Withered Petals
By: Aisaki Sumi

A/N: the lazy girl is updating more frequently now! Keep up on reviewing guys! XP If you guys keep me inspired, I'll write up more chaps to entertain both myself and you guys! Sakura's childhood ends in this chapter and in the next things will be in the present and you'll see how I fast forward things without making it appear rushed X3. The long waited SxS moments are coming! Now on to the story!

A special thanks to those who took the time to review!


Chapter 6 A Temporary Goodbye


Life could be such an unfair sadist at times. It lures you to it, with a temporary happiness, and just when you are about to reach out for it, it disappears, vanishes into the thin air. What welcomes you on the other hand is always the sadistic, taunting grin, full of mockery. I had my taste at the sadism of life that day, when I returned blithely to the okiya with the thought of Syaoran and the memories of earlier that day occupying my mind.

He had just asked me a favor. It was such an important task, but he handed it to me, trusted me whole-heartedly. No one had ever trusted me that much before, they either thought I was a useless, clumsy peasant girl, or someone who was too meek to carry out even the simplest tasks. I abandoned the task Auntie asked me to do for just a moment as I went down to the postbox that I saw often on my way to the geisha school.

I dropped it into the red metallic box carefully, not wanting to damage the delicate letter. I watched the brownish envelope fall through the tiny opening at the top of the postbox and heard a light thwack, an indication that the letter had landed safely, and was now safe with the postman. A gleeful smile played on my lips as I took one hard look at the postbox, where the letter was and let out a small relieved sigh, feeling the weight lifting off my shoulder. Mission accomplished.

I turned around and tilted my chin upward, my eyes swept across the cerulean silk elongate from the horizons. The white fleecy clouds of the shape of marshmallows chased after one another, as if they were playing a game of tag. I was envious of their freedom, how they could float so care-freelly in the sky. There was no boundary to divide them up, no metal gates to keep them apart from each other. They were embraced by liberty. I wanted that…

My eyes saddened just slightly as that train of thought trailed off my mind, but nonetheless, I told myself to stay cheerful and grateful. I felt so blessed to be given the chance of a life time to meet him, seeing him up close, eye to eye, and face to face.

I remembered the powerful aura he emitted and the faint scent of jasmine and spice that surrounded him, adding on to the pleasance of the late autumn air. Just like his personality, he was so pure and boyish, like jasmine, yet he was strong, ambitious and powerful – full of flourishing passions for life and what it had offered him.

I looked down at the jade stone in my hand, admiring it. It was the same color as my eyes, but far more beautiful. He told me to sell this piece of jade stone, but how could I ever do that? This was the greatest gift I had ever received from anyone, and there was absolutely no way would I exchange it for cash. It was too precious and its value – to me – was priceless. I smiled warmly at it, tugging it close to my heart where I would treasure it for the rest of my life.

It was then I remembered that I had completely forgotten about my reason of being here. I still had to pick up the ornaments Auntie asked me to pick up for Nanako-san. Panicking a little as I glanced at the far horizon, the area of blue near the verge of reality was tinged slightly orangey, hinting me the hours were getting late.

I placed the jade stone back into the hidden pocket inside of my kimono and smoothed out the fabric before I hurried myself down the streets and away from the postbox, heading toward my original destination.

By the time I got back to the okiya, the sun had already set. I panted heavily as I came into a stop at the main entrance of the okiya. Sweat trickled down my forehead, wetting the already dampened locks of auburn hair, causing them to stick to my forehead and the sides of my cheeks in a very uncomfortable fashion. I brushed them aside, annoyed by it. The back of my kimono was soaked in sweat, due to the fact that I ran back from the jewelry store as quick as I could, but I simply ignored it.

I took a few minutes to catch my breath, placing a hand on my fast rising and falling chest. I smiled faintly as the tips of my fingers felt the structure of the jade stone. Just by touching it, I could feel all my troubles and worries disappearing into the night, as if they were never there. His gift provided me the strength I needed to accomplish my goals, urging me to work as hard as I could to eventually fulfill my dreams of becoming a true geisha.

