Stranger In A Strange Land [New HTML version for Fanfiction.Net, July 24, 2000. A MUCH prettier version of the same, along with the current sequel, Kyrielle, may be found at ^_^]

a VERY odd Card Captor Sakura fic
by Suppi no Miko

You're a stranger in a strange land
Don't remember anybody
Nobody remembers you
You're a stranger in a strange land

The girl was found wandering the streets and taken in by the authorities. Amnesia, the doctors said. She knew how to speak and how to read and write, responded docilely to direct commands, but otherwise stared out at the world through blank jade eyes. A pretty girl, but all efforts to find her family failed. Hospital records, the family registry, fingerprints, dental records — none. The only thing she had besides the clothes she wore, a thin white dress, was an odd pendant that looked like a key with a bird's head. It was as if she had appeared from thin air. They named her Hanako, for lack of a better name, and put her in a foster home.

Hanako eventually got to the point where she would eat without a direct command to do so, but the authorities thought that she was unadoptable. No matter, the foster family liked her, and surprisingly, she was good with the younger children.

I don't remember you
You don't remember me
But sometimes, sometimes
I don't know why
I think I miss your smile

Touya was an only child. His mother had died when he was ten, and his only sibling had been stillborn, his father said. A little girl, who would have been named Sakura. Growing up, Touya had wished that she'd lived so much that he half-believed that she had. A little girl he guarded as fiercely as a dragon did his jewel, taking care of her, teasing her. He'd imagined brushing her hair for her and walking with her to school, or giving her a ride on the back of his bike. Maybe she'd have rollerblades and fly down the street after him, screaming, "WAIT! Oniiiiiiiiichan! WAAIIIT!" That would be funny.

Maybe she was real. Maybe the spirit of that small sibling still lived on the earth, longing for a body and life of her own. But he'd never seen her, not like he used to see his mother. Maybe he was just imagining it. Imagining her, because if she were real, maybe he and his father wouldn't have such a sense of emptiness, even now. Touya vaguely remembered his father before his mother died. He used to be a smiling, cheerful man, but ever since the blows of the deaths of the little daughter and then his wife, he had become sad. Touya, too, had withdrawn into himself, and even now, almost ten years after his mother's death, he didn't think that either of them had really recovered.

Sometimes he wondered if they ever would.

Stranger in a strange land
Do strangers have regrets?
Do you ever wonder
Why you're a stranger here?

In the library was a book. On the book was a picture, and a lock. Nobody had managed to get the lock open yet, but they kept the book anyway, because it was a fine example of 15th Century bookbinding.

The maker of the book, they said, must have been very skilled. Look at the winged lion on the cover. He really looks like he's crying!

Looking at each other, unknowing
Looking for each other, unfinding
Passing by each other again and again
Will we always be
Strangers in a strange land?

Syaoran had lived alone in Japan ever since he was ten years old. His family lived in Hong Kong, but he didn't really mind living by himself. His sisters were okay, he guessed, but they were still four to his one. He had come to Japan to find a treasure of his family. Nobody was quite sure what it was anymore, but they were sure it was precious and that it was in Japan, and so Syaoran had taken the task upon himself.

Syaoran didn't mind living by himself. It was only when the dreams came, the ones he could never remember when he woke, that he wished that he was back home. He woke up in the middle of the night and could never go back to sleep, even though he tried. There was someone in his dreams that he wanted, needed to see again . . .


Stranger in a strange land
Why are you still alive?
Stranger in a strange land
What's keeping you here?

The leaves on the trees had begun their slow annual deaths, and they crunched under his feet as he walked. Syaoran shivered. It seemed that October was colder and harsher every year. He shoved his hands in his jacket, but the night air crept lovingly through the fabric to settle in his bones. He should be in bed asleep. But if he were in bed, he'd still be staring up at the ceiling, wanting to sleep, but with every nerve ending jangling with alertness. The covers rasped, but if he tried to sleep with them off, tiny drafts would curl around him and set his nerves off again, or else the sheets would rub, and Syaoran would never get to sleep.

He had almost remembered the dream this time. Almost. There was a lingering scent in his memory. A flower? A blossom. Something that only bloomed for a little while in the spring before the rain and the wind flung it down to be trod on. But he couldn't remember the name of the flower, no matter how he tried.

The cherry trees had lost their leaves early this year. They crunched under his feet and dissolved to dust. They called them "sakura" here, and bred them for their flowers.

( The...prettiest...)

The thought slid away before he could get a good grip on it.

Syaoran looked up from scuffling the leaves, and realized he was almost to the river. There was someone standing on the bridge — a girl? What was a girl doing out here in the middle of the night?

She leaned over the bridge, staring at something. She was leaning too far, but she didn't seem to notice. She seemed fascinated by something. She'd fall and drown at that rate.

"Hey!" he shouted. "Watch out!"

She didn't even seem to hear him as she leaned over the railing and fell slowly, gracefully off the side of the bridge into the water below.

There was something in the water she wanted to see. Something important. Besides, the water was pretty and black.

Maybe if she went into it, she'd find what she was looking for.

But they said if you went into water, you might drown.

Did she care?

The water was so pretty.

If she drowned, it wouldn't matter about not having any memories. It wouldn't matter about being alone. It wouldn't matter about missing something she didn't remember.

It wouldn't matter about the dreams that made her lonely, even though she never remembered them.

The water really was pretty. It promised calm and peace, if she would only become a part of it. So easy, to slip down and close your eyes. So easy, to take one last breath and not remember your pain anymore.

It would be so easy.

There was a noise behind her, but she ignored it, and leaned over into the water's welcoming embrace. Was she going to find the answer? Or rest?

The water was cold for just a second as it closed over her, and her body tried to take a breath, but failed. It panicked, but Hanako didn't. The answer wasn't here, she thought, as black began to creep over her mind. How disappointing. But now she could rest...

Just before the black took over her mind, she felt something hot like a brand on her wrist, yanking her angrily up, but she couldn't struggle against it. The dark was too strong.

Stranger in a strange land
Who would cry for you?
Stranger in a strange land,
Who's gonna care?

Something was shaking her. Shaking her roughly. She wished it would go away. She had almost found her answer, and she knew that whatever was shaking her was the cause of the answer once again slipping away.

"Hey," said a rough voice. "Hey, you! Wake up. Come on, wake up."

