His eyes skimmed the writing on the tombstone, a muscle clenching in his jaw. He didn't want to look at it anymore because looking at it would only convince him of the truth. And he didn't want to be convinced. He didn't want it to be true.
1984 – 2001
Beloved Daughter and Friend
Autumn was upon him. The trees were shifting colors, from a luminescent gold to a bloody red. And before his very eyes, dead brown leaves fell to the floor to be trampled by time. He gazed at those unfortunate ones, chocolate brown eyes narrowed against the coppery sunset. What did it feel like, to have your time on the earth come to an end? And then to be forgotten, as if you had never existed?
I need you…
Li Syaoran glanced over his shoulder, whirling about. And he felt the sudden need to yell angrily at the person who had interrupted his thoughts. How had he gotten so close without making any noise?
But then he recognized the person standing there and his anger faded away, pushed aside as easily as the breeze took the dead leaves.
The black-haired figure gazed at him, dark eyes shadowed.
Syaoran turned away once more, bowing his head as the breeze ruffled his hair. It was such a cold breeze, icy like the fingers of Mistress Death. "Leave me alone." He whispered, eyes closing.
There was the sound of a footstep behind him, coming closer, and he cursed his visitor in his head. Why didn't anyone ever listen to him anymore? Just because Sakura had passed that didn't mean he didn't know what he wanted.
"It's a waste of time, being here like this." Hiiragizawa Eriol said quietly, sounding like his normal self.
Syaoran felt the corners of his lips tighten. The least he could do was pay some respect to the departed. "Is it?" he asked dully.
Eriol neared even more, glancing towards the setting sun and then he let his eyes pass over Sakura's grave. There were fresh flowers before it, beautifully vibrant colors of spring misplaced in time. "It is." He replied absentmindedly. "All you do is remind yourself that she is dead."
Syaoran whirled on him once more. "I remind myself of nothing." He snarled. "I don't need to be reminded. I live with it every single day of my life." And he glared, the fury back in his eyes, anchoring in the black depths of his pupils. "You should have warned me."
"Warned you?" Eriol practically laughed. "Warned you of what? That the Cards consumed their Master's power? That weakness would mean death?" he shook his head, a smug look on his face. "I'm sure she understood, Syaoran. I'm sure she knew in the end that her weakness brought her death. And I'm sure she went to her grave with no regrets save the fact that she would not live to continue seeing your face every day for the rest of her life."
Syaoran stared at him, eyes narrowed in disgust. He realized, once more, that he loathed the young man standing before him. Or perhaps, not loathed, exactly. It was such a strong word and most of the time he could barely find it in himself to care about anything Eriol did.
"Why are you like this?" he asked the black-haired youth. "Why do you do this to everyone? Are you that…arrogant a person that you can laugh over someone's resting place? Do you even understand what it means to-"
Eriol came closer, floating toward his side and clutching his arm with a grip of steel. "I want you to understand something, Syaoran." He said in a very faint, but firm tone. "A long time ago, just like Sakura, I also died. Not because of old age. And not of natural causes. I was not strong enough, neither mentally nor physically strong enough, to control the Cards. Strong enough to create them? Yes. Controlling them was a different matter."
Syaoran stared at him from up close, eyes narrowing. "Why are you telling me this?" he asked and he yanked his arm out of Eriol's grip, taking a step back.
The dark-haired boy stared at him, his eyes colder than any winter. "I'm telling you this because in my life as Clow Reed I didn't understand nearly all the things I do now. Nor was I strong enough. I realize now, today in fact, that even without the half of myself reborn in Kinomoto Fujitaka, I am strong enough. I am stronger now than I will probably ever be."
Syaoran bristled. "Good for you." He growled.
Eriol smiled that cold, smug smile once more. "And you as well, child." He replied and he motioned toward Sakura's grave. "What if I were to say that you could have another chance, Syaoran? Another chance to be with Sakura-chan? A chance to see her again?"
His words hung in the air around them as Syaoran stared at him.
"What do you mean?"
Eriol continued to smile, eyes narrowing as if to say that he had Syaoran exactly where he wanted him. "Do you believe in my words?" he asked him.
Syaoran eyed him suspiciously. "I need to understand what you're telling me before I can believe in you, Eriol."
The black-haired boy patted him on the back as a sign of reassurance. "Then open your mind, Syaoran. And heed my words because I guarantee I will surprise you with what I have to say." And he motioned for them to walk together, to leave Sakura's grave so that they could talk privately.
Syaoran followed him, casting a last glance back at the grave. "Spill." He murmured, finally turning his attention back to Eriol.
Eriol nodded but wasn't to be rushed, it seemed.
"Our plane of existence…" the boy said thoughtfully, "what would you call it? What do you believe it to be?"
Syaoran looked at him as if he had popped another eye in the middle of his forehead. "Nandete?"
Eriol nodded again at him, seemingly interested in what Syaoran had to say. "Do you believe that somewhere out there, there is another Sakura-chan? Another Syaoran? Another existence, not our own, and yet closely mirroring it?"
Syaoran pondered it, all the while thinking that maybe Eriol had finally lost it. One just couldn't live without their other half for too long, that had to be the explanation. But he seemed quite serious as he looked at him for his answer. "Do I believe in another existence which we are a part of?" he echoed hesitantly.
