Author's Note: Thanks so much to all those who reviewed! They were so terribly kind and inspired me. I'm currently fleshing out the rest of the story; I have the ending in mind. Chapter 6 won't be posted until, perhaps, early July. I'm writing it right now. Do review, let me know whether you like the direction of the story. Suggestions and feedback are always gladly welcomed. Reviews = happy authoress = happy authoress inclined to look upon story & readers fondly = faster writing = faster updating. Just a hint. Much love to all of you!
Joy, it was an odd feeling. They felt as though they had just been shaken roughly from a terrible dream, that they were just now awake and blinking blearily at the too-bright morning sun. One could get used to anything and they had become accustomed to darkness. Sakura's lips twitched uncertainly, it had been a long time since she had any occasion to smile. She couldn't speak; she turned to Sonomi silently for help.
"Awake?" Sonomi's voice was unsteady, betraying her own astonishment and fear. "Are you sure, doctor?"
His smile was patient. He understood their hesitation. "Yes, Daidouji-sama. She is awake and, better yet, alert. If you would like to see her…but please do not stay long, she must not be overwhelmed."
Eriol cleared his throat. The doctor turned towards the stranger, standing somewhat apart from the others who all stood as if dazed. The man might have been mistaken as calm, if only he weren't leaning so heavily against the wall as if he required its support. "And as for further treatment?"
The kind man paused, it might be too soon. "This, we can discuss in detail later. She will certainly require additional treatment, therapy. For now, let's just wait and see how she feels. I can tell you that I won't be releasing her just yet."
He wasn't sure whether he belonged here, with these people who were uncertainly transitioning from grief to reserved hope. He should have been closer to Tomoyo (Daidouji-san, he corrected himself automatically); they had been so similar in disposition. However, it must have been that their kindred talent for silences and perception actually inhibited, rather than facilitated, closeness. It was regrettable.
Eriol closed his eyes, listening to the hesitant murmurings of his companions. He was almost glad that Nakuru and Suppi had elected to stay home; they might have noticed his confusion. As it was, everyone else was too overwhelmed by the notion of Tomoyo's unexpected revival to pay much attention to him.
He wondered how she would look.
"Eriol-kun, are you ready?"
At Sakura's quiet question, Eriol quickly opened his eyes. He forced a smile down at her anxious face (she had unfortunately become more perceptive in the intervening years).
"Whenever you are, my cute little descendent." He sounded so carefully indifferent.
Sonomi, too impatient to wait for anyone, was already hurrying away. They had to jog to catch up with the feverish mother whose breaths were coming out in short, eager pants.
They all tumbled into Tomoyo's hospital room; it was almost comical how the invalid watched them enter with terribly startled eyes.
She would not acknowledge to herself that their overlapping calls of her name sounded pleasant to her. She remained silent, eyeing them calmly. It might have appeased them, if she were to reply. But her tongue felt quite dull, it would not move. And at any rate, she had decided that she would no longer be pleasant for everyone else's sake.
They were all huddled around her. She let her eyes drift lazily around to every one of them: too-pale Syaoran, Sakura with a wan and tear-stained face, and her mother who looked infinitely older than before. She took an almost perverse pleasure in noting their careworn appearances, evidence of the effect of her hospitalization; she was no longer a ghost. She was a person who would die spectacularly and be mourned.
Her darkened amethyst eyes finally settled upon an unknown form, a handsome man standing a little behind everyone else. He was so still, this familiar stranger, gazing back at her with steady eyes. It was his too-understanding look that prickled at her, inexplicably irritating her.
She didn't have to bear this.
They were all watching her anxiously. It was not what they expected; she should have been bursting from her bed with warm and brilliant smile as a greeting, all sadness forgotten. They had forgotten that Daidouji Tomoyo did not 'burst.' One did not forget sadness. At least, Tomoyo did not.
"Tomoyo?" ventured Sakura at last. She was never one for silences, Tomoyo remembered. She could appease them, make them happy by replying to them. But…
She was too weak for a dramatic or spirited rejection of their second-thought love. Instead, she settled for merely closing her eyes and turning her sunken face away from them, all of them. She wished that they would go away and leave her alone. Being alone was better than having to cater to all their needs. Again.
He did not belong, not here. But she looked so lovely, even thin and wasted as she was. At that moment, he could not wish himself away from this place. He felt such a tingle of electricity as she gazed at him with beautiful eyes that seemed too large for her face. He could almost detect a hint of vague contempt as their eyes met. Then she looked away, disinterested.
Eriol turned to look at his companions who had suddenly fallen silent. Sonomi and Sakura both looked deflated.
"I'm sure that she was just tired," he murmured to them, in reply to Syaoran's insistent look. "We should come back later. Remember what the doctor said."
At his words, Sakura seemed to rally. "Right. Tomoyo-chan just woke up, after all. Let's go and leave her in peace. I'm sure she'll be back to her old self before long." She sounded more hopeful than certain.
One by one, they all trailed out, leaving only Eriol. He stood there, staring at the still form on the bed. He knew that she was awake; it was the cruelest thing she could have done, to not even reply to them and only turn away. He could almost applaud her.
After a pause, he stepped closer to the bed. He could tell by the sudden tenseness in her back that she was aware of his presence. It was just as he thought.
"Well, Daidouji-san, do you recognize me?"
Steady, indifferent silence. He continued, none deterred.
"It's been so long but then you were the one to invite me to come to Japan. I've taken you up on your suggestion, you see, only…" His eyes were too-calm. "I had imagined our first meeting differently, you must understand."
She did not stir, refused to show any indication that she heard him. He smiled at her back knowingly.
"You are more beautiful than ever, Daidouji-san."
She waited until he left before she opened her eyes, murky with confusion.
So. It had been Hiiragizawa, then.