Hanako forced her eyes open. A boy was bending over her, his clothing and hair soaked. Water dripped down his face. His amber eyes were glaring at her. Why was he glaring at her?

"Are you all right? You could have DIED." His voice was so accusing. Hanako looked at him for another second and then sighed and fell back into the darkness. He would take care of her.

He always took care of her.

The girl had fallen unconscious again, and no amount of shaking would wake her up. Syaoran swore. There was no help for it. She was going to freeze out here. He was soaked to the skin, too. He lifted her up and realized that even soaked to the skin, she was still too light for someone about his own age.

She was wearing a thin sweater and pants, but the sweater had short sleeves. He couldn't see any bruises on her. Nor did she look like someone who would want to end her life. So why had she fallen into the water? Not accidentally, either. She had slipped into it willingly, and he had flung himself after her instinctively.

He shivered. He couldn't stand here and wonder about her motives. He had to get her back to his apartment before they both froze to death.

Back at his apartment, he laid her down on the couch and found towels. He shook his head to get most of the water out of his hair, and toweled himself off, more or less, and then began to carefully dry the girl off. He couldn't very well put her into new clothing, and he wasn't going to try to explain to a neighbor why he had an unconscious, dripping wet girl in his apartment.

The sensible thing to have done was to have called for help there after he got her out. Or call the hospital now and have the ambulance come to take her to the hospital. Nothing in this night had made sense, though, so he might as well continue his nonsense by taking care of her. It was only until she woke in the morning, anyway.

She was as dry as she was going to get without new clothing. He wrapped her hair in a towel, awkwardly, and picked her up again. He carried her into his bedroom and somehow pulled the covers back and put her in the bed. She responded as much as a doll would to a child's care, her limbs limp and relaxed. He tucked the covers warmly around her and went to the kitchen to get a hot-water bottle ready, and something warm for himself. The cold was still in his bones.

He put the bottle in by her chest, then drank his cocoa and half-staggered to the shower. Even that didn't completely chase the cold away, but it warmed his skin and finally, blessedly, made him sleepy. It was a good thing that tomorrow was Sunday. No way that he could handle taking care of her and go to school as well, too.

He went to his bedroom to check on her one more time. It was hard to tell, but she looked like she had passed from unconsciousness to true sleep. Her breathing was deep and even, and her hands lay curved in graceful claws on the pillow. Syaoran sat down on the bed and put the back of his hand on her forehead. It was pretty cool still, but that didn't mean anything. By tomorrow they'd know if she was going to be sick or not.

Syaoran sighed. "You're a lot of trouble, did you know?" he asked the girl. She didn't even stir.

He had to get blankets and a pillow out for the couch. He had to get up. His eyes were so heavy, though. Maybe he could close them for a moment? They fell shut without asking him, anyway, and Syaoran's last thought as sleep claimed him was that he had to get up in a few minutes. Couldn't Syaoran's golden-brown head hit the pillow beside the girl's strawberry-gold one.

{His mother is giving his younger self another lesson on magic. He stands watching, both observer and actor. ::Look at these two stones:: she says. ::And tell me that difference.::

He studies the stones carefully. One has a faint aura of magic to it, as if someone had put a ward on it. He points. ::That one has a spell on it, Mother.:: he says.

His mother smiles. He loves her smile. But she is shaking her head, too. What part of it did he get wrong? ::That one does have a spell on it,:: she says. ::But...:: She touches the other stone and says a Word, and the stone shines with blinding light.

::I didn't see the spell,:: he says. ::How could I...::

::It's very simple, my son,:: she says, resting her hand on his shoulder. ::But you must always remember this. The stone had a seal on it, that prevented the kehai from coming though.::

::But a seal gives out magic too, doesn't it?:: he asks.

::Most do. But there is a type of seal that blocks magic from coming in or out, and you must learn to recognize them. It could save your life.::

He is still confused. ::If there's a seal on it to prevent magic from coming through, how can you sense it?::

::My son,:: she says, ::If you were building a boat, how would you know it was watertight?::

::I'd put water in the bottom, to see where it dripped out, or put it in shallow water to see if it sank.::

::And if no water dripped out, or if it didn't sink?::

::I'd know that — oh!:: He understands now. ::So if no magic comes in or out from an object, it might be sealed?:: But something still seems wrong. ::How do you tell the difference from something like that and a non-magical thing, though?::

::Magic soaks into everything,:: she replies. ::Even if something is non-magical, it flows through it. But a completely sealed object will not radiate magic, even if it takes it in.:: She bends close to him, face very serious. ::People do not go though the trouble of completely sealing something unless it is very, very important, because seals are one of the most difficult and dangerous magics to work with. If you ever run into an object or a person who has been sealed completely, you must be very careful.::

::People can be sealed, too?:: he asks. A thing he can understand being sealed, but people have living magic that must be very hard to control.

::Yes,:: she says, ::But if a person has been sealed, they usually die in a few years anyway. You can't use your magic and part of your soul is locked away from you, and it takes an immensely powerful mage to even consider doing such a thing. I've heard of one mage who could do it successfully. He sealed someone, and they died of despair.::

He shudders. ::I hope I never meet someone like that.::

She ruffles his hair affectionately. ::So do I, my little wolf, so do I. But, remember. If you look at something and there's an aura of no-magic, be very careful. People tend to seal thing that are dangerous, and leave the rest be.::

::Yes, Mother.::

He sees the girl again, sitting in fetal position, staring at nothing. Magic is curling around her in a thousand colors and swirls. But the girl shows black. Black, the color of nothing. The page of a book slides before him. "Black: All colors together forming into emptiness," the text reads. "Usually indicates a seal of some kind, as non-magical artifacts generally show as white, the non-color. See also..." and the book slides away before he can see what else it recommends...}


Longing for someone
That you don't know
Searching for something
You never find

Touya laid a flower in front of his mother's picture. She was laughing, holding a younger version of himself. It had been taken by his father when she was pregnant, just before the awful time when his little sister had died. She looked so happy, with her son in her arms and her daughter in her womb.

Touya himself looked happy and contented. His arms were around his mother. He remembered when his father had taken the picture. The baby had kicked at him and he had patted his mother's stomach where the small foot had struck. He'd wanted to see his sister very badly, to play with her and help his parents take care of her. Both he and his mother had known when she became pregnant, and that it was a girl. Her energy had burned bright and clear, before she got sick. A little star, that burned out. He was going to have the baby call him Oniichan, like his classmates' siblings called them.

