Warning: fluff mixed with heart-aching angst.
A Memory of Autumn
By: Aisaki Sumi
Summary: Autumn is Tomoyo's favorite season, and Eriol loves taking her out to the penguin park and watch the auburn leaves drift so weightlessly through the air. She dances and smiles alluringly at him. Eriol wants to capture the moment forever.
Autumn: a season of harvestings, a season when one can taste the sweetness of the nectar of their accomplishments, obtained by battered and triumphant hands as every hardship finally finds justification.
It is the time of the year when the fruits ripen, and when the alluringly pleasant scent is carried miles away on the careless wind; when the leaves turn slightly reddish, like droplets of scarlet paint on the golden auburn background, dying the world a brilliant and unique shade of honey brown mixed with splatters of red stains.
Autumn was Tomoyo's favorite season of all.
Every year around this time, she would ask him to take her out to the penguin park and sit on the swings to watch the leaves of the large maple tree change colors. The uniquely shaped leaves were covered in an infinite number of puddles of reddish auburn that scattered across the leaves' surfaces in the most haphazard ways.
The golden, blindingly bright sunlight cast a glitter upon the wavering leaves, forming spots of orange tints, as if lighting them on fire. The ephemeral flames burned so brilliantly under the shower of overlapping white rays. It was almost too beautiful to be described in words.
A gentle breeze that whirled by, carried the faintest alluring minty scent of autumn, causing the small, dazzling, tinged entities to sway in the direction of the invisible path of the circulating current.
Eriol slowly wandered down the path he had walked down so many times before. Piercing cerulean eyes like cutting diamonds, surveyed his surroundings with such fascination and admiration.
The leaves were usually red this year, and golden around the edges, as if dipped in molten gold liquid. His lips were parted as his eyes revealed hints of child-like amazement, a rare content smile plastered across his face.
"It's beautiful isn't it?" A soft, melodious voice interrupted his thoughts, and Eriol turned to face the speaker. Sapphire eyes bored into the warm, sparkling amethyst ones of Tomoyo. There was a small, both faint and alluring smile on her lips, tugging at his heart relentlessly. Her long, locks of ebony—tumbling curls like midnight waterfall, framed her delicately shaped visage and contrasted her pale, porcelain-like skin. As white as ceramics and the finest Victorian china.
Another careless breeze swirled by, lifting up the ends of her silky raven hair, tossing them about restlessly. A few strands fluttered around the contours of her face, tickling the sides of her cheeks. Eriol wanted to reach out a hand and brush the dark, curly ribbons aside, and trace the shape of her visage with the tip of his tapered finger—to feel the softness of it all.
But he resisted the temptation, and looked away, casting his gaze upon the now rustling leaves. "Yah." He agreed quietly, afraid to increase the volume of his voice, as if anything louder than a whisper would shatter the serene tranquility that encompassed them.
A gust of hasty wind, more violent this time, whipped his loose shirt around him, pushing him closer to her side. He saw her dipping her chin lower, ducking her head into the collar of the white sweater she was wearing, and watched her hair waver. The charcoal colored ribbons swayed toward the impact left behind by the wind, as if dancing with the silent humming.
She looked so frail, and all he wanted to do was to wrap his arms around her and keep her warm. Protect her and keep her away from the forces that were trying to shatter her, break her into small shards. He wanted to keep her safe, in his embrace. Because she was precious to him.
But he knew, she would never allow him to hold her like that, as if she was dainty and delicate. She wanted to be seen as a strong character--someone who was tenacious and independent.
He lifted his eyes off her again with much reluctance and returned his attention to the sea of flaming red, mixed with light orange. The cool wind whirled by gave the leaves the momentum to reel in clusters, back and forth, from right to left, in a very random and messy manner. Like seven million butterflies flapping their beautiful wings, the autumn leaves fell loose from their attachment to the branches of the tree and drifted weightlessly through the air, as if flying over a field of dreams.
