted to be with her? Was he thankful that Sakura had decided to play matchmaker at the last minute and leave them all alone by themselves? Her head was reeling even as he turned to her and asked if she still wanted to go out for coffee. It took her some time to come up with an answer. "Tea would be better, I-I think," she stammered.
He paused to consider her reply.
"If so," he hesitated, "would you care to have tea at my house?"
And that was how she found herself sitting at the long oak able in Eriol's dining room, sipping tea from a china cup and watching Spinel Sun flit from plate to plate, serving biscuits and slices of chiffon cake.
Tea on the dot, just like the English. How quaint.
"Please have some," Spinel politely pushed a plate of sweets toward her with a paw. A small blue-gray creature with translucent wings that flapped as it flew around busily, tucking a napkin here and there, deftly replacing the lid on the sugar cube bowl... It was kind of cute, actually, and Tomoyo had a sudden urge to reach out and touch it just once, just like the first time she saw Kero-chan zoom around Sakura's room crazily like a clockwork toy on steroids. Instead she reached for a biscuit. "Thank you."
"I'm sorry that this is all we have to offer," Eriol apologized from the tall-backed red chair he was sitting in. She looked over at him, and leaning against the red cushion like that he seemed very at ease with the setting, every inch the master of the house. She smiled gratefully. "Oh no, this is very delicious tea. And I love the biscuits, too."
His dark blue eyes softened. "Thank you very much."
"The tea is from England," Spinel piped up from Eriol's left, "and the biscuits were baked by Eriol himself."
"Really?" she blinked, surprised. "It never occurred to me that---"
"He doesn't look like someone who'd bake well," the small blue-gray creature continued, "but he actually does."
The baking expert in question lifted the cup to his lips. "Spinel, you sound overly patronizing."
"But it's true!"
"Come to think of it," Tomoyo recalled, "you were the one who came up with the best pie back in fifth grade. Remember that?"
"I wouldn't say it was the best one," Eriol modestly said, "but that was apple pie, I believe."
"The whole class polished off the whole pan in two minutes," she giggled.
He smiled in recognition. "And sensei was screaming, 'Wait, don't finish it; I still haven't tasted it yet!'"
They laughed, remembering the home economics teacher in hysterics over the pan and its crumbs, when suddenly Nakuru, books under one arm, burst through the door with a flourish. "I'M HOOOOOOME!!"
Spinel nodded. "Welcome home."
"Hello, Ruby Moon," Eriol straightened up in his seat with a smile, "you remember Daidouji-san, right?"
"Of course I do," Nakuru huffed, settling down in a chair, "I happen to have a talent for remembering people."
"Unfortunately that appears to be your only talent," Spinel muttered, but the latter chose to ignore the retort and instead leaned across the table to smile at Tomoyo. "Hey, I haven't seen you in a while. How's everything?"
"Fine, I guess," she shyly nodded. "And how have you been doing, Nakuru-san?"
"Oh, everything's peachy," Nakuru beamed, holding up two fingers in a V sign. "Hey, Suppi, where's my tea?"
"Don't call me that." A visibly annoyed Spinel pushed a cup of tea and a plate of biscuits toward him.
While Nakuru fussed over the sugar content in the sweets and Spinel retorted how no amount of dieting would ever help him in the looks department, Tomoyo just sat there, watching them bicker and eat and drink tea and to her everything seemed so warm, so alive, so unlike the atmosphere at her own home. She glanced at Eriol and he was leaning back in his chair, smiling indulgently at the scene before his eyes. He had told her about his family at England before, but it didn't seem to her that he actually missed being away from them. When I was a child, I was alone most of the time, he confessed, and she realized that they were so much alike; that they had grown up in the same dark halls, the same empty silence. Maybe that was why he created Spinel Sun and Ruby Moon in the first place. Although they weren't human, they kept him company. They made him happy. And that was the one important thing, wasn't it?