"But it's politer to say Oniisan," said his mother. "Little girls have to be polite."

Touya set his brows stubbornly. "But I'm not an 'oniisan'", he insisted. "I want to be 'Oniichan' and teach her things."

His father laughed from behind the camera. "Are you going to teach her to swim and play ball? Then, I'll teach her how to cook and sew."

"And what shall I teach her?" asked his mother, smiling. "Touya-kun can teach her about sports and Fujitaka-san can teach her cooking, but I can't do either. Dear me! I must be a lily of the field."

"You're a pink," Touya pointed out. "Not a lily."

His father howled with laughter. When he recovered, he said, "I think Nadeshiko-san was saying that she 'toils not, neither does she spin.'"

Touya was even more confused.

"It's a quote," his mother explained. "From a very old religious book in the West. 'Consider the lilies of the field, how they toil not, neither do they spin, yet their father in heaven cares for them.'"

"Oh," said Touya. He tried to imagine lilies in a field, with a father in the sky looking after them, and failed.

"I know what Nadeshiko-san can teach the baby," said his father.

"And what might that be, Fujitaka-san?" his mother asked playfully. "Since I can't sew a straight seam, and if I try to boil water, it burns up, and if I try to play anything I fall down?"

His father smiled at his mother. "You can teacher her to be as sweet and loving as you are."

Touya touched the picture of his mother. You would have, he told it silently. And Dad would have taught her to cook and sew, and I would have taught her sports, and we would have been happy.

Would have. Could have. Should have. Touya swallowed the lump of thorns in his throat, and went to work.

Stranger in a strange land
What do you know about yourself?
All you ever figure out
Is that you're a stranger,
A stranger in a strange land.

Hanako knew she was dreaming. The boy was in it, younger. They were sitting in a cafe together, and there were two other people with them. Hanako turned to say something to the boy and he turned red and ran away. But all she had said was that the cake was good...

The boy again, dressed in green robes, with a sword on his back, leaping in front of her protectively. He made a sound of pain, because the dark thing in front of them had hit him. Blood soaked into the sleeve of his robe, a dark red stain against the green.

Someone was holding out a — knife? No, a sword. A pretty sword, with a feathered hilt set with an amethyst, but not the one that the boy carried on his back. They offered it to her, and said, ::This sword can cut through anything.::

She took it and wondered what she was supposed to do with it. She looked down and saw that she had a silver thread coming from her navel.

::Your life-thread,:: the voice commented. ::It attaches your soul to your body.::

Then she looked at her left hand. Around the ring finger was a red thread, trailing off.

::Your destiny thread:: said the voice. ::It connects you to the one that you will love.::

There was something else on her hands. Black thread, binding them, wrapping around her arms hard enough so that blood was oozing around it, and Hanako realized that the black thread was wrapped around her entire body, tight enough so that there were fine cuts everywhere. Her whole body was covered in blood and the wet black thread. Hanako was vaguely surprised to realize that the thread cutting into her didn't hurt at all. ::What is this thread?:: she asked.

The voice was silent. ::It is...:: they said finally, ::For you to discover.::

Blood was dripping from her. It was oddly warm, almost comforting, as it slid down her skin to pool to the floor.

::You must choose.:: said the voice.

::Choose what?:: she asked.

::What to cut.::

Hanako looked down again. If she cut the destiny thread, she would never find the person she would love. If she cut her life thread, her soul would leave her body. If she cut the black thread... It seemed that the black thread was supporting her. A warm support made of her own blood. There was no way to get a good slice at the black threads. It wrapped around each of her legs, went up to her face and all around her head, and twined itself around her fingers and her chest. Any way she could cut it would also cut her deeply.

It would be... easiest to simply cut the silver thread and let her soul be free of her body. But if she did that, she would never find out her answer.

But she didn't even know the question.

::Yes, you do,:: said the voice. ::In your heart, you know the question, but it is hidden from you.::

Hanako looked down at herself again. The black thread was thickest at the middle of her chest, where her heart was. If the question was hidden in her heart, she would have to look there. But to look there, she would have to get rid of the black thread. Cutting it would cut her open, too.

But if she cut herself open, wouldn't it be easier to see her heart?

::Decide quickly,:: said the voice, urgently.

Hanako took a deep breath, and slashed herself in the chest with the blade. It hurt so that she cried out with the pain, and staggered back. The blade sank deeper, cutting through the black thread, which had become a cocoon. Hanako dropped the blade and pushed her hands into the opening the sword had created, forcing her way through tangles of thread that tried to stop her. The opening was so narrow. She pushed her head through it and felt the bones of her skull move, displaced by the pressure that the thread put on it. It hurt worse than the sword had, but Hanako set her teeth and pushed with all her might, every muscle contracting in her effort. Finally her head popped out and she took a deep breath. Her head was free, but the rest of her body was still encased. Some how she got one hand out, then her arm, then her other arm, and pushed grimly at the black thread that still clung to her. Her upper body finally came free, and then her hips, and then one leg, and then the other.

Hanako sucked in air. Every part of her body hurt, as if it were trying to make up for not- feeling when she had been encased in the black thread, and for a minute all she could do was writhe on the ground, knees curled to her chest, as the pain swept through her in waves.

::Well done,:: said the voice.

She sat up, although it seemed to take a thousand years, and looked down at her chest again. In the gash created by the sword was her heart, still beating. There was a piece of paper tied around it, and she reached into her chest and took it out.

It read, Why am I still alive?

That, Hanako thought, was a very good question.

She seem to hear the wind calling out. It said, ::The Master-Candidate has broken the First Seal! Awaken O Brothers, O Sisters, for the Master-Candidate has broken the First Seal placed upon her...::

Hanako wondered vaguely who the Master-Candidate was. She felt like she should congratulate them or something.

::Baka,:: said the boy, decidedly, ::You don't congratulate yourself.:: His arms were around her, supporting her.

::Two more,:: the voice whispered. ::The Seal of the Heart is broken, the Seal of the ...:: But Hanako couldn't hear anymore.

Chapter 3: Fortunes

Looking without seeing
Knowing without understanding
Is that all you ever do,
Stranger in a strange land?