It looked like something out of a book. Such beauty and unreal perfection could not be seen anywhere else. Such magical imageries could only exist in their world—a world filled with their dreams and hopes—belonging to the two of them only.
It was then Tomoyo stepped forward, quietly making her way through the transcending rain of golden auburn, fluttering butterflies and joined them in their sacred, ritual dance. She tilted her head backward, staring up at the tall, maple trees and opened up her arms as if welcoming in the sweet scent carried by the falling leaves. She swirled, her white dress fluttering with her graceful movements.
She looked like an elegant ballerina, a content, innocent child, lost in her ecstatic dream world, where wax wings never melt, where flying toward the sky was possible, where the roses never wilt, where bright dreams were within one's reach, where one's love never dies, where people were embraced by immortality, where holding the sun was possible.
The smile on her face widened, her soft, light, music-like, resonating laughter echoed, resounded in the air heavy of nothing but joy. It made his heartbeat escalate with contentment, and a light, fuzzy feeling that remained dormant for all those years was awakened.
He couldn't help but smile, wanting to be part of this moment. He never wanted it to end. He wanted to be everlasting. He wanted time to freeze, to be put on pause, and leave this frame of movement the way it was.
A chillier blow seeped through the thin material of his shirt, causing him to shudder slightly. The coldness brought him back to reality and he stepped forward, gadding toward where she was. "It's time to go Tomoyo." He spoke with such loving tenderness, eyes softening as the sight of her slightly saddened, reluctant face came into view.
"I promised to bring you back to the Daidouji residence before dusk."
She didn't say anything and looked away. Her hair slid over her shoulder to shield away her expression.
Eriol stared at her in perplexity, puzzled by the suddenly resigned silence between them and the lack of answer from her. Usually Tomoyo would give him a cute pleading look, and beg him to use a time enchantment and stall a little more time for them so she could stay and watch the leaves drift through the reverberant air.
"Tomoyo?" He asked carefully, wondering what was wrong with her. She simply stood there, unresponsive, her gaze distant, cast on elsewhere. Eriol moved closer, a worried glint glimmering in his eyes as he cocked his head to the side, trying to take a closer look at her to see what was troubling her.
"Tomoyo?" He tried again, feeling his own heart thudding loudly, the slightly frantic heartbeats revealed his own stirring fears. The flawless smile slowly waned and disappeared from his face, replaced by a worried frown. It was uncharacteristic of her to ignore his callings like that.
Something was definitely wrong.
Finally, Tomoyo turned to look at him. And Eriol was taken aback by the emotions displayed in her eyes.
"Eriol." Tomoyo whispered; her voice slightly husky, almost to the point of breaking as her lips trembled. The child-like happiness that filled those orbs a moment ago was no longer there. And Eriol noted that her eyes looked different somehow.
They didn't have that understanding glow, or the gentle, loving look she had when she looked at Sakura, or the little glint of mischief that her friends knew every time she carried her camcorder around.
The pair of amethyst eyes was infinitely sad and regretful, full of emotions that he hadn't seen before.
"What's wrong, Tomoyo?" He inquired, an unexplainable heaviness and nervousness thudded in his chest, blending in with the rhythms of his quickened heartbeats. Even the task of breathing had become increasingly hard.
He raised a hand into the mid air, reaching forward, nearly touching her cheeks, but halted to a stop before his finger tips contacted her smooth, creamy skin. The gentle, unwavering smile that became known as her trademark was gone, vanished without a trace. A rueful smile took its place.
"You can't take me home." The light words rolled off her tongue with such difficulty. The murmur reached his ears, stunning him, causing him to stare at her in disbelief. Why not? He wanted to ask. But before the words even had the chance to flow out of his mouth, she provided him with the answer. She was always good at reading people's mind, even his.
"Because I'm not really here."