I inhaled in the cool breezy air and pushed the door open with a confident smile on my face, as if I was ready for anything thrown at my way – because he had lent me his strength, inspired me into believing I could accomplish many things – many important things such as delivering that important letter. One of my feet landed on the okiya's stoned ground, making a soft cling sound with my wooden slipper.

But what welcomed me on the other side was the darkened, empty courtyard that lacked the lively spirit it had in the morning, and a very concerned Shizuko-san. My eyes widened slightly and my lips parted, showing my surprise. She was a tall woman, well-built comparing to the other maids I had seen around. She was in her late thirties, lines of experience drawing across her forehead, revealing her wisdom. Some stretched out to the corners of her dark ink-colored eyes. One of her hands – I noticed – was holding a large cooking spoon, used to stir the hot miso soup.

While I gazed at her round, worried face, my mind pondered on the reason of her being here. It was already dinner time and usually around this time, she would be in the kitchen, busy preparing for everyone's meal, especially mother's, since she was a very picky woman and liked things done the way she wanted them to be. Shizuko-san looked around to check if someone was around, just like what Syaoran had done a while back at the gates.

Perplexed, I cocked my head to the side, my eyes giving the confused flicker. After she had done inspecting our surroundings, she bent down until her face was inches away from mine. She was so close to me that I even could smell the greasy, oily scent that clutched her raven hair that was woven into a fine tight knot. "Mother is furious right now." I gasped at the information, feeling myself falling backward. I had just lost my balance.

Shizuko-san grabbed onto my tiny shoulder before I could fall on my butt. "Careful there. You should always watch your steps." She gently chided and patted me. "Auntie told me to keep an eye on you and inform you on mother's current state. She was fine this morning, and seemed pretty cheerful. But she turned all moody and angry after Nanako-san came back from the tea party she was attending. I'm not sure what happened but Nanako-san probably said something bad about you. She does that to everyone she hates and make their lives as miserable as she can."

I gaped at Shizuko-san, shock and disbelieve flashing in my eyes. I didn't remember getting on Nanako-san's bad side. Auntie told me to respect her and stay silent when she gave me lectures, and I did. But how… My usual collective mind was once again in a jumble. I just couldn't figure out what I did wrong. But I knew the worst was coming at my way. An infuriated mother… I swallowed hard, feeling a lump building up in my throat.

"Good luck Sakura-chan! Auntie's here too, in mother's room, she'll try to help you out." Shizuko-san probably saw the crushed expression on my face, but her kind words did not help to improve my mood. Instead, I felt worse than before. I was dragging Auntie down with me. Maybe this was the consequence I had to suffer as a result of my irresponsible actions, maybe this was the punishment I would get for wandering around instead of doing what I was told to do.

Tightening my fists, I took a deep breath and strolled off toward the main house, to confront my own fate. But I knew I was scared, my hands were trembling, my legs felt weak as if they would collapse at any given moment. The sickening feeling returned to my stomach, turning it upside down, twisting the ends of it until I was overwhelmed by the urgency to vomit. The air seemed heavy with dread, the careless, warmth-stealing wind whispering a nameless fear. I felt cold, and shaky. Even the gentlest breeze at that moment could tip over my delicate balance.

Reaching the main house and the end of the darkened tunnel-like corridor, I saw a strand of soft, dim candle light seeping through the little gap between the two pieces of paper screened sliding doors. I turned my head to the right just slightly, and saw the unclear figures of three people, which two I recognized must be Mother and Auntie, but I wasn't sure about the third person.

Pushing the thoughts aside, I hauled into a stop as I reached the end of the corridor, where the entrance of mother's room was. She had one of the largest rooms in the okiya. It was four times the size of Tomoyo's room. I gulped, feeling the cold sweat trickling down my face, yet my hands were as cold as ever, quavering and numbed. The tips of my fingers found their way around the curvature of the sliding door, which served as the handles, and propelled it open.