Cebersus was dreaming again. He knew he was, but couldn't stop, even to escape to more pleasant memories. He was floating behind Sakura, watching as she laid out the Cards for a reading, over and over again. She laid them out and turned them over mechanically. Dark. Maze, Shadow, Erase. Lock.

Again and again. Dark. Maze, Shadow, Erase. Lock.

He couldn't even tell her the meaning of the Cards. When he tried, he had no voice, and could only float beside her, watching. He hated himself for being helpless, but he knew that he couldn't do anything.

Had his Judgement-Making been so wrong? He had been so sure that she had been capable of being the next mistress. And yet she had lost the Judgement. Was it his fault, or something within her that made her incapable?

And yet Light had been within her heart. Light wasn't there any more, he knew. Light had gone away, her Seal released once more.

How long would it take her to die? How long before the loss of her memories and everything she had loved finally broke her?

He couldn't even weep for her. His eyes were dry. He floated behind her, watching, but not helping. Sakura was not the Candidate anymore. There was nothing he was allowed to do.

Soon, she would break. Soon, very soon, the sealing of her power would kill her.

Was it his fault? He didn't know. But he understood, now, what Yue had felt when Clow had died. He didn't want a new Master. He wanted Sakura back. And that would never happen.

She was still laying the Cards out. Cerbesus watched her. All the Cards were laid out in the proper form. She was good at it.

Windy. Shield, Fly, Flower. Light.


Windy was the Card of communication. Shield was the Card of protection. Fly indicated rising over a problem. Flower was the Card of new growth. Light was the Card of understanding and hope.

It was a fluke, he told himself. But every other time, Dark, Maze, Shadow, Erase and Lock had come up. Dark was hidden understanding and things obscured. Maze misled you, Shadow hid things, Erase made things into nothing. Lock indicated a Seal.

But why had the last Card been Lock? Shouldn't it have been Erase? Her memories and the memories of everything connected to the Cards had been erased, hadn't they? Why a Seal, instead of a removal?

Sakura looked up at him. Her eyes were blank and glassy, but she was smiling slightly. "Kero-chan," she said, "Light-san promised me. 'Because it's you, it will always be absolutely all right.'"

And the dream faded away.


"Depending on the kindness of strangers"
Looking for one gentle face in a crowd
Is that all you can do,
Stranger in a strange land?

"You're awake," said a voice. "Good."

Hanako opened her eyes. She was in a strange room and the boy from last night was standing over her. His thick eyebrows were drawn together, but somehow Hanako knew that he wasn't scowling out of irritation or resentment. Maybe he thought he was. She sat up. Her clothes were wrinkled and still damp in places, but someone had taken the trouble of wrapping her hair in a towel.

"There's jeans and a t-shirt in the bathroom," he said. "You might as well change into them. I'm going to make breakfast." He left the room. His back was rigid, like he was expecting an argument, but he closed the door very quietly and left her alone.

Hanako reached up and touched her mouth. The corners were turned up. Was that a smile? She'd never done such a thing before.

Syaoran heard the shower start as he pulled out pans and scowled into the refrigerator, which hadn't done anything to him. Eggs. Bacon. Pancake mix. It would have to do.

The phone rang. At this hour? he wondered, as he picked up the phone. "Li Syaoran," he said.

"My son," said his mother, crisply.

"Mother? Is something wrong?"

She was silent for a second. "Your sisters and I all had a very odd dream last night," she said. "What did you dream of?"

Syaoran blinked. "I was watching you give me a lesson about seals," he said.

He could hear his mother tap her fingers against the phone. She had to be upset; the first rule she had taught him was to never fidget. Fidgeting meant nervousness, and nervousness meant a potential weakness for your enemies to exploit. "Was there anything else to your dreaming?"

"I dreamed about a girl with magic around her, but she was showing black. Then there was a book with a definition of seals, but I couldn't read all of it before it went away."

"I see." There was another silence of finger-tapping. "Your sisters and I all dreamed that you rescued a fallen star from water. What happened last night?"

His mother was never this blunt. Was she that worried? "I — couldn't sleep last night, so I went for a walk. There was a girl on a bridge and she fell into the water, so I went after her."

"Fell, or went?"

Syaoran was silent.

"I see," said his mother. "We did a reading this morning. The star that you rescued... please be careful."


She sighed. "I don't know, my son. But that star is associated with something important. It seems that it is hidden somehow, even from us. Please promise me you will be careful."

"I will, Mother."

His mother sighed again and hung up. Syaoran stared at the phone for a long moment. What was so important about the girl that his mother and his sisters would dream of her? His mother often had dreams about her children, but his sisters never had dreams about him, nor he about them. She had told him once that his father had had dreams about his children, but it was a rare ability for a male. Something about bearing a child for nine months created a bond between the two of them. Men usually couldn't form the bond to "see" like that, didn't have the link that a woman of power could create during pregnancy.

Syaoran put the phone down and returned to making breakfast. He had just finished the pancakes when the girl reappeared. His clothing hung oddly on her frame. Syaoran wasn't big — no matter what people thought, bulk was not to a swordsman's advantage — but the clothing swallowed her up. She stood quietly waiting. Syaoran fought a blush with limited success. At least she hadn't been awake when he'd woken to discover that not only had he fallen asleep on the bed, sometime during the night he'd turned over to fling an arm around her and buried his head in the towel surrounding her hair.

"Sit down," he said. She went docilely to the bar and sat. He put a plate of food in front of her.

"I'm not very hungry," she said.

"I don't care," he snapped. "You almost drowned last night. Eat."

She picked up her fork and took one tiny bite of the pancakes. Syaoran filled his own plate and began to eat. He wasn't a heavy eater, but he was a thirteen-year-old boy. The girl just nibbled.

"I told you to eat," he said.

"I'm not hungry," she said. "I'm never hungry."

Syaoran raised one eyebrow. "You're nothing but bones," he pointed out. "Are you anorexic or something?"

She shook her head. "They thought so for a while, but the doctor said it was probably depression. Food doesn't taste good to me."

The other eyebrow shot up to join it's mate. "Depression?"

"I lost my memories three years ago," she said. "They found me wandering around but my family never looked for me, they said."

Syaoran stared at her. To lose all her memories, and her family... "So then what happened?"

"The authorities took me in and I've been in foster homes." She took another delicate bite of the food.

"Did they give you a name?"