While Spinel accidentally swallowed a biscuit the wrong way and started coughing like crazy, and Nakuru patted him on the back and poured him cup after cup of tea, Tomoyo met Eriol's gaze across the table and his dark blue eyes seemed to say, behold, this is the only family I know. The only family I have.
"It's getting dark," Eriol commented, glancing outside the window.
Tomoyo didn't respond; she was entranced by the sight of Spinel Sun nestled in the crook of her arm, purring in his sleep like a warm cat. Eventually the sugar in the biscuits had gotten to him, so he spent the rest of tea time in a severely intoxicated state, gobbling up the rest of the sweets, laughing hysterically and generally making a fool of himself (the spectacle somehow reminded Tomoyo of the Mad Hatter's Tea Party) until he finally broke down, exhausted, tumbling into her lap with a sigh.
She gingerly touched a small blue-gray cheek and Spinel hiccupped, turning around and curling up into a tight little ball.
A shadow fell over them and it was Eriol, smiling down at them.
"Everything seems to be all right now."
"Yes," she softly said, "he had a lot of sweets today."
"I wasn't talking about Spinel."
He was obviously referring to her sobbing fit the other day.
She looked up at him. "Thank you so much for yesterday. And I'm very sorry...I mean, about your blazer and everything--"
"It's all right. I was more worried about you than anything else."
There it was again. She felt the heat rush to her cheeks. Flustered, she bent her head down and pretended to preoccupy herself with watching Spinel sleep.
"I'm sorry," he immediately said, "I didn't mean to embarrass you."
She looked up at him and it was his turn to look away, a slight tinge of pink coloring his cheeks.
"Daidouji-san," he began, "I've been thinking---"
"About yesterday..." he hesitated. "Well, I won't ask about it anymore and you don't have to tell me about it if you don't want to, but I was thinking that...well, from now on, I mean, if something happens again and you feel like talking about it, I might be able to help. Even a little. So..."
They both blinked.
"Come again?" Tomoyo giggled, amused.
He gave a mock sigh of impatience, as if he were annoyed with himself. "What I'm trying to say here is --- I want you to know that you can always confide in me. They always say that if you have a problem, talking about it with somebody else helps. Or so I read somewhere."
"That's very nice of you," she smiled. "I think I'll take you on that offer. Thank you."
He smiled back, and suddenly leaned closer to whisper conspiratorially. "Of course you don't have to limit yourself to your usual troubles; I also offer legal advice, fortune-telling, dream interpretation---"
She playfully swatted him away, laughing.
"We should start signing the contract then," he pretended to dig in his pocket for a pen.
"On two conditions."
His eyes widened. "Which are?"
Tomoyo had to keep from laughing at the puzzled expression on his face, but instead she stared up at him, suddenly businesslike. "First, you must confide in me when you have something on your mind, and second, you must call me by my first name from now on."
"Well..." he cocked his head to one side and pretended to consider his options. "That sounds fair enough."
"So how about it," she took a deep breath, "Eriol?"
He stared at her, momentarily taken aback. Then slowly, almost shyly, he smiled at her and she did too, reaching up and holding out her small finger. He did the same, gently entwining his finger with hers in a silent yubikiri.
"It's a deal," his eyes softened, "Tomoyo."
From her arms, Spinel let out a soft happy giggle, still lost in his dreams.
The last day of school for the year had ended.
Tomoyo sipped her tea while she sat at a table in a cafe with Eriol, Sakura, and Syaoran, who was talking about something she didn't quite get the first time. Even inside the cafe the air was busy, filled with bright chatter and exclamations of excitement; and outside the vast whiteness was packed with jubilant, laughing children staging snowball fights, building snowmen, or simply romping around in restless anticipation of the slopes.
Christmas was less than a week away. Was that what Syaoran had been talking about?
"Hong Kong," he repeated emphatically, as if reading her mind, "I said, would you like to come to Hong Kong with us."
"'Us'?" Eriol echoed, raising an eyebrow.