As soon as the words left her naturally pink lips with much regrets, Eriol's hand reached her cheeks, realizing that he was only touching the air. A gasp escaped his parted lips. The quiet sound vibrated through the now thickened air, heavy of regrets and filled with emptiness.
"Tomoyo?" He whispered; eyes filled with surprise, his heart skipped a beat at that very moment. He blinked a few times, trying to recollect his thoughts, hoping it would provide him with some reasonable explanation of his current situation.
"Eriol." A different, much deeper voice called his name softly. A warmer hand was then firmly placed on his shoulder. Eriol jerked his head at the abrupt contact and the unfamiliar presence. The penguin park was always empty and vacant on those days when he took her out to watch the maple leaves drop to the ground in a lazy, weightless drift.
It was a special place reserved for them only.
Eriol whipped his head around, finding himself staring into a pair of burnish amber eyes that closely resembled the darkened honey-hued leaves he saw a moment ago with Tomoyo.
"Syaoran?" Blue eyes flew open with astonishment. He froze on the spot, perplexed and confused by the other's unexpected appearance.
Syaoran stood there beside him, gazing pass him at the spot where Eriol had last seen Tomoyo, and the amber pools reflected understanding and endless sorrow. The scowl and defiant look Eriol often saw in the other's eyes were no where to be found. Syaoran had stopped treating him with open hospitality awhile ago, but he didn't remember when.
"Why are you here?"
Instead of replying to Eriol's question, Syaoran sniffed lightly, an indication of his dislike for the slightly chilly season. "Let's go Eriol. It's cold out here." He said curtly, exerting a small amount of force on Eriol's shoulder to pull him always from the maple tree.
"But what about… Tomoyo?" Eriol asked unsurely, looking back at the area where Tomoyo had stood earlier. His sapphire eyes reflected his desperation and the chaotic state of his mind.
"It's cold out here." Syaoran repeated, guiding Eriol back to the trail which led him to the maple trees in the first place. Giving into the faint warmth provided by Syaoran, Eriol turned away, keeping his gaze lowered to the ground as he hugged himself.
His hands were already numbed, and the thin material of his shirt provided him no protection against the pervasive coldness.
"I hate autumn." Stated Syaoran, a frown formed by the furrowing of his eyebrows as he took off his scarf and jacket and wrapped them around Eriol's cold body. "And don't wander around like this again. Sakura threw me out of the house and made me come to find you. And I'm not going through this again." He grumbled, the familiar sullen expression returned to his amber eyes.
Eriol laughed lightly at the comment and swerved around, walking slightly ahead of Syaoran. He had missed the small, soft, and fond smile, with just a touch of sorrow on Syaoran's lips, when the corners of his mouth lifted.
Syaoran rested a hand on Eriol's shoulder and promised silently to himself that as long as Eriol still laughed, he would keep on smiling.
Daidouji Tomoyo was temporarily forgotten as their diminishing figures blended into the rain of auburn leaves. Another gentle wind twirled by, lifting up a few of the fallen leaves off the ground, whispering the end of a fairytale, declaring the end of a beautiful memory shared by two.
But the world was set in repetitive motion. Like the olden tell of time, the hourglass, the sand slips through the tiny opening and into the bottom section, only to fill it up and flip so the sand could slip back into the other already emptied container. Such perpetual cycle would continue, until the end of time. And then, Eriol would remember again, and would disappear by himself again, and the cyclic life goes on.
He would always come back to the penguin park: their sacred sanctuary, as if existing outside the trappings of time. He would always follow the trail imprinted in his mind, and the path would lead him back to this place, during the midst of autumn--the place where Eriol used to take Tomoyo during the happier times.
When Eriol was lost in the unfamiliarity of the world, he would always come back again, to where his heart belonged, and remember the fleeting memory of autumn—the season of which preserved the most precious moments of his life.
It was just a fading memory of autumn, remaining in the back of his head forever and ever.
Until he remembered it again.