"Yes, Yoshida Hanako." She looked at him. "I don't know yours, either."

"Li Syaoran." He put more pancakes on his plate.

"So you must be a gaijin?"

"I'm from Hong Kong, if that's what you mean. You aren't eating."

She took a marginally larger bite of bacon. Syaoran watched her. Her wrist turned out for a second — his hand shot out and grabbed it before he was aware of what he was doing.

There were thin red lines on her wrists. Syaoran had one mark like them on his upper arm from when he'd accidentally cut himself with his sword. The only way to get a mark like that was with something very sharp.

"What," said Syaoran, feeling something cold in the pit of his stomach, "Is that?"

"It's nothing," she said, and tried to pull her hand away.

"Don't give me that," he said. He pushed his sleeve up and pointed at his scar. "I nearly fell on a sword when I got that. How did you get those?"

Hanako's eyes fell. "Razor," she whispered.

The cold was taking over now. "Did someone do that to you?"

Hanako shook her head. "I did."

"You idiot," he said, caught in an icy rage made worse by the fact that he didn't understand why he was so angry at her. "You moron. Do you want to die?"

"Yes," she said, very softly, "I do. Let go of me."

"If you really want to die," he said, "I'll lend you my sword and take you to a place where you can do it. But why are you just playing with death?"

The girl remained silent, staring at the floor.

"Look at me," he commanded. She didn't move. He pushed her chin up with his other hand and stared into her eyes. "If you want to die, just do it."

"I've tried," she said.

"You haven't tried," he said. "Not eating, nicking your wrists, that's just playing with death. A coward's way of playing with death."

"I'm not a coward!" She tried to pull her hand away, seriously this time. Syaoran wouldn't let her. "Nobody would care if I did," she said finally. "Nobody would care if I lived."

"Then you'd better care for yourself," he said. "Make up your mind. Do I give you the sword, or are you going to be brave?"

"Nobody cares," she said again. "Nobody would care. My family never looked for me." Her eyes were glassy, and tears began to seep onto her cheeks. "They never tried!"

The rage left him as suddenly as it had come, and he let her wrist drop. "It doesn't matter about them," he said. "You have to decide if the feelings you had for them are enough. Because if they loved you, they wouldn't want you to be a coward. Maybe they couldn't look for you. That doesn't matter. Only you can decide if you want to live."

She was staring at him oddly. "Would... would you care?"

Syaoran found himself turning red. He picked up her fork and speared a bit of egg on it and held it to her mouth. "Eat."

She stared at him again, for a long, endless second, and then opened her mouth obediently.

She ate everything on the plate.

CHAPTER FIVE: Butterfly Wings

Did you know, did you hear
Can I tell, can I inform
That the fate shaping your ends
Is a butterfly moving it's wings
Exactly the wrong way?

"Won't you get in trouble for being out all night?" he asked. The girl was wearing one of his sweatshirts because it was still cold out. She looked even more swallowed by it than she did the rest of his clothing. One part of his mind observed that it was actually kind of cute, and was squashed.

She shrugged. "They don't care as long as I don't get into trouble."

"What part of jumping into rivers and cutting yourself is not getting into trouble?"

She shrugged again. "I wear long sleeves for the home visits."

Syaoran winced.

She didn't seem to notice that anything was wrong. "Is that a shrine up there?"

"Yeah, a moon shrine. They have festivals and stuff." At which he was usually inexplicably surrounded by girls squealing as he tried to play the games. He still wasn't sure why. You'd think that after he wandered off and left them at the mounds of toys enough times, they'd stop bothering him.

Her brows drew together. "It looks...familiar?"

"One torii looks like the next to me," he said. He wasn't, generally speaking, interested enough in shrine construction to tell the difference between one red-lacquered gate thing and the next, whatever people here might say. The shrine itself was pretty unremarkable. He'd heard it had a moon-gazing pond, but never seen it himself.

The girl continued staring at it, and then went toward it.

"Hey," he said, "Don't you want to go home?"

"Why does it look familiar?" she asked. "I've never been in this area before..."

"Maybe you saw it in a past life," he snapped. The girl continued toward the shrine and he said something under his breath in Chinese and went after her.

He caught up with her just inside the red arch. "Come on," he said. "They're probably worried about --"

There was an item of power somewhere here.

A strong item of power. Very strong. Probably one of the strongest he had ever felt in his life. But why had he never felt it before? Maybe because he'd only come during festivals? But surely, even with the confusion and fuss, he would have felt this. The item...was calling. It had been created for a purpose that had been unfulfilled, and he was the one to help it fulfill it.

The first thing Syaoran had learned growing up, or very nearly, was that any mysterious item calling for a user to come was probably the magical equivalent of an armed nuclear bomb. He pulled the girl behind him and looked around, carefully.

"What's wrong?" asked the girl.

"You can't feel it?" he said, feeling the tug of whatever it was, begging, pleading for him to come and take it out of the dark place where it had been placed.

"Feel what?"

Guess that answered his question.

Maybe it was the object of reverence here at the shrine? But it didn't feel like one, exactly. There was a difference in the aura of an item of power and a sacred object. Items of power were made with power, and a sacred object acquired power because people believed that it was sacred. A rock was usually just a rock, but if you prayed to it enough, it became something else. This...thing, whatever it was, was definitely an item of power, but its' aura still had the tang of a sacred object. Maybe someone had found it, and sensing the power, had thought it was sacred. And because they had believed...

"Are you looking for something?" a pleasant voice asked. Syaoran looked over to see a woman in her middle age and a miko's red hakama watching them. She was leaning on a broom.

"Um," said Syaoran, cursing himself. "We were just..."

She studied him for a second, and he became aware that she had a little magical power, not much. Her brows drew together for a single second, and then she smiled. "Would you like to have some tea?" she asked. "My husband's away for the day and I hate having tea by myself."

The aura was definitely stronger here, thought Syaoran. The girl didn't seem to notice anything. She was talking to the miko about nothing in particular as the older woman served them tea and cookies, and then sat opposite them.

"This must be a very old shrine," said the girl.

"Yes," the woman said. "It's been here for hundreds of years now."

Syaoran felt like an idiot, but it had to be asked. "This is a moon shrine?"

The woman nodded. "It's always been a moon shrine," she said. "The moon-gazing pond was put in place when the temple was founded, and the statue on it was put in about fifty years after that. We were very lucky that we weren't much damaged by the war. Just a little trouble with the shrine building itself."