Even though the light of the room was dim, but somehow it had a blinding affect on me. I closed my eyes just slightly. After a brief moment of adjustment, I examined the room and felt mother's piercing gaze on me. I swallowed hard as our eyes met in an unfriendly confrontation. There were flames of anger in those dark, raven, peculiar orbs. Her thin eyebrows were furrowed, meeting each other in a frown, and her already thin lips were pressed into a line of scarlet. I could tell that Mother was indeed very displeased.

"Where have you been for the afternoon?" Mother questioned, her voice was raspier than before but as demanding and powerful as ever. I broke our eye contact and shifted my gaze to Auntie's face, but what I saw were concerns and disappointment. Auntie appeared so pale and gaunt, her face slim and pointy, exhausted and worried. I bit the corner of my mouth and chewed it uneasily. I knew I was in deep troubles.

Beside Auntie, seated a beautiful geisha – Nanako-san, her smile was just as graceful and gorgeous as ever, but there was something smugly and eerie about it that sent shivers down my spine. Her eyes revealed a cruel and wicked intention, she as obviously amused by the tough situation I got myself into. I knew she didn't like me much, but I didn't think she would ever have the reason to hate me.

"I… I went to pick up Nanako-san's ornaments." I explained and kept my eyes on the ground instead of on mother's face. It was easier that way, and I could shield the guilty glint in my eyes that was bound to give me away. What I had said wasn't a lie, but also not entirely true. I spent most of my time at the gates and to the postbox instead of heading straight to the store and pick up the things I was supposed to pick up.

Mother cleared her throat, making a loud rough grunt before she ordered, "bring forward the ornaments." I was a little startled. My hands reached for the hidden pocket in my kimono and took out the ornaments wrapped in a white cotton handkerchief. I tumbled a little as I walked forward, my legs moved with such difficulties and I knew that my movement looked extremely ungraceful and awkward.

I handed it to mother. Her warm hands contacted my cold ones briefly as she grabbed the package. I heard the clinging sounds of the hair ornaments and the rustling of silk, made by her movements. She was probably examining it under the light to inspect for flaws. Mother liked things to be perfect and if she disliked it, she would go yell at whoever made it and bargain for a lower price for the same thing.

"And? Where else did you go?" I could hear the underlying ire and impatience in her calm, rich of timber tone. My chest tightened at the question. A part of me told me to lie, but the other part told me to speak the truth and ask for their forgiveness sincerely. Instead of picking one of the two choices, I chose the alternative one– to remain silent. The three pairs of eyes were fixed upon me. I could feel their intensities and expectants.

"You were wandering around on the streets were you?" The cold, iciness of her words felt like a slap across the face. I flinched but kept my head low. I didn't have enough courage to look straight into those irked eyes or face her directly. "If you think remaining silent would get you out of the troubles you are in right now, you are deeply wrong little girl! If Nanako didn't pass by the Sakuraji street, I wouldn't even know this. What were you thinking walking down that street? Have you any idea who lives in those mansions?" Her harsh voice echoed in the quiet room.

"Some of the most powerful people in Japan live in those fancy mansions. Only a few geishas have the privilege to go there, and you're definitely not one of them, and will never be one of them at this rate." My pride was hurt, I felt the frown deepening on my face, and the urge to glare at her and tell her that I didn't need to be a geisha to be able to walk down those empty streets. I didn't need to have a high status to talk to Syaoran. He didn't see me as a peasant girl, instead, he complimented me, trusted me, and asked me for a favor.

But I didn't, it would work against my benefits. Mother obviously didn't notice the frown occupied my face and ranted on, "And to make things worse, you were bothering the one and only grandson of the powerful Yanagi family, the heir to the multibillion Yanagi Enterprise! The young boy Nanako saw you talking at the gates is the future CEO of that enterprise! The well-known shopping centers in Kyoto, Osaka, Tokyo, and many other cities – those are all owned by the Yanagi family!"