"He meant me," Sakura helpfully said, "and Otousan and Oniichan and Yukito-san and of course Kero-chan --- but that's supposed to be a secret."
"You're all going to Hong Kong for the holidays?" Tomoyo asked.
Syaoran nodded. "My mother told me to invite Sakura over, and--"
"--and Oniichan wouldn't let me go alone," Sakura cut in, "so everybody's coming with me."
"That's too bad," Tomoyo sympathetically said, and watched as Syaoran turned red and coughed into his coffee cup.
Fortunately for him, Sakura didn't appear to notice. "Eriol-kun, would you like to come with us?"
Eriol smiled. "It's very nice of you to ask, but unfortunately I already have plans for Christmas, and..."
Tomoyo glanced at him, expecting him to say more, but he left it at that and Sakura was asking her if she wanted to go.
"I'd love to come along," she replied, "but Okaasama's planning a Christmas party and I promised I'd be there."
"So it'll be just me and my family, then," Sakura sighed, slightly disappointed, sipping her tea.
"But there's Li-kun," Eriol pointed out, and this time it was both Sakura and Syaoran who sputtered into their cups.
"Christmas in Hong Kong," Tomoyo smiled, "how romantic!"
Syaoran glowered at her. "Cut that out."
To his dismay, Eriol decided to join in. "I always thought that bringing a girl to meet the family is a sign that--"
"Something hot and heavy is going on," Tomoyo finished for him, winking.
"Tomoyo-chan!" Sakura protested feebly.
Before the teasing could go on, however, Syaoran's cup suddenly crashed on the saucer as his amber eyes widened. "Shimatta! I completely forgot!"
The rest gaped at him. "Forgot what?"
He turned to Sakura. "The phone call!"
Sakura blanched. "You mean your mother's calling you up at home this very instant?"
"Aa." Syaoran hurriedly jumped up from his seat, quickly slipping on his coat and gloves. "I have to be there in time or else--"
Tomoyo blinked, confused. "Or else?"
Sakura shrugged and waved a quick goodbye to them as she followed Syaoran, who was already outside the door.
"His mother, Li Yelan," Eriol remarked to nobody in particular, "is a woman who doesn't like to be kept waiting." His eyes were oddly
dark, unfamiliar, lost in the thoughts and memories of another. Slightly panicking, Tomoyo wanted to grab him by the shoulders and shake him back to the Eriol she knew, but to her relief he suddenly straightened up in his seat and smiled at her. The shadow in his eyes was gone. He drained the contents of his tea cup, set it down on the saucer, then held up a hand to call the waiter for a refill --- for a moment looking like just any other ordinary junior high school boy asking for another cup of tea.
The snowflakes whirled and danced around them, tangling themselves in her long dark hair, his muffler, her coat, his glasses, disappearing under their shoes while they made their way down the snow-lined street. "Eriol, what exactly are you doing this Christmas?" Tomoyo asked curiously, tucking her muffler more tightly about her neck.
He stopped in his tracks to take off his glasses and wipe away the mist with his fingers. "Nothing special, really. Spinel, Ruby Moon and I will be returning to England for a few days--"
"Oh," she said, crestfallen.
"--then when we come back we might have a fancy dinner together, then maybe head out to the Tokyo Tower and watch the stars if the night sky is clear."
"That sounds nice," she sighed wistfully. "And here I am stuck with a big party on Christmas Eve."
"I take it you're not too happy about it." The glasses were back on, and he squinted through the hazy lens.
She paused to fish out her handkerchief from her pocket and offer it to him. "It's not that, but... I don't know. My friends all have plans for the holidays, and since they're all spending Christmas with other people, the party will be filled with just my mother's friends and business partners and it'll be no more different than those corporate parties she always goes to..."
He took the handkerchief and wiped his glasses one more time. "I see."
"Anywhere is better than here," she sighed, "and I do want to go to Hong Kong, but if I did that I'd just be a third wheel."
He smiled. "That's not true."