"But..." he hesitated. "Do you have an... object of reverence here?"

The woman blinked at him, apparently surprised. "Not as such, no. May I ask...?"

Now he really felt like an idiot. To explain, to a stranger, that you felt an item of power's presence, and that it was calling to you... "I just thought that there was one, for some reason."

She looked at him sharply. "Do you feel it?"

Syaoran turned red. "Y-yes," he said. "It seems like there's something..."

There was a long moment's pause while she searched his face. Syaoran wondered what she was looking for. Her eyes, still a clear hazel, were trying to read into his soul. He wondered what she was seeing. The presence of his power? Something else? "Where do you see this item?" she asked, finally.

Syaoran concentrated. There was the faint glow of the woman's power, the general radiance of the shrine, and the girl, who was showing black, with fine hairline cracks of light, and ---

The girl was showing black, with fine hairline cracks of light. ::And the most dangerous thing about a seal,:: said his mother's voice in his memories, :: is what happens when they break.::

Syaoran would have edged away, but the miko was still waiting for his answer. He hastily gathered his concentration back together and looked again. In a chest in the corner of the room was the strongest signature in the room. "Over there," he said.

The woman got up and went to the chest. "My daughter was very fond of this thing," she said, kneeling before the chest and opening it. "It's been in our family for a very long time. My father used to say that a very powerful person must have made it." She pulled out a brass object shaped like a sickle moon, with long ribbons wrapped around and trailing from the handle.

That was definitely the item of power. Out of the chest, the thing's aura was very strong. It was calling him even more now, asking, telling, whispering that he could do it, he could use it as it was meant to be used. Syaoran shook his head vigorously to clear it. The pleading receded a little, but it was still very strong.

"It's a bell," the woman said. "We call it the Moon Bell." She brought it over to them and Syaoran saw that it had the character for moon on the body of the thing. It was beautifully made and obviously quite, quite old. "My daughter was the only one who could make it ring, though." She held it out to Syaoran. "Would you like to see it?"

Syaoran reached out and took it. As he did, the bell gave one deep, ponderous note. Holding it, the aura was less intense, as if being near it muffled the effects.

Or maybe the thing was just happy that it had got it's own way and he was holding it. That was also a strong possibility. He looked over at the girl and realized that she had scooted away from the bell, her eyes wide. And the cracks in the nothing-aura were widening. This could be very bad, Syaoran thought.

"Um," he said. "You said your daughter 'was' very fond of it?"

The woman's eyes filled with sorrow, and she looked away. "Our daughter Kaho..." she said, finally, "Died a long time ago."

Chapter Six: Moon Bell

Stranger in a strange land
Are you going to accept that fate?
Stranger in a strange land
Wouldn't it be better to make your own?

The boy looked surprised. "...Dead?" he repeated. Hanako wondered if he had known her. Probably not. The miko had just said that she had died a long time ago, and the boy was her age.

Her head hurt. The bell had made her head hurt. Why had it made it hurt? Her head felt like it was splitting open. No, her body felt like it was splitting open. It was like the dream she had last night, but worse. This wasn't thread or a sword. This was her skin splitting apart. She looked down, but her hands were still normal. They felt like they were splitting open.

Was this what snakes felt when they shed their skins? This feeling of being trapped in something too small, too confining? This desire to break free of their skin, to escape it? If it was, Hanako thought vaguely, she owed snakes an apology for disliking them.

The bell donged again, and she shuddered.

The boy was speaking again. "But...your daughter must have been very powerful," he said. "To use this Bell..."

The woman nodded. "She was," she said, "But she was in an accident, and even though she tried her best, the injuries were too much for her. She was very upset. She kept on saying 'She'll fail, it will be my fault. I won't get to meet them. He'll be so lonely.' Finally she said, 'But because it's her, it will be all right' and made me promise to give the Bell to the person who could make it ring."

"Eh?" said the boy. His voice was coming from very far away. She was sitting beside him, but she felt like they were a thousand miles apart. She felt the cushion beneath her feet, the rough-softness of the jeans he had lent her, the sweatshirt lapping down over her hands, but even as she felt them, they were distant from her. She was separate from her body, even as it tried to split open.

She was going to split apart. She was going to break open, and shed her skin. She didn't know what was inside her skin.

"My daughter could see things," the miko was saying. "The only thing she didn't see was that accident. But she made me promise to give the Bell to the person who could make it sound, and you're the only one who has."

Her voice was so far away. Hanako could hear it, and knew that it was close to her, but it sounded so far away.

"But..." the boy — no, his name was Li-kun, wasn't it? No, he had said she could call him Syaoran-kun. No, they had just met. But he had leaped in front of something for her. A shadow. A shadow had attacked them and he'd jumped in front of her, and the blood from his wound had soaked into the green of his robes.

But they had just met.

Hadn't they?

"Please," said the woman, "please take the Bell."

Looking at this place
Looking into your eyes
Remembering what might have been
Calling out a name
I don't remember anymore

"Well," said the boy/ Li-kun/ Syaoran-kun. Hanako couldn't tell what his name was anymore.

Was her name even Hanako? It had something to do with a flower. A flower that bloomed in spring. She wasn't Yoshida Hanako, she was...

The voices broke her concentration. "Please take it," the woman repeated again.

"If you're sure," said the boy.

Her skin was splitting. The walls of the room were closing around her. She had to get out, she had to breathe, she had to —

"Syaoran-kun," she said, surprised to find that her voice still sounded real, "I don't --"

The boy looked at her, one of his clear, piercing looks. "You look awful," he said. Then he stopped and looked like he was trying to work something out. He shook his head slightly. "We should get you home."

Home? Where was home? Home was a few minutes from here, if you skated fast enough. No, it wasn't. It was across the city. The boy was helping her up and making apologies to the miko, something about her having a cold. She never had colds, and when she did, Oniichan would bring her warm honey milk....

She didn't have a brother. She'd never had honey milk.

Look into my eyes
Tell me what you see.
Stranger in a strange land,
Why are you part of me?

Touya was coming home from work, thinking about what to make for dinner. Fried noodles? Sakura should be back soon.

No, Sakura had been missing for three, long, horrible years.

Sakura was the name of the sister that had been miscarried, wasn't it?