I gasped as I titled my head, my eyes mirroring shock and disbelieve. I was stunt by the piece of information unveiled before me. I knew Syaoran was from a rich powerful family with a high status, but I didn't know he was from that kind of family. I might still be new at Kyoto, but even I had seen some of the packages sent to our okiya with the name Yanagi Enterprise printed on it. My jaws were dropped to the ground and mother tossed me one of her cold sneers.

"Who did you think he was?" She snorted. "His grandfather, Yanagi-sama, is very protective of that young boy. And you, by speaking to him without any permission and whatsoever will bring unwanted troubles to our okiya. His grandfather will be furious if he ever finds out this, and then, everyone in this okiya will suffer because of your stupid mistake and bad judgment."

I tumbled as I stepped backward, my eyes landed on Auntie's pale face and saw the weary and tired expression on her face. I knew Mother wasn't bluffing. The thought of everyone in the okiya suffering made me turn cold, a freezing feeling rushed down my veins, squeezing the life out of me (1). "I hope you understand the seriousness of this. Yanagi-sama is very protective of that grandson of his, since it was the only son his daughter has and he's counting on him to take the enterprise to the next level."

Mother let out a sigh, rubbing her temples. "But what's done is done, and you will receive a punishment for your behaviors. I've made myself clear on the first day of your arrival and informed you on the set of strict rules we have here at the okiya." She averted her attention away from me and turned to face Auntie, who had been quiet throughout the entire time. "Auntie, please pass me the wooden stick."

My eyes increased to thrice its original size as I heard mother's request. A stick… the word echoed in my ears, nearly deafening me as I realized what it meant. A stick, and punishment. My mind was blank and my legs felt weaker than ever. I looked at Auntie, my eyes pleading with tears. I had heard about Mother's punishments before, from the maids, and it was something that I would never want to experience in this life time.

"Mother." Auntie interrupted. "Let me take care of this." She requested, her hands folded firmly onto her lap. Mother gave her a doubtful look, obviously suspecting something. "Sakura has a bright future ahead of her. Just look at the startling eyes she has. Her teachers had praised her cleverness and I think it would be greatly wasted if something bad happens to her and disable her from becoming a geisha." This was a desperate attempt to change mother's mind, and I could see the despair and desperation in Auntie's hazel eyes.

Mother hesitated for a moment, a hiatus followed as she put a hand under her chin, looking thoughtful as if she was trying to decide between which one she should bet her money on. "Alright, alright, I'll give her another chance. But I want to see her thoroughly punished and you better not go to easy on her. She needs to be taught a lesson if she wants to survive not just in this okiya, but also in the complex society we have here in Kyoto."

Auntie nodded in reply, getting up and straightening out the folded fabric of her kimono. She raised a hand to signal me to bow and follow her to the outside. I felt the weight that was crushing my heart a moment ago lessening. I bowed to mother as low as possible and followed Auntie out, but before I stepped out of the room, I stole one last glance at Nanako-san, who was sitting beside mother with such graceful composure. I saw displeasure on her beautiful face, and dissatisfaction. She probably wanted to Mother to give me a beating, but wasn't expecting the more lenient punishment.

The walk to the courtyard was spent in pure silence and I dared not to ask questions but to follow Auntie. She led me through the darkened corridor, the way she did before, except this time things were different. The feeling was different, it was heavy and dreary. The cool breeze of the night caressed my already cold cheeks, brushing aside the locks of auburn silk that framed my face.

Auntie turned around, the ever-present smile on her face was absent. "Kneel down." She instructed, the gentleness of her tone disappeared into the night. I did what I was told do and puffed a sharp breath as I felt the coldness of the stoned ground that seeped through the thin layer of cotton kimono I wore. The chilliness of it was bone-shuddering, but I made no complaints. After all, it could've been worse.

Auntie then walked over to the old well we had in the court yard, under the large branches of the cherry blossom tree that was now withered and perished by the invasive coldness of late autumn. The beautiful blossoms I saw on my arrival were no longer there. She came back with two buckets of water, each filled to the top of the bucket. I looked at her questioningly, curious of what she had in mind with the water.