"Probably not," she shrugged, "but Li-kun and Sakura-chan need time to themselves, after all."
He put on his glasses again, pushed them up the bridge of his nose, and absently looked up at the sky. "Now I remember. In Japan, Christmas is a holiday for lovers, isn't it?"
"Unfortunately," Tomoyo laughed, rather bitterly.
As if to drive home her point, a couple or two passed by, arms linked, talking and laughing. For a moment Tomoyo felt envious, her chest tightening in self-pity at the sight of her own arms, empty and wanting.
Eriol handed back her handkerchief.
"So what will you do, then?"
She shrugged. "I have no choice but to go to the party, I guess."
"You can always come spend Christmas with us," he suggested kindly, and at the thought of dinner by candlelight, sitting at that long oak table with him, Ruby Moon, and Spinel Sun, she suddenly brightened up. "That sounds nice."
"I'm afraid we might not offer enough entertainment," he smiled, "but we can always give Spinel a little sugar and watch him dance around the table."
They laughed and sobered at the same time.
"Tomoyo." His voice was soft.
"You have snowflakes in your hair."
"You too," she giggled, and this time it was she who moved closer and nimbly brushed the snow off his dark hair. He said something about too much snow in Tomoeda or something remotely related to that but she couldn't tell, for she wasn't listening. He didn't mind; he wasn't listening to himself either. His dark blue eyes held her violet ones steadily as his lips let loose a steady stream of mindless chatter. Temperatures this year are a record low, he was saying. Her hand fell to his muffler, straightening it. She knew she had to move away, to stop touching him, but standing near him --- so near that their breaths mingled and his glasses were starting to mist over --- she couldn't move. But her hand finally fell away, and they stared at each other.
What next? somebody should've asked. Maybe somebody should've cracked a joke. Or maybe somebody should've gracefully taken a step back, watching from a more safe distance. Maybe somebody should've stepped closer.
But nobody moved.
Nobody moved at all.
kirameku kaze ga, toiki no you ni yawarakaku
kata o tsutsumu yo
chiheisen no mukou kara
aruite kuru hito o mitsumeteru
koko ni kite
The sparkling wind, soft as a sigh,
wraps itself around your shoulders.
Gazing at someone walking near,
coming from beyond the horizon:
It was about the twentieth time she had played the song that night. It probably didn't matter. From below came faint sounds of laughing, the tinkling of wine glasses, the drone of conversation, the catchy rhythm of a jazz band --- sounds of that year's Christmas party. Tomoyo sighed and turned up the volume to drown it all out.
There was a sharp rap on the door. "Tomoyo?" It was her mother. "Tomoyo dear, what are you doing in there? Come join us downstairs; I have some people I'd like you to meet."
She reluctantly turned off the CD player. "I'm coming."
As she rose from her bed, she caught a glimpse of herself in the dresser mirror. A radiant vision in velvet, gushed the maids, lifting her long dark hair over her shoulders and tucking it into an elegant chignon. Here, wear this necklace and we'll put a little blush in your cheeks and you'll surely be the most beautiful girl at the party.
"But I don't want to go," she whispered to her velvet-clad reflection.
A while ago she sneaked a peek at the hall downstairs and was overwhelmed at seeing so many people at once --- mostly strangers --- eating and drinking and dancing and making merry. It was a busy, noisy party; a far cry from all her previous Christmases. Her mother, playing hostess, was in her element; smiling and making sure everyone was having fun. Tomoyo decided to leave her there, thinking that she wouldn't be missed. But there it came again, that insistent knocking on her door.
"Tomoyo, what on earth is taking you so long?"
She sighed. "All right, all right..."
Opening the door, she found her mother standing outside, wineglass in hand. "There you are. I've been looking all over for you."
"I'm sorry. You said you wanted to introduce me to some people?"
"Yes, and I need you to stand watch at the door and welcome the rest of the guests."