Stranger in a strange land
Why do I know your name?
We're just strangers
Strangers in a strange land.

Cerberus woke.

Yue woke.

The Master-Candidate was breaking the seals placed upon her. That was impossible. But it was happening, none the less. The Cards were gathering.

Sakura had failed the Judgement once.

Hadn't she?


Syaoran was by nature and training inclined to be deeply suspicious of any magical object that persisted in trying to give him visions.

The Moon Bell was trying to tell him something. Something about a Seal, and a girl who had been forced to undergo a Judgement too soon, without the help she should have had. About a boy who could have helped, if he had only known how.

About first chances that slipped away, and second chances unexpectedly given.

It wanted him to concentrate on it, but he couldn't. The girl was whiter than chalk and she half-stumbled down the path.

"Syaoran-kun," she said, pleadingly, "Why am I splitting open?"

Splitting open? Syaoran looked at her, really looked, and realized that the cracks of light in the black seal around her were widening, branching off into other, fine cracks of light that met up with still others. If he was her, he'd be writhing on the ground. "A seal, breaking," he said, half to himself.

The bell rang again. The cracks split wider, and the girl cried out in pain. He wanted to tell the bell to stop it, but he didn't know how to, and he had a horrible feeling that even if he could make it stop, she'd be stuck in that state for a long time, half out of the seal, half in it still.

The wind was blowing. The wind was blowing all around them, ripping the leaves off the trees with enough force to make them feel like slapping razors as they hit. It wasn't... a real wind. A wind spirit? No, the aura was wrong. Something else, that he should remember, but couldn't. The girl didn't even seem to notice the wind, bound up in the pain of the breaking seal.

The bell rang. He glared at it, hating it for causing her pain. "Fine," he said, "Do something useful instead of hurting her!" He swung the bell up over his head, ribbons flying like proud banners, the bell gave voice to one huge triumphant "DONG", and the seal around the girl shattered like so much glass.

The girl was panting for breath, but at least she could breathe. The wind was still blowing, viciously, and the girl raised her head and looked into it.

Syaoran turned back to the shrine, and tried to grab the girl's hand so they could make a run for it, when he heard her.

"Key...that holds..."

Chapter Seven: Eucatastrophe

Syaoran whirled around. The girl's eyes were glazed, and she was holding a pendant, shaped like a key with a bird's head. Her face was twisted in pain or concentration.


She was sweating with effort.


She gasped for air, holding herself like every word was torn from her.

"...of ...the...dark... Show... thy..."

She dropped to her knees, but her eyes remained open, staring at something only she could see. "...true...form...."

The pendant began to glow weakly.


The glow began to brighten, like the start of sunrise.


Her other hand curled into a fist and clenched. " by"

Her fist hit the ground. It was clenched so tightly that blood dripped from it and soaked into the ground. Syaoran tried to open his mouth to warn her about it, but he couldn't move. Shock, or something, had left him motionless.

"....this by"

She was panting now, sweat dripping down her face, but the pendant was glowing more strongly now. As he watched, it essayed a weak spin.

"This by contract...Sakura doth...command..."

On the ground, a circle began to form. "Key that hides...the power of the...dark," she said, more strongly, as the pendant began to spin, faster and faster until it was nearly a blur, "Show thine true This by contract...Sakura...commands...."

The circle beneath her feet snapped into being. "This by contract, Sakura commands, RELEASE!" she cried, and the pendant gave a final, triumphant spin and Syaoran felt the presence of magic all around them as the pendant transformed into a pink staff the same bird's head that had been on the pendant. She gripped it and stood up, swaying dangerously. Still, she spun the staff in the air fiercely. Her eyes had lost their blank expression, and for the first time, she looked real to him, not like a ghost.

The wind spirit, whatever it was, gathered itself together in a final gust of air. Syaoran saw that it was a woman, with dragonfly wings and a strange mark on her forehead.

The wind was still blowing all around her.

The girl raised the staff above her head. "Return to thy true form and accept the seal once more, 'Clow Card'!" she said.

The spirit looked at her for a long second, and then it smiled. It was a smile that reminded him of warm spring breezes and the smell of cut grass on the wind, and then the spirit dissolved — no, not dissolved, but transformed into a large card, and floated docilely into her hand.

Syaoran had seen a card like that before, but he couldn't remember where. He'd seen her do this before, but he couldn't remember where.

She staggered.

"Hey," he said, alarmed, "Are you all right?"

"Not really," she said, using her staff as a prop, "But I'm going to live. Even if I don't want to." She looked around, like she was searching for something. "Cards," she said, "Come to me." She held out her hand and cards shaped like the one she had in her hand, flew out of nowhere. They swirled around her and then dropped into a stack in her hand.

"You still have my name on you," she said. Syaoran could see a mostly faded name on the bottom of the cards, glowing slightly. She closed her eyes for a second.

I think I've seen you before
Looking into your eyes
Taking your hand in mine
This feeling that we've met

"You failed the Judgement, Sakura," said a voice. Syaoran turned to see who was speaking [the one part of his mind that always stood back and observed commented that he'd have to stop that, he was getting dizzy], and saw a large winged — lion? It wore armor with rubies on it's breast and head, and an earring in one ear. His face was filled with sorrow and regret.

Beside him stood a winged angel, dressed in Chinese-style clothing. "It is not met that the same Candidate have two chances," he said, coldly.

"Um," said Syaoran, carefully. "Judgement? Against those two? Her?"

"Yes," said the girl, simply.

Syaoran boggled briefly. "A child? Against those?"

"Yes," said the girl again.

Syaoran was suddenly angry, and he didn't know why he was angry. "That's not fair!" he shouted.

"It was the Law," said the angel, eyeing him with faint distaste. "Only Clow could win against the Judgement-Maker."

"Then why did you let her try?" he snarled. "If you knew she would lose, why did you let her try?"

The lion bowed it's head. "I thought she could do it," he said, sadly. "I was --"

"No," said the girl, suddenly. "Kero-chan, if it was anybody, it was me."

Syaoran was furious, and he still didn't understand why. "How was it your fault if you went up against something too strong for you?" he demanded. "How was that fair?" He turned to the angel. "Why did you even bother letting her TRY?" In his anger, he flung out his hand and the bell went swinging up, and rang.

Syaoran stared at the bell.

I don't understand this feeling
I don't know what to do
Stranger in a strange land
What have you done to me?