"Take it and hold it. You are not allowed to drop them." Auntie stated, the darkness of the night shadowed her expression, making it unreadable. "I've done the best to save you from the beating from Mother, but this is something you must do. Ever since your arrival at the okiya, I told you repetitively not to displease mother, not to wander around without permission, and most importantly of all, follow the instructions given to you." Unbearable guilt rushed into the chambers of my heart, causing it to throb, to ache.

"But you refused to listen to me. You're throwing away your future you know that!" I could hear the underlying anger and disappointment in Auntie's voice, but I couldn't blame her. This was my fault after all, if only I wasn't so blinded by own desires to see him, things would've been different. If only I was more careful of my own actions, I would've even had to be stuck in the situation I was in.

Yet my felt no regrets. It was worth it, everything was worth the pains. If suffering was the exchange I have to make to have a moment with him, then let it be. I held the two water buckets, feeling the weight, the force of gravity pulling me downward. My arms were now sore, throbbing with pain, but I didn't yelp in pain or make any noise in fact. There was a sharp pain shooting up from my knees, an indication that it was beginning to swell up and bruise.

"But be glad that Mother didn't get her hands on you. If she did, you would be half dead right now." Auntie sighed bitterly, releasing a small puff into the cold air. "This will be a bit painful, but you'll be fine in two weeks or so. I'm going to go now, don't move or drop anything unless you are told to understand?" She glanced at my way, expecting a reply of some sort. I nodded weakly, my arms trembling and turning colder and paler by the seconds, but I didn't let go.

Auntie paused a moment to take one last look at me, as if she was trying to remember me forever. She leaned forward, her warm hand rustling my auburn hair gently. I could feel the warmth of her body, even though it was faint, I could still feel it, along with her kindness. I was thankful to have met someone like her, who assumed the role of my mother after I was abandoned. She protected me as if I was her child, and embraced me with a love that I thought I could no longer find.

With that, she patted my head gently, and pulled away, walking off to another direction. I sighed heavily, while looking down onto the ink-colored water in the bucket. It was reflecting the beautiful velvety night sky above me. Continuous ripples were created due to my quavering arms. They were tired and sore, numbed by the overwhelming pain I felt a moment ago. I felt my arms were no longer a part of my body.

I closed my eyes, as my desperate attempt to forget about the situation I was in and occupy my mind with more cheerful to keep myself away from dwelling on other feelings too much. The picture of Syaoran appeared on my mind as I tried to recreate a detailed portrait of him using my memories. His eyes were as intensive and passionate as ever, the pair of beautiful amber orbs sparkling with such remarkable enthusiasm for life.

A smile curled on my lips as my mind began to retrospect, taking me back to the place where my heart desired to be the most. I was once again at the gates, and he was on the other side, smiling so brilliantly. It wasn't a large small, nor was it a childish grin, it was a smile of confidence. My surroundings started to fade away, becoming distant. My body was as cold as ice, the thin layer I wore provided me no defense against the invasive, crushing coldness of the night.

My vision became unclear and blurry. I felt myself falling into an abyss of darkness, but I kept on smiling. The memories of him kept me content…

……

A vanquishing heat spread throughout my body, like a fast spreading poison. I could feel the heat rushing through my veins, burning every single part of my body, dislodging me into a fiery world that was all too foreign to me. My breath was heavy, gasping for the air in excess. It felt like something was crushing my chest, attempting to deprive me of my life, my last breath.

My back was drenched in sweat, and my arms wanted to extend out of the cover. But every time I tried to pull my burning arms out, someone tugged it back under the cover and sealed the opening that I created for myself. A cold hand touched my forehead, as it lifted up the only cold source I had to keep my mind sane from all the burning. I felt I was on fire, burning to ashes yet no one offered me water, or help.

Struggling, I groaned uncomfortably. I wanted to escape, but I couldn't. "It's okay Sakura-chan… you'll be fine… go back to sleep…" I heard a distinctive murmur, it was soft and quiet. It sounded like music to my ears. I settled down a bit, trying my best not to think about the heat. I struggled to force my eyes open, but my eyelids were as heavy as a ton.