"What?" Tomoyo blinked. "But it's already been two hours since it all started and---"
Her mother was already hurrying down the stairs. "And check if they have invitations, too!"
Tomoyo sighed again and made her way downstairs. It was impossible to argue with her mother when she was busy like this. She imagined Sakura and the others seated on a plane to Hong Kong, and sighed heavily. They must be having so much fun, she thought, with a twinge of envy. Another picture flitted through her mind --- a small candlelit dinner, Ruby Moon and Spinel fighting, Eriol leaning back in his seat with a smile...
Was he still in England? Or was he back at that long oak table, having dinner with Spinel and Ruby Moon? No, maybe he was up at Tokyo Tower, gazing at the stars. She didn't really know. It's been days since they last talked, and for some reason she couldn't bring herself to call him up and ask about him, maybe even greet him a Merry Christmas while she was at it. The last time they were together, the holiday greeting had completely slipped from her mind. She had been too busy staring at him --- or was he the one staring at her? --- too confused, too scared to come up with something to say. Something --- a pregnant pause, a premonition perhaps --- was hanging in the air between them. They both could feel it. But so much had yet to be figured out. For her part Tomoyo had so many questions, like: why would a stare from those dark blue eyes throw her thoughts into such a turmoil? It was starting to bother her.
Tomoyo was jerked from her reverie as Sonomi took her arm and firmly led her into the middle of the party, showing her off to the guests. "Everyone, I'd like you to meet my daughter Tomoyo."
Before she could smile and say how do you do, everyone started crowding around her, cooing, smiling, gushing at how beautiful she was in velvet, how her smile was so like Sonomi's; the men asking if she would like some wine or maybe an hors d' oeuvre or two, or if she would like to dance afterwards... Tomoyo wasn't used to being the center of attention, and it visibly showed in her flushed face, in her nervously clasped hands, in the way she stumbled over some of her words --- but unfortunately for her they seemed to find her shyness particularly charming, and they continued to ask her about school and her hobbies and refilled her still-full glass over and over until it seemed like there was no escape--
Then she remembered.
"Excuse me," Tomoyo hastily said, "but I must stand guard at the door in case more guests arrive." Bowing while they protested, she gracefully made her exit. Out of the hall, into the empty foyer. She sighed in relief. Maybe a breath of fresh air would be nice, she thought, opening the front door and stepping outside in the cold.
Then her mouth fell open in amazement.
A few feet before her, standing in the snow, was Eriol. He appeared to be studying the bouquet of violets in his hand. His head jerked up in surprise as her footsteps sounded out, and they gaped at each other.
"Good evening," he said, slightly embarrassed.
"Good evening," she automatically said, her mind still trying to catch up.
"I was invited to the Daidouji Christmas party--" He held out a white envelope, and in the dim light she could barely make out his name written in an elegant script.
Her mother's hand.
"I thought you were in England," was all she could say.
"We just came back yesterday," he explained. "This afternoon Ruby Moon found out that Sakura-san and the others went to Hong Kong for the holidays, and he miraculously managed to book a last minute flight to Hong Kong himself, so I had no choice but to--"
A bit of snow drifted on him, catching in his hair, the heavy coat he wore over his suit.
"--bring him and Spinel to the airport and we arrived there two minutes before take-off--"
Pale flesh against white. A barely perceptible difference between the two, but there was the darkness in his hair, his coat, his eyes.
"--they barely had enough time to pack a suitcase and everything, but Ruby Moon was determined to catch up even if he had to end up swimming all the way there, or so he said..."
She finally stepped off the porch, her shoes sinking in the white softness as she slowly, cautiously made her way to where he was standing. "You know Ruby Moon, he can be so impulsive sometimes," he softly said, but he was watching her carefully.
"All for the love of Touya-oniisan," she giggled, gingerly taking another step.
He moved forward and held out his free hand to help her. She gratefully confided her hand to his grasp.
"Aren't you cold like that?"
They slightly moved back to gaze at each other.