The bell had been created for a purpose. The maker, Clow Read, wanted the Cards to go to Sakura. But he'd known Yue, known that Yue wouldn't willing accept a new Master. So he'd created this bell, and left it in the care of the shrine to wait for the day that Sakura would be born and live in this town. He'd thought that there would be a qualified user, that a daughter of the shrine would be born in time to help her when the time came.

The one time he'd been wrong, and Sakura had paid the price. He'd thought that surely, even if the daughter of the shrine wasn't there, surely the other one would discover it in time to help her.

But that other person had just been a little boy, trained, yes, but had never heard of the bell. Couldn't find it in time, when he felt it's call, and even then, Cerberus, trying to avoid Sakura's defeat by interference, had stopped him.

It was all their faults. The blame couldn't be placed on one head alone. Each, in their own way, in doubt and mistrust and misguided fear, had contributed to the defeat she had suffered.

Syaoran heard Yue say, "But since you have broken the Seals placed upon you, you must suffer the second punishment. That will be 'dissolving'."

Not if he had anything to do with it. To live, wondering why he was missing something, for three years, and then finally rediscovering it...only to have it taken away...

"I don't care," said the girl.

"You've changed, Sakura," said Cerberus, sadly.

"I was forced to change," she said.

Yue struck. The girl cried, "JUMP!" and small wings sprouted from her feet. She leapt away, and Yue followed after her.

Syaoran broke into a run. He could help her this time. He had the Bell. He knew what to do.

Cerberus leaped in front of him. "What do you think you're doing?"

"Helping her," he snapped. "Get out of my way, Stuffed Animal!"

The lion fell back, as he had somehow known that he would — the back of his mind wondered where he'd gotten the idea of calling that majestic feline a "stuffed animal", anyway — and Syaoran raced to where Sakura was trying to defend herself against Yue. The Cards were arranged in a circle around her, protecting her — but for how long?

"Sakura!" he screamed.

Yue regarded him with cold eyes. The worst part of them was their pupils, too small and somehow alien. "Disturbing me will bring you to grief, boy."

"I'd like to see you try," he said, staring into Yue's strange gold eyes unflinchingly. "The First Judgement was False. It has to be completed now."

"What?" said Yue and Cerberus.

Syaoran took a deep breath. "The Judgement from before," he said. "Your maker knew that Yue would have a hard time accepting a new master, and so he left a gift for the one he had chosen. But that time, nobody could give it to her." He looked away. "The person who was meant to give it to dead. I couldn't do it because I didn't understand."

Yue lifted one eyebrow. "If you have also broken the seals placed upon you, you must also suffer."

"It was the Bell that did it," said Syaoran, raising it. "The Bell that your old master made to give to the Candidate."

"Clow....?" said Cerberus.

A shadow of pain and anger passed over Yue's face. "That person!"

Syaoran turned to Sakura. "Repeat after me."

She looked confused, and he couldn't blame her. He was confused, too, but he knew that it had to be done.

"Please, Sakura," he said. "Trust me?"

She nodded slowly.

"Bell for the new Candidate, your purpose is now fulfilled. Let your power come into my Key." he said.

"Bell for the new Candidate, your purpose is now fulfilled. Let your power come into my Key," she repeated.

Then, together, they said, "Key created by Clow. Accept this new Moon Power. Show your new form before me! RELEASE!"

And the staff glowed brightly, changing form into a star in a circle, with wings on the sides of the circle.

Yue's face twisted. "I won't accept--!" he said, and leaped toward Sakura.

"WINDY!" she cried out, and Yue was wrapped in a cage of wind, coming to rest beside her.

She walked up to him and looked into his eyes. "Yue-san," she said. "I failed once, and maybe I would have failed again, if Syaoran-kun hadn't got the Bell. But... even when I had forgotten, even when you sealed my power, I remembered the Cards and Kero-chan, and even you, in my dreams. I loved them, and I still do, and I think that I will love you, too." She stretched out her hand to him. "I don't want to be your master. I want to be your friend. Please, I want you to teach me how to be the one to protect you. Please..."

Yue was silent for a long moment, and then the barest hint of a smile flitted across his face and was chased away. He looked away from her. "He would do something like this," he said. "Close your eyes."

"H-Hoe?" she said, and Syaoran's heart gave a great, twisted bound.

"The Judgement has ended," said Yue, his eyes closed. "I, the Judgement-Maker Yue, accept this girl, Sakura, as the new Master."

Sakura's eyes remained closed for a second longer, and then she opened them with a start. The Cards fell gracefully into her hand.

"It will be easier if we keep our false forms," said Cerberus. He butted her arm lovingly. "Welcome back, Sakura."

She smiled. "Light-san was right," she said, "'It will always be all right...'" She sighed. "I'm so tired. Will - Will everyone--"

"Yes," said Yue. "The effects of the last Judgement will be reversed, but we can't give you back those three years."

"I don't care," she said. "I learned a lot."

"Rest now," said Cerberus. She nodded tiredly and slumped down into a heap on the ground.

Yue looked at Syaoran. "It will be a little awkward for you," he said, and Syaoran almost thought he saw a shadow of regret pass his face. "For you will remember both realities. But..."

"I don't care either," he said, lifting Sakura into his arms. "But it's going to be even more awkward for you, if her brother sees you like that—" and pointed to a small figure, rapidly approaching.

Kero sweatdropped.

Stranger in a strange land
Stranger in my arms
Hold me close all the time and
I think that maybe, just maybe —

Touya ran toward the Moon Shrine. He'd felt something, something he hadn't felt for three, long, horrible, lonely years, and he'd dropped his dinner and taken off as fast as he could, not even explaining to his father.

And there was Yuki, bending anxiously over a bundle in That Brat's arms, and the bundle had long strawberry-gold hair, and then Yuki was yelling, "To-ya! To-ya!" and he was snatching his precious jewel away from That Brat, and she opened her green eyes, and said, "Oniichan?" and wrapped her arms around his neck.

And all was suddenly and gloriously all right in the world.

Oh, maybe, just maybe
We won't be strangers anymore
Maybe, just maybe
We've finally found our home.


Eucatastrophe: From JRR Tolkien's "On Fairy Stories": "The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the sudden joyous "turn": . . . a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of *dyscatastrophe*, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is *evangelium*, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief."