Notes: I've put off this fic for my own reasons. Try not to be upset, as there are plenty of fics to read. (Smiles)
Summary: Sakura was his unwanted bride. He was cynical and unforgiving. Could a misfortunate event bring them closer… or tear them apart? S&S AU
Disclaimer: All rights reserved to Clamp.
Sakura swallowed back the light snuffles that fought its way up her esophagus. Her screams lay unheard as a nasty hand was held tightly over her mouth, smothering her to silent and submissiveness. The glare shot at her was callous and forewarning, conveying a silent message that she better keep her trap shut or else.
"I kill people who try to speak. But scream? This calls for torture, I believe," the leader of the pack snarled. "Death can wait, torture now."
A whimper muffled from her. This had to be the worse predicament ever, far worse than the time her father arranged her marriage to a complete stranger, which inadvertently was three days ago, and happened to be to the boy who clearly saw she was in trouble, but made no move to help. Even the townsfolk had their heads turned the other way, perhaps aloof to not notice what endangerment was happening to her this very second.
Sakura cursed inwardly to Kami-sama who must've been on his five minute break to have ignored all this as it continued to unravel.
Sakura thrashed fervently, not quite willing to be compliant yet.
"Quiet you. It's no use now," the blond haired, blue eyed snapped. His followers surrounded him as he started to drag her carelessly down the road. At first, their actions went inconspicuously by the crowd of people, easily blending in and not attracting any types of attention. This was really bad. Sakura could see the end to it.
Their kidnapping attempt was successfully maneuvered for a few minutes when suddenly a voice rung out sharply.
"What are you boys doing harassing a poor girl?"
The ringleader cursed loudly. "We've been spotted. Run! Run boys!" He shoved Sakura aside hastily and proceeded to flee from the clearing. Sakura heard a tear from somewhere as she landed on the ground, rear end first.
When all three boys scrambled off, Sakura felt safe to look up. She wanted to steal a glance at her savior and thank her wholeheartedly. More to Sakura's surprise, it was the very same girl from the Fruit Stand. This was her fortunate savior, thank gods. "Um. Thank you." Sakura looked away, embarrassed.
All her apples were scattered a few distances away, some were bruised and some were stepped on, and others were picked up by hungry hoarders. Sakura sighed; at least the oranges were safe.
"No problem, Miss. Though, I wished I could've helped you sooner with those dim-witted scumbags, but you see, it's a busy market today and I had so many customers to deal with," the girl explained, hand on the back of her neck. "Say what, how about I give you twelve fresh new apples free of charge?"
Sakura flustered, shaking her head. "Oh gosh. That wouldn't be right. I'll have to pay you no matter what or you wouldn't be able to make profit now, would you?" She managed a believable grin despite still being affected by her ordeal, prior.
The female worker patted Sakura on the shoulder, goodheartedly. "You have a heart of gold, I'm sure."
Once again, Sakura flustered. She let her gaze passed from the girl to the pillar where Syaoran was originally perched and unmoving. A frown tugged down her lips when she saw that he was gone. Where could he have gone to at a crucial moment such as now? Did he chicken out on her? Was he afraid that if he helped her, he'd received a fractured rib and broken knuckles in favor? If that was the case, then that was understandable, and she'd forgive him for that.
But he could've at least checked up on her once they were gone, make certain there wasn't any scrapes or bruises she'd acquired from being slung violently to the ground so the evil perpetrator could make his getaway. Not to mention, the emotional damage that followed. Because he wasn't there to console her as a husband should…
Grunting in annoyance as he paced forward, Syaoran couldn't even decipher what wife his mother had chosen for him. First of all, the girl was a measly, poor peasant. Secondly, she was as irritating as the grasshoppers' din of each night. And thirdly, she was capable of luring strange, troublesome boys without even trying. What the heck! Did his mother randomly choose her from inside a potato sack?
What unnerved Syaoran the most was when she looked pleadingly at him, wordlessly asking to be saved. As if he'd break a nail for that… humph!
"Hurry up, Syaoran," Eriol admonished exasperatingly. "She'll be dead before you reach her."
'What am I? Superman?!' Syaoran restrained a low, heavy growl as his fists clenched.
He suddenly slowed to a stop, staring ahead as someone darted to Sakura's aid instead. He could see the waist length purple-raven hair snapping back as the brave girl ran, and he already identified her as the Fruit Stand girl. Syaoran shrouded back, a kind of disappointment dissipating his ego to floor level. 'To think I bothered,' he thought dryly as he looked hatefully at Eriol, who returned a gentle, puzzle look in response.
"Didn't I tell you that girl was nothing to me, yet you insisted… why did you insist?" Syaoran demanded, voice searing and venomous to the ears.
Eriol confuted a baffled response of "You clearly know her. Why wouldn't you?"
Syaoran spun on his heels and started to walk off heatedly. "Do I have to follow everyone's orders now? Is it always their best interest to keep me from making my own choices?" Syaoran threw his arms up in frustration, heaving. "So what If I know her, Eriol? I didn't choose to. And frankly, I don't like her very much to get acquainted with either."
"Why?" Eriol mustered. "Is this your way of showing how much you hate the world… by hating this girl?"
Syaoran froze. "I can't help myself! She just became my wife!" Syaoran gritted his teeth at hearing Eriol's boisterous 'Nani?!', and faced him with a cold, calculating glare. "Now you know why. I'm bound to her and I can't do anything about it. It's an estranged relationship, and it's fated. My whole life is fated…" He trailed, cursing suddenly as he sensed Sakura's head taking a turn from the distance, scanning the heavily packed area most likely to locate him.
Stalling no more, he launched off into a brisk jog.
Fortunately, Sakura was able to replace the lost apples, paying for them of course. She ambled her way toward new stands to search for the goods on her list. The forthcoming girl from earlier, who said her name was 'Tomoyo,' was right about the market being busy. It was full, and lacked a space to breath and stretch. It made Sakura feel a bit nostalgic of her childhood. Being so small back then, she used to walk between the legs of various patrons unsuspectingly. There wasn't need for pushing or shoving because the people in her area were the nicest flock ever. Whenever they did feel something brush against their inner thighs, she'd be gone by the time they looked down to the rubbles of sand by their sandals, dazzled and confused.
Even more nostalgic, she remembered sitting in her mother's lap chewing on sugarcanes as her father struggled to vender his fruits, cutting them into intricate slices so they'd sell better – which usually worked. She told Tomoyo about how passionate her father was at growing his own fruits and selling them, and how much Tomoyo reminded her of him. Sakura, too, was passionate in the gardening field. Though, her expertise tended to be more in the herbal field rather than fruits or veggies.
"Here's your salmon, Miss. Fresh catch of the day," the kind, old fisherman exclaimed.
"Thank you." Sakura quickly paid him and went off on her way.
A bunch of people were a head and a half taller than her, the women were half a head. Sakura groaned as she thrashed about her way to the end of the road, where there'd be a path to guide her back to the Li manor. Everything was checked off her list, and she was through with bartering. The weight straining the muscles in her arms was crazy, though. She had apples and oranges, and assorted vegetables in one arm, cottage cheese, milk, eggs, and the fish in the next.
Glancing down briefly, she made sure the fish was fresh before taking off. The fisherman was right about it being fresh. In fact, it looked to be squirmy inside its package, still alive. Sakura sweat dropped, knowing well that a fish could not survive in such conditions, especially to the thick, hot air that was an environmental hazard to any kind of sea animals. 'Me and my excessive use of imagination…' she chided in thought. 'Now onward…'
The moment she reached home, Sakura gently placed the bags onto the ground at the front of the door and then collapsed. Her hair was stringy and clung to all sides of her face and forehead in a disheveled mess. Having made the half mile trek home was an accomplishment. The weather was unkindly humid, causing her clothes to slightly dampen and stick to her skin uncomfortably. The air was thick and hot, making it difficult for breathing, but she was safely home and exhausted.
Sakura moaned to what could have sounded like a sob. She was so thirsty, so tired and so used up she wasn't aware of the door opening.
"Sakura?" Yelen observed her with a countenance of deep concern. "Why didn't you wait for Wei to get the carriage ready?"
"W-Wei?" Sakura mumbled, mystified.
"Yes, our butler." Yelen frowned. "He told me you were gone by the time he got the horses from their stalls."
Sakura lowered her gaze. "Sorry."
"Wasn't Syaoran there? Did you see him? He could've helped you with the bags…"
Sakura's cheeks redden in neither anger nor hurt – but embarrassment. "Well…"
Yelen's mouth gravely pressed into a thin line. "What's that on your shirt?" she suddenly pointed out. "There's a nip…" She looked her over in close examination. "Did something happen to you, Sakura? Are you hurt?"
"Oh." Sakura thought for a moment, biting her bottom lip. "I ran into a few guys who were giving me trouble, but…" Sakura's brows furrowed as Yelen's expression grew firmer. "…um… this girl—the female stand worker, she pulled me out of the mess…"
"Where was Syaoran?" was all Yelen asked and wanted to know about.
"He was standing someplace, else, while all this was happening—but…"
"What?" Sakura found herself in a fix when she met Yelen's stern, angry eyes. "He just stood there?" she questioned.
"Don't say no more, Sakura. I understand fully," Yelen said briskly, before picking up all bags and setting foot back into the manor.
Sakura stood back, feeling some sort of burden overwhelm her. 'Oh no, what have I done.' Her hands covered up her face. 'I tattled on him…' She knew some form of awful punishment would be enforced on the Li boy. He would hate her for this. She was a burden to begin with, and now she'd even made it worse for him.
'Oh gods… what's a girl to do?'
A sudden noise from inside the house disintegrated Sakura's thoughts, and she looked up, shifting her head into the doorway to see what was happening. It sounded as if glass had been shattered to the floor followed by screaming and shouting. Sakura winced as she heard another object being thrown. "I don't like her! I (don't) like her!"
Cowering, Sakura knew all too well that was her suitor's voice shouting back in quite a rage. Coming to her senses, Sakura decided to intervene on the heated battle between mother and son before it escalated.
"Stop!" she cried, scampering in on the two. Her arms were waved out, trying to make her presence obvious. "Y-You… don't need… to fight." She was just to worn out to talk, and her throat was so parched it hurt to talk. "S-Sorry."
Yelen's eyes widened a fraction. "Sakura!"
Sakura gave a soft sigh and lowered herself to the ground. Whatever else happened from there, she couldn't even remember.
By the time Sakura woke up, it was dark outside. The crickets were droning and Sakura could hear footsteps coming up to her bed. She cracked an eye open, sputtered to see it was… Syaoran. "Li-kun," she gently muttered from her drowse.
The amber eyes glinted, and for the first time, Sakura could read the expression on his face. It was faint, though, but it looked to be a wistful gaze of thoughtful thinking. When Syaoran noticed she was stirring back to consciousness, he sunk back into his protective barrier of detachment and nonchalance.
He gave her a quick once over, and then frowned slightly. "Rika," his voice rose, "she's finally up."
Confused, Sakura glanced around the room to see if Rika was really there. She wasn't, but Sakura saw she was coming in now. "Konban wa, Sakura-chan," the squeaky, high voice greeted her.
"Rika!" Sakura was relieved.
As the maid approached her bed and situated herself beside Syaoran's inert, quiet form, she checked Sakura's temperature by placing her back hand to Sakura's forehead. "Still kinda' feverish," she acknowledged. Syaoran, concluding that there was no need for him to be there any longer, proceeded to turn and slowly depart.