"You..." He hesitated, dark blue eyes softening. "You look beautiful in that dress."
"Thank you." She flushed. "You look good in that suit as well."
He slightly reddened, casting his gaze at the violets in his hand. "Here, I hope you li--."
Something suddenly fell from the sky and landed on the snow beside their feet. They sprang apart, then looked down.
It was a sprig of mistletoe.
"Tomoyo!" her mother's voice rang out from the window above their heads, "go for it, dear!!" Then the shutter closed with a bang.
They both stared down at the mistletoe, stunned.
Tomoyo's head was reeling. Was this also part of the 'something special' her mother had in mind?
Eriol was eyeing the sprig bemusedly. "As far as I know, mistletoe should be hung over the head, not tossed out of windows."
"That's what I think, too." Her voice was weak.
He bent over gracefully and picked up the sprig, brushing off the snow from it. "Anyway, I appreciate the thought."
Tomoyo stared at the dark hair falling over his eyes, the paleness of his cheeks, the wire-framed glasses. There was nothing wrong; he was still Hiiragizawa Eriol, the one who sat behind her all these years, the one who invited her to come over for tea, the one who held her when she broke down and cried, the one who played the ballad that made her think of sunshine. Two circles for eyes, two larger circles for glasses, a wide smiling mouth.
But now he was so much more than that.
His eyes were dark, almost sad as he turned the sprig over and over in his fingers. "It's funny," he was saying, almost to himself, "I was actually hoping for something like this."
"For mistletoe?" she asked, feeling her heart pound madly in her chest.
He didn't answer. "Here, these flowers are for you." The violets softly fell into her arms. "They go well with your dress. I guess I'd better be going now, since I arrived so late and it would be embarrassing to barge in a party that's been in full swing for hours..."
And for a moment she thought he'd actually turn on his heel and walk away, so she instinctively reached out and gripped his arm, tightly. "W-wait, Eriol--"
He blinked. "What is it?"
"You forgot something." The words mindlessly tumbled out of her mouth.
"And that is?" He turned back to her, hopeful.
Slowly, she took the sprig of mistletoe from his fingers and awkwardly held it above their heads.
His dark blue eyes widened at first, then softened in understanding, and eventually clouded over with uncertainty.
"Remember the old adage," he whispered, "'Be careful what you wish for'."
She didn't back down. "I am being careful here. In fact I've been thinking about this for some time now. There's so much you still haven't told me, and I want you to..."
"To?" He hung back, still waiting.
"--To tell me what's going on right now, because I don't have a clue."
Something flickered in his eyes. "Even if I told you, it wouldn't matter."
"Don't give me that," she snapped. "We promised to tell each other everything, or have you forgotten?"
It was the streak of Sonomi in her, that defiant stare, that steady hand clutching a sprig of mistletoe above them. Eriol saw her fiery side and felt a surge of warmth inside him at the vision. She was so beautiful...
"Yes?" she asked, and her voice trembled a little, betraying her own nervousness. And this uncertainty was also familiarly Tomoyo ---- violet eyes wide with expectation, the slight flush of red in her cheeks, the uneven rise and fall of her chest with every breath.
He stood at the other side of the line, tempted to cross over, but lacking the courage to do so.
It's not you she needs, the voice in his head was saying, and for a moment he hung back, afraid, but there she was, staring him down and yet voicing out such a gentle plea. Come here. Before he knew it, he was moving closer, reaching out a hand to gently brush away a stray tendril of hair from her forehead, before his fingers slowly trailed down to cup her cheek.
She closed her eyes for a moment, shivering slightly. It was probably the cold.
He hesitated. "Tomoyo?"
"Yes," she murmured, pressing her own palm against his hand.
It was her assent that did him in.
Helplessly drawn to her, he finally closed the distance.
Some tales are bound to end like this.
Snow, drifting down in a shimmering haze of white.
Violets caught in the warmth of a tight embrace.
a sprig of mistletoe lying in the frost,