Syaoran blinked as they walked, finally giving it the tiniest bit of thought. Another existence. That was the part that he didn't get. Sure, people said that somewhere out there everyone had a twin, someone who looked exactly like them. But someone else out there, another him, another Syaoran? No, he didn't believe it. Not unless he meant-
"As in, another world?" he asked reluctantly, already feeling quite stupid.
Eriol smiled, his first real smile. One that made his soft eyes close and gave him the face of an angel. "Exactly."
Syaoran sighed inwardly. How he had been hoping he hadn't meant that. "No, I don't believe in that." He replied finally, firmly.
Beside him Eriol didn't stop smiling. "Well, Syaoran, I do. I believe in it very much. Because I've seen it, with my own eyes."
Syaoran came to a complete and total stop, looking at his companion with stunned, wide eyes. At last. At long last, Hiiragizawa Eriol had gone insane. He had always wanted to see that happen but now that it had indeed come to pass he couldn't believe it.
Eriol looked at him, eyes widening questioningly. And then he practically rolled those eyes, understanding the look he was being given. "By the Gods, Syaoran. I haven't lost it." He said with a degree of impatience in his tone. "I'm being quite serious."
"I'm hoping you're not being serious." Syaoran returned hesitantly.
"I'm very serious." And Eriol took him by the arm once more, prodding him on. "One night, left alone to my own machinations, I began to experiment. And lo and behold I come across a small spell I had put together a very long time ago." He shrugged. "I had done it just to see if it were possible, interested to see what would come about. And it worked. It worked quite well."
Syaoran was frowning. "Make some sense, Eriol. And get to the good part. The part where just maybe there's some semblance of reality."
Eriol nodded, motioning for him to be patient. "I opened a portal, Syaoran." He said at last, just coming right out with it. "There are many different existences, many different…dimensions, if you will."
Syaoran remained wordless as they walked.
"I opened the way to one of these existences and it runs directly beside our plane of existence. It goes according to the time we go by. In this reality you are the same age as yourself in that reality. But I believe all similarities will end there."
"What do you mean?" Syaoran asked instantly. "Help me out here…"
Eriol paused, causing Syaoran to stop with him. "The life you live here is probably quite different from the one you live there. In this world, Sakura was Mistress of the Cards. In that world, maybe the Cards never existed. Maybe they did exist but they fell into your hands the fateful day of your judgment. Or maybe," he said, voice becoming soft, "someone else has them in their possession. Someone stronger than the both of you."
Syaoran was staring at him, following with what he said.
"My point, however, is this." Eriol continued. "In that world, it's quite possible Sakura is still alive. It's quite possible she is Mistress of the Cards. And it's quite possible," his eyes darkened, "she is just another normal person. That reality is different from ours. The way they run their lives. The sort of rules they live by."
Another breeze blew, tousling Syaoran's hair and blowing Eriol's dark locks into his eyes. The dark-haired boy ignored it but Syaoran reached up to run his hand through his own hair.
"I can let you see, Syaoran. I can let you have a glimpse of what the other world is like. Let you see Sakura again." And he smiled, the smug look coming back into that face. "But I can't guarantee what kind of reaction you'll have to seeing her again."
Syaoran stared at him, lips parted in a mixture between disbelief and suspicion. "I don't…believe you." He said slowly.
Eriol cocked his head. "Why would I lie?" he asked patiently.
"Why would you help me?" Syaoran countered. He glared at his companion, eyes narrowed.
Eriol seemed to glare right back for a moment. "There are many reasons why I would help you, Syaoran. I would help you because I also miss Sakura-chan. I would help you because it's a sad sight to see her grave when she should have been living her life to the fullest." He clenched his jaw as he spoke, eyebrows drawing in. "And I would help you because it's pitiful to see you wither away into nothing. It would be the last thing Sakura wanted."
Syaoran didn't believe a word of it, not really. But something had entered Eriol's eyes during his little reasoning and it was still there, even as he insulted him once more.
"You miss her, don't you?" Syaoran asked him, tilting his head. "You miss her just as much as I do, just as much as Daidouji-san. You just won't admit it."
"I admit to that and much more, Syaoran." He cut him off irritably. "I admit to caring dearly for Sakura-chan. Caring for her as if she were my proper daughter. Which in a sense, she is. And I have found a way to bring her back. But if I go to get her I won't be able to come back. Once I pass through the portal no one will be holding it open from our side. It will close and I will be trapped there."
Syaoran looked incredulous. "So you want me to go?" he asked in disbelief. "For Heaven's sake, Eriol. I know you hate me but I didn't think it was to that extent-"
"I will be holding the doorway open." He said, effectively shutting him up.
Syaoran could just hear what he was thinking.
"Once I open the doorway I can hold it open from this side. It's quite simple, your task. Go in. Take a look around. Find out a few things. Track down Sakura. See what kind of life she lives. Then, very simply, come back and fill me in. If nothing comes out of it, you'll at least have seen her."
Syaoran pondered his words carefully, wondering dimly if he were in a dream. Because this shouldn't really have been possible at all. It was never a good thing to play around with Fate. She was a cruel and vengeful creature.
This was somehow going to blow up in his face, he knew.
"Eriol." He said very slowly. "I am going to put my life in your hands and I am going to trust you to watch my back and talk me through this." He said softly. "Ok?"
Eriol was practically jumping up and down gleefully at the end of his sentence. "Yes, yes. Of course." He said, feigning complete and utter sincerity.
Syaoran nodded, as if to close the bargain. "Then, show me this other existence." He said firmly.