"Go back to sleep…rest… so you can get well soon…" The velvety voice continued, the gentle hand stroking my dampened hair. The feeling was soothing and soul-calming. All the restlessness in me started to wear out, I gave into the welcoming coolness of the contact. The feather-light touches managed to steal away from the excessive heat, reducing the burning sensation felt moments ago.

"I'll tell you a story… a beautiful tale about two people." She continued. "This happened a while ago… when I was still a teenager… two people met at Kyoto University and fell in love, but they couldn't be together. The girl was the only successor of the Yanagi family, but the boy was a Chinese. Even though he was from an equally powerful and wealthy Chinese family, the girl's father still disproved their relationship. They tried eloping once, and it was quiet successful. But the Yanagi family eventually found their hiding spot and took the girl back by force."

I listened carefully, trying to grasp the meaning behind the story, but my brain was blank and uncooperative at the moment. "By that time, they already had a son. The Yanagi family couldn't do anything about it, since what was done was done, however they took custody of the child and forbade the child's young father to see him. The child's father was exiled and was only allowed to return and visit the child once three years… and do you know who the child is?"

I wanted to shake my head, but I didn't have enough strength to even allow the tiniest movements. There was a pause after her question, as if she was waiting for my response. She then went on, seeing no reactions from me. "That young boy is the one you were talking to today…" Her voice trailed off, fading into a whisper, or maybe it was just my sleepiness, striking at the worst possible time. I wanted to hear the rest of the story, but before I could even put up a fight with the invading exhaustion, I had already fallen into a deep slumber.

The sleep lasted for days and days. Auntie told me afterwards that I had a high fever. But this was the last time I would see him in another six years. I was forbidden to take that trail again, and mother warned me that if I was found again wandering down that particular street again, I would be tossed out of the okiya and never to become a geisha.

I thought I would never see him again; I thought that the hope of us becoming friends had died out, vanished, like a fleeting flicker of existence, and with just the careless gentle breeze, it'll go out with nothing remaining but a temporary smoke. But I was wrong…

We would soon meet again, at the first tea party that I was going to as an apprentice geisha…

Our meeting was only a matter of time…


A/N: I have a habit of ending a chapter like this lolz, it foretells what's going to happen next and what to expect. Sakura's childhood officially ends here, with her being sick from the punishment. But I'll leave the part about how she got sick and etc for the beginning of the next chapter. And GOOD NEWS EVERYONE, SxS interactions will kick in the next chapter! Stay tuned for the kawaii moments ahead. XD

Regarding to Syaoran's father and mother's part, I will explain things in detail in the next few chapter, but for now, let's just leave it as that vaguely told story by Auntie. Everyone in Kyoto knew that story, it was like a legendary love story with a tragic ending. (See why Syaoran wants to send his father a letter but couldn't because his grandpa doesn't allow him to do so? X3)

My inspiration died half way through the chapter XD because I took a little break in between and read a few of Jennifier-san's angsty FujiRyoma fics. I felt extremely shamed about my own writing and how I can never touch people's heart they way she did with her fics. The elegant, beautiful language she was to bring the story to life… gosh… it was just beautiful. The updates might slow down again… I don't want to abandon this story but my BL muses drove again my interest in SxS. This chapter is not as good as I wanted it to be. The descriptive language is absent and most parts are probably incomplete. I couldn't get the words flow right again. And the overly kawaii Naruto x Sasuke scenes keep on repeating in my mind. My BL muses might really kill off my already waning interest for SxS.

Please review and let me know if I should continue this story or not. And it would be helpful if someone can suggest ideas on how to get my SxS interest back again before it disappears completely and turn me into a 200 percent BL fangurl. XD REVIEW!

Reviews appreciated. Flames ignored.

(1) The expression is interpreted upon Juliet's soliloquy when she was confused about the sleeping veil she was told to drink. I don't remember what Shakespeare wrote exactly, but the lines meant something close to that. X3 YAP I'm a Shakespearean play dork.