Sakura peered through the gap of Rika's outstretched arm to see Syaoran retreat and disappear through the doorway quietly. She sat upright, reclining against the bedpost as a sudden dizziness enveloped her. "Rika," she conjectured softly, holding her head. "Why was Li-kun, here? What… happened?"
"You don't recall passing out?"
Sakura blushed. "I passed out…?"
"Yup. Right in front of Mistress Yelen and Li-san."
Sakura buried her head into her covers in despair. "That must've been an awkward sight…"
"Mm. It sure was," Rika said agreeably, remembering the events. "You had us all worried to death. One of the nurses in the hall said you haven't had your morning meal portion. Hearing this made Mistress Yelen feel horrible because she was the one who put you to work right away without realizing how worn out you were. She's completely apologetic and promises to not let this happen again." Rika moved a tray of steaming porridge in front of Sakura. "Here's your meal," she grinned, placing a spoon in Sakura's hand.
'Hm. If by everyone being worried to death, does that imply Li-kun, as well…' Sakura thought, but then shook it away. She knew it wasn't highly likely, or else he would have saved her back there, and while there, probably would've offered up to carry half the bags on their way home.
She sighed, smiling feebly at Rika, still feeling energy drained. "Thanks." Sakura raised her spoon "Itadakimasu!" and then she ate.
Rika was comfortably sitting in a chair adjacent to Sakura's mattress, smiling to herself. "You know…" she said lazily, hands clasped over her face, leaning onto Sakura's bed. "Li-san carried you up the stairs when you were unconscious."
Sakura nearly spewed out her soup at Rika's sudden account. "P-Pardon?"
"…It looked so cool, like a bride being carried up to her bed which she'll later share with her man for the night…"
Rika paused and looked at Sakura's slightly coloring cheeks in mere concentration. "Hai?"
Sakura hoped her blushing cheeks had gone unseen in the dim lighting of the room, though she really doubted it. "Um. He carried me?"
"Hai! It was so cute!"
Sakura stumbled. "Um… why?"
"Well, at first he refused… but at the angry persistence of Yelen-san, he finally came to and taken your weight into his arms… bridal style!"
Sakura sighed forlornly. "Was he mad… about it?"
"…not sure. Why?"
Sakura looked down at her half eaten porridge unappetizingly. "Never mind." She sighed again, already knowing the answer to that, so why bother asking?
Syaoran grunted, branching away from the wall outside Sakura's room. His dark, serious eyes narrowed in contempt, unsure as to why he was still lingering by a hallway connected to Sakura's room, and listening in onto meaningless conversation nonetheless when he should be elsewhere. Most of all, he wasn't so sure why he felt so expectant all of a sudden. He must've been sidetracked; that could be it… or he must've lost the oxygen in his brain for having to lug Sakura up the stairs.
'Damnit! She's as heavy as a hippo!' Syaoran thought furiously, forcing himself to – failingly – believe it. But in a realer sense, she wasn't at all heavy. She actually felt quite pleasant in the arcs of his arms, but thinking that would be proving how contradictive he could be. 'Damnit…'
Grumbling to himself, Syaoran regained some of his senses and strode right off before he could be spotted by anyone, which could have taken a whole chunk off his ego and have him standing there like a fool who forgot to put on pants this morning. Syaoran grasped a handful of his own hair. "Why me… urgh… Why!"
In a fit of low growls, he unconsciously smacked the wall behind him.
He jarred to a stop and listened intently… scuffs of shoes approaching… and "Hey! Who's there?"
Shit. It was Rika's voice. Syaoran made a mad dash for it.
By the time Rika had her head poking out the door Syaoran was already out of sight, running for dear life, presumably, and keeping exposure to a minimum, if possible.
"Strange…" Rika muttered, squinting as she came back into the room, "…thought I heard a dog barking…"
Notes: Ha-ha. Now you all must be anxious what's up with Syaoran, right? Certainly I'm just as anxious! I'll start writing up the next chapter to bring some disclosure to what's happening. Which means, yes, I'm back on track.